Addressing the cynics

Recently someone posed a question about why we chose Penang instead of KL. Sounding like the obvious choice is the big city with all the socializing and things to do, I’d like to discuss the issue by example. Although we are still in transition and haven’t finished buying everything we need and still have to spend a week in KL next month to complete our MM2H visa, we are anything but bored. Penang has over 50 different “tourist” attractions to explore including the UNESCO Heritage Area, interesting museums highlighting Chinese, Malay and historical aspects of the island, a national park ten minutes from our house, an amazing array of cuisine ranging from spicy to mundane and everything in between, festivals all year-long, art, dance and comedy performances at different venues, a wonderful botanic gardens with free admission and Penang Hill which is 2,400 feet above sea level and offers respite from the heat. By the way, we think the island weather beats the valley smog anyway. Varying from day-to-day, we’ve seen everything from sunny and hot (beach days), overcast with intermittent sunshine (perfect for walking and exploring), rain that never lasts all day and usually comes in the middle of the night, spectacular sunsets, smoke (the crappy part but not so bad this year) and breezes that allow limited use of air conditioning.

Penang's unofficial official food

Citing examples, on the last weekend of every month there are free guided walks offered in various places and we took advantage of two of them in the Botanical Gardens. Organized by a native Penangite, the Saturday morning walk was a detailed explanation of some of the different gardens including a visit to the wild orchids and descriptions of native and non native trees and plants seen throughout the park. Everyone on our walk was local and like many places, was very uninformed about the beauty in their backyard. Deciding we’d enjoy the evening walk even better because it highlights the rainforest trail and it’s cooler at 6:30 PM than 9 AM, the walk would cap off our Sunday. Taking advantage of another event earlier in the day, we hopped on the bus and visited the Little Penang Street Market held in the last Sunday of every month. Enjoying some cheesy but harmonious live entertainment, homemade food and interesting memorabilia, it was decidedly different from the generic street fairs they hold every year throughout the Bay Area and the vendors are a hundred times friendlier and interesting than grumpy California merchants who are always angry at life because they can’t make a living selling artsy stuff that nobody buys.

As a miscellaneous post script for any Americans thinking about MM2H, the Malaysian Ringgit just hit a 17 year low versus the U.S. Dollar. Although there is reasonably justifiable cause for concern with the current financial scandal that’s basically ruined all hope for Malaysia’s lofty goals of fully developed status by 2020, politics is not something expats should ever discuss so let’s just say that at $3.81 MYR for every USD, anyone can afford to move here and at the moment we use Our U.S. Dollar charge cards which are giving us better rates than the cash we converted for our first few months of living expenses.

We arrived at the street market hungry and found Eleanor. Serving homemade beef rendang that was the best I’ve ever tasted, she engaged us in conversation but unfortunately her accent was a bit too strong for us and the gist of where she sells her food got lost in translation. Promising to plug her on the blog, please visit her if you attend the event next month. She’s in the middle of the food area.

Without further ado, this was the best picture of the day and featured some young girls posing for cameras before what we assumed was a performance of some sort.

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Strolling through the crafts tent, the older generation of merchants had a myriad of great collectables including old books, currency, records and other interesting stuff from pre-independence. The hand-made crafts are mostly inexpensive and reminded me of Thailand which is where we purchased most of our art that’s stuck in storage. Everyone that camr over to our old house complimented our art and Malaysia also has some great ways to furnish a house without spending a lot.

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Among the more interesting vendors was a smiley young Chinese merchant that makes clay figurines. We liked them so much we bought two even though we have no good shelving  so we had to put them on the TV.

 

Because everyone needs one of these, right?

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Harmonizing to old American folk tunes, these guys sounded great and I put a video on my Facebook page.

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After the fair we meandered around the esplanade, Penang’s version of San Francisco’s Embarcadero or New York’s Battery Park City and made our way back to the Jetty. Conveniently located ar the foot of the city, all the bus lines end here and it’s easy to make your way back to the Botanical Gardens so we took our time and headed for the evening walk through the Tropical Rainforest Trail. Hosted by an amazing guy with a Japanese style Samurai beard, his knowledge of the country’s fauna was impressive and we learned more in one hour than I did in 30 years working in the financial services industry. Explaining the difference between clear-cut and natural forests, he showed us an example and told us about native palms, showed us a fascinating plant that has no non-Malay name that makes your taste buds perceive everything you eat as sweet after chewing it and helped us understand rainforest ebvironments. Highly recommended and held the last weekend of every month, you can register or just show up and the walk was quite crowded with locals and tourists.

The gardens also offer music in the park sessions on weekends and these guys were awesome  the young kid was about five years old and didn’t miss a beat. Very entertaining and held right before the guided walk.

