Tag Archives: haze

Southeast Asian “Climate Change”

A funny thing happened on the way to the Paris Climate of Conformity hearings. Politicians from over 190 counties applauded the historical accord, touting the cooperation among world leaders as the very thing that will save this planet. Unfortunately,  the Southeast Asian contingency forgot to tell its citizens. Living on the 9th floor of a scenic condo overlooking the water in touristy Batu Ferrenghi affords us the perfect height for inhaling the never ending poisonous mixtures of toxic smoke they emit every day of the year. Those readers raised in the western world (like us), probably have no idea what I’m talking about since they outlawed indiscriminate burning of leaves, garbage and almost everything about 40 years ago. Having lived through the worst “haze season” in 20 years this fall, I was looking forward to clear beautiful skies for a while. Sadly, there’s no such thing as clean air in “developing nations“. And until somebody educates the general population, passes real legislation and forces companies (and local farmers) to practice sustainable methods of agricultural land clearing, no climate agreement will ever be effective on this side of the world.

The never ending plume of smoke coming from across the street. It stinks the entire town out 365 days a year

The never ending plume of smoke coming from across the street. It stinks the entire town out 365 days a year

Elaborating the point a bit, let me explain further. Every single day they burn things in Southeast Asia, polluting the already questionable air that’s finally haze free (for now) and subjecting everyone in the region to an unhealthy forest-fire like stench. As we speak, we’re sitting here trying to enjoy the cool morning air and watch some live hockey with all our windows open and the whiff of something burning is overwhelming both of us. They burn stuff every day for reasons I can’t even fathom. The construction site a few hundred feet from our window starts a huge bonfire every evening when they complete their daily work. Obviously nobody understands what garbage trucks are and it seems like the mega conglomerate company called Waste Management would have a field day here. Across the street is a small military installation that starts several bonfires and periodically burns them all day from 8 AM thru 5 PM, often sending plumes of thick sooty smoke into the air, obscuring the otherwise clear blue sky. WHY ???

Continue reading

Life After Haze

Almost like it never happened, the horrible annual event known as The Haze feels like a distant memory as the skies returned to normal in Penang. Almost magically, the air quality went from crappy to acceptable to excellent in a matter of days. Seemingly like a two month bad dream, monsoon rains in Indonesia finally arrived and doused the memories of stinky disgusting smoke almost as fast as it arrived. Unfortunately, that puts an end to the story for another year and one of the planet’s biggest environmental issues the quietly fades into another statistical anomaly. Knowing nothing will ever change, I was almost hoping it might stay until Christmas and ruin the Westerners annual Christmas vacations in Phuket which would surely garner massive attention in the Western media. Instead, Indonesia apologizes for nothing, remains one of the fastest growing economies on earth, continues to poison 80 million of its citizens and neighbors annually and everyone in the developed world enjoys millions of inexpensive products made from Indonesian sourced palm oil. Oblivious to the problems that seem like third world issues, the effects will surely be felt by future generations that will look back and wonder how their ancestors chose complacency and profits over sustainable agricultural policies. Having suffered through this insanity, I’ve done my small part to share what I can with anyone interested and I offer one last article that’s really worth reading entitled “Indonesia is Burning: So why is the World Looking Away?”. 

Ironically and perhaps even a result of the smoke particles trapped in the air, the skies over Batu Ferringhi for the last two weeks are producing spectacular cloud shows rivaling the best sunsets one could imagine in places like Hawaii or The Caribbean. Seasonal October rain comes almost daily since the haze dissipated but often its overnight, leaving the mornings fresh and clean. Remembering why we chose our condo for its beautiful views despite the level of crappy internet service that recalls the days of dial-up services (look it up, people; it wasn’t that long ago), it’s nice to see the horizon again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Stuff Arrives

