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.