Tuesday, 30 September 2014

iPhone repairs / replacement batteries: i2Fix.com - E-Gate, Penang

One of the things iPhone owners dread, more so than owners of Android phones (most of which come with user replaceable batteries), is the time when your battery fails to hold a charge for long.  Depending on how you car for your phone this can happened at anything between 2-4 years of ownership, less if it gets damaged or abused.  The other two common problems besetting mobile phone owners include cracked screens and failed 'Home' or 'Menu' buttons.

It follows that when my iPhone battery eventually started to die that I was very happy to track down, following some extensive research, the excellent i2Fix outlet at E-Gate in Penang.

From their site you will be able to see that i2Fix.com specialises in providing repair services for tablets and smart phones, specifically Apple devices such as iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5s, iPad1, iPad2, iPad3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Mini, iPod Touch and MacBooks.

I went to the shop with my dying phone and it was expertly taken apart by the on-site technician who rapidly concluded the battery was indeed dead, damaged somehow so that a bulge had appeared in it, possibly due to a dodgy electrical circuit somewhere when it was on charge, or maybe a power surge.  In any event it was speedily replaced with a genuine part at a cost of just RM 160.  Some might think that expensive but it's not too bad when you consider the cost of replacing batteries at an Apple Store in Europe or the US.  I know some people do these things themselves, and I have to say I'm generally of the DIY type when it comes to 'techy' stuff, but given that these batteries are glued to the phone and the need for some specialist tools that I just don't have (not do I consider them worth buying given Apple's penchant for chafing things of late!!) I was happy to just pay up and get it done by people who do this every day.

i2Fix.com Penang can be found at:  E-Gate Commercial Centre , 1-02-05 Lebuh Tunku Kudin 2, 11700 Gelugor, Pulau Pinang and they are open Mon - Sun : 10.30am to 7.30pm.  They can be contacted on +60 4 824 9241 or by email at: i2fixdotcom@gmail.com

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Looking for a decent mobile phone car mount?

There are a lot of phone car mounts around ranging from mega-expensive device manufacturer specific mounts to cheap, rubbishy 3rd party crap that tend to fall down at precisely the wrong moment (e.g. with your device in it AND in such a way that it positions the screen perfectly to smash it!!).

I have to say I'm not a fan of manufacturer specific mounts or cradles, especially when they have an integral charging cable mount.  Manufacturers are not unknown to change their charging connectors (Apple take note!!!), rendering your mount useless.  In addition you may wish to change devices at some stage or indeed slot a friend's or travelling companion's phone in the mount. 

Prior to now however I've not really found the need to buy a phone mount for the car as I've never really been that bothered about using the phone hands free while driving (if I get a call or message I'll return it, or not, when I reach my destination) until that is I installed the WAZE, the excellent GPS style mapping app with turn by turn navigation which is IMMENSELY popular (and therefore more often than not up to date and accurate!)(see previous post here).

Without going through the countless different brands I looked at and discounted I'll just run through my requirements:
  • Non manufacturer specific
  • No built in charger (I prefer to use my own long 3rd party cable)
  • Strong bond between the base of the unit and the surface to which it is attached
  • One-handed insertion and removal of device
  • Able to take a range of device sizes (up to 6" wide)
  • Preferably tested in the extremes of heat experienced within cars in SE Asia
  • Holds the phone in such a way that a charging cable can be connected
  • Swivel head mount to tilt / twist device to landscape / portrait orientation
Sounds not too demanding maybe UNTIL you try to find one and one with a good reputation.  Enter the 'Dash Crab' universal mount from Korea.  Without repeating it all again I'll just say that this one ticks all the boxes in terms of the spec I needed and thus far has proved to be a VERY reliable and robust mount.  What's more it comes at the very reasonable price of just RM 89 from one of my favourite online sellers in Malaysia - Superbuy.  The Dash Crab can actually be found here.

I have to say I'm most impressed and completely satisfied with the Dash Crab thus far and will report back again after 6 months of use.  The only thing I will point out is that it will not adhere to the leatherette textured plastic type dash covers that you find in many small family saloons and hatch backs, it may do IF the texturing is VERY fine but on a Toyota Vios it won't leaving you to choose one of the smooth surfaces or even the windscreen.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

GPS / Mapping App: WAZE (Top Pick)

Since moving to Penang, and including the times when I drive in Thailand, I have always relied on my Garmin 3790 GPS.  In some ways, and as a fallback, I still do.  The trouble is, as time goes on, the maps get more and more out of date, with constant re-routing of traffic and changes to one way systems being as much responsible as new or re-badged roads.  yes of course you can update the maps on these devices but the updates are costly, not so frequent and often out of date svn when quite new.  These GPS devices also lack updates about current traffic conditions and hazards on your route such as jams, accidents, road closures etc etc.

Enter WAZE.  WAZE is one of the leading community based traffic and navigation apps and, most importantly is EXTREMELY popular in Malaysia and SE Asia in general.  The app is very useful and very powerful in that it accepts live updates to any traffic situations you might encounter and reports to delete them if, once you arrive at the location, the problem has cleared.  The maps are also updated from user /community engagement so new one-way routing and road closures are very quickly updated to the maps which I have found to be VERY accurate indeed.

The turn by turn navigation is very good and rarely sends you off on a wild-goose chase and those user generated reports are great for avoiding traffic problems.  Given that often when I switch on WAZE I'm advised that there are 1,000 + 'Wazers' nearby it's not surprising that it's so useful.

It has day and night navigation modes, good turn by turn commands, the ability to lock 'North up' if you wish, the ability to 'go invisible' should you desire and a very accurate ETA calculator and a host of other features that can be found here.

