Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Reminder for American Senior Citizens Living Abroad

If any of my readers are Americans living abroad you already know that since you live abroad you cannot receive Medicare. If you are still in the US and thinking of retiring to Malaysia or some other country you should know that you cannot receive Medicare, even though you have paid into Medicare all of the time you were working.

I realized that point and also realized that healthcare in Malaysia was extremely good and also extremely cheap, as compared to the US. Today I received a letter in the mail from Health and Human Services providing information to American retirees living abroad. Since I will soon be 65 the letter informed me that I will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A, but will not be able to receive any benefits since I live abroad. Included with this information was an application to apply for Medicare Part B. Since I live abroad I also am ineligible to receive benefits under this part of Medicare. I was informed that I could pay the monthly payments, even though I can't benefit from it. Makes no sense to me. If, however, I decide at a later date to return to the US and want to enroll in Medicare Part B, I will have to pay a penalty of 10% on the monthly premiums. In other words I have to pay a penalty for not using something I have been paying for, for many years.

The fact that American retirees are discriminated against solely because they live abroad is wrong and unacceptable.We paid into Social Security and we can receive that. Why can't we receive Medicare benefits, for which we also paid for? It would be much cheaper for Medicare to pay our medical expenses abroad than to pay for our expenses at home. If you don't like this arrangement write to your Congressman and Senators to complain. It may not do any good, but it can't hurt.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's a Typical Day Like for an Expat in Penang?

When people retire, whether or not they retire at home or retire far from their home, their friends ask them one question. What are you going to do all day? Last year I posted a blog called "What Does a Retired Expat Do All Day?" In this post I explain what I do here in Penang, but that doesn't necessarily reflect upon what others do. I will try to point out a few more options on how to spend your time if you decide to retire in Penang.

From my blog posts you can see that I am not really a photographer, as many of my photos are taken off the cuff, by my IPhone or camera. When I post a photo it is usually just to give the reader and idea of what I am talking about. There are some expats here who love to travel around the city taking photographs of the unique colonial architecture and the everyday lives of Penang residents. My friend Mark, from Scotland, is one of these people who like to take photos of the area to share with people on his blog. Photography is his hobby and he can always be found in Georgetown taking pictures of people, buildings and places to eat. One of his other hobbies is being an unofficial tour guide for his friends who come to visit him from Scotland and other parts of the world. Check out his blog if you want to see what Penang and it's surroundings look like.

Another of my friends, is on the other end of the spectrum, as far as how he spends his day or days. Atilla (his blog name) is from Wales in the UK and has been living in Penang for about a year. Atilla is also an accomplished photographer, but he is also a bit of"party boy" who loves to have a good time.  If you want to know about the bars, pubs, nightlife and what's going on in Penang, Atilla, can help you. His blog is called "Pick of Penang" . He has some great photos of the pubs, but his specialty is taking fashion photos of gorgeous female models. You can also find useful information regarding moving to Malaysia.

I have other friends who spend a great deal of time doing volunteer work with the blind, handicapped and those less fortunate. Others are very much involved in physical fitness activities like jogging, cycling, soccer, golf and tennis. Others are involved in taking cooking classes, language classes, meditation classes or local history classes. There are many social clubs for one to join if you are into that type of activity Most people I know really get into the local culture or taking part in everything Penang has to offer.

Of course there are a few people here whose everyday life consists of going for a cup of coffee and sitting on their balcony all day drinking, every single day. It's a shame because Penang offers something for everyone. But to each his own I guess. I hope my blog and some of the ones I have mentioned can be of some help for anyone who may be considering living in Penang.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Update on Island Plaza Fitness First Closing

A few days ago I posted on this site that Fitness First at Island Plaza was closing on November 30. I, along with many of the other members, was upset and concerned about where we would go for our exercise. Yesterday I learned from a person in management at FF that the gym would be taken over by Absolute Fitness. This news come as a big relief, especially for some of us older gym members.

From what I understand when Absolute Fitness takes over there will be a change in both the business end and also the fitness end. There also will be no more Les Mills classes, which to me is not a great loss. One big change is that the membership will be significantly lower. I am not sure if most of the present sales, front desk and training staff will be retained.  It is my understanding that sometime in October the Absolute Fitness staff will meet with members to answer any questions they may have.

I wish the old Fitness First staff luck in their future endeavors and I also wish the new Absolute Fitness staff luck in a smooth and successful transition.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Special 9/11 Remembrance

As everyone knows September 11 was the 11th anniversary of the attacks of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Many people think back to that horrible day and think back to what they were doing on that day. I was at work and heard the news bulletin on the radio. Shortly after a big screen TV was set up in the hospital cafeteria so that everyone could silently watch the tragedy unfold.

Yesterday there were many memorials held all over the US. I am subscribed to the US Embassy Page on Facebook and I receive updates frequently from the embassy. Yesterday I received posts on how the anniversary was remembered in the US and other parts of the world. Today I received an update, which was a rather poignant observation of 9/11 and it's aftermath. It  contained a post from a 15 year old American girl's blog on her memories of 9/11 and what she has learned since being an exchange student in Malaysia. I think it is an extraordinary article and should be read by everyone, regardless of, if you are American or any other nationality.

Please take the time to read Musings from Malaysia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Luxury Condo Living

For all of us who live in highrise luxury condos, here is a look at where the people who build them live. No more complaints about our salaries and pensions!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fitness First is Closing in Penang

I learned yesterday that Fitness First at Island Plaza in Penang will be closing as of November 30. I must say that this did not come as a complete shock to me. The combination of management changes at the gym and the raise in rent under new management of Island Plaza I thought would kill Fitness First.

