Pandemic in Penang: A Play-by-Play from Two Digital Nomads in Malaysia

Before you judge our decision to stay in Malaysia and not ‘repatriate’ ourselves, scroll to the bottom to read our motivations for riding out the pandemic in Penang/George Town. If coronavirus statistics trigger your anxiety, this journal might not be for you. Also, I wrote this, so not everything here reflects Jonas’ views.

My sources for Malaysia come from the trilingual news website Malaysia Kini, which has an excellent COVID-19 tracker which adds new functionality almost twice a week, and our elevator. My world stats come from the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, which unfortunately keeps butchering country names. The Dutch stats come from the ESRI COVID-19 Hub. The watercolor maps come from maps.stamen.com.

Days since arriving in Penang: 137

Days since the start of the Movement Control Order (MCO): 195

Diary + Developments

Tuesday, 21st of July: Leaving Penang, traveling to Taiping (final diary entry)

Pandemic in Penang packing backpack final day Malaysia Taiping Perak

It’s day 126 and we’re about to leave Penang and travel through Malaysia. Our first destination will be Taiping and we’re going to use Grab followed by a train to get there. Hitchhiking is still out of the question for now. I’ve consulted a Malaysian friend on this issue and concluded it’s not a good idea. I often see photos of fellow hitchhikers in Europe going about their journeys much like before the pandemic. To say I don’t envy them would be a lie, but I’m also still happy to be in Malaysia.

This entry concludes this ‘Pandemic in Penang’ diary. I’ll probably keep a similar diary for traveling within Malaysia during this pandemic.

Monday, 20th of July: Packing to travel Malaysia, meeting our friends for the last time

Today, Jonas and I started packing up all our stuff in the house. It’s pretty strange to fit everything back into our backpacks again, which used to be a weekly event before that. After 125 days since the start of the MCO, it’s time to prepare to leave Penang and see more of Malaysia. If you add the days we were in Penang before the lockdown, that comes down to a total 137 days in just one city. For comparison, the entire Kayak+Work trip down the Danube took 132 days in total. What do we have to show for it?

In the evening, we met up with our Texan friends one more time. We met up at our favorite non-delivery restaurant in Penang: the Original Reggae Club. We had a feast of falafel, some drinks, and conversation.

Once we returned home, Jonas went to sleep almost immediately. I took the time to still fix some clothes and pack some stuff. Will it all fit?

On a darker note, the cases in Malaysia are going up again: 21 new cases today and only 2 recoveries. This wouldn’t be a problem if all these new patients were returning to Malaysia from abroad, but the majority are local transmissions, not imported. Many of the states that had been free from COVID-19 for months have new infections, including the state of Perak where we’re traveling to. We’re keeping an eye on this. A second lockdown might actually happen.

Sunday, 19th of July: Laundry day before the big packing, Malaysia has more than 100 cases again

For those of you who haven’t read this 15.000-word monster in full, we didn’t have a washing machine inside our apartment. We hand-washed all our clothes during the whole pandemic. This isn’t a problem because we both know how to do that and take care of our own stuff, but washing machines are objectively great.

Back on the 25th of June, we discovered that our condo actually has a laundrette that’s run by the guy who also runs our apartment. It hadn’t opened to individuals yet, so we continued to hand-wash for weeks. But I kept asking Jonas if we could perhaps move out of the stone age before we leave Penang. Today we finally went there and paid RM 7 for a 25-minute machine wash. Of course, I’d just hand-washed all my shit two days prior.

laundry service polar bear wash and dry tropicana 218 penang malaysia

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has slowly crept up over the last week. At its lowest, we had 63 confirmed patients. Today, there are 103 people in treatment. The two-digit numbers only lasted for 18 days. New clusters are emerging in East Malaysia and I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time until the next lockdown. This makes me scared to leave the comfort of Penang.

Friday, 17th of July: Hiking to Muka Head Lighthouse in Penang National Park + Cat Beach

I might write a full blog post later. For now, enjoy a picture:

Muka head lighthouse penang national park hike

Tuesday+Wednesday, 14th+15th of July: Tiny enjoyments across George Town

On Tuesday we wanted to visit Flip Burger in person at Gurney Paragon Mall. We also really needed to print out some papers, but only the mall next door Gurney Plaza has a facility with a printer. Asking people for “copy shop” resulted in lots of suggestions for cafés, which is completely our fault.

When I say “mall next door” it leaves out a whole lot of detail on how to get there. I think we walked 3 kilometers back and forth between malls and being sent around several floors until someone at a desk finally sent us to Foto President in some basement. The camera shop had a printer. I guess Malaysia has advanced too far up the tech tree for copy shops to still be a thing.

Oh, and the Flip Burger was amazing.

On Wednesday, we went to one of our favorite non-delivery restaurants in Penang. It’s called Tanny vegetarian house and the guy who runs the place is a wonderful person. If you order standing your food will be there before you sit down. He woks our favorite foods like char kuey teow and Singapore bihun in no time and he sometimes brings a small plate of something else he’s cooking for us to try. Places like these… it breaks my heart that we’re leaving so soon.

Since these Buddhist-Chinese restaurants don’t do alcohol, we made a stop on the way home to this place called Old Winston Coffee Garden to drink a beer. It’s right around the corner from Tropicana 218 and we only had to cross one road on the way back. It was a little like Red Garden Food Paradise, but much less fancy. We’ve walked past it and looked out on it for months though, so we really wanted to satisfy our curiosity.

Monday, 13th of July: Meeting our friends at Red Garden Food Paradise

We met up again with our Texan friends, this time at a sort of food court at their suggestion. I say food court because it was more organized than a hawker center and it still has loads of food choices. It was actually very similar to the Northam Beach Cafe we’d originally met them on June 19th. So much has changed in the USA since then—and they’re looking in from the outside seeing people they care about being done so dirty. Returning is out of the question for now.

This is probably our last meeting since we’re leaving Penang for real this time. We booked train tickets and a hotel and all. Travel feels like such a long time ago that even the tiniest preparations seem like an insurmountable task. Tasks such as printing out our embassy letters for when officials wonder why we’re still here.

Sunday, 12th of July: Visiting Fort Cornwallis. FYI the pandemic is over (?)

As a very short trip, we visited Fort Cornwallis around sunset. We’d just started playing Tropico 6 the day before and can confirm that the colonial fort in the game is nearly identical to this fort. We didn’t enter, but it was a fun walk around the structure.

Fort Cornwallis penang RMCO visit 1 (2)

At the western end of the fort is the Penang Esplanade with Penang’s governmental buildings in the backdrop. There were so many people on the huge lawn that I first thought people were protesting. But it was just a ton of families having picnics and so on. Whenever we see scenes like this, Jonas and I repeat some form of the phrase “Have you heard the news? The pandemic is over” to each other.

I smell a second wave.

Fort Cornwallis penang RMCO visit 2 (2)

Friday, 10th of July: Kayaking to Pulau Tikus (the island, not the neighborhood)

We finally did it! Blog post will hopefully follow soon.

Kayaking to pulau tikus island penang george town malaysia

Thursday, 9th of July: Do we truly love Penang or is this Stockholm syndrome?

This has been on my mind.

I’d like to believe that we both really love Penang. I can’t imagine any other city on earth that I’d like to be locked down in. There’s delicious food, nice weather, fun things to do once it’s open, and friendly people everywhere. I haven’t been to a city where I liked the food diversity as much as here.

My current proof for genuinely loving Penang is that we could have traveled to other parts of Malaysia for a month already, but chose to stay. Perhaps the city took our hearts us hostage, but we’re free to leave now. Now that I write this it does sound like Stockholm syndrome. Even though we want to visit other cities in Malaysia, nothing will probably beat Penang from what I’ve read. And the odds that suddenly there are a thousand new corona patients prompting a new lockdown makes going to a different place a little scary.

So I did the scientific thing by going on the Wikipedia page of the very questionable Stockholm syndrome and thinking of shallow equivalencies to check whether this applies:

  • Before the lockdown, we already had positive feelings towards Penang.
  • We had a short 13-day previous relationship with Penang before the MCO
  • For a long time, we refused to cooperate with forces or government authorities that wanted us to leave Penang. I guess those government authorities/forces are vis-a-vis the Dutch and German embassies/governments and their shitty travel advice. I don’t know, they didn’t really try to reach out to us. We both recently obtained letters from our embassies though to tell potential cops here that we can stay in Malaysia during the RMCO.
  • We believe in the humanity of our captor city because we ceased to perceive being locked down in Penang as a threat. In fact, we both saw it as an opportunity to do a lot of other fulfilling things and to get to know our captor island in depth. I’m not sure if we hold the same values as this city but let’s say we do. The current values of Penang seem to be “Experience Penang 2020” (done) and “The Diversity of Asia” (true) if we’re going by tourism slogans.

Also, we’re not victims.

In conclusion: this was a dumb thought experiment and I should sleep.

Wednesday, 8th of July: Who declared the pandemic in Penang over?

I don’t want to be that person that complains about other people’s behavior, but man, social distancing is dead.

We went out more often in the last few weeks and met people that we know, but we’ve inevitably sat in the same breathing cloud as people outside our party. Many businesses don’t seem to care much about this anymore, which I empathize with because they’re making up for the hard time they’ve had.

The standards have slipped slowly, then rapidly over the last weeks. I see fewer facemasks used in public. I understand it’s hard to still feel the reality of the virus while Penang hasn’t seen any coronavirus patient for months. But I’m afraid that the massive domestic tourism going on right now might cause a second wave. Even as local transmission has all but stopped and the original biggest cluster has evaporated.

We’re not free from letting our standards slip. We’ve both forgotten to wear a facemask when picking up food from downstairs and after eating out we often forget to put it back on.

