Tag Archives: moving overseas

Pack, Move, Repeat.

Where the hell does the time go? Literally feeling like we just did this yesterday, once again empty folded boxes are sitting in our humble abode. Unlike the attachment one gets with home ownership, however, there’s no love lost on leaving our ninth floor condo and moving on to greener pastures. (Thailand is in fact actually greener). Now understanding what they meant in all the blogs, websites and articles that discuss why expats feel culture shock when they return to the homeland, we learned that moving, like almost everything in Asia, is a totally different experience. Having moved an entire three bedroom house from San Francisco to Calgary, back down to San Diego and then up to Walnut Creek, California, you’d think it would be routine but unlike in North America, the key word in Asia for almost anything is minimalism so if you’re contemplating such a move, you’ll need to adjust your thinking.

Goodbye old faithful used boxes.

First off, you’ll need to erase the memories of a Uhaul store and its fancy array of custom sized boxes from wardrobe to specialized art and five different sizes of square from small to extra-large. Hardly anyone in Asia owns 2500 square foot custom-built homes with three car garages, a large yard and room for a shed, pool and some specialized fruit trees. Therefore, we learned quickly that no matter who you call or how much you pay, the choices are standard box and large box. Alas, there’s no industry devoted to boxes, moving and packing either so if you’re thinking you’ll just buy new boxes, good luck with that. Stranger than as anything to us was the notion that hiring a “logistics” (moving) company in Asia means you’ll get empty boxes, packing material and tape delivered to your door by courier as soon as you put down a deposit.

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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!

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Thai Tidbits

Still sounding strange, it’s good to be back “home” in Penang after three weeks of being Experimental Tourists. Utilizing the train and bus as non-wealthy expats with no current income should, it felt great to brave the airport crowds and fly back home. Remembering the rest of planet earth somehow manages airport security without paranoid TSA agents screening, delaying, racially profiling and otherwise simply making a trip to the airport a three-hour pain in the ass, we breezed through Chiang Mai’s airport after a passport check or two and flew back to Malaysia via Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, reality kicked in quickly when it took almost 90 minutes for the Uber guy to negotiate the bumper to bumper parking lot that is Penang Island on a weekend. (Weekdays are only slightly better and that’s if you avoid factory shift change hours). Note to self: Although Chiang Mai has its share of traffic, it flows better than Penang’s locally populated areas even at peak times. Score one point on the “pro” side of moving to Thailand after our lease expires.

imageThoroughly enjoying the comforts of our mattress topper and personalized soft pillows (shipped from home) and our “rarely found in Asia” king size bed, we settled back into life after a successful, fun and eye-opening trip to Thailand. Changing enormously since our last visit as tourists six years ago, Chiang Mai’s growth rate surprised us a bit and we’re told Bangkok people had enough chaos and have begun moving up in drones. Now supporting two enormously large weekend night markets besides the original one at Anusam Market and covering a span of almost 3 kilometers each, they added the name “walking streets” and it literally takes hours to cover all the merchants. Unlike other places, (such as all Chinese tourist markets that sell only crap), Chiang Mai’s markets have so much interesting stuff we never get bored and patronized both markets two weekends in a row.

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Wild elephants and swimming monkeys

Approaching the last few days of our Planes, Trains and Automobiles Experimental Thailand Trip, we’re both a bit strung out from walking, discovering and traveling. Staying at a  modern apartment in the lower Chang Phueak neighborhood of Chiang Mai, it’s unfortunate the condo only has community Wifi in the common areas and its weak at best so I’ll have to keep this post short until we return. Briefly, using Airbnb was quite economical and met or even surpasses expectations. Spending one week in the suburban enclave known as Hang Deng, we used the yellow songtheaw for venturing anywhere. Chiang Mai uses a system of color coördinated scheduled songtheaws that charge a fixed rate in lieu of buses. At 30 Baht for two passengers, the cost is reasonable enough but sitting in small cramped pickup trucks crushed next to eight other passengers every day isn’t something we’d want to do every day. Sadly, we enjoyed living in the suburbs from a week despite the distance because it’s quiet and still feels rural even with new developments popping up here and there and the strip malls resemble California with Starbucks, gourmet supermarkets and restaurants all within walking distance.

