Archive for March 1, 2012

I am a keen and constant observer of the ex patriot community in whatever country I happen to travel to. Ex-pats, as they’re known, come in a great variety, from loathsome scum and those on the run from the law ,  garden variety foreign experts and specialists on a temporary work permit, longer term travelers and the retired foreigner who has decided to live where his pension will buy a slightly better lifestyle than in the high cost high tax country where he/she earned his/her retirement income. It is in the not so subtle differentiation between the groups that things ‘get interesting’. The ex pat community is like an English garden, a bit of an eclectic mish mash. you should learn to smell the flowers , avoid the poisonous weeds and know when to ‘walk away’. I have met everything from Swedish military service resisters to hard core Euro thugs, never mind the ones that are just plain crazy and admitted to burning their homes down for the insurance money.  I’m sure there many others I didn’t meet and identify because of my built in avoidance system. After a few years in the third world you’ll develop a radar for out of place characters. By resisting the urge to converse with every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun you will be doing yourself a great favor.

At the very bottom of the hierarchy, hiding in the weeds, are the sexual deviants and general perverts who are either  hiding from the law in their own countries for past misdeeds or  continue to look for opportunity among the weakest and most impoverished where they are . People who have read my past blogs know that I do not agree with or condone the sex trade or exploitation of anyone on any level, but I won’t rework that brutal ground today. Tourists who transition whores into girlfriends and then attempt to act out a bizarre state of normalcy for peer respect are just pathetic. C’mon you think we can’t tell?  Do you think any normal woman from any decent society wants to hang out with a whore and her John? The endemic corruption of the third world  allows this scum to perpetuate their misdeeds for an indeterminate period of time when local police officials continue to look the other way if bribed to do so. The idea that a loser can rent a woman for any period of time for whatever reason is still pathetic. There is a cross section of the ex pat community who decide to marry their favorite whore, this is fodder for another show folks.

The criminal element of the community  uses the anonymity of distance to hide themselves from their past. But to be fair there are a great many international criminals who have chosen Canada as a place to hide or avoid prosecution. It is not only the third world that attracts bad guys. Here it is a question of finances, places like Thailand usually see’s the criminals who have not done very well and they need to live cheap. It is not unusual to see that some western scumbag has been identified by an Interpol sweep and arrested after pretending to live as an upstanding citizen among us. There are petty criminals ,  all the way to terrorists, murderers, pedophiles  and rapists hiding in sunny vacation spots. There are a great many fraudsters, embezzlers and con artists who embed themselves into the community and pretend to be ‘retired businessmen’. If anyone offers you a ‘great deal’ on a penny stock, run for it!

A new resident  looking for acquaintance and friendship should learn to choose such relationships with great care and aforethought. The local people have a built in radar for such characters after being exposed to them and their misdeeds time and time again long before you came. These people will try to gain your trust by association and take advantage of you if you allow them into your life. If the locals seem standoffish for the first few months, don’t despair, it’s not that they don’t like you. They are likely watching you carefully and comparing you to the ones who’ve come before. Unfortunately, in places like Thailand, there has been such a long history of visitation to the country by the low life of the west that a great many Thai have stereotyped westerners as drunks and bad characters. The worst of the expats know that you might be looking to establish some sort of social network and be seeking to use that apparent vulnerability against you. Don’t think they haven’t haven’t tried to con the locals. When a local person has been taken advantage of they tell the entire town, it’s like a jungle drum, the entire local community then becomes wary of foreigners for the misdeeds of a few.

There are always the few westerners who have been dropped from membership of their own societies because they either can’t or won’t learn to control their behavior and who is looking for a move to the third world in an attempt to reinvent themselves. Sorry, being a loser can’t be washed away with an airline ticket. In many cases, the loneliness they felt at home is intensified by the isolation they will experience in the new country and they fall prey to the lifestyle of a drunk and ‘beer bar personality’ to compensate. It seems to be a guilt free choice because you don’t have your peers to reckon with. If you were to become a perpetual drunk at home, or a pervert, someone might speak to you about it, here, no one cares and these people slip into darkness as easily as an ATM card slides into the bank machine.

This has been my experience worldwide. My advice is to travel with a friend, a spouse, or a good book and not look for undying friendship amongst the expats until such time as one or two has proven they can be trusted. Otherwise, get a hobby, take up an interest, wait to meet some real people. Among the expats look first for the obvious signs of an imbalance, drunkenness, a perpetual hunger for whores or other seedy past times. Their conversations may be continually fixated towards perversion or their particular deviancy. They always want you to join them. They may express a deep seated misogyny or dislike for other ‘races’. It’s  strange behavior to find western racists choosing to live among the very people they express such a dislike for. I have heard men calling their live in girlfriends ‘monkey’s and express a dislike of local women generally.

