Culture and Language

Field Trip: Happy Goat Farm in Balik Pulau

This summer we hope to get out an around Penang more, finding cheap, kid friendly activities.  We have some other families that want to get out there with us as well and so for this first time out, we found this goat farm out in Balik Pulau.   Read more…

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - July 2, 2013 at 8:32 AM

Categories: Activities, Field Trip, Kids, Language   Tags:

Manglish: ne’mine

Speak good manglish

One of my guilty pleasures of living in Penang is Manglish.  What is Manglish?  It’s Malaysian English.  It’s the not-quite-standa rd you hear around Malaysia that you don’t really hear anywhere else.  It’s similair to Singlish (Singapore English) but has it’s own nuance, and devotees.

Why do I like Manglish?  First, I really like that it looks like the root of the word is mangle.  That just makes me smile.  I also like that it gives me insight into the other languages around here.  Sometimes the mangled English can find its roots in Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien or some combination of those.

Read more…

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - May 9, 2013 at 6:09 AM

Categories: Language   Tags:

Dynamic Language Centre in Penang

Dynamic Language Centre

We have had a real struggle with our language learning, especially when it comes to helping our children become comfortable in Bahasa Melayu. We tried several strategies, formal and informal education without much success. We’ve finally found a workable solution at Dynamic Language Centre in Krystal Point, here in Penang.

Our struggle to learn Bahasa Melayu

Informal education

One of the first things we did soon after moving to Penang is to start getting out into the community and finding some other kids for our children to play with.  Our neighborhood playground was a good place to start.  What we found is that most kids at our playground play in almost a language vacuum.  They’ll chase each other, or have rudimentary phrases like, “You go” or “My turn”.  Beyond that there isn’t much language to learn at the playground.

As we made friends in the neighborhood, with families with kids, we’d invite them over to play, or get invited over.  Again, it seemed as though either they play in English, or the language was at a very basic level.

My working theory is that language use at play-time is usually at a lowest common denominator level.  Our kids need to have some words, phrases and other tools going into play-time to help them learn new words when they play.

Formal education

We have tried putting our middle child in tadika, preschool and kindergarten.  Our first warning sign when calling around to the various tadika that were recommended to us, was their hesitation to take our foreign children as students.  Their main focus is preparing pre-school children to be ready to enter the Malaysian school system, either the public school system or private institutions like the Chinese schools.  They felt that the expectations of foreigners, Americans especially, would not be met.  In retrospect, they were right.

My daughter stuck it out for two months and loved the social interactions with children her own age.  She got to dance and paint which aren’t really part of the homeschool routine.  But as we evaluated what she was learning, it was pretty low especially when it came to language.

The school we chose to put her in has an hour of Bahasa Melayu a day, and an hour of Mandarin a day.  But a lot of that was copying in workbooks, and coloring pages.  There is a lot of rote learning, not a lot of interactive learning.

Dynamic Language Centre

We learned about Dynamic Language Centre early on.  Our friend Kenny (who guest authored this post about his experience riding a motorbike) was an English teacher there over the past summer.  We know that they do a great job teaching English, but we didn’t know that they teach Bahasa Melayu as well.

The fact is that they have over a decade of experience helping foreigners adjust to living in Penang, not just learning language but culture as well.

There is a 6-lesson (2hr per lesson) course that covers:

  • Malaysian history and culture
  • Traditional games and  Malaysian food
  • Basic language introduction
  • Basic greets
  • Ordering food
  • Road signs
  • Directions
  • Numbers
  • Local Fruit

This short course is designed for new arrivals, tourists and MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) holders.  They’ve taught people from all over the world; including people from USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.

children participating in Interactive classroom language learning for Bahasa Melayu at Dynamic Language Center, located at Krystal Point in Penang, Malaysia

Interactive classroom language learning for Bahasa Melayu at Dynamic Language Center

Children’s language learning class

For our children, they are participating in a pilot program for children.  Right now, they are learning vocabulary interactively.  There is a lot of listening, no writing or speaking at this early stage.  And they are learning it from a native speaker of Bahasa Melayu.  She’s a wonderful teacher with a lot of patience for the little girls.

Check out the website for Dynamic Language Centre,  or call +60 4 642 2829

Let them know you found out about them on

Have you had any experience at Dynamic Language Centre?  Post your review in the comments below.



3 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - February 1, 2013 at 5:55 AM

Categories: Bahasa Melayu, Culture and Language   Tags:

Thaipusam celebration in Penang

Thaipusam in Penang

Crowd at the Thaipusam celebration in Penang Malaysia.  Courtesy of

Crowd at the Thaipusam celebration in Penang Malaysia. Courtesy of

The Indian holiday of Thaipusam is coming up this Sunday.  If you’ve had the opportunity to drive down the end of Scotland Road on the way to Jalan Gottlieb you would see the tents that have been set up in preparation for the festivities.  Many of us foreigners living in Penang have no idea what Thaipusam is about, so I did a little research and this is what I found.

My friend Dave Ray started my information gathering.  Last year he spent a week following a group of Kavadi makers (more about this below) living in Penang.  Dave narrated a slideshow of his stunning images, definitely worth your time to watch.

Timing of Thaipusam

The name Thaipusam comes from the Tamil month “Thai”, which falls around January and Februrary, and “Pusam”, one of the stars in the hindu astrology.  Pusam is most austere (prominent) during the full moon of the month of Thai.

