Needing a desperate retrieve from calendar watching, preparing the house for staging and general house husband duties, Diane and I ventured north last weekend for a rather long but easy road trip to meet the first new friends we’ve made in our soon-to-be early retirement. Thanks to the wonders of blogging, Eric and Marlina stumbled across us last year and showed us it really is a small world. Through an amazing set of coincidences, they are also moving to Malaysia in a few months and generously agreed to let us stay with them briefly when we first arrive to help lessen the overwhelming culture shock that inevitably awaits us.
Since we need to leave North America soon after we sell our house and I can’t apply for the MM2H Visa until late April when I turn 50 years old, we’re expecting an “in limbo” period in Malaysia while we wait for approval of the visa. Amazingly, Eric’s situation is similar to mine and he also decided it’s easier to try early retirement than re-conquer the workforce at middle age. Luckily, his wife Marlina is of Singaporean descent, speaks fluent Malay, has family in Southeast Asia and understands Malaysian culture quite well. Having visited several times, they’ve already established a network of friends and are both looking forward to the beautiful town of Ipoh . Since Eric is one year older than me, there’s no need for them to wait so they filed their MM2H visa application a few weeks ago.
Although Ipoh is not our intended destination, we’re looking forward to using it as a home base while waiting for our visa to be approved. Usually a 90 day process, we’d be entering Malaysia as tourists with the stipulation that we’re pending MM2H applicants. Although this doesn’t extend the standard 90 day entry, it supposedly makes customs a bit easier.
Located 162 kilometers from Penang in the State of Perak, Ipoh is smaller than Penang but is still one of the country’s largest cities. Hoping to find a short-term rental, we’d need to travel to Kuala Lumpur once the MM2H is conditionally approved to complete the process. Acclimating to life in new continent might be a bit easier anyway given the slower lifestyle and inexpensive rental prices.
Currently living in Beaverton, Oregon, a stone’s throw away from Portland, it’s a 620 mile drive from Walnut Creek to Eric and Marlina’s house. Normally, I’d rarely make such a long trip in February due to probable inclement weather and “mandatory chain control” while passing through the relatively tame mountains that separate California from Oregon.Thankfully, climate change has rendered a new version of winter in the North American continent that now features above average, even record-breaking temperatures and little or no precipitation for the entire Western United States coast. Meanwhile, the Eastern part of the nation suffers through blizzards, bone chilling freezing temperatures and other general winter time misery which Diane and I left when we sold our last house in Calgary, Alberta.
Heading out at 6 AM on a Saturday, we headed north up Interstate 5 which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border. After about an hour we saw some sunrise skies that were so amazing the pictures look like prize-winning National Geographic photos of the world’s most spectacular landscape. Practicing her photographic skills on the new camera designed to be the blog’s primary source of pictures, Diane snapped these photos while I drove.
America’s second largest sate in the contiguous 48, California feels like it never ends. Oddly enough, once you pass The Bay Area, the population decreases and nobody knows much about the 500 miles that lie north of San Francisco. Comprised of mountains in the interior and spectacular redwood forests on the coast, Northern California is actually a great place to visit with very little tourism compared to the rest of the state. Featuring a National park (Lassen Volcanic) and state parks with the continent’s largest redwood trees, the most prominent landmark (Mount Shasta) was so clear it seemed like we could drive right up to its snowy peaks from the interstate highway.
Approaching Oregon, the skies were such an incredible shade of blue it felt like we headed south and wound up in the Arizona desert. Probably due to the unusually warm temperatures, the road curved and suddenly we drove through a pea-soup fog so thick I had to decrease the cruise control speed due to poor visibility. Crossing into the Oregon border we passed the highest point on Interstate 5 and as we descended into the valleys surrounding Medford and Ashland, the landscape changed from all-encompassing fog to a scenic wonderland reminiscent of the mountains of China.
After two stops for gas and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Lunch break, we pulled into the Portland metropolitan area about 9 hours after we started. Unlike the drive from San Francisco to points south, the interstate north is almost deserted except for trucks. Devoid of any major population centers, there’s nothing much worth driving for and it’s a long drive to the next major city when you head north from The Bay Area which makes the mostly flat and straight drive relatively easy and stress free.
