Penang through the Apartment Window

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Greetings from Malaysia! Alas, our time in Taiwan came to an end. It was hard to say goodbye to all our friends there, both old and new, but it was time to move on to the next country. We’ve been in Penang for two weeks now, and are now settled into our new routines. It took a while, but I am realizing just how important a schedule can be to keep order in the house.

Here’s where Keiko rolls her eyes — she’s been telling me this (over and over) for years.

I have no grand idea to share today. Just a few updates:

We’re spending our first month in Penang on the north side of the island in a beach area called Batu Ferringhi. I chose here to start because there are many places in the northwestern corner of the island that I’d like to see, such as a tropical fruit farm, a spice garden and a national park. We’ve already visited the Butterfly Farm (now called “entopia,” as of 2016) , which was much more impressive than I had expected. Highly recommended if you come this way.

In other news:

Dry Run

If you know me — or have gazed in awe at my impressive paunch — then you are fully aware that I am a fan of this refreshing drink called beer. Cocktails are nice, on occasion. Wine, too. But true to my redneck roots, my weakness is beer. That’s why every so often I like to stop drinking for a while, just to reassure myself that my relationship with suds and other spirits is a healthy and independent one.

It’s been a while since I’ve laid off the sauce for an entire month, so I decided to make it the four weeks after we arrived here in Penang. The curries, nasi lemak and other hawker stall foods I’m eating all scream to be washed down with a lager, but I’m hanging tough on this one. In temperatures like Malaysia’s, a dry month has given me an opportunity to stay properly and consistently hydrated, which can’t be a bad thing, can it? I’m looking forward to knocking back a few cold ones with my sister and brother-in-law when they visit in December, but this may be the beginning of a general cutback on hooch — to save money, if for no other reason.

But come on: look at this curry mee and tell me you don’t want a beer with that…

In other news of doing without, our girl M has begun and experiment with vegetarianism. More on that here.

In Da Club

Just like in Taiwan, we’ve plugged the kids into lots of activities around town where they can learn, play, and make friends. Our boy S plays soccer in two clubs: as part of an afterschool program at a nearby international school, and at a place called Soccer Experience. For 20 ringgit (approx $6.25 USD // ¥626), he plays on a FIFA-quality pitch for three hours — one session with kids his age, and then a second session with teenagers. He lives for that session with the older kids.

M is in the after-school club program, as well. On Tuesdays, she has a storytelling club, then on Thursdays she has Zumba dance class. She can also join events at the school, like a “game day” held last Friday (see above).

We’ve also signed her up for a week-long intensive arts camp at the Penang Performing Arts Center. For one week in December, from 10am to 5pm, she will have music, dance and arts & crafts classes that relate to drama and the stage, with a small performance/presentation at the end. I’m sure there will be more to report on this later.

Overly Driven

Unfortunately, we had to rent a car for Penang. Not that I’m anti-car. I love road trips, and as I rediscovered in Taiwan, a car dramatically changes how (and where) you go: you can travel longer, further and more comfortably. You can take seven kids and a dog camping (see above). Not only that, you are sheltered from the elements, and the kids can sleep while the adults have an actual conversation.

For example, we took a friend’s car to the east coast of Taiwan last month. If we had used only motorbikes, we would have simply rode a few hours north, being battered the entire way by powerful, bike-toppling gusts of wind. Then we would have probably ridden back to the same hotel, every night. But with a car, we ended up driving almost the entire east coast, through the incredibly scenic Taroko Gorge, then through the stunning Central Cross-Island Highway, which runs directly into (and then briefly above) the cloudline.

We’re feeling the benefits of a car here in Penang as well. The two-lane road from Georgetown to Batu Ferringhi is incredibly windy and there’s no shoulder — riding that road with the kids on the back would have been stressful, especially during the occasional sudden squall. So all of this is great, but we had hoped to subsist off motorbikes and buses — it’s cheaper, and also allows you to see the lay of the land in completely different ways.

The problem with that is Malaysia’s motorcycle laws: technically, only two people are allowed on a motorbike at a time. We see more than two occasionally, but as tourists, we could be an easy target for a ticket (I’ve since learned that this is “negotiable” with most cops). I have to stay in the apartment and work most days, so that leaves Keiko, two kids, and all these clubs and classes that are not within walking distance. Taxis are cheep, but not for daily usage, and buses are unpredictable, so we went with a car. Our landlord introduced us to Cedric, a French expat with a few cars he rents at prices below everything else I was finding. Contact me if you are coming to Penang and want to get in touch with him (he doesn’t have a website).

