A city is what you make of it

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]etting to know a city is not easy. There is so much personality, and history, that it takes several treks up and down its hills and side streets to learn what it’s all about. In a previous piece I wrote for The Peak, I romanticized my travels. I put so much focus on the idea that a trip is about who you’re with, that city almost doesn’t matter. Re-exploring Vancouver has changed my opinion that I need other people around me in order to experience another culture.

I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. The best word to describe my city is loud. There is relentless noise coming from the streets — people, traffic, music. I cannot imagine a place more beautiful than the dusty, messy, playful, bustling, sinful, and loving city.

When I was very young, every summer my father made a point of taking the whole family to a different country for a short period to expose us to different cultures. Over time, I developed a habit of associating a word to every new location I visited. It was a fun game I would play throughout my visit. Up until recently, I thought it was a fun way to get to know a city.

I spent hours thinking about which word I would blindly attach to Vancouver: cold. That was the best I could do.

Before my arrival, I imagined seeing the city and taking in the experience of being there. . . unfortunately, I never really got to do that.

Something felt completely wrong about that. The words I attached to other cities had both negative and positive connotations. That wasn’t the problem. “Cold” was something different. “Cold” meant unfriendly people and cold weather. That particular judgement of an entire city felt incomplete and unfair. I was staring out of my window into this damp city trying to think of a new word I could attach to it. I realized that despite living Vancouver for about three years now, we are still very much strangers.

Living in a new city should always be exciting and intriguing. Before my arrival, I imagined seeing the city and taking in the experience of being there. Unfortunately, I never really got to do that. School started immediately and time passed quickly. Now, I find myself in a city I don’t really have any genuine feelings for. Vancouver, as just a physical space, does not seem right to me. “Cold” didn’t seem right. So after three years, I decided to re-explore this city.

I decided I would reclaim the time I missed out on and spend three days getting acquainted with Vancouver as though I am meeting her for the first time. My mission was to find a more accurate word to describe the essence of Vancouver. In my search, I found three words that better describe this city: historical, diverse, and natural.

While passing through Chinatown and Strathcona with SFU’s International Club, I became aware of a history that I was previously ignorant too. Vancouver is a mosaic of people whose ancestors came from different countries. And now, each of these countries have a history in Vancouver. These different people contribute to Vancouver as we know it today by virtue of their history.

During my three-day experiment, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. Coffee shops give you the opportunity to have long conversations with people and observe them. People in Vancouver seemed cold because they are more reserved than what I was used to. Coming from a “loud” culture, a “reserved” one was always destined to feel cold in the beginning. Once you get past that wall, however, you find interesting people who make this often impersonal city feel like home.

While history and diversity are great ways to describe Vancouver, nature is probably the word I associate the most with this city. It’s so rare for such and urban city to be so beautifully contrasted with big trees, sprawling mountains, and dancing water.

My “Re-exploring Vancouver” challenge changed my perspective on not only this great city, but what traveling can do for on a personal level. You cannot depend other people to make you happy or interested in a city. You have to go out and search for the excitement. Vancouver and I are still getting acquainted, but I believe this city will make a lasting impact on me.