Meeting people as an expat in Penang

Unless you are a recluse you’ll probably want to make some friends here.

It’s likely that the only people you know are the people at the visa agency.  They are a great resource if you have any questions.

Well, if you move into a condo you can make the opportunity to meet your fellow residents.  The kind of people living there can be one factor to take into account when choosing where you live.

If you are religious, try out different churches until you find one that suits you.

There are several Rotary clubs and Lions clubs in Penang, and if you were a member in another country you would probably fit right in.  There are at least two Toastmasters clubs in Penang that I am aware of.

Peruse the local papers: the Sun and the Star have announcements of clubs’ activities.  The free Expat magazine also announces club meetings. Just attend anything of interest and see how it works out.  It’s easy enough to leave even part way through a meeting if you think it is just not for you. I have seen plenty of people do that. So you have little to lose.

You could also try hosting couchsurfers or join in some of their activities – this has worked for me.
Couchsurfing site.  There are plenty of couchsurfing members in Penang.

With www.meetup.com, if you can’t find a group to join, you can create one easily. I am thinking of doing just that, because the only group in Penang I found on it was a Futures trading group.

There are also clubs such as the Penang Club, Penang Swimming Club, and the Penang Sports Club, but these require a substantial investment to join.

And if you are interested in learning languages, at Alliance Francais they hold lessons in French and Bahasa; at the Malaysian German Society, German, of course.

Many women seem to join dance classes and meet many locals that way.

Otherwise, just be open to meeting people whenever you are out, and it can sometimes happen.

Ich schreibe meinen Blog über Penang auf schrecklichen Deutsch – my German life in Penang

Neue Version – meine Lehrerin hat es korrigiert.

Es macht mir viel Spaß, Deutsch zu lernen. Eigentlich macht es mir viel Spaß, für mich Fremdsprachen zu lernen. Jetzt lerne ich Deutsch, und deshalb muss ich üben.

Ich möchte über mein deutsches Leben in Penang schreiben.

1. Zuerst versuche ich, zwei Stunden  jeden Tag Deutsch zu lernen.

2. Zweitens fahre ich samstags zur Malaysian German Society, um Unterricht zu nehmen. Vor dem Unterricht üben ein Kommilitone und ich eine Stunde, Deutsch zu sprechen.


3. Drittens lese ich ein bisschen deutsche Zeitschriften und sehe deutsche Filme ohne Untertitel.

4. Viertens mache ich zu Hause Sauerkraut und das essen wir mit Wurst, Kartoffeln und Bier. Wir kaufen die Wurst bei Tesco.


5. Fünftens essen wir manchmal in deutschen Restaurants. Im Moment gibt es viele deutsche Restaurants in Penang, aber ich esse am liebsten bei Ingolffs.

platter for two at Ingolfs - oops, in English

6. Sechstens trinke ich Bier auf dem Oktoberfest, das man hier im Oktober feiert. Es gibt verschiedene Oktoberfeste in Penang, aber das berühmteste Oktoberfest ist bei MGS. Letztes Jahr waren auch Oktoberfeste in E & O Hotel und anderen Hotels.

MGS Oktoberfest

viele Leute - MGS Oktoberfest, 2008

E & O Oktoberfest 2011

E & O 2011

And, in English, what I am trying to say in German:

It’s fun learning German. Actually I like learning foreign languages. Right now I am studying German, and I have to practice. So I want to talk about the  German part of my life in Penang.

  1. I try to study German for two hours a day
  2. On Saturdays I go to the Malaysian German Society for my German lesson. For one hour before the lesson I practice speaking German with one of my fellow students.
  3. I read German magazines a little, and watch German films without subtitles.
  4. I make sauerkraut at home and eat it with sausages and potatoes and beer. We buy the sausages at Tesco.
  5. We sometimes eat out at German restaurants.  There are many now in Penang, but I prefer Ingolfs.
  6. I drink beer at the Oktoberfest, which is held here in October. There are many Oktoberfests in Penang, but the most famous one is at MGS. Last year there were Oktoberfest celebrations at the E & O Hotel and other hotels.


Für mich ist es viel Spaß Deutsch lernen. Eigentlich, ist es viel Spaß für mich Fremdsprachen zu lernen.  Jetzt lerne ich Deutsch, und deshalb müss ich üben.   Ich will über mein deutsche Leben in Penang schrieben.

