Glancing at the Yahoo business headlines today, I came across an article about annoyed Starbucks employees complaining about heavy workloads, excessive demands being made on them, increases in drive through orders and a host of other issues. Obviously, the head honchos in the boardroom are sadly unaware of how things work outside the United States. Returning from a local diagnostic center halfway between Gurney Plaza and Georgetown that screened my blood for cholesterol and glucose, we decided to stop in at a well furnished Starbucks for a french press. ironically, it’s in the lobby of Penang’s largest hospital and my prior experience visiting the Starbucks in Diane’s old employer’s lobby (a large San Francisco hospital) made me think twice about stopping. Constantly crowded, waiting twenty minutes for a grande latte wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. But alas, this is Malaysia.
Sharply contrasting the retail world we left two years ago, Starbucks in Penang cracks me up. Not even opening until 8 AM or later, Malaysians are not morning people, have no interest in a morning jolt of caffeine and would just as soon spend their mornings doing whatever it is they do instead of waiting on long lines, spending exorbitant sums of money on overpriced western products and then hanging out all morning long. Choosing just about any seat you want, a mid morning visit is an almost surreal experience where bored-shitless employees are so happy to see a customer, they’ll even give you the eight cup French press even though you ordered the smaller one (and paid the lower price). Unclear why or how the company wants to invest in a market where employees sleep on the job while their American counterparts slave away, it’s one of Malaysia’s fun quirks that we’re sucking up before making the next move to Thailand in a few weeks.
But this post isn’t about western corporate interests in Southeast Asia. As we head out of Malaysia, I’ve insinuated that it’s more about being time for us to move on than hating Penang’s non-thrilling expat lifestyle. Accentuating the positives, I talked about our experience getting routine medical tests at the local hospital for Diane in my last post and mentioned I’d discuss my experience next. Already knowing healthcare is excellent in Malaysia, we’ve thankfully only needed to test the system for non emergency events one time each. Having visited a local hospital last year for a one time minor issue brought on from severe dehydration on our trip to blazing hot Myanmar, they already took a battery of blood tests (all normal) but its been two years since my last screening for cholesterol and glucose. Since I’ve been moderately concerned about switching from the healthiest diet we ever ate to a menu filled with rice, noodles and whatever oils they use in Penang street food, I decided to get a lipid panel before we leave for Thailand.
Wishing to avoid a doctor’s visit, it didn’t take long to find a diagnostic lab that runs just about anything you want quickly and efficiently at an affordable price. While this probably sounds normal for almost every non-American reader, all Yanks stuck in the homeland know we have the most expensive and pathetic excuse for healthcare on the planet. While Obamacare is certainly no permanent fix, it was a step in the right direction and the corrupt shitheads now running the nation will stop at nothing to eradicate every single piece of legislation ever passed by a black president. Having failed at their first attempt, the Republicans rammed through a piece of garbage disguised as a healthcare plan that passed the House of Representatives. According to a report just released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it would actually leave 23 million more Americans uninsured within a decade while cutting taxes for the Trump family and other billionaires by $230 billion over ten years.
Granted Diane and I were lucky enough to have excellent employee sponsored health care while living in California but since leaving the workforce, we carry no insurance and pay as we go. Choosing BP Diagnostic Centre, there’s no need for appointments, insurance forms, doctor’s referrals or long waits. Walking in the center at 9:02 AM, we went to the counter and took a number. Spitting out a ticket that read 102, they were already serving number 101 and after about 45 seconds, the English accented speaker said the magic words: “Now serving One. Zero. Two. At counter number two”. Not that it really mattered because there was nobody else at counters one or three. Approaching a friendly middle-aged Chinese woman, she showed us the menu of services. Paying for either a cornucopia of packaged diagnostic tests or only what you need, we chose an “à la carte” service of standard screens for HDL, LDL, triglycerides, total cholesterol and glucose.
Just like when we replaced my IPhone battery, they simply asked for my passport, an email address and a signature. Paying an astronomically reasonable 66 Ringgit (about $15 USD), she motioned us over to the waiting area but unlike the quick 15 minute wait for Diane (which was amazing for a large hospital), the technician picked up my order and in I went to the little room. Chatting in Malay with another employee, the technician stopped, sat me down, found a vein and sent me on my way three minutes later. Promising results by email within 12 to 24 hours, we walked out of the clinic at 9:15 AM. In about fifteen minutes and for less than the cost of an American co-payment, they finished and I was one on my way. Unclear why basic healthcare for all citizens is so difficult in the world’s wealthiest nation, I guarantee every American considering early retirement will marvel at healthcare done right. Having experienced a bevy of third world shit that irritates me to no end in a nation that brags about being one step away from “fully developed status“, I’m happy to report that healthcare isn’t one of those bad things.
