Approaching the last five days of living in suburban San Francisco, Diane enjoyed her last week of work while I began to pack. Surprisingly, as I laid it all out and opened the two pieces of luggage that will make the trip to Malaysia, it suddenly looked like less than I thought. Unusually big, the good suitcase we purchased for international travel comes equipped for this kind of move with secret little zippered compartments everywhere. After a cup of tea and some contemplation, I set out to experiment and found myself with room to spare. Satisfied I haven’t over-packed despite all the comments from experienced expats, I zipped it all up and left it in the corner of the house, now devoid of everything except one stupid couch (to be donated) and the furniture the buyers agreed to buy from us (the entire bedroom set, two lamps, two coffee tables).
Having finished my task earlier than expected, I decided to share a post dedicated to the good experiences we’ve had in California since returning from Canada in 2007. Knowing I’ve focused on a deteriorating quality of life coupled with prices that are nowhere in line with the average salary, please note that California does have a lot to offer should anyone be lucky enough to have any cash left for leisure activities. Offering everything from majestic mountains to ocean beaches, California features majestic mountains including two relatively unknown national parks for those that hate the crowds of Yosemite. For beach lovers, there’s 700 miles of coastline including the relatively unknown Northern coastline. Parents never run out of stuff to do with kids and even childless couples like us enjoy Disneyland, Universal Studios and The San Diego Zoo. With the best aquarium on the West Coast and America’s premier wine country, Diane and I enjoyed our share of the state’s best attractions over the years.
Knowing many of you are partaking in colorful celebrations this week, Diane and I would like to extend a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to everyone no matter where you are. Sadly, I am sitting at a mostly empty house in the very non-Asian town of Walnut Creek, California waiting for February to end so we can finally sell this house, file our MM2H Visa and get the heck out of Dodge City. (Sorry: One last cheesy American slang expression). Although San Francisco does put on the largest Chinese New Year’s Parade in America, The Experimental Expats will be celebrating with some frozen Kung-Pao Chicken and Fried Rice courtesy of Trader Joes, our local processed food mecca. Can you see why it’s time to get outta here?
Of course America never does anything the way the rest of The Earth does so unlike much of Asia where businesses shut down for a week allowing for family celebrations, today is a normal two-hour commute here in the land of Never Ending Work. In fact, the so-called “Chinese New Year Parade” will be held on March 7th, a full ten days after the real holiday. Why? Because this nation stops for nothing, works through everything and believes that life is about obtaining the most material objects possible and then never retiring to enjoy anything anyway. Stores are open on Thanksgiving Day and it’s only a matter of time until someone invents a way to keep retail alive on Christmas Day.
So for now, we spend our last Chinese New Year in a very non-Chinese environment and look forward to spending 2016 among thousands of revelers that understand the true meaning of the holiday. Taking some time to reflect on one’s life and look towards the future represents the true spirit of Chinese New Year (along with some red envelopes of course). With apologies for the bastardized American pronunciation which is a Cantonese version:
Gung Hay Fat Choy !!
Coming next: The adventure starts as vendors arrive to pretty up our house
A funny thing happened on the way to the Christmas dinner table at Diane’s relatives house. There was no dinner. Spending our last holiday season in the cold before we move to Malaysia in the spring, Diane and I heard the news through the family grapevine.
Although both her parents are relatively fit and healthy, they’ve apparently decided that 80 is the magic age where parents get to say “I’m too old to cook anymore”. Fortunately, there’s always been a solution and for a Chinese-Jewish couple, it’s almost sacrilegious NOT to engage in the traditional Christmas Feast at a Chinese restaurant. Invented in New York City, Christmas Day Chinese dinner represents the busiest day of the year for a Chinese restaurant, sans perhaps Chinese New Year. Welcoming both religious, non-religious and those Jews somewhere in-between, Chinese entrepreneurs figured out long ago that the Jewish community has a lot of money, celebrates their own holiday season on eight different days that never fall on December 25th and best of all, Jewish people love Chinese food.
