Best of the Holidays 2017

December 2017

Greetings from Penang, Malaysia!

Another year has passed, and we are thinking of our friends and family so far away.
We have spent a very eventful year continuing to settle into our home, enjoying a glass of wine on the balcony as we watch the boats on the Straits of Melaka go by.

Jacques has focussed on excelling at retirement, pursuing his many hobbies and interests, and constantly learning. He hikes several times a week with the ongoing hope that leeches, scorpions or sliding down the hill will at least be witnessed by the guys who purportedly have his back! So far, no major injuries and we are still going strong.

Sharon has been discovering her inner domestic diva, and has turned her hand to delicious pate, freshly baked bread, and all matter of experimentation which Jacques is more than happy to consume. When not in the kitchen, Sharon has continued to find contract work that keeps her entertained and out of Jacques’ hair. In addition, she has learned to play Mah-jong and is fostering the many abandoned kittens to adoption. Sharon’s hiking has resulted in a monkey on her back, a few hard falls, and the conclusion she prefers the coffee and cake reward at the end!

We have been travelling around a bit beyond Penang, with trips to Bangkok, Hua Hin, Melaka … we have a trip to Australia on the horizon.
All in all, this has been a terrific year of exploring and learning to live in a new culture and country.

Best wishes from us both for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year!
Jacques & Sharon Giraud

Posted in Blog, Blogroll, Penang | 3 Comments

What’s up doc?

It is that time of the year again when I need to roll up my sleeves and look away as someone starts removing vials and vials of blood.  Ugh!  Poked and prodded, tested and squeezed.  The dreaded annual physical.

Thinking myself really clever when I hit a milestone birthday 10 years ago, I paid about $3,500 CAN for a full on physical.  It was a full day and about 5 follow up appointments for everything that was included – but I figured it was worth having a substantial baseline.  Besides, the 20-minute appointment with my regular GP did not include everything I wanted.

Fast forward a decade or so – and it was time for another baseline.  While I was diligent in getting my annual checkup, I thought once again that a new decade deserved a new baseline.  In a country known for medical tourism (they are working on their branding), I figured why not do it in my new home in Penang?

A bit of research which included a hilarious blog by Cimeron Morrissey (a pal I trust here), convinced me to select one of the local hospitals.  I had been to this hospital before to support a number of folks coming over for plastic surgery and found the staff to be excellent and the facilities terrific.  While not as “posh” looking as some of the other places, well, the pricing reflects that this place is a not for profit hospital.

I jumped online and picked the mid-range package.  It included:

  • Medical History
  • BMI & Body Fat Analysis
  • Vision test
  • Blood and urine analysis that included 66 tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Chest X-Ray
  • Upper Abdomen Ultrasound
  • Physical exam
  • Consult for Report Review
  • Personalized Medical report (including copies of x rays on CD)
  • A snack

I added a mammogram and DEXA bone scan.  TOTAL COST: Less than $200 CAN

You read that right – $200! What the what?!?!?

For a few extra dollars, one could add cancer marker tests and lifestyle advice by a dietician as well.  I decided my add-ons were enough for now – and if I wanted to I could upsize my fries later.

I managed to easily book, and within a day had a confirmation of my appointment via email with clear instructions.  Now the hospital I went to is pretty local and can be daunting for folks coming from the West.  But since I had lots of experience there – I knew where to go, who to see, and what was needed.  Shaved about 3 minutes of my total time.

Hubby and I decided to arrive right at 7:30 am to be sure we were there when the place opened.  Riiiiight.  There were about 50 people already there and settled in.  However, once we nabbed our number ticket, someone took us in about 10 minutes.  Seems like the clinic does a whole bunch of stuff besides wellness checks.  We were checked in, given a snack to carry around, paid for the services we needed and asked to wait.

We pulled out our digital devices and prepared to settle in.  No chance.  All of a sudden two nurses pounced on us – and we begin the maze of tests.

Through the entire thing, we are being shepherded from one “station” to the next.  With clear instructions all the way.  Blood and urine were taken then I was told: “please miss you can eat your snack now.”  As my hand reaches into the bag and I manage half a granola bar before I am taken to a scale, measured, eye tested etc.,  then on to the ECG.

Once those tests are completed, someone new pops in and escorts us to the imaging lab.  I barely had time to sit down!  In two hours all tests were completed.  However, the one drawback was that we had to wait now until 2 pm when all the test results came back.  That’s right – ON THE SAME DAY.

