Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Survived... Yet Another Apocalypse

Hey, so the world didn't end on the 21st Dec. So it's time to celebrate. Merry Christmas everyone! Here are some lights from Orchard Road, Singapore.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Singapore Zoo

I have been to the Singapore Zoo a couple of times. But I did not have a camera to take some shots last time. This time, I brought along a camera but I discovered it is really hard to take some nice pictures and animal shots. I do not possess a long zoom lens. Most of the animals like to hide in their own secluded corner which is very far from the spectators. I was expecting to see the polar bears again but found out that they were actually relocated to an off-public temporary shelter because their old shelter is too small which caused stress to the bears. Sadly, few days after I visited the zoo and thought of the bears, a sad news reported that the mother polar bear Sheba had died, leaving her son Inuka alone. The other big attraction coming up in the zoo is the newly arrived panda bears of Jia Jia and Kai Kai. Unfortunately it is not open to the public until the 29th November. The zoo is now hosting private viewings for some organizations which left me and some other visitors disappointed who had thought we could have the chance to see them as well instead of "special" treatment to the privileged first.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Great Wall of China

If you are wondering how does the Great Wall of China look like from the air, well here are some pictures. It was a lucky day for me to fly on a rare unpolluted clear day in Beijing. Somehow I think the Chinese controller knew this too and gave us an opportunity to fly above their Great Wall to impress us. Instead of the usual early turn, they asked us to fly straight into the mountain range. I managed to see the magnificent Great Wall that stretches far from the East to the West clearly. Nothing can beat this rare experience.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Munich, Germany (4)

After this time, I can proudly say that I have seen Munich in four different seasons. This latest trip in summer allowed me to see Munich with its beautiful flowers and blue skies. Although I did not take many pictures this time, I experimented with new processing techniques. Thus I managed to create some interesting effects and also bring out a wider dynamic range in the outdoor shots. In such a bright summer sky, I brought back the otherwise over-exposed skies back to life without the need of tedious HDR shots and processing techniques. I also shot a few pictures with my new Galaxy S3 phone. Let's see if you can identify those pictures.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Munich, Germany (3)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Munich, Germany (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Munich, Germany (1)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

The Sound of Music: Austria

My last visit to Salzburg was during winter. I didn't get to see much because of the cold and many attractions were closed or covered up. I promised to return during summer to see the full bloom of beautiful flowers and to relive the full version of the Sound of Music.

While many thought that the Sound of Music film was shot entirely in Salzburg town itself, they were wrong. Only the Mirabell palace and gardens were featured in the film, while the rest were shot around the Salzkammergut region between upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria. So on my visit this time, I spent less time in the town while more time touring the green hills overlooking the beautiful lake of Wolfgangsee. The finale of this tour was the boat ride on Wolfgangsee from the beautiful town of St. Wolfgang to St. Gilgen. From there, I continued on the bus to Mondsee to see the church by the lake where Maria and von Trapp were married.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Salzburg, Austria (1)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Home Sweet Home: Final Part

About one and a half months ago, renovation started at my new home. I have blogged about the designing and planning stage which I also promised to tell the final story when the renovation is completed. This will include reviews of the designer firm which I have engaged and the workmanship.

When the renovation started, hacking was very quick which was completed in just 2 days. However when tiling works start, the nightmare began. It took forever to complete as only one guy was working. Sometimes, no work has been done for a week. The usual excuse given was wrong shipment of tiles and need to wait for a new shipment; where in fact on my few days of visit, the tiles were already delivered but left on the ground floor public area without anyone coming to collect and start work. It became very stressful as days passed on and seeing no progress at all. I have planned my leave, delivery and moving dates according to the given works schedule. But with delays, it will disrupt all my plans as I will waste my leave while having to move house when I need to work.

Coming to the middle point of works schedule, it has already been delayed for 2 weeks. At this point, I gave my ultimatum that no matter how is the progress, I will move in on the last day. That sent a sense of urgency to the designer to speed things up. At one point, there were more than 10 people working till late for few days to catch up on the schedule. However, on the date of my moving, they could not complete. It was so inconvenient to move things in when it's like a war zone inside, cramped and dusts everywhere. Eventually, we had to do all the cleaning by ourselves till late night. For the following week, the workers came back everyday to fix all the minor leftovers which was inconvenient for us to be at home at all times.

