Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy New Year Malaysia


As my fellow retired expats know, as you grow older time passes more quickly. So another New Year is upon us. This will be my fourth New Year's Eve since moving to Penang. There will be no shortage of ways to welcome in the New Year. Pubs and bars of Upper Penang Road, Precinct 10 and Straits Quay will all be packed with revelers. Many high end restaurants and hotels are offering New Year's Eve specials to attract celebrants. I am sure many Malaysians and expats will be partaking in the festivities. For many the celebrations can be quite pricey so they will celebrate in their own ways. Some of the locals attend temple or church for prayers to welcome the New year. Others will have a quiet time at home with friends, pizza, snacks and drinks and watching the New Year come in. This year that is exactly what I will be doing. Some barbecue pork, Domino's pizza and beer and wine and then watching the many fireworks displays that can be seen from my balcony.

What ever way you celebrate I hope everyone in Malaysia and everyone planning on coming to Malaysia to retire and live, has a happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous 2013. Happy New year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All

 I would like to take this time to wish all of my friends and family, both here in Malaysia, in the United States and all over the world  a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May this Christmas and the New Year be a peaceful and prosperous time for everyone, regardless of religion, race and nationality.


Image courtesy of suphakit73 at


Saturday, December 22, 2012

My New Gym -Absolute Fitness Island Plaza

When Fitness First gym at Island Plaza in Tanjung Tokong closed at the end of November, I, along with the rest of the members, faced a dilemma. Do I continue with the new owners or do I join another facility.

Many of my friends only went to the gym for classes, such as yoga and pilates, while the remainder used the fitness equipment, either with a trainer or without a trainer. There were a lot of hard feelings with the closing of one gym and the start up of a new gym. Out of loyalty some of my friends refused to even consider continuing with the new owners and went with other gyms in the area. For many the main concern was for the availability and times of classes.

I live across the street from Island Plaza, so my main concern was the convenience of a gym close to home. Since I primarily used the machines and free weights, the classes didn't mean much to me. Another deciding factor, besides the convenience, was the cost of membership. I am paying considerably less now for a membership, which is fine with me.

I have already attended the new Absolute Fitness a few times and find little difference, from the old gym. The locker room is bigger, with better lockers. The gym has a new coat of paint and new lighting. When you are using the treadmills there is less of a choice of TV channels to watch. There is only a choice of 3 channels. CNN is gone, so to cater to the youth, MTV and a sports channel are offered instead. There are no free newspapers to read, nor are there any free drinks to consume while members chat in the lounge area. There are, however, free towels for members to use after showering.

When I have been at Absolute, there have been less than 5 people in attendance, but I am happy to see a familiar face there. Agnes, from Fitness First, is the new training manager and is currently occupied with forming a new staff of trainers. I believe there are still many former members of Fitness First who still have yet to make up their minds as to which gym to join. Hopefully after the Christmas holidays some former members will return. I have found the new front desk staff to be quite helpful and I would suggest to anyone considering joining Absolute Fitness to talk with Sathis about possible membership. As for me I am quite satisfied with my choice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Passport and New MM2H Visa Stamp

Well last night I returned from Kuala Lumpur with my new American passport and my new MM2H visa stamp in that passport. I would not say that it was a pleasant experience and it was not as easy as I had been told. I had been told that you could either take a bus or a taxi and easily find the Malaysian Immigration department, which is located in Putrajaya. Some expat members of an MM2H website said the process was easy, as there were 2 windows dealing with MM2H, one for applications and one for extensions. The whole process would only take about 20 minutes.

On Sunday I took the Aeroline bus to Kuala Lumpur and stayed at the Corus Hotel, just as I had two weeks ago. Monday morning  I arrived at the US Embassy and waited to pick up my new passport. I waited and I waited. There were a total of 2 American citizens for passport services and I was the first one. Finally after 45 minutes of waiting my number was called. I went to the window where I was called to and there was no one there!. After standing for another 10 minutes a women came over and received my old passport and then gave me my new one. It took all of 30 seconds, after waiting for more than an hour. A totally inefficient system and a chance to see my tax dollars, at work or not.

Upon leaving the US Embassy I took the taxi back to the hotel where I had to make photocopies of every signal blank page of my new passport, to take to Malaysian immigration. When the photocopies were done I had to rush to Putrajaya to find the immigration office. Luckily the taxi driver I had prearranged knew where the building was and there was no traffic. After a 20 or 25 minute drive we arrived at my destination. My driver advised me go inside and ask at the information desk for the correct office. Easier said than done. I could not find anyone at the information desk and I could not find anyone who worked in the building, who spoke English. After about 15 minutes and two sets of obviously wrong  directions I finally went into someone's office and was led to the correct place. I grabbed a number and proceeded to the waiting area. There must have been over 1000 people waiting. And there were not 2 windows but 20 windows! After about 5 minutes I noticed an area where Caucasians and other obvious foreigners were sitting. I asked if they were waiting for the MM2H visas and luckily they were. There was only 1 window handling MM2H and there was a big sign saying the window would close at 12:30 for lunch and reopen about 1:30. It was now 11:15AM and I was waiting. Finally at noon I was called and handed in all of my documents. I was told to wait again to make my payment. Again my number was called and I made my payment and was told to wait again. At 12:25 my number was called and I received my passport and new visa stamp and the window was closed. I grabbed my taxi and returned to the hotel for lunch and a cold beer.

All in all it was a stressful day and I am glad it was over. I won't have to return to Putrajaya again for another 5 years. When I was in KL to hand in my passport application I took a cab from the US Embassy to my hotel and asked the driver if he ever goes to Immigration in Putrajaya. He replied that he did and gave me his card for my next visit. I called him when I had arrived at the hotel to arrange for everything on the following day. He picked me up at the hotel brought me to the embassy,waited, returned me to the hotel, waited again and then took me to Putrajaya, waited again and then finally returned me to the hotel. He charged me a very reasonable rate which I totally appreciated. I avoided a lot of stress by taking his taxi and I will definitely use him again. If anyone is going to Kuala Lumpur and needs a taxi for a short time or the day for business of sight seeing please give Zaini a call at 010-4311461. I am sure you will like his services as much as I did. I believe in giving someone a plug if they deserve it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

English in Malaysia

Malaysia is a former British colony so it is natural that British English is spoken here. English is not spoken by all people, however, and certainly not with the same expertise. As an American I don't have much of a problem understanding British or Australian English and, with the exception of a few die hard colonialists who are irritated by American English, they don't have much trouble understanding me. There are actually only a few differences such as lifts instead of elevators, lorries instead of trucks, queue instead of a line and differences is spelling, such as colour, programme, defence, honour etc with the extra letters we don't have in American English. So basically there isn't a problem.

There are a number of International Schools in Malaysia, with most adhering to the British system, while The Dalat School, here in Penang, being one of the few American style schools teaching American English. The locals are amazed at how I can tell which school a child goes to just by listening to them speaking English.

Other than British English, American English and Australian English there is one other form of English that is widely spoken and a little more difficult to understand at first. This is Manglish, a combination of Malaysian and English. Manglish has a different intonation where simple declarative statements sound more like questions and often incomplete sentences are used. For example, "on the light" or "open the light" and "off the light or close the light". Instead of you can't do that they simply say "cannot" or "can can" for you can do that. People ask you to "borrow me a book" or "fetch me from the airport". Instead of going out of town people here go "outstation". When you need a piece of paperwork stamped, you get it "chopped" here. One of the most common terms you here in Malaysia is"lah" at the end of  sentence, such as "what do you think, lah". This reminds me of my French-Canadian relatives who say "eh" at the end of many sentences. It doesn't take long at all to understand Manglish. I compare it to talking with someone from Mississippi.

