Saturday, November 26, 2005

10 hour bike ride

Yesterday I rode around Penang island which I'm told is about 50 miles. I did it in 10 hours so I averaged 5 miles per hour. I made many stops along the way to rest, take pictures, eat and get my bike repaired.

The trip was quite uneventful so I don’t really have any great story to tell as I had hoped so all I can really do is ramble on and on about nothing.

I left Teluk Kumbar at noon during a rain storm. Sister #1 warned that I cannot ride in the rain and that I should wait for another day but the forecast showed rain everyday for the next week so there was no point in waiting. Plus this is a warm rain. I’ve ridden in much worse. I’ve ridden in the cold November rain of the East coast of the USA where it’s near freezing and windy. I’ve ridden in -10F (-23C) in snow and on ice. I can handle a warm tropical rain.

Kelly wanted me to wear a rain coat so I did but it was so hot that I got soaking wet from my own sweat! I would have been better off getting rained on because that rain-coat was too hot. She was afraid that I would get cold but when you’re riding up a mountain, that’s not really a concern since you generate a lot of body heat. After I got over the first hill, I removed the rain-coat just in time for the sun to come out!

When we go on trips, we always forgot one thing and the thing I forgot this trip was to wear sun-screen and carry some with me. For the uphill climbs I did not wear my helmet so that my head could vent the heat otherwise the pads in my helmet get so soaked with sweat that it literally pores out when I squeeze the helmet against my head. The downside to this is that my face got sun-burned.

For the down hills, I lowered my seat to lower my center of gravity. I also put my helmet back on and tightened up my brakes so the pads rubbed so when I squeezed the lever I simply made them rub harder. There is little traffic on this side of the island so I had the road to myself. There were 180 degree hair-pin turns … switchbacks. I leaned into the turns hard and fast. Flying down the mountains was the most fun. By then the roads had dried so I had good traction. I just had to watch for oncoming traffic since vehicles like to cut corners.

Once at the bottom, I removed my helmet, put my seat up and loosened my brakes so they wouldn’t rub. My face started feeling sun-burned so I put my helmet back on since it had a visor that could provide some shade for my face. By the end of the day my forearms and face were slightly sun-burned.

The first third of the trip was over some big mountains and thru many small towns including Balik Pulau which is a valley surrounded by mountains. The only way to get there is to drive over a mountain.

As I came out of the mountains I passed a new impressive looking dam then I hit the North shore, aka The Pearl of the Orient. Finally it was flat as it wound around the shoreline and I hit the big city starting with Gurney.

Realizing it was 5:30 pm and that the bike shop probably closed at 6 pm, I had no choice but to hail a taxi for a 15 minute ride into Georgetown to the bike shop. Yes, I cheated but because my bike needed repairs. I had no choice. The taxi ride cost RM 15 (USD 4) and the bike repairs cost RM 25 (USD 7) and Kelly complained about my spending. Oh well. I explained that I had no choice.

The bike shop I stopped at is the same bike shop I bought my bicycle. They are the best bicycle shop in Penang by far. They not only sell high quality bikes but offer high quality repairs. I’ve had my bike repaired by other bike shops and they always do a half-assed job. I need it done right the first time. I push my equipment to its limits and beyond. I need for it to work.

In a poor bike shop you can buy a bicycle for as little as RM 125 (USD 30) and the most expensive bike they sell is about RM 600 (USD 160). This one bike shop is rare because they only stock high-end bikes. My bike cost RM 1,100 (USD 300) which was one of their low-end bikes. They have bikes for as much as RM 20,000 (USD 5400)!

I don't like to spend less than USD 600 on a bike because the quality tends to be too low for my type of riding but I had to save money for the wedding so I got a lesser bike but now I'm paying for it since it constantly needs repair. Over time I'm upgrading the parts but I’m wishing I had spent about RM 2000 (USD 540).

