The Tides of Change

Two strange things happened after we returned home from our six-week escape from the annual Chiang Mai burning season. Having driven over 3,000 kilometers, I’d had my fill of vehicular vacationing for a while and although the air still remained shitty almost two months into the burn season, some welcome rainstorms arrived late in April which finally cleared the air for another year. Naturally, there was one last gasp of poison after the burning ban ended and countless Thais celebrated by incinerating everything from garbage to plastics since most of the agriculturally related infernos had already burned themselves out. Ultimately, Thailand is a third world nation and expecting the bulk of its population to magically change a lifetime of environmental ignorance is a pipe dream. Thankfully, it was short-lived and even though May brought in blazing heat, the skies are sunny and AQI levels are finally back to an acceptable level.

As any blogger knows, the most important aspect of blogging is content. Regardless of how great or crappy the words and pictures might be, if you want people to find, follow and enjoy your personal creation, you need to keep posting. Admitting I’m pathetically negligent in other areas of blogging like participating in forums or using the WordPress reader, I’m not a huge fan of the tools most people use to increase their readership. Believing Twitter is directly responsible for the disaster known as the Trump administration, I hate what Facebook’s become and lost many of my friends anyway thanks to political differences. I don’t have an Instagram account and other than practical communication apps like Line or Viber, I wouldn’t know Snapchat from Tagged. Unaware of the latest hip viral You Tube videos, I don’t have patience for interaction with other bloggers nor do I enjoy writing meaningless banter in search of more followers.

Originally planning to follow-up my last post with pictures and suggestions for other expats in Chiang Mai looking for inexpensive places in Thailand to escape the burning, the heat put a damper on my blogging ambitions. Spending most days suffering through a gym workout or hanging out in our favorite air-conditioned coffee shop playing Words with Friends, I’ve been afflicted with a horrible sense of writer’s block known as laziness. Which leads me into the first strange thing. A few weeks ago I started seeing in increase in new followers. Often coming in two or three at a time and usually without any comments or likes of recent posts, it seemed to defy conventional wisdom. Not seeing this much attention since some dumbass decided to trash this post on the Yangon edition of Coconuts, a regional community website written in various Asian cities, I couldn’t pin down where the new followers were coming from.

The first thing I ate in Malaysia

With the three-year anniversary of leaving North America to become overseas expats quickly approaching, it’s now been almost one year since we left Malaysia for Thailand. Knowing it’s hard to compete with thousands of millennials seeking out a day-to-day existence writing about Thailand or selling ebooks with information that’s free and easily obtainable with some internet research, I considered ending the blog but instead posited finding a niche to separate our stories from the Chiang Mai Digital Nomad crowd. Having garnered a relatively small but loyal base of followers over almost four years, I figured I’d ask my readers for help. Concluding that there’s not much out there about the lifestyles of middle class fifty something early retirees in Chiang Mai, I decided to forge on with the blog’s intended theme of becoming “Experimental Expats” and continue my brand of sarcastic and slightly cynical realism. With many more Westerners living in Thailand than Malaysia, it’s normal that we find things comical and interesting in Thailand but after three years, things aren’t as fascinating so I cut down on posts because I like to keep the writing original and fresh but still informative and entertaining.

Visiting KL to get our MM2H passport stamp

Sitting around on a hot day playing with Facebook, we started following stories of the 14th Malaysian General Election but like all the “experts”, we figured there was no possible way the world’s longest continuously ruling political party would lose in a nation that ranks number 62 on the  Corruption Perception Index according to Transparency International. Add in the most corrupt leader of any nation that masterminded a $4 billion dollar scam from the nation’s wealth fund known as 1MDB, who was somehow cleared of all charges and it seemed defeat was as likely as a Trump presidency. But of course we all know how that ended. Amazingly, the 92-year-old former Prime Minister who formed a loose coalition with the political foes of the ruling gang of thieves pulled off the political upset of the century, America in 2016 notwithstanding. And then it hit me.

Having switched to a Thailand based theme that matches the current stage of our Experimental Early Retirement, interest in each new post dropped off and sometimes I can’t even garner one single like or comment despite keeping the same writing style. But daily viewership’s remained about the same and it’s because the top five posts viewed on any given day continue to be about something related to Malaysia. Continuously advising readers that we don’t live there anymore because it wasn’t for us hasn’t stopped people from seeking out information about the MM2H Visa, life in Penang and everything else related to a place we no longer want to talk about. So while I’m both perplexed but honored that my little blog literally makes the first page of any Google search containing the phrase “MM2H Visa” or almost anything related to retirement in Malaysia, I think it’s time to explain a few things for all the new-found readers that may think I’m a valuable source of information for everything related to expat life in Malaysia.