Until recently English was the mode of instruction in Malaysian schools in the subject areas of math and science. English was replaced by Bahasa Malayu, the mother tongue of the Malay population. English is still taught in the international schools and the Chinese schools, but not in the public school. You can notice that most all Chinese and Indians speak English, while the Malays don't speak it that much. I can notice too, that when I speak with older Chinese people their English grammar and conversation is excellent, whereas the younger children and teenagers speak terrible English, because it is no longer taught.

Because English is no longer used in public schools, many parents turn to private English teachers. In Malaysia we have "tuition teachers" who teach a variety of subjects. In the US tuition is the name given to the payment for your education. We use tutors to help those who are not doing so well in certain subjects, but here they are necessary for the children to receive a better quality of education. (This is not my opinion but what has been told to me by the locals). Since there are many students who want to take English, there are a number of people who are willing to teach it. Unfortunately many of these people are unqualified to teach the language. I have seen numerous fliers advertising English classes, where the spelling and grammar are that of a 9 year old. Many of these teachers have learned English from people who themselves do not speak proper English. With so many British, American, Canadian and Australian expats living here it is a shame they can't be used to help teach English to students or anyone else who wants to learn.

All in all living in Malaysia for an expat from and English speaking country is easy, communication wise. I have never been in a situation where I could not understand or be understood. Of course the simple thing to do would be for the expats to learn the local language. You have a choice of Bahasa Malayu, Tamil, Hokkein Cantonese or Mandarin! For me, I am brushing up on my Mandarin.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Aeroline Busline Malaysia

At one time or another every expat living in Malaysia will have to go to their country's embassy in Kuala Lumpur for passport or other services. There are basically three choices for travel to KL. One is to drive, another is to fly and the third is to take the bus. Recently I had to visit the US in KL to have my passport renewed. I opted for the bus choice for convenience and cost.

I have taken the Aeroline Bus before from Penang to Bundar Sunway, KL and found the experience to be quite pleasant. When I was planning my trip to visit the embassy I realized that Aeroline also goes to the Corus Hotel, Jalan Ampang. The bus station is located in the Corus Hotel, which is right near most of the foreign embassies in Kl and also near KLCC. KLCC is the major shopping area at the base of the Petronas towers.

The Aeroline buses are very comfortable and are fitted with entertainment screens located on the back of each seat. There is a fairly good selection of movies to watch during the ride. A small lunch is also served, as well as water and hot beverages. The bus makes a stop at a rest area where you can visit the bathroom or buy snacks or fresh fruit grown in the area. The trip from Penang to Kl takes about 5 hours.

When I traveled to KL I stayed at the Corus Hotel, so all I had to do was step off the bus and check in. The hotel is 4 star rated, but the biggest selling point to me was the convenience. The US Embassy was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. I would say that the hotel was average, but I found the food in the restaurants rather good, for the couple of meals we ate in the hotel.

For anyone going to KL, either for the shopping, sightseeing or embassy visits I would highly recommend Aeroline. The bus also goes to Singapore.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Farewell Island Plaza Fitness First Staff

Today was the last day of operations for Fitness First at Island Plaza in Penang. I have been a member of this gym almost as long as I have lived in Penang and I will be sad to see them leave. I may not have lost any weight, but at least I kept my body from falling apart. I want to thank all of the staff for all of the kindness and friendship that they have shown me. While I wasn't working out I thoroughly enjoyed the many fun filled chats I had with the staff. Fitness First was more like a social club than a gym for me. I met a lot of people and made many friends while a member there.

I would like to say farewell to all of the wonderful people there and wish all of you good luck in all of your future endeavors. I know for at least one of the staff members there will be wedding bells in the near future! Thank you ladies and gentleman for a great experience.
(Thank you to Jaafar Shadik for your photos from Facebook)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Safety and Security in Malaysia

When I first moved to Malaysia I must admit that I was a bit worried about the security here. At home I lived in a single family house with a front and back yard and a fence around the property to keep my dog from wandering off. Most houses back home have some sort of a yard but with few fences, except white picket fences for decorative purposes or fences to keep the dogs in the yard. There are few single family homes, as we know them, in Malaysia. These types of homes are called landed property because they have a very small yard or property. Most all of the houses are attached to each other. What worried me was that they all had high concrete walls or fences surrounding them. The houses reminded me of  prisons or some sort of institutions to keep patients inside. I learned from the locals that this is necessary to prevent breakins and burglaries. There are a number of gated properties, where the attached and semi-detatched houses, with a small property, are surrounded by a wall and have security guards. These are very attractive and are not reminiscent of prison life.  The other housing alternatives are condominiums, which have security guards, of varying quality.

I must point out that unlike back home, where you call the police to report a crime and they come to you very quickly, here you have to go to the police station to report a crime. I have heard of stories where a neighbor has called the police to report a burglary in progress and the police have asked to be called back after the culprits have left. So you can't rely on a quick police response. You can't really fault the police because they are paid very little here aas compared to back home.

I bought a condo to live in as I felt this was more secure. There are still breakins in some of the condos and usually the crimes are inside jobs or security is involved. I feel the condos and gated communities are the most secure choices for the money.

Malaysia is one of the safest countries in Southeast Asia, ranking right up there with Singapore. As with any country, it isn't 100% safe. One of the most common crimes seen here are snatch and grab crimes. There are thousands of motorcycles on the road and gangs of snatch thieves target women walking along side the roads or on the sidewalks, grabbing their purses. Often the women are injured in these crimes. Women or anyone carrying a bag of some kind or even a backpack must take extra precaution at all times. Pickpocketing does occur, but is more rare that the purse snatchers. Of course like any other country you can become the victim of a crime if you wander off into areas where you have no business being. As everywhere it is important to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

In regards to serious crime, there are murders or assaults, as reported in the newpapers. There are few if any guns here, so the weapon of choice is the machete. It is not uncommon to see that someone has lost an arm or leg or even murderd by this weapon, but the victims are almost always involved with loan sharks or other illegal activity. Crimes that I see in the papers quite frequently are child abuse and crimes of incest involving very young children. Occassionally there is an ATM or jewelry store robbery or other such thefts reported. Once again these crimes can be seen in any country.

All in all I feel very safe living in my condo and walking around the streets of Penang. I think I can safely say that the expats I know who live in Malaysia also feel the same way.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Preparing for Christmas Dinner in Penang

Well now that Thanksgiving has passed it's time to start thinking of preparing for Christmas dinner. Today I paid a short visit to Cold
Storage at Island Plaza in Tanjung Tokong to scope out what they have.

The frozen turkeys were on sale and were plentiful, for now. They seemed to be reasonably priced. Most were about the same size, about 10 lbs. or less. Much smaller than those we see back in the US, but about the right size for Asia. Not many leftovers for turkey sandwiches or turkey casserole or soup.  When I first moved to Malaysia we made sure we had an oven in the kitchen for baking and Christmas turkeys. The first Christmas I bought the biggest bird I could find, about 11 lbs. for about 10 people. I prepared the bird, put in the cooking bag I always use, put it in the biggest pan I had and then opened the oven door. There was about 1/2 inch clearance on all sides! Near disaster! After it was finished I had to cut off a bit of the burned edges, but it tasted fine. Asian ovens look big on the outside, but the insides are just big enough to fit a big chicken. They are not made for baking turkeys, roasts, pizzas or more than one pie. Fortunately we recently bought a new American style stove with a normal, big sized oven and 5 burners. This will be the first turkey and there will be plenty of room.

I noticed that Cold Strorage had a few turkey legs, which seem to be selling very fast. This would be perfect for one person or two people with small appetites. I have cooked them before and they are very good. I also noticed that there was an ample supply of cranberry sauce and mixed nuts. I looked for the baking bags and turkey stuffing mixes, but couldn't find them. Hopefully they will be in stock soon. In previous years the stuffing mixes arrived after Christmas. I did not see any butternut squash in the produce section. They never have a good selection of frozen vegetables, so forget the frozen squash option. I will probably go to the wet market for a better selection of vegetables.

