Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year




and the WORLD

Have a safe, happy and joyous celebration and may 2014 be healthy, happy and prosperous for all.

Monday, December 23, 2013



I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope your holidays are full of peace, love, joy and friendship that will last throughout the year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Great Penang Turkey Shortage of 2013

I have lived in Penang for 6 years now and have roasted a turkey for each of those years, except for one when I bought an already cooked turkey, which was terrible. Every year I would buy my turkey from Cold Storage in Island Plaza, where they always had a good supply from the end of November until after Christmas. The largest you could buy was about 5 kg., which would be about 11 lbs. back home. This year was different.

I noticed there were about 4 small turkeys at the very beginning of December, but into the second week of December until now there haven't been any. I checked out Cold Storage in Gurney Plaza, where they were sold out until just before Christmas. I also checked out a store in Tanjung Bungah famous for their frozen meat and they had been sold out since the first week of December. Tesco's had turkeys, but they were only about 6 kg. (a little over 3 lbs.), which is the same size as a big chicken. Yesterday I finally checked out Sam's Groceria in Gurney Paragon and they too were sold out, but were expecting a new shipment in today. I reserved the biggest one,5 kgs., and picked it up shortly after they called. When I got to the store there were only 5 turkeys in all. Luckily I got the biggest one.

Each of the stores said there was a shortage of turkeys this year for some reason, but the prices seemed to be the same. I paid RM120 ($40USD). Back home the same turkey cost about RM30 ($10USD), which isn't too bad considering the poor bird had to travel over 12,000 miles! Hopefully the rest of the fixings for Christmas dinner won't be so difficult to find.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving


I would like to wish all of my friends and family back home a very Happy Thanksgiving. I must admit I really miss the traditional Thanksgiving dinner and I also must admit that I miss winter. I guess I would prefer having 4 seasons instead of 1 long hot and humid season!

Pleae enjoy your dinner and drive safely through the snow>

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gusto Cafe is Growing and Helping the Community at the Same Time

Many of my readers have read my previous posts regarding Gusto Cafe. My friends and I frequent Gusto as the food is great and the prices are reasonable. As I have said before it is the only place I can get an American breakfast and other American treats such as the pulled pork sandwiches and lox and bagles. For those who don't know what this is, it is smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagle which you eat like a sandwich. Almost like a New York City deli!

With the great success of the cafe at Hillside Gusto's has opened a second restaurant on Chulia Street. Gusto's not only serves the needs of their customers' appetite, but also serves the needs of the community in general. They help the poor by offering coffee and meals to those who cannot afford it. These meals are paid for by anonymous donors. This is something that more businesses should do. Beside helping the human members of the community Gusto's also helps our 4 footed friends in supporting groups who offer spaying and neutering and help for stray animals.

Gusto's now has their own website, which I just noticed today. Please click here to visit Gusto's website to learn more about the food and what they do for your community. And please give them your support and patronage.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to Penang After a Long Vacation

I haven't posted here for quite a while for a variety of reasons. Because of the extreme heat and humidity in the past few months I became quite lazy and didn't have the energy to write anything or even think. Then I returned home for a month long vacation.  So I am back to Penang and hopefully rejuvenated.

While back home in Upstate New York and Boston I thoroughly enjoyed eating a wide variety of food that I cannot find here. Penang has a variety of South Asian food and Chinese food, but lacks food from European and North and South American cultures. We had a chance to have some great barbecues, steaks, Alaskan King crab legs, Cajun food, Japanese, Italian, Mexican and Thai. Actually the Thai and Japanese food was just as good as we can find in Penang. We even had Malaysian food thanks to Kevin cooking Curry chicken for the family. But most of all, as usual, the highlight of the food treats was Boston lobster. We had our fill of lobster, cooked the right way, without being chopped up and smothered by sauces that hide the real lobster flavor. Best of all our lobsters, which would have cost RM 300  or $100 each, only cost $4.00 each and were plentiful. We had 6 people and 20 lobsters. We couldn't finish them all so we had them for lunch the next day.

One highlight of our vacation was a trip to Niagara Falls and the jet boat ride through the whirlpools near the falls. It was wet and fun,

Leaving for Penang at the end of our vacation I thought that the different varieties of food was the thing that I missed most, but I was wrong. One thing that I took for granted at home was the use of "real" napkins wherever I ate. Usually here, if you do get something to wipe your hands it is flimsy tissues. Also while home I forgot all about carrying packets of tissues when I go to the bathroom. But the biggest thing I miss is clean public bathrooms with real toilet paper!  I was welcomed back to Malaysia with a hurried visit to the bathroom at the Kuala Lumpur airport. There was one stall available, which I HAD to use. There was about an inch of dirty water on the floor and the toilet seat was covered in dirty, wet food prints! As I was leaving I heard an airport patron leaving one of the stalls swearing, as he had soaking wet pants from the wet floor. I said "welcome to Malaysia".

