Wondering why retired people with no job waiting for them back home would experience jet leg, let me go on record and dispel a myth. Despite not having any schedule other than deciding what and when to eat, sleep and leave the house, our body’s natural rhythm known as “the body clock”doesn’t care nor understand you were laid off almost five years agoand chose an experimental overseas early retirement. Having returned from our excruciatingly long North American jaunt that totaled just over 34 hours and landed us in our living room just under two full days after leaving, I learned that losing an entire day due to time differences and trans-continental flights catches up to you no matter how much you sleep on the planes. Attempting a return to my rather “anal”routine, it took until the third morning until I finally felt rested. Which leads me into my segment on our choice to spend almost a thousand extra bucks for “premium economy”. Throughout this post, I’ll include pictures showing what you get for your extra money on Cathay Pacific Airlines.
The Cathay Pacific Premium Economy seat
Having returned to Chiang Mai during the off-peak months when the rainy season blues are in full swing, I noticed my first post after a two month layoffgarnered little fanfare compared to my historical numbers despite having somehow picked up dozens of new followers even without posting any new content. Realizing I’m not the interactive type, this doesn’t surprise me but I’d like to at least feel like somebody besides me gives a crap (or even enjoys) my style of slightly off beat cynical yet realistically optimistic expat tales, so instead of spending all the gloomy days in the coffee shop playing Words with Friendsand pretending to practice speaking Thai, I’ll put off the morning walks on non-workout days and focus on getting more content out there. Thankfully, I did go to a gym once in both Edmonton and Calgary which is ambitious for a “vacation” so hitting the weights again was easier than returning from our recent springtime escape from the Chiang Mai Burning Season.
As 2017 progresses into its first full week and the temperature here in arctic Edmonton hovers around a seasonal minus twenty Celsius, my body says it’s desperately time to get outta Dodge and get back to the comforts of heat and humidity. Plagued with a three-week head cold, cracked dry skin, sore lips, caked up nose, tired bones and bundled up in double wool socks, vests on top of down coats, warm gloves and a hat, I’m longing for the comforts of shorts and t-shirts again. As much as I love Canada and will always call it my second home, there’s no denying that Canadian prairie winters really suck. Fortunately, when you sell a house in California an don’t need to buy another one, it’s relatively easy to become an overseas expat in a hot nation for about fifteen years.
23 kilogram limit: mostly food
Financially speaking, although we spent about six hundred bucks more than our thirty-day budget, we bought a cornucopia of quality brand name products at Boxing Day sale prices that end almost all our shopping needs for a year or two. Including about twelve Nike Dry fit t-shirts, two pairs of name brand hikers good for the jungle, new Ecco and Keens sandals, a new fanny pack and toiletry kit for travel and deodorant that actually works in the humidity, the shopping aspect is worth three flights, two layovers and almost 20 hours of flying time. Also horribly inconvenient for me since I’m legally blind in one eye, there’s only one brand of contact lenses that work well for me in any environment.
Filed under the mostly boring topic of returning to North America for the first time, I apologize ahead of time for the cushy little post about what we did on our winter vacation. In keeping with my blog’s slightly edgy but realistic views, I’ll start by pointing out that Americans worried about immigration can chill out because apparently, every immigrant bound for North America has mysteriously landed in Western Canada. In only eighteen months, the whitest place I’ve ever lived in morphed into a multi cultural center of ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Strolling through the streets and malls, we’ve seen literally thousands of non white immigrants blending in just perfectly with Canadians. Mostly dark-skinned Africans, head dressed Muslims from every conceivable nation and Hindus from nations other than India, it seems the like first course of action for the Trudeau administration was to stick it to the Trumpsters by letting tens thousands of immigrants call Canada their home.
Canadian version of Malaysian wildlife
Being Canada, nobody cares, argues, stares, protests, tweets, spews hatred or otherwise argues. And much to the chagrin of angry white American voters, its obvious after one day visiting that not only are they all peaceful and appreciative to be here, they’re all employed and contributing to the local economy. Where there used to be teenage white kids staffing retail stores and old Indian men sweeping streets and filling custodial jobs, now there are Senegails, Gambians, Bangladeshis, middle easterners and oh, yeah, thousands of Syrians that the Canadian government welcomed with open arms. Demographically speaking, it makes sense because in every developed nation, someone has to do the service jobs and just like American teens, Canadian kids have grown out of mall jobs and now probably earn online income to support their insatiable smartphone habits.