When the dusts settled 2 weeks after we moved in, we finally have some peace and enjoy the new home. We are happy that we designed and created the house to the exact of what we wanted. Like I said in the earlier post, I recommend that you go for a designer firm instead of contractor if you plan to renovate your first house. Our house came out almost identical to how we designed and drew it in the 3D drawings. Overall, the workmanship for the carpentry works is almost top notch. For tiling works, I'd give a thumbs down for the delays and also mediocre jobs on the workmanship. Some tile gaps were not filled up properly and the tiler threw all his cement waste into the drainage hole causing massive drainage blockage. Plumbing and electrical works are to standard as I was there most of the time to instruct the workers of my intended layout and locations. Finally the review on the designer firm: For the price of their quotation and the end result, I think it is very reasonably priced. After some initial first week problem of drainage blockages, we had been staying in a trouble free house so far. My friends were quite impressed with the design, layout and quality too. So I'd have to say workmanship is very good except for the tiling. The only area this designer firm could do better is time and people management. They wasted few weeks without anyone doing any work and on the last minute, they gathered so many people to work at the same time. If they spread out the work evenly and monitor their workers more closely, I'm sure it will be less stressful for both the house owners and also the workers.

There are some other useful information which I would like to share here after my experience with house renovation. I was very lucky that the nature of my job allows me a lot of free time. I would also recommend you to spare some time if possible during certain periods of important schedules so you can be there. During the whole renovation period, I was there almost daily to inspect on the progress. I picked up many hidden surprises which couldn't be possibly shown in the drawings. Things like drainage pipes, beam and column locations. Because of all these, I quickly made on-site changes to suit the conditions. If I wasn't there and the workers make according to drawing, it would turn out to be a disaster as some places would be totally out of place. I also picked up errors in the renovation works early so I highlighted and had them rectified early before too late. For important schedules like electrical and plumbing works, I think it is important for every house owners to be there. This is because you will decide where to place your electrical points and toiletry wares; how to run the wiring, and how many/which type of electrical points you want to place. With everything planned out, I'm staying in such a stress free home now because I have everything within reach wherever I am.

Furnishings can cost a bomb up to tens of thousands. Again I was very lucky as I got some of my furniture from expo at a cheaper price. Almost every month, there are electrical and home furnishing exhibitions held at the various expo centers in Singapore. Do check out all these expos so you can see more choices and buy cheaper instead of going to the shops. Certain mega stores like the Courts are also worth checking out because some items carry member promotional price. I got my mattress for $500 cheaper compared to retailers outside. For electrical like ceiling fans and aircons, it is worth checking the neighborhood shops in the HDB area. They normally carry these items cheaper.

That pretty much sums up my experience of house renovation. I hope my share of thoughts here can help you in your future dream house. And finally, I present to you some pictures of my humble home after the renovation.

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Related link: Home Sweet Home: Part 1

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Tuscany Summer: Pisa and Florence

I had a terrific summer vacation with wife in the Tuscany region of Italy. Together we walked down the road of World Heritage Sites and reliving the Italian Renaissance. While Rome awes with its magnificent Roman architectures, Tuscany region is the art side of Italy with beautiful landscapes, art masterpieces and intricate architectures.

Passing by the town of Pisa on the train, the small town looked utterly uninteresting. However, the jewel is hidden one train stop away. We got off at Pisa San Rossore station. But we initially thought we alighted at the wrong train station. This station is also uninteresting, in the middle of nowhere with just few rows of normal residential houses. Together with a few lost tourists, we stumbled blindly to search for this leaning tower of Pisa. There was no clear signboards from the station. However my instinct guided everyone else in the right direction. While the leaning tower of Pisa is famous worldwide and big in name, to our surprise it is not that big in real life. This is due to the fact the surrounding area is just a boring residential area with the cathedral square in the middle. The whole cathedral square together with the Pisa tower totally looked out of place and it's the only area flocked with tourists. Like many typical tourists, we tried to push, tilt and blow the tower down while doing trick photography from afar to our hearts' content. This leaning tower had stood the test of time as well as the many "pushes" by tourists. However, do visit it if you have the chance before it finally leans too much and decides to call it a day and then kisses the ground.

