Knowing nowhere is paradise, today I’d like to discuss three pet peeves I have with Malaysia. Obviously everything isn’t heaven on earth no matter where you live and an expat blog should include the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between if you expect readers to get a real sense of daily living. Therefore, in the interest of good reporting (and because I have nobody else to complain to), I present my top three things that irritate me after the first month of expat living in Malaysia.
Yes, I know it’s Asia and I’m aware North Americans are ridiculously spoiled by consumer products priced so low that everyone can afford basic necessities of life But cmon, man. Achieving “fully developed status” won’t happen until they find a way to get towels and toilet tissues into bathrooms. In their defense, the nicer businesses and malls have installed hand dryers, although they’re relatively useless in the 95% humidity and half of them are inoperable anyway. Nothing bothers me more than needing to wash up after an awesome hawker meal,and finding soap, water and nothing to dry with. Equally frustrating is finding a stall (as opposed to a pit shitter like most of Thailand), doing your business and then discovering that the cost of paper goods apparently outweighs the need to give something to wipe your butt with. Even hotels and upscale malls refuse to splurge on what all Westerners consider basic necessities (Note to government: Upscale tourists from Hong Kong and Singapore think about things like this when choosing a destination). Anyway, for my two cents, this needs to change.
2) Fitness Problems
Although far from the in city, our condo would generally be considered luxurious by Malaysian standards and in most cases, it is. Unfortunately, most Asian development companies haven’t gotten wind that much of the developed world understands that a sugar filled diet with fried delicacies all over leads to very bad health, obesity, high blood pressure and other issues I’d rather not encounter. Clearly the best way to offset this is daily exercise and most expats expect convenient and proper fitness facilities included with their “luxury condo”. Almost every place we looked at had a sad excuse for a gym and ours is no different. Sporting a world-class Infinity pool that they spared no expense on, someone forgot to include a real fitness center. Approximately the size of our utility closet, our version is a closest sized room with one elliptical, a treadmill, two machines for lats and chest pulls, a small bench, some hand weights and one exercise ball. With 32 floors and 4 units on each level, it doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that the facilities are inadequate to serve a fully occupied condo. Of course that’s another topic and lucky for us this and most of the other ten dozen overpriced condos that are ruining the island remain mostly unoccupied so all I need to do is arrive at 7 AM and I have the little closet sized “gymnasium” to myself. Note to developers: How about some free weights, more machines, mats, and worst of all; for pete’s sake, offer a water cooler and gym towels if you want to sell units for over Two million ringgit (we rent for 3,200 so thankfully that’s not us).
3) The Public Transit Website
Having complimented Penang’s fleet of comfortable and frequent buses that makes life without a vehicle relatively easy, I’d be remiss without mentioning one spot that’s sorely lacking; Route Maps. Familiarizing oneself with Penang Island doesn’t take that long but understanding the strange intricate routes chosen by Rapid Penang is a different issue. Visiting the website or downloading the app gives a general overview of the routes but fails to offer route maps. Illustrations of the system include small little lines much like the ones in airline magazines that use circular arcs to show where they go. Since buses can’t fly, this is silly and ridiculous. Sorely lacking information where it’s most needed, someone needs to hire a cartographer and complete the missing link to the website. Fortunately, the drivers are amazingly friendly, respectful and helpful to everyone and our experience has shown they make extra efforts to help foreigners and tourists which is unusual in many other cities around the globe where drivers hate their jobs and it shows.
And that’s it for now. Continuing the story from here with an example, yesterday Diane and I decided to partake in one of the free walks offered on the last weekend of every month. Locating the Botanical Gardens on Google Maps, we went to Rapid Penang’s website and it told us to take the Number 102 bus which runs from the airport to the Penang National Park and stops right in front of our house but with much more limited service than the island’s main route, the 101. Seeing the start time at 9:30, we set out just after 8 as soon as we saw the website show that a bus was nine minutes from our stop. Running down the hill, we just caught the bus and luckily the driver agreed to stop 20 feet past the stop, a rare occurrence as any Penangite will tell you. Happy we made it, we wondered why the bus didn’t go the landmark that the website told us to get off at but instead continued all the way downtown, the same as the 101. Eventually we asked the driver who laughed and dropped us off at Komtar, the island’s tallest building and second biggest bus depot where we transferred to the number 10. Following a roundabout route like I described earlier, we arrived with two minutes to spare and patted ourselves on the back for allowing 90 minutes to go a few short miles.
Entering the Penang Botanic Gardens, you leave the noise and traffic behind and enter a peaceful oasis, albeit not so much on weekend mornings when throngs of joggers, yoga enthusiasts and tourists occupy the grounds. Meeting our Chinese guide, all locals filled out the group and there was even one guy from San Francisco who moved here just us (it was fairly obvious due to his aggressive question asking and lack of any accent). Here’s some pictures from the main trail that leads up and branches out into nine or ten different options that lead to various gardens and attractions.
