Friday, December 30, 2011

A Very Happy New Year to the World

Today is Friday, December 30 and the weather here in Penang is hot and very humid. It just rained heavily, but it did not cool things down much. As I am planning for New Year's Eve, I think of past New Year's Eves in Boston, attending First Night celebrations. I remember one year when the temperature was way below zero and it was a chore to stay warm, but with all of the revelry you didn't really care. Penang's New Year's Eve weather is a far cry from that of Boston. I imagine it will be in the upper 80's and humid here (upper 20's in centigrade). But the celebration is the same. Good food, good drinks and good friends. This year we will be celebrating the New Year with a Mexican theme, including tacos, chili and probably some tequila too.

So I would like to wish all of my family, all of my friends, all of my readers and the entire world a very Peaceful and Happy New Year. Please drive safely and see you at the gym after the holiday.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from Malaysia

It is already Christmas Eve here in Penang, Malaysia. The weather is warm and there is no snow, but it is still Christmas and most everyone is in the Christmas spirit. Tonight and tomorrow people will be celebrating Christmas in their own special way. Here in Malaysia, we have people from Europe, North America, South America an Australia, all bringing their own Christmas traditions to share with our Malaysian friends. I will be cooking a traditional American Christmas dinner to share with my British and Chinese friends. I am sure there will be all kinds of celebrations all over Malaysia. Christmas is a Christian holiday, but it is a holiday that can be celebrated by anyone, because the true meaning of Christmas is something that we share from the heart. And that is a wish of peace, love, health and understanding to all mankind. I have also shared my views of Christmas greetings in my blog, Steveso Thinks, for all those who care to read it.

So now I would like to wish my family, all of my friends and all of my followers around the world a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


The Christmas Tree and Decorations at Straits Quay, Penang, Malaysia.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Take Some Time to Think of Others

The most festive times of the year are now upon us. Christmas and New Years will soon be here and then Chinese New Year will follow. We have just celebrated Hari Raya and Deepavali here in Malaysia. At times  of celebrations, such as these, we tend to think of ourselves and family, but forget many others. During Christmas time people are busy buying gifts, preparing food and partying. We have a tendency to turn our Christmas celebrations into self or family centered festivities. At this time I would like to ask people all over the world to take some time and think of others, who are less fortunate than ourselves. We are blessed with many things, but we often forget that there are millions of people who have nothing, not even their health. I would ask people to think and do at least one thing for someone who does not share our blessings.

Here in Penang a group of photographers are giving a photographic exhibit called "Penang, The Heritage Haven" at the E & O Hotel from December 17 to December 26, with the Grand Opening and Guest Speakers on Saturday and Sunday, December 17 and 18.  A friend and fellow blogger of Kevin in Focus is a member of this group and asked me to help people know about this worthy event. There are more than 100 photographs by 15 talented local artists. I know these artists have labored many hard and long hours to present their works at this exhibition. As the title suggests, all of the photographs are of of Penang and show why it is a World Heritage Site. At the exhibition you will have the opportunity to purchase some of these works of art. All proceeds will go to the National Autism Society of Malaysia.

Please take some time to visit the exhibit at the E & O Hotel to support the National Autism Society of Malaysia and to also support our very own talented photographers. This is a good chance to buy some Penang heritage photos as gifts. Please read the poster below.







                                                       

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Precinct 10 Close to Opening

There is a new mall opening soon in Tanjung Tokong, right next to Island Plaza, which is undergoing renovation. The new mall is called" Precinct 10" and will consist of dining and drinking establishments. Since I live right across from this new mall I have been able to watch the construction from the start. I now can see the multi-colored sign "Precinct 10" which is illuminated every evening. I can see that the "Old Town White Coffee" restaurant is almost ready to open. I think everyone in Malaysia is familiar with this restaurant. There is another place which has its sign lit up at nights and is called "Snow House Desserts". I have Googled the name but could not find anything about this restaurant. There is a sign advertising for help for a restaurant called "Chez Weng Modern Grill". Once again I Googled the name and found only want ads for the restaurant. The other eatery which will be opening is "Burger King" and I am sure everyone knows what this is.


Since Starbucks and Coffee Bean are no longer at Island Plaza I am sure Old Town White Coffee will do well in its new location. I am happy to see that Burger King and Old Time White Coffee will be opening, as other than food courts and coffee shops, there are very few cheap good places to eat. I really don't like KFC and find I have acid reflux every time I eat it. I know Burger King is not that healthy, but I can at least eat it without suffering.

I hope there are other decent restaurants and bars that will be coming into Precinct 10. I even heard a rumor that the well known pub, Soho, will be opening soon.  I wish Precinct 10 the best of luck as a new and welcome edition to Tanjung Tokong.



Monday, December 5, 2011

FINALLY!

On July 25 of this year I published a post on how a manhole cover was stolen from the sidewalk, near my home. I pointed out the dangers to others as well as myself in having this large gaping hole in the middle of a sidewalk used by numerous pedestrians, of which many were elderly. At that time I had entirely expected the problem to be resolved in due time. Well 4 days later, on July 29 I posted an update explaining that the Star Newspaper had visited the site and published a story as well as a photograph. In the Star's article the MPPP has stated they would take care of the situation. On October 2 I made another post explaining that not only has the manhole cover not been replaced, but another cover only a few yards away had been stolen. On November 2 I posted another update on the situation in which I stated that absolutely nothing had been done.

Well here is its today, December 5, 2011 and finally I saw something being done. As I was walking back home from the gym I saw workers had installed a new drain hole cover and were working on installing the other. The one finished cover was freshly painted a bright orange, no doubt to make it easier for thieves to locate and steal it. I must thank the MPPP for their quick action in only taking approximately 6 months to rectify a situation that was a serious danger to the welfare of the public.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Annoying Astro

During the past couple of weeks or so it has been quite hot and humid here in Penang and perhaps I am a bit more irritable than usual. When I have settled down to watch a movie or one of my favorite programs I am subjected to inane ads for special movies on Astro First. A couple of weeks ago the ad was about a movie where the main character kept repeating the word "money". Now, and since last week the prevailing ad is for some childish appearing movie about some alien or other kind of creature. It is actually a small child painted green and made up to look like an alien. Very bad makeup to say the least.

These ads become extremely annoying when they are repeated every few minutes on every channel. What really gets me is that one of the movies was an Indian language movie and the other a Malay movie. The movies were to be broadcast on a non English language channel, but they were both advertised on all English language channels. I am sure that the non English speaking residents here are also subjected to English language ads plastered all over the non English language channels they watch.

