28 March 2015

The Humour of Househunting

We have just returned to Miri from a week's house hunting in Ipoh.  I wrote, a few months ago, on how to go about finding your perfect house and this week was certainly a useful roller-coaster.

We had arranged to meet with four different estate agents, one on each day to view a range of houses. We had asked to see a minimum of five per agent as we know from experience here in Miri that agents in Malaysia think nothing of showing just one or two houses to try to lock in the deal on a property that they need to shift.  My husband had spoken with one lady the week he was in Ipoh and she said straight out that she never showed more than two properties as people didn't really know what they wanted and could just settle for what she showed them. Hmmmm....

This beautiful property is not quite in 'move in' condition.
This is a general, worldwide problem with estate agents; their priority is, quite rightly, to shift properties not match you to your dream but they can be self defeating in the way they go about it.  I remember looking at apartments in Venezuela where the agent wanted us to look at properties above the allowance ('oh but if you complain to the company they will pay more for a good house, the boss' family need a good house etc etc'), she got quite offended when my mother refused to play along and insisted the allowance was a non negotiable.  I spent an afternoon in Suzhou, China (for a posting that did not happen in the end) and none of the houses I was shown met with any of the criteria I was asked to specify.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to be flexible and have lived in some bizarre properties as a result of this, but why give a list of options if you cannot meet any of them?  The agent who lets our property in the UK keeps showing it to the most unsuitable of people then gleefully reports that they have had x no of viewings a week as though that, instead of actually letting the property is the measure of success.

House-hunting, wherever you do it, needs a sense of humour.  One of the Ipoh agents told us that she had the perfect house for us, 5 minutes walk from the office, 20 minutes drive to school, in a garden area in the centre of town.  We were very excited and looking forward to seeing this property which sounded ideal.  When we got there, however, it was a building site; it had no walls, it was literally just a roof with supporting columns.   The agent told us that we could specify everything about the house and it would be finished in the next 3-6 months.  When we explained (again) that we were looking to move in 2-3 weeks she looked rather crestfallen and said she could ask the owners to expedite the works!  My husband and I had to make sure that we did not look at each other, we would have burst into a kink of laughter and we were desperate not to hurt the feelings of the agent.  In fact one of the most stressful things, for me, about house-hunting, is working out how to reject unsuitable properties without being rude.

Some work required.....
We sent the agents a list of what we were looking for and we did see a range of houses but out of a total of 18 houses only 1 was suitable for us.  We said no to the one with the termite infestation and no cooking facilities (the owner would allow us to install an oven and hob at our own expense!) and the two properties where we would not be allowed our dogs. We also said no to the house with no parking and the two bed one bath apartment (beautiful but not really suitable for a family of 5+2). We looked at a few that were absolutely stunning but were not yet fitted and furnished.  We were promised that it would be done to our specification in the two weeks between signing the contract and the move but I have been burned by a similar situation in the past which resulted in a month long hotel stay while the work was done.

A perfect view.
An aunt of one of my husband's co-workers came up trumps and found the perfect spot for us, a lovely 5 bed villa with a garden, set by a lake in the mountains and a short drive from school and work.  We can watch families of monkeys play on the other side of the lake and the garden is filled with songbirds.  The owners are making some modifications (installing an oven and stairgates for us) and we should, fingers crossed, move in soon.

I have added this post to Amanda Mulligan's (life with a double buggy) Expat Life Linky - click to read more fascinating expat posts from around the world.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

20 March 2015

Exigencies of Expat Life - Moving on From Miri

Sometimes expat life throws us a googlie.

My most vivid memory of a move is when, 6 months in to our 2 year posting in the Netherlands and my father came home and said 'what about Turkey?'  My sister and I immediately thought about Greek and Roman ruins and the fun we could have on a holiday there, my mother looked a little incredulous and said we had already booked our annual holiday.  This is when he admitted that we would be moving 3 weeks after we came back from holiday.  The announcement resulted in a flurry of packing, sorting out flights for the dog, selling the car and all the other hassles of moving.

A few years later it happened again.  When we left Turkey we were supposed to spend 2 years in the Netherlands, 4 months into the posting my Father came home to announce that we would be relocating  in the summer.  I was in my first year at university and was just getting to know people.  My new friends thought I was an international girl of mystery.  I had left uni to travel home to Turkey at Christmas, the Netherlands at Easter and then on to Venezuela that summer.

My mother was always capable, completely unflappable and wonderfully heroic.  I am not sure if she ever felt overwhelmed by these sudden changes in plan, if she screamed or got stressed about the hassle it caused her she always did it quietly and in private.

My wonderfully calm, brave and versatile mother. (in 1970's post war
Port Harcourt, Nigeria)

I thought, when my husband and I moved abroad that we would be extremely unlikely to relocate with minimal notice - schools typically recruit their Principles 6 -12 months in advance of the appointment but yes....it has happened again.  Last week I got a call from my husband who was on a trip to his head office in Peninsula Malaysia.  We were being offered the opportunity to relocate to the company head office in Ipoh, 2 hours north of KL.  We had been planning on staying in Miri for 3-4 years but this offer was too good to refuse.  We chatted on the 'phone, decided to go for it and the announcements were made this week.

