Blissful Festive Reunion

I never like counting down to New Year. It is the day when I bid farewell to my loved ones.

After spending 8 days of home-quarantine, I finally get to spend some quality time with my parents, wife and child. Having chicken pox at 40 was a dreadful experience. It was a good test of one’s character and endurance. For me, the timing was just bad. My sickness coincided with our Christmas family trip. I wasted one good week at home. Fortunately, I was thankful that I managed to recover in time before their departure.

Every gloomy cloud has a silver lining. Auntie Amy, Joanne and Scott were in town too! I was so excited to receive them on my first day of freedom! Tracy and I went to the airport to welcome Auntie Amy and Joanne & family!

With Auntie Amy and Joanne & family in town, the gathering got merrier and noisier! Both my Aunt and mum started their nagging rituals on poor Elkan. I managed to avoid the old ladies’ bombardments by joining Joanne, Felicia and Tracy. Dad was happily chatting with Joanne’s dad who was also his ex-colleague.

There were 2 days when Auntie Amy and Joanne & family went away. Auntie Amy flew to Xiamen on 28th Dec to surprise her son and Joanne brought her parents to Macau and Zhuhai. I didn’t plan anything special for my family. My old folks didn’t want to travel far. Mum and Dad weren’t feeling well as they weren’t used to the cold weather. So, we spent a lot of time dining and shopping around Central and Soho areas.

Felicia and Elkan fell ill during their last 2 days in Hong Kong. Felicia was having the same symptoms as what I experienced (Felicia went to A&E and was diagnosed with chicken pox on New Year’s Day). She lost her appetite and her body was unwell. During both their absence, Auntie Amy and Joanne & family returned to Hong Kong. Chowpo volunteered to drive my family and friends around Hong Kong on 29th and 30th of Dec. We had lunch at Stanley Market and sight-seeing at Sai Kung. Later in the evening, we had farewell dinner at Central.

Felicia, Elkan, Auntie Amy and my parents left Hong Kong on the eve of 2015. Joanne & family, Harshad, Tracy and another Hong Kong auntie came to IFC to send them off. It was another teary farewell at the airport express station. Separation makes us cherish every reunion. Elkan kept reminding himself not to cry but he eventually broke down just seconds before he boarded the train. He was suppressing his sadness the entire morning and when he broke down, I gave him a tight hug and told him it was okay. Departure was never easy for anyone of us. That is why I am always so hasten to say goodbye.

I was blessed with the company of good friends. Tracy, Chowpo and Harshad were there for me at every farewell. And this new year’s eve, I had the company of Joanne & family. We welcomed the first minute of 2015 on a rooftop watching fireworks over Victoria Harbour.

On New Day’s morning, Joanne & family joined me to welcome the first sunrise at the Peak. The weather was fantastic, we walked a total of 10km that morning! By 1pm, Joanne’s parents were so tired that they went back to the hotel to take an afternoon nap! It was also this trip when Joanne bumped into friends on the street. Amazingly, she bumped into 3 different friends in Hong Kong! It is just unbelievable how small the world is!

Finally, I bid farewell to my last visitors yesterday. Joanne and parents flew back to Singapore last evening. I started to miss all of them (my parents, wife, son, auntie and friends) already! As I walked past their hotels this afternoon, I could feel their presence. Guess it will take me quite a while to get back to my usual working pace.

Thank you all for being there with me this Christmas and New Year (in sickness and in health). Thanks for everything! See you soon my loved ones!

Christmas Without the Polkadot Man

It is great to see my loved ones enjoying themselves during my “chicken pox” absence (19th – 27th Dec) this festive season. Thanks to Felicia, Tracy and Chowpo for taking such good care of my old folks and boy. Here are the photos and blogs by Felicia. Enjoy!

BLOG BY FELICIA (20th Dec – 23rd Dec)

Harbin Ice Exhibition & Lychee Valley (21st Dec)

A bright sunny day was the perfect day out for us to enjoy the cool weather! To make it cooler, we took the MTR and headed to the Harbin Ice Exhibition at Yuen Long.

