Expats in Penang: Michele Chan-Thomson

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I had never heard of Penang before my husband, Andrew, came home and announced that his company offered him a position in Malaysia. With some trepidation, I agreed to our first stint as expats and moved here from Texas with our three children in 2011.

Life in Penang is so much better than I anticipated. Exploring the island, its history, and its many cultures expanded my mind in a way that has not happened in decades. Penang is also an excellent launching pad for trips throughout Asia. This spirit of discovery combined with the spare time gained by hiring an affordable maid enabled me to pursue writing. I started my blog to keep friends and family updated, but it blossomed into having worldwide readership.

My big complaint about life here is that our condo constantly needs repairs. The bathroom ceiling fell in, power outlets smolder, and tiles pop off the floor and walls. During a storm, a window fell in and shattered. Outside water faucets break off in our hands, and I’ve lost electricity in the midst of baking for our school’s Dessert Auction. On the bright side, walking up 500 steps whenever the elevator breaks is great exercise.

Travelers ask via my blog about what to do in Penang. Going on a street art scavenger hunt brings them through the heritage area. Trekking the jungle out to Monkey Beach puts them in touch with the island’s natural beauty and is a refreshing escape from the bustling streets of George Town. Anyone with kids should stop at the Youth Park.

Most of Penang’s food tempts me from the char kuey teow at hawker stalls to the Sunday buffet at Rasa Sayang. One of my favorite restaurants is Teksen on Carnavon Street where I always order their succulent, semi-caramelized, Fried Crispy Roast Pork. Try the Chocolate Marquise at China House which has the best desserts in town. Ferringhi Coffee Garden is the place for a leisurely breakfast. Their buttery scones are worth the wait.

By actively participating at my children’s school, Dalat International, I formed an international group of friends mixing locals with people from all over the world. Through my blog, I also tapped into a network of Round-the-World nomadic families among whom Penang is praised as a terrific place to stop for a while.

Even though I adore live in Penang, there are things I will welcome when we move back to America. I miss central airconditioning, the change of seasons, and being able to drink water from the tap.

A few prospective expats emailed me this week through my blog. They remind me of how worried I was before we moved. I just want to tell them, “Penang is fantastic. The people are friendly, and the food is great. You won’t believe your good fortune at calling it your home.”

You can discover more about Michele at her blog, Malaysian Meanders (http://malaysianmeanders.blogspot.com), where she writes about her family’s travels and expat adventures.

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