imagePicking us up on time, our second Airbnb hosts drove us from the suburbs to the two-year old gated condo known as D’Vieng. Seemingly out-of-place in a local neighborhood bordering the northwest gates of the Old a city, Chiang Mai is an interesting blend of smaller modern condos right in the middle of Thai working class neighborhoods that produces a strange blend of traditional eateries and Thai culture with modern western style living. Unlike Malaysia, however, issues arise with a weaker economy and less available space so developers build condos with closet sized studios and one bedrooms with kitchens so small you’d never want to spend much time cooking and cramped little one room living space designed to get you out if the house as much as possible. Given the food culture, there’s nothing wrong with that per say but we’re used to suburban houses and 1,777 square feet of condo space so we’re looking forward to returning home to Penang. Serving its purpose, the condo does have modern bathrooms and furnishings, a comfortable bed and a great shower. Our host provides hotel style towels, nine bottles of water, snacks and instant availability should you need her for anything  making the $27 a night price tag more than reasonable.

Apologizing for the chronological lapse, I wanted to go back to our first week in Hua Hin and share two-day very worthwhile day trips. Blessed with national parks and ample forest land, the area south  and east of Hua Hin features some beautiful landscapes, lots of wildlife and excellent hiking opportunities. Having ridden elephants in the past, It surprised us that there’s a national park where the biggest herd of wild elephants in Southeast Asia roam free. Only an hour any from the coastal one, Kui-Buri National Park gives visitors an opportunity to view them up close. Given that they’re wild, there’s no guarantee of seeing them but almost every day they travel nearby the jeep tracks, making their way down to the water hole. Similar to safaris, you hang out in the back of a small truck with a park ranger (and your guide if you opt for private tours like we did) and drive around the area looking for the herd. Although there’s also other large animals, the elephants are the  main attraction and the Rangers keep in radio contact with each other hoping to find them.

Telling us each day is different, about two hours into our excursion at a point when it seemed inevitable we’d not see anything, sure enough they spotted large family of about nine to ten a few hundred yards away from the main jeep track. Using binoculars, at first it was hard to see the but they slowly started coming into view, getting closer as time went on. Luckily, the male must have decided he was thirsty and the highlight of the day was seeing them all cross the road not too far from our group and head down to the water hole. Even without the aid of a real camera I captured them on the IPhone and filmed the video below. Although possibly not as exciting as all the elephant camp options available throughout Thailand, we believe they’re so exploited that’s it’s refreshingly great to view them in their natural environment. Undaunted by captivity, they show normal behaviors not found in captive elephants and though relatively predictable, you never know when you’ll see one or how they feel about being watched. (Ear movements help determine if they’re agitated or content and the rangers told us sometimes visitors have to abandon the hunt and retreat because the elephants are having a bad day. We used a tour operator out if Singapore called BeMyGuest. Relatable and friendly, their tours are mostly private, cover all Southeast Asia, are cheaper than typical stuff advertised on TripAdvisor subsidiary companies and they usually use vendors with high levels of professionalism.

Another good day trip from Hua Hin takes longer and unfortunately we didn’t really see very much but it’s still worthwhile. Kaeng Krachen National Park is Thailand’s largest and lies about ninety minutes inland from the coast. Although there’s hundreds of animal and bird species, spotting them largely depends on the skill of your tour guide and unfortunately the company we used for this trip was mediocre. Avoid Hua Hin Adventure Tours, which is one of the most prominent companies in town and search for a better option. Requesting extra time for hiking and wildlife viewing our guide gave us an option of a jungle trek to spot wildlife or a fire road to see more birds. Having been very lucky in Boreno , Ecuador and Costa Rica, we chose the latter but soon realized you get what you pay for and although the trek was scenic, the guide was not very personable and made little effort to use any expertise to spot wildlife. Seeing an excellent array of spiders and insects, we did come across one animal that ,at have been the last thing I’d expect to see. Sitting by the river, a rather large and rare Asian tortoise was getting some sun and like most tortoises, was indifferent to humans having a look so we snapped some good pictures. Saving the trip from being uneventful, it was odd but interesting nonetheless.

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Perhaps realizing how often people come away disappointed due to limited wildlife viewings, many day trips offer an interesting side trip with the lunch spot. Nearby a local dam outside the park is  small island where throngs of long tail macquaces live. Probably having fun somebody once took a small boat to the island but discovered the monkeys were too aggressive and virtually attacked people when they knew food was nearby. Deciding to experiment, they began throwing bananas into the water a few feet offshore and eventually the monkeys began diving into the water and dog paddling out to get the fruit. Unusual behavior for animals that normal.y can’t swim, they became conditioned to the sound of approaching small motor boats and all come running out of the hills when they hear one coming. Knowing there’s food on the way, they begin jumping in the water and swimming  lose to the boats. Clearly an odd site, it’s turned into a local tourist attraction and although I’m unclear if it’s ethical or just teasing them for human enjoyment, it was quite interesting and made the day trip worthwhile.

