Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese New Year Day 9, The Jade Emperor's Birthday

The Year of the Dragon continues to be celebrated by the Chinese community here in Malaysia. Today is the ninth day of the Lunar New Year and the birthday of the Jade Emperor.  According to Chinese tradition the Jade Emperor is one of the most important gods, who governs the heavens. Today the Chinese will close shop early to pray to the Jade Emperor, as he judges their good deeds here on earth. So for all of those expats who frequent local food courts and coffee shops, you better look elsewhere to eat.

This past week has been a very busy and hectic week celebrating the Chinese New Year. I have had a great deal of wonderful food to eat and more than my share of drinks too. I gave up visiting the gym last week, as I was either to busy eating or just plain exhausted. Now that it is half over, the eating celebrations have waned, but the fireworks and firecrackers continue nightly.  On the actual day of the Chinese New Year I think I counted no less than 15 fireworks displays observed from my balcony. There were tens of thousands of firecrackers going off well into the early hours of the morning. Sometimes the firecrackers would continue going off for 5 minutes or more. I could see many small children running around with sparklers having a great time while the older kids had the heavy duty fireworks. Unfortunately, there was one obnoxious idiot shooting off rockets from his townhouse terrace directly into the townhouses opposite his. Luckily there was no fire, but the window was shattered. Even when security warned him, he arrogantly refused to stop his irresponsible behavior. There is always one idiot who thinks he is above others. Other wise the fireworks have been quite enjoyable.

There have been several Lion Dances in the neighborhood, the condo and even in the gym. I was chastised by an elderly Chinese woman in my building for sweeping up the debris from the exploded firecrackers. According to her beliefs, I was sweeping away all of my good luck. Too late now. The fireworks will continue for the next 5 days and then things will go back to normal. I hope all of the expats living in Malaysia have had the chance to take part in some of these Chinese New Year festivities. For all of those thinking of moving here or just visiting here, you should plan on celebrating the next lunar new year.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year


One of the greatest things about living in Penang, is that one can observe and partake in all of the varied cultural celebrations every year. The Christmas holidays are over and now Penang, Malaysia and Chinese all over the world prepare to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year 2012,  the Year of the Dragon. The official Chinese New Year is January 23, but the celebrations can last as long as 15 days. Most businesses owned by Chinese will be closed for about 4 days. So people who are used to eating in the local food courts and coffee shops, have to find someplace else to eat for a few days. Everything slows down to a crawl at this time of year. Except for essential services, not much work will be done for a number of days. Anyone wanting to have painting, electrical or carpentry work will have to wait until after the Chinese New Year. It is a time of celebration, not work.

For those people like myself, who are expats, this time of year is another excuse to eat. This year Chinese New Year closely follows the Christmas holidays, so the extra weight will easily pile on. Also for people like myself, who are privileged enough to have a close relationship with a local Chinese family, celebrating Chinese New Year with them is both an honor and a a fantastic experience. One again I am looking forward to enjoying the traditional Reunion Dinner of Steamboat, or as people in the West know it, Chinese Hotpot. Of course I will have to drink a few toasts with special Chinese wine from China. I think this wine actually doubles as rocket fuel. There will be many special dinners and treats all through the holiday period and I don't plan on missing any of them.

Aside from the wonderful food and sharing meals with friends, there are fireworks daily for the entire 15 days. As I am writing this blog this evening, I can see and hear fireworks displays, even though the official New Year has yet to begin. Firecrackers will soon be heard into the wee hours of the morning, every day for 2 weeks. It can sometimes be bothersome, but it is part of ancient tradition that goes back many hundreds of years, since the invention of gunpowder. I will try to share some photos and experiences of my 2012 Chinese New Year with readers of my blog in the next few  days.

But in the meantime I would like to wish all of my Chinese friends here, and in the US and all over the world, a very Happy Chinese New Year.

                Gong Xi Fa Cai

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

To Tan or Not To Tan.

I have been living in Malaysia for about 4 years now and I walk every day in my neighborhood. Rain or shine. I can feel the hot sun beating down upon me and I also most always sweat profusely. When I returned to the US in August some of my friends mentioned that I was as white as when I left. I had no color. I had noticed this phenomenon before and have discussed it with some of my Western Caucasian friends, who also had no color. They couldn't explain it either. I have seen some Caucasian women with a very dark tan, who probably spent a lot of time lying in the sun. I haven't seen too many men with a tan though.