1. Zuerst, versuche ich zwei Stunden  jeden Tag Deutsch lernen.

2. Zweite, fahre ich am Samstags zu Malaysian German Society um meiner Lektion zu nehmen. Für eine Stunde bevor die Lektion, übe ich mit meinem Kommilitone Deutsch zu sprechen.

3. Dritte, lese ich ein bißchen deutsche Zeitschrifte, und sehe ich deutsche Filme ohne Untertitel.

4. Vierte, mache ich Sauerkraut zu Hause, und essen wir mit Wurst, Kartoffeln und Bier. Wir kaufen die Wurst bei Tesco.

5. Fünfte, essen wir manchmal in deutschen Restaurants. In moment gibt es viele deutsche Restaurants in Penang, aber ich esse lieber bei Ingolffs.

6. Sechste, trinke ich Bier in dem Oktoberfest, dem in Oktober hier feieren. Es gibt verschiedene Oktoberfesten in Penang, aber das berühmtesten Oktoberfest is am MGS. Letztes Jahr waren auch Oktoberfesten in E & O Hotel, und anderes Hotels.

Japanese note / 日本のノート; 盆踊り

Checking my blog statistics I was very surprised to note that I had such a large number of visitors today. And the majority were from Japan.


I don’t know why. I haven’t written about Japan, or in Japanese. I did write about Korean food, though.

So, I will mention a couple of things concerning Japanese. Tomorrow, Sunday 25th March there is a Japanese theme at the monthly Upper Penang Road market.

A lot of Japanese do live in Penang.  More Japanese took up the MM2H visa than any other nationality last year. And many live here on tourist visas for part of the year, and live in Japan for the rest of the year.

Otherwise, my favourite Japanese restaurant here is Miraku, in the G Hotel on Gurney drive. Miraku details. But for all you can eat salmon sashimi, then the E&O lunch buffet is probably impossible to beat.

And my favourite Japanese event of the year is the Bon-Odori festival, held around mid- July.

A couple of photos from last year’s event.

Bon Odori


Alternative Media this week

MSG can be tough to avoid unless you always eat at home using fresh ingredients, and avoiding anything packaged.  This article tells you what damage MSG does to your body.

MSG damages your health

From http://www.naturalnews.com/035243_Russell_Blaylock_MSG_interview.html

Dr “Blaylock said MSG was first used in military rations to give them better taste, but soon after the substance was adopted by the entire food industry, to include baby food.

He said the first evidence that the additive was harmful was the development among some of the “MSG syndrome,” in which people affected “would have flushing of their face, heart palpitations, sometimes pain going down their arms and episodes of GI discomfort and diarrhea.”

“Those were the obvious symptoms,” he continued. “What was discovered after that … is that there was silent damage to the brain in which there were few symptoms. But over time, we saw destruction of major portions of the brain – things that could cause Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s” and other brain ailments.

And he said that, while it wasn’t possible to see that kind of damage with the naked eye, the evidence of damage shows up under the microscope.”

Interesting thoughts or articles I noticed from the alternative media this week. 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.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – episode 2

This post supercedes, “Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – episode 1”, and has additional information – in italics.

It’s the tropics – everything grows like weeds, right? Couldn’t be easier growing things?! Er, no.

The easy way is to see what your neighbours are growing in pots, and just grow the same. But with the exception of bougainvillea and a couple more, I had more interesting plants in mind. And I want mostly things I can eat. Oh, and everything should be organic. I want to be able to grow food – and I know it would be much cheaper and easier just to buy it at an organic shop. Following is my experience from May 2011.

I have no ground as everywhere is paved, so apart from a 30 square foot raised brick bed I had made on a concrete slab, everything else I have to grow in pots. And I move the pots around if I think the plants will be happier with more / less shade, cover, etc. I painted the concrete floor, walls and planter box with a special white paint that reflects the heat – it is manufactured in Ipoh and they deliver. This means I can walk on the floor and not burn my feet, the plants are cooler, and the house is cooler.

30 square foot planter box, shade cloth and lattice

I’d buy local seeds, sow them, and absolutely nothing would germinate. Even in my raised bed, nothing would germinate. I would compost the fruit and vegetable remains, and then put the compost in my raised bed. And from this little seedlings appeared. I would nurture them, and they’d grow to about 1″ or 2″ tall, and then they’d wilt and die.