The exhibition site was quite crowded with lots of carnival booths. Elkan was excited about the cold while the old folks were worried if the huge ice cage would be too cold for them. This is my father and mother in-law’s first experience of -10ºC. We were each handed a thick down jacket to keep warm just before we enter the exhibition. 

Although temperature wasn’t as cold as it was at the real Harbin Ice Festival in China, Heilongjiang, but it was cold for us as we didn’t have the proper winter wear. There wasn’t many sculpture pieces inside. Some nice ones are the igloos and the slides. Elkan took his grand parents to the slides. They had fun like little kids!We quickly swept through the rest of the sculptures and headed for the exit. It was great to be back at the outdoor of 16ºC.Elkan and me decided to have a short race on the paddle go kart and it was really fun going for a few rounds on the race tracks. Not easy keeping up with Elkan’s speed now!

Next we headed to a nearby organic park, the Lychee Valley. A small park with kids playground and lots of fruits farms. Unfortunately it wasn’t the season for most of the fruits. Maybe another trip again soon!

Lantau Island, Tai O & A Surprise Sammi Concert! (22nd Dec)

Thanks to Chowpo who accompany us to Lantau and visit the Big Buddha. It was also a meaningful day to visit there as it was the 冬至(Winter Festival).

The fun of the day was the cable car trip up the hill. Apparently, my father in-law was afraid of the ride but he went along with us and bravely stepped into a crystal cable car, which is a glass-bottom cable car! Bravo!!

After a healthy vegetarian lunch, we headed downhill to Tai O. Took a short boat ride out to the sea, but we didn’t have much luck to spot any pink dolphin. At least the sea breeze was enjoyable.

The day ended with a sweet surprise! A Sammi concert for me with Tracy!

A spectacular performance with lots of gunfire, hot dance and special guest, Eason Chan! We were amazed with how the stage transforms, changing the whole dimension of the centre stage, not just once but a few times. And creating a stage within the stage! Eye-opening for me!

Dine by The Peak & Shopping at Central (23rd Dec)

Chowpo brought us to a nice restaurant with a great view for Dim Sum the next morning. It was pleasant and relaxing lunch. The food was great!

After lunch we took a short ride up the the peak garden. The higher peak which most tourist would give it a pass. The air was fresh but the wind was chilling.

We spent the afternoon shopping along the streets near our hotel. And visiting nice christmas decorations in the shopping malls. Hong Kong malls never fails to surprise us with beautiful decorations.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I had the worst nightmare before Christmas. And it happened 5 days before my year-end holiday. It ruined all my secret Christmas holiday trips with my parents and loved ones!

A week ago, I was perfectly normal. One minute, I was attending a meeting at work, the next, I was shivering with a high fever kicked in. It was a strange new experience. There was no symptoms. I had no flu, cough or sore throat. My body just shut down with this sudden high fever. I decided to stay away from work (my first MC in 2 years!) and took a day off to rest.

The next day, I went to see the doctor. He too, couldn’t provide me with any medical reason about my fever. He gave me the usual fever and pain-killer pills. He suspected a virus attack and asked me to rest for 2 more days. It wasn’t any typical fever. It came with severe headache and body-aches. I lost appetite and I had difficulties breathing. It was extremely uncomfortable and it was driving me crazy.

On the third day, I started to notice some rashes on my chest, arms and back. There were a couple of tiny red bumps near my elbow. One of them looked like a blister. Instantly, my worst fears surfaced in my mind. I was swearing and cursing in the shower room. Felicia asked me what happened, I told her my suspicion. I made a trip down to the clinic and showed the doctor the new symptom. After checking my body, he confirmed I had chicken pox.

My heart sank. The first thing I thought of was my wife and son. Like me, they never had chicken pox too. It will be devastating if the entire family was infected at the same time!

I came home and asked both of them to pack their bags. I immediately checked them into a nearby hotel for their remaining days in Hong Kong. I cancelled all our air tickets and hotel bookings. Originally, I planned a surprise 1-week Christmas vacation (for my parents, Felicia and Elkan) at Taiwan.

