No, there’s no such thing as salami laksa. But if there was, Canada would be the place to get it. Wrapping up our third house squatting experience as homeless souls in transition, the weather continued to be miserable here in Calgary as the first day of summer approached. Probably the only city in North America where everyone is wearing down coats, sweaters and even gloves, the severe thunderstorm watches and arctic like rain got old after a day or two. Having reunited with some of our old co-workers for lunches and dinners, there isn’t much left to do so Diane chose to hit the mall. Thinking I’ll be doing enough of that in Penang to escape the heat and humidity, I opted for one last Canadian culinary supermarket tour.
Returning to our old neighborhood in West Calgary, I embarked on a shopping spree to my favorite local supermarket. Strikingly different from any California store, my favorite thing about Canadian supermarkets is the deli department. Unlike Americans who eat only the crappiest processed garbage lunch meats and usually go to Subway or Panera anyway, Canadian deli counters are a cornucopia of fabulous meats, cheeses, specialty items and olive bars. Thrilled to find that the store improved and remade itself into a sort of gourmet superstore, I decided to document all the delicious things I probably won’t see in Malaysia. And of course I bought lunch for the next few days. Ironically, McDonalds is running a promotion this month featuring “Canadian specialty sandwiches”‘ and this week’s is an Atlantic Canadian Lobster Roll. Stumbling on the same promotion for a limited time only, I saw one left at Sobeys and it was even two bucks cheaper than McDonalds.
Feeling like I had to visit the downtown core at east once, I hopped on Calgary Transit’s new $6 billion dollar light rail extension that now serves our old environs and shelled out a ridiculously high $6.30 for a round trip ticket. Ever changing, Calgary never stops building and is probably North America’s best kept secret when it comes to wealthy cities. Unlike Vancouver, everyone living on the West side drives the largest and most expensive luxury model of the worlds priciest vehicles because that’s what your expected to do after buying your million dollar home. (We built new in 2002 for only $238K CAD and sold five years later for over $500K, proving once again that timing is everything in life). Enjoying one of the rare nice days if the week, I strolled down the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall to the Calforex currency exchange to buy some Malaysian Ringetts that will get us through the first day or so.
Remembering why it makes sense to never use a currency exchange store unless absolutely necessary, I took advantage of all the WiFi available for the well to do downtown office workers and calculated how badly they ripped me off. Paying a 12.5% premium to the daily trader’s rate, I thanked myself for all the advance research about how to effectively manage one’s finances as an overseas expat. Noticing the local businesses getting readyvfor the Calgary Stampede, I had some time to kill before lunch so I went into a specialty shop that sells flavored oils, vinegars and various other seasonings. Unclear if this is a Canadian thing, the store sets out samples of almost everything sold and let’s you dip them in bread or spread it on a pretzel. I’ve seen this in Edmonton also but this store was nuts so I went on a quest and sampled all 58 items since the store clerks encouraged it. Priced at about $18 for each small item, it’s another reminder why early retirement in Canada is a fantasy for 99% of the population.
Returning to the topic at hand (salami), here are some more differences between Canada and America when it comes to supermarkets. Like me, Canadians love cheese and they prefer it stronger, creamier and full flavored compared to the tame versions sold in the USA. Almost every good supermarket has an amazing array of cheeses from all over the world as well as other deli items beyond salamis like fresh roasted turkey, roast beef and prime rib. Usually freshly made, salads, grab-n-go items for lazy commuters and best of all, an olive bar is almost always nearby the deli.
Probably the worst place for me to stroll given that most olive bars cost around $4.99 for 100g (roughly $22 a pound), a Canadian version always has hot pepper poppers, roasted garlic, various kinds of roasted and spiced peppers, tapenades, stuffed grape leaves, balsamic onions, and of course ten kinds of olives stuffed every way possible. For reasons unknown, olives tend to be crisp, fresh and plump the way they should be but Americans don’t seem to care if they pay for mushy ones.
Realizing the pile of colorful Canadian Fifty dollar bills was getting smaller and we still have another week in this beautiful but expensive country before heading to Malaysia, I decided to pay for my items and grabbed the IPad to document some other Canadian goodies that I probably won’t see at Tesco and certainly not at any hawker stand.
Remembering that Malaysians like forms, our awesome banker has been constantly emailing us every night attempting to get our local bank account open before we arrive in Kuala Lumpur on July 1st. Having read hundreds of forum posts on the difficulty opening bank accounts, I’m happy to report that it seems easy enough as long as you already have a Premier account in the country you’re emigrating from. Utilizing a local branch here in Calgary, we went in one day and asked the branch manager for some help at the request of our banker. Offering no objections, she happily affixed the bank’s signature guarantee wherever we needed signatures, scanned everything, emailed it to Kuala Lumpur and even sent the hard copies by bank courier service which somehow beat DHL by two days despite the $65 charge I paid the first time.
And best of all, an old contact recommended a property agent generally known as the best in the business. Emailing her last night, she wrote back within minutes and agreed to meet with us as soon as we arrive in Penang. Looking to spend about $600 to $1000 per month USD for a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment, she also agreed to drive us around the island and give us a look at the surrounding area. As we approach the last week in North America, we’re feeling confident that getting organized Is not as difficult as anticipated. Of course the shock of the heat will still suck but hey, you can’t have everything in life, can you?
Cheers from Calgary, Alberta in Western Canada.
Next: Our last week of squatting completes the Great Western Canadian Road Trip after another 600 mile drive back to Vancouver.