As 2017 progresses into its first full week and the temperature here in arctic Edmonton hovers around a seasonal minus twenty Celsius, my body says it’s desperately time to get outta Dodge and get back to the comforts of heat and humidity. Plagued with a three-week head cold, cracked dry skin, sore lips, caked up nose, tired bones and bundled up in double wool socks, vests on top of down coats, warm gloves and a hat, I’m longing for the comforts of shorts and t-shirts again. As much as I love Canada and will always call it my second home, there’s no denying that Canadian prairie winters really suck. Fortunately, when you sell a house in California an don’t need to buy another one, it’s relatively easy to become an overseas expat in a hot nation for about fifteen years.
Financially speaking, although we spent about six hundred bucks more than our thirty-day budget, we bought a cornucopia of quality brand name products at Boxing Day sale prices that end almost all our shopping needs for a year or two. Including about twelve Nike Dry fit t-shirts, two pairs of name brand hikers good for the jungle, new Ecco and Keens sandals, a new fanny pack and toiletry kit for travel and deodorant that actually works in the humidity, the shopping aspect is worth three flights, two layovers and almost 20 hours of flying time. Also horribly inconvenient for me since I’m legally blind in one eye, there’s only one brand of contact lenses that work well for me in any environment.
Naturally, the contacts I wear cost too much for the developing world and despite the manufacturer’s huge presence in Malaysia, they refuse to sell Alcon Daily Total Ones outside North America. Picking up a year’s worth while I’m here at an amazingly great discount given the weak Canadian dollar, I can finally see properly and with less discomfort and I highly recommend those lenses for anyone with very dry eyes. But of course the highlight of any trip back to the western world is the food and that means leaving most winter clothing here and stuffing two suitcases full of non perishable western treats to be used in Penang. Offering a shortened list given my limitations on an IPad and desire to post something, here’s most of the non perishable food items unavailable in Malaysia that we’ll be stuffing in our luggage.
1) Pepperoni and Smoked beef sticks
Previously only available in the refrigerated section, it seems they added a bunch of preservatives, dried the beef a bit more and presto; seasoned delicious pizza toppings or pork snacks. Yes, an Australian version is available in Malaysia. No, they don’t understand proper seasoning or curing.
2) Real flavors of salad Dressing
Given the freshness of produce at wet markets, we eat a lot of salad and sadly, top it off with mostly flavorless and watered down British salad dressings. Invented in America, the Caesar salad is one the tastiest salads that’s relatively unknown in Asia. Honey mustard seems to be another North American flavor that I love and Europeans don’t.
3) Even more salad dressings and toppings
Kraft foods makes about a hundred variations of balsamic and vinegar based salad dressings. Usually sold at rock bottom prices like two bucks on sale, the only thing close in Penang is Newmans Own which they import and sell at ridiculously inflated prices by Malaysian standards. Since salad dressings are almost all plastic, it looks like we’ll be enjoying a lot of salad over the next year or so. Given Thailand’s better selection of all things western, we need to use this all up by June so you’re all invited for salad dinner.
4) Shake n Bake (western flavors)
Learning to love chicken in Malaysia because it’s really fresh, not plumped, and tastes nothing like the western mass-produced crap you find in every fast food menu, we love Shake n Bake. Available in three basic flavors, we decided to spice it up a bit. Removing the mix from boxes makes it easy to transport but our dinners become mystery flavored bread crumbs and chicken since they don’t label the inside packages.
5) Lean protein (Canned fish products)
Considering how many cans of spicy sotong, tuna and mackerel populate the shelves of Cold Storage and Tesco in Penang, these delicious and healthy seafood products are absent from Malaysian supermarkets. Perfect after a cardio workout, I wish I could bring about a hundred or so but four or five will have to do for now.
6) Flavored Almonds
Another healthy snack, they pack Malaysian supermarkets full of nuts. Unfortunately, I don’t like any of them. Strange Asian flavors combined with nuts that lack flavor pushed me to buy this delicious treat. Give how many Japanese products are in Penang, the basic nut is the most important part and only California almonds taste like the real thing as far as I’m concerned.
Having given almost every European and Australian mustard a chance to satisfy my sandwich needs, I’m sorry to say only Canadian mustards cut it for me. Given that most of the world’s mustard seeds come from Canada, maybe that’s why Canadians enjoy about twenty bold and delicious flavors. Surprisingly, Brits neglect horseradish in their mustards and the glaze will help me forget that the Australian beef we buy in Penang isn’t Alberta Beef.
8) Dry mixes
Obviously the most ridiculous food items to bring to Asia, I’d argue that Penang’s Chinese Indian food is mostly devoid of our favorite dish and Penang’s version of Tom Yum, strangely named Tom Yam, tastes nothing like anything in Thailand. Or North American mall food. As for the buffalo wings, sriracha sauce is trendy and probably the most popular flavor in North America at the moment despite its origins in the next country over from Malaysia. And Sloppy Joes are my guilty pleasure when it comes to ground beef. So I bought ten packets. If you want to skip that dinner invitation, I’ll understand.
And that’s about all we can squeeze into the suitcase without exceeding our weight limit. Asian airlines usually allow three kilograms less than Air Canada and most North American Airlines. Possibly due to warmer climate conditions, I’m unclear why this is but given how much more efficient everything is in Asia compared to North America when it comes to airports, security and boarding, there must be a good reason. However, Cathay Pacific recently changed from unlimited baggage at the old weight limit to a two per passenger limit but with 30 kilogram allowances. Since we only needed two bags each to transport our entire lives from North America to Penang, I’m really unclear what type of airline passenger would need more than two bags but having seen so many mainland Chinese tourists up close, I can probably guess.
Mostly a complete success, our winter vacation only had one huge disappointment. Constantly freezing since upgrading my IPad Air2 to IOS10, my device annoys the shit out of me. Hoping a visit to The Apple Store in Edmonton would remedy the problem, I expected too much. Telling us the problem was probably due to our crappy wifi pausing during installation of IOS 10, the “Apple genius” reinstalled it and of course it wouldn’t freeze until a few days later when I began writing this post. Even more frustrating was how they’ll do a free diagnostic of an IPhone and even replaced a supposedly faulty battery for only $99 but for IPads , they tell me it’s not possible that only a keyboard freezes unless the IOS installation was corrupted during upload. Yeah, OK. Sometimes I think it might have been better being and expat before the technology boom. But then I’d miss my breakfast hockey games from 16 time zones away.
So after sitting on a cold snowy tarmac at Edmonton for an hour while they de-iced about fourteen planes all scheduled for early takeoff, here we are ready for a 13 1/2 hour flight back to Hong King, an overnight stay at an airport hotel and another flight back “home”
Cheers from Vancouver International Airport