Trac­ing East:

UN­COV­ER­ING A CITY’S SWEET SPOT

Hayo - - Photo Essay - WORDS BY BRYNN MCNAB

Van­cou­ver’s East­side stands in vi­brant, un­abashed con­trast to the city’s rep­u­ta­tion for slick con­crete and shiny glass fa­cades. His­tory, pol­i­tics and ge­og­ra­phy shape any place— from Van­cou­ver to Paris, Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo—cre­at­ing com­plex­i­ties that aren't al­ways vis­i­ble

to the ca­sual vis­i­tor. Some­times mov­ing be­yond the pop­u­lar per­cep­tions of these well-known cities is as as

sim­ple as wan­der­ing east.

MANY AS­PECTS COM­BINE TO FORM THE IDEN­TITY OF A CITY. Some­times they are al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble de­tails, such as the apho­risms of the lo­cals or the shape of the green man on the cross­walk sign. They can be an­noy­ing and hard to de­ci­pher, like pub­lic tran­sit or re­stroom pro­to­col.And some­times the facets are in­flu­en­tial on the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment on such a large scale that they are al­most in­vis­i­ble to the ca­sual trav­eler, dif­fi­cult to the­o­rize or in­stiga­tive of fur­ther research. Of­ten, these are rooted in the his­tory of the place, its pol­i­tics, its ge­og­ra­phy—the things that lie be­yond what you might ask for when look­ing for a good place to eat. Van­cou­ver, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo—four con­trast­ing cities spread across four dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents—each have bur­geon­ing neigh­bor­hoods nes­tled in an eastern part of the city, vi­brant quar­ters with their own iden­ti­ties that are dis­tinct and in flux.

VAN­COU­VER IS ORI­ENTED TO­WARD THE WEST, to­ward the Pa­cific Ocean. North is the moun­tains. East is des­ig­nated in ab­sen­tia, in the dis­tance from the iconic sym­bols of the city. The streets are marked with wet names, which fade out to num­bers, trees, wars and prov­inces as you move east. Beach Av­enue, Pa­cific Boule­vard, Wa­ter Street, Water­front Road, Ma­rine Drive.The west is the rush to the limit, to the aque­ous edge. There is a nat­u­ral bor­der of the ocean, into which the city can­not ad­vance. So it grows east. With this di­rec­tional growth, there is a gra­di­ent of wealth.All that is sup­pos­edly de­sir­able—sun­sets on the water­front, the tight den­sity of down­town—is lo­cated west. As you move east through the city, the com­pul­sory turquoise glass dis­si­pates into less highly con­trolled ar­chi­tec­ture.

Once you get out of the dense down­town penin­sula, you find your­self in one of the old­est neigh­bor­hoods in Van­cou­ver, the Down­town East­side. A his­tory of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence has long haunted the area—from the very found­ing of Van­cou­ver in 1886, dur­ing which land was an­nexed from Coast Sal­ish peo­ples, to the per­se­cu­tion of Chi­nese im­mi­grants dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury, the round­ing up of Ja­panese res­i­dents dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and the de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of thou­sands of psy­chi­atric pa­tients who then set­tled in the area in the 1970s. Ul­ti­mately, the move­ment of cap­i­tal away from the neigh­bor­hood has al­ways been at the root of its rep­u­ta­tion as Van­cou­ver’s “skid row.”

From tem­po­rary la­bor­ers, First Na­tions peo­ples and young, low-in­come stu­dents or artists, to Chi­nese and Ja­panese res­i­dents or peo­ple deal­ing with men­tal health is­sues, many mi­nor­ity groups have been thrown to­gether in this small area over the years. It has be­come one of the few places in Van­cou­ver where peo­ple start con­ver­sa­tions with you on the street, where res­i­dents openly dis­play com­pas­sion

for one another and where a truly lo­cal cul­ture thrives. El­derly Chi­nese res­i­dents strike up friend­ships with DIY artists’ spa­ces, while stu­dents, butch­ers and the home­less tra­verse the al­leys be­tween streets, which smell at turns of in­cense and dried herbs, among other acrid scents. The area is now pep­pered with small busi­nesses that are con­scious of the neigh­bor­hood’s his­tory and char­ac­ter, pro­vid­ing meal share programs and mak­ing spa­ces that are in­clu­sive. His­toric pubs have been up­dated to sup­ply lo­cal craft beer, while still pro­vid­ing cheap food and a space for live mu­sic. A new tea­house sells tra­di­tional in­dige­nous medic­i­nal tea, for­aged from parks and gath­ered from com­mu­nity gar­dens. Hip up­scale cof­fee shops and small sin­gle-con­cept restaurants pro­mote a feel of a club­house, where most clien­tele know each other.

