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From Chiang Mai To Penang

 

I actually wrote this post out weeks ago, but something stopped me from posting it for quite some time. In fact, you may have been wondering why it’s been a few weeks since my last update; well, there’s a good reason. Since my last post, we moved from Chiang Mai to Penang, Malaysia, and I have to be honest, it’s been somewhat of a bumpy transition.

When I initially sat down to write this post, it was early April and I’d been here for a couple of weeks. We stayed in a hotel in Georgetown for a week until we found an apartment, and then shortly after we moved, I uploaded the above video to YouTube.

So, I started out in Penang with a positive outlook, and I’m still trying to be as positive as I possibly can about things. However, to say that I’m happy would be a lie. The living situation in our new apartment did not end up being what we thought it would be, and this has caused us a lot of stress, affected our work and caused me issues with my health.

But first, let me back up, because I have to tell you about the process of leaving Chiang Mai. By now you probably know that I’m a fairly sentimental person so in my last month of living in Chiang Mai, I was almost grieving. Not a particularly healthy way to approach life, but there you go. The truth is that Chiang Mai was the scene of the achievement of a long-held precious dream and so it will always be a special place for me. I’m not sure I really have the words to describe what the feeling is like.

 

The ruins of Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The ruins of gorgeous Wat Chedi Luang, in the Old City.

 

However, you can’t stop the clock, so our departure date finally came. We spent a few days in Bangkok exploring and eating, then came here. We found our apartment and were quite excited about it at first, because it’s a nice place (it has a pool and a pretty nice view) and it’s better value for money than even a hostel would be. Plus, many people who come to Penang rarely stray further than Georgetown, so we enjoyed the fact that we were out of the main touristy area, seeing the “real” Penang.

Of course, anywhere that is not a touristy area is not going to cater to tourists, so you have to roll with things. Public transport here is limited; the bus to Georgetown goes past our front door, but that’s basically it, so everywhere else we either have to walk or take an Uber (we don’t feel up to renting a motorbike). Not such a big deal, except that we are now in rainy season and the humidity is pretty full on. People also stare at us so much here. The area is quite monocultural, so they are probably surprised to see us and perhaps may simply be curious as to why we would choose to spend our time here instead of in Georgetown or on the northern beaches. But still, the staring wears thin. I mean, in the grand scheme of things my life is pretty sweet so I can certainly handle being looked at for a while, but in my weaker moments I do get a bit frustrated. Sometimes I just want to say, “Hey guys, I’m just a person like you going about my day to day business, could you please not gawk at me like that?”

One of the most difficult things, however, is the lack of vegan food. Malaysia is known for it’s cuisine but it is fairly meatcentric and obviously that’s a problem for me. Before we came here we asked our host if vegan food would be difficult to find and he assured us that it would be easy to get it at any of the multiple Chinese or Indian restaurants in the food court underneath our building. Of course, I should have known better than to trust his well-meaning presumption, as it turned out not to be the case. With the exception of a few Chinese vegetarian restaurants that are a long walk away, I have found one restaurant (yes – one!) in this area that was willing to adjust their menu and make me vegan fried rice or noodles. Not one other establishment was willing to make adjustments for me. And whilst I don’t want to feel entitled about this, considering the huge amount of vegan food elsewhere on the island, it is a bit shocking that these restaurants won’t at least try.

 

luk yea yan penang
Luk Yea Yan makes some of the most realistic mock meat I’ve ever encountered! Unfortunately it’s a 9 km bus ride away.

 

As a result, my diet has become really unhealthy. The supermarket is a couple of kilometres away, but it’s difficult to get to in the heat and rain. And once we’re there there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of quality fresh produce. (This may be a reflection on that particular supermarket rather than the area; I’m just relaying my experience here). It’s also been tricky getting kitchen time (more on that in a minute). So I’ve started eating far too much processed food, far too much junk and too little fresh and green stuff. And although we have been trying to swim a few times a week, we’re walking less due to the heat and rain, and I feel like a big human-sized blob of salt and fat. I actually feel like I’ve put on some of the weight I accidentally lost in Thailand – but I’m too scared to jump on the scales to check.

And the flow-on effects from this just make things even worse; I’m not sleeping well, I’m not drinking enough water and I’m snapping at my husband. To say I am not in a good way emotionally would be an understatement. At first I thought I was low in vitamin B12, because I let my supplementation slide in Chiang Mai, but I’m back on the B12 pills now and that doesn’t seemed to have fixed anything.