WAZE is free app which is multi-platform and can be downloaded both from iTunes (for IOS devices) and from the Google Play store for Android devices.  I think WAZE is an absolutely brilliant app, one that I definitely would not be without, and one that has largely replaced my use of dedicated GPS devices both here and in Thailand and it gets a very well deserved 'Top Pick'.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Optician: Vision First - Ground Floor, Block B, Prangin Mall, Georgetown (Top Pick)

After what was really too long a wait I finally decided to go get my eyesight tested to see if any prescription variation was needed.  I have to say I spent a LOT of time researching this as I wanted to find a place that I felt I could trust, somewhere that would ONLY recommend a prescription change if I really needed it based on a thorough testing.  I also hoped to find somewhere where the service was good and the prices reasonable.

Luckily a managed to find Mr Patrick Ung's 'Vision First' in block B of Prangin Mall (the block that has Pizza Hut on its corner), Georgetown.

Luckily when I called in the were able to slot me in straight away for a very thorough eye test, more thorough in fact than I'd experienced when using highly recommended opticians in the UK.  Patrick did the testing himself and I have to say that he is a very personable and friendly guy, putting you at ease, allowing you to relax which is important for the testing.

Once the test was completed a number of options were discussed in terms of my long and short range vision needs with reading being the main issue.  At this point you become more involved with the rest of Patrick's staff who are also very friendly and helpful.  We discussed a variety of lens and frame options and, importantly, there was no attempted up-selling to detract from what I wanted.  As it is I opted for multi-coated, thin shaved lenses in an ultra-lightweight titanium BCBG Max Azria frame for a total cost of around RM 630 and a wait of only 4-5 days.  That to me is VERY good value and very good service!  Patrick also cleaned up and replaced the nose pads on my old glasses, advising I keep them for computer use.

If you look on Trip Advisor you will see that Vision First has a lot of positive reviews and it's easy to understand why.  Patrick and his staff are very professional, very friendly ands very welcoming and I found the service, and indeed the cost, second to none.  What is particularly worth mentioning is that Vision First are more than happy to provide a level of service particularly suited to visitors to the island in that they will even arrange to pick you up from your hotel (or wherever you are staying) and take you back, and even deliver the your order to you.  Come across that anywhere before?  Somehow I doubt it.  Vision First can be contacted on: +60 4 262 8132 / +60 4 263 8132 or can be emailed at: opticalserv@gmail.com.

So, there it is.  My experience with Patrick Ung, his staff and Vision First and what a pleasant one it was.  As it stands, I see no reason to go anywhere else in the future and Vision First gets a very well earned 'Top Pick'.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

UK Passport Renewal (Overseas Applicants): Long wait times and a woeful lack of information continue to plague applicants

Many UK nationals will be aware of what can only be described as the complete and utter shambles UK passport application / renewal descended into this year and many will be familiar with images, similar to the one above, of the boxes and boxes of unprocessed passport applications, with a backlog of some 500,000 when the crisis was at its peak in June 2014.  Prior to that (and the catalyst that drew attention to the problems) people had waited 8, 10, 12 weeks plus for a simple passport renewal and the internet was awash with complaints and news stories, attracting national and international media outrage, again in June, as the situation worsened with denial of there even being a problem to intervention by the Home Secretary when it became obvious just how serious the problem was.  Literally thousands of people had plans disrupted, often at significant cost, as a result of the now outrageously long passport processing times.  The cause?  It was said that the passport office was facing unprecedented demand for passports in June 2014, unprecedented maybe, unforeseeable, hardly.  In early 2014 regional processing offices around the world were closed and all passports then had to be applied for, and renewed from, the UK.  So those applications were going to go where exactly?  Oh yes, the Passport Office.  Derrrrr!

While it SEEMS that the situation might be improving, since publishing a couple of articles linked to UK passport renewal recently, I have been contacted by numerous readers with continuing tails of woe.  So, for those who may have to apply or renew in the future I thought a summary of the key issues being highlighted might be useful.

