Well this sure ain’t Malaysia. Making a brief two-day stop in Hong Kong just because we wanted some real Chinese food, Diane and I hopped on the Air Canada flight to Vancouver a few days ago and braved the twelve-hour insanity known as flying into yesterday. Unfortunately, the rain in Penang stopped long enough for another stretch of bright sunshine just before we departed that left my dehydrated and over-exerted body with a slight cold. Sadly, flying makes dehydration even worse and it turned into laryngitis as we collected our bags in Hong Kong. Not exactly known for its blue skies and perfect climate, Hong Kong defied expectations with three incredible days of bright sunshine and 23 Celsius degree perfection. Accompanied by Diane’s sister-in-law who just happened to be visiting her parents, we embarked on a one day tour, ate some delicious seafood and hoped for the best with my cold as we waited patiently at the Air Canada gate. And that’s when we possibly broke the Guinness Record for the biggest climate drop in human history from between flights.
Having left Penang on a 30 degree morning (86 Farhenheit) only a few days earlier, we arrived at Vancouver International Airport too late to make our connection to Calgary thanks to delays on both ends of the Air Canada flight. Well slept but still tired, we cleared the new and improved kiosk based customs, collected our bags, and headed upstairs to an endless line with about one-third of the frustrated 350 passengers that also needed re-ticketing. Usually opting for Cathay Pacific when flying a transcontinental route, some greedy CEOs decided to change economy ticket pricing to a three-tier system like Air Asia and other discount airlines. Charging upwards of $500 to “upgrade” your fare class to one that allows seat selection, choosing the reasonably priced cheapest fare means sitting twelve hours on whatever shitty middle seat in the back of the plane they assign you and not bringing any checked luggage without paying a fee. Yeah, that makes sense on a 6,000 mile trip. So we chose Air Canada despite their strange departure time from both sides of the Pacific because you can pick your seat and connect to Calgary on the same itinerary. But even one minor delay of an hour leaves them struggling so badly on the other side that it’s worth making sure there’s several flights after the one you’ve chosen in case of lengthy delays. They sent those traveling further east than Alberta to hotels for the night with a whopping ten-dollar food stipend that might buy a donut and coffee and they re-booked us on a later flight to Calgary.
Eventually arriving in Calgary about four hours late, the local time was 10 PM the night before we left and 1 PM the next day on our body clocks. Leaving behind basically everything for winter, I strolled off the jetway with my little light fleece jacket and felt the chill of minus 25 Celsius creeping through the walls. Thankfully, my sister-in-law and her husband met us at the terminal and brought our warmest coats. Having lived in western Canada for six years I used to wear the light winter coat all the way down to minus thirty but a year and a half in the topics changed that and the temperature change amounted to an astounding 95 degrees Fahrenheit between Penang and Calgary. Frozen beyond what I remember, fourteen hours of flying increased my cold from annoying to full-fledged sinusitis. And then we tried to cheat time by sleeping for eight hours once we arrived at the house. Thinking we’d somehow beat jet lag, we then spent the next day and a half unable to sleep proving you can’t fly east sixteen time zones and simply jump right into the local time without dire consequences. Allow your body to adjust and simply stay up when it’s the middle of the afternoon on the body clock.
Jumping right into the next day, we hit the ATM first. The Trump factor continues benefiting overseas expats who keep the bulk of their assets in US Dollars. Not only is the Malaysian Ringgit at a 40 year low at 4.47 USD, the Canadian dollar is also suffering versus the Greenback and we exchanged cash at about $1.33 for every USD which significantly lowers the cost of our trip. In the first sign of reverse culture shock, we hit the mall for a SIM card and remembered that only North America makes life difficult for travelers. Everywhere you go in Southeast Asia, you simply visit an airport kiosk, pay a few US dollars, hand them your phone and you get reliable 4G data that works almost anywhere in the country. Sometimes it even comes with calls and most plans run from a week to a month.
In Canada, there’s no longer even any pay as you go plans available in store. Initially telling us we needed to go online and enter a plethora of marketing shit simply to get connected for a month, the sales guy at the Bell store instead signed up my brother-in-law on a monthly plan using our payment information since he was already a Bell customer. International travelers marvel at what a pain in the ass Canada is for visitors simply wanting connectivity in a globalized world but but it’s actually the USA that dictates making life as difficult for everyone as possible relative to the rest of the planet . And with the new administration, it will only get worse as isolationist polices take hold and they work even harder at making sure Americans remain light years behind the rest of earth when it comes to infrastructure, airports and technological simplicity. Sadly, Canada mostly models their telecommunications industry around their emeperor-like neighbors to the south and there’s not much they can do about it. Exhausted from the telecom hassle, we went to our favourite mall lunch option and ordered a gyro with Greek salad but found we could barely finish it because portion sizes are twice what we’re now used to.