This does not seem like smart marketing on behalf of Astro, since the advertising is wasted.  One would think Astro would make more money by advertising products like automobiles, Coke and other brand name products. At least this way there would be a variety of annoying ads instead of one annoying ad for one program being repeated ad nauseam on every channel.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday November 24 is Thanksgiving in America. I would like to wish all of my family and friends in the United States a very happy Thanksgiving. I would also like to thank everyone back home for giving us a wonderful trip back home. Someday we hope we will be able to celebrate Thanksgiving again with all of you in America. Don't eat too much and drive safely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Farewell to Island Plaza Starbucks

When I lived in Boston I think I went to Starbucks only 3 or 4 times, even thought there was one in my hospital and several near my house. I preferred to go to Dunkin' Donuts, basically for the glazed chocolate sticks and donuts. I never really had the desire to go to a coffee shop and sit down for any length of time.

When I moved to Tanjung Tokong I discovered Island Plaza right across the street from where I lived. It had a grocery store for me to do my shopping, a nice small department store and a gym. I visited the grocery store just about every day and soon joined the gym. I go to the gym about 4 days a week, even though you can't tell by looking at me. I was invited to stop at Starbucks by a couple of friends from the gym. Soon I began to stop every day, after either the gym or shopping. I got to know many people there and enjoyed sitting, talking and drinking coffee. There was a good mixture of people including seniors, expats, young people and a variety of local residents. The young staff there were exceptional. They were very attentive, hardworking, friendly and genuine. Unlike some other coffee shops in the area they knew the meaning of customer service. Visiting Starbuck's became an important part of my routine.

Last Thursday when I went in for my latte I was informed that Starbucks at Island Plaza would be closed forever, on the following day. Needless to say I was shocked and saddened. Island Plaza has been undergoing renovation for the past  7 or more months now. Metrojaya department store is gone and Cold Storage has been remodeled, but not improved. The gym is there along with a very few businesses. The Plaza is like a ghost town most of the time, especially after the theater closed. During the renovation Starbucks remained open serving their loyal customers. This has been a very difficult time for the remaining few business at Island Plaza because very few visitors mean very few customers and no profit. They still had to pay the rent, without any profits coming in. According to Starbucks staff the company could no longer afford to stay there, so it decided to close for good.

Now when I go to the gym or Cold Storage I don't stop for coffee or conversation. I wish Oscar, Diana, Shanker, Josh and all of the employees the best of luck in whatever they choose to do. I would also like to thank them for their kindness and friendship. Island Plaza has lost part of its soul.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How I Moved to Penang, Malaysia to Live (Part 2)

In my last post I discussed the logistics of my move up until my experiences with the banks. I will now continue my story of my move to Malaysia.

I arrived in Penang on July 4th, 2008 to start the next chapter in my life. I had put money down and signed a purchase and sales agreement on a condo, in a complex I had seen before and liked. The unit was furnished and needed no renovation. It was also reasonably priced. When I first came here I lived in a service apartment for a month, which was a bit inconvenient. It was not near any shopping area nor public transportation, but it did have a nice pool and a great bar. It was also quite cheap to stay there. After only a couple of weeks the seller of my unit told me I could move in to the condo before final papers were passed, without having to pay any rent. I was extremely happy to say the least. At the end of August the move was accomplished. Shortly after my friend in Boston mailed my few remaining possessions, so I did have a little bit of home with me.

With my friend's help all of the utilities were set up and working. To give an idea of what the utility costs are I will share what I pay for mine. The amounts are in approximate US dollars. Satellite TV with premium channels comes to about $46 a month; electricity (includes washer, dryer, A/C all night in 1 room, 1 fan 24 hrs/day, TV with home theater system, 2 laptops, 2 aquaria , electric oven and a few smaller kitchen gadgets)averages out to be about $60 a month; water is $5 every 2 months; condo fees are about $160 every 3 months and finally taxes are about $300 per year. I have bottled gas which I pay about $16 every 6 months. We eat out most of the time because local food is so much cheaper than buying food and cooking at home. It may not be healthy, but it is good.

Once I moved in to my new condo, and had it painted with vibrant colors, instead of the all white walls, got some plants and hung pictures, I was all set. The move was officially completed.

I retired early when I moved here and did not receive Social Security until just recently. I applied for Social Security online with the US Embassy in Manila and the called shortly after they received my application to interview me. This took less than 15 minutes and was painless. I chose to have my benefits deposited into my account in the US.  I was reasonably concerned about filing my federal and state income taxes from Malaysia and had a great deal of trouble finding answers from the IRS or other government sites. If you look for information you only find results pertaining to people working and living abroad, not retirees. I did find out that you MUST have a US address to file electronically with Turbo Tax and other major commercial companies. I settled for a free site suggested on the IRS website, using a US friend's address. I have to file my Massachusetts tax using the the downloaded forms from the Internet.

If some Americans are reading this and contemplating moving here I would like to offer a few suggestions. If you decide to move here I would suggest to visit a couple of times and when you finally decide to move look for a nice rental place before you buy. Property here is nothing like in the US. When buying properties that are being built you will be paying so much until the building is completed. The price may sound cheap, but remember you will still have to pay between 10 and fifteen thousand to renovate to make it livable. Window and door screens that are standard in the US do not exist here, so you will have to get used to that. There is no central gas or hot water here either. You can  have small hot water heaters in the kitchen installed and the bathrooms have water heaters for a hot shower. Local people here do not wash dishes in hot water, but cold water. This goes for food courts, coffee shops, hawker stands and most restaurants.  Western style kitchens with ovens are becoming a little more common in the newer built condos. These are always electric. The stove tops are mainly gas and are powered by bottled gas, which is cheap and easy to get.
The hardest thing for me to get used to were the Asian style bathrooms. These bathrooms are small, with no electrical outlets. They consist of a sink, toilet and a hand held shower. When you take a shower, everything gets wet. And I mean everything. I found it quite annoying to walk in to the bathroom in the middle of the night and find a still wet floor. Using the toilet caused my pants to become wet, which really annoyed me. Many times I dressed to go out, including socks, and then had to use the toilet again. So I had to take my socks off, go to the bathroom, dry my socks off and put them back on. I have 2 bathrooms and I quickly got one converted to a Western style. Most newer units do have Western style bathrooms now. If you have to convert a bathroom make sure you go to a reputable contractor, as most local contractors do not understand the concept of a dry bathroom. Most condos do not have enough or convenient electrical outlets, so you may want to have more installed. This is not too expensive, but it is messy as the walls are all concrete.

These are only some annoyances or inconveniences you will either have to get used to or try to remedy. You must realize that  Malaysia is a country of only a little over 50 years of age and thus cannot be compared to the US and other developed countries. Malaysia has some beautiful buildings, beautiful scenary, great food and most of all beautiful people. If you move here don't make the mistake that many expats make by just sitting on your balconies drinking and enjoying the view and not getting to know the locals. If you want to just socialize with other Americans and expats and eat at high end Western restaurants, there is no since in coming here. Stay home.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How I Moved to Penang, Malaysia to Live (Part 1)

I just received a comment from a reader asking me to tell my story of moving to Malaysia. In his comment he stated that he couldn't find much on the web about Americans moving here, but a great deal about Brits who have moved here. I completely agree with him. So I will try to tell my story again in a summarized form. I originally started this blog on another platform, but because of the difficulty using that platform I moved my blog here. My original blog was started  in April of 2011 and can be found here. I actually took over a blog that had been dormant for some time. You can visit it to see more details.

