Archive for the ‘The Canadian Years’ Category

Inside Car CanadaMy first exposure to the extreme minimalist lifestyle was while living in Canada when I rented a windowless closet about the size of single mattress from this eccentric guy called Andrew and his few possessions which I wrote about in an early post: What are Vancouver People Like.

Taking extreme minimalism to a new level while living in Vancouver I decided to do away with the closet and live in this old car that I had for a few months to save some money. While some would argue having a car is not really being a minimalist I would argue it gave me the flexibility to move wherever I wanted and needed shelter; Canada can get cold and when I was experimenting with this lifestyle it was heading into autumn with some very chilly mornings.

Some tips on pulling this off is holding down a full-time job with access to shower/amenities in the workplace.  Join a community centre for a place to hang out after work and needed amenities. Park your car in a somewhat affluent suburb to avoid being a victim of crime but not in the same street every night or local residents will get suspicious.

When you are living on the edge day to day you will need more than your car, job and a community centre as life can be really lonely.  Human interactions and socializing is extremely important so you can take your mind of being homeless.  If you are somewhat introverted like myself you will need to force yourself into an extroverted state which is extremely draining to continually be out and about and just ask people to do stuff as you will get more positives than negative responses; human nature most people like the thought of someone wanting to spend time with them.

However to maintain an extreme minimalist lifestyle there is one thing you should never do is tell people you are homeless which is somewhat easy to do when your new circle of friends don’t know you very well.  I made it almost three months when I accidentally let it slip which horrified some people, gossip started. people felt sorry for me and I had some offers to stay at some people homes which I reluctantly took as winter was fast approaching.

Outside Car






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Living in Vancouver in 2002 I learned a lot about how downtown people live.  The majority of people do not own cars and some don’t even have a drivers license.  Stepping outside of any apartment building there are shops and restaurants within a few minutes’ walk. Everything you could possibly want is at your finger tips 24/7.  Vancouver is an amazing place to live!

The group of Canadians I was acquainted with at the time came from various economic situations so I got a real feel for how different city people live.  Some were wealthy or had very large mortgages with luxury condos overlooking Coal Harbour and entertained friends with fancy dinner parties.  While others had less than impressive apartments and entertained visitors less formally with games nights such as Balderdash.  One thing they all had in common was coffee and going out for coffee everyday is how city people socialise!

The apartment building I lived in was a historic building that was over 100 years old with  rustic hardwood floors, a really old elevator that felt dodgy, a basement with a coin operated laundry and exposed central heating steam pipes in the suites that creaked; not ideal but it was a clean place to live for a year.  Living so close to your neighbours you get to know some of them rather well.   One interesting person I met in my building was called Andrew who was 29 and worked as some sort of office administrator. He was part Canadian/Finnish and had virtually no material possessions.  Looking around his studio apartment I noticed a bed, pillow, duvet, a small box  containing some personal books, and a framed picture of his mother that had passed away some years ago.  That was pretty much it apart from a couple of wine glasses for visitors, he never even bought groceries opting to eat at little ethnic style restaurants almost every night.  Andrew said he just liked having the freedom to go as he pleases and having material things makes it difficult to move quickly.

It sounds crazy until I tried living with limited material possessions for awhile and it gave me a whole new perspective to life. You really do not need stuff to be happy and not having any attachment to anything means you can up and leave whenever you want!  City  people can be somewhat eccentric and I met my fair share of them, nevertheless I think that is what makes them great people to spend time with as they understand people that are a little different.  One thing that I will never forget that Andrew told me is: “if you do not have expectations you don’t get disappointed” this was really helpful in keeping my idealistic tendencies in check when interacting with people in Canada and later back home in Australia.

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I can’t believe it has been 10 years since I spent a year living in this funky apartment building on Bute Street in the heart of Vancouver.  I have so many memories of the antics that went on in this building.  Some stories that I can never ever talk about on this blog or any medium online.  Well maybe I might make the exception… if you ask me really nicely in person.  What can I say 21 year old guys can do some pretty crazy and outlandish things when away from home in foreign countries.

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One of the things most people do when they go to Vancouver is engage in some retail therapy on legendary Robson St.  Leisurely shopping on Robson St is one thing but what it is like to actually have a job on hectic Robson St and work for and  with the Canadians? Well I have done it and this is my experience of working on Robson St.

I had only been in Canada for a couple of weeks in 2001 when I decided I need to try and get a retail job.  I was trained for working in hotels however getting a job quickly was not as easy as I thought it would be, so I decided to muster up some confidence and hit the streets with a handful of resumes.  It was so hard getting a job in one of those retail shops on Robson St.  I walked up and down the Robson retail thoroughfare and got so many rejections along with some saying to come back closer to Christmas which was another 8 weeks away; cold comfort when a traveller needs money.  After I failed in getting a job straight away I tried again a few weeks later and this time I was hired as a casual at a well known store called The GAP.

