Penang

Penang is changing and mostly improving – a few photos – Part 2

In the next few years several large-scale infrastructure projects are supposed to be implemented.  These include Gurney Wharf, new motorways to relieve the congestion, a road tunnel near Gurney Drive to Butterworth, and light rail from Tanjung Bungah through George Town to the airport.  There are others, but these are the ones that interest me.

What’s not improving is traffic congestion, but these new projects should fix that, with better roads that will keep through traffic out of the residential streets, enable people to cycle safely, and catch public transport.

This site gives some more information, but seems rather negative, and uses the “s” word.  “Sustainable”.  This word has a different meaning to the normal English meaning when the United Nations and eco-warriors use it. Think Agenda 21, which has morphed into Agenda 2030.  You would think that collecting rainwater in your own rainwater tank was sustainable  – but it’s not “Sustainable” in the UN sense as some US jurisdictions following UN guidelines  (an even in Australia) have moved to outlaw it.  You would think that growing your own vegetables in your home garden was sustainable, but it’s not “Sustainable” in the UN sense as some US jurisdictions  have moved to outlaw it.  You would think that having your house disconnected from the (electricity, water etc.) grid was sustainable, but…you guessed, this has also been outlawed in some places.  Back to the topic at hand.

The March 1 – 15 State Government free newspaper, “buletin Mutiara” also gives some more details.  But they don’t seem to have a web page – only a Facebook page.  But I found the FAQ about the project online at http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/faq-on-the-gurney-wharf-park-on-the-sea-project-lim-guan-eng

For me one of the most important points is that there will be almost 400m of sandy beach. They don’t mention if one will be able to safely swim, free of pollution and jellyfish.   One of the few downsides of Penang is not being able to swim in the sea, so I really hope this is addressed.

Here are a few photos walking from Northam Road to the George Town end of  Gurney Drive, and then towards the roundabout.  I had more, but these few weeks the Telekom Malaysia Internet connection speed is terrible, and I couldn’t upload more.

barges / dredges offshore

barges / dredges offshore

 

some kind of barrier

some kind of barrier

 

Northam Road outside Citibank

Northam Road outside Citibank

 

looking down towards the sea

looking down towards the sea

 

Northam Road

Northam Road

 

start of Kelawei Road

start of Kelawei Road

 

end of Gurney Drive

end of Gurney Drive

 

looking down Pangkor Road

looking down Pangkor Road

 

end of Gurney Drive

end of Gurney Drive

 

end of Gurney Road

beach at the end of Gurney Drive

 

looking up towards the start of Gurney Drive

looking up towards the end of Gurney Drive from the beach

 

end of Gurney Drive

end of Gurney Drive

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Penang is changing and mostly improving – a few photos – Part 1

In the next few years several large-scale infrastructure projects are supposed to be implemented.  These include Gurney Wharf, new motorways to relieve the congestion, a road tunnel near Gurney Drive to Butterworth, and light rail from Tanjung Bungah through George Town to the airport.  There are others, but these are the ones that interest me.

So Gurney area is about to change. In fact, it has already started. Just the other day.  So I have been taking a few photos so I can look back at them in the future. Here are some.

Gurney roundabout

Gurney roundabout

 

Gurney roundabout

Gurney roundabout

 

Gurney roundabout

Gurney roundabout

 

so, this fence is new

so, this fence is new

 

the iea is that it separates the path from the land reclamation

the idea is that it separates the path from the land reclamation. Soil in the trough for plants.

 

and they are planting plants

and they are planting plants in the troughs on the other side of the fence

 

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continuing down Gurney Drive

continuing down Gurney Drive

 

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about halfway down Gurney Drive

about halfway down Gurney Drive

unfinished blogs – no. 1 – The German invasion of Penang

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.

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From February 15, 2012

 

I think it’s great. The German restaurant invasion of Penang – there are suddenly so many German restaurants here. For years there was only Ingolf’s in Hillside, Tanjung Bunguh. And it’s still there. But there are so many others. Here are the ones I am aware of:

Tanjung Bungah:

Ingolf’s Kneipe German Restaurant and Bar

Weissbrau – Weissbräu German Bistro & Bar at Straits Quay

BERLIN‘S BIER HOUZ 3E-G-3B Straits Quay Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang Tanjung Tokong 10470 Pulau Pinang I at Straits Quay. (NOW CLOSED – but a branch near Queensbay Mall.)

