Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A last visit and major packing ahead

Saturday was Brendan and Colin's last visit to the house that was their home throughout their childhoods. This year Colin and Jenny stayed at a motel to avoid the Thanksgiving chaos. They arrived Saturday morning to say goodbye and to let Colin fuel up on coffee. Colin wears a cap over his wet hair in the morning to keep it from drying in 1000 directions. Brendan, who had just gotten up, let me snap a picture with his hair going in many directions.

Both Brendan and Colin left with their car trunks and back seats filled. Something was wedge into every space. (John, a brother-in-law, had hitched a ride with Brendan, so he was wedged in too.) Only after the trunks were shut did I remember that I should have taken a picture. Neither Colin nor Brendan was willing to risk opening a trunk for a final picture.

As soon as the house was empty Stanley Steemer came and made the wine stains, ground in-food, and outside dirt disappear. (We don't wear shoes in the house, but we haven't been able impose "no shoes" on others, perhaps we will be more successful in Malaysia.) Keeping the house clean for potential buyers eats up a lot of time - mostly keeping kitchen surfaces empty.

This summer we emptied a stored box each week. Currently, we back to the same task. Now we are emptying the boxes with items from counters and other surfaces; the items had to go somewhere before the house went on the market. Our decision rule is that each item must go somewhere - in a box for the move, in box for charitable donations, or in the trash. The closer we are to moving the easier the decisions are.

Next week a U-box, same as a pod, will arrive. That should help us make major progress - since our closets are stuffed with packed boxes and one of the bedrooms has about 15 packed boxes lining one wall.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Relocation: The Day after Thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving needs a name other than "Black Friday." A nice term for business, but it doesn't convey the joy of simply hanging out at home. We spent the day sorting, packing, and giving away. Beginning when Brendan and Colin were preschoolers we packed boxes with memorabilia (drawings, journals, awards, and so forth). Finally after years of urging them to take their box, they made it into their respective cars.

When Doug bought boxes to pack china for Brendan and a painting for Colin, he discovered U-boxes. We will buy and pack them; U-haul will pick the boxes up and deliver them to Indianapolis. At less than US$2,000 this is a solution we can afford. Brendan's china is from Doug's family. Colin's painting is from my parents. They gave it to me when I finished my PhD. Now is the appropriate time to pass it on to the next generation and express our pleasure that Colin is almost finished.

At dinner time the family members still in Raleigh came to dinner - a combination of Wednesday night's and Thanksgiving left overs supplemented by pizza. After dinner we broke open our stash of "games." Raise the Titanic and Trivial Pursuit are Thanksgiving staples. Brendan took custody of Raise the Titanic and his cousin claimed one of the four versions of Trivial Pursuit. When Stock Market was spotted the cousins and Jenny started playing. Colin took over ownership - the agreement with Jenny was that he wouldn't complain when she buys wool. Michaela, a niece, claimed the extensive collection of jigsaw puzzles (they filled the blue Ikea box pictured on the left). Her parents weren't thrilled. Doug got her to agree to keep her room clean and post a picture on face box to prove it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Relocating: Thanksgiving memories

I consulted our guestbook to get Thanksgiving dates right. We weren't diligent - our first entry was for 1989. Beginning in 1981 various generations of O'Sullivans gathered in Raleigh to celebrate Thanksgiving. To avoid family dramas we included students and colleagues. This is our last Thanksgiving gathering in Raleigh. As the siblings move further away and the cousins establish their own families new traditions will emerge. Here are a few memories that we will recall over the next few days.

One year my 80-plus year old grandmother asked Doug to make her a scotch and water. She sent my father into the kitchen to make sure that it wasn't weak. (Which brings to mind a family story - my grandmother ordered a martini at lunch. My grandfather chided her by saying, "You weren't raised to drink martinis at lunch." My grandmother's response was, "I wasn't raised with indoor plumbing either, but I like it.")

