5 Things I Would Have Said to Vancouver if He Had Been a Person

I like Vancouver. Right now, I live in Vancouver and enjoy what this city has to offer to the fullest. However, there are certain things I haven’t been able to get used to since moving here over two years ago, and I attempt to compile a list of those things (with love and respect). In this list, I am focusing more on elements of the mentality of the city that are usually unnoticed by insiders, but are very clear once compared to equivalents in other Canadian cities. For example, the problem of homeless people in the streets of Vancouver is so largely discussed that I find there is no point in bringing it up again.

If ever you notice my observations are similar to your own or would like to add anything to this list – please feel free to reach out and I will be happy to get your insight! Let’s get it started:

Dear Vancouver,

1. It’s not all about the money.

When I first came to Vancouver (from Ottawa) to visit for a couple of weeks, I could clearly sense the difference in how much money talk was going on here. People were talking about sales, deals, their purchases, purchases of others, fighting over a couple of dollars with cashiers at Shoppers Drug Marts. For what it’s worth, I also noted a huge difference in prices – for everything, starting with a can of condensed milk ending with a square foot in downtown. Two and a half years have passed since then making me much more open about discussing money, but not any more money-oriented as a person. Perhaps it’s because money per se has never been a driving force for me that talking about it doesn’t constitute fun in my mind.

2. It’s not all about real estate either.

Vancouver is the type of city where you get asked whether you rent or own on a first date. I get it, real estate is a huge market here nesting huge amounts of money (please see the first point). As I am not yet in a position to buy my own, my venting is more about renting standards around here. I just happen to be surrounded by lovers of high-rise high-tech buildings and feel like a foreigner with my appreciation for vintage and history. I do want to talk about real estate, just not the way Vancouverites normally do.

3. You’re actually not that big.

I am fairly certain Dr. Freud would have had something to say about this city’s size-related concerns.

Everyone knows Toronto and Montreal are bigger than Vancouver. However, for some reason, (my beloved) Ottawa is commonly believed to be smaller than Vancouver. Every time someone would say to me “Vancouver’s bigger than Ottawa”, I’d doubt it quietly until one day when I googled it. Turned out, Vancouver is smaller than Ottawa by both population and area. When I say Ottawa, I mean just Ottawa, not the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area; although I did compare it to the Greater Vancouver Area, just to give it a little head start.

Vancouver Population Screenshot

Vancouver Population

Ottawa Population Screenshot

Ottawa Population

GVA Area Screenshot

GVA area in square kilometers

Ottawa Area Screenshot

Ottawa Area in square kilometers

As can be seen, Calgary’s also higher on population than Vancouver.

I am not really a big-city person, so Vancouver scored higher on my personal likability scale after this finding as far as the size of the city is concerned. The thing is that, this city is pretending so hard to be big, that sometimes it just gets annoying. For someone who used to live in Toronto, familiar with the Markham or Thornhill, doesn’t matter – somewhere in Toronto attitude, I find there is way too much fuss on this side of the country regarding which part of the city you live in. Oh, well, if you’re in Burnaby, then you don’t really live in Vancouver. There is an unspoken (although, actually at times, very loudly spoken) demand for a clear distinction between Coquitlams, Surreys, and Langleys. I like precise, but to me, sometimes, it is just unnecessary information, as, for example, for my friends in Toronto, Burnaby will not mean a thing, and they will keep referring to Vancouver as my current location.

4. There are too many crows, which is really a polite way to say there’s too much trash.

Recycling does not work in British Columbia – even in Quebec, they are doing a much better job. Sometimes the streets smell like trash on a regular day – it can even get to the point where all you can think of while walking a good couple of blocks is that the waste problem really needs to be handled in this city. Speaking of the crows, Vancouver is the city where maps of most common spots of crow attacks were first invented. Check out CrowTrax to find out more, it is quite impressive.

5. You are a city of double standards.

It is when I arrived here I started hearing “I don’t like people”. And yet, wherever you go, people tend to talk to you (aka stranger).

It is when I arrived here I started hearing how important are commitment and responsibility. It is also in Vancouver that I witnessed the most occurrences of “change-of-mind” from people who talked a lot about commitment and responsibility.

