Penang – The Pearl of the Orient

After months of preparation on the other side of the planet, we have finally landed in Penang, Malaysia.  It seems almost surreal that a decision made a mere 9 months ago has become a reality and sees me sitting on a balcony overlooking the Straits of Malacca.

It has been a whirlwind week of getting stuff done while painfully jet lagged.  We spent the first two nights at the wonderful Eastern & Oriental Hotel in the Victory Annexe.  It has an old world feel that reminds me of of the Victoria Hotel in Zimbabwe or the Strand Hotel in Swakopmund.  A very colonial feel and decor.  Service is outstanding – particularly when the airline loses your luggage, there is a public holiday – and you have no idea how to go about navigating the system.  The front desk staff immediately set to work assuring us that they will find out about our missing bags and did we want a call when they arrived – even in the middle of the night.  We demurred – willing to wait until morning.  Two days later at precisely 7 am, we were called and informed that our bags were on their way up to our room.

As we pushed to get ourselves connected – a call to Uber had a delightful young man show up who runs his own IT company.  While we researched which company we wanted to go with – our driver decided he would be our “fixer”.  He steered us away from the “tourist” mall and to a more local place for our SIM card sign ups.  He chatted with the staff, came up with the best plan and we were sorted out in about and hour.  He also drove us around town a bit and showed us the best place to exchange money – then dropped us at the local mall so we could look around and grab some lunch.

We have been pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive costs for Uber and another local company called Grab.  For a couple of dollars, you can get anywhere relatively local with no worries about driving or parking.  Frankly, a smart way to start as we learn our way around.

Our next mission was opening our local bank accounts.  While we did all we could back home, it is necessary to establish a relationship with the local manager and ensure that you can obtain a local account, debit and credit card.  With the foreign exchange fees on our cards from Canada, we were sure we wanted this to go off quickly.  The process took about 4 hours.  It also included being treated to a lovely Japanese lunch by the bank – an unexpected bonus!

Our final housekeeping must do included a visit to a local doctor (hospital) in order to provide our medical history so that our papers can be forwarded to the government for the final visa.  We were met by a staff member of our agent Alter Domus,   The entire process of obtaining our Visas has been shepherded by the AD team.  They have been thorough and invaluable and while you can get the Visas on your own, I think it is well worth the money to have them deal with the details.

Alter Domus took us to the Loh Guan Lye Specialists for our medicals.  Frankly, I was astonished.  The building is a medical centre that looks more like the lobby of a hotel.  There is a reception area that takes your passports and moves you through the intake system.  As we waited for our intake – I discovered a concierge and pharmacy in the lobby.  Our details in the system, we went to the cafe for a coffee and could watch the board as our number would show up and tell us we were next in line.  The clinic has every speciality you can think of.  We had our little books in hand and were told to keep them with us every time we visited so the docs know who has seen us – though the place is completely electronic.  Should we have an emergency, we are to call a number of the clinic and they dispatch their own ambulance so that we have continuing card.  We were seen by one of the top cardiologists on the island whose credentials were from the Royal College in the UK.  Overall an impressive place and no doubt we will return as the need arises.

So our first week of what we must do is under our belt and we move on to our house hunting and food discovery so we can settle in to our new home.  We know we are in the honeymoon stage and are struck by how well we are acclimating to island time.  This is the Pearl of the Orient, and pearls are created slowly and are initially an irritation – and look forward to the true beauty revealing itself.

 

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Canada to Malaysia – on the threshold.

In less than 16 hours we will be jetting from Toronto to New York to Guangzhou to Penang.  A blistering pile of flights – but not our longest surprisingly.  I have managed to pack our belongings into four suitcases.  Jacques has added two more that are strictly technology and cameras – but fortunately – that was not under my purview.

We have spent the last few weeks eating and drinking our way through good byes.  Love, laughter and liquor were all in full force as we celebrated our friendships with joy.  It was also an opportunity to say things one often holds back – a moment of heartfelt connection that is vocalised and spoken – a rarity in our oft rushed lives and day to day doings.

For those moments I am truly delighted and grateful.

With the advent of our ability to communicate from afar being so easy we have promised to have dinner/breakfast combinations over Skype.  Hilarity will no doubt ensue.

For now, we will sign off from the True North – and will recommence our adventures from the other side of the planet.

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All the comforts of home – are gone.

We have spent the past twenty odd years accumulating, beautifying, comfortizing our lives.   And here we are – down to about 12 cardboard boxes with all those things we surrounded ourselves with in someone else’s possession – giving them joy.  We are sleeping on a mattress on the floor and soon that will be gone as well.  The idea of becoming global nomads is literally knocking at our door – and that door too will belong to someone else.

