The Winter Olympics have begun in Vancouver and Maclean’s OnCampus has, at great expense and undergoing no small amount of bureaucratic hassle, parachuted your favourite advice columnists (us) to the west coast and installed us at a luxuriously appointed Olympic headquarters in beautiful East Vancouver.
But why would they send education advice columnists to the Olympics?
Good question. For days now, we’ve been wondering why we’re here — not in the existential sense, (we’re much too shallow for that) but in the very real, practical, work-related sense.
Upon visiting all of our favourite Vancouver haunts, like the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, The Cambie Pub and even Capilano College University (we were getting desperate), we discovered that all of Vancouver’s post-secondary institutions have closed their doors for the duration of the Games. Under the flimsy pretext of not wanting to add to the Games’ traffic problems, (we suspect it’s actually because they wanted time off to go to beer gardens) university administrators have shut tens of thousands of students out of their laboratories and lecture theaters, leaving them with nothing to learn for two whole weeks!
Clearly, we’ve been sent on a mission of mercy, to find educational opportunities for these poor students. For four days now, we have visited every bar, beer garden and free concert we had the patience to get through the lineup of, in search of learning experiences we could pass on to you, our readers. We came away with little more than a headache and a nagging suspicion that we had been robbed. For what it’s worth, here’s what we discovered:
Downtown (Sociology, Anthropology)
You don’t have to go to any organized events to learn something about human behaviour here in Vancouver. The streets downtown are packed with visitors and there are endless opportunities for making ethno-anthropological observations. People from all over the world can be observed in their native dress, enacting their cultures’ own peculiar rituals.
For example, we learned that Norwegians traditionally paint Norwegian flags on their faces and sing to each other from across the street. Dutch people wear orange hats shaped like chicken carcasses and they don’t dismount their bicycles when riding through places crowded with pedestrians. Americans paint the letters “S”, “A” and “U” on their naked chests in white, blue or red paint, and then sometimes stand in the wrong order.
Getting downtown might be a daunting prospect with all of the road closures and the pressures placed on parking by all of the beer gardens foreigners have built in parking lots, but we’ll let you in on a secret: take your bike. If you don’t have a bike, buy one; if you can’t afford a bike, steal one. (Editor’s note: Maclean’s OnCampus does not endorse bicycle theft.)
Cycling is the fastest and most convenient way to get around downtown. Cars are no longer permitted on half of the roads, but to our amazement, we found that bicycles are allowed everywhere. While crowds of pedestrians are shuffling down the sidewalk to get a glimpse of the Olympic flame, you can ride your bike down the closed and totally empty street and take a good long look, until a very nice security person comes to tell you you’re not allowed to stop on the street.
Deutsches Haus (Foreign Relations, German)
That Deutsches Haus means “German House” in German is just one of the lessons you’ll learn in this parking lot that the Germans have turned into an oasis of beer and sausage. The lineup may look forbiddingly long, but it moves relatively quickly. This is largely because they charge $8.25 for a beer and $7.00 for a sausage, so most people can’t afford to stay very long.
Inside, you’ll find a very large TV and long tables lined with people drinking beer and watching the Olympics. If you look carefully, you may even find a German in the crowd who you can practice your pluperfect indicative conjugation on (ich hatte ein bier getrunken; du hattest ein bier getrunken).
In our experience, Deutsche Haus is an excellent place to watch Alexandre Bilodeau win Canada’s first gold medal last Sunday. If you can make it there in time, we highly recommend it.
Holland House (Political Science)
The first lesson at Holland House in Richmond is that there are two separate entrances, one for Dutch citizens and one for everyone else. The second lesson is that the Dutch people who go to the Dutch entrance can walk right into Holland House, and that the lineup for everyone else takes about two and a half hours to get through.
The third thing we learned was how to get back to Vancouver, because we weren’t willing to wait that long for overpriced Heineken.
Various locations (Political Science, Communications)
Those who have converted the entirety of their student loan into beer and sausage at Deutsches Haus may choose to save money by spending a day observing a rare and nearly extinct animal that has gathered in the city for the Games: the violent anarchist protester. Small numbers of this exotic breed can be found dispersed in large crowds of peaceful protesters. As a protest against police intimidation and restrictions on free speech, they wear black facemasks and smash windows and newspaper boxes.
Not only will the inquisitive student learn about “anarchism” and other obscure and antiquated schools of political thought, but also an important lesson in communications.
Sochi House (Geography, Kinesiology)
Sochi, Russia will host the next winter Olympic Games in 2014. It is a beach resort located on the Black Sea and, as a glance at the very nice raised-relief map inside Sochi House will tell you, there is a ski resort located conveniently nearby.
The most intense educational experience we had at Sochi House was talking to a Russian man while waiting in line. He told us all about the political situation in the Ukraine, the merits of the 1973 Soviet hockey team (much better than anyone in the present NHL, in his opinion) and how many more large cities there are in Russia than in the United States. We asked him about none of this, but his inclination toward pedagogy easily overcame our incuriosity, and we learned it just the same.
Ontario House, Quebec House and Alberta House (Canadian Studies)
At Quebec House we learned that the audio-visual show doesn’t start until after dark, and if you go in the daytime, it’s basically just a roofless white box containing a café and a beer stand.
At Ontario House we learned that it feels weird to drink beer and watch a Caribbean singer and a steel drummer at noon while surrounded by kids.
At Alberta House we learned that they won’t let you skip the lineup if you have an Albertan birth certificate.
Vancouver Art Gallery (Art History, Anatomy)
And finally, something actually educational: During the Olympics, admission to the Vancouver Art Gallery is free. The featured exhibits are Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man and Visceral Bodies, which an exhibition of contemporary artists’ explorations of the human form.
We have nothing more to say about the Vancouver Art Gallery. We haven’t actually gone yet. We tried, but there always seemed to be another educational event with a better beer garden getting in our way.
For more free or almost-free events happening during the Games, check out the excellent listing on this blog.