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.