Chap Goh Meh Chinese Valentines Day

Chap Goh Meh (sometimes spelled Chap Goh Mei) marks the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.  It’s been two weeks of fun food and firecrackers, with Hokkien New Year being the halftime show.  Now it’s time for the unmarried ladies to go down to the Esplanade and throw oranges in the water.  Wait… uh why?
Chap Goh Meh Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - February 10, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Categories: Culture, Hokkien, Holidays   Tags:

Hokkien New Year

The story is that long ago, during the Ming Dynasty, the ancestors of the Hokkien were hiding from bandits in the sugarcane fields during Chinese New Year. They prayed to the Jade Emperor, a diety also known as the King of Heaven. For eight days the intruders searched for them and could not find them, eventually giving up. On the ninth day, the Hokkien came out of hiding and celebrated, praising the Jade Emperor for protecting them. They celebrated the Chinese New Year 8 days late.

Welcome Lantern For The Snake

Here in Penang, the Chinese New Year celebration isn’t one day.  It lasts 15 days.  And the peak of it is today, the ninth day, Hokkien New Year.  The fireworks displays for this particular night outshadow (and out deafen) the ones from 8 nights ago.

Outside many of the temples, and some Buddhist homes are these massive incense sticks that burn for hours.  These are in honor of the Jade Emperor who protected them in the past.  Some also call this day the birthday of the Jade Emperor.

At the markets you can find some specialty foods and knick knacks  like thni kuih (sweet cakes), ang koo (red tortoise buns), mee koo (red-coloured buns), huat kuih (prosperity cakes) and bright pink miniature pagodas.

Sugarcane is everywhere for sale.  I’m told that in the past Perak Road was lined with sugarcane stalks.




photo by: Black_Claw

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - February 8, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Categories: Hokkien, Holidays   Tags:

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:

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:

How to eat at the hawker stalls

How to eat at the hawker stalls

One of the best places to experience Penang, especially Penang food, is to visit the hawker stalls.  The locals also call them food courts.  One popular one on the north side of the island is Long Beach Food Court in Batu Ferringhi.

If it is your first time to one of these places, the noise, lights and chaos can be a little daunting.  Here I offer you a step by step script to help you navigate the hawker stalls.

Step 1: Get a table

The sellers start setting up around 6:30pm and will start selling sometime before 7:00.  Typically, the first thing you would do is settle yourself at a table.  At a larger place like Long Beach, you might find a number engraved on the table.  This is useful for you to know, so you can tell the food servers where you are sitting.  If there isn’t a number, you can wave in a general direction towards your seat, and they are really good and remembering you and your order.

Step 2: Get a drink ordered

If it isn’t too busy, a drink seller will already be hovering near you as you sit down.  Juices, coffee, tea and beer are available.  The server can tell you what is available and what is not.

Before you leave Penang, you should try a teh tarik.  This is tea with milk and sugar.  Americans tend to find Malaysian teh tarik to be too sweet so if you want it half as sweet ask for teh tarik kurang manis (literally: less sweet).     If you want it completely without milk, ask for teh o.  Tea without sugar is teh kosong.  Tea without milk or sugar is teh oh kosong.  If you want it cold, you can ask for teh ais (ice in Bahasa Melayu), or teh ping (ice in Hokkien).  These words all apply to coffee, or kopi, as well.  Being an American, I have “my drink” (probably a product of marketing from a certain Seattle coffee company).  My drink is a kopi ais kurang manis.

Step 3: Get up and browse the stalls.

Each stall around the tables will serve their own specialty.  There is hardly ever any overlap.  There will be a guy selling char kwai teow.  Another guy will sell kwai teow t’eng.  Sometimes you have to look carefully because there might be variations in spelling.  I’ve seen kwei tiow, kwey tiaw, and kway tiaou. 

If you are watching out for heat, you can often ask for things to be no spicy or half spicy depending on your taste.  Full heat can sometimes be quite painful for those not used to the Southeast Asian chili peppers.

Prices are clearly posted and pretty standard.  There is no need to haggle.  They might negotiate with you anyway, but that is usually just to up-sell you.  For example I was at a place where 2 chicken wings were posted at RM 4.  The seller offered me 3 for RM 5.

Step 4: Pay when served

When the food is ready it will be brought to your table.  Have cash ready.  The server will make change.  And there is no need to leave a tip.  In fact, it is inadvisable.

Step 5: Eat


Step 6: Leave

There is staff who will come and bus your table.  Don’t worry about that.  If you found the food to be especially excellent, be sure to swing by the seller and rave about it to them.  That is worth much more than a gratuity.

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Daniel - June 25, 2012 at 12:18 AM

Categories: Culture, Food and Drink, Language   Tags:

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