In the end, it’s a matter of how much we trust the Malaysian government’s numbers on COVID-19 to establish how safe it is to act like there’s no pandemic. No government has the complete picture of the pandemic and the number and location of cases. That’s not their fault, of course. So I asked Jonas this same question to gauge how similar we think about this.

“I trust the government’s numbers by 90%,” he said. I had the same percentage in my head.

So far, we haven’t seen a drastic uptick in cases since the start of the RMCO and interstate travel. This surprised me. Some people might think there’s an incentive for states to not report new cases because it hurts the economy or something like that. However, I think no one in a position of power here is that short-sighted to think they could cover up new cases. So the missing 10% comes from not having the complete picture of the numbers. Antibody testing might reveal that many more people had the virus. I remember China updated their death toll by more than 3.000 people in a single day because they could see more clearly after the big chaos. I expect something like that to still happen on a small scale in Malaysia, too.

Monday, 6th of July: Going up the Komtar (not worth it)

In the evening, we made the semi-spontaneous call to get tickets to the Komtar tower at the 50% discounted price of RM 29 per person. We love going up TV and radio towers and other tall structures to look around. We were hoping for a similar experience.

The experience was… meh.

We probably went here too late since its reopening because there were too many damn kids around. I also believe the out-of-towners from KL have also left the capital to do domestic tourism. And this was still supposed to be a quiet time and day to visit. Then there was the issue of not being able to go up anytime you want; we arrived there at 19:00 expecting we could go up then, but we were told the next elevator goes at 19:30… An elevator with a schedule is a special kind of hell.

On top, it was just plain weird. And weirdly enough, no one took our temperature or gave us a dollop of hand sanitizer. I would expect more from such a big tourist attraction that sees so many grubby hands.

6 july 2020 penang komtar 2 6 july 2020 penang komtar 1

You see, there are many sources out there that talk about the failures of Komtar and its 70’s visionary design and its displacement of people. While gentrification is bad and the construction costs are oof, I actually do like the design—especially the four-storey base of equatorial brutalist goodness. And I generally enjoy looking out on it all day from our apartment.

But the whole management of people visiting the rooftop is pretty bad. With the slightest bit of rain – which caused another epic rainbow – just before sunset, we were “advised” to go inside. They didn’t mean it as a mere suggestion but actually ushered us inside once we thanked and dismissed their advice. We got to spend about 10 minutes up there before we were forced into the restaurant until we decided to go to one of the lower floors. There we had only a slight bit of enjoyment until the screeching resumed.

6 july 2020 penang komtar 4 6 july 2020 penang komtar 5

We eventually salvaged the night by going to our favorite non-delivery place Reggae Club, where got falafel, beer, and shisha. A gloriously childfree and dog-friendly place. A sanctuary of sorts.

6 july 2020 reggae bar falafel shisha penang

Saturday, 4th of July: Eating at Lily's Vegetarian Kitchen

Our meetup with my friend from Ipoh and his friend from the time they studied in Melaka together happened at 11:00, which is also not my peak awake time They suggested meeting at Lily’s Vegetarian Kitchen, which was a place we could reach on foot from Tropicana 218. The guys arrived by car and we got an introduction.

Again it was very nice to socialize with people in person. My Ipoh friend is a really energetic person who loves connecting people.

The food was amazing and we wondered why we’d never ordered from there since Lily’s is also on Foodpanda. It’s also super cheap and delicious. I ordered a ‘wok hei’ type of dish, which really lived up to the hype. Every time we eat at a new place in Penang, it confirms that we probably shouldn’t ever leave this city.

They gave us a ride home, which made me realize how much I’ve missed sitting in other people’s cars. Perhaps hitchhiking will not be out of the question when we’re going to travel on the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia in a few weeks.

In the evening, our favorite burger place Flip Burger sent us a follow-up message on Facebook to tell us their vegetarian patties are back in stock. Very heartwarming they thought of messaging us once they were back. We’ve craved their food for weeks now and in the prior messages, they said the vegetarian patties would only return on the 15th of July. We know now what we’ll be having for lunch tomorrow!

Friday, 3rd of July: First swim since lockdown, meeting my Malaysian Facebook friend IRL

Will the pool be open today, pretty pretty please?

🥺
👉👈

After work, we decided to give it another try. This time, we could swim!

Ahhh, it was glorious!

 

So yes, we’ve really stepped up our social life. Jonas and I never really had many friends in the real world, but suddenly we have a fulls schedule of social activities.

Today we met my Malaysian Facebook friend from Ipoh for the first time. He’s one of the few people who visited our mutual friend Xiao Wei since he went corporate. They traveled together in India back in the days.

I was quite exhausted from late-night work, so I wasn’t always super present. But it was very nice and we decided to meet up again the following day with one of his friends before he leaves Penang again.

Thursday, 2nd of July: Eating out with the Texan couple at Wheeler's

In the evening, we had dinner with the Texan couple we’d met at the Tourists Stranded in Malaysia meetup on the 19th of June. Great company and great food at one of our favorite Foodpanda restaurants called Wheeler’s. This whole pandemic makes me so aware of what’s nice in the world, such as in-person conversations and eating non-dank broccoli.

We also learned that our pool had apparently reopened just a few hours after we’d tried on the previous day 😐 Seems like we’re unnecessarily missing out on the fun of the RMCO.

Wednesday, 1st of July: Will the pool be open?

Today is the day the pools should be reopened. So in the early afternoon after work, we put on our swimming gear and headed to the 11th floor. But the tape was still around the pool entrance and pool lady confirmed that it was still closed. When we asked if she knew when it would be reopened, she said “I don’t know.”

Defeated, we made our way back upstairs and checked in the Facebook groups. Most condo pools seemed to still be closed in Penang.

Tuesday, 30th of June: Hiking to the meromictic lake in Penang National Park

We finally did it! I’ll publish more on this day later.

Edited to add:

Penang National Park and the Meromictic Lake at Pantai Keracut

Penang National Park Hike (iphone) forest meromictic lake

Sunday, 28th of June: Oops, we ordered too much food

Today, we accidentally ordered way too much Indian food. We were so excited that one of our favorite Indian restaurants named Woodlands Vegetarian is open again. Because they don’t seem to have a Facebook page, it has been really hard to find out if they’re open for dining in or not. When they joined Grab, we knew we had to order their food right away.

Jonas found some lunch deal for RM 25 called “Maharaja thali” that included a lot of different items. Since it’s all vegetarian, we could order something like that without worrying about it, so we didn’t Google what it meant. But we didn’t know how much food this was. Usually, we calculate how much food we need by assuming RM 25 per person will get us full at a fancy place. So we ordered two plus two masala teas.

When it was time to pick it up, we realized our mistake. The Grab driver gave Jonas one heavy-looking plastic bag full of food and the two drinks. Then came another one of those heavy-looking bags without drinks. Once upstairs again, we unpacked everything and realized the impact of two Maharaja thali. It was waaaaaay too much food, and quite a puzzle to put it all on plates and food boxes we’ve collected over the months. This is what our table looked like, and it’s only about 40% of the food we got delivered:

28 june indian food order

Needless to say, we didn’t even finish this 40% in one sitting. It was so good though! In the end, we packed it all away in the fridge and pledged to eat it all over the coming days while trying not to waste any food. I calculated this food was enough to feed us both four times, which was right. Finishing some of the dishes such as the desserts only happened about a week later.

Saturday, 27th of June: Visiting Pinxin in person, seeing the pool lady again for the first time in months

In the afternoon, we took a Grab to our favorite restaurant Pinxin. I brought over all the empty kimchi and satay jars we’d collected over the months to return them.

It’s a very cozy yet modern restaurant that lets you order from your phone instead of via a person. Very on-trend in 2020, but I think this method precedes the pandemic. The real discovery was that the menu in the real world has more dishes than the Grab food version. I guess not all food can be transported in a few boxes to our door. That’s why Jonas ate the nasi kandar and I stuck to my favorite dry noodle. Nasi kandar is quite a legendary meal in Penang and I think this vegan version was a pretty wholesome experience.

27 june pinxin dry noodle 27 june pinxin nasi kandar

After eating, we wanted to bring home another jar of kimchi. The problem was that they were just preparing the kimchi, so the young showrunner of Pinxin told us we can get a jar, but we need to not open it for at least three days. Then he let us try a bit of fresh (unfermented) kimchi, which indeed tastes very different. He recognized Jonas from an earlier interaction when we ordered their kimchi directly from the webshop. I returned our stack of jars and got one glorious jar of unripe kimchi to go. My precious.

Back at Tropicana, we decided now is an excellent time to make a stop at the 11th floor to check out how the pool is doing. Work on the area surrounding the two pools has restarted. Surprisingly little has changed, but they added more red-and-white tape around the pool ladder to tell people to go away.

At the end of the pool near Tower B, we encountered the pool lady that had always sat there while we swam back in March. She said “You’re here again!” and I was honestly very touched that she remembered our forgettable faces. We confirmed with her that the pool will indeed reopen on the 1st of July.

27 june 2020 pool tropicana

Friday, 26th of June: Joining the Couchsurfing meeting

In the evening, we went to Gayo Coffee to meet people from the CouchSurfing Penang Facebook group. I believe no one from the group was actually couchsurfing right now, but it was a nice get together under the banner of. The organizers had reiterated the rules for social distancing and set the limit on 20 people.

It was a very nice crowd and very different in vibe from the tourists stranded in Malaysia group since there were many locals. But next time I should pack a sweater in case there’s another rogue AC unit.

One person shared the story of a young woman from Sabah who had to do her exams online from her remote village due to the pandemic. Since the telecom infrastructure in East Malaysia covers much less than the more populated Peninsular Malaysia, she had to get creative to get internet reception. I highly recommend the vlog she made of her experience:

Thursday, 25th of June: One hundred days of MCO

Today marks the 100th day since the start of the MCO and the subsequent CMCO and RMCO. That also means I’ve been living in one apartment for (almost) 100 days.

