Sunday, 28 August 2011

Bagan: 'MerdekaRaya' Party (Weds 31 Aug)

My favourite bar and restaurant, Bagan (Jalan Bagan Jermal), will be hosting a joint Merdeka / Raya party on Wednesday 31 August. The parties I have been to at Bagan have always been entertaining and lively and I suspect this one will be no different!!

Rozz will be singing alongside the very good band 'The Frequency' and of course my favourite DJ Jey will be spinning the hot sounds of the moment. I'm sure that once again this party will be an immense success and one of the last that will be hosted by Bagan in its current location. So if you fancy a great night out with great company and some excellent music and entertainment head off to Bagan for the 'MerdekaRaya Party'.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Smart Phone Application: 'MyDistress' (Selangor)

I recently came across this excellent use of technology by the police in Malaysia. It is a smartphone application called 'MyDistress' which basically allows you to send a distress signal to the police whether you are either at a pre-defined fixed location (e.g. your home) or if you are out on the street. Having registered the application your device will then send the 'alert' to the police with details of your precise location, very useful if you are unfamiliar with your surroundings and saves the time of trying to find out where you are. Currently the service is only available in Selangor and it would be good to see its use extended throughout Malaysia, including of course Penang.

Full details of MyDistress can be found here and the Apple App Store link is here. The application is currently only available in the Malaysia App store to which you will need to switch if you wish to download it. The application is available for a variety of smartphones including those running Blackberry, Android and Windows Phone (with Java 2me).

Restaurant: Kapitan - Chulia St, Penang, Georgetown.

My sincere thanks go to my good friends Jessie and Calvine of Lengkapp Impresif Enterprises for pointing me in the direction of this establishment which is very well know to the locals and is VERY VERY popular.

Kapitan (not to be confused with the countless other restaurants and coffee shops bearing this name, and the name of a Malaysian style of curry) is in Chulia Street but almost at the Quay Weld end (but before Chulia St changes into Greater Chulia St). You can’t miss the place as it has a very bold red signboard. I called in one lunchtime recently and only had a quick snack there which doesn’t really do it full justice in terms of a review. They have a fairly extensive menu and a wide range of drinks on offer but for a quick lunch I was recommended by the staff to try the plain nan mixed plate which consists of a piece of tandoori chicken, a plain nan, some onion salad, a small serving of curry sauce and a helping of daal. All of these I have to say were very nice and the tandoori chicken was very tasty indeed (albeit pretty much anywhere would struggle to match the quality of that served at the Kashmir) and at RM 8.50 plus RM 3.50 for a very tasty and cooling banana shake it was good value for money.

Yes I only called in there for a light lunch but on the basis of what I saw, how busy the place was, the quality and price of the meal I had and the fairly extensive menu I can recommend the Kapitan. For a lunch or even a less formal evening meal I think it would be a very good option and, judging by the numbers of customers I see there during both the day and at night, a great many people agree. Maybe you should give it a try!!!

Friday, 26 August 2011

TV Series: Game of Thrones

Not being a TV addict I wouldn't normally make a post about a TV series but I did see the full series of Game of Thrones in the UK prior to coming to Malaysia. It is due to be screened by ASTRO on the HBO channel from Sunday 28 August 2011 and IMHO is a series well worth watching or recording if you have the ASTRO B.Yond box (if recording, remember to 'Series Link' it).

Set in a fantasy world it has an almost Lord of the Rings feel to it and is the story of a power struggle between several families ('Houses') for an iron throne and the command of realm. There is a good write up about the programme here.

UK FCO 'Locate' Service

For any UK citizens coming to Malaysia on MM2H (or even visiting for that matter) you may not be aware of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 'Locate' system. Previously when living or working overseas it was suggested that you register at the nearest UK Embassy or Consulate. Only in particularly precarious countries was it suggested that tourists / short stayers did. Once you had, theoretically if there were any major issues likely to affect the wellbeing /safety of UK citizens in that area, the FCO would generally have some idea of who was there and how they could be contacted. Well, that was the theory at least!!

That practice has changed now a people are advised to register with a new website and resource called FCO Locate. It is basically a more 'techy' based approach to the same problem. The level of detail you can provide is quite extensive the only problem being is that you have to update your profile regarding your stay every year, which given the number of UK citizens who are resident overseas on a permanent or semi-permanent basis seems quite bizarre. Whether you will ever need, or dare I say want, to be contacted by the FCO in relation to 'incidents' in countries as stable as Malaysia is a different matter and I would imagine the only likely circumstance would be a natural disaster which nature seems to be dealing out quite a lot of lately. Better safe than sorry.

Information regarding FCO Locate can be found here which includes a link for you to register.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Two More Blogs

I keep quite a tight rein on the number of blogs I subscribe to and an even tighter one on those I rave about and promote on here. Two that have grabbed my attention of late are:

Retired in Malaysia: This is a cracking blog (with links to a previous 'version') written by a US citizen living here in Penang under MM2H. It offers a lot of information that will be useful and of general interest to anyone and particularly those looking for a US centric view of how things work here compared to the US (e.g. the very different banking systems).

Pillow Talk with Bangsar Babe: If the name itself isn't enticing enough the content of this blog sure will be. Now this really is an excellent food blog from a resident of KL (as if you couldn't guess from the name). It is very professionally presented and the articles and photography are superb.

Both well worth following!!

