Tag Archives: living

Great Cheap Cell Phone Plan

I did a bit of research trying to find the right cell phone plan for myself in Malaysia. I actually was looking at different options. One was for a fancy smart phone (iPhone or Android) largely to use when I travel and to be able to stay up with some business. Both looking at the phone options and the plan options. And the also looking at a cheap phone with a cheap plan. The truth is it was quite hard to get to a decision with so many options. I used the soon to be iPhone 4s as a good enough excuse to wait on the fancy phone option.

I really don’t use a phone much. Frankly the biggest use I have for it is in getting taxis and ordering food – plus other errands but what I can do by email, I do. It is also convenient when you are meeting people somewhere to catch up with each other. Mainly I prefer email and other internet communication and don’t find most cell phone conversation of much value (it just seems like people think they have to talk since they can or some people seem to think they seem important if they ignore whoever they are with to talk on the phone). I would rather take in where I am, talk to who I am with, think, or just relax.

So I keep looking for the best plan for someone that hardly uses a phone at all. It wasn’t easy to find. Partially, I imagine you don’t make much money off such cheapskates so the service providers don’t waste much time marketing to them. Anyway I thought I found something good with Digi. And when I was talking with the person to buy my phone I thought I had it clear I could get the phone and pay some minimal amount and then just top it up and be charged for use.

But once I bought it they seemed to not understand such an option. Oh well, I sometimes seem to not quite communicate perfectly so I guessed I mis-remembered and didn’t understand what they said at first. So then essentially I needed to pay RM 30 a month for service and that amount would be charged against as I talked (or IMed). But I needed to pay RM 1 everyday to maintain the ability to make calls. This was annoying but seemed to be the only option. So I just kept piling on the RM balance since I don’t use close to 1 RM a day on average.

Well I found the offer again earlier this week and it is perfect if you hardly use the phone, like me. You pay just RM 30 for a year. Then you still get charged for all your calls but it isn’t much at all.

So if you want a low use, cheap, cell phone plan option in Malaysia, get the Digi Super Long Life plan: a feature where you can extend your talktime validity to 1 year for just RM30. That means your phone number stays valid, you can make and receive calls and texts (to make outgoing calls and texts you also need a balance, but you can add to your balance whenever you want). Remember the plan name, so when you go to buy your plan you can make sure you can get it setup right from the start. It is really a fantastic option for someone like me, that uses the phone very little. My guess is if you use it less than an hour a week, on average, this is a good option. I am really not sure the exact breakpoint, whatever it is, I am nowhere near it.

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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.

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

Taxis in Johor Bahru

photo of Johor Bahru taxi

Photo of Johor Bahru taxi near Zon (with the strait and then Singapore in the background)

Online I read a fair amount of people worried about taxi drivers not using the meter for cab rides in Johor Bahru. I have found that normally they do use the meter. Occasionally, taxi drivers do refuse to use the meter (even though I believe they are required to and the cabs are plastered with signs saying they must use the meter). I have noticed that if the taxi has to stand in a long queue, waiting for passengers, this problem is much more likely.

It would seem to me, that there is a systemic problem, if the taxi has to wait a long time for fares. It seems to me the best way to handle this would be to put a surcharge on those locations (there shouldn’t be too many). I have refused to pay non-meter fares, but will pay reasonable ones from now on, from locations with long queues.

Even when they want to charge a non-meter fare I think only twice have they asked for hugely unfair amounts (more than twice what the meter would be). Normally it is a maybe RM 5 above the meter, which isn’t ridiculously high (and they may be inflating it for me).

Calling the taxis usually will get you a taxi very quickly (within 5 minutes) which is quite convenient. I would imagine in some areas outside the Central Business District (CBD) it might be longer.

Photo of Natural gas tank in the trunk of a taxi

Natural gas tank in Johor Bahru taxi trunk

One of my driver’s stopped by the gas station and I noticed they were using compressed natural gas as the fuel. This is a smart move as globally there is a surplus of natural gas. Natural gas is also cleaner burning and contributes less to global warming than regular gasoline. The storage tanks are in the trunk for some reason.

The taxi drivers understand english to some degree. They are a bit less able to find places than I would expect, some are quite good but I have run into more than a handful that needed directions for pretty large places.

