Life After Haze

Almost like it never happened, the horrible annual event known as The Haze feels like a distant memory as the skies returned to normal in Penang. Almost magically, the air quality went from crappy to acceptable to excellent in a matter of days. Seemingly like a two month bad dream, monsoon rains in Indonesia finally arrived and doused the memories of stinky disgusting smoke almost as fast as it arrived. Unfortunately, that puts an end to the story for another year and one of the planet’s biggest environmental issues the quietly fades into another statistical anomaly. Knowing nothing will ever change, I was almost hoping it might stay until Christmas and ruin the Westerners annual Christmas vacations in Phuket which would surely garner massive attention in the Western media. Instead, Indonesia apologizes for nothing, remains one of the fastest growing economies on earth, continues to poison 80 million of its citizens and neighbors annually and everyone in the developed world enjoys millions of inexpensive products made from Indonesian sourced palm oil. Oblivious to the problems that seem like third world issues, the effects will surely be felt by future generations that will look back and wonder how their ancestors chose complacency and profits over sustainable agricultural policies. Having suffered through this insanity, I’ve done my small part to share what I can with anyone interested and I offer one last article that’s really worth reading entitled “Indonesia is Burning: So why is the World Looking Away?”. 

Ironically and perhaps even a result of the smoke particles trapped in the air, the skies over Batu Ferringhi for the last two weeks are producing spectacular cloud shows rivaling the best sunsets one could imagine in places like Hawaii or The Caribbean. Seasonal October rain comes almost daily since the haze dissipated but often its overnight, leaving the mornings fresh and clean. Remembering why we chose our condo for its beautiful views despite the level of crappy internet service that recalls the days of dial-up services (look it up, people; it wasn’t that long ago), it’s nice to see the horizon again.

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The Stuff Arrives

Writing my first post from a PC since leaving California six months ago, our 29 boxes of goods finally arrived (barely) about a week ago after a long and arduous journey that began in Walnut Creek, California eight weeks prior. Having been transferred from one container to another and changing vessels in Shanghai and Singapore, our cheaply made U-Haul boxes were so tattered, ripped and moist they practically fell apart when I lifted into them into the elevator. Typical of most things in the USA, good quality has disappeared from moving boxes and has deteriorated to a point where you might as well keep your personal stuff at a relative’s house or storage locker because the flimsy excuse what passes as cardboard is ill-equipped for longshoremen, ocean journeys and tropical environments. Should you want to ship a “less than container load” (LCL) overseas, allow about two months from door to door and perhaps look beyond the local U-Haul store for your boxes.

imageFinancially speaking, it wasn’t all that bad but be aware you pay one fee to the shipping company in your home country and then pay a series of extra fees to local logistics agencies once your shipment arrives. Varying by country, it’s best to research the fees ahead of time to avoid surprises. We used a California-based shipping company that offered pick up service at the storage locker for a few hundred dollars. Charging a minimum fee of $490 for 4 cubic meters and adding on miscellaneous dock, customs and logistics fees, we paid $1,080.00 USD in early September and forgot all about it for the next eight weeks. For those unfamiliar, 4 cubic meters is about 45 standard medium size boxes. Utilizing only about 60% of that with 29 different sized boxes including six mirror/art boxes and the original computer and printer boxes, we suggest documenting the contents of each box carefully on a spreadsheet to ensure compliance with customs regulations. Like everything in Malaysia, they have lots of rules and regulations but your “forwarding agent” always finds a way to bypass everything and get you your stuff quickly. (Ours wanted an extra 50 ringgit on top of his fee claiming he had to buy the customs guy lunch and cigarettes in exchange for only opening one or two boxes for physical inspection).


For the benefit of anyone interested in shipping personal goods to Malaysia, here’s what to expect. Tracking the last vessel and knowing its estimated arrival date will save time and effort. Receiving very little information, this was difficult due to the trans-shipment changes at each port but basic marine traffic schedules are available online if you know the original vessel. Our “bill of lading” was a minor document with only basic information about the logistics company in Penang and we found out the address and phone number they gave us was two years outdated so check this ahead of time.