For those who make pies, there was one can of apple pie filling and 3 cans of cherry pie filling. They haven't had pumpkin pie filling for over 3 years, so forget the pumpkin pie. Usually I make apple and pecan pie from scratch, so I'm not worried about that. For now Cold Storage seems to have enough baking supplies, such as sugar and flour, but that can change quickly.

I did notice the alcohol section was well stocked, with specials on wine, beer and spirits. So everything looks fine for those preparing for a Christmas dinner in Penang. Enjoy your Christmas preparations, whether your are in Malaysia  or wherever you will be celebrating Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving


I am coming up on my 5th Thanksgiving here in Malaysia. It seems like I just got here yesterday. Time really flies as you grow older! This year I will be celebrating in Kuala Lumpur as I have to be there to apply for my new passport. I have not had a Thanksgiving dinner while living in Malaysia and was hoping to find a restaurant that serves a dinner in KL. Unfortunately, I could not find one. Luckily at Christmas time I can purchase a turkey and prepare my own Christmas dinner.

The important thing for me is to enjoy the time with my friends and loved ones here in Malaysia, while remembering my family and friends in the US. So to all of you I wish you a very happy and bountiful Thanksgiving. You are always on my mind.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My MM2H Visa Extension

When I first obtained my Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa I was given a 10 year visa, but since my American passport was already 5 years old I received a 5 year visa stamp in my passport. This week I have to go to Kuala Lumpur to the US Embassy and hand in my application for a new visa. Three weeks after that I have to return to the Embassy to pick up my new passport and then make my way to Putrajaya, where the Malaysian Immigration office is located and receive my new stamp. It would be great if I could do everything by mail, but the US Embassy no longer sends passports by mail. Previously you could do immigration business at the Butterworth office of Malaysia Immigration, but no longer. I guess nothing gets easier.

My next stamp will be valid for another 5 years, at which time I will have to have my visa renewed. In regards to the MM2H visa there are 2 options available for those who wish to apply for the original, need an extension or a renewal. One option is to obtain services of an MM2H agent who will do all of the paperwork and legwork for you, for a fee. The other option is the "do it yourself" route. When I first applied I used an agent, as I did not have the time and money to make frequent trips to Malaysia from the US.  I also wanted to make sure everything was in order. To me the cost was well worth it. Some people, however, would rather do everything themselves, which is fine.

If anyone is interested in applying for the MM2H program and desire to use an agent you can contact me and I can give you recommendations. You can, of course, contact me, regarding any questions you have about the visa and about living in Malaysia.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Oh the Heat and Humidity!

When I first visited Penang I couldn't help but notice the difference in heat and humidity.  Boston  has some very hot and humid summers that are as bad or worse than the weather here. I had developed chronic sinusitis, had surgery for it and thought the climate in Penang would help my condition. My sinusitis was effected by even slight changes in temperature, humidity and even barometric pressure, so I thought that with the same weather all year long I would not suffer as many symptoms. My ENT physician also thought that the move to Malaysia would benefit me, at least temporarily.

I have lived here for almost 5 years now. I knew when I first moved here it would take some time for me to become acclimatized to the heat and humidity. I actually thought I was doing a good job getting used to the weather. First I started to get used to the heat and then slowly to the humidity. My biggest problem was breaking out into a rash whenever I walked too much around the area. I have always had a constant supply of baby powder around me. I couldn't walk without it! I don't know why, but I seem to sweat more than people around me. For quite a while I felt as though I had finally become use to the weather. Now I am frustrated.

In the past month or so the weather seems to have become much hotter and much more humid than it has been in the past. Even local people who have lived here all of their lives are suffering. My sinus problems have returned with a vengeance and I am not alone. I have talked with very many people who now have sinus problems for the first time in their lives. People, including myself, complain of constant fatigue, listlessness and stomach problems. For a long time I didn't post here because I was too hot and exhausted to muster up enough energy for my brain to work. Even now I am sitting at the dining room table, with 2 fans on and sweating profusely. I don't want to have to turn the air conditioning on 24/7 like many expats do, as this can be quite expensive and doesn't help me to adapt.

Viewing the destructive hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts all over the world I can't help to think that global warming does exist. Winters seem colder and snowier, summers hotter and more humid and storms more severe and more frequent. I am afraid  that the world has only just begun to see climate changes. No matter where one goes in the word they are not going to find perfect weather. I guess I'll just have to get used to it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Absolute Fitness, Island Plaza and Rumors.

Well I am sure that readers of this blog know that Fitness First at Island Plaza will be closing as of November 30 of this year. It is official that Absolute Fitness will be taking over the gym as of December 1st. After some thought I have decided to accept the offer of Absolute Fitness. It's much cheaper and the deciding feature is I can still just walk across the street to go to the gym. The only drawback is that you have to pay in advance. My worry is that with the very few numbers of people going to Island Plaza the gym won't be able to survive.

As anyone who has visited the shopping center has noticed, the place is a virtual ghost town. The only activity seems to be in Cold Storage, Guardian and Ido Ichi, the Japanese restaurant. There have been no new stores introduced into the mall at all. I did hear a couple of rumors that the anchor tenant will be Giant supermarket. Like I said this is only a rumor and it makes no sense, seeing that Cold Storage, a grocery store, is already there and not doing that much business.

It will be interesting to see if the rumors become reality and more importantly to see if Absolute Fitness and Island Plaza survive.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My First Malaysian Medical Emergency

It has been quite some time since I have published a post to this blog. I actually had intended to write about something other than what I am now writing. I will write about that later, because I feel this is more important.

I have a great Chinese cleaning lady, Lim, who comes every Thursday to clean up after us. She is about 70 years old but has 10 times as much energy as I do. Today, like any other Thursday she came to clean. A little after noon I was debating whether or not to go to lunch, since it looked like rain. I decided to wait until later. And luckily I did. I suddenly heard Lim yelling my name. I ran to see her holding on to the door frame as she was unable to move. She had finished washing the bathroom floor (the only Asian style bathroom we still have). She went to another room to get something and then returned to the bathroom, where she slipped and fell on the still wet floor. She didn't say anything at first and continued to try to work, until the pain became so bad she could not move.

She doesn't speak English that well and being frightened by her fall she had trouble expressing herself to me. Luckily my neighbors, who are Chinese, were home and we managed to get her seated. It was ascertained that there was no way she could go home by bus or any other means. She was convinced that an ambulance had to be called to take her to the hospital. She could not afford a private hospital so she wanted to go to the government hospital. At the government hospital the care would be free or very minimal. We called the condo business office who called the ambulance for us. Once again she did not want a private ambulance as it was too expensive and wouldn't let us call one. So after 45 minutes of agonizing pain for her and our feelings of uselessness the ambulance came. They didn't have a stretcher because it wouldn't fit in the elevator. They didn't have a wheelchair because they don't have one. They didn't have a collapsible stretcher. They even had to borrow the ambulance. All they had was a first aid kit! They couldn't figure out how to get her down 13 flights of stairs in the elevator to the waiting ambulance. We finally told the attendants to carry her down on a dining room chair, which they did.

She left her phone, her jewelry and a few other items with me, as she was afraid they would be stolen at the hospital. On her way to the ambulance she kept apologizing for not being able to finish her work. This was truly a sad situation, as I don't think she has anyone at home to care for her. I hope she hasn't broken her hip and her injuries are not serious. We are all waiting to hear word from her regarding her condition, but without a phone we are puzzled as to how this could happen.

For us expats we are lucky enough to be able to afford a private hospital, but the private ambulances are not any better, nor do they respond any faster. I have been told that if one needs to get to the hospital, call a taxi, if possible. Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are compared to the majority of the locals.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things I Miss From Home

Penang is noted for its variety of great food. This includes Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisine, and the many different ways of cooking each one.  As anyone not born here, but living here knows you can't find many foods that we were brought up with. Each of us expats, from many different countries, I am sure has a few favorite foods that we sometimes miss while living in Malaysia.

