Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Truckin’ by Train

Proving all good things are worth waiting for, our return to the big city culminated with a full-page color stamp in our passports. Exactly 660 days after the Japanese owned and California based bank “eliminated my position” and then mysteriously hired two less experienced people six months later, Diane and I are officially MM2H visa holders. Bypassing all traditional and secure methods of early retirement, we filed the paperwork from overseas as soon as my 50th birthday arrived. Six short weeks after that we sold our overpriced but very comfortable suburban San Francisco Bay Area house, thereby rendering us homeless. Spending six weeks in Canada and probably overstaying our welcome with friends and relatives, we figured we’d take a chance and get a head start, knowing the visa would take about 10 to 12 weeks until we received our “conditional letter of approval”. Defying conventional wisdom according to dozens of forum posters and even our MM2H agent’s advice, we successfully opened a foreign bank account from overseas, bought a one way plane ticket to Malaysia and headed out the door with two suitcases, an Ipad, an Ipad mini and two old Iphone 4S phones that we’d need to replace and bid farewell to our old life in North America.

imageFast forwarding six weeks later, we’d already been settling in to our awesome condo unit in the beachfront town of Batu Ferrenghi when our agent informed us the approval letter came through less than 10 weeks after filing. Allowing applicants six months to complete the rather tedious process of fees, medical check-up, buying medical insurance and placing two fixed deposits (MYR 100,000 and MYR 50,000), we needed to travel to Kuala Lumpur and ultimately to Putrajaya, the Malaysian government centre before our 90 day tourist visa expired or risk having to re-enter so we hit the road last week. Deciding to use the Malaysian train system instead of flying, we packed a week’s worth of light clothes into a newly purchased medium-sized suitcase, ensuring it would fit in the small overhead compartment of the train and contacted our Uber buddy for an early morning pickup. Penang’s airport is rather far from our house and KLIA, in the nation’s capital, is almost an hour away from the downtown core whereas getting to the train only takes a 20 minute drive to the ferry terminal and a 10 minute ride on Southeast Asia’s oldest continuously operating ferry. Conveniently located right at the other side, Butterworth’s train station allows easy access to trains that journey as far south as Singapore and as far north as Bangkok for about the same price or less than Air Asia.

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Monkey Business

No, we didn’t fall off the face of the earth. It’s been a long week back here in the big city and yes, we did accomplish our mission. We are now officially MM2H Holders and are free to come and go in and out of Malaysia for the next ten years, although we will have to renew the pass in six years since my passport expires in 2021. Shelling out lots of cash, they ask you to pay an annual fee up front for as many years as you want up to ten but most people only pay until their passports expire since you have to return anyway at that point. But more on that later. Once we return back to Penang, I will post about our entire trip. For now, however, I have to share something that’s basically made the entire process worth it. No, it’s not some new career or volunteer job that fulfilled our dreams. It’s spending some unexpected quality time with the world’s tamest silver leafed monkeys.

Before you judge me, let me run the disclaimers. Obviously, I’m fully aware that these monkeys belong in the wild foraging for their own food instead of hanging out on people’s shoulders eating bananas that tourists feed them from vendors that make their living selling huge burlap sacks of monkey treats for only 10 ringgit. But I love monkeys so much I could spend weeks with them and never be bored. Intending to volunteer helping animals at various wildlife shelters throughout Southeast Asia, Diane and I will spend time doing things besides being dumb tourists. But this caught me so off guard I had to treat it for what it was; an incredibly enjoyable and heartwarming half hour with monkeys so friendly and interesting, it’s amazing more people don’t know about this area so close to the big city.

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Knowing we’re not in Kuala Lumpur very often, we decided to spend six days even though we only needed a few hours on two days to complete the MM2H visa. Possibly the world’s coolest premier banker, our new friend and relationship manager at our bank agreed to spend some time with us on Saturday to show us the KL Tower and eat some Nasi Kandar where the real (overweight) Malaysian Indians hang out. Having completed the visa on Thursday, we searched for a day trip that didn’t involve visiting ethnic neighborhoods, mosques or walking tours since we walk more than 99% of the population. About an hour outside of KL is Kuala Selangor, a charming seaside town with a unique attraction. One of the few places in the world where firefly colonies are visible, it seemed like an interesting few hours and leaves late in the day since you can only see the fireflies at night.

