Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in August 2017

It’s rained often on consecutive days, and then not rained also for several days – but overall it’s quite cool and there hasn’t been so much sun.  The plants mostly soldier on.

At the moment what we can eat from the garden are the ginger poker sprouts – nice in salads or desserts; rosemary, basil, passion fruit, limes, mini eggplants, aloe vera, roselle… and I’m hoping for papaya reasonably soon, and lemons sometime. Pandan is growing well here and there, so we’ll be able to do something with that, too.

back garden

papaya growing

tree getting taller

citrus in the sun growing fast

a small papaya has come up – a lot of competition so it is growing slowly

the grape vine survives

the white Bougainvillea is particularly happy


Canna Lily having a bit of a rest

after repotting the citrus is growing a lot on the previously bare lower branches

I left the limes a bit too long on the tree – they are yellow

It’s supposed to be hot, but instead cool and wet – so we have flowers and many unripe fruit

passion fruit flower

I have to pick them green or the squirrels get them

some limes I picked

birdie breakfast

birdie breakfast

birdie breakfast in the compost

birdie breakfast in the compost

birdie breakfast in the compost

the bird comes every day for the open compost container

papaya earlier in the month

papaya in a pot – it won’t fruit, but it’s decoration

plumbago battle on

ginger poker propagation

one of the many ginger poker around our place



rosemary – after a battle with bugs

we eat the sprouts in salads

and we eat the little eggplants from this plant

the citrus in the sun grow quickly


the pumpkin vine is growing fast – often where I don’t want it to grow

the bird often leaves leftovers lying around after it’s eaten


Favourite ebook apps

I like books, proper books. I really do. But they are heavy to carry when travelling, difficult to deal with when moving, take up lots of space etc. I’ve moved a lot, and thus lugged boxes and boxes of books from one country to another many times. Finally I gave most away to a library and now I mostly ready ebooks.

You can carry thousands and access any or all of them on a small device, read when you have a few minutes spare, such as when you ‘re waiting for something, and with the right apps create a summary of the important points of a book as a separate document. Later you can pick up reading the same book on another device just where you left off on the other device.

I hear the trend is back to real books and away from ebooks now. But the sales increase in the former and decrease in the latter is only minor.

Here I’m going to mention my favourite apps. I mostly read ePub or PDF books.

For cataloging the books: Calibre is great. It has so many functions that I don’t know, but it is easy to use for what I want. It’s free, too. You can buy an app for Android or iOS called Calibre Companion that allows you to access Calibre on your PC, browse and download books. Depending on how you set it up you can access your books from afar too, over the Internet.

For reading ePub books where you want to create a summary: Google Play Books: You upload the books you want to read, and highlight the passages of importance. A separate document of the highlights is created in Google Drive (which you need to have set up) and you can download that in Word format or others. You can upload and read PDF’s, but can’t highlight or summarise the books. GPB will also read you book aloud if you wish, and this works well, too. And can pick up reading the same book on another device just where you left off on the first device. On PC’s, Android and iOS.

For reading PDF format books and creating a summary: Xodo – Or even extracting entire pages into a new document you create. You can in a convoluted way set it up on multiple devices so your reading progress is updated on each device, but I haven’t succeeded. But otherwise a great free app / program for PC’s, Android and iOS.

For reading novels on Android in ePub format, where I don’t want to create any notes of the book: Pocketbook: A free app I use.  Also good for many other ebook formats. I can’t find a homepage, but there are plenty of download sites – or for Android in the Google Play apps.

A free Windows program for reading not only PDF’s but ePUB and some other formats. SumatraPDF.  I don’t usually read books on the PC, but I do read documents with it, or perhaps look through a book quickly.

Kindle: If I buy a Kindle book I often use this app to read it on a tablet or phone, or even a PC if it’s just a quick look. You can use it for reading PDF’s as well – not only for what you have bought from Amazon. I often convert the books to ePub, and then I can use Google Play Books. This you can do free online, or buy a program to do it from epubor. The Kindle app and program is free.

