Speaking by text yesterday with a childhood friend I haven’t seen in 16 years, I laughed at his reaction to my Facebook post about inexpensive and efficient healthcare here in Penang. Jokingly asking how much it costs in Southeast Asia for braces, he implied he’d use that as an excuse to come visit and take care of his teenage son’s dental needs. Responding by asking when he’s retiring, he laughed and told me he’ll be working forever because he loves his Silicon Valley tech job. While admirable, I’ll never understand anyone that thinks working until you’re way too old to experience all the great things life has to offer ranks higher than early retirement. In his defense, he’s only 53 and probably has a lot more accomplishments left in his career. Conversely, I spent 31 years in and out of cubicles working as a support specialist for more investment advisers, banks and brokers than I care to remember. Other than learning how to be a self-directed investor able to amass a portfolio big enough for a shot at early retirement after my unexpected layoff, my working years garnered zero in the way of fulfillment or career satisfaction and always served as a means to an end.
Having read countless articles about people more successful than me choosing early retirement to attempt other personal goals, I set out with good intentions when we started our early retirement exactly two years ago this week. Unlike many others, exploring my inner skill set isn’t so easy. Uninterested in starting a business (the most common reason cited), I can’t see working 100 times harder than I did in the office and risking any capital when we have no income. Possibly the world’s least handy person, all things related to building, crafting or creating things are out and learning other languages sounds about as fun as a root canal. Highly fond of wildlife, we both talk about volunteer projects involving animals and our American friend (a working expat) who engages in 20 different things even gave us an opportunity to work with monkeys for a week. But we’d just returned from a three-week trip to Myanmar and the job demanded too much of an immediate commitment of our own money and resources so we tabled that retirement goal for now.
Which leaves me with the blog. Starting 2 1/2 years ago and not knowing anything about WordPress, the number of followers isn’t what I’d hoped nor is the level of interaction but having just passed 100,000 page views and now averaging over 100 per day, my no-nonsense blend of sarcastic realism obviously appeals to someone. Fascinated that over 38,000 people in 168 different nations spent some time reading my commentaries, this is probably as good as it gets for me when it comes to utilizing modern technology. So I’ve decided to accept this milestone as a my first small accomplishment since retiring and although writing comes easy and I enjoy sharing stories, I guess it’s a skill and it may wind up being my best and only creative endeavor. Pondering what to write to commemorate the event, I decided share five of My Own Personal Favorites that haven’t received as much traffic as The Reader’s Favorites. Thank you to everyone that’s ever spent some time supporting me.
** Five of my Personal Favorite Posts **
1) How it All Started
Probably the most sentimental to me, Empty Cubicles was my first post. Explaining what it felt like taking that slow, dreaded walk into the conference room with the big boss, your heart sinks when you see the Human Resource woman sitting there with her smug look. Working in the evil industry that’s directly responsible for the populist movement that sparked Brexit, far right-wing political parties all over Europe and the absolute disaster of the century (a Trump presidency), I always figured I’d be laid off eventually. Possibly the last non management support person hired in the business, starting on the day Lehman Brothers failed laid the groundwork for a slow and ominous future that saw 80,000 jobs shed worldwide over the following years. Claiming they “eliminated my position”, anyone with a brain knows the code words that mean they’re replacing highly paid expandable people in mid-career with 20 something kids willing to work 80 hours a week with no overtime at one-third the salary. Although it takes awhile to realize it, getting laid off after subconsciously wishing it was you each time they selected someone else during the annual cuts often turns out to the best thing that happens in your life (sans marriage and child-birth).
2) Why you leave a country you love
Caught between my love of Canada and my need to prevent a marriage where only one of us works (not me), Diane and I lived in Calgary, Alberta for six years. Describing a holiday visit, The Photogenic Side of Cold highlights the unknown for tropical natives. Married to a native of Edmonton, 150 miles further north and also North America’s most northerly city with a population of over one million, I’ve been in love with Alberta ever since a visit with my dad when I learned to drive with in Banff at age 15. Desperately needing a change of scenery, Diane and I jumped on an opportunity for returning Canadian nurses that included a generous $8,000 relocation stipend and a chance to live close to her family. Unfortunately, employment opportunities for specialized operations staff proved very limited and we wound up back in The Bay Area seven years later. Always a love/hate with nine month winters, I sometimes find myself missing the cold so we tend to spend Christmas holidays back in Canada. Standing out for its winter beauty, I’m not expecting anyone to defect from temperate climates from this post but it does highlight the beauty of winter which is now a distant memory after two years in the tropics.
