Sunday, January 02, 2011

Leaving Vancouver

The metal detectors at Vancouver International are really rather sensitive. I made the mistake of trying to go through the security cordon with three one-cent coins, a foil chewing gum wrapper and a piece of fluff in my pockets. Luckily Canadian security were on hand to frisk me and determine that the fluff was not a threat to the safety of my fellow travellers.

Vancouver International is a wonderful airport. It's not quite as big and shiny as Hong Kong International, but it does have an aquarium near the gates, which is wonderful for anyone wanting to calm themselves by peering at fish while waiting their flight to depart. There's also a vast array of shops selling different things made of maple syrup, emblazoned with Canadian flags, or both.

Perhaps it's nice to have some pride in your country. You get lots of tat for sale at Heathrow with British flags all over it, but there's no quintessentially British foodstuff to make everything out of. (Suet, perhaps?) But when you wander into the rest of England, outside of the pits of tourist horror, there's not many things with the Union flag plastered over them. Whereas in Vancouver every bus, every public building, every person seems to be clearly labelled as Canadian. I lost track of how many wholesome, healthy couples I saw over the last three days wearing matching his-and-hers Canada sweatshirts.

Perhaps this means that all of Vancouver is a tourist trap. Or that the British are much more confident about their nationality, and therefore don't need to constantly draw attention to it. Or that the British are fundamentally ashamed of being British, which is why we try to avoid reminding people what country they're in. Whereas if you go to Hong Kong and wander around Victoria Park on any given Sunday, there seem to be crowds of Indonesian domestic helpers on their day off, wearing t-shirts inexplicably emblazoned with the red, blue and white of Great Britain. Perhaps it was Cool Britannia after all.

Last night we celebrated the New Year in Vancouver, sixteen hours after it came around in Hong Kong, by going to a party full of Swedes and drinking aquavit and gin. We swapped our Nova Scotian lobster, 'John', for some Swedish liquorice of strange provenance, provided by one of my Swedish friends from London. This particular one seems to be the Scandinavian Dorian Gray, untouched by the passing of time, looking identical to how she was ten years ago. Whereas I've had the good grace to chop at least eighteen inches of hair off my head and grow a beard in the meantime.

So shocked was I by her lack of transformation that I scuttled back to the apartment we were staying in, long before it reached midnight. A cheery Canadian cab driver drove us home, and then we stayed up playing cards and drinking until well past one in the morning.

This obviously set us up perfectly for this morning; I was a shambling mess, ignorant of the beautiful sunrise streaming into the bedroom, and only capable of drinking strong tea and making faces at a seven-month-old infant until it was time to go to the airport and have my aluminium foil x-rayed. Sad to say, my hosts weren't having any of this and made me go out for breakfast, rather than skulk indoors.

This was a wonderful opportunity to discover that even if it's really hot inside a centrally-heated building, so that wearing a sweatshirt is uncomfortable, it may still be so cold outside that you're reduced to a shivering mess, kinked up inside your hoodie and trying to hide from the freezing air, while your friends jeer at you for failing to bring a suitable jacket out with you as you walk towards breakfast.

Breakfast was also a wonderful opportunity to reacclimatise myself to Hong Kong, because while we were eating a cockroach clambered up onto the table and came to inspect us. It was only a small cockroach, not one of the mighty inch-and-a-half long crustaceans that stalk the mean streets of the Special Administrative Region, but it was still brave and inquisitive. I tried to trap it under a plate, but because it was a hardy specimen, it crawled out from underneath and wandered around the table some more, looking at us and then scurrying away again. Perhaps it saw that my vegetarian breakfast wasn't substantial enough for the two of us to share. Even the vermin in Canada have better manners, it seems.

Anyway, that was enough excitement for one day, so afterwards we went straight to the airport, which neatly returns us to my earlier pronouncements on metal detectors. Happily that was the only slightly difficult part of the journey: blessed as I am with a Cathay Pacific frequent flier card, I get to skip past the main queue of people and sit down early on the plane, ready to watch the end of The Other Guys (very angry infographics about the 2008/2009 bail out), The Social Network (inspiring gloom and envy in roughly equal measure) and The Tournament (the worst advert for Middlesborough that anyone could hope for - guns! explosions! ugly people! dodgy strip clubs! Robert Carlyle! a plot that seems to be Van Damme's Hard Target cross-bred with Death Race 2000 and the serial numbers filed off!)


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