December 17, 2019

Money, Money, Money

Some people got to have it, some people real need it but what we have to do is withdrawal and exchange it. Every country we have gone to so far has had it challenges either trying to exchange our hard earned dollars or trying to spend our new currency. 💴💵💳

Years ago you had no problem getting your money exchanged as long as you had Traveler’s Cheques and stood in line at the local bank with your passport in hand. Because these checks had a high propensity for fraud they were slowly fazed out. Then came the use of ATM machines overseas. We used to be able to use our local bank card anywhere in the world to obtain cash as long as it had a MasterCard or Visa symbol on it without paying any fees. You can still use your ATM card worldwide but you have to watch out for all the fees associated with it now just to get your own cash. It pays to have an ATM card that does not charge you international or domestic transaction fees. In fact the card we have gives us a refund each month of all the fees that we are charged throughout the month any where in the world.

Indonesian Rupiah
In Laos we needed several hundred dollars to rent an apartment after being stranded there due to COVID-19. However not knowing we would need that much cash at once left us unprepared. Normally we have money deposited into the no fee account once a month but had already spent over half of it by the time we got to Laos so we had to use our backup ATM card. The ATM machine we went to would only allow $1,000,000 KIP maximum which is around $114 US Dollars at a time. This machine then charged $5 for each transaction and our home bank another $3.25. So for every $114 we took out at a time cost us $8.25 🤬 So it ended up costing us close to $75 US Dollars to withdrawal enough money. If your on a budget, this is a pretty big hit. Since then we make sure we have enough cash in the account with the no fee ATM card for at least 2 months of spending to we don’t encounter this situation again. 

Philippino Peso
Another thing that is hard to get used to is the exchange rate in each country. Depending on the rate at the time in some countries the US Dollar could be worth more or less than we thought for our spending power. In Malaysia the US Dollar is worth 4 times more than the Malaysian Ringgit(MYR). So for every  Ringgit we spent we had to just think in our heads this is only 25 cents (4=1). So the math is pretty easy. Then there are those countries where the math is a little too difficult to do in your head or by using your fingers and toes ✋🏻🦶🏻This is where the currency converters come in real handy. We have been using the OANDA currency converter for years or another good one is XE Currency. Both have apps that you can load on your cellphone for easy use. We like the OANDA one since you can choose the various rates set by banks to determine the exchange if you pay fees.  

Laotian Kip
Then there are those countries where you feel like your spending Monopoly money. You exchange $100 and get back a wad of cash 💰💰 Makes you feel rich to be walking around with a couple of million in your pocket until you start spending it. There have also been several countries we have visited so far that do not have any coin money. The hardest country so far to figure out the money has been the S. Korea and the Korean Won(KRW). It’s definitely very complicated to keep track of what you were spending every day. $10 USD was equal to 12,260 KRW. So the only time I had a clue of what I was spending was if it was 25,000 KRW then I knew is was about $20. Otherwise I was clueless without the converter. Taiwan was another country where is was a bit confusing at first. The Taiwanese dollar(TWD) is 30 to 1. So around 300 is about $10 USD. Seems easy enough until you try calculating this in your head while on the fly. Too many times I thought I had spent a certain amount only to find out I was way off. Found it was easy to keep the bills organized in my wallet in packets of 300 TWD so I could easily figure out my spending. Laos is a country where they use the Lao Kip(LAK) which has an exchange of around 10,000 to 1. So basically in this country we just take off the last two 00’s and place the decimal to the hundredth so 10,000 = 1.11. Too bad they have not revalued their money like Mexico did years ago with the Peso and get rid of all the 000’s. It would make it so much easier for us westerners. 

S. Korean Won
In the old days (pre 2000) I would have to travel with a calculator and look at the exchange rate either in the airport or a local bank and then do the calculations myself for every transaction. Then around 2008 I found a program online that I could print out a conversion cheat sheet that was wallet size. I thought this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then I discovered the converter app for the same program I had used for years. Didn’t think I would be so dependent on an App that I couldn’t live without it, yet I find myself using it all the time.  

Just remember, money matters no matter who’s’ currency it may be!


