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.

I crashed my Mavic Pro

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It took off with such great stability but something went very wrong at the 45th second, the Mavic Pro suddenly drifted sideway and crashed onto the hotel’s rooftop. No matter how “seasoned or experienced” one is, accidents do happen. This is the very reason why pre-flight precaution is of ultimate importance. I always spend time to inspect the environment and wind condition before every take off. Prior to this flight, I inspected the surrounding to ensure the flight path was safe before flying out of the balcony. Originally, I wanted to fly the Mavic Pro over the ocean to capture the Macau skyline. There was no one in front and the wind was light. Unfortunately, something went wrong, the drone drifted autonomously and crashed.


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Thanks to the very friendly staffs at Sheraton Hotel, they spent a great deal of time and effort to help me to retrieve the lost drone. As I bought the DJI Care Refresh Program when I purchased the drone, I will be able to get a brand new replacement at only USD79. I will be bringing the damaged drone to DJI next week for an inspection. The log report will certainly identify the main causes of this incident. Stay tuned and fly safe.

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I caught the Supermoon!

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This is the “largest moon-sighting” since 1948 (7% larger and 15% brighter) – How could I not miss this one? I might not even survive the next close-encounter. Believe it or not, I received so many similar suggestion today from my friends and even my boss. All of them asked me to fly my Mavic Pro to the moon. Yah right, very funny. I had another better idea (and gadget!).For those who missed the moon tonight, check out my super short vlog below.

Best drone-flight ever – DJI Mavic Pro

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Finally, I managed to squeeze some precious hours from my hectic, tormenting work to shoot this week’s amazing vlog! Workload has been piling since September and I even don’t have time to vlog about my son’s short vacation in Hong Kong.

This was the perfect break I desperately needed! I was one of the few lucky ones who managed to get hold of DJI’s latest big hit, the Mavic Pro. I received my Mavic Pro a week ago and I didn’t have time to test it. Finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation and took it out of the box last night. I say, let’s see what this little gem can do.

Mavic Pro is incredibly small and portable. I had climbed mountains with DJI Inspire 1 on my back. Despite the wonderful footage it captured, it was a back-breaking nightmare! The Phantom 4 is an amazing drone but nothing like the Mavic Pro.

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Mavic Pro lives up to its name. It delivers beyond what DJI promised at its debut event! Despite its small compact body, it is packed with amazing high-technology sensors and power. It is the smoothest and most amazing drone-flight ever!

I brought the drone to Aberdeen harbour this afternoon for a test flight. I often faced problems calibrating the Inspire 1 and Phantom 4. But not with the Mavic Pro. Calibration was such effortless! It took me less than 3 minutes to get it up in the air. Due to its small body-frame, I was at first worried and skeptical about its performance and stability. The drone was incredibly stable and it cruised steadily out in the open sea.

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Connectivity was amazing! Throughout all my 8 flights, I never encounter any lost signal or distorted vision on my screen. With the Inspire 1 and Phantom 4, I always faced connection issues near 2km-mark. I flew the Mavic Pro beyond the 3km-mark and the signal was still strong! With such power and stability, I decided to take it out to the city, where it was congested with strong radar and signals. Guess what, Mavic Pro flew superbly smooth without any signal issues!

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Mavic Pro scored a perfect landing when I tested its “Return Home” function. After 15 minutes of flight, it flew back and landed right at the very same spot it took off! It was just unbelievable! “Follow Me” tracking was pretty accurate and responsive. It had no problem following me until its avoidance feature got in the way. The drone stayed still in the air no matter which direction I waved at it. In the end, I had to use the controller to break its trance and got it down.

Battery life was great. No complain.

Video-shooting was a little tricky. There are some shots which were very blur. I had to constantly touch the screen to activate the focus point. Back at home when I reviewed the videos, I was surprised to see how sharp the video quality were! Earlier, some vloggers mentioned about its inferior video quality. Those were pretty much user-errors. It was as good as the Phantom 4. I can’t really tell the difference.

All in all, this is the best drone for everyone, especially for beginner. DJI has spent 10 good years building and innovating drones. I do believe the Mavic Pro is the best consumer-drone out there at this moment. With better camera system and smart software in the near future, drone-flying will be certainly much safer and travel-friendly for everyone.

Note: This is not a sponsored blog/vlog by DJI. If you like me to review any new product for my next vlog, please email to: wahbiang@hotmail.com

Falling in love with the new twin-lens camera. Nope, I am not talking about the new iPhone 7. (MiNT’s new Instantflex TL70 2.0)

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Exactly one year and 2 days ago, I blogged about the world’s first twin-lens instant camera, TL70 by MiNT. I had so much fun with the camera and wrote a couple of wishes on my blog. Guess what? One year has passed and the passionate team at MiNT (and FujiFilm) granted every wish I written that day!

While browsing on the web late last night, I found out that MiNT has launched a new Instantflex TL70 version 2.0 instant camera earlier this June. I couldn’t resist the temptation and visited the official product webpage. Impressively, MiNT has made a couple of big improvements in the new TL20 with an upgraded brand new magnifier and a 5x brighter viewfinder! Not just that, the new version 2.0 comes with new enhanced and improved internal mechanism. MiNT also introduced new accessories (leather strap & camera case) and lens set for the TL70 series!

