Inglorious Expats

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.

Out with friends

Out with friends

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.

Diane's birthday dinner; best pork ribs on the island

Diane’s birthday dinner

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.

Enjoying street food in Thailand

Enjoying street food in Thailand

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.

Hokkien Mee; My favorite Penang food

Hokkien Mee; My favorite Penang food

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.

25 thoughts on “Inglorious Expats

  1. Annathrive

    Sorry I’m so late to the encouragement-fest! You know I read here – this time in a large batch! I never realised there was a like button so I’ll press it from now on! Yes, write for YOU – I’ve always said that. And that you includes the political you so keep going.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Anna
      Thanks for the post. Sorry I’ve been neglecting the posts lately as the election has me very distracted and I want to keep it off the blog so I’ll be back in two weeks after we retried from a Cambodia trip
      Cheers

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      Reply
  2. Julie M

    In my opinion, you should write the blog for YOU. I’ve been writing mine for 7 years now. I have a few hundred followers – wordpress actually helped increase that (I was on blogger for the first 5 years) and I found some great new blogs to follow (like yours!), but I don’t write just to get readers. I write for me. I suspect you do the same. Yes, you want to inform people and keep those at home up to date. But the writing is cathartic too. I say keep it up, especially as you look to potentially change countries – it will be interesting to look back on your first move after you’ve done the second and read about your experiences. I know that after 2 countries, we’ve been in the same boat (ours being 1st world countries but still vastly different than home) and looking back is always a good refresher on why we did this!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Julie
      Thanks for your encouragement. I know you’re one of my long time readers (and vice versa) and appreciate your input. I do write fro myself; it’s what I would have like to do in my alternate parallel universe if I had it do do over. But, given what happened to media, I’m so glad i stuck it out in the financial services industry as a peon because I’d be a struggling journalist trying to adapt to a modern age of social media where real reporting doesn’t matter anymore (as evidenced by 30 million people supporting someone that’s a failed businessman and liar). I’m surprised to find so many younger people blowing us off all saying they’re too busy or don’t meet people online. I’m going to write a post on that soon. Anyway, thanks for your continued support

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  3. kemkem

    Haha! I love what the couple told you about not using the blog to make friends.. 🙂 . Not sure how long you’ve been at the blog, but l think you started after l did, and you definitely have more page views. I don’t care too much. I just like to tell my stories the way l like. I think you should keep on doing it as long as you enjoy it. I enjoy your stories. BTW, we just returned from Portugal where we spent a lovely week with some online friends we met through the blog and felt like we were old friends when we actually met them 🙂 .

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi
      Thanks for the input. Like you, I enjoy writing in the same style I’ve always used and if offends a few people along the way, well that’s life. I try to keep it light but this year’s joke of an election will in fact drastically affect American expats living in Muslim nations should pigs fly and the United States of White Angry Americans elect a demagogue racist. So I will keep reminding everyone how important it really is especially to open minded folks that understand how angry Americans are a small part of the earth but politically, the US affects the entire globe. Anyway, glad you met some friends form the blog; we try to meet others when we travel also
      Cheers

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  4. Stu

    I have found your blog to be simply the best source of realistic expat information I’ve seen. The real world vs. the fantasy of early retirement. Simple info like the fact that US folks need to go to the US Embassy to get our US driver license ‘authenticated’ as well as submitting the MM2H acceptance letter to the enq. of the DMV are worth their weight in gold vs. future frustration. It’s real info like that you just can’t find anywhere else and I truly appreciate it. There are far too many travel, food blogs. For those who want a real taste of what early retirement in SE Asia is like and what to expect this is the place to be. Thank you so much for all of your time into this and I for one hope you carry on. We are planning on following your footsteps in a few years, to both Malaysia and Thailand and you blazing the trail is super helpful. Please keep up the posts – very entraining and immensely helpful to us still stuck in the US rate race.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Wow
      I’m honored with that comment. Thanks so much. You’ve confirmed that people are in fact using the blog the way I’d hoped and that’s the reason I write. Well, that plus the fact that I don’t have a million other things to do and I really enjoy writing. God knows I’d never compare myself to the Republicam candidate for emperor but I do have to be me and although it often drives Diane nuts, I do try to be fair, entertain a bit and inform. And I’m always looking to connect with people since Penang isn’t filled with westerners like Thailand. I will continue writing and once agin I really appreciate your comments.
      Cheers !

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      Reply
  5. Merrill

    I fall in the category of looking only for info on expat living, travel, and food. Your blog has been informative to me and I appreciate it. I’ve determined that to have a blog with a large following is just another job – and you said it well – we don’t want to work. I’ve heard that the successful blogs all sell something. So thanks for providing free information!

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Merrill
      Thanks for the comments. I know you’re one of my regular readers and I appreciate it. I also totally agree with you that many blogs are trying to sell something and mine is just because I enjoy writing and sharing experiences. Not interested in turning it into a job but I did get enough comments and emails that encouraged me to keep going so I guess I will. Thanks again for reading and glad to provide the free information

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  6. Dee

    I’ve been reading your posts for a while and just now created a WordPress account so that I could put a “like” here. Not many blogs about living in Penang…. your posts are definitely very informative and well written. Penang is one of the few places we hope to go live in the near future. We have a 10 year old daughter and we’re trying to save more now in order to be able to afford the international school’s expense overseas. Your articles provided first-hand experience and we certainly hope to read more about what you see and feel as expats in Penang!

