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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

Big Bad Vancouver (The Setting Of My Girlhood Dreams)

By Melanie Kaklamanis

My introduction to Vancouver came at the age of six shortly after being diagnosed with Petit Mal Epilepsy, as it was the start of countless trips to the BC Children’s Hospital for EEG tests. At the time I was living in the small town of Campbell River, where I already felt like a city girl at heart. I remember there was only one tall building in all of Campbell River’s downtown core, and I always used to admire it. And I dreamed of someday living in a place where there were many tall buildings just like it. So needless to say, from my very first trip to Vancouver  I was completely overwhelmed. And even though we spent most of the time either at the hospital or in our hotel room, simply driving through the city or even seeing the beautiful skyline from a distance was very thrilling for me. So I looked forward to every trip to the children’s hospital. I didn’t even care that it meant up to an hour of lying flat on my back, opening and closing my eyes when told, with sticky substance on my head. And I always used to ask my parents why we couldn’t live in Vancouver. Their answer was always the same, ranging from “It’s too dangerous” to “It’s too expensive.” But I could never accept these answers. To me it seemed crazy not to want to live there.

Although to this day I still recall a harrowing experience which could have very well convinced me to see from my parent’s point of view. On one particular trip to the city we were having a very difficult time with our accommodation.  My younger sister and I watched as our mother  argued with the hotel manager who explained to her that the hotel room we had booked was not cleaned so it was no longer available to us. My mother got so upset she called the police, and to this day I can still recall vividly sitting in the hotel lobby with my sister, both of us crying our eyes out as we watched our mother sobbing into the pay phone. She was so distraught as she explained our situation to the officer, and went on about how she was not from the city, that it was getting dark and she was scared. Hearing our mother cry “I’m scared” unleashed a fresh wave of tears from both me and my sister. I’m not quite sure if my tears were from my own fear, or more so because seeing my mother getting so upset always had that affect on me. The next thing I remember is driving to our new accommodation that had been set up for us. As we drove through the city after dark, and as I looked out the car window, I didn’t feel scared or intimidated like perhaps I should have. I felt like a survivor. And when we arrived at our new motel, all I remember about our room that it was very narrow but I was just happy to have a soft bed to sleep in for the night. I found out years later from my mother that she didn’t sleep at all, but stayed awake to protect us from the cockroaches crawling around the ceiling.

You would think that after such an ordeal that my “fantasy” of  Vancouver would have  been shattered. Instead, I felt as though I had just been on a terrifying adventure, and dare I say I was actually intrigued by Vancouver’s “dangerous” side. It excited me, as foolish as that sounds.  And I was convinced that I would never grow into the strong person I wanted to be until I was living there. So finally, at the age of twenty-three, I was able to make it happen. I had saved up money and was on the verge of applying for the writing program at Vancouver Film School. During the year that I was planning to make the move, my parents had remained quiet for the most part. I suspected they didn’t believe I could pull it off, but I appreciated  that they were keeping their opinions to themselves. At least until I was about to send in my application, which was when my father decided he couldn’t keep quiet anymore. He went into a tirade on why I shouldn’t do it, emphasizing how I would never be able afford it and that I’m not strong enough to survive in Vancouver on my own. I know he meant well, but I was so upset by this bombarding that I broke down. Not because I believed what he was saying, but because I was angry that he was saying it now and worried that he would try and convince my mother to feel the same way. And sure enough, later that evening my mom approached me calmly and said she wanted to talk to me about “this move to Vancouver”. I stopped her in her tracks and told her I had already heard it all from dad and my mind was made up about it. Thankfully, she left it at that. And less than a month later I received my acceptance letter.

I knew on the day of my orientation that I was where I belonged. Even as my parents and I took the transit through the downtown eastside on the way to my new residence, with my father making comments under his breath, I wasn’t fazed by it. Deep down a part of me used to fear that perhaps they would have been right. Maybe living in Vancouver wouldn’t be all that I thought it would be. I’m relieved to say that moving here has proven to be the stepping stone in my life that I always knew it would be. And while I have certainly had my hardships living in this city, I know one thing is certain.  I am finally on the path to becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.





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