When I lived in the US, the months of July and August were much the same as the heat and humidity here in Malaysia. I didn't spend as much time walking in the sun in the US, but at the end of the summer I had a tan. When I returned to Malaysia from my 3 week vacation in the US I had a tan, which was quite noticeable by friends and acquaintances. Amazingly when I returned to my regular routine of walking in the sun every day, my tan faded. I don't get it. It's not as though I want to sunbathe all of the time to get a tan, that most people here were born with, but I don't understand why I don't get any color at all. Very strange.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Penang Theme Park Addendum

I have received a few comments on my previous post about the theme park to be built in Penang. I must apologize for my lack of sensitivity in this article. I admit that I was extremely concerned about the impact on the environment and the local infrastructure, while ignoring the benefits to the local economy. I agree that this project will bring much needed jobs to Penang and will offer these benefits even after the project is completed. And yes I was commenting on expensive condos being developed. I should have pointed out that these condos are being built for foreigners like myself, even though I can't afford most of them. What I should have said was that these may be fine, but what should be built is affordable housing for local people. I also commented on the building of shopping malls, which many locals cannot afford to shop in. Personally I enjoy shopping at local shoplots , where I can find cheaper prices and a wider range of products. Even though I am an expat, I really do feel that what should be done in Penang, should be done for the benefit of the locals and not for expats. These are only MY opinions and not everyone will agree, and I do welcome other opinions and viewpoints.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Penang Theme Park Looms in the Future

During the last couple of weeks as I watched the bumper to bumper traffic on Jalan Tanjung Tokong, I kept reminding myself to write a post on a future project being developed for Penang. Today, after waiting to cross the road in the extremely hot sun, I promised myself that I would do it today.

The new project I am talking about is a water theme park to be built in Taluk Bahang with the first phase opening in 2013 or 2014. Sim Leisure is set to start work on the RM120 million Escape Theme Park Resort to be built on a 44 acre plot of land in Taluk Bahang. Apparently this park will be constructed in three phases over a 6 year period of time.

What gets me is that this theme park is touted as an "eco-friendly" theme park. The park will be located on 44 acres of forest land, which will be completely destroyed in order to built an artificial water park. The habitats for hundreds of species of animals, plants and insects will be destroyed, and no doubt  replaced with fake animals, rocks and plants in the park. Okay now if you look just a few hundred feet from where this proposed theme park will be located you will see the ocean, containing sea water and sea creatures.  Thousands of tourists come to Penang to take part in recreational activities in these waters and no alteration of the sea needs to be done. I can see a water theme park being built in a location that is miles away from a large body of water, but destroying acres of rain forest to place a water park, right next to the ocean is ludicrous.

Tourists flock to Penang for hiking in the rain forests, the scenery and water sports, such as diving, fishing, swimming and jet skiing. Many people, from all over the world, return year after year to enjoy the splendors of this tropical island. Theme park goers, usually go once and that's all. After the rain forest is gone and the natural waters of the sea have become muddied and polluted, how many foreigners will want to come just for a theme park, which can be found in many other countries of the world?  How many will come to see an artificial ecosystem, where a real ecosystem once thrived? Just take a look at Gurney Drive. When I first visited Penang about 7 years ago there was actually clean water next to Gurney Drive. After the real estate developers got their way with land reclamation and over development nearby, there is nothing but a disgusting polluted mud flat. In the hands of the developers it is almost a sure thing that the same thing will happen to Taluk Bahang.

Aside from the rape of the rain forest and pollution of the seas, what will be the effect upon the rest of the area.  I have noticed in the past 4 years since living here that there is a plethora of condos, super condos and shopping developments being built left and right. Another thing that I have noticed is that the infrastructure remains the same. It seems that with every new development the developer is given free reign,at the expense of the environment. With the development of the new theme park a number of new hotels will be built to accommodate the thousands of visitors to the park. There has been no mention of improvement of roads or public transportation or other aspects of the infrastructure, only how much money will be made. At present there is only one, winding 2 lane road from Tanjung Tokong to Taluk Bahang and nothing else planned for the foreseeable future. There will be traffic jams of epic proportions and a complete nightmare for people traveling to and from Batu Ferringhi once the park is completed. Before that time there will be a steady stream of mud spattered construction vehicles impeding a free flow of traffic for thousands of local residents.  Walking along the streets of Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah, I see uncovered drains filled with sewage and garbage, running beside the sidewalks, if indeed there are sidewalks. Looking down I see paper and plastic bags, garbage, old tires and other items of trash. Looking up I see neon signs, brand new buildings and elegant stores and restaurants. Millions are being spent on bling, while nothing is being spent of the environment, the infrastructure or the health and future of the island.

I realize that myself, like thousands of other expats are only visitors or guests in Penang and are not involved in community policy making decisions. But for many of us Penang is our home and the home of our local friends and relatives. We cherish the culture and the beautiful environment of the island. We don't want it all to be destroyed by greed.