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.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

American Independence Day

    Tomorrow is July 4th. It is American Independence Day and the third anniversary of my arrival here in Penang. There won't be any parades, picnics or fireworks to celebrate either event. This is one holiday when I really miss home. My heart and my thoughts are with my family in friends back in Boston, MA and Watertown, NY, as well as with Americans all over the US and the world.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Traffic Enforcement

    I live on Jalan Tanjung Tokong, walk along it and observe the traffic on it from Starbucks and various coffee shops and food courts.  For three years I have been observing traffic along this main road, at various times of the day and night. I rarely have seen police cars or motorcycles. I have never seen a policeman stop a car or motorbike for speeding. I have never seen a policeman stop a car or motorbike for going through a red light (which happens several times an hour). I have never seen a policeman stop a motorcyclist for not wearing a helmet. I have never seen a policeman stop an SUV with small children hanging out of the sunroof. I have never seen a policeman stop a motorcycle with a driver and 3 or 4 children on board, none of whom are wearing helmets. I have never seen a policeman stop a motorbike for going the wrong way on the road.

    What have I seen? At least a few times a week I hear sirens blaring and loudspeakers bellowing and see police cars and BMW police motorcycles racing down the road. An accident? Rushing to a crime scene? Fire? No. These incidents are merely police escorts for some politician going to or coming from lunch. I guess they are too good to wait in traffic like the rest of Malaysia. What a wonderful way to spend the tax payers money!