Finally, it is when I arrived here that I started hearing people complain that they would be promised a meet-up but would never end up meeting that person again. At first, I thought “how weird!”. But then, I discovered how invasively people I didn’t want to see again wanted to get my number and – guess what?!- see me again.

I am still not clear on the underlying foundation of this fifth point, which is why for now I call it “double standards”. Lately, I have been dwelling on whether it is the loneliness or the thirst for stability (or both?) that drag(s) people into the above-mentioned, very common for Vancouver, situations. It’s like there is this entire city that can’t accept that nothing in life is stable in itself (unless we, people, decide to make consistent choices) and that repetitive verbal statements of importance of commitment&responability (yeah, just like that – as a bundle) aren’t the best tool to plant an idea in someone’s brain.  Persistent verbal repetitions is what I call “being invasive” as that’s how I feel when someone is trying to “inject” a belief in me, especially a belief I do not necessarily relate to.

I gotta admit that while trying to understand whether double standards are the action or the reaction, I have gotten quite proficient at using it as a defense mechanism against people’s invasiveness since my preferred old classic being-honest technic doesn’t quite work for everyone in this city. For the record, it is those who can handle me being honest who get my commitment&responability, but that’s a whole other story.

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Emotions, Physically Speaking

Всегда делайте только то что вам хочется, и у вас будет отличное пищеварение. (с) Братья Стругацкие, Хищные вещи века

Loose translation: Only do things you want to do, and you will end up with perfectly smooth digestion. (c) Strugatsky brothers, The Final Circle of Paradise

Psychosomatics was defined by Karl Kuno Thure Freiherr von Uexküll as an interdisciplinary medical field exploring the relationships among social, psychological, and behavioral factors on bodily processes and quality of life in humans and animals. My mom, M.D., who acquired her medical education in the late Soviet era, believes psychosomatics to be a concern of those with mental issues. I, a civilian, think that psychosomatics is everybody’s concern. After all, it did take me hemorrhoids at the age of 28 to leave one hugely disliked job, a whole lot of skin issues to leave another as well as heartburn issues at the age of 27 to leave an unbeloved significant other.

Our emotions physically nest in our bodies. It starts with the most common things like hands sweating or increased heart rate when we feel nervous, blushing when embarrassed, clenching our teeth when we are angry. Our facial wrinkle pattern can indicate what emotions we experience the most: someone with horizontal forehead lines likely gets afraid or surprized a lot, only smiley people have smile lines; angry or serious people usually get frown lines or forehead furrow.  The question is being researched, and bodily maps of emotions have even been created.

Our bodies are the best indicators of how happy we are; if only we could listen to them more carefully. How often, consumed by everyday life and social constraints, do we get annoyed at dysfunctionalities we experience every once in a while (e.g., headaches, dizziness, sore throats, etc.)? Instead, we could treat them as signals our bodies are trying to communicate. I really truly believe the only life in which you never get sick is the one where you only do things that resonate with you. Getting there does take guts and a lot of learning. However difficult it may be at times, as my virtual personal trainer often says, “listen to your body and you can’t go wrong”.

Bodily Map of Emotions by Lauri Nummenmaa, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen, and Enrico Glerean / Nummenmaa Lab

Bodily Map of Emotions by Lauri Nummenmaa, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen, and Enrico Glerean / Nummenmaa Lab originally found at http://emotion.utu.fi/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Bodily_Feeling_Maps.png

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Summer Cheers. 2019 edition

And here’s to the fools who dream,

Crazy as they may seem.

Here’s to the hearts that break.

Here’s to the mess we make

(c) La la land

Summer has arrived in Vancouver. More importantly, summer has arrived in our souls, our hearts, our minds – whichever one of those resonates with you. While the sun is yet to be unveiled and Vancouver is being Raincouver (what else is new), I am absolutely completely confident that summer 2019 has arrived. I felt it last week when I started laughing from the bottom of my heart like I would 3 years ago, or 10 years ago – for me, it is this old good Valeria that brought the summer to me, not the weather or a calendar day.

