Tag Archives: MM2H

The Semi-Big Milestone

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 PenangJokingly 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.

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Spring Break

Oh, hello there. Yes, I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything and no, we didn’t fall off the face of Batu Ferrenghi although I have been counting down the number of days left until we leave Malaysia and move to Thailand. (It’s 94). Having now learned what we’ll need to get non-tourist visas to Thailand and making enough new contacts to get an appointment at a Thai bank, we’ve been focusing our attention on the most important event of spring. No, not Songkran; the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Understanding many readers outside North America and northern Europe might be unfamiliar with the annual eight week ritual that sees 16 teams competing for the greatest professional sports trophy in the world, let me clarify. Canadians (and a small select group of awesome Americans) love hockey more than almost anything (except maybe beer). Easily the hardest championship to win, it takes four grueling “best of seven” rounds before players earn the right hoist the 34.5 pound cup overhead and crazed fans like us get, well, nothing really, other than bragging rights to rival fans.

Thanks to the internet and a little help from the earth’s curvature, all the playoff games start for us between 7 AM and 10:30 AM making almost every morning a breakfast time ritual for the next eight weeks. Alas, even we need a break from hockey sometimes and it’s my birthday this month so we decided on a short trip to Bali during the last week of the National Hockey League’s regular season. Wishing not to spend too much money, we decided on a five night package deal at a boutique beach resort in the relatively hip but not overtly loud town of Legian. Some readers may recall the problem we ran into when we first booked the deal. Realizing most things that seem too good to be true usually are, they offered the seemingly ridiculous hotel price of $116 a night during a unique Balinese holiday called Nyepi. Celebrating Hindu New Year unlike anywhere else on the planet, it’s known as “The day of silence” which means guests are not allowed to leave the resort and all work ceases for an entire day. Unwilling to waste precious time, we rebooked the dates, paid an exorbitant sum to Air Asia for change fees and went one week later. Naturally, there was yet another religious holiday called Galungan and it fell right smack on the day we slated for island exploration.

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A Day in the Life

One of my favorite song lyrics comes from Semisonic’s 1999 hit, Closing Time: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. Borrowing that line is the best way to describe why it’s time for us to leave Penang and move on. A few days ago, my good friend Cimeron published a post titled Cost of Living in Penang on her excellent blog Oh MY Expat Life. An eternal optimist, she always sees the glass half full although she’s certain not blind to her surroundings and often refers to some of the less than attractive features of life in Penang quite bluntly. Understanding everyone’s different, we admire and respect each other’s views but recognize that sometimes two couples see the same things in a different light. Readers familiar with my blog know we’ve decided to leave Penang once our lease expires and move to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Given recent developments in The Draconian States of America under the “leadership” of an unqualified tyrant that’s quickly changing the world’s largest superpower into a racially pure isolationist state, I’ve received lots of page views from potential MM2H applicants. Short for Malaysia My Second Home, it’s technically a long-term social visit pass but with unlimited multiple entries for ten years, it’s easily Asia’s best retirement visa.

img_8114Concerned that something’s specifically wrong with Malaysia, I’ve also had questions about why we’re leaving. In a nutshell, there’s a host of reasons why we’ve worn out the attraction. Unlike working expats who often enjoy large high-rise condos at the company’s expense, we’re not on a stipend. Paying our rent with Malaysian Ringgit that we incorrectly bought way too much of at a rate that’s now 23% lower versus the US dollar, we’ve lost precious savings by fixing our rent at $850 USD per month (3,200 MYR) which is now about $720. But money’s only one reason. As a native Canadian, Diane knew the heat and humidity might be too much but we trudged through the first year and did as much as practical given our limited transportation options. Opting for life far in the island’s touristy beach community in exchange for a quieter atmosphere and lower rent, it’s become tedious having to leave town by bus and return via Uber every time we need supplies or groceries or want to visit the culturally rich Heritage area of GeorgeTown. Having visited the other side of the island with neighbors willing to drive us, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing an environment totally different from our old life in North America but it’s just not somewhere we want to stay long-term.

