She got me a ballroom for my birthday!

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Surprise after surprise, I had a wonderful birthday weekend with my family and good friends. The first surprise happened 8 hours before my birthday. I came back from Shenzhen to an apartment filled with colorful helium balloons! There is something magical about floating balloons, no matter how old one is, balloons never failed to delight. It levitates happiness.


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At the struck of midnight, Elkan and Felicia brought out a cake and a present from the kitchen. It was my favorite black-forest cake! Felicia and Elkan presented me with a very special and priceless handmade gift – it was a unique photo book made of fabric, imprinted and sewn with all our past holiday photos.

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Harshad, Tracy and Chowpo contributed their parts too. Knowing I love to sing and drink, they organized a small karaoke buffet for me at Causeway Bay. Christin arrived 15 minutes before midnight. Thanks to her, we sang till 3am.

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Just when I thought my birthday was over. I received a photographic message from Felicia at 4am. The photo showed “Pit Stop 1” and we were asked to arrive at the mysterious location in our sportswear before 10:30am the next morning. That was it, there wasn’t any more clue. Is this another amazing race, I wondered.

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The next morning, Elkan woke me up. He said Felicia had left the house early in the morning. Still recovering from last night’s drinks, I wasn’t in my best form. Felicia sent more photographic clues about the mysterious meeting point. The message also said, “Penalties for Late Comers”.

With the clock ticking away, Harshad, Tracy, Elkan and I took a cab. Tracy was the one who solved the mystery. She told the cabbie our location and off we went. Thankfully, we had a very knowledgeable cabbie who shared with us about the place. It sounded pretty physical and brutal.

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We arrived at D2 Place where we went searching for Felicia. After a quick breakfast, we arrived at an activity space by the name of Crossfire Arena. There, we saw many human-sized balloons or commonly known as Zorb Balls. Felicia signed us up for an hour of strenuous games. Never underestimate the harmless looking games, most of us weren’t physically prepared for it. (All of us suffered 2 days of intense muscle cramps).

We had 30 minutes of bow-&-arrow and another 30 minutes of Zorb Ball Soccer. Just 45 minutes into the games, all of us were super exhausted and we canceled the last game. It was very fun but just too intense for a fat man like me. Until now, my body hasn’t really fully recovered.

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Just when we left Crossfire Arena, all of us received new photographic messages from Felicia. It was only then when we realized she had disappeared again.  It was a clue directing us to the second and final pitstop. Unable to decipher, Harshad, Elkan and I roamed the mall aimlessly 3 times! Tracy disappeared too and we had no idea where she went.

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Just when we were to give up, Tracy disclosed the answer to us. We exit the building and made our way to the final pitstop. Thankfully, it was nothing physical but a nice cozy cafe with good food and drink to rest our tiring bodies.

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Thanks for organizing this special post-birthday activity for me and our dearest friends. My wife, Felicia is no doubt more than meets the eye. She is a meticulous planner and life is never boring with her and Elkan around. Mmmm….. What’s next?

An eventful road trip – Lost car, Area 51 and sliding down the world’s tallest glass slide

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4 days, 2,000km – that’s the distance we traveled on the road. Thankfully, I had a great road warrior who chauffeured me to so many amazing locations. Having been to Las Vegas and Los Angeles many times, CP was so familiar with the cities. She was a fantastic driver and an awesome tour guide. Most important of all, she brought me to sumptuous authentic Asian restaurants every day. I definitely can’t survive on burgers, pizzas, and pasta.


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Right after CES, we took a 5-hour long drive from Las Vegas to Santa Monica where we visited the iconic Pacific Pier Park along Muscle Beach. There is something magical about this old tiny amusement park on the old wooden pier. Despite its ordinary rides and unattractive game stores, it is undeniably charming.  Facing the vast empty pacific ocean, the park lights up like a colorful jewel at night, transforming the sleepy centennial pier into a beacon of joy. It is an enchanted park with so much laughter and happy people.

