Now he can fly … and land!

Drone with Harshad

Yes I know, I have been away from my vlog and blog for 3 long months (since Valentine’s Day). So many new changes and exciting things happened at work, I just didn’t have the time for my usual monthly narcissistic rants. (Can’t wait for my next good break in June-July.) 

Things are finally in order and I dragged my lazy buddy, Harshad out today to test flight his newly bought drone. Actually, it wasn’t that “new”. Harshad bought a new drone back in January (a week after he crashed mine) and he kept his new gadget in his drawer for months! We have been postponing our drone date for countless of times since February. It was terrible, inexcusable.

In the end, it was our dear buddy, Scott and his lovely family who got us out. Scott and family arrived in Hong Kong 2 days ago! We decided to fly the drones opposite Scott’s hotel (at Tsuen Wan Park) after our reunion lunch.

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Since the last time Harshad crashed landed my drone (see blog), I believe he suffered some form of drone-phobia. He was very nervous before taking off his maiden solo flight. His hands were shaking for a while. After some basic operation guidance, I left him flying on his own while I took mine to the sky. After a few minutes of clumsy (trial-&-error) operation, he was flying pretty comfortably. He took off and landed the drone all by himself. Right on the dot, no crash-landing, all good.

Good to see my buddy in his usual arrogance after today’s flight. Harshad just need more practices before the next family adventure with the Chuas. 🙂 Enjoy the short vlog.

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A Strange Day of Messages

Today is Valentine’s Day and my social media feeds were bombarded with tons of mushy photographs and public declarations of love. I was stuck at home, down with a really bad flu, feeling miserable.

I was out of office for 2 days. The medicine I took was extraordinary strong and it made me so drowsy that I slept through the day. Later then I realized I took a lot more dosages than required. It was supposed to be once a day for 3 days. I took 3 times a day! No wonder my head was spinning the entire whole day.

This morning, I greeted Felicia “Happy Valentine” but she didn’t reply “Happy Valentine”. Instead, she replied me with a pictorial message.



Those were the first 2 messages I received at 8:22am. Geee, that’s the first watch I bought for her back in 1993! My gosh, she kept it so well!

At 9:02, I received another message.



This was taken back in 2009! Our first Valentine DIY breakfast! So appetizing and yummy!

At 10:02am, Felicia sent another message. 

Hahah, it was an old photo of my mischievous boy! By now, I spotted a pattern in today’s messages. They were all old photos/items from the past. At 11:02am, she sent me another photo.


And another photo at 12:02pm.



“Wow, so many printed love today” I replied. “Yeah. You should create a blog full of his funny moments and your layout. Each a day.”

“Hope they keep u company since u r home alone :)” she said.

At 1:02pm, another pictorial message popped up on my screen. This time, it was a video link.



At 3:12pm…4:02pm and 5:02pm (when I was dozing on my bed), more pictorial messages popped up on my screen.



“Heheh. Nice. You can published a book on all our stuffs..” I wrote.

“That a full time job! Haha.., I can do that when I retire. Compile for our grand children. “ Felicia replied.

At 6:02pm, 7:02pm and 8:02pm, she sent me a photo every hour. Those were old gifts and photos of yesteryear.



By then, I realized her photographs were sorted and synced with the timing of the day (breakfast, lunch and dinner).

At 9:02pm, 10:02pm and 10:22pm, Felicia finally wished me “Happy Valentine” with the last 4 images. It was at 22:22 when she revealed the most important detail that I missed. All her photos were sent on either the second / twelfth / twenty-second minute of every hour.



“Heheh… Happy Valentine’s Day!!😘” Felicia wrote. “I hope you enjoy a long day with me today :). From 08:22 to 22:22!”

My wife outsmarted me again with another surprise. It was another creative version of her very long Valentine Greeting (read Longest Valentine Card). Except this time, it wasn’t inscribed on paper, it started digitally this morning at 0822 and ended right on the dot of my favorite magical number 2222.

Thanks for brightening up my gloomy sick day with all these sweet surprises. Thank you my lovely, creative Valentine!

CNY Reunion in Batam – The Rain Goddess Strikes Again?