3) Ancient Feminism
With Hilary Clinton’s demise, Girl Power; Khemer Style is my response to those who argue that women’s rights took a step back to 1950. While never pretending to understand what it’s like to be female, I am very pro-choice and love nothing more than shining examples of women’s empowerment. Without getting into religious debates or discussions, I’ll say that since being in Southeast Asia, our travels to neighboring countries shed some light on the role of women in society. Glancing at pictures of Malay women from the 1970’s (or Iranian women of the 1950’s in short bathing suits), we learned that attitudes on everything from modest dress all the way to suppression of basic human rights is more about politics and culture than any religious book. Chock full of female references and including many deities, Hinduism praises the female in ways I’d never imagined and visiting Siem Reap gave us an extensive history lesson. Although not as famous as Angkor Wat, it stood out as one of my favorite sites in Cambodia. Dubbed The Citadel of The Woman, the Pink Temple is beautiful and I’m inspired by the positive messages taken away from our visit. In fact, I’d like everyone to spend less time texting and more time learning about history.
4) An Absolute Must-Visit before you Die
Easily one the planet’s most amazing places, The Galapagos islands in Ecuador are somewhere everyone should see before they die and warranted a whole series of posts . Wildlife from the Flintstones describes one of our most enjoyable five days trips ever. Genuinely exposing a real life Jurassic park feel, many of the creatures remain as unfazed by humans as they were when Darwin discovered this amazing place. Sadly (or luckily, depending on your viewpoint), the islands are remote and visitation is heavily regulated due to extreme sensitivity of the ecosystems. Unable to tolerate major encroachment by humans, they limit visits on the islands to an hour or two a day whether you spend almost nothing and hire an inexpensive (and usually unqualified) local or splurge on a $30,000 expert tour company. Choosing our vacations during the working years as ecotourism and retirement destination research, we opted for the shortest luxury trip available that took in the most islands possible. Probably the place I’d most want to return to, I’d recommend this place if you had one chance at a relatively expensive trip in your lifetime.
5) The Best of Malaysia (a three-way tie)
Always enjoying talking about food, I’ve stressed that the blog isn’t designed to compete with or be like all those food blogs. But let’s face it; moving to Southeast Asia and not indulging in local foods is just stupid. Oddly, we’ve observed lots of Brits that come here and eat only crappy versions of western style curry, fish and chips and British style Indian food. Rather than doing that, check out That Dreaded Foodie Post before coming to Penang. Offering first impressions and opinions on the place reputed to have Southeast Asia’s best food, we disagree with the food critics but still enjoyed sampling and learning about the local treats.
Taking some time to enjoy the environs around Kuala Lumpur, I posted Monkey Business after we took a day trip to Selangor and enjoyed one of the best up close monkey experiences to date. Not really part of the tour, there’s a scenic overlook where the world’s friendliest (and tamest) silver leaf monkeys hang out. Taking full advantage of locals that sell bunches of bananas to tourists, this spectacular species of monkeys don’t live in Penang and we hadn’t yet discovered how much quality time would be available with long-tailed macaques and dusky leafs. One of my most memorable times in Malaysia, the bus almost left without us because frankly, I could do this all day .
And finally, there’s The Other Penang. Despite the unacceptable stench of burning garbage that wafts in my condo window 365 days a year from living in a very undeveloped part of this “almost developed” nation, we still took some time during our first few months to explore all the things Penang island has to offer. Difficult without owning a car, our neighbors took us on a drive to the less explored side of the islands that most tourists never see. Aside from Penang’s best Asam Laksa, there’s some worthwhile things like goat farms, pick your own seafood restaurants and secluded beaches not as gross as Batu Ferrenghi’s polluted dirty shoreline.
I’ve enjoyed sharing stories and tried to avoid writing factual “we did this, we did that” accounts of everything but if you’re curious what’s the most widely read topic on the blog it’s no contest. Over 4,000 readers from everywhere clicked on MM2H; The Malaysian Social Visit Pass. As Southeast Asia’s best retirement visa program, it’s garnered a lot of interest from potential applicants all over the world and as someone who broke the record with our agent for the most emails ever answered from any of her clients, I’d have to call myself a seasoned expert. But unlike Thailand’s revolving door of never ending visa renewals, once you’re approved, you forget all about it so if you’re interested, give it a look for more details. Having paid for six years, we’re staying on the program after we leave Penang and since our fixed deposits earn more interest than the highest paying cash deposits in the USA, it makes perfect sense. Once again, I thank anyone that’s taken some time to read our blog. Probably opting to keep writing once we’re settled in Chiang Mai, The Experimental Expats are soon saying goodbye to Malaysia and thanks for the memories.
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