The Legend of Thaipusam

The story behind the festival involves the Hindu god, Murugan, also known as Kartikeya (AKA Subramaniam, AKA Sanmukha, AKA Shadanana, AKA Skanda, AKA Guha).  The festival commemorates goddess Parvati, Murugan’s mother, giving Murugan a ‘Vel’.  The Vel is a magical weapon that has sakti or powers that Murugan uses to vanquish three demons, Surapadman, Tarakasuran and Singamugan, representing the forces of ego, passion and greed.

The Observance of Thaipusam

It is said that a true devotee of Murugan will gain the power to overcome ego, passion and greed, if he objserves fasts and spiritual disciplines during the period before Thaipusam.  Some say 3 days of fasting, others say up to 48 days.  Stricter Hindus don’t just fast from food, but from a whole list of activities: sex, sleeping on the floor, and if a death should occur, the devotee would not be able to participate in any mourning ceremonies.

The Kavadi

During Thaipusam in Penang, the devotee carrying the Kavadi, pierced through the cheeks and tongue.  Courtesy of

The devotee carrying the Kavadi, pierced through the cheeks and tongue. Courtesy of

The Kavadi is the burden carried by the devotee who is the designated burden carrier.  I encourage you to watch Dave’s slideshow to see the awe inspiring devotion that goes into making and carrying the Kavadi.  Before putting on the Kavadi, the burden carrier has piercings put through his cheeks and his tongue.  The Kavadi, weighing more than 100 lbs is carried on the shoulders of the devotee.  The devotee then walks, dances and sometimes sprints along the parade route to the Hilltop Temple.

The Trek to Hilltop Temple

In Penang Thaipusam is celebrated at Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple (Hilltop) along Jalan Waterfall in Georgetown.  The Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) told the Star newspaper that a million devotees are expected to throng the  Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Hilltop Temple this year.

Family activities

From all reports, this is not a family friendly festival.  Hindu families are expected to meet the burden carrier at the temple.  The Kavadi burdens are quite elaborate, and interesting and will be something to be seen and photographed, but the piercings are pretty graphic and can be scary for younger children unprepared to seeing it.

I would go if a Hindu friend’s family invited me and my family to join them.  I don’t think I would show up on my own.

Please share about Thaipusam in Penang

Have you seen Thaipusam in Penang?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.


1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - January 24, 2013 at 5:45 AM

Categories: Culture, Holidays   Tags:

Motorbike in Penang

Scenic. Quick. Easy. Adventurous. Edgy. Stimulating. Convenient. These are the words that
come to mind when thinking about riding my motorcycle or motorbike in Penang. Read more…

4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by kenny - August 21, 2012 at 3:15 AM

Categories: Culture, Transportation   Tags:

Fruit Stand: Nona

I found this curious looking fruit the last time I was at the wet market.  The shopkeeper called it a custard apple.  I took it home and tried it and I really loved it.  My family found it to be too sweet.  You know it’s pretty sweet when a five-year-old thinks it’s too sweet.

The locals call this fruit a nona.  I have since found out that it is the sweet cousin of the sirsak that we found in Indonesia.  Sirsak is called soursop in English, and I’ve heard that in parts of the world, nona, is called sweetsop.   Read more…

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - August 1, 2012 at 6:29 AM

Categories: Bahasa Melayu, Fruit   Tags:

Language Lesson: Numbers in Bahasa Melayu

This week our language lesson is going to be a practical one.  Bahasa Melayu is one of the languages in Penang that you will encounter when you are living in Penang.  I believe that language learning can’t just be memorizing vocabulary.  It has to be something you will use.  Everyone uses numbers in Bahasa Melayu to shop, not just the Malay.

The scenario is going to the market.  You see something you want to buy.  You pick it up and you need to ask the seller how much it costs. Read more…

3 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - July 27, 2012 at 3:26 AM

Categories: Bahasa Melayu   Tags:

Language Lesson: What to call people

You can get around in Penang, Malaysia fairly well if you’re a monolingual English speaker.  Almost everyone has some degree of English ability.  But that isn’t true of the rest of the country, and it isn’t going to help you get to know people here.  You should consider getting to know one of the other languages that are spoken here.  A good choice would be Bahasa Melayu. An early way to get into the community and into the lives of people who live here is to know what to call them. Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - July 19, 2012 at 6:20 AM

Categories: Bahasa Melayu   Tags:

Languages in Penang

As you walk around Penang you can hear many languages being spoken. In this section we will give you a few lessons and guides to help you get around.

Bahasa Melayu

Bahasa Melayu, also called Malay, is one the national languages of the country. It is spoken by almost everyone to some degree and will be seen on most street signs. This will probably be the most helpful language for you to learn as you adapt to living in Penang.


Mandarin, or Chinese, is spoken by most of the Chinese population. It is taught in the Chinese schools. I have actually seen some Indian kids speaking Mandarin with each other. When I asked them about it, they told me that their parents put them in a Chinese private school.

I will not be sharing many Mandarin lessons because there are many online that can do a much better job than I can. If you are interested I recommend Rocket Chinese!


The local Chinese use Hokkien for colloquial conversation. It is not a literary language and it hasn’t been taught as part of the formal education system in over a century. I understand it because I speak Taiwanese and it is very similar. Once you know some numbers and simple phrases, you can have a great time shocking the sellers at the wet market with your Hokkien ability.

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - July 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Categories: Language   Tags:

Dragonboat festival pictures

My good friend, Dave Ray at was able to make it to this year’s Dragonboat festival.  He tells me that the haze was particularly bad this past weekend, and it was difficult to capture good shots of the action from the dam.

Presented below are some archive images that Dave took from last year as well as some photos of the award ceremony from this year.

Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - July 7, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Categories: Culture, Event   Tags:

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