Month: March 2015

Penang-Perhentian Peregrination – a few tips on driving to the Perhentian Islands

at the beach

at the beach

Kuala Besut, the harbour from which you catch a boat to the Perhentian islands, is about 350  KM by road from Penang.  That’s a little over five hours drive, plus whatever time you stop for breaks – so I allowed six hours total.  You can also go by bus, organised by talking to a travel agent or to bus companies at Butterworth or Sungai Nibong terminals.  Finally, you can fly.

On our first trip to the Perhentians we drove:

For last year’s trip we flew:

This year we decided to drive again.  The time taken is only slightly more than flying, but we can align our schedule to the hotel check-in time, and luggage handling is simply loading it into the car, and then dropping it off at the jetty.  With a flight you load the luggage into the taxi at home, unload at the airport, load onto a trolley, load onto the airline conveyor belt, offload the luggage on arrival, load into the taxi, and then unload at the jetty. Three or four times more handling.

Boats to the islands leave quite frequently, although the return trips have a more restricted set schedule – 8AM, 12 noon, 4PM in the case of our resort.

Check in time at our resort was 2PM, so we aimed to be at the Kuala Besut jetty around 1PM at the latest, which would have us leaving home about 7AM at the latest.

Another parameter to bear in mind is that it gets light around 7.05 (on the equinox), and I believe it is better to either drive when it is light, or at least not hit the end of the dual carriageway until it is light. As it is about 35 minutes drive (45KM) to the end of the dual carriageway, then the earliest to leave home would be about 6.30AM. The reason for not driving in the dark is that some vehicles have no working rear lights, and it is possible to drive almost into their rear before you see them – especially if they are driving very slowly. So, the earliest to leave is 6.30AM, and the latest 7AM.

just after sunrise

just after sunrise

  • I worked out all these timings as a result of the trip, and we actually left slightly earlier, at 6.10AM.
  •  But actually on Sunday there is quite a lot of traffic.  Any other day would be better, but these were the only days we could get the hotel booking.
  • We reached the bridge at 6.20, and were across it at 6.30.
  • At about 6.45 we reached the end of the dual carriageway.
  • At about 7.05 it became light, and we stopped a little later for coffee by the side of the road – from our thermos – our coffee is better than anything you can buy on the way
  • We later stopped at a petrol station for a break
  • And then we stopped at the summit hawker centre for more coffee and sandwiches.
  • We arrived at Kuala Besut at 12.05PM – 360 KM later
  • We parked at back of the hotel and walked to agent, who gave us boat tickets
  • Their agent rode his bike to our car
  • We drove to the jetty and unloaded luggage
  • We left luggage with Mrs Tropical Expat and I followed the bike to parking and parked
  • Then I rode on the back of the bike to the jetty and we boarded the boat

And a few other comments:

  • Some bad drivers will not wait their turn. You wait until it is safe to overtake the slower vehicle in front, and just when you judge it is safe, one or more vehicles from behind overtake you and cut you off  – in the end you miss the chance to overtake
  • At traffic lights many cars will take the right turn lane and overtake you.  If they are driving faster than you this isn’t a problem, but if it’s a slow car you have already overtaken once you might want to ensure they don’t succeed.
  • The road marking engineers largely have little idea of their craft.
  • Local traffic in the east may drive very slowly – about half the speed of through traffic.
  • At least once every trip an oncoming car overtakes despite the fact there isn’t space, and forces you off the road
  • Still, driving is easier and more relaxing  than flying

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in March 2015

Well, since last month until this week it’s  rained once a week, so the Bougainvillea have been great, but otherwise it’s been slow until now.  It’s now has rained for the past three nights, and so it seems the season has changed.

The pumpkin vines are growing all over the place now.

IMG_20150327_155705904 (Copy)


growing like crazy

growing like crazy

I harvest one or two a day

I harvest one or two mini pumpkin a day


passion fruit vines are growing very well

growing like crazy

small passion fruit are growing like crazy

doing well

and the mock orange are also doing well – they like the rain


Canna Lily are happy

quite happy now

quite happy now

Mrs Tropical Expat took some hibiscus cuttings.

parent of cuttings

parent of cuttings

Some of the cuttings went into small pots and were transferred later to larger pots.  These then grew much more than the cuttings that stayed in small pots.

cutting in larger pot

cutting in larger pot is much bigger

cuttings in small pots

cuttings in small pots

Now the Bougainvillea are not as spectacular, as they seem to like the dry weather.

these are now less spectacular

these are now less spectacular

If now it is transitioning into the rainy season maintenance is easier.  When it rains I don’t have to bother watering, and I can use collected rain water for watering on the days it doesn’t rain.

Malaysia, MSG, Marcia and me



When we first came to live in Malaysia we often ate at hawker centres.  We thought, “Why would we bother cooking at home much, when we can eat easily and cheaply here?”  We cooked at home when we didn’t feel like going out, or we wanted to eat what wasn’t available at hawker centres.

After a while, though, we came to the realisation that perhaps this wasn’t such a wise lifestyle.  The hygiene is not that great, even though it’s never made us sick.  We heard they tend to use cheap, perhaps recycled, oil, for cooking. And so on. But one of the big things is that you will find monosodium glutamate (MSG) in much of the food.  This is because it is an easy way to add flavour, and probably because this is included in many spice mixes that are used.

