Expat talk: Why Penang part 2: balance

This is the second part of a series about why an expat would choose to live in Penang.  The first post was more geared towards short-termers and tourists.  Today I’d like to address the folks that are coming to stay for longer than 3 months.  That is to say, longer than the duration a single tourist visa.  Why Penang?  I think I would sum it up with the word balance.

Different but together

I think I am showing my bias here since I listed culture as one of the reasons for tourists in the previous Why Penang post.  I love the multicultural aspect of Penang.  But I don’t want to focus on the individuals this time.  I mean to say, that the cultures meet here, and they interact here.

local Penangites

Local Penangites are Malay, Indian and Chinese.  They’ve been here for generations.  They’ve lived next door, or gone to school with people from other cultures.  You’ll even meet mixed race children on occasion.  I really feel that the general feel of Penang goes beyond tolerance, to appreciation and interdependence.

It’s no utopia of harmony, to be sure.  There are still incidents with race.  There is even the rare local, that you’ll meet that are monolingual Malay, Mandarin or Tamil speakers (although I suspect those folks are coming from the mainland).

Expats from all over

The expat community is from all over, and the social groups and clubs (like the International Women’s Association) are active and diverse.  Unlike some expat communities, this one does not exclude the locals.  I’ve seen some expat communities in other countries, where the expats wall themselves off and create a conclave, where they can have “us vs them” gripe sessions.  I’m so glad to be able to avoid that toxicity.

And we all live near each other.  Within a one kilometer radius from my home, I know Brits, Aussies, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Americans, Taiwanese, Indonesians, Burmese, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Egyptian, Yemeni, Persians… and I could come up with more if I took more time to brainstorm.  I love learning about what is important to people from other places.  Why they came to Penang.  What their hopes and dreams are.

Clean but not septic

For me, Penang hits the happy medium between Indonesia and Singapore.  The streets are not completely carpeted in snack wrappers and cigarette butts.  However, you don’t have to fear your children might do something that will get them (or yourself) caned.

Take street food as another example.  Most places, you’d be wary to get food being cooked along the street for fear of getting Bali Belly or Thai Tummy.  There just doesn’t seem to be that sense of risk here.  Yes, there are cases where people get sick from eating out, but that happens in the West as well.

Again, it’s the “not perfect but getting there” state.  It’s not disgusting; it’s livable.  Comfortable.  Balanced.

Budget but not austere

Actually, I should amend that.  Anything labeled budget here in Penang, especially in Batu Ferringhi, is quite austere.  But Penang is not spartan by any means.

You can feed your family on RM 20, or you can go next door and feed them for RM 1000.  Both extremes exist here.

I hope that gives you a flavor of what it’s been like living in Penang.  Balanced and comfortable.  There are many niches and levels that you can find and get plugged in at your comfort level.

Agree, disagree?  Join the discussion at the facebook discussion group or comment below.