Cheers – Cheers Restaurant & Bierhaus

Gurney Drive

Brussels Beer Cafe – Brussels Beer Cafe OK, it’s not German – but not too far off.

Queensbay Mall
one near queensbay

However, they are fairly pricey.  At Tesco you can buy a variety of German sausages for a reasonable price, some potatoes, pick up some beer somewhere, but probably have to make your own sauerkraut. (My recipe to follow sometime.)

Overnight train from Penang-Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur – November 2013 – the trip

I made the booking, and I have just now made the trip, by ferry from George Town to Butterworth, and then the train to KL.

The first thing I noticed is that the taxi fare to the terminal has gone up 33% after the government raised the petrol price about 10%.

The next thing is that the Penang ferry terminal entrance is undergoing some construction work, and it is even less clear how to get to the ferry. You just go straight in the direct of the water, past a few shops, following the path around to the left, and where the path divides, take the left side (where the sign says Masuk = entrance) up to the waiting area.

Take the left side

Take the left side

At that time of night, the sign said there were four ferries operating, arriving at about every 15 or 20 minutes.

waiting area

waiting area

There is WiFi available – Penang Free WiFi, but otherwise it is an un-airconditioned, covered area with some seats. There is no WC.

When the ferry arrives, the passengers disembark, the cars then drive off, the embarking cars drive onto the ferry, and then the passengers catching the ferry are allowed on.

boarding

boarding

There are toilets onboard.

The trip across the water takes about 15 minutes, and passengers are allowed off as soon as the ferry arrives.

about to arrive

about to arrive

It’s about five minutes walk to the station – go straight ahead, and turn right at the end – where the sign says – then follow the path. The station ticket office / waiting room is air-conditioned and clean. It had taken me about one hour from when I caught the taxi in Pulau Tikus to when I arrived at the station.

waiting room and ticket office

waiting room and ticket office

The rest of the area around the ticket office is under construction. I went to the ticket window to find out how to get to the platform.  They are using new platforms, not the ones next to the ticket office. I told the ticket office attendant which train I was on, and she told me the train was departing at 11PM. The web site, and ticket says 10.28, so I said to her that it was going to be late. She said that it arrives at 10.28, so it will not be late.  Interesting definition of late. The toilet in this office is OK.

To reach the platform you have to return to under the stairs which brought you to the ticket office, and there is a track across the rails to the platform. The staff opens the gate about half an hour before the departure and you are free to board the train.

platform at Butterworth station

platforms at Butterworth station

As they are changing the station area I suggest you arrive in plenty of time to find the route to the platform.

the train

the train

I had a look at the other carriages. Here are a few photos.

Second Class sleeper

Second Class sleeper carriage

Second Class sleeper

Second Class sleeper carriage

Second Class berth

Second Class berth

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

seats with tables

seats with tables

I was in Coach L3 – which was easy enough to find, as the coaches are in order, and in Place 7A – which means Cabin 7, berth A.

First Class compartment

First Class compartment

 The quality of the facilities and service has deteriorated markedly. In the previous first class sleeper there was an attached bathroom, with shower, basin and toilet. In this cabin there is only a  wash basin. Previously the berths were attached and parallel to the side of the train, but now the berths are across the compartment, so they are shorter and you can’t stretch.  I think the carriage corridor is narrower as a result. On the top berth your head is very near the luggage rack, so if the train had to brake suddenly your head would be hurt. If you remade the bed the other way it would be safer.  I was pleased to discover there were two power points, as I wanted to recharge my phone, but disappointed that they didn’t work.  Anyway, they are high up, so you need a long cord. You used to be given a 500ml bottle of water, and some more or less inedible food, but not any more. During the night it became cold and the blanket wasn’t enough.  A jumper would be a good idea.

The train departed at 11.15, it was a bit of a bumpy ride, and from around 5AM there were annoying but unintelligible announcements about the next stop.  The train arrived on time!! At 6.30AM.