As I left the bike shop it was getting dark. I stopped by the bridal shop to make the final approval on our wedding photo album pictures then it was time to head home. It was rush hour so traffic was dense.

I discovered that a bicycle can take turns faster than a car and motorbike. It makes sense since it is lighter. So when we came up to a turn, if there was room, I flew by the cars and motorbikes but of course they flew by me seconds later but it just felt cool to have the advantage if only for a few seconds.

When I got to the highway it was quite dusty and I was wishing for rain since it was also quite hot even though it was about 8 pm. But no rain came but eventually I got past the dusty area. My energy levels were starting to drop near the end of the trip so I stopped at a park bench and slept for 20 minutes.

Finally the night cooled but it was still very humid and it reminded me of how it feels in New Jersey just after a rain-storm at night around September. These moments that remind me of the USA are nice. I'm actually suffering from a little home-sickness for the first time in my life. Things are so different here, that I'm starting to miss the way things were.

There was one last hill to conquer so I stopped at the “Happy” convenience store. It’s like a 7-11 but it’s called Happy. I had my heart set on a Snickers bar but when I got to the candy bar section, it was quite full but the space for the Snickers was completely empty! Obviously Snickers has done some good marketing because everyone else is buying Snickers too.

Although this store is on a main strip, there is no way to easily get to it. There is some concrete poured at the curb so motorbikes can ride up but then they must cross a crappy bridge over the drainage ditch. There is no official place to park so motorbikes park anywhere and any which way. I don’t understand why they would build a building so close to the street with no room for parking for cars. They would get a lot more business if cars could easily stop but this is not the case.

I bought myself a Twix bar for some quick energy which really paid off because I was able to get up and over the hill without much problem and before I knew it, I was back home. I looked at my HP (mobile phone, aka hand phone) and noticed it was 9:59 PM. I had been gone about 10 hours.

The gate to the house was closed and I didn’t have a key but lucky for me, Kelly was in the store taking inventory so I waved and she was glad to see me. She clapped in appreciation of my difficult feat of riding around the island.

When Kelly saw the wrapper to the Twix bar she gave me a look of unapproval but I explained that I needed the energy for one last push. I needed my second wind. I hardly ate much the whole day I must have burned thousands of calories so a small Twix bar was actually a good thing.

Now it was time to rest, bathe and get some food, then sleep for the night.

Sorry, no near-death experiences to talk about today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No Pancakes

I really miss my normal diet. They have pancakes here but not the kind you get at IHOP. They are more like crepes. I went to a restaurant that advertised Western Food and ordered pancakes and got crepes. I told them these are not the type of pancakes typically eaten by Americans. They had no idea. I asked for butter and syrup but they only had margarine and honey. The margarine doesn't taste like margarine in USA and the honey is very runny and not because it's hot. Even at room temperature it is still runny.

I found an A&W stand so I had high hopes since food at McDonalds and KFC is the same with perhaps a few additional local food items added to the menu. I saw they were advertising an authentic Coney dog. I've been to Coney Island in New York city and I've had a real Coney dog and they are delicious but this was nothing like them.

First of all, it's a chicken hotdog, not a beef hotdog. Second there's no spicy mustard or yellow mustard and no sauerkraut, relish or chopped onions. Instead they but hot-sauce and mayonnaise on it. It tastes OK but it just makes me miss the real thing even more.

Speaking of beef hotdogs, when I lived in Phoenix Arizona, I lived next to a Sonic drive-thru and the chili-dog supreme was so good it was evil. It called out to me everyday to eat it and I crave it even now.

I did manage to find beef hotdogs tucked in the back corner of a huge frozen food section of all chicken hotdogs. When I brought them home to eat them, Kelly's mom asked that we remove them from the house. Buddhists do not eat beef and she wasn't about to have her microwave contaminated. Sigh.

They don’t drink milk here. They also don’t like things to be too sweet for example the popular chocolate milk is called Milo and it’s less sweet than cold or hot chocolate in USA. Instead of Gatorade they have 100-Plus which is less sweet.

