Here’s the thing. Often spending Malaysian mornings crafting blog posts about the latest Southeast Asian place we visited or complaining about burning garbage smoke wafting in our condo, there was plenty of time to focus on writing. But that’s the thing with Chiang Mai. Between endless eating opportunities, a small but friendly expat community and interesting places to visit for day trips, I’m simply not finding time to focus on the blog as much as I’d like. By the time my brain gets a chance to remember any anecdotal stories good enough for a post, we’ve moved onto something else. And with all the great food, serious workouts at the local gym become inherently necessary to avoid packing on the pounds. Despite the rain that’s come down in buckets for upwards of 24 straight hours almost regularly since our arrival, there’s always something to see or do and after two months, it’s sometimes hard to get past wasting two years of valuable early retirement time in Penang.
Harissa ribs – entry number three
Having spent Saturday night enjoying a group eating event featuring flame grilled ribs seasoned four different ways at a place called The Flying Pig, we’re both tired and feel like sitting around our comfy three bedroom house with the “High-So”neighbors (who are totally oblivious and indifferent to farang residents). But in today’s world, that means playing with the phone on social media which ultimately leads to a new notification from one of countless Facebookgroups focused on food, cultural events or weekend hiking options. Sadly, although we’ve taken some day trips to the rice fields and surrounding mountains, our nasal passages and throats haven’t yet adapted to a normal active lifestyle in the rainy and humid season so we’ve decided to table the weekend hiking group options until cool season.
Coming to a close, if someone asked me to summarize our first year as retired expats in Asia in one phrase I’d have to choose “always interesting”.
In retrospect, eighteen months of correspondence with our MM2H agent helped make our transition to expat life in another part of the world relatively simple and painless. Knowing we’ll probably wind up in Thailand after our lease expires in July, 2017, we’d still recommend Malaysia to anyone with ample financial means for its above average infrastructure (by Southeast Asian standards), lack of language barriers (everyone knows and speaks English) and relatively disaster proof geography (outside the earthquake and typhoon belts).
Despite the statistically strong economy, the Malaysian Ringgit remains at near record low levels versus the USD and British Pound but is unlikely to cause problems for expats (barring any more financial scandals or unexpected calamities to emerging markets). One of the only major disadvantages is a banking system that forces people to the money changer for foreign currency. Having exchanged way too many US Dollars for ringgit at a lowly rate of 3.7613, (it hovers at 4.25 to 4.35 for the last few months) we failed to realize the ramifications of a plummeting currency and kept less than $100 USD on hand which leaves us hosed when we need to buy foreign currency with the ringgit. But other than that, becoming an expat in Malaysia was easier than expected.
Recently someone posed a question about why we chose Penang instead of KL. Sounding like the obvious choice is the big city with all the socializing and things to do, I’d like to discuss the issue by example. Although we are still in transition and haven’t finished buying everything we need and still have to spend a week in KL next month to complete our MM2H visa, we are anything but bored. Penang has over 50 different “tourist” attractions to explore including the UNESCO Heritage Area, interesting museums highlighting Chinese, Malay and historical aspects of the island, a national park ten minutes from our house, an amazing array of cuisine ranging from spicy to mundane and everything in between, festivals all year-long, art, dance and comedy performances at different venues, a wonderful botanic gardens with free admission and Penang Hill which is 2,400 feet above sea level and offers respite from the heat. By the way, we think the island weather beats the valley smog anyway. Varying from day-to-day, we’ve seen everything from sunny and hot (beach days), overcast with intermittent sunshine (perfect for walking and exploring), rain that never lasts all day and usually comes in the middle of the night, spectacular sunsets, smoke (the crappy part but not so bad this year) and breezes that allow limited use of air conditioning.
Citing examples, on the last weekend of every month there are free guided walks offered in various places and we took advantage of two of them in the Botanical Gardens. Organized by a native Penangite, the Saturday morning walk was a detailed explanation of some of the different gardens including a visit to the wild orchids and descriptions of native and non native trees and plants seen throughout the park. Everyone on our walk was local and like many places, was very uninformed about the beauty in their backyard. Deciding we’d enjoy the evening walk even better because it highlights the rainforest trail and it’s cooler at 6:30 PM than 9 AM, the walk would cap off our Sunday. Taking advantage of another event earlier in the day, we hopped on the bus and visited the Little Penang Street Market held in the last Sunday of every month. Enjoying some cheesy but harmonious live entertainment, homemade food and interesting memorabilia, it was decidedly different from the generic street fairs they hold every year throughout the Bay Area and the vendors are a hundred times friendlier and interesting than grumpy California merchants who are always angry at life because they can’t make a living selling artsy stuff that nobody buys.
As a miscellaneous post script for any Americans thinking about MM2H, the Malaysian Ringgit just hit a 17 year low versus the U.S. Dollar. Although there is reasonably justifiable cause for concern with the current financial scandal that’s basically ruined all hope for Malaysia’s lofty goals of fully developed status by 2020, politics is not something expats should ever discuss so let’s just say that at $3.81 MYR for every USD, anyone can afford to move here and at the moment we use Our U.S. Dollar charge cards which are giving us better rates than the cash we converted for our first few months of living expenses.
We’ve never been to Penang even though we’ll be moving there in 2015. I’d be remiss if I described 12 reasons that I’ve not yet experienced. However, we have eaten some of the food on our exploratory trip to Borneo and Singapore. Penang is world-renowned as the premier gastronomic food destination in Southeast Asia. Anthony Bourdain raves about it so who am I to argue? Continue reading →