Among our earliest guests were Han Di, Budi and Titi. On Friday Budi and Titi's son Eko will marry in Bogor, Indonesia. We will send photos and good wishes to Eko via FaceBook. (In 2005 Eko and his family took us to visit a potter in Jakarta. Later we had him make candy dishes to give to the guests at Colin's wedding.) In the mid-80s Han Di returned to China and married Gu Wei. Gu Wei brought an embroidered table cloth (pictured below), which will cover our table again this Thanksgiving. As I a recall she first confronted silverware at Thanksgiving dinner.

Another year Brendan entertained the young children by standing on his head. They filled his pockets with coins, asked him to stand on his head, and chased the coins as they fell out of his pocket. Amanda (from Malaysia) was one of the children. She drew the picture of the Thanksgiving table that is still on our refrigerator.

Our Thanksgiving dinner has the traditional turkey. We have salsa from the recipe of the Arizona State colleague, who taught us the benefits of slathering turkey with salsa. Our non-O'Sullivan guests have influenced our dinner. For those who like spicy foods we have green bean curry. For the vegetarians we include mattar paneer. When nephew was celebrating Thanksgiving in Minnesota he asked Brendan for the recipe. We try to make enough to have left overs on Friday. I make Mama Stamburg's cranberry relish, and with luck I take it out of the freezer so it is thawed by dinner time. The South Beach diet added a new dish - mock mashed potatoes, which are made with cauliflower.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Relocating: A Farewell Party

When I retired I knew that I would not miss: grading papers, organizing course schedules,attending faculty meetings, and muttering about mindless paperwork. But I miss the opportunities to drop into colleagues' offices to share news, chat, or just kill time. So I was especially appreciative when Michael and Ellen, pictured below, held a farewell party for us and to bring together faculty who have worked together for two decades or more.

At one point during the evening I was on the outskirts of a conversation about campus politics. Michael turned to me to observe that we weren't the least bit interested and glad that we weren't. Michael and I have met for coffee, and will do so again. We have enjoyed long conversations without a word about the university and our old jobs.

Pictured below are Bob, Dennis, Clifford and Tracy - relative newbies. That is, they arrived on campus over 20 years ago, but after I did.

Although this was a farewell party I plan to drop in on former colleagues in December. And we hope that they will take advantage of a place to stay in Malaysia.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Relocating: Emptying the pantry and closet

Six weeks until our targeting moving date. We are getting things done very slowly - no chance that our last days will be anything less than frantic.

Saturday's newspaper include a bag from Kroger for Food Bank donations. I had recently organized a cabinet and found excess rice, bean threads, and pasta - too much to eat in six weeks. So into the bag they went. Doug included cans of fruit and miscellaneous items from the pantry. We also rid the bathroom closet of unopened toiletries. We opted to donate to the Y's food drive, since the Y is miles closer than either Kroger or the Food Bank.

Energized I tackled my closet. Out went four suits, but I still couldn't part with my black suits (four are still in the closet). I had to admit that the Thai silk dresses that were made on our honeymoon trip to SE Asia weren't going to be worn by me or anyone I knew. Then there were the cotton blouses - I don't know the last time I wore a cotton blouse. Like the suits I probably kept as many as I gave away.

Over the years I have worked with staff members of local non-profits; they have impressed me with their dedication and practical skills. So I had to debate which thrift shop to donate to. I went to Abbeygail's, run by the Women's Center of Wake County; it is close. I hope that each piece finds a good hope and a happy wearer.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Houses in India: Haveli

Last night I started reading Losing Asia. The author gave a vivid visual description of a Chinese town. I realized although we had spent hours driving through Rajasthan's countryside and took pictures of forts, palaces, and various oddities, we had failed to take many pictures reflecting every day life. We had seen tent communities, apartment houses, and comfortable family homes. We know that people live behind or over their shops. In Jaisalmer, the smallest town we visited, we wandered through warrens of two to three storey attached homes. Yet we consistently failed to record what we were seeing.

We do have pictures of havilis.
While they are largely uninhabited they gave us a perspective on Indian life. I paid particular attention because they allowed me to visualize the Egyptian apartment depicted in Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. Havilis were merchants' homes. These havilis are in Mandawa (our bet is that entrapreneurs have promoted the town's havilis to attract tourists).