Having chicken pox at 40 was a humbling life experience. The books were right. Chicken pox is no small feat for adults. I sincerely urge all adults who never had chicken pox to take a chicken pox vaccination jab. Trust me, it is bearable but I wished not to experience such tortures again. The sickness took a heavy toll on my body and mind. The first three days were the worst days of my life. It was worst than what I experienced in National Service. I am extremely weak and under extreme pain. The pox spread everywhere (on my palms, in my ear and even inside my mouth). Thankfully, Tracy had chicken pox before and she took great care of me throughout this tormenting ordeal. 

It was extremely difficult for my loved ones. To avoid any contact, they cannot visit me and can only drop food/gifts by the door. Finally, after 10 days of house-arrest, my body has recovered and I managed to have a short Christmas dinner with my family and friends this evening.

It wasn’t the Christmas I have expected. Still, I appreciate this experience. It taught me the value of good health and family bonding. To my parents, wife and child – Thank you for being so patient with my sickness. Thank Felicia for dropping lovely meals by my door step. Thank Tracy for fetching me medicine, food and water 24/7. Thank Chowpo and Harshad for accompanying my parents and popping by to fill my apartment with so much warmth and sunshine. I am sure in another 2-3 days, I will be able to go out in full. On a positive note, I am finally immune, this will not come back (cross my fingers) to haunt me for a long long time. Thank you all for all the beautiful gifts and good-wishes. Looking forward to more happy moments with all of you in the coming days! Happy Poxing Day!

Camping at Wan Tsai (西貢灣仔)

It has been almost 20 years since I last camped outdoor. Thanks to my colleagues (Sean and Wing) who invited us, Felicia, Elkan, Tracy and I had our first family camping experience last Saturday. When I told my friends that I will be camping at Wan Tsai, many of them assumed I will be occupying Central on the highway. Unknown to many, there is really a campsite by the name of Wan Tsai (not Wanchai) and it is located at the far northeast of Sai Kung. It was a long ride from our apartment in Central. First, we took a cab to Wong Shek Terminus at Sai Kung Country Park. From there, we then took a 20min-ferry to the campsite.

The Wan Tsai campsite is a good site for beginners. It is located just right beside the pier, so we need not to walk very far with the heavy gears. There are lavatory and shower facilities around the campsite and they are very clean! There were many other campers around so we felt very safe.  Felicia, Tracy and I were so inexperienced and unprepared for the trip (we brought all the outdoor toys, snacks and bottled drinks but not the basic survival gears!). Lucky for our more camping-savvy friends, they came with the right tools and gears. The weather wasn’t that good. It was misty cold (at about 10-12°C) and it rained in the wee hours. We managed to survive the long cold wet night with some really good warm supper and breakfast. I never expect a cozy night sleep (the tent we bought was too short for my body length) and this was a very good experience for all of us. With better cool days coming ahead, I am sure we be doing more outdoor camping in the next few weeks!

Coincidentally Taipei

This was one amazing trip of fateful coincidences. Tracy and I were supposed to use these discounted air tickets to meet Lionnel and Joey in Taipei. Due to a Super Typhoon, we had to cancel our September trip at the last minute. Without any plan in mind, we picked a random date in mid November to exhaust the tickets.

It seemed that Fate had other plans for us. Coincidentally, 2 weeks before our November trip, I was informed that two of my best buddies in office (Chowpo and Vanliza) will be flying to Taipei for business on the same travel dates as ours. We were so happy to know that as Tracy and I didn’t have any special plan for our postponed trip. I changed my hotel booking so we can all stay around the same vicinity.

Since we were part of the same business unit, Tracy and I decided to lend Chowpo and Vanliza some help on Friday evening. We accompanied them to the client’s office to move some props. There, at the lift lobby, another delightful coincidence occurred! I bumped into an old client-friend, Mandy! She was so excited and surprised to see us! What a small world! We started chatting non-stop outside the lift door. We haven’t seen each other for almost 4 years! It was great bumping into her!

