Back from a year in Malaysia, plus SE asian fruits

Hi all, I have not been active on this forum for a while, mainly because I moved with my family to live for almost a year in Malaysia. We left beginning of December 2018 and got back beginning of September 2019. While doing this project for the last two years, I’ve been very busy with work and mostly away from home, so growing fruit has not been at the top of my mind.

We went because the small Massachusetts technology company I work for had the chance to build a pilot scale factory near Kuala Lumpur on the campus of our partner company Hanwah Q Cells, a Korean headquartered maker of solar panels. We have machines with new technology which can make a silicon solar wafer for about half the cost of the traditional process.

I mostly spent the summer of 2018 in Korea building the machines for the project near Asan with Hanwha Machinery. Korean food is amazing, and I got to try quite a few things I had never had before. The best fruit I had there were amazing Korean grapes in July and August. Sometimes you can find them in the US at an asian grocery, but they are usually not that fresh and very expensive. My coworkers thought I was crazy when I would return to the hotel with a whole flat of grapes to jam into my hotel fridge.

After coming back, my garden was quite overgrown, having been taken over by weeds and the gourd vines my son had planted. Over the next couple months I tried to get things in shape, did a little fall pruning, and spread some hay over everything. Then the whole family left for Malaysia.

In Malaysia, we lived in a small city about 45 mins outside of KL called Cyberjaya, about 5 minutes by car from where our factory was being built. Many foreigners lived in this city, but no Americans other than the ones from my company. The town had two universities, which were popular with students from the middle east. So the middle eastern restaurants in town were truly top notch. There were lots of immigrants from Indonesia and Myanmar doing lower level jobs at the factory. There were quite a few Koreans and a few Brits living in our development. Malaysia itself is highly multicultural, with the majority being Malay, but a large percentage of the population is descended from Chinese and Indian immigrants. You can get great Chinese, Malay, and Indian food of course, and a lot of “Malaysian” dishes have elements from more than one of these traditions.

My family all had a fantastic experience being there. A coworker of mine brought his family too and we arranged to live in the same development so my two younger kids were perfectly happy to hang out with his kids. Every day they swam (olympic pool about 200m from our house), did homework (homeschool), and had outings with the moms. We explored many places in and around KL, and also visited to Malacca and Penang. There is a low cost airline there called Air Asia with extremely low fares and we lived about 30 mins from the airport, so we tried to get around to see other things in Asia while we were there. We went to Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. I wish we had time to go other places as well like Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, and Taiwan, but it was hard to take vacation since I had to work a lot.

We kept a travel blog of some of our experiences there which you can view here:

I had never eaten Rambutan or Mangosteen before this trip. Wow, they are delicious! My favorite was Mangosteen. This fruit has a dry, spongy, purple outer covering, and is about the size of a plum. The green cap frequently harbored loads of ants. Once you crush the fruit a little, you can peel off the purple outer covering to reveal the moist, segmented, white insides. Looks a bit like a head of garlic. These segments are very sweet and fruity; smaller ones are seedless and larger ones have a seed which you can spit our or swallow. We would buy mangosteen 5kg at a time and finish them within a day or two. They make a lot of debris when eating, so they are banned from many hotels and on busses and airplanes.

My second favorite was Rambutan. The malay word for “hair” is Rambut - hence the name. This fruit tastes like lychee but I think had a little more tartness. Longan was also abundant, but I found these too annoying to peel, and also too sweet without any tart. Rambutans are bigger than lychee and easy to peel. You are not supposed to eat the seed since it is poisonous in quantity. These also harbored loads of ants so we would usually put them in the fridge, which slowed the ants down enough so they wouldn’t spread out of the fruit bag.

You can sometimes see Rambutan at asian markets in the US, but I have never seen Mangosteen.

