Oops; I did it again. Having finally conquered the horrible new WordPress Editor, I found myself reinvigorated and ready to share stories of our experimental early retirement once again. Launching into a series of recaps of our Great Smoke Season Escape Tour 2019 that included a trip to the powerfully compelling War Remnants Museum in Saigon and a lesson in rural rice farming with water buffalos, my writing ambition hit full gear. Then a 90-day blast of Saudi Arabian-like sweltering heat came to Northern Thailand. Understanding much of the world now suffers through historically unprecedented heatwaves in the summer months thanks to climate change, I’m not expecting much sympathy.
But it took us long enough to acclimate to 30 degrees Celsius and anything much higher than that is too hot for my comfort zone. And despite the declaration of an “official end” of the hot season according to the geniuses at the Thai Meteorological Division, almost no rain fell in Chiang Mai for three months, drought conditions prevailed and temperatures hovered in the mid to upper 30s every day. That’s over 100 for my Metrically challenged readers. Happily, the rain fell for two straight days now and at 30, (86 Farhenheit), the temperature’s almost Arctic-like by Thai standards. And then I noticed that on top of making the world’s worst business decision with the block editor, the folks at WordPress also increased my annual subscription by no longer including the domain name as part of my not so “premium” subscription. Full disclosure; I’ve spent most of the last month planning a 20th anniversary trip to Italy and having learned my lesson in Vietnam about getting lazy and using the guided tour option, I decided it’s both fun and rewarding planning everything yourself the old fashioned way. So once again, please pardon the interruption between posts.
So what’s been going on in our lives? Honestly, not much due to the heat. Having achieved a financial goal known as FIRE (Financial Independence, retire early), it sounds like life is a bowl of cherries after that. Loosely defined as a financial movement dominated by frugality, extreme savings and investment, advisers claim that by saving up to 70% of annual income, FIRE proponents aim to retire early and live off small withdrawals from accumulated funds. But nobody could’ve planned for an incompetent moron with four bankruptcies to step in and affect everyone’s portfolio daily with one ignorant tweet. Since I’m in charge of financial matters and maintain nothing more than a large spreadsheet, one financial software program and an old fashioned notebook that literally lists every penny we’ve spent since stepping off the plane more than four years ago, it’s been interesting waking up every day and seeing what kind of moronic shit the Stable Genius did to affect our finances. Generally trying to avoid writing about personal finances, living without employment income in a Trumpmerican world certainly warrants an exception to the rule so watch for my take on what’s happening with your money and ours coming in the next post.
While comfortably optimistic that slinging salami and roast beef at a deli counter to make ends meet isn’t in my immediate future, there’s much more to early retirement than financial security. (Oddly, I actually did work at a gourmet supermarket in 2002 when we lived in Calgary. As a financial administrator specializing in work usually available only in large markets like Toronto or San Francisco, the choices were slim at best.) Anyway, both Diane and I maintain high standards when it comes to friendships with other couples. Hating procrastinators, people that read texts but don’t respond and flakes that can’t ever plan more than one hour ahead, we’ve found it difficult to make lasting relationships in both Penang and Chiang Mai.
Often asked about why we hated living in Penang, we’d put a lack of compatible expats high on the list. Sadly, our Canadian neighbor and first friend was a Canadian married to a Hong Kong Chinese woman but he contracted lung cancer and passed away 18 months after we met him at age 58. And our other best friends in Penang, a pair of working-class Brits, passed the reliability test but for us, there’s only so many curry and beer nights we can have while struggling to find conversation other than boy band trivia and differences between Brit and American words (there’s enough to keep you going for a while). And later this month, we’re traveling to Kuala Lumpur to meet with our agent and terminate our participation in the MM2H Program. Easily my most searched for and popular topic in five years of blogging, many readers still don’t get that we didn’t like Malaysia, are not licensed professionals endorsing the program and that the blog is chronologically written so there’s no reason why I’d know anything about a place I haven’t lived in for over two years.