  • Renewal for ALL overseas passports is now handled directly by Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) in the UK.  In some countries, primarily those where there are concerns over postal security, theft and fraud (Malaysia, thankfully, is not one of them), one or even two trips to the UK Embassy may also be needed (e.g. Thailand).
  • Applications are made online and for simple renewals is a very easy process.  At the end of the application you will be asked to pay by credit card (approx £102 for a standard size passport and £110 for a 48 page 'jumbo' size).
  • Once the online application is finished you will be given a user name and password.  Be sure to write this down correctly and don't lose it.  It is your only means of checking your application status (for what it's worth!) online.
  • Once completed, you will need to download and print out a declaration form (make sure you sign this WELL within the box) and send the form along with your old passport, 2 passport photographs and any other supporting documents your application requires to the address designated on the form (usually in Durham).  I would suggest using a courier such as DHL.
  • Provided you are still recognisable from your old passport photo, counter-signatories will not be required in most instances.
  • Passport photo requirements are now VERY strict.  Make sure you adhere to ALL the HMPO guidelines or risk rejection and a further wait while you send further photos.  There is an article here about getting the right type of photo in Penang.
  • The 'Application Status' checker is still in 'Beta'.  Very much so!!  There are only three indicators: Awaiting further information from applicant; Being processed; Dispatched.  The courier delivery tracker, available to UK residents, is not available for overseas applicants.
  • Your new passport will be sent separately to your old passport (and any other supporting documents you may have sent) by courier, AFAIK usually DHL.
  • Processing times, it appears, have reduced with new passports being received by applicants within a 5-6 week.  BUT it doesn't end there!
  • Your old passport (the speedy return of which will be vital if you have a 'live' residence visa and /or work permit) will likely take at least a week, or more  to arrive after you receive your new passport!  For many this will render the new passport useless until the old one is returned as you will not be able to travel unless you have your residence visa to show immigration upon exit or re-entry.  In addition, unless you report your old passport as lost, it will be next to impossible to get your residence visa transferred to the new passport.  It is not clear whether HMPO distinguishes between old passports with 'live' visas (that would likely be needed urgently by most applicants) and old passports that are merely dead or not, it seems not however.  Certainly covering letters stressing the urgency of the return of the old passport seem to have no impact whatsoever on wait times.  Clearly there is little point in getting your new passport early if you can't use it due to your need to wait for your old passport.  So for applicants in that position, the effective processing time will be the time it takes to receive BOTH passports, not just one and that can have significant impact overall.  It seems (see below) that you will need factor in an extra 7-14 days after receiving your new passport to get the old one back if getting the old passport (because of any visa in it) is critical to travel
  • The HMPO helplines and e-mail contact forms were, without exception, described as totally useless, frustrating and ineffective with HORRENDOUS (and costly) wait times, operators either unwilling or unable to provide meaningful information, promised phone calls never returned and slow or no response to emails (with some emails containing what seem to be 'stock' replies with nothing specific the application in question or queries raised).  Readers, and I can also attest to this, also complained of email responses from HMPO REPEATEDLY asking for the same details about the application that had been provided time, time and time again.  Was the HMPO e-service actually designed to piss people off or is it just luck??
  • Incredulously, and this particular issue I find ABSOLUTELY beggars belief,  HMPO, neither by way of the 'Application Status' nor by any other means, DOES NOT notify you of of ANY tracking number for the courier service for either the new or old passport! So you will have NO idea when you should receive them.  Equally, how are people to know if their documents have got lost or stolen if they have no idea of when they SHOULD arrive?  How long should people wait, for example, between receipt of the new passport and the old one?  One day, three days, a week, 10 days, two weeks, a month?  The HMPO website is of no use whatsoever as the 'Application Status' will merely indicate 'Dispatched' and clicking the FAQ link about return of supporting documents merely informs you that they will be returned to you separately by courier - how about giving people an indication of WHEN!  It shouldn't be hard, most couriers operate fairly standard levels of service depending on the price paid, guaranteed 2 day, 3-5 day etc. etc. so it's not as if this information is a mystery to the courier service.  But it seems, it remains a bridge too far for HMPO!  If I order something costing as little as £5 / RM 25 online in Malaysia I get a courier tracking number so how come this simple, but I would suggest VITAL, information cannot be made available to applicants by HMPO?  Maybe it's time to start investing some of the £70 million profit HMPO made last financial year to provide AT LEAST an acceptable standard of service!  
  • Expanding further on delays to the return of old passports, one applicant who contacted HMPO about delays to the return of an urgently awaited old passport received the following reply: "Your supporting documents; old passport, birth certificate etc. will be returned to you separately from your passport. Her Majesty's Passport Office dispatch these by DHL for overseas applicants. They are usually delivered between 7-10 working days once the passport has been received."  Despite asking for a courier tracking number, none was provided.  HMPO also asked him to provide the following details: The application number, your full name and applicant’s full name if different, your full postal address and any further details such as when your application was submitted, the first two already being required when using the online form!  So I would suggest including ALL these details again in the main body of any message you may wish to send to HMPO using the online 'Feedback' or 'Complaint' forms.  After a follow-up e-mail the same applicant was told the new passport would arrive 10-14 days later, and the final e-mail indicated that no timescale for delivery of the old passport could be given!!  Hell of a way to manage performance I suppose, set increasingly lower targets, fail to meet them, then reduce them further!  
  • In respect of old passports the HMPO website states: "Uncancelled non-British passports: We strongly prefer to receive the passport. However in exceptional circumstances where you may need to retain the passport, we will accept a full colour photocopy of the entire passport (including visa pages). We reserve the right to request the passport at a later stage as we examine your application. Please provide an explanation as to why you need to retain your passport.".  Given the current state of affairs I would be inclined to retain it on the basis that it is the only acceptable form of ID in many countries that don't issue expats with ID cards and that there may be a need to produce your residence visa to the authorities.  At worst HMPO could merely insist that you send that passport to them delaying the process by just a few days. or you could sent it anyway and delay the ability to use your new passport by 1-3 weeks.  I know which one I'll be opting for!! Sage advice from one reader maybe "When this one's full, and if I can possibly get away with it, I'll be damned if I'll send it back to these clowns when it's time to renew".  
  • It also begs the question of course, why are the details of the 7 to 14 plus day delivery time and the use of DHL not included in the "Supporting Document  FAQ" as opposed the the somewhat useless comment that they will merely be returned separately?  One applicant, despite asking for a tracking number for an old passport, was told to contact DHL with his name and address and see if they had any due deliveries.  Trust me, that's not how DHL operates, their systems are geared around tracking / waybill numbers, a situation compounded here in Penang by the fact that the local office is in Georgetown whereas the office responsible for deliveries is the depot at Bayan Lepas and from there they go direct to consignee.  So forget the idea of trying to find out yourself when your delivery might arrive.  Wouldn't it just be SOOOO much easier if HMPO simply provided applicants with the tracking numbers for the courier service that they are charged for?
So, that's the situation as at September 2014.  Even after the emergency measures taken to fix this debacle (including extra staff), the need to wait around 8 weeks (if you are dependant on the return of both passports) for a simple passport renewal, given that it is the ONLY means of ID overseas workers / residents are able to use, is demonstrative of an ABSOLUTELY ATROCIOUS level of service and IMO is a damning indictment of public sector management.  It seems others agree.  One can only hope that the situation will improve in the months ahead but the service offered even now is a far cry from just a few years ago when, as an expatriate worker and /or resident, a passport could be obtained from your local Embassy within a week.  And as for not providing applicants with tracking numbers for such important documents, particularly as YOU pay for the courier service - really?  Are you serious?  Maybe the 'new' service will eventually become more efficient and effective in time but as it stands, I'm not sure you could design a more inadequate system even if you tried!  If HMPO doesn't already have a motto, how about this one, 'Inefficency by Design'.  

