Welcoming our first long Memorial Day Weekend in a nation where it’s just Monday. Diane and I wish everyone in the USA a happy unofficial start to summer. Since we have no bar-b-q grill and even if we did it would probably blow off our balcony due to fierce winds, I improvised our celebration dinner last night and made Tom Yum Prawns. Immensely popular in Penang, Malaysia’s version of the ubiquitous Thai dish is known as Tom Yam and is usually spicier but lacking all the intense flavor of real Thai food. Easily obtainable as a variety of sauces and pastes, Tom Yum sauce is found in every store, wet market and supermarket so making the sauce from scratch seemed silly. But we did take advantage of our local wet market and use all locally sourced ingredients including pineapple, peppers, onions, tomatoes and of course, prawns. Still getting used to buying prawns with the head on, I’ve experimented with ways to remove the unsightly parts but decided it’s probably easier to give in and just cook them with the shell. Yes, this is fine but of course they teach North Americans that the rest of earth is primitive and inferior so you’d never find shells, heads or claws in Costco.
Switching topics, one of the most common questions I receive by email is whether or not to use an agent for those thinking of filing an MM2H application. Asia’s best visa program, the Malaysia My Second Home Program has over 20,000 successful applicants and allows unlimited entry into Malaysia for ten years, renewable indefinitely. Although it’s not permanent residency, it’s a lot easier than visa runs every three to twelve months in Thailand and it’s more comprehensive than other less developed Southeast Asian nations and cheaper than places like Singapore. The answer depends on each applicant’s circumstances including nationality, ease of meeting financial requirements and whether applying in Malaysia or from overseas. Generally speaking, unless you’re very familiar with Malay customs and language, I recommend using an agent for overseas applicants simply for peace of mind. Spending moths piecing together paperwork and spending cash on an overnight courier service only to find out you missed something seems pointless to me.
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.
Watching yet another round of useless U.S. presidential primaries that helped solidify the inevitable shift towards a twenty-first century version of 1930’s Germany, the real life American Horror Story played out in three more states as American voters continue making the biggest mistake in the history of free elections. Flipping through Facebook looking for anything positive, I stumbled on a new report from Condé Nast Traveler that ranked Penang the number two place in the world to retire. Citing the convenience and ease of theMM2H Visa along with access to historic architecture, culinary delights, a thriving art scene, international standard health care and an English-speaking community of expats, this didn’t really surprise me that much although that’s higher than most rankings I’ve seen in the past.
The view from our condo
Further noting Georgetown’s UNESCO status, proximity to Singapore and many beaches, the brief caption summarized some of the best highlights. While agreeing with many points, I’m unsure what target audience the magazine hopes to lure in. Given the millions of serious inquiries by Americans about moving to Canada should President Trump become reality, I’d almost swear it’s for disgruntled but sane American voters not so pathetically angry and broke like the newly created populist rebellion crowd. Add in the fact that they’d rank a Muslim country so high while conveniently forgetting to mention the official religion and you’ve almost got a scandal on your hands at least according to any CNN exit poll of Republican voters who almost unanimously agree with barring two billion people from the entering the world’s model of freedom.
OK, it’s not my native land but it was my home for seven years and it’s the place I feel most comfortable in, despite my New York City roots and over 15 years spent in California. Hearing a lot about all the Americans from Miley Cyrus to the guy next door claiming they’ll all leave and head to Canada with a Trump victory, I thought I’d shed some real insight on the topic since for me it’s “been there, done that“. First, my post-Super Tuesday commentary.
Obviously having zero effect on the outcome, my comments on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election went unnoticed as America came one step closer to electing Drumpf as the nominee, setting up an almost inevitable march to the White House. Knowing most voters in the conservative and rural states that voted on Super Tuesday probably don’t know the meaning of “expatriate”, this no surprise. Hypocritical world reaction from the European world leaders went from shock to disbelief despite the disturbingly high number of similar xenophobic racists that dominate the political circles all across the continent. With many nations having already enacted anti-Muslim immigration legislation and other isolationist policies designed to increase nationalism and foster racist attitudes among the masses, Bloomberg’s on-line app recently commented how Drumpf actually fits right in with the new 21st century attitude of hatred, fear and racial segregation.
While saddened by the current state of world affairs, it’s no surprise that America appears headed on the same path despite being the most powerful and influential nation on earth. With trillions of dollars wasted on military actions disguised as anti-terrorism acts, perhaps the money would’ve been better used on education. Statistically speaking, America scores dead last in almost every class of scholastic achievement making it possibly the world’s most ignorant developed nation. Intentionally designed to keep an uninformed nation in the dark, the Republican party covets the citizens least likely to ever benefit from Republican pro-elite policies favorable to business and Wall Street by standing on morals and not issues. Every country has right and left-wing types and under normal circumstances, there’s always been enough sanity (and educated citizens) to prevent sociopaths from taking the reigns of the world’s most powerful job.