Month: July 2012

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – one year on

Today I counted 20 passion fruit growing on my vines, in various stages of ripeness.  The vines are less than a year old, and have many more flowers on them, so I think it is a pretty good result.

One year, and so little to show for the effort.  The bitter gourd were the biggest success. A huge crop that lasted so long I was sick of them, and I have plenty left in the freezer, which I consume on occasion.  Passion fruit may be the second biggest success – they provide beautiful shade, under which it is cool to sit, and the fruit are delicious, although not yet plentiful.  The wind blows down many flowers, which perhaps weren’t pollinated, but many more remain, and will fruit, I hope.

six passion fruit

Apart from these two successes, I harvest a lot of chillies – these grew up from the compost I created.  The basil is still growing, and I put some on my home-made pizza with the chillies.  Mung beans, which I sprout, grow well, but the birds attack the plants as soon as they sprout in the ground, and if they happen to grow, they eat all the beans.

Almost everything else has been unsuitable for the conditions, or attacked by rats, birds, or bugs, or a combination of these.  The cabbages’ stems often just rot from too much moisture, and they have been growing so slowly, anyway.

This is not so encouraging.  I had hoped to grow vegetables and fruit to make us partly self-sufficient.

But there is a local plant that my neighbour partly lived on, and I am growing it.  It tastes like spinach, and doesn’t mind the weather, and holds no interest for bugs or birds.  I will continue with this, the passion fruit, and then try out other seeds.  Sooner or later I will have more luck.


Home Internet service in Penang

There are various home Internet providers in Penang. You can get Internet over the telephone line as ADSL, provided by Telekom Malaysia (TM) – called Streamyx; by TM or Maxis or possibly Penangfon, over fibre optic cable where available; over WiMax (4G) provided by Yes or P1, or over the mobile telephone network provided by Maxis, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile and possibly others.  (Or you can get Internet from various Wi-Fi providers at coffee shops, shopping malls, or from Penang Free Wi-Fi – but it’s unlikely, although not impossible, you’ll get it at your home.)

When I researched four years ago, Telekom Malaysia  was the most suitable for me.  For a 4mbps* connection I was paying RM160 per month, plus any phone calls I made.

About twice a year TM stops working for a couple of days, and on Sundays sometimes is a bit unreliable – but usually on Sundays,  if you restart your router it works again. As a result I have a backup provider, which I will discuss later.

Last year it seems fibre optic cable was laid in our street, and now Maxis is offering their Internet service.  When I checked this a couple of months ago, the data download volume was capped at a fairly low amount, but checking this today, there is no limit, it appears. And at 10mbps, and RM138 for Maxis customers (of which I am one) and RM148 otherwise, and lots of free local, mobile and international calls, it looks a pretty good deal. I just don’t know of anyone using it, so I don’t know how reliable it is, how fast the speed actually is, whether they actually provide what they say, etc.  Although, as a mobile phone provider I think they are OK.

I have been waiting for TM’s Unifi, which provides up to 20mbps, TV, and free calls, but it will be six months to a year at least before it is available in our location. Downloads are not capped, either. First they are providing it to condos, and later to houses. The fibre optic cable that was laid in our street was laid by TM, is maintained by TM, and the Maxis service piggy backs on the same cable, according to a TM Unifi guy I talked to.

Today I went to TM to enquire about the bill – something they couldn’t manage on the phone, which is  wonderful for a phone company – and they actually told me of a better deal. It has been available for a year, but usually no one ever tells you anything unless you ask.

my TM deal

But being an existing customer, I don’t get the free cordless phone.  Cordless phones’ electromagnetic radiation is far, far stronger than mobile phones, so I don’t use them anyway for health reasons.

So I have taken this up for a year, after which I hope I can swap to Unifi.  I still do like to have a fixed line for the rare times I use a fax – in which case it is very useful.  But to change before the 12 months are up incurs a fee of RM250, even if to Unifi, which is rather expensive, and unfair.

I have a Yes prepaid account, plus a Huddle, which provides Wi-Fi.  I use this as a backup to TM, and if I go out to where there is no free or reliable Wi-Fi. The Huddle is about the same size and weight as a mobile phone, and its battery lasts a reasonable amount of time, so it is very portable. At 9 sen for 3MB, and a minimum of RM30 per month it is cheap for low volumes, but expensive if you download a lot.  Having a backup is useful, and provides great piece of mind.  But Yes has no signal in many places – it worked fine for me in Kuah Town, Langkawi as the hotel charged a lot for Wi-Fi, but on the east coast of Malaysia I couldn’t get a signal at any place I tried.  The 4G speed you get from Yes is quite reasonable.

Yes also provide Postpaid Internet plans, but they are expensive as the quota is low. It is supposedly unlimited data – but has a “Fair Usage Policy” , which kind of negates the meaning of unlimited. It usually means that once you use the quota they will throttle the speed.

Another 4G provider is P1, but looking at their plans, the speed is much lower than Yes, although the quota is higher and the price lower.  If you want a lowish volume data download, it could be OK. A friend who used them was happy with their customer service.

