No entertainment on the day the Sultan passed away

Date May 29, 2014

The Sultan of Perak passed away yesterday. It is declared public holiday today in Perak. Nursery for my daughter is closed for the day. With not much to do, brought my daughter to Cheeky Tots. Turns out that they are closed too, along with entertainment outlets that I am aware of like cinemas and bowling alleys, as a sign of respect for the deceased Sultan. In fact apparently all gatherings, performances and celebrations shall be cancelled for seven days! If my memory served me right, didn’t hear any music in the supermarket that I went to in the morning too.

So went to my parents’ house instead. With not much to do there, we ended up watching tele, which normally doesn’t happen when we are at home with SA. Mum needs to keep herself entertained, hence my brother’s children are brought up watching a lot of tele too. In fact they know better than my mum how to control the set top box. No toys for SA to play so she got bored after some time. Brought her out to play a bit of badminton. But was drizzling in the evening. Played under the awnings instead. Very pathetic. But at least SA was kept amused until it was time for dinner…

Ipoh one of most affordable cities to retire

Date May 28, 2014

Interesting indeed that Ipoh is recognised by a western foreigner as one of the most affordable cities to retire. Not that Ipoh is not affordable to live in. My first thought is surely there are plenty of cities around the world that are more “affordable” to live in than Ipoh?! The blogger for US News came up with a figure, amounting to $897 a month, if you want to retire in Ipoh. But regrettably there is not a lot of further insights apart from two short paragraphs which only scratches the surface of what potentially makes Ipoh a desirable city to retire in.

Here are my take on what makes Ipoh desirable for foreigners:

1)      Healthcare, when you are in your old age, is comparatively cheaper than many places, especially the U.S. Well, where else in the world is not cheaper to get access to healthcare than the US?! It is also fairly affordable to hire a maid, from the likes of Philipine, Indonesia, to do your house chores, if not to take care of you as well. So the appeal for retirees is certainly compelling in this sense.

2)      Language should be a plus. Whilst folks in Ipoh don’t speak a lot of English, they can still communicate in basic English, by and large. So foreigners should have little trouble getting on with life, as long as they don’t wander too far off the city…

3)      Environment and infrastructure are not bad for such a city in a developing country. To start with, Ipoh is surrounded by mountains, which to me is very scenic itself. Air quality is okay, occasionally hit by haze from forest fire in neighbouring country, Indonesia. Development is catching up even in this sleepy town, with plenty of housing and commercial developments. Traffic is on the rise too although not choking yet. So not much to shout about in terms of air quality in general I would say. Stay away from urban areas and one on Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme told me that her husband is no longer suffering from asthma. Water is cheap in Ipoh, and in abundance. Most people however install their own water filter at home as water is not drinkable directly from tap. Traffic congestion is not an issue in Ipoh, especially if you are a retiree as you mostly only travel during off peak hours. You can get from one end of Ipoh to another in probably half an hour. But you do need a car to get you around, as local public transport is virtually non-existent.

4)      Wide range of food available, starting from very affordable prices. Eating out, decent local food, can be cheaper than cooking at home. And increasingly you can find more sophisticated gastronomic experience in Ipoh too. Whilst not as affordable as local food, the availability of such options is important as I can imagine that foreigners will fancy eating food  they are accustomed to back home sometimes having myself lived in overseas for long period of time before.

5)      Accommodation is fairly affordable. Used to be very cheap to own a house in Ipoh. But property boom in the far east has driven house prices up, even in Ipoh. Renting is however still comparatively cheap. Because rental yield is low, condition of rented properties is generally quite poor. So you may need to fork out more (i.e. at least RM1,000 to RM1,500 a month rental) for more palatable properties…

6)      Western influence makes it easier for westerners to adapt to life in Ipoh, from shopping malls, supermarkets like Tesco, fast food chains, to familiar household and food product names, you name it. Alcohol drinking, although expensive, is common in Malaysia, despite it being perceived as a Muslim country. And lately coffee drinking culture is catching up in Ipoh too, in settings as wide ranging as by the roadside type stalls to individualistic boutique cafes to chain coffee shops like Starbucks.  There are also affordable international schools to cater for families with children. Activities for young children, should you have any, are however very limited, whether to do with the hot climate or not. Having said that there is a very commendable indoor playground in the form of Cheeky Tots which even short stay tourists recommended it!

