Tag Archives: shopping

Trading Hours

Before we even knew we slept, morning broke on the Tasmanian horizon and as promised, we hopped out of bed and prepared for the hard but rewarding experience of “trading” at Salamanca Market. Only having arrived the afternoon before, Ann already put us to work peeling 88 pounds of beetroot (simply known as “beets” in the USA and Canada) before dinner. Still tired from touring Melbourne, we wiped the slumber away and brewed a cup of strong coffee in the little one cup plunger Ann supplied us with in the lunchroom.

Dawn breaks in Tasmania

Thinking I’d have to go to work smelly, I forgot Tasmania is probably further south of the equator than Edmonton is north of it so fortunately the dawn breaks almost two hours earlier than Penang and by 5:15 AM there’s plenty of light to make your way from the small cabin into the bathroom (about 200 feet away) for a quick shower. Incredibly lucky with the weather, we may have picked the best week of the Southern summer and our day at the market was warm and sunny with very little wind. At 6:15 on the dot, Ann emerged from the main house and we all piled into the Market Buggy.

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Celebrate Independence, Malaysia !!!

Selemat Hari Merdeka !!

For those unfamiliar, today is the 58th anniversary of Malaysian Independence. It’s a national holiday but not quite as crowded in our little tourist town as Hari Raya (the end of Ramadan). Generally speaking, expats should steer clear of local politics but I feel it’s appropriate to wish Malaysian a happy day and hope they all put aside the many challenges facing their nation for one day and focus on all the positive things that make this multi-cultural nation worth living in. Having said that, I’ll return to our KL Summer Vacation trip that was actually to complete our MM2H visa, allowing us ten years of unlimited entry and exit in this great place. Haze notwithstanding; that’s the one real downer for me and makes me too aggravated at politicians to bother complaining about it. Let’s just say “fully developed” status (sans China) will never be granted in a place that exposes 29 million citizens to unhealthy levels of toxic ash annually for eight straight weeks while its neighbor engages in illegal burning of its forests for financial convenience.

Thinking my last post describing Kuala Lumpur as an indoor paradise may have sounded a bit harsh, I imagefigured I should clarify. Not necessarily a negative thing, my comments were just observations based on our lifestyle choices and since we don’t need a big city for work, Penang happens to work better for us. In fairness, there were many times we came across new and interesting items while strolling the endless maze of malls, shops and eateries. Often wishing Penang had the space or customer base to accommodate such incredible stores as we saw in KL, we thoroughly enjoyed browsing through them all and often wound up sampling foods, buying stuff we had room for in our small travel bags and constantly posting picture on Facebook, hoping our Asian born friends might shed some light. Possibly the biggest and most amazing mega-stores is Isetan. Founded in 1886, this Tokyo based superstore is so immense, it needs space on six different floors of the mall to display everything it sells, including an enormous market dedicated to food.

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Truckin’ by Train

Proving all good things are worth waiting for, our return to the big city culminated with a full-page color stamp in our passports. Exactly 660 days after the Japanese owned and California based bank “eliminated my position” and then mysteriously hired two less experienced people six months later, Diane and I are officially MM2H visa holders. Bypassing all traditional and secure methods of early retirement, we filed the paperwork from overseas as soon as my 50th birthday arrived. Six short weeks after that we sold our overpriced but very comfortable suburban San Francisco Bay Area house, thereby rendering us homeless. Spending six weeks in Canada and probably overstaying our welcome with friends and relatives, we figured we’d take a chance and get a head start, knowing the visa would take about 10 to 12 weeks until we received our “conditional letter of approval”. Defying conventional wisdom according to dozens of forum posters and even our MM2H agent’s advice, we successfully opened a foreign bank account from overseas, bought a one way plane ticket to Malaysia and headed out the door with two suitcases, an Ipad, an Ipad mini and two old Iphone 4S phones that we’d need to replace and bid farewell to our old life in North America.

imageFast forwarding six weeks later, we’d already been settling in to our awesome condo unit in the beachfront town of Batu Ferrenghi when our agent informed us the approval letter came through less than 10 weeks after filing. Allowing applicants six months to complete the rather tedious process of fees, medical check-up, buying medical insurance and placing two fixed deposits (MYR 100,000 and MYR 50,000), we needed to travel to Kuala Lumpur and ultimately to Putrajaya, the Malaysian government centre before our 90 day tourist visa expired or risk having to re-enter so we hit the road last week. Deciding to use the Malaysian train system instead of flying, we packed a week’s worth of light clothes into a newly purchased medium-sized suitcase, ensuring it would fit in the small overhead compartment of the train and contacted our Uber buddy for an early morning pickup. Penang’s airport is rather far from our house and KLIA, in the nation’s capital, is almost an hour away from the downtown core whereas getting to the train only takes a 20 minute drive to the ferry terminal and a 10 minute ride on Southeast Asia’s oldest continuously operating ferry. Conveniently located right at the other side, Butterworth’s train station allows easy access to trains that journey as far south as Singapore and as far north as Bangkok for about the same price or less than Air Asia.