What I’ve got feels like actual depression – and that’s why I couldn’t find the motivation to write a blog post.

 

the lost lemurian and aussie butterfly
I’ve been hanging out with the gorgeous Robyn from Aussie Butterfly every weekend – that has done a lot to keep me smiling! Thanks Robyn! xx

 

There has also been a surprise alteration with our living arrangement. If I was feeling on top of things and in my best health I could probably deal easily with it, but thing on top of everything else has just been too much.

What’s going on is this: Our lovely Airbnb apartment comes with two very nice housemates, both guys who work in one of the restaurants downstairs. We were actually really looking forward to living with them, and so far I’ve had some great chats with them about their lives and their hopes and dreams. They are both from Bangladesh and are in Malaysia for work; one of them is an older man with a wife and two kids back home – he has been saving up here for 9 years and next year will finally be able to bring them over to live with him. The other is a younger guy who has recently married a Malaysian girl but he has to stay in Penang for work while she lives in their village. He gets four precious days off a month to go and see her – four! (And I’m told that four is actually generous! Wow!)

Everything was going smoothly, but two weeks after we moved in – coincidentally, right after the apartment owner had left the island for a holiday! Hmmm… – two new guys showed up. We were told that they too worked in the restaurant and they would just be staying for a few days. No dramas! We can handle that, and they were quite nice too. Except, a few days turned into a week, turned into two weeks, turned into three weeks, like…

 

this is my home this is where i live now

 

It took us a long time to figure out the truth of the matter and what was really going on. The other housemates at first told us that the restaurant actually rents the other rooms, not them personally, and it was the restaurant who had sent the new guys to stay. They claimed they didn’t know if the apartment owner knew the new guys were there or not; my intuition told me somebody was lying to me, I just didn’t know who. Either the restaurant was taking advantage of the owner’s absence, or the owner had flat out neglected to tell us there may be random housemates showing up at any moment, or the guys were completely lying about the whole thing. Either way, I believed one of the new guys when I gently asked when they might be moving into his new home, and he replied that he was very sorry but they had nowhere else to go.

So we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. I wanted more than anything to just call the owner and say, “What the hell?” (and of course, if there were people in his home without his permission, he had a right to know!) But on the other hand, I genuinely believed the guys might be thrown out onto the street. I just couldn’t risk placing them in that position. I mean, I’m the girl who gets upset all over social media about the way asylum seekers are treated, I’m the one who advocates for more compassion for people whose homes are taken away from them – how am I going to kick two guys out onto the street over something that might not even be their fault? I just couldn’t do that.

I find this whole thing difficult to explain without coming off as an entitled brat, so I want to make this clear: This is not about the two new guys as individuals. They were really nice people and they tried their hardest to keep out of our way all the time. Unfortunately, this apartment is not exactly palatial and the addition of two extra bodies just made things so much harder. The six of us were constantly jostling for use of the kitchen, the laundry, the balcony and the other common areas, plus don’t even get me started on the internet. Already the connection is slow here (you may have seen me already complaining about slow upload times on Facebook) so add two more people with their devices on top of that, and it got so crazy that our work was starting to be affected.

 

oh dear what an awkward situation

 

Eventually the shit hit the fan when the kitchen sink sprang a leak and we had to notify the owner. He asked how everything else was going, so we decided to take the opportunity to gently mention the new additions (and we were fully ready to advocate for the guys if the owner did decide to kick them out). It’s hard to tell whether or not the owner knew they were there – his response indicated that he did, but later conversations imply that he didn’t. Anyway, long story short, he promised he would speak to the restaurant management and try to find the guys a new place.

By this time we were feeling pretty awful about the whole thing. After all, we were only meant to be there for a short time. We soon realised that the four guys got along well, and would have enjoyed living together much more if we were not there. And since we could easily leave and walk into the first hotel or hostel we saw but they could not, and considering we were the ones with the problem in the first place, we knew that we ought to be the ones to go. With a refund for our remaining time, of course!

We weren’t sure of our chances of a refund, however, so we hung on for a little longer, dreaming of all the vegan food and fast internet we would enjoy back in Georgetown and hoping there would be a development. After another week, however, there had still been no movement, so we let the owner know how unhappy we were and floated the idea of us leaving. Thankfully it all worked out and so if things go to plan, we will soon be elsewhere.

 

Pool in Penang
Bye bye pool. You were lovely to swim in after a long stressful day.