And to that, I would like to lift my glass. Please join me with your wine, beer, a spirit, water or coffee in welcoming and very much anticipating this summer 2019. Today, I raise a toast to:

  • being insubordinate: it’s time for our wants vs. shoulds
  • breaking a habit because we all are in need of a change sometimes
  • our inner voices – they always know best
  • the fear of the unknown because it pushes you to get stronger
  • laughing out loud, even more so to laughing for no reason
  • being abnormal because normal can never be amazing (c) Maya Angelou
  • only choosing people that truly resonate with you and ditching anybody else  to save your and their time
  • tequila because all my favourite mistakes were made on tequila

… and so many more things that we have been putting away. By now, it must be somehow scientifically justified why, statistically speaking, it is in the summer that it’s so much easier for many to become vegan, come up with revolutionary inventions, create art pieces, work out outside, find their soulmates, conceive, etc. Today, however, I am not worried about justification because this freakishly awesome sense of liberation just makes me want to fly, and that’s all I need to make this summer the best one yet.



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Weight Gain Mystery Solved: Find a Chink in the Armor

At some point in my life, I decided to get a smart scale for myself (the one I got is Aria 2 by Fitbit) to get better insights into my weight fluctuations. Later this purpose sort of got lost in the general flow of life until recently when I decided to pull out my weight-fluctuation graph for the past year. When I looked at it, I realized how weak a human being I was over the past year as I let the winter and emotional disbalance affect my physical state, and that inspired me to research this question in further detail.

At first, I blamed stress. Over the past year, I have been working a job that wasn’t precisely what I was looking for. I was happy in that job for the first months until I got transferred to the department with a more toxic environment (which, obviously, I know now but could not envision at the time). The transfer happened on October 16, 2018, and as can clearly be seen on the chart, this was when a very steady weight gain of mine started.

Then a friend made me realize that October was also [sort of] the start of the winter. There is a side note to that, though: since this friend is from Toronto, for him October would be a much colder month than a Vancouver October. Yet, he actually got solid grounds to back up his suggestion: most research done in the field clearly suggests that winter-related weight gain is very organic for us due to our animalistic nature.

However, research also provided me with a couple of counter-arguments to that. Most studies suggest a normal weight gain during winter months between 0.4 to 0.9 kg. Studies also discuss a timeframe of weight gain being from the last week of November till the first week of January. This study could be an example of an overview of existing data. Based on that, I went clearly over the edge with my 2 kg weight gain that started in October, peeked in mid-January and ended only sometime in March. Apart from that, while there is no other evidence rather than just my memory, I know for a fact that I had never weighed nearly 65 kg in my life, be those winters in Russia or Ontario or all-inclusive summer vacation in Spain. My max weight would have been no more than 63 kg.

This brings me to the whole point of this blog. I am a very firm believer that any additional weight we put on is a sort of defense mechanism we use when we feel attacked by the world. I remember starting a job at the escalation team for a major Canadian retailer (i.e., a job where you would deal with a lot of negativity, if not just negativity), and the first thing I noticed was that almost everybody on the team was more or less overweight. I remember that being a concern of mine (obviously, I didn’t want to gain any additional weight), but I shut those thoughts down as I could not afford to be this superficial (or so I thought) at the time. Over the next 9 months of working there, I gained around 4 kg (with the max weight of 63 kg over the winter, as discussed). Lost some of it after I left, and then the rest of that story was discussed at the beginning of this post.

Turns out, a lot of work has been done to support my firm belief:

  • studies talking about stress and weight gain (examples here, here and here);
  • numerous studies discussing sexual abuse and consequent weight gain in women to de-sexualize themselves to feel protected (examples here, here and here);
  • weight gain as an emotional defense mechanism in interpersonal relationships (examples here, here and here).

… and I am sure I could find more, but you get the gist.

Metaphorically, it is pretty straightforward: we put some extra weight on as a shield when we feel the need for extra protection. Weight gain concerns so many people, yet the solution often lies in finding a chink in that armor and then breaking it. Identifying that “chink” among the stress and emotions of our everyday life may not be easy. However, once all the work you’ve done in that area gets rewarded, everything else will just come together naturally – all you’ll need to do is just watch.





