An Expat in Vancouver: Olive trees and climate change

Olive Tree in Kitsilano

Olive Tree in Kitsilano

On a chilly but sunny day in March, I spotted something I thought I’d never see in the dark, misty Pacific Northwest: an olive tree. Not a skinny twig growing out of a pot destined to wither against the odds, but a full grown, bountifully branched and leafy specimen. To top it off, the same yard had a second tree. A tiny black olive hung on for dear life.

Today the Vancouver Sun explains how Mediterranean produce will increasingly be grown in this geography. Because the geography is changing, e.g. warming up.

The Kitsilano olive trees might have been pioneers, but they foretell a trend. Maybe before too long we’ll have our own Riviera.

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An Expat in Vancouver: Discovering Pocket Parks


A local real estate blog published my guest post today.


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An Expat in Vancouver: A Medical Care Review


We’ve been nothing but impressed with the health care we have received since moving to Vancouver two years ago, but we haven’t been that sick so — happily — our experiences have been minimal. I can say that after hearing that we’d never get in to see a doctor in short notice, and that doctors here are reluctant to order tests, and that specialists were impossible to see within a reasonable time frame, aka sooner than 18 months, we can say that has not been our experience.

This week, my husband took rather more seriously ill and we got exposure to the local hospital. It was most reassuring.

After his doctor saw him for the third time that week and could not take his diagnosis further, she got him in to see a specialist within two hours. The specialist then sent him to Vancouver General Hospital for more tests. By the time my husband got to the ER, they had the notes the specialist had forwarded.

Yes, he was there the whole rest of the day. But they took six vials of blood for tests, put him on an antibiotic IV, took an X-Ray and a CAT scan, gave him a prescription of antibiotics to take home, and had him see doctors several times. He’s got a follow up appointment for a couple of days from now with the specialist he saw at the hospital. So, yes, it was an all day affair, with seven hours at the hospital alone, but every moment in the process was justified.

Of course, there was no paperwork on his end, no insurance forms other than showing his CareCard, and no money turned over.

I’d say our monthly contributions to B.C. Health were well spent! Best of all, my husband is feeling better.

Now, I know that if I needed a knee or hip replacement, the wait would be very long. That is less than perfect. But based on what we’ve experienced so far, we feel we’d be very well seen after in any medical situation.

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An Expat in Vancouver: Finding Friends


The other day I had a conversation over coffee with a Canadian and another American expat about how Vancouver rates as a friendly city.

When I first moved here, I met a Montrealer who literally shuddered remembering the loneliness of her first two years here. “It’s a cold, even frigid, city,” she told me.

A Winnipeg native and a former client told me “Vancouver is the East coast of the West coast,” meaning it had the reputation of an impersonal megacity like New York.

Recently I ran across this post from a year ago, which echoes these sentiments. As does this one.

My colleague suggested that if I’d expected a parade or a limo to welcome my arrival, then it was no surprise that I would be disappointed. Honestly, it’s not that. I’ve joined this and that, showed up here and there, made invitations and pursued getting to know people.

I’ve made numerous attempts to forge acquaintances, ending up not even to the point of friendship. With the people I meet here, 99 percent of the time our coffee or drink meeting results in no follow-up from their end. Maybe if I had young children I’d have more success, as so many people I meet are in that phase of life and probably caught up in it.

We live in an apartment building with a patio that allows us frequent contact with our neighbors on each side. On one side are neighbors who only acknowledge us if we initiate a greeting, and then scurry away to avoid any lingering conversation. If we pass them on the street or at the gym they avoid eye contact. On the other side, however, are neighbors who have offered to water our plants when we are away, loaned us books and have invited us over for drinks. Those friendly folks are the exception, I have to say. While I find Vancouverites polite, civil and laid back, they are not warm and outgoing, as a general rule. The concept of friendliness is rather undeveloped in my opinion.

What surprises me is when I hear even young people complain about the lack of friendliness. On a train from Vancouver to Portland, I overheard (he was drinking beer and was quite loud) a young man give several examples of how friendly Portland was compared to Vancouver. A recent study found that young people are amongst the most “sad and lonely” in the city.