Of course, there is natural MSG, as found in many foods, such as tomatoes.  Being natural it is not going to do the damage that the artificial MSG does. So from now on I will just consider the unnatural chemical version.

You can check online to see the damage that some say MSG does to your body.  Some people feel the effects immediately, and for others it takes longer.  Mrs Tropical Expat can taste MSG, and also immediately suffers bad effects.  As for me, I cannot usually taste it, and I don’t seem to suffer anything.

MSG is found in many packaged products, too, so one must always check the labels.  It can be hidden in other chemical compounds too, so not actually labelled by name as MSG.  e.g. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein , Hydrolyzed Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Plant Protein Extract, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Textured Protein…

I buy very few packaged products, but even buying a packet of peanuts I have to check, as some have MSG.

For years I have heard and read about the deleterious effects of MSG. Personally I have not done so much study on this topic, and I intend to do more.  As always when I research, I will try to read opposing views, try to follow references, and try to challenge my current view to see if it still holds true after this process.  This site I just found seems to oppose my views on these chemical substances, so I will read it in detail and check the references.

The first thing I remember learning at university was how much “researchers” lie, with made up results, research designed to give skewed results, references to non-existent studies or ones that show something different to what they claim; and also manipulate statistics to give the desired “result”. I just read a book on a different topic by a mainstream university professor, tried to follow those references for what the author claimed was proof, to end up with made up, non-existent, and totally unprovable, uncheckable and untraceable references. “Recently released Russian archives” was the footnote “proving” one of her statements. For others I had to check books, some of which I could find online. But the references didn’t exist. Then, of course, there is the question of conflict of interest.  Much research is done by the very companies that produced a chemical at great expense.  Are their testing staff unbiased?

Marcia Angell, a Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine 
at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine – one of the most prestigious medicals journals – wrote, ” It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”

Anyway, for years I have tried to eat and live healthily, avoiding unnatural substances as much as possible, including fast food, aspartame, MSG and so on.  And in retirement I take no medication at all, or even headache tablets if I get a very rare headache.  So, eating and living reasonably healthily seems to have kept me healthy.  I do know, as mentioned above, that my wife suffers if she ingests this substance.

But what I wonder about is how people in Malaysia are affected, seeing as quite a few people in this country eat out a lot – some people for almost every meal – and thus are ingesting MSG on a very frequent and regular basis.

Finally, here is one site on alternatives.


Another bump in the road

Proceeding along Gurney Drive this morning I notice yet another bump in the road.  Two weeks ago I noticed another bump on Codrington Avenue.

If they continue at this rate installing bumps I will be able to look forward in the near future to the roads being smooth, and safer, once more when all the bumps join together.

Meanwhile, the brake and suspension shops will be making out better than expected.

a few things in March

After a long rainy season, from about mid-January we started the normal hot season for Chinese New Year.  Beautiful and sunny all day. But for the past three weeks it has rained about once a week – twice quite heavily.  And sometimes now it is overcast.  But mostly the beautiful sunny days continue.  Still, the hot season seems much shorter this time.

Chinese New Year seemed rather quiet this year.  Only on one night was I awoken several times by World War Three sounding explosions of fireworks.  Most years I experience several nights like this.  And the traffic seemed also quieter than usual. I guess it’s all over now.

A couple of days I was driving slowly in a back street, and saw a bird perched on the edge of a refuse skip.  A cat had snuck up underneath, and then made a sudden leap for the bird.  The bird flew off with millimetres and half a second to spare.

This action from a local animal seems rare.  There are many dogs and cats that appear to be stray. Some are, and some are owned by locals, but they roam free – (both the animals and the locals.)  Some have collars, and some not.  But neighbours feed the animals daily and so they are all very relaxed.

A few dogs chase cars,  but they are in the minority. They are rarely threatening to anyone, in fact, many are quite timid.  Just show a tiny bit of attention to some of them and they will follow you into your property, and generally act hopeful when they see you for the following few days.  Others are only interested in their owners and those who feed them.  And the population of these stray dogs is ever-changing.  They come and go. Some stay for a short while, some for longer.

I have heard that when people move properties they sometimes just abandon their pets.  And the pets are left to fend for themselves.  And then they breed, and there are more strays. But at least life is quite easy for them in Penang.

Since Starbucks introduced a system whereby you need to use a code on your receipt to  log into and use WiFi, and restricts you to one device and for up to two hours, it is less attractive to drink there.  For a start, we can’t log in with our iPad.  It just doesn’t work.  Then there is the extra fiddling around putting in codes.  And you have to log off one device if you even briefly want to use another device with the WiFi.  For a couple it makes sense to buy drinks separately so you have two receipts, one each, with a log on code each. Today I just couldn’t log on with my computer, and wasted a lot of time trying.  In the end I had to log on with my phone, and it’s  much slower typing into the phone.  So now I spend less time at Starbucks, as it’s easier just to skip it and go home and use my Internet there.

So generally it’s all pretty quiet.