Friday, April 15, 2005

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Yellowknife looks a lot like Edmonton, or any other flat Canadian city. The streets are about as wide. The tall buildings are shorter, fewer, and less shiny, but the traffic lights still cycle green-amber-red and the pedestrian crossings make whistling sounds for the blind. It has public transit, with three bus routes. No light rail, but I'd think two aerodromes, one with two paved runways and another that currently has a runway cleared out of the snow on a frozen lake beats out a monorail on the coolness scale. There's an A&W on the corner by my hotel, and I know from wandering around town that there's a McDonald's, a tattoo parlor, an alternative medicine colonic care centre, all the major Canadian banks, art galleries, auto repair, corporate offices, governement buildings and dozens of souvenir shops. It's cold, yes, just below freezing, and snowing lightly from an overcast sky. The snow is not very deep on the ground, and the ice road, as someone noted in a comment, has just been closed. So, if I were driving south, I'd have to go the long way, bypassing Great Slave Lake, instead of just straight across it.

One of the city tourism slogans is "Where the Gold is Paved with Streets," an appropriate Dick Whittington reference for someone arriving in a city and finding it not what she expected. The city bells told Whittington to turn again, as he'd be mayor. I'm definitely not looking to be mayor, but maybe some of those turbine engines will tell me that I'll be a captain. If I were here to seek out the true north rather than a job, I'd still be following the red needle on my compass. Oh wait, that's magnetic north. It's always good to know what you're looking for.

I don't know why, but I was expecting Yellowknife to be more different from home than any other Canadian city. There are the same products in the stores, and the same international collection of people to see in the streets. I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and the menu and proprietors were what you would expect in any Chinese restaurant. The friendly woman who shared my booth and told me sad stories about her mother turned out to have been on psychiatric medication for thirty-five years, just like half the people who spontaneously eat lunch with to strangers in any other city. She had stunningly fine teeth, however. Toothpaste commercial perfect, at fifty-four years of age. Perhaps strong teeth are a Slavey characteristic: when I asked her what her language sounded like one of the three phrases she gave me was "you have good teeth." Something like E'e na nee-in. Very approximately. Someone later told me they were probably false.

I shouldn't expect any different. Culture Is global. The meal on the airplane was a choice of Chicken Teriyaki or Sushi. That seemed incongruous with a flight from Alberta, where beef is king, but I suppose it fits in with the Northwest Territories, whose native languages don't have words for pork, beef, chicken, or pasta, and have vast area with no wood for cooking. You want proof that culture is global? I sat next to a gold prospector, a genuine, grizzled. hatted, gold prospector, who ate the sushi, accompanying vegetables, and the creme brulée entirely with the provided chopsticks.

And I know I haven't got to the part about the airplanes yet. Delayed internet access is keeping me a day behind, so I haven't written up that part yet, but I'll get there.


Anonymous said...

In some ways it is good that culture is global. In other ways it is sad. I always like finding a town that has few chains and lots of locally owned shops. They still exist, even in the UK

Anonymous said...

While culture might be a constant, certain differences become obvious to me when I'm away from home. The need to correct for magnetic deviation is one of them. Working with map and compass as a Boy Scout, I was taught that magnetic north and true north are different. That knowledge was merely academic for a long time, however, since the deviation at my home is less than the resolution of a standard-issue Silva compass.

The single difference that most clearly tells me I am not where I used to be is the tilt of the sky. When I'm vacationing in Florida, the stars are subtly offset from where I expect to find them. Polaris is entirely too close to the horizon. If I were in Yellowknife, I suspect that I'd find myself unconsciously angling my head at night to make the man in the moon stand up straight.

Changes in longitude are not so intrusive. Like most people, I don't get enough sleep anyway, so time zone changes aren't a big deal.