PARIS IS MORE OF A CIR­CU­LAR CITY THAN A COASTAL GRA­DI­ENT —no less con­trolled, but labyrinthine and de­ceiv­ing, its an­gles never quite right, its famous spi­ral of ar­rondisse­ments en­cir­cled by the Boule­vard Pé­riphérique. The neigh­bor­hoods out­side are known not as ar­rondisse­ments, but les ban­lieue—or, “sub­urbs”—and sym­bolic old walls still sep­a­rate old Paris from these sub­urbs, so sim­i­lar and yet out­side of the city. This struc­ture is fairly ar­bi­trary, with the Seine des­ig­nat­ing north and south, and the woods out­side the pe­riph­ery, Bois de Vin­cennes and Bois de Boulogne, mark­ing east and west. In the ex­act ge­o­graph­i­cal cen­ter stands the Notre Dame. This lay­out is built by his­tory, a pro­tracted hon­ing of iden­tity, rather than ge­og­ra­phy.

The eastern side of the city—the space be­tween Père Lachaise Ceme­tery and the Parc de Buttes Chau­mont, some­where be­tween the 19th and 20th ar­rondisse­ments—is not the Paris that is usu­ally fea­tured in tour books. It also isn’t ex­actly what you would call low-in­come (those ar­eas are far­ther out­side the city, where new fam­i­lies move in or­der to af­ford larger prop­er­ties or artists’ squats rise up in old in­dus­trial build­ings). How­ever, there are no large mu­se­ums or mon­u­ments, and the peo­ple that pop­u­late the side­walks stray from the car­i­cat­u­ral idea of the “Parisian.”

The west side of Paris is much wealth­ier—the busi­ness dis­trict, the em­bassies, the large ho­tels and the Eif­fel Tower are there. But the east is punc­tu­ated with the smell of pho and large Asian mar­kets near Tol­biac, where other lan­guages mix in with the req­ui­site French; the Café aux Folies, where you can peo­ple watch with­out see­ing tourists; and Au Chat Noir on Mon­day nights, where peo­ple from all over the world gather in a swel­ter­ing base­ment to read po­etry, sing and drink cheap red wine among an amor­phous spirit of com­mu­nity that is markedly ab­sent in many ar­eas of the clichéd City of Light.

IN CON­TRAST TO THE SUR­GI­CAL SEC­TION­ING OF PARIS, Rio de Janeiro feels like a vol­canic mass, ge­o­log­i­cally or­ga­nized like the struc­ture of the rock that it was built upon, as if it was formed within the hot air bub­bles trapped in­side the ig­neous rock. Pock­ets of the city are sep­a­rated by steep gran­ite moun­tains that push up through the rain­for­est, walls of ter­rain that are dif­fi­cult to in­habit. Neigh­bor­hoods shift sud­denly and starkly from one street to the next and, as a vis­i­tor, one be­comes hy­per aware of small changes in tone. This topo­graph­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion acts as a metaphor for Rio’s so­ci­o­log­i­cal his­tory, which is a blend of South Amer­i­can, In­dige­nous, African and Euro­pean pop­u­la­tions. Nav­i­gat­ing neigh­bor­hoods by their wealth does not work here—even though Rio is a coastal me­trop­o­lis, the water­front gra­di­ent of Van­cou­ver does not ap­ply.

Nav­i­gat­ing neigh­bor­hoods by their wealth does not work here— even though Rio is a coastal me­trop­o­lis, the water­front gra­di­ent of Van­cou­ver does not ap­ply.

The steep moun­tains that act as back­drops for wealthy ar­eas are cov­ered in fave­las—pro­vi­sional neigh­bor­hoods marked by ex­treme poverty—as their prox­im­ity to the do­mes­tic work avail­able nearby is highly de­sir­able.The land­scape and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment play off of each other in dra­matic ar­range­ments.The famous beaches, Ipanema and Copaca­bana, and their epony­mous neigh­bor­hoods, are even slightly dif­fer­ent in tone: Ipanema is wealth­ier and there­fore de­fen­sive, while Copaca­bana is much more touris­tic, with many lo­cal and for­eign peo­ple out on the streets.