I miss all of the snack cakes like Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos, Ring Dings, Yodels, Krumpets, etc. I can find none of them here. I ask for them by name and they look at me like I’m crazy. I also like soft and chewy cookies. Here they like their cookies hard and dry.

Tomorrow is November 25 and it will be Thanksgiving but they don’t celebrate it here obviously as it is only a USA holiday as far as I know. They also don’t eat turkey. Kelly has never had turkey.

I also don’t like eating fish for breakfast. Here they’ll mix fish, chicken and pork in one meal. Obviously there is nothing wrong that but it’s not typically done in the USA. You choose one meat for your meal and stick with that.

I’m also getting sick of eating rice everyday.

I also miss my Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream! I have not had decent ice-cream since I got here over 4 months ago.

Today I had a craving for New Jersey pizza, the best pizza in the world (so I'm told) because it is made by immigrated Italians so it just like the pizza in Italy (so I'm told). Oh sure you can get pizza anywhere in the USA and there are even gourmet pizza places but I still prefer the flat crust and stringy greasy cheese of good ole NJ pizza. There is pizza here in Malaysia but only in the big cities and only at Pizza Hut as far as I can tell.

The foods you will find in Penang Malaysia are primarily local foods. You'll have a hard-time finding other international foods such as European (Italian, French, Spanish) or South American like Mexican, Australian or any other food besides Asian food.

You will find western food here but for the most part its flavor and recipe has been assimilated into the tastes of Malaysia. They don't go a long way into finding out how to make western food properly. They may just have a picture and try to create something that looks like western food or maybe someone who visited North America comes back with a vague recollection of what they ate.

I had fries today at a local hawker stand and they served them with chili sauce and some kind of mayo sauce. They didn't even have ketchup. Ketchup is yet another thing that is hard to find here. I wonder what they would say if they saw me put ketchup on my scrambled eggs?

I have never been home-sick until now. I really do miss my usual diet. I’ve adapted a little to the climate and food but not entirely.

When I return to the USA one of the first things I'm going to do is have a meal with all of the foods I've missed starting with Ben & Jerry's ice-cream, beef-hotdog with yellow mustard and sauerkraut/relish/chopped onions, pancakes with butter and syrup, whole milk and ring-dings. Oh and let's not forget the Turkey sandwich.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rush Hour

Yesterday I was bicycling home during "evening rush hour" which I'd estimate be between 5 pm and 8 pm here on Penang Island.

I have yet to find a road in Penang that isn't crowded during rush hour. I'd like to think the remote hilly area far from the big cities isn't affected. One day I will venture out that far during rush hour just to see.

If you were to come from the USA and experience rush-hour traffic your first day here, you'd think everyone is crazy. You'd wonder how there aren't dozens of fatalities everyday from the insanity. If you've ever driven in New York City then you have some idea of what it is like.

But somehow the density of traffic moves along in all of the chaos as if everyone has a force-field that repels others and nobody can get hurt. Busses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, motorcycles, bicycles, people and even animals are part of this crazy flow.

I've slowly learned how to go with the flow and become one with the traffic. Riding in slow moving traffic is actually one of the more thrilling things a person can do on a bicycle. A bus may stop because there is not enough room, but a small truck could make it. Where a truck would have to stop, a small car could fit through. Where it is too narrow for a car, a motorbike could fit and where it is too tight for a motorbike, a bicycle can fit. Bicycles have their limitations too and people have the ultimate ability to move thru tight spaces.

I was in the crowded city and up ahead the light turned red and everyone slowed to a stop ... except me. I kept my speed up (about 15 mph) and jumped on the side-walk which had these fun dips where I could get some air. Finally I ran out of side-walk and had to jump back onto the street where a motorbike was unable to squeeze between a parked car and a truck but I zipped right through.