 

I don’t want to give you the details of how or when we will be leaving – I want everything to work out first. But fingers crossed it all comes to pass as we hope it will, and that my next post will be written from a more enjoyable location.

I know true depression is a chemical and biological process, it is not completely reliant on one’s environment; but I do think one’s environment can definitely set you on the path to feeling depressed. So hopefully when we are somewhere new, where I can eat healthier, exercise more and get my mojo back, I will start to feel much better. If nothing else, I’ll be more well physically – and once you lose your physical health, you lose everything.

 

GOODBYECHIANG MAI

 

 

So that’s what’s going on with me! Do you have any advice or words of wisdom? Please tell me in the comments below!

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. I had a hard time in Penang. A really hard time, and it’s difficult to express when everyone insists you be happy go lucky and feel privileged to be traveling in the first place. But I was alone, I’m a curvy blonde…I wasn’t just gawked at..I was catcalled, harassed, constantly followed. A few times I was even cornered in alleys by men trying to talk to me and offer me money for sex. Getting noticed on the street and followed back to my hostel was a nightly occurrence. Once, I checked into a hostel and within five minutes of my being there, the empty dorm room was suddenly full of “new guests”, actually just friends of the night manager who had called them over to look at the girl. It was EXHAUSTING.

    That said, I ended up staying in Penang for a month. A week in Georgetown and the rest of the time in Batu Ferrengi & Teluk Behang. I had a really horrible work exchange experience at Tipsy Tiger in Georgetown that, coupled with the “fan club” that followed me around there, almost soiled my experience of Penang entirely…but ultimately the positives outweighed the negatives. The food is amazing (easier for me, I’m a meat lover…though I will say I have never eaten so much dahl in my life and could probably live on it forever…) and the public transit system is cheap & convenient. I spent 2 weeks volunteering at Cat Beach in Teluk Behang and it is one of the most rewarding and “oh god, there’s really some hope left for humanity” experiences I have ever had. The beaches leave something to be desired, if you’re coming from Thailand anyway, but the colonial architecture is really beautiful. I could see myself living there. I mean, I would adopt a huge, scary looking dog that hated men but, I could totally live there if I had something positive to occupy my time with, like arts or volunteering.
    It might feel burdensome now, especially with what you’ve had to go through with your tumultuous living situation, but it could really grow on you. I was chomping at the bit to leave, but as soon as I bought my train ticket back to Thailand I felt I hadn’t given myself enough of a chance to enjoy Penang to its potential.
    Speaking of, why not look at renting an apartment in one of the condo communities in Batu Ferrengi or over by the big Tesco? Those areas seem to cater to long term expats/western retirees so you might get lucky with a reasonably priced place that’s got all the things you need for work. There were really cute townhomes in a colorful colonial section of buildings near the Paragon mall too…but I couldn’t for the life of me give you directions. Walk around different areas that aren’t the Lorong Stewart/Love Lane area of GT. It’s tempting to want to be in the thick of things but your priority should be a place that suits all of your personal needs: comfort, accessibility, and most importantly a success friendly work environment – noise & clutter free, no distractions, stable internet, etc. (Do I sound like a realtor? LOL my mom’s a realtor….)
    Good luck chickadee, Im looking forward to reading about your new adventure! <3

    1. Oh my gosh, those experiences sound horrible!! Especially the one about the night manager calling his friends over to look at you! That would have terrified me, I would have been hiding in the bathroom over that! Oh my god!

      We are actually back in Georgetown now and staying in Chulia Street – so far I feel completely safe but then again, I have my husband with me and I’m usually walking around with him (and he’s a big strong-looking guy, so if I was a sleazeball I would NOT take my hubby on haha). There have been occasions where people have been calling to me from across the street and in hindsight maybe they were trying to catcall me or whatever, but at the time I just thought they were trying to sell me something and ignored them. I have had single female friends here all reporting at least once incident that made them feel unsettled though. One friend checked into a hostel in Love Lane and a man was standing in the street outside masturbating and looking at her window. (You may be aware of who that is, as she is a travel blogger too and wrote about it). So yeah, obviously there is a problem in some areas here. 🙁

      We are actually happy where we are now, as we have access to the coworking space here (@CAT) and food is not a problem (there’s heaps here that’s vegan). If we were staying here long-term though we would probably look at that area (for the short term rentals there wasn’t much in our price range unfortunately). Thanks for sharing your experiences, it’s good to hear there was a silver lining to what started out as a crap time! 🙂

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