So Long, Vancouver

I’ve been so busy procrastinating packing for my move back to the Bay Area that I only realized this week that my flight back is almost two years to the day I left. I flew back to Vancouver on April 7, 2020 for what I thought would be a few interesting months. And here I am, two years later, making the return trip on April 15, 2022.

An Empty SFO on my way home

It’s obligatory to mention how fast time has gone by, but I especially resonate with it on two levels – first by how quickly we were able to find our new normal and develop an entire perspective on the future of work, and second, more personally, how quickly my 30s are coming for me.

Some say the anticipation of the weekend is better than the weekend itself, and I kind of feel that way about my age, only in reverse and slightly negative terms.

There’s a lot more to say about what my 30s mean, but I’ll save that for when I actually turn 30 next year (!!). For now, I just want to take a moment to reflect on a place I’ve called home for so long, and one I probably won’t get to come back to beyond a few weeks here and there.

Even before thinking about anything in specific terms, I realized that my impression of Vancouver is drastically different between the first 10 or so years when I grew up and went to school, versus to the last 2 where I unexpectedly found myself back home after the outbreak of Covid. 

A typical Vancouver hangout

Growing up I was busy enough struggling through school and early adulthood that I never really cared for the identity of the city. But in retrospect I realized the ironic truth that I (and my family) contributed verbatim to the stereotypes of Vancouver – a beautiful coastal city that’s expensive, unfriendly to outsiders, and perfect for retirement.

I didn’t care to make new friends because I had a core group from high school. I didn’t care for the college scene because I always came home after my classes. And I didn’t care for the foreigner-centric culture because I was an immigrant like many others and never planned to stay long.

Perhaps the worst offense of all – my parents were foreign investors who bought property in the city without contributing meaningfully to the local economy. It’s especially ironic that Vancouver became my safe-haven during Covid, knowing how unattainable the market is for most.

So with all that said, it feels a bit tone-deaf for me to pile on the echo-chamber for all the things Vancouver isn’t. Instead, it’s more pragmatic to say that Vancouver appeals to a specific type of personality, but with an unfortunate pre-requisite that you must also be able to stomach its costs.

The city is consistently considered one of the best places to live because of its mild weather, scenic mountains, and safe neighborhoods, so it was always going to attract real estate investment and people looking to settle. The unfortunate part of the equation is that Vancouver’s industry cannot really compete with the powerhouses on the east, which means that wage growth remains stagnant and perpetually under the cost of living. All metropolitans are expensive to live in, but Vancouver takes the crown with the highest home price to income ratio than even San Francisco or New York.

Whistler Mountain, photo by Andrew H.

It goes without saying that I wouldn’t be here today without the financial backing of my family. But recognizing that and setting it aside, I’ll really miss the city once I’m gone.

Compared to the first 10 years, I was basically a tourist in my second time around. I drove out of Richmond to see friends more often, took advantage of the nearby mountains and got back into skiing, and dedicated nights to try out interesting restaurants with my wife. It’s no understatement that Vancouver is one of the most livable cities in the world.

I’ll finish my post with a few memories of growing up here, in no particular order:

  • Going to Steveston with my parents to buy live fish, and then playing tennis at the shed
  • Grabbing a bag of snacks and fruits after school to watch the Blue Jays on TV at 4
  • Taking “Guitar 12” in the last few semesters of HS when grades didn’t matter anymore, but really just learned to play Poker with all the Chinese immigrants.
  • Being downtown during the 2011 Stanley Cup riots, risking my life for a sport I don’t care about
  • Playing online RTS games with my brother before he moved to Europe for good
  • Planning a few murder mysteries with my friend Sam before Escape Rooms were cool
  • Nursing my fish tank comically placed in the middle of the kitchen
  • Hosting monopoly parties weekly for a stretch of like 2 months (please no more)
  • Meeting my wife and getting married 🙂 – more on that in the future

I told Dora the other day that it’s really bittersweet in hindsight that we do a lot of things for the last time and never know it – like playing on the playground, living with your parents and siblings under one roof, or setting foot in a place you’ve always loved. I definitely feel that way now.

What I’m reading: Recently finished “A Killer in King’s Cove” by Iona Whishaw, a local author from Vancouver. It’s a mystery novel where the world building and character development felt more emphasized than the “who and how”, which was surprisingly pleasant. I kind of like it as a break over the usual Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes style where the payoff is largely in the last few chapters. The next book on my list is “Rant” by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s not particularly well-rated but I have heard that it’s a pretty mind-blowing book that’s either a 1 star or a 5 star. I’ll have to try it and report back.

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