There are two food condiments that I am particularly fussy about. These are ketchup and mayonnaise. My ketchup, or as they call it here, tomato sauce, must be Heinz Ketchup. To me tomato sauce is what you use to make spaghetti sauce. There are local ketchups but they just don't do the job. I have to have Heinz with my french fries or I go without. One interesting thing which I have noticed here is how fish and chips are eaten by the locals. They put ketchup on the fish and dip the french fries in tartar sauce! Completely backwards for us Westerners. It is odd that in Malaysia, being a former British colony, malt vinegar is not popular. If I can't get Heinz I try for malt vinegar. Fortunately Heinz ketchup is commonly found in supermarkets here. The other condiment I must have is Hellman's Real Mayonnaise.This is somewhat less common. It is available in supermarkets carrying imported foods, but usually sells out quickly. The local brands of mayonnaise contain a lot of sugar and to me are unpalatable. If I have  friends coming back from the US or the UK I always ask them to bring me a jar of Hellman's.

I sometimes get cravings for such things as buffalo wings and pizza, which are a bit difficult to find at times. Luckily TGI Friday's has excellent buffalo wings and is the only place where you can find them. Some places have what they call "buffalo wings" but they are simply deep fried wings smothered with sweet barbecue sauce. It is difficult to find really good pizza here too. I am used to eating great pizzas from Boston's Italian North End and New York and really miss not being able to have a good pizza. The best fast food pizza is Domino's, which tastes about the same as it does back home. There is also Pizza Hut pizza, which tastes nothing like it does back home. I would go without pizza, before I would eat that.  There are local pizzas, but these are also made with barbecue sauce. Actually the best pizza I have have here is from the Hard Rock Hotel cafe and it is reasonably priced.

I grew up in a small city where there was a large Italian population and I also have Italian relatives. I then moved to Boston where once again there was a large Italian population with hundreds of great restaurants. I have not had any Italian food that can put a candle to what I am used to. The most common Italian food found here in Malaysia is spaghetti bolognaise, which is not too common in the US.  At home it is made with tomato paste which my Italian friends say is the correct recipe, but is not used here. The first time I tried it here I not only did not like it, but I got ill as well. I have given up all hopes of finding a decent lasagna, manicotti or braciole!

I had some very close Greek friends in Boston, who used to treat me to some fantastic Greek dishes such as dolmathes, souvlaki and baklava. At times, especially around Greek Orthodox Easter I wish I could sit down to a traditional Greek feast. Unfortunately there are no Greek restaurants in Penang. I have, however found a couple of Middle Eastern restaurants that serve food close to Greek style food.

Another favorite of mine, Boston lobster, is available here but it costs a fortune. I have bought it frozen and cooked it myself, but I can't afford to make a habit of it. I have seen it on the menus of a couple of Chinese restaurants, but it once again is expensive and they insist on chopping it up and smothering it with soy sauce, which destroys the distinctive lobster taste. I don't find the local lobster to be all that good, even though it too is quite pricey.  I also love cod, which is available, but it too is very expensive. I find some of the local fish just as good, so I don't miss it that much.

Other types of food which I cannot find here are Mexican, Cajun and Creole food. I can't even find the needed ingredients to cook it. I did hear that one of my favorite restaurants, Gusto Cafe, will soon be offering Mexican food. I also can't find a decent Italian sausage, either sweet or hot, anywhere in Penang. There are some okay German sausages that can be found, but as far as good breakfast sausages or polish sausages go, they are non existent.The sausages here are either tasteless or they all taste like cheaply made hot dogs.

Lastly one of my greatest weaknesses is chocolate cake. I have not found a really good rich chocolate cake in Malaysia. There are a number of good bakeries here in Penang, offering some pretty good cakes and baked goods, but their chocolate cakes just do not have a rich chocolate taste or texture. They are sort of a "light" version of chocolate cake. I have the same problem with trying to find a good apple pie. What I am going to have to do in regards to the chocolate cake, is what I did with the American style apple pie. I am going to make the cake myself, from scratch, not a mix.

I imagine every expat has an occasional craving for some comfort food from their homeland and they too wish they could find that food here. Hopefully in the future we will all be able to satisfy our food cravings by either finding the food at new restaurants or being able to buy the ingredients to make our favorite dishes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Reminder for American Senior Citizens Living Abroad

If any of my readers are Americans living abroad you already know that since you live abroad you cannot receive Medicare. If you are still in the US and thinking of retiring to Malaysia or some other country you should know that you cannot receive Medicare, even though you have paid into Medicare all of the time you were working.

I realized that point and also realized that healthcare in Malaysia was extremely good and also extremely cheap, as compared to the US. Today I received a letter in the mail from Health and Human Services providing information to American retirees living abroad. Since I will soon be 65 the letter informed me that I will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A, but will not be able to receive any benefits since I live abroad. Included with this information was an application to apply for Medicare Part B. Since I live abroad I also am ineligible to receive benefits under this part of Medicare. I was informed that I could pay the monthly payments, even though I can't benefit from it. Makes no sense to me. If, however, I decide at a later date to return to the US and want to enroll in Medicare Part B, I will have to pay a penalty of 10% on the monthly premiums. In other words I have to pay a penalty for not using something I have been paying for, for many years.

The fact that American retirees are discriminated against solely because they live abroad is wrong and unacceptable.We paid into Social Security and we can receive that. Why can't we receive Medicare benefits, for which we also paid for? It would be much cheaper for Medicare to pay our medical expenses abroad than to pay for our expenses at home. If you don't like this arrangement write to your Congressman and Senators to complain. It may not do any good, but it can't hurt.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's a Typical Day Like for an Expat in Penang?

When people retire, whether or not they retire at home or retire far from their home, their friends ask them one question. What are you going to do all day? Last year I posted a blog called "What Does a Retired Expat Do All Day?" In this post I explain what I do here in Penang, but that doesn't necessarily reflect upon what others do. I will try to point out a few more options on how to spend your time if you decide to retire in Penang.

From my blog posts you can see that I am not really a photographer, as many of my photos are taken off the cuff, by my IPhone or camera. When I post a photo it is usually just to give the reader and idea of what I am talking about. There are some expats here who love to travel around the city taking photographs of the unique colonial architecture and the everyday lives of Penang residents. My friend Mark, from Scotland, is one of these people who like to take photos of the area to share with people on his blog. Photography is his hobby and he can always be found in Georgetown taking pictures of people, buildings and places to eat. One of his other hobbies is being an unofficial tour guide for his friends who come to visit him from Scotland and other parts of the world. Check out his blog if you want to see what Penang and it's surroundings look like.

Another of my friends, is on the other end of the spectrum, as far as how he spends his day or days. Atilla (his blog name) is from Wales in the UK and has been living in Penang for about a year. Atilla is also an accomplished photographer, but he is also a bit of"party boy" who loves to have a good time.  If you want to know about the bars, pubs, nightlife and what's going on in Penang, Atilla, can help you. His blog is called "Pick of Penang" . He has some great photos of the pubs, but his specialty is taking fashion photos of gorgeous female models. You can also find useful information regarding moving to Malaysia.

I have other friends who spend a great deal of time doing volunteer work with the blind, handicapped and those less fortunate. Others are very much involved in physical fitness activities like jogging, cycling, soccer, golf and tennis. Others are involved in taking cooking classes, language classes, meditation classes or local history classes. There are many social clubs for one to join if you are into that type of activity Most people I know really get into the local culture or taking part in everything Penang has to offer.