When I first joined Fitness First it was very busy and vibrant. The trainers working there had been employed there for quite some time. But then in the past year they changed the manager and then things went downhill fast. One after another trainer quit, apparently dissatisfied with the management. New ones were hired without any qualifications and only being given a 2 week training course.They then soon quit. Now, at times when I go to the gym there isn't a single trainer on duty. It is very worrisome not to have someone around in case of an accident or heart attack. This situation has been pointed out to certain members of the staff, but they did not seem concerned.

In the past few months I had noticed that there were not as many members as usual. I knew that a number of people had moved to Absolute Fitness, after being dissatisfied with FF. I thought with the closing of Celebrity Fitness in Gurney a number of people from there would end up at FF, but apparently not. The new gym at Straits Quay is attracting some attention, but not a mass exodus of members from FF. Apparently the small size of the gym and the notion of paying a whole year in advance is not too attractive.

Today I was talking with one of the Fitness First staff about the closing. According to her there is a possibility that FF will be taken over by another party and negotiations may be going on currently. I truly hope this does happen. Even with the shortcomings of the gym it was a lot of fun being there. The people at the front desk and most of the trainers were very friendly and helpful. What I would miss most of all are the other members. I have made many friends there and have enjoyed chatting with them every time I went. I would surely miss them. For me and many other retirees and expats the gym was not only a place to keep physically fit, but also a place to socialize and keep our minds active.  I hope that someone else will take over and that most of the staff will be retained. I also hope that when and if the gym is taken over it will be better managed and the new owners will offer some classes geared for the older members, who can't quite keep up with the hip-hop crowd.

Without Fitness First there will be few reasons to visit Island Plaza in the future. For me Fitness First, GNC, Guardian and Cold Storage are the only reasons for visiting the mall. If Fitness First is allowed to close, there probably will be a domino effect and Island Plaza will also become only a memory. With the FF closing the options for me and other senior members, as far as gym membership is concerned, will be severely limited. For me a good gym is just as important as good healthcare. Thanks for everything FF. I hope you can be reborn.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Penang Eatery - Gusto Cafe

One of the drawbacks of living in Penang is the lack of restaurants serving an American style breakfast, which includes real crispy bacon and sausage made of pork, not chicken or beef and the other typical elements of the breakfast. And of course no one here has ever heard of a bagel breakfast sandwich. I am sorry but I cannot get used to eating beans for breakfast or eating so called sausages that all have the flavor of hot dogs. When I just had to have an American breakfast I had to make it for myself. American style bacon is sold at Cold Storage, but they cost an arm and a leg. You can get bagels there also, but after all they are frozen and not as good as the real thing. Of course the best bagels are found in Jewish deli's back home in New York City and Boston, but there's no chance of finding them here. The last time I had a good breakfast was last year when visiting family and friends back in the US.

Last week, however, I got a pleasant surprise. A neighbor told me about a new restaurant she and her husband had eaten at one morning. She said they had "real" pork bacon and it was called "Gusto Cafe". I was very excited and decided to pay them visit he first chance I got.

Kevin and I went there for lunch one afternoon, not really believing that the place actually served American style food. We were wrong. He had the pulled pork sandwich and I had the cheese steak sandwich. The sandwiches were fabulous. I saw the carrot cake in the dessert display case and was told that all of the baked goods were home made and I had to try it. It was so delicious and it was difficult not to order another piece. The meal  was so good that we decided to come back for breakfast on the first morning we could make it. Friday morning Kevin, our neighbors and eating buddies, Linda and Cheah, and myself paid the "Gusto Cafe" for breakfast. We each had the bagel and cream cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage breakfast, which came with coffee of the day. The bacon was crispy and cooked to perfection. The sausage, which was homemade, was absolutely delicious, with a pork and herb flavoring. The bagels were wonderful, as these were also homemade, by the owners.  When we were finished everyone was completely satisfied and also were raving about how good the coffee was. I don't drink coffee much, but Kevin is a coffee aficionado and said it was perfect. After breakfast we sat and chatted for a while, when Kevin decided he wanted to stay for lunch, which we did. We had pulled pork and BLT'S and then scones. All very delicious.  If that was not enough we returned for the lox and bagels and the pancakes for breakfast this morning. Once again everything was perfect.

I had a chance to talk with the owners and some of the staff, between meals. Jason Selvanayagam and Yim Chun are the owners. Jayson used to teach English, Industrial Arts and Music at Dalat International School, but now puts his efforts into running Gusto Cafe. Along with making the bagels Jason also makes the sausages and the pulled pork. Bob Duval is the chef and Derek Smith is the barrister. There were  friends and students from Dalat who were also giving Jason a helping hand, as well as enjoying the food.

The food and atmosphere at Gusto Cafe is much like the typical American diner. And as all Americans know, the best food and friendly environments are always found in diners.  "Gusto"'s has free wi-fi and is also dog friendly. (If I only had a black lab)! There is a very relaxing atmosphere, where the patrons can read the paper, work on their laptop or chat with the friendly owners. I highly recommend anybody who reads this post and is able, to visit "Gusto's Cafe" for breakfast or lunch.  You won't regret it. Oh yes, they do have "Gus's English Breakfast" for all of our British friends who have to have the beans.

The hours of operation are: Mon. to Friday: 6:30 to 3:00,
                                             Closed on Sundays.