his column is part of the site www.arbetov.com and it’s about travels, trips, journeys, voyages, hiking, picnics, and, of course, history of the land: Vancouver and its vicinities. It’s about adventure, as well…
Many times we find ourselves in an awful state of mind and soul; we even may be at the brink of a nervous breakdown. Why? We are squeezed in four-wall space in high-rise, townhouse, apartment, well, whatever. In moments of such a distress a simple stroll may cure your disease, so you don’t need to pay a visit to a shrink and shell out extra buck. Why? Because just walking, looking around and breathing the air of the town you live in, no matter how old it is, is extremely helpful.
I don’t purport that Vancouver is a unique and special place, or that it is better than other cities.
Yet, the sheer situation makes me become an advocate of Vancouver, and I’m saying that ‘yes’, it’s one of the best places. Why? Just because the fate saw it that our family happened to settle down here, at the end of the world in the wild-wild West, where the spiritual pioneers of the 21st century are doomed to eventually end up with their explorations. However, saying that Vancouver is the best place in the world is not an exaggeration. According to UNESCO Vancouver occupies the 1st or 2nd places in the way of “quality of life”.
What do I mean? It’s not enormous wages or luxurious casinos, and elegant mobsters in limos highlighted by dazzling signboards of Los Vegas or New Arbat (Moscow), squandering dough. No, not a constant emotional tension, stress and strain like it happens in nowadays Russia, but something else is a characteristic of life style in British Columbia. And B.C. is really considered beautiful: all plate numbers carry these words: “Beautiful British Columbia”. Perhaps, what I’m saying may sound naïve and propagandistic, yet that’s what in fact I mean. Traffic jams are rare in Vancouver, there is a lot of parks and gardens with playgrounds, there are many sport facilities and at moderate rates. For comparison, at the Moscow Transvaal Aquatic Centre that collapsed in 2003, a one-time admission was somewhat CAD 30. Can you imagine that!? Or, here, right in the geographical centre of the Greater Vancouver in Northern Richmond you will find farms with strawberries, raspberries, corn and whatnot. You don’t believe me, just come and see with your proper eyes.
They say that it’s a way harder to find a good job in B.C., that you may spend much more time to get employed than, say, in other provinces of Canada or the United States. Yet, with all these disadvantages, consider the benefits of B.C.: once you are outdoors – a park, an ocean shore or a lake, your depression is over. I’m relating all this from my own experience, and you’ll be able to read about it in following chapters. Having lived in Vancouver for several years, many of us discover lots of new and unknown — hobbies and pastimes, the things we could not afford when in Russia. What’s that? It is skiing, crab/salmon fishing, roller blazing, biking, scuba diving, or canoeing and kayaking. For instance, when in Moscow, Russia, I used to mountain bike in the wintertime crisscrossing local woods. But can you imagine all the people staring at you, pointing their fingers in your direction and gazing in disbelieve or bewilderment. Moreover, I had to carry a self-protection spray to chase away packs of stray dogs, which recently have become quite a problem in Moscow. And not only stray dogs tried to attack me, but those on the leash were leaping at. By the way, those of us who enjoy cross-country skis can still do it here in Vancouver at mountains Cypress and Seymour. Or, if by chance you don’t happen to have a car, it’s not a big deal. Public transit or Translink, is almost excellent in Vancouver.
Now, let me introduce myself, Mitch Grigori, and tell you about my experiences in tourism, travels,
or leisure activities. And I can share quite a lot! For starters, I’d say that Mitch crossed the whole North America by car, driving all by himself. Or, in 1991 – 1992 he had made more than eleven thousand kilometers in China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, across mountain passes, the Karakumy Dessert and the Caspian Sea. That trip he had split into two steps taking in turn: train, jeep, minivan, and ferryboat. Mitch had even a chance to get onto a Cessna plane to fly over the dying Sea of Aral. He also experienced quite a number of trips of smaller nature like going into the gold-and coalmines, visiting the Space Centre near Moscow (unfortunately, he didn’t go into space). Mitch can also mention this big voyage of his, when he was drifting in the fisher boat in the Pacific Ocean, or almost fell victim of the radiation at the Chernobyl Nuclear Station. Many of those trips Mitch could not afford at his expense, thus let me write about myself a little bit more, so you get the idea.