Writing my first post from a PC since leaving California six months ago, our 29 boxes of goods finally arrived (barely) about a week ago after a long and arduous journey that began in Walnut Creek, California eight weeks prior. Having been transferred from one container to another and changing vessels in Shanghai and Singapore, our cheaply made U-Haul boxes were so tattered, ripped and moist they practically fell apart when I lifted into them into the elevator. Typical of most things in the USA, good quality has disappeared from moving boxes and has deteriorated to a point where you might as well keep your personal stuff at a relative’s house or storage locker because the flimsy excuse what passes as cardboard is ill-equipped for longshoremen, ocean journeys and tropical environments. Should you want to ship a “less than container load” (LCL) overseas, allow about two months from door to door and perhaps look beyond the local U-Haul store for your boxes.

imageFinancially speaking, it wasn’t all that bad but be aware you pay one fee to the shipping company in your home country and then pay a series of extra fees to local logistics agencies once your shipment arrives. Varying by country, it’s best to research the fees ahead of time to avoid surprises. We used a California-based shipping company that offered pick up service at the storage locker for a few hundred dollars. Charging a minimum fee of $490 for 4 cubic meters and adding on miscellaneous dock, customs and logistics fees, we paid $1,080.00 USD in early September and forgot all about it for the next eight weeks. For those unfamiliar, 4 cubic meters is about 45 standard medium size boxes. Utilizing only about 60% of that with 29 different sized boxes including six mirror/art boxes and the original computer and printer boxes, we suggest documenting the contents of each box carefully on a spreadsheet to ensure compliance with customs regulations. Like everything in Malaysia, they have lots of rules and regulations but your “forwarding agent” always finds a way to bypass everything and get you your stuff quickly. (Ours wanted an extra 50 ringgit on top of his fee claiming he had to buy the customs guy lunch and cigarettes in exchange for only opening one or two boxes for physical inspection).

image

For the benefit of anyone interested in shipping personal goods to Malaysia, here’s what to expect. Tracking the last vessel and knowing its estimated arrival date will save time and effort. Receiving very little information, this was difficult due to the trans-shipment changes at each port but basic marine traffic schedules are available online if you know the original vessel. Our “bill of lading” was a minor document with only basic information about the logistics company in Penang and we found out the address and phone number they gave us was two years outdated so check this ahead of time.

Dealing with both a logistics company and a “forwarding agent”, the first agent is responsible for off loading your boxes into a storage locker and ours allowed only four days of free storage before incurring extra fees. Known as Vanguard Logistics Company, the fee was 420 ringgit (about $100 USD). The second and more complicated stage involves the forwarding agent, whose job is to facilitate customs clearance and delivery from the warehouse to your door. (His fee was 1,350 ringgit, about $450 USD). Although ultimately friendly and easy to deal with, they’re almost all of Indian descent and often hard to understand so its best to know the process going in. Although you can use any agent, Malaysia is a country where “knowing a guy” is the norm so the logistics company will probably already assign your shipment to their favorite contact. But they’re more than happy to change to someone else if you’re unhappy with the service or fees. Making much ado about nothing is typical Malaysian business practice so naturally, our forwarding agent insisted on meeting us at the condo to “inspect what’s involved” (meaning gauging how much money we’d be willing to part with for extra services like hauling the stuff upstairs). Learning our condo only allows deliveries until 5 PM, he spent a half hour running through the difficulties of “getting customs to clear this” by the fourth day after off-loading but ultimately the stuff showed up on one of those Malaysian lorries that look like Nicaraguan military junta vehicles. Ask if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to answer if I can.