I had almost forgotten this incident when I visited Island Plaza this afternoon. Once again I had to make a hurried visit to a public bathroom as I was shopping at Cold Storage. I realized that I had not yet gotten back into the habit of carrying tissue with me, but due to urgent necessity I had to take the chance. Naturally there wasn't any toilet paper in the bathroom, but thankfully Guardian was close by where I purchased some tissues and returned to the bathroom. My luck again it was occupied. I had to wait. When I finally got in, things were back to normal - dirty, filthy wet toilet seats and a mass of water on the floor. Welcome back.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vintage Bulgaria Restaurant

Sometimes it seems that I enjoy the food so much at a restaurant that I forget to give it a mention here on the blog. This is the case for one of my favorite restaurants in Penang, called Vintage Bulgaria in Hillside. I go there with Kevin and our friends, Linda And Cheah, at least once a week.

One of the things I miss by living in Penang is good sausages, like breakfast sausages or Italian sausages, either sweet or hot. In the majority of times when you order a sausage you get a hot dog, and a very low quality and terrible tasting hot dog at that. I also hate going into an Italian restaurant and finding that the sausages are chicken sausages. So un-Italian! Other times when you order a sausage they are bland and completely lacking in any taste or flavor. Let's face it, it's the pork and the herbs and seasoning that make good sausages.

When I first visited Vintage Bulgaria I was excited by the variety of real pork sausages that were available, as well as the pork ribs. It would be difficult for me to choose one dish alone that I would call my favorite. There are 2 dishes that include both home made pork and beef sausages, the Traditional Sizzling Platter and the Bulgarian Sausage platter. I have had both of these a number of times and find them both to be superb, juicy and full of flavor. There are two ways to have barbecued pork ribs, the Crown Roast Pork and the Plovdiv Ribs, and they are both excellent. There is also a pork burger on the menu that is absolutely delicious for those who want a somewhat lighter meal. For those who may not want pork there is a Brazed Lamb Shank which I hear from Kevin is very good. I don't really care for lamb, but I take his word for it.

Vintage Bulgaria also offers a variety of pizza, with home made sausage, and pasta. The Baked Cheese Pasta is really good. And beside these European dishes there are local dishes including Thai Green Curry and spring rolls. One appetizer that is a must have is the Shopska salad. I always have this whenever I visit. I have even ordered it as my main meal when I was briefly on a diet. The salad is only 8RM, which is definitely the cheapest, but also the best salad in town.  The most difficult part of a visit here is trying to decide what to eat.

Beside the excellent food I find the Bulgarian wine to be some of the best I have tasted and I would strongly recommend the Pinot Noir. The service here is also excellent, with the owner and staff always eager to please you, the diner. I would highly recommend Vintage Bulgaria to anyone who would enjoy an evening of excellent, flavorful food and wine with a courteous wait staff in a cozy Eastern European setting. The best part of the night will be when you get the check and you see just how reasonable the prices are.
Bulgarian Sausage Platter

Brazed Lamb Shank

Traditional Sizzling Plate

Shopska Salad
Photos courtesy of Kevin Chan

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Selamat Hari Raya


To all of my Muslim friends here in Malaysia and back home in the US, Selamet Hari Raya. I hope you celebrate in style and eat  until your heart is content.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hospitalization Insurance in Malaysia


During the past few months I have had some friends who were hospitalized for varying lengths of time, one had multiple surgeries and hospitalizations before eventually passing away and another broke an ankle and remained in the hospital for a few days. I got to thinking of my hospital insurance at the same time my own policy was up for renewal, along with my home and car insurance. Also at this time I received a comment on Retired in Malaysia from Roy Steven Ung Keng Soon, a Prudential Insurance agent.

The year before I moved here, when I was 59, I talked with a Prudential agent about health insurance. She told me that I would have to sign up by the following day or else I would be too old and not eligible for health insurance. As happens quite often here in Malaysia, when you are purchasing something or signing up for a service you are told that it is a special promotion which will expire the next day. I did not want to be pushed into something as I was unsure of the exact time frame for my move here. Subsequently when I moved to Penang I signed up for Kurnia medical insurance and have been with them ever since. My Kurnia policy states that I can renew my policy at the age of 65 and up until I believe I am 80, with the permission of the company. My home insurance and car insurance have been renewed, but I am still waiting on my hospital insurance.