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Dee
      Thanks a million for your awesome comment. Unfortunately I can’t really speak much about the cost of international schools since most of our friends have no kids like us. But there are a lot of people with kids in our condo that we sometimes talk to. There’s a school called Uplands in our town (Batu Ferrenghi) and the Dalat School is 15 minutes away by car but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. I’ll try to get some inside information from locals and report back. Our neighbors are both teachers so I can talk to them
      Cheers

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      1. Dee

        Thanks so much! Regarding the international schools in Penang – from what we read online, Uplands would be our first choice (if we do get to move)…. however any first-hand information/feedback would be greatly appreciated. We would want to live close to the school, although the school has multiple bus lines to different locations. Both Batu Ferringgi and Tanjung Bangah sound wonderful. It seems that Tanjung Bangah is closer to stores and everything. Batu Ferringgi looks so beautiful, and quiet too, which is what we desire. We wondered how convenient it is living in Batu Ferringgi…for example, are there grocery stores in town so that you can buy vegetables and fruits, and don’t need to travel far for the daily needs (go to Tesco etc.) ?

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      2. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Hi Dee
        Sorry for the delayed response; approved the comment right at bedtime.

        I will ask around regarding reputations of schools but can make some comments about neighborhoods. Batu Ferrenghi is far from everything and if you have no transportation like us, you’d probably feel very inconvenienced if you’re not used to using buses and Uber/Grab. We don’t mind but we walk a lot. The town itself has a handful of mini marts and a 7-11 for very basic items but no supermarket or grocery stores. However, it does have a small daily wet market that runs from about 7 AM until 10 and they have excellent veggies, some fruit, fresh delicious and inexpensive shrimp and tofu. There is a guy that sells pork and a stall with fresh chicken but I usually get ours from Cold Storage and freeze it until we use it. Tanjung Bungah has a much larger daily wet market but we find it dingier and wouldn’t buy the fresh meat or seafood because it’s never kept cold enough for my standards and we usually don’t have a car so never want to keep cold food unrefrigerated food for too long. Also at Tanjung BUngah are some stores selling baked goods, cheese and other sundries. There’e nice stand alone houses for rent and it’s a quiet middle class Chinese neighborhood but like all of Penang, lots of new construction and million dollar luxury condos being built for no real reason since there’s not nearly enough expats that move here with that kind of cash.

        Batu Ferrenghi is generally quiet (for now; see below) but they do shoot off fireworks throughout the year and of course, you can hear the call to prayer but how loud it is depends on where you live; we live at the beginning of town and our condo tower is less than half full all the time so its very quiet at night. Tesco is the closest main market and there’s a Cold Storage at island Plaza that’s not far from Tesco but we prefer the store at Gurney Plaza for full shopping needs. Thailand’s markets like Rimbey’s and Tops are a thousand times nicer, fresher, more well stocked and cleaner than anything in Penang and they have no clue how to do inventory here either. The stores are constantly out of stock on imported items and the store by us is not kept at adequate temperatures for cold food (I’ve written to head office in Singapore but they don’t care). When they do have chicken, it’s very good and tasty as are the non Halal pork products sold at a separate counter. Never buy “fresh” veggies from the supermarkets here; they often sit around for awhile; many expats here are overweight Europeans who only buy beer and frozen processed crap and locals mostly can’t afford the supermarkets.

        Batu Ferrenghi’s beaches are not nice so don’t expect much. The sand is dirty and erosion constantly ruins it. Often the water is this sludge color and I’d never go in it. People at the resorts usually stay at the lounge chairs off the beach but they do have lots of water sports like parasailing, banana boats, etc. There’s no other beach anywhere on this side of the country that has any real facilities to speak of so people flock here on holidays and during Xmas, Easter, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. The road in is two lanes and there’s a long bumper to bumper crawl into town every weekend evening and during holidays. We do everything we need to on weekdays and on weekend afternoons and if we go out with friends they often pick us up.

        Batu Ferrenghi is the last part of Penang to be developed and they’re starting to ruin it with massive development projects on the board including a secondary road that would run right outside our condo for access to the other new housing they’re just starting to build. They also acquired lots of land further out by the National park, kicked hundreds of locals off the land and are over developing what;s left of the nice quiet parts by the end of the island. They also plan on widening the road into town somehow which could only mean overnight construction that’s insanely disturbing (they just drilled the street over three nights to run fiber optic cable and they do it literally all night in all residential areas). So by next year it’s going to eventually become to annoying for us and that’s why we plan on moving to a Chiang Mai suburb but keeping the MM2H visa for ease and convenience.