Dealing with both a logistics company and a “forwarding agent”, the first agent is responsible for off loading your boxes into a storage locker and ours allowed only four days of free storage before incurring extra fees. Known as Vanguard Logistics Company, the fee was 420 ringgit (about $100 USD). The second and more complicated stage involves the forwarding agent, whose job is to facilitate customs clearance and delivery from the warehouse to your door. (His fee was 1,350 ringgit, about $450 USD). Although ultimately friendly and easy to deal with, they’re almost all of Indian descent and often hard to understand so its best to know the process going in. Although you can use any agent, Malaysia is a country where “knowing a guy” is the norm so the logistics company will probably already assign your shipment to their favorite contact. But they’re more than happy to change to someone else if you’re unhappy with the service or fees. Making much ado about nothing is typical Malaysian business practice so naturally, our forwarding agent insisted on meeting us at the condo to “inspect what’s involved” (meaning gauging how much money we’d be willing to part with for extra services like hauling the stuff upstairs). Learning our condo only allows deliveries until 5 PM, he spent a half hour running through the difficulties of “getting customs to clear this” by the fourth day after off-loading but ultimately the stuff showed up on one of those Malaysian lorries that look like Nicaraguan military junta vehicles. Ask if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to answer if I can.


Malaysian rules are relatively simple regarding imported personal effects. Claiming they physically inspect every individual CD, video and any other media based artifacts to make sure it complies with local censorship rules, we didn’t include any so it was irrelevant. For all electronics items, you need to note the make, model, serial number, place of manufacture and voltage/wattage. Only computers, printers and peripherals made for sale in the USA are sold with an option for 220 volt usage anyway so this list will probably be short. Finally, items purchased within the last six months are subject to duty fees so we suggest not using any original boxes that look like they might fall in this category. The biggest issue was the flimsy boxes that fell apart and are now thoroughly useless. Realizing that buildings in developing nations use all concrete and no drywall, it’s almost impossible to hang anything without ruining the walls with electric drills so most of our art went into the storage room. Although they do sell ridiculous little hooks with four small nails to pound into concrete, they usually bend into oblivion rendering them useless. Another fun Malaysian issue is how they claim to need “electricians” to upgrade the crappy lighting that most owners install when renting. Usually unskilled workers from neighboring countries, they wanted lots of extra cash to give us ample lighting in our bedrooms so we decided to set up the PC next to the balcony which makes typing more fun than sitting in a dimly lit “computer room”.

So Experimental Expat life continues after the worst two months of haze since 1997. Having wasted almost two months mostly indoors, it’s time to get outta here anyway. Utilizing Airbnb for the first time, we’re off to Thailand next weekend. Splurging for five nights at the Anantaslia, a mid range hotel in the beach town of Hua HIn, we’re travelling by overnight sleeper train on the express voyage known as Train 36 that originates across the strait in Butterworth and hopping off three stops before the train’s destination in Bangkok. Priced at RM 105.90 one way (about $24), it’s a good bargain and we’ve never done that before so it should be fun. Following five nights in Hua Hin, we’re off on a 10 1/2 hour bus ride to Chiang Mai where we’ll stay one week at a suburban three bedroom house and one week near the old city in a one bedroom condo that has a pool and gym. Hopefully the sunshine follows and we’ll be checking out Chiang Mai to see if that’s the next place to live once the inevitable haze season returns. Thanks for following.

Please keep the haze issue alive and share the article above or better yet, boycott a company that carries Indonesian sourced palm oil. 


4 thoughts on “Life After Haze

  1. Mike

    Chiang Mai has it’s own burning season, Feb to March, so don’t get too hopeful ! It’s nowhere near as bad as in your photos of recent months though.
    Hua Hin is a popular retirement destination too, although I would prefer Cha am or Prachuap closeby.


  2. Darren

    Just coming to the end of two weeks in Chiang Mai and I can report that the weather has been fantastic. It has rained once and that was during the evening, the rest of the time it has been pretty much blue skies and sunshine. I’m heading to Bangkok on Sunday for two weeks, and taking the sleeper train from Chiang Mai. I splashed out a little and went for the “1st class cabin”.
    I’m planning to be back in Penang in December.


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Darren
      Great to hear; we will be taking the bus from Hua Hin to Chaing Mai on the 21st and spending a week in the suburbs and a week just outside Old Town; both at Airbnb. WE fly back on December 5th. Please get in touch with us when you get here. Haze is long gone and the weather’s been nice but good amounts of rain with some thunder showers. Safe tarvels


  3. ersatzexpat

    Oh dear – first rule of international moving is never, never, ever, use normal storage boxes (sorry a bit after the fact that!). They are typically double or even single layer and you need a triple layer box for the rigours of international moves. Even they get battered but we often get 2 moves out of them. It may seem like a rip off but we always use the packers own boxes to top up when our own from the last move run out. It saves money in the long run.

    Hope you enjoy Thailand – will be following your post on that as we might do something similar!



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