Tag Archives: Vancouver

Shopping spree

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

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.

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Climate Change; Literally

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

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.

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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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Night and Day

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.

I shortened it a bit.

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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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What is this wet stuff?

Knowing the unseasonably beautiful weather wouldn’t last because this is Canada, Diane and I spent some time walking around over the past few days enjoying the amazingly green lush trails of South Surrey, British Columbia. Spoiled by long days at this latitude, when it’s nice in BC it’s spectacular. Climatically speaking, this is one of the highest growing zones for plant life and even the smallest seed will likely turn into some sort of beautiful blossom. Never knowing this part of the province existed, South Surrey is a suburban enclave that resembles where we just lived only greener and featuring modern two-story houses that are about 50 years newer than anything in Walnut a Creek. But all good things come to an end and as I awoke this morning, I stepped out on the patio and a heavy rainfall jolted me, even though it was nowhere to be found in the Yahoo weather prediction for the greater Vancouver area. After about four days of rain in one year living in drought stricken California, it felt like a new experience

The easy life

Enjoying a snooze on the patio

Undaunted, Diane and I are meeting the first blog contact of our newly retired life this morning at a local Starbucks. Coincidentally, she’s a young Canadian woman who recently travelled to Vietnam and Indonesia, visiting almost all the places I’m sure we’d want to explore and she happens to also be staying with friends in the area.  We also bought plane tickets yesterday from Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific Airlines. Scheduled to leave on June 29th at 2:00 AM, the flights are similar to the San Francisco flights to Asia only much fuller due to the heavy Chinese population in Western Canada. An email conversation with our amazingly cool banker at HSBC Malaysia confirmed an appointment upon arrival for us to open our local bank account and explore downtown KL for one day as tourists before heading to Penang to search for an apartment. Having been contacted earlier this year by a sales rep from the Novatel KL City Centre Hotel interested in offering us discounted rates in exchange for a plug on the blog, I’m hoping to take him up on the offer.

Celebrating a second retirement party for Diane, our gracious friend hosted a barbeque last night with mostly healthy items like chicken, grilled veggies and salmon. Enjoying the perfect late afternoon sunshine that looks like it will never arrive after nine hours of dreary low clouds, everyone enjoyed the marinated meats and veggies while I watched game five of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Third round.  Expecting hockey withdrawal to set in after a while, we planned on staying in Canada at least until someone hoists the Stanley Cup overhead before leaving for a county where ice is found only at hawker stands serving chendol.  For anyone that cares, the New York Rangers lost in a shutout to the Tampa Bay Lightning despite having the home ice advantage.

Using today as a transition, it’s time to do some laundry, pack for another 900 mile drive across the province albeit with gas prices 40% higher than the last trip, and spend a night in Jasper, Alberta before heading to Edmonton. Exemplifying the craziness of Canadian weather, the forecast is 27 degrees Celsius for those next two days with abundant sunshine followed by 9 degree plummet with rain coming for the weekend. Remembering that Canadians spend their first summer long weekend camping in the snow, the temperature usually skyrockets up right as everyone heads back to work and this year was no different. Hoping to catch a morning in the most gorgeous hot springs you’ve ever seen without needing a winter coat and umbrella, we plan on staying one night in a hotel before squatting at Diane’s parents house for a while.

imageSo the first week of house squatting has come and gone in the blink of an eye and it’s time to waste some more time further east. Unfortunately our friend’s cabin in the lake an hour outside of Edmonton is already being occupied by another squatter whose house is apparently under construction making it highly unlikely we’ll be enjoying any serenity through cabin life anytime soon. Very disappointed, it looks like we’ll be acting like newly married kids staying at the parents house because we can’t afford to go anywhere else. Comfortable enough, this is not my first preference but adapting to unexpected situations is clearly part of being an Experimental Expat so I suppose this is an early lesson.  Hoping for some sunshine, cheers for now from Western Canada

Quick postscript:

Having constructed this unpublished post before our above referenced meeting, I wanted to give a huge plug and enormous thank you to Jordan for meeting us today. Along with her friends Ben and Mark, Jordan generously offered almost three hours to share some information about her trip, blogging and life on the road. Promising we’d stay in touch and help promote each other’s blogs and interests, I want to share a link to her awesome blog covering the trip to Southeast Asia that covers the adventures she enjoyed overseas. Titled The Travel Years,  Jordan’s story is well worth your time. Please pay it a visit. A more insightful post about the advantages of meeting blog contacts will follow but since we’re heading out on the road tomorrow, I’ll revisit the topic when I can devote more attention to it.