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That Burning Sensation

Although there’s no specific wet and dry season in Malaysia, late January through mid April is generally considered the hottest and driest time of year. For me, suffering through the lazy days of tropical winter usually means limiting outside activities to short afternoon walks looking for monkeys in our boring town and Diane avoids the outside entirely until late afternoon when it’s time for some swimming in the pool. Planning our chores and shopping around our favorite hockey team’s schedule, we’ll stay in on game days and enjoy watching live NHL hockey that starts the following morning between 8 and 11 AM, depending on what time zone the game is from. Yesterday being no exception, we cranked up the internet stream and enjoyed the cool morning breeze from our ninth floor multi balcony condo that faces both the town and the sea. Unfortunately, unlike last year’s El Nino event that produced blazing hot sunshine for an unbearable five months, this year’s pattern features unusually strong wind that forces us to close the windows by mid afternoon.

skies this dry season in Penang

Contrasting the disastrous 2015 haze season that created world headlines due to its severity and environmental impact, the past year produced absolutely no haze anywhere in Penang. Partially due to heavier rains, skies remained crystal clear late last summer and fall which improved air quality immensely. The picture on the right shows how beautiful the sunsets have been this winter. Normally, this would be great news for everyone and the Indonesian government even imposed real fines on several offending companies responsible for the annual event known as “haze season”. But with the rain disappearing until spring and the wind whipping strongly every day, living in Penang means an almost daily interruption of beautiful clear blue skies due to an unhealthy stench caused by somebody burning something. So sure enough, halfway through yesterday’s game, our condo filled with an unbearable stink of plastics, food and all the other shit they burn here despite having laws on the books for 45 years that specifically prohibit open burns. Solidifying our decision to leave Penang in favor of Thailand, the real fun begins now and we’ve been engaged in researching everything about visas, banking and housing all over again as we plan on heading to Chiang Mai by early summer.

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Movin’ Out

After recent comments about leaving Penang and moving to Thailand once our lease expires later this year, I’ve received a lot of questions asking what’s wrong with Malaysia so I thought I’d address the topic. In one short sentence, there’s nothing inherently wrong. Simply put, Malaysia offers the best long-term retirement visa in Southeast Asia and while the application requirements are not inexpensive and the process is a bit tedious, the benefits far outweigh the hassles when compared to other neighboring countries. For example, Thailand’s never ending revolving door policy of visa runs and short-term non immigration visas with endless reporting requirements and lack of permanent residency options for most applicants makes Malaysia’s MM2H look like an expat’s dream come true. For anyone looking at Malaysia as a retirement option or a temporary escape from the United Trump States of Draconia, I highly recommend the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program and I’ve written extensively about it on this blog.

My best ant-Trump shirt

My best anti-Trump shirt

Having said that, our situation is exactly what the blog’s title implies; an experiment. While Malaysia offers excellent infrastructure, English-speaking citizens and a myriad of annual festivals featuring three different cultures, it’s not everything we’d hoped it might be and it’s simply time for us to move on. Given our situation, it makes sense to stay in the MM2H program since we paid the annual fee for six years (when our passports expire). Additionally, the timing of our fixed deposit purchases was one rare case in our married life where we got hosed big time. (MM2H requires participants to keep a 150,000 ringgit fixed term deposit in a local bank while on the program). Arriving when the exchange rate was 3.7613 per USD, 150,000 Malaysian ringgit cost us $39,879 USD. Even with an annual reinvested interest payment of 3.3%, the current exchange rate of 4.42 means our fixed deposit’s current value hovers just over $35,000 USD. Even though the fixed deposits need to stay intact for as long as you stay in the program, local banks won’t let you take a term longer than one year. Suiting them perfectly, Malaysian fixed deposit rates rise with terms exceeding one year and since the central bank lowered interest rates twice during our first year in Penang we’re now earning only 2.9%. With nobody on Wall Street anticipating a rising Ringgit, even after six years of interest payments, we’ll probably just break even when we leave Asia and cash in our fixed deposits.

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Almost Turkey; our second expat Thanksgiving

Celebrating our second U.S. Thanksgiving away from North America almost proved more challenging than last year when we enjoyed a complete turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Taking advantage of the large American expat community, lots of Chiang Mai restaurants offer up Thanksgiving feasts at a very reasonable price and that’s where you’ll find all the Yanks including us since we just happened to be visiting during the holiday. Although Malaysia shares its Northern border with Thailand, it may as well be on another planet when comparing Thanksgiving Day offerings. Mostly unknown to Asians, finding fresh turkey in Malaysia is difficult, expensive and simply unreasonable. Although a handful of places in Penang do offer a special holiday menu, the price tag comes in somewhere around $80 USD per person. Considering we usually paid about $15 for our annual turkey compliments of the local Safeway, this lavish and ridiculous price seems OK if you’re independently wealthy, For the rest of us early retiree expats living on a budget, it’s simply outrageous.

