Thursday, February 23, 2017

Malaysia in 2017 - our MM2H experience

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur - seems like everytime I get a chance to actually sit for 10 minutes and think about writing a blog, we have changed cities!
We moved to KL in December 2016 - well, the better half moved earlier, but I was stranded on a facility in the middle of the South China Sea for 6 months before I got to really spend any time in our new place. Since making the decision to move, it's been a non-stop domestic administration roller-coaster. I would love to itemise it all, but I am unable to recall the number of trips to police stations, embassys, immigration departments and government bureaus, never mind the sheets of paper transferred between all these locations. Next time I'm going to keep a record.

Anyone who has ever moved overseas knows that it takes months for the paperwork to catch up with your bodies and gear. We didn't know where we wanted to go when the Korea project finished, and we spent months (read: years) obsessing over our next location. This was compounded by our client's on-again-off-again flirting with the idea of doing another project - so we knew we needed a place to settle for an undisclosed length of time - long enough to ride out the oil price downturn, and short enough that we could up-sticks and go to another project on a whim. Needless to say, this is not easy to find!!! You can't do a student visa, because you burn the bridge if you don't complete the course. We were too old to get an unskilled working visa (most aren't any good after 30) and THERE WAS NO WORK. In this situation visas become the most important ingredient in your life as an expat.

When we initially investigated the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa a couple of year ago we discounted it as not viable due to the expense and the hoops required. At the time the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) was high and the cost would have made our budget too tight to handle. We had one set of friends who had recently completed the process and it looked arduous and expensive for little reward, and it wasn't until another couple we know went to talk to the agents at Penang My Home that we realised that the visa might just work for us. The MYR had dropped substantially and the set-up for the visa was vastly different to what we had understood from reading online.

That was in June. We were hard up against the deadline for making a decision - in fact, we had made a decision: we were going to go to Thailand on student's visas. The project was finishing in July. We literally couldn't have made the decision any later. The next four weeks flew as we attempted to compile all the documentation from Korea and Australia which the Malaysian government would need to decide on our suitability for the visa. And we moved. And I finished the project I was on. Generally it was chaos.

By the end of July we had established an apartment in Kuala Lumpur and the gear was en-route from Korea - as was my facility, which was heading to Singapore for some additional TLC prior to going to work, so my better half got stuck with the unpacking and the expat set-up. This is where it gets really fun.

We still didn't have our final residency visas, and I was overseas, so EVERYTHING was difficult. From getting phone and internet contracts to getting the intercom fixed. This is standard when you are expatting and nothing we hadn't experienced everywhere else, but it's one of those things - it just takes time. Lots and lots and lots of time.

In December we got the news the visa had been approved - yes, 6 months later - and so it all began again - trips to immigration departments, multiple attempts to get driver's licenses transferred, learning about local health insurance - and where to go if you need to use it!

As I write this, the paperwork for our licenses is still sitting on our kitchen table (paperwork required so far: Passport and copy of both bio & visa pages, Korean Drivers License and copies of both sides, original of Korean to English translation of drivers license, and police reports from Thailand) - I hope we can get it sorted on Monday, but I offset that against having finally found a really, genuinely GOOD location for grocery shopping yesterday - only took 8 months!  It's a price we pay for the life we lead, and I really wouldn't change it for anything.

So that's what life looks like in the first 6 months of moving to a foreign country - lots and lots of paperwork. If you are moving with a company, your new best friend will be your agent, but as we found this time, when you move by yourself, the cost is all in time, and it's all yours.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Greetings from Ulsan, South Korea

New Zealand's Lochmara Lodge
We always say be careful what you wish for, and be even MORE careful what you write down!
SB and I had a trip planned to come to Seoul in April for 4 days on our way to another destination, and in the manner of all the best laid plans, we got diverted via New Zealand instead. The trip was booked, paid for, and I'd gotten a little ahead of myself and marked South Korea off on my list of countries I'd visited...

Two of Seoul's many contrasts
So, the week after my holiday finished, off I tripped to South Korea for work!! I've been blessed to be here for some of the best weather of the year, and managed to see some stunning sights and experience some uniquely Korean moments.

