Category Archives: Alberta, Canada

Pickled Pigs Feet

Whoever said living at home with the in-laws is no fun obviously wasn’t married to an Asian whose father cooked for a living. Having now been in Edmonton for a week, Diane and I have reaped the benefits of living with parents that don’t mind house squatters. Enjoying the amenities, we’ve made some great progress towards getting settled and organized in Malaysia next month, albeit with a one month phone contract that provides hotspot access in this very unconnected internet-free home. With summer approaching, every day feels like two days with the light leaking through the window at about 4:45 AM and darkness setting in somewhere near midnight. Adjusting to “sleeping in” (anything past 6 for me) is difficult for someone used to a routine (what Diane calls “being anal”) but I’m trying to change my habits and prepare for a place where life only begins after sundown due to torrid heat and humidity.

imageReceiving excellent news the other day, we’re happy to report that our MM2H application has officially been bypassed for “selection of banking verification” a tedious process recently implemented by the Ministry that basically amounts to a triple check of information already provided in the application package. According to our agent, we can expect the approval letter to come through sometime around early August (it would normally be late July but that falls during a period of high holidays and we’re still getting used to the very un-American concept of business and industry shutting down for an entire week). Clearing the way for an early arrival to Penang  with expectations of an approval letter about a month later, we’ve decided to keep our plane reservations as-is and search for housing on a three-month tourist entry while the visa makes its way through the ministry’s red tape.

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Alberta Beef: almost worth the 9 month winter

Not long after we arrived in Edmonton, Diane’s father cooked steak for dinner. But Alberta beef is not just regular steak. Known worldwide for having some of the finest beef available, you know you’ve left the USA as soon as you take your first bite. While not readily available throughout North America mostly due to U.S.government protectionist policies and a huge beef industry lobby in Washington, Alberta is the premier place for beef lovers. Enjoyable in any form, even fast food burgers taste better when they use superior meat as the primary ingredient. Unsure if Malaysian beef tastes anything like this, Diane and I never object when her Dad feels like doing the cooking.

Ironically, Edmonton also has some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had and we always look forward to it. Coming from a metropolitan area with millions of Asians, it frustrated me not having one real Chinese restaurant for weekend dim sum anywhere less than a 60 minute drive away. Turning all Asian food into some sort of fake combination of Americanized slop with lots of corn starch and sugary sauces and calling it “fusion”, our old home town charged way too much money and removed all aspects of anything recognizable as authentic ethnic food. Expecting Malaysian Chinese to be delicious but probably quite different from North American style, we’ll enjoy the greasy deliciousness.

Over the weekend we went to watch my niece play in a soccer tournament that was here in Edmonton. Diane’s sister lives in Calgary, a three hour drive south and that’s also where we lived for six years when I was an American expat living in Canada. Not understanding anything at all about parental responsibilities, I watched from the sidelines along with various other moms and dads, cheering the occasional good play and yelled along with everyone else when they scored two goals. Entertaining enough, I can’t honesty say I’d rather be ten to fifteen years away from retirement because of child raising duties instead of heading off to Southeast Asia to live in a few weeks.

After the game we all went to a “Shanghai style” restaurant but it tasted more like canned food thrown together with some low quality meats and seafood that was probably caught about a year ago. Famous for dumplings, we ordered some and waited about 15 minutes for what appeared to look like the real thing but also tasted like they’d been prepared by a Latino kitchen staff member from any California casual restaurant. With no real taste, I lowered my expectations and the rest of the meal proved to be equally crappy. Fortunately, when you’re in Canada you use “Monopoly money” which always goes faster than when you’re actually playing the game but looks nice and takes the edge off how much everything costs in places with socialized healthcare. (Psychologically, anyway).

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So far the weather has been changeable as it always in western Canada but it’s generally a nice time of year to spend some time. Having contacted our agent about the status of our visa, she has now somehow changed the expected time until approval from 12 to 15 weeks which means there’s almost no way we can wait it out here in Canada even with free rent at the Hotel Relative. Trying not to waste an immense amount of money we still think it makes sense to simply fly to Malaysia and at least attempt to familiarize ourselves with the country even if we can’t get a bank account or a place to live (Our banker said we can open an account with passports despite not having the MM2H approval yet but our agent seems to have her own set of mysterious rules that I’m having trouble understanding or verifying).

imageToday, however, is one of those mornings where you appreciate Canadian living with bright blue sunny skies and a perfect temperature hovering around 16 (Celsius of course). Adapting to 17 hours of daylight is often interesting  and when it’s nice out, it feels like two days combined in one when the sun comes up at 5 AM and the darkness doesn’t set in until almost midnight. Taking advantage while we can, I’d planned a trip to Elk Island National Park since the Yahoo weather icon showed the most sun today. Thirty five minutes from Edmonton, the park features herds of bison roaming free and always makes for some fun pictures. Naturally, when I returned from my morning walk and made Diane her morning pot of coffee, the skies changed to overcast and the wind started whipping. Utilizing Plan B , we took the eight minute drive to Whitemud Nature Reserve which feels more like the country than the city and took a 90 minute hike.

