Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Music Shop: Spectrum Music - Georgetown, Penang

I recently had a need to find a good shop for musical instruments in Penang and, having scoured the internet (I often find adding the word 'Lowyat' to your search string is useful in this regard as it will bring up responses from this popular Malaysian internet chat forum where many will ask Penang / KL specific questions), I finally came across Spectrum Music.

My searches threw up a number of other stores but I got the impression that Spectrum was exactly what I was looking for, and how right I was.  The store is located on the 2nd floor of the 'One Stop' shopping area opposite Tanjung Medical Centre in Jalan Burma, near to its junction with Jalan Bagan Jermal. There is ample off-road parking here and to get to the shop you need to go round the the back of the (very popular) chicken/duck rice shop and take the lift to the second floor.  Turn right out of the lift and the shop is the last one along.

Map showing location of Spectrum Music

The store has been there for about 4 years but you'd be forgiven for thinking it had just opened because it really is immaculate.  It is tastefully designed, decorated and lit and has a great ambience, a great place to check out the stock or just to chat music with the owner Danial and his helpful staff.

Central to the store is an 'island' featuring examples of their stock of electric lead and bass guitars.

A closer shot of 'guitar island' with models from Fender, PRS, Ibanez, Spear and Sterling. Fender afficionados will be well aware that Fenders these days are made in America (MIA), Mexico (MIM) and Japan (MIJ) and it's great to see that Spectrum also stock MIJ Fenders, much acclaimed for their levels of quality control. Spectrum can also source most makes and model of guitar in the unlikely event of them not having something you want in stock.

As can be seen, the store is also well stocked with guitars for the acoustic enthusiast.

Spectrum can also satisfy the needs of drummers with a good range of drums and accessories.  Test rigs are also available in store.

Drums, drums and more drums!!

For the electric guitarist Spectrum stock a wide range of amplifiers including models from the ever popular Fender and Marshall brands.

And of course, no musical instrument shop would be complete with out a wide range of effects pedals, modelling processors (e.g. Line 6 Xpod), tuners and metronomes.  They also stock a comprehensive range of other accessories and spare parts including picks, strings and pick-ups.

Store owner Danial Tan has been in the business for years , is very friendly, helpful and a mine of information about all things musical.  Seen here demonstrating one of the most popular electric guitars of all time, the Fender Stratocaster Standard (MIJ) in 'sunburst' design.  For me, this guitar just oozes quality and cool :-)

That then is 'Spectrum Music', a gem of a shop in the musical instrument world for Penangites and visitors alike and great for me that it's so close to home.  They also have a Facebook Page here.  Brilliant shop, superb service, friendly owner and staff and, last but not least, great prices.  Go check them out, open every day except Sunday (Tel: +60 16 455 9780).  You can also email Spectrum here. Some more photos can also be found here.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Penang Districts (1): Tanjung Tokong

This is the first in a (very much belated) series of posts which will attempt to provide some insight into the main areas of Penang that people consider either visiting, or buying / renting a property in, when coming to Penang.

First up is Tanjung Tokong.  Along with Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung (generally abbreviated to Tg) Tokong is very popular with expats and these three areas are often, along with Gurney Drive, referred to as being the 'expat belt' in Penang.  Whilst there may be a greater proportion of expats in these areas compared to other parts of town (Georgetown, Bayan Lepas and Pulau Tikus etc.) they are still predominantly Malaysian in terms of ethnicity and, like everywhere in Penang, very multi-cultural with Chinese, Indian and Malay being the predominant influences and indeed operators of businesses.  The main exception is Batu Ferringhi which is VERY popular with tourists seeking a more traditional beach style of holiday.  With its numerous hotels, restaurants, bars and bustling night market, in Batu Ferringhi the visitor presence is much more noticeable with holiday makers flocking there from Europe, Australasia and the Middle East in peak season. When the term 'expat belt' is used I also think that people are more often referring to western expats, as many expats from other parts of the world often opt for Georgetown and the industrial quarter (Bayan Lepas / Batu Uban and beyond), many for work reasons.  The fact that the areas mentioned above are pretty much the main residential areas outside of Georgetown (but still remain very accessible to it) and the more industrial areas almost inevitably means that those seeking a more laid back and peaceful existence will gravitate towards them, Malaysians and expats alike, especially when close access to a place of work is not a priority or a determining factor.