The next morning (Saturday), we were supposed to make a trip to visit another friend at Taizhong. At 7am, I received a surprise text message from my Cousin Bin! His family and he were all in Taipei! I supposed to join them for breakfast but one thing led to another. Coincidentally, Cousin Bin was staying at the same hotel I originally booked (but I changed another hotel to be closer to my colleagues). He was planning a 1-day tour along the northern coastal towns of Taipei. I checked with the ladies and we decided to tag along!

It was an awesome gathering! I was so happy to meet Cousin Bin and family! It was so unreal! The excitement was indescribable. Perhaps all these were fated! Cousin Bin booked 2 cabs for us. We went to visit Yehliu Geopark (野柳), had lunch at Jiufen Old Town (九份), hiked across a suspension bridge at Shifen Waterfalls (十分大瀑布), and released sky lanterns (天燈) at Shifen Old Street (十分老街). It was an extraordinary day with so many delightful moments! I was so glad that my friends and cousin enjoyed themselves.

Surely, no any other pre-trip planning can match what I experienced this trip. Tracy and I weren’t expecting anything special after our disappointing cancellation last September. This postponed trip was simply amazing and fulfilling! Fate certainly has its own unique way to connect people. Thanks God (and the power of social media) for this wonderful arrangement. This is indeed one of my best Taiwanese visits ever! And yes, life is beautiful. May all our wishes (on the sky lanterns) come true. Enjoy the photos! 

Kodak gives the world a brand new Moment – PIXPRO SP360

Kodak could be on its way back from the brim of extinction. This week, Kodak beats its competitors to launch the world’s first single-lens 360° camera. Introducing the new Kodak PIXPRO SP360 Action Cam  – a multi-function action camera that allows the user to capture 360° videos and photographs in full HD format!

The Kodak PIXPRO SP360 Action Cam is the first player in this brand category of 360° action cam. 2015 marks the year of 360° digital action photography. I strongly advise those who are interested to buy a 360 action cam to wait for more releases and reviews. Panono, Bublcam and 360Fly are the 3 spherical cameras to watch for in 2015. Until then, the Kodak PS360 is one of the lightest and cheapest 360 cameras today. We aren’t too far from more major launches – just wait for another 2-3 months.

(See 360Fly and Bubl videos below).

Built to handle the most rough action, the PIXPRO SP360’s water-&-dust-resistant body can handle drop-fall up to 2 meters and extreme temperature as low as -10°C. Weighing at only 103g (and smaller than the 35mm film box), the portable SP360 captures stunning 360° HD panoramic/spherical images and video footages. With an impressive ultra-wide F2.8 lens,its 16-megapixel-CMOS sensor captures photographs at 10 megapixels and 120fps video at 848 x 480 resolution. For those of you who prefer the traditional wide frontal view, this camera captures a wide angle up to 212°. It also comes with other useful features like self-timer, timelapse, motion-detection and 10fps multi-burst shooting.

Watch PIXPRO SP360 Video (Underwater Diving & Skydiving):

One of the biggest plus points is the long battery life – an impressive 160 minutes for video or 350 still shots. During my 1-hour time-lapse trial, there is no battery overheating issue like GoPro. This is a major plus point for me. My previous GoPro 3 lasted barely 40 minutes.

Another big plus point is its Kit Accessories. Unlike Gopro which is often stingy on accessories, the Kodak Extreme Kit (HKD2,970) comes with many generous accessories like bar mount for multiple mounting options such as handle-bars; flat adhesive mount for skate or paddle board; curved adhesive mount head strap; helmet mounts; surfboard adhesive mount; suction cup mount; extended arms; quick clip; tethers; clear standard mount housing and clear waterproof housing.