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After Pisa, we hopped back on the train to Florence to spend a lovely night in one of the renaissance hotel. Florence is such a beautiful and romantic city. It is also home to many art masterpieces by world renowned artists like Michael Angelo. One day is definitely not enough to fully immerse yourself into the Renaissance era of Italy. My suggestion is spend 3 days in this lovely city and buy the Firenze tourist card so you get free entrance to all the major museums.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

San Francisco Time Lapse

While lazying in my room being a couch potato, I felt pity for my camera as it lays by the side without any action. It would be a waste if I don't do anything with it after I carried the heavy equipment all the way from Singapore. So I propped up the tripod and set the camera up by the window. It turned out to be an interesting result. Here's a time lapse of sunset over San Francisco and the coming of fog taken from Canon 5D Mk2. Credits to Edward Maya for producing such an awesome music used in this video. Title of the song is Love Story.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Hong Kong, China (3)

I couldn't believe that I'm seeing a perfect clear blue skies over Hong Kong on my arrival. For many many years and days, this city has been choked with extreme haze and polluted air. Many have blamed the polluted air coming from nearby China cities like Shenzhen. For the first time, I managed to snap clear pictures of Hong Kong city skyline at the harbor. But there's an old saying about "calm before the storm". I left Hong Kong one day later on my way to San Francisco. Without everyone's notice, a huge storm had been brewing over the China Sea. It churned out such a powerful typhoon that for the first time in decades, it was labelled a Category 10 typhoon which is the highest warning that carries a mandatory citywide shutdown. Typhoon Vicente, as they called it, swept ferociously over Hong Kong and into Guangdong area, wrecking massive havoc and damage. Many flights were grounded in Hong Kong and many more were diverted away. I was flying over the North Pacific coming back to Hong Kong when the typhoon made landfall. I totally had no grasp at all over the severity of the storm when presented with just a number statement of Category 10. But a look over the weather report, it is impossible to land the plane in such bad conditions. Eventually, the plane was diverted to Seoul, Korea. Once the storm had passed, the plane finally took off again and landed safely in Hong Kong. For the next 2 days, I spent most time indoors as rain continued to fall. A good time too for me to catch up on sleep from my previous 30 hour awake-work ordeal.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Hong Kong, China (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Hong Kong, China (1)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (4)

The newly opened shopping mall called the Diver City in Odaiba Tokyo is the best of them all. I finally had the chance to visit this mall after seeing it being built since last year. For the lady shoppers, this will be their best shopping place while for the Gundam anime followers, this is their shrine and heaven. This mall packs all the branded labels under one roof. Especially for the Burberry Blue label lovers which can only be bought in Japan, you're not limited only to Roppongi district now. There are many more US brand outlets here although the price may not be the cheapest compared to the States. Now for the Gundam fans, hear ye, hear ye! THIS IS one shrine which you MUST visit if you come to Tokyo. Everything under the sun about Gundam is located here. The life sized Gundam greets you at the entrance. Every hour, it will come to life while spouting some silly smokes. Don't get overly excited at the mobile Gundam shop beside the statue. The real jewel is located at the top floor of this mall. Almost the entire top floor is dedicated to Gundam comprising of galleries, Gundam experience theaters, and most importantly, the store that sells almost complete range of top grade Gundam models from all the series, but only at a fraction of price compared to anywhere in the world. This IS the place for you to buy and stock up your supplies if you want to build an arsenal of Gundam models in your home.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (3)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (1)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Amsterdam, Holland (3)

Weather was not very good this time around. So I didn't do any excursion trip and stayed in the city. I bought a 1-day public transport ticket to go around the city. I walked into few diamond museums selling overpriced diamonds, a few flea markets around the city, saw the one and only windmill left in the city and ended up the day with ice cold beers in the Heineken Museum.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Amsterdam, Holland (2)
Related link: Tulip Mania: Spring in Holland
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Amsterdam, Holland (1)

Friday, August 03, 2012

Home Sweet Home: Part 1

My wife and I just bought our first home and currently in the midst of renovating the place. We had gone through so many processes and important decision makings that I thought it will be a good idea to share our experience here to help others who plan to buy their dream homes without ending up in a financial ruin.

