Tag Archives: repatriation

SF Sundays – Celebrate, Laugh and Eat!

Hope you are all surviving this Bay Area cold. Luckily the weather seems to be calming down after those rain storms. At least there are a few things to enjoy outdoors if you’ve got a nice coat and a sturdy umbrella.

I’m not sure what’s more exciting, the long weekend of celebrating the great Martin Luther King’s life, laughing to tears or all the food that’s involved.

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

Martin Luther King week is already in full gear! Tomorrow, January 21st, the MLK march will start at 11am at 4th and King Street before ending at the Yerba Buena Center. This is where the celebration festivities will be held until about 5pm. Some may head straight to the center but you don’t want to miss Caltrain’s Celebration Train that’ll be at the King Street Station just before the march. There are more activities, festivals and celebrations to partake in as listed by the NorCal MLK Foundation.

Want to explore the San Francisco African American Freedom Trail? As recommended by San Francisco Travel, this is a great way to not only learn about how African Americans changed the world from our humble Bay Area, but a great way to explore the city on foot. This is a great learning adventure for the whole family, just wear good, comfortable shoes.

If you haven’t already, the 18th Annual SF Sketchfest, founded by David Owen, is still happening now through January 27th. With this shutdown mess, we could all use a laugh from the likes of Andy Kindler, Sasheer Zamata, Michael Ian Black and local favorite, Peaches Christ.

YUMMINESS ACHIEVED

San Francisco Restaurant Week is starting just as Oakland Restaurant Week comes to a close. From January 23rd through the 31st, almost 130 restaurants will participate in showcasing what makes this city the most gastronomic city in the country!

c/o sfrestaurantweek.com

During the week, participating restaurants will be serving exclusive menus for either lunch and/or dinner. Two course lunches will be between $15 – $25 and three course dinners between $40 – $65. It that isn’t a biting deal, I don’t know what is! When you’re out and about, show off your eats by using the hashtag #SFRW on Instagram or Twitter.

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out and rant about a happening around town or an eatery in town for my SF Sundays series, please email me at ha@mshala.co.

SF Sundays – It’s Cold Outside

Happy New Year! Welcome to San Francisco in January. It’s cold! I’m reminded of how cold it can get this time of year in the city every morning I leave for work before the sun. I’m also quite surprised at the number of tourists I’ve come across this cold season. Then again, we can still head out and enjoy the city despite a few rain showers and cold breezes, am I right?

So what to do when it rains? When it’s oh so cold outside? Here are a few ideas to stay warm, cultured and with a full belly this season.

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

Tahitian Woman with a Flower – Gauguin, A Spiritual Journey

If your new year’s goal is to get more cultured, look no further then the city’s many beautiful galleries and museums, with most offering free admission days. The GLBT Museum offers free admission on the first Wednesday of the month while the Asian Art Museum does so on the first Sunday of every month.

Tuesdays have a few contenders such as the Contemporary Jewish Museumde Young Museum, Legion of Honor, and Museum of Craft and Design. Check the museum’s website for exact schedules of free admissions days.

Still want to go outside? The San Francisco City Guides‘ is a group of volunteer tour guides showcasing their pride in the city. They have walking tours scheduled throughout the day at varying points of the city, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Japanese Tea Garden. They even guide you back in time to the 1906 earthquake and fire.

YUMMINESS ACHIEVED

c/o visitoakland.com

Foodies, rejoice! Over 100 restaurants are participating in this year’s Oakland Restaurant Week, happening January 11th through the 20th. That’s two whole weekends for us to get hungry, eat it all up, walk it off, and repeat! There will also be a few special events throughout the week.

On January 12th, Brotzeit Lokal will donate a portion of the sales from their “prix fixe menu” to the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB). Also supporting the ACCFB is Baro on the 14th with a special benefit dinner. Then on the 15th, you can journey through Old Oakland Progressive and enjoy a multiple course dinner across three different restaurants.

San Francisco’s restaurant week returns soon after but I’ll more on that next week. If all that is not achieving yumminess, I don’t know what is. All I know is that I’m really hungry right now! Is it the 11th yet??

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out or rant about a happening around town for my SF Sundays series, please email me at ha@mshala.co.

SF Sundays – History, Arts and Kebabs!