Car Insurance - No Claims Bonus

As I'm just going through the process of ordering a car here (though which one is proving difficult to decide) it's worth me pointing out that new cars here will pretty much always be quoted with a price including insurance by a dealer, whether you buy a CKD (completely knocked down) under the MM2H tax free incentive or not. If you buy under the MM2H scheme it is worth bearing in mind that your insurance must be based on the retail price of the car without the tax taken off under the incentive. The current retail purchase price of a Honda CRV for instance is approximately RM 145K. This is the figure that the vehicle will be insured for and not the RM 105K purchase price on the MM2H scheme. As a rough guide I've quoted below the insurance prices (without any no claims bonus) provided by Honda for several vehicles spanning a range of engine sizes and value (the figure in brackets after each vehicle is the road tax cost per year):
  • City S: RM 2,393 (90)
  • Civic 1.8 S: RM 3,147 (279)
  • Accord 2.0 VTi: 3,849 (378)
  • Accord 2.4 VTi-L: RM 4,656 (734)
  • CRV: RM 4,031 (438)

The engine in a City is a 1,500 cc and, as you can see, in keeping with many other countries, the cost of both insurance and road tax rises dramatically as the power, engine size and carbon foot-print of the vehicle goes up. The road tax variance between the 1.5L and 2.4L is very marked indeed and it is good to see the perhaps more rigorous approach taken to encouraging 'going green' here compared to the somewhat minimal cost differences in some countries. Anyway, before I get too much 'off topic', the primary purpose of this post is to flag up an insurance issue.

You can take your insurance through the dealer or even look to provide your own (I am likely to go with Kurnia) and the only way that you can reduce the cost from the outset as an overseas buyer (MM2H or otherwise), over and above choosing the less powerful and expensive cars (and in Penang, with tight parking in places and some heavy traffic in Georgetown at times, I'm starting to favour the smaller is better approach), is to provide proof of a previously accrued 'No Claims Bonus' (NCB) with your insurers in your home country. Whether and to what extent this will be accepted will depend on both your choice of insurer here in Malaysia (Penang in my case) and your home country. I came from the UK originally and both Kurnia and Toyota are happy to accept my proof of NCB. You will however need to provide an original letter from your insurance company and this is one of the things that may be good to add to your 'To Do' list before you come to Malaysia on a more permanent basis. This will save the hassle and cost of getting it posted here, which some companies may be reluctant to do.

I am grateful to Toyota Malaysia for providing me with the details that they require to be included in any letter for the insurers they use to consider applying the NCB, detail which was accepted by Kurnia and which would doubtless mirror the requirement from other providers:
  • Your name
  • Your address (in your home country)
  • Policy number
  • Period of coverage
  • Type of coverage (e.g. Fully Comprehensive)
  • Vehicle Registration (where relevant)
  • Final percentage of No Claims Bonus earned and applied to your policy
  • Total Years of No Claims

The detail companies can provide you with will vary but clearly the closer you can get to providing all of the above, the more success you are likely to have in reducing you premium costs here. I merely provided all of the above detail to my previous insurers who covered all the points.

This is certainly one of the things worth doing as, in my case, I qualify for 55% NCB here, which reduces the cost of insurance on even a Honda City or Toyota Vios considerably, more so if opting for something like a 2.4 Litre!!!

Hawker Centre: New Lane - Georgetown, Penang

Most will know that Penang is awash with hawker stalls and food courts with different eateries situated alone or in clusters almost every few yards you walk. There are some though that seem to be sought out by the locals perhaps over and above the others. This may well of course be on the basis of a preference for certain types of dish, no good heading of in search of a hokkien mee and going to a food court / hawkers that doesn’t serve it!! Despite the dish preferences, still some hawker centres seem to be more popular than others. The previously reviewed Goodall centre is one of these and another is that clustered on the corner of New Lane.

I was taken here one evening by a friend and fellow foodie, a life-long resident of Penang. It is quite easy to find and is just on the corner of Mcalister Road and New Lane with the Sunway Hotel being the closest land mark, being just a hundred yards or so further down the road. Travelling by bus you can get to this place on the Rapid Penang 101 service, just keep a look out for the Sunway or ask the driver to let you off at New Lane.

Despite the general appeal of this cluster of hawkers, even here certain food seems to be favoured by the clientele. On this particular occasion we opted for a range of dishes which comprised:
  • Chicken Satay
  • Loh Bak
  • Hokkien Prawn Mee
  • Cheng Tung Soup
  • Che Cheong Fun
Working down the list I have to say that the satay here was outstanding. Probably the best I have sampled so far in Penang (although the satay they serve at the Muntri Mews hotel comes quite close – review to follow). The satay, cooked fresh with each order, is well marinated, moist, and served piping hot with an outstanding sauce with just the right blend of peanut and chilli. The meat exudes the flavours of ginger and soy sauce with that unmistakable taste that you can only get from a real barbeque /grill. The Loh Bak is another firm favourite here, a spiced pork sausage wrapped in a thin and crispy pastry the diners seem to order it almost exclusively with the favoured accompaniments of prawn fritter and barbequeued tofu. The hokkien prawn mee was very tasty also but couldn’t compare to that sold at the Pulau Tikus hawker stall (see previous review) and the Cheng Tung soup was also very nice. This is a bean and fungus based clear soup served warm or even chilled and often eaten by the Chinese for breakfast. This is also a favourite of mine. Finally there is the Che Cheong Fun. Now, this is somewhat of an acquired taste!!! It’s OK but may take some getting used to. It’s basically a noodle which is fashioned to look like pig’s intestine (quite why is a little beyond me). The unique taste comes from the blend of sauces that accompanies the noodle which, in Malaysia, is served without any meat or shellfish. The thnee cheo sauce is dark red and quite sweet, hae ko is the the prawn paste found in many Penang dishes (including Rojak) and huan cheo is a spicy chilli paste. The dish is generally sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and a sparkling of oil and you then mix it all up to spread the sauces round prior to eating. Now I am very very liberal with regard to my taste in food and always happy to try anything new but, while I could certainly eat this dish I have to say it was not the favourite of the evening and, as I have already said, I would consider it to be an acquired taste. At only RM 2 a plate though it’s worth giving it a try. Who knows, you may love it.

