My very first impression of Canada was the customs and immigration screening, which did not go smoothly. For some reason they found it suspicious that Kathryn was arriving two days after me, and they got even more suspicious when I tried to explain that I was here to explore what it would be like to live and work here but I did not yet have a work permit. Leafing through my notebooks and finding nothing but Japanese homework, doodles, and indecipherable notes about BSDFs somehow reassured them that I wasn't going to be any trouble, and they stamped my passport.
Finding my way around Vancouver is difficult. Partly it's the unfamiliarity, but mostly the sky is so overcast that I can't tell what direction the sun is. "Good weather" in Vancouver is "cool and moist". Very overcast, humid. The weather started as a light drizzle in the morning, changing to a heavier drizzle in the afternoon. Even inside your clothes are damp and everything feels cold and moist.
Canadian ATMs take American cards and dispense colorful holographic money with a picture of the Queen on them. Not a big surprise, but since I arrived on a morning flight, low on sleep, the transition is as striking as the change from B&W to color in "Wizard of Oz". Also the old pennies have a young queen but the new pennies have an old queen. It's like if Dorian Gray was designing the money.
Vancouver is supposedly 20-30% Chinese, but walking around my first day I heard mostly Japanese being spoken. That might be more the demographics of Yaletown. I asked two people speaking Japanese at a cafe whether there was a Japantown, a Japanese district, or at least a Nijiya and they said no. "H-Mart" downtown is a very good korean grocery store, and the regular grocery stores sometimes have more Chinese stuff than you'd find in the states, but I can't find a good Japanese grocery store like there are in LA or SF. The most Japanese thing I've found so far is Japa Dog, which my friends in Japan tell me is not even slightly authentic but was very delicious nonetheless.
My Tmobile/Nexus One phone doesn't get data in Canada, and I was looking to get a SIM. Rogers covers the same GSM bands as Tmobile, and my phone roams on Tmobile, so I figured it would be a good choice. Unfortunately their prepaid doesn't do data, and they wouldn't let me sign up for a month-to-month plan. My American credit rating is excellent, but my Canadian credit history is nonexistent. I can see the problem that Google Voice is angling to solve. Canadian plans are cheap but voice mail is extra, and incoming display of caller ID is extra, and SMS is extra.
In the afternoon I went over to the regional Burning Man decompression, which seemed small and sparsely attended. I was there at 5:30 and 7:30 - perhaps it got going later. The trip gave me a chance to walk around Gastown and Chinatown. Architecturally, Gastown looked a little like Dickens era Britain, which is unsurprising since it was settled around that time. Unfortunately it seemed a little deserted - maybe it was the rainy drizzly weather keeping everyone indoors. Chinatown also seemed fairly desolate, in contrast to SF Chinatown which is so crowded it's sometimes hard to walk down the street. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe I just didn't stumble into the good part. I ended up having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Gastown, paying $17 for a plate of two tacos, rice, beans, and salad at La Casita. If I leave the SF/LA mexiplex I will definitely need to redefine my acceptable taco parameters.
In the evening I went out for beer with a co-worker who's also looking around up here. He's married with a kid and seems to like what he sees. He had taken the $2.50 SeaBus to North Vancouver which he says is a little boring and suburban but also beautiful, with nothing but 1200 miles of wilderness to the north of you.
Near my hotel, Granville Street was closed to traffic for Saturday Night. There are a lot of clubs and bars on Granville in addition to pizza / buffalo wing / poutine "drunk food". The street was full of club-hopping twenty and thirtysomethings and was extremely lively, but I didn't spend a lot of time down there since that scene is not really my thing.
My hotel's terms of Internet service cautions users that "Individuals using the Internet may find material that is inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, not age appropriate, controversial or offensive to them." This is possibly the greatest understatement I have ever read.