One of the things I noticed while I was here how many expats have gone to the effort of making really cool blogs of their travels. I know that the basilisk's lounge is always going to be a book-based world, (hah! assuming I ever post!) but I'm thinking it doesn't hurt to add a little more "life" to this, especially since I've not finished much in the way of books this year!!

I'm currently smashing the latest Kate Daniels book "Magic Breaks" from Ilona Andrews - and have managed to keep up to date with Richelle Mead's Bloodlines's series with "Silver Shadows". Because these two series are just way too fabulous not to finish.

I also got stuck in and caught up on my Molly Harper, one of the first urban fanatsy authors I read, it was so cool to go back and catch up with the characters, and remember just how funny Ms. Harper truly is. Her latest "Better Homes and Hauntings" alternated between genuine "can't go to sleep right now because I'm terrified of the things that go bump in the night" and laugh out loud one liners -  the first chapter title and lines of the book is one of the best lines published this year:

"Chapter 1
Ignoring the Frantically Waving Red Flags

Beware all enterprises that start with the purchase of Crocs."

Find one better than that. I dare you.

One of the other activities taking up a heap of time normally dedicated to reading copious numbers of books has been the commencement of my fundraising campaign for Unicef Australia's Cycle For Kids Campaign 2015. I've started training, and more importantly, I've started fundraising. With a big fundraiser happening in just 2 weeks time, I'm mildly freaking out, and I'm hoping that all this half-assed effort is worth it.

How talented is RC?!?!

I've also instituted a swear jar at work, it's raised a heap of money, and I Think before I Swear Now!! Yes, cutting out the swearing altogether would be better... I'm working on it!

So, the moral, I'm going to start using this blog more, as a record of what I've read, where I've been and what my latest fundraising endevour is, so that I can look back on the last half of 2014 and be proud of everything I achieved.

If not, well, at least I procrastinated with something useful tonight!

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Great (Wall) Adventure

Note: I wrote this post last year for a competition and didn't use it, so thought I'd pop it here instead.

No-one who goes to Beijing should come home without having seen the Great Wall of China. However, as a consequence of everybody knowing that they need to see the Great Wall, the tourist sections are a crowded theme-park version of the original. Badaling, the most popular section of the wall for day trippers from Beijing, comes complete with cable cars. I knew that we were up for something more challenging: we had the time, and we were all capable of a decent amount of walking.
Initially we thought to climb and trek the Simatai section of the Great Wall – the lonely planet warned us we would need our arms free for climbing and there is a zip-line for descent (who doesn’t love a zip line?!). However, as luck would have it, on that gorgeous month of April, Simatai was closed for renovations.

We jumped on the internet and my boyfriend with long experience of reading my mind, found a tour operator offering a private hiking tour from Gubeikou to Jinshanling.
The tour started out reasonably early, Sam and Mitch my travel companions for the day meeting in the hotel lobby before jumping in a mini-van up to the site. After about 45 minutes driving – the last 10 of which were filled with thoughts of “oh god, no-one knows where we are!” we arrived at the base of the Gubeikou portion of the wall

And so the trek began. After a solid 10-20 minutes of uphill terrain, we set foot on the Great Wall. What a feeling to be standing on an original part of history. Gubeikuo, as our guide informed us in perfect English, has stood un-renovated for the past 600 years.

Definitely not the most accessible part of the wall.
We headed east along the wall for the next hour or so, constantly looking upwards and behind us for incredible vistas of the wall stretching as far as we could see in either direction. As the day continued and visibility increased we started to get some incredible photos.