Another great fruit in SE Asia is Mango. We were unfortunate that there wasn’t an open local market close to our house, but there was a high end grocery store about 1km from the house which we could walk to. So many types of mangos were available that I had never tasted before. Check out the selection at our grocery store:

One day I took a car to a big local market in an adjacent town and came home with 6 different types which really did taste quite different. Here is a really large variety:

The street market we visited in Phu Quoc, Vietnam, was the best one I have ever seen. Such variety, so many stalls, all very fresh, and an impressive selection of seafood as well.

My two young kids hated street markets (hot, crowded, smelly, stray cats and dogs eating weird stuff off the ground, tobacco smoke, mopeds, etc.). So we didn’t get around to as many as I would have liked to see.

Probably the worst thing about Malaysia was the heat. We lived 3 degrees North of the equator, so you can believe it was warm! When we first arrived it was hard to be outside for any time at all. However by the end of our stay I felt like I could be outside all day as long as I didn’t have to be in direct sun during the middle of the day. I sweat just as much as at the beginning, but it somehow didn’t seem as oppressive and uncomfortable. So you do get used to it eventually. And it was nice to have the weather always be predictable - weather app on my phone was basically useless. Every day about 28-34C, probably with a thunderstorm. Sometimes it would go a few days with no rain, sometimes there would be two thunderstorms in a day. While the thunderstorms would drop sometimes outrageous amounts of rain, it would usually clear up and be sunny again within an hour or two. We got to see lightning like I’ve never seen before. The sky was always full of dramatic cloud formations. Sunset and sunrise were very brief, being so close to the equator. Now that I’m back to experiencing a dreary winter in the northeast, I’m wishing for Malaysia weather again.

While our project there was pretty successful technically, business conditions became much worse over the two year duration of the project. Hanwha, our partner company, had previously been supplying mainly the US market, so they were heavily impacted by the import tariffs the US put in place against solar panels. Also, the government of China abruptly changed it’s subsidy policy, causing the chinese market to drop off sharply, leading to massive overcapacity worldwide and thus plunging prices for panels. Hanwha Q cells lost hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter and dismissed their CEO. They were out of cash and the new CEO was not a believer in our technology (which after all is a risky new thing from a single company and not fully scaled up). So the plans for a large factory in Malaysia were cancelled and our partnership came to an end, meaning my family moved back to the US.

Coming back was tough for me. I felt like we had been on this amazing adventure together as a family and now it was just over and we had to go back to ordinary life. Also, the house was dusty and full of cobwebs, and we noticed with new eyes how dingy and cluttered it was compared to our place in Malaysia, which was bright, huge, modern, with almost no stuff in it. The yard was packed solid with 2m high weeds and everything was overgrown. All my apples had somehow been taken off the trees (probably squirrels, since I wasn’t around to trap them). The car broke down immediately, the dishwasher broke, and the internet wasn’t working. Ugh. It was hard to get excited about anything, even things I enjoyed before we left.

However, there were some good things about coming back. Having taken nearly a year away, we found that a lot of the clutter in the house were things we could live without, so we did a major reorg and gave away or threw out a lot of stuff. We repainted and fixed things, pulled all the weeds in the yard. All the perennials and trees I cared about had survived ok, though clearly in need of pruning. Our Mars and Marquis grape vines were loaded with fruit.

Now having been back for a few months and getting things settled, I’m starting to feel excited about the garden again and ordered seeds this week. I found myself interested in reading GrowingFruit again, so here I am. Glad to see the community is still active and vigorous!


Welcome home.


Sounds like a wonderful ,…
life experience,
Cultural experience,
Fruit / food experience
Payed , Working vacation
Doing solar ! ! ! …
Tell us more… !

I know what you mean , about coming home ! … ?
Culture shock for sure…
A whole new perspective on where you live !

What a great story Holly and welcome home. I think I would not miss the heat, but I would the palm trees, variety of ginger flowers and food. I happen to love Malaysian food. Friends who were in the Peace Corps there spoiled me! Since you have been gone, I have moved permanently to the south of France, so if you’re feeling inclined for heat during the spring summer or fall, let me know. We have palm trees too! Glad you bought your seeds! PS read your entire blog too. Loved it! What a fabulous time!