I played with the SP360 for 2 days. I enjoy its lightness and fast WIFI connectivity. Time-lapse is so easy to use. There is hardly any video-lagging in the live-viewing on the iPhone App (as the live-view is a lower-res compressed version). File saving and processing time is reasonably fast. Microphone is decent. Video and photo quality in the daytime is great (though I feel the colour in Sony Action Cam is much more vibrant and brighter). One of the best things I like about this camera is its tripod hole. I can attached the camera directly to any tripod without an adapter.

The great thing about having a 360° camera it captures the people behind and in front of the lenses! You not only be able to see the 1st-person’s perspective, you also get to pan anywhere you like during the video – side, top and back! Imagine putting this camera in the middle of a round dinning table or inside a F1 car – you get to see the excitement inside out and all around! The possibilities are endless! And with the growth of VR headsets (like Oculus Rift + Nimble Sense and Google Cardboard), this will change the way we view content in the future.

Watch Nimble Sense Video:

Of course, there are some flaws with this. One of the key negative points about SP360 is the lack of an universal interactive 360° video / photo player. Kodak should lead and launch a new video standard for its 360° content. Currently, all my trial videos and photos are all in this odd spherical format (unless I use the PIXPRO software to unwrap them on my Mac). Right now, the easiest and sharpest way to enjoy the 360° content is viewing them through its unstable mobile app. The amateurs will find it difficult to edit and share (the sharing bit is the most important factor to success!). The current extraction software is very inferior. The HD content, after extraction, looks low quality and terrible. Hopefully the developer improves the extraction/sharing software.

At this novelty stage, new viewers may find these 360° spherical formats unique, but in the long run, no one wants to edit and watch a dizzy spherical 360° video. Without allow viewers to interact or empowering them to pan the screen on popular platforms like Youtube or Vimeo, this hardware will be just a fad. This is the reason why I think 360Fly or Bublcam (two other 360° cam brands) may win over Kodak as their file conversion is more user-friendly and sharable.

Another negative point is the location of its tripod hole. While attaching to the tripod, it captures part of the tripod in the recording. Also, it is located at the side of the camera and not at the base. I foresee users may need to buy 3rd party tripod adapters to overcome this minor imperfection. The last negative point is its poor performance in low-lighting environment. Like most action cameras, Kodak’s performance is average (feels like a GoPro 2) and loses out to GoPro 3.

Despite some flaws, it is an awesome great first experience! Welcome to the new age of virtual reality and this will only get better! Maybe in the near future, all mobile phones will come with 360° camera. Right now, I am looking forward to use this for my end-year adventure trip.

The Umbrella Movement – Day 14

Today marks the 14th Day of the Umbrella Movement. The week went by without any violence and drama. The students are still out there occupying the streets but things have normalised. Shops, schools and government offices have reopened. Even the stock markets are doing just fine.

Highway-walking is my new weekend activity. Psychologically, it is quite a joy to stroll on the empty highway without the cars. The occupied streets have underwent a lot of transformation since my last visit a week ago. From the increasing numbers of tents, beds, supply-stalls and make-shift shower shelters, it seems that the demonstrators are determined to settle here for a long time. With the cooling good weather, I believe more and more people will turn up to occupy Central.

Despite the inconvenience caused by this occupation, the Umbrella Movement has given Hong Kong a new breath of life. Ground Zero has transformed the cold concrete city center into a never-seen-before haven of peace, unity, love and freedom. Here, air is fresher and people are a lot nicer. There is no need to worry about food, water and shelter. People are super nice, considerate and thoughtful. It is almost surreal. This occupation creates a brand new state of mind and freedom. There is art, passion and zen everywhere. It is so peaceful and relaxing here. Travellers who decided to skip Hong Kong may be in for a loss. Instead, I encourage them to come to Hong Kong to enjoy this “money-cannot-buy” experience.

Perhaps this is what every one needs now. A good break and ample space for every one to rediscover their life priorities and sense-of-purposes. It may not be a bad thing for a city to slow down a little for every one to connect their minds and souls. I see this more than just an occupied highway. I see Hope, Unity, Kindness and Greatness of Hong Kong people. Welcome to the new Freedom Highway – where all great things begin.

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