Hence Ipoh in my view is a good place to retire if you have a small budget, and want to live a simple, slow pace life. If you want further sophistication, there are no concert hall, quality museum, technology center or such likes to occasionally keep you occupied though…

Hot hot hot

Date February 27, 2014

It has been like this for the last few weeks. Very little rain. Once or twice, if you consider the drizzle as rain, at most over the same period of time. For months I’ve been taking hot shower. Nowadays I switch to bathing from water storage tank. Definitely can’t sleep without switching on air conditioner for a good few hours when I go to bed.

Looking around my house, grass is not growing, except weeds which is seeding. Luckily I’ve not been keeping plants, yet. Except the one plant that my mum gave me which I have to remind myself to water it everyday. And that’s hard work already for me. Any outdoor activity is out of the question for me. Having said that, went for a dip in the swimming pool with the family yesterday. I’m now feeling pain on my shoulder, probably a sun burn. What else can we do when it’s such hot!!?

Shipments from the UK arriving tomorrow

Date June 2, 2013

Three months. Three months after we shipped our belongings from the UK that they are finally going to turn up on our door step tomorrow. When we chose to use Anglo Pacific, we were unaware that our belongings would be shipped to Singapore first. They arrived at Singapore on the 2nd May. And it wasn’t until last Thursday that they arrived at KL. Why it took so long I have no idea. Our commercial freight were shipped later, almost about a month’s later. But arrived at Ipoh two weeks ago. Incredible. W is rather excited that our stuff are finally going to be here tomorrow. I on the other hand just hope that all 86 boxes of them are going to appear in my living room unscathed.

Our own little car in Ipoh

Date April 16, 2013

For the past few weeks we have been relying on our mums’ cars to get around. We tried our best to work around the time at which they need to use the car. Our mums need to use the car for going to the wet market in the morning. And they need car to send their grand children to kindergarten or tuition centres. So often we have to plan our day to allow us to come home on time. Life is difficult without a car in Malaysia as public transport is hopeless here. And it is very hot here. Not only do we need a car. We would like to have a car with good air cond too, which one of mums’ does not have.

Also both cars do not have CD player. So we have not been able to play our daughter’s nursery rhyme CDs whilst driving our daughter around. Can’t really blame her for not feeling very keen to go out with us. And that she keeps reminding us every now and then, “no Malaysia, no Malaysia”.

So it is such a big difference it makes when we bought our own car, albeit just a small and second hand car. A 1.3 litre Myvi, made in Malaysia. We just feel like our “basic” need is satisfied. It has good air cond, a CD player, in good condition and a joy to drive. In fact we are more than satisfied. We are happy. We can do our own things without worrying about the time. And we can get more things done in a day. No need to move the car seat in and out from our mums’ cars everyday. This is in spite of a certain disapproval from some of our family members on why we have chosen to buy such a small car. It does feel like the car you drive in Malaysia will give out a certain signal about your social standing in the community. But whatever, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what other people think of me.

Yukids in One Utama

Date April 5, 2013

Visited an indoor soft play in Kuala Lumpur today, called Yukids, and it is located in one of the largest shopping mall in Malaysia, One Utama. I must say that it is not the kind of soft play I’m familiar with.