October 22, 2019

What’s on the Telly Tonight?

When it comes to watching TV while living overseas it does have its challenges. We have had apartments where the cable package is very extensive with lots of English channels and movies. Other places just have limited cable so there are basically 2 regular channels and a few news channels in English 😢 This is where we’ve had to be creative to watch our favorite shows.

When living in the US we rarely used internet TV. However, we found while living abroad this is the only way to watch TV. The main thing you need is high speed internet and a device to sling it to the TV in the apartment. As a gift, our son-in-law bought us an Apple TV (ATV) to take on our journey. We also bought a Google ChromeCast (GCC) to use as a backup just in case. At our first apartment in Sydney, we set up the Apple TV and loaded a bunch of channel apps on it like Netflix, Discovery, ABC, CBS, NBC and so on. Then we tried to watch The Good Doctor on ABC one night. We just keep getting an error message in which I had no clue what it was telling us. WTH? It appeared that I set it up correctly and I am very technologically savvy so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We also tried using the GCC but with the same results. Then it dawned on me 💡because we were outside the US is the reason for the messages.

Now I had to research to figure out how to remedy this problem. The solution was to subscribe to a VPN service so the apps would think your still in the US. Many expats use such a service for working remotely but I had to make sure the VPN I selected could stream my favorite channels through it since that would be its primary purpose. First, we tried Nord VPN which worked fine on the iPad, but it did not have the capability to manually change the DNS setting which was critical to watch the channels through the ATV. Again, more research on VPN services and then found Express VPN so we had to give it a try. This service has the ability to change the DNS setting automatically once set-up. This way I wouldn’t have to mess with it every time we moved to another country. Had a few issues at first getting the DNS setting connected on the Apple TV but a quick chat with Express VPN customer service had us ready to go.

Now we can watch “most” things on the ATV such as Netflix, History and Nat Geo. After all of this there are still some channels that must have something programmed into the app that blocks the channel when trying to stream through the ATV or GCC. My pet peeve is CBS. We subscribe to the channel to watch Blue Bloods and 60 Minutes yet we still cannot stream it through the ATV or GCC. The only way is to watch their shows is on our iPad 😡. Then there are some channels that just don’t want to work with the ATV so we use the GCC to cast them to the TV.

This is where you have to learn the workarounds of using internet TV. I actually went through each and every channel app and determined what is the best way to watch that channel. Then I developed a spreadsheet (shit you not!) so when we want to watch a certain program we know what channel it’s on and whether or not to use the ATV, GCC or Screen Mirror from the iPhone. Otherwise, unless you have all of your programs memorized in your head we look at each other and say “what channel was that on?”

Another thing I discovered while looking through the App Store was all the free TV streaming apps. Of course we had to try several of these and downloaded them. Boy, you can’t believe some of the crap on these channels. From old TV shows you never heard of to the worst B rated movies ever. No wonder they are free TV. I’ll bet we went through about a dozen of these until we finally found a few good ones. For the type of TV we like to watch Pluto TV, Crackle and Tubi are our favorites. They give us a good variety of TV shows, series and movies without having to have a cable subscription.

It only took us about a year to figure this all out! Not only did it give me something to investigate but was definitely a learning experience. Despite watching a lot of really bad TV in the last year we are finally watching everything we love 📺❣️


February 28, 2019

Embracing a Lifestyle Adaptation

The biological definition of adaptation is a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. When I was working I always loved change since it made everything seem new again at least at the beginning. Adaptation is not something you may think of right away when you decide to live overseas but is definitely part of your life. Of course we knew that our lifestyle would change and we would not find everything we had at home in the US or might even find things we like better. As part of our travels we have had to adapt to many new things and ways of doing things each day.