Ugh, this is not a good headspace let’s change the topic.

Ehm, Malaysia Kini’s coronavirus tracker got some new functions. Looks like they’re expanding into music, but no.

25th of june 2020 malaysia kini newslab corona

We ate (non-fishy) food from the Sushi House in our building for the first time, which was amazingly good. It was also the first time I ate food from a certified sushi restaurant. And we wandered inside our building, spotted a laundry business, then it turned out our host runs that business and we met him for the first time.

There are many spots for small businesses inside Tropicana 218, along with the giant heritage house that somehow fits inside our building. It has mall potential.

25 june 2020 pandemic in penang explore tropicana 218 1 25 june 2020 pandemic in penang explore tropicana 218 2

Wednesday, 24th of June: A planned power outage renders us inert

We already knew for a week that a power planned power outage for our whole Tropicana 218 was coming. Our host kindly shared with us that this is a yearly thing. The announcement said the power outage would start at 10:00. The elevators would keep working, thank goodness.

At 9:50, they cut us off. Jonas had tried to make the apartment a little cooler with the AC but expected to have an extra 10 minutes. By 10:00 it rapidly started to become unbearable, so we closed the curtains to block out some of the heat coming from the east. This worked but also made me very sleepy. I was basically out sleeping in the daytime in my Batcave.

In the afternoon, I managed to get up finally to go to the Brew House. There we enjoyed a giant Hoegaarden with pizza under the glorious AC.

24th of june 2020 brew house pizza and beer

It’s tough to admit that my comfortable indoor temperature is 29°C and if it’s much above that I simply can’t move.

Back at home, we realized that the blackout didn’t last until 16:00, but until 18:00. We should have stayed at the Brew House for mojitos. But in the afternoon it’s a lot more doable on our side of the building. At 18:30, the electricity finally came back on and it sent the AC units blasting.

Monday, 22nd of June: Sandy feet at Pantai Batu Ferringhi and contacting both embassies

We took a Grab to one of the longest beaches of Penang Island: Pantai Batu Ferringhi. Before corona, it was apparently one of the prime beach destinations in the state for both holidaying locals and foreigners. There were only a few sites with people enjoying the water and the breeze. We walked the entire length of the beach and then some. All under skies that were sunny at times and then suddenly very threatening. On the southwestern end, we sat down at a restaurant named Frandy’s—one of the few open businesses.

Pantai Batu Ferringhi 1

Pantai Batu Ferringi 2

Once back home, Jonas got into contact with the German embassy in Kuala Lumpur. He’s requesting a letter from them that repeats what the government says about people on an expired tourist visa: that we can stay.

In the last few days, there were some stories in our Facebook groups and the Malaysian news about foreigners on a tourist visa. One couple in Kuala Lumpur got bullied by police about why they had expired passport stamps. It didn’t help that a government official also said something that directly contradicted the “you can stay until the 31st of August” narrative.

All of this terrifying talk made us cave. I also crafted an email to the Dutch embassy in Kuala Lumpur asking for the same. We’ll see if something comes out of it.

Friday, 19th of June: Stranded tourists meetup, Malaysia wants travel bubble with Brunei, Singapore, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia

In the afternoon, we joined the Penang meetup for tourists stranded in Malaysia for the first time. Apparently, there were already two meetups before this. We went to the Northam Beach Cafe, which was closed the last time we tried to access that beach on May 28th. We were a little nervous about the social distancing and sitting at a table with others. Especially as obvious foreigners.

Four other people showed up and we had drinks and a good time, generally speaking. It became good after the token sexist made himself redundant. I didn’t take any photos for privacy reasons. I didn’t even snap a picture of my sweaty Tiger beer or the view of the beach after the rain.

tea on travel bubbles

Later that day, Malaysia Kini posted about how the Malaysian government is conducting talks with six other countries to create a travel bubble. Those countries are fellow Malay speakers Singapore and Brunei, which in my opinion make the most sense to bubble up with. Brunei currently also has zero active cases!

Then there are the four countries Malaysia doesn’t share a land border with. South Korea and Japan, which also appear to have a grip on things in a similar manner to Malaysia, could make sense. I’m not sure what the usual relationship between Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia is. But it would certainly be cool if Malaysia could join ‘the original’ coronavirus travel bubble. It’s all a bit too soon to say, really.

What stands out is that we hear nothing about Malaysia’s other two neirbours: Indonesia and inescapable Thailand. Even though Indonesia, China, and Thailand are all in the top 4 of the nationalities that travel to Malaysia in normal times.

It’s funny that Indonesia is actually eyeing a travel bubble with Australia, South Korea, and Japan, while Thailand also looked in the direction of South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, especially if you play fucking golf. The choice of countries seems to purely be based on the proportion of tourists from those countries visiting Thailand and Indonesia. Perhaps foreign governments would be interested in opening up to Indonesia if the latter called it a ‘Bali travel bubble’ instead of an ‘Indonesia travel bubble’.

Even though I’m in no hurry to leave Malaysia, it would be good to have options later this year. Also, perhaps such a travel bubble will be citizenship-based (i.e. Malaysian passport holders can travel to Brunei and vice versa), which would leave us out. But first, we have to see if the feeling is mutual with the other six countries or if it’s unrequitted.

Wednesday, 17th of June: Beach walk + gigantic rainbow

We’d originally planned to walk down the beach of Tanjung Bungah on Tuesday, but it rained quite hard in the morning. The floating mosque of Penang is still closed, but it looked very pretty under the blue skies. We walked quite a bit from the watersports activities center of Tanjung Bungah all the way to the end of the rich people beach.

june 17th 2020 tanjung bungah floating mosque penang june 17th tanjung bungah rich people beach

Then we went inland to a Korean restaurant, a pharmacy, and a German restaurant. It’s a very interesting neighborhood; there’s even a Bulgarian restaurant!

We used the PG care QR codes to check ourselves into places. It’s good that it remembers you after a first check-in. It also checks you in automatically if you just checked-in elsewhere without symptoms.

Corona app penang malaysiaCorona app penang malaysia Corona app penang malaysia

In the evening, we were watching the last season of 13 Reasons Why when this gigantic double rainbow made an appearance a little before sunset. Wow!

june 17th penang komtar gia

Lastly, this day also marked the moment I’d tried out all eight noodle dishes on the menu of our favorite restaurant Pinxin. Dry Noodle is the best, followed by Asam Laksa, Jawa mee, and Fiery Curry Noodles. Not that you asked for this information.

Eaten all Pinxin noodle dishes (15 june 2020) Pandemic in Penang

Monday, 15th of June: Café coffee + elevator news

After morning work, we went to the nearby Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters that’s just around the corner. We used the PG care app to check-in, got our temps measured, ordered our food and beverages, then sat down at a social distancing table. Despite the initial awkwardness, it was a really good experience. And the grilled-cheese sandwich hit the spot just right.

Once we were back home, we saw there was new elevator news about the communal spaces of our residence. No pool. But yes, the gym and a few other spaces are open now.

15 june 2020 penang frank laurent coffee 15 june 2020 penang elevator news gym

Friday, 12th of June: I'm up-to-date on my shots

Still with sore legs from our hike at Penang Hill, we took a grab to one of the many malls on Gurney Drive. I’d booked an appointment at the Hibari Clinic there to get my final rounds of vaccinations I needed. I think it was Gurney Paragon Mall, but I’m not sure because the Google map marker was so far off target it might have been a different mall. It was very painful to try to up our speed under the stress of being late for the appointment. Then inside the mall, the clinic was in the most unfindable corner. It was a nice throwback to that time we had to find a dentist in a Colombian mall in Medellín and also had to look for the unsigned service hallways.

Pandemic penang Hibari Clinic friday 12 june 2020 2 Pandemic penang Hibari Clinic friday 12 june 2020 1

The intake questionnaire was normal, but then I got a special form for foreigners. They measured my temp, had hand sanitizer everywhere, and we all wore face masks. The doctor was really neat and the questionnaires took longer than the actual vaccination. In and out.

Then we had some time to stroll around the mall in peace, drink a bubble tea, and go to the supermarket. We decided to splurge on European cheese and olives, and Australian wine. Don’t judge, it’s self-care.

Tuesday, 9th of June: Hiking at Penang Hill

Our first touristy thing since forever! Read the dedicated blog post here:

Penang Hill to Ourselves: Funicular + Hiking without the People

Sunday, 7th of June: CMCO will end, RMCO will begin

So… great news! The CMCO will come to an end on June 9th, but something called the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) will begin the next day. This will last until the 31st of August and people like us on an expired tourist visa may stay until the end of it plus two weeks. Interstate travel will begin as well, so we could technically travel to Kuala Lumpur once we’re done in Penang. Pools will stay closed for a little while longer, though.

I’m so relieved.

Some other things like whether the national park will open are Penang-based decisions.

Update later in the day: the government of Penang isn’t so fond of the idea of the RMCO for now. Just like the CMCO, they won’t implement it directly on the 10th of June.

I also had another thought: wouldn’t it be great if Malaysia and Brunei (and later Singapore, perhaps) would form their own travel bubble? Just like how New Zealand and Australia join their squeaky clean hands, I think this would probably be a good idea in a few weeks/months. At the time of writing, Brunei has one active case.

It also turns out that Brunei opened its brand-new Temburong bridge on March 17th, 2020. Ahead of schedule. This bridge connects Brunei’s exclave named Temburong with the mainland and is essential for the people who live in the enclave. It’s the longest (cross-sea) bridge in Southeast Asia at 30 kilometers. The timing of finishing this bridge could literally not have been better, pandemic-wise. Just like the Donghai Bridge in Shanghai, I’m pretty desperate to hitchhike this new one once it’s possible. Thanks for listening to my geekery.