When I decided to move to Penang I too had a great deal of difficulty finding information on exactly how to do it. I found little useful information on the web about retiring in Malaysia. Most of the information concerned moving to Central America and Europe. The expat websites that had information regarding Americans usually had one or two useless interviews with Americans living here. They were usually written by a bored housewife, who had to move here because of her husbands job. This information, I found, was not informative, usually inaccurate and of no help. There are a couple of blogs on American expats living in Malaysia, but they consist mainly of recipes and arts and crafts. No help to the potential retiree or anyone planning on moving here. The rest of the information in these expat sites is in regards to buying expensive real estate, advertising moving companies and selling books on how to move overseas.

I did find a site for Americans living in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. It is basically a site for wives of Americans working here. This site was useless. I contacted them, but never got an answer. There are many websites for British people living here, but their information is geared to UK citizens. You can make a post here, but you either won't get a response or more than likely they can't help with your situation. The reason for so many British sites is that Malaysia is a former British colony and many older expats here think it still is. British English is spoken here, they drive on the left side of the road and many British customs and mannerisms are evident here. So the transition form the UK is much easier than that from the US.

As I could find little or no information on Americans moving to Malaysia, I had to do everything from total ignorance. Luckily I had a friend, who is Malaysian and lived here, who was able to help. First of all I found the Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) website which is run by the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism. Malaysia offers a long term (10 year renewable) social visit visa. The site can be found here. There are 2 options for applying to this program. One is a do it yourself plan and the other is to hire an agent. I went the agent route since I was 12,000 miles away and I would rather pay someone to do the legwork and make sure it was done right. The agency I used was Comfort Life and I was very satisfied with their services. In order to get my visa I had to place about $40,000 into a fixed deposit account in a major Malaysian bank. At the current exchange rate I believe that amount is almost $50,000. (When I use $ I am referring to USD). After 2 years you can take a large chunk of this for medical expenses, buying property or education). The MM2H site explains the other requirements.

Getting the MM2H visa was extremely easy. A very short time after I applied I received I was approved for the visa. I had 1 year to go to Malaysia to pick up my visa. At the time of my visit I was taken to the bank to set up my fixed deposit account. Once I got my visa the next step was to sell my house and move. Easier said than done.

I put my house in Boston up for sale in October of 2007 and I sweated, as the housing prices fell and the housing market went down the toilet. Finally I sold my house in May of 2008. I planned to leave for Boston on July 3, so I had a lot of work to do. I decided not to bring my furniture and appliances with me. This was costly and I was not sure if my furniture would fit in my new home, when I purchased it. The electrical system is very different here, so the electrical appliances could not be used. I decided to sell everything and buy everything new.

The biggest problem and by far the biggest source of anger and frustration was with the American banking system. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the banking system in the United States is like no other country in the world. It works against the customer instead of with or for the customer. My biggest concern about moving to Malaysia was being able to transfer money from the US to my accounts in Malaysia. I went to the big banks with branches in Malaysia. I remember seeing Citibank and Bank of America in Malaysia, so I naturally went to these banks in Boston. They both promised me I could easily transfer money to their branches in Malaysia. They both lied in order to get me to open an account with them. One bank required me to keep a minimum of $250,000 and the other $500,000, just to be able to make periodic transfers. I don't know how much most retireeSo that is what I am doing now. I use my bank's Internet banking system to pay bills back home or send relatives Christmas money. The only inconvenient thing about using your home bank in the US is that you can't have a foreign address. If you have a foreign address to have your statements sent, you will not be allowed to use Internet banking. The banks say that this is a rule of the Department of the Treasury. I checked this out and it is not true. The banks can allow foreign addresses as long as the make yearly reports of these addresses. This will cost the banks a little bit of money, so they naturally refuse to do it. Big banks only know how to take from the customers, not give in the form of services. On the subject of banking there is one inconvenient and highly unfair requirement the US government shackles expats with and that is the FBAR. This is the Foreign Bank Account Report, which has to be filed every year. This requires the expat to report all foreign bank accounts of over $10,000. These accounts include investment accounts, checking accounts, joint accounts of any kind or any other account with your name on it. If you had an account where the balance was $10,000 for just one day, you still have to report it. The penalty for not reporting or even reporting late is extremely and unnecessarily harsh. Groups like American Citizens Abroad are trying to repeal these draconian laws and hopefully they will succeed.

As this post is becoming quite long I will separate it into 2 parts. I will finish it in the next post.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Yet Another Update on the Missing Manhole Covers.

On October 2, I posted an update on the situation where 2 manhole covers had been missing since July 25th of this year. Between July 25th and October 2nd, The Star Newspaper carried an article on the dangerous gaping holes in the sidewalk in  the Tanjung Tokong area of Penang. The newspaper contacted MPPP in regards to this situation and was told that the matter would be remedied soon. Well today is November 2nd and here is what has been done by MPPP. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I am really surprised that there is such a lack of concern over public safety. It appears that there is not only a lack of concern for the well being of the residents, but also a complete denial of responsibility for maintaining public walkways. It must just boil down to incompetence.

Apparently the grids or covers were stolen for scrap metal value. There should have been replacements in place by now, if someone had taken the initiative. There was even a comment placed on the previous update post from a company that produces covers. They suggested that if any contractors were seen working on them, their website could be given to them. A wonderful idea, except for the fact that obviously no one cares enough about these dangerous conditions to even visit the area.  I am going to include the website of this company here, just in case someone in MPPP is reading this post! I am including some photos that I took today, to show how disgusting the area looks.






Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Malaysian Monsoons

While I am writing this blog post the late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms are raging. For the past 2 or 3 weeks the monsoon rains have been making daily visits to Penang. During the daytime the temperatures are hotter than hell and the humidity is in the 70's. Just walking from the bedroom to the front door is enough to be covered in sweat. After taking a short walk to eat lunch and run a few errands a shower becomes a necessity.

About 4 or 5 o'clock every day the skies darken, the wind picks up and the skies open pouring torrents of water over the island. The lightning shows are spectacular and the thunder is deafening at times. These displays then return at about 7 or 8 o'clock at night. These storms cool and clear the air and make sleeping quite comfortable. Luckily the rains are not as bad as our neighbors in Thailand have been suffering through.

Many people here in Penang have been complaining about the weather, but I am really beginning to enjoy the daily storms. As long as I have a fairly good idea when it will rain, my plans are not spoiled and I really enjoy the cooling effects of the monsoons.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Design Dream or Renovation Nightmare.

