Authentically Asian-American

With escrow closed and all the money where it needs to be (for now), Diane and I turned our focus to the remaining issues of getting outta here. Desperately trying to violate the terms of the contract they wrote, the buyers of our house had their rather audacious real estate agent present us multiple requests to vacate ahead of the 29 day “rent-back” they wrote in the offer that gives us an extra month in the house as tenants. Ignoring them, we simply had our agent explain that while we understand their situation (the wife is pregnant and almost due), our move is a complicated issue due to our MM2H filing, liquidating all our possessions, exporting our car back into Canada and scheduling various medical appointments. Squatting comfortably in a practically empty house rent-free, Diane continues to work until Friday, May 15th and my job is to sell whatever else I can on OfferUp.com before donating whatever remains to the local Hospice store.

censoredAnxiously looking forward to a cornucopia of delicious food the likes of which we’ve never experienced, I grew impatient yesterday and made a side trip to my favorite Vietnamese Noodle shop after selling an entire box worth of used CD’s to Half-Price Books for $47. Sadly, Diane recently discovered that all her CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes are subject to a Censorship Fee of USD $5 per item. In addition they’re subject to approval by the Film Censorship Board that physically views and inspects every item shipped, causing delays of 2 to 3 weeks to censor and no guarantee of return. With over 200 CD’s packed in a U-Haul Box it made no financial sense to attempt importing any media materials. Renting a storage locker last weekend, we don’t plan on shipping anything anyway until they complete our visa and we’re confident we like life in Malaysia.

Anyway, returning to the point at hand (my lunch), I confess that even with all the mounds of incredible Malaysian, Chinese, Singaporean and Thai food found in Penang, my heart holds a soft spot for Vietnamese food. Always a fan of any tomato based soups, Asian or otherwise, one of the world’s perfect foods for me is a bowl of Bun Rieu. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find and usually requires the services of someone’s grandmother in the restaurant kitchen. Fortunately, Concord, California is home to a family run business where Grandma cooks the authentic soups. Traditionally made with crab paste, most North American versions use shrimp paste and I can’t wait for the real thing on our first trip to Vietnam. Served with a side of Chinese style chicken or shrimp salad at 10:15 AM before the crowds arrive, the owners smile and never need to ask what I’m ordering.

chciken salad

Dripping with delicious and mostly unhealthy organ parts, old world Bun Rieu recipes are long and complicated and often need an entire day of preparation. Usually made with thin rice noodles, my local version comes with a salty shrimp paste, pork blood and kidney, fried tofu, tendon, onions, and of course piping hot stewed tomatoes. Like pho, they bring out a side dish of cilantro, shredded lettuce and bean sprouts. Naturally, this being California, they also bring jalapeño peppers, which comes with every single dish served including hamburgers, chicken, fish, chicken wings and anything else Californians eat. Ignoring this ridiculous pandering to demographic change, I simply douse it with tons of lime and a bit of fish sauce.

banh miEqually simple but incredibly delicious in my book is a Banh Mi or Vietnamese Sandwich. Although its core ingredients are basic, it’s almost impossible to find a good one here in California. They serve pathetic versions in downtown San Francisco’s financial district where they put strange crap like a horrible version of liver based spread and mayonnaise on a sandwich that’s supposed to simply be made with four ingredients and a protein: carrots, daikon, onions and cilantro. North American pallets prefer grilled beef or chicken although my local eatery also offers the guts with fried fish, roast pork, unhealthy lunch meat, fried fish balls and even pâté (I’ve never seen anyone eat any of those including me but I intend to try them all in Vietnam).

tripeAmazingly, how the bread is run through the sandwich maker determines how well the product comes out. Stupid San Francisco restaurants use some ridiculous hard, crusty bread and not fresh-baked french bread so don’t ever eat one there if you visit . Knowing the art of perfection, Saigon Palace in suburban Contra Costa County grills their bread to a toasty but still soft inside brand of perfection, making it as authentic as one can expect on this side of the world. Occasionally I do indulge in pho, America’s most common Vietnamese food. Found almost everywhere, it’s almost always bland, boring and expensive considering the ingredients. Instead, pho should be a piping hot bowl of deliciousness filled with lots of fresh ingredients and a flavorful broth that’s cooked all day. Guessing I’ll have to wait for our first trip to Vietnam, I prefer mine with lots of tripe.

In the true spirit of early retirement and determined to be relatively frugal but not cheap, Diane and I celebrated our close of escrow with one of our all time favorite meals: A pizza dripping with three kinds of cheese, sausage, pepperoni, rich red tomato sauce, corn-dusted crust and crushed red peppers. Topping it off with our favorite bottle of local wine that we’ll never ever drink again since I’m confident it’s not found outside of California, we feasted and watched ABC’s TGIT shows that we always tape and watch the next day. Wondering what to expect from Astro, the leading cable provider in Malaysia, the channel line up looks interesting but quite different.

Not wanting to be total cheapos, we did indulge in a little celebration with one of our few married couple friends. Marrying an Indian guy that never did a day of hard labor in his life, the wife in the relationship hails from a blue-collar background in Boston, making them as different as possible. (I’m unsure she’d want their names disclosed on my blog so please excuse the informality). Hoping to visit India when they return for family visits, we do want to stay connected to make the chaos of a first visit a bit easier. Drinking wine all afternoon, we ate dinner at our favorite Cuban restaurant but honestly, after a few pitchers of sangria I have little recollection of what the hell we ate. Reviewing the only camera phone pictures that weren’t blurry, it looks like we apparently enjoyed it.