This reminds me of other idiocy’s such as Mel Gibson’s rant against the Jews in Hollywood. C ‘mon Mel, Hollywood was built by Jews, get over it. Obvious these illness go much deeper. These kinds of people don’t need your company, they need to be locked up  receiving mandated therapy. What I find abhorrent is that these men try to hide their sordid conversations regarding race relations ‘just between the two of you’ and become foul mouthed only behind closed doors as if you are party to some secret club where it’s ‘us and them’. I take great pleasure in telling anyone who starts talking stupid to shut up and leaving them without another word.

What is considered to be anti social behavior in the west is still anti social behavior in the third world. People in this part of the world are very moral and upstanding. These societies have been subverted by a history of poverty. As I have said in other blogs it is refreshing to see that so many millions of people have been lifted of of poverty in countries like Thailand. Think about it for a moment, would you take your wife for a night out in your own country to a watering hole or house party where the attendee’s were all drunkards, criminal and johns in the company of whores? Of course not, so why would you do it while you’re away. Trust me, these people are no more palatable here than they would be there.This is not the days of empire my friend, just because these people are your countrymen or share the same race and skin colour does not mandate that you associate with them. Be a smart traveler. Just because some people live in a separate reality does not mean that you have to when traveling away from home.

I grew up in the white bread world of the 1950’s. As a child the only spices I was aware of were salt and pepper. On special occasions we had cinnamon toast laced with sugar as a rare treat. Food was  bland and eaten quickly around a smoky table.  Potato’s, of course were an every day staple. My father brought fifty kilo sacks home from the farmers markets. Every household had stacks of burlap potato sacks stored somewhere . They would come out on ‘sports day’ at the local schools. This Canadian penchant for the potato was how ‘sack races’ came to be. Boiled and mashed at night then fried until crispy with leftovers into hash for breakfast, the humble knob was at least filling. For flavouring, ketchup was king. It would be many years before I would understand the art and pleasure of taking to the table for recreation.

I don’t blame my parents for the blase and tasteless repertoire of plain foods they supplied. In the Canada of my youth, before the advent of immigration from the various Asia’s and America’s, there was little market variety available aside from the  seasonal farmers fare of our traditional European heritage. Baked or fried, boiled and poached, meat, vegetables and starch were the limits of our gastronomic universe. Exotic meant pasta smothered with butter in my house. The food we ate was supposed to ‘stick to your ribs’.

Our diet was heavily meat-centric, most families had large freezers in the basement of their homes stocked with whole sides of beef or pork. If you wanted sausage or head cheese, you made your own with a hand cranked grinder. The days of long distance reefers bringing fresh fruit out of season from California or Mexico were yet to come. Mothers canned their preserves in the fall for the winters fare. Asian fruits and cuisine were magazine fiction.

It was common for men to hunt in those days and bring home sections of venison and moose. My parents  likely counted themselves fortunate to have refrigeration. My grandmother was still using ice chests and a system of mesh contained cooling cabinets that hung off the shady back porch. For my grandfather, green didn’t mean inedible. In the suburb of Vancouver BC where I grew up we were still visited by ‘the milk man’ who came by in a horse drawn cart. My, how things have changed in the 21st century.

When I am not out in the world working as a travel writer, I live in the city of Richmond BC. It’s a vibrant place that has whole heartedly welcomed the popular change in diversity that Canadians from coast to coast have  embraced. If urban economics had a seasonal adjustment then Richmond would be enjoying a spectacular spring. We have blossomed into renewed development  primarily driven by the popularity of this special location among  new residents who have chosen Canada as their  home.

As opposed to my parents generation who might have had one grocery store per community, Richmond has a burgeoning supply of new commercial ventures  focused on food, the product of new residents who have brought with them their cuisine and supply chains from all parts of the world. In the space of a few minutes walk  we lucky denizens of this active community can shop for fresh produce and condiments from around the globe. Try the store  Big Crazy on Number Three Road for dried foods and packaged snacks fit for every Asian palate.

Our new citizens can cook ! The fact is that I can visit a restaurant or kiosk for an exquisite meal of some exotic origin for the same price and in many cases less expensive than I can cook for two at home. In the Richmond Public Market a couple can eat for less than ten dollars at any of the dozens of kiosks serving up freshly cooked healthy meals. As empty nesters, my wife and I avail ourselves of this luxury quite frequently. Gone are the days of heading down to the basement with a large pot and hauling up a load of potato’s to be peeled.

While in other cities, where the planners  have spread out commercial development into silo’s across a wide area, Richmond has allowed for a degree of comfortable concentration. This makes it easy for us budding gastronomes to hunt and peck through a wide spectrum of offerings with little need for an automobile . Eating out often in the community also means that we can enjoy the healthy exercise of walking  home after a meal . Richmond’s naturally flat geography is the perfect spot for avid walkers like Patricia and I. We eat, we walk, it’s delightful. Did you know that residents of Richmond have a longer life expectancy than many Canadian urbanites?