My condominium is comprised of 3 bedrooms. These include 1 master bedroom, a middle sized bedroom and an extremely small bedroom. The master bedroom would be considered a quite small bedroom compared to American standards, while the other two would be considered closets. I have been thinking for quite some time about converting the smallest room into a walk-in closet and the middle room into a combination office/guest room.  I would like to simply take out the built in bed and put in a desk and shelving units for books and storage. There is a window, which opens out to a very small balcony. The window opens enough for the cat, but not Kevin or myself. I would like to replace this window with a door or a window which would open wide enough so a person could actually fit.

This seems to be a simple enough project. If I were back home, a couple of trips to Home Depot would take care of the situation. But I am here in Malaysia. Everything is concrete. Even hanging a picture is a major project. I would also like to add some more electrical outlets, but this too is a major problem. For some reasons the contractors in Malaysia think that all electrical outlets should be placed in one central location in a room, which are convenient to them, but not the owners. When you need to plug in a lamp, hair dryer, shaver or some other small appliance you have to find the nearest outlet, which is most often not convenient. You could use an extension cord, but the ones sold here are only 2 or 3 feet long. So they are useless.

I have now started talking with contractors and designers about my ideas. I stress that I do not want a lot of hacking, as both Kevin and I are allergic to cement dust. I also stress that I don't want to spend a fortune. So far I am having trouble with the concepts of a combination office/ guest room and also a walk-in closet. Most contractors have no idea of what I am talking about. The shelves they understand, so I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. The biggest problem so far is that no one seems to want to do a project that does not involve a lot of hacking. In other words they want the more expensive alternative. I will now start visiting DIY shops looking for shelves and hoping I can find a competent carpenter to do the work.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where's Malaysia?

When I recently visited the US with Kevin he was frequently asked where he was from. We both proudly responded that we were from Malaysia. Most of the responses were either "What's that?" or "Where's Malaysia?". We then asked if these people knew where Thailand, Singapore or Indonesia was. They knew where these places were, so we simply said Malaysia is in that area.

Granted most people and especially younger people have a very weak knowledge of world geography, but why hadn't people even heard of Malaysia. There was only one person whom we met who knew about Malaysia and even Penang. He was an Indonesian-American working in the car rental place where we rented our car.  All of the time we were in the US we saw tourism ads on television about China, Singapore, Indonesia and several other countries. We didn't see anything about Malaysia. On the other hand living here in Malaysia and watching Astro we are constantly bombarded by ads about Malaysia. People watching these already live here!

People know that Singapore is the center of business in the East and is a thriving economy. People know Thailand for it's beauty, food and tourist attractions. People know Indonesia for the beautiful island of Bali, beautiful volcanoes, scenery and wildlife and the fastest growing economy in the area. Why don't people know anything about Malaysia?  Maybe the Ministry of Tourism should concentrate its advertising in different areas of the West and maybe they should help local tourism businesses to promote the wonders of Malaysia. Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Little Bit of Espionage and Paranoia in Penang

As I was on my way to visit my local pet shop I took a short cut through the Prima Tanjung shopping area. I passed by a new store selling infant and children's goods. I have noticed on other occasions hand made signs warning against loitering and solicitation. I believe the phrase they used was "no charities". Today I saw a new sign which caught my eye and really amused me. I had to take a photo of it. It read "COMPETITOR AND SPY ARE NOT WELCOME". CIA take notice. These signs really work. I can't recall ever seeing a customer in the store.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just What We Need.

The other evening after eating a nice Thai meal Kevin and I decided to visit our neighborhood Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. I don't go there a lot but it is very refreshing to visit once and a while and enjoy a decadent treat. They have real hot fudge there,  which is my favorite ice cream topping. A number of times we have bought an ice cream cake for birthday parties.

On the drive from Tanjung Bungah we both openly fantasized about what ice cream we would have. I settled on my favorite, pralines 'n cream with hot fudge. Kevin decided he would wait until we got there before he made up his mind. It would be the perfect end to a great Thai meal.

We approached Prima Tanjung shop lots, where Baskin-Robbins was located and began to look for a parking space. We pulled in front of the store and were instantly shocked. Baskin-Robbins wasn't there. Instead was another damn hair salon. Just what the area needs. In the Prima Tanjung area there seems to be a hair or nail salon (or saloon as some of them are called,  for some strange reason) every other store. I don't know why there needs to be so many hair salons in one area. You can't tell by looking at people in the neighborhood that they are any more stylish than anyone else. Across the street from Prima Tanjung new shoplots are being built. I am sure that at least 1/3 of the shops will be hair or nail salons!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Another Update on the Missing Manhole Covers

On July 25th I published a post on a missing manhole cover near my condo. Shortly after that post The Star Newspaper ran an article about this situation, along with photos and a statement from the MPPP that the situation would be soon taken care of. A short time after this another cover was stolen only a few yards away, on the same side of the street.

On August 26 I went to the US for a 3 week vacation. I returned to Penang on September 18 and was not surprised to see that the covers are still missing and the caution barriers are down inside the drains. Today is October 2 and still nothing is being done. This is nothing but incompetence and total disregard for the public safety of the residents in this area,

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Return from America

It's been a long time since I have posted here, as I have been visiting friends and family in the US. This was Kevin's first visit to the US, so I was like a tour guide in my own country. We were in upstate New York (Watertown and The 1000 Islands Region) and in Boston. We returned last week, but we were overwhelmed by jet lag.

It was great to be with family and friends again and have Kevin meet everyone. Besides being with everybody, it was great to have some of the foods that I have missed while living in Malaysia. Eating real Italian food again was so great. So much better than the stuff they call Italian food here. We had rigatoni, manicotti, eggplant Parmesan, stuffed shells along with spaghetti and meatballs, sweet sausage, pork chops and pepperoni. We couldn't even find spaghetti bolognese on the menu. Thank God! We also had cannoli at the best Italian pastry shop in Boston's Italian North End.















My friend Angie, who is Greek, invited us over to her house for a wonderful Greek meal, which included Greek lasagna, appetizers and wonderful Greek pastries. I have never seen a Greek restaurant in Penang, so I really enjoyed having Angie's Greek food again. Beside having a lot of Italian food and Greek food, we had Mexican, Vietnamese, Cajun, Japanese, Chinese, Tex-Mex and traditional Texas BBQ. There were so many other ethnic cuisines to have, but there just was not enough time. We cannot find many of these foods in Penang, so we ate it while we had the chance. It was also nice to have real napkins when you ate out, instead of flimsy tissues or nothing at all.We also had a lot of home cooked meals thanks to my sister-in-law Debbie, my friends Donna and Linda. So much to eat, so little time.

