Category Archives: Housing

My Ice Box is Actually an Ice Box

My power has now been out for 48 hours. Early on I anticipated a breakdown long enough to ruin the food in my “ice box”/refrigerator (the damage was caused by a ruptured pipe and water pouring into the electrical system) shutting off power to all but the ground floor. I walked next door to a small shop and bought a couple bags of ice. I went to dinner near a 7-11 and picked up some more ice (they have great ice for this purpose – very cold and a big huge sold block).

photo of a small neighborhood grocery store in JB

A shop similar to this one (but the photo shows a bigger shop a bit further away)

So far it has kept things colder much better than I would have guessed. Going back to when an ice box was a box with ice works decently using a modern refrigerator. I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising as the insulation on modern refrigerators is better than the old ones. Still getting and restocking ice is a bother.

It would be a good opportunity for a business to make it easy. I suggested to the condo office that they help make this process easier for tenants as a smart move to mitigate the damage to tenants but they have not done so (no surprise). Either give ice away – the management companies losing a big of cash but not much really, ice is cheap. Or the management company makes it a condo expense which means the owners just pay for it. Or at least have some company agree to schedule a truck to come at x hour and sell ice to those who want to buy it.

Update: a few hours after I posted this they actually did have ice delivered for people to use. I am not sure if they took awhile to take my suggestion to heart or if someone else came up with the idea. Either way, it was a good sign.

A bit of customer focus can help mitigate the damage customer face when things go wrong.

The people in the management office are kind. But the management company has not built a management system with a focus on encouraging employees to continually seek ways to improve and provide great service.

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Update: I think we ended up being without power for just over 4 days. I found being without power really wasn’t that bad except for problems getting wifi. Luckily my building has wifi available for daily purchase and their signal was good (the power they use is separate line that is used by the elevators and stayed up the whole time). I was able to recharge my laptop in the building office (only floors 2-20 were without power). If I had been without wifi I think I would have had to move into a hotel, but as it was it was tolerable and less annoying than I would have guessed (though I still don’t want to have to deal with it again – especially since the “backup” wifi seems to have deteriorated – I have to use it occasionally when I have connectivity issues way too often – my internet connection is right on the edge of being tolerable…).

Penang Clan Jetties – World Heritage Site

enterance to jetty with hand painted World Heritage sign

There are 6 clan jetties in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. The historic sites include housing built over the water, which continue to be lived in today. Old town Georgetown, including the clan jetties was designated an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 (along with Melacca).

When the jetties were established in the mid-19th century everybody who lived on the same jetty had the same surname because they all came from the same fishing village in China’s Fujian Province. When they arrived they did not have money to buy land and so decided to build their own villages: the jetties. The families were used to living close to the water and most men who lived on the jetties worked as fishermen or as coolies in the port.

The UNESCO World Heritage status saved the jetties from planned demolition. The fact that the jetties now have heritage status guarantees that they will stay.

– Francine Linssen, Passage magazine, Friends of the Museums of Singapore, Jan/Feb 2012

View from Penang Clan Jetty with modern highrises in the background

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Inconsiderate Behavior

Moving to a new culture you have to be willing to adapt and accept things different from what you may be familiar with. Most everything in Malaysia I have no problem adapting to. The biggest thing I find very annoying consistently is noise.

Noise at my condo – loud noise from temples (very loud bells, loud sound systems), firecrackers (a alot – early in the morning at 4 AM this last week over 30 loud gunshot style ones for example, which is the worst but alot of firecrackers at less unreasonable hours too). And very loud speakers blasting on the street or in malls. But that is something that is just the way it is. I can accept it and just understand that it annoys me, but you don’t get to have everything the way you want.

My philosophy is much more that: you limit very much things you do that are inflicted on other (once what you do infringes upon others rights you make consideration for others primary). I notice in Malaysia the more primary thing seems to be the willingness to just tolerate whatever others are doing. Which is a good trait to have, if you don’t let things bother you, you are much happier. I think the in West people think of Asia in general as people being more considerate, it seems to me it is really instead people being more tolerant. Just accepting that things are the way they are and if you are not powerful you can’t expect others to worry about your desires.