Touted as a “nature park”‘ there’s a small reserve where the guide books and internet reviews say it’s possible to view birds and “sometimes monkeys if you’re lucky”. Not really making much ado about monkeys, our guide picked us up and told us we’d be making a stop at a lighthouse where the straits are so narrow you can almost see Indonesia. Apparently someone told the monkeys that it’s easier to hang out in the trees near the parking lot and simply wait for the bus loads of tourists to arrive. Named Bukit Malawati, the area is a beautiful spot with an old lighthouse on the top that overlooks the Straits of Malacca.  Featuring some canons that nobody seems to know anything about, the guide was trying to convince our group to leave the parking lot and walk up the hill to experience the view. Totally ignoring her, Diane and I spent our half hour with  sack of bananas and some incredibly awesome “wild animals”.

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Known as “silvered leaf monkeys”, they’re actually Silvry Lutungs, a medium-sized monkey living in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo. Technically langurs, you’ve probably seen them in zoos described as “Francois Langurs”. But even working at the zoo wouldn’t get you as up close and involved with hundreds of them. Big and small, even mothers carrying little babies will enthusiastically eat from your hands and they’re more than happy to jump on your shoulder and eat their bananas while you explore their little fingers, pet them and just get to know the  like they’re your own personal pets. Unusually non smelly, they don’t poop on you and have the most adorably human eyes. Like dogs, they all have individual personalities and some are more dominant but only with the other monkeys.

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So please forgive me for going ga-ga over something as ridiculous as monkeys that learned how to eat well by simply acting less aggressive than others. Maybe I’m being childish or even irresponsible by feeding wild animals that belong in the trees but they’re not threatened, endangered or any worse off since nobody feeds them dumb shit like potato chips. For us, it was the absolute best anormal experience so far in Malaysia, albeit slightly unethical.

imageOh yes, we did see the fireflies but it’s too hard to take pictures that look like much so instead I’ll just show you the view from our dinner stop. Scenic and reminding me of Borneo, the downside is a horribly disgusting environmental situation that includes garbage everywhere and toilets that literally flush into the murky river. Malaysia has a long way to go despite KL looking like a big city in any G8. Anyway, apologies to the animal rights activists and anyone else offended by feeding monkeys that shouldn’t be this tame but our blog is about our own personal experiences as expats so that’s what we write about. Promising posts detailing the test of our trip including the semantics of MM2H, we’re off to eat some incredible food unavailable in Penang. Perhaps the best part, we love the food but wouldn’t ever have chosen KL or any big city because we’d windup chubby like so many Malaysians living here already are. Ah, progress and its downfalls.

Cheers from the beautiful Traders Hotel in KLCC.

 

Off to the “big city”

ApplogoIng for my blogging negligence, I know I promised more posts about Jamie’s visit but somehow time snuck away. It’s 5:40 AM, now a horribly ungodly hour for early retirees and we are headed downstairs for our personalized Uber pickup. Heading to the jetty, the ferry and then on a train, we’re off to Kuala Lumpur to finally complete our MM2H visa and get stamped.  Taking the train seemed like a fun way to see the country since we don’t have a car or a local drivers license. Planning to stop at the U.S. Embassy for a ridiculous new rule requiring “authenticity” of our U.S. Drivers license, we grabbed an appointment as soon as we could since there aren’t that many. Staying in luxury one last at time, the Traders Hotel is home for the next six days. Planning on sharing the journey whenever I can, adios for now and thanks for following

Cheers

Home Sweet Home

Yay, we have a place to live! Having accomplished an amazing amount in a relatively quick timeframe, we’re glad to report we signed a rough draft on a rental agreement in the beautiful Bayu Ferrengghi apartment complex. Having spent another day searching in the areas closer to amenities, shopping and “the big city”, we decided that suburban living facing the oceanfront was more our style. Unlike many beachfront locations, Penang is a small island served with an amazingly efficient set of bus routes that are quick, clean and air-conditioned. Seven day Bus passes cost MYR 30 for unlimited rides and monthly passes are also available but you need to fill out a form and attach a passport picture so we can do that later. Served by two lines that traverse the entire side of the island from downtown Georgetown all the way our to Penang National Park, getting anywhere is easy.

