By Peter Wilson and Adam Lusher
BRITISH pensioners, often rejected as a costly burden in their own country, are being invited to escape to Malaysia, which has launched a "Silver Hair Programme" with the sole objective of attracting elderly residents.
The project, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, offers special visiting rights to pensioners and an official promise of "a whale of a time in a place where enchantment and sanctuary are paramount". The normal Malaysian tourist visa has to be renewed every two months and permits a maximum stay of six months. But under the Silver Hair Programme pensioners can spend the rest of their lives in Malaysia as "permanent tourists".
The lowest age qualification is 50, and the amount of savings required is 100,000 ringgits (about £ 17,000) for a single applicant. Pensioners can be accompanied by a husband or wife of any age, and can also qualify if they have a monthly income of RM7,000 (£1,110) or RM 10,000 (£ 1,600 ) a month for a couple.
Malaysian officials hope that the scheme will bring a flood of hard currency to their national economy and generate income for local businesses, turning their country into a rival to Spain as retirement destination.
As domestic politicians struggle to tempt them with an extra £5.50 a week, the first British "Silver Hairs" to try the scheme are discovering a place where they can dine like royalty for next to nothing and enjoy tropical sunsets every night - but still eat Cadbury's chocolate, speak English and drive on the left. Teresa Baverstock, one of the first arrivals, said: "It seemed like heaven when we first got here. And it still does. It's pretty well sunshine every day, and even when it rains, it's warm rain."
Officials at the Malaysian High Commission in London said that the scheme was "interesting, captivating and impressive" and had already attracted applications. Amran Sameon, the immigration attache, said: "They are welcome to spend the rest of their life in Malaysia if they wish. They don't even have to have silver hair. That's just the name of the programme." By far the most enthusiastic participants are the British, who account for nearly half of all Silver Hair applicants. As the former British colony of Malaya, Malaysia offers the British pensioner the home comforts of three-pin plugs, English chocolate, Wall's ice cream and Kiwi boot polish. It remains a Commonwealth member. Nearly everyone speaks English in the towns and the lingering sense of Britishness extends to driving on the left and dialling 999 for the police. Even the legal system is based on English common law.
e Silver Hair applicant can enjoy a tropical climate and afford luxuries that the average pensioner in Britain can only dream about. Mrs Baverstock, 55, who lives with her husband, ivid, in the beach resort of Batu Ferringhi, said: "Even the most expensive meal would only me to £30 each. That would be three courses, lobster, a good bottle of wine - the works. you want to, you can eat out for £2.50 a head. The cost of living is much cheaper. You couldn't prefer to live as well anywhere else."
The Baverstocks gave up their charcoal-importing business in Dartmoor and moved to Malaysia on a trial basis in February. They say they are now almost certain to stay for good. They have an option to buy a suite with free use of a gym, swimming pool and tennis courts, and perfect views of the sun setting over the Straits.
He said: "I think Malaysia is going to become very popular. We considered living in Spain, but most people speak English here and we can use Malaysia as a springboard for the whole of South-east Asia. We've already been on a cruise to Thailand and visited China. There isn't any aspect of it at all that we found disappointing."
Jack Thain, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, gave a cautious welcome to the scheme. He said: "It does sound extremely attractive. I will certainly read up about Malaysia to see what it's all about."
Source: From the Daily Telegraph, UK, 28th May 2000
Note: Silver Hair Programme has since been renamed to "Malaysia - My Second Home Program". The Program is open to all regardless of age.
Yahoo! Travel writer Gary McKechnie ranks Penang eighth on the list of the “must visit” places.
Other islands listed are Bali, Vieques in Puerto Rico, Easter Island in Chile, Ischia in the bay of Naples (Italy), Chiloe in Chile, Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Key West in the Conch Republic, Galapagos in Ecuador and Palm Islands in Dubai.
These destinations offered something that could not be found anywhere else, said McKechnie in his article ‘10 Islands to Explore Before You Die’ (http://travel.yahoo.com/p-interests-37926474).
He praised Penang as Malaysia’s food capital and suggested that visitors did their “food crawl” along George Town’s street stalls.
He recommended that foodies head to the area adjacent to the Kek Lok Si Temple in Ayer Itam to feast on delicious food of rice, noodles, fish, shellfish, chicken, pork and vegetables.
He also suggested visitors try out lor bak, lok-lok and ikan bakar.
On the local architecture, he described Penang as having a range of modern high-rise buildings to 19th-century British architecture.
He also pointed out a mix of beach resorts, preserved mangroves, fishing villages, temples, mosques and churches.
“Kek Lok Si was the best example as the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia,” he said.
View other related topics available.