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Shopping spree

So once we had a great place to live it was time to set out for some basic furnishings. Not realizing this was easier said than done, we took the bus and went to Tesco, the island’s leading superstore and the place everyone told us is the obvious choice for all one’s basic needs. Visualizing a British version of Costco, we expected to find all the necessities of home furnishings and then some. Honestly, although the store is big by island standards, the  selection is very mish-moshed and lacks some organizational skills used when it comes to stocking the aisles. But this is Asia and most products are smaller, not as well made as we’re used to and usually not from companies we recognize. And that’s OK by us because it’s part of leaving an old life and starting a new one. Strolling down the aisles, we did find some basic kitchen ware like cutlery, paper towels, a few kitchen gadgets and a relatively solid stoneware dish set. Understanding the budget is part of early retirement, we tabled some of the other items for a mall excursion on another day (more on that later and some lessons learned on disparity of wealth when countries develop quickly as Malaysia has).

Sounds gross but it's actually healthy

Sounds gross but it’s actually healthy

Absent from the juice aisle is almost everything with no sugar added but eventually I stumbled upon some mango juice sweetened only with stevia, marketed with the benefits of stevia’s natural sweetening properties. As the only zero calorie drink available, I bought that and some mangosteen juice with no sugar added (also almost impossible to find In a sugar loving continent). Surprisingly, the fruit selection in Tesco is not as extensive as expected although it’s obvious that wet markets have fresher and cheaper stuff anyway. Additionally, selecting canned tuna, sardines and mackerel is an effort in futility as almost every can has tons of added preservatives, spices, sugar and everything that defeats the purpose of eating healthy protein for breakfast. Settling mostly on canned mackerel, I did find some better options at Cold Storage the next day but the prices run the gamut from dirt cheap to insanely expensive for products that look similar . Trying really hard to avoid the “gourmet products” that I love including everything from pickled items to sausage and deli meats, I reminded myself that food is inexpensive but not when you want European items and brand names. Knowing it’s all there is good enough for me but I simply won’t pay 45 ringgit for my delicious jar of herring in wine sauce and Diane would not be a happy camper if I gave in so for now, I’ll just relate to all the grumbling I read from British expats about the high cost of their native foods.

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I’ll have the Salami Laksa please

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.

imageReturning 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.

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Cultural Pride: Singapore Style

As a new political horizon dawns on Singapore, I find myself reflecting back to our last Singaporean excursion a few years back. Initially planning an exploratory visit to Penang for expat destination research, instead we decided on the glitz, glamour and excitement of the world’s only country where cultural pride involves department stores, cash registers and shopping bags. Maybe we’d been living in Status Symbol Land for too long or perhaps all Americans long for another land where instant gratification at all cost is not only encouraged but practiced by an entire citizenry. Either way, the memories of a beautiful rainforest vacation to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo quickly faded into a five-star adventure at The Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore’s yuppiest enclave. Like Dorothy realizing she’s not in Kansas anymore, we emerged on the Marina Bay Streets determined to find something beyond Orchard Road that made this town tick.

contest photoRealizing this wouldn’t be an easy task, we spent some time reading guidebooks and talking to the impeccably dressed and extremely courteous hotel staff. Explaining that we wanted to experience some cultural aspects of the city, they all seemed confused and understood as much about multicultural life as most Americans understand about anything outside the USA (little to nothing). Undaunted, we left the hotel via an air-conditioned back door hallway which ultimately led to the pristine subway terminal designed to quickly illustrate the difference between Asia’s incredibly beautiful modern infrastructure and The San Francisco Bay Area’s dilapidated obsolete network of crumbling commuter railways. Glancing up at the billboards, the first thing we noticed was the third place winner of a photography contest explaining how Singaporeans love shopping. Yikes. Fortunately, we discovered our favorite two cultures had their own version of Singaporean culture. Having explored and thoroughly enjoyed Little India one day earlier, this time we headed to Chinatown.

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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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