Thursday, 31 May 2012

Events: Auto Show (Straits Quay) / IFOODex (PISA)

Two events up and coming which might be of interest, both running between 8 - 10 June in Penang.

First up is an Auto Show at Straits Quay between 6-8 June organised by Kenlink Events.  Be interesting to see what this is like.  I didn't bother with the very large GT Auto Show at Auto-City last week as I had no pressing need to go there so couldn't really be bothered.

The second event is IFOODex which is running at Penang International Sports Arena (PISA).  It is Malaysia's largest international food festival and, being a qualified chef (one of the other strings on my bow), I plan to visit this.

Movies: What's on at the cinema

Couple of good movies I'm looking forward to catching at Gold Screen Cinemas (GSC), Gurney Plaza over the next two weeks.  Starting off with 'Snow White and the Huntsman'.  I saw a trailer for this when I went to see 'MIB III' recently and have to say it looked very good.  Opens today at GSC.

Next up is Prometheus.  This is a Ridley Scott film and is the prequel to the terrific (mostly) Alien series of films (I say mostly because only the first movie was directed by Ridley Scott and the sequels were varied in quality).  Ridley Scott is my favourite director at the moment (having directed such greats as Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and I have a feeling this will be a great movie.  Opens at GSC on 7 June.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Event: QE2 Fashion Xtravaganza

Was delighted to be invited to shoot this event which was laid on by the Amber Chia Academy in conjunction with a number of other partners.  A really good event and it was great to catch up with many friends including Nelson Lo and Kelvin Khoo from the Academy in Penang, Kevin Loh from Intrenasionale and of course the models.  Lovely to chat to Fiona Tan, Ginny Chan and Kia Goh; Amber Chia looked radiant and as stunning as ever.  Photo album to come via the 'Pick of Penang' Facebook page.

Star of the show, the beautiful Amber Chia.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Explore Everything Apple: 31 May - 3 June

The above event, a showcase of Apple and related third party products, will be hosted by the premier Malaysian re-seller 'Switch' (whose excellent shop is located on the the 3rd floor of Gurney Plaza and also on the 1st floor at Straits Quay) in the main concourse area at Gurney Plaza between 10am - 10pm daily between 31 May and 3 June inclusive.  Worth visiting if you are in the market for some Apple products!!

Movies: Men in Black III

Looking forward to this, MIB III opens in cinemas here from Thursday 24 May!!!

SYM VTS 200 Motor Scooter: Two wheels or four?

I have to say I've been pondering for a long time whether to go for a bike over here.  I've ridden bikes for a lot of my life but they have mostly been 750 - 1,000cc.  In Europe such bikes are fine (if expensive!!), with plenty of wide open (and in some cases deserted) roads and weather that is not too hot to prevent you wearing full protective clothing, leathers, kevlar, gloves, boots and full-face helmets.  In Penang though it's different.  Yes there are open roads here, out of town at least (especially on the mainland) but the busy and narrow nature of many of the roads, especially in town, coupled with the weather (which would make wearing full leathers a nightmare IMHO) pretty much rules out the need for a big bike, for me at least.

There are times however when a bike would be very useful. Quick runs to the gym, short trip to the supermarket, zipping around town (especially in rush hour) to pick up bits and pieces from here and there.  The fuel economy of a bike is also often very good.  All you need to do of course is ride defensively, avoid the myriad of other 'suicide jockeys' (many of whom sadly ride without any concept of safety and / or self-preservation), dodge the rain showers and inconsiderate car drivers.  Nothing to it........ ;-)

So, if I were going to go that route, what would it be?  In Thailand, for me, no contest, Harley Davidson Electra Glide.  But that's Thailand with less import tax and if I went that route I'd ditch the car.  Coming down a few hundred cc, and again in Thailand, no contest again, Honda PCX scooter.  But the PCX is sadly not available in Malaysia.  It's a shame because it has a decent size engine (150 cc) now, good luggage capacity and 14" wheels.  As an example the 125 cc can deliver up to 40 km per litre of fuel.  So what to go for.