Other than eat we went sight seeing, whale watching (we saw 1 whale and about 30 dolphins), fishing and of course a lot of shopping. Brand name goods are about 1/3 of the cost here in Malaysia, so we stocked up on many articles of clothing. Kevin had to buy another suitcase to fit all of his shopping items. He bought way more than I did. We both took many photos and Kevin plans to turn his photos into a book. The time spent back home was too short and we were both sad to leave everyone.

We got home after a 27 hour flight, with the longest leg of the flight having a spoiled brat who cried for 11 hours straight. When we got home we slept for 15 hours straight. I think we are both fully recovered from jet lag now.

We were welcomed back by torrential rains, heat and humidity, as usual.  Walking around the neighborhood I see nothing has changed. Not only have to 2 open manholes not been fixed after 2 months, but 2 more are missing across the street. I guess public safety is not a priority in Penang. My sinuses are acting up quite a bit and the pollution is still here. But that's one of the joys of living in Malaysia. Nothing as changed, but it is nice being back with friends here again.




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kek Lok Si Temple

Recently I took a trip with friends to visit the Kek Lok Si temple (The Temple of Bliss) in the Air Itam section of Penang. I had last visited the temple over 4 years ago before I moved to Penang. Kek Lok Si temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Malaysia. Construction of the temple began in 1890 and is still going on to some degree or other. The temple is constructed with Chinese, Thai and Burmese design influences. As you drive up the hill, you can park and walk up to the to entrance to the temple complex. A visitor has the choice of walking up stairs to the top of the temple or taking the tram. At the entrance there is are souvenir shops and a restaurant. There is also a staircase you can transcend to the inner depths of the temple where you find hundreds of small shops.

The purpose of my recent visit was not tourism, but to buy special souvenirs to bring back to my nieces on my upcoming visit to the US. I wanted to get my niece's 3 little girls some traditional Chinese clothing and dolls dressed in traditional Malaysian dress. These dolls are very difficult to find in Penang and my best bet was to look here. As we began our trek downward into what seemed to be the bowels of the temple we passed the koi pond and the "Liberation Pond", which contains hundreds of turtles, which the Chinese consider symbols of longevity. The farther we walked down into the depths, the hotter and more humid it became. After visiting about 20 or so souvenir stalls we found the clothing and the dolls. Apparently the dolls are not being made any more, as they are hand made and labor intensive and do not fetch a good enough price.








After making my purchases I wandered around the entrance to the temple admiring the architecture and artwork. I did not, however, attempt to climb up to the top or take the lift there, because of the heat and humidity. I remember when I was here the last time with Kevin, I paid for and signed a roof tile, which was to be used on the roof of one of the new temple buildings being constructed at that time. I wondered where it might be, but did not want to look for it

I highly recommend a visit to Kek Lok Si temple for anyone visiting Penang or anyone who lives here. You can also visit the nearby Penang Hill and take the tram to its top. If you go in the middle of the week you can avoid the crowds. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.




Monday, August 15, 2011

Finding Resources for Potential Expats

When I had made up my mind to retire and move to Malaysia I spent a lot of time surfing the Internet for useful sites, especially those regarding moving to Malaysia. I am sure that everyone considering retiring or moving abroad goes through the same thing. When anyone searches terms such as retire abroad, retire in Malaysia, overseas living or expats they will get basically the same popular websites, which I will not name. I have talked to other expats here regarding these sites and we all had the same conclusion that they were absolutely useless.

If you go to any one of these sites you will find little useful information. The so called "expat experts" offer basic general knowledge that you can can find in Wikipedia. Most, if not all of these experts are offering their books for sale, so you can have more information. There are very few personal experiences offered by actual expats living in their adopted countries and they offer no useful information regarding how they actually moved. The main purposes of these widely known sites seems to be to sell expensive real estate or life and medical insurance. A lot of the information is in regards to working in a certain country or looking for foreign employment. Once again they are offering information that you will have to buy. There is very little for retirees to utilize. For the more comfortable or wealthy there is useful information, but for the average retiree or expat there is nothing.

As I have stated before, when I moved here I found information of the Malaysia My Second Home program on he government website,
http://www.tourism.gov.my/  Once I got the information from this site, Kevin contacted an MM2H agent for me and I applied for the visa. There was one other site that I found to be very useful. It is the MM2H forum, which can be found at http://www.my2home.info  On this site I was able to ask questions of people who actually had the MM2H visa and lived in Malaysia. Unfortunately before I moved to Malaysia I could not get any information about what Americans would need, in regards to banking and US income taxes, and being retired abroad. Because of this I decided to start this blog to explain what it is like for a retired American to live in Malaysia and to tell others about what I had to do to move here.

Since I have moved here I have discovered other websites which would be of help to anyone considering to move here. My friend Attilla, a British expat who recently moved here to Penang, has an excellent site that offers a great deal of  "how to" information, as well as information on local food and entertainment. His site is Pick of Penang. For more information about an expat living here I recommend Discover Malaysia to see what Penang has to offer. For information on where and what to eat in Penang, I recommend All About Penang Food. A new and very artistic site about Penang and its food, from the eyes and ears of a lifelong resident of Penang, has just been launched and promises to be very exciting. This site is Coffee with Kevin.

If anyone reading this post is seriously considering retiring and moving to Malaysia or moving here to work, to study or just to visit, please don't waste your time looking for information. Visit the sites I have mentioned above and also the sites under "Other valuable sites" on this blog's sidebar. If you still have questions feel free to message me or the owners of the above mentioned sites.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Does a Retired Expat Do All Day?

When I was making plans to retire and move to Penang many of my friends and family asked me what I planned on doing all day and warned me about extreme boredom. I told everyone that I would go to the gym, go swimming and find other activities to keep me occupied. To be perfectly honest I was a bit worried at first about how I was going to spend my time. A month after I moved here Kevin had to go to Switzerland for a month for work. This was the time when I thought I would get very bored, since I didn't know anyone and this was before our apartment was painted and decorated with pictures and plants. I did get to know some people and I explored the neighborhood, which made the month go by quickly. I didn't go to the gym, but I ate a lot.

    The first year I was here I went to the swimming pool quite a bit, but I soon discovered that I was the only one there. The entire condo complex was like a ghost town during the day and actually is it was worse at night. Unlike condos at home with pools and gym, where the residents interact with each other, the people here are quite reclusive and mainly distrustful. Whenever I went to the gym I was the only one there and since there was not A/C in the gym I really didn't like it. Kevin didn't like the gym in the complex either. I decided that it would be best to join Fitness First gym across the street from where we live. This turned out to be a good decision, as the gym had way better and more equipment and there were always people there.

    Since joining the gym I find myself going there about 5 or 6 days a week. I have gotten to know many people there and the gym has become not only a place to exercise, but socialize too.  After the gym I usually go to lunch in the nearby food court, either by myself or with a friend. In the past 6 months or so I have developed a new hobby. Blogging. At first I just thought I would write once and a while, but since I liked it so much I expanded my interests and now write two blogs here on Blogger and I also write on Hubpages. My other blog here is www.seniorneurons.com and my link to Hubpages is http://steveso.hubpages.com/  I can spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day either writing my blogs or promoting them. I could probably stay up all night with my blogs if I didn't have to get up and go to the gym in the morning.

