All stories and photos on this site, Earthy Reporter, are the property of Carola C. Reuben and cannot be used elsewhere without prior written permission from Carola C. Reuben. Just ask. I will probably say yes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Part 2: Low Costs Draw Expatriates to Langkawi


Marsha and I were talking about the cost of living while we were eating lunch at the food court at Langkawi Fair shopping center.

“You can eat out for 5 ringgit” (less than $2) Marsha said while I was savoring a dish of Thai origin, tom yam soup with shrimp, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and chili peppers. Marsha P. Waren, a US native and teacher in Thailand, was visiting in Langkawi, Malaysia.

The food court had cafeteria style tables, air conditioning, and several counters displaying dishes made with fresh ingredients, including fish, chicken, eggplant, string beans, ochre.
The food court at Langkawi Fair offers $2 feasts
A Malaysian man was listening to our conversation. He said, “Excuse me. Do you know how much you paid for that soup?” He grinned and said, “5000 ringgit” (about $1,666). He paused long enough for us to look at him with surprised expressions. “That is how much it cost you to come from your country,” he said. We laughed.

After the cost of a plane ticket, however, many expatriates enjoy a pleasant lifestyle at relatively low cost. Tevi, for one, chose Asia mainly for that reason. (See “Why Asia ? Simple Economics,” on Tevi’s blog,

Tevi (top photo) has been teaching English in Asia for more than five years since a friend called to ask if she would like to teach in his school. It took her just seconds to say “yes“ to the job offer in Inner Mongolia, China. Since then, Teviot Fairservis also taught in Thailand and Laos.

In Asia, Tevi became TV. She introduces herself like this: “I’m Tevi, like television. My Chinese students used to call me TV.”

When Tevi and I were 20 something, we were friends in Sharon, CT., USA. I was then working at my first newspaper job as a reporter-photographer for The Lakeville Journal. Tevi was absorbed with activities related to The Sharon Playhouse, where her father was a partner. Soon after she studied Asian theatre at the University of Hawaii; later, she became a producer and director for East-West Fusion Theatre.

A dense green view from penthouse terrace
Now Tevi lives in Langkawi, and for about $800 a month, she and I rented a two-story penthouse with terraces facing rainforest mountain views. She occupied one floor while I lived on the other. The apartment was completely furnished down to sheets, towels, washing machine, and flat screen TV.
 A neighbor/spa worker gave us one-hour body massages for $10. Or, for $11.50 at ACC Beauty & Massage, we could buy a foot massage and a session in a “fish spa,” where 300 tiny fish nibbled at the dead skin on our feet.

Amenities in the building included a large swimming pool. However, there were “third world” touches; a woman with a broom swept the pool area, hallways on 11 floors, and the parking lot of the building. 
Third World touch: Daily a woman sweeps the building
At the pool or in the elevator, we would meet foreigners living in the building, Seri Lagenda Tower. There was Robin from U.K., who has lived in the building for 15 years. At first, he organized golf tours; now he focuses more on apartment rentals. There was Peter, the Australian marine engineer, and Inni from Russia, an interpreter at Tanjung Rhu beach resort.
Also among the neighbors were New Zealanders Pam, who managed some rentals in the building, and her husband, John of Asia Pacific Super Yachts, who provided services for “yachties.“ Other foreign neighbors were not from western cultures, like Rayna, the writer from India, and Farouq, the karate champion from Iran.

Nikolai of Uzbekistan was among those from Muslim countries. Asked if he prays five times a day, like some devout Langkawi Muslims, he slapped the top of  his head and said, “When gray, pray. No now, no old.”

Malaysian neighbors included Liza the reporter, who might tell you she was dashing off to do a story on a new kind of fish at the aquarium, Underwater World. Another neighbor, Yuh Yee, a Chinese-Malaysian, was a coast guard; Azam and his wife of Japanese origin recently opened Sunday Surf shop.

Together we lived in an east-west fusion building.

Story & photos by Earthy Reporter, Carola C. Reuben, Copyright 2011


  1. Hi Carol, That apartment situation sounds fsntastic! It all reminds me of Guaruja in the old days, only better. I can imagine you settling in there and why not? Nice people, great food, tropical weather, who needs more?
    Thanks for the post.

  2. Hey Carol, How amazing that all these years later, you would write some of 'our story.' You are such a terrific writer. 'Your' room gets occupied by others from time-to-time but still awaits your possible return to this magical island. I will look forward to reading more about your adventures. Best wishes for a great New Year!

  3. James: When we were in high school at Graded, the American school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Guaruja was beautiful. However, other than the tropical weather,it was so different from Langkawi. First of all, those who went to the resort island Guaruja, did not mix AT ALL with the local population. When I say that I include the Brazilians who vacationed there. Beyond that, my goodness, there are such vast differences between Brazilian and Malaysian culture.

  4. Hi Carol -

    I see your journey continues! Enjoy reading all your adventures and living vicariously through you! Everything is status-quo stateside! -- Jan