imageFortunately, our newest friends that we met thanks to this blog are Alfred and Zeenat. A recently retired professional chef from Switzerland, Alfred and his wife just became MM2H participants in September and happen to live in the next town over. Generously offering to cook us a five course dinner as a way of paying us back for providing helpful information about moving to Malaysia and navigating through the MM2H paperwork, we didn’t wind up with chicken rice on the holiday after all. Starting out with his very creative cheese ball decorated like a turkey, we want to thank Alfred and his wife for hosting us and helping us enjoy the holiday in a place where Thanksgiving is just another Thursday. Even including beer, wine and soft drinks, it’s possibly the nicest thing anyone’s done for us since we arrived in Malaysia.

Although an actual whole roasted turkey wasn’t on the menu, Alfred clearly put a lot of effort into this and offered us hot and cold appetizers including cucumber with feta and tomato paste, smoked garlic sausage with cornichons and mustard , “turkey club” and turkey meatballs, pepper terrine with cranberry, spiced lamb skewers on Swiss potato rosti, and several others. After the mixed green salad with pumpkin dressing and a Thanksgiving Autumn Leaf, we enjoyed a Bird Galantine with sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing, light grape-orange sauce, veggies with roasted pumpkin and honey glazed sweet Hasselback Potatoes. Finishing off with an incredibly delicious dessert, we feasted on Toblerone Chocolate Mousse with Amarena Cherry Cream. Unfamiliar with several of the dishes, I guess I’m a foodie novice despite having visited Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar since becoming an expat.

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Going above and beyond what anyone’s done for us so far, we wanted to thank them again for their generosity and hope we can repay them someday. Never expecting anything in return for writing helpful information about the MM2H program, their kindness helped lift our spirits in a time when the homeland is experiencing some seriously tumultuous times in the tolerance department. Happy to help anyone that contacts me by email, I’ve recently received an uptick in inquiries about moving to Malaysia and specifically, the MM2H Visa. Although we plan on moving to Thailand next summer, the visa program is still Asia’s longest term and most generous visa out there and I’m happy to spend time helping anyone interested. Keeping the visa even if we move, it’s convenient for easy visa runs and useful should we come back to Penang.

mm2hWe’re also looking forward to meeting several potential candidates that asked us to meet them on their exploratory visits to Malaysia. While it’s obviously not practical for most Americans to simply up and leave due an unqualified demagogue’s rise to the presidency, clearly there’s many of you on the fence out there looking for an excuse to make the move so we’d love to hear from you. As promised, upcoming posts will detail the rest of our recent trip to Cambodia. If you haven’t already done so, please check out our Day Trip to the The Flooded Forest and Bird Sanctuary as well as A day at Angkor Wat’s must-see monuments.

Happy Black Friday to all our American friends and cheers from Penang!

black-friday

The Main Attraction

Undeniably beautiful, the Temples of Angkor Wat are easily the main reason to visit Cambodia. As the world’s largest religious monument, it’s every bit as amazing as you’ve heard and all the accolades, reviews and compliments are not exaggerated. Even if temples, culture and history aren’t your thing, you’d be crazy to visit Cambodia without devoting at least a full day to this incredible architectural wonder. With thousands of great informational sources and countless travel blogs devoted to the area, attempting to describe either a complete detailed description of what to see or a travelogue explaining the fascinating historical significance of the area is best left for the experts. Instead, I’ll describe our second day trip of three in Siem Reap. Featuring the “must-see” temples, and mostly mimicking the “short-circuit” that’s a suggested itinerary for those with limited time or minimal patience, it started out before daybreak with a visit to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Our take-away breakfast fromour sunrise excursion to Angkor wat

Having read the entire chapter on Angkor Wat and environs in Lonely Planet, trust me when I say it’s best to find a qualified guide and customize your day trips according to personal interests and time allotted. With a cornucopia of options from walking to hiring a tuk-tuk for the day, the best strategy is visiting places when everyone is somewhere else. Not always the easiest task given the millions of visitors that flock there all year, I’d recommend avoiding peak season (mid November through March) but also not choosing monsoon months unless you enjoy sightseeing in a torrential downpour. Finding a guide is easy but reserving ahead of your stay makes sense given how many of them are dying for your business. Ours came highly recommended from one of our friends in Penang and since he runs his own business, a website made it easy to break down all the options and customize three guided day trips according to our interests. Hotels specialize in take-away breakfasts for sunrise trips to Angkor Wat so you won’t go hungry. Possibly the only time you’ll ever see a picture of Diane awake before the sunrise, our second day began at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM.