San Francisco. The city by the bay. The Bay Area. My hometown. Within the city’s many hills and along the city’s many beach shorelines, there are stories to be heard, history to be made, secrets to be revealed and delicious food to be eaten. Every year, the San Francisco Bay Area sees millions of tourists and natives like me come to discover it all. With that, I’ll regularly rant on happenings around my town not to be missed and yumminess to be achieved. Join me!

BUT FIRST, A QUICK HISTORY LESSON

This California peninsula city was founded and established in 1776 by colonists from Spain, naming it after Saint Francis of Assisi. Part of the foundation of the city started with the Presidio and Mission districts. Soon after, the gold rush brought in the influx of gold seekers and Eastern settlers. And in just the last hundred years or so, the city saw everything imaginable.

Related image
c/o San Francisco Chronicle

1906 brought about the largest earthquake to date, causing one of the most devastating fires the West had ever seen. It was rebuilt, in part, by the influx of immigrants who came from all over the globe to start a new life and contribute to the greater Bay Area. The “decade of love” protested a senseless war whilst demanding equality, tolerance and some form of peace. The belief that love is love put San Francisco at the helm of the LGBTQ community activism, being the first in the nation to have same-sex marriages (before Prop 8 came about).

We make history and get very hungry in the process. And while being the most culturally diverse metropolitan city in the country, we’ve become the most gastronomical one too. One can eat their heart out then head to the city’s many museums, music halls, art galleries, comedy clubs or movie screenings. Once outside, one can ice skate the many rinks open in the winter, swim the ocean seas in the summer, walk through the many green parks in the spring, or bike their way through one of the best cycling city in the world all year long. That’s my city!

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

This week, I’d like to highlight the Contemporary Muslim Fashion exhibit being held at the de Young through the 6th of January, 2019. I’ve been to the exhibit multiple times and plan on going again before it closes. This is a historical first for such an exhibit and of course, where else would such a colorful and truly inspiring exhibit be than at the de Young?

Tickets average $30 per person but members get in free! Side note: If you’re a true fan of art, a Fine Arts membership is worth every penny. With lots of exhibits to see and membership perks to enjoy at both the de Young and Legion of Honor.

San Francisco Symphony last week held a screening feature of A Nightmare Before Christmas and it was truly spectacular! They’ll do it again with the screening of the holiday classic, Home Alone.

Want to go ice skating? We’re spoiled for choice all across the city. Just for the holidays, there are three ice rinks: one right in front of City Hall, a second in the middle of Union Square and a third at the Embarcadero Center. There’s also the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center which is open all year round.

And if you still need to shop for gifts, look no further than the upcoming Etsy’s Maverick Holiday Market happening at the Crocker Galleria December 19th. Nothing beats buying from your local businesses, right? Shameless plug: I’ve started a small boutique shop on Etsy too!

YUMMINESS ACHIEVED

lamb stew at Bursa

This week, I’m highlighting an old favorite spot of mine, Bursa on West Portal. They truly serve up really good Arabic food with touches of gourmet and home. My favorite dishes are both the chicken and beef kebabs, succulent lamb stew, and the piping hot pastry cheese rolls. Just thinking about those cheesy rolls makes me hungry!

I’m not a fan of the seasonal pumpkin spice lattes (because yuck) but I did miss the occasional winter holiday coffee drinks. As a huge fan of Peet’s, I’ve been hooked on their peppermint mocha and the dark chocolate orange mocha. They are great pick-me-ups especially on those cold Monday mornings as you head back to work.

Until next time, Happy Sunday, peeps!

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?
by Ms. Hala

Last summer, I repatriated back to my hometown of San Francisco after living the confused expatriate life in Qatar for five years. As I prepared to write another rant entry, I realized something. I’ve documented some of my experiences of being an expat and a repat but never really on the logistics of leaving. Many have asked for tips and advice on the process of relocating and I’ve got to say, preparedness is everything.

Peeps, if you’re living the confused expatriate life, you have to be ready when the time comes. Sometimes the expat life isn’t guaranteed and sometimes, even when you plan everything out, you realize there are laws and rules you need to follow through on first.

I sat down and made a list of everything I had to do. Moved some things around, checked some things off and before I knew it, I was home. What do I advise? Here’s a few I hope you find helpful.