So, in about three weeks time we will be relocating the kids, dogs and car. We are flying to our new city to do some house hunting next week (one of the advantages of an in-country relocation).  We sat down the other night to make our to-do list and it was scarily long given that we will effectively have 2 weeks to pack the house and close things down here.  9 months is not the shortest posting I have ever had but this is certainly the fastest move time I have had to contend with. So I will channel my mother and stay calm (all the time being eternally grateful that I had not yet got round to buying the swimming pool I was planning to surprise the kids with).  Ipoh here we come!

Bye-Bye Miri
Added to Amanda Mulligan's Life with A Double Buggy Expat Life linky - click for stories from other expats around the world.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Click here for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

19 March 2015

Shopping in the Markets in Miri

While the supermarkets are very handy for all sorts of dried produce the fruit and vegetables that are available for purchase are of mediocre quality.  I find that the best range of fresh produce is available in the markets.  As I recently started weaning the baby I have needed access to really high quality fruit and vegetables so I have been even more reliant on the markets than normal.  Very few stall holders speak English but they are almost all friendly, helpful and welcoming.  It is not unusual for me to be given some little extras as a gift for the children, some Rambutan, a slice of mango etc.

All sorts of fresh fruits are on sale
Pineapples are very popular, these are small, some are much larger
Small fruit and vegetable markets are available in a number of suburbs around the town, the stall holders arrive early with their produce and most of the good stuff is gone by midday.  Our baby is definitely not a morning person, she likes her lie ins when she can get them so we tend to avoid the morning markets.

Midin, edible firms are extremely tasty fried in garlic
All sorts of things are on sale from soft drinks to rice
The Central Market is a good stop for pork meat - this can be difficult to find in some supermarkets as it has to be sold from a separate, halal, section and only certain cuts are available.  From the butcher stalls in the market I can buy just about any piece of the pig I want.  I am not certain quite what I would do with a pig's head.  I seem to recall reading something about 'head cheese' in Little House in the Big Woods but luckily I do not need to set about making that in order to see us through the winter!

Pig head anyone?
I like to stop off at the large market/supermarket complex on the way in to collect the older children from school.  There is a full range of market stalls here selling everything from midin (edible ferns, yummy sauteed in garlic) to the excellent Bario rice grown in the highlands of Borneo close to the Indonesian border.  Some stalls specialise in fruit, others in fresh fish, caught daily and brought in straight from the boat.  Other stalls sell just about every bit of the chicken you can think of.  I did eat chicken feet once, on honeymoon, and it is not an experience I wish to repeat!

Fish is varied, fresh and plentiful
Other stalls sell school uniform, local souvenirs and even pet supplies.  On our last visit there I found some pet hedgehogs for sale.  A friend tells me they make excellent pets but I am not convinced the dogs would be too welcoming.

We could even buy these friendly fellows!
This post is part of Life With A Double Buggy Expat Life Linky - click for more stories from around the world.
Expat Life with a Double Buggy

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Ersatz Expat

12 March 2015

Malaysian Weddings - Malay Style

I wrote a little while ago about attending the Chinese/Christian wedding of one of my Husband’s colleagues here in Miri.  Malay weddings are very different.

At the start of the year I got a ‘What’s App’ message from a school friend to tell me that she was getting married at the end of January and asking if  the family and I could make it over for the celebrations.  One of the perks of having been to a boarding school is that I now have friends around the world and there is almost always someone (or their family) to visit.  My friend lives in Sarawak (in Kapit in the interior) but her family and new husband are from KL so the wedding was going to take place there.  Because we were not certain the girls’ passports would be back (they arrive the day before I flew) I booked to travel over on my own, arranging to stay at a nearby hotel and get taxis to and from the venue.  I must admit to being a little apprehensive as other than the bride I thought I would know nobody.  As it turns out some other girls from school were also there on the day so we had a mini reunion. 

Muslim weddings are legal in Malaysia in the same way that a wedding performed in a church is legal in the UK, guests other than close family are typically not invited to attend the actual nikkah ceremony which in my friend’s case took place the day before. 

Seating is informal and guest lists are huge.  Pretty much
everyone who knows the couple turns up.
The wedding reception is typically spread out over a number of hours and the bride and groom are not necessarily present during the entirety of the time.  It is normal for families to hire a large venue and arrange for catering on an industrial scale.  On arrival guests are greeted by family members and then directed to the main room.   The food is set out along the sides of the room and guests help themselves to whatever they want before sitting down at a table of their choice.  I was a little concerned about this because when I arrived there was no one there that I knew but I was invited to a table and ended up talking with some neighbours of the bride’s mother before catching up with school friends.

The wedding party was seated at a top table and family groups would go up from time to time to congratulate the happy couple and have photographs taken.  There was some entertainment, a women’s percussion band alternating with a male religious choral group, children’s entertainment outside included bubble displays.  The whole atmosphere was extremely friendly and informal, an opportunity for everyone to wish the families good luck on their new venture.  Guests were dressed fairly informally but conservatively, about one degree of formality above normal, certainly much less so than a typical European or American wedding but it was clear that people had made an effort.  The bride and groom and their families were, of course, dressed sumptuously. 