These are the main apps I use, in the order that I use them.



Transportation in Penang for visitors and tourists

another blue ferry, but with a different car/passenger configuration

Penang is quite small and there are also many transport options.

This recently written site gives you some information to which I’ll add my opinions.

On foot:  The attitude used to be that if you walked you’re too poor even to buy a bicycle. If you cycled, you’re too poor to buy a motorbike… You get the idea.  The attitude is changing, but pedestrian facilities are poor, but being improved.  I do have a blog series on walking in Penang for the non-suicidal which you could browse.  So it’s practical and interesting to walk sometimes.  But pedestrian crossings are ignored by all vehicles, so wait until there are none around to cross.  A motorcyclist or driver could be smoking and texting and driving at the same time, so may not notice you.  If there are traffic lights, most vehicles will stop on red – but some cars and particularly motorbikes will ignore them – so cross cautiously looking always to ensure nothing is moving towards you, particularly between cars for motorbikes that might zoom through. But be careful and don’t overdo walking during the middle of the day. preferably wear a hat, keep your walks to under 30 or 45 minutes at a time, drink plenty of beer – sorry, water – to keep yourself hydrated.  If you feel overheated, quickly find a 7-11 convenience store or a bank, a mall etc.  that has air-con and cool yourself down. And drink more water.  Mild heat exhaustion can wipe you out for an afternoon – you might need to sleep.  Worse and it could take days to recover.

Public Buses: Rapid Buses are slow. As a solo traveller you could use one if you have plenty of time.  If you want the experience of riding one you could.  Unless you board at the terminals mentioned in the above site, Komtar or the ferry terminal, you can wait a very long time for the bus to come. I am not anti-bus. I just think that buses should either have a timetable posted which they more or less stick to, or be so frequent that you don’t need a timetable as there is virtually no waiting time. If you do ride one: Beware of pickpockets.

Hop on – Hop off tourist bus:  As run in many tourist cities around the world. So the concept would be familiar. The price if you are Malaysian is reasonable, and perhaps it’s worth using if you are a solo Malaysian traveller. Or even a Malaysian couple.  But for foreigners the price is crazy.  I see the buses often when I am out, and they are almost always almost empty.  It’s a pity as if foreigners weren’t discriminated against they’d probably have many more passengers as it’s otherwise a useful service. Naturally I have never caught it.

Bicycle Rental:  Personally, although I love cycling, I believe it’s too dangerous as the drivers are too erratic to risk cycling in Penang, except for the recently constructed cycle path from George Town to the airport.  Thus I have never rented one.  There are rental cycle stands in various places around Penang, where you can pick up or leave bicycles. Ask at your accommodation or look online for information if you wish. ( However, to use these bicycles involves installing an app on your phone which requires permissions to spy on your data and manage your phone calls etc., and if you read this company’s privacy and other policies on their website you’ll see how they are trying to amass personal data and share it.  I would recommend against using this company if you have any concept of protecting yourself from identity theft, as all it takes is a slip up, a rogue employee, or of course, a hacker, etc.  Renting a car or even possibly taking out a bank loan is less invasive. ) In the future this aforementioned path will be extended to Tanjung Bungah, on the north coast.  Once completed this will be an option – just beware of heat exhaustion.  Don’t overdo it.  But I am looking forward to this path, and I’ll finally be able to bring out my bike.  So the future looks good.

Car and motorbike rental: Both are possible but I know nothing about this.

Penang Airport: If you want the public bus turn left coming out of the terminal and walk a little to find it.  To be honest I’ve never caught it as it’s not worth the trouble. The above site explained the taxi system. They are the white airport taxis. The price is reasonable. I used them for years until I was kidnapped. (It was kidnapping-lite, so we got away quite easily after a while.  But since all of the “authorities ignored my emails with number plate and driver photos, including SPAD which is supposed to regulate taxis, I gave up.) Technically you can’t get picked up by ordinary taxis at the airport, but you can call Grab, which I’ll discuss later) and get them to pick you up. It’s safer and cheaper.  Last time from the airport to Gurney Drive cost me RM23.  White taxi is RM40+.