Well this sure ain’t Malaysia. Making a brief two-day stop in Hong Kong just because we wanted some real Chinese food, Diane and I hopped on the Air Canada flight to Vancouver a few days ago and braved the twelve-hour insanity known as flying into yesterday. Unfortunately, the rain in Penang stopped long enough for another stretch of bright sunshine just before we departed that left my dehydrated and over-exerted body with a slight cold. Sadly, flying makes dehydration even worse and it turned into laryngitis as we collected our bags in Hong Kong. Not exactly known for its blue skies and perfect climate, Hong Kong defied expectations with three incredible days of bright sunshine and 23 Celsius degree perfection. Accompanied by Diane’s sister-in-law who just happened to be visiting her parents, we embarked on a one day tour, ate some delicious seafood and hoped for the best with my cold as we waited patiently at the Air Canada gate. And that’s when we possibly broke the Guinness Record for the biggest climate drop in human history from between flights.
Ah, real coffee again
Having left Penang on a 30 degree morning (86 Farhenheit) only a few days earlier, we arrived at Vancouver International Airport too late to make our connection to Calgary thanks to delays on both ends of the Air Canada flight. Well slept but still tired, we cleared the new and improved kiosk based customs, collected our bags, and headed upstairs to an endless line with about one-third of the frustrated 350 passengers that also needed re-ticketing. Usually opting for Cathay Pacific when flying a transcontinental route, some greedy CEOs decided to change economy ticket pricing to a three-tier system like Air Asia and other discount airlines. Charging upwards of $500 to “upgrade” your fare class to one that allows seat selection, choosing the reasonably priced cheapest fare means sitting twelve hours on whatever shitty middle seat in the back of the plane they assign you and not bringing any checked luggage without paying a fee. Yeah, that makes sense on a 6,000 mile trip. So we chose Air Canada despite their strange departure time from both sides of the Pacific because you can pick your seat and connect to Calgary on the same itinerary. But even one minor delay of an hour leaves them struggling so badly on the other side that it’s worth making sure there’s several flights after the one you’ve chosen in case of lengthy delays. They sent those traveling further east than Alberta to hotels for the night with a whopping ten-dollar food stipend that might buy a donut and coffee and they re-booked us on a later flight to Calgary.
Before we moved to Malaysia, Diane and I did a lot of research about local television options for overseas expats. Being that one of us is Canadian and I consider myself an honorary pseudo-Canuck, watching live hockey was a big issue and we dreaded the thought of missing the NHL playoffs. Knowing we’d be moving to a tropical nation where hockey is totally unknown and the closest we’d ever get to ice would be the cubes in our drinks, we devoted countless hours on forums dedicated to live streaming. Generally speaking, the consensus used to be that access to live North American sports for overseas expats involved a host of complicated options including VPN’s, special boxes and other devices for fooling the host provider into thinking you’re physically located in North America. And then of course there’s the obvious lazy person’s method of simply paying for packages from the major sports leagues like MLB.com.
Perfectly acceptable for retired expats older than us that know little or nothing about the internet, paid sports packages are expensive, rely on the strength of your local internet connection and often have annoying blackout options. Our Canadian neighbor, an avid baseball and hockey fan, is 12 years older than me and subscribes to NHL.com. Arriving last year as newbie expats without a definitive solution for our TV viewing options, we had no interest in paying for Astro, the local cable company offering a host of packages that are mostly useless for North Americans. And “sports packages” on the other side of the globe provide endless hours of football (soccer in American speak), and a host of other unfamiliar sports like cricket, rugby, and other bizarre options of no interest to us. Initially excited over the prospect of watching NHL games, we spent the first few weeks of last October plopped down on our neighbor’s couch as the season opened but his Chinese wife from Hong Kong didn’t take to kindly to this since he already spent way too much time couch surfing without us being there.