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9 days ago, I flew back to Singapore to attend our annual family reunion tradition. Seemed like a long week of break but good times passed by so fast. There was never enough time for everyone. Just when I was done with all the CNY formalities and was about to settle down well into my holiday mood, it was time to pack and leave.

 

This was our 5th Staycation CNY reunion. Auntie Amy started this tradition back in 2013. Since then, we have gathered at Sentosa (2013), Desaru (2014), Kukup (2015), Bintan (2016) and this year, the Wong and Chua families gathered at Batam Island. I am sure the location for our 6th Reunion (2018) will be an interesting one since we have covered all the nearby resorts. I wondered where will we go next year.

Infamously known as the “Rain Goddess” (雨神), Auntie Amy’s wet spell seemed to have worn out this year. For the first time ever, we got to enjoy a slightly normal reunion (it rained only for a short while this year!). All our past reunions were cursed with dreadful stormy weathers whenever Auntie Amy was around. Last May, when she visited me in Hong Kong, the city experienced its first ever typhoon in spring. That’s how she got her notorious divine nickname.

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We stayed at Batam Turi Beach Resort. Built along a long stretch of rocky beach, cascaded on the slopes of a quiet hilly forest, there was so much room for everyone. It was a wonderful place to relax as it wasn’t over-crowded with noisy travel groups. The pool was pretty quiet throughout our stay. There were 2 long jetties that stretched out to the sea where resort guests can enjoy a relaxing breezy scenic stroll.

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During the day, the families spilt out to enjoy their own personal activities. The old folks took afternoon nap while the kids played in the pool. Leon and Chester went out for a run and Elkan and I explored the forest nearby. Without so much free time to spare, I flew the drone around the resort to stalk my relatives.

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At night, the Wong & Chua Bar opened outside my old folks’ chalet. Thanks to Chester’s recent drinking spree, this year, we were “highly motivated” and bought many bottles of red wine and whisky. Most of them were drinking red wine, I had to clear most of the whisky by myself. By the end of the first night, I found myself e-scooting dangerously in the dark down the steep slopes back to my chalet. Thankfully, I made it back without a scratch. I certainly made my dad worried when I failed to reply his message that night.

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The second night, the bar doubled up as a small family makeshift gambling den. The gambling table was so small that we kept dropping cards through the floor of the slitted chalet. It was pretty hilarious when we had to stop the games and sent a few of us under the chalet to recover the cards in the dark. 5 Wongs vs 3 Chuas, outnumbered but not beaten, dad and I emerged as big winners after 24 rounds of disruptive blackjack. (Thanks to the blessing of a wild trespassed fruit bat (蝙蝠=变福) which showered my seat with droppings 5 minutes before the game.)

The families spent a good relaxing 3 days 2 nights at the resort. Other than the usual, costly beach activities, there wasn’t much to do. Felicia and I chilled out by the balcony, looking out to the sea. Elkan was lying on the bed, inside the chalet, glued to his games and online chats. Dining at the resort was expensive and limited, so on our last evening, the families hired 3 cabs, took a long 45-minute ride to the nearest shopping complex (Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall) for massage, shopping and dining.

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Strangely, the old folks seemed to enjoy this year’s reunion, citing it as the best gathering ever. I guess it must be due to the unusual good weather and the endless liquor-sessions. For me, this was certainly the prettiest and coziest resort we have stayed so far. The food was decently good and the environment was even better. No overcrowding during morning breakfast buffet and at the pool, it was all peaceful and calm.

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My only complain – the stay was too short for us to explore the island. Another 2 more days would be better. At least, I will have more time (and opportunities) to convince my 2 gadget-hungry cousins to buy my spare drones. After all, the Rain Goddess was weak on her spell this year.

 

Snowy weekend with Brother Yei and the World’s Most Famous Jigokudani Snow Monkeys

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It is official – I am finally off to enjoy my long overdue, postponed break. 17 consecutive days in total. Just before I fly out to Singapore for my annual Chinese New Year family reunion, I made a short detour in Tokyo to visit my dearest cousin, Yei. For the past 2 years, he has been inviting me to visit him. (Even my dad stayed over at his place for 3 weeks last summer!) I tried a couple of times to fly over but due to my unpredictable work schedule, it was just impossible. Finally, 2 weeks ago, I found a perfect time slot just for him! It is just one promise I have to fulfil. Yeah, that’s the power of bromance.