image

Malaysian rules are relatively simple regarding imported personal effects. Claiming they physically inspect every individual CD, video and any other media based artifacts to make sure it complies with local censorship rules, we didn’t include any so it was irrelevant. For all electronics items, you need to note the make, model, serial number, place of manufacture and voltage/wattage. Only computers, printers and peripherals made for sale in the USA are sold with an option for 220 volt usage anyway so this list will probably be short. Finally, items purchased within the last six months are subject to duty fees so we suggest not using any original boxes that look like they might fall in this category. The biggest issue was the flimsy boxes that fell apart and are now thoroughly useless. Realizing that buildings in developing nations use all concrete and no drywall, it’s almost impossible to hang anything without ruining the walls with electric drills so most of our art went into the storage room. Although they do sell ridiculous little hooks with four small nails to pound into concrete, they usually bend into oblivion rendering them useless. Another fun Malaysian issue is how they claim to need “electricians” to upgrade the crappy lighting that most owners install when renting. Usually unskilled workers from neighboring countries, they wanted lots of extra cash to give us ample lighting in our bedrooms so we decided to set up the PC next to the balcony which makes typing more fun than sitting in a dimly lit “computer room”.

So Experimental Expat life continues after the worst two months of haze since 1997. Having wasted almost two months mostly indoors, it’s time to get outta here anyway. Utilizing Airbnb for the first time, we’re off to Thailand next weekend. Splurging for five nights at the Anantaslia, a mid range hotel in the beach town of Hua HIn, we’re travelling by overnight sleeper train on the express voyage known as Train 36 that originates across the strait in Butterworth and hopping off three stops before the train’s destination in Bangkok. Priced at RM 105.90 one way (about $24), it’s a good bargain and we’ve never done that before so it should be fun. Following five nights in Hua Hin, we’re off on a 10 1/2 hour bus ride to Chiang Mai where we’ll stay one week at a suburban three bedroom house and one week near the old city in a one bedroom condo that has a pool and gym. Hopefully the sunshine follows and we’ll be checking out Chiang Mai to see if that’s the next place to live once the inevitable haze season returns. Thanks for following.

Please keep the haze issue alive and share the article above or better yet, boycott a company that carries Indonesian sourced palm oil. 

 

Short Memory Span

As November looms, the air quality has improved throughout Malaysia thanks mostly to some much-needed rain and help from a large Russian firefighting plane that Indonesia finally agreed to use. After international outrage, they appear to be making a serious effort to extinguish the raging infernos that destroyed the environment (again). Finally receiving some international attention, all that really happened was the Indonesian press publicized some more arrests of élite CEO’s, apologized a bit more to neighboring countries, and no doubt sent back evacuated residents of Borneo and Sumatra so they can continue farming millions of acres for paper, pulp and most importantly, palm oil production. Anyone that thinks the arrests of a few billionaires serves any purpose other than PR is fooling themselves. In my mind, the long-term solutions that might actually force Indonesia to practice sustainable agricultural practices and stop destroying the earth and the shortening the life span of over 80 million citizens in SE Asia are as follows:

  • Kick the companies responsible off all the exchanges and fine them so many billions of dollars that they’re forced to reorganize until no intelligent institutional shareholder on earth will buy their stock. This is the only thing business tycoons understand.
  • Lower the worldwide demand for Palm oil products produced by Indonesian companies through large-scale boycotts that include the public and mega companies that use their products. Social media is a good start and was unavailable as a weapon the last time they destroyed the earth this heavily in 1997.

Sadly, the odds of either one of these solutions occurring on a scale large enough to make 2016 any better are slim. Even worse, every time the skies improve, everyone here in Southeast Asia takes off their stupid medical masks, returns to patronizing outdoor businesses and once again ignores the entire two month episode like it never happened. Remaining its own worse enemy, complacency and an unwillingness to use the parts of democracy that make a real difference in daily life like large-scale peaceful protests, intelligent but critical media coverage and demanding better from democratically elected leaders that are always supported by the voters will no doubt keep this “annual event” going long into the future.

image

As visitors, expats have no say and it’s not our job to criticize the host nations since all sovereign countries have a right to police their own borders the way they see fit. Knowing this, I’ve tried to do my part to spread the word as much as possible to the western world that’s largely unaware of how much closer we are to killing the planet for our grandkids. Indirectly, another way to grab attention is graphically show how threatened wildlife that’s endemic to specific ares are suffering. In case you missed the story, I’m reposting a story that went around Facebook a few days ago. Please help keep this issue in the minds of the world by sharing or donating. Do it for the orangutans even if you care little about how developing nations get half the products on your supermarket shelf into your shopping basket. Here’s the post:

A CRISIS WE CANNOT IGNORE! This is the worst threat in a century to people, orangutans, and other wildlife in … and the Western media is not even mentioning it! The following message came in from the director of a sanctuary for orangutans in Borneo. Please take the time to read it and help:

‘FIRE EMERGENCY SITUATION:
We have fires in forests which are full of orangutans. We have rescued 4 orangutans in Pelansi in the last couple of weeks and have just rescued another male near the centre. Our Human-orangutan conflict teams are currently following 3 more orangutans at risk in other locations. The situation is just getting worse and worse … We are going to need lots more people, equipment and funds to combat fires, the worst is to come…
I hope we can send the message out about the situation here.

In central Kalimantan, forests which are home to the two main populations of orangutans are on fire.
We will keep you updated as we receive more news…
If you can make a donation to our team who are in the field saving orangutans from the devastating effects of the fires, please help! http://www.internationalanimalrescue.org/donate

 

Our Stuff Arrives (Almost)

After what feels like an eternity, our 29 boxes of personal goods finally arrived in Penang a few days ago on a mid-sized container ship from Thailand known as the Bani Bhun. Transferred twice from its original vessel in both Shanghai and Penang, tracking the journey of one small-sized less than container (LCL) shipment was almost more difficult than obtaining the MM2H visa. Picked up by truck from a storage locker in Walnut Creek, California on September 5th, we paid $1,200 plus a wire transfer fee to a shipping company based in Los Angeles and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Arriving long after the original estimate, the process of collecting your goods on Malaysia was totally foreign and very different from receiving goods in North America. Assigning the shipment to local logistics company, the first vendor in the chain does nothing but charge you to remove the goods from the arriving vessel and “unstuff” them into a warehouse. Passed to someone known as a “forwarding agent”, the goods are supposedly checked by customs and then put on a lorry and delivered. For this part, our agent came to meet us last night and insisted in being paid in cash (1,400 ringgit).

imageEnsuring we followed the Malaysian customs’ rules regarding detailed descriptions of every box and serial numbers for electronic items, this gave our agent confidence that he’d be able to stick to his promise of four days from the time the vessel arrive to our doorstep. Realistically, it’s probably because the logistics agent only allows four days of free storage in the warehouse so our guy no doubt goes to work convincing his buddies at customs to work faster. Knowing Malaysians, we’re confident our boxes will make it here despite the thirty minutes he spent talking about all the potential barriers like not being able to arrive at the security gate by the 5 PM deadline they impose for forwarding agents. Assuring him I’d carry all the boxes in myself if need be, it wouldn’t be Malaysia without the discussion which usually leads to a guy “knowing someone”‘ who can help. Bringing his wife along, our agent was friendly and speaks English well enough to negotiate through the processes so hopefully this is my last post from an IPad. Naturally, that assumes our 110 volt PC really works when we switch the button to 240 volts. Assuming we don’t short-circuit the electrical grid in this “developing nation”, I’m hoping our next communication comes compliments of my old Windows Vista operating system and under breathable skies. Unfortunately, the haze may return once the wind shifts again and since nobody’s ever seen it stick around into the holiday season, it’ll be interesting to see Phuket’s busiest tourism season ruined by an event happening almost 3,000 kilometers and two countries away. Here’s to hoping that never materializes.

Post Script:

We’re off to a three-week escape to Thailand next month thanks to our first Airbnb bookings. Averaging $30 for 15 nights in two different places, it seems like a great chance to explore Chiang Mai as a possible next address as well as getting some beach time in Hua Hin.

Additionally, the owner of a small condiments business in Tasmania generously offered to host us for our first Workaway assignment in January so we’re booked for four weeks in Australia. Making a stop in Melbourne first where we’ll visit one of Diane’s Facebook friends, the assignment seems like more fun than work and gives us the chance to explore an island many people never get to visit. 