Lemak Laksa, unique to Penang

Lemak Laksa, unique to Penang

Proving everything you read on forums is not always true, I want to give an immediate shout out to our incredible property agent, Catherine Loh. Having read horror stories about agents that scam, steal, and don’t care about anything but getting paid, I’m happy to tell you there’s at least one agent with honesty. Acting with the same integrity as the realtor in Walnut Creek that got us 15% over asking price on the sale of our house, Catherine knows the island well, speaks impeccable English and genuinely puts the interests of her clients first. Not seeing the need to use any other agents, we realized that although there’s a lot of rentals available, many of them come with annoyances such as being in the middle of construction zones, being too far inland for those without a car or with occupants not in line with what we’re looking for. The famed Miami Green Apartments, for example, is the most popular expat complex on the island with an 80% expat population. Unfortunately, people come and go, security is lax, the road is dark and dangerous at night and its location halfway between Batu Ferrengghi and Tanjung Bungah make it impossible to walk anywhere. If you want to know these things, you need a good agent. Like Yvonne at Joy-Stay, Catherine is this agent.  (they know each other and thT shows the best work with the best) .Feel free to contact her at propsolutions.com or contact us for her phone number.

Compromising a bit, we decided on a ninth floor unit and not the original one we viewed in the 26th floor because its furnishings were more complete and it had a good feel to it. Although limited compared to the rest of Penang, a huge scale construction project is just beginning not too far from our complex and the view hides the ugliness and keeps some of the noise down. Everything in Penang is negotiable and interestingly enough, the owner of the higher unit wanted MYR 3900 but counter-offered all the way down to MYR 3200 when they discovered we found another unit in the same building that was much cheaper. Satisfied with our decision, we can get the keys next Monday and our tenancy begins in July 15th. Terms are one year with an option to rent at the same rent for an extra year and the owner pays all the condo fees.

Getting started in Malaysia is quite expensive compared to North American rentals. Most landlords demand two months rent, a half month more for a utility deposit, a stamping fee for legal paperwork and then most agents charge an additional one month’s rent as a fee. Considering this fairly exorbitant, be ready to shell out as much as 3 1/2 months up front. Luckily for us, Catherine agreed to charge us only half a month’s rent as a fee and we consider that very reasonable. Not even demanding proof of MM2H approval, we probably used the ethnic advantage so my advice to all the white guys is marry a Chinese girl if you want favorable treatment. On that note, everyone in KL speaks Cantonese so Diane understood everyone just fine. Penang Chinese people speak Hokkien, a dialect so strange-sounding that it may as well be Swahili to anyone speaking Cantonese. So although Diane can’t understand one word they say, the funny part is she can reposed in Cantonese and they all understand. Inquiring where they learned, they told us from watching TV. At least they don’t think she’s Filipino like in San Francisco.

As for shopping, there’s a large Tesco located nearby and we’ve already seen that’s the main place for just about anything. Open from 8 AM until 1 AM every day, there’s a myriad of American, European and Asian food items, housewares, toiletries and almost everything else. Already applying for a club card, I’m sure we’ll be there next week to buy bedding, laundry detergent, some cutlery and many other small items. Cold Storage is also here should you crave European meats, cheeses or various other sundries. As expected, alcohol is crazy expensive and even a cold Tiger beer at the hawker centers are expensive by Malaysian standards but since we had our fill of California wines for enough years, this is no big deal for us. (Although nothing tastes better than a cold one in the sultry heat of a food court, especially if you like spicy dishes like laksa and curry Mee)

Malaysians are possibly the most helpful and honest people in any country on earth and moving here has been surprisingly easy so far. Both of us think of a throwback to 1960’s America where people helped each other, everyone knew their jobs thoroughly and things ran smoothly and efficiently. Not really encountering the slow, inefficient island like speed that everyone writes about, we’re both equally surprised how easy navigating things is. Peacefully co-existing, it’s a far cry from the sad and pathetic depiction of Muslim counties that’s drilled into heads of every American. Graciously helpful, the staff in every store goes out of their way to help and if they don’t understand, they immediately find someone who does. Refreshingly pleasant, we’ve been able to get our bank accounts open, buy new cell phones even though the system is very different from North America and navigate the transit system. Our banker Shahreeman is possibly one of the coolest and hippest relationship managers anywhere. Email us if you need a referral in Malaysia.