5th + 6th of June: Eating out despite the red tape

On an earlier walk, we’d seen a fancy-looking pub called The Brew House near our home. On Friday morning, I suggested to check it out. Initially, Jonas wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea of drinking a beer there. Once he looked up the place, he swiftly apologized for judging too soon, since the food menu looked awesome to him. Then I looked at the food menu, which wasn’t very vegetarian friendly. We decided to give it a try though after I messaged with them on Facebook if they had anything that could be vegetarianized.

When we got there, it was very, very busy. And very loud. A guy at the entrance checked if there was a table for two, but there wasn’t. So we decided to go to the nearby vegetarian restaurant called 8 Morality Vegetarian. Last time we tried to go there, it was on their off day.

This time, they were happy to feed us and we could sit inside. We got a huge table that would normally fit six people with ease. The side seats were taped off with actual red tape. This made us sit across from each other as if we’re those rich mansion people in a loveless marriage from the movies. Even though we said we live in the same household, they insisted we’d social distance from each other. As our first time eating out since the lockdown, this was awkward, to say the least. But the food was great and we’ll be back – though probably for take away.

5 june 8 morality restaurant

While paying, the young woman asked us if we were tourists or living in Penang. Jonas said that we were tourists, but now we live here, I guess?

On Saturday, we craved falafel. The best place in town for falafel is still The Original Reggae Club. So we took a Grab there intending to pick it up and munch it at home. Once we arrived, the possibility to dine in suddenly became available, so we decided to go for it. On a sheet, we had to sign in together and leave a phone number. Inside, the tables are so skinny that we’d have to sit diagonally from each other anyway to fit both plates on the table. But the two other bar stools at our table were still crossed off with red tape to comply with regulations. We got two beers, two Arabic falafel plates and…

6 june reggae bar 1 6 june reggae bar 2

It was just like the before times. And it felt (and tasted) so good.

Savoring every bite of the best garlic sauce in town, one of the owners even started chatting with us. He asked us where we were from and then pointed out that here is the better place to be in terms of COVID-19. He had more questions regarding our expired visas and also asked one of his non-Malaysian employees about it. We told him that once the CMCO would end, we’d have to either extend our visas or leave the country. The employee corroborated our version.

6 june reggae bar 3

Tourists used to be abundant in this city. The handful of tourists that are still here stand out. Especially white people like us. I think many Malaysian citizens who depend on tourism for part of their income know that the borders are closed and that we couldn’t have arrived here. But the alternative – that we’ve willfully stayed in a foreign city for 80 days – can also be befuddling.

6 june reggae bar 4

Once at home after four beers and a nice relaxing chat with our Grab driver, we read that the announcement about the (dis)continuance of the CMCO will come tomorrow on Sunday the 7th of June. At night, the Komtar tower we look out on decided to show all its wacky colors in rapid succession.


Thursday, 4th of June: More new cases in Malaysia than ever before

In one day, there are 277 new cases in Malaysia. This is much more than the 235 cases in one day that happened back on the 26th of March at the beginning of this fight. These new cases are densely concentrated in an immigration depot in Kuala Lumpur for (undocumented) migrant workers. From what I understand, many of them are probably Rohingyas from Myanmar. You know, actual refugees who can’t go back. I’m not sure what the conditions are inside and what kind of access to medicine the people there have.

And the attitudes are awful if (A) the Facebook page Jabatan Imigresen Malaysia, (B) its offshoot page run by fans (‽), and (C) the commenters on both are at all representative for the prevailing mood. There doesn’t seem to be a point to this page except hating on foreigners and encouraging people to narc on any non-citizens who are working at car washes and wholesale markets.

This, together with racist police brutality in other countries clouds my brain and renders me inert.

Small distractions like our veggie delivery from Li Ding Juice Bar (with a whole pandan plant!) and this beautiful moonrise keep me sane. Ish.

4 june li ding juice bar veggie delivery 4 JUNE Penang komtar with moon

Meanwhile… KLM executes three flights between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur in these days. Supposedly, they’re a test for the demand. If it goes well, there will be more and perhaps we’ll be forced to take one. This is a terrifying prospect that’s been playing in the back of my mind as the end date of the CMCO approaches.

We could spot this one’s flashing red lights very faintly at night from our fortress.

4th of june 2020 pandemic in penang klm flight

Wednesday, 3rd of June: Penang Hill will open soon

Via the expat groups, we learned that the nearby Penang Hill and its funicular will open again soon (Saturday 6th of June) for visitors. There are rules and limits in place, but this is the first proper outdoor space that becomes accessible again to the public since the (C)MCO.

I missed the forest. I missed being outside. We want to go for a hike there, but not on the first day of opening. And not on the weekend in general. The Monday after seems good, but it turns out that it’s a public holiday.

Meanwhile, I’m becoming much more nervous the more we approach the end of the CMCO on June 9th. Will it be extended again? Will they announce another type of MCO? Jonas is fairly confident it will be extended again. Some signs are there, like the fact that only a few grades are going back to school and not all of them.

Thursday, 28th of May: A beach hike and our first dine-in

We had this idea to go on a little beach hike. Most beaches on Penang Island are little ways outside of George Town. We didn’t want to stray away too far from home, so we picked this little beach on the north side of George Town. It’s not too far away from our home, so we could take a Grab there and then walk back to our condo.

We left after our morning coffee, got into a Grab, and arrived at the corner of Gurney Drive and the beach. Two jogging women were having a chat there without face masks, setting the tone for what the rules of the outside world are today. We walked onto the beach, enjoyed the breeze, and walked around a little bit. The beach did not continue into the other beach eastwards, even though it was low tide.

28 may beach walk 28 may beach walk2

Besides some fishing boats, crab holes, and a stray dog, there wasn’t much going on here. From this beach, you can see the land reclamation projects out at sea. We look at this from one of our windows every day, so it was refreshing to see it from a different angle this time.

28 may beach walk 3

We walked onto the promenade eastward to see if it connected to the other beach. A man turned the corner and told us it’s a dead-end, so we turned around and commenced our walk around the block. One of the jogging expats walked onto the promenade, greeted us in English, and walked into the dead-end zone. Perhaps we misunderstood the man, perhaps she knows a secret passageway.

So we decided to walk around the block to see if there’s another entrance to the neighboring beach named Northam. It was nice to look at this part of town. There are some classic Penang-style buildings tucked away between monstrosities. But we soon figure out that all access to the beach is closed off, so we instead walk back home through town, keeping our eyes peeled for food.

28 may monstrosities contrast 28 may real monstrostity

28 may old buildings

We came across a few hawkers that were heating their stands for lunch. There were also a bunch of restaurants with familiar names because we ordered from them. Even our veggie delivery place – Li Ding Juice Bar – showed up. But none of these businesses were open until we walked past a place with music booming. Smart.

It’s a place that goes by many names: VC43cafe, Victoria Corner 43, and Hungry Bowl. We only have a drink here to test how things work these days. There’s a sign-in sheet for visitors, but it’s not mandatory to leave our details. It’s not exactly like old times, but Jonas has a coffee and I drink a delicious avocado almond goo and we’re both pretty happy under the AC. Lots of times we think that going to cafés and drinking fancy coffee drinks is something frivolous, but perhaps it’s not?

28 may victoria corner hungry bowl

From this café, it’s a small crawl home. We see our building from yet another angle, which doesn’t accentuate its good sides because there aren’t any good sides. By counting the AC units, we figure out which windows are from our apartment.

28 may lol our building is so ugly

Back at home, we finished watching our first Malaysian Netflix show called Nur. What a wild ride. As Jonas had immersed himself in the story throughout its 19 episodes, he grew quite frustrated towards the end. But the ending satisfied us. Jonas was very happy to be done with Nur, so we could start another k-drama. Then I told him there was a Nur part 2 with 15 episodes, though that one isn’t available on Netflix—Alhamdulillah. I don’t think he wants to go through that level of caring about fictional characters again.

Tuesday, 26th of May: Our visas have expired

Today is the day we should have left Malaysia if there hadn’t been a pandemic. By now, this apartment in Penang is also the one we’ve lived in the longest together: more than two months. Our previous record was our 60-day stay in one apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

At the same time, I’m experiencing a bit of a difficult time. I can basically trace it all back to the launch of my last article, which was a lot of work and wasn’t read by people. Stuff like this can easily make me spiral into negativity and melancholia and start a spree that fucks up my sleep to the point of complete circadian rhythm-reversal. That’s one way to witness the sunrise.

31 May sunrise penang bad sleeping habits

Monday, 25th of May: Another little hike

Now that we’re confident in our little hikes around nearby blocks, we wanted to visit a different neighborhood. We walked via a part of Penang with many old little houses and beautiful arcades for rainy days. It’s also a good scooter parking.

25 may walk through Penang arcade

The plan was to exchange Jonas’ leftover Thai Baht and Indonesian Rupiah – which he has carried around since 2015 – but the exchange office wasn’t open. It’s a cute little part of town with lots of tiny restaurants, which have apparently the need for not one egg delivery truck, but two. Baking in the sun. Then we walk on to a vegetarian restaurant that Jonas had spotted called ‘8 Morality Vegetarian’. It’s in a kind of nightlife area, which looks like it hasn’t been open in ages. The restaurant is also closed, so in the end, it was just a short exploratory hike.

25 may egg truck 1 25 may 8 morality vegetarian cool pub area

Saturday, 23rd of May: End of Ramadhan, start of Hari Raya Aidilfitri

In Malaysia and around the world, the Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan has concluded. Muslims can eat and drink again in the daytime. In Malaysia, the feast of breaking the fast (Hari Raya Aidilfitri ) begins. Under normal circumstances, people would return to their village from the city (balik kampung) and there would be public gatherings and events. At the entrance of our building and on the ceiling, colorful and non-edible ketupat hang from the ceiling like decorations.