Finally I would pile up at the intersection with the other motorbikes and await the green. You would know it was about to turn green because the roar of the motorbike engines would grow as the anticipation grew. Little by little their impatience with the long red would grow and they would start to inch forward. By the time it turned green, the front of the pack was already half-way across the intersection.

I'd stand and start pedaling hard to keep up with the acceleration of the motorbikes but eventually they'd get going too fast and I'd have to move over and let them pass, quite out of breath from pushing myself too hard.

I was moving at high speed and coming up to a parked-car so I glanced behind me and saw that I had enough room to move into traffic and go around the car. When I did, the motorbike behind me beeped at me. After passing the parked car, the motorbike came up next to me and matched my speed. As we came up to the next parked car, he did not allow me to move over so I had to back-off and get behind him. He felt I cut him off and slowed him down so he got me back. They have road range here too.

I was passing another parked car and the door opened. I narrowly missed it. People lack common sense even here in Malaysia. Obviously if it's rush hour, you don't just open your door into traffic without looking but some people are idiots and I almost got hurt because of it.

Animals also lack human common sense. A large dog leaped out in front of me while I was going about 20 mph. I skid and the noise startled him and he jumped out of the way. That was another close call I could have gotten injured.

I came along side a bus and matched it's speed. I grabbed onto the high rear bumper and got a free ride for a while. It got going too fast for me so I let it go and later regretted it since I had to climb this long steep hill. It would have been awesome to have been pulled up this hill which took me about 30 minutes to get over. I ended up walking the upper half.

It took me 2 hours to ride home and the traffic never let up. It's a good thing most people ride motorbikes otherwise the congestion and pollution would be much worse if everyone drove a car. At first I was annoyed by so many motorbikes. It seemed so dangerous the way they weave in and out of cars but now I realize it's a necessity. Many people here cannot afford a car and besides, there's not much parking and with a motorbike you can park almost anywhere.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Tivo

In the USA in 1999, Tivo and ReplayTV where the first DVRs (Digital Video Recorders). Back then they called them PVRs (Personal Video Recoders). A couple of years ago they began adding writable DVDs for archiving shows.

The DVR has just come to Malaysia 6 years behind the USA but they do not call it a DVR. The way they are marketing it is a DVD player/recorder with hard-drive. DVRs had a difficult time gaining acceptance in the USA. The concept was so new and people had a hard-time understanding what they were and why they would want one.

Now Tivo is a verb like Xerox. It has finally become a household name. I'm surprised because I thought ReplayTV would win since Tivo was like the Mac of DVRs and ReplayTV was the Windows of DVRs. I clearly liked the Tivo better but it required a monthly subscription and ReplayTV didn't. But Tivo had a catchy name. Even with such popularity, nobody has heard of Tivo in Malaysia and probably most of Asia. The DVR has yet to hit it big in Asia.

I just find it funny how the USA markets it as a hard-drive with DVD and Malaysia markets it as a DVD with hard-drive.

The Malaysian approach to marketing makes sense to me. They avoid the market confusion caused by the first DVRs. Take a product everyone knows, the DVD player, and add onto it. The makes sense.

The first DVRs in Malaysia are lacking in features even when compared against the first DVRs in the USA. But once again, I think this is a good thing. Keep it simple to begin with. The first DVRs in the USA were jam packed with features and it overwhelmed the consumer. They did so many things it was scary.

Keep the new features small to begin with and the consumer will understand what it does. Then you can add features slowly over the years as the consumer becomes more comfortable and familiar with the product.

Keeping the number of features low also reduces the prices. Newer features can become selling points in the future.

Here is an example of the latest DVR available in Malaysia. It's the RDR-GX310 by Sony. Below is a list of features that DVRs in the USA have that it does not have.

