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Selfie sticks bloom beneath Vancouver’s cherry blossoms, as petal power goes global

Seeing the blossoms has become the main selling point of some travel offers

It’s springtime in Metro Vancouver, when thickets of selfie sticks and tourists sprout up beneath canopies of the region’s famous cherry blossoms.

On Sussex Avenue in Burnaby, east of Vancouver, a group of five fashionably dressed women set up an iPhone on a tripod under the blossoms.

One accessorizes with a green scarf then pauses to give instructions to her friends, adjusting their angles, just so, for the perfect shot. They’re too busy to talk, as they strike a series of poses, hands on hips.

Such scenes are familiar for Linda Poole, founder and creative director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from April 1 to 23.

She recalls the sight of tourists getting out of a tour bus at Queen Elizabeth Park, one of Vancouver’s most popular locations for blossom viewing.

“And they are literally dancing under the blossoms and singing and modelling and posing. It’s really cute. I see that all the time,” said Poole.

Vancouver’s cherry blossoms have become a domestic and international tourist draw, with Chinese tour companies offering flower viewing packages for thousands of dollars, competing with more traditional locations such as Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan.

Edward Xie, manager of Richmond, B.C., travel agency First Express Travel, said his company advertises Vancouver flower viewing in international markets.

He said guides pick up travellers from China and the U.S. at the airport and drive them around the city’s best cherry blossom locations.

An eight-day, seven-night trip from China to Vancouver and Victoria that is promoted by First Express isdubbed the “two cities flower viewing” tour and costs 33,603 yuan, or $6,580.

“Walk into a colourful world to enjoy flowers, watch whales and roam freely outdoors. Experience the romance brought by pink cherry blossoms and feel the vibe of April on Canada’s west coast,” reads the advertisement.

Vancouver’s blossoms have become renowned in East Asia, where the city’s trees have their origin. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival includes a walking tour of the blossoms through the Kitsilano neighbourhood in Mandarin. Like the English-language tours, it’s fully booked.

Poole said that in the 1930s, the mayors of the Japanese cities of Yokohama and Kobe gave 500 cherry trees to the Vancouver Park Board to honour Japanese Canadians who served in the First World War.

Now, Destination Vancouver says there are more than 40,000 cherry trees in the city.

Charlene Liu, president and CEO of Panasia Holidays, a Calgary-based tourism company, said cherry blossom viewing is extremely popular among Chinese-speaking domestic tourists, many of them from Edmonton and Calgary.

“For them, it’s like a perfect combination to gaze upon the cherry blossoms while exploring the local culinary scene since Vancouver is also famous for food,” said Liu in an interview conducted in Mandarin.

Cities like Kyoto and Washington, D.C., might have bigger international reputations, but Xie said many blossom tourists to Vancouver also have family in the city.

“Taking photos under the cherry trees is a universal thing — everyone loves it,” said Xie.

It’s not just tourists drawn to the blossoms that drift down like pink snow when caught by a breeze.

Burnaby resident Emmanuel S.T. Yu, enjoying a stroll under Burnaby’s cherry blossoms with wife Connie, said the flowers reminded him it was “a blessing” to live in B.C.

“It’s my family’s annual tradition to walk around to see the cherry blossom trees and we have been keeping doing this for 11 years straight. We never get tired of it,” said Yu in Mandarin.

“The flowers always easily cheer us up, reminding us about how lucky we are to live here.”

Jordan Liu, B.C.-based director of the tour guide training program with the Canadian Inbound Tourism Association of Asia Pacific, said there were more than 2,700 cherry blossom locations across Metro Vancouver, and the choice could be overwhelming.

But he has some favourites — Graveley Street on Vancouver’s Eastside, West 22nd Avenue, Nelson Street in the downtown core, Yukon Street and outside Vancouver City Hall.

On West 22nd, Sophie Chan said she travelled on multiple buses to get to the neighbourhood from her home in Surrey. The slight rise and fall of the street makes it possible to see a corridor of blooming trees stretching into the distance, and it’s a favourite location on Instagram.

Chan said the secret to a good cherry blossom photo is patience — you need to wait for the right moment, with the right light, and the right wind to bring the petals fluttering down.

Angela Hong lives on West 22nd. It’s a mixed blessing — the blossoms makes her feel “calm and peaceful,” but the crowds of photographers can be loud and “quite annoying.”

She said it is good to see people out enjoying the season, but they need to be mindful that people live in the neighbourhood, too.

Retired mechanical engineer Kenneth Kwan, 84, was standing outside his home on Sussex Avenue in Burnaby, wearing a straw hat as he greeted people taking photos of the blossoms.

He said the flowers made him feel alive after an illness confined him to hospital for more than six weeks last year.

“My friends from San Francisco will soon come to Vancouver to visit me. I will show them around the city, including the cherry blossoms in my neighbourhood,” said Kwan.

“Friends, flowers and laughter are the best.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nono Shen, The Canadian Press

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