Replacing Things on the Road

Every so often as I travel, things break. The little flimsy things often like lightning connectors which are used heavily often seem the most quick to snap or break at the lightning connector end. I bought the pair I had in Vietnam last year for cheap and they lasted about 9 months maybe. Not good or bad. Its hard to rate something like lightning connectors that I use every day with my portable charger and in the hotel room. My MacBook charger also broke but because perhaps I had bought a cheaper one. I bought a new Apple charger in Hanoi and its lasted me pretty well. So perhaps electronics stuff like cables are particularly susceptible to failure.

The second item, not really expected, were the walking sandals I bought in Phnom Penh. I had believed I would get about six months of wear out of them. The plan had been to wear them every other day walking and try to give the Merrill Moab shoes a break. The sandals only lasted about two months with heavy use. I was looking at them the other day and noticed that the uppers and velcro fasteners were simply falling apart and the upper sole under my foot was cracking already. Perhaps I mentioned but this brought to mind the missing Chaco sandals that I ordered awhile ago. Had I received these, I would not have bought more sandals in Cambodia. So, I decided that I would not buy another cheap pair of sandals and only get a few months out of them. I went with Birkenstock Arizonas from a Birkenstock store here. I wanted something that is there for the long haul and can handle both the daily walking and the evenings out to eat or stroll the city. Since I purchased from a Birkenstock store here, I have less doubts that they are a fake shoe and I have more confidence that they will last. I would like to get a year out of them and not think about shoes again for awhile.

I’ve replaced clothing on the road and got rid of Jeans. Do not take jeans to Southeast Asia folks. They are too hot and will be very uncomfortable. I bought some fake North Face shorts in Hanoi for about $7 a pair and got three pair and they work well and dry fast. A second thing is do not pack heavy duty T shirts from the states. They are too heavy! Replace them with cheap shirts in Vietnam or Cambodia or Malaysia. You can score shirts for about $3 each in Cambodia and if you get six months out of them great! Final few things are underwear and socks. Do not buy expensive stuff! You can find cheap replacements for both. I bought cheap socks in Singapore at a small clothing stand which work fine. Same with underwear. In the markets like the Central Market in Phnom Penh or Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, you can find packets of cheap underwear. 

I guess what I am advocating or suggesting is that half the clothing you bring with you is simply not a good choice for hot and humid places in Southeast Asia. I am also suggesting to not carry heavier sweaters and jackets. When I went to Da Lat Vietnam, I found a cheap jacket thing for $30 which I gave to the hotel manager when I left because he mentioned needing one. You should plan on flimsy things like connectors for phones and laptops giving out when you least want them to. Shopping for these in places like Vietnam and Cambodia is not difficult. Heck, even if your phone gives out you can find new phones pretty easily here. Lots more choices than in the states with different manufacturers. 

I think you will dump most of your stuff that you so carefully planned for in the first months in Southeast Asia. They simply don’t work well. Shoes, socks, underwear, pants. All of the things you carefully pack probably will not last here or you will tire of. Forget the fashion statements. Remember some things are easier to get here but if you want quality shoes you may have to wait or buy the cheaper shoes or sandals to get you to a place like Malaysia or Singapore if you want the quality replacements or ship them from the states to a long stay place. If you do that, heed this! Do not ship with the USPS if you are from the states. Go with DHL, UPS, or FEDex for this. You stand a much better chance in Cambodia or Vietnam to get the items. You will pay more but the items may actually arrive.

How do you plan for this? Simple. You don’t. You move with the flow and do what you need. Buy from the markets and have no real quality expectations. Negotiate with the market stall owners a bit. They will start at some place like $5 for a T shirt. I have bargained stall owners down for clothing pretty successfully. Same with things like backpacks and traveling bags. You will find fake North Face Surge bags all over but I have one that has lasted almost a year with no problems and I bargained the owner down from $35 to $25. It’s fake. So what. It holds my stuff and the zippers and materials are very sturdy.

So replacing things on the road need not be a thing of worry. Just accept that most of the things you so carefully pack you will probably hate six months on the road and wish you had re-thought it all. Being forever in Southeast Asia is no different. 