Working at the GAP was pretty fun yet really intense as it was Christmas time with a never ending sea of people shopping for gifts.  I had never worked in retail before so it was a real eye opener of what goes on in the retail business.  The GAP on Robson St was a very large store and a typical day started really early before the sun even came up taking delivery of stock and then displaying it on the retail floor.  The doors were opened around 9am and the job of selling clothes and being on my feet all day began. Getting to work on time and adhering to prescribed breaks was really important  because the GAP had an electronic punch card system so GAP employees literally only got paid for every minute they were on the job.  Working in a clothing shop there was a constant folding of clothes and making sure everything looked neat.  Easier said than done but customers love messing up piles of perfectly presented clothes for some bizarre reason and then walking out without purchasing anything.

The group of Canadians I worked for were a rather diverse group of people from all cultural groups. The store manager who hired me was in his late 30s, flamboyant and very generous with the staff buying us pizza occasionally when we had to work late.  I didn’t really get a chance to spend much time with my co-workers but most were young; around my age with a few old hands. One girl I remember that worked at The GAP was called Susan; she was very pale with pink knees and super nice.  It is a bizarre thing to remember but this was Canada with very different people to Australia.  Nevertheless all things come to an end and Garry my supervisor called me into his office after the New Year and said they had to let me go as I was not selling enough clothes.  It was not like I was the only one “let go’ at the GAP that day; it is just the way the retail business is when the vacation season ends.

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When I was 22 years of age I decided to buy an old car while I was on my working holiday in Canada. I had been living in Canada for about 8 months without a car and managing to get by on Vancouver’s trusty public transport, however I was not getting a feel for what the real Canada was like. Something was missing from my Canadian experience and that was meeting genuine Canadian people from the little known towns Australian travellers rarely if not never visited.

This was an ambitious undertaking that I was determined to make happen.  The big question was where would I find a somewhat reliable car that was relatively cheap? I needed some help from some locals that knew a thing or two about old cars.    So I boarded a bus in Vancouver bound for a small country town called Kelowna 394km away.  I had met this really nice Canadian family (Pakosh family) on another country trip I took to Kamloops (B.C) a few months back and they said if I ever travelled through Kelowna to call them up and they would show me around. So I called them up from the hostel I was staying at and they were so excited that I had come to their town that they offered to let me stay at their place for a few days;  which I promptly accepted as I was a traveller on a shoestring budget. I was really stoked, the Pakosh’s showed me what it is like to live in country Canada and introduced me to so many interesting people that were very different to the  coffee sipping crowd that I was mixing with in downtown Vancouver.

It was through the Pakosh’s that I met a young Japanese girl that was looking at selling her old car. It was really bizarre as Kelowna was the last place I would have expected to meet an independent minded Japanese girl looking at selling a car.  So we negotiated on a price of $1000 Canadian dollars and drove down to the car registration office and I was the proud new owner of an old Chrysler Plymouth Reliant.  Now I just had to remember to drive on the correct side of the road.  I have to say the first few days were challenging driving.

I only had this car for 4 months yet my whole life revolved around it for that short time which felt like an eternity. This car was with me through the good and bad times; it was all I had at times. This is the first real story with many more to come of what really went down in Canada with Marty and his old car.

– Flashback from 2002!

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Watching Ice Hockey, Canadian Accents,  Quirky Canadian Girls, The Okanagan & Kootenays, Road Trips, Canadian Bagels, Sweet Pumpkin Pie, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, ‘People Watching’ at Coal Harbour, Stanley Park on a balmy summer’s day… I could go on; I love Canada and everything about being there.

My obsession with Canada started in the year 1998, at only 17 years of age I did something really crazy; travelled around Canada all by myself.   Yes, I really should have waited a couple of months until I was 18 to avoid the questions being asked about travelling alone by customs.  I almost got deported back to Australia because of the technicality of being 17 and alone, however after being interviewed by Immigration Canada they decided to let me into Canada.  My first experience of Canada was visiting the province of Ontario in winter with snowflakes falling everywhere and taking in the sights of Toronto, Niagara Falls and Ottawa for two weeks.  I was really impressed by the places and people I met and vowed to come back to Canada again.

Now a normal person would wait maybe a year or two before visiting Canada again.  I however do things that are abnormal and out of this world, less than 6 months later still in the year 1998 I bought a plane ticket on whim to Vancouver to see what the west coast was like.  I was 18 years old by then so customs did not give me a hard time for travelling alone this time and spent an amazing couple weeks enjoying Vancouver in the height of summer.  It was then at 18 years of age I decided I wanted to come back and live in this amazing city someday.  The only thing is I just did not know when it would happen in my life.

On the 12th of October 2001 my dream of living in Vancouver for a year became a reality. I was only 21 years of age at the time and looking back now I must have been a little nuts to quit a reasonably good job in Australia and give up a really nice home to come to Canada without a job, place to live nor knowing a single soul.  I experienced just about every possible emotion a human could feel during my time in Canada and it really was the making of me as a person.

This introductory post is just a glimpse of many stories to come about the people, places and personal challenges I encountered during my time living in Canada.

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