  • Internet connection
  • Automatic Software upgrades
  • Automatically figures out the day, time and channel of the show you want to record
  • Automatically reschedules if a conflict with another show
  • TV Listings
  • Record multiple shows at the same time
  • Peer-to-Peer file sharing over Internet with other DVRs
  • Rate shows so it can record shows it thinks you will like
  • Ability to record types of shows like all Kevin Bacon movies or all ice-skating TV shows
  • 30 second skip-ahead to skip over commercials

The salesman had no brochure the details on the web are scarce so I don't know if it has these features.

  • Pause live TV
  • Ability to watch, pause, rewind, fast-forward a show while it is being recorded
  • Different quality settings

Here are features no DVR has that I'm aware of

  • Ability to order your shows in sub-directories
  • Ability to add more hard-drive space by purchasing external hard-drives
  • Ability to automatically cut out commercials
  • Ability to edit a recorder show and save part of a show or combine shows into one show or delete parts of shows
I’m surprised the Malaysian DVR comes with a 250 GB hard-drive. That’s quite large and increases the prices. Perhaps one of the biggest complaints about DVRs is the lack of hard-drive space. I personally would love to archive my favorite shows recorded in the highest quality. I would love to have all 110 episodes of Northern Exposure in a folder ordered by episode number so that I could finish my Northern Exposure web page someday.

Honestly I wouldn’t be happy unless I had at least 1 TB (Terra-Byte) of disk space (1000 GBs).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Movies! Movies! Movies! (and TV)

Today I saw my first Malay movie called Salon. The ticket seller asked “Are you aware this is a Malay movie?” I answered “yes” with no further questions like “are there English sub-titles?” I have never seen a Malay movie so I didn’t care either way.

I missed the first 10 minutes and sat down. Two people were talking in Malay and there were no sub-titles. I thought to myself, now I have some feeling of what Kelly feels like when she’s watching a movie without sub-titles (my fiancé Kelly is deaf).

Then I noticed they would throw in some English words here and there like “hi”, “OK” or “bye”. In the next scene two people were speaking English but this time there were Malay sub-titles. It turns out that half the time they would speak in Malay and the other half in English even in the same conversation and even mid-sentence. One person might speak English while the other is speaking Malay.

I wondered to myself “is this what Malaysians do in real life?” Do they really toggle between Malay and English as they speak? I don’t really know since I hang around Chinese and they like to speak Chinese unless they have to speak English. Actually this may not be entirely true. I saw two Chinese people speaking broken English to each other and I thought “why are they struggling with English when they could communicate better in Chinese?”

Last week I saw a Hong Kong movie called “Tsoi suet yuk chi ngo oi nei” (all about love). Again the ticket seller asked “Are you aware this is a Hong Kong movie?” To my surprise it had sub-titles in English, Malay and Chinese. They spoke Mandarin Chinese in the film so why have Chinese sub-titles? Because there are hundreds of dialects of Chinese but they all use the same written language. If someone spoke Cantonese Chinese, they would have to read the sub-titles. The Chinese TV shows here in Malaysia often have Chinese sub-titles too. Kelly's parents speak the Hokkien dialect of Chinese.

Kelly did not join me to see this film but if she did, she would be able to read all three sub-titles since she can read English, Malay and Chinese. She also would have loved this love story. The cinematography was awesome and it was a pretty good story.

When a movie comes out you can also buy a pirated copy at dozens of stores at various malls. They only cost about USD $2.00 so you would think that I would have a giant collection by now but the quality is so poor that it annoys me. I’d rather pay full price for the real thing and get full quality.

They also have something called a VCD (Video CD). The quality on these is even worse since CDs hold less than DVDs. The quality is so low on these that they can squeeze 6 movies on a single CD! It looks horrible but Kelly is used to it and doesn’t seem to mind.

I think Kelly will be blown away by HDTV. Her digital Satellite TV is also low quality. I’m not used to having my TV be low quality unless I recorded it onto Tivo using the lowest quality.

