Vancouver Diaries: Meeting a stranger, and a stranger still

|| A Stranger ||

It was my first afternoon of walking around Vancouver alone. I had started my day with a walk on the seawall of the bonny Stanley Park. The happy walk took me past the boat club, naval headquarters, Inuit totem poles, and the various statues and memorabilia from the days of trade.

Bridge Across to North Vancouver

Stanley Park Seawall

After the sights were seen and photos were clicked, map in one hand and a cup of local coffee in the other, I walked back from the park towards the town. I was tempted to take a detour for some more photo love as the map showed existence of something called English Bay and First Beach if I walked down a lively road. And true to the word of the guide book, I found a charming sight at the end of road. Excited by the exceptionally diverse sight of the English Bay, I yanked out my camera and got down on my knees. After clicking for a bit, I got up and walked back towards the path and noticed a middle-aged man smiling curiously at me.

Having already decided to reciprocate the famous Canadian open-hearted smiles I saw everywhere in Vancouver, I smiled back.

“Were you really taking pictures of the logs?” asked the man from his bench.

“Err…yes. You see, I am a tourist and everything appeals to me.”

“Of course, this is a lovely place. I come here to clear my mind ever so often.” And so began the conversation that lasted over an hour.

While it is fairly normal for most people who travel often to pick up interesting conversations with strangers, it is very new to me. In fact, it was my first. We talked of everything from his love for the city of Vancouver and his memories of London, where he belongs; his impulsive marriage, and two confidently gorgeous girls, the estranged wife, and lost chance of visiting Egypt; of the short memories of others pain, and of faking the 9/11 attack. While I was intrigued by the tales of his travel, what he found most fascinating was my desk job, and how I was not scared of the Internet. He told me that his thermostat had broken so he did not want to go back home until the time it would be fixed. We got coffee from the nearest café (the only time I drank Starbucks in Vancouver, and it sucked as usual. So it is not Singapore, Starbucks makes sucky coffee.) Talking to him, I realized how little people in the west know about Singapore and how most of them assume it is a part of China.

The Stranger at English Bay

It was a fun one hour, and I told him so. He would have happily moved to the next door restaurant for a glass of wine, for his thermostat was not calling him home yet but I had a lot to explore. When I asked him if I could take a picture of him, he was shocked but then, he obliged. So here is Paul, the pilot bored of flying who sits by the English Bay and ever so often strikes a conversation with strangers. So if there is a city, like maybe Damascus, that he has not visited, he still has met people from there.

|| And Stranger Still ||

My trip was almost coming to an end. On penultimate day of my stay, I decided to take a bus down to 49th avenue to see the Punjabi Market. For the much talked about Kanadian-Indians had been eluding me till now. I took the sky train till Main Street/Science World station of the Expo line and then walked down to the nearest bus stop. Soon as I reached there, I saw an elderly man standing a little too close to me. Mentally cursing him for intruding in my bubble, I stepped away a little and noticed that he was murmuring something. My Delhi-girl antenna started buzzing like mad, but I calmed myself down and looked around at many other people waiting for the bus. However, the elderly man walked up to me again and murmured something that sounded like “Main.”

Chiding myself for being such a suspicious fool, I nodded eagerly and informed him that yes the bus towards Main will surely come at this stop. Hearing that he edged closer and repeated the word again, and I nodded on the cue. He then looked around, at the bus stop’s board, approaching buses and back at me, and said “Restaurant?”

A little confused, I asked “Which restaurant?”

“Indian restaurant!”

“Oh yes, this bus should go to the Indian restaurant,” I chirped happily. Of course, Punjabi Market has Indian restaurants, pleased as punch with myself for helping strangers in a foreign land. Just then the bus came, and everyone got in. As I made my way towards the seats, the elderly man gestured me towards him. When I looked, he was excitedly patting to the empty seat in front of him; I opened my mouth to tell him that it was a priority seat, and I would rather go back to find a seat for myself, but before any words came out, the nice lady sitting next to him got up saying, “Oh, you can sit here. I will go back.” And just like that I found myself sitting next to the murmurer.

“You go to Main?” he asked

“No, only upto 49th avenue,” I responded. First mistake.

“Restaurant?”

“What restaurant?” I asked genuinely confused.

“Indian restaurant.”

“Yeah, there should be one on this way.” I guessed.

“You come eat lunch with me?”

“What?” horrified now.

“Come eat lunch with me at Indian restaurant.”

“No, thank you very much.”

“No, come eat lunch.”

“I just ate breakfast.”

“Not breakfast; eat lunch with me.”

“No, I have some work. I do not have time.”

“Eat lunch with me after work.”

“No,” I tried to get up from the seat but he continued…

“I phone you after your work?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“You phone me?”

“No.”

“Why? Are you scared of me?”

“No, I am not hungry.”

“But you are Asian. I am Asian. Are you Asian?”

“Yes, I am. But I am not hungry.”

“I am Asian. I am Ismail. Are you Hindu?”

“Yes”

“So I am Ismail. Can you not eat lunch with me?”

“No.” and I got up and walked to the extreme end of the bus and found a seat beside a shopper with too many bags. If he thinks its my religion preventing me from this lunch, so be it!

The murmurer looked back a couple of times but then found a comfy position that prevented him from turning around. Confused and a little charged,  I waited for my stop. Soon as it came, I hopped off the bus, but guess what? So did the murmurer, and he waved his hand to stop me too.

Not wanting to start another round of conversation, I walked away from the market and the Indian restaurants, where he so much wanted to lunch with me, and strolled towards the row of pretty houses. Although, I took my sweet time walking around those toy houses, when I came back to the main street I still could spot his florescent jacket from a distance. Using it as a prop and hoping that his eyesight was not very keen, I crossed the road and stayed away.

Such was the strange day in the strange Punjabi Market, where Karan Johar can shop for the bling for his next movie.

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4 Responses to “Vancouver Diaries: Meeting a stranger, and a stranger still”

  1. Ten years ago..there used be a coffee chain called Tim Hortons all over Canada…and the coffee used to be good..
    Did you try the much famed maple syrup with pancakes?

  2. sunshin3girl Says:

    Tim Hortons is still around and it still serves great coffee. It quickly became my staple during my short stay. I always disliked Starbucks but now I detest it.

    I got some maple syrup so I can make my own pancakes now. 😀

  3. The lunch-pusher episode would have unnerved me majorly. You handled it quite calmly! Kudos!

    • sunshin3girl Says:

      Trust me, Radhika, the only thing that gave me confidence was the knowledge that I could outrun the old guy. 🙂

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