Hello, there! This article is meant to be an introduction to my family, and family life in Malaysia. This will hopefully give you a taste of what life can be like in Malaysia, especially if you have a family. As this website grows, I’d like to provide stories from other families too, but that will come later on. For now let’s start with our story.
Who are we?
We are a family of 4. I am a Malaysian and my husband is French. We have 2 kids, a girl named Juliette aged 3 years, and a baby boy named Oliver, who’s coming to 4 months now. We currently live in Penang, and family life, work-life balance and quality of living are of utmost importance to us.
Why we moved to Malaysia
Before living in Malaysia, we used to live in Singapore. I met my husband there and after getting married and pregnant with our first kid, we decided that we wanted to be fully there especially for the early years of our children’s lives. As much as I loved working, what I wanted the most was to be there 24/7 to raise my babies, to give them home cooked meals and to sit down as a family for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. I was also very against having someone else care for my kid. I also did not want to be a parent that could only see my kid before going to work, and just before their bedtime. Therefore, we both agreed for me to stop working.
I’d like to note here, though, that this is in no way an attack on mothers who work. Here I give all my kudos to moms who work. I cannot imagine being tired from work and still have to come home and deal with the responsibilities of raising a family and keeping a home. They are real troopers and will one day take over the world, if they haven’t already.
It was not an easy decision to make to stop working, considering that we couldn’t raise a family comfortably in Singapore on a single income. Singapore is a lovely place to live, but only if you make enough money. We were living in a tiny (not so comfortable) HDB flat in Singapore and it just didn’t fit our vision in regards to quality living. We weren’t earning enough to live the life we wanted to live, so our only option was to move from Singapore. Moving away was bittersweet. We had spent quite some time there and had developed very valuable relationships throughout the years.
We thought about all the possible places to move to and decided on Penang, Malaysia. My husband had lived in Asia since 2002 and it was a very easy place for him to fit in to. We made trips to Penang to visit some properties and decided on a lovely apartment (above the water) overlooking the Straits of Malacca. As a comparison, in Penang, we were spending 1/3 the amount of rent that we were paying in Singapore, for an apartment 3 times the size!
We moved over when my eldest was 6 months old. Moving with a young baby was probably one of the most difficult things we had ever done, but we managed, mainly from help of my mom. We also had a really helpful property agent who not only helped find us a home, but also completely eased the transition for us.
Here’s a tidbit that I found on a blog (can’t confirm how true it is, though): expats now represent six percent of Penang Island’s population, compared to just 0.3 percent nationwide.
Life in Malaysia
Where we live
We moved to Malaysia in December 2015 and currently live on the island of Penang, Malaysia. It’s a tropical island of sorts, with a population of about 700 thousand. It’s popular for its food and status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s artsy, as seen from the painted murals behind colonial era shop lots. It’s charming, with delicious banana leaf restaurants about, and ice kacang and cendol stalls to battle the heat, as well as trishaws doing their own thing in traffic, not bothered at all about going 10 kms an hour.
For the first 2 years in Penang, we lived in a nice apartment near the first bridge. It was built practically on the water. The development had amazing facilities and even had its own boat dock, with boats you could rent and take out for the day. It was a lovely place, and had so much space for my daughter to explore as she learnt how to crawl and walk. It was a short 5 minutes drive away from Tesco, where we did most of our grocery shopping, and 15 minutes from Georgetown.
We now live in Tanjung Bungah, in a 3 bedroom townhouse. It is gated, guarded and with facilities. It’s close to the beach, hawkers, Tesco and markets, and that’s more or less everything we need. It’s 15 minutes from the town centre and is very family oriented. The playground near our place is always full in the evenings, and that’s such a lovely sight to see.
What we eat
In Penang, like most South East Asean countries, it’s very cheap to eat out. There are hawker stalls everywhere, and it’s a lifestyle most are accustomed to. A delicious bowl of noodles at the hawker center can cost as low as RM3.50. If you’re going for something more comfortable and more ‘western’, you needn’t spend too much either. A hearty plate of pasta will cost about RM20-30. Food is a big thing here, with people sharing their experiences and recommending their favourites on social media, so it isn’t difficult to find something nice to eat.
Penang is synonymous with food, and it’s generally agreed that the island’s best eats can be found at its hawker stalls and food courts. Not eating at a hawker centre on Penang is like missing the Louvre in Paris – you simply have to do it. And why wouldn’t you? There are tonnes of hawker centres in Penang, ranging from old-school, shophouse-bound ‘cafes’ to open-air conglomerations of mobile stalls, boasting menus that range in cuisine from halal South Asian to regional Chinese. But perhaps most importantly, Penang’s hawker centres are cheap, informal and almost universally delicious. – Lonely Planet
In spite of that, our family eats at home a lot. I handle the weekday meals and my husband does the weekends. I love the fact that we have the opportunity to eat Malaysian and French meals at home – my kids are so lucky! My husband and I like cooking, and although it can be more expensive than eating out, it’s something we enjoy, and I must say, it’s also a very nice thing when my daughter looks forward to what we have prepared.
Where we shop
We buy most of our groceries in Tesco, and Tesco does deliveries for free and constantly gives additional discounts if you order online, so use that. Also get a Tesco card if you don’t have one already. Use this for points that are convertible into cash vouchers. For meat, we prefer Cold Storage and Sam’s.
We also go to the fresh market for vegetables, fish, pork and chicken. Our favourite markets in Penang are at Mount Erskine and Batu Lanchang. Something that I’ve found and loved in the markets here are premixed curry pastes. You just have to tell the seller what type of curry you’re cooking (chicken, fish, etc), how much you’re cooking, and they will prepare a mix of spices and garlic/ginger/onion paste for you. It’s such a convenient way to cook curry!
We also shop a lot online, like many Malaysians. There are a lot of things which can be obtained at a cheaper price on sites like Lazada, like diapers, kitchen tools and toys. Just make sure to check on reviews from other users before buying, to avoid any problems.
What people are like
Penangites are generally very friendly, and proud of their home. They mix very well together although they come from different races and religions. It’s such a beautiful thing when people of different cultures can sit down at the same table and talk and laugh with each other.
The younger generation command a very high level of English, but when communicating with the older ones, it is advised to learn a few words of Hokkien or Malay. This will go a long way in getting better service, and maybe even lower prices. It is not uncommon to see Malays or Indians speaking Chinese in Penang, but it did throw me for a loop when I first arrived. Penang Hokkien is so interlaced with Malay and English words that it’s pretty much a dialect of its own.
So there you go. To find out about stuff like our living expenses, childcare, giving birth in Penang, and other experiences, click here!