Still not 100% decided to be honest BUT I suspect if I did opt for two wheels it would be the SYM VTS 200.  This to me is a very stylish machine and I've actually come to like it more than the PCX.  Why?  Well:

1) 200 cc engine
2) Bigger bike with more storage
3) Larger windscreen for long distance

In Penang the VTS 200 retails for between RM 9,100 - 9,300 and dependant on where you go dealers will throw in some other extras such as a free helmet and/or discount on other goods bought with the bike.  One such dealer is Sun Sum Motors at the junction of Jalan Irving and Lebuh Naning.  From them the bike is RM 9,100 and they offer 50% discount on helmets and such like if bought at the same time.  I'm not sure if this applies to top-boxes also, a very useful addition to increase luggage capacity.

My only slight concern is that Sun Sum is not an authorised SYM dealer and I'd need to look into the implications of that.  But it is one of the largest dealers I visited and carries a wide range of accessories.  SYM have quite a few registered dealers in Penang and have details on their website here.  The closest two dealers for me would be:

1) Chang Motors, 224-E Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus
2) Suang Leong, 114 Jalan Fettes, Tg Tokong

I have always erred on the side of caution before and bought from authorised dealers, thinking it's better that way if you want any servicing or warranty work doing.  As I've mentioned, I'd need to check the implications of buying from a non-authorised dealer before I did so.  Like I say, still not 100% decided but with the number of short runs I do and the problems of parking, it's a very attractive proposition and a very attractive bike.

A hearty loaf!!!!

I am grateful for a recent article published by The Expat Group in one of their magazines, Penang International.  The article covers four different bread shops in Penang.

I have managed quite well to find my way around Penang, got to know a LOT of people (99% locals) and generally manage to keep my finger on the pulse with regard to what's going on.  I also try to keep the blog varied with snippets about all facets of life here, not just bars and restaurants.  I have not however thus far done much research into bread and I do enjoy a good loaf.

Mostly I get my bread from Cold Storage where the Gurney Plaza store in particular has a good range and also has an in-store bakery for a lot of fresh baked breads and sweet pastries.  The wholemeal 'Mission' sandwich wraps they sell are particularly good and I quite like the wholemeal sliced bread which seems much less sweet than many breads here.

I have to say though that I am very pleased to how now discovered the Penang Adventist Hospital Bakery (PAHB) and in particular their '3 Seed Sprouted Wholemeal Bread'.  The bread is sold pre-sliced (and thankfully they are thick slices) and wrapped at a price, currently, of RM 5.30 per loaf and I have to say it is very, very tasty and very hearty / filling.  Being a 'sprouted' seed loaf the bread is easier to digest and is more kind to your system.  The bakery also stocks a range of other breads that I have yet to try, including regular wholemeal at around RM 3.50.  They also bake a range of cakes and sweet breads and their egg tarts are very good at RM 5 for 4.

If you like good quality bread the PAHB is well worth a visit and the hospital is easy to find on Burma Road, not far from the junction with Jalan Bagan Jermal, the hospital is on the right as you head towards Georgetown.  They have quite a lot of onsite parking and it seems that a short stay is not charged for as I was just waved through the barrier when I left after buying my bread.  As you stand and face the hospital the bakery is not inside the main entrance, there is a smaller entrance door about 75 metres down to the left and the bakery is directly inside.  Well worth a visit and I will post up about the other bakeries the article mentioned when I get chance to try them.

Readers wishing to subscribe to TEG publications (free for expats and MM2H) can do so here.  I have also added the TEG to 'Useful Links'

New nightclub in Penang: Room, Penang Times Square

I have heard now from several reliable sources that a new nightclub, 'Soju Room', will be opening in Penang Times Square in the next month or so.

The new Room will be in a similar style to 'Room' in Auto-City, Juru and if that is the case it will be pretty spectacular. The laser light-show in Room, Auto-City, is outstanding and the owner did tell me that the same light system will be installed in Penang Times Square.  One expects it will follow the same theme as Auto-City too with DJs, live acts, occasional shows and a number of VIP rooms.

Soju Room will provide an exciting addition to Penang's nightlife and revellers will of course be able to grab a few drinks and something to eat at 'Overtime' and just walk to Room.  Watch this space for a full photo-review of Soju Room, Penang Times Square.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Chinese Buffet - Copthorne Hotel, Penang

For those who like the buffet style of meals the Copthorne Orchid in Tanjung Bungah has started offering a Chinese buffet every Friday between 7pm and 10pm in their Terrace Bay restaurant at what seems a very reasonable RM 38 net per person (RM 28 child).