Easily one of my favorite parts of living in Malaysia are the monkeys. Unaware they had such tame monkeys that peacefully coexist with the birds, tourists and other animals, these little guys just walked in front of us as soon as walked in. Describing them as the park’s local residents, our guide said they’ve been chased out of their natural habitat and there’s so many people and so much to eat, they just became tame and indifferent to people. Unlike monkeys your encounter in the National Park that will follow you and even jump on your backpack in search of food, these guys looked like monkeys on sedatives and make great companions to the natural environment, although they can’t survive in the wild because they’ve lost their instincts to survive which kind of sucks I guess.
Taking us into the garden’s extensive orchid enclosure, a guide explained that wild orchids only flower once or twice a year and this is the right time of year but we did manage to find a few with flowers. Unaware that the tropics had a “season” since it’s always the same weather, we look forward to next spring when the hunt for wild orchids is on.
Wanting to spend more time in the gardens, my phone started going crazy with missed voicemails once we returned to the main area and cell service returned. Leaving multiple messages, our property agent was desperately trying to get hold of us because a few days earlier we emailed about issues needing attention by their contractor in our condo unit. Being Malaysia, they always contact you with no advance notice and tell you they’re ready to come now despite asking for a 24 hour notification. Being Saturday, we didn’t expect this and told her we were far from our condo but she persisted under the argument that they’re at the mercy of contractors, our place is far, and there seems to be some timeframe whereby we have a short window to get our issues fixed and after that it’s forever hold your peace. Perhaps too efficient, workers often contact you ahead of when they say which should be a positive thing but can prove inconvenient when the bus and Uber are your primary modes of transportation. Anyway, we decided to go home and since the number 10 bus wasn’t leaving from its terminus at the gardens for 40 minutes, we walked the one mile back to meet our 101 bus.
Along the way, we came across several Indian temples and organizations. Proving they’ve been here a long time, they claimed a lot of prime real estate along the road to the gardens.
With lunchtime approaching we searched for a place to eat along the way and came across a Korean restaurant. Wanting to try Korean for a while, the owner let us in even though it was 20 minutes before their posted opening but refused to turn on the enormous air conditioner as we sat with sweat dripping in the table. Sadly, Korean is probably the most expensive food on the island, outweighing New Zealand beef, shrimp and even lobster. Choosing some steamed dumplings with homemade sauce and pork, bee bimbap and Jap-Jae, they brought out an oversized portion filled with fresh ingredients and a set of six appetizers including the best Kim Chee I’ve ever had. Cooked to perfection, it’s unfortunate that one of the healthier options that rarely uses any palm oil or fried ingredients found in the inexpensive but delicious hawker stands, the bill came in at 110 ringgit. Even using the favorable exchange rate, $30 lunches are not in the budget of early retirees that need their cash to last 40 years or more so we enjoyed the meal thoroughly and resigned to having it as a once in a while treat.
Arriving back at the condo, the contractor was over an hour late which frustrated us but when he arrived, he was a little Chinese guy shorter than Diane but with a great personality and after he finished inspecting the problems, he continued to chat and asked us if we needed a ride downtown since he knew he inconvenienced us. Typically well spoken and friendly, Malaysians haven’t yet learned how to be rude and short with clients even when they’re so overworked that the job overwhelms them. Nice touch but let’s see if it lasts as the country gains more wealth and status. Not waiting to take any more buses, we went to a little secret discovery I made in Batu Ferrenghi. Past the Holiday Inn there’s a little street that leads down to the beach and has some food courts set right in the beach. Peacefully serving only a few patrons, we sat down and watched the sunset while ordering a delicious and inexpensive meal of grilled stingray, bean curd clay pot and Singapore style bee-Hoon.
Intersetingly, at just about everywhere we’ve been, the beverage choice variation is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. Usually we just want Coke Zero and some places actually accommodate but many have no soda or even mineral water (the term used for bottled water in Malaysia), but always have some combination of fruit juices, iced teas or other beverages that compliment the meal quite well. Usually wanting to avoid the sugar, I tend to avoid them but this place offered a lime and plum juice that had the perfect combination of slightly sweet, tart and sour all together and complimented my food perfectly.
With our first month almost complete, it’s been an interesting and fascinating journey and getting set up in Malaysia was even easier than we thought. Finding a great property agent helps and Catherine Low is the person you need when you’re searching for a place in Penang. Email us if you want her contact information. With our first visitor arriving on August 10th followed by a week in Kuala Lumpur to finalize our MM2H visa, it looks to be a busy second month and soon after that think it’s time to take up our old neighbor on his offer and retrieve our stuff from the storage locker in Walnut Creek. With only minor issues so far, early retirement beats the crap out of work and we welcome all visitors. Today we’re going to a monthly crafts fair in Georgetown assuming the skies don’t darken further and then we’ll try to make another free walk in the evening at the Botanic Garden that goes to the rainforest trail. Thanks for following .
Please share your stories of the first month as expats or early retirees