Calling any expats in Malaysia willing to help us negotiate the first few weeks in July; Please use our contact page to connect or share whatever you can as comments 

One Last Road Trip

And now it’s time to say goodbye to California, the USA and eventually the Western Hemisphere. With everything we own now in four suitcases, two backpacks and a couple of small gym bags, we bid a fond farewell to Walnut Creek, California early this morning. Dropping the keys and the garage clickers into the mail slot, we locked the door one last time and closed another chapter of life. Reflecting on the last seven years and three months, I think we’ll miss the comfort of the quiet neighborhood but ultimately those of us with no kids simply don’t have the same special sentimental memories in a house as parents whose lives are often influenced by the precious time spent watching children grow up in a house. Considered just another successful investment, our house served us well but with no real ties to The San Francisco Bay Area, moving on makes perfect sense.

BorderCrossingAs you read this, we’ll be somewhere on I-5, the enormous 1,300 mile highway that starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Peace Arch, a ceremonial park in Blaine, Washington dedicated to the friendship between Canada and the United States. Not really in any great hurry, we’ll stay overnight somewhere in Washington before preparing for the presentation of yet more paperwork to not one but two different Customs Offices (as if 114 pages for the MM2H wasn’t enough). Recently changing to a ridiculous new system designed to cut paperwork, all Americans wishing to export anything at all must now file a special form on a newfangled electronic system. Sadly, Canada may as well be Zimbabwe from the government’s point of view  so vehicle exportation falls under their new rules. Naturally, the simplified system is so complicated that it requires an individual to get an EIN (employee identification number) from one place, register on the export system and even take a test to make sure you “understand the system” before you’re allowed to go ahead with the process.

Typical of most everything, those of us too frustrated or lazy to deal with all this (myself), can simply pay $200 and have a Customs Broker do the filing. Unfortunately, one still has to follow the rest of the rules that include

1) Driving to the truck border, parking in a lot and walking ten minutes to the US Customs Office. Of course you can only do this on certain times and days.

2)  Surrendering the aforementioned form as well as the vehicle’s original title and bill of sale to a Customs Officer

3) Obtaining a stamp to be presented to the Canadian Customs Officer confirming that the US government has allowed the privilege of exporting a car back into the country that it was both manufactured and purchased from

4) Driving another half mile, waiting hours behind enormous 18 wheel semis with mounds of paperwork and finally being told to park the car in a different lot and proceed to the Canadian Customs office.

5) Paying yet another fee, this time to a Canadian agency called the RIV (Register of Imported Vehicles).

6) Obtaining a “Form 1” which proves to any Canadian province that your vehicle went through the insane process of “legal importation” back to the country it came from.

Fortunately, it will ultimately be my in-laws problems about what to do next for re-registeration in Alberta. Before that, however, Diane and I will spend some time with a friend in the Vancouver area, drive across the province via Jasper National Park, stay with Diane’s parents in Edmonton for a while, relax at a family friend’s cabin for a week or two and finally meander back to Calgary, the city where we purchased our first house.

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Eventually, six or eight weeks will have passed since we filed our MM2H Visa for residency in Malaysia so we’ll finally buy one way plane tickets to Penang via Vancouver/Hong Kong and get on with being Experimental Expats for real. Until then, I apologize if the format of my posts is not up my usual standards since I’ve not yet mastered posting via an IPad. And I’m sorry for the delay in getting on with the expat blog (although technically I’m an expat while in Canada). Once again, thanks to all for the amazing support, patience and continued readership.

Cheers for now from the interstate !!