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.
As a new political horizon dawns on Singapore, I find myself reflecting back to our last Singaporean excursion a few years back. Initially planning an exploratory visit to Penang for expat destination research, instead we decided on the glitz, glamour and excitement of the world’s only country where cultural pride involves department stores, cash registers and shopping bags. Maybe we’d been living in Status Symbol Land for too long or perhaps all Americans long for another land where instant gratification at all cost is not only encouraged but practiced by an entire citizenry. Either way, the memories of a beautiful rainforest vacation to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo quickly faded into a five-star adventure at The Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore’s yuppiest enclave. Like Dorothy realizing she’s not in Kansas anymore, we emerged on the Marina Bay Streets determined to find something beyond Orchard Road that made this town tick.
Realizing this wouldn’t be an easy task, we spent some time reading guidebooks and talking to the impeccably dressed and extremely courteous hotel staff. Explaining that we wanted to experience some cultural aspects of the city, they all seemed confused and understood as much about multicultural life as most Americans understand about anything outside the USA (little to nothing). Undaunted, we left the hotel via an air-conditioned back door hallway which ultimately led to the pristine subway terminal designed to quickly illustrate the difference between Asia’s incredibly beautiful modern infrastructure and The San Francisco Bay Area’s dilapidated obsolete network of crumbling commuter railways. Glancing up at the billboards, the first thing we noticed was the third place winner of a photography contest explaining how Singaporeans love shopping. Yikes. Fortunately, we discovered our favorite two cultures had their own version of Singaporean culture. Having explored and thoroughly enjoyed Little India one day earlier, this time we headed to Chinatown.
Almost 23 hours after stepping on Cathay Pacific Flight 102 at 12:30 AM in San Francisco, Diane and I stepped out of our hotel in Bangkok, breathed in the torrid tropical humid air and stepped on the Chao Prya Express Boat. Famished, tired, jet-lagged and excited, Thailand was our first visit to Southeast Asia and part of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacation. Like Anthony Bourdain, I also believe a perfect bowl of noodle soup is the world’s most perfect food. Seeking an unknown destination and any available delicious bowl of perfection close to the hotel, we traveled two stops and hopped off the boat.
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 →