Irish and Australians need not apply...

Trip Start Jan 16, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'll be honest from the outset and say that while Vancouver is undoubtedly a beautiful city, it is also more than a little frustrating.

Arriving in a new city is always a bit daunting, and as I was arriving here with a view to starting a new life, I was full of hopes and desires to begin that new life from the get go. 

Anyone who knows me or has travelled with me will know that airports always seem to find a way to bring out the worst in me, however, upon arriving in Vancouver airport, I couldn't help but notice how quiet and relaxed everything seemed. Maybe it had something to with having arrived from the madness of LA airport, but everything just seemed so chilled and hassle free. Even the process of making my visa official with the airport security was a surprising pleasant experience, with the official in question being extremely polite and helpful. The whole thing took about 10 minutes, after which I was officially official in Canada, free to live, work and follow that dream. If, as they say, first impressions last, then this was definitely a good one, and Canada was quickly earning lots of brownie points.

Having enjoyed 5 days of glorious sunshine in LA, it was back to normality with a bang as the rain and chilly weather reminded me of the conditions I left behind in Dublin. Settling into my temporary residence just off the very cool area of Commercial Drive, I began the processes of applying for a social security number, getting a bank account, mobile phone number...basically, all the boring stuff. These would be the first signs that things move a different pace here.

I based myself in a downtown hostel a few days after arriving and though it was extremely centrally located, at night time it turned into the Canadian equivalent of Temple Bar, (an extreme tourist location in Dublin, famous for it late night debauchery), so to say things got a bit messy after dark is an understatement. 

Once there, I set about trying to get myself a job and a place of my own, however as is quite often the case in life, things don't happen according to plan and it soon became apparent that frustrating times lay ahead

I knew that a lot of people had either immigrated to Canada or are due to come over very soon from various parts of the world, however I had not planned on almost 10,000 of them coming to Vancouver, and almost all of them looking for a job and a place to live. All of which meant that the few websites and contacts that people used to look for these things became completely saturated to the limit, and when asking around for websites or places to look, one name kept reoccurring; Craigslist, a website that deals in buying, selling or renting anything (or anyone) that you can think of. It's not the most reliable of places and there are just as many dodgy listings as there are authentic ones. The biggest problem is that not only are all the new comers to the city in competition with each other, they're also in competition with the locals for anything that came up.

Even very early on I was beginning to think that things were not quite adding up and I began to think of other options that lay open to me. In the meantime however I was also noticing little things that were very different here to back home. For example;

  • Banks charge $8 a month just to use the service - and that limits you to 25 withdrawals from an ATM
  • Mobile phone networks are very expensive and still offer relatively basic services. Plus, due to the size of the country, it means that networks are often confined to just the province of purchase, and will not always function on a nationwide basis.
  • Some of the "additional features" of my mobile phone account are; Caller Id and actually telling me when you have a missed call. 
  • Charging me to receive a call or a text. 
  • Tipping is expected here, and not just your average 10% either, but a whopping 20%. This doesn't necessarily mean the service is better, or even good, and in some cases it was downright awful.
  • Taxes are very high in Vancouver, a 12% Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) on all goods (pre-tip) in certain cases.
  • A very low minimum wage of €8 per hour, coupled with a very high cost of living.
However on the plus side, there is an excellent public transport system, both on the ground and under it with the fabulous Sky Train making almost everywhere accessible within around 30 minutes.
The city is spotlessly clean and has some beautiful views, especially with the snow capped mountains to the north that are so popular with snow boarders and skiers from around the world. 

Hockey (don't call it Ice Hockey, it's like calling football, soccer) is by far the biggest sport and form of entertainment here. Most teams play almost 90 games a season so there's a game on practically every night. For people who think there's too much football on back home, you'd be well and truly a Hockey Widow over here.

On the whole though, I think you can guess that while I certainly appreciate the attraction of Vancouver as a destination, for me it would be more of a place to visit than to live. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of living is very high and when there is no income coming in, it becomes an even bigger gap to bridge. I suppose ultimately it didn't really jump out an grab me in the way I expected or wanted it to, and while I had made some good friends in the hostel, I felt that too many people had come to the city looking for the same thing and I'm not too sure if the city was prepared for that. I could have been still there in a month's time with no job and even less money to my name, which would realistically only result in an early flight home, something I had seen happen to some fellow Irish here.

And so I made the decision to head out east, firstly to Saint John in New Brunswick and shortly to Halifax, Nova Scotia as I have heard so much about them that I feel the need to do some exploring and seeing some more of what is no doubt a very beautiful country. So as I am writing this from the comfort of my hostel room, looking out onto the bright blue skies and snow capped fields of Saint John, I think I would like to return to Vancouver one day, as a tourist and not as a potential immigrant as I still feel it has so much to offer. Having been here only a day, I can say that immediately I've noticed a huge difference in the people and the surroundings, for the better, and although it's -7 degrees at the moment, with an expected low of -13, yes it's freezing, but things have things already have a warmer glow off them. Have I made the right decision? Who knows, time will tell, however, if feels like I have made the right one for me, right now.

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