I love living in Thailand, but nothing energizes the spirit more than a return visit home. I don’t feel the need to go back too often – money and time are limited, and with all the video chats and Facebooking and instant messaging available at my fingertips, friends and family back home are never too far away. Not counting a quick trip this past Christmas to attend to some family business, it’s been 8 years since I spent any time of consequence in the Great White North. But that just means that when I do get home, it’s even more special, which was definitely the case from October 6-24, when I, my wife, and our son packed our bags and visited the old country.

Not counting the 18 hours of flights with a teething toddler – which I highly recommend if you hate yourself and/or the people on the plane – it was a fantastic trip. We put about 1,500km on our rented car, had Thanksgiving dinner with my family, caught up with friends, and took a few gigabytes worth of photos.

We were confined to Canada’s west cost – the best coast, as I call it, not to discount the stark beauty of the Maritimes – visiting Vancouver, Port Alberni, Tofino, Victoria, and Whistler. It was a bit cool – averaging a crisp 8-10 degrees Celsius – but the fall colors were out in all their glory and it was really beautiful.

The ground (and ocean) we covered during the trip. Felt good to drive on roads with no motorcycles, tuk-tuks, or random dudes pushing bug carts in flip flops!

During the trip I kept some notes on things that stood out to me, which I’ll list below. Most of them never would have warranted a second thought if I was living in Canada, but as someone who has been away from home for 15 years, they made me do a bit of a double take.

Hills. Hills everywhere.

If you don’t count the crumbling sidewalks, overbearing heat, and SwAss (sweaty ass, a term a lovable Canadian redneck turned me on to years ago), walking around Bangkok is actually really easy. It’s completely flat! It’s like going for a stroll on a pancake. But when I met my friend on the Vancouver waterfront and joined her for a stroll to a restaurant, I was wheezing by the end. Nearly the entire walk was uphill – pushing a baby in a stroller, no less. You forget how tiring this can be, especially when you’re the only one breathing heavy. Served as a great reminder that I need to get my fat ass on a treadmill more often.

Bike lane maniacs.

Bike riders in Bangkok are always complaining of the ridiculous bike lanes that end at walls or curve off into food carts or traffic. We dream of smooth, well-planned bike lanes that take us all over the place…but there is a price to pay for this. Bike lanes are everywhere in Vancouver, and to be honest, some of the riders seem like entitled douchebags. They – not cars – have the right of way, and are pretty touchy when someone enters their domain.

An example of this is when my wife, a friend, and I were walking along the waterfront. Apparently we were walking in the part of the road reserved for bikes, although there was no markings. As one rider approached us at a pretty good clip – a guy of about 50 with a grizzled look – he yelled “HEY RETARDS!” as we moved out of his way. It was one of the few times in my life I was speechless. To make matters worse, there were signs everywhere saying “Cyclists must yield to pedestrians.” Guess he didn’t get the memo.

Flat sidewalks.

Speaking of pushing strollers, do you know nice it is to push your sleeping baby for a 30 minute walk and not have to worry about jostling the stroller too much? The pavement is smooth and well-maintained, no matter if you’re going street -> sidewalk, into a building, or up/down a wheelchair ramp.

A typical Thai sidewalk. Just kidding, that’s a 2,000-year old Roman road. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.

White construction workers in safety gear.

This might seem a bit douchey to say, but it still caught my attention. In Thailand any construction work is usually done by a crew of very skinny laborers, often Burmese or Cambodian, wearing t-shirts and flip-flops. I passed a road crew and did an inadvertent double take when I realized they were all white, speaking English, and wearing hard hats, reflective vests, boots, and safety glasses. Seemed out of place to me.

No cameras in elevators.

Not sure what it means, but it was weird to notice. Not a single elevator for the whole trip had a camera in it, at least that I could see. In Thailand not seeing one would be strange.

The malls are awful.

This might be a bit of hyperbole, as I obviously didn’t visit all the malls, but the ones I did walk around in were brutal. Run down, dimly-lit, and stuffed with shuffling masses getting their nails or hair done, and pushing screaming kids from one boring store to another. I was really shocked at how sad it was. We make fun of how many malls we have here in Thailand, but at least they have energy, creativity, and activity. They’re bright, noisy, crowded, and offer lots to do for any age group. Malls in Canada are really, really boring – borderline depressing.

The mobile telecommunications network is a joke.

I’ve yet to find a place in Bangkok where I can’t get a signal on my phone. Underground parking, subway, basement level of a building…I’m always connected. The GPS might be a bit weak, but as for calls, text, and internet? Almost always on. But in Canada as soon as you enter a parking garage or basement or get even remotely away from windows or line-of-sight to the outdoors, it’s like you turned on airplane mode. Nothing comes in or out.

The second way the mobile network sucks in Canada is that it’s so restrictive. Tons of paperwork, and lots of “Well, this network is good in the city, this is good in the province, this one doesn’t allow you do this, this one only allows you to do this…”. I bought a SIM card for my iPhone for $10 and added $50 credit – about 1,600 baht in total. This gave me a few texts, a few voice calls, and a tiny bit of data, which I used to download the maps for the GPS when driving. I used up my balance on the last day in Canada. In Bangkok I pay $34 (900 baht) per month for essentially unlimited voice, text, and data. Not even close.

Insipid television.

I didn’t watch a lot of television when I was there, but the stuff I did see was awful. What happened to you, North America? Game shows, stupid reality shows, and awful personalities were all over the place…and the commercials! If it wasn’t pushing drugs or telling you to be scared of the next big disease, it was a tedious ad for some stupid product or show with a voice over that made me want to switch channels. Brutal.

But, you know, the weather was perfect, the traffic was organized, the air was clean, the moose were friendly, and being able to ask specific, nuanced questions of shopkeepers and information desks (with specific, nuanced answers in return) was a welcome luxury. I might love and live in Thailand, but my heart will always be red and white and leafy.

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