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At the corner of East Hastings and Carrall Streets in Vancouver, Canada, a raucous crowd milled around the sidewalk. Goods were on offer from a dozen sellers: hand tools, electronics, clothing, toiletries, all of uncertain provenance. There was a frenzy to make deals. A man opened a backpack filled with new tubes of toothpaste, smiling with stumps of teeth. Another sold cartons of orange juice out of a baby carriage. A shiny new mountain bike was on sale for $20. Below it all, a hushed chorus: “Powder. Powder.” “Rock. Got rock.” “Down. Need down?”
This last is the local term for heroin, and there were capped syringes, tourniquets, and empty ampoules of sterile water scattered on the ground. In a shuttered doorway, a pale blonde girl in a dirty pink miniskirt, her thumb bruised black from constantly flicking her lighter, drew sunken-cheeked at a crack stem and looked up for a moment to ask, “You hooking?” A police car rolled slowly by but didn’t stop.The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is a short walk and a world away from the glittering skyline of its business district, where a new billion-dollar convention center will soon welcome 400,000 visitors to the winter Olympics.