North America trip day 9: Chinatown and aquarium in Vancouver

I’m enjoying my 33rd country visited – Canada. Vancouver is as they say – very liveable, very comfortable, and a real relief after three days in the unwalkable LA. Strangely enough, entering Canada was more difficult than entering the US. I was asked various questions, including how I know my friend I would be staying with. This was in addition to some stress at LA airport, where a registration desk worker almost didn’t want to let me through because according to the system I needed a visa. Fortunately, there is free wifi at LAX, so I could check the website of our MoFA and remember to mention that my passport is biometric, which makes me eligible to visa exemption. She didn’t notice that the passport was biometric. Anyway, it’s done and I’m in Canada.

This sea otter is chilling and enjoying a blue ribbon despite the many eyes cast on its little home in Vancouver’s aquarium. My friend A. was busy and told me to check out the most touristy things on my own. The aquarium is surrounded by a large park with flowers and lots of tourists (Stanley Park). As I was walking there, a couple asked me for directions. Looking down, I saw that they had a Vancouver guidebook in Hebrew 🙂 Finding a rare language in common was an excuse to talk, so I ended up finding company to explore the park with. They were traveling around as they came to the North American West Coast to visit their daughter. As we parted, I went into the aquarium (entrance costs $23, so I guess many tourists would think twice, but I had heard it was worth it).

It is indeed a beautiful aquarium. Interconnected halls present the fauna of various regions of Canada, and there are special shows every half an hour. The collection of jellyfish made me feel out of this world (their hypnotizing dance in blue light looked surprisingly coordinated), and I was really impressed with the variety of anemone in British Columbia (there is a place to touch them even).

Vancouver aquarium – click on the image to enlarge it

There was another special exhibition on frogs, and there were also many activities for people of all age groups. I was thinking that I’d love to bring my parents here.

I went to see a beluga whale show – I a bit worried, since I generally don’t support using animals for circus. But it wasn’t like circus at all – it was an educational program about the whales, and all they had to do was to wave their fins, make some noise, and show off their fat 🙂

I also went to the Chinatown, where I only saw one more white person, and everything in shops was written in Chinese only. I wonder whether this was because I went there around noon, or because non-Chinese speakers can easily feel lost in some of these shops. There seemed to be every imaginable product, but I had no idea what exactly it was. When I asked a salesperson about some strange mushroom-like product, he looked annoyed and said the packaging comes in two sizes – nothing even in the direction of my question. I saw murals celebrating Chinese migration to Canada, and, strangely, only the oldest one, depicting 1884, had women in it (recent arrivals, whereas others were images of successful integration). There is a famous place to eat steam buns, but I forgot its name.

The Dr. Sun Yat Sen park (there is a park by the same name in New York too) is very interesting – it’s one of the green islands of serenity in this big city. There are huge fat carps in its ponds, and plenty of bamboos to create a refreshing shade. Entrance is free. However, a board advertising the commercial part of the park (entrance CAD 10) lists why the public part is supposed to be inferior: rocks there come from Mexico, but in the commercial part even the pebbles come from China!

It’s also a good place for people-watching. For the first time I saw a baby with painted toe nails, for example. Many children were excited about the huge fish. Mostly families with children were in the park at that hour.

Photos: the only of the three murals honoring Chinese migration that has women in it; Sun Yat-Sen park; products sold on the market, with descriptions only in Chinese; bird houses.

It is not surprising that, as Vancouver is so overcrowded with buildings and vertical, the main attractions for tourists and locals seem to be parks and beaches. Yesterday, as I was one a bus with suitcases, one guy asked me where I came from and named three things, two of them being mountains and beach, that I must see. By the way, it seems to be easy to have these spontaneous conversations. Today I talked to a passer-by from Kenya (he asked me if I needed directions when I looked lost), who actually knew where Lithuania is and had friends from Estonia. He told him he had worked in Kampala and was surprised that I knew what state’s capital it was.

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