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Renewing a UK Passport from Penang

I recently had to apply for a passport renewal from Penang and thought I'd provide some information that might prevent so much running around for anyone looking to do the same in future.  In fact, save for the actual passport application itself, the related services could be used for any passport application.

Firstly, as of this year the UK centralised the issue of passports, closing a number regional offices that were previously responsible fro processing applications if you applied from overseas.  Aside from the well publicised problems over the massive backlog faced by Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) from around April onwards (caused by a variety of reasons) I actually think it's a better system from the application point of view but falls way short on service standards once you have applied.  For a simple renewal you can apply and pay online here then it's merely a case of printing out and signing your declaration and sending that together with your old passport, any other documents your application may require and two recent passport photos (which do not need to be countersigned if you can still be recognised from your previous picture).  I used the services of three excellent Penang based companies to facilitate my application.

These can be surprisingly difficult to get in Penang as they need to meet the strict HMPO guidelines.  I used HK Photo on the first floor at Midland One-Stop shopping mall, Burma Road who did the photos while I waited for RM 20.  The photos were accepted without problem by HMPO.  Further details about HK Photo can be found here.

One of the things I decided not to do here in Penang was buy a printer.  I don't do anywhere near enough printing to justify the costs which can be considerable given that inkjet colour printer cartridges dry up VERY quickly if you don't use them, such that at times you can get to use just 10% of the ink they are loaded with, and that laser printers are very expensive unless buying black and white only.  Given that I sometimes need to get documents in colour, these days I opt to use local printers.

I have already written about a very good print shop in Jalan Fettes, Tanjung Tokong here but as part of my running round took me to the Pulau Tikus area (see 'Courier' below) I was delighted to find this excellent print shop just to the left of Pulau Tikus Police Station on Jalan Burma.  Parking can be a bit tricky unless you're on a bike (but then isn't it everywhere?) but their service is very good and prices very cheap.  You merely go into the shop, take a seat at one of the numerous computers (I always use the two near the door), plug in your USB drive (if you use a Mac make sure your drive is formatted for 'FAT 32' and NOT 'Mac OS X Extended') and select the documents you wish to print.  You may need to delve into 'Printer Settings' if you want to print double sided or if you want to change to a colour printer but the staff will assist you if you are not computer minded.  I think I printed out about 20 pages while I was there (I had a few non-urgent documents saved up) and think I paid around RM 5-6!!

If you are using a car which you plan to park near to DHL to use the courier service after you get your printing done (see below) the print shop is only about a 5 minute walk from DHL.  This will be much easier than trying to park on or near Jalan Burma.

Not only did I want my documents to arrive quickly, given that my old passport with the live MM2H visa was in the package, I wanted as much guarantee as possible that they WOULD indeed get there.  I opted to use DHL whose Penang office is just round the corner (before)  the print shop in Jalan Cantonement, on the left before your reach Jalan Kelawai.

I'd put all of my documents into an envelope already and if you do the same DON'T seal it as the DHL staff will wish to take a photocopy of your passport details page as confirmation of its enclosure.  After that it's merely a case of filling out your details on the sales form and then double checking the recipient details they give you on the printed out receipt and confirmation of postage.  By default it seems they will suggest a fee of RM 250 which would guarantee my documents would arrive on the Friday (I was posting on the Wednesday) but I opted for the RM 150 option which guaranteed delivery by Monday, for me, the the few days extra wait (given that two were the weekend) didn't warrant the extra RM 100 cost.

I have to say I found the DHL service to be very good and by the Friday, just two days after posting, I had an SMS from DHL in the UK to say my package had been delivered to HMPO and even gave the name of the person signing.  It's worth mentioning that if driving to DHL you are best turning left into the small service road that skirts round the shop frontages, the entrance to which is on the left BEFORE you reach the traffic signals to turn left from Jalan Burma to Jalan Cantonement.

So that's it.  A fairly painless process made even more palatable by the fact that HMPO has now cut the costs of overseas applications considerably to £110 for a 48 page passport.  That said, that assessment applies JUST to completing the application, the service levels offered by HMPO are a different matter and, despite Government intervention to sort out the shambles, remain terrible when compared to the service you get could from UK Embassies a mere few years ago. Five, six, seven and eight weeks are still being quoted on internet forums as the turn round times for overseas applicants from this 'new and improved' HMPO centralisation with supporting documents (including old passports with 'live' visas in) arriving a week or even more after the new passport.  Fat lot of use it is receiving the new passport if you can't use it because you need the residence visa in your old passport!  What absolutely beggars belief though is that with documents as vital as passports (old and new) and despite the fact that you PAY for courier services, HMPO does not provide overseas applicants with ANY tracking numbers for either the new passport or the old one!  As such you have no idea where they are once sent and how are people supposed to know if either of the documents has gone missing if you cannot establish when they should have arrived?  Quite why HMPO does not provide such BASIC but vital information to overseas applicants is totally beyond me and, apart from the excessive 'wait' times, is the biggest failing IMO of the new system and demonstrative of the abysmal level of service still being offered despite HMPO making a profit of £70m last financial year!

Hopefully the above information will be of some help in short-circuiting some of the running round and research you otherwise might need to do when you come to renew a non-Malaysian passport from Penang.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

UK Passport Photos in Penang

Anyone looking to renew a UK passport will quickly become aware of the VERY stringent requirements Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) sets for a passport photo to be accepted.  Not only must the dimensional requirements be met but also those for the colour of the background - light cream or light grey.

