Tuesday, October 9, 2012

in Edmonton, kind of

I arrived in Edmonton, completely overdressed in my winter coat and wool scarf. I was sensibly dressed for the Arctic, where I'd be heading next, but for now, during my layover in Edmonton where it's sunny and warm, I looked mildly ridiculous.

The flight was relatively smooth, minus the part near the beginning where the pilot announced that one of the motors wasn't working but don't worry, we'll take care of that within five minutes. Despite my skepticism, he was right.

I had approximately twenty hours to spend in Edmonton, which was just enough time for me to go out and try to get a taste of Alberta, if I could decide on what I wanted to do.

West Edmonton Mall was not my first choice of sightseeing attraction, although I wasn't sure what was. I remember reading tips in music magazines on how bands can avoid getting stabbed in stabby Edmonton. When I asked my friend from Edmonton what would be a nice walking tour of downtown, he replied "Oh no, don't bother walking around downtown."

My friend had suggested that Whyte Avenue would be nice, so I asked the front desk at my hotel how to get downtown.

"Downtown Edmonton or downtown Leduc?" the hotel clerk asked. He suggested that I go to downtown Leduc because it turned out we weren't actually in Edmonton proper anyway.

"What's there to do in downtown Leduc?" I asked.

"Oh, not much," he replied.

Sigh. I decided to go to West Edmonton Mall. Capitalism always makes it easy to go shopping.

Because West Edmonton Mall is one of the top tourist attractions, I was able to climb into an airport shuttle to get there, one of those old white vans that reminded me of the sketchy combie buses I use to ride all over Namibia. I sat next to a sullen young woman who punctuates all of her sentences with disdainful sighs. The other passenger, an older male, tried to engage her in conversation.

"Are you here to party on campus?" he asked her.

"I'm here for a funeral" she answered. I decided to let her be sullen, and watch the scenery. Edmonton is flat all around, and the suburbs look like the suburbs back home. Do you ever notice that Canadian suburbs all look the same, no matter where you go? I love the Canadian landscape.

West Edmonton Mall is pretty big. But then, when you hear about the biggest shopping mall in North America (and the fifth largest in the world), you've got a lot of expectations about something monstrous that you'd get lost inside, like the casinos of Las Vegas designed to make you lose track of time so you can wander inside spending money infinitely. Like I said West Edmonton Mall was pretty big. You certainly couldn't fit the whole structure inside a single camera picture. I was full of so many questions. What is inside? What kind of stores do you have to fill up the continent's largest mall? And was that a sign for a shooting range? Oh, Alberta, I have arrived.

The shuttle dropped me off at the Fantasyland hotel, which was once the subject of a major intellectual property litigation case against Disney that we learned about in law school. I hurried through the lobby and took in the sights. Little boys getting military buzz cuts at the barber. Little girls in pink shirts carrying fake pistols, pointing them at babies in strollers, also holding fake pistols (oh Alberta!). Young Asian couples speaking to each other in sign language. A young skateboarder, sleeping against a wall on his skateboard. Immigrant kids learning to skate wearing jean shorts, speedily passed by white dads training their little boys for hockey. Adventure golf, two word I never thought to put together.

Not to feed the flames of old litigation, but the whole place reminded me of a Disneyland for adult consumer whores or maybe a Las Vegas for teens. There were different sections of the mall with different "themes", like Europa Avenue, designed to look like the streets of Europe (or maybe kind of like Disney's perception of Europe?), and Chinatown, which not only featured Chinese gates but a T&T market. As well as other traditional Chinese shops like Rogers Wireless and Stitch It.

There was also a Bourbon street, which contained a lot of the restaurants that we don't have in Ontario that I've missed since I lived in Vancouver - Earl's, The Spaghetti Factory...and of course there was a Hooters.

There was also a huge food court with like five Chinese fast food places with no discernible difference between any of them. That was where I spent my lunch. Hey, I am not always classy or cultural. In fact, I am rarely so.

It was only after my big greasy lunch that I discovered the roller coasters. Galaxyworld is the world's largest indoor amusement park, with the world's largest indoor rollercoaster. The rollercoasters made loud boom sounds that sounded like jets. I was, as you might expected, disappointed that I had discovered the awesome rides only after eating my large lunch. Unlike Canada's Wonderland, there weren't any lines for any of the rides.

West Edmonton Mall also has the world's largest indoor water park, which features a fake beach area with a fake beach bar, a huge wave pool, and numerous water slides. It obviously has a fake feel to it, but it's also quite brilliant to have all these things indoors, given how cold Edmonton gets for a big chunk of the year. It's nice to escape the cold winter for a few hours and catch a few waves in the warm 26 degree water park.

Oh yeah, the world's largest indoor water park also featured the world's biggest indoor bungee jump. Which looked, to me, incredibly scary, but then so did the wave pool, maybe because I almost drowned in one when I was younger, trying to save another kid.

After a while, I realized that I'd spent all this time in the mall without ever coming across the shooting range. I began to question whether I was actually in Alberta. Also, I began to wonder if the mall featured a nap room. There was just so much to see! Sea lions, real ones (I had thought they were fake until one ran along side the pool to follow its trainer). A marketplace chapel. Next to the chapel, a store that I accidentally walked into that appears to sell apparel for strippers. A tattoo, piercing and hair salon, a combination that I guess makes sense, but I'd never seen before.

what do you suppose it's like to be a sea lion trainer in a mall?

Despite having spent hours wandering around the mall (I did a circuit around the whole thing four times) I didn't end up buying much. Ever since I moved back from Africa, I haven't been really in a mood to buy things. You'd think it'd be the opposite, emerging from a shopping drought after spending the past year living in modest Namibia, but I guess I figured out how to live with less stuff. I've been wearing my stuff out, even if my family and friends are begging me to throw them out for getting so holey. Still, even though I didn't walk out with a pile of shopping bags, I was glad for the chance to experience the largest mall in North America. Now if only they could build a fake beach with a fake beach bar and indoor wave pool in Ottawa. Next time I come here, I'm eating lunch after I visit the amusement park. Also, I'm trying out the shooting range - if I ever find it.

this was the closest thing i found to the shooting range - a kid's game