Of course there are a few people here whose everyday life consists of going for a cup of coffee and sitting on their balcony all day drinking, every single day. It's a shame because Penang offers something for everyone. But to each his own I guess. I hope my blog and some of the ones I have mentioned can be of some help for anyone who may be considering living in Penang.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Update on Island Plaza Fitness First Closing

A few days ago I posted on this site that Fitness First at Island Plaza was closing on November 30. I, along with many of the other members, was upset and concerned about where we would go for our exercise. Yesterday I learned from a person in management at FF that the gym would be taken over by Absolute Fitness. This news come as a big relief, especially for some of us older gym members.

From what I understand when Absolute Fitness takes over there will be a change in both the business end and also the fitness end. There also will be no more Les Mills classes, which to me is not a great loss. One big change is that the membership will be significantly lower. I am not sure if most of the present sales, front desk and training staff will be retained.  It is my understanding that sometime in October the Absolute Fitness staff will meet with members to answer any questions they may have.

I wish the old Fitness First staff luck in their future endeavors and I also wish the new Absolute Fitness staff luck in a smooth and successful transition.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Special 9/11 Remembrance

As everyone knows September 11 was the 11th anniversary of the attacks of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Many people think back to that horrible day and think back to what they were doing on that day. I was at work and heard the news bulletin on the radio. Shortly after a big screen TV was set up in the hospital cafeteria so that everyone could silently watch the tragedy unfold.

Yesterday there were many memorials held all over the US. I am subscribed to the US Embassy Page on Facebook and I receive updates frequently from the embassy. Yesterday I received posts on how the anniversary was remembered in the US and other parts of the world. Today I received an update, which was a rather poignant observation of 9/11 and it's aftermath. It  contained a post from a 15 year old American girl's blog on her memories of 9/11 and what she has learned since being an exchange student in Malaysia. I think it is an extraordinary article and should be read by everyone, regardless of, if you are American or any other nationality.

Please take the time to read Musings from Malaysia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Luxury Condo Living

For all of us who live in highrise luxury condos, here is a look at where the people who build them live. No more complaints about our salaries and pensions!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fitness First is Closing in Penang

I learned yesterday that Fitness First at Island Plaza in Penang will be closing as of November 30. I must say that this did not come as a complete shock to me. The combination of management changes at the gym and the raise in rent under new management of Island Plaza I thought would kill Fitness First.

When I first joined Fitness First it was very busy and vibrant. The trainers working there had been employed there for quite some time. But then in the past year they changed the manager and then things went downhill fast. One after another trainer quit, apparently dissatisfied with the management. New ones were hired without any qualifications and only being given a 2 week training course.They then soon quit. Now, at times when I go to the gym there isn't a single trainer on duty. It is very worrisome not to have someone around in case of an accident or heart attack. This situation has been pointed out to certain members of the staff, but they did not seem concerned.

In the past few months I had noticed that there were not as many members as usual. I knew that a number of people had moved to Absolute Fitness, after being dissatisfied with FF. I thought with the closing of Celebrity Fitness in Gurney a number of people from there would end up at FF, but apparently not. The new gym at Straits Quay is attracting some attention, but not a mass exodus of members from FF. Apparently the small size of the gym and the notion of paying a whole year in advance is not too attractive.

Today I was talking with one of the Fitness First staff about the closing. According to her there is a possibility that FF will be taken over by another party and negotiations may be going on currently. I truly hope this does happen. Even with the shortcomings of the gym it was a lot of fun being there. The people at the front desk and most of the trainers were very friendly and helpful. What I would miss most of all are the other members. I have made many friends there and have enjoyed chatting with them every time I went. I would surely miss them. For me and many other retirees and expats the gym was not only a place to keep physically fit, but also a place to socialize and keep our minds active.  I hope that someone else will take over and that most of the staff will be retained. I also hope that when and if the gym is taken over it will be better managed and the new owners will offer some classes geared for the older members, who can't quite keep up with the hip-hop crowd.

Without Fitness First there will be few reasons to visit Island Plaza in the future. For me Fitness First, GNC, Guardian and Cold Storage are the only reasons for visiting the mall. If Fitness First is allowed to close, there probably will be a domino effect and Island Plaza will also become only a memory. With the FF closing the options for me and other senior members, as far as gym membership is concerned, will be severely limited. For me a good gym is just as important as good healthcare. Thanks for everything FF. I hope you can be reborn.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Penang Eatery - Gusto Cafe

One of the drawbacks of living in Penang is the lack of restaurants serving an American style breakfast, which includes real crispy bacon and sausage made of pork, not chicken or beef and the other typical elements of the breakfast. And of course no one here has ever heard of a bagel breakfast sandwich. I am sorry but I cannot get used to eating beans for breakfast or eating so called sausages that all have the flavor of hot dogs. When I just had to have an American breakfast I had to make it for myself. American style bacon is sold at Cold Storage, but they cost an arm and a leg. You can get bagels there also, but after all they are frozen and not as good as the real thing. Of course the best bagels are found in Jewish deli's back home in New York City and Boston, but there's no chance of finding them here. The last time I had a good breakfast was last year when visiting family and friends back in the US.

Last week, however, I got a pleasant surprise. A neighbor told me about a new restaurant she and her husband had eaten at one morning. She said they had "real" pork bacon and it was called "Gusto Cafe". I was very excited and decided to pay them visit he first chance I got.

Kevin and I went there for lunch one afternoon, not really believing that the place actually served American style food. We were wrong. He had the pulled pork sandwich and I had the cheese steak sandwich. The sandwiches were fabulous. I saw the carrot cake in the dessert display case and was told that all of the baked goods were home made and I had to try it. It was so delicious and it was difficult not to order another piece. The meal  was so good that we decided to come back for breakfast on the first morning we could make it. Friday morning Kevin, our neighbors and eating buddies, Linda and Cheah, and myself paid the "Gusto Cafe" for breakfast. We each had the bagel and cream cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage breakfast, which came with coffee of the day. The bacon was crispy and cooked to perfection. The sausage, which was homemade, was absolutely delicious, with a pork and herb flavoring. The bagels were wonderful, as these were also homemade, by the owners.  When we were finished everyone was completely satisfied and also were raving about how good the coffee was. I don't drink coffee much, but Kevin is a coffee aficionado and said it was perfect. After breakfast we sat and chatted for a while, when Kevin decided he wanted to stay for lunch, which we did. We had pulled pork and BLT'S and then scones. All very delicious.  If that was not enough we returned for the lox and bagels and the pancakes for breakfast this morning. Once again everything was perfect.

I had a chance to talk with the owners and some of the staff, between meals. Jason Selvanayagam and Yim Chun are the owners. Jayson used to teach English, Industrial Arts and Music at Dalat International School, but now puts his efforts into running Gusto Cafe. Along with making the bagels Jason also makes the sausages and the pulled pork. Bob Duval is the chef and Derek Smith is the barrister. There were  friends and students from Dalat who were also giving Jason a helping hand, as well as enjoying the food.

The food and atmosphere at Gusto Cafe is much like the typical American diner. And as all Americans know, the best food and friendly environments are always found in diners.  "Gusto"'s has free wi-fi and is also dog friendly. (If I only had a black lab)! There is a very relaxing atmosphere, where the patrons can read the paper, work on their laptop or chat with the friendly owners. I highly recommend anybody who reads this post and is able, to visit "Gusto's Cafe" for breakfast or lunch.  You won't regret it. Oh yes, they do have "Gus's English Breakfast" for all of our British friends who have to have the beans.

The hours of operation are: Mon. to Friday: 6:30 to 3:00,
                                             Closed on Sundays.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Fruit Vendor

Since I have been living in Tanjung Tokong I have spent a great deal of time in the Prima Tanjung shopping area. I shop at the hardware stores, drug stores, pharmacy, the 7-Eleven and I do my banking there. Nearby is a medical clinic, which I have been to and also a pet shop where I go quite frequently. My barber shop is also in this area. I have been eating my lunch at the Old City food court at least 3 times a week since I have been living in Penang. There are also many fine small restaurants, coffee shops and hawker stands in the area. Unfortunately there are a few bakeries there and also hawker stands selling pancakes and other sweet goodies. Not good for the waistline, but delicious.

