Saturday, October 22, 2011

Home grown performances

We followed up a week of volunteering with a week of going out on the town. Rhythm in Bronze's performance was mesmerizing. (The video is from a rehearsal complete with a drum line.) Listening to the gamelans brought back memories of temple festivals in Bali. We imagined RIB playing in a field accompanied by the smell of clove cigarettes. We weren't listening to museum pieces, as supported by a quote from the program: "Besides collaborating with composers, Maya Gong Illusion [name of program] also sees us jamming together with our musician friends to create a whole new realm of diverse music." Still the instruments retained their mysticism. Consider this quote by a musician, "I seriously thought it was a joke that the first time I heard someone saying that the Gong wasn't producing the perfect sound and tone because it . . . 'was not happy' and that we should offer some flowers or water to please them. But soon enough I learned that the gamelan is indeed a sensitive and 'mysterious.'. . . Every hit on the gong is never the same . . ."

This is the month of Short and Sweet - one week of musicals, two weeks of dance, and two weeks of theater. Each performance is 10 minutes or less - so if you don't like one piece, it will be over quickly. At least that is what they say, but sometimes 10 minutes can be interminable. We started with the second week of dance. ( I heart MJ won the audience choice award and the best female dancer.) The first week of theater was promising. In one a "Pillsbury doughboy" shaped actor played a donut undergoing rebranding to be a healthy eating choice. Then there was the unicorn trying to elbow his way on to Noah's arc because he was a rare,  magical and mystical creature. No luck he wasn't on the list. The dragons were allowed on because they can fly and dragon flies were on the list. My favorite was Solitude. A man gets locked into his apartment when his key broke in the lock. Through a series of all too familiar turn downs, e.g., we won't come if you don't pay ahead, he is condemned to stay in his apartment until he "metamorphises." Not as grim as it sounds.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A week of volunteering

We expected that volunteering would be part of our Malaysian life. It will keep our brain cells alive and help us meet people and settle in. Teaching social science does not instantly translate into volunteer opportunities. Our skills had to match a NGO's needs. In 2008 I had interviewed Malaysian NGO staff, and I contacted then when we returned. Some had ideas of what I could do, and others, including those in the same organization, were less certain.

Initial face-to-face contact is a must. Doug has emailed NGOs and rec'd no responses. Currently he is helping the same feminist groups that I am. Not exactly what he had in mind, but the staff members are welcoming and easy to work with.

This week at Empower Doug worked on its contact list and I lent a hand preparing its report on CEDAW. At AWAM, All Women's Action Society, Doug updated its website and I went to a SHout (Sexual Harassment Out) meeting. My role is evolving. I was initially asked to document the campaign, which builds on my knowledge of NGOs and collaborations.

We were recruited by an Empower staff member to volunteer at CETDEM's Hari Organik (organic day) located in a park adjacent to an outdoor market in Petaling Jaya at SS2/63. A reward of volunteering was eating amazing organic food. Enclosing herbs, nuts, seeds, jam and berries in an envelop of leaves provided an amazing taste experience.  The maker of this treat stopped production to see my expression when I ate the proffered food.

Doug joined CETDEM.  On his application when asked about his kitchen garden, he said "Killed in 2010".  He wants to learn about container herb gardens in Malaysia.  I hope that Doug can learn to recreate some of the food we ate.
If she offers a cooking class we'll be the first to sign up!
Doug won the first lucky draw of the day - two large buns (or small loaves) of wheat bread. He bought homemade non-gmo, non-msg soya sauce, bean paste. and body wash. The body wash salesperson was a natural. Doug complemented her on her skills - her response was why don't you buy a large bottles instead of one small one?  We ended buying two small bottles for the price of one large one.

Paper hat - perfect
accessory for Hari Organik

What we did we do other than eat (slow food) and shop? We staffed the handicrafts table and assisted with setup and general clean up.  Doug helped with tasks requiring height (he could remove signs without the assistance of a chair or step ladder).  And we chatted with other volunteers and learned more about Malaysian life.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Malaysia My Second Home - MM2H

The Malaysia My Second Home program is the Visa program sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism in Malaysia. The goal of the program is to attract "high Income" expatriates to settle for up to 10 years in Malaysia. The program is started as the "Silver Haired Program," obviously targeting retirees. It was renamed and revamped early in 2002, to allow all expatriates to participate with certain income and net worth restrictions. The benefits: long term visa stability, permission to own real estate, import household goods without customs duties, importation of a car or purchase of a car in the first 12 months of residency w/o import duties and local taxation, and finally, all income derived from outside of Malaysia is exempt from Malaysian income taxes.