I still wish I had those Chaco Sandals.

How KL handles Mass Transit

I’m a mass transit lover. From last year wandering around Tokyo with the superlative Tokyo Met Subway to the Singapore SMRT to the so many cool ways of getting around Kuala Lumpur. There is the monorail which goes to 9 or 10 places. There is the LRT which has numerous routes across the city. There is the KLM Kommute which goes here and there even farther. Then there is the KLIA Express and Transit. One takes you to the airport in 30 minutes with no stops and the other stops at various places along the way which helps you get to intermediate stops and helps people get picked up. Of course, there are the buses and you can GRAB here too. You would figure with so many different mass transit options that they would have one card travel. A smart card that would take you on all the options. Monorail, light rail, and kommute. And they do! Its called the Touch N Go smart card. So what does it do and how do you cash in on the deal. Well, you find a Touch N Go storefront like the one in the NU Sentral Mall and buy one. I bought one because I am going to be here for another 70 days and will be criss-crossing Malaysia for different stops that the card will come in handy for. Now you have a card that you can immediately use on the monorails and light rails and also buy food and do whole bunches of other stuff with. Then when you want to “top up” its like a SIM card and you can head to one of the storefronts and pay and top up the card. The next step I don’t see with it is the ability to top up from a website. That needs to happen so it parallels SIM card technology and makes it easier to get the card out to people. You should be able to buy one online and then show the receipt at the Touch N Go storefront and cash in too.

All this makes KL easier to see and transit. What someone like me can do is ride to some stop out there and start walking and not worry about what service will take me back. Like today I rode the LRT out and then the monorail back because I just happened to find a monorail station close by. Thursday I will ride the Kommute to Batu Caves and back. In-between all these times I will ride the LRT to some stop and get out and walk and see the city yet in another way. It all makes KL an easier city to see and its such a beautiful city that having these options only makes it more accessible.

Having 90 days here in Malaysia means I want to find longer term things like SIM card plans and travel cards. I don’t want to get a week’s SIM card and data plan when I will be here 90 days. I want something that is a month at a time. Same with the transit options. I may not use the card so much in Melaka but when I have to transit back to KL Sentral and then catch a Kommute to Port Dickson, I will.

So, the main message is if you are visiting KL, find your way around using mass transit. You can walk too and I have done it but I reach a point where I want to light rail or monorail to a point and then walk the day and find yet more unique places to eat like today for lunch where the place served some excellent and unique food and welcomed me warmly to eat. I don’t know the name of the place. I just know the ladies there wanted to make sure I had eaten well enough and kept offering more food. Sweet and kind people folks!

Anyways, here is a nice map of the options for transit around this gorgeous city. Take your pick. Maybe consider the Touch N Go card or just buy the tokens they sell. Its just too easy to get around and all the information is in English too. Also as an added thing, don’t worry about language in most places. English is widely spoken. Makes vagabonding around KL very easy! Now go and enjoy and ride that cheap mass transit to your happiness!

Kuala Lumpur Train Map July 2017 LATEST Low Resolution

 

 

Last week in Kuala Lumpur

Even if I just wander the city, ride the light rail and monorail and visit the museum this week, I will never feel I have seen the city. Yet the parts I have walked or taken the hop on and off tour revealed a simply wondrous place with so many different looks. I chose KL to stay longer in due to its food, fun factor, cultures, and history. I also thought the city would be fantastic to practice some pedestrian tourism with the camera. 

I’ll be leaving KL in a little over a week for Melaka for two weeks to see a historic city with ties to Singapore and also sample their food and yet walk another city in Malaysia for two weeks. No real goals there either besides to simply enjoy myself. The length of time in Melaka means I will probably try to see a variety of things. For whatever reason two weeks never seems like enough to see a place but its how I built the travel and I wanted to ensure I got to see Penang which I also have a month to see.

Another thing coming up is my year of leaving the US and living this lifestyle in Asia. It seems amazing that a year of so many moments has gone by. I’ve not visited the 50 countries and three continents that many round the worlders want. Nor have I counted the cities and hotels I’ve slept in. Its much less for sure! Yet I feel when I write up my year retrospective on the blog, I will call out the wonderful times in all the places. Vietnam is so beautiful and varied and fun I have to go back for 3 months! 