Every time I finish my workout at the gym I head over to the food court to eat my lunch. Instead of getting the less healthy desserts I always stop at the umbrella of my favorite fruit vendor. His name is Lee and he has been selling fresh fruit at Tanjung Prima for over 9 years. I always get watermelon or honey dew to eat after my lunch. Lee always sees me coming and has my fruit ready for me as well as a friendly smile and friendly word. I find it much better to buy the fruit that I want in single portions, than to buy in bulk, as many times the fruit is not fresh or spoils quickly. I usually spend no more than 2RM, about 65 cents in USD, for fresh high quality fruit.

If you are ever in the neighborhood, stop and see Lee and try some of his fruit. You won't regret it. Some day I will make another post about the other hawker stands in the area. Good food at cheap prices. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Going On Vacation and More, without Leaving Town

Recently Kevin and I were planning on taking a vacation during the Raya holidays, since he had the entire week off from work. Since I started looking for a place to go a little late, the cost of all flights departing from Malaysia skyrocketed. This is busiest time for Muslims traveling for the Raya holidays, so my choices were limited. I decided to look for a nice hotel at which to stay and just relax and be waited on for a few days.

We have heard a lot of good things about the Hard Rock Hotel so I booked a room there. I chose the Kings Club Seaview room. It was a bit expensive, but I figured I didn't have to pay for airfare. The day arrived for the start of our vacation and we didn't have the stress of going to the airport, standing in line, checking in and security checks. When we got to the hotel we were led to the top floor of the hotel where our room was located and checked in there. No lines. No waiting. The room had a great view of the ocean and the beach. But what amazed us what the service and the benefits of staying in a Kings Club room.

There were 8 rooms on the floor and there was the King Club Lounge to serve the guests of the floor. Breakfast was served here in the morning, complete with eggs made to order, pancakes, porridge and pastries. At 2 every afternoon high tea was served, with not only just tea, but soda, wine and beer offered at no extra charge.  At 6 the cocktail hour was observed. During the cocktail hour , besides the wine and beer, all sorts of spirits and mixed drinks were offered and once again at no charge. There was a great selection of pastries, Chinese noodles and dim sum. Another surprise was that soda, beer and wine were served from 11 AM to 11 PM every day. All absolutely free. There was actually no reason to leave this lounge to eat or get a drink, since it was all included in the room charge. This definitely made up for the higher price of the room. One would spend much more having to go out to drink, if they paid a cheaper price for a room at other hotels.

We did, however, visit the restaurants in the hotel. We especially loved the Pizzeria. They have the best pizza I have ever tasted in Penang. They also served spicy potato wedges, which I became addicted to. The rest of the food on the menu was great and reasonably priced for a 5 star hotel. Beside the food, we enjoyed the spas, the swimming, having drinks served to us in the water of the poolside bar and the  great music, which was in every area of the hotel. The service was excellent and the staff were extremely friendly and attentive, leading to a very relaxed atmosphere. At some high end hotel resorts the staff are very formal and even snobbish, which makes relaxation a bit difficult at time.

When I first went to the Hard Rock Hotel I had no intention about posting my experiences, but a couple of things changed my mind. It had nothing to do with the hotel, the staff or their services. There are two things a hotel cannot guarantee. One is the quality of the weather and the other is the quality of the guests. As everyone knows Hard Rock Hotels are high quality 5 star hotels, located all over the world. One observation I made was more in the line of an oddity than an annoyance. I noticed one of the rooms at the lagoon level while swimming. I counted 17 people, including children occupying the room. I could plainly see a huge pile of blankets and comforters, about 5 feet high, while there was another pile of  trash consisting of KFC buckets and McDonald's trash. Even on our floor we could see the remnants of trash from KFC, McDonald's and outside hawker stands. I thought this was strange that people would even think of bringing outside food in.

The other incident was not an oddity, but more of a series of disgusting incidents. As I have said before there was a daily cocktail hour with light snacks being served. At cocktail hours alcohol is served, primarily, and thus children, according to tradition or etiquette, are not involved. If people do not drink alcohol there is plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available. We were seated at a table next to a very nice Australian couple having gin and tonics. There were about 4 or 5 children under the age of 9, but they were quite well behaved, if not out of place. Suddenly the calm and peaceful atmosphere was shattered when a couple of families, consisting of adults and teenagers entered the room like a desert storm sweeping over the area. These people were not locals or Europeans, and I really do not want to mention their nationality because I do not want to make generalisations. These people by far were the most rude, obnoxious and disgusting people I had ever observed. One teenage boy took a bottle of wine that was on display and insisted he wanted to take it back to his room. People from his country do not drink alcohol, which made this incident rather bazaar. The manager finally explained he could have wine, but it must be served by a waitress. After the boy yelled and screamed at the waitress and manager he finally gave up. The women, who were seated at a separate table with the small children, went to the buffet table and literally cleared the table of pastries to give to the table of men and teenagers. At one point a new platter of pastry was brought out and was immediately taken by the women and given to the men, who proceeded to poke at it and pull it apart to see what was inside. The didn't eat it. They just played with it. One of the moronic women had the nerve to bring the ravaged platter back to the buffet table for others to eat! I had thought I had seen it all, until one of the women reached into the chaffing dish of Chinese noodles with her bare hand instead of serving tongs and grabbed some noodles to put on her plate. After the men did not want it, she put it back into the dish. In another incident at the cocktail hour they demanded to have the staff prepare eggs and chicken for them.  When they were told it was not possible they continued to verbally harass the staff. It was quite obvious that the young staff were terrified and intimidated by these animals, but as well trained service staff they endured the appalling behavior. These same people were seen refusing to let hotel staff on the elevator, even to the point of pushing them off. These people treated the staff, who were Chinese, Indian or Malay, as objects of ridicule. A few times we saw a couple of the lounge staff, almost in tears. The other guests just looked at these uncivilized creeps in contempt and tried their best to treat the staff with sympathy and the utmost of respect.

Much of my travels have been in the US, Europe, China, Vietnam and Thailand and had rarely, if ever, had contact with people from this country. I knew of several incidents back home in Boston, where students from this country smashed their Ferraris or Maseratis in alcohol related incidents and were immediately rushed home to avoid criminal charges, including vehicular homicide. Since living in Malaysia I have seen this type of ignorant behavior a number of times before and always directed towards the local people. They may be of the same religion, but they certainly don't show any respect to people of a different race. I know the hotel could not do much to remedy this situation, without being accused of bigotry and I do not blame them. I sincerely hope that not everyone from this un-named country behaves in a like manner when they visit other countries and interact with people from different races and cultures.

A few photos of an otherwise great vacation. Sorry no photos of the disgusting guests.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Getting a Haircut in Penang

One of the easiest things to do in Penang is to get a haircut. It seems like every other business you come upon is a hair salon, or as they commonly call them here, for some reason, "saloons". When I first moved here and saw all of the "saloons" I was happy that I could get a drink without any problem. But then I realized they were salons, not bars or pubs. One of the saddest days I had was when I was going to Baskin Robbins for some ice cream. I was in the unhealthy habit of going there about once a month for some ice cream. I was on my way there for my dessert one fateful evening when I was taken by surprise. When I arrived at the store it was gone. Instead of the ice cream store there was a hair salon. Perfect! One more salon to join the existing 8 already in that small area of shops.

I don't go to the hair salons because I would rather go to one of the many barber shops, for a plain regular haircut. I don't need the fancy expensive and supposedly trendy spike jobs the young kids get. Just about all of the barbers shops are owned and operated by Indians here in Penang. It is like all of the nail shops in Boston being owned and operated by Vietnamese people.