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As you can see from the picture the stuff is very different from what I’d expect from a soft play in the UK. No big climb frame. No fibre glass type slides, only air inflatables. There are quite a few standalone play items, like revolving drum, small slide that looks like water fall with water flowing underneath etc. Quite interesting if you have not seen them before. But for the children I think the play can be a bit disjointed as they are rather randomly placed. I must say that my daughter seems to enjoy the soft play nevertheless. As children generally likes to play anyway. But for parents, there are not that many seatings though. Only four tables and about 20 chairs. I can imagine that if the place gets crowded parents will be annoyed by the lack of seatings. The entrance is RM20 on weekdays, for whole day play. But I can’t see children feeling too keen to spend the whole day in there, let alone the parents. On weekends or school holidays, it charges RM28. Not expensive considering that this is KL, and located in a popular shopping mall. But for me it is still a lot of money for not a lot of things to play with.

Kidzoona in Aeon 18 Ipoh

Date March 21, 2013

We are back in Ipoh again. Visited Aeon at Station 18 for the first time. It is a new shopping mall, biggest in Perak I think. We went there to do a bit grocery shopping, mainly to buy some food stuff for our little one.

We heard that there is an indoor soft play, called Kidzoona. So we decided to pay that a visit first before we go shopping. It is located on the first floor. But since we did not know the whereabouts of it, and the floor plan that we found did not show its location, we I volunteered to ask a security guard. But turns out that he did not know where it is yet told us to go up second floor. Very annoyed that some people would give direction even though they don’t know the location. So we asked again, this time a shop keeper, and we found the place.

The play area is actually rather small. Well, compared to what we are used to anyway in the UK. The climb frame is tiny, and is only suitable for children under 1.35m. SA went in once and that was it. There are some push karts which SA always like to play with. Particularly filling the boot of the kart with random bits of toys. There are two giant inflatables, one is a slide and the other is like a bouncy castle. The indoor soft plays in the UK have moved away from inflatables and use fibre glass slides many years ago. Anyway I guess it is much easier to install inflatables than proper climb frame, especially in shopping malls.

Can’t say we are overly impressed with Kidzoona. But at RM10 for entrance on week day I think it still represents good value. In the UK we can get into over 10,000 sq ft indoor soft play with £3, but situated in a warehouse. That is the kind of difference.

What do families do in Malaysia?

Date January 22, 2013

I have been in the UK for over 15 years now. That’s almost half my life spent here. It is only through holiday in Malaysia that I get to have a feel of what families generally do in Malaysia. Particularly ever since my siblings started having children.

Bringing up children in Malaysia is very different from bringing up children in the UK. If both parents have full time job, it is not uncommon to send their babies to be care for by carer or nanny. And I don’t mean sending them to day care. The babies in fact don’t even sleep with their parents at night. So parents only get to see their babies for a couple of hours a day at most on weekdays. This also means that babies in Malaysia stay up later than those in the UK. And that is again very common in Malaysia. I find this kind of arrangement fascinating. Is it in the knowledge that babies don’t have much memory at such age that parents do not mind staying away from their babies? Or that they just don’t want their babies to affect their sleeps and disrupt their life style etc. Some families get their stay-at-home maids to care for their babies as well. But increasingly it seems, at least for those who can afford to do so, that they will hire a separate nanny for caring the little ones, on top of the maids they hire to do house chores. In so doing the parents can continue to live the lifestyle like before they have any children. This to many can only be afforded by at least the upper middle class in the UK. Whether this is really an affordability issue I’m not very sure. But from what I can see is parents in the UK tend to or are more willing to spend more time with their children than those in Malaysia. At least that seems to be the case among my circle of friends and acquaintances anyway.

Ok so the Malaysians get to live their life on weekdays in particular. But what about weekends? On weekends they still like to spend time doing what they like to do. And shopping is one of their favourite pass time. It’s difficult to blame them because Malaysia is very hot in the day. Apart from air conditioned shopping malls there are not many other places for families to hang out. They may go to parks in the morning or evening. But parks in Malaysia are not as well equipped with children play items as in the UK. And they often look jaded due to the scorching sun in Malaysia all year round. Since public funding is scarcer than in the UK, these play items are also less well looked after or maintained.