Was wondering where you had been!! Glad your year away from GF is filled with fun and wonderful adventure. I’m always interested in hearing an American’s perspective about Southeast Asia, positive or negative.

Welcome back.

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Welcome back and thanks for sharing your experiences there! It must be a great experiences for you and your family. That sweet juicy green mango is my favorite too when I had trip to SE.

What a great experience to share as a family. And thanks for telling the story to us! Welcome back to growingfruit.

Super bummer on solar cell project being cancelled. Half the cost of current cells would have been a good thing for everyone.

I think somebody is successfully growing Mangosteen in Puerto Rico. I’ve seen it in my local Asian grocery store once or twice, but very rarely.

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Thanks for the welcome back everyone.

Forgot to mention durian! In Malaysia it is called the King of Fruits, and everyone is very enthusiastic about it. We were there long enough to experience two periods of fresh durians coming off trees. There would be tons of roadside stands with fresh durians, and people would be talking about durian. As an american who never tasted durian until middle age, I was still not a fan when we arrived. But in a number of situations we basically had to eat it to be polite. Like when we visited a small scale orchard and rubber plantation and they opened up a durian right off the tree for us to eat.

My wife can eat a fair bit and doesn’t mind it. My two younger kids were put off by the smell alone, while oldest daughter took a tiny taste (she is the most adventurous eater). I forced myself to eat two pieces.

Durian really is very flavorful and sweet and has a lot of complexity. You can just feel a whole swarm of complicated molecules inundating your senses. By the end of our trip I was still not a huge fan, but I could eat a fair bit in social circumstances and I was getting to feel like maybe I could eventually start liking it if I kept eating it. The smell no longer seems bad to me; just smells like durian now. Actually, yesterday I was at H mart (asian grocery) and they had some durian out which I smelled when I went past - ah, made me feel nostalgic for Malaysia.

Yes, the company paid our rent, travel and moving expenses, and gave us a generous per diem. Also it is 2-4 times cheaper to live in Malaysia than the US, so the per diem and my normal pay went a lot further. We could live like kings and still save a lot of money, as well as being on a great adventure and not burdened by the responsibilities of our life in the US. So yeah, totally awesome! Even with all those perks the company had a hard time finding enough people to volunteer for the travel to cover our needs - most people are not in a position to pick up everything and go to the other side of the world for an indefinite amount of time. But I am so glad we were at a point in life where we could take advantage of that opportunity.

On culture shock of coming home: People in Malaysia are generally pretty conservative socially and personally polite and friendly. Malay women almost universally wear a hijab and clothes that cover up to wrists and ankles. We went from that world to landing in San Franciso to do immigration and change planes. In the long immigration line in front of us, there was a younger american couple making out the whole time. The lady had on a paper thin sheer shirt with no bra and which showed her whole midriff, including a tacky tatoo on her lower back/bum. Super short shorts with “Juicy” printed on the back, and the guy had a t shirt on with the F word on it. Ah, hello again America. The kids’ eyes were popping out.

When we got back, people asked “Wasn’t it dangerous in Malaysia? Weren’t you scared?”. I replied that my kids were literally 80 times more likely to die by gunshot in America than they had been in Malaysia, and if anything it was more scary to be here. To be fair the car accident death rate is significantly higher there; most people don’t bother with seatbelts.

Even with all the problems we have in America, on the whole I still think it is better than anywhere else. What can I say, I guess I’m an American at heart. But when I go to other lands, I can really appreciate the aspects of other cultures which seem better than ours. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in Malaysia forever, but I feel like another year or two would have been nice…

Glad you made it to France. I would LOVE to come visit you there sometime. My favorite Malaysian dishes were Char kway teow, nasi goreng ayam kuning, pan mee soup, and beef rendang. Glad you enjoyed the travel blog.

You may remember that my wife’s mom is Vietnamese and my wife lived in Bangkok for a number of years when she was a kid. Her dad was a diplomat so they moved around a lot. For her, going to Malaysia and living the expat life was reminiscent of her childhood and she felt like it was cool that she could give her kids a flavor of what her own young life was like. Her brother came to visit us there along with his kids, and the two of them were nostalgic for their southeast asian childhood. Oh another great food you can eat in Malaysia is Thai food; it is all over the place and much tastier than is typical in the US.