LESSON 1. It’s too hot. I put up a pergola with lattice, and put shade cloth over the top of the garden bed. Pots could also be shaded. I put another layer of shade cloth directly over the raised bed for the hottest part of the day. And then I watered frequently to keep it all cooler. Doing the same kind of thing with seeds in seed pots brought some success – carrots, cabbages, cherry tomatoes… Shade cloth, watering to keep cool.

So now I had some plants growing up from my compost. I often did not know what they were, and neither did the nursery man.

LESSON 2. People tell you there are no seasons and you can sow seeds / plant plants anytime. I don’t believe it. Passionfruit I grew from seed became about 9″ high and then stopped growing for months – then suddenly around October they took off and grew rapidly all over the lattice. Now, mid-February, I have had one flower, and a fruit is now growing. I have 20 plants, so I hope many more will follow. Similar experience with other plants – the time of year makes a difference.

LESSON 3. Talking about passion fruit – if you want to grow the vines, all you have to do is buy the fruit at the market or even Tesco recently (buah markisa – hooray, I can count from 1 to 5 in Malay and I know the word for passionfruit), and then save some of the seeds. Just have them dry on a dish. If you wish you can rinse them with water to remove the clingy pulpy stuff (sorry, technical language). While at Tesco, or an organic shop, buy mung beans – other legumes that can sprout may also work for you. Then put a seed or two in tiny pots, along with a couple of mung beans. The mung beans will increase the success rate of germination from about 15% to about 90%. Once they have grown enough, repot, and repot until in a pot of at least 12″ diameter. Full Malaysian sun seems to be OK once they are 9″ high or so. This is where I am up to now. More info as I observe it.

I tried many seeds in the raised bed – okura, tomato, carrot…. Nothing germinated. But one day these incredibly strong seeds appeared to germinate – and so quickly – bitter gourd. I had tried sowing them in this spot, but they also could have come from the compost as I had bought the vegetable at Tesco, eaten them and composted the seeds. Of course, at this time I had no idea what they were. They are climbers, and eventually they took over the entire pergola. They fruited like crazy for two months, and I cooked them, froze them, juiced them, and eventually cut down the vines and composted them once their lifespan was complete. The biggest success so far.

BITTER GOURD RECIPE FOR DUMMIES: Even I could do this. Cut in half along the fruit and remove seeds. (You can save these if you wish). Then cut into 1/4″ slices. Heat a frypan, put in olive oil (and later butter if you wish) and then bitter gourd. When reasonably soft, throw in three eggs per person, and remove from heat before eggs cook too much. Can add chilli and pepper.

LESSON 4. Seed sowing times/months I have had success with. As mentioned above, although I have been told you can grow anything anytime, this has not been my experience. You may be successful at other times, but so far this is my experience:

  • Bitter Gourd. Sowed seeds in mid-August in planter box, mid September fruit started to appear on vine, 2nd October harvested first bitter gourd. I had three vines. Thereafter the fruit produced copiously for about two months. You can pick green, like the locals, or wait until it turns yellow and it is sweeter.

bitter gourd on vine

  • Cabbage. At the end of September I sowed Gardenic cabbage seeds. Nothing germinated. On 28th October I sowed Copenhagen cabbage seeds, and they germinated in about three days. A few days later I transplanted them to pots, and a few weeks later some of them to bigger pots. They seem to prefer shade. They were growing very slowly. However, since mid-February they have been growing more quickly.  Mrs Tropical Expat told me she saw on a blog that cabbages like to be on top of a mound, and they won’t grow well if they are not, so I did this also around mid-February. The weather has been cooler than usual, and there has been more rain than usual.  There are now quite a few cabbages that are reasonably large, but none are near ready to harvest.

cabbage after germination - November 2nd

February 15th - the biggest and smallest from those seeds

  • Cape Gooseberry. I grew these from seeds of fruit I bought in Tesco. I planted them later in pots, and they have grown well in full sun, and flowered, but later the flower falls.  So no fruit so far.  I will have to research if they do not fruit soon.

cape gooseberry with small flowers

  • Carrot. The seeds germinated and I had many seedlings, but many months later the carrots are still tiny.  Not a success.