We have lived in a unique home in a small forest with a creek running next to it.  We have watched our deer Edgar come back time and again with his doe, mallards Bob and Margaret frolic in our pond, and innumerable birds, squirrels and coyotes wander through for food.  Inside the house, our creativity took flight and we were able to make our home sing while still respecting the original architectural vision.  Mid-century Brutalism is not for everyone – nor is it for the faint of heart.  Hours spent renovating, fixing, repairing and just loving this home.  It has been a part of us and has given us that safe haven many people dream of.  We have been very fortunate.  Yet we were just stewards – and it is now time for someone else to pick up the torch.

Many ask if I will miss this place.  As I think on it I realise that this home was part of the natural progression of our lives to get to this point.  This house 15 years ago was a big risk, was called ugly, was misunderstood – was well before its time.  We saw what it could be, and what we could be in it.  We grew as people, as partners.  This house taught us it was ok to dare to be different, to dance off beat, that quirky was just our rhythm.

Will I miss this house?  I will carry it with me wherever I go.  It has taught me that the environment I live in is what feeds and nourishes me – and that is something I will never miss.

 

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Why I love “The Facebook” and other social media.

Back in 2004 I began my MBA in what was considered an unorthodox way – I did it online through Athabasca University.  As I was self funded and working full time, I wanted the ability to learn on my own, at my own pace.  I also considered the fact that the world was digital and I truly believed at that time that learning was going in that general direction.  In addition – it provided me with the opportunity to work in groups with people around the world in different time ones, and hone my written communication skills.

So why does that matter?  Well within a week I connected with someone in my first group and we developed a terrific relationship.  Class over class I virtually “met” interesting people who were located around the world, and have continued those relationships both in person and online.  The MBA class pushed me to be social in a very different environment – which brings me to today.

In our move to become global nomads, I have been selling our belongings, finding the right home for our fur babies, and been able to donate items to people with a need.  On the other side of the world, I have joined an expat women’s Facebook page in Penang and Internations.org, and suddenly the potential fear of landing in a faraway place with no social net has disappeared.  Folks have been stepping up, generously answering questions, allowing me to peep at conversations and experiences that will likely mirror my own, and  sharing “where can I find a good (fill in the blank)” referrals.

A most incredible experience that has my partner shaking his head.  He is an introvert compared to my “jump in with both feet naked” extrovert personality.  He laughs when I tell him “I found a Dragon Boat group, birding guide, real estate agent, car rental agency…”  Secretly though, I think he is thrilled that my “social” cupcake standing has tasty side benefits to him.

My message – Use social media with the intention of positive connection with others.  Get out there – in the most unorthodox way you can – with a full heart and plenty of chutzpah.

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In the beginning…

Back in 1993 after living in the south of France for a couple of years, travelling across Europe and Canada, and working in Bermuda for a year and a half – I figured it was time to grow up and put my big girl panties on. Not that I was the least bit irresponsible – just that feeling you get in your mid 20s when you think I better get on that thing called life.

Since I travelled so much, my social circle had dwindled and meeting guys at clubs and in bars seemed unproductive. So I joined a telephone dating service called Telepersonals (yes you read that right kids – this was before internet dating and I was on the cutting edge with my Casio Boss SF 8000). I made it my mission to have 30 dates in 30 days (yeah – again before it was a thing). Somewhere around date 14 – I met Jacques.

We had lots in common and lots that was uncommon between us (which some 20 odd years later is what makes us simpatico). We both loved travel, food and wine and had lived and work in other places. After a time, we also discovered that we wanted to continue to live and work elsewhere in the world as expats. Funny thing is – as individuals we had no problems locating jobs – but as a couple – lots of hurdles.

So we built our life in Toronto while still dreaming of living overseas. We travelled to many far off places and had some fantastic adventures – many of which are chronicled in this blog. And in 2007 we ran away from home and travelled through SE Asia and the Middle East for 9 months.  We spent 24/7 with each other and learned how joyful and frustrating that could be.  We had many long discussions about how we wanted to live out our lives and what our dreams were.  I was a newly minted MBA trying to figure out where to take my next step, and Jacques was a bit burnt out as a consultant and ready for new challenges.

It was then that we began to formulate our “retirement plan”. We always knew we would want to live overseas but the question was how? Retirement seemed so far off – but we always talked about living somewhere else.

We set a plan in motion. We focused on our exit strategy from Canada in such a way that would feed our need to live overseas, our love for travel, and in places around the world that are inexpensive where we can feed our passions. In 2008 while walking on a beach – we set a date – April 1, 2018. Ten years out. And yes – April Fool’s was intentional.

Incredibly – by setting a date – it started to inform our decision making process in so many ways. From that seed grew every step we took from that point forward to where we are today. The steps following? Well you just have to wait for the next instalment!

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