Train: There is no train on Penang island.  To get to Butterworth station I always get the ferry across to Butterworth from the Penang ferry terminal and walk a few minutes to the station.  When I checked earlier this year there were no longer any sleeper trains to KL. You can see another blog about my last train trip to KL.

Taxis: Apart from getting kidnapped by a white airport taxi I haven’t had any problems with taxis.  Find out what the fare generally is from your accommodation, and then you’ll be able to ensure you don’t pay a driver too much more. Because yes, despite the sign on the side of the cars saying the meter must be used, it rarely will be.  The taxi fleet is improving, but there are still many old cars in bad condition.  Maybe the seat belt is unusable.  The option below is better.

Grab taxi:  This is an e-hailing service.  Unless you are a solo traveller on a very tight budget, this is almost always the best option for getting around.  Install the app on your Android or iPhone (but not Windows Phone) and you can pay cash, so no need to register a card. But you can register a card if you wish to use it. You get a price on your app as soon as you put in the route, and if you tap the button to book, then that is the price you pay. I usually tip a ringitt or two. Gurney Drive to George Town is usually RM6 (less than USD2) when I use it. The cars are much newer than taxis, the drivers are usually much friendlier than taxi drivers, and it’s much cheaper. Uber is also here, but you get a quote not a fixed price. However, from last week the government started regulating e-hailing services.  I don’t know if that will raise prices or change what up until now has been very good. I mostly leave my car at home and walk or use Grab. (Full disclosure – I have no connection at all to Grab – I just think it’s great.)

To summarise:

Penang is not the best for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders etc.  But it’s better than it was 10 years ago (when I arrived) and improving in many ways.

Solo travellers: On a low budget you could use a bus for longer distances, and Grab for shorter distances that you can’t walk. To circle the island it’s probably better by bus. If you’re going to Butterworth use the ferry.
Couples, families and groups: Use Grab, but the ferry to get to Butterworth. But still, if you can walk safely and the distance is not too great, you’ll see a lot more.  To circle the island you could get the price from Grab, consider the bus if you have time, or maybe a one day car rental would be a good idea.  Some younger tourists rent motorcycles, which is risky, but no doubt, fun.

Note: I won’t really bother with many links as you can find the sites yourself easily enough. But if you want any other details feel free to ask and if I know I’ll tell you and update the site.

Penang passion fruit picking

You can buy passion fruit in Penang.  You rarely see them in supermarkets, but more often in (wet) markets. However I grow my own.

I have quite a few vines – it’s impossible to count how many as they are kind of mixed up, and some may be dead, but their stems are used by other passion fruit vines to climb on.  Every year I germinate some seeds and plant several vines – or quite often the seedlings grow up in pots of other plants – as the seeds were in the compost  given to those plants, and thus they have germinated.

Those seeds in the compost weren’t there by chance. When I eat passion fruit I often save a few seeds to put in the compost.  If I find really big passion fruit in the markets I’ll buy some, and if they are tasty, or if ones I have grown at home are particularly nice, I’ll save some of the seeds and germinate them.  Either way, each year I put in some seedlings, as the vines only last for a few years before they die.  So some vines are descendents of previous vines, and some are new ones, from passion fruit from the markets.   The ones that die off always have replacements at different stages of growth.