After stopping for a photo opportunity and water break at one of the watch towers, our guide advised us we were to make our way off the wall now as we were approaching a military facility and needed to give it wide berth. We looked at each other “Wait a minute! Does this mean we have to leave the wall and go down the hill?” Yes, it did.
In the inevitable follow up, after following what can only be described as a goat track for the next hour, we then had to re-climb the hill to find the wall again. Having relocated the wall, and consumed a quick meal standing under a gorgeous wild fruit tree in full bloom, we again started walking along the wall, making our way to Jinshaling.
Finally, and with the suddenness of a cold bucket of water, we arrived at the Jinshaling section of the Great Wall. How did we know? This might have been the giveaway: 

One minute we were traversing fallen rocks and loose stairs, the next, we were in the supremely accessible, smooth-cut road-like renovated section of the wall.
10 minutes later it was time for a toilet break and water before jumping in the van to head home. The trip home was much shorter - we all fell asleep within minutes! Absolutely the best experience we had in an amazing country.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mooses in Canada

Note: I wrote this post last year for a competition and didn't use it, so thought I'd pop it here instead.

I love travelling with other people. I don’t care if I’ve known them an hour or 15 years, the people make the trip for me. In 2012 I had the chance to travel to Canada for my friend’s wedding and, at their invitation, my boyfriend Sam and I joined them for a couple of days during their trip through the Rocky Mountains. As is always the way when you travel with people you know, there are expectations that everyone has regarding the trip: It was a honey-moon so it had to be romantic; it was four under 30’s, so it had to be fun, and it was the Canadian Rockies, so it had better be stunningly beautiful.

Lake Louise, Alberta. Possibly one of the most photogenic places in the world.
After months of planning, the trip was booked: Wedding in Vancouver, train ride on the Rocky Mountaineer to Banff, drive to Lake Louise, then take the Icefields parkway through the Colombia icefields to Jasper, where we would go our separate ways.
The only thing Adam wanted to do – other than get married of course, was see a Moose. Personally, I have no idea why, they’re great and all, but seriously, get an easier goal. Moose are notoriously difficult to find, and the remarkable staff on the Rocky Mountaineer warned us early on that the chances of seeing one that time of year (or ever) was slim to none. Many of the staff had one story of seeing a moose. One.

The incredible staff on the Rocky Mountaineer went over and above the call of duty during our trip, including the beautiful desserts, complete with love hearts and message of “Happy Honeymoon!!”

So it was of course, that on day 2 of the brilliant sights and tastes tour that is the Rocky Mountaineer, Adam was dutifully looking to the right as instructed by the crew, towards a sight of scenic or historical interest when the shout of “MOOSE!” went up from the left side of the cabin. And everyone ran to the left. Poor Adam didn’t stand a chance, and the moose was well behind us before he caught a glimpse. I did see it, very briefly, but there just wasn’t enough time to appreciate (or photograph) the creature as the train lumbered onwards – a constant problem with transport related journeys, we also missed any shots of the black bears we saw.
Needless to say, it was ON. Throughout the driving of the next 3 days, the continual call of “MOOSE!” kept Adam leaping from one side of the car to the other.
We did eventually find a Moose for Adam, and he even got to take one home with him

Not overly impressed with the moose we found you Adam?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing 1500 words and November round up

Huh. So even my long-suffering boyfriend thinks I've not been writing enough for the past couple of months. And he's right - I have absolutely no excuse.

I have been trying to write my story rather than my blog, but a rule is a rule - and 1500 a day is hard regardless of where I type it! This advice - 1500 a day regardless of quality - has been advice you will find anywhere on the internet, and I'm keen to get the creative juices flowing a bit more going forward. Certianly with no job for the 6th month, I'm beginning to look seriously at what options I have outside my engineering career. So, I thought I would throw together 1500 words or so on why 1500 words EVERY DAY is important, in the hopes of ensuring I'm not a hypocrite going forwards.

The first thing to do is break down the system a bit further. Words: you need approximately 40,000 to 200,000 in a book (scary!). Say for ease of calculation, we (the royal we) want to write a 50,000 word novel (that's how many words National Novel Writer's Month uses as their benchmark, and we want to write that book in a 30 day period (as required for NaNoWriMo), we would need to write 1666.7 words per day. huh. that's pretty close to the 1500 we are talking about. BUT, and here's the trick - those 1500 odd words per day only add up to a 50,000 word masterpiece in a month IF the next 1500 odd is written the next day, and the day after, and the day after that...