Cheers. Thanks for reading.

 

Choking expats seeking the sky

UPDATE

Currently reading an unbelievable API (air pollution index) number of 252, Penang Island today is completely crippled with smog levels that not even Singapore or Beijing sees very often. Somehow claiming “they’ve been caught off guard”, all schools are closed indefinitely, flights are either delayed or cancelled and you can’t even hear any motorbike noise which basically means the island’s population may as well be dead. It’s been 18 years of illegal slash and burn practices one country over so I guess I’m not understanding why they think climate change somehow won’t affect them in drought years, especially with a highly publicized and strong El Niño event happening, but the only official information is a blurb telling residents to “stay indoors”. For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the API, levels under 50 are healthy and over 200 is basically hazardous to step outside. Indonesia remains in the mid 450s every day and many parts read “999” because the developers of the machinery  that measures air quality probably pegged it impossible to ever break 1,000. For expats caught in the middle like us it means another day of sitting in the living room wasting energy although the smoky stench occasionally creeps through the air conditioning vents anyway.

image

Although it may have been better to pay the exorbitant storage fees and keep our 29 boxes of personal goods in the California storage locker, it’s too late now as the vessel arrives Saturday. Having paid the logistics company today, we expect delivery sometime next week through a “forwarding agent” so there’s nothing we can do but stay indoors all day and bear witness to an environmental situation that western minds couldn’t possibly wrap their heads around. Working out in the air-conditioned gym is almost impossible because the air stays off when it’s unoccupied, allowing the soot and stench to creep through the windows and under the door. Understandably, nobody in the rest of the world sans a small community of Greenpeace advocates and scientists pays much attention to a problem that doesn’t really seem important and many long-term expats tell us we should just leave since we have freedom of mobility. But those who follow this blog know how long and hard it was to get the MM2H visa thanks to a host of hurdles involving banking secrecy rules and tedious procedures so it’s not as simple as just picking up and leaving. Mostly it’s discouraging and admitting it’s not going to work for our lifestyle is not an easy thing to accept. But nature can’t fix this, rain is nowhere on the horizon despite Malaysia’s status as rainforest country and G8 leaders are not sitting around waiting for the phone to ring for help battling the wildfires. If this happened in California, CNN would be going bat shit covering it 24/7 and federal funds would free up to address the emergency. Southeast Asian nations live by different standards so all I can say is keep this in mind when considering an expat retirement destination.

Now back to the Amazing Mets game.

 

From Bad to Ridiculous

Like something worse than a science fiction movie, severe haze and smoke that’s cancelling dozens of flights, keeping three million kids a day at home from school and paralyzing Malaysia’s economy is now “officially” predicted to be around for FIVE MORE MONTHS. (According to published reports in The Star and various other articles I found on the Internet). Experts predicted worse than normal conditions months ago thanks to a large El Niño event yet nobody in any position of authority made decisions that could have prevented what NASA predicts will possibly become the world’s largest environmental disaster. There’s really nothing good to say about this and being stuck barricaded in the air conditioning from morning till bedtime feels like being claustrophobic and trapped in an elevator. Trying to describe living in Penang today is like trying to make a snapshot of the Grand Canyon as good being there. I simply can’t put it into words. Seemingly an emergency (by western standards anyway), telling 30 million people they will inhale smoke and ash for months and be unable to take part in outside activities barely makes a blurb in the local media. “Contingency plans” include how the kids will be able to take their exams, how many more masks should be made available and everything except how to deal with the situation now.

imageFinally receiving a phone call from the logistics firm today, our 29 boxes of personal goods arrive from the USA after eight long weeks this weekend and we have to hang around because it takes a week to get it cleared and delivered. Rendering an immediate flight out of here impractical, it looks like we’ll be eating whatever cans of beans and soup are sitting around the cupboard, avoiding the pool which of course is outside and curling up inside like caged animals because we both get headaches and nausea after a few minutes outside. Possibly turning into the worst decision ever, moving here was the ultimate bad timing for outdoors enthusiasts, although we obviously couldn’t have known that El Niño would keep the monsoons season from arriving this year. For me it’s downright depressing waking up in the middle of a raging fire for weeks on end. Skies are devoid of clouds or sun and look like the smoldering ashes in a Mad Max movie.