Those of us old enough to remember school essays that were actually written with pen and paper probably had to do at least one standard version of “How I spent my summer vacation”. Here in the tropics it’s always summer and Malaysia is one of the few tropical nations sandwiched between two influential monsoon weather patterns which means there’s not really any seasons here with the possible exception of January through March when it’s almost always very dry. Usually planning vacations in Southeast Asia around wet and dry season, we hardly ever know what month it is here and were it not for internet radio and social media, we’d probably have no clue that summer is winding down. Celebrated as the last official weekend of summer, Labor Day marks back to school for North Americans but here in Malaysia, the end of August ushers in a slew of holidays celebrating everything from Malaysian Independence to the most important Hindu Festival of the year known as Deepavali.
As seasoned expats (all of 14 months), we’re not as inclined to investigate each festival because most expats check out whatever local holidays have to offer in their first year and decide which ones are worth coming back for. Sadly, very few Penang events are worth writing home about as far as we’re concerned so as we settle into our daily lives and try to save our cash for travel, we usually avoid the crowds associated with most holidays. Living in the nation’s most popular beach resort town means withering large crowds on public holidays but unlike the big city, big parades and spectacles are not really part of the festivities for most Malaysian holidays. Indian and Chinese holidays do have more glitz but Chinese New Year 2016 was amazingly devoid of fanfare In Penang and many locals blamed a weakened local economy combined with the first full year after the government implemented the GST (goods and services tax). Choosing to spend the Merdeka holiday with the island’s non human population of mostly friendly monkeys held more appeal to me than hanging out on crowded beaches anyway so that’s exactly what I did.
Watching yet another round of useless U.S. presidential primaries that helped solidify the inevitable shift towards a twenty-first century version of 1930’s Germany, the real life American Horror Story played out in three more states as American voters continue making the biggest mistake in the history of free elections. Flipping through Facebook looking for anything positive, I stumbled on a new report from Condé Nast Traveler that ranked Penang the number two place in the world to retire. Citing the convenience and ease of theMM2H Visa along with access to historic architecture, culinary delights, a thriving art scene, international standard health care and an English-speaking community of expats, this didn’t really surprise me that much although that’s higher than most rankings I’ve seen in the past.
The view from our condo
Further noting Georgetown’s UNESCO status, proximity to Singapore and many beaches, the brief caption summarized some of the best highlights. While agreeing with many points, I’m unsure what target audience the magazine hopes to lure in. Given the millions of serious inquiries by Americans about moving to Canada should President Trump become reality, I’d almost swear it’s for disgruntled but sane American voters not so pathetically angry and broke like the newly created populist rebellion crowd. Add in the fact that they’d rank a Muslim country so high while conveniently forgetting to mention the official religion and you’ve almost got a scandal on your hands at least according to any CNN exit poll of Republican voters who almost unanimously agree with barring two billion people from the entering the world’s model of freedom.
OK, it’s not my native land but it was my home for seven years and it’s the place I feel most comfortable in, despite my New York City roots and over 15 years spent in California. Hearing a lot about all the Americans from Miley Cyrus to the guy next door claiming they’ll all leave and head to Canada with a Trump victory, I thought I’d shed some real insight on the topic since for me it’s “been there, done that“. First, my post-Super Tuesday commentary.
Obviously having zero effect on the outcome, my comments on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election went unnoticed as America came one step closer to electing Drumpf as the nominee, setting up an almost inevitable march to the White House. Knowing most voters in the conservative and rural states that voted on Super Tuesday probably don’t know the meaning of “expatriate”, this no surprise. Hypocritical world reaction from the European world leaders went from shock to disbelief despite the disturbingly high number of similar xenophobic racists that dominate the political circles all across the continent. With many nations having already enacted anti-Muslim immigration legislation and other isolationist policies designed to increase nationalism and foster racist attitudes among the masses, Bloomberg’s on-line app recently commented how Drumpf actually fits right in with the new 21st century attitude of hatred, fear and racial segregation.
While saddened by the current state of world affairs, it’s no surprise that America appears headed on the same path despite being the most powerful and influential nation on earth. With trillions of dollars wasted on military actions disguised as anti-terrorism acts, perhaps the money would’ve been better used on education. Statistically speaking, America scores dead last in almost every class of scholastic achievement making it possibly the world’s most ignorant developed nation. Intentionally designed to keep an uninformed nation in the dark, the Republican party covets the citizens least likely to ever benefit from Republican pro-elite policies favorable to business and Wall Street by standing on morals and not issues. Every country has right and left-wing types and under normal circumstances, there’s always been enough sanity (and educated citizens) to prevent sociopaths from taking the reigns of the world’s most powerful job.