Last year when my insurance came up for renewal I checked with my neighbor's Prudential agent and was told that at 64 I was too old. I renewed again with Kurnia. When I exchanged emails with Roy, from Prudential, he explained that their insurance will indeed cover a person beginning at the age of 65 and beyond. Now I was confused as to why the other 2 agents told me I was not eligible.

Most of the expats I know here who are over 60 either have local insurance or have none, wishing to pay cash if needed. In Malaysia you are considered a senior citizen at the age of 55 and insurance may be difficult to obtain. There are a number of international insurance companies that advertise to expats on the more commercial retirement blogs on the web. I do not know anyone who has one of these policies as they are very expensive and their coverage is way above what one would need here in Malaysia. I think it may be time to take another look at all insurance companies' offerings.

When I first received a comment from Roy I considered it as spam, as I don't want people commenting just to advertise their products or services. I since changed my mind and that is why I am writing this post. As most people who are reading this blog, with the intentions of retiring and moving here, are near or above the age of 65, it is important that they receive true and correct information regarding this very important topic. I invite any expats with hospital insurance to share their stories and thoughts here. I also am inviting any insurance agents, who offer coverage for older expats, to share their products and information here. Hopefully we can clear up any misinformation and misunderstandings.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday America

July 4th at the Boston Esplanade
To all of my family and friends in the United States, Happy 4th of July. Enjoy the fireworks, the cookouts, the parades and all the celebrations. I hope the weather cooperates all over the country. Have a safe holiday weekend.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chillin' in Cameron Highlands

In the past few weeks it has been extremely hot and humid here in Penang and that is one of the reasons I haven't posted here in a while. In the oppressive heat and humidity Kevin and myself and our neighbors, Linda and Cheah, traveled to Cameron Highlands for the weekend. We had purchased a special priced weekend package at Strawberry Park Resort in Cameron Highlands through Groupon.

We headed out of Penang early Friday morning trying to avoid the heavy traffic of a later departure. The way there is definitely not an expressway. The road was a narrow winding two lane road with numerous hair pin turns that easily took the drivers' breath away. The scenery, however, was beautiful. The closer we got to Cameron Highlands the heavier the traffic and the more numerous the traffic jams became. Along the way there where quite a few thatched simply built stands where the hill population of Orang Asli sold honey and other hand made crafts. The Orang Asli are the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula who still live in the area. I was fascinated to see them along the way and wished I could learn more about them, but it was difficult to stop along the roadside.

We got stuck a number of times in traffic jams, which added to the time it took to get to our destination. As you approach the hamlets of Cameron Highlands there are a number of attractions, such as tea plantations, bee farms and places selling strawberries and other produce. The problem is that most of these attractions don't have parking lots and many people park along the side of the road and  some idiots simply leave their cars in the middle of the road and walk to the businesses.

When we got to our destination I was a bit disappointed in seeing that the famous strawberry farms were not actually farms, but giant prefabricated greenhouses where the strawberries were grown in  pots and not directly in the soil. The hillsides are plastered with these obscene looking greenhouses, spoiling an otherwise beautiful green view. Another disappointment was that the small kampongs were really filthy, with piles of garbage and trash lining the roads and businesses. None of us wanted to take a chance to go to the bathroom here and certainly we didn't want to eat here. The closer we got to the Strawberry Park Resort the cleaner the area was. We stopped for lunch in a busy little Chinese section of a small town and had a great lunch.

When we finally reached the resort we were relieved and very happy with what we saw. The resort was set way back in the forest from the road, eliminating any traffic noises. The architecture was reminiscent of Alpine resorts in Switzerland. It was surrounded by greenery and beautiful flowers and landscaped gardens. Once we got into our rooms we were amazed to see very large, clean and moderns rooms, with very nice views. There were no fans or air conditioners, which we later realized were not necessary, if you opened the windows. The best aspect of the resort and entire area was the much cooler temperatures. We dined outside at one of the resorts great restaurants and enjoyed wine and cheese on the balcony. For the first time in five years of living in Malaysia I actually wore a light jacket! On Saturday we did a little sight seeing. We went to a tea plantation and small strawberry farm, but there was such huge traffic jams that we decided to give up and return to the resort, where we could relax and enjoy the cool temperatures. We thought we would buy our strawberries and vegetables on the way home on Sunday morning when there was less traffic. We had a wonderful Thai dinner at the resort on Saturday and a fairly good breakfast on Sunday morning.