I have added New Lane hawkers to my increasingly long list of regular haunts but believe me, this place is popular and you may struggle to get a seat at some of the busiest times. It’s well worth a visit and I would suggest the satay, loh bak and cheng tung are ‘Must Try’s’. The che cheong fun, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Sorry about the lack of photos this time, too hungry and had eaten most before the word 'camera' came to mind sad

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bistro: Amelie - Armenian St, Georgetown, Penang

An acquaintance of mine from my fact finding trip in April/May took me to this charming little bistro just 2 days after my arrival back in Penang in July. This is one of those places that unless you know it’s there, or just happen to stumble across as you wander the side streets of Georgetown (which while very enjoyable can be a bit hit and miss in terms of the discovery of eateries), you would likely never find.

Amelie’s is situated in Armenian Street, Georgetown and is really a cracking place to try for a light lunch or even a less formal early evening meal. It is quite small inside with seating for maybe 15-20 people at a push but it really is a quaint little eatery. The menu is not extensive but does have quite a good range, much of it being Italian in style. They have a nice and varied range of salads and a good selection of freshly blended soft drinks. The soft drinks seem mostly to be served in 'glasses' which bear a distinct resemblance, and I suspect more than a resemblance to empty jars!! Very 'quaint'.

We started with a mixed salad with feta cheese which had a superb dressing based on oregano and red wine vinegar. We followed this with a spaghetti carbonara at RM 17 and a pesto pasta with grilled sausage at roughly the same price. For me, I have to say that the carbonara had a little too much sauce with insufficient cheese incorporated making it somewhat overly creamy and wet. It was however pleasant enough. The pesto pasta was very nice though. There was quite a good range of deserts but having consumed most of the salad, the carbonara and a significant amount of the pesto pasta I was a little too full to try!! From memory the whole meal with soft drinks came to less than RM40.

I would certainly recommend Amelie’s as a cracking little bistro to try, something with an almost olde-world Italian chic to it. I would likely ask for the carbonara to not have too much sauce if I was to order it again but all of the other dishes I saw coming looked very well prepared and apetising. If you are in that part of town I would suggest you certainly give it a try.

NB: Updated 28/01/13 - Sadly Bistro Amelie has now closed down.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Restaurant: Karaikudi - Market Street, Georgetown, Penang

I would like to thank my friend Chona Bacani (manager at the Muntri Mews Hotel) for recommending this restaurant to me. It is in the Little India part of Georgetown and, not surprisingly therefore, is an Indian restaurant. Named Karaikudi it is in Market Street in Georgetown.

Quite easy to spot from the outside its interior is somewhat Spartan and dare I say, a little bright for my liking. Some less harsh lighting and a few well placed candles would add to the atmosphere tremendously but you should not let this put you off from trying the place for some good, and very reasonably priced Indian fayre. The restaurant serves a variety of Southern, Northern and the somewhat harder to find Chetinadu cuisine.Pitched at a level that’s somewhere between food court and the more upmarket restaurants like the Kashmir and Maharajah (both reviewed in this blog) it is very popular with the locals, especially at around 9pm on the weekends.

I visited there with a friend and we ordered quite a wide range of food to ensure we encountered a wide range of cooking techniques and styles in order to do as thorough review as possible.

We started of with some vegetable samosas and a portion of these is two pieces which would be enough for one as a single starter and for two if mixed with maybe another starter. The samosas were very tasty, the pastry was not too thick and they were jammed full of a variety of well spiced and seasoned vegetables. In fact you could almost east these without any accompanying chilli dressing or raita which I often find I need with samosas both to moisten them a little and, dare I say, even add some flavour in some cases.

We also ordered some chicken tikka and the portion of this was sizable, maybe 8 pieces or so. This was very nice indeed having been well marinated and cooked very well in the tandoor oven which imparted a superb barbeque flavour to it. Rounded of with a raita and onion salad this dish was superb.

For the main course we opted for a selection comprising palak paneer (rapidly becoming a favourite of mine), a prawn masala and a lamb rogan gosht. All of the dishes were exceptionally nice. The palak paneer (Indian cheese with spinach) was well flavoured with whole as well as ground spices with the green cardamom imparting a particularly nice flavour. The lamb was served partially off the bone in large cubes and in a very rich and thick sauce. The prawn masala was exceptional however and had a very subtle blend of spices with the ginger and tomato being nicely discernible above the other spices. The two garlic naans were very tasty and fresh.

Overall it was an excellent meal albeit the above selection would probably be pushing it for two unless you were both particularly ravenous. Rounded off with two cans of Tiger and a very nice triple blended juice containing mango, banana and ginger the whole bill came to just under RM100 which IMO is very good value for money.

I can thoroughly recommend Karaikudi and will certainly be adding it to the list or regular haunts. Thanks Chona!!!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hawker: Swee Kong - Burmah Rd, Pulau Tikus (Top Pick)

In a similar fashion to the Lorong Selamat char kway teow article this review focuses on one particular hawker stall and one particular dish. The dish in question is Hokkien Prawn Mee and the stall, Kedai Kopi Swee Kong, is on the Burma Road on the corner of Solok Moulemein and is directly opposite the Pulau Tikus police station. By public transport you can get to it either by taxi or by bus, the Rapid Penang 101 stopping directly outside the stalls. Now the only snag with this place is that it is VERY popular AND it stops serving at around 8:30 – 9:00 am as they start at around 6:30.