Unfortunately we picked the weekend of a local kids basketball tournament and the hotel stuck us in a crappy handicapped room facing a commuter train despite my special request that every hotel’s website allows even though it always says “not guaranteed.” Undeterred by the horrible lack of discipline exhibited by kids that trounced through the halls until midnight and slammed doors over and over we met Eric and Marlina at a local Mediterranean restaurant. Already scoring points in our book, they were even early and we recognized each other right away. Although I’ve corresponded with Eric daily via Facebook and email, there’s nothing like a face to face meeting to help solidify a new friendship.
Recognizing in just a few minutes that they’re both easy-going, friendly and very knowledgeable about many things Malaysian (especially Marlina), we felt comfortable within minutes and learned an enormous amount about our soon to be new home. Already looking forward to hanging out some more, we laughed as the owner started making subtle hints and proceeded to sweep the floor, obviously attempting to end our delicious dinner engagement.
Generously offering to cook us an authentic Malaysian meal the following night, we chatted outside some more and returned to the noisy hell that was home to a few hundred teenage basketball team players for the weekend. Sleeping better than I anticipated anyway, we chalked up the hotel experience to typical American customer service. (an oxymoron, if you missed that). Pictured below is some of Marlina’s delicious cooking:
Conveniently located next to a large mall, Diane and I took advantage of the no sales tax policy in Oregon and hit the Apple store where I finally purchased an IPad2. Still using obsolete IPhone 4’s with an ancient OS, it seemed logical to simply wait until we arrive in Malaysia before buying a phone and not upgrade to a plan that we’d only use for a few months. Also finding some bargains at Sports Authority, my new tropical wardrobe of Nike dry-fit T-shirts, nylon button shirts, running shorts, polyester/rayon slacks and new non-cotton hats to shield my dome from the equatorial sun is almost complete.
Returning to Eric and Marlina’s house later in the afternoon, we arrived to a fabulous home-cooked Malaysian meal of chicken with curry, shrimp in sambal, tofu with peanut sauce and some cooling appetizers. Reminding us the primary reason we picked Penang, we feasted and appreciated the efforts very much. Hoping I can repay the favor some day, I would like to learn the art of Southeast Asian cooking but with so much fresh and cheap hawker food readily available, my début on Gordon Ramsay’s Master Chef TV show might be delayed by about 20 years.
Taking advantage of Presidents Day, a three-day holiday in America that means nothing since most Americans knowledge of history ends with yesterday’s text conversations , Marlina and Eric were nice enough to show us around their hometown area on Monday. Apparently Portland’s version of The Golden Gate Bridge, they drove us about 20 miles down the interstate that heads to a city nobody ever heard of and we visited Multnomah Falls. Popular with almost anyone, its beauty is quite impressive considering it’s literally right off the highway. They also took us to a vista point that was so windy we could barely get out of the car to enjoy an awesome view of the surrounding Columbia River Gorge.
Honorable mention goes to Voodoo Donuts, a local landmark that had a line extending half way around the block. Choosing not to wait an hour for a snack, we decided that scenery trounced calories on a day with record-setting temperatures and sunshine in the Pacific Northwest so we took a quick picture and left. (the picture below is NOT ours; we would have had to get out of the car).
Finishing the three-day weekend with an incredible meal at a small Southern Indian restaurant in a strip mall, we really enjoyed and appreciated getting to know our new friends and we hope they feel the same way. Feeling amazingly lucky at the coincidental timing of both of our unplanned early retirements, Diane and I feel we’ve already established one foot in the door by making a new friendship with a couple that offered to help and already knows their way around Malaysia. Sadly. we have to wait about five months until we get to see them again.
Thankful that my little expat blog has the potential to uncover so may new friends, I’d once again like to thank not only Eric and Marlina for their generosity but also anyone who takes the time to read our stories. Understanding the “expat blog” is still under construction, we ask that you hang with us a bit longer while we undertake the arduous process of selling our house, applying for the MM2H visa and finally living up to The Experimental Expat namesake.
** Sidenote: Thanks to the management of Courtyard by Marriott in Beaverton who relocated us to a top floor suite on our last night and even paid for one night. Writing a long and apologetic email, it almost made up for their blatant disregard of paying customers who happen to need a hotel room during a major event and only ask for a good night’s sleep.
Are there any readers familiar with Ipoh? Please share some daily living experiences; maybe we’ll wind up there instead of Penang
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