Guests are not expected (and do not expect) to stay for very long, enough time to eat and then congratulate the bride and groom or their families.  Before leaving it is traditional to hand over an angpow with a small monetary gift to an auntie and to receive a small wedding favour as a memento of the day.  

Posted as part of 'My Expat Family' monthly linky hosted by the wonderful Seychelles Mama

Seychelles Mama

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Malaysia.

Ersatz Expat

4 March 2015

Versatile Blogger

Many thanks to my very good friend Antoine Vanner of the Dawlish Chronicles for a nomination as a 'Versatile Blogger'.  Antoine is a writer of historical naval fiction with a twist.  His hero hails from the late Victorian era and utilises all the emerging 'tech' of his time.  Nicolas Dawlish,  finds himself on various postings around the world (but to date we have only shared one - we have both lived in Turkey) and thrust into some very unsavory situations indeed.

The 'versatile blogger' is a cross between a linky and a blog hop designed to introduce readers to a variety of new and interesting blogs.  There are only 5 rules,  I have to adhere to:
  • display the badge;
  • write a post linking back to the nominating blogger;
  • find 7 interesting things to write about myself ... (hmmm);
  • Nominate other bloggers (to a maximum of 15) and say why they get my nomination;
  • Let the nominees know they have been nominated.
Thank you Antoine for my nomination!

7 'Interesting' Facts about the Ersatz Expat
  1. I have lived in 8 different countries (The Netherlands, Norway, UK, Nigeria, Turkey, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Malaysia).  I have moved internationally approximately 10 times, it is difficult to say exactly how many because my parents moved a lot and at a certain point, we are not sure when, I stopped living with them but still visited their home overseas.  Not counting moves to different accommodation at university I have lived in over 25 different houses, many of them were my home.  
  2. I have never lived in my native country.  I carry an Irish passport, my father is Irish and my Dutch mother nationalised as an Irish citizen on marriage.  We have, however, never lived in Ireland although I visit when I can and keep in contact with family there.  My husband and children are British and I did live there long enough to gain the right to citizenship, I even managed to pass the rather bizarre life in the UK test (bizarre because the obscure questions have nothing to do with life in the UK) but I never got around to applying for citizenship before we left.
  3. I can communicate, in theory, 6 different languages (English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Turkish and Russian) but my abilities lie dormant in that I find I have to 'need' the language before I can bring any competency to bear.  If you asked me to use them right now I would be struck dumb. I am always in awe of my mother who was fluent in 4 languages (Dutch, German, French and English) and functional in another three (Norwegian, Turkish and Spanish).  I try to watch programmes and films in most of these languages from time to time to keep a 'muscle memory' of the cadence and rhythm of the language.  
  4. I once ran for Parliament.  When we lived in the UK I was a local councillor and was asked to run for Parliament in the 2010 elections.  I was unsuccessful but when we return to the UK I will revive my political ambitions.
  5. I have adopted pets in 5 different countries.  We had a dog in Norway but he died before we left.  We adopted Jimmy, a huge scruffy blond dog in Nigeria and he followed us through four international moves.  Eliza was a street rescue in Venezuela who ended her days a few years ago with my father in the UK.  Bessie was a wedding present from some friends in the UK, an old, old girl of almost 14 years she moved with us to Kazakhstan and now Borneo.  Perdita, our newest dog, is our little steppe hound rescued from the cold streets of Astana and enjoying the beaches on the South China Sea.  In my time I have also owned several cats and a parrot.  
  6. I have taken a case to the House of Lords.  In the days when it was the highest court in England and Wales I was the solicitor on a case that was appealed to the Lords.  The law lords were some of the most erudite and insightful men I have ever had the pleasure to watch.
  7. I have been on safari in Nigeria.  Jos safari reserve is not a well known or popular safari destination.  I can give you the complete run down as to why!
Versatile Blogs:

So here is my list of versatile blogs (I have kept it to 10) - in no particular order....
  1. Experimental Expats: Rob and Diane, a Canadian/American couple who are retiring to Malaysia.  
  2. Diplomatic Dog:  My favourite online pooch.  I met Nellie in Kazakhstan and she is now busy representing the UK in Guyana.
  3. Seychelles Mama: Blogs about day to day family life in the paradise that is the Seychelles.
  4. Mint Mocha Musings: A newsreader and now hotelier's wife muses on life in Hong Kong and China.  
  5. Your Expat Child:  A website stuffed full of resourcs on relocating with children and a fascinating blog on life in South Africa by Carole...
  6. The Diplomat's Wife: Is an entertaining read on life as a diplomatic family and a great resource of information in her 'Notes from the Field'.
  7. Expat Life With A Double Buggy:  British Amanda blogging on life as a Dutch mom. 
  8. Expat Partner Survival Guide: Clara is another perpetual expat, currently on the cusp of a move to South Africa
  9. Lou Messugo: Phoebe is a British/Australian living and loving life in the South of France
  10. The Dumpling Cart: An eclectic mix.  Tasty bites of stories from around the world.