Jeff Olsen, in one of my favourite books on this subject, The Slight Edge, discusses the power of small disciplines that when repeated daily over a lifetime make big changes. Olsen says it best: "you will achieve those aims, goals and dreams by doing simple things" but, as Olsen emphasises for the 168 pages of his book, you will only achieve those aims, goals and dreams by doing those simple things every day. "There is a cost to waiting." This applies to every element of our lives: it applies to our health: the cumulative effect of eating healthy and excercising daily isn't seen in a week, it's not seen in a month (well, not much) its seen in the years, and the long term freedom from chronic disease.   It applies to studying a new language, to personal development of any kind, and what's interesting in these daily disciplines, the earlier the discipline starts, the better the outcome cumulatively. In fact, it even applies to the ridiculous 6000 piece puzzle on my dining room table - mind you, at one piece per day we will still be in Thailand in 2028.

It applies to our finances - the cumulative effect of saving $100 a week is not seen in a month, or a year, but in the interest/income from investing that $100 every day for years. Money is the most obvious measuring stick for cumulative benefit, we all know the benefit that compounding interest can provide - it can only provide that benefit if the money is being compounded, not spent! ( I struggle with this a bit, more so now that I don't have a job, that nest egg looks mighty tempting).

So, what? how does this affect our hypothetical novel?

well, number 1, not matter how much my writing sucks (and believe me, I'm under no illusions!) it HAS to improve if every day I'm challenged to create something. Although it is REALLY hard to get to 1500 words at the moment, and likely it will be harder and more annoying tomorrow,  everything is a skill, and anything that's practiced gets easier. I mean, seriously, NO-ONE had a blog 20 years ago, now people make their living from this. It's only 10,000 hours to mastery; just ask Malcom Gladwell (Check out Outliers for some spectatcular examples of the 10,000 hours rule)
Benefit 2: even just getting 1500 words into the interweb's anonymous ether may impact someone. Sometimes authors do google themselves, if I've posted something respectful - and I do try to be respectful, hopefully that gives the author a warm fuzzy. The exceptions to being nice and respectful are if I'm ranting abour poorly edited manuscripts or stories that have waaay more noteriety than I can provide (*cough Twilight, 50 shades cough*). They might also randomly point a passing blog reviewer to a really cool series of books they haven't read, and that would be useful.
Benefit 3: 1500 words of dross can be cleaned up, polished,  moved, re-written, re-imagined,  and of course deleted, if the 1500 words aren't written, the only thing that can be done with them is... nothing.

my goodness, I'm only at 800 words...

So, what has passed the Lounge Basilisk's Kindle since October?

Janet Evanovich released Notorious Nineteen. Man alive, with every book I'm cheering more and more for Ranger. I'm not sure that was the outcome we were meant to have after 19 books, but as the Evanovich's pioneered "Team Morelli" and "Team Ranger" t-shirts and baseball caps before twi-hards ever went there, I guess Janet and Alex Evanovich know EXACTLY what they are doing making all our hearts flutter at Ranger's bad guy charisma.

My classic choice for the month was James Herriot's series All Creatures Great and Small. I'm not sure if my very limited background in vet science has made these books funnier or if its just a result of "getting" more of the jokes these days, but I was in hysterics. Like seriously, laughing non-stop. These books just capture the incredible characters of the 1930's farming community the books are set in, and the great irony with which Herriot delivers the outcomes of those more self-depreceating tales is just brilliant. I've linked you to the omnibus edition of the first 3 tales.

My re-read for the month was the Kate Daniels series from Ilona Andrews (Start with Magic Bites). Kate Daniels, in the vein of two of my favourite heroines Mercy Thompson (Patricia Briggs) and Alexia Tarabotti (Gail Carriger) is a hapless slave to her overly witty tongue. The chemistry between Kate and Curran is magic, and the careful line that these ladies have to dance between staying independant and doing the right thing in the face of overly alpha love interests always makes for interesting dialogue. While Mercy Thompson plays the dominance game better, and Alexia Tarabotti relies on social conventions to ensure she is not ripped limb from limb, Kate Daniels relies on her sword, and the undeniable fact that at every juncture she is straddling that line between duty, love, family and secrets the only way she can. Often the only reason she's not itty bitty bits of cat kibble is the fact that its obvious to the other players around her that without her, they are in way deeper trouble than she's getting them into. She's actually a very interesting character study - her entire life is devoted to ensuring that her lineage is not discovered, but she constantly has to chose between her safety and the safety of the people who trust and rely on her. Sometimes the Andrews' are a bit flip with her tough decisions, but the reader knows that it's Kate's character shining through; as far as she's concerned she has no other choice.