There are many photo and printing shops in Penang where you can get passport style photos done BUT you need to be aware that many are unable to provide photos that comply with the UK's HMPO requirements, the background colour posing a particular problem.  And while some can get the overall size right there can often be errors with regard to the min/max dimensions WITHIN the picture.  Having done some scouting around though I came across one shop that could supply them.

The shop is called HK Photo and it is located on the first floor (this means the first level up, not the ground floor which '1st' often means here) of the Midland One-Stop shopping Centre on Jalan Burma. The centre is just past Penang Adventist Hospital on the opposite side of the road. On entering the shopping centre via the main steps you go straight down and take the passage way to the left which will bring you inside the covered shopping area with escalators, go up to the first level and HK Photo is on that floor, straight ahead on the left as you go up the escalator

The staff are very friendly and helpful and, importantly, as soon as I mentioned UK passport photos they immediately pulled out the the current details of requirements and with what I was wearing etc. even suggested the cream background.  The photo's are taken on-site and can be collected after just a 15-20 minute wait and cost just RM 20.  For this you will get your 4 passport photos plus a disc with the images should you wish to save them and print more yourself for other purposes.

The phone number for HK Photo is: +60 4 227 3120 and there are also two mobile numbers that you can use +60 16 470 0341 (John C. H. Tan) and +60 12 459 2953 (Tony Tan).  They have a website and you can email them at: digitalprintinggift@gmail.com.  While this article is about UK passport photos HK Photo can supply photos for any passport and also provide a wide range of other printing services.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Join the MOB!!!! Monday 18 / Tuesday 19 August 2014 - Georgetown!!

One concept, two great events! MOB Party at Traffic (Bishop Street) and Traffic (Queensbay) on Monday 18th (7pm til late) AND the MOB street catwalk fashion show around midday Tuesday 18th @ Beach Street, Georgetown brought to you by Chan Brothers & Big Cartel.

Looking forward to seeing great chums, who also just HAPPEN to be some of the hottest talent around, including guest DJ and celeb Leng Yein, the famous Chan Brothers Ambassadors Cecilia Black, Jenny Lim, Elene Ong, Ann Liew and over a dozen stunning Penang catwalk models including the beautiful Joelle Tan, Jinju Koid and Roxanne Khor.

Monday night kicks off with the first of two launch events, this one at Traffic Logan (Bishop Street, Penang) from around 7pm with guest DJ Leng Yein and the Chan Brothers Ambassadors. Good music, good atmosphere, meet the organisers and many of the models and of course, photo ops. The tour will then move to Traffic (Queensbay Mall) for around 9pm, with the same line up, to return to Traffic at Bishop Street just before midnight.

On Tuesday 19th, from the early hours there will be a row of sports cars parked up at Beach Street, Georgetown to set the scene and provide a nice backdrop. Then from around 12.15 the show will start with the street / catwalk fashion show featuring some of Penang's top models and of course, Chan's Ambassadors.  Sure to be a great event and the first of it's type in Malaysia. One not to miss I think :)

NB:  An album featuring shots from this event, primarily from the Fashion MOB street parade can be found here.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Astro releases the 'HDMI Out' port for non-HD subscribers


For those not already aware the 'HDMI out' port has now been made available to all users whose Astro boxes have been upgraded to the latest Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), currently dated Jan 2014.

Previously, unless you subscribed to HD, the HDMI port on your Astro decoder was disabled, forcing you to use the combined analogue cable (with red, white and yellow connectors) either direct into your TV or an AV receiver and that is how the installer would have got you up and running.  Much as I would love to subscribe to HD our building is not currently rigged for it so I had to accept the analogue connection.  While there is no discernible difference between the analogue and HDMI connection for video, HDMI does allow a full 5.1 audio signal to be carried, IF it is being transmitted (very useful to those with home cinema set ups) versus the standard stereo signal only which is available through analogue.  I also find it tidier to have the one HDMI cable to connect , whether it be to a TV or AV receiver.

So, if you've been longing to connect your Astro decoder or PVR by HDMI, you should now find that you can.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Pick of Phuket

Finally the trapped nerve problem I've been suffering with is starting to subside.  What a pain it has been too!!!

Normal service, as they say, should be resumed shortly along with the debut of the new sister site 'Pick of Phuket' together with its associated Facebook Page.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Delay in posting

Apologies for delays in posting.  Currently battling with a pinched nerve that makes typing impossible.  Back soon.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Food Court: One Stop - Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus (Top Pick)

Well, after what seems an age of not venturing in to any places worthy of a 'Top Pick' we get three in a row and all of differing styles.  A marina restaurant, a chic restaurant featuring North Indian cuisine and now, subject of this article, a food court with an excellent stall selling one of my favourite foods - Thai!

The stall in question is quite large and actually seems to encompass 3-4 separate sections, all under the same ownership.  It doesn't appear to have a name but it's located on the mezannine floor of the 'Midland - One Stop' shopping mall in Jalan Burma.  To find it, once parked you walk up the central steps of 'One Stop' and go straight ahead.  This food stall is actually to the right of a large cluster of stalls in the centre of this level of One Stop, you can't miss it really.  Despite living here all this time I've never come across this place before so I'm indebted to my good chum Kevin from Hat Yai for pointing this place out.  The reason it came to light is that we were chatting online about my craving for ka-nom-jeen, the delicious Thai style vermicelli noodles served with a variety of, often curry style, sauces.  He advised me to try here and wow, am I glad he did!

There is a bewildering array of food on offer here and what is pleasing to see is that the place is VERY popular so there is a high turn-over, no food left stewing in the eat for days on end here.  Honestly it all looked delicious and I was tempted to just plunge in and load up a plate or three.  Next time I likely will.