On our way home we stopped to buy some strawberries that looked big, red and fantastic as well as some nice tomatoes and some honey corn. We bought everything at one stall so as not to waste time and to avoid traffic jams. The ride home was not as bad as the ride there, and took a bit less time. We arrived in the Penang heat and humidity about 4 hours after we left Cameron Highlands. After being in the breezeless heat for an hour it seemed as if we had never left.

I think everyone should make the trip to Cameron Highlands at least once, to say they have been there. The strawberries were sour and tasted nothing like strawberries. The tomatoes were dry and tasteless, as were the peppers we bought. The corn, however, was great. When we got back and talked to people they all said don't go there for the fruit and vegetables, and definitely not the strawberries.  There also is one other point I would like to make about visiting Cameron Highlands and that is the altitude is about a mile up. I suffer from breathing problems and Linda does also and the increased altitude made it a bit difficult to breathe. Just walking up a small incline caused me to stop and catch my breath. I Googled what effects high altitude, even a small increase, could have on people. I discovered that smokers and those with shortness of breath and COPD will have a good deal of difficulty. The other problems may involve trouble sleeping, excessive intestinal gas ( which was no fun), increased urination and dehydration. My breathing returned to normal on the day we left. My research indicates that most people become acclimated to the altitude in just a few days. Other than those problems and the quality of the produce it was nice to cool off, enjoy some good food and drinks and have somebody wait on me.
Strawberry Park Resort entrance

Tea plantation

Tea Plantation

Tea plantation visitors

One of the many traffic jams while shopping. Notice the hairpin turn.

Mushrooms to grow

Strawberries in pots ( a strawberry farm)

Linda and Kevin at Cameron Highlands Resort.

Linda at high tea at Cameron Higlands Resort

Strawberry Park Resort exterior.

Kevin and myself outside our room.

Linda and Cheah outside their room.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Sunday Road Trip

I had a great day this past Sunday, when I accompanied my friend Trevor on a bit of a road trip across the bridge on the main land. The plan was to explore the area around Kuala Sepetang and then have a seafood lunch. No maps were involved. We didn't need a map or tour guide, as Trevor is quite the history buff when it comes to the history or Malaysia.

We left Penang island about 9:30am and headed across the bridge to the mainland. It was quite strange, that for a Sunday morning, there was very little traffic. We followed the signs for Taiping and went off the main road looking for our destination. The scenary was beautiful along the quiet country  roads,  dotted by beautiful old Malay style houses. Along the way we could see charcoal factories, which after fishing in the main commerce of the area.There was an abundance of greenery as far as the eye could see. We finally came to what could be called the center of town, which in the late morning seemed to be quite sleepy. But when we left this became the hub of village activity. There was a welcoming old sign designating the area as Port Weld, which was the former name of the old fishing village. This is the only remnant of the old Port

We walked around the town area and then investigated a few of the docks along the river's edge. Small groups of women were busy in the small shops, adjacent to the docks, seperating cockles and clam shells, that were apparently ground up and sold as fertilizer and poultry feed. Looking for a parking space we almost made the mistake of parking in what appeared to be a parking lot, but was actually an area for drying shrimp and different varieties of fish. We noticed many food stalls selling some tempting looking noodle dishes, but we were here for the famous seafood. Port Weld was the site of the first railroad in Malaysia, but the rails are long gone and we forgot to look for the ruins of the old station that remain.

Finally it was time to eat and we had to decide upon a restaurant. The first place we visited seemed to have only a few fish and no customers so we decided to look elsewhere. We noticed a red roofed restaurant with a second floor dining area overlooking the river and gave this a further look. It had a beautiful view of the river and the mangrove swamps and was sheltered from the sun. There was also no one else there, but they did have quite an array of seafood. As we were both hungry and the time was getting late, we ordered and ate. We soon realized that we were a bit early for lunch, when suddenly the restaurant became quite busy.

We had streamed fish, small clams known as lala, crab, deep fried squid and of course beer. I must now apologize for forgetting to take photos of the wonderful meal, but I did take some of the surroundings. Everything was absolutely delicious and not a morsel of food was wasted. The service was great and the owner was very attentive, even giving us a complementary dessert. While we were finishing our meal a number of people came up to us and asked where we were from and welcomed us to town. Apparently not too many Westerners come here as tourists. What a shame! We sat and finished our beers admiring the mangroves, the fishing boats unloading their catches and the many boats carrying logs to the charcoal factories. Suddenly the weather changed with a thunderstorm arriving from upriver giving us torrential rains all the way back to Penang.