8 may ketupat decorations 2

This is the first time for us to stay in a Muslim-majority country one full Ramadhan. This was (is) a minor goal of mine to once experience. However, this isn’t the way I imagined it to go and I hope for a do-over sometime in the future.

Thursday, 21st of May: A walk around our block

We both want to walk around the block, but the midday heat makes it often unpleasant to do after work. So we drank our morning coffee together on the couch and then headed out for our first-ever walk around the block since the start of the CMCO. Under the MCO, it was prohibited to go for a leisurely stroll for no particular reason. A walk around our block is 1.5 kilometers.

I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to wander around aimlessly. There are many old buildings squished between the ugly modern ones that house us too. We were a little nervous around the hospital, but there wasn’t anything going on.

21 may block walk 21 may our ugly tropicana building

Unfortunately, Penang also has Coronavirus trash. We encountered multiple face masks and gloves dumped on the sidewalk.

21 may trash face mask -21 may trash covid-19 masks

Wednesday, 20th of May: Timor-Leste's independence day

Today is the day that we should have been in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste to experience its independence day celebrations. Timor-Leste regained its independence from Portugal in 1975 and then from Indonesia on the 20th of May in 2002.

I’m quite sad to not be there. The good news, though, is that Timor-Leste has been free from COVID-19 cases since a few days prior. They had 24 cases at some point, most of them young students who recovered quickly. Zero deaths.

Tuesday, 19th of May: First supermarket visit since the CMCO

For the first time since this CMCO thing, we visited the supermarket. Rules about only one person per household are gone, but we have to sign in with our name and phone number. Compared to the last shopping trip, it was an incredibly relaxed experience. We even got the disposable kind of facemasks to see if they feel much different from our black ones.

19 may supermarket CMCO 19th of may might be a dumb photo

One thing we noticed over the last few days, is that things are slowly coming back to life. Since April, I’ve been watching this forgotten bubble tea grow fungus almost every day. On the ground floor of our building, there’s this restaurant that’s part of a hotel that was being built until the pandemic hit. Everything had been catching dust (and fungus) during its abandonment. But there’s a sense of optimism since someone cleaned the floorspace, shuffled around the industrially packaged chairs and tables, and even turned on the AC inside—which leaches away between the huge gaps of the unfinished doors.

17 may 29 april rotting bubble tea developments 17 may update no more bubble tea

Friday, 15th of May: Taking a Grab to Love Lane

Our favorite falafel supplier on Chulia Street never delivered on Grab, Foodpanda, or Folo. Over several weeks, we communicated with them on Facebook about sending their delicious garlic sauce to our door. But the only way they delivered if you had a Malaysian bank account or an app that you could only connect if you had a Malaysian Google or Apple account. So we decided to travel to the falafel stand ourselves and pick it up for home.

We took a grab to Love Lane to also walk past a place of interest called Holy Guacamole – a Mexican food place. This way, we could see a little more of the neighborhood and vet a few backup plans in case the falafel stand was closed. It’s so strange to see the epicenter of tourism in Penang so… dead.

15 may love lane

There was a cop car parked on the street corner, so we were extra careful and made our way to the functioning falafel stand and order our food. I’m terrified of them. There were these social distancing circles on the ground, but it absolutely doesn’t make sense to social distance from Jonas. In fact, if I social distance from him, I’m inevitably doubling our moist breathing zone and overlapping it with strangers. Jonas avoided the issue by getting some cold drinks from the 7-Eleven across the street.

At last, our friendly falafel man packed our two boxes full of food and Jonas showed up just in time to pay. Before we left, the guy gave us one falafel each dipped in their signature garlic sauce to go. Our return Grab eventually showed. This driver was much more paranoid than our previous driver since he pointed a thermometer gun to Jonas’ head while driving and also both giving us disinfectant gel into our hands while not slowing down for a sharp turn.

15 may falafel pickup reggae bar 15 may falafel

13th + 14th of May: Aircon man saves the day

Now that the CMCO has been extended until the 9th of June, we knew that our dysfunctional airconditioning unit in our living room needed to be fixed. We message our host, who arranges a repairman to come by. The cleaning lady comes by to give us the key to the door of the little ‘balcony’ where the three ACs are hiding.

On the 13th, the repairman comes to our apartment. I ask him if he wants a cup of tea, but he says he’s fasting. Oops. He spends a few hours tinkering with the AC in the living room and the hot sunshine on the AC balcony. To say it’s tough to do this while fasting is quite an understatement. 

Then he tells Jonas that he has to come back to fix it since he doesn’t have the right tools or patches to do it now. The next day, he returns and fixes our aircon in a few hours. Finally, our living room is liveable once again.

Since we still have the key, we check out the little AC balcony. Then we seal up the giant hole below the door once again against the mosquitoes.

14 may ac units 14 may ac units drop 13 14 may gap door ac units

Tuesday, 12th of May: Stepping out the door in the CMCO

Now that the CMCO is in full effect in Penang, we needed to run some small errands. In our street, there are several drug stores and a pharmacy. We took a backpack to check out the bright world outside our building and buy essentials, such as toothpaste.

To me, it was very overwhelming. So much was going on outside and crossing the street was more terrifying than ever before. We also bought a big bag of fruits for at home to combine with some baked goods from Love a Loaf. The hawker stands were partially opening up for lunch, but the people there looked a little defeated from the lack of customers. One of the rules is that the hawkers inside one hawker center have to alternate their days so that only 50% of stalls operate at a time. Considering how cheap their food is and how their products need to remain fresh, I think this is logistically very difficult.

12 may hawker stands

Sunday, 10th of May: CMCO extended, all foreigners confused

The last days have seen a change in Penang’s pandemical landscape. Late-night traffic has increased as the curfew has been lifted and more people are mobile. Our bakery has reopened and people are more relaxed.

Today, the PM made a televised address about the extension of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) from May 12th till June 9th. An extension of four weeks. We don’t know what that means for *foreigners in Malaysia and are confident that things will clear up in the coming days. Then we can extend our stay in this apartment for the… I’ve lost track of how many times.

The Facebook chat that turned into a Facebook group called Tourists Stranded in Malaysia has grown quite a bit. Suddenly we’re sharing lots of information with other people. The main confusion comes from the immigration website, where we could apply for an extension of our “social visit” to Malaysia. The website can’t always handle the traffic volume, so we only heard from the group what it’s like to get through the process and get a (physical) appointment at immigration. We’re waiting for them to share their experiences.

*Later this day, someone from the group took the higher ground and called the immigration hotline. They were told that the extension also applies to tourists and that we can still stay until two weeks after the end of the (C)MCO, which would be on the 23rd of June.

Tuesday, 5th of May: Penang is free from (confirmed) COVID-19, falafel returns

Probably already since yesterday, but YAY!

5 may 2020 pandemic in Penang free from confirmed COVID-19 cases

In other news, the pandemic in Penang is going in a good enough direction for the local falafel businesses to open again on Foodpanda and Grab. Before lockdown, we had a choice of three restaurants that delivered falafel to our front door. When the MCO came into effect, they all disappeared. Jonas has been checking multiple times a week if falafel was back on the menu. Today, our wishes have been answered. We directly ordered their falafel platter with some dolma on the side. It was amazing.

A few hours earlier, Jonas had joined a Facebook chat for tourists in Malaysia. As it soon had an 88-people membership, they finally moved it into a Facebook group. There he got the tip to check on FlightRadar24 to see which airlines are still actually flying, and which just sell tickets only to cancel on you and then give you a lousy voucher. Yes, this seems to be the new way for airlines to rip you off. I must say the conniving fuckers are resourceful as shit. Scruples? Zero.

While napping post food, we heard and then saw an airplane that just took off from Penang International Airport. Huh? It’s more likely that it’s a bird or Superman than a plane these days. Jonas suggests to find out what it is on the flight radar website. What the..?

Pandemic in Penang airport flightradar24 lockdown mco

That’s a passenger plane, I’m fairly confident. That flies directly from Penang to Taipei in Taiwan. Is the (binational?) community in Penang large enough to maintain flights? I’m pretty sure Taiwan closed its borders for pleasure trips. What am I missing?

Sunday, 3rd of May: Penang doesn't want to reopen, more kimchi delivered to our doorstep

Even though Penang State only has 2 active cases now, the state doesn’t want to reopen after the announcement two days earlier. Instead, the state government decided to implement the CMCO on May 8th. They named their approach the Penang Gradual Recovery Strategy (PGRS). The main reason is that the state wants to make sure that all businesses can implement the new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and that not all would be running until at least May 13th. That’s probably for the best. Our elevator news is also surprisingly quiet on the recent developments.

The day after ordering, we got a phone call that our new vegan kimchi and satay sauce jars were coming our way. This exciting arrival will help us unlock so many scrumptious flavors.

Also good news: the Penang river (Sungai Pinang) cleaned itself up after weeks of not absorbing our pollution.

Friday, 1st of May: Conditional MCO (CMCO) announced

Coming Monday (May 4th), the government announced that the hardcore MCO will be lifted and Malaysia will enter the “conditional MCO”. Some businesses may open again under certain conditions and there’s a list of activities that are still banned. One business we order food from directly took to their Facebook page to announce that the first customer coming Monday would get 100% off their bill.

Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) announced, the crowd goes wild

😬 Yikes, that’s exactly the kind of message that would draw a crowd.

To me, it’s not really clear yet whether, for example, the pool in our building may reopen again. It says that swimming is still banned, but our pool is not public and before the MCO it was usually empty. Perhaps one condition that must be met is that we’d need to reserve a slot with the lady who manages the pool floor. But I’m just spitballing ideas here now. I’m sure that there will be more news in the coming days that can clear up the perpetual confusion of new measures.