In terms of location Tg Tokong is approximately 6-7 km from Georgetown and is centred around the crossroads  where Jalan Tanjung Tokong is intersected by Jalan Fettes (centre and to right of map below).  Distance wise it is also 1.7 km from Gurney Drive, 2 km from Straits Quay, 4 km from Tg Bungah, 10 km from Batu Ferringhi and 20 km from Penang airport.  For those unfamiliar with the geography, as you travel out from Georgetown you first come to Gurney Drive area, Tg Tokong, then Straits Quay, followed by Tg Bungah then Batu Ferringhi.  There are of course many other areas but this series of articles is focussing on the main places that will likely be of interest to visitors and property hunters.  In terms of getting to other parts of the popular northern part of the island it is very well placed but far enough out of Georgetown so as not to be quite as busy.

Map showing the 'heart' of Tg Tokong
Precinct 10

Tg Tokong, like many other areas, has a good number of eateries in close proximity albeit many are of the food court and low-cost restaurant style.  The area changed quite a lot in the last 18 months though and is benefitting from some significant development including the very chic and stylish Precinct 10 which has added a number of more sophisticated restaurants, music bars and coffee shops.

Island Plaza

There are also one or two eateries in a small mall called Island Plaza (at the junction of Jalan Tg Tokong and Jln Fettes) which also houses a medium sized, but quite well stocked, Cold Storage supermarket and an Absolute Fitness gym.  Island Plaza is also being renovated at the moment and I hope that there will be a greater number of outlets there as it nears completion, I would also welcome the return of the cinema.

The new 'Vantage' complex

There are at least three other commercial type developments nearby which will no doubt add further shopping and eating opportunities once completed, including 'Vantage' and a complex adjacent to Fettes Residence.  There is also a large Tesco on the outskirts of Tg Tokong.

Prima Tanjung Shops
Additionally, there are a number of small shops, mostly around the beginning of Jalan Fettes in complex called 'Prima Tanjung' which is adjacent to Tanjung Park.  The shops are mostly small businesses selling all manner of goods and includes hair salons, electrical, hardware, and bicycle outlets alongside places such as Watsons (selling cosmetics, toiletries and some OTC medicines) and a '7-11' store.  There is also a pet shop, CIMB bank, clinic and dentist nearby.
Leisure Bay condo

Most of the dwellings in the area, in common with the rest of Penang, are condominiums with newer developments such as Fettes Residence and The Brezza, sitting alongside older properties such as Tanjung Park and Leisure Bay, all being located in fairly close proximity to the crossroads at the heart of Tg Tokong.  New builds are also planned with Ivory's Lattitude being one of the most notable, albeit some way out.

Tanjung Park Condo

As an area to live it is very much a question of what you want, and more importantly, what you don't want.  I have posted quite a lot on the subject of property selection and stressed that, for me at least, it's vital to identify what you don't want as much as it is what you do because the things that you don't want could bug the hell out of you if you rent or buy and mess up.

The crossroads at the 'heart'
of Tanjung Tokong
I have lived in Tg Tokong and still like it but now visit mostly for the eateries, getting provisions at Cold Storage and the social scene at Precinct 10.  The area is centred around a busy crossroads and Jalan Tg Tokong is the main road used by those travelling to Georgetown from the area and beyond.  It's a busy junction and you need to be mindful of the traffic noise you could encounter.  There is also quite a lot of building and development in the area and, while it will improve amenities long term, it carries the burden of the associated noise and dust at the moment.