I have been going to the same barber for a little over a year now, with no complaints, until now. The price for a haircut is 6RM (about $2USD). With this you usually get a scalp massage. As I am used to doing in the US, I give the barber a tip of 2RM or more depending on how good the haircut was. Two months ago the barber charged me 10RM, which was strange. I thought maybe he included my usual tip. Yesterday when I went for my haircut I got my usual scalp massage, this time with some disgusting peppermint oil. When it was finished I asked how much. He told me it was 10RM for the haircut and 10RM for the scalp massage. This is more than 3 times the price the locals pay. And they don't tip!

This happened with the last barber I used. I always gave him a tip on top of the regular cost. His price, without the tip, increased at every visit. For that reason I didn't go back to him and began going to my present barber. The next time I get a haircut I will point to the price list which states 6RM as the cost of a haircut and offer 6RM and no tip. I don't mind giving a good tip for a job well done, but I do mind being charged more and more at each visit. 

This type of thing happens a lot with other service providers, such a carpenters and plumbers, but I don't mind it because the prices are still reasonably cheap and as we Americans are used to giving tips for good service I really don't mind it.  I just don't like some people trying to take advantage of my generosity and habit of giving tips, by charging me extra. This action of charging expats, especially Americans and Europeans, extra is referred to as a "skin tax". Usually once you build a relationship with your service provider, you are charged a fair price, but as any other place in the world, this is not always the case.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The 3 H's of Penang, Hot, Hazy and Humid

I have been living in Penang now for about 4 years and unless my memory is failing me I cannot remember such a long continuous stretch of such hellish weather. Two nights ago I was planning on viewing the Perseid Meteor showers from my balcony, but I could hardly see across the street much less way out in space. Around 8 AM this morning the haze was once again blanketing the surrounding hills and the sea. On top of the thick haze the temperatures have been scorching and the humidity unbearable. Five minutes after taking a shower and drying off, I am soaking wet from sweat.

As I walk to the gym in the mornings, I am sweating and laboring to breathe, not knowing what this haze consists of. Even in the gym, the humidity is terribly high, partly because they don't want to turn all of the fans on. At times there is very poor air circulation. I normally have difficulty breathing and the continuing heavy haze doesn't help much. I have a few friends who have come down with respiratory symptoms similar to the flu, which their doctors have attributed to the haze.

I am amazed at the number of people who are still jogging and cycling in this weather. God only knows what pollutants are going into their lungs. Many people are seen wearing surgical masks as they travel about outside, but unfortunately they don't realize that these masks are of no use. The tiny chemical particles easily pass through these masks and into the lungs. Today in the Star newspaper there was an article on the worsening haze in this area. The article warned against open burning, but I can plainly see open fires in the kampung near my condo. I have never seen anyone take any action against these. The article also warned of acid rain which would be produced by expected heavy rains.  Today, for a short period of time, there was a torrential downpour, which cleared some of the haze away, but immediately after the rain stopped the haze returned with avengeance. The atmosphere was like an unhealthy steam room.

It is quite tolerable to live with the heat and humidity, but it seems that when it is accompanied by the haze they are magnified a hundredfold. Only many days of heavy rain will clear away the haze, Until then those with respiratory problems and heart problems should remain indoors with the air conditioning on, if possible. Many health sites also warn against vacuuming, as this stirs up dust particles, which are mixed with the air we breathe. Hopefully the problem will be gone soon and we will be able to see our clear blue skies and green hillsides.

My First Guest Blog

Since I first started my blog I have been asked a very few times if I would like to submit a guest blog or if I would like to have a website author write a guest blog here.Upon checking out the authors I did not feel comfortable agreeing to a guest blog. The offers were usually from sites promoting expensive real estate, tax services or insurance services for expats. I did not feel that these sites truly represented the average expat living in Malaysia or wishing to move to Malaysia. My feelings were that in people could afford these services they wouldn't need to search the internet for free advice and information on retiring in Malaysia.

You may visit my guest post at CheapOairTravelBlog .This site offers vacation and travel services to all parts of the world and also includes travel specialties such as medical tourism. As rated by Tnooz,CheapOair is one of the top five most popular online travel brands in the US. It offers discount airfare deals, hotel packages and car rental services all over the world

  Please check out my guest blog and have a look around the site for all of the services this site offers. If you like what you see give them your support.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Star Cruise from Penang to Thailand

Back in April we took a cruise from Penang to Thailand, with stops including Krabi and Phuket. It has taken me some time to post my experience as I wasn't quite sure how to write it. We sailed aboard the Star Libra on a 4 day cruise departing from Penang on Sunday, stopping in Krabi and Phuket, Thailand and then returning to Penang on Wednesday. This was by far the strangest cruise I have ever taken. The entire crew of the Star Libra were extremely gracious, professional and attentive in every way.  The passengers, however, were the the oddest group of people I have ever observed.

The first thing that I noticed was while waiting in line to board the ship, the passengers, instead of being in the usual festive mood for a cruise, seemed to be a bit apprehensive and not too friendly.  The second thing I noticed was that a number of people were bringing their own food, such as loaves of bread, instant noodles, fruit and other types of prepared food. Mind you meals on board were included in the package.

Each cabin was given  3 complimentary bottles of water. People could purchase soft drinks and juices at a very reasonable price, as well as liquor, beer and wine, by the glass. There were specials on alcohol, where passengers could purchase a bottle of wine or liquor or a small keg of beer. I must point out that there were only a very small number of Caucasians on board, and they along with only a couple of locals purchased any alcohol. There were some shows and other types of entertainment, which were sparsely attended. On the whole people did not mingle with others, choosing to sit almost like zombies and just watching. Kevin and I fortunately met a few Australians, who were very friendly and fun loving. We were one of only 3 groups who were drinking alcohol and seemingly enjoying ourselves. What really surprised me was that a majority of the people, even though they did not drink alcohol, did not order juice of soft drinks. They brought the 3 bottles of the free water with them and left when this was gone. There were outlets that served ice cream and candy for children, but I only say the few Westerners buying anything for their kids.

On the first night, which happened to be Easter, there was a welcoming buffet at poolside, which included Thai and Chinese food , as well as some Western food. This is where we bought our  small keg of beer that was offered at a special price and where the majority of passengers brought their free water or beverages they had brought on board. At the main table the waiters had brought out 2 large over sized bowls full of aluminum foil wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. I was shocked at how fast a number of people whipped out some plastic shopping bags and filled them with the chocolates to take home. In a few minutes the bowls were refilled, but were soon emptied in the same manner. Luckily we managed to get a couple to eat before the starving masses vacuumed them up.

Passengers had the choice of eating in the formal dining area, which served Western style food and wine or in the informal dining areas serving Chinese or Halal food. The food at the dinner with the captain was excellent. We ate one breakfast in this dining area and it was quite nice. On one occasion we had the breakfast buffet in the informal dining area. This proved to be quite an experience. The food was good and it was plentiful, which is why I couldn't understand why people had to push in front of me to grab a pastry with their bare hands instead of using utensils. I also wasn't quite used to having people burp in my face as they cut in line in front of me. I think this breakfast was the worst experience I had on board the cruise.

The stops in Krabi and Phuket were quite enjoyable. Not all of the passengers chose to disembark. Many opted to stay in the casino and gamble. Perhaps that is why they didn't want to waste their money on drinks and ice cream.  We hung around our newly found Aussie friends and had a great time shopping, target shooting, driving go-carts and having a few beers. Belonging to this group really made the rest of the cruise more enjoyable. When I returned from the cruise I  noticed I didn't have that same post cruise feeling that cruisers usually get. But all in all the cruise staff did a great job trying to get people to enjoy themselves. My suggestion to anyone thinking about taking one of these cruises, is to go in a group of friends and bring your own fun.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Pleasant Afternoon With a Future Expat

Writing this blog can be very satisfying, but what is really satisfying is to see that people read it. And what's even better is when people make comments, particularly nice ones. Recently I had the pleasure and honor of actually meeting and having lunch with one of my readers who was seriously thinking of retiring and moving to Penang.