Statistically, October is the rainiest month in Penang and we’ve seen about as much rain as California’s last three winters (that means practically none). Causing wind patterns to change without the seasonal rains, scientists conclude there’s little chance of nature helping this disaster any time soon. Trying not to judge anyone since we’re visitors, it seems reasonable to me that leaders might begin begging the developed world for a contingency of emergency firefighting help since the experts claim that this is emitting more greenhouse gas PER DAY than the entire USA does in 30 days. Unfortunately, today’s headline concerns itself with politicians and spokespeople talking about an alleged multi-billion dollar financial scandal so it looks like help will not come any time soon.

image

Apologizing once more for negativity and bad news, I felt I’d rather share what’s really happening here and not sugar coat the situation for the benefit of readers that diligently follow our story. Once we get our stuff, our contingency plan is fleeing to Chaing Mai before our planned visit to Hua Hin and returning in December to see if the scientists were a bit off base with their dire predictions. We’re also very excited for the upcoming Tasmanian trip involving a work exchange program in January which we’d still take no matter what. But if Chinese New Year arrives and the air quality remains as horrible as now, we may consider the experiment a failure, at least in Malaysia, and abandon the MM2H program because quite frankly, living here and talking to everyone produces a sense that this situation will repeat itself for many decades to come. Costa Rica is high on the list of other options and it’s a lot closer to Diane’s family so maybe we’d be better off anyway.

Thanks for reading and please pray for torrential monsoons in Indonesia.

The Dead Sky Stench

If your child has an upcoming “career day” and thinks they want to be a fireman when they grow up, you may think it’s noble but you’ve got obvious concerns for their safety. While never wanting to discourage a child’s dream, maybe you’ve contemplated throwing out some subtle ways to show them the dangers and difficulties of daily life as a firefighter. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do that. Vacationing in Malaysia at the moment provides an instant demonstration of the burning ash, chemicals and other toxic sludge they’d be breathing almost daily simply by stepping off the airplane. And if they wear glasses or contacts, throw in the added bonus of constant burning eyes and weakened lung capacity, especially if they’re active in school sports.

imageTiming is everything in life and borrowing a line from Leslie Nielsen in Airplane,  “Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit sniffing glue, Joey”. Although I’m powerless to control a sovereign nation’s problems and I recognize that visitors have no say and are free to leave, pretending the haze problem doesn’t exist simply because it’s a negative thing seems irresponsible when trying to convey expat life in Malaysia. For those that haven’t heard, it’s now the eighth straight week since the annual clear cutting campaign started across the straits and each rainfall brings back the stench and apocalyptic surreal gray sky even worse than the last time. Telling you “it’s only one month a year” is the normal mindset of many other expats here and most people simply accept unhealthy air quality as another inconvenience like bad driving habits or the lack of sidewalks. Disagreeing intensely, I think concern over the very air you breathe is essentially important, not a minor inconvenience. Recently publishing a report, NASA predicted this year’s man-made disaster will be the most expensive and worst environmental episode to plague an entire region in mankind’s history, far surpassing 1997, the first year they began this practice.

imageUnwilling to assign blame or offer solutions, I’m simply repeating what’s been reported publicly in the last article from the local paper. Life is not a bowl of cherries and ignoring the cons of life here for fear of expressing something negative makes an expat blog about daily life fictitious. Having dealt with this problem for 18 years, the local media reminds everyone almost daily what the official line is from the leaders of the offending nation with quotes like this one:

“It costs 40 times more to use alternatives other than slash and burn techniques for agricultural production”

