Friday, January 3, 2020

Colorful Vancouver, British Columbia

3 January 2020

It's rather strange to type 2020 as our year.  Who ever thought we'd reach this year?  It sounds like something from the science fiction stories of our younger years.

We left Bellingham, WA, in late December and had several days in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  We always stay at the Patricia Hotel, an old historic hotel that has been renovated periodically over the years.  It's affordable, comfortable, and we just like the place.  Although it's much more comfortable in summer, when we're usually there.  It turns out that those old historic radiators aren't reliable, so we were really cold our entire stay.

The Patricia is located on Hastings Street, about 1 block away from Chinatown, and several blocks from Gastown, the historic old center of Vancouver.

However, the area is also home to a variety of services for homeless people, the number of whom seem to be constantly increasing.  I don't know if this is a west coast problem, or a North American problem - but the number of homeless people has been increasing due to a variety of reasons: the economy, mental health issues, unemployment, chemical dependency, even lack of affordable housing for the working poor.  

So yes, we walked around in the grey and cold, occasionally sharing leftover food or buying a cup of coffee.  Because how can I stand by while my neighbor freezes or starves?

But even among the cold and depressing weather and neighborhood, there were bright spots of color.  There are occasional mosaic designs on the sidewalk at intersections.  And numerous murals on buildings.

The murals are consistent with the cultures represented in this part of the city.  I think my favorite was the "Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea," where we see a variety of definitely Chinese, or at least Asian, figures crossing a decidedly stylized Chinese sea.  I had no idea who the immortals might be, nor why they were crossing the sea, but it cheered up a dark crossroad, and added a beautiful bit of color and culture to this intersection. 

So of course I had to look this up - and it turns out that while the legend of the Eight Immortals began in China, it spread through much of Southeast Asia as well.  The original Eight Immortals are believed to know the secrets of Nature.  Each Immortal represents a different part of humanity: a man, a woman, an old person, a young person, someone rich, someone poor, a member of the nobility, and a humble Chinese person.  Sort of the various ying-yangs of humanity.

Each Immortal has power that can be transferred to a tool or object of power, a sort of talisman that represents that Immortal.  Each object can give life or destroy evil.  Together, these eight tools/objects are called the "Hidden Eight Immortals."

Apparently the Immortals aren't always wise.  In Taoist legend, these Eight Immortals are also called the "Roaming Immortals."  There are various stories, including one where they become a bit tipsy and decide to discover the undersea realm leading from Heaven.  This is when they cross the sea and, well, have several adventures.

There was also a gorgeous flower covered mural - not sure if this is a floral shop, or what, but I loved the flowers.

Throughout Chinatown, street signs and lamp posts were adorned with gold dragons, always a symbol of Asian cultures.  Sometimes protectors, sometimes adversaries, either wise or wily, the dragons are also inherent in legends and stories.

The final mural is in the style of the First Nations in this part of Canada, who lived here long before the Europeans arrived.  The nations that I'm aware of are the Haida, the Coast Salish, and the Tsimshian - but there are more.  

I recognize the style of Haida carvings and art in parts of the mural, especially the upper left corner.  The very stylized, somewhat abstract representation of animals rendered in red and black on white is very prevalent in Haida art.  The others are not as familiar to me, so I can't pick them out, nor comment on the meaning of this mural.  

But I do recognize it as part of the First Nations cultures here in this part of North America.  And obviously, these nations weren't confined to Canada, since the borders didn't exist in their world.  The Coast Salish and Haida were also in Northwest Washington, and are related to the various indigenous nations on what is now the Washington coastal region.


1 comment:

  1. Thank for sharing the beautiful murals. I don't remember them from the 60s and 70s when I lived there. I love Vancouver as it was my first home when I moved to Canada in 67.