We have a friend who is a doctor at the hospital so we went to his clinic for a visit and a coffee.  While there, hubby decides he needs another procedure and asked for a specialist referral.  All of a sudden we are in the specialist’s clinic and lo and behold his procedure is scheduled for the next day.  This would normally take 3 months just to get to see the specialist with another month or two wait for the procedure back in Canada.

We then sauntered down to the hospital cafeteria, had a lovely lunch, and made our way back for the test results.  After a chat with the doctor, we were then handed our reports, our images on a DVD, and a lovely carry bag.  We were done!

This was a terrific experience and I would highly recommend it.  Medical tourism in Penang is a bit of a work in progress, but as I try dentists, doctors, eye specialists etc. I am delighted with the terrific care, the fantastic nursing staff, the great equipment, and the congenial doctors.  I have a feeling I will be arranging a few appointments for our upcoming visitors!




Posted in Medical tourism, MM2H, Penang, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Food shopping is a treasure hunt

In Canada, we often take for granted just how convenient life is. Large grocery stores with just about anything you can imagine are generally found in most neighbourhoods. More urban centres have some sort of shopping area where you can find independent shops so you can wander from vendor to vendor in a logical manner and pick up what you might need to make a meal. And most of these places have the holy grail – consistency. Not so in Penang.

There are a couple of grocery stores here that seem to adhere to a more Western aesthetic, stocking Waitrose (a UK based brand) products as well as Australian and limited America brands.  But truly – that is an illusion.

Consistency of product stock and delivery is completely hit and miss.  A favourite yoghurt brand may be there one week and not there for three weeks after.  In addition, items are often stocked in the most bizarre areas of the store – with cough lozenges in the candy aisle but not anywhere near the cold medication.

One feels these little thrills of excitement when something you happen to love or use suddenly appears on a shelf.  And as you experience the highs and lows of product availability – a weird kind of insanity sets in.  Hoarding.

Recently I saw for the first time Mrs. Ball’s Chutney hidden on the lowest shelf in the condiment section (they got that one right).  My hand quivered as I reached out to grab a bottle.  Then my brain kicked in.  What if this is never here again?  What is the expiry date?  Maybe I ought to get a couple more – because well – it may not be here again!  So I bought three bottles.  I was quite chuffed with myself when the following week that same shelf was empty.  Good move I thought – I have outsmarted the grocery store pirates who stock this item.  Then the following week – the shelf was restocked and has been so for the past 5 months.

I am heartened however, as a small community of us support one another as we see products come in we know others want.  Text messages go out “Bulla yoghurt in stock”, with immediate replies of “Get me two – I’ll pay you back!”

The only way I have found that I can cope with this is by following a few simple procedures:

  • Never go grocery shopping with your partner – you don’t want a full on domestic in the middle of a grocery store.  Trust me on this.
  • Wander, scan and search for different or new products.  Read labels – google translate can sometimes provide instant hilarity on product names and wonky translations are worth the giggles.
  • Try to find something new to try every week (seaweed crackers called Wanna Wanna have become a big hit).
  • Randomly talk to strangers in shops to find out what they are buying and what they use the item for – though I still can’t get my head around dried squid jerky as a delicious snack food.
  • Get to know the shop keepers.  My fish lady texts me with “salmon now come” and I can reserve some and pick up that day.  Given the aforementioned hoarding – this is a classic defence move to ensure you get what you need.
  • Plan dinner parties with at least three menus and be prepared to switch things up – because well – stock may be there or not!
  • Map the shops in your head so if you are in the area you can pick things up.  Conveniently our “nut lady” is located near the best pharmacy in town…and Baskin & Robbins.
  • Reward yourself with ice cream!  Food shopping is arduous work that may take all day – there needs to be an up side.
  • Be in the treasure hunt mindset.  Thrill in the victory of finding just what you need with a happy dance and don’t let the inability to find quinoa at three stores deter you from the ongoing hunt for it.
  • Live for the Happy Dance in grocery aisles!
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The honeymoon is over…

It has been a year since we exited Canada to become expats, setting up our new life in Penang, Malaysia. It is hard to imagine the process we went through to sell up and move out – but as I read back on the blogs I am reminded of the arduous task of completely changing our lives.

As we woke up this morning and looked over the Straits of Malacca – we asked the inevitable question – are we happy here? The answer was a resounding yes! The follow-up question was “Is this what you imagined”? The answer was a resounding no!

In fact, despite our planning and research, our travels to the region (though not specifically to Penang), and the great people who answered our questions before we arrived – this place, this life, is nothing like we imagined.