Owning a dream house is every couple's dream towards setting up a happy family. However it is definitely not easy and cheap to own one in the first place. In this tightly controlled public housing country, many rules are in place to prevent speculation. Unless you are rich and can afford private properties, you have to be contented with the public housing called the HDB flats. However, to distinguish between a citizen and non-citizen, many barriers are in place to prevent non-citizens from buying new flats which are cheaper than condominiums. Moreover, non-citizens do not get any grant or financial help. Therefore we have to buy from the resale market which basically means second hand flats aged 5 years or more. In general, a unit usually aged more than 10 years in mature estates. Owning such old flat is not cheap which can run close to half a million dollar. Banks will only loan up to 80% of the property value. So just like everyone else, we have to slough and work hard to save that initial down payment of 20%; unlike citizens who get many housing options, grants and financial help when they buy their first homes.

Just a rough idea on how much cash you need in hand if you plan to buy a flat. For today's average market rate of $450,000 4-room flat, you need to have more than $100,000 cash for that 20% down-payment plus other miscellaneous fees (most importantly the "legalized" cash-over-valuation or in short "under-table" money paid directly to the seller on top of the selling price; easily around $10,000-$60,000). Of this 20% down-payment, you can use all your CPF monies for half of it. Another half which is $50,000 or more will be in the form of cash. For both working couple, you may need to work and save hard for the next 3-5 years just to afford that initial down payment!

Now after paying all the down payment and exorbitant COVs, I ended up with no money left for renovation and furniture. Since my parents are no Li Ka-shing (HK tycoon), I had to look for alternative ways to get some money. No one could lend me money so I turned to the banks once more. I found out banks offer Renovation Loan package. So far, RHB and Maybank offer the most competitive rates. Each person can loan up to $30,000 and if both working couple apply separately, you can obtain loan of $30,000 each to a total of $60,000 or maximum renovation value as quoted by your interior designer; whichever is lower. So the best way is to approach your designer, ask him to quote you an expensive renovation package with many extras which you can take out later; probably over $10,000 extra. With this over-quote, you'll be able to obtain more cash than you need for your renovation. With the extra $10,000++, you can use this cash to buy furniture. But a word of CAUTION here. Renovation loans are not cheap and they have higher interest rate. So please do not loan too much which you cannot afford to pay back later. If you are really short on cash, then forget about money to buy furniture. Just buy the basic first and delay your house warming to later month; where you can save up some money to buy furniture that are missing.

After passing the most difficult financial hurdle, the next big hurdle is choosing the right designer with the right price and right designs for the home. Although difficult, we had fun in designing the home to our hearts' content. It is best to have some designs in the mind first before approaching any designers. Home decor magazines are a good way to start off the creative thinking. Do not be shy to copy the designs you like from the magazines. From there, you can tweak and fine tune to your heart's desire. If you are a computer wizard or just being adventurous, you can even download a free copy of SketchUp and translate your imagination into drawings. The next step is read the reno forums or ask around from your friends who had done their house reno recently for a copy of their quotation. By scouring the internet and words of recommendation, you can distinguish the good and the bad designers. You'll also be able to have a rough estimate of each type of work and material. As a rule of thumb, this is the price estimate that I can provide from my experience:

$60/ft Solid surface for kitchen worktable
$100/ft of Granite Top for kitchen worktable
$100-$130/ft for kitchen cabinets
$200-$250/ft for bedroom wardrobe cabinets
$100-$150/ft for TV console cabinets or normal cabinets
$110/ft for Vanity
$3/sq ft Tiles

Now armed with enough knowledge, you can march off to find designers for quotations. Do not be shy and get as many quotations as possible from different designer companies. Most items listed on top are normally what is being quoted. But there are many extra miscellaneous items that will be quoted if a designer wants to "fleece" you. By just comparing different quotations, you'll be able to find out some totally out of place and nonsense items in the quotations. Do not be fooled by all these small valued items. When you sum up the total, it can make a huge difference as much as $10,000.

As for my experience, I have engaged D'Trenzo as my interior designer and also renovation works. What I'm going to share below is purely based on my experience and dealings with the company. So I cannot guarantee the same experience for everyone else. After reading through many reno forums on the internet, D'Trenzo was mentioned in quite a number of posts by fellow members who had engaged this firm before. As far as I remember, all were positive reviews on the price and quality of work done by this firm. So armed with many other quotations, I approached this firm. True enough the price quoted by this firm is the most honest in my opinion. Without hesitation, I granted them the contract for my house renovation on the spot. I provided them with a few rough sketches and conveyed some design ideas. They came up with the 3D drawings of almost exactly what we wanted and they were always opened to changes from time to time until we were both satisfied with the final drawings.

