Family Life in Penang, Malaysia
Here’s a rough estimation of how much we spend per month living here.
- Rent (Tanjung Bungah) : RM2800
- Utilities (internet, electricity, water) : RM530 (Note that we have 2 air-conditioners switched on at night, and we subscribe to TIME Broadband, and are on prepaid mobile and data plans)
- Daycare (for 1 child, 3 hours in the morning) : RM600
- Groceries (supermarkets, wet markets) : RM1200
- Eating out : RM500
- Petrol : RM160 (Note that we don’t drive much since my husband works from home, and I am a home-maker. My daughter’s daycare is a 10 minute walk from our house)
- Cleaner : RM280 (RM70 weekly, 4 hour session)
Other than that,
- Car (Ford Fiesta, second hand) : RM40000
- Car Insurance and Road Tax: RM1200 annually
- Medical : Approx RM40 per visit to a GP, and at least RM120 at a pediatrician
We spend more from time to time, for things like cheese and alcohol. Alcohol in Malaysia is heavily taxed. A 6 pack of beer costs around RM35, whereas a bottle of wine can cost from RM50 upwards. We normally get our cheese from an Italian restaurant in town, and it sells cheese for around RM16 per 100 gms. Read more on the cost of living in Malaysia here.
When my eldest (Juliette, now 3) was 18 months old, we decided that she would spend a few hours a day at a daycare, to learn how to interact with children her age, and to give me some time to concentrate on other things. She took to daycare like a champ, even though it was her first time away from me. To be honest I think she preferred spending some time away from us. It stung, just a bit (but I too, felt good).
Daycares here start accepting babies as young as 3 months old (I think), but those which cannot handle young babies, typically take in toddlers 18 months old and above. We’ve had very good experiences in 2 of the places we’ve sent our eldest to. The children learn nursery rhymes, Montessori teachings, create art, celebrate cultural celebrations together, and have weekly cooking/baking sessions (my favourite activity)! Every Wednesday, my daughter now comes home with something she made in the kitchen.
Another thing I really like about daycares here, is that the child is exposed to a few different languages. They learn songs, nursery rhymes, words, and numbers in English, Malay and Chinese. It’s the best time for them to pick languages up, after all.
In Malaysia, daycare centres are regulated by the government, so there are very strict guidelines when it comes to the spread of illnesses such as the dreaded HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease). When 3 cases occur, the centre is forced to close for a week, for extreme cleaning and disinfection. The horrible thing about Juliette starting daycare was how often she got sick – say hello to never-ending runny noses for at least a year.
But it’s not all bad. Juliette changed from a picky eater, to actually being excited about trying new food ever since she started meals at daycare. She was slightly difficult when it came to starting solid food. She refused everything, until she was a year old, and since then, it’s always been a challenge introducing her to new food – until we started her on lunch at the centre, that is. 2 months ago, we decided that since we had a newborn to deal with, it would just be less stress for us if she had lunch at daycare so we didn’t have to spend an hour and a half having lunch. This changed everything. Seeing her friends eat all kinds of food, made her do the same. Now she has lunch twice, at daycare and a bit more when she gets home because she wants to try whatever I’ve prepared.
My advise when looking for daycare is, look for reviews online. When children are happy wherever they go, it shows, and parents voice it out. I believe that at a young age, what children need is to learn through fun, and to learn how to interact with kids their age. There were centres that we visited, that were very focused on learning and preparing children for school. Some even had tests for kids as young as 4! If that’s what you’re looking for, then go for it, but we just wanted Juliette to have fun.
Giving Birth in Penang
I gave birth to my daughter Juliette (now 3) in Singapore, and my son Oliver (now 4 months) in Malaysia. For both births, we opted for private hospitals, and the difference in cost was incredible. Both births were natural, and uncomplicated. We spent almost 10 times more in Singapore vs here in Malaysia. It was definitely an eye opener. We had very good standard of care in both countries, but now I understand why some Malaysian mothers would purposely return to Malaysia to have their babies.
With Oliver, since he is Malaysian, we had a nurse from the government health clinic come visit us at home the day after we returned from the hospital, to check on him and myself. I didn’t know this was the norm! I was pleasantly surprised. I was not sure what to expect from public health services, but what I saw was very professional and gentle care, and I loved it so much that I decided to bring him for all his immunizations at the health clinic. Not only was this free, but it was quicker than going to the pediatrician at Island Hospital. This benefit covers all Malaysians, regardless of whether you are paying taxes or not. Read more on healthcare in Malaysia here.