Eating is another national pass time. Malaysia has plenty of choices when it comes to food. You can eat in hawker stalls or fine dining type restaurants. Speaking for Malaysians of Chinese ethic origin, they normally go to Chinese restaurants which are typically not children friendly. Everyone sits together at the big round table and tuck in. Kids menu is unheard of. And children will play with whatever they find and normally that means plates, bowls, chopsticks and what have you. This is fine if you do this once in a while, and go somewhere more children friendly occasionally. But no it is almost always adults oriented on where families go.

In addition, when parents want to go out, to meet friends, or just more private time for themselves, they can conveniently leave their children with their grannies, because family is tighter in the Far East. Whereas here the Brits don’t often live close together, let alone in the same house when they have their own family! When they go on a vacation, they leave their children behind too. This is tempting no doubt if given that kind of option. But it can be so much fun if the whole family can travel together.

Some parents don’t seem to appreciate that children grow very quickly. Once they get older they may not want to travel with you or to be too close to you any more even if you threaten them. And children are most innocent when they are young. So so much fun just to be around them. Ok not all the time as they can be a pain sometimes too, throwing tantrums, selfish and stubborn. But often the joy you get outweighs the pain you endure. If I were you I will treasure the moments the best I can. No one knows what life can throw at you next.

Avoid Berkshire Appliances for repair work

Date January 11, 2013

Okay think I’ve given Berkshire Appliances enough time to get back to me to explain why he stood me up yesterday. I left voice mail, called couple of times, both his mobile as well as the landline number on his website. Nope, he didn’t bother. I’m not going to bother and post this negative review of the service I received too. To be fair he sounded like he’s quite competent when I phoned him up. But it is of no use if you are not reliable and waste customers’ time. Not everyone can afford to sit at home and wait for you to turn up to do a job. I had to wake up real early in the morning so I could get off work early to make the appointment. It would have been nice he phoned and be apologetic about his absence, for whatever reason. But nope, absolutely nothing from him since. All these talks of economic recession and unemployment, don’t seem to affect these repairmen. With attitude like this I really don’t mind him going out of work.

Indoor soft play

Date January 6, 2013

Indoor soft play is a type of children play centre that we only recently found out about. There are loads of them in the UK, over a thousand of them, but somehow we are just unaware of their presence after living in the UK for over 15 years. My English friend has not been into one before, and probably has not even heard about it before! To be fair he has got any kids yet.

In the UK these play centres are located away from busy areas like the high streets or city center. Rates at these locations are understandably higher. But they also don’t often have large and/or tall enough premises to house climbing frames which are normally found in every indoor soft play. So these play centres are often located at light industrial estates, in warehouses for example. This explains why we have not come across of them before. And the fact that we have few friends who have kids did not help too.

So in the UK many parents will make effort to bring children to these places like play ground and indoor soft play, where children can have a fun time (I think the parents enjoy having fun with their children too). In Malaysia, there are indoor play centres too (also known as play gyms in Malaysia). They are relatively small, when compared to those in the UK. But most importantly most if not all of them are located in shopping malls. How successful these play centres are I can’t tell. What I can say is families are charged more as a result of the premium location to get in in return for a poorer indoor soft play experience. Does not mean that there is not a business case for such model, as Malaysians like to visit shopping malls for whatever reasons and that means a one-stop location for the family to do everything. Parents are happy because they can shop and children also happy as they get to have fun in the soft play (of course provided the parents are happy to bring them in!). But from what I understand, these play centres seem purely for the children to play. There are often not a lot of space like seating area where the parents can sit down, relax and possibly catch up with friends if they go in a group. This is another interesting phenomenon in Malaysia. Often children are taken to wherever the parents want to go. And the places they go are often not children friendly. Children get bored quickly and make life difficult for the parents. Children friendly places on the other hand are not very parents or adults friendly. This is probably a big reason why parents are reluctant to bring their children into the play centres, as it is awkward for them to be there for long period of time.

I just hope that there will be more young family friendly places in Malaysia. Family should stay tight as a unit, whatever the circumstances. It is all too easy to leave children at home with their grannies and leave them to play on their own.