Month: November 2014

Avoiding genetically modified “food”

Basically, now I not only have to read the labels of anything packaged, be suspicious and untrusting, and also check online.  And anything at all from the US is best avoided. You can now skip the rest of this article.


I mostly don’t eat anything that comes from packets, avoid anything from the US as it may have (unlabelled)  or be GM and/or have been irradiated; and from China as they do weird and unhealthy things to produce cheaply.

If you don’t know why GM “food” is bad for you, look into the long-term studies.  The companies that produce GMO’s do very short-term studies that are over before the damage is shown in the results.  All the propaganda is based on these.  Scientists and doctors who release information contrary to the corporate / government / media message are usually pilloried.  The same story as for vaccines, global warming etc.

Anyway, life is too boring if you totally forbid yourself what you’d really like to eat, so every few months or so I buy a packet of corn chips (for example) – but only after carefully reading the packet, ensuring I avoid the above, and MSG and other weird and debilitating chemicals.  Most US corn is GM, so I am very wary if a product is made by a US company.

A couple of months ago I bought Mission Tortilla chips.

Because they don't label GM products in the US the easiest is just to avoid them - but superficially this isn't from the US

Because they don’t label GM products in the US the easiest is just to avoid all US products – but superficially this isn’t from the US

There is no GM labelling, and it’s labelled halal, so in the end I thought it would be OK.

Halal - I thought that meant GM-free, but it doesn't

Halal – I thought that meant GM-free, but it doesn’t

But after eating them my wife, who is more sensitive than me, felt unwell. Later checking online it turns out they are GM. I read also below of a court case against this company, which claims its products are natural – even though they are GM.  I disposed of the other packet I bought.

My wife then recalled that she also felt unwell after eating Mission wraps that I used to use to make home-made pizza.  Probably also GM.  Is it GM or trans fats that are affecting her? I don’t know.

So I guess this means when I shop for something I will only rarely buy as a treat and that comes in a packet, after checking the label I have to check online or contact them.

So, my flow chart is as follows:  Not a US or Chinese product, no obvious GM components, no MSG – which is often hidden in other compounds, so none of these either, nothing that sounds weird.  Then check online.  There are guides to avoiding GMO’s – the ones I have seen are US-based – but then the US is the most dangerous country.  It’s a lot of trouble.

A long-term diet high in GM has been shown to cause very nasty symptoms – sterility, early death.  These results are from studies with rats. But, what if you have GM just once?  Will your body recover?  What if you have had a lot of GM and then give it up? etc. etc.  I guess we don’t yet have the answers.


Trapped in Gurney Plaza!!

Before about 9.30AM you can park in Gurney Plaza, but then you find that you cannot easily get outside – I was heading for Starbucks, for example.  Normally I would catch the lift to the ground flor and simply go outside – but these doors are locked.  The doors to inside Gurney Plaza are also locked.

If are in the fifth floor car park on the Gurney Drive side, and catch the lift to the basement, the door to the car park is open, and you can turn left into the car park, and right out the car park entrance, and in a moment you will be outside.

basement lift lobby on Gurney Drive side of Gurney Plaza

basement lift lobby on Gurney Drive side of Gurney Plaza

carpark with the entrance for cars straight ahead

car park with the entrance for cars straight ahead

entrance to car park that you can walk out of

entrance to car park that you can walk out of

If you get into the plaza, which I have done from the sixth floor car park on the Kelawai Road side, and you get to the ground floor, you can get out through McDonald’s.

There may be other routes, but I am rarely there that early for it to bother me.  In terms of fire safety and quick evacuation I am not sure how safe it is.

Driving licence renewal for expats in Penang

I read a blog about this:

How To Renew Your Malaysian Expired Driving License, which is aimed at locals, and asked around.

It seems that you can renew in a JPJ office – Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan in Batu Uban – or at a post office.

JPJ Batu Ub

JPJ Batu Uban

If you go to the JPJ office they can take a photo for your licence on the spot, which is cost-free, and issue the licence with the new photo at the price of RM30 per year.