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Thank God I’m an Expat

Over 75 years ago, a dying Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium and immortalized the phrase

“Today..I consider myself…the luckiest man…on the face of the earth”. 

Although the words are a bit strong for my situation, I empathize. Unlike many of you, when I wake up tomorrow and take the bus, I won’t arrive at work knowing at least half my co-workers (or more) condone racism, violence and intolerance. Nor will Diane be groped, disrespected and taunted by a national leader who brags about sexual assault. I also don’t have to sit down my kids, look them in the eye and explain why the newly elected president threatens to send them away because of their religion. When we see a police officer, he’ll be the only one on the street with a gun. He’s there to protect us, not the ruling party’s political opponent from assassination threats by deplorable citizens. The Malay, Indian and Chinese citizens of my moderate Muslim host nation don’t get slurs hurled at them like Chink and “Terrorist”. And best of all, Diane and I don’t have to ponder leaving a new America destined for senseless internal violence, protectionism and trade polices certain to destroy everyone’s retirement portfolios (Of course, Trump supporters will never own a stock portfolio)

hateWhile I’ve never been so ashamed to be American, I should feel relieved that we planned on spending the next presidency in Asia anyway. Instead, my throat has a lump, my stomach is tied up in knots and I’m actually feeling a numbness that I haven’t felt since the morning of 9/11 (and we were lucky enough to be living in Calgary at that time). Uncertain why I even feel this way given that we’re pretty damn lucky to be retired and living overseas with a comfortable bank account at ages 51 and 45, helplessness engulfs my every muscle and I actually think I may cry. Literally. Diane is lucky; her personality allows her to accept things she can’t change while I ponder the consequences of a million things that might go wrong but probably won’t. Financial consequences aside, I can’t help feel sorry for the women, people of color, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, Asians, brown-skinned people, and 49 million sane Americans that didn’t choose to place a stark raving lunatic in the most important and powerful position on the planet.

hilaryMostly I feel sorry for all of you whose grandchildren are almost certainly doomed to a planet that’s barely inhabitable. For those unfamiliar with events on other side of the planet, let me assure you that climate change is the single most important issue for every citizen of planet Earth. Here in Asia, they barely recycle, litter the seas with garbage, burn everything despite laws prohibiting open fires and every year produce the globe’s worst environmental disaster (the annual haze) in the name of profits. Yes, profits. The only thing Emperor Trump gives a shit about. And since he denies climate change, vows to bring back coal mining and wants to disband 30 years worth of clean air and environmental acts that keep your air clean, the world looks to America and the West for leadership. But I guess 52 million assholes didn’t see that little blurb about every single month this year being the warmest on record. How could they? They were busy coining the phrase “I grabbed her Pussy“. And it’s now perfectly acceptable speech for the world’s most powerful leader.

pussRecently I vowed to keep the politics off the blog because it’s about expat life, early retirement and travel. I designed to both entertain and inform. So please accept my apologies. Writing is the only way I know how to get my emotions out and the next 24 hours will need to sink in. With the U.S. markets set to open with a 700 point loss, 2008 will probably seem tame by the time January 20th gets here and I’m a bit panicky over the prospect of a large shortfall in 2030 when we’ll need to draw from the retirement portfolio we worked so hard to accumulate. But I digress. Obviously, over half of America doesn’t give a shit about anything but keeping white privilege alive. Thankfully, I’m an expat living in a tolerant nation and I’m glad to help anyone that’s bold enough to try something different. The MM2H visa is Southeast Asia’s most generous long-term retirement visa and while many Americans remain fearful of any nation where Muslims live, I assure you they are friendlier, more tolerant and better citizens than half your moron neighbors that just damaged American democracy beyond repair.

And one more thing. Good luck “moving to Canada“. I’m married to a Canadian so luckily I’m automatically eligible for instant permanent residency status (Unless Trump fucks that up also). For everyone else, I can tell you that Canada has its own problems and certainly doesn’t want an influx of refugees since they’ll no doubt wind up accepting the Syrians that America already committed to taking. And I guess that’s the end of the Trump University trial, all the sexual assault cases and ever seeing any tax returns despite the obvious conflict of interest with a president that holds financial interests in over 53 nations including Russia.

