Scamquarium

by DJKlueless

Introducing intrepid contributor and “clueless emigre” DJKlueless.

The debris field of the Japanese tsunami is estimated at the size of California. While artifacts have begun to wash-up on British Columbia’s coast, the bulk of detritus and human remains is not expected to hit for another two to three years. Relief can be gleaned by the fact that much of the matter (boats, homes, shoes, toothbrushes) will come to rest in the ever-expanding Pacific Trash Vortex (aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

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I’ve been to more than my share of aquaria: Montreal, Orlando, Hong Kong …. I wasn’t particularly interested in visiting the Vancouver Aquarium. I know what awaits –the same kind of feeling I get when I’m in a mall, but with more obligation.

The ordeal begins in the parking lot. From a distance the pay stands are unremarkable. Not until I am within a few metres of the device am I made aware of the necessity of inputting my vehicle’s license plate number -up to now a completely useless piece of information that I have not bothered to memorize. I’m not alone: a growing crowd, all expressing confusion. We dutifully march back to our vehicles to play the “who gets to the meter first” game. The process is slowed down by a nonstandard keypad with a less than sensitive touch. All in an effort, I imagine, to prevent the marginal revenue loss from the reallocation of unused parking time. Doesn’t seem worth it. Annoyance grows.

We line up to pay admission and are forced to proceed by a “green screen” where we are told that we are having our pictures taken. What? Why? Ah, so you can pay $20 later for a print of you and yours confusedly grinning amongst the penned porpoises or bored belugas. “No,” I say. “I don’t want my picture taken.” A large, hirsute, olive skinned man is put out. “Alright,” he says impatiently, “you can say no.” Annoyance spikes. Admission: just shy of $50 for two adults. Sinking resignation.

Fifteen-month-old Sam toddles about, less interested in the contents of tanks than the faux ‘environmental’ features that surrounded them. I remark on how small and disproportionate the display of jellyfish is. As the oceans become overfished, more toxic, and foodchains are increasingly disrupted, these curious invertebrates are expected to eventually dominate. Up, up he wants to climb, mostly unaware of the fish and sea mammals inches from his face. Developmentally these visual displays are of marginal use, but I knew that going in. Exotic birds pique some interest while a hermitic sloth remains beyond focus. At least Sam is enjoying himself.

Lunchtime. The concession stand is supposed to open at 11:00 AM: it doesn’t. While a small army of uniforms scurry about, looking busy, the place is apparently short staffed. The “flow” of the concourse dining area is fractured by a tarped-off cubicle, which opens promptly at 11:00. Anything to eat for a small and weary land mammal? An abundance of chachkas, knickknacks and schmatas for your consumption. Eat! Eat!

It’s hard not to remark on how small the pens are for the belugas, porpoises and otters. Okay: we are raising awareness. But there is a show starting soon. Not only are these highly intelligent creatures (perhaps more so than us, we don’t know and are likely afraid of knowing) corralled for our indiscriminate gaze, they must routinely entertain us, perform the equivalent of mundane and repetitive parlour tricks for our gratification. This sucks. We couldn’t watch even if we wanted to, as diminutive types like us lose the battle for the glass when pitted against meat and dairy fed goliaths. Time to go. A nap awaits.

The final assault: I should have seen it coming. I’ve been through airports and DisneyWorld and I know that rust and retail never sleep. The sanctioned and sanctimonious exit to this strange place is -of course- a gift shop featuring more made in Asia trinkets -the only striking feature here being the jarring and uninspired lighting. The forced meander of the path serves only to delay freedom.

That floating tide of garbage? It’s already here.