DohaSkyline.jpg

Time Can Be My Friend: Many expats, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves relocating either to a new country or back to their respective home nation. Whether it’s the end of our employment contract or it’s just time to go, we need time to get our things together and in order. Seeing many of my friends almost rushed out of Qatar, I knew I needed as much time as possible because things in Qatar do take time. I made sure I communicated with my employer, who sponsors my residence permit (RP), on my flight dates so as to not have my RP canceled until that date. The last thing I needed was to be fined for overstaying a canceled RP. Expats in Qatar have seven days to exit the country from when their residence permit (RP) is canceled or expired before they are fined for overstaying on a daily basis.
A lot of logistics take much longer than necessary and thankfully, time was my friend. I was able to request about three weeks which was a good amount of time for me. If all else failed, and because I’m lucky enough to be from the long list of nations allowed an on arrival visa to Qatar, plan B was to actually fly back. Thankfully, that extra trip and expenses were averted. Using those savings for my summer trip to Italy, woohoo!

Law and Money: As part of the requirement of working in Qatar, you’ve got to open a bank account and have your salary direct deposited every month. Easy! Qatar is also very strict on not allowing expats to exit before clearing all debts. Borrowing in Qatar can be very tempting with low interests but many forget that it’s got to be cleared once before they go. Yikes!
I actually took a loan to finish off paying for my car but cleared it sooner rather than later so that wasn’t a problem for me. I did have a credit card (which I got a bucket load of Qatar Airways miles from!) so that had to be cleared with my bank. Banks will hold your last deposit, usually a lump sum including your gratuity, for a minimum of 48 hours until you are cleared. Some banks take longer and I’ve seen friends freak out for days before whatever they owed was deducted and they were allowed access to their account. Yikes!
Lucky me, I just walked straight to my bank and had everything cleared. I still had 150 Qatar Riyals on my credit card I totally forgot about. I shuddered thinking my last salary deposit would be frozen for days over 150 QR. The bank provided me a signed and stamped letter confirming I was cleared for extra assurance. I hear other countries can be even stricter or have a longer process so I’d advise expats to make anything related to money the number one priority.

You Used To Call Me On My Cellphone: Many expatriates don’t know how long they’ll be in a given country. Some will go with a prepaid plan, easy to handle but over time, can be costly. Once I realized I was going to stay longer, I immediately got a monthly phone contract and cut my costs almost in half. Of course, now that I was leaving and my RP was going to be canceled, I walked into the Ooredoo store and switched my lines to prepaid. I also had to set a cancelation date for my home cable and internet and prepay any costs. Again, the last thing I needed as I exited the country was to be stopped for any debts I hadn’t cleared.

Get Out My House: Unlike most expats, none of the companies I worked for in Qatar offered a company accommodation. Even if they did, I’d probably opt out of it anyway. It sucked finding apartments but I had heard enough eviction stories from fellow expats that I was glad I was in a place in my name when it came time to leave. I even got lucky that my landlord OKed my extra three weeks stay in lieu of my security deposit.

My bigger hassle was my furniture. I’m talking major kitchen appliances, two bedrooms, and a living/dining room. Yikes!
If you’ll be shipping your furniture, this is your second priority, find a shipping company that can at least pick up your packed furniture and handles all the exporting tasks for you. Be on top of it, I had to deal with three shippers for large pieces of luggage I didn’t want to lug around with a pet during my layover in Los Angeles. For whatever reason, moving in the summer causes shippers in Qatar to take their sweet time. So unprofessional! Luckily, I was not planning to ship any of my major pieces of furniture, thus posted my items for sale online and whatever I couldn’t sell, I reached out to a couple organizations to take them as donations.