The Brezza
The area around 'The Brezza' condo has several building developments and a large low-cost housing area (kampung) from which you can get a lot, and I mean a LOT, of noise from cars, kids, yapping dogs, comings and goings and in particular very loud, modified, small engine motorbikes which often race around both the back and main roads at all hours.  Noise issues are something to be very mindful of and I would suggest that anyone contemplating living anywhere, not just Tg Tokong, makes a point of visiting numerous times, at different hours, including late night and early morning on both weekdays and weekends to ascertain what the area is REALLY like.  Not much good having a great balcony if you can't bear to sit on it because of unacceptable levels of noise.  Living in a condo within a densely populated island is always going to involve a degree of compromise, unless you are VERY lucky, and it's about prioritising but noise is a serious consideration for me, there will always be some.  The type, duration and time of it are things that can make life pleasant or miserable if not thought through properly and investigated thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.

Fettes Residence and the yet to
complete shopping complex
As a holiday base, for me Tg Tokong would not really be suitable, evidenced doubtless by a lack of hotels in the area, those in the Gurney Drive, Georgetown, Batu Ferringhi and even Tg Bungah areas offering either much better access to Georgetown, Gurney Drive and the Gurney Plaza shopping mall or a more traditional beach holiday dependant on your needs.  It's too far out and only 'strategically placed' if you have your own transport.  There is also too little going on there day-by-day to make it a good holiday base IMHO.  Even for holidaymakers though I'd suggest Tg Tokong is worth a visit, if only to try some of the eateries there including the excellent (and to be subject of a future review) D'Tandoor restaurant at Precinct 10, Restaurant 113 and No Eyed Dear (both already reviewed) and the excellent bars (Soho Gastro Pub and Nueve) at Precinct 10 if that's your bag.

A bird's eye view of Tg Tokong
So there it is, a brief look at Tg Tokong.  Strategically well located with a reasonable range of facilities and amenities, a popular social hub, and which is undergoing significant development.  For some, the advantages of the strategic location may be outweighed by the somewhat 'urban' feel that the area has to it, the heavy development and of course the traffic noise which comes from the main crossroads and surrounding back streets.  It's something only you can decide.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Websites: Life in Malaysia

There are a number of resources that people use in relation to obtaining the MM2H visa which many find useful, particularly when they wish to spend protracted periods of time in Malaysia (provided, of course, they meet the criteria).  This blog also provides extensive information on the whole MM2H and many related processes.  Many also reside here under different visas, one being the excellent work visas promoted via Talent Corp.  Indeed, Malaysia has some excellent visa options in my view, options which encourage visitors, help grow the economy, encourage cultural interchange and invigorate enterprise and business.  They are programmes which many other countries could learn from, including some of the more arrogant western nations!  As a topic for research and discussion however, the MM2H (or indeed any other) visa has a limited shelf-life; once people have their visa and heave dealt with various administrative processes which maybe seen as related to it (e.g. driving licences and opening bank accounts) many find there is less and less of need to visit sites that deal exclusively with those topics.

With regard to living in Malaysia there are a number of blogs and sites I visit regularly which may be of interest to readers.  These are listed in the links sections on this blog.  Of particular note though I would point out the following specific blogs:

Bangsar Babe: My favourite Malaysia general food blog written by one of Malaysia's favourite food bloggers.

Babe in the City: Another top food blog, KL focussed and unrelated to the one above, despite the similar name.

ExpatGo: Website for 'The Expat Group' (TEG) of publications, often contains interesting articles, things to do, up coming events and details of promotions from the wide range of publications they produce.

Malaysian Meanders: The experiences of a family from Texas living in Malaysia and travelling the region.

Penang Momma: Another great Penang lifestyle blog with some specific focus on parenting here.

Paul Tan: In my view the top automotive blog in Malaysia.

Retired in Malaysia: An excellent blog giving an insight into the life of an expat in Malaysia from the perspective of a US citizen.  Important because many of the processes described on other sites and forums do not pertain to US citizens who are subject to regulations within the USA where the banking systems vary greatly from those commonly referred to on many forums and websites.

Sapiensbryan: A good tech related site.

Spy Malaysia: A superb review site.

What2See: My favourite Penang specific food blog.  Covers from hawkers right up to high-end restaurants.

Your Penang: A very good events diary.

There are of course others including the ones mentioned in my 'links' sections but I highlight these because they are well written, informative and, most importantly, regularly updated.