Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Downsides of Celebrating Chinese New Year in Malaysia

I live in an area of Penang, Tanjung Tokong, which is predominantly Chinese. Just about every business is owned by Chinese people and there are a large number of eateries serving Chinese food. Living in this area is great at this time of year especially, with all of the colorful fireworks and events of Chinese New Year. I don't even have to leave my condo to watch the festivities.

For Westerners celebrating holidays back home, we are accustomed to not working on the holiday only. We can take a 3 day weekend if the holiday happens to fall on a weekend where it is then celebrated on Monday or Friday. We rarely, if ever, have more than a 2 day holiday. Businesses only close on the holiday itself. But not here in Asia during Chinese New Year.  During Chinese New Year some businesses close for a minimum of a couple of days and in many cases for two weeks. Closing for a couple of days is quite understandable, but when some of the businesses close for a long period of time, it may cause problems for some people.

Since I joined local friends to eat lunch and dinner during traditional celebrations, I was not bothered by every eatery in this area being closed. I know of some elderly expats in my condo who were inconvenienced by the closures, as they have difficulty getting around. Luckily they were able to eat at Burger King. Not a great alternative. I also know of some people who are on medications, but forgot about Chinese New Year and were unable to get their medications. Luckily the pharmacy they go to opened after a 4 day closure. I planned ahead and stocked up just before CNY. A friend's father was injured in a car accident over the weekend and had no access to a medical clinic. The following day he did manage to go to the hospital and he checked out okay.

I failed to plan ahead in one area, which gave me a bit of worry. I have a small zoo in my apartment, with 5 lizards, a cat, 2 fish tanks and a prairie dog. The pet shop where I buy live worms and crickets  for four of my lizards has been closed for 7 days now. They never put  up a sign saying how long they will be closed. I have been every day to see if they were open, as my lizards grew very hungry. Today when I went, there were 4 irate customers arguing with one of the people in the shop who was feeding the animals. The customers needed fish food and crickets for their animals, but the worker would not help them out. One of the customers said his expensive fish were dying one by one. No one was told when the shop would reopen.  Fortunately I could go to Cold Storage for cat food, the prairies dog eats oats and veggies, and one of the lizards also eats veggies. After returning empty handed from the pet shop I was very worried that some of my lizards would starve.

I had relayed my story to one of my friends who owns a stall at the food court I frequent and he informed me that he lived near a large pet shop quite a ways from where I live. He was on his way home for a break before the evening dinner hour and he said he would check out the pet shop. A few hours later he called from the food court to say he had gotten some meal worms and crickets for me. He was a life saver. When I fed the lizards they gorged themselves, happily. Now I can relax and wait until my shop reopens.

For anyone planning on moving to Malaysia or visiting during Chinese New Year, please plan ahead for things you may need, such as medication, pet food or any other necessities of life, which may run short. Doing this you will be able to enjoy the wonderful celebrations without any worries.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New year

Courtesy of the US Embassy, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


I would like to wish all of my Chinese friends in Malaysia and back home in the US a very happy, healthy and prosperous Year of Snake. Last night I enjoyed a reunion dinner with my Chinese family here in Penang. As usual it was a wonderful meal, the traditional Steamboat, which we call a Mongolian Hotpot back home. And as usual I ate too much, but after all it is only once a year. Returning back home it was nice to see all of the red lights and decorations adorning people's homes in condos or single family homes.  A little later in the evening the sound of firecrackers became almost deafening. From my balcony we could see a myriad of colorful fireworks displays. The noise and fireworks will continue for at least a week, if not two. And the eating will continue for a few more days too.

The celebrations are reminiscent of our Christmas, New Year and July Fourth rolled into one. If you have never witnessed a Chinese New Year celebration in Asia, You should really make an effort to do so. If you are celebrating please drive home carefully.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Coffee To Go, Anyone?

About a month ago I was looking out from my balcony and noticed a strange bright light perched high above the street level. I took a closer look and discovered that it was a Starbuck's sign. I soon learned that it was a drive-thru Starbuck's, the first in Penang.

I am not what you would consider a coffee connoisseur, as I really can't tell the differences among various kinds of coffees. In this heat I never drink hot beverages, but on occasion I enjoy an iced cafe latte. I have never been a big fan of drive-thrus, regardless of what is being sold, as I like to take the time to deal face to face with the retailer. So to me the opening of a drive thru-franchise is not a big deal. However, for people who work and who also love a good cup of coffee on their way to work,  having the ability to buy coffee at a drive-thru window is quite important. I have heard that since the opening there has always a long line at the drive-thru window.

Beside the drive-thru window there is also ample seating, both inside and outside. The decor is both comfortable and inviting. I have only been there twice, but I felt quite at home with my iced cafe latte and chocolate eclair. What really impressed me was that it had it's own bathrooms inside, that were very clean and well kept, which is unusual for any establishment located in a mall or large shopping area here. On my second visit, which was about 11 PM, there were quite a number of people, mainly students doing their homework. What was very strange to me was there was a birthday party being held at that time. I have never seen anyone having a birthday party at Starbuck's, but what really got me was that the party consisted of about 5 little boys around 6 years old and their mothers! I never saw 11PM when I was that age!

As this new drive-thru is rather close to my home, I will probably visit it when I want to walk through the scorching heat and humidity to sit in a comfortable air conditioned shop to enjoy an iced cold cafe latte and then return home through the scorching heat and humidity. Seriously though, I think on occasion I would enjoy the walk and visit for a relaxing drink. I am sure those that work every day will enjoy it even more.