Although it’s been over three months living in Chiang Mai, the stark difference between Malaysia’s stubborn indifference and Thailand’s Land of Smiles attitude still haunts us. About a month ago we registered our Thai bank account for automatic monthly direct debits to pay both the electric and water bills. Having read countless horror stories and complaints all over the internet about what happens if you miss a payment, we decided that using direct debit is the only practical way to ease all concerns. Granted it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do and it does involve a trip to the provincial offices of each municipality but it’s a one time thing and I’m realizing now that some local expats are just downright lazy. As the larger company, the electric company was easier and only required showing our bankbook and a passport. Despite limited English skills, the friendly clerk went out of her way to help because that’s what they do in Thailand. (especially when your wife looks Thai despite being a Canadian of Chinese descent).
The special slot for utility bills
Sure enough, when the little 4 X 4 bill arrived in the special mail slot the following month, it had no due date or bar code so we knew they set it up and a week after that we even received a paper receipt in Thai and English asking us to please make ample funds available for the amount due on a specified date. And the funds came out as expected with none of those pesky fees they charge at 7Eleven where almost everyone pays their bill. So later that first month we repeated the process and drove to the provincial water office hoping to accomplish the same thing. Unfortunately, they also speak very little English but determined we needed to take a form written in Thai down to our bank, have them fill it out and return back to the office. With little fanfare, a customer service agent at our bank filled it out using perfectly scripted little miniature characters (Thai people have the best handwriting the world). Returning to the water office later that day, we approached a well dressed woman at the information counter, made enough motions for her to understand, and she pointed at an in-box for us to leave the completed form. Figuring that wasn’t so bad, we decided on the quickest way home and went on with our day.
Approaching the end of our third month in Penang, we celebrated our 15th anniversary last night with Peter and Idy, our awesome neighbors and good friends. Choosing the Penang location of Sushi Tei, a Singaporean chain that was excellent in KL, we perused the 31 page menu but sadly the service and quality was not up to par compared to The Big City. Coming to the end of our third month as Experimental Expats in Penang, the honeymoon phase appears to be over as daily life slowly creeps in. According to everything we’ve read about being expats, most people love the beginning because everything is new and exciting. Usually too busy focusing on what’s new, contemplating what you’ve really done is difficult while figuring out your new surroundings. Having settled in relatively easily, we’re now approaching that dreaded second phase where many expats take a hard look at what they’ve done and begin to crave the comfortable surroundings of their old home. While I’m not remotely ready to pack the bags for California (or Canada), especially since the financial markets shaved a big chunk off our assets since this summer, we are noticing some things that clarify why we’re able to live overseas at one tenth the cost of developed nations.
Citing an example, our internet service usually works but not at the standards we’re used to. Often unable to stream movies during the evening, there’s only one option customers this far out on the island and unfortunately, it’s not the better of the two companies. Providing wifi, land line we never use and a host of useless TV channels that no westerner has any interest in, we installed the bundled service that provides the strongest capacity. At only 8 Mb, you can’t really expect perfection. (Comcast, our old provider in the USA, provides about 30 Mb for the most basic broadband service). Often needing to reboot the modem, the solution to frozen internet service reminds me of my early cubicle life in the 80’s, when the answer to every issue from the IT guy was always “Did you reboot your PC?“. Seeing that a reboot didn’t work one day, we had to call for service. In Malaysia, this means the service guys call you anytime they happen to be around and expect you to drop everything and run home. Scheduling appointments is not really an option and we’ve seen that specific people service “unreasonably far” service areas like ours in Batu Ferringhi. (For the record, our town is 5 kilometers from the more populated parts of the island.)