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Many people have suggested that Vancouver is an unfriendly city, but I have a different perspective. True friendship grows slowly and, at least for me, this city has provided fertile soil for that growth. But it required the courage on my part to smile and be open.
It was almost 34 years ago when my ex-husband and I immigrated from the Philippines. Naturally, visiting historic and beautiful places were in order. But aside from the beauty spots like Queen Elizabeth and Stanley Parks, I also had the chance to see the then-dying industrial area of False Creek. And over the years, as I witnessed its re-birth into one of the most beautiful examples of high-density living in the world, I like to think that I grew with it, absorbing so much that was new to me.
As my life here began and I fought the many challenges that confronted me as a new immigrant and soon-to-be single parent, a few long-time “Canadians” showed me patience, kindness, and a better way of thinking and behaving. I began to appreciate living in a country that thrives on diversity. I’ve encountered many people who, while being different from me in some ways, have embraced me, as I did with them. I learned from them how to disagree agreeably. Most of all, I learned that there is nothing more positive than a smile to another human being. Sometimes that smile will take me further, and like a seed that has been planted and transforms into a flower, that small effort has often produced a friend that I can count on to last a lifetime.
Being part of this hard-working city, I have had to work diligently to improve my mind and my way of thinking. Early on my finances were limited, but that did not deter me. I would go to the public library and borrow many magazines, books and DVD’s to help me navigate the complexities of my new life in this city. I found it incredible that I could enjoy these materials free of charge and be able to enjoy them in the comfort of my home. My children watched my work ethic and made lives for themselves that any parent would be proud of.
While Vancouver has indeed become an expensive city in which to live, the thing is, you don’t have to be wealthy to fully enjoy what it has to offer. Walking among the glass towers of downtown, along the endless and magnificent seawall or through the trails of the abundant parks are priceless activities. And at any given time, you can hear countless different languages spoken. The city has become cosmopolitan – a Mecca for immigrants, entrepreneurs, tourists and adventurers. And as they bring their ideas and inquisitiveness here, they get to know what “Vancouverism” is about. The live-and-let-live attitude, the enjoyment of the moment, the concern for the environment, the desire for sustainability, the sense of honesty and fairness, the caring for our companion animals, the desire for privacy but the willingness to help others – this mosaic of culture has become woven into my psyche.
While it is true that Vancouver has its challenges (what major city doesn’t?), it is constantly evolving. And hopefully, so am I. I had the privilege of witnessing that momentous time when we proudly hosted the Winter Olympics of 2010. I remember being so proud of Canada and Vancouver, what we have become collectively and how we are seen by the world. It is very humbling. I will not hide the pride in my voice when I say, “I live in Vancouver”. This is my garden. And it began with a smile.