Before making the move to Malaysia back in 2000, Gerry Steiert, 58, and his family had never been overseas. “We had no idea what to expect,” admits Gerry’s wife, Beth, “but we all fell in love with Penang.”
The Steierts initially planned to stay for just a year but ended up staying for nine. They then spent time working in schools in Thailand and Saudi Arabia, but Penang was never far from their thoughts…or hearts.
“I would never take away the travelling that we did,” says Beth, 55, “but really we were just biding our time in other countries until we got back to Penang. It’s very calming here and the perfect place for us.”
So, when the time was right, Gerry and Beth moved back to their beloved island. Today the couple make their home in the Tanjung Bungah neighbourhood, in a four-bedroom, five-bathroom house with a secured driveway, large enough for three cars.
It’s a peaceful setting, perfect for their morning ritual of coffee on their wrap-around balcony and watching the monkeys.
“Every morning they run along the power cables. We call it the Cable Network; dozens of monkeys come down to play, eat and watch us watch them,” says Gerry.
The couple have a large garden which keeps them busy; full of chilli plants that the local birds seem to enjoy, as well as a few coconut palms. The local bat makes its nightly fly-by skimming for insects and fat monitor lizards are no strangers to the neighbourhood.
It’s a large home, more than they need, but perfect for entertaining and visitors. Their kids—now grown-up and living overseas—have already paid a visit.
A home like theirs rents for $987 a month, a fraction of what it would back home. “We would be lucky to have a few nice summer nights for a barbecue in our previous life, but here in Penang, we get good weather 365 days a year,” says Gerry.
“Every day we go for walks up the hill behind our home, go on scooter rides and garden. We have a much more outdoor lifestyle.”
Beth says, “We always wanted to be on a dragon boat team and now we’re on a team with people from 13 different countries. We practice twice a week and are in an International Dragon Boat regatta coming up in Kuching, on the island of Borneo.”
Moving away from family is never easy, but they use technology to keep in contact. “One of the hardest things about being here is how far away we are from the kids,” says Beth. “But we message them every day. So, yes, it’s hard but it’s not impossible—we Skype or FaceTime regularly. Distance isn’t an obstacle, it’s just a challenge.”
“We could have moved anywhere in the world, but Penang feels like home,” says Gerry. “Not everyone understands how or why they would live abroad. But it’s okay to live a life that other people don’t understand or that they fear. So many people say things like ‘You’re so brave’ or ‘We wish we could move abroad…but…’”
Gerry and Beth took the “but” out of that statement. It’s what they wanted and they made it happen. “We are children of the world,” says Gerry. And they love every minute of it.