    Besides my interest in blogging I also have pets that demand my attention. Kevin and I have 2 fish tanks, one for each of us. He takes care of his, which includes cichlids and I take care of mine, which includes a variety of tropical fish. I have to spend a lot of time and attention on our cat Nero. During the day he is constantly following me around for attention. Then mysteriously later in the day he disappears to hide someplace and doesn't want to be bothered. Our other pet Chi Chi, our prairie dog, always barks to be picked up and held on my lap. I let him run around the apartment, but he prefers to just sit on my lap. Taking care of them and playing with them occupies some time every day, but it is more fun than work.

    Finally, beside the gym, the blogs and the animals are the normal chores like doing the laundry, grocery shopping and running other errands which take up a bit of time during the week. I also forgot to mention that I serve as secretary of our Management Committee here in the condo.

    So three years after moving here I am no longer worried about boredom. On the contrary I worry about time going by too quickly and not having enough time during the day to do everything I want to do or have to do. It's a different lifestyle than having a job to go to every day, but I think it is more enjoyable. I just wish that as we got older time didn't pass so quickly.






Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Trip to the Night Market at Batu Ferringhi

I would like to apologize for not posting in a while. My extremely slow Streamyx connection prevented me from using the internet most of the day.

On August 26 Kevin and I will be going to the US for a 3 week visit with friends and family. This will be Kevin's first visit to the US and he is quite excited. In preparation for our visit we visited Batu Ferringhi to have dinner and purchase souvenirs for people back home. We had a wonderful Middle Eastern dinner at Tarbush Lebanese restaurant in Batu Ferringhi. After dinner we went to the ever famous night market.

For those who are not familiar with Batu Ferringhi, it is the tourist mecca on the north end of Penang island. Here you can buy fake Rolex watches and all kinds of fake brand named items, from purses to perfume and clothing. (For my friends and family back home who may be reading this post, no I didn't buy you any fake items!) You can also buy cheap pirated Cd's before the dealers are shut down by the police. But don't worry; about 15 minutes after the police leave they are back in business again. It is an excellent place to buy cheap souvenirs and housewares and decorations. If you are a foreigner wanting to buy something here, never pay the asking price. Always look around and bargain for the best price. If you have a local with you, you will be assured of the lowest possible price.

After spending about an hour there we bought a number of Penang tee shirts and Penang refrigerator magnets, which depicted different scenes around Penang. Actually the magnets were very nice. The most difficult part of buying the shirts was finding large sizes. For those Americans and Europeans buying shirts, you must be aware that Malaysian sizes are much smaller than western sizes. If you want to buy a large size for a friend back home you must buy an XXL size here. A small Malaysian size would be suitable for a child's shirt in the west. The night market at Batu Ferringhi is probably the best place to buy shirts and clothing, as they have a larger variety of sizes and you can bargain for the prices.

If you visit Batu Ferringhi you will notice tons of restaurants there and a lot of foreigners. Many expats choose to live here, because of the larger population of expats. If you would like authentic Malaysian food, however, you should try Georgetown and the less touristy areas of Penang. The food in Batu Ferringhi is toned down for the Caucasians who are not used to the spiciness and explosion of flavors of Malaysian food. Being a tourist area the prices here are naturally much higher than not tourist local eateries.

Regardless of whether or not you are a first time visitor to Penang or you are a permanent resident here, visiting Batu Ferringhi's Night Market and area attractions are a definite must.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Sunday Drive to Balik Pulau





This past Sunday Kevin, Linda, Cheah and myself went to Balik Pulau, which is on the other side of the island of Penang. We went there to visit our friends Alan and Amanda, who have just bought a new home there. This was the first time I have been in this area and was quite impressed. Their house was beautiful and there were many nice developments nearby. It was a little out in the boonies though. After spending some time at Alan and Amanda's house we went for some Asam Laksa, a specialty of the area.

    We went to a nice place on the edge of a durian plantation for the laksa. It was a beautiful place, with about 8 tables. There was an antique shop here with many beautiful antiques collected by the owner on his trips to China and the area. The owner lives here with his family in a traditional Malay style wooden home. We all had two bowls of laksa and a large durian. This was the last durian that the restaurant had and the owner gave it to us free of charge. This was the end of the durian season and this was the best one I have had this season. Durian is one of those foods you either love or you hate. Fortunately I love it, but I realize most Caucasians can't stand the smell or taste.

    After eating we went down the road a short distance and visited The Nutmeg Factory. It was very interesting, even though I didn't understand a word the owner was saying. I ended up buying some nutmeg syrup, nutmeg jam and durian cake. I also bought a small nutmeg tree, so in 4 years I will have fresh nutmeg!

    If you want a close by adventure I recommend taking a trip to Balik Pulau. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 29, 2011

An Update on the Missing Manhole Cover

     On Monday I published a post on a large drain with a missing cover. Well it's now Friday evening and there is still no cover. I sent the photo from the post to my friend who works for The Star newspaper and he  had his colleague inform the relevant authorities about the situation. Apparently the authorities do not view this as being serious enough to warrant quick action or even caution signs or red traffic cones. I don't know if this is a matter of ignorance, stupidity or negligence or a combination of all three.

    I have mentioned this open drain to some of my local friends at the gym and expressed my concern that a serious accident could happen involving a blind person. I was surprised at the responses I got. They agreed it was dangerous, but they said "blind people don't come around this area". They further explained that blind people are only found around the area of St. Christopher's School for the Blind. I didn't realize that handicapped people are limited to only certain areas of the city, according to their particular handicap!!!

    Well, every day, as I pass this open pit, I look into it checking to see if there are any bodies or skeletons lying at the bottom. Yesterday someone made a futile attempt to cover the opening with some small cut tree branches. Only if the authorities had that much concern!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Nice Day for a Walk

    One activity that is enjoyed by foreign tourists and expats who live in Penang is walking around the area enjoying the beautiful scenery and fantastic architecture. In Georgetown on any given day one can see hundreds of people walking the streets with their cameras around their necks. There are many websites showing the numerous beautiful photos taken by these visitors and expats. I too enjoy walking around looking at the different shops, temples, coffee shops and other attractions. I walk around my neighborhood in Tanjung Tokong on a daily basis, just running errands and going to the gym or shopping.

    Even though this activity seems rather benign one must take a couple of precautions. As in any busy city one must pay attention to the traffic, so as not to be hit by a car or motorbike. The second precaution is one that I believe is unique to Penang. Open drains and manholes. It is very common to see open drains along the street, next to parking spaces or along the sidewalk. I remember one time when Kevin was attempting to park the car, he almost backed both rear wheels into a very wide drain, with no cover. Walking and driving after dark can be quite hazardous as there are many of these gaping holes, without any warning or caution signs.  I have been told that the reason there are so many open drains and manholes is that people steal the covers to sell as scrap metal. There must be some way to permanently fasten these grates or covers, so that no one can steal them.