And so all the preparation work is finally over and the last day in North America arrived. Waking to a blazing heat wave that’s almost unprecedented with temperatures already scorching and expected to hit almost 35 on the coast next week, the Great Western Canadian Road trip comes to an end late tonight when we board a flight for Hong Kong bound for a Kuala Lumpur connection. Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific frustrates me to no end with their crappy internet website that doesn’t work and no available customer service anywhere in North America on Sunday. Having bought our tickets online four weeks ago, it let us pick seats on the transcontinental flight but not the three-hour connection to Malaysia. Attempting to check in online last night, it took about 17 tries until it recognized our booking reference number. Prompted to confirm the seats to Hong Kong, it then brings us to the seat selection for the KL flight where there’s a whopping three seats left to choose from, two of which are premium upgrades. After clicking, we get an error message stating “sorry: something has gone wrong; this is probably temporary: check back later”
Knowing technology is not their strong point we checked back two more times last night and again this morning and still the same issue. With nobody to call, it seems we are stuck until we get to the airline counter where I will complain about their website and the inability to choose a seat on a connecting flight. With no seats available according to the website, I guess they’ll have to upgrade us to first class since there’s one non stop flight per day. Fortunately, Cathay is too expensive for anything except transcontinental flights anyway but I could do without the added stress. On the bright side, our property agent emailed us an itinerary of eight different showings over two days once we arrive in Penang and our friends Eric and Marlina are also leaving for Malaysia in two weeks so we hope to meet up with them by the time we meander back to KL to complete our MM2H Visa. Expecting no issues, we hope to have the approval letter by early August and hopefully we’ll be a bit settled in by then.
Wishing to once again thank our friend Nicole for allowing us to use her beautiful house in South Surrey, British Columbia for a double stay squat, I reacquainted myself with the beauty of the Lower Mainland and hope our investments do well enough to possibly return here permanently after we’ve had enough of Asia (although everything is up in the air). For now it’s goodbye to all the things we’ve both gotten used to for a lifetime and on to interesting but different things, new places and uncharted experiences. Thanks to everyone for all the supporting comments and should anyone wish to meet us in Penang, please use the contact page to email us. Taking bets on who will be first, we’ve had dozens of friends, relatives and even strangers tell us they’ll come visit but realistically I don’t expect too many visits with a 7,000 mile change of address. Hoping the IPad works in Asia, we’ll post again once were comfortably enshrined in our temporary three-day hotel home in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
With a million thanks to our incredible relationship manager in Kuala Lumpur, I’m happy to report our Malaysian bank account is open ahead of our arrival. Defying conventional wisdom by accomplishing this from overseas, we’ve eliminated one major concern and can now concentrate on finding a place to live without worrying about financial issues. Flying directly to Kuala Lumpur on June 30th, we meet with our banker the next day where he’ll present us with checks, an ATM card and a credit card application form. Staying one extra day to catch up on sleep, we’re then off to Penang two days later where we’ll stay at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel for 11 nights while looking for a condo rental. Proving my research paid off, we opened a premier account in the USA a few months ago, giving us the go ahead to open overseas accounts before arriving. Granted you need the right relationship manager and ours was a referral from an old contact on the now defunct MM2H forum. Oh, and the KL to Penang flight on Air Asia was $19.50 USD.
Concentrating on getting a place to live, we wrote another one of our old contacts and she referred us to a local property agent who has a stellar reputation. Contacting her by email, she wrote back less than 10 minutes later and agreed to show us properties and drive us around the area as soon as we arrive next weekend. Reading up on the process, it seems a bit lengthy and costly by our standards with property agents wanting one month’s rent as a fee and landlords demanding upwards of two to three months rent up front as security deposits. Wishing to cover all the bases, we decided to look at third-party owners looking to rent properties directly which could potentially save money. Finding no shortage of availability, we used the forum on InterNations and found a few possibilities. Setting up meetings the following week, we hope to wade through the process relatively quickly without getting ripped off. Of course, our ethnic advantage should help and we even booked a meeting with a European business owner dedicated to helping expats. Continue reading →