Mangrove Planting

15 Nov



A few months ago, we joined my husband’s work colleagues in Sungai Acheh restoring the Mangrove forest.  A hundred folks gathered early morning at low tide, donned waterproof boots and gloves, then headed out to a roped off area that had been cleared of brush.  There were some taller scrub trees, but no mangroves.  We were soon hard at work removing the mangrove saplings from their pots, placing them into the holes and stomping the wet mud over the top.  An hour later, we had put all 500 trees into the ground and pitched in picking up the litter that rolls in each day with the tide.

On the walk back to the hose off area, we detoured on the elevated walkways and visited the previous plantings, most sponsored by other high tech companies and governments.  It was amazing to see the growth on those little dress just 1-2 years after planting!

Mangrove planting is a great opportunity to give back to the environment of Malaysia.

Psych via Skype

6 Nov


There is no doubt the stress of life abroad and changes associated with making the transition can be taxing on our mental health.  I was recently contacted by the folks over at the Truman Group (that’s their founder up there) who offer a truly unique and niche service – specifically for expats.  Here’s the information they shared with me.

The Truman Group  provides western expats access to quality mental health care. My co-founder, Sean Truman, grew up an expat in Nairobi, and eventually moved back to the US, where he started a psychotherapy practice. He came to realize there was a gap in english-speaking care for people who live outside their home countries. About 4 years ago we began this practice to solve the problem of finding quality psychological care regardless of where you are living. It’s been four years now and we have treated patients living everywhere from major cities to rural areas: multinational execs, NGO workers, diplomats, international school teachers, trailing spouses, adolescent youth. Patients often tell us they would have gone without care if they had not found out about our services.

We seek out who we consider to be among the top psychotherapists in the US (all our practitioners are US-based, trained and licensed). Everyone in our group has either a PhD in clinical psychology or decades of clinical experience or has lived overseas themselves. Many satisfy all three conditions. Our final, and perhaps most important criterion, is whether we ourselves would send our own friends and family to see them. Once a therapist is in our group, we link them with our patients via Skype. We treat everything from anxiety and depression to substance abuse, relationship issues, grief and loss, and dealing with the challenge of living in areas torn by strife.

I feel so strongly about what we do. A recent example is a woman who contacted us from Saudi Arabia. She just had a baby die in childbirth and she literally had no family or friends there to support her. She felt alone in a very different culture and we were able to help her through a very tough time. We have many similar examples and hope to help people in your community as well.

Susan Bernstein
+1 612-276-2240

Daily Life in Penang

30 Oct

Penang Momma is OOO for a few weeks, and luckily I have some fellow bloggers to help fill in the radio silence!  This post from Sally over at Dew Diaries is so helpful at knowing what to expect when you first hit the ground.  This is her impression after 3 months.  Enjoy!  Thank you and see you soon!

After living here for the past three months, I thought it might be fun to document some of the main cultural differences I’m experiencing, a sneak peak (if you will) into my daily life in Penang.

First, the languages spoken here are different.  Unlike in Texas, I don’t hear much Spanish, though I do have several expat friends that are native Spanish speakers.  I commonly hear many other languages spoken around me, primarily English, Melayu, Tamil, and Hokkien.  Even my familiar mother-tongue English is affected by the accent and word choice given to it (Australian, British, etc.), and I love hearing its variety.  One recent example was when my shipment arrived and the guards called to inform me that my “lorry” was here!  (Penang was formerly a British colony.)   The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu (meaning “language Malay”), which acts to unify the three primary people groups (Chinese, Indian, and Malay).  I am currently enjoying an 8-week crash course and having fun practicing simple phrases.  Selamat petang! (Good afternoon.)

Living as a white Westerner in a sea of darker skin tones, I am more aware of my light skin but almost always welcomed.  It has been fun attending a local Baptist church and representing a minority race!  There is also great variety in women’s dress here, ranging from fully-covered Muslim women showing no skin at all to teen girls in miniskirts.  I try to dress modestly, following the conservative approach of some of the other Malaysian states, but most styles are acceptable in laid-back Penang!  I have, however, been more aware of customs and cultures when considering what to wear so as not to offend anyone.  I wear brighter colors and less black and white, since these colors are often associated with mourning, and of course, I always remember to remove my shoes prior to entering any Malaysian home (a practice I might just have to bring back to Texas with me!)

