PacNW Trip 2 of 3: Vancouver BC


After picking up Mom and Dad at Sea-Tac and getting dim sum in Seattle’s Chinatown, we made the three-hour drive to Vancouver (plus an hour wait at the border and bumper-to-bumper traffic leading up to the RIchmond Bridge) The mix CDs that Eoise and I made before hitting the road didn’t hurt because the radio stations got pretty bad once we were out of KEXP’s range.

After checking into our apartment in Vancouver’s Yaletown, we took an Aquabus over to the Granville Island market for dinner. It was lively and touristy like Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax or Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A., but what’s up with everything shutting down at 7:00 p.m.? We had Indian food, Japanese food, and fish and chips, but there were no gallery visits or even donuts for us afterward. At least the public art by Os Gemeos that I wanted to see couldn’t be shut down.


After returning downtown, we followed the crowds to English Bay to watch fireworks. It turns out our first and last nights in Vancouver coincided with the Celebration of Light, an international fireworks competition.

As a guy held down a summer job at Disneyland and goes to a lot of Dodger games nowadays, I’ve seen a lot of fireworks but the displays by the Brazilian and Canadian competitors were out-of-control. Without musical accompaniment, they were like 25-minute drum solos that echoed through the streets and reflected on the water as well. It’s amazing, and it’s a real spectacle see the masses of pedestrians and clouds of smoke filling the streets afterward. Kinda like a zombie movie.


The next morning, we walked to the Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown. I don’t think Eloise had ever seen anything like that before and, just like the traditional ones in China, you can see skyscrapers rising above the walls. Talk about Yin and Yang.

We kept on walking, stopping for lunch at the most Pan-Asian food court ever and a snack at a fancy “donuterie,” and then visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. In addition to having a collection of famous Italian paintings on loan from Scotland, there were installations by contemporary local artist Geoffrey Farmer (below, right), whose collages and collections of all shapes and sizes seemed to be as much about museums as art. Weird and DIY and a little spooky for Eloise.


That afternoon, we dove up to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The tourist attraction is about a half-hour away in North Vancouver but it’s pretty cool for parents like us who want to take their family to something related to nature without necessarily roughing it.

The big attraction is a 450-feet long suspension bridge (below, left) that has allowed tourists to cross a gorge more than 200-feet below since 1889. But now there’s also a bunch of treetop bridges (below, center) that remind me of Ewok Village and a more modern one (below, right) that follows the side of a cliff. Eloise loved it, and enjoyed taking pictures next to all of the badass totems, too.


North Vancouver was pretty sleepy but it was a nice surprise to spot more public art there. Wendy, Eloise, and I had seen Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Walking Figures a couple of summers ago in Chicago and it was cool to see more right by the Cantonese restaurant where we had dinner. We never crossed paths with the pieces by Ai Weiwei or Yue Minjun, who took part of the Vancouver Biennale, too, but oh well.

When Mom, Dad, and Eloise retired for the night, Wendy and I were picked up by my old friend/ex punk singer/video game developer Ian Verchere and his wife/artist Germaine Koh. I met Ian when Eric and I traveled to Vancouver to cover the Sumo Basho for Giant Robot way back in 1998, and we have kept in touch through the magic of Facebook. They took us to La Casa Gelato, which has 218 flavors of frozen dessert! What a cool evening talking about the city and its art, punk rock, and minor league baseball. GR mag is long gone but its legacy definitely lives on in the friends I see wherever I go.


The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology is something that I hadn’t inked onto our itinerary until both of my local friends strongly and independently recommended we pay it a visit. The First Nations cultures are a big deal to the people of Vancouver, and it turned out to be vitally important to see authentic examples of their work and learn not only the history but consider the ongoing relationship between the First Nations people, the modern city, and the operating government into the future.

On the way back from the UBC campus, we stopped by Zulu Records. They used to place Mint Records advertisements in GR back in the day, so I wanted to pay my respects and maybe cop some some DOA, SNFU, or Nomeansno vinyl while I was at it. With the parking meter running out of ticks, I walked away with X’s Under The Big Black Sun for CDN$5.00. Yes, they’re one of my favorite hometown bands but that’s less than four American dollars for a crucial punk record that I only had on CD!


We happened to be in Vancouver at the same time as my cousin’s family that was staying in Richmond–the heart of Hongcouver and right where the weekly Night Market takes place. It was sweet to hang out with them and then walk over to the event. Of course, we felt a little sick after eating greasy Pan Asian street food and gross classic fair fare, and had no need to purchase cheap sunglasses, colorful socks, or Wonder Mop, either, but it was full of colors, smells, and youthful excitement, and perhaps one of the most “local” things we would do on our vacation.

The next morning, we strolled through Stanley Park. It’s named after the local, historical politician whose cup is passed from one NHL champion to another. Amazing, but the Rose Garden should be called the Dog Shit Garden. One of the most photogenic minefields I’ve ever walked through, though.


I was very excited about having lunch with Greg Gerard in Coal Harbour. I got in touch with the ace photographer when we ran an article about the beautiful, fascinating, and essential City of Darkness coffee table book documenting Kowloon Walled City that he made with his pal Ian Lambot. (The new edition is incredible, too.) For years we have stayed in touch, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him and introduce him to my family.

That afternoon was our last chance for tourism, so we visited Grouse Mountain. It’s always a little sad to visit a ski resort during the summer, but their summit features some not-sad-looking grizzly bears, a lumberjack shows that really cracked up Eloise, and killer views of the city. Looking over the city during the winter must be breathtaking.


After dinner, we did the right thing and took Mom, Dad, and Eloise to La Casa Gelato. I got Coffee Crisp again because I know I’ll never get ice cream with my favorite Canadian candy bar flavor down in California. Then we book-ended our trip with more fireworks, did a load of laundry, and packed it up.


Part 1 of 3: Portland and Olympia
Part 3 of 3: Seattle

Author: martinkendallwong2014

Co-founder of Giant Robot magazine (RIP) and Save Music in Chinatown (since 2013)

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