Date : 28th February, 2018
Time : 12:32 AM
It has been a two months since I came back from Vancouver but it feels like just yesterday that I was boarding the plane for Amsterdam. This journey has become a big part of my life although I was there only for ten days and was only able to explore the popular tourist destinations. I also learnt a lot of things and grew as a human being. Travelling to a foreign country introduces you to new cultures, new ideas, different people, and helps you to gain a fresh perspective. But that is, of course, when you get used to the changes in the environment.
Vancouver was, of course, very different from India. We have been to many places in India and anywhere we went, we always felt at home. We always knew what to do and how to behave because we were used to it.
As we went down for breakfast, I had expected freshly cut fruits, boiled eggs and bread, as that had been the standard breakfast in the hotels we had been to in India. Instead, we found four different kinds of cereal, at least ten different kinds of bread, flavoured yoghurt and a few apples. We soon found out that, in Canada, they followed a system of self service. A microwave, a waffle maker, a coffee dispenser, a toaster, everything was provided to us and we had to make use of it to prepare our breakfast. We helped ourselves to get used to it and got back to our standard breakfast every day. My mom would pick up toast and yoghurt. Papa usually settled with granola and toast. I grabbed a waffle with lots of syrup and whipped cream, and eventually, a banana.
Our hotel had a restaurant but it had been closed for renovation. So we usually had lunch at some restaurant and filled ourselves with cup noodles for dinner. Occasionally, we dined out. Acquiring food was a big problem, since the most popular meat in Western countries is pork. As we are Muslims, we couldn’t eat that. We were also not sure if the chicken we found at certain places was Halal, so we had turned vegetarian temporarily, always scrounging around for vegetarian food. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough variety of that. I felt sorry for all the vegan people who live over there.
Our first day in Vancouver was not a good day. We were constantly confused by the transport system. The public transport system consisted of buses, Skytrain and taxis. The skytrain and bus system was amazing, each train or bus arrived on time, every ride had special seats reserved for the elderly and specially abled, and it was quite easy to get the tickets. The great convenience was, that one ticket would work for the train, bus and another transport service called the seabus. More on that later.
The cab system, however, was horrible. I had never understood why every teenager in American books was so eager to turn sixteen and get their driving permit. It was only when we were standing at an abandoned bus stop, frozen to our bones, watching people drive by in their cars, warm and comfortable, that I realized why. There was no system of Uber in Vancouver and the taxi services that were available were never on time.
Something that kept bothering us throughout, was the cold. The maximum temperature in Vancouver was 2°C in winter and the minimum was -4°C. We were told that Vancouver is the warmest city in Canada, but for me, it was the coldest temperature I had ever experienced. The minimum temperature in Mumbai is something around 24°C. We were aghast at watching people in shorts, sleeveless tops, mini-skirts and looking as if the cold didn’t affect them at all, while we were freezing under five layers of clothes! Just looking at them made me feel colder.
The traffic system in Canada was amazing. Well at least I thought so. Growing up in India, a place which has terrible traffic system, I had never paid much attention to traffic rules. The importance of zebra crossings, traffic lights, waiting for the cars to pass before crossing the road, had been taught to us at an early age but hardly anyone ever implements those rules. Zebra crossings are so infrequently used that hardly any of them are even visible, as no one thinks that they are important enough to be painted back. It’s different in Vancouver. The pedestrians and the vehicles co-ordinate perfectly, pedestrians wait for the cars to pass before crossing the road, the cars wait for the light to turn green, everyone respects the traffic rules, and there are multiple traffic lights at every turn.
Another extreme handicap was the lack of internet facility. There were many places that had free wifi, but since we were out on the road almost all the time, we couldn’t be dependent on that. My dad got a data pack of two-GB data for a month. We had become so used to getting unlimited data and unlimited calling that we were quite shocked to see that other countries didn’t have that facility. Also, due to some reason, Papa wasn’t able to turn on his hotspot, so I and my mom were constantly searching for a wifi network wherever we went. There is a wifi network called ShawOpen which was available all over Vancouver, but I guess that was only for Canadian citizens because we were not able to access it. We met many people and they were all very surprised learning that we had unlimited data in India, since they considered India to be an underdeveloped country without much good facilities. Perhaps they needed to know that Indian consumers can be extremely demanding and ambitious.
Now, if you know anything about me and my family, you would know that we are all very good with our English. But there was something about the people there, which made us all doubt our communication skills. Everyone spoke perfect English, which makes sense because that is the first language they have been taught since childhood. India being a cultural get-together for many communities speaking diverse language, speaking impeccable English without the influence of local accent is considered to be a great skill – a skill that I was proud to say I had mastered. But for some reason, I turned into a stuttering mess whenever I had to order food or ask a passerby for directions.
It took us some time, but eventually we got used to the change.