But, this time we were here for the ka-nom-jeen and that's what we opted for.  I have to say, the lady and other staff at the store were quite taken aback when I spoke to them and ordered in Thai, I guess a 'falang' speaking Thai is a rarity enough, especially in Malaysia LOL.  The dish was prepared quickly and the sauce was absolutely delicious, a slightly spicy, creamy curry style sauce with more than hint of coconut, it really was superb.  There is a nice array of vegetables that you are also expected to add yourself including bean-sprouts, chopped cabbage, diced French beans and Thai Holy Basil (an absolute MUST have).  The tables also have traditional Thai condiments including flaked dried and chopped fresh chilli.  Awesome!

To accompany the noodle dish we also opted for another Thai classic, somtam, a very fiery shredded green papaya (NOT mango as some seem to think) salad served with tomato, fresh chilli (and often Blue Crab) and dressed with the very salty nam-plaa (Thai fish sauce) and lemon juice.  This was freshly prepared and again was superb.

As a desert I ordered a traditional Thai style coconut ice cream.  The portion was very generous and was served with a coconut infused green sticky rice and Thai style cake cubes (more akin to brioche) soaked in coconut milk.  That I have to say was out of this world and it took me all my will-power to stop having another!

To round it off, or rather to eat later at home, we opted for yet another Thai classic.  'Khâo nǐiao má mûuang' or mango sticky rice.  Again two very generous portions with freshly prepared mango, two varieties of sticky rice and a very creamy coconut milk sauce.  Yum!!!  With a couple of cokes the whole lot came to a VERY reasonable RM 32!!

I was most impressed with the food and the staff here and plan to return often.  The standard and sheer variety of the food was so high that it easily justifies a 'Top Pick' from me.

They are open daily from around 10am until late and lovers, or even casual fans, of Thai food I think would struggle to be disappointed with the food and welcome on offer here.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Restaurant: D'Tandoor - Precinct 10, Tanjung Tokong (Top Pick)

D'Tandoor is well established franchise chain of restaurants serving Mogul style cuisine which emanates from the North of India.  The D'Tandoor brand is well known in SE Asia having a string of awards to its name including 'Best Malaysian Indian Restaurant', 'Most Innovative Restaurant' and 'Most Recognised Brand' to name but a few so it was with a fair degree of excitement that I learned some time back that D'Tandoor were opening a branch in Penang.

Located in the prestigious development of Precinct 10 at Tanjung Tokong, D'Tandoor is a very stylish stylish restaurant offering a Mogul fine dining experience in an easily accessible location with great parking.  One of the things that sets D'Tandoor apart from the majority of the Indian restaurants you will encounter here is the style and environment that it provides for diners which is just perfect for that special occasion, a romantic dinner for two or even just a casual long or dinner in more sophisticated surroundings.  That's not to say that the food in other restaurants is not good, merely stressing the point that at times you want something special, somewhere with a bit of class, at which point the options get much more limited.

As you enter D'Tandoor you will notice the signature logo and also the large hallucinogenic mural on the wall of the main dining room which creates a warm and welcoming appeal....

 .......as it contrasts with the dark wood tables, dazzling white plates and sparkling glasses.

The restaurant is split into two main areas.  Downstairs is the main restaurant which is very tastefully designed and appointed........

..........and a private dining area upstairs which can comfortably sit 16 pax with ease.

From the main dining room you can also see easily into the kitchens through the large viewing window, a nice touch which adds to the ambience and of course provides a level of confidence in the hygiene and standards of the establishment.

The food at the restaurant, which after all, will make or break the place, is really outstanding in my opinion.  I have tried several dishes there and each one has been exceptional, with the distinctive flavour found with Mogul cuisine which derives from the special mixes of freshly ground spices.

They have an extensive menu which is exclusively halal and also offer a wide range of beverages including excellent lassi, a traditional Indian accompaniment.

One of my favourite dishes there is a superb chicken curry (Murg Mughlai).  Pleasingly the curry is not swimming in gee and has a real warmth and depth of flavour.

The dish goes superbly with their special pilau rice........

...........and my favourite Indian roti, hot buttery freshly baked naan.

D'Tandoor can also cater for all manner of special occasions and turns out some really outstanding dishes which because of their nature, primarily the time needed to source, prepare and cook these gastronomical delights, do not feature on the regular menu.

The food at D'tandoor, especially when you consider the style and ambience of the outlet, is very reasonably priced, the restaurant provides a 'take-away' service and also does deliveries.  They can cater for all manner of private parties including wedding receptions, buffet lunches and dinners and themed events.

The restaurant can be contacted on 04 899 2525 and you can also visit the D'Tandoor website and the Penang outlet's Facebook Page.  The restaurant is well worth a visit and gets a very well earned 'Top Pick'.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Life with Honda's 2013 Airblade

It's been just a few months now since I switched my allegiance from Honda's excellent PCX motor scooter to the brand new Airblade and, given the growing numbers of enquiries I get about both bikes, motor cycling in Penang in general, and indeed other bikes I thought I'd put down a few thoughts about the biking here and the excellent Airblade in particular.

My previous article (here) about the introduction of the Airblade to Malaysia by Boon Siew Honda gives the primary reasons as to why I chose the Airblade over the PCX and as such I won't repeat those reasons here.  Suffice it to say both are great bikes with the PCX form me coming out on top if you do regular longer distance highway driving  and the Airblade if you drive a lot in town, especially in the heavier traffic or Georgetown or of course in KL.  For me the Airblade also wins if you are tall (e.g. over 6' 00").

I'll try to cover as many of the issues as I can that I've been asked about biking here but the article is mostly about the Airblade, not about biking in general.  One issue though I feel does need addressing, whether to ride a motorbike / scooter here in Penang.