Having owned two suburban houses in The San Francisco Bay Area and Calgary, Alberta, our homebody lifestyle of live NHL hockey in the mornings (the only TV we pay for) and downloading American TV series’ (for free) in the evenings clearly doesn’t help our social calendar. Part of Chiang Mai’s allure is the availability of large, comfortable western-style housing at very affordable prices. Paying 20,500 Bhat ($637 USD) per month for a 1,700 square foot three-bedroom house in a gated community with pool and gym, it’s easy to get caught up with a live hockey game at breakfast followed by a ten-minute walk for a “Mom and Pop” 50 Bhat noodle soup lunch. Cooling off with a good book, a dip in the pool and a dinner that’s easy to prepare with amazingly inexpensive and delicious chicken or pork, it’s not like we gravitate to social events regularly.
But for many of you pondering a retirement destination, choosing an expat home with ample social activities should be equally important as the cost of living and quality of healthcare. Luckily, a guy named Steve produces a weekly email with literally everything to do from activities and special events to eateries and everything in between. For those contemplating a move to Chang Mai, here’s this week’s list.
As you can see from the download, there’s no shortage of things to do here. And we usually go through a honeymoon phase wherever we’ve lived since retiring in Asia where we actively seek places to go, people to meet and things to do. Unfortunately, I’m impatient by nature and both of us aren’t what you’d call social butterflies. Always planning for the next trip or new experience and working out excessively hard at our gym four times a week, there never seems to be enough ambition leftover for outdoor ball hockey (too hot) Chiang Mai Geeks (I’m too dumb), or Wednesday night jazz (too far and too late). Apologizing for the snobbishness, having grown up in New York and then lived in San Francisco, anything less than Broadway-quality is hard to pay for. And hailing from Edmonton, Alberta (the summer festival capital of Canada), Diane’s unimpressed with comedy that’s not funny and amateurish theater acts. So events in Chiang Mai like “Film Night at Alliance Francaise Charoen Prathet Road” are mostly not our cup of tea.
We almost went to see John Mayer when he performed in Bangkok during our trip south this year but the arena was a 90-minute trudge from the hotel. And as it turns out, a major incident between Thai concertgoers and Farang expats broke out over standing up. It seems Thai people don’t understand western concert protocol just like Malaysians talk and text as rudely as possible in movie theaters showing American films because they don’t get the cultural meaning. So it’s fair to say that while we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy trips to Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali, Hong Kong, and Australia while using Southeast Asia as a base for traveling cheaply, neither of us has found that “next great thing” that you’ll read is critically essential if you want to leave the workforce voluntarily. But ironically, while I typed this, an email showed up announcing that Mumford & Sons will perform in Bangkok this November. Count us in!
The other day during the rainstorm, we wanted to get out of the house for lunch and found a local Thai place we’d not been to that’s around the corner on the next main road. Serving 45 Bhat Khao Soi that was flavorful but not as spicy as most Northen Thai versions, we chalked up the day as a success so I guess we’re in defiance of the pundits telling us we can’t be happy unless we start up a new business venture, volunteer with orphans in the hills of a poor nation or learn five new languages. In our defense, we can shop for all most veggies and fruit using the Thai language as well as asking for the bill, inquiring what something is and of course, knowing how to ask for something “pet nit noy” (a little spicy).
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that while the Thai people love guns, watch the most violent American films with a passion and are governed by a military junta disguised as a representative Democracy, the number of mass shootings in Chiang Mai in the last 700 years since its founding is ZERO. Feeling much safer than war-torn America with its disgraceful spew of racially motivated massacres perpetrated by a hateful, deeply disturbed lunatic playing King of the World, I’d have to endorse Thailand (and Malaysia for that matter) as a relatively safe place to live (poor driving notwithstanding) where kids and adults don’t need to worry about duck and cover drills in schools, malls, and public festivals. While I’m completely convinced The Stable Genius will easily be reelected despite the Civil War being perpetrated against non-white citizens and a meaningless trade war that’s now cost American businesses over Six Billion dollars, I’d advocate leaving Trumperica for the safety and stability of the developing world any day. In case you’ve absolutely had enough, here’s a link to my Primer on Thai Retirement Visas.
Cheers from Northern Thailand. Comments are always appreciated and thanks for following.