I recently moved to Vancouver, Canada to be Stereoscopic Supervisor on the Lego Movie Sequel. It’s been a fascinating first 6 weeks here in the ‘first world’. Discovering the ins & outs of life in such a bizarre country. I say bizarre because from my South African perspective it’s very different, people are different, processes are different. It’s not just that they drive on the right-hand side of the road, but it’s the subtle differences you just don’t come prepared for.
I arrived just towards the end of Autumn and so the trees were largely still covered in their beautiful fall colours. The first weekend was magical. I arrived early on a Saturday morning and after checking into my hotel I passed out to try and offset the jetlag, when I woke up it was snowing! I have seen snow before, but never seen it actually falling. The very next day the clouds cleared and Vancouver had a fantastic clear sunny day. I explored the city by foot, enjoying the suns warmth and the clear views of the distant mountains.
So what have I discovered in my weeks here, well they do a lot of things differently, the effects of marketing & consumerism are insane, homelessness is a huge problem, banks are very odd, and all this whilst living in what feels like a movie set.
GST & Tipping
It wasn’t long before I discovered my first oddities regarding Canada. Saturday lunch time rolls around and I am desperate for some food, time to find a cheap lunch. The hunt led me to a Subway and their $6 sub of the day, that’s affordable (when you are spending Rand still) but pretty good considering I had just seen a slice of cake for $5 around the corner. We go through the hoops of what bread, what fillings and then the girl at the counter says, ‘That’ll be $6.80’. Wait where did the 0.80c or R8 suddenly appear from?
Turns out Canadians don’t include the GST (VAT) in their quoted prices at restaurants, supermarkets, dollar stores, cafe’s, etc. So now literally everything I see at a mall or shop that sounds like a good price I now know is not. GST here is confusing in its own right, there appears to be 3 forms of GST and sometimes they are all added, and other times not added?! There is a GST, that runs at about 5%, and a PST at around 7%. Some states have at least combined them both into a HST… but seriously just include it in the price already! Cost of food at restaurants does not end there, the average tip for a waiter here is 20%! So on a $10 burger expect to pay nearly $13.50. Good luck finding a burger & chips for $10 though
Banks & Interac
I always find the banking systems between the countries I have travelled to and lived in fascinating. Banks in Canada offer savings accounts that limit the number of transactions you can make monthly. Your chequing account however will have unlimited transactions along with linking to your debit card for everyday purchases. Savings accounts receive interest at a ridiculous 0.75%, hardly seems worth it. The debit card I received has no MasterCard or Visa affiliation so I am unable to spend money online or I assume anywhere outside of Canada, as a work around they give you an extra ‘virtual visa debit card’.
This virtual card is not ‘virtual’ at all, in fact I received a physical card in the mail, it has all the regular numbers of a credit card but simply misses the Magnetic Strip & Chip. Seems pointless right, why not just give me one card that works for everything like a Capitec Global One card. I have travelled to over 18 countries on my Capitec Card! I guess in the eyes of the local banks these unaffiliated cards mean they do not need to had over transaction fees to MasterCard or Visa since they use their own system called Interac, which lets you effectively do an EFT to someone by only having their email address, and a secret word that both of you have discussed before.
Pedestrians & Electric Charging
It would appear that pedestrians have right of way in most circumstances here. Its probably because the legal ramifications of hitting someone is huge. I find it rather interesting since I have listened to this podcast explaining the ‘creation of jaywalking laws in the US’ – 99% Invisible – Modern Moloch. I take some issue to this ‘Pedestrians have right of way’ thing. I walked up to a crossing of a very minor suburban street connecting with a major artery. I stopped to let the car indicating turn off the major road and into the subsidiary street, but instead he stopped and backed up all of traffic in the major road and waved me on. Seriously, let the flow of traffic continue… I had already stopped walking and yet he caused a major backup. Oh, Canada aay!
Pedestrians are also so well behaved, I suspect that there are actually Jay Walking laws because even with no traffic at a traffic light, or approaching, no one will cross the road until the little man says, walk. So well behaved!
I was pretty chuffed to see electric charging stations for you car right within the city of Vancouver. Its a great step toward electric vehicle adoption. Speaking of which I walked past a Tesla dealership last week, I must go try one out 🙂
Homeless & Consumerism & Makeup
This blows my mind! I am not even sure where to begin. Lets start with the homeless situation. Its intense, apparently due to the fact that Vancouver is the ‘warmest’ city in Canada a homeless person will probably survive longer on the streets of Vancouver than in the colder cities of Canada. I don’t know the reasons yet, but most of the homeless seem pretty drugged up. They either stand in the streets wearing shorts & a beanie sopping wet from the rain but appear to be oblivious to the rain & cold, or they are dressed warmly but stand or walk past you shouting at the trees, the buildings, even you, warning you of impending doom, the police taking your money or pretty much anything that falls from their minds. They stagger around pretty much like zombies.