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I was so excited about the new upgrade that I contacted MiNT on Facebook after midnight and the hardworking administrator replied! After making a few enquires, I decided to head down to MiNT this evening to check out the new camera.

The friendly staff, Jo at MiNT recognised me and gave me an excellent introduction about the new camera and its accessories. I managed to get a really good deal and without much hesitation, I came back with 2 brand new TL70 Version 2.0!

After snapping 2 cartridges of Instax, here are my first impressions: (Note: This is not a sponsored or paid blog by MiNT.)

In terms of design, the new camera looks identical to version 1.0 but the overall production quality and finishes of the new TL70 2.0 is much better than its predecessor. It could be due to the fact that I was one of the earliest users last year and I spotted some minor physical quality issues (misaligned leather, slight glue marks and fine light scratches). I remember the magnifying glass came off after just 1 day and MiNT exchanged a brand new one for me. But this time, everything is perfect.

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With the new enlarged magnifying and 5x brighter viewfinder, TL70 2.0 enhances user-experience by a big leap. Even under very dim lighting environment, I was able to focus, composed and snapped without any visual difficulty. Amazingly, my first indoor shot came out just perfect! I was pretty amazed by it! It is indeed a great improvement and it matters a lot!

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The new Lens-Kit comes with 3 ND filters, 1 close-up lens and a lens-hood. The lens are easy to attach and detach. At the store, I saw a couple of sample photos – the colours are so much richer and balanced. I personally like the “close-up” lens as it creates a shallower depth of field. However, user will find it a hassle to carry the lens in the original protection box when on the go.

I love the new TL70 EverReady Leather Case! Made from premium leather in Japan, the case comes in 2 colours – brown and black. I prefer brown but the current brown is a little too bright and light for me. In the end, I chose black. The leather case fits perfectly and the workmanship is excellent. I wish the case comes with lens pockets so I can easily slot in the lens-kit on the go.

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Overall, the TL70 2.o is a much reliable and better instant camera than its predecessor. It feels very good and it looks just as charming as before. With growing demand, I believe MiNT will continue to explore and enhance this series (with self-timer, +/- lights for over/under exposure including ND filter sensor, battery indicator, better glass optics and even adapters for 3rd party zoom lenses). With the newly launched Fujifilm Black-and-White Instax Mini Monochrome Film, MiNT sets itself in the right segment, empowering instant photographers with new endless instant inspirational creations.


Personally, I prefer this new twin-lens camera over the new iPhone 7. It is like falling in love again.


Super Fan Joe @ DJI Hong Kong Flagship Store

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It reminded me of my first trip to Toys”R”Us except this is a hi-tech toy shop for adults. It was difficult to describe the kind of fanatic-love I had for drones and gimbals. Yes, I am a Super Fan of DJI!

A week ago, a friend (knowing my passion for DJI) sent me a link to take part in DJI’s photo contest. Winners get to enjoy 30% discount and visit the new flagship store before the store’s official opening. When I received the congratulatory email from DJI 3 days ago, I was so thrilled and excited. After all, I was amongst the 20 lucky winners to visit DJI’s first flagship store in Hong Kong!  (Located 535, Jaffe Road – Beside World Trade Center, Causeway Bay)

I woke up super early this morning and headed out to the store. Carelessly, I got mixed up with the street number and ended up walking an extra mile to the venue. Luckily, I arrived just in time for the big welcome! The vibe and the energy at the store was unbelievable high! At the store I saw a long line of shoppers queuing outside the entrance.

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At 10am sharp, the door opened and I walked into the store with the other winners. The shop staffs welcomed and cheered with much fanfare! It was an amazing experience! Wow!

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We were escorted to level 3 where we attended a short (and very insightful) history about DJI’s founder and its company values. It was very interesting and impressive to know how a company of 20 grew to become the world’s number 1 drone company with 6,000 staffs in just 10 years.

I spent an hour walking around the 3-storey store. The shop staffs were extremely friendly and helpful. I didn’t exercise the 30% discount (which expire within 2 hours) offer as I had most of DJI’s products. At the end, I bought a photo book and some accessories for my drones. DJI gave out limited edition T-shirt for the first few shoppers.

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I wish DJI offers more exclusive offers to superfans like myself. For the least, they can let us try out some of their “upcoming new products” or present us with a longer-term discount offer.

Nevertheless, I am super grateful to be here this morning! Big thank you to Kevin On and crew for your great hospitality to show me around! I felt so privileged to be here, witnessing the opening DJI’s flagship store in Hong Kong! I love the culture and energy of the brand! Without the tools from DJI, my blog and vlog won’t be this colourful and dimensional.

Yes, finally, I do not need to travel to all the way to Shenzhen to replenish my stocks! My favourite toy shop is just a few stops away from my home.

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Coincidently, the timing couldn’t been more precise. Thanks to my friends Crystalbelle and Anthony who published a nice short piece of my drone story and photo on China Daily. (Read here: http://asiaweekly.com/leading-the-buzz/#scrollNav-3)

What an exciting drone week of Karma and DJI! The Game of Drones season is here! I look forward to DJI’s big announcement on 27th Sept! Can’t wait for Mavic to top Karma. 

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