Eating is delightful in this town, but like everything else, my habits have changed radically in terms of what I eat and how I shop.  Local food is very yummy and cheap.  Since the food is much better than I can make myself, we end up eating out about 3 days/week.  At a typical hawker center, there are 15-20 food stalls, each specializing in one type of cuisine.  Upon arrival, you sit down at a table and someone comes by to take your drink order.  Then you walk up to whatever stall you want and order, telling them your table number.  They make and deliver it to you, where you pay right then.  Typical meal prices are between $2 and $5 US.  Dishes are usually rice-based (“nasi”) or noodle-based (“mee”), and whole-wheat/whole grains are few and far between.  Despite this, I am eating well and have still managed to lose 8 pounds since moving here!  =)

Shopping for food is also different.  For someone accustomed to the weekly, one-stop-shopping experiences of HEB, I now shop more often at more places.  Almost everything can be found here, with a few exceptions (ranch dressing, good salsa and tortilla chips), but they don’t have everything all the time.  You might have to adjust your recipe, or scrap it altogether, for something else they do have.  Also, if you are buying pork products or alcohol, there is a separate counter you must pay at, since these items are considered “non-halal” (forbidden) for Muslims.  When I had only been here a week, I unknowingly brought some bacon up to the normal counter and felt awful when the cashier asked me to turn it over and bag it myself because she didn’t want to touch it.  I haven’t made that mistake again!

In addition to grocery stores like Cold Storage (my favorite due to its larger selection of “international” foods (ie, shipped from Western countries)), I also go to local wet markets twice/week.  Only open in the mornings, here is where the locals buy all fresh produce, poultry, and seafood.  And by fresh, I mean that morning, it was swimming in the ocean, or walking around eating feed!  A huge variety of fruits and veggies await your palette, and it’s been fun sampling new things.  Almost everything has multiple growing seasons and is locally grown.  Eggs are readily available, though never refrigerated.  Chicken and seafood are fun to buy, but not for the squimish.  You tell the butcher how many of what pieces you want and then stand back while they chop, de-bone, and/or skin it for you on the spot.  I always leave feeling very sweaty (it’s hot there!) but proud of the fresh ingredients that I spent so little for, inspired to cook, and anxious to get everything into my fridge as fast as possible!

As for life at home in my super-condo, there’s not much to complain about!  We are spending quite a bit on air-con, but I try to open windows and use the fans alot.  For air-con and water heaters, there are individual units in each room that you turn on and off as needed.  Dryers are also not common here.  Most locals hang up their clothes to dry, but I insisted on one for our place.  Ovens are also not common, but our convection oven/microwave makes cookies and bread just fine!  I am spending more time doing dishes, since our place doesn’t have a dishwasher, but make up for it with inexpensive help from my wonderful housecleaner.  We are spending less on food and maid services, but more on travel (worth it!) and alcohol (also worth it, but much more expensive since it’s non-halal).  I am also getting stronger arms from having to carry all my groceries up from the car in one load; you’d be amazed what I can carry!  Watching TV is possible through Astro cable, but reception is sporadic, and the DVR feature doesn’t work.  Mostly, we use our VPN to watch things from Netflix or since there are no video rental stores on the island.   Our kids have been pleased to see the familiar faces of McDonalds, KFC, Chili’s, Pizza Hut, and Baskin Robbins, but there is only one drive-thru in Penang!  Food still tastes about the same, except the pizza, where chicken or beef pepperoni stand-in for the real thing.  Just not the same as pork . . .

Another main difference is the use of the metric system!  C vs. F and km vs. mile keep me on my toes, and I’m getting pretty good at typing “350 F in C” into google to convert for recipes!  Time is much more laid back here as well.  “Malaysian time” is consistently late (hard for some time-driven Americans to adjust to!), and when people say they’ll show up at a certain time, don’t expect them for at least another half hour to hour.  Even Starbucks doesn’t open before 8:30, if you can believe it, and locals eat dinner closer to 8:00.  (We’re attending a wedding tommorrow and are trying to figure out when to show up so we won’t be too early!)

Using the “tandas” (toilet) can also take some getting used to.  Though toilets are common in many places, some facilities have “squatty potties”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Sometimes there is a small fee to use the toilet, and usually, it’s necessary to grab toilet paper prior to entering a stall, or to bring your own!

On another note, make sure to keep your umbrella handy, since unlike in Texas, it actually rains here.  (I’m still adjusting to the beautiful color green!).

