ExCat: 90 countries and counting…

MY NAME IS ALEX CHAN. I was born in Kuching in 1966 and left for New Zealand to do my final year of school and then University. I’ve lived there ever since but in recent years have made numerous trips back to Kuching to see family, thanks to the increasing availability of cheap flights.

At the age of fifty, I’m semi-retired and leaning towards retirement. My parents didn’t grow up “during” the war, but “in” the war. They had to escape into the countryside during the Japanese occupation .  Their hardship during those times was reflected in the way we were brought up to be thrifty and disciplined.

Even to this day, I buy things based on value (and sometimes price).  The crucial questions are “How does this purchase change my life? How does it make me happy?  Do I appreciate or value the difference between it and the lesser product? For example, If I don’t appreciate music, there’s no point buying the most expensive headphones.

Thrift (combined with a good self- employment income) has helped me achieve my retirement goals earlier than most. I spend a lot of my non- work time travelling and exploring the world.

I feel very lucky to have been born Sarawakian. For starters, I have the huge advantage of being multi- lingual. Even though I was schooled in English, I was able to get around in Malay, Mandarin and Hokkien.  It opened up to me some of the most populous countries in Asia, especially China and Indonesia.

Having a multi-lingual childhood, I believe, adds to one’s ability to pick up new languages. I took six night classes in Spanish and had little trouble getting around Latin America. I can’t hold a conversation but I do surprise myself with what I can say in times of need!

With a deep interest in exploring relatively untouched places, I made my way to yemen some years ago. I enrolled myself in an Arabic language school and ended up learning the language for three months over several years. It’s a hard language and I didn’t get past basic conversation and reading.  Having said that, it has given me the ability to read Jawi (Malay written in modified Arabic script) which is sometimes used in Malaysia and Brunei.

Unfortunately, my linguistic skills do have their limits and a dozen night classes in Russian didn’t do me much good in Russia.

I’m also very lucky that a Malaysian passport grants me visa-free (or easy) access to nearly as many countries as some Western passports. It’s just a different set of countries, eg. Iran, Pakistan, yemen, Sudan!  And I must say, most of them are extremely hospitable.

Having been brought up with cuisines from different cultures, I have a varied and diverse appreciation for food, fueled by my world travels. I’m also very lucky to live in Auckland, New Zealand where I can easily get fragrant Vietnamese, hot Korean, fiery Indian and mouth-numbing Sichuan food all too easily.

Together, my passions for travel and food have truly shaped my life into what it is today. I travel approximately half my year and am approaching my 90th country.  Long may this continue!

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