Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hunting for an apartment part II

Well, it was October, almost 7 months after we arrived in Malaysia when we began our search for better housing.  As our son and friend Tracy can attest our previous apartment was "basic".  Since we received our MM2H visa and felt better legally, and our lease in the mall was almost up, we decided to look for a different apartment.  Our goals for the new apartment:  not in a mall, adequate cooking facilities, and something that would feel like we had left graduate school digs.

To look for an apartment, we went back to the real estate agency we used the first time.  YJ, our agent was the same person we used again.  Why you ask do you use a real estate agent?  Most apartment/condos for rent are individually owned and rented.  Virtually no building is owned/managed by a single company.  Searching the web results in listing of properties, but as I learned later, many of the listings are not active (even though they appear to be current listing), and many agents do not return phone calls.  And since I do not have a car (by choice), the agent provided an additional service: transportation.

I gave YJ parameters of what we wanted: 2 br, 2 ba, a "real kitchen", and in the Bangsar area.  We also wanted to be close to transit facitilies (a reliable bus line, LRT, and adequate taxi service).  The local train service KTM Kommuter was not condered adequate.

I also searched two web sites:, and to find properties that met our specifications.  I gave the property listings to YJ for consideration. 

On four separate days, I went on apartment hunting trips with YJ.  In all I visited 16 different apartments...some twice.  Liz joined us on two additional trips.  One the last trip two apartments were rejected, one was similar to a well worn beach house, and one was rejected due to "old plumbing".  Because we live in the tropics, high ceilings are welcome, and cross ventiliation is a desirable feature.  If the unit was on a low floor, screens are mandatory.  Some apartments have standard approximately 8' ceilings.  No room for ceiling fans and thus dependence on a/c.  This is not a good idea as electrical power is expensive in Malaysia.

On our last trip we viewed a new building.  It was nice, although the bedroom had no windows.  They were in an adjacent sitting area.  The view was over an industrical area, a construction site and a shopping mall.  No stores were within easy walking distance, and crossing roads to get to public transit would be a problem.  Another building was promising, but we both decided that it was too much like a resort, with signs stating where bathing suits could be worn.  My comments was:  this is the home of corporate wives and diplomatic spouses.  We did not want that.

Finally, we saw three units in the Cascadium.  One was on a high floor, facing the street.  One was on the top floor, was very large and had good cross ventilation.  Unfortunately, its furnishings were well worn and the owner had done little to fix it up.  We went back to the one on the third level.  It had a large terrace, two bedrooms, two baths and was tastefully decorated.  We made an offer and it was accepted.

The owners have been very nice. We have been continiously surprised by the hospitality of Malaysians.  The apartment was fully furnished with sheets (new), pillows (new), and a fully functional kitchen, knives, dishtowels, buckets, etc.  They even brought over a drying rack so we can dry our cloths on the large terrace.  We have been continiously surprised by the hospitality of Malaysians.

The satelite tv was already installed and we were allowed to customize the channels.  The building is fibre optic ready so in a month or so the service will be installed.  In the meantime, our wireless wifi system is working even better than before.  We almost never drop out and even managed a skype call to see our grandson and participate in a Thanksgiving Celebration in Maryland, USA.

What I learned during this process.  Apartment hunting takes a lot of time.  Almost all apartments are individually owned and managed.  The use of an estate agent speeds up the process.  You delegate the responsibility for arranging appointments for viewings, and he/she handles the negotiations and documentation.

Okay, now some pictures.

The pool is just down the hallway.

A view of downtown Kuala Lumpur from the pool.

Our living room.
Half of our kitchen, but fully functional.
Master bedroom with en-suite bathroom.
En-suite bath.
Our guest bedroom.
Our terrace overlooking a little piece of jungle (green lung area).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Race Matters

"Why retire to Malaysia?" Our current answer is to note that Kuala Lumpur has the advantages of a national capital and it is affordable. Among its advantages are the availability of intense, public discussions on national issues, where we continue to learn about Malaysia and its people and to examine our own beliefs and opinions. Take the issue of race.

Nottingham University Malaysia has a Public Intellectuals Seminar Series.  Its "Found in Malaysia: Race and Belonging" seminar questioned what constitutes racial purity and the role of racial identity. The evening's lessons were  global.