Now the friend who took me here suggested that this prawn mee was the only thing that would be worth such an early morning rise on a day off and when we went we got there at about 7:45am. The place was already buzzing and had, judging by the depleted stocks, already seen a lot of trade!! I say it closes at around 8:30 am which mostly is the case, but it will close earlier if it's all sold out!!
We ordered a coffee and some Apom (Indian coconut milk crepes) which are very nice first thing in the morning when piping hot and fresh. After only a few minutes wait the prawn mee arrived. The foundation for a prawn mee is the stock soup made from prawns shells and pork bones and a closely guarded recipe including a concoction of other spices which varies from vendor to vendor and which are simmered for hours. Coupled with the prawns, pork, noodles, beansprouts, kang kung and other vegetables it can be a very tasty dish. Now I have to say that I have had very nice prawn mee at a variety of hawker stalls but NOTHING compares to this. The stock is deep and intense in flavour and really aromatic and the combination of prawns, meat vegetables and noodles is spot on and when combined with a very fiery chilli paste (mix in sparingly if you don’t like your food too spicy!!!) this prawn mee was spectacular.

I’d have to agree that some foods would need to be pretty darned good to get you out of bed if there was no other need and this certainly fits the bill. It was a very tasty, warming and hearty breakfast and all for around RM 7-8. It is easy to see why this place is so popular with a constant flow of locals who eat in or order take away and it earns a very well justified ‘Top Pick’ from me!!!

Restaurant: Michaelangelo's - Gurney Plaza, Penang

On my first visit to Malaysia I was taken to a Michaelangelo's outlet in The Pavillion in KL by a casual acquaintance and I have to say that while I eat Chinese, Indian and Malay food the vast majority of the time, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food and the service of this restaurant in KL.

I am pleased therefore that for the odd time I might fancy an Italian meal in Penang that a Michaelangelo's opened up opposite Starbucks in Gurney Plaza (GP) on 11 August. It is a stylish, clean and tidy looking place with seating both inside (air-conditioned) or outside on the terrace which fronts onto the 'coffee quadrangle' at GP. I went to the restaurant recently with some of my very good chums from Kedah (from bottom left in the pic Lucas, Samantha, Tommy and Janet) and we did have a very good time and a very good meal.

I had a Spaghetti Carbonara which was very nicely flavoured with cheese and was not swimming in a creamy sauce which is a mistake many restaurants make with this dish outside of Italy. This cost around RM 29 which is about the cost of most of the dishes here. One of the diners had a very nicely cooked fillet of salmon at around RM 45 and another a well prepared and presented Lasagne, the filling having just the right balance of tomato, garlic and oregano, again at around RM 30. We had gone in happy hour (3pm - 9pm) so, amongst other drinks, got three pints of Kilkenny Irish Ale for the price of two (RM 48).

The restaurant has an extensive menu with a good range of starters, mains, deserts and snacks and a very wide range of soft drinks, alcohol and hot beverages. I really like Michaelangelo's I must say and will certainly visit the place on a regular basis. Worth checking out IMO. The food will be slightly more expensive here due to the location but still not prohibitively so and much more reasonable than Western prices IMO.

Friday, 19 August 2011

HSBC Safety Deposit Boxes (Penang)

Some readers may well be looking for a safe home for certain valuable documents or items during their stay in Penang and bank safety deposit (SD) boxes can be a good option. For customers of HSBC, SD boxes can be rented out for an annual fee, charged to your account. The fees are:
  • 4” x 5” x 20” - RM150
  • 4” x 8” x 20” - RM180
  • 8” x 8” x 20” - RM200
  • 8” x 16” x 20” - RM350
  • 16” x 16” x 20” - RM500
Premier customers receive 50% discount on the above rates but need to be aware that there may, at times, be waiting lists for some sizes of box.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Instant Coffee

I have to say that instant coffee is not normally a thing I would blog about being a lifelong lover of pure Arabica coffee, ground fresh, and made in a percolator of some sorts, or even a cafetiere if you are in a rush. Since coming to Penang though I have tried, and developed a liking, just for a change, for two particular brands of instant coffee.

The first is marketed under the Old Town White Coffee brand, a chain of coffee shops in this part of the world whose coffee is really very good. I am a particular fan of the Old Town outlet in Bishop Street, Georgetown and will nearly always go for a coffee there when in town, being particularly fond of the hazelnut coffee there. Indeed it was this that caught my eye when walking around Tesco in Tanjung Tokong recently. Sold in bags containing 15 '3 in 1' (coffee, creamer and sugar) 'sticks' I decided to give it a try and I must say I was most impressed. Most instant coffee I tend to avoid like the plague but this really is delicious. Since trying that I have also tried the Old Town White Coffee regular which is also very good. The bags cost around RM 14 for 15 servings so at less than RM 1 each they are a very good buy IMO and I keep both in the cupboard for a quick and tasty coffee fix.

I was also introduced to another instant coffee recently which comes in bag form (similar to tea bags) and this is a local blend of coffee with sugar added and which is particularly popular with many of the locals. It is called Kopi 'O' and again can be found in most supermarkets at around RM 8 for 15 servings, each of which is sealed in an individual foil bag.

It has to be said that both of the above coffee brands deliver sizeable portions so you really need a good sized mug for them as they would likely fill 2-3 small cups with ease.

If you just fancy a home brewed instant coffee I can recommend the Klassno Gold (it can be found under 'Products' / 'Instant Coffee' at the link, bottom left) instant coffee sold at around RM 14 for a 100g jar. This is just as good as many of the well known European / Western 'gold' blends that can sell at 2-4 times the price and I keep this in for emergencies.