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Since we walk almost everywhere when possible, we exited the bus and walked the last half mile stretch to the gardens which is dotted with Indian temples including the start to a 590 step challenge up to one of the best ones and I’ve read it’s worth the hike (maybe another time). Granting favorable land to The Indian community during the colonialist period, the Brits knew the importance of the Indian community and it’s easy to miss these beautiful temples if you take the bus. Also along the route is an International Peace Center which opens every Sunday morning and details the life and times of Gandhi, the Dali Llama and others that dedicate their lives to peaceful coexistence which is a perfect theme for Malaysia. We will attend one week.

And of course my favorite part of the gardens will always be the monkeys. Sadly, these guys are cute but can’t survive in the wild because they lost  their native land years ago and now they feast on human garbage, fruits that idiot tourists its throw at them and anything else they can find. Normally trying to avoid wildlife viewings that don’t come naturally, it’s hard for us because they are mostly tame and curious. Often grooming  right in front of the road,  they carry their babies and it’s too much to resist so we stop and look for a while, albeit away from the main group of uneducated tourists that taunt them.

Clearly not lacking activities, cultural events and including beach life any time of year, we would never choose KL over Penang because we think this makes a better environment for early retirees less concerned with allowing their wives and kids an opportunity to socialize and more interested in discovering all the things life has to offer. Believing that’s the reason to quit working a mundane job anyway, we wake up every day and look forward to the day even if we just stick around and eat a good bowl of laksa in our touristy beach community. Either way, I’ll continue to share pictures and stories when I have time and enough ambition to create posts that are worthy of your time. Waiting for contractors this week, we look forward to next week when my old friend arrives that I haven’t seen since before I met Diane, almost 20 years ago.

Cheers from Batu Ferringhi

Please share your stories about why you live KL and not Penang; we are open to anything

 

19 thoughts on “Addressing the cynics

  1. mariawanders

    Thank you for sharing your experience in Penang. I will be there next month. Like you people are also asking me why Penang. Oh well. I’ll just document every moment of my life in Penang and will let them drool over my experience. Excited to hear more from you guys.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Maria
      Thanks for writing. Are u moving here ? If so we’d love to meet and get together. We haven’t had much time or luck finding other expat friends but we are all the way there according to Penang people. Please email us on the about page when u get her
      Cheers
      Rob and Diane

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. mariawanders

        Not really. I just needed to get out of the office for 5 days to relax and Penang is my destination. Thank you in advance for the invitation. I will keep in touch.

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      2. mariawanders

        Wow! Thanks Rob and Diane. I’ll keep that in my itinerary. It’s nice to meet new people. Now I’m even more excited to visit Penang. I’ll keep in touch.

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  2. mike

    Hey Expats
    Glad you’re no longer experimental but the real deal. Came across your blog whilst googling MM2H and living out my fantasy. I’ve enjoyed reading your story, something I hope to emulate in a few years when I hit the big decades. I worked in Malaysia for years and am pleased to read it’s a great place for retirees. It was a great place to work so living the dream without the work sounds pretty awesome to me.
    Just want to pass on that renting appears to differ from state to state. In Kl and Selangor renters (or buyers) don’t pay fees to estate agents.That’s the owners responsibility. Things might have changed in the last few months of course but then perhaps someone will correct me.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hey there
      Thanks for the comment. It’s too bad property agents charge so much here but ours only took half of one month’s rent and is very helpful and diligent so it was kind of worth it. She is helping us arrange repairs that need to be done and laying out some cash on utility bills that are in Malay so I can’t understand them. She’s awesome actually

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  3. Darren

    Enjoying the blog posts. How much do you spend a day on food, public transport, and other day to day essentials (excluding bills, rent, furnishing the apartment etc.). I’m just creating myself a budget and it reads like your lifestyle is pretty much the same as mine.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi
      Thanks for the question. To be honest, it wouldn’t be an accurate assessment until after we finalize the visa. I am tracking every penny carefully but the first month has been a hodgepodge of transfers from the USA, 5K USD that we brought with us for apartment startups, U.S. credit card charges on two different cards and cash deposits/withdrawals. And the first month includes living in hotels for two weeks, purchasing new IPhones, utility and water deposits, some furnishings and basic shopping as well as a god amount of tourism

      I have worked out our budget based on our resources but won’t really be able to gauge how well it will work until September. I will say it’s easy to live on a few hundred ringgits per week for food, bus, entertainment and even some furnishings. We allocated up to 40K USD for 10 to 12 years but didn’t expect rent to come in at less than 1,000 and at the moment we use US charge cards because the rate is 3.81 and the rate for our first transfer (which covers the fixed deposit and about one year worth of cash) was 3.7613 so think about using US credit when rates are favorable and cash if they drop. Our budget factors in that we want to travel a few days every month after we’ve fully explored Penang and its environs. I can safely say that you could live on 25K USD if you don’t travel much and eat inexpensively but we’ve allocated more based on our resources.

      Total startup costs including deposits, new phones, plane tickets here, cash transfers, some furnishings like bedding and kitchen stuff and a bunch of tourist attractions has come in less than 8K USD, less than when we moved to Canada so not bad at all as far as I’m concerned.

