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,  Once I got the information from this site, Kevin contacted an MM2H agent for me and I applied for the visa. 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 information on where and what to eat in Penang, I recommend All About Penang Food.

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 Medium.  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.