Other mobile phone companies, and Penangfon, also provide wireless broadband, but I haven’t heard particularly good things about these services, and for higher volumes of data they can be expensive. But I haven’t researched recently, so please research yourself for more up to date information.

Providers you could check are:



U Mobile

So, as I am a higher volume user, TM’s Unifi is the best deal for me, when it is available. Maxis fibre, available to me now, seems a good deal at the moment, but I opted for staying with TM and switching over to their newish deal, as I don’t feel like any disruption at the moment and am unsure how long the Maxis fibre deal would remain uncapped.

*In case you don’t know the terminology, mbps means megabits per second, which is an indication of speed. MB is megabytes, which is the data volume.  A megabyte (MB)  is actually 8 megabits (mb).

Alternative Media this week – The Corbett Report – How To Carve Up The World

The Corbett Report recently covered the topic of how to carve up the world according to your political agenda, with particular reference to how it was done in the twentieth century, the formation of the Federal Reserve, the U.N. and other institutions.

Download the mp3

Interesting thoughts or articles I noticed this week from the alternative media. I don’t endorse or dismiss the ideas – and in many cases I have been aware of these ideas for years, but perhaps there is additional information or there is something new.

ペナンの2012盆踊り – 2012 Bon Odori Festival in Penang

Today is one of my favourite festivals in Penang – the Japanese Bon Odori festival. (And this is my 100th blog post.)

You can find details and some photos here.

Some years it rains – so a small fold up umbrella could be handy.

A big problem is parking if you go by car. And an even bigger problem is actually driving home as there is a monumental traffic jam.  Of course, you can leave early, but then you miss the fireworks, which are really good.

I would suggest parking further away, between your home and the festival, and walking for a few minutes – as Malaysians hate walking you will find a space much more easily, and you will avoid the worst of the traffic jam.

You could try catching a bus, but whether they will be running returning home I don’t know. And whether taxis will be available or hard to find, again, I don’t know.

I will try to catch a bus there, and walk back home – unless I happen to spot a bus.

***FREE Shuttle Bus will be provided from Jetty and Komtar every 20 minutes from 6.00pm-12.00am**** according to the programme, but this is not a lot of use if you live on the island.

Here, after the programme and Japanese text,  are a few photos from previous years, followed by photos I took at today’s festival – as long as I have a good enough signal to upload them.




何年か、それが雨が – 非常に小さい傘は便利かもしれません。


あなたはバスをキャッチ試みることができるが、彼らは帰国実行されるかどうか私は知らない。とタクシーは再び、見つけることが可能か難しいかどうか、私は知らない。 私はそこにバスに乗ると、家に戻って歩いていく。

ここで前の年からいくつかの写真があります。 そして、今年からいくつかの写真を私がそれらをアップロードすることができます。




























It is early.


Opening ceremony

Japanese Consul General

the crowd is growing

Now quite a crowd. Last year 70,000 people attended.

The Chief Minister seems rather more interested in his mobile than his companion or the speech

Chief Minister’s speech

media photographers

The press photographers totally blocking everyone’s view of the presentations.  You may have been there, but the only way you will see is if you buy tomorrow’s paper.

Presentation –

Well, I and a few people wanted to see, so in the end we went up to the stage too.

all the dancers together

the first performance



coupon book

To buy food or drinks one had to buy coupons  – one book RM20

RM20 worth of coupons

Water was RM2, soft drinks RM3, beer RM12, food about RM8 for a small serving


nice costume




public buildings

final dance before fireworks

firework display at 10pm

And then as usual, terrible traffic after.  I walked home, but inconsiderate people parked on the footpath, so I had to walk on the road sometimes.

one of the many inconsiderate drivers totally blocking the footpath

And interestingly, for me, a lot of people had big SLR cameras, many had compact digital cameras, but the majority of people taking photos were using their mobile. But here is a photo of two people using their tablets (ipads?) to photograph or video a dance.

ipad photographers

Malaysia’s marvellous marble

Actually, the marble and granite don’t come from Malaysia. They come from many countries – China, India, Brazil, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy, Spain and even Norway. But here you can afford it.

If you are renovating a newly acquired – or even rented – property, you will find that marble and granite are very affordable in Malaysia. The price can be similar or even cheaper than ceramic or porcelain tiles.  For narrower pieces – 60cm or less, sometimes the prices are even cheaper.  But in the shops they generally think in terms or square feet (300mm x 300mm).  Some marble or granite can be around RM20 per square foot.

White Carrera Marble RM31 per sq foot (Italy)

Rainforest Brown Marble RM43 per sq foot (India)

Black Galaxy RM45 per sq foot (India)

another Black Galaxy from India – it’s actually grey

Granite from Brazil

There are also marble mosaic tiles.

Mosaic tiles – RM16 per sq foot

Mosaic tiles

In the UK marble and granite are very expensive, but not so in Malaysia.  And here you can have them cut in any shape and size, and have a big choice in edging as well.