There are many well publicized tourist attractions around Malaysia, but the best spots are those less traveled, which are only a short road trip or two from Penang. I would strongly advise you to ditch the  high end touristy destinations and look for where the real people of Malaysia live and work. You will discover a lot of history and great people. If you are interested in visiting Kuala Sepetang and haveing a great lunch or dinner, the name of the restaurant is Makanan Laut Kang Kao, located at No. 151-A3 River Side. Tel. No. 05-8581335. There are also guided boat trips down the river and to the mangrove swamps. Happy motoring.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam

One of the best things about living in Penang is that it is close to many desirable locations in Southeast Asia for short or long vacations. I have been to Saigon and the southern part of Vietnam a few times, but Kevin has never been. So a while back we decided to take a vacation in Hanoi and Halong Bay.

We searched online and found a very reasonable rate for a private tour that included a few days in Hanoi and then a few days in Halong bay and the surrounding area. This included an evenings stay on a junk anchored in Halong Bay.

Visiting Hanoi we had to suffer through the visit to Ho Chi Minh's tomb and listen to the prepared speech while standing under a blazing hot sun for 2 to 3 hours. This is a mandatory stop for any tour group visiting Hanoi. Once you get through the propaganda and hearing that Ho Chi Minh had been voted the most popular leader in the world for the past 20 years,  the rest of the day is fine. The accommodations in Hanoi were very nice and included a Continental breakfast. The pastries served in the hotel restaurant were great and the cocktails were cheap and plentiful.

After a couple of days in Hanoi we traveled by van, with the tour guide, to Tam Coc for an evening stay and a tour of the night market. While there we took a small boat ride along the river to see the numerous beautiful caves along the banks. It was interesting that when we got out in the middle of the river, the woman steering the boat stopped dead in the water. Out of no where another woman in a small boat appeared to sell us anything and everything. She had everything from Coke and snacks to clothing and handicrafts. If you didn't buy something you were in for a rather long wait until you did. It was a pleasant experience, however, and she could make change in any currency!

From there we went to Halong Bay, where we stayed in a very nice hotel with a fantastic view of Halong Bay. The next day we went, via junk, to Halong Bay where we spent the night along with a number of other junks anchored in the bay. There were 7 people in all aboard our junk. That evening we were served a fantastic meal of local seafood and wine. I must say that this was one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. After dinner the mandatory sale of souvenirs began in earnest. After we had bought a few tokens we settled in for a very nice evening of drinks and conversation, with the others, who were from the US and Israel. The scenery of Halong Bay is absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable.

The next day we made our return trip to Hanoi for our last night of the trip. The staff of the hotel went out of their way to make our stay as pleasant as possible. They even stopped on their way to work to buy us the traditional coffee that the locals use, instead of the touristy stuff. The next day was another nice breakfast and off to the airport for the return trip to Penang.

One thing that I noticed was that the tour guide went out of his way not to show us poorer areas of the country. We did not have too much of an opportunity to interact with he locals, as the only ones we met who could speak English wanted "dollars". I was constantly approached in public with the greeting, "hey Joe you got dollars?" Kevin being Chinese was not approached. I thoroughly enjoyed Hanoi and Halong Bay, but I find the people in the South to be more friendly and not motivated so much by the dollar. But the scenery and the food is well worth the trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Memorial Day America

Happy Memorial Day to all of my family and friends back home. Enjoy the long weekend, the picnics, the parades and the barbecues and drive safely.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dinner at Gusto Cafe

I have eaten breakfast and dinner many times at Gusto Cafe in Tanjung Bunga and as I have said in a previous post, A New Penang Eatery - Gusto Cafe, this is the only place where you can get a real American breakfast, with real pork bacon and pork sausages. They also have great American style hamburgers, sandwiches and pulled pork.

For a very long time I have been anxiously awaiting their opening for dinner. Finally that time has arrived. Gusto's is now open for dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 5:30pm until 9pm. Tonight I had my favorite, double jalapeno bacon burger and carrot cake for dessert. I had never noticed before that they served beer, probably because I usually never have beer for breakfast, so I enjoyed a couple of ice cold Tigers. And they were cheap too!

Gusto's is open every day except Wednesday from 7am to 2pm, and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 5:30pm to 9pm. The new hours begin today, May 24 and if things go well the evening hours will continue. So please give them your support and have a great dinner, at reasonable prices at Gusto Cafe.

Sorry I didn't take any photos. I was too busy eating and drinking!

Happy Wesak Day

I would like to wish all of my Buddhist friends around the world a very Happy Wesak Day.  May peace, harmony and enlightenment always be part of your life.