Considering all the recent populism, nationalism and hoopla from American voters lately, you’d think we actually had the best of everything despite the high resistance to “Obamacare“, America’s supposed answer to healthcare issues. Unfortunately, only expats, overseas employees and emigrants of other nations understand how sadly pathetic American healthcare is when compared to other developed nations and as it turns out, developing nations also. Thankfully, Diane and i haven’t needed to use the Malaysian health care system but we do visit the dentist twice a year. Unlike anything stateside, fifteen minutes and about fifty bucks cash is all you need for a quality dental experience including a check up, thorough cleaning and polishing. Almost universally educated outside Malaysia in first world nations like Australia, Germany and the USA, Malaysian dentists personify no-nonsense dentistry the way it should be. Whether you need routine cleanings, x-rays or complicated procedures like root canals, it’ so quick and inexpensive anyone can afford it and you’ll walk out mystified and wondering why the world’s only superpower can’t figure out how to provide simple, affordable dentistry.
Already having been to the dentist six months ago, our follow-up visit was so fast and easy it’s practically gone from memory. Having arrived in Malaysia armed with pages of records from our last dentist in suburban Walnut Creek, California, we’d heard it’s quick and easy but didn’t really know what to expect so we came ready for anything. Unlike most experiences all Americans are familiar with, there’s no time for reading in the waiting room, no bullshitting with your hygienist, no sitting in the chair after your name is finally called and no chatting with the dentist about last night’s ball game. In fact, there’s no hygienist at all because dentists are not highly overpaid elites that drive the best cars, charge five times what the insurance company pays and use inefficient “techs” that waste time asking stupid questions and place little bibs on people only to have the dentist ask you the same questions all over again. But they are professionals versed in the latest technology and using equipment we’d never seen in the USA like overhead screens letting you see every tooth while they check you for the first time.
Recalling my last visit to the California Department of Motor Vehicles a few years ago, Diane and I cringed as the expiration date of our drivers licenses quickly approached. Usually looking more positively on a root canal than a trip to any government office, we’re glad we decided to hold off on buying a car or motorbike. But even though we don’t have intentions of buying a vehicle in Malaysia, we do plan moving into a suburban house in Chiang Mai, Thailand next summer which makes walking impractical so we’ll need to buy a motorbike. Legally speaking, many nations allow you to drive with a license from your home country but usually only for a few months (although every Brit expat we’ve come across drives here on their UK license since it’s almost perpetual with an expiry date of your grandchild’s 80th birthday). Having looked into the rules for obtaining a Thai drivers license, we decided no sane person would even attempt the long and tedious procedure that includes having someone act as your translator. Fortunately, it’s legal to drive in Thailand with a current Malaysian or Singapore license and Malaysia offers convenient conversion of foreigners drivers licenses so we prepared ourselves mentally for the trudge across the bay to the local JPJ office (a Malaysian acronym for the Road Transport Department).
The JPJ office
Back in the good old days of the MM2H Forum they had extensive posts and topics on the conversion process and they all made it sound complicated, frustrating and tedious. Recalling obstacles like non-English speaking government officials not understanding the process and long waits at the office, we anticipated the worst. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball and as it turns out, our trip to the JPJ turned out to be surprisingly pleasant and quick. Although we only received a receipt because it’s a two-step process for foreigners whose home country doesn’t have a bilateral agreement with Malaysia, the experience was anything but frustrating and in fact may have been the world’s easiest navigation of government bureaucracy. Unusually generous rules even allow holders of expired foreign drivers’ licenses the right to convert to a Malaysian license as long as it’s not been expired for more than three years. Thinking it might somehow be helpful to visit the office before the expiration date, we took up our neighbor’s generous offer of a ride and headed out for what we all thought might be an all day event.