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.

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  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.