DVRs similar to Tivo are just arriving in Malaysia for the first time but they are a high priced item for early adopters. Tivo is not sold in Malaysia yet. Sony has a player that cost about $2000. The salesman knew very little about it and had no brochure describing it's functionality. I searched the web and could not find much info on it.

I have described DVRs to various people but they just don't get it. This household watches TV morning 'til night and would greatly benefit from a DVR, especially a DVR that could record 3 shows at a time since during prime-time at night, many of their shows are on at the same time and they end up flipping channels during commercials.

They live their lives around the TV since they schedule their day so they can watch their favorite shows. One thing that would be lost if they got a DVR is that the family would no longer gather to watch shows together. Each person could watch it separately at a time that is convenient to them.

Perhaps this is not true. I know that my family would all wait to watch certain shows together like Survivor or Amazing race. Perhaps they would do the same thing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

No Dish Washing Machines

I have been to many homes here in Malaysia but I have never seen a single dish washing machine. So I asked Kelly if people have dish washers in their homes. She seemed very confused and eventually she said that she didn't know.

Next I asked the maid. She was even more confused by my question. It is as though they never saw a dish washing machine before.

So then I asked Kelly's sister Mimi and once again, total confusion ending in the same answer ... I don't know.

I was determined to find out so then I asked Kelly's sister Chu and she finally knew what I was talking about. She said that in Malaysia, people do not have dish washing machines in their homes. Only large restaurants have dish washing machines.

America has had dish washing machines in the home since the mid 1950's. It is now 2005 ... 50 years later and Malaysia is literally 50 years behind America in this respect. Amazing.

They do have space-age clothes washing machines though. I've seen nothing like it before. At the mall, I just see these cool looking washing machines and see nothing resembling the washing machines in America. These washing machines are very quiet unlike the loud machines in America.

As Malaysia moves from a 3rd world country to a 1st world country, they have the opportunity to leap-frog the rest of the world for example they are coming out with a smart card that will replace most of the cards they carry. One card will be their ID card, driver's license, passport, credit card, ATM card, toll-booth card, etc. It will carry their identification and have the ability to purchase things.

An all-in-one card with a smart-chip! America has nothing like this so in some ways they are ahead of many 1st World Countries.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What has happened so far ...

  • I met Kelly online May 25, 2005. Kelly is Chinese, lives in Malaysia and is deaf
  • We chatted on webcam for a month and fell in love
  • A month later I moved to Malaysia to be with her
  • I've been here for 3.5 months
  • In 1.5 months on Dec 14 we will get married

I created this page as a blog but it wasn't chronological and my readers had trouble figuring out what was new so I decided to go chronological. Instead of making one big update once a month, I wanted to make smaller daily updates.

Now to answer your Frequently Asked Questions.

How do we communicate? I'm learning sign language. When I first got here we wrote notes 99% of the time. Now we use sign language 99% of the time. I still cannot keep up when she signs with her deaf friends but in time I will.

Am I working? I am doing what I've done since 2000. I'm creating web pages from home for a living. This allows me the freedom to work when and where I want.

Are we moving back to USA? That is the plan but plans change. We plan to live in Malaysia for a while since the cost of living is very cheap. I can save up some money and we plan to travel around Asia, Europe, Australia and who knows where else. Once I have a large sum of money saved up, we'll leave Malaysia but only time will tell where we will end up.

Where am I living? I live with Kelly at her parent's house. It's a crowded house with many of Kelly's sisters and their kids. I have my own room with air-conditioning where I sleep and work.

Do I like living in Malaysia?
No. It's a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live here. The tropics are too humid for me. I don't mind the heat. I lived in Arizona where it often reached 100F (38C) and I liked it but that was a dry heat and it felt good. I've lived in on the east coast of USA where it reaches 90F (32C) and 90% humidity and I hated it. Besides the humidity, this is a third world country and lacks the conveniences of a first world country. I don't like squat toilets. I also miss my normal diet. Over time I am adjusting though.