Kim Chee pork and rice

Kim Chee pork and rice

Receiving word yesterday from Joy-Stay that they signed our MM2H Conditional Letter of Approval, the visa process is almost complete. Unfortunately, it requires another trip back to KL to complete but they give you six months from the date of the approval to do this. Thinking we need some time to relax, we’ll probably go in late August once we’ve had time to settle into our new condo unit. Requiring a trip to Joy-Stay’s offices, Yvonne will arrange a medical appointment which is quick and simple and hand us the hard copy of the approval letter. Returning to our banker the next day, we’ll place the fixed deposit of MYR 150,000 and receive a bank lien letter. With everything already set up and the funds transferred, this is a painless and easy issue. Proving timing is everything in life, the Ringgit continues to weaken against the U.S. Dollar and our deposit comes to just under $40,000 USD, an astounding drop of over $10K since we began researching the program. Given the currency rates, now would be a good time to convert more and not less and having all our money based in the U.S. Is highly advantageous at the moment. (The ringgit,is it this low versus the Euro so Europeans don’t enjoy this benefit).

Jack fruit at Tesco

Also needing to secure a medical insurance policy for one year as a requirement for the Visa, we’ll visit one of the many multi-global companies with a presence in Malaysia like AIG or Allianz. Typical insurance premiums for healthy people run somewhere in the range of a few hundred US dollars for all the standard coverage. After that, we will probably pay as you go for any routine medical treatments. The ministry also insists on applicants shelling over ten years worth of annual fees at one time which we think is excessive but there’s nothing we can do about it. Finally, we will visit Putrajaya with Yvonne and get a stamp in the passport allowing for ten years of unlimited entry in an out of Malaysia, renewable indefinitely. Hello new life.

Having so much more to share, please accept my apologies as I end this post for now. Promising a food based topic next time, we’ve already enjoyed scores of Penang favorites lite Laksa, Curry Mee, Mee Goreng, Char Kway Teow and Popiah (the best spring rolls ever and unique to Penang). We already made a new friend as one of the hotel employees is an awesome 30 something Malaysian woman who went way above and beyond to help us get out of the crappy Copthorne. She lives five minutes from our new condo and we exchanged contact info so we can get some personal tours of the area and find out where the locals eat. Cheers for now as we’re off to the hawker center for dinner that will no doubt cost under $5 USD. Selamat Tinggal.

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Selamat Datang Ka Malaysia

So here we are. Almost 22 hours after departing Vancouver at the ungodly hour of 2:00 AM, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago. Stopping for a quick layover to take care of banking issues and have a look  at the country’s capital city, we take one last short flight to Penang tomorrow and begin the Experimental Expat House Hunt. Normally, I’d write a rather lengthy and descriptive post detailing what we’ve seen and done in my usual storytelling mode. Unfortunately, I have to admit that we’re beat and still getting used to living in tomorrow so please accept my apologies for the lack of text.

imageKeeping it brief for now, I must say our first opinion of Malaysia is very favorable. Everyone has been friendly and helpful, the people are respectful, and the lack of efficiency I read in so many posts has not shown itself to us in any meaningful way. Granted, this is Kuala Lumpur, a metropolis much bigger than Penang so perhaps this will change but so far, we love the country and look forward to getting settled in before partaking in various adventures. Although we spent much of our time in the main office of the bank with our incredibly cool relationship manager, we did have time to eat some great food and partake in some tourism so I’d like to share some pictures with limited text. Staying at the luxurious Traders Hotel in the city centre and know as KLCC, the beautiful Petronas Twin Towers soared right outside our window. Promising better stories later, please bear with us while we transition into life in a new place. For now, here’s some of what we did, saw and ate:

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Goodbye Creamer, Hello Evaporated Milk

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”

imageKnowing 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.

imageWishing 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.

Cheers to the Western Hemisphere

Pre-Penang Progress Report

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.

imageConcentrating 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