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.
23 kilogram limit: mostly food
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.
Filed under the mostly boring topic of returning to North America for the first time, I apologize ahead of time for the cushy little post about what we did on our winter vacation. In keeping with my blog’s slightly edgy but realistic views, I’ll start by pointing out that Americans worried about immigration can chill out because apparently, every immigrant bound for North America has mysteriously landed in Western Canada. In only eighteen months, the whitest place I’ve ever lived in morphed into a multi cultural center of ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Strolling through the streets and malls, we’ve seen literally thousands of non white immigrants blending in just perfectly with Canadians. Mostly dark-skinned Africans, head dressed Muslims from every conceivable nation and Hindus from nations other than India, it seems the like first course of action for the Trudeau administration was to stick it to the Trumpsters by letting tens thousands of immigrants call Canada their home.
Canadian version of Malaysian wildlife
Being Canada, nobody cares, argues, stares, protests, tweets, spews hatred or otherwise argues. And much to the chagrin of angry white American voters, its obvious after one day visiting that not only are they all peaceful and appreciative to be here, they’re all employed and contributing to the local economy. Where there used to be teenage white kids staffing retail stores and old Indian men sweeping streets and filling custodial jobs, now there are Senegails, Gambians, Bangladeshis, middle easterners and oh, yeah, thousands of Syrians that the Canadian government welcomed with open arms. Demographically speaking, it makes sense because in every developed nation, someone has to do the service jobs and just like American teens, Canadian kids have grown out of mall jobs and now probably earn online income to support their insatiable smartphone habits.
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.
Ah, real coffee again
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.
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.
It was bound to happen. Anyone familiar with Western Canadian weather knows that even after two weeks of perfect summer-like conditions, the big change is right around the corner. Arriving in Calgary after a quick and easy drive down the highway known as the QE2, (named after the Queen which I never understood since nobody in Canada knows anything about royalty), we stopped for coffee and soaked up the 28 degree perfection. Almost willing to doubt the enormous provincial wide change in weather they’d been talking about for a week , I cringed at the thought of going from hot summer conditions to freezing rain, sleet, cold wind and two weeks of late winter crap. Hoping our last trip to Calgary during the holidays would be the last time in the cold, my memory of life in the Canadian prairies has apparently faded fast.
Naturally, as if to rub it in our faces that we had clothing only for suitable Malaysian heat and tropical humidity, we somehow time warped into another month, waking up to ominous dark clouds and a temperature fit for making snowmen. Never getting used to the insanely ridiculous weather changes associated with life in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, my body instantly revolted and went into a chilled state of confusion that continues today and probably won’t go away until we leave for Vancouver next week. While the rest of North America enjoys the last week of summer, we’ll be hopping in the car and retreating to the comfort of the warm cozy mall or hitting the gym for some fitness classes.
Although Edmonton has more summer festivals, most people know Calgary thanks to the world-famous Calgary Stampede. Easily the biggest event if the year, the annual rodeo, grandstand shows and carnival attracts thousands of tourists from around the world. Although businesses don’t technically shut down like Chinese New Year in Asian countries, most employees break out some casual western wear and many companies hold pancake breakfasts or other events to celebrate the event. Basically nothing gets done during Stampede Week and I learned from experience that the best time to do any business with the Federal Government is during Stampede Week when the offices are empty and the staff members are happy. Taking advantage of this, I brought my permanent residency application to the office in July, 2001, where a cheerful agent pulled it from a pile of dozens of others, giving me instant residency status and a welcome message of “Welcome to Canada”. Perhaps the fastest landed immigrant in the nation, it took less than two months to become an American expat in Canada
Winding up two weeks spent squaring at Diane’s parents house in Edmonton, Alberta, Diane and I anticipated her mom spending two days cooking a specialty item hardly made by anyone under 60 anymore. In the spirit of an Anthony Bourdain episode in Penang where he visited someone who cooked an obsolete dish practically gone from existence due to the time and effort involved, we ate an item known by different names, depending on who does the speaking. Known as Joong in Cantonese, Zoongi in Mandarin and Bahtzang in Taiwanese, it’s basically sticky rice and a host of interesting items wrapped in a green leaf similar to a banana leaf. Understanding the ingredients takes some poking around and I believe the main items are Chinese sausage, peanuts, pork fat, dried split mung beans, dried shrimp , duck eggs and chestnuts.
Having spent a week in British Columbia and a week in Alberta, I’ve observed how different the two provinces are. Part of the problem with living in Canada is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Aside from higher taxes in exchange for socialized health care, a GST that raises the price of your Starbucks latte by about 89 cents and the metric system that’s not completely used in consumer products, certain things are strikingly different depending on where you live in this enormous country. In the spirit of the now defunct David Letterman show, here’s my Top 10 List of differences between Alberta and British Columbia.