As inferred by the main title, the theme of this quasi-expat blog is a chronologically arranged  ongoing story of two middle class North Americans who chose early retirement overseas due to an unexpected job loss. Not really knowing if we’d have enough long-term cash and investments to support a work free lifestyle for 40 or more years, we spent previous vacations researching potential retirement destinations but had actually hoped to work another five to ten years. After my layoff at age 48 1/2, we decided that one of us (not me) would keep working until my 50th birthday which made us eligible for Southeast Asia’s best retirement visa in terms of ease once obtained. Then we took a chance, listed our overpriced suburban San Francisco Bay Area house that was almost fully paid off, sold literally everything and moved to a place we’d never even visited based on lots of research, a now defunct forum and a few anonymous online friends that helped us get set up. The Experimental part of the story lies in the countless unknown factors that affect your life once the income stops and after our two-year lease in a Penang condo lapsed, we opted to try Thailand.

The Ecological Disaster of 2015 and a big reason for leaving Malaysia

Already knowing that although we like Thailand, there’s a variety of reasons why the experiment will involve another move after two or three years in Thailand. Our story evolves and I try to inject anecdotes or other interesting things that we see in our not so exciting retired lives. Having been approached dozens of times by people wanting something, I’ve refused guest posts, commercialization and monetizing in any way because as you may recall, the blog is what I do because I like sharing stories, writing comes easy to me and apparently most comments generally praise my blog as being different from all the others selling information or blabbing on about their weekend trip to wherever. Along the way, I always try to inform, educate and entertain which is why I’ve lost some enthusiasm now that I’ve noticed so many people reading stories of Malaysia and then asking me questions about a place we don’t endorse because we really didn’t like it. While never regretting the move and thankful for the countless learning opportunities, the experiment in Malaysia mostly failed us.

Having said that, I’ll go on record and say I’m both surprised and elated that the citizens of Malaysia did the right thing and chose to use their democratic voting rights to dispose of a corrupt leader that’s abused the office. It’s what normal citizens of almost any normal society do when their elected officials go so awry and I’d like nothing more than to see somebody (ANYBODY) use some power to get that vile piece of ignorant shit out of The White House. But that’s for political blogs and it’s plainly obvious the racism, intolerance and fake news is here to stay and the only thing that will set America right again is the calendar. We do have some close Malaysian friends including our ex banker and some neighbors that are happy as pigs in shit that they’ve taken back their country and I’m quite surprised to see such immediate actions like revoking the GST (a 7%goods and services tax) that’s mostly gone into the pockets of the corrupt and desperately hurt millions of average citizens that can’t afford it. Appointing a committee to reopen the criminal investigation and get real justice also surprised me and today I heard the new leader is reducing cabinet salaries by 10% in to help pay down the National Debt. So Malaysia is the shining star of democracy and this fast developing story should be front and center.

But of course it’s not. Westerners know little about Malaysia and media across the globe lead off every day with Donald Fucking Trump. And asking Americans to give a shit about a Muslim majority nation instead of focusing on why the white terrorists keep murdering school children with gun massacres is clearly way too much. But I digress. Recently, someone who writes one of Thailand’s best blogs (and someone I’ve promoted many times) filed a claim against me for inadvertently using one of their pictures in a post. While perfectly within their rights, this digital nomad generation takes things to extremes I’m not remotely on board with. After apologizing by email I removed the entire post but this clearly proves my point. I’m not doing this to make a living, don’t sell information like the blogger that contacted me and I write mostly for my enjoyment and hopefully yours.

We live in less fear in the developed world than anywhere in gun crazed America

So here’s the scoop, everyone. While I very much appreciate the questions, comments and new followers, this is NOT an expat blog about Malaysia. Don’t panic; there’s other expats blogging about expat life in Malaysia who can probably address your questions about visas, healthcare and other concerns. I know; I’ve seen them and while I never found one I liked, they’re still more up to date than I’d be. More to the point, I’m NOT an expert on the MM2H Visa, we have NO VESTED INTEREST in anything Malaysian and I can’t endorse any specific agent or their services. With due respect to those that keep asking, I’m NOT going to share my MM2H cover letter or any other personal information for privacy reasons. We applied over three years ago and the program changes its rules often so my old posts reflect facts and viewpoints that were relevant then but not necessarily today. And if you’d like more information on why we chose Malaysia, what we liked and learned initially and why we slowly soured on living there, please search for posts chronologically beginning with my unexpected layoff all the way through our move to Chiang Mai.

