Tag Archives: moving to Malaysia

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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The House Call

Unlike Trump’s Draconian States of America, not all things from yesteryear are negative. Here in Southeast Asia, sometimes things are strangely backwards but work better than you’d ever expect. Case in point; Early and mid January brought an unseasonably large amount of rain with large thunder claps and impressively beautiful lightning strikes. Normally not caring about swimming in the rain, western culture teaches us all to leave the pool during lightning strikes although I’ve never heard of someone actually being struck by lightning by not adhering the warning. Anyway, during one particular loud thunderstorm, I had our favorite Bay Area radio station playing on IHeartRadio. Utilizing our very shitty internet signal, bluetooth and a Sony soundbar, the radio suddenly stopped. Unfazed since the internet signal in Batu Ferrenghi works as well as AT&T Worldnet Dialup Service circa 1999, I waited a minute since it sometimes just pauses and eventually got up to do one of our sixteen daily reboots.

meer_mouseNoticing a blank screen on the soundbar, my first thought was a loose connection. Having dusted the entire TV console and stand earlier, I’m famous for dislodging cords, wires, outlets and various other things that give our telecommunications expert (Diane) fits. Not seeing anything obvious, I tried unplugging things and changing the batteries in the remote but the power remained off. Having exhausted my technical skills, I patiently waited until Diane finished showering and decided to pretend nothing happened. Not wild about always being blamed for anything that’s wrong with all things electrical, I figured I’d let her turn on the TV later that night and then mention the power loss incident. Deciding to approach it delicately, I mentioned the loud thunderstorm and worked it into the conversation as a defensive mechanism that might explain a possible power surge. Naturally, we only have one surge protector and it guards our ancient computer with the obsolete Windows Vista Operating System, so it’s feasible that a lightning strike that hit the building might have somehow jolted the TV.

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Girl Power; Khmer Style

Given how the future of women’s rights in America probably took an enormous step backwards this month, I thought I’d start this post about our last day trip in the Siem Reap area with an empowering historical fact. Combining three fascinating sights into a complete day, my personal favorite was Banteay Srei, an architectural jewel of Angkorian art and one of the most popular HIndu Temples of the Khmer Empire. Aside from its beautiful layout of three rectangular enclosures separated by a causeway, they built the entire structure from red sandstone which can be carved almost like wood. Earning the nickname The Pink Temple, it’s also one of the only temples commissioned by a brahman and not a king.

imageConstructed in 967 A.D., the foundational stele tells us that its creator was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those suffering from illness, injustice or poverty. Known for its pediments (the triangular space above a rectangular doorway) and lintels (horizontal beams spanning the gap between two posts that can be decorative or structural), you’ll find entire scenes of Hindu mythology depicted. But that’s not the interesting part. Its modern name translates into “Citadel of The Women” and there’s several interpretations. The first refers to the intricate carvings found on the walls. Characters from Indian mythology, Aspiras are divine nymphs or dancing-girls and the widespread use of them as a motif for decorating walls is a unique Khmer feature. Also called Devatas, or minor female deities, they’re usually seen standing around and not dancing. More specifically, the second theory revolves around the intricacy of the carvings themselves. Said to be too fine for the hand of a man, decorative carvings cover every available inch of space which leads me to the third and most interesting theory.

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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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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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The Two Day Haul to Cambodia

Getting there is half the fun. Unless you live in Penang which means getting to Cambodia is a pain in the ass. Anyone that’s visited KLIA, Kuala Lumpur’s luxuriously beautiful main airport gets an impressive first glimpse of Malaysia. Quite fond of first impressions, the government liked the airport so much they built a carbon copy. Known as KLIA2, this shiny new and totally unnecessary behemoth is a five-minute shuttle bus away and looks as modern and clean as any other large Asian hub. Unfortunately, many of us non-working retirees live in Penang. Although you’d never know it, the nation’s second biggest population center and main tourist draw is only a short 45 minute flight away but its pathetically dilapidated dinky airport looks more like an airstrip in the rainforest when compared to its big brothers.

Hasn't changed much since this picture

Hasn’t changed much since this picture

Sporting a few fast food joints, an ATM or two and a newsstand, Penang International Airport desperately needs a multi million dollar overhaul, a new terminal or two and about ten more airlines willing to fly there. Offering non stop service to only a few destinations like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and recently Yangon, living in Penang makes getting to Cambodia a long, tedious and expensive proposition but proved worthwhile despite the government’s obvious ploy to woo everyone to its shiny capital city. Unsure why they neglect Southeast Asia’s most popular foodie destination so badly, Diane and I explored every possible option from flying to KL and connecting (impossible on the same day) to a train/bus combination (even worse) and concluded the only practical way was a four and a half hour bus ride from Penang to KL on the brand new KTM Express Train, a 65 kilometer Uber ride to the ridiculously distant airport, an overnight stay at the airport’s one and only lodging option, and an early morning flight to Siem Reap.

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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.

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