Vancouver Life on the Streets
The flipside? Consumerism is rife! The 3 weeks I had a TV, I gave it 3 days before deciding that I could not tolerate the number of adverts, let alone how terrible they adverts are… but turning off your TV does not protect you from in your face marketing. Walk the streets, everyone is wearing the latest/greatest brand, newest apple watch, a single use paper coffee cup from some big US coffee brand *cough* starbucks! Beer actually is still sold in those ridiculous plastic loop holders that hold the tops of cans. In a society as educated as that of Canada you would think these would have been outlawed, but life is is so ‘good’ who cares that the rest of the world is drowning under this trash!
Marketing is inescapable, every shop has ‘special’, multi buy deals, anything to try get you through the door and spending. It feels culturally pervasive, as if the Canadian culture is, to shop. You have to own the best, look the best… and this leads me to the overuse of makeup. If I think it through I have nothing against makeup, girls sure look pretty, I guess I dislike the fact that it is needed and needed in such quantities. In my mind its all linked, look good, buy more make up, consume more, spend more. Its not actually required, but this fake construct to ‘look good’ is really a consumerist concept designed to make you spend money.
Anyway this is all my opinion. I hate it and refuse to spend $200 on a pair of shoes just because they say VANS on them, when I bet if I dug a bit I would find it cost them $5 to make them in a massive factory in China or Indonesia.
Plastic and Profit in China
The Terrifying Truth Of Corporate Power
Aaah, the rental market. Apparently there is a shortage of housing in Vancouver, and thus the ridiculous housing/rental costs. I do however feel that the pricing of rentals is not based purely on fundamentals, but largely on sentiment. A lot like the price of bitcoin. I found an apartment owned by a chap who hasn’t lived in Vancouver in a while and so hasn’t quite caught up to the insanity of it all… this is good for me at least, albeit I am still paying what in South African terms would be a monthly bond repayment on a R1.3million house… and that’s for a room in a shared apartment!
The government has set out to build another 72,000 dwellings over the next 10 years, 48,000 of which will purely be for rental. That’s 7,200 new flats/apartments every year. In 2016 there were 309,000 dwellings available in Vancouver, if they do add 78,000 more that is roughly 23% more… but I doubt it will impact the cost of rent by 23%. Turns out it is also highly expected of you to get ‘Renters Insurance’. Yup these Canadians are scared of a sparrows fart and thus push this idea on you. Obviously quoting all the worst scenarios! Fire! Earth quakes! Sigh!
Now lets take a look at what they call Building Strata’s or The Strata. Its basically a bunch of people who think they get to make all the rules & charge you for everything in the building you live. Seems like all apartment buildings have strata’s. So the strata in the building I live in want to charge me $150 as move-in fee, and then a $150 move-out fee! What does this insane amount of money cover… well normally, they claim, ‘Security, Unlocking of the front doors, and padding in the elevators’. Firstly, I have not seen a single security person yet! Secondly, have I seen them put up or remove elevator padding… since the elevator padding is permanently installed in the one elevator. (I make a point of using that elevator at least once everyday! Thirdly… I arrived with a wheelie bag and a backpack! I walked through the front door (just the one, so no need to unlock the 2nd door) let alone protect the elevator from point 2! FOOLS! The strata won’t even budge on this cost, considering I arrived with two bags! Seems they can’t even clean the spiderwebs out of the hallway either.
Movie Set Feel
So turns out Vancouver is heavily used in films, but never plays Vancouver. It is always dressed up to be some other city, from India, to New York. The reality of this is that whilst walking around the city you feel like you are on a movie set all the time. The nondescript vans that could easily be an FBI surveillance truck are everywhere. The classic red fire hydrants, the alleyways with dumpsters, the fire escapes outside buildings. I am just waiting for spiderman or tony stark to jump off a building into the street in front of me. Its even been documented in this great youtube clip!
Vancouver Never Plays Itself
Canadians just seem to ignore/or not notice the rain and simply get on with life. Its true that they largely have a pair of smart office shoes that they leave at the office and some kind of waterproof walking shoes for the minute they leave. Its refreshing to find offices and restaurants catering for people with winter jackets weather it comes in the form of a Jacket Closet or hooks under the tables. According to the guys at the office it was snowing this time last year, but for the past 2 weeks now its been incredibly sunny & relatively warm at about 8 degrees celsius. The weather for this weekend is predicting some rain and temps of 6. My first three weeks here were dominated by rainy days, thankfully not much wind is included so umbrellas come in super handy.
Cellphone plans are not at all cheap. Best I could find is CAD$40 for 30 days, 2 gig data and unlimited calls & texts. Sure its R100 ($10) less than my cellphone bundle back in SA, where I am not only getting a matching plan (albeit not unlimited calls), but I am receiving an entire flagship smartphone as part of the deal. This Canadian deal gives me no device at all. I believe if I was willing to take a 2 year bundle with one of the providers here I might have got a similar deal, but my employment contract is only 11 months so this limits my options.
So yes, this weekend concludes my first 6 weeks in Canada. I am still adapting to days being so short, with the sun setting at 4:15pm and only rising at 8:04am, whilst being paid 26 times in the year, which basically equates to every 2nd friday… meaning I will receive 3 payments in December and in June?!?
Am I liking it here? If you haven’t picked it up from my tone above yet… largely no! Is it better than having to deal with all the political rubbish of South Africa? Well yes… tough one that! Do I miss South Africa, yes! It is home, a beautiful country with cheap beer & all my favourite people!