To germinate the seeds I just wash any pulp off them and dry them.  Then leave them until around February.  That’s around when passion fruit starts to grow for the year.  In February or March I plant the seeds shallowly in some soil with some nutrition in a trough or pots, and put in some legume seeds – usually mung beans.  The legume seeds increase the germination rate from about 5% to maybe 80%.  Birds will watch me put the seeds in and come and eat some, but most will remain.  Most of the seeds will germinate. And when the seedlings are a few inches high I will replant the strongest ones.  They will grow well in a pot, but I’ve never got fruit from potted passion fruit.  You need to have them in a reasonable expanse 0f soil, or in the ground.

The growing season is from around February – March usually, but in the first year you probably won’t get any fruit from the new vines.  Perhaps in May and onwards they will flower and then later fruit.  And they will continue to do this until around October / November or so most years.  But one year the weather was such that they had a second spurt of growth and fruiting until February.  Usually around Christmas I prune them, but not as far back as the hard wood, leaving some green.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way, but it seems to work for me.

All through the year they lose leaves, and I dry them in the sun and when crunchy, scrunch them up into little pieces and put in other pots or on the passion fruit garden.  And after pruning I do the same, but it is a much bigger operation as there is so much foliage.


today’s passion fruit picking

I used to be able to wait until the passion fruit were ripe to pick them, but the last couple of years squirrels attacked more than half of them – I didn’t mind the occasional loss as everything has to eat – but they often just eat a little and waste the rest and all I can do with the rest is compost it.  We tried lots of ways to stop the squirrels, but nothing was particularly effective. So now I have to pick them green, once they feel heavy with fruit inside, and ripen them – which can be done by moistening them, putting them in a plastic bag, and burying this in compost.  Squirrels can tell better than me when they are ripe, so feeling the weight is the best I can do to tell if they are ready to ripen.  I just check sometimes to see progress, and when ripe bring them inside until I am ready to eat them.  This way I get to keep pretty well 100% of the fruit – only the hidden ones that I didn’t see and which ripened on the vine are squirrel food.

Today I picked ten passion fruit, last week the same number, and I can see at least 30 that are still on the vine, but not yet heavy enough with fruit inside. There are a few flowers too, from which we’ll later get fruit.  I see the bees buzzing around – other plants attract them too, so there are usually bees.  The bees get the nectar, the birds get some seeds and a second chance by dining off the compost when it’s open, and we get the fruit.  Now everything is happy except the squirrels.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in June-July 2017

Over these two months it’s rained a lot and every day sometimes, and otherwise just once every few days.  Recently the latter.

at last a lemon is growing

so many little eggplants


another citrus and others


mother-in-law’s tongue

aloe vera

this mock orange first appeared in another pot, and now is happily growing bigger

this was the original ginger poker, which our neighbour kindly gave us. Now we have propagated it and have lots growing in all our gardens

this was the original ginger poker, which our neighbour kindly gave us. Now we have propagated it and have lots growing in all our gardens

this was the original ginger poker, which our neighbour kindly gave us. Now we have propagated it and have lots growing in all our gardens



another ginger poker




cultivating ginger poker

you can see the babies coming up

Canna Lily – always one blooming



a papaya

passion fruit growing

this citrus needs repotting as it’s grown big

leaves are drying before composting

a tiny mock orange that appeared in the garden

aloe vera

the back garden –  on the right a papaya has appeared

one of the cultivated ginger pokers – now it’s big


roselle plants grew quickly

hibiscus – the only surviving one at the back


this papaya has really grown = mealy bugs are their enemies, and I have to clean them off sometimes

tiny papaya fruit on the way

the citrus support the papaya until the papaya grow bigger, and then the papaya support the citrus

a couple of citrus

passion fruit flower


Birdie breakfast buffet

A bit hard to see as I had to use my mobile phone to photograph.

the bird knows I am nearby

If we open the compost birds come to eat the fruit peels. Usually one stands guard while the other hops in and eats. And usually if one points any photographic device in their direction they immediately take off.

This bird was alone and kept watch for itself, but stayed even though I took a couple of very quick photos.

Amongst the compost are mango and papaya peels, which seem to be the favourite.