An Expat in Penang, Joelle Saint-Arnoult, Shares Her Experience

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Joelle Saint-Arnoult

Joelle, who’s originally from Normandy in France, has lived in Penang for 24 years. You can read her thoughts on her adopted island in French at, Penang section.

I lived in the UK, Germany, and finally Paris for 10 years before moving to Penang after spending a month long holiday that was to change the course of my life. I married a Malaysian and my son was born here. The first years were challenging: I went through the whole post-move adaptation process with its ups and downs. But with the help of a supportive family and friends I soon settled into my new Asian life. Being already familiar, through my own experience, with expat relocation, I was hired by a Relocation Company where I worked (until recently) with an international team assisting expat families settle down in Malaysia. Loving to share useful information on Malaysia with newcomers, it made sense that two months ago I joined the worldwide online media for the French and French speaking, Le Petit, as their correspondent in Penang, covering culture, communities, entertainment, things to see and do, and more.

Living in Penang is like living in three or four countries all at the same time: a melting pot of cultures and traditions that offers a feast to all our senses. Penang is a thriving and a very happening city which has constantly been growing in many areas, particularly offering the exposure to various cultures and the opportunity for many newcomers to be part of the ongoing development. Penangites are very welcoming to expats: it is relatively easy to engage in conversation with Malaysians and make friends.

Malaysians are generally caring and eager to help. I remember how quickly my newly acquired Malaysian family adopted me and made me feel at home from day one.

Penang possesses a varied and colorful heritage that can be explored all over the island. Old buildings are being preserved. Over the years I have seen derelict buildings gradually brought back to life and their former splendor by caring Penangites who realized the immense heritage potential their lovely island in the sun has to offer. I take great pleasure in taking overseas visitors around and share with them the history and beauty of our island. Do visit the Clan jetties: they are part of the early history of the island, where the first Chinese pioneers settled down. Another must is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion: a magnificent Chinese house owned by a rich Mandarin. A tour of the beautifully-restored house tells fascinating tales about early years and first inhabitants of Penang. Make sure you take a walk around inner George Town to admire all the architecture and quaintly animated streets with local handicraftsmen and newly opened little cafes. What is also fascinating about Penang is the variety of sights to see: George Town inner city with its renovated heritage buildings and its street art, Penang Hill with its jungle trails and fantastic panoramic view of the island, and colorful temples at the foot of the hill, and in contrast, the west coast and more rural part of the island.

I must admit I love Nyonya cuisine – dishes like Ju Hu Char and Otak-otak are my alltime favorites and where better to enjoy them than the Nyonya-themed décor of Perut Rumah in Kelawei Road? Tree Monkey restaurant at Tropical Spice Garden is great: The View restaurant at Equatorial hotel is one of the Penang restaurants where you can find excellent French cuisine. But also I like the idea of the progressive dinner where you can start at one hawker stall for one dish and continue to the next stall for another dish to sample all the varieties of typical local delicacies.

I have met most of my Penang friends when getting involved with either expat or local societies’ activities. One of them is Penang Players Music and Drama Society, an amateur drama group,, which I joined in 1992.

Our drama group, comprising local and expat members, tries to stage one or two drama performances a year. Over the years we have had expats taking part in our shows (onstage and backstage) as well. We are very happy to contribute to the Penang entertainment scene. At present we are busy working on a future drama workshop jointly organized with Prince of Wales Island International School.


Over the years I have seen new associations and societies springing up and contributing to make Penang a very lively and active city offering. Mingling, getting involved in activities with Penangites and expats from numerous countries is easy and one of the great attractions of Penang. Any newcomer to Penang will be amazed at the vibrancy of this city and the number of areas they can get involved in.

Of course, I miss my dear family and friends that I left behind when I relocated to Malaysia. Fortunately, and with the modern ways of communication, we have never stop being in touch and the feeling when seeing them when I return home is as if I never left.

Read This: Expat Sabrina Wezel Shares Her Experience Living in Penang

Source: The Expat Magazine December 2014

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