The argument that Malays should have a special place in Malaysia is seductive, although unnerving when one thinks about the horrors of "ethnic cleansing." An on-line news source, The Nut Graph, surveyed Malaysians about their lineage. The upshot, mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds were common, suggesting that "racial purity" was a political construct rather than a genetic reality.

During the Q & A someone asked if Malaysia worried too much about race, after all it compares favorably with neighboring countries such as Burma and Thailand. The answer - not at all, that the Malaysia is peaceful argument may justify making race and racial advantages a  policy concern.

The discussant from New Zealand pointed out that living in harmony without reference to race might suppress another's culture. She used the example of a Maori classmate who now felt oppressed by the society's failure to acknowledge her racial/cultural identity. 

A presenter wondered what Malaysia's geography would be like in the future. For example, would states unhappy with their status peel off and form their own country? He showed a video, "How to Spot a Racist," which could easily be adapted to the US. To learn more about one (common) opinion about race in Malaysia this link
 (includes references to current Malaysian politics).

A tee-shirt here reads "Racism is so yesterday." I am not so sure; discussions of race and racism are very much today here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Women and Buddhism

AWAM (All Women's Action Society) has been conducting programs on the role of women in Malaysia's major religions. We looked forward to the  session on women and Buddhism, because we know virtually nothing of Buddhism.

The presenters were two Buddhist nuns. Sonam Wangmo (Sramaneri Tenzin Dadon), from Bhutan, is a PhD candidate at the University of Malaya, where she is studying the status of Bhutanese nuns. Sramaneri Karma Tashi Choedron received her PhD in Environment and Resource Studies. The facilitators started with a brief overview of Buddhism.
Karma (left) and Sonam
We began by writing and posting a word or phrase to describe what Buddhism meant to us. One person wrote "chanting, chanting, chanting." The presentation never got around to the role of chanting, but a lot of other information was shared. The presenters described the gist of Buddhism as: "do good, avoid evil, purify the mind, that is the teaching of all Buddhas (enlightened ones)." A story that resonated had the morale of the need to rid oneself of the baggage of obsessing about the past and the future. The beliefs we associate with Buddhism were noted throughout the presentation. Here are some highlights: eradicating the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion; non-violence, karma and rebirth, and non-self (emptiness of self).

In regard to non-self I was interested if Karma has retained her interest and commitment to environmental issues. When I asked I learned that she and other nuns need to be self-supporting. Since as a nun she leads a simple life, she can earn enough by working a few weeks a year.

One question that I didn't ask was whether Buddhists believed in a god. I received a note from a friend that all she knew about Buddhism is that "like the Hinduism Buddhism has millions of gods." Through Googling I learned that believing in a god is not a core belief of Buddhism. And the belief in million of gods is unlikely.

The theme of the program was the role of women in Buddhism. The need for a nun to show respect to any monk without respect to age or time in monastic life seemed to particularly grate. Very little Googling will lead to more information on women and Buddhism; also reading the biographies of the presenters a conference of Buddhism women suggests the richness of their individual lives.

During lunch I learned how incredible the idea of heaven and hell is to a person who has been raised in a tradition of birth and rebirth. Learning about another religion isn't unlikely to cause one to join up. The other lunch conversation was about caring for aging relatives - a challenge to families which are spread all over the globe.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekend in Kuching

Breakfast with part of our Kuching Family
After 6 trips to Kuching you would think that there was nothing more to see or new things to eat. Of course, our trip was more than food and sight-seeing. We were there to visit friends whom we first met in the US 15 years ago. Each year after they returned to Malaysia Nyet wrote to remind us that we had promised to visit Borneo. In 2003 we did; in 2005 we returned, saw an ad for the "silver hair program"  (now Malaysia My Second Home), and began developing retirement plans.
A Kuching food court. Look, smell, buy, enjoy
Kuching's excellent food is even better when you have friends that enjoy food and sharing their finds. A highlight this trip was sting ray with a curry sauce (food court across from Four Points Hotel.)  I can't describe it adequately, but I will search for it the next time I go to Kuching. (Friends tell me that I will be very lucky to find a similar dish in KL). We were too busy eating to take a picture; plus the fish wasn't photogenic just tasty.