    Today I was walking to Island Plaza, as I do at least twice a day. I pass the same huge drain in the sidewalk every time I walk this way. I walk on the drain cover as I look for monitor lizards, which I see on occasion. Today the drain cover wasn't there. A huge 4 feet by 4 feet hole was there instead. Luckily I was paying attention and noticed someone walking my way with his headphones on and not looking where he was going. I knew the person and warned him before he fell into the hole.


    So just a few words of warning for tourists, expats, and for everyone who is walking about enjoying the sights of Penang. Watch where you are walking and try to be reasonably sober when doing so, especially at night. Stay alert and stay safe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Expat Clubs in Penang

   Many of the expat websites regarding life in Malaysia, that I have seen, have posts regarding social clubs in Penang or other parts of Malaysia. It seems that there are British clubs, German clubs, Australian clubs, American clubs etc. I was never one to join clubs back home and I certainly did not move to Malaysia to spend my time with a bunch of other Americans drinking and talking about things missed from back home. There are plenty of nice local people of different ethnic backgrounds in Penang to get to know and share life with, so why limit yourself to the folks from back home. I realize that this is a personal preference to hang with others you have more in common with, but for me I now live in Malaysia, and I don't want to form a little USA community here.

    Most of these social clubs I have seen center on meeting, drinking and sharing your home country culture. Other than these three activities I see no purpose in them. There is one club here in Penang that was a mystery for me for a long time. Every time I would to to Island Plaza to take the elevator up to Fitness First I would see a big sign advertising "The Coconut Club". The rest of the writing on the sign was in Japanese so I had no idea of what the club was about, until just recently. I have a couple of Japanese friends who are on the MM2H program and live in my complex. They don't have a car and get around the island by bus. They don't speak a lot of English but they do manage to tell me about the many and various places they go.

    They tell me they go to Tesco's, Justco's, Queensbay Mall and numerous restaurants and points of interest  on the island. I finally asked how they get to go to all of these places. There reply was by bus. So I asked about how they managed to take Rapid Penang buses to all of these places. They relied "Coconut Club" bus. I learned that the Coconut Club is a club for Japanese people that provides buses to local shopping centers and other attractions for a small fee. The buses pick people up at the condos where they live. They also have organized trips to KL, Langkawi and other places of interest in Malaysia.  This concept is a great idea. Why aren't there other expat clubs here that do the say thing?  Or if there are, why don't we all know about them. Sad to say, but I believe only Japanese people can take part in the activities of the Coconut club.  If anyone knows of similar clubs for other expats please leave a comment and let us all know.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tesco in Tanjung Bungah

    Like many people in Tanjung Bungah, I anxiously awaited the opening of the new Tesco's in Tanjung Bungha. For almost two years there were many rumors flying around as to what it would be like. Most of the rumors I heard centered around the the increased availability of imported western food products and higher end items. Everyone said that with the number of expats in the area, Tesco's wanted to draw their business away from Cold Storage.

    Well it finally opened a few weeks ago, after many false starts. From all appearances the store was mobbed. I waited a couple of weeks before Kevin and I ventured into the store. There were a number of small eateries in the mall as well as a pharmacy, an electronics store and other stores. We ate at the Satay Hut, which was very good and also cheap. After eating we finally went into Tesco's. What a disappointment! 

    This was a brand new store yet there were hundreds of tiles with broken corners and holes in the the middle of the tiles. The products such as dishes, hardware items, clothing and electronics etc. were the same as those found in the other Tesco's. Walking over to the food aisles I was really surprised. There were open trays and display cases with cookies, cakes and other pastries, completely uncovered. I observed people picking up items, smelling them and putting them back.  A few feet down the aisle was a table with a pile of catfish that were partially gutted. It looked like someone through a hand grenade into the pile of fish. As I was looking to buy some beef I made my way over to the meat area. There was a small display stand with large "hunks" of beef, which evidently could be cut down to size. Apparently no one there knows how to butcher beef. The chicken looked okay, as did the numerous kinds of fish. There was a large selection of frozen seafood, as well as some frozen meats.

    There is a large frozen food section, but very few imported foods. They did have some imported ice cream products though. They did have an impressive array of dried spices and herbs. The fresh vegetables were far from fresh. There were numerous packages of lettuce or cut salads, where half of the contents were rotten. There was a large pile of "red" tomatoes, with very few red ones among hundreds of green ones. There were many, many cucumbers with a yellow tinge, which did not look too appetizing.  I decided not to by any food, after surveying what was available.

    I was very disappointed with what I saw and decided that I would do my food shopping at the wet markets or Cold Storage. I really was hoping that more imported foods would be available here, but I have noticed that  Cold Storage is stocking more imported items. I only hope they continue to do so. Meanwhile I will visit Tesco for the other stores in the complex and for non food items.

   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Internet Annoyance

    I usually write posts to my blogs in the evening hours, when I am more relaxed and the atmosphere is more quiet. I was planning on writing about another topic, but I have changed my mind. For the past 2 days I have been attempting to post here, but thanks to my ISP, Streamyx, my internet connection has been just a bit faster than death itself. For the past 3 weeks we have had every sort of technician visiting our apartment. We have had specialists come from KL twice to fix our connection. They usually come at dinner time and stay for 3 or more hours.

   Each time they come they bring more and more equipment with them to do fancy testing. Each time they leave they say the connection is strong, fast and stable. Each time,usually about 1 to 2 hours after they leave, the connection slows down to a crawl. Two visits ago they ran a cable from the communication closet, across the corridor floor and into our apartment. This was supposed to be temporary. That was about 2 weeks ago. We have asked them to please remove the cable, as it is a tripping hazard for passersby. It is still there. In the mornings when I get on the internet, the connection is either acceptable or dead. If it is down I can usually wait an hour and it will come back. The speed is reasonable until I go to pay bills, send emails or write a blog. Right now I am able to write, but whether or not I can publish this post is anybody's guess.

    When we first moved here we had Streamyx, but changed to Penang Fon, because it was faster. After a while that ISP became intolerable. So then we changed back to Streamyx, which was very good at first. Now that is intolerable. So now a decision has to be made to stay with Streamyx and hope they can fix the problem or switch back to Penang Fon. It is really annoying that we have to pay our monthly bill, but are unable to use the internet for a good period of time each day. Hopefully some day soon Penang will have a decent good quality internet connection.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ding Charcoal BBQ and Steamboat

    My last post was about Straits Quay and some of the restaurants I have eaten at there. Since I have made that post I have eaten at two more restaurants. One, which was Chinese, does not deserve a mention, as myself and my party were very disappointed. I must point out that I was the only Westerner in the group. The others were Kevin and Linda and Cheah, all local Chinese, who I think know their Chinese food.

