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Diary: This American/Canadian Road, Vancouver

Vancouver 2015 - 4

Oregon had offered us weather pleasant enough to go out on the deck (or whatever our Airbnb of the night had in the way of an outdoor area) and catch up on work, sometimes with a bottle of wine. Seattle, not so much. We even crossed the Washington border under clear skies — or as clear as they get around there this time of year, anyway — but then the text messages started coming in from friends up there: “Stay on I-5; the 405’s down to one lane.” “I hope we get power back by the time you arrive.” “Shit is fucked up north.”

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We soon got into the rain, and memories of growing up in the northwest myself flooded, as it were, right back. Making our way past downed trees, inching down roads jammed with traffic diverted by other roads covered by even more downed trees, I reflected upon how, though Seattle proper rarely loses power, somehow the suburbs have severe difficulty keeping the lights on all year round. A storm hits and you lose electricity for a day, two days, three days. The friend we stayed with lost power for six days one winter, and now, still living in the region but married and in a nicer apartment, he’d lost it again.

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Given the frequency with which these parts have to do without, many establishments just keep the gears turning when the lights go out. We spent the afternoon overlooking the water as we drank beer in a dive past which I drove countless times in my high school days, then ventured into a darkened nearby Safeway in search of harder stuff. (A kid in a miner-style lamp hat opened their liquor cabinet for us.) But even with our supply of the drink assured, these conditions made it an ideal time, we all agreed, to take the party even farther north, to Vancouver — and thus to take it international. First stop: the Granville Island brewing company, for yet more beer (albeit beer only available in British Columbia).

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Cultural transplantation has become something of a theme in this trip, but then again, it’s also become a theme in my social circle — and maybe more to the point, in my entire life. We, a Korean-and-American couple and a Filipino-and-American couple, had crossed into Canada to visit a South African-and-American couple who have made their home in Vancouver for years now. But before paying a visit to their much-renovated (albeit at the moment temporarily unelectrified, though touches like a translucent bathroom door mitigated the problem) new Kitsilano house, we crossed the Burrard Bridge to pick up food from Daikichi, whose menu not only boasts low, low prices (even in Canadian dollars) but several variations on what I’ve come to regard as the acme of Vancouver cuisine: sweet potato sushi.

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Chris, the American half of that South African-and-American couple, keeps a blog about the city called Reflecting Vancouver (where he has written about the actual becoming-Canadian process as well). I’ve known him since first grade, and the intervening 24 years, our sets of interests have both slanted toward cities in general — more or less independently, but not, I would say, quite 100 percent so. (Generational tends — we both count among the supposedly urban-oriented “Millennials” — explain some of it as well.)

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Vancouver’s beacon shone to Chris early on, and he made his city-driven move of expatriation at least seven years before I’ll have made mine. This has given him time to establish the kind of life that has allowed he and his partner to put together the rooftop garden in which we all sat and, over yam rolls and additional beer, talked about cities, languages, transit, and travel. I insisted that everyone come visit us as soon as we’ve set ourselves up in South Korea, an idea that met with no opposition. And eventually the power even came back on.