MsDohaSleeps.jpeg

Not Without My Kitty: This might have been one of the simplest of my relocation tasks, which I still don’t understand why it was made to be such a hassle. I was asked why I would go through the hassle and costs of taking my cat with me to California. First off, this silly girl here adopted me when I least expected it. I even named her Ms. Doha, after the city she followed me in when she was barely 8 weeks old. She was a large part of my expat life in Qatar over five years. So it was a given, she’s coming home with me!
That meant, I needed to get her documents in order and her spot on the plane booked. Kindly note, not all airlines will take your pet, and I’m not sure why. I had to request and pay the difference to my employer since they were booking my flight home (Qatar Law requires employees terminated or contract completed to be flown home by their employer). Qatar Airways is the only airline allowing pets on long-haul flights into the US. This was a 16-hour direct flight, so I booked my kitty as a medium rather than small sized pet cargo so I can have her in a larger crate to give her enough room to stretch and move. I only got put multiple liners but was misinformed about someone feeding her since it was a long flight. I used an open water and food feeder bowls, which I do not recommend. Especially the water, my poor baby was thirsty when I picked her up in LA.
The US doesn’t actually charge you any fees for importing your pet dog or cat from another country. All that’s usually asked for by most countries are vaccination records, microchip number and necessary importing fees paid upfront. So Ms. Doha wasn’t vaccinated in a while so had her vaccinated, given an antifungal bath and confirmed her microchip scanned at least a month before I left. I also had to take the records to the Animal Resources Department of the Ministry of Environment. There, I paid 10 QR for approval documents. Ms. Doha was on her way to the USA!

I’m not judging but not everyone can relocate their pets with them for whatever reason. Should that be your case, I BEG YOU to PLEASE re-home them before you leave. If you leave them out on the streets, like many expats in Qatar do, you are guaranteeing their death as many domesticated pets don’t survive. Your pet was part of your family, all they gave you was love, and that’s all they ask for in return. Dumping them in the streets is not loving them in return. Be kind and re-home your pets before you leave, PLEASE!!

Click here to read up on tips for expats in Qatar, written exclusively for ILoveQatar!

My Truck Is No Junk: Again, unlike most expats, I owned my car. A sweet 2013 Honda Pilot. This can be a smart investment if you are staying long term in Qatar or anywhere with limited public transportation. However, selling a car in Qatar during the summer is extremely and utterly brutal! I had to not only lower the price at least three different times, I couldn’t sell the car before I left. I can’t keep it in my name when I exit nor was I planning to ship it back home either.

Immediately posted the car for sale and I’d make this a top priority for most as this can be a slow process. Qatar doesn’t have a “Kelly Blue Book” so had to check classifieds on ILQ and QatarLiving amongst others to get an idea of what my car’s value should be. I was cautious if taking it to the dealer as they’d do a buyback for so much less in order to resell it for a profit.

Shipping your car is an entirely different and long process and I’d only do it if it’s worth the time and money. A couple friends did ship their cars from Qatar and even after all costs, the car value was worth it. I’d advise that if you’re hiring shippers for your furniture, make sure they can also handle vehicles. You should be able to ship your car and furnishings in a 20×20 container for around $3,000-$5,000. Obviously, the bigger the container, that costlier it’ll be. Should the process take longer than your time in Qatar, as was the case with me, you’ll need to transfer the car out of your name in order to be able to exit the country. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to put the car in her name and handle the final sale logistics when it was sold, four months later. I hope everyone is as lucky as I to have trustworthy friends by their side.

HIA Teddy Bear.jpeg

This Is Not Goodbye: Leaving Qatar so quickly after being there for five years was not an easy task. I grew as a person, made lifelong friends and saved a decent amount of money despite student loan payments (grrr!). I didn’t tell anyone this but when the plane took off, I went to the restroom and cried bittersweet tears. I was happy to be going home and sad to be leaving. Apparently, this feeling is quite common amongst expats. Many have told me repatriating or even expatriating elsewhere can be hard, it’s starting all over.

However, I think if you keep a link with your expat life in the respective country you were in, it makes it a little bit easier. The Global Foodie Group on Facebook and Whatsapp I started are still buzzing. I speak to my friends in Qatar on almost a daily basis. I’m also looking at visiting Qatar later this year. I’m thinking of it this way really, it’s never a “goodbye forever”, it’s just a “see you later, Insha’Allah!”
I hope my experiences provides you with some tips and advice should and when the time comes for you relocate. What was your experience leaving a country where you lived your expat life? Do share in the comments below.

Foodie Farewell – a Snapchat Story

Flashback to two weeks ago when Kamal and myself (aka foodie royalty) got a magnificent send off! Can’t thank the team at Nisantasi Baskose and my foodie friends enough for this lovely, unforgettable afternoon.

Happy Eating peeps!