I’m looking forward to perhaps taking a leisurely stroll around our block, which sounds like an activity that would be allowed.

Thursday, 30th of April: We should be in Timor-Leste

Today is the day we should have flown from Darwin in Australia to Dili in Timor-Leste. Even though I’ve known for six weeks that this wasn’t going to happen, I’m still feeling a bit melancholic. Almost all of us have to put our dreams on hold for now.

We’ve received the voucher for the flight from Singapore to Darwin with Jetstar. Jonas is positive that we’ll still get a bit of money back from the flight from Darwin to Timor-Leste with Airnorth. In the end, we got all our money back from the Airbnbs we’d booked ahead in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Darwin. In the end, we didn’t lose that much money from this pandemic.

We tried ordering veggies for the first time from the internet. Facebook had been spamming my profile with lots and lots of ads for this kind of service. We spent some time on each website until we found one that also delivered eggs. We ordered, thinking it would only arrive next week. Then we ordered dinner.

A few hours later, Jonas got a call from someone apologizing for being out of cilantro. It took a while for us to understand what was happening, but we eventually figured out that our veggies were coming our way. Same day delivery! I don’t know why we didn’t come up with this earlier.

30th april 2020 veggie delivery penang

Speaking of produce, the durian season has begun and this polarizing fruit may be sold during the MCO if vendors get a special durian permit. Since my palate isn’t mature enough to appreciate durian, we shall not be buying any.

Wednesday, 29th of April: We're allowed to shop together again

The news informs us that our standard two-person shopping trips will once again be legal. After the MCO came into effect, we learned only one person per household may get groceries, but now it has doubled to two. That’s really great news for us the next time we need new handsoap dispensers and coffee.

At home, Jonas and I keep working on our projects. After more than a month of being shut in, Jonas begins to have a harder time. I realized I need some more pressure to be productive, so I signed up for a few collaborations that have actual deadlines. I hope this helps my productivity and focus. We’ll see.

In the evening, we check the COVID-19 tracker from Malaysia Kini and see that George Town is… officially free from COVID-19 patients! The last patient in our district (Timur Laut) was discharged from the hospital. I hope they are recovering well.

29 April Timur Laut covid-19 free pandemic in Penang Malaysia Kini

Tuesday, 28th of April: No new cases for 14 days in our district

The district of Timur Laut (which includes all of George Town) has not seen any new COVID-19 cases for two weeks! I really hope these numbers reflect the situation somewhat accurately; I feel that there’s somehow an incentive not to report cases since decisions to reopen businesses might depend on it.

28 april Timur laut 14 days no new cases Malaysia kini

Meanwhile, I try to keep my news reading to a brief and emotionally distant minimum. On the world stats, I’m only looking at a few countries. Cabo Verde and Timor-Leste are two of the ones I can still invest energy in. And then there’s Singapore, where we would have traveled to in a coronavirus-free world. They’re not doing so well after a promising containment effort back in January.

Jonas and I distract ourselves with TV series, like our third k-drama and playing videogames together. This kills a few hours of not having enough energy to do anything worthwhile. Staring at the near-daily incoming thunderstorm in the afternoon is also a good pastime.

Friday, 24th of April: Korean flavors

Today, our favorite Penang restaurant delivered us a jar of vegan kimchi (김치)—seasoned and fermented veggies good as a side dish. During our last supermarket visit, we’d found Korean soju (소주)—an alcoholic beverage we know from the Korean Dramas (further: K-dramas). All we had to do now is order the “meatless” Korean burgers we’d familiarized ourselves with.

We’d just finished watching the latest season of Better Call Saul and found a new K-drama called Memories of the Alhambra. We fashioned shot glasses out of plastic sauce containers and Jonas poured the soju. I translated the word for cheers in Korean (건배).

Geonbae!

24 April Pandemic in Penang 1

It was a glorious meal. It almost felt as if we were traveling.

The elevator also informed us about the update that went through the previous day. For tomorrow, we also arranged the delivery of a mop to go along with our mop bucket with the guy we rent from.

3rd MCO extension 24 April elevator news

Thursday, 23rd of April: Ramadan begins, third MCO extension

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan started on the 23rd of April and will end on the 23rd of May. In the evening, Malaysia’s PM announced that the MCO would be extended from April 28th till May 12th—another two weeks. I think the announcement came a few days earlier than the previous extension because of the start of Ramadan.

A little over 60% of Malaysia’s population adheres to Islam, so Ramadan is big here. Under usual circumstances, people break their fast (iftar) in the evening by visiting one of the many iftar bazaars, which also function as social gatherings. That’s off the table now with the MCO. Practitioners of other religions, like Buddhists and Christians, also have had to cancel their events earlier during the MCO. In Penang State specifically, the religious ratio is more like 44% Muslims, 36% Buddhists, 9% Hindus, 5% Christians, and 6% others, hence its diversity.

The MCO includes a dawn-to-dusk curfew when you’re not supposed to be outside between 20:00 and 8:00. Food deliveries also stop before this time. This means essential workers who rely on food delivery after a hard day’s work that have to order their iftar (or e-ftar on Foodpanda, probably a pun?) well before sundown. I’m not so sure how much this is a problem for people, but I hope the healthcare and delivery workers will be OK with the long hours in the daytime and the pressuring circumstances this year.

Sadly, our favorite bakery downstairs from our building seems to suffer a lot from the rules. They’re almost always closed. I don’t remember if I said this before, but their croissants are heavenly. I hope their business won’t succumb.

So yes, the MCO has been extended for the third time. Jonas shared the news with me, so it was a bit to process. Somehow, this has felt more unexpected because our state has been performing well. The lack of an end date makes it so much harder for our brains to grasp the situation.

On an unrelated note, the air-conditioner of our living room keeps crashing. It’s the room we spend the most time in, so it’s rapidly becoming a major nuisance. Only Jonas is tall enough to reach the reset button from a chair, so I can’t be helpful. We’ve resorted to turning on the ACs in the bedrooms and then spreading the cool to the living room with the ceiling fans. Without it, we’re sweating at 10:00 from doing nothing.

Wednesday, 22nd of April: Penang has a 7-day streak

Our state – Penang – along with one other have not seen any new confirmed COVID-19 cases for a week. I’m hoping the health people can maintain this good work. The curve of Malaysia also shows signs of flattening. I’m carefully optimistic that perhaps in Penang some of the harsher sanctions will be lifted. I’m not sure if the Malaysian government would ever consider lifting rules in one part of the country and not another. I don’t know how they roll.

In our apartment, we spend our uninspired leisure time lying on the bed, and shooting my hair ties up the wings of the ceiling fan. It’s surprisingly entertaining and sometimes my favorite part of the day.

Coming to think of it, the only joy that’s really missing from our quarantine is a pet. I’m still not sure if we’re petless or petfree.

Tuesday, 21st of April: The second supermarket visit

When you try to visit the supermarket at a time when there’s no crowd… but you are the crowd.

21st april 2020 pandemic in penang line at supermarket george town

Friday, 17th of April: Rallying 'round the red (or white) flag

I’ve been Skyping a lot with my family members in the Netherlands and writing with friends in other countries. It surprises me that most people think it’s going well, even if there are signs of exponential growth or – from my viewpoint – inadequate action. A kind of rally ’round the flag effect, but not USA-centric. Everyone’s in an uncritical headspace and refusing to confront decisions. This worries me so, so much.

Even though I sometimes try to steer conversations away from the virus, it always ends up the main topic—and it’s fueled by news headlines. And I know my people in the Netherlands don’t want to hear me say that the Dutch stats look like crap to me. That 110 people dying of COVID-19 in a single day does not sound hopeful. That making fun of countries where face masks are mandatory (and have long been normalized) makes it sound as if there’s pride or virtue in being incorrigible and unadaptable. Even implying that it’s noble that so many older corona patients are signing DNRs to keep ventilators free for younger patients is somehow noble, and not a sign of collectively being taken aback.

In a country where doctors under non-pandemic circumstances are trained to:

  • Belittle your medical complaints
  • Insert their own opinion on the treatment you’re asking for
  • Butcher simple procedures and make you pay for the fix
  • Crap over the bodily autonomy of adults by refusing procedures
  • Throw up blockades to prevent you from seeing a specialist doctor
  • Mock patients for having undergone medical procedures in private clinics in what they deem “third world countries”

the result is that the patients just don’t expect much anymore. They (especially the elderly patients) don’t dare to ask for a ventilator or are even being talked out of it. But at the same time, we truly believe that doctors know what’s best for us. It’s a socialized healthcare system that’s equivalent to a non-sexual conversation with a cis straight man that somehow leads to a dickpic: devoid of consent, possibly threatening, disappointing through and through, and you’ll be called a bitch if you don’t appreciate it. Praising this trainwreck is just showing how housebroken we are because the healthcare system in the USA is more shit. This isn’t a competition.

I’m aware that we’re all just coping because it’s harder to accept our powerlessness and that the opposite of good governance might be true; that the people that have made decisions for you might also just be winging it—or worse. But I can’t stand people criticizing what Malaysia’s doing when back in the Netherlands the PM is literally slinging shit at the wall but the wall is actually the people by calling the (lack of) measures an “intelligent lockdown”. Back in high school, we had to learn in history class about propaganda. It was always in the context of other countries. No wonder that so many people have deluded themselves buying into the iNTelLIgENt LOcKDowN bullshit.

Like a good netizen, I vented my frustration into the creation of memes.

dutch people coronavirus measures meme 

Thursday, 16th of April: We should have flown to Darwin, Australia

As the title says, today would be the day we’d fly from Singapore to Darwin, Australia. Not happening.

Australia was one of the first countries to completely ban entry by non-citizens. They don’t seem like they’ll open up anytime soon.

