Category Archives: All about Vancouver

Interesting things to try, or what it feels like to live in the beautiful city of Vancouver.

The weather here.

One of the dear readers of iMech asked me to comment on the weather in Vancouver. Hmmp! Let me start with a photo of the campus when it’s sunny and beautiful. Yup, right there. That’s beautiful. You see the ocean, the forest hugging the shoreline and the rest of the campus, and the nicely built buildings cozily tucked in it all. But that’s the summer, and odd parts of the spring in some odd years (such as this and last week — we were sunny all day everyday!! wow!!).

Here’s the reality.

If you want to be one of those people who really learn to wake up in the morning and appreciate the fact that sunshine is coming through your window, then Vancouver is the right place for you.

I’m not saying that Vancouver is sunshiny all the time. I’m saying that it isn’t.

Hence, any rays of sunshine or even just clearing of the sky really makes people happy and appreciative of the weather. It does rain lots here. It does snow sometimes in the winter (only a few days in a year max).

Because of the long periods of overcast skies, it does get to the point where people feel depressed during the Fall and Winter seasons.

If you want to take a peak at my state of mind during this season, my previous post will probably help. And of course, because the rain and the ever overcast weather can really get to people, there are different ways to remedy it. Mind you, I was way more affected by the rain last year than the year before that when I was attending a conference held in Vancouver and laughing at the number of umbrellas lying around the conference venue in a super cheerful way.

But the campus itself is awesome regardless of the weather I think. Of course, if you’re not the rain and overcast sky kind of person, planning to be in Vancouver for a long time (like doing a PhD) may not be the best for you. But if that’s not a big deal and you don’t mind tackling it as a challenge, then you’ll soon learn that quite a few people jog in the mornings at 6am even when it’s super dark and rainy outside. If you’re not one of them, like myself, and enjoy running in the mild and sunny weather, then UBC campus is amazing for that too — but in the spring/summer times. I went for a run this morning around 6am down the Main Mall, and it was as though the temperature indoors and outdoors didn’t have much of a difference. The newly paved roads on campus also make it really easy for you to plan your runs. Wherever you go, there are green stuff everywhere, or parks and museums you’re bound to pass by during your runs. If you’re more of a run on the beach kind of a person, there’s always the wreck beach on campus that you can run/walk down to. If you feel like switching things up a little bit from your morning beach run, then you are only minutes away from entering the woods.

But I gotta tell you about the summer though.

Contrast to the weather in the Fall/Winter, Vancouver in the Summer is really awesome. Like I mentioned, the abundance of the forests, gardens, parks, beaches, and the mountains make me feel like I am living in some sort of a tourist resort area, although I never end up enjoying all of it as much as I should. And did I mention the sun? Yes! The sun comes out in the summer! It’s never humid/sticky during the summer and the temperature rarely gets uncomfortably hot. Because of the fabulous weather and the surprising lack of bugs, Vancouver summers are definitely more than bearable to enjoy the outdoors while watching the snow capped mountains nearby.

And of course, Vancouver summers are awesome for gardening if you’re into that as well — my blueberry shrub is starting to bloom already, woot woot!!

I hope this solved some of the mysteries of Vancouver weathers for you.

Some people also had questions about using the U-pass, bicycling, or scooter to get to campus, and my answer to that question is you don’t really have an option out of U-Pass unless you qualify as one of the legitimate opt-out cases (check the U-Pass Opt Out form here — may not be up to date). But U-pass in general is useful to have. I live on campus and I use it to go grocery shopping, visit friends, go off campus on weekends etc. Since each ride is $2.75 these days, and people usually ride the bus on their way out and their way in, it will cost you $5.50 per trip. That means, if you plan to go somewhere via the transit more than about five times a month, you’re better off having a U-pass than not — a good deal, no?

U-pass is also definitely cheaper than paying for parking on campus — parking is super expensive on campus in my opinion, not to mention the high gas prices in Vancouver if you’ll be getting a scooter/car here. Biking to campus is not a bad option. A good way to get some of that mandatory daily exercise out of your task list. The campus is quite bike friendly in the sense that lots of buildings have showers you can use if you come biking to the lab stinky and need to wash up and change before you start working. The whole city is bike friendly and has bike paths all around the city. But then again, think about it this way. Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t mind biking in the rain everyday for many many months? I think it’s a valid question.

Anywho, I’m just glad that the weather has been super nice in Vancouver lately. Totally makes it easy to start your day happy and energetic.

Housing: Thunderbird vs. Marine Drive, and how much $ for furnishing a studio?

Happy New Year everyone!

That’s right. This is the first post I am writing this year, although it’s already February.

As you might have guessed, I recently finished writing my comprehensive exam (a.k.a. comps). You have no idea how happy I am to be typing away on my laptop rather than squeezing my colourful pens trying to write equations in tiniest legible form possible on my cheat sheet.