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Next, we took a short drive to LA downtown where we visited one of the world’s most iconic and glamorous boulevards – the Hollywood Boulevard. Having seen the Walk of Fame on TV/cinema so many times, I was looking forward to a posh, bright, legendary-looking sidewalk. In reality, it was a dull, dim shabby sidewalk, littered with bars and souvenir shops. It wasn’t grand or legendary at all. Well, what you see on TV is often more glamorous than the actual stuff.  That’s exactly how I felt about Las Vegas City too.

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CP and I had our first nasty shock-attack when we couldn’t find our rental car in the CVS (stands for Consumer Value Store, an American retail outlet) parking lot. We just finished our dinner next door and was about to shop at the CVS when we realised our car was missing from the parking lot. We searched frantically for our car around the premise and went to report our loss to the CVS security guard.

To our horror, what happened next was an unbelievable 1-hour painful and sickening experience.  The security guard actually told us that our vehicle was towed away. Just as we were demanding for answers, we were led to a small signage (that wasn’t even obvious and legible at night) that stated: “non-customer car will be towed away”.  We argued that we had the intention to shop at the CVS right after our dinner but the guard couldn’t help us. He brought us to meet the store manager.

I had a big heated argument with the store manager. She said our car was no longer in their possession and we should contact the tow company. She said it was our wrong-doings for not reading the signs. I argued we just arrived and the signs were not visible and legible. There was also no mention of fine or penalty written on the sign. These people were unreasonable and useless. In the end, we had to pay Uber USD30 to fetch us to the tow company and fork out USD357.70 to recover our “stolen” car.

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There are so many ways to deter unwelcome parking. CVS can always install a gantry that charges vehicles for overtime parking or even wheel-lock any unauthorized parked vehicle. No, they have to tow the car far far away and ignorant victims like us have to fork out close to USD400 to redeem our car. This is such a sick, low-class bad practice. And truly, shame on CVS’s terrible attitude and the way you handled the situation. For the least, make the warning sign BIGGER. It felt like a very very bad scam to con money out from new visitors. What a terrible LA experience!

Next morning, we put aside our nasty car experience and headed out to a much happier place – Universal Studios. Not a keen fan on roller-coaster rides, I skipped all the scary attractions and went straight for the more experiential+educational 1-hour Studio Tour ride. It was indeed an amazing and exciting ride where I visited the familiar locations where scenes in Back to the Future, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Bates Motel (Psycho) and Desperate Housewives were shot. What an eye-opener.

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We can’t leave Los Angeles without taking a selfie at its most famous Hollywood Sign. As many roads were blocked by its prestigious and rich residents, we found a popular “Hollywood Sign-Spotting” location on Google Map. It was an open space with lots of parking lots (without the fear of being towed away) and offered a clear view of the famed sign. Indeed, it was a posh hilly neighborhood with big luxury homes, a strikingly close resemblance to the Peak of Hong Kong.

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Just before we made our way back to Las Vegas for our return flight to Hong Kong, CP and I discovered a new attraction in downtown Los Angeles. OUE Skyspace (a Singapore-invested property) is California’s Tallest Open-Air Observation Deck hosting the world’s tallest Glass Slide! Erected 1,000 feets above ground outside the 70-storey building, the 2016-installed transparent glass slide is certainly a unique ride not to be missed! Especially if it is one managed by a Singapore company! I am sure it is super and kiasully safe!

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Back in Las Vegas, we wasted no time and drove 2-hour into the vastness in search for the elusive and mysterious Area 51. Of course, my distinct chauffeur grumbled about my wishful, futile exploration. I just can’t leave Las Vegas without making a trip around Area 51.