However, if you go to the post office to renew they issue you with another laminated card to use in tandem with your old licence that states the validity dates, but has no photo. Then you need to carry both cards.

Thus, to renew you take your old licence, passport and the licence fee.

If you do want to go to the JPJ office, it is a little hard to find. Use a GPS, Google Maps or whatever.

Penang Hop-On Hop- Off open top Double Decker Bus



Now that tickets are not free every time I have seen the bus it has passengers, but is not crowded.

on Gurney Drive

on Gurney Drive

on Gurney Drive

on Gurney Drive

on Gurney Drive

on Gurney Drive



We tried to catch the bus, waiting at the stop outside Gurney Plaza from 9.15AM.

the bus was already full

the bus was already full

There was a big crowd there already, and when the bus came, it was already full.

DSCN0545 (Copy)So no one could get on anyway.  It looks like one needs to board at the terminus, or there is no chance to get on.

The normal public buses – Rapid Penang – were empty.


The official launch was this afternoon, perfectly organised to be at the same time that it usually rains. And guess what, it rained.

open top double decker

open top double-decker

It is free for the first week – to November 23rd, I believe,

We’ll give it a try sometime, but for the moment, here is their website:

or another article here:

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in November

This month has seen a bumper crop of passion fruit – it’s the peak of the harvest.  Some days I have picked 15 passion fruit, and yet at most I would eat two per day, with mango and cream for breakfast.  I’ll probably put most of them in the freezer as is.  Soon the harvest will dwindle.

one day's harvest of passion fruit

one day’s harvest of passion fruit

The small passion fruit vines are still growing slowly.  And I have pruned much of the deadwood from the older vines.

2014-11-15 10.11.33 (Copy)

I pick passion fruit when they start to ripen – squirrels occasionally attack fully ripened fruit

And a few days ago I put some passion fruit seeds into some pots in order to germinate them.  Together I put mung beans, as the germination rate if you sow the seeds with legumes increases exponentially. Usually the mung beans will germinate first and grow, and then later the passion fruit seedlings come up.  But so far nothing has happened.

one of several tubs with passion fruit seeds and mung beans seeds

one of several tubs with passion fruit seeds and mung beans seeds

The next day – mung beans are starting to sprout.

seeds germinating

the first seeds germinating

The pumpkin vines are just growing, flowering, and producing tiny pumpkins, which then shrivel and die. I could pick them and eat them – they taste like courgettes – but I live in hope that a few will grow into full size pumpkins.  Again I have pruned the dead parts of the pumpkin vines.

mini pumpkins

mini pumpkin

So now the garden has a lot of prunings as mulch.

Mock orange are happy as ever with all the rain we’ve been getting, and I have collected quite a lot of seeds, although this week there have been very few. I have been repotting some of the seedlings into larger pots.

from these smaller pots...

from these smaller pots… these larger pots

…to these larger pots

And I repotted the Dutanta to a plastic pot as they are thristy plants and in the ceramic pots they dry out too easily.  Bees love these, by the way.

from a ceramic pot to a plastic pot

moved Dutantas from ceramic pots to plastic pots

And the plumbago are also happy with the rain. The Cana lilies are having a quiet time at the moment.



Roselle are still producing a lot of flowers.  We’ve bought a few more hibiscus.  But there is a caterpillar that eats the leaves.

2014-11-13 11.32.26

this one eats hibiscus leaves

The bad news is that after the flood in early October almost all of the papaya trees got sick, and have died.  I don’t know why – the bad haze at the time, or some toxic overflow from a neighbour that reached them because of the extraordinary flood.  I suspect the latter.  So about 30 trees – from middle size to tiny, have died.

dead papaya trees

dead papaya trees

The only producing tree does not look like it will survive – leaving just one quite small tree still looking healthy.

the only remaining healthy papaya tree

the only remaining healthy papaya tree

And the mealy bugs have attacked this tree, so I am fighting back with minced garlic around the trunk, and garlic spray on the leaves.

mealy bug attack - left alone they will kill the tree

mealy bug attack – left alone they will kill the tree

The soil the trees were growing in looks quite fertile, with worms living in it, so I have put some more seeds in, but it means waiting at least another year to get back to the stage to which the former trees had grown.  I hope the soil is not toxic, and any residues will have been washed away.

