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