KL

KL

There is a lounge in KL Sentral railway station for first class passengers on the third level, very near the hawker centre. Previously I think it was always open, so I went there to clean up and charge my devices.  But now it seems to open for an hour and a half before a train departure.

waiting room times

waiting room times

I returned later when it was open.  Now it is infested with cockroaches in both the bathroom and lounge, and some mosquitoes are around,too.

VIP room / First Class Waiting Room

VIP room / First Class Waiting Room

There are showers on the bottom level, again with cockroaches.  And nearby, lockers, the smallest and  cheapest being RM5.

lockers

lockers

I went to the ticket office on the second level to book a return journey,but the train was completely booked for the next five days.  So, early booking is advisable.

If you can get a booking – book early –  it is still a reasonable way to travel from Penang to KL, as you save a day travelling by night, and save a night’s hotel costs. It is now worse than in the past, but still OK and quite comfortable.  But, ensure you use the toilet in the station before you board.  Take something to drink onboard, but don’t drink any more than necessary because you really don’t want to use the toilet onboard if you can avoid it.  Have something warm with you, like a jumper. And for safety consider sleeping with your head in the other direction.

Once the line is electrified it should be a much faster trip, and I don’t know if they will still provide a sleeper service. If they do, I hope they have new rolling stock.

You can see more photos on my older blog on the night train.

Overnight train from Penang-Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur – November 2013 – booking

It has been over a year since I last caught a train in Malaysia. When I went to the KTM website – http://www.ktmb.com.my/ I noticed some changes.

There are now only two trains a day to KL, and two back. These are:

Penang-Butterworth to KL Sentral:

Ekspres Rakyat: Departure – 08:00 Arrival -14:00

Senandung Langkawi: Departure – 22:28 Arrival – 06:30

KL Sentral to Penang-Butterworth

Ekspres Rakyat: Departure – 15:50 Arrival – 22:00

Senandung Langkawi: Departure – 21:30 Arrival – 05:30

In my experience they usually arrive about an hour late.

If you wish to book you can click the link on their web page, or this copy:

https://intranet.ktmb.com.my/e-ticket/login.aspx

Note that their website does not necessarily work, so you may have to try several times, or try again later.  Now you can book online up to four hours before departure time. Previously it was two days.  But if you want a sleeper you should book as early as you can, as they often sell out.

I see that there are changes to the first class sleeper compartment configurations. This is snappily named – ADNFB – Premier Night Standard Class. Previously there were two berths in the first class compartments, and a separate bathroom with toilet and shower.  Now it appears to only have a wash basin.  It is cheaper than the previous configuration, with the lower berth costing RM89 and the upper berth RM80. No food is now provided, which is no great loss.

First class sleeper

First class sleeper

There are also second class sleepers (labelled ADNS), and it appears these remain unchanged. If so, the whole carriage is lined on both sides of the aisle with upper and lower berths, with privacy provided by a light curtain. The lower berth costs RM46 and the upper berth RM40. More sociable as you can talk to previous passengers before you turn in.

2clsleep

second class sleeper

Otherwise you can sit up all night. The site is a bit confusing on the price of these seats.  Maybe RM34 for ASC and  maybe RM19 for AEC, but they look similar.

2cl

ASC second class seating

You can see more photos on my blog on the night train.

Well, that’s it. I am all booked.  After the journey I will write it up, and see if anything has changed from last year.

Is the MM2H visa worth considering after all the new taxes?

In the latest budget the government is apparently only allowing foreigners to buy properties in excess of RM1m, or houses in excess of RM2m.  So if you just want to rent, then it doesn’t affect you.  From memory,  Japanese and English people are the two nationalities who have taken up more MM2H visas than others.  Japanese mostly rent, so it is no problem for them. But many of us (English) prefer to buy so we can renovate the property to suit our own taste and convenience, and at these prices, many other countries’ property prices are more attractive.

In addition the Penang government wishes to impose a surcharge of 3% on foreigners’ property purchases.

Then the federal government wishes to impose draconian capital gains taxes, making it uneconomic to move, as if your property has increased in value, then so have others, but you lose a large chunk in CGT, so need extra money to cover the increase on the new property you wish to purchase. The most economic place to move is out of the country.

So, they prefer foreigners not to buy property now? Before they wanted us to buy property.

