Friday, August 21, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Now that we have been here over a month it is time to look back at what we've learned so far...

The Good

The food: There is such an amazing variety of food here and it is all wonderful and CHEAP. Penang is known for its cuisine and food is everywhere and there is something for everyone. I don’t think anyone even cooks dinner at home judging by the amount of people who are dining out every night of the week and often three meals a day.

Customer service at food stalls: because there is such a plethora of places to eat, the owners of the food stalls compete heavily for your business. They will bend over backwards and even custom-make meals for you.

The weather: it is the land of eternal summer…85 degrees, sunny and humid every day. It also rains almost every day for about an hour. Very tropical.

The view from our home: staring at the ocean while I drink my morning coffee never gets old.

Air conditioning: thank God for A/C! Most places you go are air conditioned like the school, our home, the church, etc. I could not survive this heat without an A/C reprieve.

Our jobs: every day is different, new challenges, new surprises. It is interesting and exhausting. The students are wonderful. After teaching high school for a long, long time, I did not realize how fun it would be to work with the younger kids. You don’t even have to earn their love and respect; they freely give it along with lots of dirty fingerprints on your clothes from all the hugs.

Our colleagues: they aren’t perfect but neither are we. What makes them special is that there is an intentional and constant striving for authentic community. We love and help and encourage each other daily. We get upset with each other but we don’t let it fester or let it become divisive. We work it out. We work together, live near each other, eat together, attend church together, shop in the same places. With all that togetherness you can’t help but learn to communicate.

Our church: is an oasis from a crazy week. It is a congregation of about 300 expats . It is so nice to have this congregation because we all face the same struggles all week long and we can really support each other.

Our pool: beautiful, clean and the perfect temperature. Hardly anyone uses it but us because many of the condos in our complex are owned by people who use them as vacation homes only. This lends itself to a wonderful, quiet atmosphere.

Our ahma: she comes twice a week and cleans our home from top to bottom and irons all our clothes. It is heavenly.

The Bad

Customer service at restaurants: No one tips in Malaysia. It just isn’t the custom. The service at restaurants shows this. Our favorite Indian restaurant has incredible food and deplorable service. But we go there anyways because we are addicted to the butter naan.

The weather: what’s good about the weather is also what is bad. It is HOT…like sweat rolling down your back hot. And it is always hot. And rumor has it this is the cooler season. I can only imagine what the hotter season will be like. Again I would like to thank God for rain and A/C.

The cars: are tiny and ugly. Keep in mind I was raised in the Motor City and we take our cars pretty seriously. There are virtually no American cars here as they are too expensive to import to the island. So we have Korean and Malaysian brands. They all look exactly the same (like a go-kart with a roof). I am pretty sure our lawn mower in the states has a bigger engine. The good side is that they get incredible gas mileage. So their cars are functional only and not a stylistic statement (except for the very rich who all drive a Mercedes).

The Ugly

The traffic: The horrible, lawless traffic. I thought driving on the other side of the road and the other side of the car would be tough. That is NOTHING compared to driving when there are NO rules. Even still, I am getting used to the thousands of motorbikes who drive wherever they want. And I am getting used to people weaving in and out of traffic, straddling the lanes, randomly stopping and parking their car in a traffic lane thereby making everyone else have to go around them. What I am having trouble with is the people who cut you off within a fraction of an inch, people who think "merging lanes" means to speed to the end and then cut in front of you almost taking your front end off, etc. When asking around about the terrible driving behavior the answer I get is "It's a cultural thing. It's not wrong, It's just different." BALONEY. POPPYCOCK. BULL-PUCKEY. HOGWASH. HOOEY. MALARKEY. Rude is Rude in any language and any culture. When you drive in a way that endangers my life, it is not a "cultural thing" especially if you are trying to say it is "acceptable". Sure, it might be a cultural thing in terms of common in that culture but it doesn't make it acceptable to treat your fellow humans in that way. I am sure this happens elsewhere but I am not in those other places...I am here. I am from Detroit and I thought WE had aggressive drivers. HAH! Detroit is a bunch of old ladies compared to Penang drivers.

Customer service at stores: it drives me crazy. They stalk you. No matter what store you go into the salesperson literally shadows you everywhere you go. At one store I intentionally walked all over the store in a zig-zag fashion deliberately trying to lose the sales guy. But he was diligent. If I would have stopped too fast it would have been ugly.

Directions: as in no one knows how to give them. Their directions consist of “turn left at the big tree”. No one knows street names and streets randomly change names and direction.

The cost of “western” items: like a box of cereal ($10). They know what items us westerners can’t do without and they jack the prices like you wouldn’t believe. For instance, if we want to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving it will cost over $100 in American money. That is just ridiculous.

Public restrooms: seriously the most disgusting thing about Malaysia is the public restrooms. They smell awful. Some have “squat pots”. If you don’t know what that is, it is essentially a hole in the floor that you are supposed to use to ‘do your business”. I have not been able to bring myself to use it. They also do not have toilet paper. Instead most of them have hand bidets. A hand bidet is like a small shower head that you use to spray yourself clean when you are done with your business. And then I suppose you just drip dry? And, of course, spraying yourself means there is water EVERYWHERE full of disgusting particles and germs that I refuse to think about from other people who have ALSO sprayed themselves.

Durian fruit: I use the term “fruit” lightly. It is the most vile, revolting, putrid thing I have ever had the misfortune to smell. I didn’t even eat it. You can smell it from a block away and as soon as I do the bile rises. People here love it and I think they need to have their head examined. My boss says that Durian will be the only food available in hell.

The Just Plain Weird

Fish head soup: no I am not kidding

Construction: they build homes and buildings in the strangest places
Signs: we know “awas” means caution but if the rest of the sign is in Bahasa how do we know what to be cautious about? My other favorite was at a parking garage. It said “park at your own risk”. Since when did parking your car become risky behavior? Do they have a car-eating monster in there?

The staring: the people have no problem openly gawking at you or asking you private questions like how much you weigh or how much money you make.

The geckos: they are everywhere. But they are terrified of you and run away as soon as they can. Often you will walk into a room and turn on the lights and geckos will scurry away as fast as they can. I kind of wonder if they are in there having a party and I show up like the cops to bust them. There is NOTHING you can do to get rid of them so you just accept them as family members.

The good far outweighs the bad and the ugly we just try to avoid and the weird stuff makes us laugh. So overall things are going VERY well. But we miss our family and friends and are forever grateful for their support and SKYPE!


  1. I had to laugh at father spends 1/2 the year is Asia. He had often comented on some of the very same things! Especially the toilets!

  2. Hi Heather! You make ME laugh, too, as we are facing SO many of the exact same things here in the Philippines! Toilets you can't flush anything down, freaky traffic, stalking salespeople, DURIAN! :lol: Yep. I relate. If you'd like a link to our blog, email me using my address @ the FIAR site sometime. :)
    -barbara r.

  3. Absolutly loved this section! Identified with alot, laughed at the rest! I want an Ahama! I am so glad you guys get to experince a mission community, there certainly is nothing like it! I know the Lord has such great things planned for you guys! I am so excited to follow your journey!