It's a well know fact that biking is a higher risk form or transport than a car, a bike accident involving other vehicles will generally result in the rider and / or passenger coming off worse, but I have to say I have seen some out and out total drivel written by people about biking in Malaysia and indeed in Thailand and it's quite apparent that a lot of it comes from people who have absolutely no idea about biking at all, merely their own biased viewpoint which seems to perpetuate the scare-mongering.  A lot of it really is garbage.  Yes there are a lot motor cycle fatalities in SE Asia but you have to balance that against two very important factors.  Firstly, the sheer number of small bikes in these parts outnumbers those seen in Europe and USA by hundreds if not thousands of percentage points.  As such the level of motor cycle accidents is bound to be higher, a lot higher.  Secondly there is a very large percentage of young, inexperienced and poorly trained (if trained at all) riders who ride with a total disregard for the law, rules of the road and their own safety, almost as if they think they are protected by an 'invulnerability bubble'.  The issue widely reported around drivers of other vehicles being automatically at fault if they hit, or get hit by, a bike doesn't help with lots of riders pulling all sorts of strokes, expecting drivers of other vehicles to get out of the way (that said, the driving standards of those in many 4 wheeled (plus) vehicles leave a lot to be desired at times too).  Keep riding like that and it will inevitably end only one way.

But, and it's a big BUT, while you need to keep your wits about you, as long term big bike rider I see riding bikes here as no more inherently dangerous than anywhere else, it's mostly about how YOU ride the bike.  Riding a bike you need your wits about you everywhere!  Your skills, your concentration, your attitude and style of riding are what count most IMO.  Also, there's biking and biking and for me there is a WORLD of difference between burning up autobahns on large capacity big bikes with the right gear and with driver attitudes that are (generally) safety orientated and law abiding and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, pottering round Penang and other parts of SE Asia at sensible speeds on a small modern automatic scooter.  Keep that in mind when riding these 'scoots' as getting around here starts to become more of a pleasure rather than a chore as you gently weave your way between rush hour jams, ditch the bike just about anywhere outside you favourite eateries, go the gym, a mall or even pottering about getting stuff done.  A bike makes it SO SO easy, so much so that there is no way I could be without a bike here or in Thailand.  Now, onto the Airblade.....

The Airblade has always been poplar in SE Asia especially in Thailand and Vietnam where previous and current models are snapped up fast.  Introduced here in Malaysia in 2013 the Airblade has many features which are appealing including:
  • 125cc engine
  • Honda's famed PGM-FI (fuel injection)
  • Integrated ACG system (smooth, friction reduced starting - more fuel efficient)
  • Engine 'Idle Stop' (the excellent fuel saving innovation previously seen only on the top-range PCX)
  • Combination braking (pulling just one brake level applies both front and back brakes in correct proportion)
  • Remote key bike location (pressing this will sound the horn and flash the lights allowing you to quickly locate YOUR bike amongst what can often be hundreds of parked bikes)
  • Side stand engine cut-off (engine only starts if side stand is up)
  • Twin projector headlights
  • Tubeless tyres
  • Twin rear shock absorbers
  • Front disc brake
  • Kick-starter
  • Water cooled
The bike really is superb and it looks the part too!  I purchased mine from the excellent Sun Sum Motor located on Irving Road, Pulau Tikus.  I like Sun Sum as it's a big outlet with a very wide range of bikes and biking gear and all at good prices.  They will nearly always do offers with their bikes and also have good servicing facilities on site.  My chum 'Ah Boy' there looked after me very well indeed and they also handle all the registration, insurance and road taxing of the bike before you pick it up.  They often have a good stock of poplar machines and once you have paid a deposit you can generally pick up your new bike in a day or two.  The Airblade can be had for RM 7,708 on the road with an extra cost of RM 350 for fully comprehensive insurance.  So what's life like with the Airblade?

Overall I find the bike to be superb.  The electric starter is superb and has fired without fail every time after a short press.  If you let the bike stand for so long that the battery discharges there is also a kick-starter fitted which will allow you to get the machine started easily.  As a safety feature the bike will not start if the side stand is not in the raised position and the bike will cut out if you put the stand down with the engine running.  The bike is 125 cc 4 stroke with fully automatic centrifugal clutch (dry type).  Further spec details can be found here.

The instrument panel is very well laid out with PGM-FI 'problem' indicator light, main/dipped beam, indicator on flashers and of course an easily readable speedo.  There is a digital clock which also features trip and odometer.  Another excellent feature of the Airblade is the 'Engine Idle Stop' which cuts the engine once you have become stationary at traffic lights etc, an indicator light also lets you know if this is active.  

A 'talk back' system also lets you find the bike easily by flashing the indicators and sounding an audible warning when you press a button on the ignition key (the sound pattern and volume of the 'talk-back' can be programmed or even disabled).  Once you have pressed the talk-back button two lights also come on, one lighting up the ignition and the other the under seat central storage.  Nice, professional finishing touches.  

There is quite a lot of storage under the seat, ample for a raincoat and personal effects and even some shopping.  There are also two helmet hooks to lock up to two helmets on the bike by their 'D' rings should you wish.

One thing you may find is that depending on your helmet sizes the D ring may be too close to the helmet to reach the helmet hooks on the bike (an issue with all bikes with these helmet lock hooks).  I got round this simply by finding a stainless steel carabinier style clip in a hardware store for just a few $ which I leave in the bike and put on the smaller helmet D ring when I need to lock it on.  The seat cover closes down over the swing arm of the carabinier making it impossible to open and remove the helmet.  That said, leaving valuable helmets attached to the bike for protracted periods in some areas and at some times of the day would be unadvisable.

The lights on the bike are very good with the front twin projector headlights lighting up the road at night with a good pattern whether on full or main beam and of course increasing your visibility during the day.  By default in SE Asia, dipped beam headlight will be on whenever the engine is started, as will the tail lights.

