The Promised Land
For many decades Canada has been seen as one of the most attractive places where you could live a peaceful and wealthy dream life. I was lucky to spend the last year in Vancouver on a working holiday, which was originally supposed to be only three months long. While I stayed at my brother’s, who immigrated there 5 years ago, I came to understand why people don’t want to leave once they enter the country. Although the immigration process is getting easier every year, it is still quite discouraging. Only in order to get a year-long work permit I had to send tons of forms and documents to the embassy; including a motivation letter and a confirmation from my bank that I really was not going to exploit the Canadian welfare system. You can only participate in the “Canadian Experience” once in your life, and it’s impossible to prolong it. So I decided to use all the twelve months although everybody back home expected me to return by the end of the summer.
View of downtown Vancouver from North Vancouver
Thinking of my brother, I have to admit that he came back to Slovakia once – after 2 years, even though initially he was leaving just for 3 months. So what is it about Canada that makes everybody stay longer than intended? I cannot speak about the whole country because each province is different, but I’ve seen some places in British Columbia, a couple more in Vancouver and many in North Vancouver, which is, in my opinion, the best place for living on this earth. The prices of real estates prove that many other people think the same: the regular influx of newcomers raises the prices so high that there is hardly anybody who could afford owning his own place there. “North Van” (as it is called by locals) lies between the sea and the mountains, which makes it an amazing source of opportunities for outdoor sports. On the other hand, in need of culture, you can reach downtown in 15 minutes on a sea bus (literally a bus on the sea!). If natural woods seem too far from your place, you may go to a park that you will find at every corner. When you look at North Vancouver from across the sea, at least a half of the town, spread on a steep slope, is green! What’s more, every house or even block of flats has its own garden with a gardener, as if people actually competed who could create a larger piece of nature on their land. It is also pretty common to see raccoons or skunks when it begins to get dark. You would think that people love their precious animals, but they’re mostly quite annoying and always begging for food. The most astonishing thing for me was to see some bears next to a Starbucks coffee shop! They live in the forests next to North Vancouver, so you should always be “bear aware” when walking towards the outskirts. Living in North Vancouver simply equals living in nature.
Seabus – the quickest means of transport from “North Van” to downtown
Besides its great position, this small town has another advantage: extremely friendly and tolerant people who are to be found throughout the whole agglomeration. They love “small talks” and meeting foreigners. Vancouver is a former British colony, but unlike the UK, it feels like home from the first day you move in. I heard many times that somebody was cute or interesting just because of their accent – Canadians simply love to hear the story behind it! Another question that always astonished me was “How come you don’t want to stay here forever?” or “Why would you want to go back?” These peculiarities are caused by the population’s structure: almost everyone is an immigrant and barely anyone living in Vancouver was also born there. One of the reasons why there are so many young immigrants is that the place offers great work opportunities and free time activities. Another reason is that people move out because they find it too busy. So most of the time people you talk to are “the new in town” and want to find friends as much as you do. The sad part of the story is that all the newcomers who had once settled there simply took the land of the native people by force. And some hundred years later, they were given just some inadequate compensation (I’m saying inadequate because nothing could make up for the loss they had suffered). Now they are selling pieces of their art as the best and most expensive souvenirs. One should not be surprised that many are still living in their own communities, while trying to preserve the few rights of the privileged ones - shopping without taxes, studying for free etc. Still, I cannot say I have ever got into a conflict with a native; on the contrary, my best Canadian friend is half-Indian and comes from a reserve. She is one of the best examples of tolerance for everything and everybody new. I cannot imagine her pointing out somebody who is different in other than a positive way. Being different means being interesting and coming with new ideas!
Lonsdale Quay Market and Mt. Seymour
The melting pot of so many cultures naturally yields the most exquisite cuisine. The choice of meals is amazing. In North Vancouver you can find them all together in one place - the longest and busiest street called Lonsdale, connecting the sea with woods. At the very bottom there is the Lonsdale Quay market and the SeaBus harbor. Here you can buy vegetables, sweets or ready meals from all over the world: the most frequent are Iranian, Turkish, Chinese, French and Slavic. My favorite meal was sushi which you can get for 7 “bucks” (i.e. 5 Euros) and it’s made of completely fresh raw fish. If you’re not interested in eating, there are also several stands selling beautiful hand-made clothes, jewelry and souvenirs. Almost every second building at Lonsdale is a coffee shop. Unlike in Amsterdam, they really sell coffee. “For here or to go?” is the basic question in this highly-developed Vancouver coffee culture, which also includes coffee art. People come to coffee shops every day, but are mostly too busy to stay. In case you are not in a hurry, you can easily talk to the barista for hours. I had a feeling that they were not only trained to make you a perfect latte, but also to give you a “shoulder to cry on”. If you become a regular, he might actually be the person who will know you best, the person who you might see even more often than your friends.
It is fascinating how many people in Canada are able to fulfil the dream of their inner artist. You can easily earn enough money to survive by taking any part-time job and then focus on what you really love doing. For example, if you’re a ski enthusiast, you can work as a seasonal worker during summer and ski all winter long for the money you have saved. Moreover, the work ethic there is very pleasant: Canadians are very particular about good relationships with customers and/or coworkers but nobody will interfere with how you reach the goal. From my experience, the Canadian “boss” is the one to motivate and reward you; if the employee fails, it’s his fault because he hasn’t done his work properly. Our manager used to buy us food and sweets every day or give us loaded Starbucks cards and extra money at the end of each successful month. Since I worked at four different places, I can tell that such treatment was nothing unusual.
Lower Lonsdale and Grouse Mt.
It might not be easy to immigrate to Canada, but on the other hand, those who succeed are all the more grateful for being able to live there. It’s nothing unusual to find the cars and houses left unlocked. You will also find lots of slightly used furniture along with electronics in perfect shape, and toys and bicycles left next to the garbage. This way you can save the money you earn at your well-paid job with a boss who tries to reward you instead of pulling the carpet out from under you. After work you come out into a world full of green grass, hundred-year-old trees and animals you can otherwise only see on Discovery Channel… and the icing on the cake are the passers-by smiling at you (if it isn’t raining the sixth day in a row). Can’t you see the picture of the Promised Land yet?
Photos: Jana Černičková's archives
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