This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

December 06, 2004

Material Goods

What do you really need? I asked myself this question many times before I left the U.S. I shipped 53 pounds of books ahead and packed up my laptop computer, various cameras and microphones, and assorted cables into a carefully measured carry-on bag. The equipment is available here, but it's not especially cheap.

Intekma Resort entrance

UiTM is housing me at Intekma Resort, which the university owns. When you hear "resort," please do not think "Miami Beach." It's nothing like that. But it is a very comfortable place to live, less than two miles from the campus. The experience can't compare to living in a neighborhood with regular residents, but there is a local-style shopping center about four blocks away, complete with three restaurants (restoran), two mini-markets, a photocopy shop, a scooter sales and repair shop, and even an appliance store.

So for bread, ice cream, a newspaper, or a nice fresh roti canai, I can take a short walk and find everything I need. The shops look rather unappealing from the outside, because the humidity (and possibly acid rain) tends to leave a fungal dinginess on walls, but inside, things shine cleanly, including the ceramic tile floors.

So, back to what a person really needs to have. Well, food, of course, and a dry place to sleep. And then, a few decent eating utensils. For my first shopping trip in Shah Alam, Kiran took me to a store called Giant, which is a local version of a Super Wal-Mart -- and not very different at all. (The type of store is called a hypermart.) But if you want to see truly LOW prices, you should come here! I made off with a car-trunk-full of household necessities (many cleaning supplies, a stack of dish towels, a good bowl, a good mug, and a serviceable chef's knife) and an assortment of groceries for RM 210 (about $55).

Shopping at Malaysia's Giant

The apartment came supplied with some dishes (mostly plastic) and utensils, a half-size fridge, a decent microwave, and an electric kettle (British style), but no cookware. So on a later shopping excursion, I also acquired a saucepan and a saute pan.

An interesting feature of the kitchen: It has no hot tap water. After asking among my colleagues at the university, I discovered that hot tap water is not typical in Malaysian kitchens. (The bathroom has its own individual water heater, so the shower temperature is great.) Washing dishes with hot water from the electric kettle has been one of my learning experiences here. Since the tap water needs to be boiled before drinking, I want to make sure I don't leave tap water microbes on my food containers. I've figured out how to arrange things in the sink after scrubbing with soap and cold water so that I can pour boiling water all over everything.

There is no conventional oven, and the two propane burners are fueled by a canister in the cupboard beneath the burners.

Suburban street in Shah Alam

After about a week and a half with only the TV set, I wanted a radio and something to play CDs on. I still have not bought any clocks (using my cell phone, PDA, and laptop to tell time, and the PDA has a alarm). The TV is on a cable system provided by the resort and shows only the seven Malaysian channels, which are fascinating (lots of locally produced dramas and sitcoms), but there are rarely English subtitles. The news is broadcast in English at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 1, the primary state channel, and at midnight on Channel 3. The stations show American movies frequently, with the original sound and subtitles in Bahasa.

So, music on my mind, I walked down to the local shops to scope out the portable radio/CD players. I bought a Sony model that also plays MP3 CDs, which is convenient because I can always burn stuff from my laptop to a blank CD. The salesman offered me a discount without my even trying to bargain (about 10 percent off the marked price). But even more unusual, he proceeded to test the unit for me before I left the store. He cut all the packing tape, unloaded the player, plugged it in, inserted a CD and played it, put batteries into the remote and tried it out, and explained to me (in fluent English) the operation of the radio and the cassette player. All this surprised me, of course, but I wasn't about to interfere with his customer service practices.

When he had finished, and assured himself that I was satisfied, he packed everything up again just as it had been and even taped the box closed. Then he got a rubber stamp and inkpad and placed a lot of official stamps on the Sony warranty card, which was nothing like the flimsy little postcard we get in the U.S. -- more like a lease or a loan agreement! If anything goes wrong, he told me, I should bring it back to them at the shop.

So far I have found one English-language radio station (90.40 FM). I'm sure there are more, but I haven't bother yet to learn how to program presets.

My apartment at Intekma Resort

And what else? Obviously, the apartment has electrical outlets, but not enough for all my rechargeable devices. The plugs are British-style, which are huge, and each outlet has its own on/off switch. I brought adapters with me, but I needed some converters to allow me to plug more than one thing into a socket. That led me to a shopping excursion at Makro, which closely resembles a Sam's Club or Costco. Again I dropped between $50 and $60, but walked away with an amazing amount of stuff -- including four cute pillows for the living room, priced at RM 9.60 ($2.50) apiece. The socket converters were equally inexpensive.

That leaves transportation. Taxis (teksi) are quite cheap, but sometimes it's hard to find a local number to call to have one come and get me. That happened at Makro, but finally a newsstand operator was able to give me a phone number. After I called, the taxi came in about five minutes. Bus service is unreliable (at least that's what everyone tells me), and all the members of the faculty have cars, which they use even to get from one part of campus to another. I've been shopping for a motorbike and thought I had one ordered at the closest shop, but it turned out they couldn't get it for another week or more.

So Friday night, my colleague Rosni and her husband, Haznan (and their 6-year-old daughter, Nahna), took me around, and we went back to one of the shops where Daruss had taken me last week. I was looking at a Yamaha six-speed motorbike with a real clutch, but the new ones are more than RM 7,000. They had one used model, but it has an electrical problem that needs to be repaired, and that didn't sound good to me.

To make a long story short, I bought a used Yamaha Nouvo scooter. I took it for a test ride around the block of shops, and it's very easy to handle. The transmission is fully automatic, which I find completely weird, but it seems very responsive in every way (except acceleration, of course; it's only 115cc). Haznan negotiated for me, and while he didn't get them to lower the price, he got them to include a helmet, a new battery, a new rear tire, a fork lock, and a full tank of petrol. The final price, including taxes, registration, and insurance: RM 3,990 ($1,037). I left a deposit Friday night and returned (with Haznan and Nahna; Rosni was at UiTM, enrolling in a doctoral degree program) to pick it up Saturday morning.

Naturally, the bike wasn't ready. There was an additional snag in that on the first and third Saturday of the month, the post offices are closed, and we would need to go there to pay the road tax. But Monday, at last, I was able to ride my little bike home!

My Yamaha Nouvo AT 115

Posted by macloo at December 6, 2004 09:41 PM