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18.9.11

Bugging Out And Other Hobbies

As the West enters a death spiral and the economic situation reaches levels not even seen in the depths of the Great Depression, a number of people are bugging out (old military term meaning 'pack and leave fast').  This is a common and very old response to rising tyranny and roving goon squads, such as those now taking over most Western countries.

Refugees from political and economic turmoil have been an age old problem.  The secret to doing it successfully, is to recognize and admit the problem while everyone else is still in denial, then act on that knowledge in a controlled and organized manner, so as to inflict the least amount of disruption in your life, and the lives of your intended landing spot.

Aye, there's the rub.  That whole 'organized' bit usually stumps most people.

The biggest hurdle is the decision to move in the first place.  People get comfortable where they are and find it incredibly hard to uproot.  They are also attached to all their things and don't want to let go of the things they have dragged with them through life or acquired along the way.  For this, I have no advice, except for men, you can marry a avaricious woman who takes all your things while you are at work, and does the job for you...like ripping off a bandage quickly.

This part of the decision is intensely personal.  One must perceive the benefits of uprooting to be of enough value to overcome the impulse to sit still.  What you take with you is also a tough one.  Many people want to take it all, and so find the cost and logistics of bugging out to be overwhelming.  All I can say here is that it gets easier to throw things away the more you do it.  There's a tremendous feeling of liberation once you reach a certain critical level.

When I left the US, I had a single suitcase, a shoulder bag and a little cash.  What little the former wife left, I sold on eBay.  Literally all that's left back home are some clothes and personal effects in a closet in my mother's house.  I've always been an all or nothing kinda guy...I don't generally burn bridges, but I often lose the map to them.

Perhaps, though, the criteria I used to select a bug-out location would be more helpful.  Taking the decision to actually make the move is something no one can help with, only advise.

The first cut for my choice of locations was selecting a hemisphere.  Having traveled extensively, I had pretty much covered Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and points south of Mexico.  Europe wasn't even an option, since the coming tidal wave in the US was going to take out Europe, as well.  Plus, I had never been to Asia, and it was high on my list of things to do before I died.

Having narrowed my search down to the eastern half of the world, I could rule out Australia and New Zealand, since they were part of the western economic system and will be creamed by it, as well.  That left the Indian sub-continent, Asia Major and the archipelago.  We were getting somewhere fast now.

My first criterion was a network of folks that would give me some connection to my new location.  That narrowed it down to China, Thailand and Indonesia.  I had direct, local connections in these countries, which meant I would have at least one person to talk to.  This would help when it came to language and culture, and learning things like, what is the real price for things (not the tourist gouge).  I also had a desire to engage in the cultures of these countries, which is something one must do if adopting a new home.

The next criterion was language.  Though I was already fluent in three languages and passable in another seven or so, the Asian languages were a daunting hurdle.  I had learned a smattering of Thai and Mandarin at various points.  Both were highly complex, and not just because of the written characters.  Thai is basically two languages, one for men and one for women.  Mandarin, while being fairly straight-forward in grammar, was a major block when it came to pronunciation.

That left Indonesian, which is based on the Roman alphabet, each letter has only one sound, and the language is an amalgam of Malay, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, and Mandarin, with a good chunk of Dutch and English thrown in.  That meant that, without having studied a lick of it, I already had a pretty good vocabulary of cognates.  Because of this, Indonesia was quickly working its way to the top of the list.

The next consideration was immigration.  How easy or difficult was it to set up in the target country?  In this respect, Indonesia was a bit more protectionist than most, though that has changed recently.  In order to get permanent resident status, one had to get married or have a sponsoring employer.  Fortunately, I had friends in Indonesia with a company willing to sponsor me.  Just this year, Indonesia has added retirement visas, like many other countries.  Folks over 50 with steady income from pensions can get a retirement visa in Indonesia for less than $1,000 per year.  Until recently, being married to a local would grant permanent resident status, but not a work visa.  The recent changes have also updated that nonsensical bit of law, as well.  The only remaining hurdle is that foreigners may own houses and condos, but may not own the land.  Lobbyists are busily working on that one, since Bali is becoming a global haven for retirees.

So, what about the economy?  This is obviously a major consideration, as you being to narrow the list of possible landing spots.  Indonesia's economy has been growing like a house afire since the early 2000s.  Of the Asian economies, it tops the list with Vietnam, in terms of sheer growth and expansion.  Indonesia is also a gross exporter of food and energy, two key components of any survival plans.  Granted, inflation is the beast in the closet, but the cost of living is roughly one-fifth that of Texas, which is one of the lower-cost places in the States.