License to Drive

23 Oct

Penang Momma is OOO for a few weeks, and luckily I have some fellow bloggers to help fill in the radio silence!  Sally over at Dew Diaries will be contributing for a few weeks.  Enjoy!  Thank you and see you soon!

After completing a short application and paying a small fee, I was handed an international driver’s license.  Apparently, this qualifies me to drive in any number of foreign countries, though no-one bothered to check that I was educated in any way with the local rules and road signs before getting behind the wheel.  And by the way, the wheel is on the right side of the car here, a big adjustment in itself.  I can’t count how many times I’ve started the windshield wipers when meaning to signal, or tried to enter the wrong side of the car with my keys in hand!

Hearing my husband describe what driving here was like, I was already terrified, but once I decided to bite the bullet and “just do it”, it was actually not that bad.  Driving for me was completely necessary, needing to transport my kids back and forth from school several times daily.  My husband has a driver to and from work, but the keys to the car are in my hands!

So what’s it been like driving here?  Well, it’s “ok-lah”, after I adopted a new driving mentality.  Cutting other drivers off is the norm and not the exception.  In fact, if you can nose your car into the lane, you’d sure as better go!  Oddly, however, people here expect it and don’t get upset.  Though this type of driving would seem aggressive and extremely rude in the States, people don’t make a big deal about it here.  They slow down just enough to let you in, and traffic keeps moving at a steady pace.  Drivers generally don’t even turn their heads to look when switching lanes; they focus straight ahead, checking their mirrors often to see if someone’s coming up behind or on the side.   Daily when leaving our condo, I have to make a hectic left-handed turn onto a busy street, then quickly get into the far-right lane to make a turn.  I quickly discovered that if I waited for the perfect gap in traffic and cars to slow down, I would be sitting there all day.  So . . . I take the plunge and dart out, praying that those cars will see me and slow down, a little.  At least my comparatively HUGE car gives me an advantage in these situations; most local cars are super compact.  Unfortunately, these few years of aggressive driving are probably going to make me an even worse driver than I already was. When I get back to the States, I (and those around me) better watch out!!

My biggest driving challenge is keeping track of all the motorcycles that sneak up out of no-where. Apparently, if there is at least 2 feet of space, it’s enough room for one to squeeze by, and boy, they sure do!  On either side of your car they zoom past, and often I see mopeds coming straight towards me going the wrong way.  They congregate at stoplights, and move forward as a mob when the light turns green.  It is generally acceptable to pass them on the right side, if there’s room.  They like to wait in the shade when possible, and they wear their jackets backwards to prevent bugs from flying in.

Another challenge is parking.  Lanes and parking spots here are teeny, tiny (not like the wide lanes and large parking spots meant to accomodate American SUVs).  Parallel parking is everywhere, and crowded parking garages in the malls leave little room to manuver.  Most people back into spots to make getting out easier.  Also, there are always alot of cars on the road because locals drive everywhere here, even places that are close enough to walk.  Personally, I’d much rather walk, or park somewhere far away but easy to get in and out of.  My greatest fear is not driving itself, but parking!  I’ve been known to change my mind about going to a certain place, simply because I’m not confident that I can find a place to park.

A bit about safety issues.  First, anything is allowed when it comes to transporting children.  There are no carseat or helmet laws here.  I’ve frequently seen a family of at least four riding a single motorbike, all without helmets.  The biggest shocker I’ve seen was the day I saw a toddler riding standing up on the motorcycle seat, directly in front of the driver!  Also, pedestrians beware in this city.  Don’t expect the cars will stop for you.  If you attempt to cross a busy street, you’d better be able to run fast, because there’s no Texas “drive friendly” here!  Sidewalks are uneven, not well-maintained, and often with open holes leading to drainage ditches.  Definitely not stroller-friendly or accessible for the handicapped.

It’s not all scary though; some things I really like!  Stoplights are wonderful here, because most of them have timers attached, letting you know exactly how long you’ll be waiting before the next green. Also, parking garages have red or green lights over each space to indicate which ones are occupied.  And, of course I can’t forget to mention my newest friend.  A lifesaver when I first arrived, my Garmin GPS has become my copilot; I was literally “lost” without it!  Having to focus 100% on driving left me no time to figure out where I was going.  As I’ve been here longer, I use it less and less (except in downtown Georgetown, with its intricate web of one-way streets), but many things still keep me on my toes.  Lanes will appear and disappear without any warning, and often animals, piles of burning trash, or road construction crews will be in the middle of the street!  I learned quickly the meaning of AWAS!! (Caution!!)