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Penang Information / Events: Useful Links

Just a quick post to highlight these links which I find quite useful for information about, and events in, Penang.  The sites are regularly updated. Penang State Tourism.

First there is the website for Penang State Tourism which contains a wealth of useful information.

Secondly there is the Facebook Page for Penang Global Tourism, a relatively new state tourism promotion bureau.

Finally, Tourism Penang, this is state specific sub-site of the very useful Ministry of Tourism (MoTour) site.  The MoTour site also contains a page of links to the other state specific sites.

All added to the 'Travel Links'.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

VoipDiscount: Skype Alternative (Top Pick)

I've tried a few of these services since being in Malaysia and often came back to Skype as the easiest and most reliable.  Of late however I've switched over almost entirely to VoipDiscount for calling and SMS, especially when contacting Thailand.

Like Skype, VoipDiscount (I was going to use an acronym but it didn't work out to well haha) uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to allow calls to be made.  Again like Skype you can make free internet calls to any VoipDiscount user online.  The beauty of VoipDiscount is that you can call a number of countries (landline and mobile) free of charge and calls to other countries are also very cheap.  What's more, and this is unlike Skype, the call / line quality is mostly excellent.  SMS can also be sent at very low charges, similar costs to another service I have used a lot, Fishtext.

To use VoipDiscount you need to register for their service online and buy credit.  A top up of €10 lasts 120 days and during that time you can make as many free calls as you like.  Any charged calls or SMS are deducted from your balance.

Once you have registered you can download the VoipDiscount computer user interface software (for both PC and Mac) and the thing I really like is that they also have an excellent mobile phone application called MobileVoip.  For iPhone users the app can be found here.  Other than Skype many of the smartphone interfaces for VoIP services I find very poor and clunky but this one is even better than Skype IMHO.

It's not often I have to call or SMS other than in Malaysia but when I do, for now at least, VoipDiscount and MobileVoip is the service and application I use.  The costs coupled with the line quality and excellent smartphone application makes it a clear winner for me and a deserved 'Top Pick'.

Monday, 14 May 2012

UK Driving Licence Conversion - Part 1 (Application)

This is one of the things I had put off doing for a long time, largely because it seems to have proved very frustrating for many people.  I finally got round to doing it and here is a brief summary of my findings.

The MM2H office issues some very helpful (and still accurate) guidance on this and it can be found here.  There is also guidance on the JPJ site which confuses things somewhat as it states that licence holders need an embassy letter to validate their licence.  Trust me, stick to the MM2H guidance.

Essentially when you wish to convert ('convert' is a bad term really as you still keep your original licence but the term seems to describe what needs to be done well) a driving licence from another country to a Malaysian licence your do it through the Road Transport Department (JPJ) and your licence generally falls into either Category A or Category B.  I say generally merely because some licences are not listed and may require a specific enquiry to JPJ.  Category A simply means that certain countries have signed reciprocal agreements with Malaysia and the issue of a Malaysian licence to holders of licences from those countries is automatic and is done on the day, either at JPJ HQ in Putrajaya, KL or at any local JPJ office.  Most other licences will be in Category B and this simply means that you have to send your application off to Putrajaya for an approval letter to be issued before you get the licence, copies of your documents have to be certified by a local JPJ officer unless you are applying AT Putrajaya JPJ itself.  The countries to which Cat A and Cat B apply are listed at the end of the JPJ guidance.  The UK driving licence is Category B.

Now I must say I have seen loads of crap, theories and speculation about why the processes are different when people contemplate changing licences (e.g. "maybe it's because we drive on the left") when in truth the reasons are crystal clear and written in black and white.  I've also see people giving advice and being insistent that "you need to do this / don't need to do that" when talking about how they got their licence, failing or refusing to acknowledge that the process varies by country and that the MM2H guidance explains that fully.  Personally I can't see what's so difficult about it all, in terms of the theory / policy at least.