We headed out Ina  small boat after lunch and since there were no others around, they came running and started diving into the water even before we began hurling bananas at them. After the food runs out some of them come close and climb on the back of the boat if you come close to shore. Even though we monkeys all the time in Penang this was something unexpected.

Being the pampering part of our experimental trip for future residency, we stayed at a hotel called The Villas at Anantasila. Far from the main drag, the hotel makes up for it with five-star service akin to a Shangri La Resort and really goes the extra mile. Through efficient email communication they agreed to pick us up at the train station and since it was so early they even gave us a temporary room while we enjoyed the beach after the long train trip. Every staff member knew us by name and treated us better than many places with a huge price tag. Unfortunately, there’s always something going on in “developing countries” that’s utterly ridiculous and During our stay they were building a pier right next to the beach.

Normally no big deal elsewhere, in Thailand this means three construction cranes constantly pounding  and removing concrete until well after midnight five straight nights. Clearly disturbing and potentially damaging for the hotels business, the manager personally asked us how he could make it right and told us he’s complained to them many times but Thailand’s government simply doesn’t care about business owners or anything for that matter and he claims to be powerless . Crediting us one night’s room charge, the gesture was great and it’s a shame it ruined our sleep and one or two days of peaceful beach serenity because the hotel is simply beautiful with an invite pool and a give star restaurant. Endorsing this hotel is not a problem but wait a few months until the government starts another project with no regard for anything or anybody.

imageAs our three-week trip to Thailand comes to an end it feels good to go “home” to our large condo with the view even if the food is not remotely as good a Thailand. Learning the pros and cons of both Thailand and Malaysia, there’s no perfect place in the developing world or everyone would be there. Very satisfied with Chiang Mai, we both think we’d like to live here after our lease expires in 2017 but like everything else there are compromises. Unwilling to live in closet sized condos we’d have to search for a house and probably give in and buy a scooter. Meanwhile it’s back to Batu Ferrenghi for our “normal” expat life in Penang. With the new year almost here, our next adventure is only give weeks away and will certainly be totally different since Australia can’t be compared to Southeast Asia in any meaningful way. Once returning to the comfort a PC, I’ll post kid about Chiang Mai and our first “vacation” as Experimental Expats.

Cheers from Chiang Mai.

If you’ve lived in Chiang Mai, please share your house hunt experience 

 

50 Years in 24 Boxes

With two weekends left until Diane and I pack the car and vacate what used to be our primary residence,  it was time to load our remaining possessions into a truck and drive them to a storage locker. Thinking it makes more sense to keep the stuff in California than ship it away to a city we’ve never visited and have no address in, the plan is to have our awesome next door neighbor drive the boxes to a local port after we’ve been in Malaysia for a few months. Fortunately, a reputable storage locker is right around the corner, making transport quite easy. Providing a free truck with move-in, the property managers were very friendly and we chatted about our move while providing payment information and buying a lock. Needing only an 8 X 10 locker, it seemed  odd how 50 years of my life (14 married)  all crammed into 24 boxes in a locker the size of a large closet. They assigned us #532.

Utilizing the amazingly successful app known as OfferUp.com, Diane and I continue to liquidate almost anything we can sell and people drive from as far as four counties away to buy crap. Cleaning out the kitchen ware of everything but the important stuff like some plates, coffee maker and basic silverware, someone came and paid us $95 for a bunch of pots, pans, some utensils and various other little sundries, bringing our total to almost $4,500. Not realizing we even owned that much, the pile of unsold items gets donated to our local Hospice thrift shop this week and fits into about two medium boxes. Unfortunately, nobody seems to want our custom-made Italian microfiber maroon loveseat that we bought in Canada. Waiting almost two months for the delivery, we paid over $800 and can’t even dump it for $50. Unable to find a buyer but needing something to sit on anyway, I scheduled a Salvation Army pick up four days from our departure date. So much for anyone understanding quality merchandise.