We entered two havili. In this haveli the first courtyard is largely empty; the other had small craft stalls. (Never lose an opportunity to sell something to a tourist.) The inner court yard, depicted on the right, seems to the center of family life. We climbed up to the roof; it had small living or storage areas. We had a view of the town and other families' lives. It seemed to be the Indian equivalent of apartment dwellers who use binoculars to spy on other apartments.

When I came down from the roof I mentioned the lack of privacy - a woman who was preparing the family dinner laughed and commented that in India everyone's life is an open book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Relocating and our cat

When we tell people that we plan to move to Malaysia the first question always is "what about health care?" (We will write about health care issues later.) In fact we have given little thought to health care and a lot of thought to what to do with our cat, Elecktra,

In 2008 while I was in Malaysia Elecktra was Doug's housemate and constant companion. She greeted him at the door when he came home and kept him entertained throughout the night. After a few months of bonding Doug felt strongly that she should come to Malaysia with us. We both spent time Googling to identify our options. The next year on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Seoul my seatmate had her cat under the seat. Occasionally she would go back to the washroom and let the cat out to stretch. A solution, perhaps.

Eventually we recognized that our plans were unrealistic. Elecktra is not an experienced traveler; I can imagine a freaked out cat during a bathroom break. A major benefit living in Malaysia is our ability travel in Asia. If we had Elecktra we would have to find cat sitters. When we are away she has the run of the house - an apartment might be less attractive. Plus, we didn't know how possible it is to renting an apartment with a pet presented challenges.

We were fortunate that my sister, Joan, offered to provide a foster home. Joan's cat was old and diabetic, so she was ready for a younger feline. We moved Elecktra just before we left in October. With the commotion of decluttering the house and our packing she was stressed and edgy. Catching her was a major challenge - she hid in every nook and cranny she could find. We felt sorry about giving her up, but she gave all the signals that moving her any distance and subjecting her to a series of homes would have been been torture to her and us.

She is generally wary of people and still is, but she has settled in her new home. When we returned to the US we visited her. After she heard our voices she came out of hiding and allowed us to scratch her head. No more cats for us for a while. We still aren't used to coming home and not seeing her us at the door or sleeping in without being pestered to wake up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

House for Sale

We plan to use this blog not only to describe our travels but also the process of retiring and relocating abroad. The biggest step is selling our Raleigh home. Our first step was to make some important decisions: buy or rent in Malaysia (rent), buy condo in US (buy), and where in the US (Indianapolis). We decided to rent in Malaysia, because it gave us the maximum flexibility. We decided to buy in the US; multiple conversations confirmed that if we rented a storage unit we might as well sell everything now. We chose Indianapolis because it was cheaper than Raleigh (cost per square foot, taxes, and cost of living) plus Brendan lives there. Although Brendan said he did not want to be our property manager.

We were a bit slow putting the house on the market. We donated roughly 800 books to the library and a local bookstore (for a charity booksale). We thought about selling furniture on Craig's List, but we were impatient so bookcases, bureaus, and a sofa were also donated. We arranged to have the house painted and cleaned immediately after we left for Asia. As luck would have it a drought ended as soon as we left, so the power washing of the outside was delayed, delaying the house going on the market.

The house has been on the market for a month now. Very little traffic - slow market, plus internet cuts down on the curious. We are optimistic, but making the house look unlived in is a challenge. I have discovered an additional value of public libraries -they provide a place to hang out when the house is being shown.

I will try to update this blog weekly. Our plan is to leave Raleigh by the end of the year. Lots of things to do.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Malaysia to Raleigh

October 31

Somewhere over the Pacific

It was a week ago that we returned to Malaysia from our trip to India. So the flight on AirAsia was ok for the price. As an overnight flight on the bulkhead it was uncomfortable. It think it was uncomfortable due to the tiredness factor. So we arrived in the LCCT (Low cost carrier terminal) at KLIA. This is a separate no frills airport terminal. No air bridges, so airport employee stop you from walking in front of service equipment. Immigration was a breeze, but we waited for our luggage, but it arrived. Since it was before 6 am and the buses/trains were not running we went to the taxi coupon counter and purchased one (something US airports should adopt). We got to the taxi and then had to convince the driver where he had to go. Most drivers do not know where the Shah Village Hotel in PJ is. We finally convince them that it is next to the 24hr A&W drive-in. We get there in record time at 75 mph (120 kph).