Certainly, we spent a lot of money and employed a lot of people renovating our property.   That was a big contribution to the local economy.  Had we continued to rent, then they wouldn’t have had this input.  And living here we contribute to the local economy, by patronising the local businesses.

Thus, if you already own a property and do not wish to move, or are happy to rent, then MM2H will work for you still. Otherwise… Germany, Malta, Turkey, Thailand, Panama, Ecuador, Uruguay are a few countries you could investigate where you can buy cheaper property and have a nice environment.

But the government changes requirements for the MM2H visa every three months or so, so they may decide these new impositions do not apply to MM2H holders.  We shall wait and see.

And then the awful GST is coming soon…

A little more information here.

All this is a pity, because Penang has greatly improved since we first moved here six years ago, and looks like a lot more improvements are coming.

Those hazy, hazy, hazy days of summer in Penang – 2013 update – Hazy days are here again

2013 update

morning of June 28th, 2013

morning of June 28th, 2013

haze from Penang Hill 8.30AM 24 June

haze from Penang Hill 8.30AM 24 June

It’s getting better.

morning of 23 June

morning of 23 June

I first notice the haze on the 18th – it had finally stopped raining heavily every day. The 21st was not as bad as last year. And today, the 22nd, I climbed Penang Hill. Here is the morning view…

haze from Penang Hill

haze from Penang Hill morning of 22 June

Descending from the summit I met a resident of Johore, and he told me that trying to breathe there was like breathing sand. He came here for the weekend to escape the air. I guess it’s not as bad here.

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I was up early to watch dawn on the summer solstice. Fat chance.  There was an impenetrable haze.

looking towards Gurney drive, Tanjung Tokong and Straits Quays

The rainy season seemed to end on Saturday June 9th, and then Sunday 10th was a beautiful, clear, sunny day.  From Monday the haze appeared, and it has been hazy ever since. It feels like the haze began earlier this year than in previous years, and seems also to be more persistent, and worse.

Government readings  show the Air Pollution Index has hit unhealthy levels in some areas. In previous years I never noticed it affecting my health, but for the past few days I have been coughing, and worse.

“Haze caused by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia blanketed parts of Malaysia including the capital Saturday, causing air pollution to hit unhealthy levels.

Haze is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the fumes from Sumatra across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia.” Source, Inquirer News

This is what we have been told, generally – it’s Indonesian farmers causing the problem, year after year.

“Indonesia’s government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.” ibid.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department attributes blame for haze in general to many factors, such as the weather conditions during these months, but does say, “Firstly, we should refrain from open burning of waste. Most incidences of local haze can be traced to this activity.” MOSTI  So, this department is more circumspect. Is it really largely the fault of Indonesian farmers?

Today’s print edition of the Sun (the online version does not correlate closely with print edition) says that 150,000 masks have been distributed to schools, and that the state of Penang was moving its outdoor activities indoors for this week.  Band-Aids, not a solution.

As this happens year after year, one would think the causes would be well-known, and action would have been taken by now to solve the problem.  But the state officials are merely urging the Federal government to find a solution.

I would have thought that civil legal action could be taken by the Federal and State governments of Malaysia in Indonesia, or some other venue, against the individuals who are causing the problem, obviously choosing one or more large landowners to start with.  I suppose Indonesia does not have the common law, which would be straightforward, but still, harming people’s health must be unlawful. Should the case be won, other large-scale landowners would have to desist. If indeed it is the Indonesian farmers’ fault.  There seems little point targetting governments or corporations as they have unlimited funds to fight; and anyway, it is always individuals that make decisions within those institutions, so individuals should bear the responsibility. I am not happy that individuals somewhere are deliberately making me sick.

This season is the best of the year for tropical fruit – durian, mangosteen, rambutans, dragon fruit etc. so it would be a  pity, not to mention inconvenient to leave the country for these months.

Eventually the sun was strong enough to appear through the haze this morning.

summer solstice – not quite dawn, but at least the sun appeared

Later:

The morning was very windy, and some of the haze was blown away, so around lunch it was quite a bit clearer. But not really clear.

Again looking towards Straits Quays, after lunch

Finally, sunset on the summer solstice.

summer solstice sunset