Some of you may have expected my first iMech post of the year to be filled with complaints about the exam. Don’t worry. That’s on my list of upcoming posts, and will be posted probably after I get my results back (fingers crossed!!).

Anyways, small talks aside, I actually got a question from a prospective grad student regarding UBC residences.

Now, last year I wrote a post dedicated to UBC housing, but the question from the student made me realize that the post isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to figure out how much you should budget when thinking of moving to campus (in to a studio or a one-bedroom unit where you have the freedom to furnish your own place). I can’t speak for other students, because everyone has different standard of living, and budget in mind. But if you’re thinking about budgeting in the first place, that probably means you have reasons to worry about your finances and belong to the group of most of the grad students I know. If that’s the case, then maybe my story will help — and you might be surprised to find how cheap it is to furnish a place if you just take the time to chill and look around.

So here it is Student J. This post is for you.

When I was looking into housing for coming to UBC, I had no idea I was supposed to apply for residences way in advance (like now). So I started looking into it around June or July I think, which meant that I’d be put on the waiting list along with thousands of other students who are also on the list (and ahead of me). I decided that it’s not worth waiting for thousands of rooms to free up so quickly, and resorted to a more convenient route. A family friend of mine who was living in downtown Vancouver was moving back to Toronto and wasn’t too keen on taking all her furniture with her. So I conveniently took over her lease and had all the necessities (bed, table, microwave etc) all set up for me when I arrived in the city.

That wasn’t the most affordable solution in terms of rent, mind you. But it was definitely affordable in terms of furnishing the place since I didn’t have to furnish it. When I moved out of the place, of course, I sold the furniture for her so that she didn’t have to fly back to take care of her stuff etc. So it kinda worked out for both of us I think.

I had applied for Thunderbird residences back then and was put on the waiting list for about half a year to a full year before I got an offer. And of course, as soon as the offer came in, I moved in to the campus housing.

Thunderbird VS. Marine Drive

The reason why I had applied for Thunderbird, and not keen on Marine Drive (MD) was that I wanted to live in a studio unit. I’m a really independent person with an interesting daily schedule. So I didn’t want to deal with the whole roommate issue when I take showers at 6am in the morning etc. If you look at the monthly rent for studio units, Thunderbird gives you the most affordable option with larger square feet per unit. While MD studio units may be located at a place overlooking the ocean and comes furnished, it costs a lot more ($965.13/mth for a smaller unit, $1,043.97/mth for larger unit) than Thunderbird studios that don’t come furnished ($855 – $924/mth depending on type of studio you get). Mind you, these rents go up every year, so be sure to check the official website for the latest info (

Had I wanted to have roommates, Marine Drive’s 4 bedroom units ($~800/mth/person) would’ve been my first choice. Thunderbird residence’s 4 bedroom units ($670/mth/person) tend to be less well maintained, in my opinion, and the residence community seems to be much less lively than that of MD. It’s to the level that the amount of money you pay extra to be at MD is kinda worth it. Unless you have a few people you’d like to be roommates with, I’d say go for MD if you’re thinking about having strangers as roommates. That’s totally my opinion based on my visit to friends’ places etc.

The Cost of Furnishing an Empty Student House

Now, since Thunderbird’s studio and one-bedroom units do not come furnished. So I practically moved in to an empty house. Luckily, again, one of my labmates at the time was finishing up and was looking for someone to take over his furniture. He had sold a lot of his furniture already, so I got what was left over for free (yes, $0) — an IKEA desk, a chair, a bed frame, and a couple of side tables.

But you can probably imagine that that’s not enough to make a cozy ‘get-away from the lab’ environment necessary for grad students.

The best thing is though, that once you have a place, it doesn’t really matter if you have it furnished right away. As long as you have your blankets and cooking supplies with you, you can live in an empty house for quite an extended period of time.

Luckily — again — one of my supervisor was keeping an eye out for me since he knew that I had just moved in and was looking to furnish my place.  After perhaps a few days or weeks (I can’t remember) of living in a barely furnished one-bedroom residence, my supervisor found out that his neighbour was practically throwing away furniture because the elder lady who owned the house had passed away and the house was being torn up for renovation. So, with his help, I brought a couple of my labmates over to the place and got a pull-out bed type couch, two loveseats, a chair, a mattress, and other stuff I can’t remember.

I moved out of the one-bedroom place to a Thunderbird studio unit ever since, but most of the furniture I have is from the previous neighbour of my supervisor and my labmate. I think the only additions I have from then is a desk drawer I got from another grad student for $5, another chair I got for free from a friend, an IKEA coffee table I spent maybe $30-60 on (’cause it’s the only thing I bought brand new), a $20 kitchen table, and the bench I purchased last Fall.

So, I pretty much furnished my place with essentials without costing me anything — I could’ve just gotten a coffee table from someone for $5 instead if I wanted as well.