Finally, for a good quality fresh coffee you should give the Native Organico brand a try which is certainly sold in Cold Storage and likely elsewhere. It is 100% pure Arabica and very good quality. It can be bought ready ground or in bean form. Now all I need is another kitchen cupboard for all this coffee!!!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Starbucks - HSBC 10% Discount (Promotion)

For those who enjoy the coffee, ambience and free wi-fi at Starbucks, customers of HSBC bank will be pleased to know that they are currently offering 10% discount across all food and drinks upon production of any HSBC banking card. I am led to believe they are also doing this promotion for Maybank customers. The staff at Gurney Plaza could not say precisely how long the promotion is running for but, while you will still likely pay more for two cups of coffee and a couple of slices of cheesecake than you would for a hawker based meal for two with drinks, the 10% is worth getting particularly if you are ordering for a group of friends.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Catvoque Events Production

Many readers will know of my very good friends Xixi, from Bagan, and William (her hubby) and on Sunday 14 August I was very grateful to be invited by them to attend the Mr and Miss SE Asia result contest at the Hard Rock Hotel in Batu Ferringhi, Penang. The event was actually very good and the final 20 or so contestants fought for the final two places in both this event and Mr and Miss Tourism. The evening was a mix of seeing the contestants in a variety of gear (beach wear, formal and casual etc.) together with a talent display which, oddly they could opt in or out of (surely it's fairer if either they all do it or no-one does?). It was a great success despite the best efforts of the compere who, in all honesty, couldn't have done a worse job if he'd tried. The grand finale of his efforts came at the end when he was announcing the winners, leaving out one VITAL piece of information. WHAT PLACE / TITLE THEY'D WON!!! It was actually amazing to look around at the crowd all of whom were totally bewildered as to what was going on, who had come second or first and for which title, and at the end of the night they left the event pretty much clueless as to who had won what. Totally bizarre!!

For me though the highlight of the evening, aside from the pleasure of seeing my favourite chums in Penang, was the performances by Soo Ong (a very talented singer who also performs at Bagan on a regular basis) and Catvoque, a cabaret / show troop who put on a limited version of one of their shows for the audience. Some may not be aware that Xixi was a regular and lead member of Catvoque and who still occasionally performs for them. On this evening however the troop was led by the very charming and talented Eleen who I have met a few times now and embarrassingly fail to recognise each time, including this time!!! She is quite stunning and is a master of very tasteful style changes!!! What follows is a few shots taken with a compact camera (hardly the best tool for the job) of some of the performances on that night.

First up, a shot of Xixi and Eleen chatting at the start of the event

Next, Eleen in slightly different attire performing to part of a Lady Gaga medley

And again, I liked this costume biggrin and the routine twisted

The final group at the end of the Lady Gaga melody. It's clear that all the dancers enjoy what they do but also that they work long and hard to get it right!!

A shot from a different routine, the routines are split almost seemlesly with very quick costume changes, each as dazzling as the other.

A further shot. Despite dancing for a long time you can see and feel the energy of the dancers right up until the end of the last set. These guys and gals are fit!!!

For me this was a superb night and it was great to actually see the Catvoque dancers in action, albeit that this was a very limited session and without the whole team. A big thanks from me to William and Xixi and of course to Eleen (who I am DETERMINED to recognise next time I see her despite the stunning changes in style) and the dancers!! They really are very talented and professional and anyone hosting an event or party that wants a touch of class and something different to wow the crowds should really consider trying to get Catvoque to perform. They have a Facebook page here and you can also contact Catvoque by calling:

+60 12 405 8026

Gym: Fitness First, Tg Tokong (Penang)

Recently I joined the Fitness First gym which is located on the 4th floor in Island Plaza in Tg Tokong, Penang having spent a week or two deliberating over which one. The main contenders were:
  • Celebrity Fitness - Gurney Plaza (see previous review)
  • Fitness First - Island Plaza, Tg Tokong
  • G Hotel - Gurney Drive
  • Absolute Fitness - Heritage Club, Scotland Rd

Initially it was my intention to join Celebrity Fitness as it is a well placed and well equipped gym but, residing as I do, for now, in the Tg Tokong area I decided to go and have a look at Fitness First in Island Plaza as I always figure that if a gym is easy to get to, the more likely you will be to use it. At the same time I also had a look at the G Hotel gym and, while it is nicely kept, I always get concerned that hotel gyms lack the numbers of instructors that the larger gyms have and also offer fewer, if any, of the classes and group exercises often found in the big gyms. Hotel gyms can also suffer from being a little 'dead' which impacts on the social scene and the extension of the social circle that gyms often provide. Absolute Fitness I also discounted because, not owning a car yet, I did not want the hassle of having to get there each day.

So, on to fitness Fitness First. I went along initially without any appointment for a look around and was seen by a very pleasant lady called Geetha. She showed me around the extensive facilities which include:
  • Main gym with an extensive range of machines and free weights
  • Exercise cycle cycle training room (for led groups)
  • Large group exercise area (for led groups of aerobics and such like)
  • Rest and relaxation area (with free refreshments for many classes of member)
  • Well equipped changing rooms with showers
  • Sauna and Steam rooms

Geetha then explained the memberships. There is a wide range on offer (indeed you can even use the gym on a paid daily rate if you wish) but I opted for the 12 month membership having also considered the 3 month. I opted for the latter as it brings the costs down and I also do intend to train regularly.

