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.