Sunday, August 10, 2008
My pockets jingling with Loonies and Toonies, I taxied over to my hostel in downtown Vancouver. The hostel itself was very hip - there was a bar on the bottom floor, pool tables and computers and TVs on the second, and colorful posters on all the walls of all the halls.
I was pretty tired and planned on napping, but my room wasn't going to be ready for me until several hours later. So I stashed my backpack and just took with me my camera, notebook, and Book of Mormon and started walking around downtown Vancouver, looking for something to eat and a place to sit down and eat it. Pizza joints were in bounteous supply.
Downtown Vancouver was really interesting. I've never been so overtly petitioned for "money for drugs" so often, in so short a period. (Did you know that Cubans are legal in Canada?)
(Cuban cigars are, too.)
I sat down on a park bench in a small little park, reading my little pocket Book of Mormon. The book itself was covered up - something I did in Texas in order to protect it from sweat - but clipped on the front cover is my black missionary tag. I guess I never wanted to lose my tag, and clipping it onto my Book of Mormon seemed like a way to remind me of my two years in Texas, and the people there.
This guy on the park bench across from me asked me what I was reading, and I told him "the scriptures." He smiled and we got to talking - he found out I was Mormon, and he told me he was "almost Mormon once." He asked what I was doing in Vancouver, and I told him about my trip and everything. Then Benny (that was his name) offered to drive me around the city and show me the sights. I said "Sure, why not?" and we started walking to his car.
This seemed incredibly unsafe.
As we walked, he talked about how the mormon missionaries used to come by for two or three years, until he backed out of his baptism. He described some of the pictures in the Book of Mormon, referred to Joseph Smith and some other things. We started walking off to an obscure back parking lot, where there wasn't anybody else around. At this point, I started imagining myself waking up in an alley eight hours later with a headache and without a spleen.
But all my worries were for naught. He drove me around the city, while explaining how Vancouver was ranked "the number one city in the world." He bragged about how health care is free, how you can just go to the emergency room whenever you want to. He talked about his family, how he and his ex-wife moved from the Phillipines to Canada, and then she left him with his three children to raise on his own. After they've all moved out, he volunteers doing social work for a bank as well as some other part-time work.
He took me to Stanley Park, which is a ginormous outdoor wonderland which eats Central Parks for breakfast. It has its own bay, with boats in it. I began to realize how truly awesome Vancouver is. It's got beaches (Benny pointed out to me where the nude beaches were), parks, mountains, woods, and a river. He bought me lunch and forced me to eat some Italian ice cream afterward, and basically was my personal tour guide, for free, just because he had some time on his hands and knew that I didn't know anything about Vancouver.
We talked more about his experience with the missionaries. I think that might've been the real reason he picked me up, a need to air out his previous experiences, and seeing my missionary tag pricked his curiosity enough to do so. (Also, he was just a genuinely nice guy.) I felt like, for the first time since my mission, a missionary. From all of his life that he shared with me, I genuinely cared about this guy, especially because of his continual acts of kindness towards me. He decided to read again in his Book of Mormon, and we were both glad we'd met. We exchanged emails and phone numbers and have been in intermittent contact since.
It was a great Sunday. It's interesting how, after traveling through the continent in a counter-clockwise movement, I end up in a place where a) someone was totally willing to make my day, and b) I could talk with someone who wanted to know about the gospel.
This was definitely the highlight of my time in Vancouver. I think that's probably what life should be like, actually. The highlights of life probably won't be amusement parks or monuments, but meaningful interactions with people.
It did help, though, that also in Vancouver, I ate the Second Best Thing In The World: a chocolate and banana crepe.
By the way, make that plural. I ate several of them. Those Loonies and Toonies ended up being good for something after all.