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Obviously not as interesting as large bison, we still enjoyed the serenity and did see beaver dams (but no beavers),  chipmunks, squirrels, warblers and some chickadees. A small snake made his way past me but I was too slow to snap a photo on my small crappy phone.  Needing to use all our Starbucks card credits that Diane believes will be useless in Asia, we headed to the mall and I noticed a new strange-looking sculpture. Hoping to document as much Canadiana as possible on the blog before heading to Asia, I also noticed a sign you find all over Canada but nowhere in America telling you where you meet should there be an emergency.  Since there are no oceans or earthquakes in Alberta, I’m not sure what type of incident they expect but hopefully it’s nothing major. (There was once a destructive tornado in Edmonton  caught everyone off guard).

Hopefully we’ll hear back from our relationship manager at HSBC shortly about the banking before MM2H approval issue and then we’ll decide where to squat for the rest of June.  Thinking we need one last trip to real mountains, we may head to Waterton Lakes, an International Park shared by both Canada and the USA. Known as Glacier National Park on the much more heavily visited American side, it’s a fabulous uncrowned park with beautiful trails and lakes.

imageDiane’s friend said she can dispose of our vehicle with the check engine light that never goes off so we may wind up driving back to Vancouver as it’s cheaper than flying. North American air travel is slowly becoming for the élite only with fees from everything to choosing your seat online to an extra fifty bucks for having the audacity to contact a real human being for customer service.  Entering June, we still don’t feel like Experimental Expats yet but we are enjoying our time in western Canada. Appreciating all the views and new followers, we once again thank anyone who takes the time to follow our journey.

Cheers from Edmonton, Alberta; home of the once proud hockey team that featured Wayne Gretzky but hasn’t been to the playoffs in eight years.

We love all comments and questions on Alberta beef and anything else Canadian.

The Ethnic Advantage

Haggling is not my thing. Come to think of it, almost all white people I know are not very good at this very important skill. Usually unable to bargain the way people in markets around the world do every day, North Americans get accustomed to paying “sale” prices only when TV and media tell them there’s a sale.  Knowing how important negotiating prices is when  travelling throughout Southeast Asia, I was initially concerned but realized we have an undue advantage that I call “The Ethnic Advantage”. As any white guy married to an Asian will attest, marrying an Asian woman comes with certain benefits not available to Caucasian couples. Almost everything you can buy in Asia comes with a “foreigners price” and a “local price” . Being armed with an Asian wife often means getting prices somewhere in the middle even without haggling.

imageUnexpectedly, a perfect example of the ethnic advantage arose right here in South Surrey, British Columbia at a local cellular store. Needing accessibility to a wi-fi connection while staying at Diane’s parents old-fashioned and Internet-less home, we shopped around for a “no contract” plan that we can cancel after one month. Using  our friend’s old IPhone, we learned of a plan with Bell, one of Canada’s leading cell providers, that allows unlimited Canada wide calling and texting and 10 Mb of data for only $65 per month in exchange for using a Saskatchewan phone number. Satisfying our data needs as well as having an emergency phone while making the 900 mile drive across the province, we went into the local store and explained our situation to a middle-aged Chinese employee. Already having an advantage over the obnoxious kids that work at American cell kiosks and usually have knowledge of absolutely nothing, we expected we’d get what we need with the Chinese guy.

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Hearty or Crazy? Birds that stay in the cold

Diane and I love birds. Making no attempt to disguise ourselves as amateur ornithologists or even casual bird people, we simply enjoy watching them and we’re often fascinated by their intelligence, perseverance and beauty. Because they’re found almost everywhere from rural farmlands to urban parks, almost anybody can enjoy them by simply stopping to look, listen and learn. Keeping a promise to two of our followers whose devote their blogs to the beauty of birds, Diane and I braved the -25 Celsius frigid cold in both Edmonton and Calgary on our recent holiday jaunt to Canada and searched for photographic opportunities of birds crazy enough to withstand Alberta winters.

Braving the cold in search of birds

braving the cold in search of birds

Not surprisingly, only a few species developed characteristics hearty enough to allow year round residency in places north of the 49th parallel and we limited all pictures except the featured image to Diane’s camera so please don’t expect a National Geographic photo spread.
Understanding nature has a plan for everything, we used to feel sorry for the poor little creatures until and wondered how they do it until we realized they’re well suited for the challenge and might even enjoy owning the skies for six months. Unsure why we never simply Googled why the birds don’t freeze, we’ve included a few facts for the curious to help clarify their tolerance.