So how did we hear of the MM2H program? We were visiting the State of Sabah, on the island of Borneo in 2005 when our taxi passed a billboard advertizing condos for sale and the "Silver Haired Program." We read a little about the program while in Malaysia and filed it away in our memory. Upon return from our holiday in Malaysia I spent some time searching the web for the "Silver Haired Program," read about it, talked to Liz about it, and we said....well we can do this. It immediately satisfied some of our retirement plans...we wanted to travel, we had nothing holding us to Raleigh, North Carolina, and we had a lot of friends in Southeast Asia. As we say to some of our friends..."we are like house guests who don't know when to leave." Our exception is: we have our own home here in Malaysia.

In 2008 Liz had an opportunity to do research and teaching in Malaysia. So she spent 6 months in Penang. We viewed this as a test of "can we actually do this." The answer was, absolutely!!.

So we had a plan to approach retirement, we purchased a condo in Indiana (because Liz wanted a place in case the move was a really bad idea), we retired from our jobs in North Carolina, and moved to Indianapolis to settle in. We had hoped to have sold our home in Raleigh by this time, but the economic collapse inspired by the real estate bubble intervened. But that did not deter us, we moved to Malaysia in early April 2011. Once here we located temporary housing and began our quest for the MM2H visa.

In late April we contacted a MM2H authorized agent to work as our representative to the Ministry of Tourism, MM2H office. While this is not necessary, you can do it on your own, we decided that for our sanity it would make sense to have someone pull it all together. We first met with the agent in second week of April. This meeting confirmed that she was someone we could work with. We got our marching orders regarding the documentation needed: tax records (three years), income statements (three months), bank and brokerage statements (three months, letters of good conduct from US based law enforcement agencies, letters from pension funds, copies of passports, passport photos, resumes, and a letter stating why we wanted to live in Malaysia.

At this point we made our best decision, we purchased a printer, scanner, copier. It was less than US$ 125, but made life really easy (and also made the sale of the house go smoother). In total we printed well over 750 pages, and I learned to refill ink cartridges.

First hurdle to deal with....the police report. I had checked out web sites and found the US FBI will prepare the document, but I would need to provide fingerprints. I was advised not to get an FBI letter....they are printed on black and white printers, and the Malaysian government does not view these as original...they need letterhead with raised embossed seals. Solution: we used the CCBI (City County Bureau of Investigation, Wake County, North Carolina). I called them, they told we what forms to download, I scanned them on my trusty printer and sent them to a relative in North Carolina. In a mere 15 minutes she had picked up the letters which were appropriately notarized.

Second hurdle: notarized statements from my pension fund indicating my income and showing three months of deposits into my current account. A call to the pension fund, and some respectful conversation with the appropriate people convinced them that I really needed this documentation, even though it was not part of their standard reports.

Third hurdle: find a "commissioner of oaths." Akin to a notary, he merely witnessed our signatures on the copy of our passports, total cost about USD $3 A good deal cheaper than a similar service by the US Embassy which charges USD $50 per page.

When all the documents were gathered and assembled we met with our agent, issued a check for her services and submitted the documents in late May. We were told the process could take 12 to 14 weeks.

So we mid August (during Ramadan) I made a status inquiry to our agent. Lo and behold we had been approved, but I did not know since the Ministry of Tourism had failed to notify anyone of the approval. Now started the next part of the adventure....getting documentation of our health insurance status.

I called my health insurance company representative, someone with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, the plan administrator. They issued new insurance cards (which contain only an issue date) and a letter saying how to get coverage when traveling. Fine, but the Malaysia Ministry of Tourism wanted to know the term of coverage....the beginning and ending date. Well back to the Insurance administrator, who replied: "We cannot do that, it is just not what we do." Now it was plan B, I went through a bureaucratic contact, got to the head of the health plan and worked it downward from there. In several days, I received drafts of the necessary documentation.

Now the wait began. Documents had to be original, no faxes, no pdfs. Documents were mailed to our son, who was making a business trip to Asia. We met him in Singapore in late September, received the documents, and had a good time with him.

On October 3rd, we met with the MM2H agent, had a medical check (to see if we were alive and healthy) and went to Putrajaya. Putrajaya is a new city, the administrative capital of Malaysia, about 50 km south of Kuala Lumpur. Our appointment was for 2:30. We arrived ahead of time. The building is so new, the elevators still had shipping protection on the walls. We went to the 10th floor and entered the MM2h offices. We were confronted with 10 windows, 5 for immigration, 5 for MM2H personnel, and a room full of applicants....and no apparent queuing system. Somehow all in the room were served graciously by the Malaysian staff. Some people were do it yourself (DIY) applicants. The staff patiently answered their questions. Our agent submitted the documents. Abut 45 minutes later, our passports were stamped and we were official MM2H visa holders.

Could we have done this ourself, absolutely. But it would have taken many trips to Putrajaya, frustration on rejected documents, documents whose date had expired, etc. The fee we paid was well worth it.

So who was our agent: Yvonne Lim from Joy-Stay (MM2H) SDN BHD. Many thanks Yvonne.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A house guest with 5 days in KL

Brendan was able to spend a few days in KL after business meetings in China and Singapore and before ones in Dhaka.