  • Chilli. My chillies just grew out of the compost. I have a bigger and a smaller variety.  I just pick the chillies when they are ready, and the plants produce more. I have also successfully transplanted chilli seedlings to pots.  It took a while before they produced fruit, but eventually they did.  So next time I will just either put seeds into compost or ferment a bit first and put into potting mix.

chillies - teaspoon to show size

  • Lentils. Seeds seem to germinate any time, and grow until about 12″ high, quite weak and spindly looking, and then wilt and die. I gave up after three tries.
  • Lime trees. I bought two lime trees at the nursery about nine months ago, and have repotted twice.  But they are still around the same size.  I have tried full sun, and semi shade, but haven’t seen much difference.  They flower, produce small limes, and at times create new shoots and leaves.  So far I don’t know what to do to help them grow.
  • Mung Beans. They germinate after only one or two days in the ground, grow quickly, and then flower, and produce pods with mung beans in them. All quite fast. I simply use them as a companion plant for passion fruit as they hugely increase the germination rate of passion fruit seeds, and help them grow well. Mung beans are great for sprouting and eating in salads, but it is far too much work to grow the volume you need, and even organic mung beans are very cheap to buy.

mung bean plants with seeds growing with passion fruit

  • Okra. Absolutely no luck so far germinating them in the planter box or in seed pots.
  • Papaya. Very easy. it seems any time is the right time. See Lesson 5.
  • Passion fruit. Can germinate seeds anytime, and plants will grow to perhaps 6″ to 9″, and then just stay the same. But from about October my plants suddenly started growing quickly. First flower mid February, first fruit – two days after flowering. But then the immature fruit soon dropped.  It may just be too early yet for the plant. More flowers are appearing, and some are dropping.

passion fruit plants 19th, November with mock orange to left

flower starting to form

passion fruit flower

  • Tomato. My holy grail. Most days I eat some. I love tomatoes, and started growing them first when I was a child. But is it too hot in Penang to grow them? No, but it is difficult, and so far the crops are very sparse. I tried sowing tomato seeds – both from packets I bought and seeds from tomatoes I had bought in Tesco. None germinated. But plants did come up in the planter box from the compost, which I discovered in late August. I nurtured those plants, transplanted some into pots and some I spread throughout the planter box. The plants in the planter box grew much faster and produced better tomatoes. The tomatoes were not so big, but they were delicious. By late November I was picking tomatoes at the rate of about 4 a day. After a couple of weeks the fruit flies discovered them. So I wiped each baby tomato that appeared with white vinegar on a tissue – and had no more problems with the fruit flies. I had tried spraying the tomatoes with vinegar, but it was killing the plants from the overspray onto the leaves. Cheap vinegar is fine.

tomato plants


  • Cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes may be easier, grow happily in pots – and they are much less bothered by pests. Early January germinated cherry tomato seeds from some cherry tomatoes. Now, in mid-March about 30% of the 20 odd seedlings are growing well, and others not.  Something is attacking the top of some of the plants – perhaps birds, or even snails.  Then the plant has to grow a new main stem.

cherry tomatoes - biggest and smallest from same seeds. Germinated early January, now 15th Feb.

LESSON 5. The closest I have to 100% success, no matter what you do, is papaya. But papaya in a pot, so possibly no fruit, unless you eventually put them into the ground, or find a miniature variety. I just compost the seeds from any papaya I buy at the market or Tesco; or just save the seeds, wash and sew them. And up come papaya seedlings. Repot during/ after rain or when cool. I like them as decoration, anyway, but am hoping for fruit one day. I also have three in my planter box that are 10 feet / 3m high. So far little fruit grow, but the trees shed them and they don’t grow to maturity. Also, papaya need both male and female plants to fruit. Apparently with several plants, I have at least one male. Growing just one papaya, unless your neighbours have trees too, will mean it’s unlikely to fruit.

baby papaya - they germinate and grow so easily

LESSON 6. Ants. They appear everywhere, but they are mostly small ones.  You can talk to them and tell them to go somewhere else – sometimes they listen and go, but mostly they come back. They quickly move away dead insects they find, and are usually not a problem if they don’t get in the house.  However, they can be a nuisance when they get together with mealy bugs. Ants eat the sweet excrement of mealy bugs, so what they do is carry the mealy bugs to the top of plants, and kind of farm them.  But the mealy bugs damage and kill the plants.  They are kind of white globs.  I usually remove them with a wet tissue, unless it is a bad infestation, and then I cut the affected area off and throw it away – not into the compost. I don’t want ants on the ground, so occasionally wash the concrete with dishwashing detergent, which kills them.