Friday, 10th of April: Another two weeks of MCO

As expected, the Movement Control Order has been extended until April 28th. Just two weeks didn’t really cut it. The good news is that more people have been released than confirmed cases again. That’s the third day this happened and the second consecutive day. It deserves a bit of happy cheering. The next day, the elevator informs us of the extension.

11th april mco extension elevator

We decided that now is the time to upgrade our life in our condo. I want a yoga mat for the daily bit of exercise we do and a new lens cap with a leash. I make sure that the things I order from Lazada are already in West Malaysia. Who knows how long it would take if it had to be shipped in from abroad? This way, it only takes three days for my packages to arrive.

Thursday, 9th of April: We should have hitchhiked to Singapore

Today is the day we should have hitchhiked from somewhere in southern Peninsular Malaysia to Singapore. Hmm.

However, we’re both very, VERY happy we didn’t get stuck in Singapore of all places. We’d previously booked an Airbnb in Singapore – which got refunded – for the week we’d stay there and it was expensive as heck for what it was. Riding out the pandemic in Penang still seems like the best possible place to be in.

Friday, 3rd of April: Penang complies for 98.9%, 1.1% either naughty or in need

This compliance level to the MCO means that there aren’t a whole lot of people breaking the rules of the MCO. In the weeks prior, there have been quite some MCO-related arrests all over Malaysia. Not all the MCO violators were outside for fun, some were hungry. That’s heartbreaking.

Tuesday, 31st of March: The memes have disappeared

I noticed over the last few weeks that the internet memes about the coronavirus have diminished. Perhaps it’s because the USA hit exponential growth and the number of people dying is increasing rapidly.

For weeks already people have been incredibly fighty on Facebook, Twitter, and probably elsewhere. People will get upset at just about anything, even when it turns out they mostly agree on things. That’s why I often feel defensive in my decision to not repatriate. It’s also why I’ve included a content warning in this article at the top.

Someone might get mad that we order so much food online, or that we both entered the supermarket at some point, or that we have even been outside the main door of our complex.

Others might get mad because we wear face masks outside, wash or disinfect our hands four times before/while going outside, or that we’re actually trying to comply 100% with Malaysia’s policies, for which there are a good reasons.

It’s not that you can’t win them all, it’s that you can win exactly none of them. This situation only creates losers. You see, saying #StayTheFuckHome actually lacks a whole lot of nuance by excluding a lot of people and doesn’t make you a good comrade. That’s why it’s probably best to just log off.

Monday, 30th of March: The virus is in the house

OK, the virus is in our condominium complex, not our actual apartment inside the complex. We’re doing fine.

But when we went downstairs in our building to get croissants and a new bottle of water or a soda, we saw a new note to residents plastered in the elevator. It mentioned that there was a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Tower B. We’re in Tower A. It said that the places this person went to inside the building would be sanitized.

Once downstairs, we walked to our bakery, which was closed but had one person inside doing something at the till. Alright, no croissants today or tomorrow, probably. Then we walked to our convenience store. There were three employees inside who angrily gestured to us to back the fuck away. Alright, alright… no water or gaseosa. I guess the confirmed case frequents the same places as us.

I just don’t understand why the three employees have to stay inside the (possibly contaminated) shop? They’ll have to go home at the end of the day anyway… why not just tell them to close up shop and go (and stay) home?

A few days later, our building shows up on the Malaysia Kini map. When a building appears on this map, it means it has been sanitized already.

MCO sanitize Tropicana pandemic in Penang George Town Malaysia Kini

Wednesday, March 25th: To the supermarket!

On this day, we went to the supermarket for the first time. The rules for going to the supermarket weren’t really well-defined yet, which is why we both walked the 700 meters from our condo to the supermarket. The plan was that one of us would go in and the other would stay outside, but when we entered, the man running the show put us in the grid. It seemed that there were many people who went shopping together as a duo, but there were no people with kids unlike before the MCO.

In the grid, we had to keep a distance from one another and wait until it was the turn of our row to enter. That depended on how many people left the supermarket. When it was our turn, everyone in our queue got a big glob of hand disinfectant and then we were allowed to do the shopping.

Tuesday, March 24th: Lowering my information diet

My productivity has tanked. My night rest has gone to shit. And I’m constantly distracted and full of Weltschmerz and lethargy.

Normally, I already consume little of the news. That has changed a lot since January. It’s time to return to those days and implement some method to keep aware of big changes in the rules, but not read so much I induce an anxiety attack.

The plan is as follows: no more news or stats until the afternoon when my energy dips.

Monday, March 23rd: Malaysia My Second Home, by accident

Jonas messages our host to ask for an extension on the apartment. We inform the guy that we want to keep renting his place until a few days after the MCO is over. If the MCO is extended, we shall extend our contract. Inadvertently, it seems like we’ll be participating in the cheap version of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program. Welp, we live here now.

Travel planning has been the one thing that has kept me sane during my gap year from travel. Right now, it’s useless to attempt any travel planning since we don’t know what the world will look like ‘after’ the coronavirus. We don’t know what routes will survive this, what accommodations will reinitiate. Heck, it’s even very likely that my studies of the last leg of the Danube from Mohács to the Black Sea might be undermined to the point of no use. It’s time to find a different hobby.

Sunday, March 22nd: The army joins

In the intervening days, the situation has become a lot more surreal. I can’t concentrate on my work. COVID-19 is constantly on my mind. Memes are about as much as I can handle, sometimes.

Thus far, all the exciting things that happened in my life were instigated by me or were somewhat within my control. Dissatisfaction and boredom have been some of my greatest motivators to hitchhike and travel. Now, all of us that don’t have skills or jobs useful to this pandemic have to face

You can’t spell pandemic without panic.

Then my thoughts shift from boredom to something much darker: what about those stuck in isolation with their domestic abusers? How can they leave if the partner who perpetrates domestic violence is around them constantly? What about the victims that were 99% ready to leave, but then got locked down with the person they fear most. Where can they go?

When I compulsively check the Johns Hopkins dashboard, I see something that breaks my heart: Timor-Leste has its first confirmed case 🙁

22 march 2020 Timor-Leste first COVID-19 case East Timor

Today, the army is supposedly entering the streets to enforce the new rules better. I haven’t seen any military in the streets this day. Later that day, I also learn that there can’t be more than one person in a car, which probably makes taking a Grab impossible for us now.

Friday, March 20th: Staring at the pool

We were curious about the exact rules within our building, so we took the elevator down to the pool level to see what was going on there. There were quite some (white) people lying on the swing beds or on the benches. The pool, however, was definitely closed. The gym and the yoga space too.

pool closed MCO malaysia pandemic in penang condo

Thursday, March 19th: Moving condos

Today is the day we were supposed to hitchhike to Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur. Instead, we’re packing up our belongings in a sloppy manner to move to a bigger apartment within the same complex.

19th march 2020 pandemic in penang moving day 1

This apartment isn’t a studio: it has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a more spacious living room and kitchen. Jonas is very excited about the huge table that we’ll use as a desk. I don’t know why exactly, but there are six beds and no shelves. We didn’t get any upgrades appliance-wise; there’s still no microwave and no washing machine. We have a vacuum and a mop bucket without the mop. But we have a corner apartment with windows on both sides, so we can see two stunning sides of the city and port.

19th march 2020 pandemic in penang moving day 2

This will be our home for the foreseeable future, though there is not much to foresee.

Wednesday, March 18th: Movement Control Order

March 18th till March 31st, they had said. Here’s day one of restricted movement. So we stayed inside, packed some stuff, and ate our cold dry noodles.

Cold dry noodles are actually way tastier than I make it sound.

Tuesday, March 17th: Countercyclical behavior + cancellations

It was everyone’s last day of freedom in Malaysia. There was a lot of uncertainty hanging in the air. We tried to do activities that go against the mainstream, so we would not be stuck in crowded and/or panicked situations fighting over bog roll, as we’d seen in the preceding weeks.

I put on my longyi, flip flops, and face mask to go to the two Buddhist temples on Burma Lane. Jonas ordered a Grab. Getting into a Grab was already as contactless as it gets; we touch the door handle on the outside and inside of the car and that’s it. There’s no money exchange, no speaking. Nobody coughed or sneezed in the short timeframe it took to get to the temples.

Back in 1803 when Myanmar was still Burma, the Burmese community of Penang founded the Dhammikarama temple. Today, it’s an iconic temple with a different set of rules than the temples we know from Myanmar; you only take off your footwear when entering the buildings, not already when entering the temple grounds. We spent our time in Myanmar rapidly building up callouses to rise to the challenge. The temple here in Penang is Myanma pagodas for beginners.

It was a quiet pagoda. There were only a few monks around and two other groups of tourists. We made sure not to touch things unnecessarily and disinfected our hands regularly. Then we crossed the street to the Thai Buddhist temple Wat Chayamangkalaram across the street. This temple was a bit more crowded, but social distancing was still possible.

Like the temple across the street, the Thai people went by a different name at the time of its foundation: the Siamese. Today, that has all been renamed to Thai, unlike Thailand’s oft-misnamed neighbor.

17 March Pandemic in Penang Buddhist temples

The entrance of the Myanma Dhammikarama temple as seen through the gate of the Thai Wat Chayamangkalaram temple.

When we returned home, we ordered three meals from our favorite place on Foodpanda – Pǐnxīn Vegan – ahead of time. Since we didn’t have a microwave in our apartment, we specifically ordered dishes that would also taste good cold. A delivery driver handed us the bags and bags of food. It was a lot.

From my travel Facebook groups, I learned that Australia and Singapore closed their borders. The notifications from the groups went wild as more and more countries got added to the list of closed countries. It was unsettling.

We had one last swim in the pool. We rationalized that it might stay open because… chlorine kills germs.

