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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing Retired in Malaysia and My Other Blogs

When I decided to retire and moved to Penang many friends asked me what I would do with all of my newly found time. I must admit that I didn't know the answer to that question. Once I moved here I really never became bored. I have my animals to care for and my blogs and writings.

My friend Kevin and I have 2 aquariums, 5 lizards, a cat and a prairie dog.  They all have to be fed, cleaned and cared for, but I will leave the details for another post. Shortly after I moved here I was looking for a way to both pass my time and perhaps make a little money at the same time. I discovered blogging. That is when I created Retired in Malaysia, to describe my move here and my experiences living here as an expat. I soon discovered that my life here is neither adventurous nor all that exciting. It is different though, at times. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide what to write about and sometimes writing can be very difficult.

I usually try to write this and my other blogs in the evening to make sure I can reach the most available readers I can. There are two factors that affect the writing of my blogs. One is, that at times the the temperature is hotter than hell and the humidity is unbearable. I have to say that I have been in Penang for almost 5 years and I still cannot get use to the heat and humidity. The second factor affecting my writing is that the internet connection is deplorable. I have tried about four ISPs and found that none of them are really any good. At first I thought the slowness of the connection was totally the fault of the ISP, but I later learned that it was the cheap and inferior wiring used in my condo complex. When I write a blog post I first write it, prepare to include photos, publish it and then promote it. This actually takes about 45 minutes to an hour, but with my terrible internet connection this can take up to 3 hours, if it is accomplished at all.

After starting Retired in Malaysia I found that I had a lot of things to say, which did not relate to my retirement here. I was particularly interested in politics and social issues back home in the US. I then started a blog called Steveso Thinks. Here I can rant and rave about the idiotic politicians back home and other issues dear to my heart. Be careful if you check it out. I tend to be quite liberal. As I said previously, I had hoped to make enough money for a cup of coffee or a beer through writing these blogs. That is why you see advertising on my blogs. When someone clicks on an ad I make a very small pittance. To be honest I do not make enough money to pay for the expenses of promoting them and having a private domain for them. I have to thank a couple of my readers who have made donations to help support my efforts. I just recently created a new blog about helping people decide on buying consumer electronics, where they can ask questions and actually order items from the site. My new blog, called Help Me Make Up My Mind, is only a couple of weeks old and has no followers, unfortunately. Hopefully I can make some money here to pay for the domain registration.

Sometimes I can spend many hours a day on writing and promoting my blogs and thinking about what to write. I have gone from wondering what to do with all of my spare time to wondering where all of the time went. I think as you get older time goes by faster and you accomplish less! I hope I haven't bored my readers, who may have been expecting an exotic post, with this rather mundane topic. Last year I wrote a post on a what a typical day is like for an expat living in Penang, so if you are interested you can read it here. Please continue reading my blog and consider reading my other blogs. I really do appreciate everyone's support.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The True Face of the Malaysian Expat Community

There are many expats who live in Penang and all over Malaysia, but there are also a great number of these people who, to me, live a disconnected life here. I was having lunch the other day with a fellow expat, who I don't often see, as he is taking a very active part in the life of Penang and the rest of Southeast Asia. We had a discussion about expat life here and how some expats view themselves. We were both in complete agreement that some expats are just existing here, instead of living.

When I got home I began to think more about our discussion and became a little upset with a few things expats do or do not do.  One situation which really upset me was an article I recently read on an expat blog or forum. Malaysia has just had an election where the ruling party of over 50 years was narrowly reelected. As in any close election there were some very deep feelings and emotions. As an expat I do not feel that I, or any other expat. has any business in getting involved in Malaysian politics. In this article the author was commenting about the election results, and more or less saying the outcome was a good thing - not for Malaysian, but for him. He was worried that if another party had taken over he might be economically effected. In other words he was more interested in HIS well being than the average Malaysian citizen!

These same people are the expats who belong to all kinds of groups compromised of only expats and discuss how to better their lives here, rather than how to join in celebrating the various cultures here. These are the same people who have 1 or 2 token "local" friends here to show off to their friends back home. These are the same people who are too "snooty' to eat in local coffee shops, food courts or hawker stands, preferring only dining where they have a tablecloth, flowers and silverware and they don't have to get their fingers dirty. These people are the same ones who spend their time going to the liquor store, Starbucks or Coffee Bean and then back home to sit on their balconies to get trashed. Why are they here?

These people are an embarrassment to the majority of expats who live here. I have a friend who love Penang and is very active. She does exercise classes and runs in marathons, not just with her fellow expats but with everyone. She also spends a great deal of here time volunteering for the elderly and handicapped of Penang.  I know of another person who works hard to share the art and culture of Penang with the worlds. There are many people who have immersed themselves in the local culture so well that they sometimes forget they are expats. These are the people who are the true face of the expat community here.

Penang also has a lot to offer in the areas of the arts, music and entertainment. There are many recreational and sports acitivities to lure those interested. One thing that many expats don't know about is the very active and varied night life in Penang. Soon I will be posting a Guest Post by the author of Pick of Penang, a real expert on Penang night life.

If you are really interested in coming to Penang to live please take an active part in your new community and enjoy the food, the people, the culture and your new life.  Don't become a transplanted garden gnome.