What else? I did get around to reading the latest JR Ward book, Rapture. Once I got past the first 5 pages I enjoyed this story almost as much as the previous offerings from Ward, which made me feel better, I was really not stoked at the start. This is a highly developed universe, and the overall plot is thickening, which is good. Matthias will never be my favourite hero in urban fantasy, sorry.

Allie Condie chose an interesting solution to her tale of over-zealous governments and young love in Reached (Book 3 of the Matched trilogy). I really enjoyed these books. While maybe not as tight as The Huger Games trilogy, from the perspective of offering a high school audience a specific moral, there was a lot more depth in the character choices and the twisting turns of the manipulative government. The emphasis that Condie places on history and culture, even in the face of surviving a revolution, is a powerful thing, and it reads powerfully as well.

I think that about brings me up to date, and if I'm under 1500 words, you'll have to forgive me!

huh, 1386, better than nothing right??

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October Holidays

So, not unusually, here I am having not posted for months, but what with the last 8 months whirlwind tour of Australia and Canada and Australia again, I feel slightly more justified than normal in not posting - having said that, I did take 8 weeks off, and nary a single post the whole time... so I'll admit it, I'm just lazy.
I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's follow-up to the brilliant The Happiness Project, aptly titled Happier at Home. THP was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place, Rubin's truths of adulthood and simple resolutions have definitely made an impact on the way I (try!) to live my life, and after reading her second book (well, I'm 51% of the way through) I'm thinking I will go back and re-read THP as Rubin's style of authorship is just so readable; and her views on the rights and wrongs of happiness so happily paradoxical, (keep an empty shelf, and a junk drawer; make your bed everyday, or don't; etc) that all facets and opportunities for making every-day life happier seem to be covered, and the idea that what makes me happy may not make you happy is embraced. Happier at Home is again focusing on small, every-day resolutions, this time aimed more for ensuring happiness and harmony in the home, with the most important relationships first: Self, Spouse, Family. Rubin's blog is worth subscribing to as well, because a) she is far more regular with the posting than me! and, b) a little reminder in your RSS feed or inbox to be happy can sometimes make a difference to your day (and the day of the people around you!).

I succumbed to reading the fifty shades trilogy... eh, meh. Enough people have raved and/or hated this trilogy, I'm not going to waste my fit of verboseness on this.

I got stuck in and read the full Sherrilyn Kenyon Dark Hunters series, and associated Chronicles of Nick tales. These books were a real mixed bag. Sometimes I was blown away with the quality and unable to sleep - the pinnacle was definitely Acheron; and I'm prepared to keep reading just to wait for Nick's story to be resolved, but there is a definite feeling that the series could have stopped with Acheron (well, if we all knew how Nick was going to spend eternity!). Acheron, which comes complete with apology and disclaimer from the author about how graphic the first half of the book is, was an (albeit harrowing) highlight, some of the best story-telling I've read in a long time, with spectactualarly well-imagined scenary and incredible attention to historical detail.  It would be extremely difficult to maintain that level of story telling going forward as a) the character was so emotionally linked to the readers for the first 11 books, and b) you'd want to stop writing/reading and find something happier to do with your life instead of continuing to write/read the series. A lot of readers had a big problem with the new panthenon of gods playing silly-buggers with the hero's lives in the books following Acheron, I didn't think I would have a problem with it, but I have to admit it was a little distracting; its like adding a whole new set of rules in the third quarter of a football game.

I don't know if I mentioned reading the JR Ward series, they were an enjoyable couple of weeks of back to back reading. I have gotten a little lost since moving into the territory of the fallen angels series. the latest novel, Rapture lost me by page 2 for a couple of excellent reasons: 1. I wasn't in the mood, 2. it had fundamental editing errors in the first 2 pages, and 3. this book's premise is so annoying I can't talk about it without spoilers.