The condo below me started massive heavy construction last week – without any notice. I find this incredibly inconsiderate. The effect is essentially like having someone jackhammering in the room next to you (the only different in the heavy construction being inside my condo right now I have no dust). The idea that I should be given warning of such a massive disruption to the ability to use my condo seems foreign. The condo office won’t even respond about how much longer I can expect to have similar disruption (4 days last week this happened – Thursday was fine for some reason). My rental agent just says I am suppose to keep begging the condo office and maybe eventually they will tell me something.

I don’t really understand this attitude. It just seems so silly. The construction requires advance approval from the management office. But the management office gives no warning to those that will be impacted. And they don’t even respond to requests for information.

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Minimum Housing Prices for Foreigners Investing In Malaysia Rise to RM 1,000,000

Excerpt from a speech by the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, 19 April, 2012:

As a first step to protect the interests of local Malaysians, the state government is proposing to increase the minimum limit for foreign purchases of all properties from the existing level of RM 500,000 to RM1 million with a higher limit of RM 2 million for landed properties only in Penang island and retaining the present RM 500,000 limit for Permanent Residents.

In 2010 and 2011 there were 774 and 890 property transactions involving foreigners. These transactions constitute only 2.98% and 2.26% respectively of the total number of transations in Penang. However to protect the interests of locals to ensure that they enjoy priority for less expensive properties, this restriction will help to provide a level playing field since foreigners have the advantage of a higher currency.

The Penang state government stresses that we welcome foreign participation in our economy including our property market. The state government feels that foreign participation can be profitable to both Penangites and foreigners in the higher end market where they can add value by helping Penang to transform itself into an international and intelligent city.

We would like to get feedback and opinions from NGOs, property developers, foreigners and the public on this proposal. The state government hopes to implement this proposal the earliest by 1 June 2012 or the latest by 1 July 2012.

It would be good to know what percentage of the sales from RM 500,000 to RM 1,000,000 for condos, and RM 2,000,000 for landed properties were purchases by foreigners. But it seems like an overly drastic measure given a 2.5% rate of foreign purchasers. To slow the rise in prices I believe increasing the downpayment requirements (including the extremely minimal downpayment requirements on housing in the process of being built. To be effective this should be done on all purchases (not just foreigners).

Without more focused data on the foreign purchases in the ranges being targeted however it is hard to determine what the impact of any measure could possibly be.

Participants in MM2H (as well as permanent residents) are permitted to buy/own 2 properties at the RM 500,000 minimum level; which could definitely increase the applications for that program. That could be one of the reasons this action was taken.

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I Can’t Even Hear Myself Think

Even after adding double panes to my window (making it triple paned) the noise that get into my bedroom is amazingly loud. For an hour this morning the noise of drums and bells (two devices designed to produce loud noise to carry over long distances – not the kind of thing designed for an urban environment), starting before 7 AM, was louder in my bedroom than any alarm clock I have used. Again for the last 30 minutes it has been that loud – other times during the day it is noisy but not as loud as those two times.

I really don’t understand the desire to have such loud noise so consistently (at a noise level obvious produces hearing loss). I am not a huge fan of the noise level: both the production of such loud noises in the city and the construction not designed to keep the noise out of living spaces. The noise is much too loud every day for me to even think of keeping my windows to my bedroom open at night. If it wasn’t for the noise that would be a lovely option.

But when the noise is even remotely as loud as today (which happens frequently, but not everyday so consistently and for so long) I really don’t understand it. I made every clear to my rental housing agent that reasonable quiet was critical, but that didn’t work, obviously. Loud noise in a city center is expected but the amount of noise seems very excessive to me.

I also am amazed at the loudspeaker levels in malls and walking along the street (from some shops). It obviously creates hearing loss which I guess then makes the extremely loudness less noticeable (when you have substantial hearing loss you can’t hear how loud things are). Maybe everyone is happy with the noise level except me, I am not sure. I know people care about different things. Most of the time it is tolerable (annoying but tolerable) but some days I really can’t imagine that this is what most people desire.

There are many attractive things about Johor Bahru, but noise level is not one of them. It really is much more attractive if you have significant hearing loss before you arrive. On the plus side, is pleasantly warm.