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Some people may ask why not engage contractor instead of paying a premium price to interior designer. After much research, I discover savings are probably around 10-15%. For my first home, I will not risk putting everything on the hands of contractor which cannot guarantee the designs and results. Sure there are some very good contractors out there, but finding one is very difficult. And many contractors do not offer drawings. Everything is just through conversation, so he may not be able to build what we want. As for interior designers who provide 3D drawings, the final product will be most likely 80% correct, giving us peace of mind during the whole renovation process and not having to worry of wrong end products.

As of now, our home is still in the midst of renovation. So far so good with on-schedule work. Fingers crossed, I hope this good experience continues until the completion of renovation. After the completion, I will come back to share more of my experience with this designer firm, be it good or bad. Stay tuned...Home Reno: Part 2 (Completed)

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Mini Travel Log: Auckland, New Zealand (5)

Devonport is a small town across the Auckland city harbor with its own charm and character. This sleepy town is mostly deserted during the daytime as people sail across the harbor to work in the city. By nightfall, this town springs into life when its inhabitants return from work. The city folks also love to drive over to this town to enjoy international cuisines in many of the restaurants. Two volcanic hills tower prominently on both ends of the town, offering scenic view of Auckland city and surroundings. WW2 era bunkers and guns can be explored on the hills. There is a nice long stretch of beach dotted by beachfront homes on the east side of the town. The Navy Museum displays huge collections of naval artifacts particularly from the WW2 era. Entrance is free.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Auckland, New Zealand (4)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Auckland, New Zealand (3)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Auckland, New Zealand (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Auckland, New Zealand (1)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jurong Bird Park

The Jurong Bird Park is a perfect family getaway for the weekend. I was very impressed after my visit to the park. This worldly acclaimed park is in a class of it's own. You can find almost every bird species there are in every continents of the world. The birds are very lively and well kept in beautiful landscapes that mimic the natural habitats of every bird. The park has the usual bird shows at selected times and the monorail ride around the huge park. If you plan to spend a long weekend, the kids can have a wonderful time at the water theme park while you and your partner spend some romantic time strolling the park.

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Saturday, July 07, 2012

That Perfect Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

3 years ago, I blogged about the emergence of netbooks or mini laptops. Although it did create a buzz and an insight into future computing in terms of size and cost, it did not achieve worldwide success and is slowly fading away. Reason being it is still not free from the keyboards, relatively thick and heavy while missing the touch screen feature. Then came the iPads which took the world by storm. iPads are actually copies of the Tablet first introduced by Microsoft in the early 2000s. However back then, it was very costly and its use limited to high end businessmen and hospitals. When Apple came in with their iPads, the market was ripe for such technology and since then, it has dominated the market until the emergence of Android tablets to take the fight head on.

I had resisted the move to such technology especially when the iPads were introduced 2 years ago. The pads were to my opinion just an oversized iPhone and its use very limited and restricted by the annoying iTunes. There is also no USB port which makes file transfer a hassle, not to mention very limited files supported by the pad. Even to transfer and watch a movie, you have to go through iTunes and convert the file first into whatever crap format it is before it can be read by the pad. Then came the Android tablets which broke the iPad dominance. The early versions of the tablets did have their  fair share of bugs and laggyness. But in terms of feature and file format support, it is already way ahead of the restrictive iPads. Now the second generation Android tabs take the fight to Apple with their much improved responsiveness while adding even more features and hardware upgrades.

I'm a man of sentimental values. So I had been sticking to my mini laptop loyally while many sexy tablets out there failed to tempt me. But my girl is getting old and running crankily so I have been looking for a new replacement. I got my first taste of tablet experience when I bought the Samsung LED TV which throws in a free Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tablet. After just one day of usage, I fell in love with the tablet which does everything a computer does, minus the weight and of course gives me mobility. Few days later, I was so happy with the tablet that I traded in for the bigger size tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. There is no regret and I'm happily using it everyday while I spend less time now with my monster gaming desktop.