        Feel free to write us by email if you have any more questions

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      3. Dee

        Hi Rob and Diane,

        Thank you so much for your detailed description about the living environment in Penang! It seems that lots of Asian countries are having the over-development issue currently. From your blogs and other articles we have come to know more about the reality in Penang. We have been considering to move to China, Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia for a while. Mainly we want to be close to my family in China (that’s where I’m from) and have some international exposure which would be good for the kid, especially when she’s young. Both my husband and our daughter can speak some Chinese and they love Asian cultures. To us Penang has its advantages considering the languages, location, climate etc. China is also on top of our list… we are looking into the possibility of getting a long term visa. We heard about the visa-run but didn’t really feel comfortable with it. We have been to Chiang Mai, Thailand and loved it there. It is fruit heaven for sure! And people are really friendly. The language is probably a lot harder to learn than Malay/Indonesian. Although we didn’t have much trouble communicating in English during our stay – it seems a lot of people there can speak some English. I think that no matter where we move we would also want to consider the kid’s education as one of our priorities…..therefore good international school is on the top of our concern.

        Thanks again for your detailed writing which is helping us to know a lot more about expat’s experiences. It is eye-opening to follow where ever you go and what ever you see through your blogs 🙂

        Dee

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      4. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Hi Dee
        Glad to help but sorry I hVe no knowledge about international schools since we have no kids. Good luck in whatever you decide. One thing to note for Chienese speakers; they only speak Hokkien here and some very limited Cantonese (mostly the old people). Diane can’t understand one word and she speaks Toi Shun, a Cantonese dialect

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      5. Dee

        Wow that is good to know 🙂 I speak Mandarin but I doubt if I could understand any Hokkien. Probably I would have to communicate through writing! I was happy to see a lot of signs in Penang have Chinese characters 🙂 Thank you again – I truly appreciate it.

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  7. Birgit

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of month as a ” secret reader” but I really do enjoy each single blog entry!
    You guys do a heck of a job!
    So dont’ quit blogging!

    Best regards from Germany

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi and thanks so much for the comment. I wasn’t really thinking of quitting but was getting frustrated that so may people were reading that one post that really has little to do with the topic so I figured I’d get it all off my chest. Cheers

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  8. Young

    It takes some time to gain traction for any blog. Being a guest writer on other people’s blogs that are popular and have been around for a long time, is the best way to advertise your blog in my opinion. Cost of living and reality of living in overseas, are the subjects most people like to read about. Have you been to Ecuador? What was it like there? You know me by now, I always ask questions. Take care.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hey there
      Thanks for the comments. Yeah I know I’m too lazy to have a widely publicized blog and that’s fine. I’m just wondering why readership is way up from the first year but practically nobody seems to acknowledge they liked the post or comment. If you see 250 page views compared to 100 last year with no likes but 25 from last year’s posts it seems is either the topic or the writer seems to have gone stale so maybe I’m just questioning if it’s actually fun anymore. And if it’s not I’ll just end it. I’ve been asked to write on s a few more commercial sites but that didn’t really pan out to much. Anyway, thanks for the input. And yes we’ve been to Ecuador and I’ve written extensively on the topic

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  9. Indo Tom

    I will be sure to click the LIKE button more often as an incentive to keep your interesting and valuable blog on the air. Keep up the good work! We visited Kuala Lumpur earlier this year found lots of good and halal ethnic food. Maybe Penang food isn’t 4u.

    Are you planning to visit Langkawi island to the north of Penang? I hear it very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Tom
      Thanks for the great comment.
      We’ve not yet visited Langkawi but despite some very positive reviews, people we know didn’t like it. The thing is Malayisa is a great plCe for the visa but isn’t nearly as nice as Thailand; the beaches are three stars at best. But, there’s a very low key islands in Thailand that’s accessible by ferry from Langkawi (Koh Lipi) and we plan on going there. The prices are very inexpensive and it’s weird how different it is once it becomes Thailand.
      Cheers and thanks following

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      1. Indo Tom

        I have also heard the islands on the east coast of Malaysia are nice. You might also consider the city of Malang in Indonesia as a cheap and cool place to visit. It’s a college and tourist city from the old days of Dutch colonial rule. Since it’s in the mountains, the daily temperature range is between 65F – 85F. The city is accessible by flying into the city of Surabaya and then taking a 2 hour train ride.

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      2. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Hi Indo. Or is it Tom?
        Appreciate the input. The Perhentian Islands are reputed as very nice but mostly for divers and snorkeling, neither of which we do. Not to sound mean or anything but we really have little interest in seeing the rest of Malaysia because to us it’s basically still Malaysia. The eastern side of the peninsula is much more conservative than here and the large Chinese population makes Penang a better choice for those who prefer a bit more western influence.

        We haven’t been to Indonesia and it’s kind of low on the list; I am biased because of last year’s haze and although it’s no fault of the citizens we prefer not to give our tourist dollars to a nation that poisons 70 million citizens annually for over 20 years. However, we do know there’s some great places like you mentioned. And we do plan on visiting a wildlife rescue and conservation center called Tasikoki in Eastern Sulawesi befriend we leave Asia. They do great work and take volunteers for short term assignments with no experience needed. Accessibility is long and hard so that will probably the ,it’s adventuresome thing we do in Indonesia. But I will look at Malang in more detail.
        Thanks for all your support !’

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