Usually marking anniversaries with celebratory posts, I’ll start this post by stating that today is exactly one year since Diane and I handed over our passports and received our MM2H stamps. Arriving only six weeks earlier, everything went according to plan and despite never having visited Penang, we established ourselves quickly. Before receiving our approval notifications and traveling back to Kuala Lumpur for the last steps, we secured a lease, bought new phones, established service and set up all relevant utilities like electric and internet. Since that time, I’ve written many posts about our expat experiences other than travel and they’ve usually been well received. Given I’m not part of today’s young generation deriving a paycheck from “online income“, I’ve tried to write fairly entertaining stories with my own slightly sarcastic but relatively realistic slant. But noticing a decline in the number of likes despite an increase in readership, it appears I’m beating a dead horse and my post the other day about our first negative infrastructure experience took dubious honors as my first post with no likes two days after writing it.
Having written about topics like establishing ourselves in a foreign nation, learning about the local cuisine, taking off the beaten path day trips and living through the annual haze season, I’ve shared a bit of expat life as seen through the eyes of two average middle class people (one American and one Canadian) that chose an experimental early retirement over daily cubicle life after an unexpected layoff. Also including detailed stories about the Malaysia My Second Home Program (MM2H), I’ve received lots of comments and emails thanking me for providing valuable information about Southeast Asia’s best retirement program. Retiring at a rather awkward age, it’s not always thrilling, often financially challenging and sometimes downright unexciting. Unable to always churn out really exciting content, I’d be lying if I said each day is filled with a new adventure so perhaps the blog’s almost run its course. The pictures on this post feature scenes from our life in Penang and part of the blog was to illustrate all parts of expat life, not just the best days.
Having started the blog 18 months before we made the move, it wasn’t easy garnering an expat readership before actually becoming expats. Always intending to retire earlier than “retirement age“, we used our annual vacations as exploratory trips to potential retirement destinations with similar qualities of life, good weather, and an inexpensive cost of living. Very well received, our tales of Ecuador, Thailand and Borneo proved more successful than I imagined so I decided to keep the blog going once we arrived in Malaysia. But reviewing my all time stats, I’ve noticed my two most popular posts are both related to our experience with an offshoot of Craigslist 18 months ago that we used to sell our stuff. Having unintentionally sent a copious amounts of business and publicity to a company I have no vested interest in, I’m removing those posts since they’re clearly bringing hundreds of readers with no interest in expat life and I’m hoping to attract open-minded people with similar interests.
Understanding it takes hours of interacting on social media and a lot of hard work to set up a successful following, I never cared about having thousands of followers or getting 300 likes for every post. In fact, I’ve scoured through thousands of blogs before I started and couldn’t believe how many people write such poorly worded dribble and still have thousands of followers. Writing a blog is purely for fun and gives me satisfaction. Enjoying sharing stories, helping people through avenues not available when I started working and blessed with good writing skills that come naturally, I toyed with the idea of trying journalism during bouts of involuntary unemployment. But Diane and I chose retirement for one main reason. We didn’t want to work anymore. Using my 30 years of financial services experience, we worked very hard sacrificing, staying home on weekends and living on about 30% of our gross pay. And those of us born without smartphones had to work for many years instead of dropping everything and running to live wherever without having real jobs or any savings.
I’ve been approached many times by various solicitors offering ways to make money off the blog and every time I’ve turned it down. While we could obviously use extra cash since we’re on a fixed income for at hopefully another 40 years or so, commercial ventures are not my thing. Confident I’m smart enough to learn if I wanted to, people our age benefit from today’s technological opportunities but our lives are not controlled by it. Using Viber for phone calls, finding websites to stream American TV shows for free and relying on two devices and an obsolete computer with an outdated OS, we’ve got all the technology we need to enjoy life and have no interest in establishing accounts on five different social media sites. Leaving many younger people (and our parents) wondering what we do with our time, that leads me back to the original premise of this post. I’d rather spend most of our days enjoying monkeys and Penang is a great place to do that.
Everyone loves travel blogs. And foodie blogs. An expat blog is neither of those. Carrying much smaller readership levels, only the most professional and talented expat bloggers can expect huge followings and I’ve admired the best of the bunch including ones featured on CNBC, Huffington Post and Lonely Planet. Although we’re passionate about travel, our bottom line is we can’t spend our early retirement traversing the globe. Since arriving, we’ve made separate three-week trips to Thailand, Australia and Myanmar and we’re planning on going to Cambodia this fall. I love sharing stories from our trips and find that most people appreciate stories and not just chronological recaps of how I spent my summer vacation. But most of the time, I get up at sunrise, go to the gym, read some internet news, start crafting a post, eat lunch and take a walk. Sometimes we go to the local parks or trails to enjoy monkeys. Without a car, we take up some days shopping and walking to the wet market. Sometimes we eat out but since we don’t love Penang’s food and we’re hoping to move to Thailand next year, we’d rather save our cash for our trips. On non-travel months we need to scrimp to stay on budget.
Meeting reliable and compatible friends isn’t always easy when you’re older than working expats with stipends that live in huge condos and 15 years younger than people who are the “traditional retirement” age. Attending meetings available from organizations like InterNations, working expats that we’d love to be friends with are usually too busy or have to do things on Sundays when the entire island is off from work. And the non-working people are often much older and not very active. The other day someone sent me a link to a 20- something American couple that quit their cubicle jobs simply because that’s what this generation does and went to live in Chiang Mai. Impressed with their profile and hoping to at least connect and make some new friends for our move next year, we wrote an email explaining our situation. But they told us they “never use the blog for making friendships” and they’re making their living selling local information to would-be expats on their “premium website”.
Let me explain something to anyone considering buying this kind of information. Everything you need is available either on the internet or through personal contacts that are easily made when you leave the North American rat race and become an expat. It’s beyond me who would join a “premium” website to get some links for property agents, visa information or local meet up groups. Very disappointed, this is the first blog contact that ever blew us off because they think their lives are too busy. Why would you leave the comforts of a good job in your homeland to spend 80 hours a week on your computer or device? I guess we don’t really approve of young people avoiding real work for “online income“. To old farts born before 1980, adulthood meant getting up early, commuting, doing your time for many years and not living on a laptop in foreign Starbucks selling information and “finding yourself” at age 30. We used to call it responsibility.
Anyway, the point here is I’m no longer connecting with an audience the way I’d hoped to. Unclear if I should continue or just retire the blog, I’m proud of my 72,000+ page views but long for the days of regular followers that are curious about two middle age people who decided to try early retirement and took a risk moving overseas to accomplish their goals. Eliminating my political overtone isn’t an option because quite frankly, if you’re an American citizen supporting Trump, I don’t respect you and you probably wouldn’t be reading about other nations anyway. Understanding things from an expat’s point of view makes you see that the world’s a big place and there’s no place for bigotry, racism and intolerance if you expect your children to enjoy their future. The Experiment Expat adventure is only one year old and has a long way to go so I’d love to hear from anyone that enjoys reading and is willing to give some feedback and maybe even a “like” so I know I’m not wasting your time.
Thanks to anyone that’s supported us and sorry if my posts disappoint you.