 

Yei was excited when I told him about my visit. However, I imposed one condition. He must bring me to some nice places to fly drone. I was certain he was frowning when he saw my request over Wechat. Flying drone within Tokyo city is a definite no-no. The penalty is heavy (as high as HKD30,000 for first time offender).

Being such a wonderful doting older brother, he specially arranged a trip for me outside Tokyo. Early Saturday morning, we travelled a few hundred kilometres up north, to a small town call Karuizawa. The bullet train ride was only an hour but it teleported us to another completely different world. Just before the train entered the tunnel, it was all bare, dry, urban concrete landscape. After a few short minutes through the tunnel, the world outside was fascinating. It was covered by a thick coat of white snow! What a big constraint! Wow!

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Of course, my cousin enjoyed the surprise look on my face. I never expect to see snow this trip. I always have the impression that snow scene like this can only be found many hundred miles up north like in Fukushima and Hokkaido. So, you can imagine my candid bursts of discovery-happiness.

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We spent the short day exploring the small sleepy town. I wasn’t fully gear for the snowy condition. I kept slipping on the icy roads. The cold was extremely brutal. I didn’t packed enough juice for my dying gears. Within an hour, both my iPhone and Samsung shut down. Worst, my iPhone went flat from 70% to zero (in less than 10 minutes) while I was flying the drone over the ski resort. Without the iPhone, I lost sight of my drone. Thankfully, the auto return home function worked and I managed to land the drone manually when it flew back. What a waste, there were so many unused drone batteries left in my bag.

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With no drone to fly, Yei and I went shopping. There were a lot of tax-free outlet stores beside the train station. We went to the old town alley and bought some local food products (honey, jam and snacks). Yei was sporty to entertain me when I asked him to talk to my Osmo along the trip. I continued to test his patience and guess what, he even didn’t mind when I “forced” him to take a mushy, lovely, uncanny “bromance shot”. What a great brother!

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Next stop, I travelled further up north to see wild snow monkeys in onsen (hot spring pool) at Nagano. The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is located 3 train stops after Karuizawa station. From Nagano station (¥16,000/adult return trip from Tokyo Station), I took another 45-min express bus (at Depot 24 right below the train station, cost ¥1400/trip) to Jigokudani Valley where I hiked another 2km (40-min) to the park’s entrance (park closes at 4pm during winter, ¥800/adult).

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Covered in thick snow, the hiking trail was beautiful. My trip was full of delightful surprises and discoveries. It was only upon arrival when I realised the important significance and uniqueness of this attraction.

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The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is actually the ORIGINAL and ONLY site in the world where you find wild snow monkeys dipping themselves in onsen during winter. All these while, I thought the original site was in Hokkaido! There are other venues where you can find snow monkeys in onsen but none of those are in the wild, they are mostly in zoos and parks. You can imagine that surprise look on my face again when I realised this was actually THE PLACE that I saw on TV and newspapers repeatedly over the past 20 years! What a surprise! (The right analogy would be like seeing a Chinese castle and only to realise it was the Great Wall!)

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Despite its popularity and fame, there weren’t many tourists around. It was just a small group of 20 over visitors. I spent an hour at the park observing these magnificent primates up close and personal! These snow monkeys sure know how to indulge themselves! The only difference between the snow monkeys and us – they got to enjoy the onsen for free! Best of all, they enjoy free meals (wheat and barley) provided daily by the park rangers too! (The real reason for the feeding is to prevent the snow monkeys from trespassing, stealing food and harassing the visitors at the nearby onsen hotels. The park rangers hope to contain their movement within the forests.)

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Drone flying is not allowed as I learnt that there were many open air onsens where visitors dip without clothing. It will be extremely unpleasant for them to see a drone in the sky. Disappointed but I respected the privacy of the estates. Nevertheless, I had a relaxing time hiking in the snow and an awesome close encounter with these famous primates. What a great way to end this volatile Year of the Monkey!

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All in all, it was a short and great reunion with my cousin. Time was so short and precious that I didn’t even have time to meet my other lovely friends residing in Japan (Ernie, Martin and Mica!)