Financially speaking, moving from the USA to Canada in 2001 was a very smart move, assuming the bulk of your assets were in US Dollars. Luckily, Diane and I left California for Calgary soon after we met during the weakest stretch for the Canadian Dollar in over 50 years. Exchanging one dollar meant receiving back almost $1.58, saving us almost $20,000 on the down payment of our first house. Conversely, when we sold the house for double what we paid only six years later and moved back to California, theLoonie(Canada’s currency) strengthened so much that we received about $0.93 US back for every $1.00 Canadian. Had it remained the same, it would barely have made sense to sell.
Recently, I posted about the Malaysian ministry enforcing stricter income verification policies for MM2H applicants that might potentially spell trouble for Americans. Issued as a ten-year social visit pass renewable indefinitely, the MM2H is an attractive long-term visa not requiring any “visa runs” like neighboring Thailand, albeit with more paperwork and much larger financial requirements. Navigating the tedious procedure and emailing Joy-Stay, (our agent) for six months now, I’m thinking we may have finally hit a patch of bad timing through no fault of our own. Almost too coincidentally, an ambiguously written notice from Bank of America arrived last week describing what sounds like a mass consolidation of bank branches that might be a nail in the coffin for the ministry’s “verification letter” from our financial institution.
Surrounded by a sea of overgrown green even Kermit The Frog would consider too much, our newly hired “stager” parked her moderately priced car in front of our house and quickly surveyed the project. Unclear why a house in the San Francisco suburbs that’s in excellent condition needs a major outside overhaul, Diane and I recently gave in to our real estate agent’s wishes and agreed to a major exterior cleanup project. Having successfully found a great app to sell our crap, we even raised enough cash to pay for the project.
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Classified as “Mediterranean Climate”, the inland suburbs of San Francisco are a paradise for gardeners, botanists and undocumented workers that do every conceivable form of maintenance seven days a week. Literally the ONLY homeowners in our entire neighborhood that refuse to pay for yard work, a task our generation grew up doing ourselves, we admit that our quarter acre corner lot is a bit “overgrown”. Regardless of cut-rate prices charged by unskilled laborers that generally live an “all cash” lifestyle, given the choice between retiringearly in Malaysia versus or up with the neighbors, the choice was always a no-brainer.
Years before Diane and I planned to retire early and try expat life in Penang, I was sitting in my little studio apartment in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Waiting for age 50 to qualify for an MM2H Visa was a quarter century in the future, Like almost everyone else, I had a cold beer in hand as I watched game three of The 1989 “Bay Bridge World Series” between the San Francisco Giants and The Oakland A’s, their cross-bay rivals. Only 24 years old and brand new to San Francisco, my world rocked violently as the earth shook for what seemed like an eternity. (It was actually only 16 seconds long.)
Today, October 17th, 2014, marks the twenty-five year anniversary of the earthquake officially known as “Loma Prieta” but remembered as “the almost big one” for those of us who experienced it. Knowing California’s building standards are superior to many less fortunate densely populated areas of the globe, I’d be remiss if I wrote a post about my hardships although 63 people did die and damage was very high by American standards. But there was no internet yet and many fellow bloggers might have been in diapers on that infamous day, therefore I’ve chosen to commemorate the occasion by sharing my experience as best I remember it. I’ve included some short You Tube videos worth watching if you’ve never seen coverage of the event. Continue reading →
Diane and I live here until we flee for Malaysia in the spring of 2015
Unfortunately, Walnut Creek, California lies about 25 miles west and with a $20 price tag just to get there, house husbands living on their wife’s salary for another six months don’t spend an awful lot of time in San Francisco. Convincing city people why suburban life has its rewards is often daunting. Recently, I underwent surgery to repair a hernia and the rehabilitation created a perfect opportunity to share a little piece of our suburban utopia before embarking to the chaos and excitement of Malaysia. Continue reading →