And now my track of thought has been all un-zenned, I'm going to go back and ready more Happier at Home.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Greetings from our new location.

What an insane 6 months...
Right after posting my new years resolution, my professional life took a turn for the busier, so, once again this little project fell to the bottom of the heap.
And then we moved. Internationally.
Of course, since the 13th of July, I have nothing to blame my laziness on but laziness as I have been benched from the J.O.B. situation until after October, when wedding-fever stops...

So, what have I been doing since I arrived at our new tropical locale?
mostly... reading trashy vampire and cowboy fiction... nom nom nom...

must stop doing that...

But seriously - have I read anything halfway decent since my last post??? (goes to check out her kindle list)

Ohh ohh!! Yes, OK here we go:

Kelly Armstrong (Women of the Otherworld and the Gathering YA books) released a series of short stories and the next YA book The Calling in the past 6 months in the lead up to the final Women of the Otherworld tale: Thirteen. And can we all say "Yay!" I really have enjoyed the WotO series, I loved the jumping narrator (once I got over it... I, like all the other fans the world over, didn't love Paige to start...) and the way that everything tied up in the final book was very JK.Rowling-esque... you know... the dropping hints for books and books before hand, and leaving all the very clever solutions right under her unsuspecting readers noses...
I'm sure we will see more of the universe, as I'm pretty sure there is at least another Darkness Rising book due sometime next year, which is fabulous.

Another Basilisk's Loungeroom regular, Lindsay Buroker, made a re-appearance on the reading lists with a new "Emporer's Edge" novel - Conspiracy - AND a new "Flash Gold" tale - Peacemaker. I think Buroker is still self-publishing, which means that it's extra important to check out the Yukon/steampunk joys of the Flashgold series, and the alternate-reality/steampunk/thriller of The Emporer's Edge series

Janet Evanovich released Wicked Business and once again the Evanovich family proved that they "get" the opportunities that the E-Book provides them with - the book is fully integrated with a foot-notes style section full of photos and witty comments of the area that the book is based in. For an Australian reading this book, the photos were brilliant! I have very little contextual understanding of the East-Coast of America, so it was brilliant to have my imagination so ably assisted. (Which of course, Evanovich is more than capable of doing without the photos, but it's fun). Evanovich's next installment for Stephanie Plum is  Notorious Nineteen; due out in November this year, will definitely require me to spend a night not sleeping.

I picked up two short stories from Gail Carriger and the latest in the Parasol Protectorate series: Timeless. I have raved about Gail Carriger's wit previously, so I won't go into a lot of detail, but to say that this tale is VERY well wrapped up. I don't know if Carriger is planning on writing any more Parasol Protectorate novels, there is definitely scope, but for once, I walked away thinking - "huh, that made a lot of sense, and I'm pleased with the resolution." of course, I'd campaign like anything to keep seeing stories from my favourite parasol toting heroine.

I went back and read all of Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson and Alpha/Omega tales, which I'm sure I have mentioned as a favourite of mine. Mercy's under-dog (or should I say under-coyote?) philosophy on life is hilarious, and the tales are always gripping and graphic enough that you can't put them down. Even on the second and third read, these books surprised. I have to admit to not having read Briggs' older creations, I think its a function of judging the e-book by it's cover... I will get to them eventually and I'm sure I will enjoy them immensely.

A couple from Molly Harper - this time her Naked Werewolf series - these were a riot! Harper was one of the first League of Reluctant Adults authors I read, and I find her writing an enjoyable romp (this time in the snow if I recall correctly...)

And I'll finish with these; Jennifer Rardin's Jaz Parks Series. Go read them. I always get upset knowing that we aren't going to see any new worlds from Rardin. The Jaz Parks series epitomises the concept of Urban Fantasy to me: gritty, fabulous scenarios right under the eyes of the unsuspecting, modern-day public, in well-imagined locales around the US and the world.

OK - that was ridiculous. I will be better going forward I promise (now I sound like a politician.)