As Americans we are so dependent on our automobiles that you can’t imagine living without one. Since we left Los Angeles over 6 months ago we have not owned a car. So far all of the countries we have been to have had great public transportation. In Sydney we used the bus, light rail and ferries to go anywhere around the city. When we ventured out to the Blue Mountains we took the train. In Malaysia and Indonesia we have used Grab quite often which is the Uber equivalent here. You can’t beat the price for a ride, normally around $1.50-$2 to go a few miles away. When we went to a wedding that was about 50 minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur we only paid $12 US each way for the ride. Try doing that in the States. Once you have adapted to this carless lifestyle it becomes pretty easy to figure out your route and how to get there. When we visited Tasmania and New Zealand we rented a campervan so we would have the flexibility to stay anywhere we wanted since both places have free camping 🏕 which was very appealing to us.

Sometimes we rented a campervan

Or we took the Train
One of the other things that is a big transition is the grocery shopping. Many times we have googled grocery stores nearby only to find out they are what we call mini marts. That fine as long as you want a Coke and some snacks. In Malaysia large grocery stores are called Hypermarkets not supermarkets. So unless you google that your going to have to settle for a snack. Many times once you have found the Hypermarket on the map you cannot find it in person. Both in Australia and Asia the markets are
usually on the lower level of the building or mall and finding the stairs or escalators down can prove daunting. We have walked an entire mall just looking for the grocery store. Once we even had to go into a department store because the only escalator down to the grocery store was smack dab in the middle of the clothing department. So just think of it as a geo cache hunt with the prize being tonight’s dinner. I bet Dora the Explorer never had this problem 🧐.

Happytos - Definitely not like Fritos😮
You can take your pick of rice - Basmati, Jasmine....

We actually liked this flavor
Settling into a new apartment every month or even 2 weeks has its challenges. Although we do have our specific requirements like kitchen, pool, gym, etc. when we select an apartment/condo the reality does not always live up to it. We had one apartment where on the AirBnB listing it showed a kitchen which we wanted. However, when we got there they’d only had a couple of small plates, 2 tea cups, some silverware and a sauce pan to cook in. It turned out that cooking was not really allowed in the condo even though there was a kitchen with a hot plate 😮. So we went out and bought a frypan and spatula and improvised for the 2 weeks we were there. This is where our adaptation really came into play. Before we shopped for groceries we had to think of things we could cook using the limited items in the condo. Of course this AirBnB did not get a great rating from us.

Of course we wanted a pool 🏊🏻‍♀️

But the views are awesome too!
Another thing you don’t realize here in Asia is that many apartments outside the large cities do not have hot water. This means you will be taking a cold shower and having to heat water in the kettle to wash dishes. Of course my husband had to listen to me moan and groan about that for weeks, but I got used to it and even enjoyed them after a long sweaty day outside. I am so used to the routine now that even if we have a water heater in the shower I don’t always turn it on. Guess I am learning to live like the locals.

Asian bathrooms also take a little getting used to. Some of the public toilets are squatters and you need to be limber to use them. It’s a good thing I do squats regularly or I would be in trouble. Toilet paper is another commodity here in Asia. Many of the malls and restaurants will have it in the ladies room, but in places outside a nicer area I am always prepared by keeping a small package of Kleenex in my purse. Otherwise, you have to hose yourself down with the hand held wand and then go walking around wet. Ladies, this is not my idea of comfortable. In some of our apartments the bathrooms were called wet rooms. This is a bathroom that has no separate shower so when you do take your shower everything gets wet. Then you just squeegee the floor to dry it. At first I did not like getting everything wet all the time but I have found that it does keep the bathroom cleaner but is more work every time you shower.

Squatter Toilet
One of our pet peeves so far has been the lack of a nice soft bed. I don’t know why but it seems like we have only slept on a couple of nice beds in the last several months. Asians think that a piece of plywood with a thin pad is comfortable but give me a pillow top every time. One apartment had a mattress so hard that we were both constantly doing the alligator dead roll all night long because we couldn’t get comfortable. Too bad there’s no room in our suitcases to travel with a foam mattress pad 😢 but we do travel with our “My Pillow” pillows so at least we have that comfort. Of course we could not wait to get to our new apartment and test out the bed!

These are just a few of the changes we have lived through during the last 9 months. Now adaptations are just a way of everyday living as we settle in. Every time we think we we have seen it all, something new throws a challenge or a detour at us. It’s like living the amazing race but for the rest of our lives.

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