Back in Tokyo, Yei treated me to many top-class dining. Being a foodie, he loves good food, especially those awarded with Michelin Stars. Thanks to him, I put on extra kilos. Nevertheless, it was a really new experience for me to try so many new odd-looking-but-yummy dishes. I was never a foodie, so all these fancy dining concepts were refreshing strange for me.

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Yei flew back to Singapore this wee morning. Thanks for being such a wonderful, generous host and a dear brother. See you bro this Friday in Singapore! And not forgetting another mischievous monkey is waiting for me back home!

His virgin flight and crash!

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What a great sunny cool day today but it took me quite a bit of effort to “lure” Harshad to go out with us. In the end, it was the temptation of drone-flying that he accepted my invitation to join us for a short “droning hike” at Kowloon Reservoir.

I thought we were heading to a new place. We ended up at the notorious Monkey Hill (Kam Shan Country Park). There were so many curious and aggressive monkeys around, I never like coming here. Tracy got “robbed” by a monkey 5 years ago when we last hiked here. I was worried for the safety of my small drone. It is never a good idea to leave a drone on the ground with these “snatch thieves” around.

Keeping my word, I handed the controller to Harshad. Within seconds, he took the drone to the sky. Confidently and superbly in control, Harshad operated the drone like a pro. (That’s my evil plan to get him hooked so I can convert him to another drone buddy!). Just when he was flying in ecstasy, he crash-landed the drone. Nothing serious, except a small crack line on the camera lenses. Of course, that didn’t dampened our mood, Harshad successfully attempted his second flight.

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It was not bad at all. Harshad managed to capture quite a lot of good footage. He just need to fine-tune his turning and panning. All good. Now, I may proceed to step 2 – to get him buy this drone which he had just crashed. Sales take time, especially with my Indian prince.

Sunset at Hong Kong’s most beautiful peak – Tai Mo Shan (大帽山)

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8 long years in Hong Kong and I totally missed it. I never knew the sunset view at Hong Kong’s highest peak was so stunning. It simply took my breath away! All these years, I have completely overlooked it. Not until I saw the beautiful photographs on Aaron’s Facebook. Best of all, the 2nd-tallest coastal peak (at 957m tall, almost double the height of the Victoria Peak) of China is accessible by car. Its peak was just a short 30-minute drive away from Central! For lazy people like, there is no need to hike for hours to reach the top.

I underestimated the cold weather at the peak of Tai Mo Shan. Hiking against the cold strong wind, I was trembling in my shorts and slippers. Normally, I had high tolerance against cold weather but this was too much for me to bear. Even the batteries of my iPhone and drones weaken drastically. My shivering body kept telling me to descend the mountain but the beautiful view kept me going.

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There weren’t many hikers, I saw less than 10 people. It was the best time to fly the drones. I had 6 fully-charged drone batteries to last for at least 2 hours. The “strong wind warning” kept flashing on the screen. Mavic Pro was fairly stable and its nimble motors managed to keep it afloat steadily throughout the flight. In the end, it was my iPhone who let me down. Its battery went flat and I lost vision. Thankfully, Mavic Pro’s Return Home feature landed precisely where it took off.

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I stayed at the peak for another 15 minutes and watched the sun set. The night view was even more beautiful. With the last light out, the fog set in and the temperature dropped. A pity I wasn’t warmly dressed to last through the night. Time to make my way back to the city. I will be back for more – with better camera gears and most importantly, a hot pot of tea.

She booked me a wrong trip – to Vietnam!

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It has been an exceptional hectic year, I was working till the final hour before Christmas Eve. Felicia and Elkan flew back last week and I had no plan for Christmas holidays. Originally, I wanted to surprise the Wahbiang clan in Malacca but the dates were too tight for me. Since I was overwhelmed with work and had no time to check with the tour agency, I asked Tracy to book us a short weekend trip to ZhangJiaJie City (张家界) at Hunan. I always wanted to visit this scenic place where the movie Avatar was filmed. It will be a fantastic location to hike and fly my new drones.