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Visiting Lizard

This little visitor stayed around a few days (a few weeks ago) but then he disappeared and I haven’t seen him since.

photo of lizard

This little guy was no more than a 5 cm. I am actually surprised I don’t see more of these guys around. I have been surprised by 2 large lizards I have seen. One, right behind the Johor Bahru CIQ (away from the main road) was at least 2 m long and another I saw maybe 1 km away was maybe close to 750 cm (I didn’t get a good look at this one).

Related: Monkey Sitting on a Bike Sign In PenangMother with 2 Kittens

Paying Bills Electronically

Paying bills electronically isn’t as straight forward as it should be. For example, for my electricity bill I asked my real estate agent how to pay it and was told it could only be done online through 2 banks and suggesting I try my management office or paying in person. Well after a bit of investigation I found that one option to pay online was only available through 2 banks (but that options was closed down “to upgrade and better server our customers”). But another method to pay online is available through many banks.

Why real estate agents can’t even provide such basic information correctly is beyond me. I would expect such details as the very minimum to be expected of real estate agents serving expats. But sadly that seems to be the way it is.

I talked to my management office and they would take the payment but only bring the payments to the electric company every few weeks so they suggested paying at any post office (we don’t have many expats at this condo so their preference for paying in person instead of finding an internet solution is not that surprising). You can also mail the payments back (but I don’t have checks or stamps yet so that option doesn’t appeal to me).

If you want to pay online, go directly to your bank and go through the paying bills online section.

Another bill I have to pay directly is for my internet service. There is some option to pay online but you have to print out a form, complete it and mail it back in (this is just to make a payment). I am not sure why they don’t make it easier to pay online. Partially I am sure this is a preference of some people here to pay in person. Also I am sure it is because paying staff salaries is not a huge cash drain. In countries with higher staff salaries companies make it as easy as possible to pay online and avoid paying staff to just process payments made in person.

It looks like the best way to make payments is through your bank’s web site. Which is fine, now that I understand that is the way to do things.

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Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your Condo

Malaysia doesn’t have noise pollution standards as far as I can tell (does anyone know if this is accurate – if they do exist they sure are not enforced effectively). So you may well find extremely loud noises from extremely loud speakers from street events, bars and temples late into the night and very early in the morning. At some Johor Bahru condos this is not a huge issue, but at others it is a huge problem.

There are various methods of trying to cope with noise pollution. Installing windows that are at least double-paned can help (but if the speakers are blasting away too loudly that will only reduce the problem, but not effectively deal with it). Heavy curtains can also noticeably reduce noise pollution penetrating into the room (but they are not nearly as effective as good windows). I am still looking for some way to buy such curtains in Johor Bahru (or get them shipped here). Please comment if you know where I can get them, or someone who is willing to make them for me (it really shouldn’t be that hard). I have talked to numerous places without any success. And I have emailed some places and don’t even get a response.

Upon discovering how bad the noise pollution was (I don’t know the scope of the problem yet, some days it is extremely bad far later into the night and starting again very early the next morning – other days is just very bad but only for a few hours). I bought some headphones and a fan locally and ordered some devices to mask noise pollution (they generate more noise in the hopes of canceling out more annoying noise) from Amazon. I was amazed to get the devices shipped from the USA to Malaysia in just 4 days.

The Ecotones Sound + Sleep Machine is a great device that creates various noises (stream, ocean, fireplace, rainfall, meadow…). One great feature of this device is that it has a microphone it uses to hear the noise level and then adjusts to increase the volume it produces to mask the noise pollution. It also will accept 100-240 volts (it has a transformer itself – like computer laptops do). It is very good for low levels of noise pollution (I would say under 60 decibels). However high levels it has to get so loud to mask them that it isn’t very useful.

Fans also work decently for low levels of noise. The combination of the sleep machine, a fan, and earplugs, in my bedroom, is enough on most nights. However, on nights (and days) with louder noise pollution – I would estimate over 80 decibels getting into my room (as loud as if someone placed a TV in your room and turned it on – it is definitely significantly louder than my TV) those don’t work – even with all that, the noise pollution still gets through.