This is my first time riding a right-hand drive car, like those in the UK and other commonwealth nations. I keep flipping the windshield wipers on, thinking it’s the turn signal. I’ll figure it out eventually. We’re driving a Perodua (Malaysian maker) Kembara, which looks like a smaller version of a Suzuki Samurai. The car is extremely sensitive. It guns from gear to gear with the slightest touch of the pedal, and a gentle nudge of the brakes will you screech to a halt. Even the car keys are sensitive: I put them in my pocket and the car beeps and locks/unlocks the doors with every step I take. I have to hold them gently until I’m around the corner before putting them away. That said, the car is treating us well, and getting us everywhere. Adjusting to that car, to right-hand-driving, and to Malaysian traffic all at once makes me feel like a badass.

Lord(s) Have Mercy

I had heard so much about Malaysia’s diversity and religious tolerance, but to see it in action is something else entirely. I know I’m just yank tourist barely poking my head into the culture here, and I know I’m only seeing the surface. But I already find it remarkable how Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus and Muslims seem to live in harmony on this island. I’m sure there are layers of context that I’m missing, and I’m only just learning the country’s history now, but it’s remarkable. I’d like to compare it to, say, New York (without the tension), but it doesn’t feel like “tolerance” here at all. These people don’t seem to be “tolerating” each other. They’re just living with each other because that’s how they’ve always done. It’s just life. I like what I see, but admittedly, I’ve only been looking around for two weeks. Hope I’m right.

Checks and Balances

There was nearly a month gap between my last Taiwan blog post and my first one from Penang, and I’m struggling to figure out the right balance of work, blogging, homeschooling and family time. Notice that I didn’t say “travel” or “free time?” That’s because I haven’t had much. I’m not complaining: if I’m gonna have a problem to solve right now, this is EXACTLY the problem I want. But it’s been tough: I’m still working a 40-hours-a-week job — which pays for this trip, mind you — all while trying to be a dad, a homeschool teacher AND a blogger that’s (allegedly) explaining how I’m pulling it off. That means I spend a LOT of time in front of my laptop. Here’s what my office looks like this month.

See that reddish dot on the horizon? That’s someone parasailing. That should be ME, goddammit, but it isn’t because I’m slouched over a Mac working all the time. Again: not a complaint — the view is a thousand times better than my old cubicle’s, and I’m thankful every day that I even get to try this lifestyle. But it can be frustrating when you’re in an exotic new place but only seeing it from the window. This will change. I’ll make sure it does. But it’s going to take a while.


  1. Hi Jason,
    I’ve met up with some other folks who connected with you in Chiang Mai. It’s funny how interconnected the nomadic family group is. I was looking through your blog today, and much to my surprise, saw a picture of my own son. He’s the one to the left of Felicia in the school game day photo. He didn’t come to the Youth Park with me, so you never met him. Anyways, happy travels!

    • Hey Michele! Great to hear from you, and thank you so much for your help earlier. YES, this family group has played a HUGE role in our travels thus far. So, so glad we joined. Speaking of which, we’ll likely be on the Dalat campus again later this month! Hope to see you there!

  2. Balance comes in time and sometimes it skews one way or the other. It is what makes life interesting. Can’t wait to read more. We have been in Spain for 15 months and about 7 more to go, then it will be on to Southeast Asia and more nomadic for us. It is nice to see others doing this too and get advice. Penang will be one of our stops, for 1-4 months? not sure yet. So much to see.

    • Hey Heidi! Can’t wait to read more about your Spain adventures. We’re heading back to Penang in 3 days and plan to be there for a while. Get in touch when you’re around!

  3. lena jenkins says

    Dear J
    love reading your articles but don’t like the gd’s even when the g is lower case and not God. M

  4. I’m in awe of you guys. Not only are you doing what you are doing but you blog coherently and cogently about the whole thing. I’ve often been tempted to spend serious amounts of time in Malaysia… Climb Kinabalu in Sabah if you have a chance. And read ‘The Malay Dilemma’ by ex-PM Mahatir for a view on race relations / religious tolerance.

    • Thanks Steve. Yeah, we are really enjoying this corner of Malaysia — makes me wish we had time for more. Lots of fascinating history that I’m just reading about now. Thanks for the recs, too. Both sound good.

  5. Hey Dan. Ya, I’ve thought about you recently and wondered how things panned out. Great news! I may be in a similar situation someday. The time-difference between Tokyo and SE Asia is negligible. But Costa Rica?

    My only pushback to your comment is the term “Working Vacation.” If that’s what I’m doing, then I can’t WAIT for the vacation part…(watching people swim in the pool doesn’t count)

  6. Enjoying your travels vicariously Jinki and liked your post about your remote-work presentation to your company. I convinced NTV here in NYC to allow me to work remote as well, and experienced the same conflict you did for 2 weeks – compounded by the time difference requiring me to work at night. We need vacations from our working vacations eh?

  7. This is awesome Jason! Definitely good problems to have.

    Just wanted to let you know your blog posts are not going unread. 😉

    • Thanks Jessop. You have a young’un and the travel bug as well, so I knew you might dig this. Yeah, sometimes it feels like my words just fly off into the ether. Thanks for the shoutout.

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