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The photogenic side of cold

Reflecting back on our last holiday season spent in the cold, I’m glad we’re back and even happier that the sweltering tropical heat is merely months away. Having spent one week in Edmonton, Diane’s home town, and one week in Calgary, our home for six years, visiting with family was cold but fun. Experiencing relatively average or even above average Canadian winter temperatures while most of America was sweltering in a brown Christmas, the real cold came in for the last few days and reminded us how much the cold sucks.

dogsAs the photographer for our blog, Diane brought her new camera which hasn’t seen much use other than sitting on one of the many pieces of furniture marked for sale due to our upcoming move. Although many people in Canada spends much of the holiday season indoors due to the cold, we always find time to walk along the River Valley Trail. Edmonton’s premier (and only) scenic attraction, winter walks along the frozen North Saskatchewan River always reveal something beautiful and this trip was no different. With only 88 days until we file for the MM2H visa and less than that until our house is up for sale, this is no doubt the last time I reminisce about cold for some time.

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Christmas present for the Ants

When Diane and I travel, we always leave a night-light with a timer on in the living room that faces the street to avoid a deserted house look. Thankfully, it’s always worked and we’ve never had any burglary issues. Unfortunately, someone forgot to explain the night light’s meaning to the ants. Returning back from a two-week Canadian jaunt, our last holiday season in the cold before the upcoming move to Malaysia, we walked into the house and came face to face with a superhighway of little ants. Appearing to start in somewhere in the kitchen heating vent, they formed an amazingly perfect commuter highway leading past the kitchen, across the hallway, into the living room and culminating at another heating vent large enough to support a colony of unknown proportions.

Last weekend, while still in Calgary, we checked the Yahoo weather forecast while huddled up in a cozy warm Canadian house, and chuckled at the “frost warnings” issued for Northern California while the weather outside hovered at -25 C (about five below zero for the Metric challenged). The Bay Area usually gets a week of near freezing overnight temperatures and if you think they bundle up when it’s only cool, you should see them when it’s near freezing. Unfortunately, cold snaps also push the threshold for a comfortably warm ant colony. Once it’s too cold, ants seek shelter anywhere warm and when the scouter ants discover an unoccupied house, they move all their little belongings into said warm spot.

 

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Uniquely Canadian

As we approach the final full day of our last trip to the cold before the adventure to SE Asia, we awoke to a -17C day with a -27C wind chill, proving it’s absolutely time to get our of here. It also snowed about four inches yesterday which is not Buffalo worthy but still more than I prefer (that would be no snow).

The featured image above is one gross and unhealthy thing that I will actually miss: Poutine Fries. Dripping with gravy and cheese curds and served at the mall, it may be the only thing Western Canadians appreciate about Quebec .
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Top 12 Canadian things not found in America (or Malaysia)

Wrapping up our last holiday season in the cold before moving to Malaysia in a few months, Diane and I headed south from Edmonton and spent New Year’s Eve in Calgary with her family. Reminiscing about my six years as an American expat in Canada, I began reflecting on all the Canadian businesses either gone or gobbled up by American corporations. Asking most Canadians what defines their identity usually yields the proud response “We’re not American”. While that may still be true, scores of major Canadian industry staples including Molsons, Tim Hortons and The Bay allowed themselves to merge into American corporations with little fanfare.

canadaolympicsSadly, a post 9/11 world dominated by the world’s only superpower desperately clinging to keep their global status intact means citizens of Canada have little or no say in the Americanization of their proud nation. Fortunately, there are always some icons that simply can’t exist in the mighty American homeland for various reasons from political correctness issues to culinary taste differences. Sharing my own personal list of favorite Canadian things not found in The States, I offer up the following list and wish everyone a happy and healthy 2015.

Sidenote: Only Americans call it “America”. The rest of the world refers to the USA as “The States”, probably so they can also disassociate themselves and be “not American”.

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Home is where the puck drops

First, I have to acknowledge our deep sadness and try not to freak out too much as news from the Air Asia tragedy unfolds. It almost seems like something is pushing us not to end up in Malaysia but we also understand that all travel entails inherent risk so for now we offer condolences and move on. After returning to California we only have about 90 days until we file MM2H paperwork and see where life goes from there.

On a cheerier note I wanted to share a few brief thoughts and pictures on being back in my pseudo-nation and first expat experience. Having left Edmonton after Christmas with Diane’s family, we’re back in Calgary where we spent six years of our lives.

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Boxing Day: Then and Now

Recalling my first Boxing Day Blowout extravaganza as a newly minted American expat living in Canada brings back memories of sleeplessness, blurry eyed crazed Canadians standing in minus 25 temperatures and packed parkades at 4 AM. (sidenote for Americans: A parking garage in Canada is a parkade. Yeah, I didn’t know that either.) Contrasting sharply with America, Christmas day in Canada is not for hitting the movies, watching the annual NBA holiday matchup or drinking yourself into a stupor and sleeping until Noon the next day. Preparing for the mad dash known as Boxing Day, the Canadian version of Black Friday, was all that counted.

 My in-laws street in Edmonton

My in-laws street in Edmonton

Arriving for my first holiday dinner with new in-laws in Edmonton back in 2000, I discovered that families hung out with each other all day chatting about insignificant but conversational issues and watched the Yule Log while waiting for the big holiday meal. Strangely devoid of normal music, there was nothing but Christmas carols on the radio even on the classic rock station. Mystified, I opened the door to reach for the morning paper, but learned that the newspapers didn’t publish an edition on December 25th.

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