The noise pollution is by far the most annoying thing I have had to deal with here. I am surprised (and extremely disappointed) that I was recommended this condo given how important I said peace and quite was. But my experience is an example of how important it is to beware, as the purchaser, and watch out for yourself. I am not sure how bad noise pollution is at all other condos but many have to be far superior in that regard to mine. Other than that problem (which is huge) this condo has many advantages. Realtors in Johor Bahru are in the business of renting the units they have. You can’t count on them actually knowing the strengths and weaknesses of options and presenting you their expert advice on what meets your needs (some will, others won’t). I would say this is the only big problem I have had. Otherwise many things have gone well.

As I write this, for at least 44 of the last 60 hours I have had extremely loud speakers blasted into my bedroom (over over 75 decibels and over 85 for many hours), it is unbelievable to me that this is tolerated as acceptable behavior. But it is. On my balcony it is often over 100 decibels, I would estimate, though not for quite as long – maybe 20 of the last 60 hours (the level increases from very loud to extremely loud at various times).

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Growing Your Own Food With a Balcony Vegetable Garden

A few years ago I starting growing my own vegetables and I found it incredible convient. You can save money too, but my main purpose is to eat food that taste better and is better for me. I have started a vegetable garden on the balcony of my condo in Johor Bahru.

photo of the Nursery near KSL Mall

Front of the nursery by John Hunter.

First I needed to buy some supplies. I was referred to a great nursery two blocks from KSL mall: Skyt Perniagaan Ming.

The planting boxes they have are especially nice. Very light but made of strong plastic. They also have a divider to leave a bit of room at the bottom of the planter for water to drain and the ability to let the water drain out the bottom by removing plugs (if you use it outside). If you use the boxes indoors you can leave the plugs in and it won’t drain out the bottom. They have 2 sizes, I got the smaller ones, which are about 25 cm by 75 cm by 20 cm (deep). They actually suggested the larger size for growing vegetables so we will see if I made a mistake.

photo of the plants inside the nursery

Plants inside the nursery

I never used fertilizer when I grew in my yard. I just used some compost and regular dirt. I am using some long release fertilizer at their suggestion for these containers. I barely need to water them as it rains nearly every day heavily enough to water the plants (Since there is a balcony right above mine, there has to be a fair amount of wind and rain for nature to take care of the watering for me).

I didn’t buy enough seed packets at first (the packets don’t have a large number of seeds – many of the types don’t). I have bought more seeds now but in the interim I also just planted some seeds from some peppers and tomates I ate from the grocery store. Those tomato plants seem to be doing great (though I am not sure they will work in these small containers (they are the large, regular, tomatoes).

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Exercise: Swimming

Over the years I have thought about taking up swimming to get some healthy exercise but I never do. When I start swimming I am so lame I can barely make it a few laps. And I had to go to a pool, get changed, swim (for a few minutes before I was too tired), get changed, go home… So I never did keep it up.

Now I have a pool an elevator ride away. I have been swimming several times a week for a few weeks now. I still can’t get very far. Which is good in that I get an aerobic workout really quick, because I am such an inefficient swimmer. But also bad in that I get don’t a very long aerobic workout without risking swallowing large amounts of water. Today I made 10 lengths (5 laps, if a lap is back and forth) for the first time (maybe the pool is 20 yards long but maybe a bit shorter – about 15 meters, maybe a bit longer?).

It does seem like this will be a way for me to get some exercise though, so that is good. And hopefully I can add on the laps over the weeks. Hopefully I can find a place to play basketball, historically my main exercise. I will also look to see about tennis or badminton. I am still looking for the best places in Johor Bahru to participate though. Let me know, in the comments, if you have suggestions.

As I let the sun dry me after the swim a swallow (or some similar bird) buzzed the pool very close to the water. Which was cool, but I figured the bird was out of luck. I guessed it was looking for insects to eat and the chemically cleaned water didn’t support insects. But it dipped in and caused a small ripple and I figured maybe it caught something or more likely thought it would and tried. But over the next 2 minutes it dove into the water a bit more and at least 10 more time. I would zoom along, fold in its wings and then plop into the water causing quite noticeable ripples. It could just basically bounce off and be flying again. It either had to be playing or cleaning itself I think. It was fun to watch.

In Johor Bahru, most of the condos that expats chose have pools. Some are larger (Straits View seemed the largest to me) and some are pretty small (usually at the condos without too many units).

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