Pursuing Passions in Penang

Almost two years into his expatriate assignment to his high-tech company’s manufacturing plant in Bayan Lepas, Dirk Reese received the news that he would be recalled to the company headquarters in Silicon Valley when his overseas contract ended. Reese loved Penang and was reluctant to leave. After failing to extend his overseas contract, the next best thing to do was to quit his job. Not only did he do that, his wife, who also worked at the same office, followed suit.

“It may sound like a drastic move now but at the time, it seemed like the best decision to make. I was finally able to set up a business dealing in unicycles and also train for Ironman Malaysia, which I completed in 2015. I also finally found the time to play my jazz guitar and I joined the Penang Philharmonic Big Band. Shortly after, I began coaching kids at unicycling, not only in Penang but also in Ipoh and Sungai Petani.

Dirk Resse
Dirk Reese

“My wife, Laura, focused on her writing and it is with delight to inform that her self-help business book, Align, will be out in early 2017,” Reese added.

Reese, who set up home in Tanjung Bungah, enjoyed almost everything about island life. He shared: “Laura didn’t care much for Penang, but I loved it. The street food is everywhere. Also, one could walk down the street and pass by a mosque, and Chinese and Hindu temples all on the same street. America also has religious diversity but it is not as compact as in Penang; at least, not in California where I am from. These are only a couple of reasons why I love Penang so much – it is a refreshing change from the culture where I spent my entire life in.

mother and son pair learning to ride the unicycle
mother and son pair learning to ride the unicycle

“The locals love running, biking and triathlons, which made it easy for me to train with them. I love riding through the rainforest in my mountain unicycle; sometimes alone, sometimes participating in mountain bike jamborees. The mountain bike trails here are challenging, so they are very enjoyable to ride.

“Despite all the positives, I have an issue with the constant high humidity. Combined with the high temperature, I perspire way too much. Keeping hydrated was a huge problem for me when I was training for Ironman Malaysia.”

Another thing that Reese found difficult to tolerate was the garbage problem, particularly in some kampungs. “I actually love kampung settings and hope some of them could be preserved but the garbage sometimes can get pretty nasty.

“Penang could be an island paradise if the garbage is taken care of. Also, I heard that the Penang ocean used to be clear and one could swim in it safely. It’s too muddy these days. I was also stung pretty badly by a jellyfish once so I have stayed out of the ocean ever since,” he continued.

Leading a semi-retired life at the age of 50 is certainly the dream of most working adults. For Reese, after one year of pursuing his hobbies, he began to miss engineering. “I didn’t miss my job as an integrated circuit designer but I definitely missed flexing the technical side of my brain. That was when I started to dabble in robotics. It became my full-time hobby although I still coached unicycling, played the guitar and kept up my fitness regime.

“I first started out playing with an Arduino Uno, and then added things to it until the Uno was no longer powerful enough to do what I wanted it to do.  My current robot uses two Raspberry Pi computers and an Arduino Uno and has a camera and a robotic arm. It is never-ending work in progress that keeps me busy,” he explained.

After four years living in Penang, the Reeses recently embarked on a new adventure to Italy so that they could raise their son, Max, in a country where a language other than English is spoken. Travelling the world is, after all, another of Reese’s hobbies.

Note: An edited version of this article [Pursuing passions in Penang] was published on 12th November, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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