The tail and stop lights are very bright but of the low power consumption LED variety and it's nice to see that the indicators are integral to the front and rear panels, rather than being stuck out on stalks that are always prone to getting damaged.  Indicators are operated by a slider switch near the left handlebar and cancelled by pushing the switch again once your manoeuvre is completed.  The horn button is also located in the same area along with the full/dipped beam switch.

On the road the bike handles very well indeed and is very quiet.  Thankfully, at last, a fuel tank that can be topped up without lifting the seat, the filler cap lies in the underbone between the seat and the front fairing.  The only minor gripe is the size of the fuel tank, just 4.1 litres making fuel stops more frequent than I'd like.  It's hard to judge economy at the moment as 90% of the riding has been 'two-up' so fuel consumption will drop somewhat, that said I still manage to get around 140 km out of a tank before I fill up at a cost of around RM 8.  That's around 35 km per litre or around 97 MPG!  I intend to do a more in depth study of fuel economy one the bike is run in and the engine bedded down properly but I expect to get close to 45-50 km per litre riding solo after running in.  On that front, the manual says that for the first 500 km full throttle starts and harsh acceleration should be avoided which, back to the 'there's biking and biking' comments above, I do any way, running in or not, there's just no need to ride so harshly.

The manual (which is actually quite good - in both Bahasa Malay and English) also includes service intervals (basically every 4K km after the first 1,000) and while it suggests the first service at 1,000 I plan to do a full oil change at 500 km, just to be on the safe side.  I also plan to switch over to semi-synthetic 'Hi-Rev' 4T Scooter 15W-40 oil at the first change.  Luckily all the essential fluids on the bike can be easily checked (and should be - weekly at least), including coolant, brake fluid and oil.  The oil is topped up via the dipstick channel and this is ever so slightly difficult to get to without using a funnel.  That said, my preference is to use one of the RM 3 plastic sauce bottles that the kopitiams use for chilli sauce etc, readily available from places like Tesco.  Much less mess and faffing around than with funnels or oil jugs, no drips and no waste and the oil goes exactly where you want it to go with more precise flow control.

Braking is very efficient.  Honda uses a combi-braking system on many of their new bikes where pulling on the left lever automatically applies a portion of front brake as well as the back.  I still tend to come to a stop using both, big bike habits dying hard in this regard.  Under general conditions the brakes will stop the bike with consummate ease and stability and if pushed harder that front disc sure comes into its own, again with no loss of stability.

Acceleration I find to be very nifty indeed, even two up, though as I've said, I've not really put the bike through the motions yet as, with the style of riding I tend to use these bikes for, there's just no need.  But suffice it to say, especially when riding solo, there is ample torque with power to spare when you do need it.  For those interested I plan to update the article with 0-50 kph and 0-75 kph acceleration times once the bike has been fully run in.  I know there are folks who don't bother with any 'running in' on bikes these days and say that with engineering developments there's no need.  Fine, your bike, you do what you want, I run in per the manual :)

In traffic I find the bike to be very manoeuvrable with a great riding position, the more forward and upright position compared to the PCX allowing you to flip the bike with ease, counter steering also dials in superbly in higher speed cornering with just a touch needed to get the bike over.  The lower weight of the bike compared to the PCX 150 I suspect would mean that the machine is just as fast and, as mentioned before, there is plenty of torque right up to 50 kph allowing almost instant changes in speed.  Engine braking is also very very effective.  Slow speed handling I also find a real breeze on this bike with the tendency to topple coming in at a much lower speed that I have gotten used to on similar bikes.  The tyres I suspect help in the handling, tubeless and set on 14" wheels being of a wider profile than is found on many similar size / style bikes.  Specifically they are:

Front: 80/90 - 14M/C 40 P
Cheng Shin

Rear: 90/90 - 14M/C 46P
Cheng Shin

So for now, that's about it.  I'll update this article later, rather than post another one, once more performance information is available so check after a month or two if that interests you.   As a couple of further asides there are two other issues that I've been asked about often:

Givi M11.0 D Visor JET Helmet
1) What brand / style of helmet do you use?  I've seen a few folks buy helmets outside of Malaysia and bring them in.  I would advise strongly against this.  Why?  Because they need to be SIRIM and / or JPJ approved which will be denoted by a sticker on the helmet.  If you are stopped riding a non approved helmet you could be summonsed by the police or JPJ.  I also find there are enough good quality helmets here.  Personally I use Givi (again from Sun Sum Motor), a three quarter face helmet with a good visor and built in retractable sun-visor.  There's always a trade off between safety and comfort and you need to make your own choice.  Full face or even modular are of course safer and I'd wear nothing else on long distance and highway runs but in town, you will get hot quick with frequent stops wearing them (do try to stop in the shade if you can at lights, it really helps) and it comes back to the biking vs biking comments.  A good helmet like this will set you back only around RM 250.  I also use the very good Givi Rain Suit and of course Givi makes a good range of top-boxes and other biking accessories.

2) What do you use for cleaning helmet visors? In the West there is a great product called Plexus available.  It's not cheap but it's superb for cleaning plexiglass that helmet visors are made of.  Here, I use the old-school tried and trusted favourite, Lemon Pledge (yes the furniture polish!).  Used with a lint free micro-fibre style cloth its superb for maintaining visor clarity and good water run-off.  You will also see Orange Pledge but I find this to be more smear prone. Obviously it's better to wash the visor off first with a VERY mild soap and water if it's very dirty before polishing with Pledge once it's dry.  Lemon Pledge is also great as a polish on bike panels after you've washed your pride and joy :)

*Airblade promotional pictures courtesy of Boon Siew Honda, Malaysia