The list of good things to say about Penang is a long one. For Ian and Chitomi Pash, Penang comfortably qualifies as their “ideal retirement location”. They enjoy the tropical weather, delicious food, fresh seafood, tropical fruit, sea views, the large expat community, the safety and the good relationships they have with the local people.
Ian, 54, originally hails from the UK. Together with his Japanese wife Chitomi he is now planning to start an eco farm project in Penang. “I’m into horticulture and a friend of a local friend has provided us with sufficient land in Penang to get the farm project started. Tons of chemicals and hormones are used on crops and animals so it is no wonder there are so many people suffering allergies and sickness. We thought it would be a good idea to learn to grow our own organic food and even generate our own clean energy. Needless to say Penang is the perfect place for us,” says Ian.
Malaysia and the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme proved irresistible to the Pashs despite some tough competition. “When we were researching potential countries, Panama had the best retirement scheme, followed by Malaysia. We wanted to live in the tropics and near a beach, which we could do in either country, but the location of Malaysia was a major advantage for us since we have friends and family in the UK and Europe, Japan, and Australia. From here we have easy access and that is always a major plus point.”
“The cost of living here is reasonable, as is the cost of health care and the quality of health care is excellent, we hear. The opportunity to explore nature is a major draw. I feel much more comfortable living in a country with a common legal system and there is a real sense of freedom here that you don’t have any more in western countries; you can do as you wish so long as you don’t bother anyone else,” he explains.
The Pashs have been MM2H members for almost a year now. “We heard about the programme through various expat Internet sites and we also read about it in ‘International Living’ magazine. When you research countries for their retirement potential it is easy to find out about MM2H.”
So what was it about Penang that convinced them to make it their home? “We love the Chinese people’s attitude to health, where instead of taking pills theytry to fix problems with food and herbal teas,” says Ian. As with any other state or country, there are always drawbacks. “The burn-off haze from Indonesia was bad for months; the appalling driving and the poor road design – illogical and dangerous road markings, lane lines etc. This is something that is easily fixed as is the non-coordinated traffic lights so that you are continually stopped. This can lead to many people ignoring red lights and this is very dangerous.”
With Penang now a major tourist destination there are some easy steps that could be carried out to make the place more attractive suggests Ian. “There are year round jelly fish and you cannot swim in the sea safely. The relevant authorities should follow the Spanish example – eliminating jellyfish by releasing turtles, jellyfish’s natural enemies, into the sea. This would require educating the locals not to catch turtles and turtle eggs though.” He adds that Penang would benefit from properly designated footpaths and cycle paths. “Many western tourists like to walk and cycle. A greater appreciation of the cultural and architectural heritage of Penang should also be cultivated.”
Although the Pashs are retired (Ian was working in IT and Chitomi was in Japan Equity fund management in the UK) not a minute is wasted doing nothing. “I’m living the retiree expat life – tennis, swimming, socialising, and travelling in Malaysia and abroad and spending time on the Internet either communicating with friends or researching.
Plus, I have started an Internet course on permaculture (sustainable organic farming),” says Ian. Meanwhile, Chitomi says they thought they would have plenty of time for activities but sadly this global financial crisis keeps them busy managing their investments. “We need to escape from that occasionally, so we go mountain hiking and for beach walks,” she explains.
Applying for the MM2H scheme was relatively easy for them and they highly recommend it to other expats. “We would recommend it to people, circumstances dependent.
“Although I love to travel, I am happy and comfortable here and prefer not to be obliged to travel abroad to renew my visa. Having a MM2H visa means I can stay as long as I like, or come and go as I please. In addition, being able to purchase a tax-free car is an advantage, as is the favourable tax status of being domiciled here,” adds Ian.
By Aida Ahmad