Having the chance to use both, there are pros and cons between the two sizes. While the 7.0 gives me excellent grip and mobility, it sacrifices the screen size and only comes in WSVGA display. But this small sized tab allows me to lie comfortably on my bed and with one hand gripping both sides of the tab just like a handphone, my other hand is free to manipulate the screen. The 10.1 on the other hand, is almost perfect in everything and with its WXGA display, it renders pictures and movies beautifully in higher resolution. But the sheer size means I have to lie the tab on my palm or table to use it. I can still grab one side with a hand but the thumb will leave dirty fingerprints on the side of the screen or even interfere with the touch screen process. Now talking about file format support, my tab reads almost every mp3 or movie files without having to go through iTunes or conversion. It also streams directly from my desktop computer wirelessly so no storage is needed in my tab. It can also do so many other things that made the iPads like a child toy. And do you believe it, the tab comes equipped with GLONASS which is the Russian equivalent of GPS. With both GPS and GLONASS in your tab, you can be assured almost 100% map and location coverage even if you bring it to the Arctic or deep jungles.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Koh Samui, Thailand

If you have been to Phuket in Thailand, then Koh Samui will look almost the same to you. The only difference is Phuket is located at the west coast of Thailand while the latter is located at the east coast. I spent a week in Koh Samui recently and had a great time chilling on this relaxing island. I arrived into one of the most beautiful private boutique airport and left me in awe. I didn't feel I was in the airport at all because everything looked so resort style. A nice resort buggy came over by the aircraft and took us directly to the immigration counter which looked like a hotel reception. There are so many boutique style hotels and resorts dotting around the island beaches. As a tip for you, try to avoid commercial hotels located in the towns. You should look for boutique resorts which you can easily find online. Trust me, most of these resorts offer the most stunning sea view with very nice villas and private pools, not forgetting private beaches. It is very convenient to get into town because these resorts do provide free transport or if you are feeling adventurous, you can always hop onto "tuk-tuk"s plying on the main roads for just a few dollars. The usual activities that you can do are island hopping via boats to reach secluded islands for snorkeling, trekking and kayaking. On the main island itself, you can join many tours to see elephant safaris, muay thai kickboxing, jungle off-roading, thai massage or just for some good food. Of course, you must spend few days in your own beautiful resort to chill and relax in the beautiful pools and on beaches.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Rebirth

A while ago, I had been contemplating between making this blog private or close it down altogether. After much procrastination and staying undecided, 3 months flew by just like that. Time really really flies when one does nothing. The writer in me kept my blogging fire lit and had always been there to fight the evil away and urges me to come back to writing and publishing my life's journey. When I logged into my account recently, I read many encouraging messages from people around the world urging me to come back or asking for access in case this blog goes private. I am really touched by all your encouraging messages. I decided to come back to write more. Yeah, so what if I hit a few snags in my life. I pick up the pieces and move on with my life. Those who don't like what I do in life or get jealous can stay aside. There are many things I want to do in life and I can't be bothered to play along with your jealousy or interference. One thing I've learned in life is that when a force is applied against something, the same amount of force will be returned. So instead of inflicting forces on both sides, the best solution is to avoid the force altogether. That's what I'm gonna do from now on until the storm has subsided.

This is the most personal post I've written up to date. I've left out many more details as I felt it is still not the right time to bare all. However, I do have an "interesting" 30 years of stories and counting to tell. Perhaps when the time is right, it will all make it into this blog. I am no Steve Jobs and I won't have the chance to publish hard copy books. However I can say my life is as interesting as his and my autobiography will be published here online for free; for as long as I can still write. So in the meantime, be prepared for more stories of my travels, photos, and occasionally some rantings, crap posts, or even some glimpse into my private life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The End

Dear readers, this blog will be going into private mode in the coming few weeks time. During this transition, you can still view all contents without registering. After the enforcement, you will need to register an account and have me approve your login. I am very sorry for the inconvenience caused.
Update: Dear readers, I have come to realize it will be impossible to switch the blog into "private" mode without creating a big hassle to the readers. You have to register a Gmail account and then email to me (provided you know my email address) so I can manually approve your account. In view of this, I have decided this is the end of the road for this blog. I am really really sorry for this to turn out this way but for circumstances that I don't wish to reveal, it is best to go on sabbatical. Nothing to speculate about, there is nothing to do with copyright or censorship, but I just lost the reason to blog for the time being. My dear readers who had been following me through the years of ups and downs, I want to thank you for your audience. I hope I managed to share some inspirations, happiness and life's wonderful journey with you. I wish you all be blessed in your lives and remember to hold on to that faith in your heart no matter what you do. For one day, this faith will not only be your light in times of your darkest moment, it will also guide you to realize your dreams.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Moscow, Russia (2)

