Tag Archives: Chinese New Year

Lunar New Year Lessons

With the long strange Chinese New Year holiday (or holidays as in a pluralized version) finally winding down, it’s time to reflect on lessons learned. Residents of Southeast Asia for about eight months now, Diane and I realized from the start it takes an entire year to asses all the various multicultural events, holidays, religious celebrations and everything else that makes Malaysia as different from North America as night and day. Unlike North America, life in a Chinese dominated island revolves around the Lunar New Year and affects everyone’s daily life from shoppers to non-Chinese workers. Adding to the confusion, Penang is basically the only place outside China sporting a large community of Hokkien Chinese people. Unaware that Hokkien Chinese have a mysteriously different language, history, culture and ambition level compared to Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, here’s a non-comprehensive and very unscientific list of what we learned this month.

Never visit the wet market on the weekend before Chinese New Year

marketHaving been to the local market in Tanjung Bungah about 100 times, we’ve never seen any real crowds. Akin to a local Wal-Mart the day before a hurricane, the mad rush on everything and anything edible, especially animals, means fending off hundreds of patrons and even the Asian discount goes away if you don’t speak Hokkien Chinese. In their defense, however, Hokkien Chinese are not very aggressive and the least pushiest Chinese people anywhere which probably comes from living with non-confrontational Malays. Don’t visit at this time.

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Happy Chinese New Year (Malaysian Style)

As the wind whipped on the eve of our First Super Bowl Monday (kickoff at 7:30 AM Malaysian local time), it’s also the eve of Chinese New Year. Celebrated much differently on this side of the world, most Chinese families eat a meal with family tonight. According to various sources (our Uber drivers), the day of Chinese New Year is usually reserved for friends and family hanging out together, like Thanksgiving day in the USA. Unlike North America, however, the celebrations first begin after the real holiday and can run up to three weeks. Although it varies depending on social status and financial means, almost all Chinese run businesses (about 60% of Penang’s shops) close for at least three days. We’ve observed some of our favorite food courts already boarded up with signage saying “see you in three weeks”. Since our neighbor from Hong Kong is off to Singapore, our other friends are either mostly Brits and Diane’s family is 7,000 miles away, that left us sadly unprepared for anything remotely resembling Chinese New year dinner.

imageAlthough we did visit the wet market on Saturday, it was so filled with Chinese shoppers we couldn’t get anywhere near the crowds and besides, they jack up the price as much as three times as much for this weekend. (Hong Kong prices are even higher right before CNY). Unwilling to pay US prices while living in Malaysia, we did visit Cold Storage, the local supermarket but found much of the same; crappy meat and chicken and no vegetables worth buying. Fortunately, we live in Malaysia so we decided to do our first take away order from our favorite Malaysian food stand. Easily cooking the island’s best Nasi Campur, the friendly proprietor at Umi Nasi Campur helped us scoop bits of whatever we wanted into individual plastic bags and happily smiled at us. Knowing us as one of her best foreign customers who always buys more than most locals, she tallied it all up and came up with 50 ringgit (about $13 USD) but given the amount of food we took, we think she gave us a bargain. Most online sites rip her apart for being way too expensive but by our standards it’s one of the best $7 lunches anywhere so we figured why not make it dinner?

Loosely defined as rice with any combination of meats, fish and vegetables and, you eat Nasi Campur buffet style. Usually they give a huge dollop of rice and you pile on whatever looks good. Always having trouble with foreigners who always take way more than locals (usually for financial reasons), many of them just eyeball it and come give you a little post-it note with the bill while you’re in the middle of eating. Probably one of my favorite things to eat in Penang, it’s one of the few things difficult to find in Thailand and even though there’s Malaysian food restaurants all over Melbourne including Ipoh style“, “Little Penang” and various others, don’t even think about eating there if you want to know what Malaysian food really tastes like. Taking beef randang, chicken curry, mutton, sambal tofu, fish with okra, caramelized pineapple, and a host of delicious veggies, our Chinese New Year Dinner proved as delicious as our last Christmas celebration with Diane’s family in Edmonton (ironically, at a Chinese restaurant because unlike in Asia, North American Chinese restaurant owners think cash is more important than a few days off).


So now our stomachs are full and we can get a good night’s sleep in time to hop up at 6;30. Enough time to cook Super Bowl Monday breakfast, Diane will find a CBS feed somewhere on the internet as we do with NHL hockey, North American network TV, news and almost anything else you’d wanna watch (all free). And then I can get ready for all the Facebook requests from my Bay Area FB friends about “What’s the final score since you live in the future”? Wishing everyone a prosperous Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai (The Hokkien way of saying it)

Ironically,  Gong Xi Fa Cai (or however you’ll say it) is not really a “Happy New Year” greeting. Because Gong Xi (恭禧) is congratulations or respectfully wishing one joy and Fa Cai (發財) is to become rich or to make money. Thus, Gong Xi Fa Cai means wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year

Enjoy the Super Bowl !!!