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Authentically Asian-American

With escrow closed and all the money where it needs to be (for now), Diane and I turned our focus to the remaining issues of getting outta here. Desperately trying to violate the terms of the contract they wrote, the buyers of our house had their rather audacious real estate agent present us multiple requests to vacate ahead of the 29 day “rent-back” they wrote in the offer that gives us an extra month in the house as tenants. Ignoring them, we simply had our agent explain that while we understand their situation (the wife is pregnant and almost due), our move is a complicated issue due to our MM2H filing, liquidating all our possessions, exporting our car back into Canada and scheduling various medical appointments. Squatting comfortably in a practically empty house rent-free, Diane continues to work until Friday, May 15th and my job is to sell whatever else I can on OfferUp.com before donating whatever remains to the local Hospice store.

censoredAnxiously looking forward to a cornucopia of delicious food the likes of which we’ve never experienced, I grew impatient yesterday and made a side trip to my favorite Vietnamese Noodle shop after selling an entire box worth of used CD’s to Half-Price Books for $47. Sadly, Diane recently discovered that all her CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes are subject to a Censorship Fee of USD $5 per item. In addition they’re subject to approval by the Film Censorship Board that physically views and inspects every item shipped, causing delays of 2 to 3 weeks to censor and no guarantee of return. With over 200 CD’s packed in a U-Haul Box it made no financial sense to attempt importing any media materials. Renting a storage locker last weekend, we don’t plan on shipping anything anyway until they complete our visa and we’re confident we like life in Malaysia.

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Homeless, Happy and Heading Out

Contemplating the phrase “All good things are worth waiting for”, I started day number 540 of House Husbandry like most others. Walking a few miles to kill time, I headed to Starbucks and anxiously waited for some clerk at the county to “officially record” the sale of our house. Industry speak for making the seller sweat a little more, the long and tedious process of escrow concludes once the county guy has his coffee, adjusts his chair and finally gets down to changing the public record of ownership. Perhaps due to a Friday close, the clerk performed his mundane task relatively fast and as I clicked the online bank account just before noon, I was ecstatic to find that the Experimental Expats have closed escrow and finally look forward to a new life in Southeast Asia. Woo-Hoo !!!!!

opportunityFeeling relieved but not really any wealthier, Diane and now look forward to an uncharted experiment to see if we really can live a 40+ year similar lifestyle, travel, enjoy life, pursue some new hobbies and sometimes just lay around on whatever assets we’ve accumulated. Planning on renting forever, two house have come and go and that’s enough home ownership for us. Ironically, someone sent me a Facebook post yesterday about another white guy/Asian girl couple that retired in their 30’s simply by setting goals and following a prudent lifestyle. Usually turned off by those bastards who beat me by 20 years, I actually read and even endorse the site because the financial principles are almost identical to ours. Titled “How this couple retired in their 30s to travel the world, it’s worth a read if you’re a 30 something looking to “retire early”.

Looking back, it’s been a great seven years spent in this house and we’ve enjoyed living in the San Francisco Bay Area just enough but those of you following know there’s no love lost when leaving a place that shuts out desperate home seekers that bid  $80,00 over asking price or more. Hoping Southeast Asia provides a fascinating new lifestyle, I thought this would be a good time for a gallery of some pictures we’ve taken from the area in our second house as a married couple.

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Looking ahead, Diane and I got a month of free “rent-back” meaning we can stay as rent-free tenants for an extra month. Wanting extra time to finish liquidating all our goods, secure a storage locker, wait for the MM2H visa to be received and just basically hang around a bit longer, we plan on vacating May 19th. Deciding there’s no real hurry to hit Malaysia since the visa will take about 90 days for conditional approval, Diane suggested we re-import our 2002 Honda CRV into Canada, spend some time with relatives, give the car to her niece and leave via Vancouver. Whenever we feel like it. Hey, we’re retired now.

penangArmed with two suitcases, a backpack with important stuff and the memories of 50 years in North America, we’ll fly to Penang and check in at a hotel while we search for housing somewhere near Tanjong Bungah. Continuing the blog as expats in early July, we’re excited and hope we can share some great stories, blunders and pictures with all of you. Thinking Diane is less stressed out over a starting a new lifestyle, I can only sit back and quote a Tom Petty song from his 1994 Wildflower album that says

Well, it;s time to get going; it’s time to move on; where I am going I have no way of knowing”.

Here’s to new beginnings !!

We’re actively seeking new friends to meet once we arrive in Penang. If this is you, please share your contact information.