So all these things vie for my massive intellect’s attention. A week or so left in KL and some things to see, beer to drink, food to eat and always photographs to take with the Fuji. Perhaps another fun day out in Chinatown playing with the camera in the evening. But most of all the relaxation and low stress that always seems to take awhile to really get used to. Singapore had a week due to higher expenses that ended up not being so high. I spent no more on food but yet more on beer there and really enjoyed the SMRT 3 day pass to get to places farther away. KL though is more concentrated and many places can be reached by walking. So facing the last week here I try to come up with a list and fail. A list of places yet to see. The room in the morning is filled with some news and instant coffee until later in the day when I wander to one of the many coffee shops and have some latte and a muffin or breakfast.

Talking about food which I always love to talk about, I had walked by a Mexican restaurant last night where you fill out a paper, the food is made and you pick up. I had the burrito there. The thing reminded me of some of the burrito places back home and this burrito had the beef, rice, hot sauces, black beans with a fresh tortilla all toasted. Man! I don’t remember the last time having a burrito like that. I had Mexican food a few times in Siem Reap Cambodia but nothing like that.

Sorry for the brief aside but as I was writing the blogpost I remembered that burrito! 

So as the last week beckons to me here, I wonder the same things as I have at all the places. Would I come back to KL? What were the most noteworthy and fun things to do? How good was the food and beer? How was the walking in the city?

All fair questions but even bigger ones occur to me. A year spent in this new life. A year spent without working and finding out that about 95% of my preparation was well done for basic services that I would use. Concerns I had that made me start a budget which drove me crazy so I stopped in Japan. How different social media sites have come (and gone) from my life. How, in the final analysis, I believe that retirement and becoming a realist with possessions and then leaving is a good thing to do whether you retire and move to a new city, ride Amtrak across the state or country, or decide that a real new start is needed. There is nothing hard or dangerous about living in Southeast Asia and contrary to what some would say, retirement is not particularly hard or demanding if you do a bit of homework and choose the country well. But for me a single place would never work because I need the slow movement. My travel genes demand that I get to walk a new city, a new country, and see what is around the next moment.

So a week left is no big deal. Its a bunch of days made up not of minutes or hours but moments which are long or short and the days will come up and I’ll get myself along to Melaka. I’ll be working on a year retrospective blogpost because I feel the need to write some things down and also maybe set the record straight from some things I have read on Quora and other places about retirement and moving to a new country. But mostly its about the slow transition of moments from those busy days a year ago when the personal gas tank ran low and motivation seemed to slip and they stopped asking me to stay. Then those days and moments slipped away as well and I found myself at the end of some moments in one place and the beginning of a new adventure.

More on this later! Welcome to my last week in beautiful, mysterious and wonderful KL!

Taxes, Phones, Paperwork when you ex-pat

I’ve written about these core services that come in handy when you are living elsewhere but as the tax time comes around, its time to gather the paperwork together and fulfill the requirements by April. This year is a little more complex due to ending my job in March last year, taking a 401k payout, and getting my money market account at CapitalOne setup with savings money. Each thing has some paperwork and I was quite worried about the W2 from my employer so last night I called them and they walked me through accessing ADP online to get my W2 PDF from them. I received the Social Security form in the mail at my mail service so had it scanned and turned into a PDF and I have it. One remains is for the 401k. I tried to get that last night too but for whatever reason the retirement company has the wrong birthdate for me so I cannot change or check for the 1099R form I need. I called at 1am here and talked with them and they are sending a form for me to fill out to list changes. Once I get that form, I can fill it out with a PDF editor and fax it back. 

