What I did on my summer vacation

Tony Wilson
Boughton Law

Ahh . . . summer in Law Law Land has come . . . and almost gone.

“Back to school” sales abound everywhere in Vancouver these days, allowing me to equip my university-going daughter with all the back-to-school savings as possible to help defray the cost of her tuition and residence at the University of Victoria; a university I escaped from in 1975 because Victoria was where I grew up and was desperate to leave. She is desperate to leave Vancouver for similar reasons. But perhaps she has to leave Vancouver to discover how wonderful it is here.

I have just returned from three weeks of holidays in Istanbul, Athens, the Greek islands, and Cairo. Let me share some observations with you.

Istanbul is a clean, modern, and attractive city with lots of history and some real bucks. It’s got highrises filled with office workers. It’s got modern stores, modern conveniences, a very modern economy, and many people in Istanbul speak English. If geography is destiny, this country, straddling Asia, Europe, and the oilfields of the Middle East, and controlling the all-important sea routes to and from the Black Sea, will not pussyfoot around the 21st century. You’ll hear from Turkey in your lifetime. Turkey, I’d say, is wealthy, confident . . . and back.

Ironically, Turkey has met all of the financial and human rights requirements the European Union asked of it for membership 10 years ago, yet the country is still snubbed in favour of less-developed Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. If the Turks we encountered are to be believed, the E.U. is a closed club for non-Muslim nations; how else do you explain Bulgaria and Malta being E.U. members?

But it may well be that the West in general, and the E.U. in particular, have missed the boat with Turkey. It may be that the Turks don’t care about getting into the European Union anymore. They will create their own regional economic community that may well include the energy-rich nations that border it. And, as one Turk told me, they won’t allow themselves to spend “like PIIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain).

Although Greece was hot and pleasant — and thanks to Greece, the euro was low — Athens was far more interesting than I’d expected (wonderful museums and public art). But all the shopkeepers we dealt with there simply wanted to pack up their things and immigrate to Canada.

My barber, who’s Greek (and can get away with saying this), told me there are two groups of people profoundly annoyed with Greece. The first is the Germans, who ostensibly bailed the country out of chaos last spring. The bailout wasn’t helped by Greek politicians blaming the Germans for the war. (When negotiating with the only country able to bail you out of your profligacy, best to take Basil Fawlty’s advice: “Whatever you do, don’t mention the war.”)

The second group is the expat Greeks in Canada, like my barber; hard workers pissed off their countrymen back home paid little or no income tax yet could retire near 55.

On the issue of tax, our tour guide in Santorini said it all. “Why should I pay tax if they don’t fix my street light!”

“How will they afford to fix your street light if you don’t pay tax?” I asked.

Maybe he should have met Bill Vander Zalm. He doesn’t like taxes either, but he never lowered them when he was premier of British Columbia.

A Greek businessman who flew next to me on one leg of our trip said new strikes will begin in Greece when the soon-to-be strikers come back from their summer holidays. “Oh, they’d never strike during their holidays,” he said.

Funny how Greece seemed to be in such trouble but Turkey seemed so stable. Maybe the EU members are smoking the wrong drugs.

Cairo was a side trip because when we booked our vacation months earlier, bank customers were killed during riots in Greece, ports were being picketed, and there was a fuel-truck driver’s strike. So we voted with our feet, and took our money to Egypt.

Although crawling through the bowels of the Great Pyramid in Giza and the Meidum Pyramid in the Sahara Desert was fascinating, and riding camels around the pyramids was a fabulous photo opportunity, (despite the ridiculous price charged for your own Indiana Jones moment), Cairo is a crowded, dusty, and dirty city with a million more people living there than the city can absorb.

It is, from what I could see, environmentally out of control and an example of how not to build (or rebuild) a city. Traffic-clogged streets filled with cars burning leaded gas pollute the hot air, day and night. Policemen are paid so little, they demand tips from westerners for the privilege of stopping traffic so you can cross the street. Shopping in the bazaar was only allowed if accompanied by an armed security guard. And near the Meidum Pyramid and El Fayoum, soldiers carrying machine guns escorted our car wherever it went. The guns, said our guide, are to protect the tourists from terrorists. But don’t worry, he said, the guns have no bullets.

“If I know that, and you know that, don’t the terrorists know that?” I asked our guide.

“Well, it does make the tourists feel more comfortable,” he added.

Amid the heat, the dust, the squalor, the traffic, the ramshackle dwellings in the City of the Dead, and the row on row of “permanently” partially completed apartments (they pay tax once the building is finished, so they never finish them,), and of course, “bad dates” (beware the pharaoh’s revenge), a few days in Cairo only reinforces my view that you have to leave Canada to appreciate it.

And Canada is a country worth appreciating.

Arriving home on a warm summer night, we cancelled a Christmas trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico so we could stay in Vancouver over the holidays. Even if it rains next summer, I’m inclined to see Newfoundland, the Maritimes, or the Mackenzie Valley if we leave Vancouver at all. In fact, why leave B.C. in the summer when you can simply sail a boat around the Gulf Islands, or ply the warm waters of Desolation Sound, or hike around Whistler? But maybe, like my daughter, you just have to leave it to discover how wonderful it is.

And as our plane landed in Vancouver, we heard 500 Sri Lankan refugees also landed in Canada by boat, escaping discrimination, terror, war, and poverty; wanting just a portion of the life we Canadians take for granted. The Sri Lankan boat people just want to live in a country where the serious issues of the day relate to questions on a census form, the shenanigans of Bill Vander Zalm and the HST, and back-to-school shopping.

Can you really blame them for wanting to come to Canada? Compared to much of the world, it’s paradise here.

And I’m so glad I’m back.

Vancouver franchise lawyer Tony Wilson has written for various legal and news publications. He is associate counsel at Boughton Law Corp. His e-mail is [email protected].

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