Having figured out how to stream all our NHL hockey games for free as everyone could do but most don’t because the corporations that rule North America don’t want you to know this, we found it strange having hockey games played in the evening. Embarking on a North American eating and hockey tour, we started the week off with a trip to the Calgary Saddledome where the Calgary Flames got hammered by the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. Never ones to let something like a loss ruin the evening, the entertainment came after the game when we all stood outside in minus twenty-three temperatures and waited for the C Train. Not known for citizen friendly acts, they refuse to add extra trains for events or when it’s cold enough for a polar bear to freeze so the crowd started chanting “Let’s go Calgary Transit” to forget about the deep freeze and when we eventually all piled in like sardines, they belted out an “Oh, Canada ” that was better than the redneck singer used by the Flames to sing the anthem.
Despite having one of the oldest arenas in the league, the Saddledome constantly updates it’s food vendors and we feasted on foot long hot dogs with toppings like perogies, bacon bits, sour cream, sauerkraut and almost everything else possible. Because it looked good and isn’t available anywhere in Asia, we also ordered a smoked meat sandwich from the gourmet deli on the main concourse but it was too much to eat so we brought it home and ate it for lunch the next day. Unable to taste much anyway, my cold is giving me possibly the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my sinuses which kind of put a damper on two nights out with old friends. But it’s finally starting to subside a bit and my advice is expect to get sick when your body experiences a fifty-five degree Celsius shock downwards. Better yet, don’t go in winter. Yes, it was my idea despite Calgary being home to Diane’s family, because as much as I love living outside all the bullshit of a Trump nation, I longed for the developed world a bit after eighteen months in Malaysia.
Besides real beef, the next thing I miss severely from a culinary point of view is a simple sandwich. Visiting my favourite gourmet deli, we noticed prices on virtually everything in Alberta are down as much as 30% since our rsesidency days and it’s no doubt due to a provincial recession. Having made their own Trump/Brexit voting disaster, Albertans thought they wanted change and decided to end the reign of a political party that’s been in power over forty years. Unfortunately, one year later, having seen oil prices plummet to a level that’s sent thousands of jobs to the chopping block, the economy isn’t much better and the new government is proving as useless as a 3 AM tweet from Trump. Thankfully, there’s no racism, xenophobia and hatred towards other citizens. In fact, as we strolled through what used to be our local supermarket we saw dozens of Muslims, Syrians, Russians and various other non whites interacting just fine with fellow Canadians and that’s why I’ll always consider Canada my second home. Anyway, eating my fresh carved roast beef sandwich in deliciously soft ciabatta was like culinary heaven for me with the only difference being I can’t eat nearly as much as I used to because in Asia, people eat normal sized portions and it shows in the malls where finding an extra-large is as rare as finding a real cheeseburger.
Speaking of which, last night I ate my first real cheeseburger made from succulent Alberta beef. As much as I love Hokkien Mee, I’ve really missed real quality lean beef. Having visited Australia earlier this year, we didn’t really understand why they have great ingredients but can’t seem to put them together very well. Most supermarket items in Penang come from Australia including many familiar brands with American names that are actually licensed to Australian affiliates and produced for a different palette. Since there’s no good reason to bring back most of our warm weather clothing, a trip to the supermarket is on the horizon where we’ll fill our suitcases with packaged non perishable goodies unavailable in Asia.
Oddly enough the malls around Southwest Calgary were strangely empty for the weekend before Christmas and so was the restaurant last night. Recalling the days when Boxing Day sales were the greatest thing ever, it’s quieted down significantly since there’s not really many large expensive items that people want any more. Hitting the local BestBuy, I picked up two pairs of Skullcandy ear buds. If you’re old-fashioned like me and prefer plugging in the phone to ear buds while exercising or on long plane trips, this company blows away the competition and of course, it’s not available in Asia.
Still plagued with the worst head cold I can remember, the deep freeze ended yesterday. Unfortunately, it was replaced with blustery conditions that make walking difficult when your sinuses are so clogged. Hoping for the phenomenon known as Chinooks, I stepped outside but discovered that the current round of strong winds can’t really be classified as warm and westerly even though the temps rebounded twenty degrees almost near the freezing mark. Enjoying the break from the heat, I’m kind of missing the pool but for now my climate change reality involves dry, windy winter conditions and it was my idea so I’ll just have to shut up and buckle down. God, I’m such a wimp .