“A Vancouver Primer” is a series of articles tailored for the new or prospective Vancouverite in mind.

As I moved to Vancouver by myself a little over two years ago, one of my top priorities was obviously to make new friends.  It wasn’t easy…  In the first few months following my arrival, I came to find out that Vancouver is intensely “private.”  Maybe the fact that I’m somewhat introverted didn’t help, but most people I’ve talked to since then would agree that it’s “cold” in Vancouver!

Here’s an anecdote to explain my point: it’s St-Valentine’s season (2007) and I’ve had it with on-line dating and its virtual hopes turning quickly into real disappointments.  I decide to try an actual live, organized, paying event which consists of some performance in a club followed by — so the description said — a mixing and mingling session with all the eligible bachelorettes and bachelors.  So the so-so show begins and, I don’t mind — what I’m really interested in is the mingling afterwards.  About 90 minutes later, the show ends and to my astonishment, most people immediately left!  “Hey!  Where did all the mingling go?!!!”  The organizers didn’t even attempt to keep the crowd in and lead them to the next step.  Introverted me actually had to take matters into my own hands and improvise the mingling session myself.  Although I had some interesting discussions with the few that stayed, no lasting contact was made — and that’s OK.

Oddly enough, that failed evening proved to be a blessing in disguise: during the uninspiring performance, I casually started to chat with my neighbour and complained to her about how difficult it was to meet people in Vancouver.  She said there were much better options out there for me to try and gave me a list of websites to look over.  As soon as I got back home, I skimmed through her short list and stopped looking when I got to a site called Meetup.  

Although I’d never heard of Meetup prior to that fateful evening, I was surprised to see how popular it was (as of this writing, nearly 600 Meetup groups exist within 25 miles of downtown Vancouver!).  With so many groups to choose from, chances are it will be just a few clicks before you find a few that match your interests.  Most of those groups are free to join.

Once you’ve joined a group, all you have to do is wait for the event notifications to come flooding your e-mail inbox. I guess it’s a necessary evil, especially if you’re new in town.  A word of advice if you’re part of a popular group: be quick!  If a group has over 1,000 members and there are only 20 spots to fill for an event, you can imagine how fast these could go!  It’s not uncommon for an event to be full within an hour in those cases.  But, never fear, if there are no spots left, I can almost guarantee you that a few will become available a day or two before the event as some people realize that “Oh, I won’t be able to make it after all.”  You just have to be a little proactive in checking the group’s calendar from time to time.  A recent feature on the Meetup site that I haven’t had the chance to experiment with yet is their “Waiting List.”  This sounds like it should render the need to checkup on those available spots unnecessary.

Another great thing I can tell you about Meetup is that you don’t necessarily need a car to go to those events.  I don’t have one myself and yet I’ve heard some born-and-bred Vancouverites tell me that I have probably seen more of Vancouver and its surroundings in two years than they have in their whole life (I managed to go to 25+ hiking spots and other places thanks to carpooling, in 2007)!  If you’re polite enough, you should have no trouble finding someone to carpool with (tipping the driver is obviously expected).  And here’s another tip for you: don’t wait for people offering to carpool to contact you first — ask them yourself!!!  It might seem obvious to you, but you’d be surprised how often I see members leaving their coordinates in their RSVP to an event, waiting for a carpooler to “serve” them… :s

Oh, and since I’ve heard the comment a few times before, might I add that Meetup is not necessarily for single people only…  Many of them are, yes, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve never felt like the events I’ve been to were a cover for a dating game. It’s all about the activity and the “prospects” are no more than a nice distraction — the activity might be dating, though (dating groups are a-plenty on Meetup)… :p  But I don’t think even the knitting group could keep you 100% safe from the clutches of love (if you’re single); after all, you will be meeting people that have interests similar to yours. ;)

Whether you’re in it for friendship or love, before you know it you’ll be making new friends.  My own experience with Meetup has been amazing!  I have attended many many events of all kinds — many of which I probably never would have thought of myself — and people have been overwhelmingly friendly, upbeat, and fun.  I now have a nice circle of “personal” friends, but they all started as “Meetup” friends (except one).  As a result, I don’t see my Meetup buddies as often as I used to anymore (too busy with the personal friends and the overall busyness of life), but I owe it to Meetup for making my social life exciting and, dare I say, even finding me a lovely wife (not from the knitting group :p ).