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      1. Indo Tom

        Another way to look at things is how much money you save as compared to living in the USA. If retired in the USA, I would estimate a monthly health insurance cost of $550 per person. That’s over $12,000 USD per year which basically is the current y cost of your apartment and health insurance living in Malaysia. What a deal!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        Good point. Our employee sponsored policy was with Kaiser Permanente and was excellent but costs about $18,000 for both of us or which Diane’s employer contributed about 65% and we use payroll,deductions for our portion. Healthcare is not reasonable in the USA. Period.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Darren

        Thank you for the breakdown. I’m not a huge beer drinker, which seems to be one of the more expensive items. I had a look at the monthly bus pass and that seemed good value for money, as I intend to spend quite a bit of time exploring the island. I’m interested to see what the weather is like in September because I hear it is it is the start of the rain reason, but not sure how correct that is. Even in March it rained, but usually late into the evening when I was relaxing. Booked my flight and accommodation now, so, looking forward to spending 3 months (well, 90 days) in one place after travelling for six months. I’m regretting a little bit that I didn’t rent nearer to the beach, but, from memory it only took 30-40 minutes to get there from Georgetown by bus. I am staying near Times Square, so lots of buses around the island from there.

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  4. Indo Tom

    How long does it take you to travel from Batu Ferrenggi to other areas of the island and important facility locations such as airport, hospital, and nice shopping mall?

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Indo

      Depending on time of day, it typically takes 15 minutes to arrive at Tesco by bus (biggest shopping store), 20 to 25 minutes to arrive at Gurney Plaza and Paragon, two big malls at the beginning of Georgetown and about 40 minutes to go to the end of the line at the Jetty which is the UNESCO Heritage area. The airport is much longer by bus and I would recommend Uber or taxi. The 102 bus stops in front of our place, runs all the at to Komtar which Is just before the jetty and then turns south. I assume it’s about 80 minutes by bus. We haven’t taken it all the way. There are many hospitals on the island and the nearest one would be about 25 minutes by taxi but ambulances are plentiful should you need emergency assistance. Hope this helps

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  5. Indo Tom

    By the way, what is on the west coast of the island? It seems most of your activity occurs between Batu Ferrenggi; (sounds like a Star Trek word), and Georgetown. Does the public bus run a circle route around the island? Would you consider Penang island crowded and over developed already? The weather temperature charts show Penang as being slightly coolers than mainland Malaysia. In your opinion is the weather much different and do you get a sea breeze to cool things down? Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Indo. Thanks for the comment. The west coast is much less populated and is the source of Malaysia’s best water. One north south road dots the jungle side from the national park down to Balik Palau, the main town on the island’s west side. It’s known for great laksa and there’s some smaller attractions. We will make a day trip soon and tell you more. Most residents live on the southeast side of the island between the airport and Georgetown and there are some other attractions like a snake temple, war museum and small fishing village. Also in the middle part of the island is Penang Hill and all its trails, Air Itam and the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia. But yes most things are located between Batu and Georgetown

      Buses run the entire length of the island but not one circle route and we can get anywhere with patience. Taxis are inexpensive if you get stuck. As for crowded, we are used to a metropolitan area of six million where traffic never stops so by our standards it’s not crowded. Although The Main Street from the bridges to the core is always backed up, the rest of the streets move despite all the buses. Saturday is the busiest day but traffic is very light before noon because nobody likes mornings in this country which is a total change for us where the commute began at 5 AM. Holiday weekends are crazy of course as its a primary destination but we think traffic is quite manageable and much less than what we saw at KLCC and especially by our bank branch.

      The island is insanely overdeveloped and the occupancy rates can be as low as 30% so we hardly see anyone in our place and never wait for the elevator. They keep building yet China is slowing down, tourists are not coming in droves any more due to political issues and concerns with a weak currency and foreigners with lots of money would never choose Malaysia over more developed and nicer countries so we have no clue why they keep building. But that makes renting easy and affordable except for the ridiculous three month deposit they want plus agent fees. But it’s not overcrowded. Construction noise ruins almost every nice complex which is why we chose to move out here and take the bus to shop, eat and sightsee. But the malls are nothing like Singapore and streets are much less crowded than other places in SE Asia like Bangkok and Batu is a very laid back beach town, nothing like Krabi, Phuket or Bali so we like it.

      Temperature can be cooler than inland. We live on a hill with very strong winds so we never use the air conditioner except in the bedroom to sleep. Even on the 9th floor it’s not usually too hot with the fans on and windows open. Rain has been sporadic so far with the heaviest rain overnight and it rarely rains all day. Rainy days are cooler and humidity can be as low as 70 or 75% here when it’s bright and sunny. There is often haze and some smokiness but it’s mild and they say you’ll know when the Indonesian fires are raging.

      All in all we like it just fine and with the currency plummeting daily it’s getting even cheaper so we have no issues unless it leads to a major collapse in the economy which seems unlikely since everyone seems to have a job

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