The cars are generally fairly old but decent. Normally they have decent air conditioning, but some are weak on this. Like Kuala Lumpor there is a “executive” class taxi that is blue and much more expensive – I don’t see them being worth it, myself. The cost of rides is 3 RM for the first 2 km plus 10 cen to every subsequent 115 meters. There is a RM 2 charge for calling a taxi for a pickup (Taxi Comfort number: 07 332 2852). There is a 50% surcharge between midnight and 6 AM.

In general people tip very little (like rounding up to the next RM). In general, I give a tip of 2 – 4.x RM. The taxi fares are reasonable and including a tip still results in a reasonable fair. Taxi drivers work hard for a living and giving a bit of a tip seems reasonable to me (for those who can easily afford it).

One note about taxis in Singapore – there really don’t seem to be enough. When I want one, I find large queues that hardly seem to move (so few taxis coming to the stand). And when it rains it is much worse.

Related: transportation between Johor Bahru and SingaporeBus to from CBD to Jusco in Permas JayaPaying bills over the internet

Danga City Mall in Johor Bahru

View of Inside of Danga City Mall

Inside the Danga City Mall in JB - unfortunately the upper floors have far too many vacant store fronts.

The Danga City Mall is my favorite mall in JB. It has several very nice small restaurants and a high number of technology stores. The top floors also include a bowling alley, paintball arena and archery range. Unfortunately the mall also has quite a few empty shops. At least for now it also has my favorite store, the Treasure Store (which has lots of great used english language books): the Treasure store is moving to Permas Jaya next month.

photo of authorized Apple reseller store in Danga City Mall

Ascentouch (authorized Apple reseller) part of the large IT Valley area in Danga City Mall, JB Town.

The IT valley has the richest collection of technology stores in Johor Bahru including Samsung, Sony, HP, and Ascentouch (Authorized Apple reseller) used computer stores, computer repair, computer equipment stores. They have the normal assortment of phone stores and internet providers.

The restaurants offer some really good food very inexpensively. Two of my favorite are JB Station Kopitiam and Agena Sea (which moved next to the exhibit hall recently). On the lowest level there are about 8 good restaurant choices including Hokka Hokka Japanese Food, A1 Cafe. And there are probably about 8 more upstairs, including a small Italian restaurant which is decent (and better than I would think it could be for such a small location) though the seats are not very comfortable (more suited to drinking than eating). There is also a small grocery store that has some things but it would be better if it were a bit larger.

photo of the bowling alley

Bowling alley in the Danga City Mall - there is also a paintball arena.

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Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Complex (CIQ)

photo CIQ building in Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru CIQ

The Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) is a very large complex at the causeway to Singapore that accommodates Malaysian customs check for cars, trucks, buses and the JB Sentral train station. The CIQ was opened in 2008. The complex is know as CIQ – if you tell a taxi for example they will know where you mean to go if you say CIQ.

photo of Johor Bahru CIQ

Looking up to Johor Bahru CIQ from the street (all photos by John Hunter)

Queues are often reasonable but at rush hour (especially leaving Singapore on Friday’s and near public holidays) can be long. In several ways taking the bus is quite appealing (costs of bringing a car into Singapore plus tolls and there are significant restrictions on taxis that make that option difficult) but the walking from the entrance to the custom lines is quite a distance so that will add 5 minutes to your time. And waiting for a bus once you clear customs can add another 5 – 10 minutes. [update – given all the long delays and complaints from people they reopened walking over the causway as an option. A newspaper story in 2016 claimed 300,000 people walk across each day, that surprises me and I am not 100% sure the number is accurate]

The 2nd link (to the West) has shorter queues currently (these are the only 2 links between Singapore and Johor Bahru now). That is one of the reasons many people have been buying out near the 2nd link. Also that is a focus area for the Iskandar economic development initiative and the available of housing estates with integrated security and new bungalows is another attraction.

JB Sentral, which opened in 2010, is located in the same area and includes the train station and a large bus terminal.

Singapore and Malaysia have been taking recently about extending the MRT (light rail) from Singapore into Johor Bahru before the end of this decade and the likely location of the first stop is JB Sentral. This MRT (and extending 5 to 7 more stops in Johor Bahru will be a welcome improvement to mass transit and continue to build the economic ties between the two cities. Currently you have to take the long walk through Malaysian customs, then walk to the bus, take it over the causeway, walk through Singapore customs, catch the bus again and then got to the MRT (which for some reason isn’t the closer Woodlands MRT but the Kranji MRT). So just getting on the MRT in JB and clearing customs and getting right back on will be a big improvement. Of course they will have to add quite a few more customs staff to prevent long queues.

