“Even though I owned my own home and had worked hard all my life, I found going out and doing anything at home was prohibitively expensive,” says Cheryl Fankhauser. “A casual meal with friends, including a bottle of wine, would cost on average $80 per person. If you had starters and desert and an additional bottle of wine, you wouldn’t see any change from $120.”
In January 2016, Cheryl took a trip to Penang, Malaysia. Within two days of arriving, she knew instinctively that it was the place for her. By December she was living in the capital city of George Town.
As a single woman, Cheryl was looking for a safe and welcoming place to settle in, with a thriving social scene. Penang ticked those boxes from the off. The local people were friendly and Cheryl also loved the fact that everything in George Town was walkable and coming back late at night to her hotel was never an issue. “Walking late at night, even in the small town I come from, you are wary,” says Cheryl. “But here walking around at midnight is never an issue.”
Cheryl has immersed herself in the expat community. “I joined the International Women’s Association, InterNations, Expat Mingles, and the Penang Decorative & Fine Arts Society,” says Cheryl. “With so much going on I haven’t had a day, or a night for that matter, alone since arriving. It’s fabulous.”
When Cheryl does get a moment to herself one of her favorite things to do is to get up early and walk the streets of George Town. “It’s cooler in the morning and as it’s a working city you get a chance to see it before it comes to life,” says Cheryl. “George Town in the morning, as the sun starts to rise, has a different feel to it.”
For Cheryl the best part of her morning walk is seeing the rickshaw men. “They always shout hello and it’s fascinating seeing them gathering together before their day starts to discuss what routes they will take,” says Cheryl. “When you take a rickshaw you become part of the hustle and bustle and energy of the town. And then you say to yourself, hang on; this was the way they travelled here 200 years ago. It’s just one of things that makes living in this city so special. I can immerse myself in all of that history at the drop of a hat. That’s pretty amazing.”
The cost of living here was also seriously attractive to Cheryl. She pays $545 per month for her two-bedroom, 970-square-foot apartment. It has a pool and a small gym, covered parking, and 24-hour security. Her building is also one of the first in town to actively use fingerprint technology—the front door and lifts are all activated by using your index finger.
All the shops that she needs are within a five-minute stroll, as are various local cafes where plates of fresh steaming dim sum are less than $1 each. A meal that would have set her back at least $80 back home can be enjoyed here with BYO wine (no corkage), for about $15.
Cheryl’s parting advice for someone contemplating a similar move is simple, “Come and live here for six weeks, and if you like it, go for it,” says Cheryl. “I did and I couldn’t be happier.”
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