At the present time there is an emphasis on cuisine from the Orient. Within the Asian community there is also great diversity. We have foods from Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Hong Kong and all areas of Mainland China. You’re in for a treat if you decide to make the rounds of the Richmond Public Market which is a veritable United Nations of Asian cuisine. Do try the green onion flat bread, a northern Chinese specialty, it’s delicious. If you’d like a traditional sweet and sour pork, they have that too at Captain Wah’s.

Our entrepreneurs are an international representation from many countries . There is as well an evolution in the types of  regional foods available that changes with the recency in origin of the peoples who come here. Richmond’s entry level food courts are witness to this phenomenon. Within the course of a five minute walk in any direction from Richmond’s popular downtown that is centered around Number Three Road and Westminster Highway  there is much to be discovered.

We have attracted bakers by the dozen, the smell of fresh baked treats wafts through the air as you walk . I am partial to warm Dan Tat, the traditional egg custard tarts of southern Canton. Coconut filled Gai  Mei Bau sweet buns and Char Sui Bau rolls filled with spicy meat paste are two of the most popular varieties that originate in southern China.  Philippine’s influenced bakeries like New Town offer traditional foods from that region.  Traditional breads and buns come in quantity at Cobb’s for those who seek the highest quality loaf. For those of you who hanker after Western Food, Richmond is home to every franchise you can think of visiting. The White Spot at Richmond Center is a Vancouver area tradition for hamburgers and sandwich fare. Great coffee shops and those that serve full menu’s like Tim Horton’s are all here.

Excellent dim sum houses dot the commercial centers, very busy on the weekends, with the biggest rush for seats between 11 and 2 on Saturdays and Sunday’s, come for the convivial atmosphere and the delicious dumplings averaging $3 dollars a serving. Varied cuisines from Schezwan to Mongolian and Turkish to a traditional hot sandwich at Bob’s, that is run by a very congenial couple from Japan,  defies complete description.   My wife Patricia who originally hails from Hong Kong assures me that the Cantonese food in Richmond is every bit as good as what we’d find in Hong Kong. Legend has it that Hong Kong’s greatest chefs have all immigrated to Canada and live in Richmond.

As newcomers ‘getting their feet wet’ in the Canadian business culture budding restauranteurs take up temporary residence in  kiosk outlets like the Richmond Public Market, Yaohan Center and Parker Place as  places to garner a clientele before expanding into a stand alone restaurant.  Number Three Road, is lined with smaller intersecting malls and commercial plaza’s where sidewalks and stairwells are pathways and open doors to popular new gathering places where people  meet to find their favorite  meals and socialize. Matsuyama Sushi caters to a younger crowd by offering menu items at 50% off after 9 PM. There always seems to be adequate parking because of the turnover.

I am truly excited about my life as a ‘foodie’ in Richmond. I appreciate the ease and efficiency that  city planners have built into the new urban lifestyle of our community. At present I am ‘on assignment’ in Bangkok Thailand writing about food and lifestyle. This Asian mega city of 15 million  naturally developed an unparallelled  obsession devoted to the enjoyment of eating.  Gastronomy among the Thai is a social medium, a cherished part of their culture and a respected art form. Food courts built for thousands are where families and friends go to meet and indulge themselves in the joy of dining ‘al fresco’, children are welcomed to make noise! The streets of my neighborhood are lined with open carts offering delicious specialties at night for very reasonable prices. No reservations necessary.

When we return to Richmond in the spring we know that we won’t be starved for great food. We have a  list of all our favorite places . I like to start my day with rice and chicken congee with sweet Hong Kong style tea. Later on we’ll  walk  a few doors down to the super friendly Happy Date restaurant for fried Singapore style spicy noodles with beef and the great ice coffee that comes free with every meal, it’s a Richmond institution. They will also cook your fresh fish to perfection if you bring it in for dinner. Buy a few large Dungeness Crab next door at ‘The Great One’ supermarket and have it cooked Hong Kong style with creamy garlic sauce by the chef’s for a few dollars a pound. Right across the street is the very popular produce store, Wah Shang, which is a terrific place to find your fresh local  varieties of Asian vegetables, many grown right in Richmond.

In the afternoon I might visit the ‘Fresh Food’ market at Cambie and Number 5 road for the ingredients to a spicy Indian Masala with crispy fried paneer and mango chutney. If we’ve had a swim at the Minoru Aquatic Center that day then we might stroll over to the Richmond Public market and have a bubble tea at Peanuts. I’m quite happy when I look at the Yellow Pages for restaurants in Richmond and find that it resembles an alphabet soup of indulgent choices. Even my appreciation for the lonesome potato can be enjoyed if I exercise , McDonald’s first Canadian franchise at Number 3 and Granville makes great french fries. I can’t wait .

© 2011 J West Hardin aka Wayne Olson- Poet, Novelist, Travel Writer, Travel Blogger, You Tuber, contributor to ‘hackwriters’, Columnist for ‘The Travel Itch’ magazine