Dim Sum, healthy soup,
and noodles

Coffee shop with a bit of everything,
including dim sum

Filled with endless delights
Sunday morning we had dim sum at a local coffee shop and dinner at the Sarawak Club. We amazed to be served a dragon boat filled with sushi. It was irresistible.

Doug - contemplating going to the border
To remind ourselves that there is more to Sarawak than food we went to the market at Serikin near the Indonesian border. It is perfect for shoppers (not us) who can identify perfect gifts and things that they never thought they needed.

We revisited Johns Dayak Gallery, a furniture store in the center of Kuching. Unlike previous visits we noticed the quality of the items. We found a "perfect" computer desk, and if our search for a similar one in KL is futile (and it has been so far) we will have it sent for less than USD100.

No trip would be complete without Sarawak laksa. I had it twice and  concluded that one cannot have a mediocre bowl in Kuching. Truly there is more to Kuching than food and culinary surprises abound. We went to Sweet Indulgences, a successful business started by a home baker, to buy kuah lapis, a multi-layer cake. We were surprised to see (and eat) black and white cookies - something I always eat when we go to New York. Visiting Sarawak and not eating is to miss a lot.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Observing Policy Advocacy in Malaysia

Being in Malaysia allows us to observe and reflect on how citizens try to influence policy. Empower (a NGO)and SUHAKAM (the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) with EU funding held a round table to report on Malaysia's progress in implementing CEDAW (Convention to Elimination All forms of Discrimination). I was able to attend and observe.

Invitations were sent to local women's and human rights NGOs and relevant government ministries. A Muslim NGO objected to the round table as a threat to Islamic values; as a result some civil servants may have decided not to participate. The push back on controversial issues, especially those involving gender identity, seem par for the course these days.

The schedule called for welcoming remarks and the authors' presentation of their papers on employment, family law, gender identity, and refugees (15 minutes each) followed by a tea break. The mid-morning tea break (and later lunch) may suggest a Malaysian obsession with food, but they can be far more. Informal exchanges of information take place and the foundation for new relationships are laid.

A staff member sat at the back transcribing the proceedings and entering the content of the posters. She will prepare a memorandum, send it to participants for their feedback, and then form an action plan. I observed similar note taking/transcription at the UN workshop and a Malaysian seminar on "Christianity and Women."

A table for each topic was set up for small group discussions. Participants were assigned to a discussion group (using color dots on their packets of materials). The groups rotated every 20 minutes, so all participants had an opportunity to voice their ideas on each topic. Even through some people stayed with their friends instead of their assigned groups, I was impressed with how engaged everyone seemed to be.

Women at Work
A  familiar work product?

The essays will be published in a report "Equality Under Construction." It should be ready in December.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Amcorp Mall People

One of the joys of living in a mall is getting to know the people who work there.

Drop by, buy a paper and a snack, and say "hello"
The owners of the news stand get our vote for the hardest working people in the mall. They open the stand at 7:30 a.m. and close it sometime after 10:00 p.m. The only day it was closed was National Day - it was opened during Hari Raya and Deepevali. When our grandson was born prematurely, they shared their memories of their son who weighted 2 kilos when he was born. He is now a robust 8 year old, who aspires to be prime minister.

A number of mall workers mentioned that they work long hours to pay for their children's education, which served as a reminder that governments (and taxpayers) should respect their sacrifices by providing good schools and good teachers.

On the look out for a customer or
a conversation
Many an evening we walked by this furniture and rug shop. The owner migrated from Pakistan about the same time we came to Malaysia. The evening we took this picture he commented on how much he liked Malaysia and Malaysians. He observed their lack of jealousy; he used the example that if you drove a BMW people weren't resentful. If you decide to buy a rug or furniture as well you will make this merchant very happy.

On the apartment side we passed this receptionist every day. Our conversation really went beyond "hello" or "pagi" (pagi is morning - short for good morning). I never asked about her hours, but many mall staff worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week! Not only long hours but complicated family lives and child care arrangements.

Mrs. Siva who ran the laundry for "Hangers"
A luxury we came to enjoy was taking our laundry downstairs and having someone else wash and fold them. In addition to laundry we got occasionally got help with our Bahasa Malaysian, e.g., to let someone know that they had reached a wrong number we could say that they number was not healthy