Fees will vary depending on age, offers and promotions, and the length of time you join for. In total I paid RM 208 to join which comprised an admin fee of RM 109 and a Body First voucher for RM 99 (explained later). My fees for each month are then RM 130 which, for the level of equipment, trainers and classes I consider quite reasonable. The first month of membership they gave me for free and they also waived one or two other charges. For those over 55 years of age there is also a senior citizen discount. I won't list all of the classes available here as the list is extensive but you can see them on their website. Paying is generally done by registering a credit card (foreign or Malaysian) or, for Maybank account holders, you can also pay by an auto-payment monthly to Fitness First. For those that don't really want their credit card billed each month you can opt to walk in and pay cash before the 15th of each month which will prevent your card payment being processed.

When you join you will pay for a personal trainer (PT) on a promotion basis. The fees will vary between RM 100 - 150 depending on offers. For the first month at least this is essential as they go through a very comprehensive assessment with you and create a structured programme for you. The way it works is this. For the first month (which cycles on the date you join as opposed to strict calendar month) you attend the gym and see the PT 3 times. For the rest of that month you need to attend a further 5 times (or as much as you want over this number). The next month you need to attend on your own at least 8 times. At the end of the 2 months, if you have the requisite number of 'attends' the fee you paid for the Body First / PT will be refunded. You are then free to pay for the services of a PT as and when you require. When you join you will also be issued with a photo ID card which you swipe as you go in, which keeps tabs of you attendance (no matter how many times you enter on one day though it counts just once) and each time you complete a session with a PT you will be asked to sign a record.

Finally, another nice touch is that new members each receive a welcome pack which includes:
  • A rucksack
  • Earphones (to clip into the audio/video displayed for many of the aerobics machines)
  • Water bottle
  • Set of books covering exercise, diet/recipes and a training log
  • Two guest passes to use as you wish

So far I am very impressed with Fitness First, the costs and the service. The staff and trainers are all very friendly and professional and the range of led group exercise is extensive. The sheer numbers of machines and equipment should mean you will rarely wait to use anything, especially if you train in non-peak times. As the months go on I will participate in more group sessions and will report on these as time goes on. For now though I can thoroughly recommend Fitness First and for those wishing to arrange an appointment or chat about membership Geetha can be contacted on: +60 16 471 4790.

NB: From 30 November 2012 'Fitness First' was taken over by 'Absolute Fitness' and the gym is still operating.  I am told by members that I know there that there have been a number of changes, including some upgrades and improvements.  I think the gym will still be a good consideration for those seeking a gym in this area, or one  that's near a supermarket, allowing you to top up on provisions after your visit. Absolute Fitness also have a Facebook Page here.

Services and Utilities

Over the last few weeks I have acquired a few contacts of a trustworthy and reliable nature that readers may wish to avail themselves of if struggling to find any yourself. Generally I much prefer to use recommended suppliers / traders than the 'cold call' or 'walk in' type. The services offered include:
  • Bottled Water / Water Fountain Supply
  • Contract Cleaners
  • Gas (bottle) Fitter / Supplier
  • Joinery / Carpenter

Obviously you should check out whoever you use to ensure they meet your expectations but I have used and will be using the above in future. Feel free to email me from the link on this page or from my profile if you want contact details.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Screw Free Assembly!!!

No, it's not my attempts to start a protest movement to fight for the rights and represent the interests of paid furniture assemblers, merely something that caught my eye in the so far fruitless search for a collapsable clothes dryer like the ones made by Minky and sold in the UK!!

Despite my best efforts the solution has so far evaded me. I have tried many of the large supermarkets and department stores but all to no avail. Those available seem either massively oversized (and NOT collapsable) or resemble off-shore oil rigs in their design with very ample steel tubing but very little actual little real estate for your clothes (minor design flaw??). Today however I got close (ish) at Tesco which also had a fairly sizeable and weighty offering which boasted being of 'Screw free assembly' and 'Assembled in 7 minutes'. Great I thought, looks like it MIGHT do the job, at least until I find something better. Imagine how my heart sank when I turned over the box to see that the only tool required was a rubber headed hammer which was nowhere to be seen along the aisles in Tesco. Now, call me cynical if you like, but it MAY have escaped the designers attention that in most supermarkets and household stores you can pick up many day to day items, including even screwdrivers and allen keys. Not too many however seem to stock rubber headed hammers!!! Whilst the assembly may indeed take only 7 minutes I am not sure how long it would take me to track down said 'rubber headed hammer'. As a Unique Selling Point (USP) I think this particular product may have missed the plot somewhat and while I normally try to avoid it, this is one instance where I would actually be quite happy to get screwed.

The search continues.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Design Update

In order to try and organise things a bit better I have now split the links that I provide (on the right) under three sections:
  • Malaysian Government / Official links
  • Travel Links
  • Other Links

Astro TV Service

As I start to settle in the new apartment the time came to get further services up and running, one of the main ones being Astro, the satellite TV service which provides a reasonably wide range of channels in English, Chinese, Indian and Bahasa Malay. To sign up for the service I took a bus (101) from Tg Tokong to Burmah Road and you get off the bus not far along Burmah Road from where the bus joins it at Jalan Bagan Jermal. The Astro centre can be seen on the ground floor of a row of shops (looking to your left on a bus travelling towards Georgetown) and is just before the junction of Burmah Road and Lorong Leandros.

Signing up is quite easy and painless. You first take a ticket upon entering the store (the security guard will assist if needed but the ticket machine is just inside the door). Once your number is called (which was almost immediate) you see a desk officer who, upon verifying it's a new application will point you towards the 'Sales' desk. Once there it's simply a case of proving a copy of your passport and a utility bill as identification. Having just moved in I had no utility bill so I took a copy of my tenancy agreement (or at least the stamped page and others showing the address) which was accepted. It's then a case of choosing your package and options.