Monday, March 16th: Tension in the air

In the afternoon, Jonas got an email from Airbnb telling us we could cancel our bookings and get a full refund. Now there was no reason not to cancel Kuala Lumpur and book something else in Penang. We decided to book one of the more spacious apartments we’d researched the previous day. Two weeks, to start with. From the 19th of March till the 2nd of April.

From our Facebook groups, we learned that the Malaysian government would make an announcement in the evening regarding their plans to curb the pandemic. I think that in our hearts we already knew a shutdown or lockdown, or whatever they were going to call it, was going to happen.

That evening, we returned to our favorite falafel + shisha place called Reggae Club Penang. We’d already begun washing hands more rigorously, not touching our faces, and trying to keep touching objects to a minimum. We brought our disinfecting hand gel to the bar and took some extra effort to find the sink and handsoap to wash our hands before and after eating. To be honest, the place is a bit grubby, but their food is finger-licking good. After food, we ordered a shisha and another round of drinks. The shisha didn’t taste as good to me as it did the week before, probably because I already knew that the coronavirus attacks the lungs.

While taking a big drag, Jonas checked his phone. His eyes were glued to the screen for a bit.

“What is it gonna be?” I asked.

“Restricted movement. Starting this Wednesday and until the end of the month. That’s two weeks in total.”

I took a big sip from my gin tonic. We smoked in silence for a few minutes, pondering the consequences. Then it was time to plan.

“So we can still do something fun tomorrow. Let’s go to the Myanma and Thai temples. Do we still have enough groceries to make it till the Thursday after implementation? Will food delivery still work?”

I had many questions. Jonas could only answer those that were answered by the news website the people from Expats in Penang linked to. The most important question is of course what would happen when our tourist visas would expire on the 26th of May. Would the government make the (reasonable!) decision to allow us to stay for as long as this Movement Control Order (MCO) would be in effect? We knew we still had enough time in Malaysia to wait for answers.

That night, we jumped the gun and made a short trip to our building’s convenience store to buy some items that would help us bridge a few days in case of mass panic. Essential items like, you know… pot noodles.

Sunday, March 15th: Scenario building

The voices of a global shutdown had become so strong that I couldn’t ignore them anymore. It was distracting. Instead of working on a blog post as I had intended, I discussed some scenarios with Jonas while on our daily swim in the pool.

In Malaysia, the number of cases had jumped from 238 to 428 overnight. Kuala Lumpur was the epicenter of the pandemic. Travel bans to Malaysia from a lot of European countries had already been imposed, but the Malaysian government had banned entry to anyone holding passports from a few worst-hit countries.

What could we do in this situation?

Luckily, we’d only crossed the border into Malaysia just 18 days ago. Our entry stamps were still quite fresh and not at all about to expire; we had 90 days in total and we could stay until the 26th of May. Once you’re inside a country, you’re in. That is unless they change the rules and kick out all foreigners. Traveling to another country would be a bad idea; I already hate flying under normal circumstances, I’m frankly not curious enough to learn what it’s like with a high chance of cancellation and surrounded by people going berserk.

I told Jonas not to book or plan anything far away anymore unless it was for the next day.

We both looked out of the window of the 30th floor. Penang… is not a bad place. On the contrary: it has it all. The decision to stay right here where we’d come to rest seemed intuitive.

Penang Malaysia Coronavirus COVID-19 stay home

Our rent of this particularly small studio in Penang would expire on the 19th of March. We’d already booked something in Kuala Lumpur, but my gut feeling told me we would not make it there, nor should we want to. So we searched on Agoda and Airbnb to find our next apartment in Penang. After some discussion, we thought it would be a good idea to move within the same building complex. Our building – Tropicana 228 – is a huge condo with lots of rentals. We made a selection of apartments and then stopped plotting for the day.

That evening, we went out to this vegetarian Indian restaurant that we’d come to love called Woodlands.

Background: The Slow Encroachment

First of all: we want to do the right thing.

Jonas and I have been in Asia since the 31st of October, 2019—well before this shit went down. Our travel dates have been as followed:

  • Shanghai, China: 31st of October till the 5th of November 2019. The virus probably didn’t exist yet in humans.
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand: 5th of November 2019 till 3rd of January 2020. The first cases appear in China, likely as early as November 17th (this is backdated). Nobody in my circle knew it existed back then.
  • Myanmar (Mandalay to Kawthaung, overland): 3rd till 31st of January 2020. Here we first learned about the coronavirus. One travel Facebook group starts a thread and shares the link to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard which I’ve started monitoring. A few countries like North Korea and Turkmenistan are the first to close their borders and cancel visas. The first confirmed case outside of China appeared in Thailand on the 13th of January, ten days after we’d left Thailand.
  • Southern Thailand (Ranong to Hat Yai, overland): 31st of January till the 27th of February 2020. On the 27th of February, we hitchhiked from Thailand to Malaysia. The virus is becoming a big topic in travel groups. I’m mostly keeping an eye on the cases in Malaysia and Singapore, which seemed ‘under control’. What we didn’t know at that time, is that the week-long religious event named ‘Tabligh’ that led to the largest infection cluster in Malaysia started on the day we entered Malaysia.
  • Peninsular Malaysia (Kota Bharu to George Town/Penang, overland): 27th of February till the start of this diary. At the time of entering Malaysia, we were unaware of the political crisis that was happening.
    On Friday the 6th of March, we made our last hitchhiking day when we hitchhiked to Penang. The virus was a big topic during each of our three rides, but people were generally unworried. On the 11th of March, the WHO retitled COVID-19 from an outbreak/epidemic to pandemic. Things started to look very grim.
    Since arriving in Penang, I’ve joined more local Facebook groups and got some information from a Malaysian Facebook friend who knows more. I follow the Malaysian updates on this news website.

Our canceled plans were to leave Malaysia overland to Singapore in April. We’d stay for one week in Singapore and then fly to Darwin in Australia for a two-week stay. From Australia, we’d take the flight to Dili in Timor-Leste, where we’d stay for a long time including over independence day. The plans beyond Timor-Leste were very vague, but we spoke of going to Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Brunei—not per se in that order.

Q&A

Why Aren’t You Repatriating Yourselves?

  • We don’t have a home or a permanent address. This apartment in Penang is more ‘home’ than any place in the Netherlands or Germany. Wherever we’d go, we’d probably have to get an Airbnb and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival there. Honestly, that would just be a giant waste of everyone’s time, money, and safety.
  • If I was in the Netherlands, I’d hope to visit my grandmothers on a biweekly basis. They’re in their eighties and I would never forgive myself if I infected them. Jonas’ grandmother in Germany is also at risk.
  • Malaysia has been a nice country so far with immensely friendly people in these trying times. Despite Europe being the epicenter of the epidemic in March, nobody has given us the stink eye or suspected us. Penang itself is a very diverse city where we’ve felt welcome.
  • We’re afraid that if we’d take our governments upon their repatriation offer, we’d be split up and sent back to Germany AND the Netherlands instead of just one country. Perhaps that’s irrational, but since we have no address and aren’t contractually glued to one another, you never know what our governments would do to us.
  • By traveling, we’re much more likely to catch and spread the virus, endangering good people all the way from Malaysia to Europe and anywhere in-between.

What Are Your Greatest Fears?

  • Catching the virus, being asymptomatic, and passing it on to a vulnerable person.
  • Catching the virus, having severe symptoms, suffering, requiring hospitalization, and adding to the pressure on Malaysia’s health systems.
  • I don’t want to give the Malaysian government any ideas, but it would be disastrous if they forced all foreigners who don’t have a residency out of the country.
  • I’m afraid if we can’t somehow extend our tourist visas here under these extraordinary circumstances. The normal rules are that we can stay in Malaysia for 90 days until late May, without the possibility of extension. We don’t want to overstay our legal welcome here. We’d also love to avoid going into an immigration office since that seems like a high-risk place to catch the virus.
  • We rely heavily on food delivery services such as Foodpanda, Folo, and Grab. Our apartment (like many apartments) doesn’t have a proper kitchen to do our own cooking. If food delivery services had to stop, we’d be quite fucked.
  • A very drastic escalation of measures, such as getting sealed into our homes completely.
  • An additional disaster, such as an earthquake hitting Penang or the region and taking out electricity and water.
  • The internet collapsing.

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Before Malaysia went on lockdown, we decided to ride out the coronavirus pandemic in George Town, Penang. These are our experiences as digital nomads who can't travel. #Penang #Malaysia #Malay #Malaysian #PulauPinang #GeorgeTown #coronavirus #covid19 #lockdown #quarantine #isolation #socialdistancing #digitalnomad #digitalnomads #remotework #locationindependence #locationindependent #stayhome #malaysiamysecondhome #globallockdown Before Malaysia went on lockdown, we decided to ride out the coronavirus pandemic in George Town, Penang. These are our experiences as digital nomads who can't travel. #Penang #Malaysia #Malay #Malaysian #PulauPinang #GeorgeTown #coronavirus #covid19 #lockdown #quarantine #isolation #socialdistancing #digitalnomad #digitalnomads #remotework #locationindependence #locationindependent #stayhome #malaysiamysecondhome #globallockdown

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2 thoughts on “Pandemic in Penang: A Play-by-Play from Two Digital Nomads in Malaysia

  1. Hey Iris! Found out about you being stranded in Penang via the stranded stories on Horizon Unknown. Following up on the various storytellers as I am an extremely curious human being and travel lover with nomadic tendencies (though not currently traveling.) Just sampled your Diary+Daily Developments and was quite taken with your summaries. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts and sentiments. Sad to note that your last entry was May 10. Will you be writing any more updates?

    • Hey Christine! Thanks for your comment. I just updated what happened in the last few weeks 🙂 I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying it!

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