Knowing Tracy, she is always unpredictable and full of surprises.
Of course, I didn’t share with her my full intention of a “droning tour”. She totally disregarded my initial instruction to book a pair of train tickets to Hunan, she got us two air tickets to Ho Chi Minh City instead! When I found out, it was too late to make any changes. I had been to Ho Chi Minh so many times and it wasn’t my ideal destination for a short break. Worse, this city is notorious with confusing regulations for drone pilots like myself. I feared another Yangon deja vu. Will my drone be confiscated at the custom?

With less than 18 hours to flight time, I decided to take a risk. Instead of bringing the new DJI Phantom 4P+, I packed the smaller DJI Mavic Pro (without the propellers to avoid custom hassle) into my large suitcase. With my past experience in Yangon, it was much safer to check in than to hand-carry the drone. I was stopped previously in Yangon because of the odd-looking drone backpack. It is always wise to blend in with the crowd.

It was a nerve-wreaking 2-hour flight from Hong Kong to Vietnam. I was mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario. Reading other travelers’ experiences on the internet didn’t help a bit. Vietnam is still a communist country and drone is a highly controlled item. Losing a drone is nothing new for me. I have lost an Inspire 1 on my birthday 2 years ago. I was prepared to give away a free Mavic Pro to the custom on Christmas Day.

Moment of truth! My decision to bring a smaller drone was wise! The custom officer at Ho Chi Minh airport didn’t stop me at the X-ray checkpoint. The large suitcase went through the X-ray machine without activating any alerts. It worked! What a great relief and joy! Truly merry Christmas! (On my way out, I was stopped and questioned about the large sized Mavic Pro batteries. I told them those were camera batteries. As I put the batteries in Li-po safe bags, the strict custom officers at Ho Chi Minh allowed me to bring them on board)

We parked ourselves at a very small boutique hotel (Fusion Suites) with very zen-and woody decorated interior. I love the hotel settings and its warm friendly staffs. The best thing about this hotel was their daily complimentary breakfast and oil-massage for all hotel guests. I tried the 60-min oil-massage and it was terrific!

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Ho Chi Minh City changed quite a bit since my last visit in 2013. There are many more malls (Saigon Center, Takashimaya) sprouting across different districts. There are a lot of new condos and offices constructions. It is no longer the sleepy city of yesterday. It seems like a city in transformation.

I visited my buddy, Kevin (a Singaporean friend I met in HCM back in 2007)Strange but true, we have never met each other in Singapore. All our last meetings were in Hong Kong and Vietnam. I visited his beautiful new office and he bought us delicious local delicacies for lunch.

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Tracy and I spent the next 3 days shopping, eating and exploring different districts. It was planned to be a “recharging and relaxing” retreat for my super-exhausted mind and body. We didn’t pack this trip with any crazy itinerary.  It was just a simple, quiet and lazy holiday. We did the usual touristy stuffs and explored the city mainly on foot. There are so many new and beautiful retail shops and cafes around.

Ben Thanh Market was a huge disappointment, the vendors were greedy and aggressive. They offered the same things I saw 3-10 years ago, nothing new and more expensive. It was becoming a tourist trap for first time visitors. With more competitions, Ben Thanh should reinvent itself, if not be replaced and lose its glory over time.

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This city is best to be explored on foot than from the air. I didn’t spend a lot of time flying the drone. There isn’t much landmark or natural scenery to capture. No doubt, Vietnam has many beautiful scenic places for drone-pilots, HCM isn’t the right spot. The city was way too congested and I didn’t feel safe flying. In fact, I had a difficult time trying to find a quiet and safe spot to launch the drone. The narrow streets and walkways were packed with scooters and people. There were too many hanging electrical cables, roof-top satellites and lamp-posts obstructing the drone. After 2 days of serious considerations, I decided to climb up the hotel’s rooftop for a short drone flight.

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The drone flight took less than 3 minutes in total. There were strong signal interference everywhere. Ascending to the rooftop was much more exciting and fun than flying the drone. Tracy and I were trying to figure our way up to the top without being caught by the hotel’s security cameras or staffs. Just a little thrill and fun to spice up the quiet day.

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Fully recharged and geared to face another uncertain new year. For sure, I be back to Vietnam very soon for my next drone flight. Stay tuned.

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