It’s complicated. For sure, on a summer night there isn’t a pub or park that isn’t packed with groups of revelers who certainly do not seem lonely. Jericho Beach on a lovely day is swarming with clusters of families and friends picnicking and tossing frisbees. I’ve met some warm and generous people with whom I have made real connections.

In the coffee shop with my acquaintances, we speculated on possible reasons for the reputation of “no fun City.” I’ve heard that there is a deep fear of giving offense, given the potential for it in a city that is so multicultural. Perhaps the English reserve of its cultural DNA is responsible. One of my colleagues speculated that the city is lurching towards the future so quickly that it disorients people. I don’t understand that, but I’ll give it more thought. A speaker at a cultural event I attended said the city’s many distinct cultural enclaves keep people separate and out of touch with each other, and therefore prevent community. I definitely can see that. Maybe it’s just that Vancouver is so expensive and its apartments so tiny. It’s hard to socialize without dough or the space to hang out out of the rain.

There are a lot of freelancers and small studios here. We work from home offices, or in very small groups, and as a result circles are small. That’s certainly my case. When I think of the friends I’ve made over the years, most came from school or jobs I’ve held.

Making Vancouver feel like home will take more time, patience and effort.


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An Expat in Vancouver: The Trees of Kitsilano


If like me you love trees, especially big old gnarly ones, a walk through Kitsilano in springtime is for you. And today I just discovered this handy dandy walking map of the trees in the area. However, it does not seem to identify the trees on each street, which are quite varied. For that, you need to be accompanied on your walk with the Baedeker of tree touring in the city, “The Trees of Vancouver” by Gerald Straley.

Both of these documents will be with me on the next clear weekend day, when I will clear three hours off my calendar to finally come to know my neighborhood’s trees.

Next, I have to find out who put up the dozen or so birdhouses in the trees at Larch and 10th.


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A Rare Spring


We have had a week of this weather, so unusual for us. A day here or there is not unthinkable, but seven?

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An Expat in Vancouver: The Opera

There are a few options for high culture in Vancouver. The Recital Society, the Vancouver Symphony and the Vancouver Opera are some standouts. The quality, I hear, can be uneven so I’ve tried to be careful when buying tickets to look for the right combination of performers and material. You don’t want to aim above what local arts groups can offer. Because the reality is that Vancouver is a 2nd tier arts city. Therefore it is unfair to compare the arts resources of a 2nd tier city like Vancouver with those of Toronto or New York. ┬áPlus, Vancouver arts have been seriously cut recently by a philistine provincial government.

(There is something curious about Vancouver’s art scene: with rare exception, performances are poorly marketed. Sometimes I hear of a visiting Russian ballet company or leading opera singer coming to town at the last minute or only because I’ve gone a deep dive search for local happenings.)

I am privileged enough to have been to big opera houses in the US and Europe. When the stops are all out, opera is an immersive and awe-some experience. I’ve also been to smaller opera houses in the US, and as in Vancouver there is no way they can ever measure up to the grand ones. Fact.

Not to say that all is perfection at the Metropolitan Opera and such. I’ve cringed at some tenors and sopranos on that stage who were way past their prime, and some of its super expensive productions were exercises in abysmal taste.

The Vancouver Opera‘s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” looked promising. Its concept was intriguing, and inspired: First Nations characters in a Pacific Northwest setting, appropriately costumed and staged. It made a good fit with Mozart’s vision of a lost Prince in a bewitched forest accompanied by a loveless bird catcher.

And I have to say, I just love the VO use of manga to market its productions. It strikes me as a clever, creative way to demonstrate relevance to younger audiences. The company’s artistic choices strike the right chord.

But somehow, the concept fell flat in execution. What did work clashed with what did not; opportunities for a better integrated mix of the First Nations aesthetic were absent, or attempted weakly. The attempt to blend the contemporary and fantastical ancient world seemed an afterthought and ultimately unnecessary. The voices were generally good but the staging plodded.

Now, while I think this was a miss, it was still a good opera for children. There was enough to keep them delighted, and the fact that it was sung in English, with surtitles, meant the story would not be lost to them or confusing.

I’ll return to the VO. I owe them that. There is an interesting contemporary opera coming up. A Gilbert and Sullivan production would interest me. But the classics and grand operas I might have to leave to the Live at the Met Opera broadcasts.

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