Welcoming our first long Memorial Day Weekend in a nation where it’s just Monday. Diane and I wish everyone in the USA a happy unofficial start to summer. Since we have no bar-b-q grill and even if we did it would probably blow off our balcony due to fierce winds, I improvised our celebration dinner last night and made Tom Yum Prawns. Immensely popular in Penang, Malaysia’s version of the ubiquitous Thai dish is known as Tom Yam and is usually spicier but lacking all the intense flavor of real Thai food. Easily obtainable as a variety of sauces and pastes, Tom Yum sauce is found in every store, wet market and supermarket so making the sauce from scratch seemed silly. But we did take advantage of our local wet market and use all locally sourced ingredients including pineapple, peppers, onions, tomatoes and of course, prawns. Still getting used to buying prawns with the head on, I’ve experimented with ways to remove the unsightly parts but decided it’s probably easier to give in and just cook them with the shell. Yes, this is fine but of course they teach North Americans that the rest of earth is primitive and inferior so you’d never find shells, heads or claws in Costco.
Switching topics, one of the most common questions I receive by email is whether or not to use an agent for those thinking of filing an MM2H application. Asia’s best visa program, the Malaysia My Second Home Program has over 20,000 successful applicants and allows unlimited entry into Malaysia for ten years, renewable indefinitely. Although it’s not permanent residency, it’s a lot easier than visa runs every three to twelve months in Thailand and it’s more comprehensive than other less developed Southeast Asian nations and cheaper than places like Singapore. The answer depends on each applicant’s circumstances including nationality, ease of meeting financial requirements and whether applying in Malaysia or from overseas. Generally speaking, unless you’re very familiar with Malay customs and language, I recommend using an agent for overseas applicants simply for peace of mind. Spending moths piecing together paperwork and spending cash on an overnight courier service only to find out you missed something seems pointless to me.
Recently, I posted about our visit to the Malaysian Motor Vehicles Office (the JPJ) where we submitted an application for conversion of our foreign driver’s licenses. As Americans, we’re on a list of nations considered “not automatically eligible” which means you need to first submit an application through the local office or travel to Putrajaya and submit directly to the head office. Seemingly routine, the local office on the mainland of Penang was very helpful and seemed to know how to do this. But after returning from Myanmar, we still hadn’t received anything in the mail instructing us on the next step so Diane hit the website and found out that they rejected our applications. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to send us a copy by mail but there was a downloadable PDF copy of both rejection letters on the website. As would be the case with MM2H, the entire letter is in Malay and even after using Google translator, we still didn’t really understand exactly what they wanted. (see below)
Perfectly illustrating why overseas applicants might want to avoid possible delays and hassles, finding someone who speaks fluent Malay might prove challenging in many countries. Calling the agency is possible but the odds of getting an English-speaking clerk who understands your issue isn’t great. One of the few situations where having a citizenry that speaks English may not work to your advantage, government correspondence is almost always in Malay. Fortunately for us, we keep up active relationships with both our MM2H agent and our property agent who helped us renegotiate our lease. After translating, they both agreed that the head office our rejected the applications because the local office didn’t “certify” our MM2H. Apparently, we needed to bring our original Conditional Letter of Approval and have it certified with an official stamp or seal by an officer. Considering we spent a half hour discussing politics, American movies and other topics unrelated to our application with a friendly officer, you’d think they’d know the procedure.
But things aren’t always as obvious as they could be in Malaysia, especially when dealing with the government. For example, there’s a basic guideline outlining the procedures for conversion of licenses for both automatic and non-automatic applicants but there’s nothing stating a need for MM2H holders to have their approval letter certified. And if you’re an American applicant, you’ll need to visit the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, pay $100 USD and have them “certify” your current US license as valid. Appointments are few and hard to come by so leave ample time for this. Clearly ridiculous, a Federal employee of the United States has no authority to verify that a license issued at the state level remains valid and they’ll tell you that but this is what the MM2H Board decided late in 2104 so make sure you do it or you’d be wasting your time. (We knew this and ahead of time thanks to our MM2H agent already had this letter ready for submission with our application). Anyway, our agent thinks it’s possible to file an appeal when all that’s missing is one piece of extra paperwork so we’ll be back at the JPJ Office later this month. Stay tuned for more details.
Back to the holiday topic, although it’s not a long weekend, today starts a two-week period of school holidays in Malaysia. For expats with no vehicle living in the nation’s most popular beach community, this means two annoying weeks of overcrowded buses, traffic delays getting back home on Uber, teens hanging out at the usually empty malls, noise issues and cars blocking every bus stop, artery and sidewalk. School Holidays fall right before the start of Ramadan and although one of our closest Muslim friends tells us it’s designed to prepare the kids for the turmoil of Ramadan, it seems more like an excuse for them to hang out and do anything they want. Thankfully, it’s an excellent time to be an expat looking for free sports streams on the internet. With both the NHL and NBA Finals starting this week at the very convenient time of either 8 or 9 AM local time, we’ll be cheering on the Golden State Warriors (hopefully; they have to win game 7 of the second round first) and The San José Sharks who make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history.
Finally, a word on our recent trip to Myanmar. One of my favorite trips in recent memory, I’ve been posting rather lengthy and detailed stories about the places we visited and things we’ve seen. Having taken thousands of pictures and videos, I’ve only posted about 30% of what I’d hoped to share so far. But although I’ve had a surge in daily visitors lately thanks partly to some bonehead that flamed me on some online rag, the stories seem to be unpopular according to I my stats page. Receiving an average of zero to four “likes” per post, readers seem to be more interested in the two posts I did last year about the online startup company Offerup.com. MM2H stories are a close second and while I admit I’m not exactly the most interactively engaged Word Press member when it comes to reading and commenting on other blogs, I do believe in giving people what they want so I’m unsure if I’ll post the rest of my Myanmar travel stories. Hoping to turn them into a documentary like collection, I’d appreciate some comments from those that have enjoyed reading about Myanmar. Taking me a day or two to craft each post, I take great pride in my edit process and hate to waste people’s time with stuff nobody cares about so I’ll pause and see if anyone comments on this.
And as for the sad state of affairs with the U.S. Presidential Election, it’s not worth commenting on. With the choice between a racist, xenophobic lunatic and a career establishment politician that’s hated by half the nation, there’s little hope for the next four years. Once the greatest nation and a real world leader, Americans have themselves to blame for allowing something as important as the presidency to morph into a reality TV show. Running the nation is not entertainment yet somehow populism, hatred and ignorance of most everything outside the nation leaves the USA where it is. As a proud expat that’s lived in three countries, I’m saddened but not surprised and will gladly watch my homeland deteriorate from overseas. Should sanity not prevail and President Trump ascends to his throne, a new brand of Fascism disguised as the Republican Party will take hold and one can only hope the other half of America takes to the streets in acts of civil disobedience that make the 1960’s look tame. I’ll consider voting Libertarian or skip this one altogether.