Anyway, moving on. I am resident in Penang so my experience is based around that and a postal application to Putrajaya seeing as I have no imminent plans to go to KL.  I used the JPJ office in Butterworth for my application.  I did try the office in Bayan Lepas but drew a bit of a blank there.  Butterworth clearly processes many more licences and the the staff there ultimately I think are a little more familiar with the procedures affecting different countries.

Having driven to the JPJ Butterworth office I went the main processing area which is in Block A, you actually have to go right round, past the food sellers, to what is the rear of block A (looking from the main road you enter the complex from), go to the ticket desk on the right and collect your ticket.  I was told counter number 2 (which unlike the other desks thankfully had no queue) and this is where I initially encountered a similar problem to that I found at JPJ Bayan Lepas.  They told me I'd need a letter from the British Embassy to validate the licence.   I was sure this wasn't correct so returned to the ticket counter (that actually had a JPJ officer), explained that I was MM2H, that my licence was UK (and of the computer printed variety) and, in light of the MM2H guidance which I showed him, questioned whether I really DID need an embassy letter.  He made a quick phone call and I was told to return to counter 2 but this time go through a side door and ask for a certain JPJ senior officer.  SUCCESS!!!!!!!  After that it was plain sailing.  All I needed was (as per MM2H guidance):

1) Copy of UK passport (details and MM2H page)
2) Copy of UK driving licence (paper and card part)

3) Application form JPJ L2 which he showed me how to fill in

4) In light of the 'NB Update' below - a copy of the Conditional Letter of Approval (CLA) from Immigration confirming MM2H approval

The officer explained that asking for an embassy letter is the standard procedure which is largely to cater for those dodgy countries where a DL can be purchased on a street corner and that, checking his list, the UK wasn't one of them (he obviously doesn't know the same street corners I do).  I did say it was a shame the processing desks didn't refer to the same list, I wonder how many people walk out the door thinking they have to go the embassy letter route?  He DID countersign all the the document copies (for which there is no charge) which makes it all essentially in accordance with MM2H guidance.  I was then advised to post the lot of to the Putrajaya address which I did by registered post at a cost of RM 2.40.  He said the authority letter should take about 10 days, after that, bring the letter back in with a passport photo and the fee and pick up the licence.

So it DOES seem that MM2H guidance is correct but you just have to go to a JPJ office big enough to have staff who understand the correct procedure and be fairly persistent if the counter staff try to fob you off with the 'embassy letter' routine.

JPJ in Butterworth is not TOO hard to find.  You drive across the Penang Bridge and at the other end go straight ahead.  You then follow the road until you see the exit for the E163 which is signposted Kulim.  Go down that slip road and turn right at the roundabout, again towards Kulim.  JPJ is a large sprawling brown building complex on your left, not far down that road from the roundabout.  It's perhaps easy to miss if you're not expecting it to be that close.  If you come to another slip road next to a fly over again saying Kulim straight on, you've gone past it (this is actually the slip road you take when you exit JPJ and need to U turn to come back to Penang island.

Map: JPJ Butterworth

As yet my authority letter has not arrived. When it does I will update this post with a Part 2.

Some discussions about this matter can be seen on the MM2H forum here but please be aware that at times people are talking about licences from different categories!!

NB: Update 28 May. I received a letter from JPJ which asked me to send in a copy of the letter from Immigration confirming that I had been accepted for MM2H. This is despite the application containing a copy of the actual visa! I have now sent a copy of the letter off and await the next contact. While none of the guidance asks for a copy of this letter I would suggest that as a 'belt and braces' approach, any applicant ALSO includes a copy of their visa approval letter.

NB: An update post regarding the approval of my licence application and the process involved in collecting it can be found here.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Time for a new look!

It's been a couple of years since the blog was started and Blogger has moved on since then with a new interface, revised templates and many different ways of doing things.  Normally I'm firmly in the camp of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' when it comes to changes such as these but the new templates add so much more functionality for users / readers (that might not be immediately obvious) that I figured it was time to move on.

So, here it is, for now anyways.  The new Blog look.  I'm not entirely happy with some of the layout and colours yet so there may be some changes in the weeks ahead.  Hopefully the changes will not have adversely affected any readers in terms of the devices used to read the blog.

Main things I'm not really sure about:

1) Black or a transparent background to posts? But I think reading against the swirls of the background might get tiring.

2) Borders around each post?