Related: Taking the Bus from Johor Bahru to SingaporeResidence Pass for Talented ExpatsPenang Condo Market

Taking the Bus from Johor Bahru to Singapore

Taking the bus from Johor Bahru, Malaysia to Singapore is easy once you know what to do.

First go to the Custom and Immigration Quarantine Complex (CIQ) in downtown Johor Bahru right near the causeway to Singapore. Walk through the complex to leave Malaysia (you need your passport, obviously). Once you clear Malaysian passport control you follow the signs to Singapore/Woodlands for the bus (on your left after you leave the passport area). You go downstairs and catch your bus. You pay for the bus, on the bus.

photo of people standing in lines for bus to Singapore at Malaysia CIQ

Lines for bus to Singapore at Malaysia CIQ. On the signs (and the ground) they list what buses the queues are for.

There are various options but the 3 most common are:

  • Queen Street (this gets you to downtown Singapore). You can take the CW2 (direct) of the 160 (many stops – so really you probably don’t want to chose this unless you want to get off before queen street). The Queen street stop lets you off right near Little India. Cost is under RM 4 (update 2014 – with increases in tolls the busses hiked fares by under 1 RM, they are a much better value now, since car and taxi tolls increases so much).
  • MRT – if you want to go to the Singapore MRT you can take the 170 or CW1 to Kranji station. Woodlands is the closest station but there isn’t a bus to there (that I know of). Cost is under RM 3 (after 2014 increase).
  • Airport – the airport bus takes you directly to the Changi Airport in Singapore and costs RM 7 (from Singapore to JB it costs SGD 7 – I am not sure of the prices after the 2014 increase). The bus is a small bus (seats about 20 maximum) – asking people where it is, will be the easiest way to find it. This bus only runs once an hour. This bus works great but you should be aware if you get stuck in customs trying to get into Singapore it is possible the bus will leave without you. If that happens catch the 170 to Kranji and take the MRT to the airport. I think the bus will wait 20 minutes for people to clear customs (and if several of you are not back yet the bus may wait, but missing it is something to consider).
  • photo of Kranji MRT in Singapore

    Kranji MRT in Singapore. There is a bakery right where the bus lets you off. To catch the bus back to Customs you have to cross over the road so you are on the opposite side from the MRT.

    The busses will take you across the causeway to Singapore and then you will disembark (with any luggage and belongings) and go through Singapore customs and then go back downstairs and catch your bus. The CW1, CW2, 170 and 160 run frequently during the day and evening (every few minutes to every 15 minutes for some).

    Overall it is an easy process and doesn’t take too long. But at rush hours (especially Friday night or on holidays) it can get very busy and backed up. I hear the morning rush from JB into Singapore is pretty bad, but I have gone a bit later (9:30 AM) when I have gone, and it has been fine (most of the time).

    The prices are from Singapore to JB are the same number but in SGD which means about 2.5 times as much money. So, for example, from Queen Street to JB is $3.30 (versus 3.30 RM).

    Related: Bus to Jusco in Permas JayaPlaza Pelangi in Johor Bahru Townresources for living in Johor Bahru

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    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

    Vaccinations and Medical Services from the Clinic Australia

    photo of strip mall and Klinik Australia fascade

    External view the the Clinic Australia

    I needed a vaccination booster and so looked for a place to get such services in Johor Bahru. I tried the Clinic Australia, near Plaza Pelangi, and was happy with the results. The clinic is located behind the Plaza Pelangi in the strip mall that hosts a few popular restaurants including: Rosmarino (Italian), Warakuya (Japanese) and Mulligan’s Irish Pub.

    The clinic is a small operation in a strip of shops. I don’t think you can make reservations, I didn’t anyway, you just show up and wait as people are taken care of. They offer vaccinations and check ups (for visa, pre-employment and insurance). They also offer flu shots.

    photo of the waiting room for the Clinic Austrailia

    The waiting room is half of the available space (I think).

    Related: Getting a Voltage Transformer in Johor BahruNursery in Johor BahruJohor Bahru shopping directory

    Address: 37 Jalan Kuning 2, Taman Peangi, 80400 Johor Bahru.
    Phone: 07-3319380
    No website or email.

    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).

    Related: Android Mobile Phone Options in MalaysiaExercise, SwimmingPenang Condo Market

    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).

    Related: The Science of GardeningMee Bandung at JB Station KopitiamEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.condos for rent to expats in Johor Bahru

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