Now, you are probably thinking, it’s a new city and you don’t really know anyone here. So who’s going to be looking an eye out for you to help you get free furniture?

Even if you don’t know many people here, I don’t think it’d really cost you much money to furnish your place. It’s more of a hassle to furnish it, than it is a drain on your bank account. That’s because most students don’t have a car, and hence think they can’t pick up that free furniture someone is giving away. But if you sign up for Zipcar or other car co-op, and have a valid license, then you can rent out trucks by the hour (about $12/hr or something usually) and can make it work.

The key is to not worry about furnishing your place all at once. Get what you can, when you can. And monitor Craigslist and Kijiji often. Because there’s always someone in Vancouver who is giving away all their furniture for free or for a couple of hundred $ but those deals go quickly. When you go to these people’s places and buy out their furniture, they’re more than happy to throw in a side table, a lamp, a whole rack of dishes and cups. These people really want to get rid of them asap than to make money off of them. Students often move from places to places as well and most of them would hate to have to throw the furniture out on the curb of a road. They’d rather someone take it off their hands for free. This makes furniture easy and cheap to find. One key ingredient for student furnishing is to have good set of friends though. Be good friends with your labmates or roomates or residence mates. Because when you’re trying to get that free couch out of a stranger’s place, there’s nothing like a couple of extra hands to help you out.

If you can afford to spend more money than just a couple of hundred bucks to furnish your entire place, then IKEA is a student’s friend. But IKEA is actually kind of hard to get to without a car, nevermind the fact that you’d have to carry huge load of stuff back with you or pay for delivery. If you are keen on furnishing your place with IKEA furniture, but not necessarily looking to get brand new furniture, then I’d say walk around campus a bit whenever you have time. Because the boards and elevators and laundry rooms are full of flyers that say “all must go by Tuesday” or “$100 for everything” etc.

Alright, time for me to catch up with some real work. But let me know if anyone has more questions or in need of an insider’s guide to coming to UBC. And good luck with your grad school applications! 😀

Do the Sun Dance…?

The sun came out!! 😀

Last week, I wrote a super depressing post about how the Vancouver weather is dragging down my days.

I apologize if reading my post made you even more depressed. But that’s truly what I felt that day. I mean, within the history of man, as far as my junior school Korean history is concerned, people did things, do the rain dance, pray to the gods or whatever, to bring rain to end drought. I really don’t recall the same kind of ritual being done to stop the rain, clear away the clouds and bring out the sun.

But I guess my deep sigh from last week must have had some non-scientific impact on the weather, because it was beautifully sunny today! I actually saw blue in the sky ALL DAY!

In addition to expressing my joy in all caps, I figured I’d share some of the improvements I’ve been able to make in terms of decorating my place and bring the mood of the blog back up from the last post.

So, as a means to defeat my super low attitude, I’ve decided to turn to the well documented method of ‘cheering up’ called retail therapy (you should try it, it’s amazing… but do it responsibly). Being in the ‘poor PhD student’ and ‘I just came back from Europe’ mode, I tried not to buy anything for myself that I didn’t absolutely need (well, not technically true, but “absolutely” is all relative). But as one of the retail therapy principles have it (I am just gonna make it a principle if it isn’t already one), you need to learn to spend money on yourself, on things that make you happy in order for the therapy to work. So last Thursday, I convinced a super awesome friend of mine to go to IKEA with me.

There, I equipped myself with a table lamp ($17), along with many other household “essentials” that I lived without but am more happy with, and … a bench.

Yes, I know, I know.

Who needs a bench, right? But no judging please. I’m simply following the abovementioned principle of retail therapy.

Now my place looks awesomely bright and lively, like this… now if I can just get a super lively duvet cover… hmmp!:

The little table lamp on the bench is actually hooked up to a programmable light timer I got for $14 at the Canadian Tire. I have it set up so that it turns on at 5:30am in the morning every weekdays, just when I am supposed to wake up and start my day with Yoga.

The first day I tried the lamp system, I ended up snoozing my alarm for three hours because, I think, the 7 watt frosted light bulb I got from IKEA was producing super soft light.

That day, I really didn’t have much of a productive day. Everything I had planned to do was delayed by three hours, and I didn’t have much energy to zip through and make up for the time lost in sleeping. So I went and got myself a 40 watt clear light bulb to give this wake-up light system another go.

And so far it seems to be doing the trick for me. I did manage to wake up super early in the morning, without feeling like I want to snooze the alarm and go back to bed. This is kind of incredible given the fact that, when I was riding the bus to meet my friend en route to IKEA, more than half the people sitting on the bus (and it was a pretty full bus as well) were dozing off, which I only blame the weather for (of course, there are other variants such as midterms etc, but you know…).

Anywho, so far I am very happy with the set-up I have. Like a diligent  researcher, I am actually keeping track of the times I am spending on different tasks so that I can figure out whether waking up early is significantly impacting my productivity throughout the day. So far, I think it is. 🙂