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5 myths about introverts

1. Introverts are shy

It could be true for many, but being shy is not necessarily explained by being introverted. For instance, I am not shy – in fact, I am told quite frequently that I am bold, or ballsy, or loud. Still, I just… often rather not talk to people (see the next point). We may tend to not talk much, but it doesn’t mean we’ll stay quiet when we have something to say. For those who want more detail, Susan Cain shares her extensive critical view of misconception between shyness and introversion in her books and blog.

2. Introverts don’t like people

For extraverts, interacting with others is a source of energy. As introverts, instead of feeding us with energy, communicating drains us. We really have a limited amount of resources dedicated to communicating, which is why we need to carefully select just a few individuals to invest our energy in. By the way, while an introvert may have very few friends, usually those are the friendships that will last for years. To find out more about both the conventional understanding of introversion vs. extraversion as well the way Jung originally defined introverts and extraverts, feel free to visit the official website of Myers&Briggs foundation.

3. Introverts all have hidden lives

It does make us feel much better not having everything out there. Conversely, it might make us feel anxious to have our entire lives exposed. For instance, every single person in my life is usually exposed to one or several aspects of my life, but never really all of them. It gives me a lot of comfort knowing that there is something I will keep to myself. It reminds me that I live my life for me, not anybody else; which for me personally is more assuring than seeking any external validation of my living. An interesting read which would be great to suggest here is The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World by Jenn Granneman.

4. Introverts don’t like going out

We do, just maybe we have a lesser need in that than extraverts. Introverted is not the same as agoraphobic. Also, since it takes some energy investment on our side to go someplace, especially when new people are involved, we like to be thoughtful of our choices. In other words, just like with friends, we may not have a multitude of favourite places, but we will probably stick to those few places where we happen to feel good.  Ashley Gecewicz from the Odyssey an interesting insight to support this idea.

5. Introverts are bad at leadership

The era when a good leader ought to be an extravert is long gone. In the new era of various leadership styles and tolerance one’s level of extraversion/introversion is not what defines a good leader. In fact, science recently has been promoting the idea of developing introverted qualities such as being “humble, quiet and reserved” in corporate leaders for better workplace well-being (like, for example, this study shows).





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“If you want to make God laugh…


… tell him about your summer plans” – this was the slogan of my summer 2016 when in three months I managed to completely shift my view of life mapping and learnt one of the most important skills I have – letting go.

Over the past couple of years, I lived in a rock-solid faith that to be a happier person I need to live in a place that would make me happy (for a number of reasons which I will not get into right now). I believed that I had found that place in the city of Ottawa. Part of me also believed that I should have never left that place (although staying there would be irrational and many things that came out of my relocation – including the realization of my belonging to Ottawa – wouldn’t see the light of day). I believed that over the past couple of years I was a passenger in my own life waiting for an opportunity to pursue what’s my own. My own constituted an academic career in language testing. In just three days this belief of mine has been shaken to the bottom of it.

It started on Monday, June 4, when I went to see a presentation at Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences 2o19, held in Vancouver this year. What I was hoping to achieve by attending the Congress was a sense of Ottawa (so yeah, I was looking for a deliberate flashback) as a bunch of my former colleagues from the field were attending/presenting, including the Woman I Worship – my former research supervisor, B. B., Ph.D. When I arrived on the campus of the University of British Columbia, my very first thought was “Why in the world have I never even made it here?!?”. It was beautiful. And huge. Most importantly, it felt… weirdly familiar. I completely fell in love with just being there. Already there, I started doubting whether the being happy I had believed in was about Ottawa or the university context.

Day 1 at the Congress left me bored. The presentation I went to see was not exactly my favorite. While that happens, the next day it took me some convincing to kick my butt out of my house and go place it on a seat in the room where B.B., Ph.D., the reason I decided to attend the Congress, was giving her presentation. She’s a great presenter among other things, so that convincing I had to do made me a bit uncomfortable.