The Shah Village is “home” for now. Both Liz and I have stayed there for a number of weeks over the last several years. It is close to the LRT (light rail), a mall with mobile service enter, supermarket, banks, and a Starbucks for when instant coffee wears thin. We are also close to a great Dosa restaurant (with branches on Lexington Ave in NYC and in Decatur, Georgia).

We rested/slept and then went to lunch with our friends from Sawarak. This time the food was Hakka style food.
This blog is not one for foodies. A great meal with friends and their family and then it was off to KLCC Suria Pavilion, a huge shopping mall in the basement of the Kuala Lumpur twin towers. We wandered around for a while, purchased some staples at Cold Storage (upscale market), and headed back to the hotel. We rested for the evening.

On Monday we did some touring of KL, ending up for a meal at another mall. Getting back was a problem as the free bus driver was on lunch break. On the way back I noted that RapidKL has a flexpass plan which allows unlimited riding of the public transit system for 1, 3, 7, 15 or 30 day periods. As I was to find out there are certain requirements you need to fulfill. Again we rested (we were turning in early and earlier as the trip wore on). Dinner was non-descript at a local restaurant. And I discovered the local 24hr Malaysian/Indian restaurant was closed. This meant that I was robbed of my local source for roti canni, and teah terak. I recovered with alternative teah terak, but never found a roti canni alternative.

On Tuesday, we went to the ticket stand at the local LRT. I could not buy the rapidpass as I did not have a Touch & Go card. These are a stored value card (similar to the meal passes at US universities). I asked were to get one and got “at the central office”. So we were off to KLSentral, a major station with a tourist information office. We were in luck; there was a Touch & Go office in the station. We go, are rapidly served, and discover we need to have our passports with us to apply. They are in the safe back in the hotel. So off I go, back to the hotel, pick up the passports, fill them out (Liz hates filling in forms), and head back to KLSentral to get the card. We purchase two and are told they will last 10 years if we use them once a year. This nicely matches our 10 year visa to India, and our 10 year mobile number in India. We get the appropriate amounts of money put on the cards and make our purchase of 3 day passes. We might not save any money, but the convenience factor outweighs almost anything. So we were are off and running. We visit some art galleries, see some incredible paintings we cannot afford and nibble on some good food. Meanwhile we were making good use of our ticket.

On Wednesday, we travel on a tour of neighborhoods courtesy of Christine, a sister of our friends in Sawarak. We tour PJ, travel over to Mt. Kiara, see some national monuments and then down into Chinatown.
We visit the old Central Market (dating from the 1880’s). After a quick purchase of a new tunic (silk) for Liz, we adjourn to a Nyonya restaurant on the second floor. We leave the market and wander through Chinatown. It is an active trading area and we arrive during shift change. It is quite busy and we are not in the mood to make purchases.

On Wednesday evening we head out to Short & Sweet theatre at the KLPAC. It is difficult to get to, but we manage. They plays are intriguing, 10 minutes each. When the play ends, we walk a km to the main road and catch a taxi back to town. The evening was a success, both artistically, and from a getting to know KL better

Thursday was a day of exploration and steps. We went out on the LRT to a neighborhood on the far side of town. Earlier in the week, Liz commented that our longevity in Malaysia may depend upon the health of our knees. So I started counting stairs. Typically, Kuala Lumpur has “handicapped accessible Rapid transit”, but you need to use “flyovers” to get across major streets. Typically the flyovers accommodate large trucks (5.7 meter). That translates into 84 steps to get across. We have begun to discover the bus feeder routes circulating from the LRT stations. They may relieve some of our issues. The challenge is discovering what their routes and operating schedules. Because most flats/condo are rented by the individual unit owner, it is not really possible to see available units until closer to our renting date. However, we have been looking at buildings, and there are reviews of building on the web. But from what I have seen we should have no problem finding a 2br 2b fully furnished (all kitchen appliances included) in our price range. So far we have visited Bangsar, an area near the Setiawangsa LRT station, and several neighborhoods near the Taman Jaya, and Asia Jaya LRT stations. Some additional areas have been suggested, but we do not want to live in expat dominated areas, nor do we want to purchase a car.