There is a default package which everyone gets and I basically added all the English supplementals including movies, news and documentaries but excluding the sports channels. I also chose the option to a recording box (Astro B.yond) at and extra RM 10 per month (which means you will get a different Astro box which acts as a PVR as well). The sales staff are very helpful and will advise which of the packages and options are in either Malay, Chinese or Indian to avoid you choosing bundles which may be of limited use. You will also be asked if you want HD. Now here, it's a good idea to check with your condo management office if the building is wired for HD or not (this requires two line feeds as opposed to the normal one). If you are not HD enabled you can still get the recording option but only regular transimission. In my case, the buidling is wired for single feed now with the HD feed due to go live around October. It is worth noting that when you sign up for Astro you must take the service for a minimum of 12 months (in which case the box is free) and for two years if you want the recording service. The total package costs for me on a monthly basis will be around RM 100 (including the recording service).

The sales staff help with the very simple form completion and you will then be advised of the expected wait time. Most locals will get the install quite quickly but foreigners may need to wait for 2-3 weeks for the papers etc to be processed. There is nothing to pay on the day but you will be advised of the need to pay the installer RM 200 when they come to fit the box (fees may vary depending on which box you opt for and any offers at the time) in respect of which you will be contacted to arrange an appointment.

All in all a pretty painless process albeit the wait time could perhaps be speeded up. That said I don't watch TV that much so it's no big deal. I also think it's quite reasonably priced compared to the spiralling costs of services such as Sky in the UK.

Hair Stylist - Tanjung Tokong (Straits Quay)

Now, I have found to my cost that wandering into to any old hair stylist can meet with some pretty devastating results. You may get lucky of course or you may end up getting scalped or come away with a coiffure's interpretation of a traffic accident. As such, always better I find to go somewhere based upon recommendation, perhaps not if the recommendation comes from someone sporting said 'traffic accident' hairstyle though.

For those in the Tanjung Tokong area, or indeed those venturing there to visit Straits Quay (men or women), I can thoroughly recommend the Hair Flair salon which was in turn recommended to me by a good friend (whose hairstyle is very attractive) and a long standing customer of the salon. The owner is a very talented stylist by the name of Ricky and they relocated to this new location in mid-July from their previous shop in Island Plaza. The salon is on the upper / first floor of Straits Quay plaza and if you enter the plaza through the front main doors (e.g. not the from the Marina side) you merely turn right, go all the way down to the end (past the Papa Rich and Blue Reef restaurants) and up the escalator to the first floor. The salon is then just in front of you and to your right a little.

The salon is very well equipped with friendly staff and first time visitors to a stylist in Malaysia may find the practices in salons here somewhat strange at first, albeit I think they are MUCH better than those in Europe. Common practice here is for your hair to be washed as you sit in the stylists chair, nowhere near a sink. They use shampoo and a small bottle of water to create a lather, massaging the scalp at the same time. You also get a shoulder and neck massage. After that it's off to a reclined chair backing on to a sink for the rinse. You then return to the stylists chair for a cut (and a very welcome cup of Chinese tea) then back to the reclined chair for a further rinse. After that it's a dry, styling and final touches. For the ladies of course it will get as complex as it needs to for whatever you are having done.

Compared to the costs in Europe my wash, cut and style here cost a very reasonable RM 48 and for me is excellent value for money. The salon is popular and it may be a good idea to phone ahead for an appointment.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Internet / Landline (TM Streamyx)

There are several providers of internet that you can choose from in Penang but, following advice from friends here, all of whom are locals, I decided to go with TM / Streamyx, primarily because they do not limit your usage, albeit your connection might slow down some for the remainder of a given month if you really hammer it with downloads etc.

You can chose to use one of the many agents (authorised resellers) who have outlets often in malls etc. and for many, particularly those whose working hours clash with those of the main Streamyx offices, called a 'TM Point'. For me though that was not a problem and as I generally prefer to do these things direct, so I know where to go and who to see if I get a problem, I decided go direct to my nearest TM Point. This is located in Burmah Road, Georgetown and is not far from Lorong Selamat and the Kurnia (medical insurance) offices (see previous medical insurance update). There are other offices in Penang and details can be found here. The actual office is located at the junction of Lorong Madras and is opposite the Proton dealership. The Rapid Penang 101 service takes you to the TM Point with a bus stop nearby (either going into or out of Georgetown) and the 103 runs there as well albeit on the run into town the bus turns off just before the TM Point. The Rapid drivers are very good in the main I find and will tell you when you are at your destination if you ask them to.

Monday is normally a day to avoid as it can get quite busy with people going to sort out any problems they may have following the offices being closed at the weekend. I went at about 10:30 on Monday morning though and it was not that busy. It can be a bit confusing when you enter as there is a help/payment desk which people will likely be queuing at but for a new application you don't need to. Just walk up to the desk and on the left hand side of the desk there is s ticket machine. If you select 'Applications' you will receive a numbered ticket and then you then go into the main hall and await the number to be called. There are also LED signs indicating the number being served and the counter to go to.