All in all, I’m managing the streets pretty well.  My mind stays alert, and my goals stay small.  As my dad would say, “Keep the car pointed straight ahead, and don’t hit anything, or anybody!”

Put Your Name On It

17 Oct

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One of the best gifts (either to a friend or to yourself) has got to be a personalized item.  Luckily, in Penang there’s lots of ways to leave your mark.  Here are a few of my favorite:

Name tags and stickers can be printed with just about any design at Kiddo Stickers kiosk on the first floor of Gurney Plaza.  They also make pens and stamps.

Don’t leave home without your namecards (business cards).  While most photostats can do these, the guys at C&C Printing and Designs on Jalan Fettes next to Fatty Loh’s are fast, reliable and cheap.  They also print some kids name stickers, and make personalized ink stamps.

YYP offers custom while you wait embroidery on anything you can imagine.  Beach towels for an older kid, baby blanket for a newborn, or have your kid’s uniform distinguished from the other’s.  Find them along Campbell St in Georgetown, just before Cintra.  (Here’s an idea – get your dimsum fix while you wait!)

Getting custom screen printed tees is a great way to celebrate an event or promote a business.  After searching around, I was very pleased with the service and quality by Jason Ho Kean Seng.  Email or sms:, 0124932747.

International Schools Fair :: Oct 12

9 Oct

In the Traders hotel this week: a great resource for all the private and international school information you need at the 3rd Private & International School Fair, Penang.  Stop by from 12-5 and check it out.


Betel Nut Buzz

9 Oct


  • TONIGHT! Sabine Wezel, Family Constellation Consultant believes all humans are carrying with them an energetic field or blueprint of their biological families—this field is called a family soul, or family conscience.  Want to learn more about her unique way of resolving conflict?  Attend her workshop at Lifeworks Holistic Center, 7-10pm. Sure to be an enlightening evening. Contact Sabine for details: 0164154507
  • In the Traders hotel this weekend: a great resource for all the private and international school information you need at the 3rd Private & International School Fair, Penang.  Stop by from 12-5 and check it out.
  • Mark your calendar! The Straits Quay Farmers Market is on next Saturday, Oct 19.  It’s getting bigger and better!
  • The PINKS Storytelling Festival is coming up on November 8th.  This is a great activity to bring books and storytelling into your kids lives.
  • Penang Momma logo designer Stephanie Dunn has her Forget Me Not stationary business up and running!  Check her out on facebook or on her website.
  • I’ve been eating this month!  Some great new finds and oldies/goodies.  Always spot on for a quick yet restoring lunch: Annalakshmi, Coisette Villa was a surprising French gem with fabulous baguettes, we sampled some delicious noodles and wontons reminiscent of our days there at Old Shanghai, The Eighty-Eight is moving to Georgetown but we stopped in on one of their last nights for an unforgettable 5-course meal, I can’t stop going to Basil Le Bistrot, Sunday coffee is always good at SiTigun, and I urge you to check out Georgetown Winery for your date night.

Saying Goodbye to Your Amah

2 Oct

I wrote here before with some tips about hiring and employing an amah.  To round out the process, it’s also important to consider what to do when that relationship comes to an end.  Amicable or not, here are some tips for saying goodbye.

Leaving Penang: A Bittersweet Farewell
If you need to let your amah go because of your move, understand this is a sad time for both of you.  While you feel sad for missing your expat friends and help, your helper will suffer the separation from your family.  She may have been there for the birth of your children, or played a part in their rearing.  Be patient and understanding in the last time you have together.  A few things you can do to lessen the blow:

  • Give plenty of notice.  One to two months for a regular helper is standard.
  • Help her find another job.  Post your recommendations on the discussion board, or talk to a friend you know is looking for help.
  • Leave her with a printed, laminated reference letter.  This is very important.  Write a summary of the service and time you spent with your amah, and include your recommendation along with a way to contact you (email, Facebook) for further details.  Attaching a photo of your family or kids with the amah is a visual reference you can pass on.
  • Plan a special time for you and your children to say goodbye to the amah and any members of her family you have gotten to know.  Coffee and cake at a cafe, plus a few handmade things from the children or printed photos will be appreciated.
  • Give her first dibs on items you plan to give away.  One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and her family can greatly benefit from your unwanted items.
  • Add her to your Christmas Card list.  I know my amah would appreciate an annual photo of the children and a brief update on the family.  Get her home address and revisit snail mail.