A happy man getting

First, on his to-do list was to have a suit made. A friend recommended her husband's tailor. Brendan was measured on Tuesday, fitted on Wednesday, and had the suit on Saturday. Andy Wong of Custom Made by Andy in Menara Weld gained a loyal customer. Once Brendan put the suit on he announced no more off-the-racks suits. Fortunately, as long as Brendan doesn't gain weight he can order and receive suits by mail.

We visited FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) and its canopy walk - 150 meters (about 0.1 miles) long and 30 meters above ground. The canopy was more challenging because there is a long uphill walk before we climbed on. (BTW I got a good shot of Doug on the canopy, but he vetoed it.)

On to food - I can't believe we didn't take pictures. We went to favorites. At Saravanna, our neighborhood vegetarian Indian restaurant with branches all over the globe, I am always drawn to the mixed vegetable paratha. Brendan decided if there was another visit he too would have the paratha. My Elephant, rated by Trip Advisor as Petaling Jaya's #1 restaurant, deserves the rating. Its web page says that it serves Thai food with a healthy twist. Healthy and delicious - I get hungry just thinking about it, especially the fern tips and green papaya salad. At each meal Brendan declared that it was the best yet. He gave the same rating to South Pacific Seafood where we had sea bass. We left the choice of sauce to the waiter (always a wise decision); he also chose our vegetable.

Brendan announced that he had a taste for soto ayam. So I did what any sensible person here does - I checked the blogs and asked around. The recommendation was Chawan. We all had soto ayam, chicken soup. Yummy and probably up to curing a cold or flu. Our last meal was at Chutney's. We had several vegetarian dishes - each was well-prepared, nicely spiced, and delicious. It is hard to stop eating and figuring out the spicing.

So five days to enjoy Brendan's company and visit our favorite restaurants.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Weekend in Singapore: The tourist part

Libraries offer more than books!
We hadn't planned this trip, so we were challenged deciding what to do between meals. We had booked tickets to a performance at the National Library - an impressive, green, and multi-use building. In addition to the show we got to watch a tai chi class.

S'pore artist's (Justin Lee) 21st
century warriors
We decided to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum; we were attracted by the exhibit of the terra cotta warriors. A thoroughly amazing exhibit; we were surprised with how large the warriors are. The warriors are worth a visit when a similar exhibit visits your town. We will go to the museum again even without warriors. A favorite gallery showed the changes on the Singapore River - now clean, but missing the chaos of river life.

Jurong Bird Park seemed worth a revisit - from Metro to clean, organized bus interchange it was an easy trip, so different from the diesel spewing station of the past. We had a little time, so we watched a lively bird show, visited the penguins at feeding time, and fed the lorries. We also revisited Haw Par Villa; it did not amuse Brendan as much as it did when he was 7.

Singapore does not let a holiday/festival go by uncelebrated. Chinatown was still decorated with lanterns, although the mooncakes of the autumn festival were gone. Little India was decked out for Diwali (Diwali bazaars just started appearing in KL). We understand Christmas decorations will go up at the end of October - and by late December Chinese New Year's decorations appear.

Chinatown the last lanterns of the autumn festival
Little India - lit up for Diwali
We snapped the "No Way Out" sign for its existential message; it may also capture the Tourist Bureau's hope that one will stay a bit longer.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend in Singapore: The eating part

Optional snack at
7 Eleven

When Brendan's business travel included Singapore we decided to meet up there. He was counting on 9 memorable meals. So what was the first food we encountered? A mashed potato dispenser. A sign of cutting edge Singapore or its tolerance for all tastes?
For breakfast the best choices are found at hawkers centres and at the end of a long line. Luckily, we came after the Tekka centre had finished "spring cleaning."

The longest line was at a paratha stand. An excellent choice; we went there every morning. Brendan supplemented his paratha with a dosa. No question - he was a happy diner.

rava masala dosa

Banana paratha, chili sauce,
 masala tea

The first night we had dinner at Chinese restaurant close to the Albert Village Court Hotel where we were staying. (Pleasant enough and very convenient). The winning dish was the peppered beef.

On Saturday we joined friends at Anjappar. The yellow dal was outstanding - our host, Yoga, said that he had yet to figure out and duplicate the dal's spicing. The next night we ate at Banana Leaf Apolo and had a Kasimiri pulao was terrific. So when we come back to S'pore we have some dishes to repeat and new ones to look forward to.

As we walked over to the Indian restaurants we encountered throngs of Indian men, who work on construction projects. The lines at Western Union were long. The men seemed to be meeting with friends - talking and smoking, not eating at the restaurants. Their lives are surely very different from the lives of typical Singaporeans.

The garlic delivery truck represents Singapore's cuisine, at least better than the mashed potato dispenser.