Our Mini Expat Photo Essay

With the end of what felt like the longest holiday season ever, Penang returned to a calmer and much less crowded state. Literally thousands of cars from everywhere in Malaysia left in droves, restoring the traffic situation in our little tourist beach town back to normal. Taking only 18 minutes, we hopped back on the bus for the first time in weeks to resupply for our last few days before heading to Australia. Leaving with an obnoxiously loud bang, the raucous teens that arrived for their Annual Obnoxious Festival flew through the main road doing wheelies, running all the red lights, disrupting traffic and scaring the shit out of scores of pedestrians and locals. Apparently that’s the idea according to our Uber driver so mission accomplished and lesson learned by us. (Never be here for New Year’s Day). Anyway, the excitement returns in less than a month as Chinese New Year festivities begin and we’re looking forward to seeing it celebrated in Asia and not the usual lame Saturday night parade through San Francisco. Flying home on February 5th, we’ll be back just in time.

Reflecting back on our first six months of expat life in Penang, I realize there are hundreds of stories and thousands of pictures I could have shared as meaningful and fun blog posts. But somehow the days slip away and I’ve never yet reached the level I hoped I’d get to with the blog once we arrived. For that I apologize. As a small consolation, I picked out one picture from each month that tells a little story and decided to share them as the last post before our month-long work exchange trip to Australia. Unsure how much WiFi is available and not certain how many megabytes of space we’ll buy on our local SIM card, I hope to post once or twice a week but if I don’t it means we’re too busy having fun. After all, early retirement shouldn’t be a stressful time so for now, here’s a small glimpse of our past six months

Our First Wet Market Trip


The closet wet market is in Tanjung Bungah and opens daily every morning. Since we don’t have a car we don’t buy fresh meat or seafood but eggs, veggies and fruit are always a short bus ride away and make a nice alternative to the crap we found in our local California markets.

Our favorite refreshing drink


Diane’s favorite drink in the world is coconut juice carved fresh from the source. Found everywhere in Penang, we always stop for a quick and super cheap refreshment. And the dingier looking, the better as far as we’re concerned.

Malaysian Sign Interpretation


Ah, Malaysia; the land of contradictions. Almost too ironic to be real, do you think the person who parks his motorbike in front of a clearly marked sign that shows “No Motorbike Parking” feels some sort of entitlement? Unsure why they even have traffic signs, lanes, or any rules at all, Malaysia takes the cake as Southeast Asia’s most horrible drivers. Breaking every rule, somehow the traffic deaths are much higher in Thailand but we attribute that to the drunk driving that causes most of the accidents. Thankfully, Muslims can’t drink.

Our favorite street art


Easily one of the best reasons to visit Georgetown, Penang’s street art is one of the best collections anywhere. With over 95 streets having some sort of mural, sculpture or painting, we’ve yet to see them all and never get tired of walking the streets. As a UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors have plenty of interesting sights to choose from.

Miss Loy Kratong


Spending our first US Thanksgiving in Thailand afforded us a turkey dinner we wouldn’t have found in Penang but also happened to fall during Loy Krathong, one of the biggest and most colorful festivals in Thailand. Celebrating in Chiang Mai along with thousands of onlookers, these adorable young girls made my list of favorite pictures.

How to fix a chair in Southeast Asia


Ingenuity. In Southeast Asia, things are a bit different from what westerners know. When a chair breaks, most people don’t simply run to Wal-Mart and buy a new one. (even if there was a Wal-Mart here they wouldn’t buy a new one.) Rather, three pieces of anything lying around in the food court where we took this picture will do just fine. In fact, it’s more comfortable than before.

Hoping everyone has a healthy and happy 2016, please look for future posts from Australia as Diane and I try our first work exchange program in Tasmania, Australia. Cheers for now and thanks to all our recent new followers.

Happy Chinese New Year

Knowing many of you are partaking in colorful celebrations this week, Diane and I would like to extend a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year to everyone no matter where you are. Sadly, I am sitting at a mostly empty house in the very non-Asian town of Walnut Creek, California waiting for February to end so we can finally sell this house, file our MM2H Visa and get the heck out of Dodge City. (Sorry: One last cheesy American slang expression). Although San Francisco does put on the largest Chinese New Year’s Parade in America, The Experimental Expats will be celebrating with some frozen Kung-Pao Chicken and Fried Rice courtesy of Trader Joes, our local processed food mecca. Can you see why it’s time to get outta here?

chiense new year 2Of course America never does anything the way the rest of The Earth does so unlike much of Asia where businesses shut down for a week allowing for family celebrations, today is a normal two-hour commute here in the land of Never Ending Work. In fact, the so-called “Chinese New Year Parade” will be held on March 7th, a full ten days after the real holiday. Why? Because this nation stops for nothing, works through everything and believes that life is about obtaining the most material objects possible and then never retiring to enjoy anything anyway. Stores are open on Thanksgiving Day and it’s only a matter of time until someone invents a way to keep retail alive on Christmas Day.

So for now, we spend our last Chinese New Year in a very non-Chinese environment and look forward to spending 2016 among thousands of revelers that understand the true meaning of the holiday. Taking some time to reflect on one’s life and look towards the future represents the true spirit of Chinese New Year (along with some red envelopes of course). With apologies for the bastardized American pronunciation which is a Cantonese version:

Gung Hay Fat Choy !!

Coming next:
The adventure starts as vendors arrive to pretty up our house