On Thursday night we decided to find a hawkers market style of food. We end up on Jalan Alon in downtown KL and have a wonderful fish dinner. We find Lot 10, a mall that is the home of the Actor’s theater, but don’t find the theater right off. As we were leaving we spy a note on an elevator indicating the theater is on the 8th floor. The mall is owned by the same company YTL that is developing the area around Klpac. On Thursday afternoon we travelled/walked to Bangsar. It is not easy to get to on foot from the LRT. The mall is nice, has many expat oriented stores, and a very nice art gallery (not the Timberlake gallery).

On Friday we go to United Voice in the morning. (See Liz’s commentary on United Voice). We wander around downtown KL and have lunch in the Penang hawkers market under Lot 10. We pack, wash cloths and charge our various electronic devices (a computer, a Kindle, three phones, and an iTouch). Liz has a meeting with a woman from a local woman’s advocacy group. We decide to go back to Jalan Alon for dinner (not as good and come away hungry). Back to the hotel to rotate our cloths to ensure they dry by morning, and begin to burn minutes on our pre-paid mobile plans. It becomes difficult since the carrier changes the rate plan after we have made one call. Thus a 20 minute call to the US can cost less than $1 US.

Saturday morning we get up rather late and check out. Off to KLSentral to store our bags in luggage lockers (remember those). All four bags fit into one locker at a daily cost of $7.00 US. We spy a sign for a regional art exhibit at an out of the way exhibition hall offering free roundtrip bus transit. So off we go. At the exhibition hall, I am greeted by a gallery owner from Penang, and a gallery employee from the gallery in Bangsar. There are some fantastic contemporary themed artists exhibiting in SE Asia. We see some that we love, but could not afford, and one that was so fantastic that we would have purchased it on the spot, even though it would be a stretch. We find a group of six Ecuadorian artists, see some performance art with the artist drawing on the t-shirts of the spectators, and have a great time. It is back downtown for coffee and dinner. This desert is our final food in Malaysia, one of Liz's favorites Ice Kachang.
We wander around Little India and go to a Deevali commercial festival (like the commercial exhibitors barn at a US state fair). We finally board our bus to the airport at 8PM and our stay in Asia is rapidly coming to an end.

We arrive in Inchon airport early in the morning. The showers are free but you pay for the towel and a shower kit. Refreshed, we go in search of coffee and find some at a Caribou Coffee outlet. Thus fortified, we head off to use the free wifi. There are loads of free computers to use, but they default to a Korean keyboard anytime we attempt to use Google. A little too sleepy to deal with the settings we check our mail and blog. The airport is very busy, but not loud. Nobody is shouting at you and only occasional announcement break the silence.

Okay, Oct 31 is becoming a really long day. We are heading east across the Pacific and will cross the International Date Line. We have landed at LAX. Luckily we are part of the Trusted Traveler program. We skipped the lengthy lines for immigration and once we picked up our luggage we joined the crew line. There appeared to be three very long lines wrapping around the TIB terminal, all with luggage and waiting for clearance at customs. Then we entered the Delta terminal at LAX. It was like going to a third world country. I really wonder about the enforcement of health laws. The carpets are dirty, the operation in the terminal is obviously disorganized, and after a calm Asia, everybody is yelling. Eventually we board our flight to MSP and I sleep most of the way. At MSP we switch flights to RDU. Although we arrive early, the ground crew is unable to accommodate us. Still we exit early and go down to the baggage area. What I have learned throughout our trip, is that baggage handlers work on their own schedule. You may arrive early, but your baggage will always arrive at the originally scheduled time.

We take a taxi home, and enter our real estate industry “depersonalized home”. Pictures are rearranged, furniture is rearranged, and nothing seems quite right. Nothing is missing, but it takes a bit to find it. I guess this is part of the process, although it is legally our home, it is no longer emotionally our home.