Tag 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.

Related: The Customer is the Purpose of Our WorkPoor Usability for Online Plane ReservationsGreat Cheap Cell Phone Plan

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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Pursuing a Growing Economy While Avoiding the Pitfalls That Befall to Many Middle Income Countries

This article provides some interesting data on the Malaysian, Indonesian and Thailand economies.

Malaysia’s High Real Yields Mean Flows Top Peers in Southeast Asia

Foreign ownership of the local-currency notes [in Malaysia] rose by $8.4 billion in the first 11 months, compared with a full-year increase of $4.9 billion in Indonesia and $6.6 billion in Thailand, according to official figures. Malaysia is rated A3 by Moody’s Investors Service, three levels above Indonesia and one step more than Thailand, while its 10-year bonds pay 2.3 percent after accounting for inflation, versus 0.9 percent and 0.1 percent for its respective peers.

Bhd. Malaysia has the lowest inflation in Southeast Asia even as the central bank kept borrowing costs on hold since May 2011, while limiting ringgit appreciation to 0.6 percent over the past two years.

Malaysia exempts foreign investors from paying income tax on bond earnings to boost investment in the $289 billion economy, Southeast Asia’s third largest. Thailand imposed a 15 percent levy in 2010 to stem gains in the baht, while Indonesia, the biggest of the three in terms of gross domestic product, introduced a similar tax of 20 percent in 2009.

Overseas investors held $42 billion of ringgit-denominated government bonds as of November 2012, central bank data show. That compares with $17 billion of baht securities in December and $28 billion in rupiah notes as of Jan. 21, according to data from the Bank of Thailand and Indonesia’s finance ministry.

Malaysia’s worsening fiscal deficit and high household debt, if not addressed, may add downside risk to the sovereign credit rating, said Wong.

Gross domestic product in Malaysia will increase 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent this year, compared with the 5 percent estimated for 2012, according to a government forecast in September. Indonesia’s GDP will rise 6.6 percent to 6.8 percent, Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo said Jan. 14, versus the central bank’s projection of 6.3 percent for last year. Thailand’s economy will expand 4.9 percent, compared with 5.9 percent in 2012, Bank of Thailand Assistant Governor Paiboon Kittisrikangwan said on Jan. 18.

There are some significant strengths in each of these economies and Malaysia has some distinct advantages including a strong natural resource base and fairly small population along with a strong current accounts surplus (exporting more than they are importing).

The biggest worry in Malaysia is the large government debt even after the advantages of selling natural resources. The lower population is an advantage in trying to rapidly increase median income. Malaysia has been doing well at this, but continuing it is not easy and perils have far too frequently interrupted other countries success at doing so. Balancing fast enough growth without tipping over into unsustainable bubbles (often with high leverage) is tricky. Malaysia will have to find a way to decrease the budget deficient while continuing the many things they are doing right to continue to succeed.

Balanced growth is important. Growing numerous strong economic sectors (say health care, manufacturing, natural resource, tourism, education, finance, housing) is critical to creating a robust economy that can grow over the long term even as individual segments suffer. It seems to me the housing sector is a bit over invested in which is a risk. Making sure to develop an economy that provides many good jobs is the key (as a strongly diversified economy will – for all different types of workers, highly education, technically skilled, vocational trained, even unskilled). Lots of expensive houses people can pay for has created many problems recently all over the globe, Malaysia hasn’t experienced that yet but it seems to me there is a risk of that problem. Avoiding that drain (overbuilding housing) will be key to how rapidly median income can increase in the next 20 years.

Related: Malaysian Economy Continues to Expand, Budget Deficits Remain HighCIMB Takes Aggressive Investment Bank ActionsManufacturing in Malaysia: Bahru Stainless Starts Production

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.

Related: Penang’s Economic GainsPenang Condo MarketConsiderations for Investing in Iskandar Housing

Tomatoes From the Balcony Garden

Last week some of the tomatoes started to ripen and be edible. Yay.

photo of red and green cherry tomatoes

Red and green cherry tomatoes from balcony garden

The beans stopped growing well. I am not sure why. The plants seem ok, the beans just are not tiny or otherwise inedible. It might be not enough water, or not enough nutrients in the soil or something else. Also what I thought were pepper plants, were not. So none of the pepper seeds sprouted :-( At least for the time being the tomato plants seem to be producing well. The plants are pretty wimpy though (not as bushy as they normally are – are when they are most healthy).

Related: Balcony Vegetable Garden Starting to Produce FoodGrowing Your Own Food With a Balcony Vegetable Garden

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.

Related: Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your CondoWhere to Get a Voltage Transformer in Johor BahruTaxis in Johor Bahru

Balcony Vegetable Garden Starting to Produce Food

My balcony vegetable garden is starting to flower and I have been able to enjoy a few beans. A wrote about setting up my balcony to growing some food earlier. I am using several containers and all but one of the “crops” has done well. The sweet peas hardly sprouted and the few that did then died.

small green tomato on plant

The first tomato.

The Tomato plants have done very well, as you might expect – they seem to grow with no problems. How much food I get only time will tell though, a few tomatoes are started to show up. Mainly I planted cherry tomatoes (I figure with my small planters that would work best). But the first batch of seeds didn’t do so well, so I planted some seeds from the tomatoes I got at the store (full size) – some sprouted, so we will see how they do.

green bean flower and plant

Green bean flower

The beans are the first to have produced and I have enjoyed a few beans so far. They seem to be producing pretty well. I really do like being able to just pick a snack off my plants.

I needed to improvise something to give the beans and tomato plants some stability. I couldn’t find something designed for it at the store (I did find a couple smaller items to support tomato plants a bit later – so I have a couple of those in use).

flowers on a pepper plant

Flowers on a pepper plant

The pepper plants did not have a high percentage that sprouted but those that did seem to be growing fairly well. They are growing quite tall and are fairly lanky looking. The flowers started to show up maybe 10 days ago and the starts of many very small peppers are now visible.

We gets lots of rain, but the plants are largely sheltered from it (the rain has to be blown by a fairly hard wind to water those on the balcony – which happens sometimes but not very often to any substantial degree). So I have been watering them. The do get quite a bit of sun.

Related: Growing Lettuce in My BackyardGrow some of your own foodScience Sort of Explains: HiccupsEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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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.

Related: Android Mobile Phone Options in MalaysiaGiving Back to MalaysiaHotels and Accomations for Travelers in Malaysia