We would would have been able to make a half price WAFER, but it still needs to get turned into a solar cell, then into a solar panel. And these days, the cost of panels is not even the biggest expense in a new installation. So we can have a minor but still meaningful impact on final price. The way the industry has progressed is that prices are constantly plummeting by a combination of scale and continuous technology and manufacturing improvements. These days, in most places if you want to put in a new power plant, solar offers the cheapest way to make electricity, and prices are still on the way down. This is exactly what the planet needs (actually needs to go faster) but it makes it tough to be a money making business in this industry!

I’ve wondered why we don’t have mangosteen in the US; I’m positive the climate could support it in central or South America. Malaysia used to be full of rubber trees, originally from Brazil. My conclusion was that there must not be a market big enough to justify producing them. They don’t keep particularly long on the countertop, but I don’t know how they would do in controlled atmosphere cold storage.


This has been a very enjoyable thread to read. I need to search for an asian produce market near me so I can try some of their wonderful fresh fruits.

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Good luck. Look for jackfruit!

If you can find Southeast Asian markets like Vietnamese, Cambodian or Lao, you have a better chance to find those fruit than from other Asian markets.

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Nice pictures and story. I am living in Asia now and travel frequently throughout the region. I love mangosteen! For me, the taste and texture remind me of a peach and grape combo. The little ants are ever present aren’t they. The ban on mangosteen from hotels is for the red staining the peels cause on bed sheets, towels. And durian is banned for that awful smell of course. Durians are the chitlins of the fruit world.

For anyone wondering durian is definitely worth a try. I expected it to be a lot worse, but it had a nice banana/custard front with a… interesting finish.

if i woke up hungry and was given the choice of either mango or durian for breakfast. I’d go for durian first because it is a meal in itself. Then probably have a little bit of mango.

but if already had my fare of waffles and yogurt, i probably will save durian for later, and just have mangoes.

as soon as i get hungry for a full meal later, then will have durian as my main fare, lol. It is a fruit that tastes increasingly better as you get accustomed to it. Have been fortunate enough to grow and taste all manner of fruits(ultratropical to xerophytic, to frigid temperate), and deem the ugly and smelly durian as something i can’t live without. If can’t grow it, will have to get it fresh or frozen. Don’t judge me now…

langsat(longkong) is another tropical favorite that have been having withdrawal symptoms for. Ugly on the outside but inside is absolutely refreshing one-of-a-kind


I must admit part of me is very jealous cause I’m originally from Penang, Malaysia but we moved to Canada in the early 70s and I haven’t been back since 1983. Thanks for the great write-up and photos. I miss the fruit there, especially mangosteen, rambutan, giant papayas and durian. Durian is one of those fruits you either love or hate it, with most foreigners HATING it due to the overpowering odour.


I like the idea of the under floor heating that you spoke of in your blog. Korean - Ondol
I am studying about a batch rocket stove masonry heater , which uses similar pricipales.
I like warm feet !
Ondol - Wikipedia


i remember that system when i was stationed in camp humphreys , korea in the early 90’s. back then they burned large charcoal briquets about 12’’ x12’’ that had 5-6 holes in the middle. when they were burnt out they would remove them and put them out near the street for disposal. back then i was common to hear of a whole family perish due to carbon monoxide. usually a very poor family that skimped on building materials. i actually saw one being built . pretty impressive technology!

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Wow! What a fantastic read. Very fascinating. Thanks for sharing such a detailed summary. Welcome back!

Awesome read, thank you for sharing! This does bring back memories. My mom is from Malaysia, she’s ethnic Chinese, and I had the good fortune to make a couple of visits when I was young, way back in the 80’s. I enjoyed both trips immensely, although my memories of them fade a bit every year. I do remember the food, the heat, and the fireworks!

Thanks again!