Statistically speaking, about half of the blog’s views come from American readers. Now more than ever, there are millions of uninformed Americans that don’t understand we do everything differently than everyone else on earth. Anyone that ever paid attention to the experts knows there’s a desirable range for ensuring low risk of cardiac disease. Usually testing for LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol), triglycerides (fat in the blood) and “total cholesterol”, America uses a measurement known as “Milligrams per deciliter” (mg/dl). But that “in the ideal rage number” (usually less than 200 to 240 for total cholesterol) becomes meaningless once you’re an expat because everyone else uses a measurement known as “Millimoles per litre” (mmol/L). In fairness, France, Egypt and Columbia also use the American measurements but they were smart enough to dump the imperial system, now used by absolutely nobody outside the 50 states. Having lived in Canada for six years and being married to a nurse, I learned the international way awhile back but comparing my excellent numbers from 2015 to now requires a converter so for Yanks confused by the rest of the world’s medical standards, I offer a website to use as a handy converter.
Now for the somewhat strange part. With easy access to delicious mangoes, papaya and other delicious local specialties, we eat a lot of fruit. Usually acting as our after dinner snack, we also cook entrees using fresh pineapple. During my 18 month stint as an unemployed House Husband, I worked tirelessly and shopped at five different markets to keep our diet healthy. Usually eating lean protein, green veggies and salad for dinner, I researched how to make healthy dips and dressings and we mostly avoided rice, pasta, noodles, chips and other processed snacks and sugary fruits. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes boring but combined with a lot of core and strength work at the gym, I had my triglycerides at levels usually seen in professional athletes and although my LDL is always higher than the desired range, my HDL increased so much, my total cholesterol to HDL ratio came in at 3.44, easily in the optimal range of less than 3.5. According to The Mayo Clinic, cholesterol ratios are more important for measuring cardiac risk than the “total” number or even the “bad” number . And unlike in the cash strapped U.S. healthcare system, they provide your ratio in Asia as part of the standard results.
So imagine my surprise when my numbers arrived as promised the next day. Strangest of all was a significant drop in glucose. Considering I spent so much time in California avoiding sugary sauces, fruit juices and almost anything with more than a few grams of sugar, my glucose level was still borderline and it frustrated the shit out of me. Pulling up all my results since moving back to 2007, I noticed my glucose is at its lowest level in ten years. As expected, my HDL is not as high as it was but remains well above the desired level. And as usual, LDL is higher than it should be and the “total” number shows higher than the international standard for optimal but my all important ratio clocks in at 3.56 so life in the tropics as an Experimental Expat hasn’t hurt my health very much. In fact, one could say that it’s obvious there’s more sugar and shit in the North American diet than in Malaysia despite all the fats and oils used in street food (We really don’t eat a lot of it but that will no doubt change in Thailand).
Some recent emails wished us good luck on our move but we haven’t actually gone yet. Having found an excellent moving company for small shipments that charges only by the box and allows custom sized items, we’re slowly throwing out even more shit that’s been sitting in our storage room for two years while attempting to keep the move under 16 boxes and $1,200 USD. Thankfully, you only pay for what you ship so I finally parted with my old book collection (excluding all sports related team media guides and ticket stubs). We leave for a 15 day trip to Chiang Mai on June 6th and the plans are to use the first day at Bangkok Bank with a new friend that generously agreed to introduce us to his banker. After that, it’s non stop searching for houses in the Hang Dong area and we have a beautifully furnished sublet lined up as a last resort but it’s only available for six months.
After returning to Penang, we’ll visit the island’s resident expert for getting visas at The Thai Consulate and ask him to get us two “90 day single entry Non-O Visas”. Stuck in Penang for two last weeks due mostly to the Hari Raya holiday period where nobody works for days, our landlord is coming to get the keys on July 6th and then its back to Thailand via a one way ticket on Air Asia. The monkeys will be sorely missed but we’re very anxious to start a new chapter in The Experiment and consider the first chapter a relative success.
To all my American readers, enjoy the long Memorial Day Weekend and please do something nice to celebrate veterans who made real sacrifices protecting us from rogue nations. Sadly, too many of you in rural states voted for a moron that finished his first foreign trip by embarrassing the shit out of America. As the only participant at the G7 Summit that refused to uphold the Paris Climate Change Accord, the world takes another enormous step towards killing our kids futures long after this asinine man-child billionaire is dead and gone. Thankfully, the special prosecutor anxiously awaits Trump’s return and let’s all hope this sad chapter in American history ends sooner than one presidential term. As for readers in the rest of the world, I recommend steering clear of the world’s once proud leader of the free world until this nightmare ends. Cheers for now.