In 1989, one month after I moved to San Francisco, a 7.1 earthquake shook my apartment. Fortunately, I lived in North Beach, the strongest rock in the city and suffered no physical damage.
In 2005, we visited Aruba, one of our expat destination research vacations. The most famous geographical attraction on the island was a bizarre arched rock that they say has been there 5 million years. It collapsed exactly 30 days before we arrived.
In 2009, two months before our expat exploration trip to Thailand, rebel groups blockaded the airport and almost led to a trip cancellation. Luckily, they left voluntarily before our departure date and all flights resumed uninterrupted.
Starting In the summer of 2014, less than one year away from our Early Retirement Expatriate Experiment, the world suddenly thinks we have a death wish, thanks mostly to the insane misinformation that passes for journalism in the USA. CNN spent almost 24/7 for 4 weeks discussing the disappearance Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, filling the airwaves with ridiculous theories, invalid conjecture, political rhetoric and enough blame to make everyone think the entire nation is governed by morons.
That was bad enough. It was about one month before we began an email relationship with Joy-Stay, the agent we chose to help us with our MM2H Visa for emigration to Penang. We even had fleeting second thoughts.
But I’d already invested a lot of time and effort and with earlier expat experience in Canada, I understood Americans have perhaps the worst media in the free world, filled mostly with right-wing propaganda like FOX and sensationalized “reporting by panels of experts” on CNN. The other networks may as well not exist. I understood that despite the reporting, the events don’t reflect the entire government and certainly not the citizens.
Malaysia Air, although technically a state-run airline, is run like any public company, with most of its attention focused on shareholder returns (like Air Canada). They’ve been a poorly run airline that loses money for years anyway. We’ve flown them only once when we had to get to the remote town of Lahad Datu to start an expedition to The Borneo Rainforest Lodge that took 26 hours and 3 flights. Boarding a puddle jumper with capacity for only 20, the flight took only 25 minutes. Their prices are higher than many other options in the region and we always fly Cathay Pacific for transcontinental flights.
As time passed, most everyone wrote it as an unfortunate one time act. Other major airlines survived a major catastrophe once in their history like the Air France disappearance off the South America coast and several domestic incidents among the US carriers. But twice within three months? A second airplane from the same airline shot down by rebels only three months after an still unresolved mystery involving disappearance off the face of the earth?
Unrelated coincidences? Are we pushing our luck? Is Malaysia cursed? Almost unknown to most Americans before the incidents, Malaysia’s reputation suffered a worse blow than a tourism agency specializing in the Afghani countryside.
With over 190 countries to choose from, the world seems large enough to pick a safe environ for a nice quiet retirement. Some nations are often in the international spotlight. Others bask in total obscurity. (think Vanuatu). One commonality always existed. No national commercial airliner had ever disappeared off the face of the planet never to be heard from again. Why couldn’t it be Albania?
“Why Malaysia?” is the most common question from friends and relatives. Good question.
Previously enjoying a low-key reputation, Malaysia sports an eclectic population of Muslims co-existing relatively peacefully with Christians. Ethnically, the mix makes it a multi-cultural haven. The state of Penang has the largest Chinese population, mostly derived from a province of China that speaks a dialect similar to Diane’s. Technology companies abound and it’s recently been voted the 20th most successful economy in the world and best among the ASEAN nations. (A political and economic association comprising 10 nations in the region). Most Americans can’t pinpoint it on a map, name one city in the country, or ramble off even one fact about the place. Centrally located and inexpensive to travel within neighboring countries, quick vacations become easy.
Then came MH370; the biggest mystery since the JFK Assassination and an event so extraordinary that many now associate Malaysia with gloom and doom. Often criticized as a government hiding some scandalous cover-up, the political leaders appeared ill-prepared for an entire world demanding action. Challenged by some self-doubt, I started wondering if Plan B should come into play. Should we reconsider the Latin American options? Even worse, should I give in and go crawling back to the workforce I so desperately wanted to leave?
Fortunately Americans have short attention spans.
After covering all the angles, the sensationalism was finally squeezed out of the story and Anderson Cooper finally covered another story. (34 calendar days later). Breathing easier, I chalked it up to an extraordinary act, destined to be a once in a lifetime event. Our generation will forever remember MH370 but eventually it becomes an afterthought when others learn of our plan to move there.
I was in the gym on the morning before I’d planned a surgical procedure to repair a hernia when I saw crazier news. I stopped in my tracks, went closer to the TV showing CNN Breaking news and let out a big ol’ HOLY SHIT!!
Less than four months later, the SAME AIRLINE in my low-key nation where nothing important ever happens is WHAT ? SHOT OUT OF THE SKY ?? By a missile? Like an act of war? About to begin a six-week surgical rehabilitation period, I had little time to focus on this ridiculous event. When the smoke cleared I was almost glad to hear that some dumbass Russian blew it up even though that’s not really better news than the first tragedy. At least they knew what happened.
If people thought Malaysia was crazy to retire one year after the world’s biggest mystery since 1962, now they REALLY think we’re crazy.
We must have some sort of adventure junkie death wish. Ironically, it adds to the adventure as far as I’m concerned. Flights from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Air are now about $600 cheaper than anyone else. They can’t give away the seats and planes fly with an eerie emptiness reminiscent of the days after the First Gulf War and post 9/11. Needless to say we will never step foot on a Malaysian Airlines flight for any reason no matter where we are in Asia, even if it’s the last option available before an approaching typhoon hits.
If getting there is half the fun, I can’t decide if I’m ready for the other half.