    The other restaurant, which Kevin and I dined at was The Ding Charcoal BBQ and Steamboat restaurant. One thing that sets this place apart from the other steamboat restaurants is that the food travels on a belt within the diners reach. The food, which included chicken, pork, beef and mutton along with other steamboat delights, was contained in individual plastic containers. There was a choice of chicken soup and Tom Yam soup, which naturally we chose. There was a choice of orange drink or lychee drink, which was unlimited and there was ice cream, in many flavors, for dessert.

    I have eaten at other steamboat buffets and restaurants in the area and have found the food to be rather heavy and greasy and not always fresh. At times it has taken forever to digest. At the Ding BBQ I found the food to be tasty, light and very fresh. Kevin and his father make an excellent steamboat and I think the Ding comes in a close second. Now for the best part of this restaurant; the price. You don't get charged for what you eat, but you are charged a flat price. Senior citizens get a hefty discount, so all of you retired expats can eat all you can here for only RM25.20! For those not of retirement age the cost is RM42.80. Still a good deal. I would suggest you give it a try if you are really hungry.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Straits Quay Penang

    Ever since Chinese New Year, the much heralded elegant shopping mall, Straits Quay has been opened for all to see. So far not all of the advertised  outlets have been opened and even a couple have closed already,  Since I live nearby I have had the opportunity to visit , both during the week and on the weekends. I do not understand how this rather expensive establishment can stay afloat.

    The main attractions of the mall are upscale restaurants, catering to the well healed. During my visits on weekday evenings the entire shopping center seems like a ghost town. There seem to be only a couple of restaurants that are doing any business. The very popular Blue Reef restaurant is usually crowded both on weeknights and weekends. Subway appears to do a good business as well as the steamboat restaurant. The two German restaurants are  usually crowded on the weekends and do a brisk business during their happy hours. There are a couple of Irish pubs that started off quite well, but seemed to have died down lately. I have eaten at most of the places here and I must say a few of them are absolutely terrible. There is a very ornate restaurant, which reminds me of a Victorian style funeral home. It has a very expensive menu and I have never seen anyone dining there. Tucked away on the outside, away from the air conditioning is an economy rice eatery, which I am sure is for the staff of the restaurants and stores of the mall. The food here is way cheaper than the other restaurants and the food is quite good.

    If many of the restaurants are devoid of customers, the stores are much worse. The Switch store has a few customers, but they rarely have anything in stock. When walking by the other stores one can only see the bored staff chatting with each other. I wonder how they can manage to stay in business with the imagined exorbitant rent they pay.

    There have been a number of special events at Straits Quay which have drawn very large crowds. The parking lots and parking garage have been filled with cars and the interior and exterior of the mall has been packed with people. One thing that is noticeable is that no one is carrying a shopping bag and the stores and most of the restaurants are empty. I have observed something here that I have never witnessed back home. This observation was quite evident in last nights visit. There are quite a few winding or spiral staircases throughout the mall and last night on every single staircase was a girl, who was a wannabe fashion model, posing for pictures. One would think they were posing for Vogue or Elle or other fashion magazines.  These models were also to be found on both floors of the mall, posing in front of the signs in front of some of the newer themed restaurants.

    I originally thought that the purpose of Straits Quay was to cater to the wealthy foreigners, expats and residents of Penang and  the surrounding area. After many visits there, seeing the expensive yachts moored in marina, dining at some of the restaurants and window shopping at the high end stores, I have found the real purpose of Straits Quay. It is a multi billion dollar photo prop for local aspiring fashion models.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Old City Food Court

    Today while I was once again having my lunch at my neighborhood Penang food court, "Old City Food Court" in Tanjung Prima, I was chatting with some of the stall owners. They were lamenting the lack of customers lately. The owners attributed this to the fact that the food court is really hidden from public view. Most of the popular food courts in the area are along the roadside or are at least visible from the road. Old City is actually hidden between two rows of shops at Prima Tanjung, at Fettes Park. It is not visible from the main road or side streets. There is only one sign, which the owner refuses to light.

    Many of the stall close early, around 7 PM, because there is no business. The owners say that many times they sit for hours in the early evening with no customers. They are more than willing to stay open later, but with no business it is a waste of their time and money.  During the lunch time  business is fairly brisk, as people from many of the small businesses in the area eat their lunch here. But once these workers go home business dies down. Hopefully with new condos and shop lots opening in the area, more visitors to Old City will be welcomed.

    I have mentioned the Porridge Stall and the Thai food stalls before, as I frequent them quite often. A new stall that has opened in the past few months is The ABC Curry Fish Head. I have eaten the Sting Ray Curry Claypot and it is very delicious. It is served in a claypot with a spicy curry, tomatoes and okra and a generous portion of steamed rice. I like my food very spicy, so Kenny, the owner obliges me with a super spicy portion. For most Westerners he tones it down a bit. He also cooks a very good squid curry, with fresh squid. I told Kenny that I would plug his business here in hopes of increasing his business. In the future I will try to mention some of the other stall, to hopefully increase their business also.

Claypot Curry Fish
    With the increasing number of expats living in the area I hope some will visit this unique little food court. If they get enough business, they will be able to stay open later, which would be a benefit to the owners as well as the residents of the area.

Kenny, the owner of ABC Curry Fish Head




ABC Curry Fish head

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hazy Penang

    What is happening with Penang weather lately? It seems like for the past 2 weeks every day has suffered with the 3 "h"s, hot humid and hazy.  Every morning when I awake I can see a heavy blanket of haze covering Gurney Drive and the sea. This morning I could hardly see Butterworth, across the water. Usually the haze is burned off under the hot morning and afternoon sun, but lately it has remained for the entire day.
    Besides obscuring the wondeful views the haze is causing problems for people with respiratory problems. I have sinus problems and every night my sinuses have been clogged up. I have had this problem for years and have learned to live with it, but lately it has become very annoying. I know people who have never had sinus problems and they too now suffer from the maladies of the sinuses. Another thing I blame on the haze is the constant fatigue. I go to the gym every day and everyone I talk to there say that after they leave the gym they feel drained. Many people are just plain exhausted doing everyday chores.
    God only knows what that haze consists of. With the hundreds of thousands of motorcycles on the island and the thousands of autos, all without any anti pollution devices, I can only imagine the pollutants we all are breathing in. Some people have said also that smoke from burning forest fires in Indonesia have come this way. I am not sure if that is true. The few times it has rained in the past couple of weeks did not help to wash away the haze or the humidity, but made matters even worse.Walking around after a heavy rain here is like walking in a sauna.

    I can only hope that soon a few days of drenching rain will come over Penang and wash out the filthy, hazy air and perhaps even cool things down a bit. I am not going to hold my breath waiting though.