Taxes here are a bit steep, especially for foreigners.  They run between 15% and 30% on average, on a graduated scale, plus a 10% VAT on just about everything but breathing.  Still, there's no inheritance tax and capital gains taxes are 0.05%.  Property tax is 5% on transfer of title, plus a minor tax annually in the $40 range.  This one varies significantly by location, so you'll have to do your due diligence.

The next thing I considered was culture.  Indonesia is well-known in the English language for the Seven Seas and the Thousand Islands, not to mention Bali.  Borneo (Kalimantan) was were King Kong was discovered.  For centuries, these islands have been the targets of western colonialism because of the wealth of spices and natural resources.  There are still parts of the country barely explored, and hardly a week goes by you can't find an article about some new discovery in Indonesia.  All this means there's a good supply of things to do.  There's plenty of exploring and over 300 distinct cultures and tribal groups to learn about.

Indonesians have a healthy distrust of government, which I find refreshing.  They primarily rely on family and friends, and don't assume that government will always jump in to save the day.  Sure, there is always a strong effort on the part of the UN and NGOs to meddle with local tradition and culture, which they do very well.  These groups are always trying to export the profound errors of the West into every aspect of life in the "Third World".  Fortunately, at least so far, Indonesians tend to disregard these efforts.

Yes, everything you've heard about corruption is true, but it is systemic in all of Asia.  I find it refreshing that the corruption is open and obvious, rather than hidden under a veil of legalisms and supposed equality, such as in the States.  There's no pretense to moral high ground, such as exhibited in Western governments.  Much easier to deal with this way.

Among other considerations, there was health care.  Pretty much anything available elsewhere is available here.  You just have to be choosy.  There's still a lot of home remedies and old wive's tales prevalent in local medical practices.  Still, there's a wide variety of alternatives and overall, the costs are far cheaper.  Also, many drugs are available over-the-counter and don't require a prior visit to a doctor.  If you know what you need, then there's no reason to run around getting permission from the medical mafia to obtain it.  Drugs prices are much more affordable, as well.  If you don't trust the local docs, you can also fly cheaply and quickly to Singapore or Australia for your alopathic fix.

Near the bottom of the criteria list was climate.  Certainly, being buried to my neck in snow half the year did not appeal.  Indonesia has an equatorial climate, meaning it rarely spikes above 90F, and rarely drops below 75F, day in, day out, all year 'round.  There are only two seasons, Wet and Dry, each about six months long. This means a year-round growing season, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown locally, and home gardens that never stop.  The local markets are stuffed to the gills daily with fresh produce brought directly from the mountains south of town.  It's even more direct in smaller cities and villages.

Some folks may want to consider diet.  If you are particularly delicate, you may not want to live in Thailand or Indonesia, where foods tend to be rather spicy.  Also, if you're a die-hard pork eater, or can't stand the taste of unaged beef, then you may have a difficult time adjusting.

Other than that, there's all the amenities: cable TeeVee, high-speed internet (satellite for more remote locations like the LFS Global Headquarters), well-stocked grocery stores with Oreos and peanut butter, and (at least in Jakarta) a reasonably dependable public utilities system, though we have at least one redundant system for everything.  The recent week-long water outage proved the wisdom of that approach.

In other words, you are not shut off from the world by changing location.  Thirty years ago, when I backpacked around the world, there were no cell phones and instant messaging and internet.  To make a long-distance call overseas, you had to make an appointment at the telegraph office for a call that sounded like talking in a pipe with a 10 second delay between replies.  Now, contacting folks at home, literally on the other side of the planet, is no different than calling next door.  Just a heavy time difference between night and day, but hard to fix that.

Uprooting and relocating is not easy, and nothing in this article should be used to construe that idea.  There is a big learning curve, a thousand different variables (of which I've just touched the tip here), and the possibility of failure at any moment with little or no back-up.  You should have a fairly strong sense of self-reliance and enjoy the process as much as the result.

If you are the type of traveler who enjoys the travel, rather than the arrival, then this option is for you.  If obstacles are things to be reasoned out and overcome, rather than dead-ends, then you are ready.  When I stepped off the plane in Jakarta, I had a week's worth of clothes, a water filter, a pocket knife, and my wits.  Now it takes a two-ton truck to move my house.  Less than four years.

Many folks will say, "I'm too old to start over."  To that, I say you can either slide quietly into the grave, or go in the midst of your next great adventure.  You can slowly lose your mind to dementia with your thumb on the TeeVee remote, or engage life head-on, amassing knowledge and experience (and maybe a touch of wisdom) until the moment you get planted.  You're going to get old anyway, why not make it an adventure?

Despite everything you've been told, the world is still a very big place with many options for living.  Hell, if Osama bin Laden can avoid the entire committed resources of the Western hemisphere, and die six times before they finally buried him, I'm sure you can find arrangements that suit your needs.

An old Chinese proverb: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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