Happenings and Experiences
Our daily routine
Our routine is slightly different from other families, as both my husband and I are home most of the time. He works from home, and I am a homemaker.
Our weekday routine starts at 7.15 am. My husband tends to our daughter, has breakfast with her and walks her to her daycare. I get to sleep in a while longer to recover from the night. Once or twice a week, he also does the groceries or goes to the market. Yes, I know. My husband is pretty awesome.
While our daughter is at ‘school’, my husband works while I care for our newborn, and work on some of my projects. This website is one of them.
At 12 noon, my husband would fetch our daughter, and I would start on lunch. Lunch is normally what we had for dinner the day before, as I always cook enough for 2 meals. We then sit down together for lunch and catch up.
After lunch and cleaning up, at 2, my husband would go upstairs to work and our daughter would spend 2-3 hours either playing by herself, or taking a nap in her room. We’ve been trying to keep the naps going but these days it is so sporadic. We are devastated, but we have accepted the fact that her relationship with naps is more or less ending. I would stay downstairs with our son and continue on my projects, or housework. This way works for us because we need to separate the 2 kids otherwise my son wouldn’t be able to nap at all in the afternoon. It took a lot of nagging and crying at first, but now my daughter is happy for her alone time.
I start preparing dinner at around 4.30 to 5 pm, sometimes with the help of my daughter. Sometimes we go for walks around the neighbourhood, or a swim, or to the playground in the evenings. We are very fortunate to live in a place with facilities like a pool 50 metres away from our home. The playground near our home is also filled with kids in the evenings and is a great way for her to use up all her energy and build up her hunger for dinner.
Dinnertime starts between 6.30 and 7 pm. After dinner, our daughter has a 15 minute session of Youtube to watch her favourite videos. These days, she’s watching classic Disney cartoons. Her bath time is at 8 pm and bedtime is at 8.30 pm. Once we have put her to bed, we then bathe my son, feed him, and put him to bed. After that, I read or Netflix till 11 pm or until I doze off.
On weekends, we have a more or less free and easy schedule. We do try to be home in the afternoons to encourage my daughter to nap, though, but we also don’t make it our number one priority now that she’s older. In Penang, there are many family activities available and I will be covering that in another post. In the meantime here are some of the places we’ve checked out: Penang Butterfly Farm, Penang Municipal Park, Batu Feringghi Beach, and Penang Hill.
Interesting Observations/Experiences in Malaysia
People in Penang (or maybe this applies to the whole of Malaysia) seem to love babies a lot. We’ve been to restaurants, banks and government offices before where employees have requested to hold our then baby daughter. She’s been given dolls, soft toys, and food by complete strangers and some could be quite insistent on the carrying. This took getting used to. I am wary of the dangers and am always watching closely, but I love how it feels like we are living in a big kampung.
Once a year we fly back to France for a few weeks, and we have found that although flying via Singapore instead of Kuala Lumpur costs more, is a much more pleasant experience. Besides excellent duty free shopping in Changi, there is also more to see and entertain. This year we might opt to fly directly from Penang to France via Doha on Qatar Airways as they have recently started flying out from here.
We applied for Juliette’s Malaysian citizenship in January 2016 right after settling in in Penang. The submission of the application itself was a straightforward process, but alas up till now we haven’t received any word of the status of the application. A recent visit to Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara also produced no results, and all we can do, is apparently wait. This means that my daughter is living here on a visa, that has to be renewed every 6 months, and this can only be done in Jabatan Imigresen Negeri Pulau Pinang which is on the mainland. It can be a long wait, so if you need to go through the same thing and have the means, I’d suggest looking for a runner to get it done for you.
We love living in Penang, and consider ourselves very lucky to be able to call it home. We have made a bunch of good friends here. Since my parents don’t live in Penang, we are happy to be able to trust and depend on them to babysit our kids and plants if necessary. I am thankful that my kids will be exposed to all these languages (English, French, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin and dialects galore)) and colourful cultures. Will we move away from here? Maybe, in a few years, but for now, we’re here, and enjoying every moment of it.