This, not only can you use them in the bathroom and kitchen, but also to put on top of furniture to make it low maintenance, or even to make furniture.

You can design furniture and have marble or granite cut accordingly

And it can be used around the house as an accent, or because it is functional.

as an accent in the shower

for safety on the stairs (kind of as nosing) to make the edge more visible

on the tread on stairs

in the kitchen

kitchen island

and as shelves

shelves in the kitchen

We have tended to buy from Shanghai Sing Mee, as they are reliable, honest, and the prices are reasonable:

102, Macalister Road, 10400, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia‎+60 4-228 1681  (Ask for Julie).

If you visit, the traffic is lighter before lunch, but their carpark has space only for four cars, and at that time it tends to be full, as that’s when the tradesmen are there.  In the afternoon it is much more likely you’ll find a space in their car park, but of course the traffic will be worse.

There are so many tiles shops now in Penang, so by all means look around.

From Bangkok to Penang by train – Part 1 – planning and establishing the details

Health note: Bangkok airport now, it appears on a sporadic basis, employs full body scanners,  which scientific studies have shown cause cancer, and damage DNA.  In the US the machine attendants are coming down with cancer.  Besides, many dangerous objects have been snuck through them, and so they are not even effective. I for one will not fly out of Bangkok anymore.  An alternative to flying to Malaysia is catching the train south.

I am planning sometime this year to catch the train from Bangkok to Penang. The first step was to check The man in Seat 61. There you can find good information and photos.  The information here is in addition to Seat 61.

Then I asked a friend who has done the journey a number of times.

You have to buy a ticket at the station in Bangkok. They speak English.

There is only one class of travel to Butterworth.

However, there are upper and lower bunks.  The lower is far more popular as there is more headroom, and a window..

The ticket is about RM110 for the upper bunk, the lower a bit more.

The station is at the end of a subway line, so easy to get to.

There is only one train a day – around lunchtime. Two carriages go to Butterworth.  It arrives about lunchtime in Butterworth.

But the train can be three or four hours late arriving.

Food is available on the train – the conductor comes around and takes your dinner order fairly soon after departure.  Dinner is basically Thai food.  Beer is available anytime and isn’t expensive.  You can also get food when the train stops at stations.

The train is reasonably clean, and the bedclothes are clean. There is a basin and a toilet at the end of the carriage – which is not clean. There is no shower.  There aren’t mosquitoes.

The aircon is too strong so it is cold.

The beds are made up around 8 or 9pm, and then people tend to sleep.  And the beds are returned to seat state when people wake up – but it is done so noisily everyone wakes up.

Scenery tends to be paddy fields in Thailand and jungle in Malaysia.

The train stops at the border, and everyone disembarks, and goes through first the Thai Immigration and Customs, which is quite quick and not thorough, and then through the Malaysian equivalent, which is much slower and may check luggage.  Then it’s back on the train – which hasn’t moved. All told it takes less than an hour to cross the border.

At Butterworth the train terminates, and then you can catch the ferry across to George Town, Penang.

Addendum on 8th September, 2012:

Now I have made the trip, which you can read about here.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – rain and rats

Penang has food for sale everywhere – legal and illegal stalls, coffee shops, restaurants, markets, grocery stalls, supermarkets… Between them food is for sale almost everywhere, 24 hours a day.  So rats live nearby.  And when it rains heavily, or especially when it floods, rats can be seen scuttling around.  They look for a new place to live.

Unfortunately, after flooding a rat usually finds my garden.  It visits at night when I am asleep and wreaks havoc on the garden.  This time it found the only four cherry tomatoes I was growing and which were almost ripe, and ate them.  It seemed to attack the cabbage hearts.  And it destroyed several cape gooseberry plants that had some immature fruit growing on them in order to use the foliage for a nest.  And some seeds I planted were dug up.

rat’s nest

And from experience it turns out to be only one rat each time this happens. I try to have a rat unfriendly habitat, but this is not enough.  I have  tried several methods to catch the rat:

Poison, which I don’t like because birds or even a cat might also eat it, and besides it didn’t work.

Sticky mats, which supposedly will trap the rat as it scuttles over it.  It could catch birds, though, and mostly likely, me. (It did.)  I didn’t catch the rat, though.

Conventional rat trap with bar that comes down and traps creature when it takes the bait.  Could catch birds.  It usually catches my thumb when I try to set it.  But the rat took the food and didn’t get trapped.

Finally the only effective way is a cage with an open door, and food hanging inside, which, when the animal enters and the food is touched, it springs the trap and the door closes.  If put out at night it won’t catch a bird, is too small for a cat, and doesn’t harm the creature. It costs about RM11 from a hardware store.

rat trap cage

The most humane way to kill the rat seems to be to simply put the whole trap in a full bucket of water.  Apparently it is illegal to transport rats.  If you set it free it will just come back.

I heard that Malaysia used to have a bounty of RM1 for each rat handed in to the government, as a way to eliminate rats.  Of course, some people just created rat breeding businesses so they had plenty of rats to hand in.