I’ve spent the past ~3 weeks at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, working on some projects related to forest fires and frozen percolation with Balazs Rath. In advance, I’d imagined that this might be a prolific time for new articles on this blog, but in the end it was more like the exact opposite. After spending all of every day playing with technical details on our models (which do not lend themselves naturally to informal writing…) if I felt like doing maths in the evenings, it was more important to keep working on the questions in hand.
Anyway, I had a great time mathematically and otherwise, so I feel a shameless tourism post is justified to report what I enjoyed most about Vancouver.
It sounds ridiculous to return from a trip and reference this as the highlight, but the most noticeable long-term result of a month in Vancouver is that I will probably never be able to order sushi in the UK again. The typical house roll cost about £3 and contained so much seafood that it was essentially impossible to manipulate. Or maybe that was just my (lack of) chopstick skills? Anyway, as I’ve observed in other parts of Canada, groceries bizarrely expensive relative to eating out, at least relative to Europe. By my third week I had basically given up and found a different East Asian cuisine every other night. I ate Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and others that didn’t feel constrained by a single national identity. All were uniformly excellent, unfailingly welcoming, and made commendable efforts to include smoked salmon in every single dish.
For a country where a donut shop is an integral part of the national identity, the total absence of fat people was immediately noticeable. In their place was a city where everyone seemed to go running, hiking, skiing, quad-biking, skidoo-ing and so on at the slightest opportunity. I haven’t seen that much lycra since breakfast in college on the morning of May Bumps…
For a major world city, the wilderness was tantalisingly close, and remarkably accessible. The public transit system spread far into the mountains and up the coast, and offered you any 90 minutes worth of travel for $2. A breezy ferry trip across the sound to Bowen Island offered the chance to hike up Mt Gardner, an unrelenting and totally solitary trek up through the pine forest. I was conscious that if I slipped somewhere, there wouldn’t be much left to find once the bears had got to me, but the views over the inlet from the summit made it all worthwhile. A trip to Mt Seymour on Victoria Day, then down past the vertigo-inducing Lynn Suspension bridge and a trail back towards civilisation was equally successful. On both occasions, felt I’d very much earned that donut.
Of course, the main reason for the trip was to do worthwhile mathematics, and I certainly haven’t experienced a nicer university campus to do exactly that. A five minute walk and 500 steps away from the Wysteria-covered maths department is the 7km long Wreck Beach, a sunny haven for Vancouver’s hipsters and nudists, protected from direct exposure to the Pacific by Vancouver Island. Of more interest to me were the 30km or so of trails through the forest in the Pacific Spirit Regional Park, directly across the road from where I was staying in Wesbrook Village at the south end of the campus.
Most importantly, I’m extremely grateful for the invitation to work at UBC for these past few weeks. It’s been productive, and an excellent opportunity to meet some new people and learn about some interesting aspects of probability. I very much hope an opportunity will arise to go back soon!