Speaking by text yesterday with a childhood friend I haven’t seen in 16 years, I laughed at his reaction to my Facebook post about inexpensive and efficient healthcare here in Penang. Jokingly asking how much it costs in Southeast Asia for braces, he implied he’d use that as an excuse to come visit and take care of his teenage son’s dental needs. Responding by asking when he’s retiring, he laughed and told me he’ll be working forever because he loves his Silicon Valley tech job. While admirable, I’ll never understand anyone that thinks working until you’re way too old to experience all the great things life has to offer ranks higher than early retirement. In his defense, he’s only 53 and probably has a lot more accomplishments left in his career. Conversely, I spent 31 years in and out of cubicles working as a support specialist for more investment advisers, banks and brokers than I care to remember. Other than learning how to be a self-directed investor able to amass a portfolio big enough for a shot at early retirement after my unexpected layoff, my working years garnered zero in the way of fulfillment or career satisfaction and always served as a means to an end.
Having read countless articles about people more successful than me choosing early retirement to attempt other personal goals, I set out with good intentions when we started our early retirement exactly two years ago this week. Unlike many others, exploring my inner skill set isn’t so easy. Uninterested in starting a business (the most common reason cited), I can’t see working 100 times harder than I did in the office and risking any capital when we have no income. Possibly the world’s least handy person, all things related to building, crafting or creating things are out and learning other languages sounds about as fun as a root canal. Highly fond of wildlife, we both talk about volunteer projects involving animals and our American friend (a working expat) who engages in 20 different things even gave us an opportunity to work with monkeys for a week. But we’d just returned from a three-week trip to Myanmar and the job demanded too much of an immediate commitment of our own money and resources so we tabled that retirement goal for now.
Which leaves me with the blog. Starting 2 1/2 years ago and not knowing anything about WordPress, the number of followers isn’t what I’d hoped nor is the level of interaction but having just passed 100,000 page views and now averaging over 100 per day, my no-nonsense blend of sarcastic realism obviously appeals to someone. Fascinated that over 38,000 people in 168 different nations spent some time reading my commentaries, this is probably as good as it gets for me when it comes to utilizing modern technology. So I’ve decided to accept this milestone as a my first small accomplishment since retiring and although writing comes easy and I enjoy sharing stories, I guess it’s a skill and it may wind up being my best and only creative endeavor. Pondering what to write to commemorate the event, I decided share five of My Own Personal Favorites that haven’t received as much traffic as The Reader’s Favorites. Thank you to everyone that’s ever spent some time supporting me.
Having just stepped off the plane as newbies to Asia one day before July 1st, Diane and I didn’t really have much time to take in Canada Day last year. Uniquely different from American Independence Day, I always enjoyed celebrating when we lived in Calgary and love how Canadians appreciate independence differently than their patriotic neighbors to the south. Although there are Canadian expat organizations in Malaysia, the main ones are in KL and since we chose Penang over the big city, we don’t envision raising the red flag with any fellow Canucks this year either. With Canada Day falling during Ramadan this year, the island is especially quiet and so in the interest of all Canadian expats, I’m presenting three ways to celebrate Canada Day; Penang style
1) Eat Duck Rice
One of Penang’s signature dishes, chicken and duck rice like Canadian bacon cheddar burgers in Alberta. Although there are dozens of shops to choose from, there’s one that stands out above and beyond the rest. Conveniently on the way to our favorite park and the Botanical Gardens, Sin Nam Haut serves up generous portions at strangely low prices. Offering crispy roast pork, honey glazed char siu, chicken and roast duck, the tables are large and roomy, servers come take your order right away and the floors are spotless.
With several locations, we usually eat in the Tanjung Bungah location near Island Plazaon the way to one of only two worthwhile supermarkets where we buy groceries. Less glitzy than the Pulau Tikas shop shown above, the staff always remembers us and we usually order combination duck, char siu and pork along with four marinated eggs. Also offering one of the island’s tastiest homemade soups, the homemade stock tastes like it’s been cooking for hours and it’s chock full of fall off the bone pieces of chicken, greens and some veggies. Granted the rice in Penang is nothing to write home about but the orange-colored moderately spicy sauce tastes perfect on top and for the price, you can’t beat the value. Coming in at about 25 or 30 ringgit, (about $7 USD) it’s one of our favorite lunch time treats and while you can’t chug a Molson Canadian to wash it down, we drink cold green tea and remember that a similar take away order from Edmonton’s Chinatown runs about $25.
And just like that, it’s exactly one year since Diane and I stepped off the plane in Malaysia to begin our Experimental Overseas Early Retirement. Looking back, the one word that comes to mind more than anything is “interesting“. Experiencing a totally different lifestyle without the added pressures of raising kids and commuting to work, the year went by faster than we’d imagined and tallying up the totals, we’re almost exactly on budget. Keeping careful financial records of every transaction, withdrawal, credit card charge and foreign exchange transfer, I’d say it’s indeed possible to live a similar lifestyle including moderate travel in Southeast Asia for about 80% of your pre-retirement net salary. Of course, we lived very frugally to get here and my unexpected layoff pushed us into this experiment five years earlier than planned. But with the tumultuous events unfolding back home, there’s no better time to retire in Asia for westerners tired of all the violence, political rhetoric and elitism that’s causing social upheaval not seen since the 1960’s.
Granted Malaysia isn’t the least expensive Southeast Asian nation but it doers have many benefits including an English-speaking population, above average infrastructure and inexpensive but excellent healthcare featuring many physicians and specialists that are U.S. or European Board Certified. While Penang isn’t exactly the most convenient airport for connections around the region, it does have daily non-stop service to Hong Kong allowing for a quick connection back to the homeland as well as direct flights to Bangkok, Ho Chi MInh City and many destinations in China. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, our not so little island has mountains, trails, national parks and serene parks. Despite the unprecedented and ridiculous over-development of million dollar luxury condos designed for wealthy foreign investors, you can still lose yourself in Penang. Spending many days hanging out with friendly monkeys or kicking back on a not so beautiful beach that’s mostly deserted over 40 weeks a year, I don’t miss the chaos of long commutes or the daily dose of intolerance that’s hijacked the homeland. Thanking every reader that’s followed my stories detailing our relatively unexciting life, I’ve written a chronological summary of the first six months in Penang with links to old posts for those looking to catch up or read more.
Shielded from many public massacres, Canadians have mostly escaped the controversy and horror associated with one of America’s biggest debates: The second amendment, aka“The Right to Bear Arms”.Following mostly in the footsteps of its superpower neighbors, Canada’s been forced to enact many of America’s post 9/11 anti-terrorism laws at airports as well as a myriad of other rules for stepping up security levels. Until today, touring the nation’s capital and its governing halls was never off-limits as White House Tours have been for years. Sadly, thanks to an armed lunatic with a gun and a chaotic scene today, I’m confident we’ve seen the end of the Parliament Building tours for the public.