Luckily, I’m an expat and as promised, I’ll soon be posting all the experiences we just had in Cambodia. Wishing to close out with something positive, I’d like to reiterate that here in Penang, xenophobia is nonexistent, hatred is unheard of and misogyny is not tolerated so I’d invite you to try life outside America. If you want to escape a nation hopelessly divided and filled with hatred, come join us. Malaysia will be happy to take you.

malaysia

Thanks to everyone for letting me express my profound sadness and cheers from Penang, Malaysia.

This Bud’s for You

Apologizing ahead of time for how happy I look in the cover picture, let me go on record by saying I’m not a big drinker. But once in a while you need to let loose and every so often it’s nice to enjoy a night out with good beer and great friends. Unfortunately, Malaysia might be the worst choice in Southeast Asia for finding a good beer. Aside from the fact that Muslim nations levy very high sin taxes on alcohol, the local beer is Tiger and it’s about as basic as beer gets. Drinking Tiger is akin to kissing your sister and provides absolutely no reason to spend any hard-earned ringgit for the sake of having a beer. Aside from Tiger, the other readily available options are Carlsberg and Heineken, usually in cans. Unsure how Carlsberg cornered the market as the official European beer of Asia, you find it almost everywhere despite its poor quality and tastelessness. With due respect to those raised on inferior beer, canned European alcoholic beverages served in tropical nations makes about as much sense as a typically over-staffed Malaysian restaurant where they all stand around doing nothing.

imageAlways luke warm to begin with, why anyone would pay upwards of 20 ringgit ($5 USD or more) for a can of rotgut beer is beyond me. Nothing beats cold Canadian beer or a nice North American microbrew and anything less than that isn’t worth the calories. (Allowing for one exception to the rule, I do enjoy Chang with dinner but only in Thailand. Often less than a dollar, it tastes better than  most Asian beer and makes a perfect complement to real Thai food). But since we live in Malaysia, I’ve grown accustomed to placing beer in the list of “things I miss most from home”. So imagine my surprise when we discovered the Gusto’s Cafe Annual Fall Harvest featuring fresh, cold American microbrew from San Diego based Coronado Brewing Company. Imported locally by a five-year resident expat that’s been bringing real beer to Kuala Lumpur for a while, he’s managed to get whatever permissions people need to qualify as an importer and supply Penang with a viable option to crappy canned beer.

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Risky Business

Deciding not work anymore sounds great to many people, especially when you’re fifteen years away from the “standard” retirement age. But as the saying goes “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”. Never before in modern economic times has it been riskier to end your income stream and that weighs on me every day. Having been extremely lucky twice, Diane and I bought and sold two houses in totally different markets and came out ahead in both cases. Allowing us to put a large down payment on our California house at a time when nobody was buying, we sold our Canadian house four months before the market peaked and then negotiated a purchase price one year later well below asking price in 2008 when sellers were desperate. Amazingly, after a 30% decline in our home’s value, Bay Area home prices rebounded quickly allowing us to sell last year at a 12.5% premium over asking price. Fast forward 14 months and here we are living mostly from that sale for as many years as it lasts.

ringgetBut all good things come to an end and although timing is everything in life, sometimes life throws you a curveball when you’re expecting a slider. With North American interest rates at all time lows and not expected to rebound to anything meaningful in my lifetime thanks to 40 years of horrible government policies worldwide, it’s been comforting seeing our MM2H Fixed Deposit accruing interest at 3.3% annually. For those unfamiliar with the program, the ministry requires participants of the Malaysia My Second Home Program (MM2H) to place a fixed deposit of 150,000 Ringgit in a Malaysian bank and maintain it while on the program. Most banks issue two separate deposits of 100,000 and 50,000 each with one year maturities and interest can be either paid as a cash dividend to a local checking account or reinvested as part of the principal. Unfortunately, the ministry prefers (decrees, actually) that fixed deposits must be set up with twelve month maturities and renewed at prevailing interest rates. Unexpectedly, Bank Negara (Malaysia’s central bank) recently cut nominal interest rates despite never ending claims about having the strongest economy in Southeast Asia and the move adversely affects interest starved citizens of western nations.

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