I was born in Moscow, Russia. After graduating from high school, I entered the School of Asian & African Studies (Moscow State University). Then I went to Japan as an exchange student for the first time. There I was able to perform my first trips in Japan, while at the Tokai University. They say now, that Japanese don’t pamper Russian students any more, as before. Next, I worked at my Alma Mater as a professor of the Japanese language and literature, meanwhile composing my Ph.D. dissertation and doing side jobs as an interpreter and translator. Then I went to Japan for another two years to do more studies at the famous Waseda University. Working as an interpreter I was paid by Japanese in cash and the money was really good. For example, before leaving for the United States in august 1998, having interpreted for a mere week with a trade delegation or for a crew of mass media guys, our family of three could survive for two months without any financial hassle, while at the Moscow State University I was being paid only 60-70 dollars a month.
Many people ask me why then I decided to leave Russia? My answer is: not for money and high wages does a human being live. Not building big houses or purchasing luxurious vehicles and yachts is the meaning of our humble and precarious existence. In my opinion, our destiny is to philosophically realize why we came into this world, and why did He create you or me in particular, i.e. what this world is all about. So, I think that to travel and to see how other peoples live, and what makes their cultures different is crucial. To explore, isn’t it interesting and fascinating? A propos, Mitch has a pretty good command of five languages: Japanese, English, Spanish, French and, of course, his native tongue – Russian. He can speak some Chinese, Korean, can read German. Long ago he would study Latin, alas one can’t use this language at max, unless you build a time machine and send Mitch into the times of the Great Roman Empire, well, at the machine owner’s expense, of course! Well, does an opportunity arise to learn Portuguese or Italian, Mitch is able to do it in three-four months, using his own methodology.
Please excuse me for being too gassy, however to know better about my personality will help you to get more grasp of what tourism is, according to me, Mitch. Long ago, in 1996 a good acquaintance of mine mentioned that going and doing studies in the U.S. is quite simple. I didn’t believe him, yet he was persistent trying to convince me, so I applied for the Fulbright Scholarship. It turned out that my friend was one hundred percent correct: and here we are, I find myself in Indiana University. A son was born the next year in Bloomington, Indiana, and we named him Alexander (a daughter, Annika, was made in Japan — Tokyo). And again, a new audacious idea comes to my mind: what about staying in the West for good? However, we couldn’t remain in the U.S. on our J-1 visa which required going back to the home country for two years. Hence, we chose Canada after considering a bunch of possibilities. I’ll tell you what: among somewhat one hundred and twenty participants of that Fulbright Program, it was only I who was not afraid to say “no” to sponsors and to my previous well-paid jobs back in Russia, along with a teaching position at the Moscow University. Simply put, I was bold enough to apply for Canadian residency. Wasn’t it a small adventure, too, to reside in the States without job permission for more than two years, while awaiting our case to be solved by Canada’s Immigration Service?
All right, and now we are in Vancouver, British Columbia. In three months I found a job with my profession – teaching the methodology of the Japanese language to young Japanese. Wasn’t it amazing? I began to instruct Japanese on their native tongue with all its stuff: grammar, lexica, and kanji, explaining what kind of difficulties the foreigners may encounter when mastering Japanese. Later, in half a year in just one day (the shortest job hunting period in my life!) I became a seasonal instructor at the University of B.C. And again, teaching the Japanese language at level three and four. Moreover, I also was entrusted the course: “Modern Japanese Literature in Translation”. The teaching position at UBC is enough to support our family of four people compared to how I was underpaid in Russia. An addition to teaching, however, I created a website promoting myself as an interpreter and translator www.mitchgrigo.biz. What I want to say is that I’m doing same kind of jobs I used to do when in Moscow with the only one immense exception: the quality of life in Vancouver is a way better, stresses are minimum, working conditions are pretty good, and the atmosphere is friendly, well, mostly.
The idea to share my experiences in travels, tourism (I also worked as a tour guide when in Russia) and Michael Arbetov’s constant assertiveness, the owner of the site www.arbetov.com , eventually swayed me into creating this column: “Tourism, Leisure Activities & Sightseeing in British Columbia from Mitch”. What will happen out of this project? Honestly, I have no idea. Yet, with the feedback from the readers, from those who love trips, travels and adventure, I assume that something positive may turn out. Just do go ahead, and do write down your impressions, or share your observations from what you find in this modest column. And naturally, feel free to submit a line or two to ‘Yours Mitch’ at [email protected].