The small neigh­bor­hood of Lapa, just south of down­town and stick­ing out to­ward the east into the bay, has his­tor­i­cally been a hub for artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als. How­ever, it is cur­rently more known for its nightlife, with small bars that of­ten host live mu­sic.The streets have an air of un­self­con­scious­ness—a mix of os­ten­ta­tion and un­con­cern. There are block par­ties and small jazz clubs, sweaty cumbia dancers spilling out onto the streets. Restaurants that serve noth­ing but beer, fries and meat. There are few cars on the roads and an in­con­gru­ously large amount of an­tique lamp shops, and the lo­cal res­i­dents are a the­ater of sub­cul­tures. As op­posed to wealth­ier neigh­bor­hoods, where mil­i­tant pro­tec­tion is ev­i­dent in barbed wire and elec­tric fences, in Lapa the heat has many peo­ple leav­ing their doors open to re­veal older men in their un­der­wear play­ing video games, kids build­ing struc­tures by the door­ways, cou­ples fight­ing.

TOKYO IS ODDLY REM­I­NIS­CENT OF PARIS in terms of its lay­out and tran­sit system, though it is much larger and denser than the old Euro­pean city. Both lo­cales are known for rapid rail tran­sit—and when you ar­rive in Tokyo, you see why. The sheer vol­ume of peo­ple that move around the city would quickly make any glitches in the system glar­ingly ap­par­ent, but rarely do you no­tice any­thing but a smooth trans­fer of peo­ple be­tween trains, gates and sta­tions. The Ya­man­ote Line cir­cles the city in much the same way as the Boule­vard Pé­riphérique. In

fact, their di­am­e­ters are al­most iden­ti­cal. How­ever, where Paris’s cir­cle acts as a di­vider, Tokyo’s iconic loop is con­nec­tive and por­ous. Dis­tricts ex­pand in­side and out­side of the line, pro­vid­ing an ef­fi­cient and demo­cratic method of travers­ing the huge me­trop­o­lis.

Find­ing an ex­act ad­dress in Tokyo can be nearly im­pos­si­ble. Main streets fold into smaller laneways, which curl into tiny back­yard en­trances.The num­bers on build­ings are given based first on dis­tricts, then on blocks—get­ting more and more spe­cific—and are of­ten as­signed based on how old the build­ing is, in­di­cat­ing a nat­u­ral growth. Be­cause of the gar­gan­tuan na­ture of the city, its crowds and its dis­ori­ent­ing ul­tra-mod­ern aes­thetic, di­rec­tion can be eas­ily con­fused in Tokyo. Sig­nage and in­struc­tions from lo­cals hint that it is or­ga­nized by a dif­fer­ent system, one that is not founded on the four cor­ners of a com­pass. In a way, the scale of the city makes its ur­ban de­sign a much more im­por­tant part of how it func­tions than the land­scape it­self.

As a vis­i­tor, it can be much more en­joy­able to wan­der Tokyo than to pin­point a spe­cific place to visit. A bike ride through the eastern neigh­bor­hoods is a fan­tas­tic way to see how the dif­fer­ences in dis­tricts flow into one another. On the eastern side of the Ya­man­ote Line is the Su­mida River, which flows out into the Pa­cific Ocean and con­nects the tem­ples and gar­dens in Asakusa to the enor­mous Ueno Park dot­ted with live per­form­ers. You can drift through the Nip­pori Tex­tile Dis­trict—packed with nar­row, eight-story build­ings full of reams of fab­ric that range from holo­graphic lamés to hand-dyed linens—or look in on one of the small, silent ceme­ter­ies, with their el­e­gant wooden so­toba. Through­out the city, cor­ners of ac­tiv­ity turn you around, such as hid­den malls that open up into mazes of food stalls, with wooden ta­bles pop­u­lated by an af­ter­work crowd of women and men smok­ing with loos­ened ties as steam bil­lows out of kitchens.

THERE ARE, OF COURSE, HUN­DREDS OF OTHER SPOTS LIKE THESE, in coun­tries all over the world. Peo­ple travel to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing new, but they are ul­ti­mately look­ing for some­thing that they can rec­og­nize in them­selves. Lo­cat­ing that sweet spot in each place you visit, where you feel strangely and in­ex­pli­ca­bly at home, is a nav­i­ga­tional process that forces you to learn more about each place’s unique system of econ­omy, ge­og­ra­phy, cul­ture and his­tory. These pock­ets of spe­cific iden­ti­ties are built by the move­ment of peo­ple, whether that be from ur­ban­iza­tion, im­mi­gra­tion, dis­placed pop­u­la­tions, shift­ing economies or gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.As a trav­eler, you are part of this move­ment, and by ex­plor­ing a bit far­ther afield you can dras­ti­cally change your pre­con­ceived no­tions of a place.

PHOTO ES­SAY OF VAN­COU­VER’S EAST­SIDE BY JEFF TOPHAM

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