As other parts in Europe have started thawing in Spring, Moscow is still practically very much in winter. It was still bitter cold when I arrived. It snowed lightly every day when I was here. Being blanketed in white snow, the Red Square is beautiful in the white backdrop and gray skies. I had my first outdoor ice skating experience in front of the Red Square. I also watched the great Russian circus. At one time, they put 9 lions in the cage. The lone trainer inside the cage is amazing to be able to control all the lions.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Moscow, Russia (1)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Liberation of Saigon: The Defeat of the US

This year, C121's annual trip brought us to Ho Chi Minh City, which was formerly known as Saigon. After the Vietnam war, this country is fast emerging as a powerhouse in the ASEAN region. I am very impressed with this city on my first visit. Streets are quite clean with decent walkways for pedestrians; probably influenced by the French during the colonial rule. The traffic however is a huge mess with millions of motorcycles terrorizing the roads. If you are not used to crossing the streets without lights or zebra crossings, then you'd probably have BIG difficulties in crossing a road.

Food is very cheap here. For USD 5 above, you can get good meals from nice restaurants already. There are many places to visit around the city, most of them are museums displaying Vietnam War relics and abandoned US army equipments. In the museums, you'll likely see the "other" side of the war story of US atrocities during the war. Propaganda or informative, it's up to you decide who is the villain in the decade long Vietnam War that cost so many lives.

Highlight of this tour is the Cu Chi tunnel which is at the outskirt of Ho Chi Minh. You can experience the guerrilla life of the Vietcong in jungle and small tunnels. The area is a maze of different kinds of booby traps used in the war. You can also crawl into the small tunnels which are camouflaged superbly from the ground. At the end of the tour, stop by the gun range to experience firing weapons from both sides of the army used in the war.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Akaroa, New Zealand

Akaroa is a small French town just south of Christchurch. This town is surrounded by volcanic hills, which offers fantastic view down to the town and harbor if you drive along the scenic mountain top road. Because of the earthquake, much of the town buildings were damaged and abandoned while painfully awaiting re-construction. On top one of the hills in the residential area, one must visit the Giant's House. This house is home to a renowned artist whom she converted the place into another realm with interesting sculptures and landscapes. If you decide to stay overnight, you may even consider staying in this house which also serves as bed and breakfast for tourists.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Aurora Borealis

Few days ago, huge solar flares erupted from the sun and headed towards earth to create one of the biggest solar storm in history. In the morning when I turned on the TV in Houston, doomsayers were preaching about doomsday and massive geomagnetic interference on earth when the solar storm hits; probably frying up the earth with some super rays and disrupting communications and satellites. Oh great, what a "happy" day to start my day off knowing that I'll be flying over the North Pole on this impending doomsday. Being optimistic, I brushed aside all this nonsense and actually hoped that I will be able to see the Aurora(Northern Light) for the first time in my life. My wish was granted and I witnessed the best light-show from the best front row seat. Another checklist in my life done. Yippee! And so at the end of the day, the GPS still worked, I am not fried and I reached home safely to tell another story. So I guess the end of the world is not so near after all.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Frankfurt, Germany (2)

I was here last time during the snowy white Christmas. And I thought I had experienced the coldest season in my life. I was wrong. I was here again when the Siberian cold started pounding Europe with bitter cold winds that froze everything along its' path. It brought misery to hundreds of unfortunate homeless people on the street. Hundreds of them were frozen to death all across Europe. On a clear sunny day when it looked harmless, the cold winds were deadly. Even with multiple layers of clothing, frost bit through and left my fingers and feet numb. I had to find shelters every 30 minutes to defrost. After continuous days of subzero temperature and cold winds, even small lakes and water fountains froze up.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Frankfurt, Germany (1)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (3)

Working on the eve of Chinese New Year was not a good day to start off with. But what to do? In my line of duty, there is no public holidays nor weekends. But we as aircrews only wish that sometimes our sacrifices are being appreciated more and rewarded accordingly. During belt tightening years, we were the first ones to take the cut. But as everyone worked hard to put the ledger back into the black, we were the last ones the be rewarded tinily as record payouts were handed to the big sharks. Moral of the story? It pays to sit on top or being the stakeholders. If you're in the middle or bottom, then you're a nobody in this capitalist world.

