What is There for Men to do in Penang?

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Photo credit: L Weiling / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

It is well-known that the networks for women are generally far better developed than those for their male counterparts in most expat locations, and Penang is no exception. So when I was asked to put my thoughts on paper as to what there is for men to do in Penang (that was publishable) my first reaction was: “The short answer is heaps – but you get out of it what you put into it!” There are a myriad of social networks and all welcome you to get involved – just get out there and get involved is my advice. And most of it is free or off ered at very little cost, too.

Arriving in Penang

I arrived in Penang in June 2012 as a single person – packing up a house in Australia, storing furniture, chattels and cars, leaving behind family and friends, changing countries, changing jobs – all within a few weeks– talk about a month of change! I vividly recall arriving in Penang on a Tuesday evening and working flat out all week in this strange new environment in Bayan Lepas. Come Saturday I was sitting in my serviced apartment near Sungai Nibong at Bayan Baru pondering what do I do next? After my hectic life in Australia the thought of having weekends to do nothing much other than catch up on the week and read the pile of books that always seem to gather dust on my bedside table was appealing – but I knew the novelty would soon wear off .

The Expat Mingle

The more immediate fundamentals were to rent an apartment and to buy a second hand car so that kept me distracted for a few weekends – but what was there to do in Penang after work hours? Of course the internet came to the fore – it only took a few hours searching to find out about The Expat Group to which I immediately enrolled. I noticed there was an Expat Mingle coming up at the Lone Pine Hotel at Batu Feringgi and I met many people there both expats and locals – basically any new expat to the island is welcomed to add to the diverse and culturally deep experience of living in Penang. As a classic car enthusiast I was interested to discover that there was a branch of the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) based in Penang. So that was a start.

Whilst talking to new people at the mingle I heard a South African accent behind me so made a note to catch up with that person as I was born and grew up in South Africa. He was with the Penang Turf Club and sure enough we had a lot to discuss in common and he mentioned there were two South African ladies on the island who made boerewors, melktert, and other South African delicacies.

Making Friends

Sure enough next weekend I was at their house stocking up my deepfreeze and a few weeks later got an email from them saying if they invited all their South African contacts together for a braai (BBQ) would I be interested – you bet – and a few weeks later, 32 of us had a very pleasant afternoon at the Penang Water Sports Centre. It was fascinating talking to everyone there as to how we had all ended up in Penang – with many diverse stories. However, one man I spoke to, who had been on the island four years, told me “Man, I am so bored here – there is nothing to do on this island” to which I expressed surprise – after only two months my social life was fairly full already. Pleasingly this braai initiative morphed into regular events on the beach at Batu Feringgi and opened up a whole new and unexpected social network.

When I had Australian relations keen on horseracing visit the next year we were treated like minor royalty and had a behind the scenes tour at a Penang Turf Club meeting thanks to the South African connection, and another South African runs a charter yacht in Langkawi which I and many visitors have enjoyed. And the “boerewors” ladies – they are close friends now and have joined many a lunch or dinner with my many visitors.

Cars, Cars and More Cars!

Back to the car interest. An email to the MSVCR resulted in a very friendly reply with an invitation to attend an open house in Tanjong Tokong, and when I turned into the road of the open house I could not believe such a collection of shiny classic Jaguars, Triumphs, MGs, Mercedes, Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Alfas, and even a 1934 Lagonda could exist on such a small island. Needless to say, I was made very welcome and joined on the spot, and the club has been a fantastic way to meet expats and locals all over Malaysia and Singapore. Every Sunday there is a breakfast run on the island where we stop for an Indian breakfast before completing the drive, plus weekends away to the Cameron Highlands and KL (via the coastal road), day trips to Taiping and Aloh Setar/Gunning Kedai, the annual Penang Round the Island Rally, and multiple car shows and convoy drives for charity and other special events. You do not have to own a classic car to join – if you are in any way interested in cars, you are welcome!

Food and Exercise

With all the great food here, I needed to find regular exercise. However after pounding the treadmill at the non-airconditioned gym at my apartment block a few times, I needed to find something better. When talking about this at work, a colleague mentioned a group of people that often congregated at the end of her road, seemed to go off for a run, came back and made a lot of happy noise (whatever that meant) and never left any rubbish behind. So the hunt was on for this elusive group and again thanks to the internet the world of Hash Hounds was opened up to me – and there are five groups on the island alone – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and two on Saturday. An email to the larger Saturday Hash resulted in a very prompt welcome and assurance that all ages and fitness levels are welcome. I was very worried if I had to run for two hours in the jungle but after being assigned a buddy for my first run, making sure I had enough water, you go at your own pace. What I did not expect was a lovely dinner at the end of the run with a well-loaded beer truck beside the dinner table!


Hash Hounds

Like the car club, I joined on the spot and for RM50 you get 52 runs, 52 dinners, an annual dinner with a hilarious (and somewhat non PC) floorshow, an annual pub crawl, many special run T-shirts and shorts, and a great bunch of people from all local and overseas cultures. I have learned so much from what I now consider a great group of friends and every run is set on a different part of the island – there are not many back roads and temples and shrines hidden in the jungle I do not know now, and the spectacular views over many parts of the island on the runs just add to the pleasure. The “Running Club with a Drinking Problem” or the “Drinking Club with a Running Problem” is a highlight of my week and every time my adult children visit, Hash is a must-do for them.

Through Hash friends, I was introduced to the World Movie Club film programme at the Alliance Française in Jalan Irrawaddy. At their premises, a charming movie-buff shows two films a month, one a French classic and the other an international film, and we have a glass of wine of two in the kitchen before the movie. And you do not have to be French or French-speaking – all movies have English subtitles. In terms of music the Friday and Saturday band evenings at the Canteen at China House are great and if jazz is an interest the last Wednesday of the month offers an excellent jazz evening at The Star, Pitt Street. Extending the culture theme the Penang Performing Arts Centre (Penancpac) at Straits Quay has a varied program and from time to time I have enjoyed theatre, concerts and movies there – so get on the email lists of Penangpac and the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra.

A Special Place

Last but not least, Penang is a very special place and part of the pleasure of living in Penang is hosting a raft of visitors – in fact it is a perfect excuse to explore all the new restaurants that have opened up or visit favourite old ones, introduce visitors to Hash and Indian breakfasts, dine on the sand at Kunthai or Hai Boey Seafood on the south shore of the island, take in the spectacular views from Bukit Genting while downing a few cold beers, having an elegant afternoon tea in 1885 at the E&O Hotel, and just getting lost in the charming lanes of George Town.

Another excellent expat service in Penang is the Spiral Synergy website – it is a combination of eBay for Penang expats and always promoting interesting tour or show – well worth getting on their mailing list. So back to the “Man I am bored!” person – I tend to bump into him from time to time and suggest he gets involved in Hash (he looks fi tter than me) or come on a car club run but there are always vague reasons why he cannot – it is his loss – there is so much for men (and women) to do in Penang and this whole micro-world is waiting for you to get involved!

Read This: Cooking Adventures in Penang

Source: Penang International October 2014 – March 2015

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