LESSON 7. Square foot gardening   & pots. Square foot gardening sounds great, but I haven’t managed it here because almost nothing grows where I want it to.  However, using pots it kind of similar – you fit the pot size to the plant(s), although you may start small and repot as the plant grows. And I can move pots to try to find the position the plants like, and as the sun’s path changes during the year I can also move the plants appropriately.

LESSON 8. Snails. I have either so-called Penang snails, which are small cone-shaped snails, or micro snails.  I think both have come from the compost I have bought.  Usually I look for them and get them out of the garden, but if it looks like there are too many to collect and rain is coming I use snail bait.  With cabbages I just look for eaten leaves – small holes in them. Then I search on the cabbage or soil and find a micro snail, usually.

micro snail with tea spoon


LESSON 9. Cuttings. Mrs. Tropical Expat got some cuttings of Malaysian basil from a neighbour. She used some rooting hormone, and then put them in a little water and promptly forgot about them.  When she remembered them she found the water almost evaporated – but the cuttings had long strong roots as they searched desperately for water. These are still thriving in my garden and the leaves are useful for toppings on salads or homemade pizza. I don’t know if this approach will always work, but perhaps being cavalier this time did.

LESSON 10. Compost. TBA

To Singapore by Air Asia

The last trip I made to Singapore was by train – so I thought I’d fly this time.

The main carriers that ply this route are Singapore Airlines, which are usually quite expensive, Malaysian Airlines – which had no direct flight when I was travelling – all flights stopped in Kuala Lumpur, and Air Asia, which has several direct flights a day.  So Air Asia it was, then.

BOOKING:  Air Asia’s (AK) Internet site is quite fast.  But when you book you have to be careful to unselect several default options you may not want, and that add considerably to the cost, and unless you want the travel insurance, read carefully so you can unselect it. If you want to select your seat they want to sell you a “Hot Seat”, but selecting any other type of seat is far cheaper – just look carefully to find that option, if that’s what you want. If you find you’ve done it wrong and accidentally agreed to some option you didn’t want, you have to cancel and start again from the beginning.

PRICE: There is an extra RM10 for using the credit card to pay – or you can pay by bank draft online to avoid it. All up for me the price was a reasonable RM334 for the flight to Singapore and back.  As usual, the governments took half of that.

AK receipt

PRE FLIGHT: I received all the information I needed from AK by email, very quickly after booking. And a few days before the flight I received an email with a link to click which took me directly to the page I needed to check in on the web. Very easy and convenient. Or it would have been, had it worked.  I clicked through the procedure, only for it to tell me at the end I couldn’t check in on the web.  I started again, and again it failed at the end.  Fourth time lucky, though.  I printed the boarding passes for outbound and return.

THE BIG DAY: Included on the boarding pass is a convenient chart showing the four steps you need to take at Penang Airport. Step 1 was to clear security – now this may be correct for domestic flights, but on International flights not.  When I tried to follow step 1 I was told I have to go to the AK desk to have my documents verified.  At this desk a sign says “no luggage”, so there were two people with about 10 passports, passing some luggage to the attendant.  A short wait there left me with the impression it would turn into a very long wait at the speed the attendant was working, so it proved far faster just to go to a normal check in desk for the verification.  Staff was friendly. The check in machines had a sign on them saying to go to the normal check in desks, too, so I couldn’t try that option. Indeed, nothing much had changed when I walked back past the actual verification desk.

After this, all went smoothly.  The plane arrived, everyone boarded, and the plane took off on time.

Air Asia

The plane was clean, and the staff were friendly.

Plane was clean and tidy

Not so much leg room, but enough for me, so I was comfortable enough for the short flight.  The plane was quite full.


Soon after take off the in-flight meal I had preordered was delivered to me.  Not so many people had ordered, it appeared.

the meal

I strongly suspect that the sauce contained MSG (monosodium glutamate), a very cheap flavouring agent.and a known neurotoxin.  There is little awareness in Malaysia of how poisonous this is, and so it is hard to avoid unless you eat at home.  There are a few restaurants in Penang proclaiming that they are MSG free; it would be nice if Air Asia joined them.

the meal unwrapped

It was otherwise fairly standard for airline fare.

The plane arrived on time after a smooth flight of 1 hour 20 minutes.

So, a reasonably economical, fast and quite easy trip with AK, with only some minor easily fixed glitches, already mentioned. The return trip was about the same,(except in Singapore the boarding pass “steps” were correct), so Air Asia was consistent, too. A thumbs up for Air Asia.