Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

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

I’ll have the Salami Laksa please

No, there’s no such thing as salami laksa. But if there was, Canada would be the place to get it. Wrapping up our third house squatting experience as homeless souls in transition, the weather continued to be miserable here in Calgary as the first day of summer approached. Probably the only city in North America where everyone is wearing down coats, sweaters and even gloves, the severe thunderstorm watches and arctic like rain got old after a day or two. Having reunited with some of our old co-workers for lunches and dinners, there isn’t much left to do so Diane chose to hit the mall. Thinking I’ll be doing enough of that in Penang to escape the heat and humidity, I opted for one last Canadian culinary supermarket tour.

imageReturning to our old neighborhood in West Calgary, I embarked on a shopping spree to my favorite local supermarket. Strikingly different from any California store, my favorite thing about Canadian supermarkets is the deli department. Unlike Americans who eat only the crappiest processed garbage lunch meats and usually go to Subway or Panera anyway, Canadian deli counters are a cornucopia of fabulous meats, cheeses, specialty items and olive bars. Thrilled to find that the store improved and remade itself into a sort of gourmet superstore, I decided to document all the delicious things I probably won’t see in Malaysia. And of course I bought lunch for the next few days. Ironically, McDonalds is running a promotion this month featuring “Canadian specialty sandwiches”‘ and this week’s is an Atlantic Canadian Lobster Roll. Stumbling on the same promotion for a limited time only, I saw one left at Sobeys and it was even two bucks cheaper than McDonalds.

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