Finally, we’ve had high winds a couple of times, and a couple of the larger pot plants have blown over, but nothing, including the plants, was damaged, and they were easily righted. And I have tied up a couple of plants so it won’t happen again.

2014-11-03 14.34.45 (Copy)

mock orange was blown over – but no damage


Maxis and changing terms and conditions

My understanding of the way a contract should be is that both / all parties agree to something, and unless they renegotiate and come to a mutual agreement, then the terms remain the same.

However, when a company is large and has a monopoly or is one of a small number of suppliers to individual consumers, they seem to have as part of their terms and conditions that they can change these conditions if they want to.  Making the contract fairly worthless as any protection for the consumer. Pretty much the same as a government (which are all corporations anyway), they just dictate their conditions.  The contract only really protects the supplier.

Maxis, the mobile phone network company,  has just sent me a text, to which rudely I cannot reply, to tell me they are now adding an extra charge.  They have not asked for my agreement or even understanding.

I will now be looking for a new supplier.

As numbers are portable it is just a bit more trouble. And I do not find Maxis particularly good.  Their signal strength seems to have deteriorated over the years, and their service markedly so. It can take five hours for a text to arrive from downstairs to upstairs in my house – from my wife to me – on their own network. Similar with phone calls.  Most of their shop fronts are not useful, with the exception of their Menara branch.  So this latest outrage is the prompting to see if there are better deals for us.

And it puts the kibosh on any idea of using their fibre network for the Internet, which I had been considering – if they are so cavalier at changing contract terms it is just too scary.


A quiet day in the life of a retiree in Penang

I write occasionally about what I did on a day – no day is typical – but to give an idea of living here in Penang.  Last time I wrote such a blog is quite a while ago.

7.20 – Woke up naturally, did a bit of meditation and Reiki, and a little German study on the computer.

8.10 – Went back to bed and dozed again while listening to a podcast – about plants.

9.00 – Got up again and did a bit of pruning of the passion fruit and pumpkin vines. Collected about 10 passion fruit that are ripening.  Squirrels attack a ripe passion fruit about once every three of four days.  If they do I leave the partially eaten fruit on the ground, and they have some more of that fruit next time if they come, rather than attacking more fruit. Probably because it is quite hard to get through the skin, and once one is opened it’s easier to eat it.  Swept the floor etc.

picked a lot of passion fruit today

picked a lot of passion fruit today

10.00 Put the washing on. Did some German study and briefly checked my email.

11.00 Made coffee and drank that looking at Internet.

11.30 Put washing out and collected a couple more ripening passion fruit.

12.00 Shower, started next load of washing and did a bit more German study.

12.40 Had some mango, passion fruit and cream.  Then decided to write up this blog and started typing.

1.30 – Repotted a mock orange seedling to a larger pot.  Pottered around in garden.

repotted from this small pot...

repotted from this small pot…

to this larger pot

to this larger pot

2.00 – put out the next load of washing, and brought in the clothes that had dried.  I like putting out washing.  I take my t-shirt off and get lots of sunshine on my body, and I enjoy being in the garden with the greenery.  And I listen to podcasts at the same time.

a great drying day

a great drying day

2.30 Considered washing the car – but if I do it may rain on the washing. So, I sit in a spot with a garden view, reading an e-book.

garden view

garden view

4.00 Time for some cheese and biscuits

4.15 Brought out world map and considered potential trips

4.30 Collected remaining washing and picked five more passion fruit.

5.00 Thought I really should wash the car

5.45 Shower and read some more

7.00 Made some dinner – Spanish omelette and salad – relaxed and watched a film.  Totally forgot that I should be attending a meeting at the club, and just stayed home all night.