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.
Anxiously 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.
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.
Equally 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).
Amazingly, 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.
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.
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
Having 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