I’m not saying this is right or wrong but one point that goes unnoticed by those who haven’t experienced life in a drought plagued environment as we have is this; Climate change creates droughts that extend the “haze season” from a 4 week inconvenience to a 4 month environmental disaster and hijack the health of 80 million people annually. While we can simply leave, our stuff from the storage locker is still in transit, we signed a one year lease and most of all, committed ourselves to at least spend one full year because that’s how long it takes to properly assess life in a new place . For me personally, waking up every few days to toxic sludge and experiencing nausea, burning eyes and diminished lung capacity is ridiculous and I bear full responsibility for not understanding how much this is not for me. Others (including Diane) are less bothered by this so take this post with a grain of salt and please accept my apologies if reality based negativity sends you to packing to a happier blog about expat life in the smoke.

The Good News

imageOn a lighter note, Diane and I found a work exchange opportunity in Tasmania, Australia and the proprietor of a small business is willing to host us for two to four weeks in January. Makers of jams, jellies and other condiments, the work involves learning the ropes of their small business, some minor gardening and assisting with the weekly farmers market. Hoping to see some of the island, there’s plenty of time to explore as the work is only a few hours a day. Dinners are with the family in the main house and the accommodation is a separate little unit in the garden with good Wifi and a small kitchen for breakfasts (they provide the food). Deciding developed world work is probably better for us anyway, only one host out of dozens wrote back in the developing nations we contacted. Thinking they probably don’t consider anyone that’s not a young single backpacker type that’s not set in their ways, we think it’s unfortunate or even rude not to send a quick acknowledgement since the Workaway website specifically claims they encourage all hosts to respond. But ultimately it’s up to the hosts to decide which profile looks best for their needs so it’s possible people our age are the exception to the rule when it comes to work exchange programs. Either way, we’re delighted to get this chance and plan on visiting Melbourne while we’re there and will hopefully have lots of great things to post about so please stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’ll count down the days until our mini vacation to Thailand next month because quite literally, this place stinks right now.

 

The Pho Failure

Known for its reputation as a foodie haven where dozens of styles mix and match, Penang misses the boat entirely on one count as far as I’m concerned. With all the amazing noodle soups including Hokkien Mee, Laksa, Wanton Mee and various others, trying to find a simple bowl of Vietnamese Pho is like searching for water in the desert. One of my favorite styles of food, Vietnamese is unknown and sadly lacking everywhere in Penang. Unsure why a nation so close to Malaysia remains absent from the local cuisine, I’ve seen bizarre food outlets like “authentic Mexican cuisine” a handful of places calling themselves “New York style” pizza and “western style” pub food where they don’t understand that only Europeans put mayo on burgers and fries. Desperately looking for my fix of Bun Rieu, salad rolls, vermicelli noodles and grilled pork served with that delicious simple Vietnamese sauce, I recently scoured the Internet and came up with a whopping three choices when prompting Google for help. Ruling out the first option, a place known as No Eyed Deer because they serve only an average tasting bowl of Pho for weekend brunch, that didn’t leave much more considering the island has over 8,000 choices for food.

imageNoticing one of the remaining two eateries was near the strangely named Penang Times Square Mall, we saw there was an annual book fair across from a hilariously named hotel (see the picture) so we asked our favorite neighbors if they wanted to make a day trip that included lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. Known as Huong Que, we drove up the umpteen circular levels one drives up in Penang to get to the parking area of the mall’s garage and found our way back down five levels to the street. (I’m unsure why engineers decided that the top four floors of every mall should be dedicated to parking but I know they tend to be empty because there’s usually a “premium” basement level parking option. Most pMalaysians would rather shell out a ringgit of two than walk an extra fifteen steps). Crossing the street in the world’s most pedestrian friendly nation (sarcasm intended) took some skills that car-less expats like us eventually pick up like holding your hand up and running between packed traffic. Entering the small restaurant we found about six small cramped tables for four with little stools designed for people even shorter than me. Seeing that every employee was of Malaysian descent and understood zero about anything Vietnamese, the initial vibe wasn’t the best.

Continue reading