I felt the urge to sing and dance my way through the streets yesterday. It was the first time in my memory that I have not had to go to school (as student or teacher) or be home for someone that was in school.
At 45 years of age, this was a long overdue thing. So I pranced around Vancouver's Chinatown for the afternoon.
One stark reminder of reality was when I followed the signs for the public washrooms. This led me straight up East Hastings. I put away my fancy smartphone in an instinctual move to preserve personal belongings. East Hastings in broad daylight is just a tad unsettling, to put it mildly.
Living in Toronto and knowing most of the downtown core I really can't think of an equivalent area. The desperation and pain of the people hanging about in rundown hotel doorways and in the alleyways literally seared my soul. I could almost feel torture oozing out of their empty and junked up eyes. Eyes that were also sizing up my oh so obvious tourist get up (not to mention having clean clothes and a full set of well maintained teeth). I slid my phone unobtrusively into my cargo pants and picked up my pace.
As I walked I wondered what kind of a joke the Vancouver City Tourist Office (or whatever it's called) was playing. I thought of a series of webcams stationed along the route to capture the puzzled, then horrified, and then terrified faces of innocent tourists following these prominent signs out of Chinatown. Innocent tourists just hoping to relieve themselves in a city sanctioned loo. And a crowd of staffers laughing all day long at this private network of webcams.
The public bathrooms were below a Community Centre. The entrances to both the men's and women's facilities were crowded with junkies and alkies. There was a security guard prominently posted outside the Centre and he silently pointed to this sea of jonesing humanity when I enquired about the public washrooms. I blanched at the thought of being jumped in the underground bathroom or on the way through the dozens of bodies to the top of the staircase down entrance.
All of a sudden I didn't need to go to the washroom so badly anymore.
I crossed the road and from the edges of Chinatown stood and stared back at the community centre and the throngs of people in various states of withdrawal and desperation.
I had gone from feeling like I was on the top of the world to being shaken to my core and powerless in the face of the bleakness of humanity. I recognized that there is nothing that I can personally offer these people yet every cell in my body screamed that these people need help.
Vanxouver's dark side (seen constantly in the downtown core) seems to be a perverse antitheses to the majestic beauty of the sea and mountains that surround it and the exquisite architecture that houses it's more fortunate residents. It's as if, at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of shite instead of gold. And just like the saying goes, into each life (or city) some rain must fall. Some of the more fortunate even get to shit rainbows....which is the feeling I had alongside the dancing in the street feeling after traipsing, accidentally, through Vancouver's lower east side.
PS I can't straighten the pic on the blogger Android app. Ugh.