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Proving every population has some idiots, there’s somebody that owns a house a few blocks down from ours. As we’ve stressed, any house will sell above asking price with multiple offers in the Bay Area in this current seller’s market. Disregarding how important a good real estate agent is, however, often means costly mistakes. Marketing himself with endless photos on shopping carts, park benches and bus stops, there’s a guy we once considered using that calls himself a “local area specialist” and he obviously convinced the owner of the house down the street. After meeting him at an open house where he dressed in a jeans, an un-tucked and wrinkled casual shirt and old shoes, we decided this guy finished dead last in his class, if he even bothered to finish school.

fumigated

For sale a few streets down from us

Remaining unsold after two months, the owners rented the house out last fall after an unsuccessful sale attempt and the tenants just moved out. Walking down the street last week, I noticed workers covering the house like a circus tent for a fumigation. Requiring disclosure, he’s now gone with another agent but seems unable to sell, this time using a broker known for commercial real estate. Unsure what the owner’s problem is, they’ve held no weekend open houses and the signpost with brochures remains empty. Having spent only a few thousand dollars to make our house show-ready and ultimately getting almost 12% over asking price thanks in part to Walnut Creek’s best real estate agent, I offer this advice: Treat a real estate agent like a financial planner or lawyer and get referrals. It earned us almost two years living expenses in Malaysia

believeHaving completed all our medical appointments, Diane and I enter the month of May with 18 days to go until we pack up our clothes and some important documents and drive over the border for some wasted time in Canada with friends and relatives. Still planning on staying at the Copthorne Orchard Hotel for a week or two, I’m excited but not as stressed out. Hoping the adventure begins on a positive note, we’re very open to suggestions and comments from anyone who remembers what it’s like to move somewhere they’ve never been to. We enter this move hopeful that we made the right decision but only time will tell. Firmly believing it’s better to fail than to regret never having tried, let’s hope for good things.

Thanks for the ongoing support !!

Coming next before we pack up the PC:
One more post about an American place that we almost considered

 

8 thoughts on “Authentically Asian-American

  1. Soo Tan

    Hi there, Good Luck with your move. I am a Malaysian. I studied and worked in the Bay Area for quite some time and got PR status here in the US. Very adventurous and brave of you to move to a new place you have never been to. Malaysian Borneo is quite different from the Peninsular. I think the key thing is to maintain an open mind with new culture and ways of doing things. Just remember that it will be vastly different from what you have been accustomed to and needs some getting used to. I wish you the Best and feel free to ask questions if you wish to to my e-mail. p.s. – I am not suggesting that you do this, but, the implementation of rules is not strict as in the US. There is a phrase “close one eye” that is used very often in Malaysia. You will see for yourself once you get on the roads in Malaysia. Traffic rules are flouted all the time. If you get stopped for an infraction, hard luck. Not your day. Anyways, you will get off with a “duit kopi” which translates to “coffee money” or money to pay for that policeman’s lunch at the “mamak stall”. So, you could probably bring your CDs and DVDs if you so wish into the country without declaring. Malaysians do that all the time when coming home from overseas. But I wouldn’t suggest it to you being your first step into the place. Wouldn’t want to get you off on the wrong footing!

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hey there
      Thanks for the very down to earth comments. We’ve found that many Malaysians tell it like it is. Diane loves this because it’s a very Chinese-y value. I also appreciate the candor. For instances, if someone complains about the food or service at a restaurant on a FB page, others tell him things like “well, don’t go there if you don’t like it”. Slightly sarcastic and to the point. My kind of young generation. We won’t take the chances on the DVD’s but know there’s always ways to get things supposedly prohibited. And there’s always Thailand if all else fails and we really want something; lol

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  2. kspoints

    My best advice for new expats from my husband’s company is stuff I think you guys have already mastered: Be patient (with yourself and others), have an open mind, and try every new experience you can. Making friends with local people can help you feel less isolated, too, because you have someone to ask, “Where can I find this certain type of thing I’m looking for?” Whether it’s medicine, a plunger, or whatever. Coincidentally, we’re off to Penang for the Labour Day long weekend!

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi guys
      Thanks so much for the great advice. I had to think for a second because in the world of the non British English, Labour Day is Labor Day and it’s the first Monday in September. Too bad we won’t be there yet but we have your email and hopefully we can get together when we come to KL to finalize the Mm2H hopefully by August

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      1. kspoints

        We were a little surprised about “Labour Day” as well, but I’ll take a holiday weekend! We’ll be back in Texas for Labor Day, so I guess we will feel lucky to get to celebrate the working people twice this year.

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  3. our next life

    Remind me never to read your posts while on a plane… All those mouth watering food descriptions and no (real) food to be had! 😉 good luck with these last few weeks. Look forward to reading all about your adventures that lay ahead.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Well At least food on Asain planes is better than the crap on US airlines that you pay ten bucks or more for. We got awesome nasi Lemak on our first time ever on Dragonair from HK to Kota Kinabalu

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