Finally, I’d like to close by offering heartfelt apologies for straying off topic to my longtime and regular followers, those familiar with my writing and anyone else that’s been patiently waiting for my next post on the First Annual Experimental Expats Pollution Escape Tour. Originally planning a follow-up on what one might do in the small sleepy beach towns of central Prachaup Khiri Khan province, I got sidetracked by the all the Malaysian stuff and contemplated putting the blog on hiatus because while I love writing and sharing stories, it’s hard to find inspiration when all your daily page views refer to posts from three years ago. But I know you’re out there so I’ll keep at it and even offer a glimpse of what’s to come for our Experimental Expat Early retirement.

Unlike Diane, I’m kind of stir crazy. Keeping totally different hours, I sleep at 11 and get up at sunrise while she prefers to stay up late and relax the mornings away in bed. Always interesting, developing nations offer lots of benefits from the craziness of American life from inexpensive lifestyles to safety from school gun massacres by white terrorists but about every 18 to 24 months, I desperately need to get out of the devloping world and return to the life we left. Thankfully, Diane’s family lives in Canada and this year we even decided to combine a trip back home with a trip to New York. Allowing me a chance to ease the guilt associated with having selfish aging parents that are mostly estranged, I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart and we’ll turn it into a vacation. Then it’s off to Edmonton and Calgary for three weeks and by then we’ll be a lot poorer and remember the main reason average middle class early retirees with lengthy life expectancies need to become overseas expats if they want their cash to last. Departing on June 13th, we chose the summer this time after I froze my ass off last time during the holidays. So while it’s only loosely related to expat life, returning home every so often helps keep me sane and I’m sure I’ll be sharing some stories of that trip if anyone cares to read. Meanwhile, thanks for the support if you’re still out there. Cheers .

Please leave comments 

I like comments.

Yes, I have a fragile ego.

 

9 thoughts on “The Tides of Change

  1. NCC

    Thanks for another nice blog… I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across this interesting article about Mahathir in your “hometown” newspaper: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/world/asia/malaysia-mahathir-mohamad.html?module=WatchingPortal&region=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=thumb_square&state=standard&contentPlacement=19&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2018%2F06%2F14%2Fworld%2Fasia%2Fmalaysia-mahathir-mohamad.html&eventName=Watching-article-click

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  2. durbanroots

    I’m still here – enjoying your blog! When I started following years ago, I never had any specific interest in Malaysia or Thailand as such but remain interested in you and Diane and the lifestyle you’ve put together. It’s bold and brave and honest. I’ve told you before but we want to leave the UK as soon as possible (work stuff ongoing) – think we’ll stick to Europe for a permanent home. We’re stuck with a house for sale in a slow market (so much crap going on here regarding Brexit and its associated mess) so I’m very much a frustrated armchair reader of your adventures. Can’t wait to get out exploring! If I won the lottery, I’d love a little house in Toronto – spend 6 months there and then 6 months elsewhere. I love that city.

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  3. Archie Henderson

    Rob, glad to hear your back in harness and feeling better about your copy. Malaysia was one of my targeted destinations for life after retirement and having lived and worked their in my working life I did know and understand the pitfalls in particular with their way of life and very few ever question what they have. I spent 3 years in Brunei and often questioned why the locals never questioned and just accepted how things were. It takes time to adapt and it became apparent to me that I could never accept it as it was and your blog has just affirmed my suspicions from a real life perspective.

    Thailand is still a possibility but again it has its challenges and I also have friends who live there and anytime I’ve visited I have felt his frustrations over the years.

    Keep up the good work your efforts and very much appreciated as we have not yet made up our minds.
    Thanks
    Archie

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  4. Valérie

    Hi Rob,

    I love your blog! Every time I get that notification email saying you have published a new post, I rush to your site, and reading your stories is the highlight of my week. We still have to work a few years before we can retire, and following your adventures, discovering new places, people and activities through your eyes and your experiences is a fantastic way to be start travelling in our minds. It almost feels like we’ve hit the road with you as our guides! I understand why people flock to your Malaysia posts, given the scarcity of information on MM2H and life in Penang in general, but I enjoy following you everywhere you go, Thailand, Cambodia, New York or Calgary! 🙂

    Val

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Val

      Well that’s one hell of a great thing to say so thanks a lot. Glad to know there’s still people out there not looking for MM2H advice. I just came across a great article on MarketWatch from some American folks living in a trailer that retired early and emulate almost all of the principles we do so maybe I’ll find it and provide a link. Bottom line is many people are jealous or angry because they’re stuck in their debt ridden world but in actuality it’s not as hard as it seems if you live below your means as we did then and do now. Cheers and thanks again

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  5. Archie

    Keep up the good blogging it reminds me of my times spent in both countries and makes me think about our own retirement. My wife has just retired 2 weeks ago and I’ve been retired 4 years now. I find your blog informative in many ways.

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