3) Borders around the clusters of links, pictures and such like to the right.

I'm sure it'll all get sorted before long.  I have also ensured that the mobile device version of the blog will be the site visited by default if accessing from smart phones and such like.

Any feedback welcome.

Street Directory - Penang / Malaysia

While much of the time I tend to use Google Maps to find locations (and to provide snap-shot maps to help other find them), at times I do find the application lacks a lot of detail, particularly when looking for building names or sites etc.  I sometimes use Google Earth too but I often find the diagrams hard to discern detail, especially on small devices such as phones, with the grey colour of roads and buildings being barely discernible at times from the surrounding greenery and countryside, a particular problem if you require a zoomed out view.

More recently therefore I have begun using the excellent site which I find provides a much greater level of detail.  A useful link to book-mark in my view and one which I have added to the 'Travel Links'.

New Bagan!!!!

One of my favourite night-spots in Penang has opened at its new venue!!

Bagan has relocated to Macalister Mansion in Macalister Road (near to Perak Road) and while the new club retains the charm of the old venue (complete with performances from a live band and DJ) and thankfully, most of the original staff, new Bagan is a vastly different concept with the heritage mansion being tastefully re-designed inside to provide a charming boutique hotel and a very stylish and sophisticated restaurant serving fine cuisine prepared by Head Chef Lance and his team.

Words don't really do the place justice so I plan to write a more complete and pictorial review in the next week or so.  I have attached a map showing roughly the location of Macalister Mansion below

Restaurant: Tamarind Brasserie - Batu Ferringhi

The Park Royal Hotel in Batu Ferringhi is well known in Penang and its 'Tamarind Brasserie' has an enviable location near the beach and is adjacent to the very relaxing pool-side gardens and bar.

I have eaten the buffet meals there a couple of times now and while I generally find I need to eat quite a lot to make most buffet meals worth the cost, the meals and setting of Tamarind make it a very enjoyable experience.

Presently the Hotel has a number of offers running (May / June 2012) which will no doubt provide a further incentive for people to try these buffet extravaganzas.  An overview is provided below:

SEAFOOD INDULGENCE (6:30pm - 10:30pm)

Weds: Island Style BBQ Buffet

Fri: East Meets West Buffet

RM 125++ with 35% discount for 'walk-in' guests and buy one get one free on Super Duper draught beer and cocktail of the day.

NIGHTS OF FLAVOUR  (6:30pm - 10:30pm)

Monday: Seafood Buffet

Tues: Middle East and Mediterranean Cuisine

Thursday: International

Saturday: Seafood Buffet

RM 125++ with 35% discount for 'walk-in' guests and buy one get one free  on Super Duper draught beer and cocktail of the day.


Lunch (12:00 noon - 3:00 pm)

Buffet Lunch: International cuisine including  Italian, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Western and Seafood.

RM 108++ per person.  Buy one get one free offer on lunch and also Super Duper Draught Beer or cocktail of the day.

Dinner (6:30pm - 10:00pm)

Buffet Lunch: International cuisine including  Italian, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Western and Seafood.

RM 125++ per person.  Buy one get one free offer on lunch and also Super Duper Draught Beer or cocktail of the day.

So, if you have the appetite and fancy the variety of food at a reasonable price, Tamarind at the Park Royal is well worth a visit.

Service Resumed / Events in Penang and KL

At last, after an overly long break from blogging due to numerous personal commitments, it's time to resume the blog.  There are many reviews I need to publish, together with the long overdue photographic round-up of the areas commonly considered by expats when looking to live in Penang.  So, much more to come and for those that have stayed 'tuned', thanks for your patience.

To start off, I have recently re-discovered the excellent 'Your Penang' site and their 'Diary of Events'.  It's a useful, if not exhaustive, list of some of the events up and coming in Penang and gets updated often.  Worth book-marking for reference.  I've added it to the 'Useful Links'.

In addition, there is a Penang based online magazine (which the owner tells me will hopefully be going to hard copy also from June/July) called 'What's on Penang' which provides a more focussed view of some aspects of life in Penang including a round-up of entertainment, dining, nightlife and things to do etc.  The magazine also has a Facebook page.

For those interested in events and such like in KL I find the 'Wazzup KL' site quite useful.