If you need services to do basic things when you are sitting in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur with good wifi, its all possible to do remotely. You can file taxes, have mail delivered or scanned, FAX something to a US fax number. It can seem daunting but really doing it all myself was pretty easy. I’ll pay about $50 to efile my taxes this year and then about $2 to send a PDF file with an image of my passport and the form filled out back to the retirement agency. Here are the three things I use to help me along. Perhaps if you are considering an ex-pat life this may help:

Mail Services – US Global Mail. They are headquartered in Houston, Texas but deal with travelers and ex-pats all the time and understand our unique needs. You can receive packages and mail, have mail scanned into PDF, send packages along using various postal services, and also manage existing mail and have it thrown away if need be. I read about a lot of services out there but this one is the best to me. You don’t pay per piece of mail received which a lot of other mail services do. You get an email when a package or mail arrives and you click on the link and get to order up actions that normally happen the next day. You can download the PDF easily. Give them a look if you are considering relocating or moving forever. They are all set for you and provide a set of services easily used with a web browser.

Phone Services – Again this came to get me last night. You need to have a US based phone number that you can have overseas and use easily. I can receive texts, calls, voicemails to my Google Voice number quite easily. I can also make calls with a US phone number. It may be hard to get this service once you leave the states if not impossible. But… perhaps with a good VPN it’s possible. Not sure.

FAX Services – I won’t recommend any particular one yet because I have not tried them. There are services though you upload a PDF file or other files to and fax to a US based FAX number. My retirement agency provides FAX support so I can send the form back to them that way. Here is one I have not tried yet. It does both free faxing and faxing that costs a little through PayPal. 

Anyways, with these types of services you can take care of minimal business needs especially around tax season and get things done as though you were in the states. You may have to forgo some sleep if you are in Malaysia however ;-). 

Mail Forwarding Faux Pas

It may be that the W2 and 1099R forms still come to me forwarded to my mail service address by the USPS. We shall see. If that happens then the number of steps are less to finalize and file my taxes this year. I don’t really trust the USPS since they seemed to have lost track of a package I shipped to Cambodia in December and are still “investigating”.  Reminder to Self:

Ship to Cambodia with DHL, FEDex, or UPS

These three have much better tracking and discovery and delivery options. In Phnom Penh before, FEDex delivered right to the hotel lobby and called me to let me know a package was waiting for me. Same with something I had shipped to Siem Reap.

If you find yourself in long term travel or retirement in some friendly place like Cambodia, don’t forget the basic service needs that still tie you to the US. You may have to get creative or find services and products that work like a good bank and it debit and credit cards. I have a few suggestions for those too. Always have two accounts and tie them together so you can do fund transfers between them using ACH transfers. Bear in mind it will take 3 days or so to get the transfer. Consider either Schwab or CapitalOne for your banking. Both are very nice services. Schwab will reimburse ATM fees. CapitalOne has great interest bearing accounts for money market accounts.

Now go forth and enjoy! I am gonna be leaving soon for a day exploring again here in KL.

Fridays Camera Fun in KL

I had decided over my breakfast late this morning to go to the IT Lifestyle Plaza here in Kuala Lumpur but never made it. Instead I dallied around the Walk of Life and played with the camera for some hours. My main things to play with on the camera were;

  • Setting Film Simulation to Classic Chrome
  • Setting the Sharpness to +2, Color to +2, and Shadows to +2 on the Q menu
  • Shooting at F8 or F5.6 depending on light or depth I want and ISO 200 in bright light or ISO 400 in darker conditions
  • All photographs taken in Aperture Priority Mode

So this was all a great deal of fun today and the camera has so many customizations and things you can tweak that shooting in JPEGs only satisfy the photo geek in me forever and ever. I could never shoot RAW files since you lose all that and then apply it in editing afterwards. I want the immediate satisfaction I guess.

DSCF1599
DSCF1576
DSCF1566

All photographs taken around the River of Life area which is a fun place to play around with cameras with all the different skylines, people, market areas, etc.

What’s fun in all this with the FujiFilm cameras are all the things you can do with just the camera. Forget Lightroom or photoshop. I also think the Fuji X series cameras are the best to have fun on. Learning on them is very cool because you get immediate justification without all the RAW file editing and post processing. In fact, I bet a lot of Fuji photographers do not post process their photographs at all and just shoot the scenes in JPEG format.

Anyways, that was today and you got three photographs for the picture of the day! Lucky you!!

Tomorrow will go to the lifestyle mall or maybe I will ride the KL monorail around the city. Not decided 🙂