Thinking of a short stay in Tokyo, I did not lug along my camera. Again my Samsung Galaxy S2 saved the day when I most needed it. The life-sized Gundam is back to Odaiba. I was very impressed with the actual size of this fictional gigantic robot. It is at least 5-7 storey tall. Perhaps this robot will come to life and be our earth's future fighting machine?

Walking further from the Gundam, I arrived at Venus Fort. It looks plain from the outside, but inside you'll be surprised to discover a beautiful shopping mall. It is similar to the Venetian Macau in smaller scale. It has beautiful fake cloud ceiling with changing lights and ambiance. There is also a free Toyota car museum inside and the Tokyo Big Sight ferris wheel outside.

On the departure day back to Singapore, snow lashed down on the city. Adding to the misery, there was a tremor felt from a 5.1 mag earthquake that happened nearby Fukushima. Thank god I got home safely for my Chinese New Year.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Tokyo, Japan (1)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mini Travel Log: San Francisco, USA (5)

I've returned again to San Francisco, this time via Hong Kong stopover. Being so familiar with this city already, I decided to sight see via public transport. With just a 2 dollar ticket, you can hop on hop off any MUNI buses to the destination of your choice. The ticket is valid for 2 hours, but most of the time, the bus driver is kind enough to throw in half a day worth when he issues you the ticket. Knowing this will definitely save you tons of money on transport because tourist buses normally cost 30 dollars and above for a day pass. I ventured to the Palace of Fine Arts which has a beautiful surrounding lake and park. I also climbed up the Coit Tower for a beautiful 360 view of San Francisco city on a blue sunny day.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: San Francisco, USA (4)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: San Francisco, USA (3)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: San Francisco, USA (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: San Francisco, USA (1)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Hong Kong, China (2)

I had the chance to visit Hong Kong again en-route to and from San Francisco. This time, I made sure I had my camera glued to my body wherever I go in the city so I won't miss out any photo opportunities like I did last time. I arrived on the right timing during the weekend. My aunt and cousin were kind enough to be my tour guide bringing me to some beautiful places in the countryside. To my surprise, away from the congested city area, Hong Kong is actually quite large with many lands in the countryside left undeveloped. However because the younger generation love the "entertainment" and "lifestyle" of the city, they would rather live in cramped and run down city buildings than in the beautiful spacious countryside. Probably they are too conscious of their social status as "modern city dwellers" and don't want to be labelled "villagers".

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Hong Kong, China (1)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mini Travel Log: Cairo, Egypt (2)

Just when we thought the dust has settled in Egypt after the uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak, violence flared again in the capital city Cairo. On the eve of departure from Dubai to Cairo, I have watched the news on TV about the deaths of few protestors in Tahrir Square. And the reason for their deaths? Some government officials threw stones from the government buildings where the protestors had been staging sit-ins for months. How absurd and stupid was that?

Due to the violence and uncertainties, I had planned to bunker down in the hotel once I reach Cairo. I travel light and did not bring my DSLR camera; which turned out to be a little regret for me. To my surprise, Cairo was relatively calm. The ever familiar face of the airline's favorite tour guide was there to great us with his usual smile. He assured us that the violence is only confined to the city area. And so I joined my happening colleagues for tours to the Nile river and pyramids. It turned out to be a fantastic tour.

Going out without my big "gun" made me feel so naked. However, my ever-ready Samsung Galaxy S2 came to the rescue. Looking back at all the fantastic shots taken by this phone, I'm proud and very happy to own this best phone. If I were to hold an Iphone, I would throw it into the pyramid tombs for the pharaohs. Its' pictures are good only on small resolution. Hey, we live in the world of HD now. Iphone is totally obsolete in this department. I've also captured a few movie clips in HD resolution using the Galaxy S2. Results? A+++

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Cairo, Egypt (1)