It is a totally different situation when you need to let an amah go on unpleasant terms.  Depending on the severity of the infraction or difference in views, use your judgment for the protection of your family.  Consider the following:

  • Immediate notice – take your key back.  Especially important if there is a question of safety or loss of trust, to sever contact immediately may be the best for your family.
  • Severance.  Offering the helper the security of a period of time’s wages is also an option at the time of letting go.
  • Be honest on reference calls.  If there was only a difference in opinion or expectation, perhaps your name will be used as a contact for reference.  Please be honest about your experience to future employers who may call.
  • Probation.  Consider a period of probation if you feel the differences can be rectified.  Work through the issues and establish good communication practices.  If you still can’t mesh, be open and honest and look for someone else.

L.L.D.S.P 2014 – Starting Today – Thursday

2 Oct


Penang’s annual benefit for Breast Cancer Awareness Month starts today!  Here’s how you can get involved this weekend. (republished from the PIA newsletter by Maggie T)

Day 1. Thursday 2nd Oct starting at 7.30pm

The Wine Shop event, limit to 100 ladies @ RM100. E&O hotel will help us with this event. We will still have our Silent auction with some bidding on emails as well & etc. Includes Gourmet canapés from E&O, platters of cheeses & cold cuts, pizza, pate and smoked salmon and finish with bite site desserts also from E&O hotel plus two glasses of Pink Bubbles. Pink bubbles also on sale by glass or bottle same as last year’s prices. The Wine Shop who sponsor the Pink Bubbles will also give a donation from any purchases of wines to take away. So please shop for your wines on Thursday night the 2nd (even if not attending the event) and Pink Cancer Fund gets a 15% donation from sales! Amee Philips has donated a glamorous pair of earrings for Amee Philips Versatile Collection, Diamonds with Rose Quartz – valued at RM10,000. More auctions coming in daily!

Day 2 & 3. Friday 3rd and Sat 4th.

Combine your passion for going out for dinner and drinks with good friends or family in one of Penang’s hottest bar & restaurant – Healy Macs in Straits Quay. PIA members get 10% off food bill, so donate your 10% discount and Healy Macs will donate another 10% to our Pink Cancer Fund. So 20% of your food bill will be donated. As everyone has to eat this is a fantastic way for you to show support. Gather you friends and family and come to Healy Macs on 3rd & 4th of Oct. Please note Healy Macs is full most nights so please come early or book. There will also be a special on Classic or Pink Cosmopolitan (cocktails) Buy 1 and free 1. Any queries on this call Maggie or Trevor, they will be around on both nights to help diners with this.

Day 4. Sunday 5th Wear it PINK – Lady Captain’s Golf T

Michelle has kindly offered us a table at Penang Expo on Saturday 20th at G Hotel, we will be there to sell tickets, book tables, show some of our auctions items, create awareness, collect donations and memberships. Also PIA magazine “Irish Insights” available for collection and promote next year’s Parade.PIA will cover all costs involved in these PINK events, plus Billboard at Amee Philips so 100% raised will go to the charities.

Thank you for your continued support of PIA and these events and helping to make a difference.

Air Con

24 Sep

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On this island, it is really important that your air conditioning is functioning.  A recent power outage went from crisis to handle-it-tomorrow-lah when we realized that only the kitchen was out and the internet and bedroom aircons were OK.  So, you can see where our priorities lie.  With the constant stress these heavenly blowers of cold air are under, it’s critical that you keep them in good health.

Enter: the air con service guy.  I interviewed our man, Mr Wah, about what he’s seen and what he recommends.  Without proper care, air con units can get slowly less cold and develop leaks.  We go for a twice a year service, which includes a thorough cleaning and check up for each unit.  It takes a couple hours, and those nights, I pull the covers up a little higher.

If it’s been a while, or you area  few years into your stay here and are just now looking at those units…give these guys a call.  Also, let me know your best guy in the comments.

Mr Wah: 012 482 0787
He also handles electrical issues as well – came around when the fridge circuit was out and got me sorted in a morning!

Ah Seong: 019 447 8782


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