Signing up was quite simple. Once the number was called I went to the desk and asked to sign up for both a landline and broadband internet. My block is serviced by Centrex for the landline etc and I was able to tell the Streamyx desk officer this (having found out from the apartment block management company), albeit they would likely know from the address anyway. I opted for a landline as the calls to other TM land lines nationally are free and calls to mobiles and other land lines are fixed at Sen 10 per minute and so are cheaper than using a mobile (often called hand phone here). The rest of the 'deal' available from Streamyx was also very good as form RM 140 per month it includes 4Mb broadband (some apartments may only be able to get 2 Mb depending on how far you are from an exchange) a free wireless modem, free cordless phone and free connection. All I needed to do was fill in two forms, one for internet and one for land line and this took a total of about 20 minutes. I had been advised to take a copy of my tenancy agreement with me just in case they needed it but it was not required. All that was needed was a copy of my passport. The paperwork all completed, all I needed to do then is pay the RM 1,075 deposit for the landline which as a foreigner you are required to do. You pay this at a separate till and I used a credit card to do so (for which there is no extra charge). I then returned to the first desk, collected my copy papers, paid the RM 10 that they need for the stamp on this type of paperwork, and was advised that my landline would be activated in 1-2 days and internet 2-3 days after that. Once the broadband was activated I was advised that I could call in to the TM Point and pick up the free cordless phone.

True to their word, on Tuesday I got a call to arrange the telephone install and the guy came to do this on the Wednesday, all very swift and efficient. There is an RM 30 install fee that you pay for the landline but you do get a free 'wired' telephone also which you could use in a second socket if you have one, using the free cordless phone in the main one. If, like mine, your building is serviced by Centrex you can speak to your management company and ask them to link your landline to the security intercom so that security can buzz you when you have visitors. I am not sure if apartments serviced by non-Centrex suppliers can do this. I have opted to do it once the intercom service is activated.

On the Friday I then got a call to arrange the broadband connection. This again was efficient and quick and the guy came and installed the router, gave me the relevant user names, router security key etc and checked all my devices were working. As with any broadband you will need a 'splitter / filter' for any telephone socket you have a device plugged into. They supply one with the router and you will only need another (available from any main electrical outlets such as SenHeng / SenQ for about RM 17) if you plan to plug a further telephone into any other socket(s) you may have.

ADDENDUM: I recently also collected the free cordless phone. This was a bit problematic it has to be said, but likely through lack of communication. Upon registration I was told just call and collect the phone once broadband had been activated by the engineers. Not so. Apparently you need to wait to be contacted to go and collect your phone once it arrives in stock, normally two weeks after broadband activation. It appears though that on occasion the internal comms are less than efficient so my call/SMS never came. As such I used the 'Contact Us' form on the TM website to raise the issue. After this I got a call, a mail and an SMS advising me to go and collect my phone from the same TM point I signed up at. To do so you merely need to go to the TM Point and this time you DO queue at the front reception desk. Having done so, I told the girl at the desk who then completed a green receipt form with my details (she will ask for you passport number but did not ask to see it) and once done, you take the form to collect the phone at the 'Business Desk' just inside the main hall.

With the free phone I would suggest waiting for for the call / SMS from Streamyx for just over two weeks after broadband activation and, if it doesn't arrive, use the Contact Us form as I did. They will then contact you quite quickly, normally within 1-2 working days.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Medical Insurance - MM2H Requirement (update)

So, the time finally arrived for me to get the medical insurance that is needed for the MM2H visa. There was no rush really as I will not go to KL to collect the visa until after 6 August but, at least getting it done, it means everything is out the way.

I pondered this subject long and hard (or as long and hard as time permitted given all that emigration throws at you in the first few weeks) and had drawn up a shortlist of either (please see a previous medical insurance post for all the links):
  • Kurnia
  • AIA
  • Prudential
  • Great Eastern
  • Hong Leong
  • April Mobilite
Over the coming year I will do much more in depth research into all these policies but for now I just don't have the time, or the inclination to be honest, too much to do still, so the decision was to go with Kurnia as they seem to provide good coverage, are a well placed and well respected local company and are able to process the application etc swiftly.

The Kurnia office is based in Lorong Selamat (home to the best char kway teow in Penang) and is conveniently not far from the Burmah Road office of TM Streamyx (if you are contemplating sorting you internet/landline connection the same day, as I was). The office is quite easy to find. There is a Hyundai showroom on the junction of Jalan Burmah and Lorong Selamat and the Kurnia office block is about 50 yards down on the same side of the road as Hyundai. It's an 8 storey office block and is clearly signed 'Buy/Renew Insurance - Kurnia'.

Following a discussion, and previous e-mail correspondence, with the very helpful Angel Lim I decided to opt for the MediGuard Premier policy with the medical card option (much less hassle if you need to check in to a hospital or clinic as there are then no questions asked an no bills to pay up front). I won't go into full details of the cover as they can be found at the link above. I chose to go for Plan 3 but without the 'Outpatient' option (as a rule I tend to visit the doctor rarely and, hoping that trend will continue, I figured it not worth the cost).

Costs will vary according to age and the level of cover you opt for but I found them very reasonable at about RM 1,100 in my case, and in stark contrast to some of the international policies that seem to base there premiums more on the cost of medical care in the US and Europe than in Malaysia. I also know of a few people who have policies with Kurnia (they also provide buildings/contents and auto cover) and who are very satisfied. I am also told that their processing of claims and payments is very efficient and swift.

In order to apply for cover you will need:
  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your MM2H acceptance letter
  • Proposal form (which can be mailed to you for you to print and complete or it can be done at the office)
  • Medical report (in this case a copy of the MM2H RBII medical report will suffice so it's worth getting this done first and saving some money rather than get a medical done for this AND then a medical for the RB II).
The Kurnia site does have the details of contact addresses for their offices throughout Malaysia and this also lists e-mail addresses. Once I had contacted Kurnia by mail I received a very prompt reply which included a prospectus/brochure, a proposal/application and a supplementary questionnaire (CPF) which is not needed if you medical report shows you 'all clear'. Your premium can be paid on the day (albeit they need to confirm acceptance of your proposal with the KL offices) either in cash or with a local or international credit card, for which there are no surcharges.

Another job done and I'm happy I have got medical cover sorted so quickly.