While we could envision living in a different country, we never thought we would find a place that has such incredible diversity.  The cultures, religions, beliefs, and people here intersect on a daily basis.  I was sitting at a stoplight the other day watching Hindu devotees carrying bowls on their heads and fronds in their hands dressed in lovely colours of orange and red.  They took their time to cross – and I sat and waited – wishing I could join them in their walk.  This morning I awoke as I do most days to the sound of the muezzin do the early morning call to prayer from the mosque close to our home – the reminder for me to wake up and get the foster kitten so he can have morning cuddle and play time.  This past week we saw cars, houses and money burning in the streets – all paper of course!  The Hungry Ghost Festival was just wrapping up as Buddhists and Taoists paid homage to their deceased ancestors.

In this diversity, there is a live and let live philosophy.  No one stresses if one has decorations up, and everyone seems to take advantage of every holiday with sales, time off, or celebratory meals.  It is an opportunity to celebrate, educate, and benefit from the commerce.

With the diversity also comes food of any type you could imagine.  This morning while going to our local outdoor market, I passed by all the interesting fruits and vegetables, beans and rice, and stuff I still know nothing about.  I love the interaction with vendors, who are more than happy to tell you what this or that is.  Language is rarely a barrier as we find ways to convey our needs.  My egg lady provides me with kampung (local) eggs that have the creamiest yolks ever.  I see the same older couple selling fruit who know I always ask for mangosteen – even when it is not in season (though they were delighted when it was as I was their best customer).  Today I discovered a woman who has a great variety of dried lentils and beans and she pointed to each to tell me what they were.  As I bought some yellow lentils a Chinese woman asked the shopkeeper what I use them for.  Daal she answered.  I giggled…I have no clue how to make daal but perhaps that will be my next experiment.

This is the “mundane” part of our everyday lives rather than the highlight reel.  The part where the newness of the first year has worn off and we are down to the business of just plain living.  It is not what we planned and it is better than we expected.

Posted in Blog, Blogroll, MM2H, Penang, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Making Connections

I am a connector…of people, of places, of skills, of needs.  My brain and being happen to function in a place to seeing connections where someone or something might be beneficial for another.  It is not particularly a skill that I cultivate – it is just part of who I am.

Landing in a new place without my network had me somewhat concerned that that part of me may end.  I did not know of a great local for coffee, or the best place to get pastries, or a terrific country drive with lunch at a romantic spot just an hour outside of the city.  I did not know someone who could redo your garden into an idyllic oasis, or a great plumber, or a guy who could fix the pointing on your chimney.  It was all new to me – an exploration as I discovered new things for myself.

It occurred to me the other day that suddenly – a few people were coming to me for answers to pressing questions.  And surprisingly – I made the connections.  And I was thrilled.  I am feeling more and more back in my own skin.  No longer an outsider trying to figure things out.

When I looked at how I arrived at this place – I finally recognised some behaviours that helped me along the way which I thought I would share.

  1. I scan my surroundings.
    • In grocery stores, along streets I walk, in shops I walk into randomly.  I look around, check things out and make mental notes of what I saw.  For some reason, my brain registers weird stuff that “might” come in handy.  Sometimes I make notes, sometimes I chat with shop owners, sometimes I take business cards.
  2. I talk to people
    • I am always amazed at how many people have such unique skill sets.  Not only do I listen to what they say they do or did – I also listen for what they need (though they may no be overt about it).  I mentally file away bits of info – then when someone needs someone I can usually access that odd bit of info and make a connection.
  3. I am open about my experiences
    • I find the more open I am – the more I hear about the experience of others.  From this I can glean what worked for them and create a synergy that allows me to adjust and improve my experience to relay to others when they have a need.
    • One caveat however, I have also been stung by this.  Some have misinterpreted my enthusiasm or experience in a way that may create negativity or a perception of my criticism.  I have found it is necessary to be mindful of how your experience lands for others.  Having said that – I can only control how others want to perceive me just so much!
  4. Be ok if your connection does not work for others
    • As an extension of the above – everyone uses connections in different ways.  And their interaction with others or experiences will be coloured by who they are.  It may not turn out as well for them as it did for me.
  5. Generosity is key
    • I may be thanked for my help or not.  That is not why I do it.  Being a connector makes me feel good and lifts my spirit.  It is how I can give of my skill and talent in a way that feels right for me.

All the above to say that as an expat – things will be new and strange and different.  But with a bit of time and awareness, one can be comfortable and local in no time!  But it is up to you to make the connection!

Posted in Blog, Blogroll, Malaysia, MM2H, Penang, Uncategorized | 1 Comment