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Far from home and falling in love, we managed an hour alone in a cozy alcove of a chalet in Huemoz, Switzerland. He was a West Side Vancouver man of 25; I had been born in Tokyo, of missionary parents. He knew where home was, and I was looking for a new one.
He had begun his courtship by declaring he wanted to learn Japanese, so I tutored him for free – my first of hundreds of Japanese language students over the decades to come.
The first facts I learned about Vancouver were through him: “You should come study in Vancouver; the University of British Columbia has an excellent Asian Studies department.” He pointed out the most important geographical similarity between Japan and Vancouver: “We’re surrounded by mountains and ocean.”
I was headed back to Minneapolis, my mother’s birthplace, and while the city is dotted throughout with parks and lakes, it hadn’t felt like Japan, where I had grown accustomed to nearby mountains and ocean.
The marriage proposal, which came that evening, was the deciding factor. Within the month, we arrived at the Peace Arch border, having Greyhounded our way across the U.S. and Canada introducing each other to our extended families. Two weeks later my father married us at his aunt and uncle’s home a couple of blocks up from Jericho Beach.
My new husband proudly introduced me to Vancouver; I wasn’t particularly impressed. Tokyo was more cosmopolitan and lively, and I missed the weight of history one feels in European and Japanese cities. I didn’t want to live in the ‘suburbs’ – so we rented our first apartment right on the corner of Burrard and Robson.
Over the years, to accommodate the needs of our growing family, we lived in an old army hut at UBC, moved to a co-op on Burnaby Mountain, and then bought a home in Port Coquitlam.
I began to appreciate Vancouver. For the 29 years we lived outside the city, we felt like exiles.
We attended concerts downtown at the Commodore, the Railway Club and the Orpheum, went to plays at Bard on the Beach and Pacific Theatre, saw operas at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, heard lectures at Regent College and UBC, wandered around art shows at myriad galleries, and visited Nana in Point Grey and Uncle Scot in the West End, but the commuter time was costly. We visited Nana in Point Grey and Uncle Scot in the West End. When I hiked or snow-shoed Cypress or Seymour or kayaked out of Deep Cove, it could take two hours to get home.
As our children began to leave home, we dreamt of moving back to Vancouver, and spent spring Saturdays making the rounds of houses for sale. However, on our salaries and prospects, it remained a dream – that is, until son number two and daughter-in-law number one proposed buying and sharing a home.
What could be more Vancouver than living in a ‘Vancouver Special’ and adopting the Asian model of an intergenerational home?
Across the street is the Renfrew Ravine, where we soon expect to see salmon returning. Just beyond that is a large field where our 20 and 30 somethings play soccer and frisbee and the grandchildren have their choice of three playgrounds. A short walk along the creek is a community library which meets our needs for a steady diet of foreign films and murder mysteries.
Renfrew Station is a six minute walk north, and 29th Street Station eight minutes south. Our friendly local grocer is a block and a half away, and we can pick up our weekly box of A Rocha vegetables in the neighbourhood.
It’s hard to choose between the cafes we frequent on Saturday mornings, but our current favorite is Station 7 on Hastings, precisely because it combines European and Japanese sensibilities.
I’ve had to repent my dismissiveness of history in B.C. Two of our children have become archeologists and unearth the treasure of thousands of years’ worth of First Nations villages and artifacts.
From our back porch, where we eat every meal possible, we can see The Lions, and below them, Vancouver Technical College and Broadway Church, symbolizing two institutions which have loomed large in our lives.
Next door, our Portuguese neighbours tend a luxurious garden shaded by a fig tree, which they thoughtfully keep topped for the sake of our view. I even like the telephone and electric lines; they remind me of the Tokyo of my childhood.
I have it all: a loving husband and family who value home at the core of their beings, a career in the public school system surrounded by thoughtful, smart, empathetic colleagues, and a colourful but stable church community – all nestled between the mountains and the ocean.