The Day-2 presentation was emotionally challenging for me. B.B., Ph.D. presented the study she and her colleague conducted that summer 2016, where I was one of the participants. As she was talking about it, my imagination readily flipped one page after another showing me pictures of the past where I felt happy, strong, fearless and validated in almost all areas of my life. At some point, I had to force myself to breathe because 1) that summer was one of the happiest times in my life and 2) where I am now is not even close. Materialistically speaking, I may have advanced as an individual since then. However, the 2016 version of me was a happier person. And, of course, the worst part was that that summer can never be repeated. I cannot un-learn things I learned in the past two years or un-live experiences I went through, and geography will not help overcome what it didn’t cause. Day 2 of the Congress left me questioning my determination to come back to Ottawa.

Day 3 was great. I went to see a 4-hour session animated by B.B., Ph.D.: there was a poster session, her talk and a workshop to top it all off. It felt familiar and very comfortable, which ultimately convinced me that it’s time to move on. As my friend S. told me when I shared all these thoughts with her (while citing her other friend, I believe), “it is doing what scares you that makes you grow”.

Disclaimer: none of the above is to say that I no longer think that B.B, Ph.D. is the best person I know: she is still my absolute idol and the woman I want to be when I grow up (just maybe in fewer senses than before).

Someone like me, who enjoys some irony in any given context, can’t help but notice how timely this Congress was. It just happened at the exact right time that made all pieces of the puzzle come together. You see, the whole purpose of summer 2016 was for me to learn to live in the present moment without committing to any plans. Here I am, three years later, typing this, consuming an enormous amount of coffee, watching my “solid faith” crash, not knowing what’s around the corner. Just like at the beginning of summer 2016 I have only a very slight idea of where to take my life next and a solid commitment to not making any plans any time soon.

Here in writing, I would like to state publicly that sometimes it is perfectly awesome to let go of any plans. It is when you do not have any plans that you are most open for opportunities. It is when you do not make any plans that you take the most risk and feel fearless. It is when you do not have plans that you set yourself free. Not having plans means exploration (although some call it life crisis, in which case I use this opportunity to remind you that the word “crisis” comes from a Greek word krisis – “decision”). This can be an exploration of self or your surroundings – in any case, it opens you up for likely the best discoveries of your life. So that at some point, years from now, you could have someone very familiar make you feel nostalgic about the adventurous you, which hopefully would serve as a kick for another round of exploration.



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An almond croissant that made me hope

Almond Croissant

You know how I would always complain that no city is perfect? For instance, Vancouver is awesome fir its infrastructure and weather (duh!); yet, being from Ottawa, I (personally) haven’t been able to connect with people here as much as back in the capital… Not to say that the quality of people here is lower – it’s just that the belief system of Ottawa’s people works better for me in particular. In fact, there is only one person I really connect with here, but even that person moved here from Ottawa.

Another thing in which Vancouver would always yield to Ottawa in my eyes is almond croissants. Back in Ottawa you could find those in every coffee shop – my personal favorites could be found at Second Cup at uOttawa’s library as well as the one at the corner of Dalhousie St. and Rideau St.; and at Moulin de Province in Byward Market. Those almond croissants were to die for!

Here in Vancouver almond croissants aren’t as popular. I kind of found a substitute (Whole Foods Market‘s almond cookies ), but this could only work for so long.

One day (Friday, January 26, 2018 to be specific), I found the almond croissant you can see in the picture above. First of all, this delicious almond croissant from Bao Bakery on Joyce St. (I wish they sponsored this, but no, this isn’t sponsored) looks exactly like the one from Second Cup. Second, it tastes very similar to my lovely Ottawa’s croissants. Not exactly the same (there’s significantly less filling), but hey, it gives me hope!

I want to believe that this almond croissant (that, of course, by now has long been eaten) symbolizes the people in Vancouver I am yet to discover. I refuse to believe that in a 2.6-million city (GVA population, data as of 2016), there is no person who would be like me (smart, bold, ambitious, positive yet sarcastic… very modest). It is not about geography; it is about taking the time to find them – just like that almond croissant. And once you find them, you stick to them. All jokes aside, I just ordered 5 more almond croissants from that bakery 😉 .

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