Thanks to Meetup, Vancouver rocks! :)


Martinis On Ice
Martinis on the rocks on Cactus Club Cafe‘s patio

The first Illuminate Yaletown event launched at sunset (5:29PM) last night, for an evening “featuring contemporary light installations designed to inspire and impress.”  Maybe dusk would have been a better bet, as there was still plenty of “leftover” sunlight at that time.

Color Grid #2
“Louver Towers”, by Vivid Lighting Solutions

Glowing Balls
“Light Flow”, by Render Light and Planning (people spun the spheres around from time to time, like here)

Although there definitely were a few funky, creative displays around, I was somewhat disappointed because it wasn’t quite what I expected: after looking at the photos on the official website (see above link), I thought I’d experience some big street-wide light show, but in the end it was just a bunch of mostly small, individual stations that varied greatly in “fun” factor.  Maybe I should have read the description more carefully…

Other than the stations shown in the pictures you see here, some other interesting moments were: the music coming from the doorsteps of Section 3 and all the ice sculptures, especially the CIBC warming station, which I found very creative: you could see hot chocolate and coffee trickle down the inside of the ice sculpture, its run ending in your cup.

Photographers were out in full force at this event.  It was funny to see the non-photographers look at me as if I was an alien with my tripod, though.  One woman in particular had seen one too many of them when she noticed me, I guess, and couldn’t help exclaim: “My God!  They’re everywhere!”  It’s all about avoiding camera shake on those long exposure shots, lady. ;)

It’s too bad I missed out on the fire dancers routine, even though I walked around the block almost twice in the end (once for the event, and once to find a cheap place to eat).  Apparently, this was the best part of the evening.

Laser Beams

“Immersion”, by Aspect Media (3 second exposure)

Light Graffiti #2
Shaw TV also liked the spot I picked to take this picture of “Light-Graffiti”, by EOS Lightmedia

All in all, although many stations fell flat, the evening was enjoyable enough to warrant a second try next year.


Bhangra Family
This 4 year old boy stole the show! Everybody was in awe at his prodigious talent.
The mother joined her two children on stage as the MC wondered where they learned to dance like that. 

I went to see Downtown Bhangra last Friday, a free Indian flavored show featuring lots of dancing and music. Bhangra is something new to me, but I found the experience interesting.  The energy and enthusiasm emanating from the performers was great!  The crowd (comprised of many dancing teams set to compete the next day) was alive, especially near the stage, as the night wore on.

The highlight of the night for me was definitely the 4 year old boy blowing the crowd away with his dancing skills in an impromptu dance-off for a variety of prizes.  Him and his 6 year old sister were immediately singled out from the rest as the obvious winners.  The MC asked the boy to dance some more for us, solo, which he happily obliged.  He was totally “in the zone” and having a great time showing his moves to us.  The MC then asked the mother to come dance with her two kids. The “show” over, as they made their way off the stage, you could see the boy taking a few steps, then dancing some more, walking a few steps, dancing some more… 

UBC Girlz #2

UBC Girlz — I think she likes me. :p (too bad the photo is a little fuzzy, but I definitely like the expression)

Bhangra Republik #2
Bhangra Republik, from Calgary

Being a sucker for live music, I also found the Finnish band Shava, with its Scandinavian blend of Bhangra very good.  I missed out on “Dheli 2 Dublin” though, as I left a little early (apparently they’re very good too).

Shava Montage
Shava (from Finland) put on a great Bhangra-inspired set


Bad news…  I read in the paper today that the fireworks will be no more…  Not enough sponsorships to keep the exciting event alive.  The beaches of the English Bay area will feel empty come that fireworks season we’d grown accustomed to.

There’s always the possibility that a major sponsor will step up to take over the reigns, eventually — not necessarily this year, but, who knows…  Hopefully I’ll still be around when that day comes. :)

UPDATE: They’re Baaa-aack!!! 

China Fireworks #10