This was actually the first time I have had the chance to sit down with a fellow American who was actually considering retiring in Penang. We had a chance to discuss the reasons why I moved here and how I actually made the move. He got a chance to ask questions, which may not have been answered on a forum or other expat sites. For Americans moving to Malaysia, banking and taxes and other logistics are not the same as they are in other countries, thus getting a correct answer from online sources may be difficult.

We had a rather candid discussion of the positives, as well as the negatives, of moving to Penang. I hope that I was able to be of some help in making a decision, one way or the other. Anyway it was great meeting Ravi, and I hope to see him again.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Visiting the Dentist is Different in Penang.

As with most people, I really dislike going to the dentist. With a certain amount of trepidation and after lots of procrastination I finally decided to go to the dentist and have my tooth pulled. For months I have been putting off this unpleasant task, suffering with weeks of on and off pain from my root canal that went bad. After waiting for an excruciating 35 minutes in the waiting room I was called into the dentist's office, sat down in the chair, opened my mouth wide and in a matter of minutes it was all over. I has my teeth cleaned and my tooth extracted.

The ordeal became even more bearable when I went to pay for what had been done. My total charge was less than $50 USD. If I had this done back home it would have been 2 or 3 time that amount. I was extremely happy that I went to the dentist today, but the short walk back home made me feel even happier. When I lived in Boston and I walked the short distance back home I dodged traffic thinking of all the money I had just given to my dentist to buy his newest Lexus SUV. When I walked home here in Penang I admired some cows grazing next to the sidewalk in a vacant lot next to my condo. These same cows just wander from plots of grass to vacant lots grazing along the way, without any one leading them on. It just amazes me that they wander freely, walking on the sidewalks and in the streets without their keepers supervising their activities. Beautiful and only in Penang!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Warmest Wishes for Ramadan.

I would like to extend my warmest wishes to all of my Muslim friends during this Ramadan. May you and your families enjoy many blessings, peace, joy and good health during this season of celebration.


Dusk at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei on the eve of Ramadan

Photo thanks to tylerdurden1

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Independence Day to All Americans, wherever you are.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish a Happy Fourth of July to all of my friends and family back home in the USA and to all Americans living here in Malaysia. Here in Penang there is a July 4th celebration at Hard Rock Hotel, but unfortunately I am passing. I am sure there are a few other celebrations going on elsewhere in Malaysia. As for me, I will have a couple of drinks and will be thinking of all of the cookouts, fireworks, parades and other celebrations my family and friends will be attending. And of course I will be thinking of the fantastic  4th of July celebration and fireworks at the Hatch Shell in Boston, with the Boston Pops Orchestra. I will always miss the 1812 Overture played with the fantastic fireworks.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hazy Season in Penang Also Brings the Durian Season

During the past 2 or 3 weeks Penang, as well as all of Malaysia and much of Southeast Asia, has come under a blanket of haze. This is a yearly occurence that is a result of fires in Indonesia, which are usually set to burn away dead vegetation on palm oil plantations. This is not a pleasant time for those with respiratory problems, as the air quality is very poor and many people have difficulty breathing.

To make this hazy season more bearable this time of year also brings us the King of Fruit, the Durian. Malaysia is famous for its durian, of which there are many different varieties. Durian is only found in Southeast Asia. The first time I had durian was in Vietnam and I liked it immediately. Durian is the kind of food that you either hate or love. There is nothing in between. Even Andrew Zimmer of the TV show, Bizarre Foods, could not eat it, even though he has eaten grubs, worms and various animal parts, most of us wouldn't eat. The smell of the durian, which some people have described as like dirty baby diapers, is very strong and could be considered offensive. In Asia they are not allowed in hotels or on buses or planes.

Last evening I enjoyed 3 varieties of durian with friends and neighbors. The tastes ranged from a little bitter to very sweet, but I found them all enjoyable. As we were sitting outside eating our durian, a couple of our European neighbors came by, holding their noses. They politely declined our offer to have some of our treats. We all had a good laugh at their obvious dislike of this fruit. I think most Westerners do not like durian and probably would not even taste it, after experiencing the smell. I remember bringing some to work at my hospital one time. I had purchased some frozen durian,  imported from Thailand, from an Asian grocery store in Boston and brought it to the pathology lab where I worked. Not surprisingly only a few of my colleagues could get past the smell and actually taste it. Only one person actually liked it. Even my friends who were born in Southeast Asia did not like it. The smell of the durian enveloped the entire department and many people thought it was from the morgue. I ended up having to dispose of the durian remains in a red bio-hazard bag!

If you live in Malaysia or you come here for a visit you owe it to yourself to at least give the King of Fruit a try. I guarantee you will either love it or hate it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What To Eat In Penang.

Every day expats, visitors and long long time residents alike are faced with a quandary. What do I eat in Penang?  You can live here for a very long time and you still will not be able to sample all of the various renditions of Penang's ethnic variety of food.  Penang has Malay food, Indian food and Chinese food, with many different styles of cooking, within those choices. Penang has what the locals call "Western Food", which is no where near true American, European or South American food, but a Malaysian version of what they think it is like. There are also a number of restaurants, some being a chain restaurant, serving European or American style food, somewhat reminiscent of "back home".

How do you know what is good and what isn't? That's a very good question for many of us expats living here. I think the best answer is for the best local food, whether it be Malay, Indian or Chinese, ask a local person, where the best food is served. They have lived here all of their lives and can distinguish good from bad or mediocre. Don't ask fellow expats to recommend food, especially if they don't ever eat in local food courts and coffee shops. Many local restaurants tone down their food in order to please the sometimes boring palates of expats, especially when it comes to Thai or other spicy foods. Locals know the best places to eat and the most reasonably priced places to eat. Never judge a book by it's cover either. By this I mean that just because a place is immaculate and beautifully decorated it doesn't necessarily follow that the food is good. Don't expect to be eating at "The Tavern on the Green" in New York City or " L'Astrance" in Paris and sampling local cuisine.

When you are eating Western food and I mean food as it is served in the West, don't ask the locals, ask expats from the West or Australia. When the locals here in Malaysia eat French, German, American (especially Tex-Mex or Cajun) and Italian food, they have nothing to compare the food with, so they don't really know how it is supposed to taste. I grew up and lived in  Italian neighborhoods and had many Italian friends and relatives, so I think I know what good Italian food is like. Unfortunately there are only a couple of good Italian restaurants in Penang. Good Italian sausage and types of hams are an integral part of Italian cooking, so replacing it with chicken just doesn't cut it. The same for German restaurants here. There are only one or two German restaurants which have food like "back home". Restaurants that tout authentic BBQ food have no idea what BBQ meat is all about. Generally they grill the meat and once it is done they pour Heinz BBQ sauce over the meat and call it barbecue. I once had so called authentic "Buffalo Wings"at a BBQ restaurant where they deep fried the wings and poured cold Heinz BBQ sauce over the wings. As far from real Buffalo wings as you can get. These BBQ restaurants are an insult to any Texan or Aussie BBQ aficionado.

When you are checking out the food blogs about Penang food, pay attention to who's reviewing the restaurants. Some of the reviewers receive free meals and feel obligated to write a flattering review. If a local blogger recommends local food, then you can be reasonably sure that the food is worth trying. If expats are recommending the restaurant, seek a second opinion, from a local. If a local is recommending Western food as authentic, remember that they most likely have never had the "real thing" and thus cannot make a comparison. Many times when I read a restaurant review I wonder if the reviewer has actually eaten there.

Actually I feel that the best way to figure out which is the best food, is not to follow the food blogs, not to listen to me, and not to  listen to the locals. Since everyone of us has his or her own tastes when it comes to food, and we live here with plenty of time on our hands, why not try every single restaurant, coffee shop, food court and hawker stand that we can find. Then we can decide what to eat in Penang.