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It was a lonely and quiet ride into the rocky desert. It was pretty spooky riding on some segments of the route without seeing any car. Far on the horizon, I managed to take some close-up shots of US restricted airbase sites with my paparazzi super-zoom Nikon camera. Disappointedly, I didn’t see many cars-in-black or men-in-black. Area 51 was located across such a vast area. I wondered what’s going on behind these hills. As there was nothing to see but vastness after vastness, we decided to take a short break at one of Area 51’s touristy stops before heading back to our next destination. The Area 51 Alien Center is one strange rest station with a real brothel. Now, that’s very alienated quirky (quicky) and exotic!

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We bought a couple of Area 51 souvenirs and spent the rest of our afternoon at the nearby majestic Red Rock Canyon. For a mere USD7 entry free, we drove right to the base of the canyon and hiked around it. There was no barriers around the rocky hill. We saw hikers climbing up the dangerous-looking rock.

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On our last day and 5 hours before our flight, we took a quick detour to visit another world’s famous iconic landmark – the Hoover Dam. While it has no connection with Herbert Hoover (America 31st President), it was no doubt a colossal engineering marvel of its time. CP tried to show me a water-trick at the dam but it failed terribly. I was laughing at her so badly that she felt really stupid. She was insistent about the water trick. I did some research on Youtube and realised she was right. Simply, it didn’t work for her because it wasn’t windy that day.

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That’s was it – our little short adventure after CES. A very colorful and eventful road trip. Won a couple of freebies and money at the casino, shop happily at US factory outlet stores! No alien abduction, no lost car and we survived many movie disasters (Jaws, explosion, flash flood, dinos, fire) at Universal Studios. The only thorn left was the unjustified loss of USD357.50. Thanks CP for the ride and wonderful tour. Let’s do it again next CES.

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Pilgrimage to the Mecca of Gizmos – CES 2018

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After enduring my worst flight experience ever (with over 8 hours of non-stop violent turbulence), we finally made it to CES 2018! Debut in 1967, this is THE MECCA for all gizmo lovers, the epic center of new innovations. Every year, the world’s largest Consumer Electronics Show attracts over 200,000 geeks from all corners of the world. We missed it in 2017 and I am so glad that we made it for 2018! What a great trip for the new year!

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Due to its massive popularity, airfare and hotel cost 200% more than usual. It was certainly a costly pilgrimage to CES. Every immigration officer we spoke to from Hong Kong to Los Angeles asked us if we were attending this event. After all, it is Las Vegas’s largest and most popular show. It is even better than Christmas, one cab driver said. You can imagine how much revenue CES brings to the Sin City.

We arrived in Las Vegas on the first day of the show. In hindsight, it might be a good idea to arrive at least 1-2 days before the opening of the show to recover from the jet lag. Walking over 20,000 steps per day was no joke especially when one was still suffering from a bad jet lag. I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 8pm on the second night.

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Throughout the 4 days, we walked over 70,000 steps (about 50km)! We discovered many new technologies and met new potential partners. Best of all, we managed to meet old friends (Kevin & Emily) and old clients (Huawei) here in Las Vegas!

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Based on the trend we saw, 2018-2019 is going to be a very big year for AI, Robotics, Smart Living and Coding Kits for kids. Many big brands like LG, Canon, and Sony were introducing autonomous robotic humanoids and smart home appliances. We saw many robots of different sizes and functions. Armed with advanced facial recognition and AI software, robots were able to operate simple tasks like fetching an item from the fridge or ordering groceries online on your behalf. There were many “companion robots” that watch your kids and pets at home. There’s even a robot who follows you to shop and carry all groceries in its compartment.

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Yesterday’s stars like 3D printing, 360 cameras, VR/AR head gears, and e-vehicles took a backseat this year with little new innovation. I saw the rise of mini “DIY” toys targeted for young code writes to mod and hack. Now, even a young kid can custom-make his/her own IOT smart device with modular DIY chipsets and components.

My favorite brand DJI didn’t have any major release. Since the release of Mavic Pro and Spark a year ago, DJI hasn’t had any new exciting release. At the drone section, I spotted an interesting new and powerful underwater drone by a Taiwanese company, PowerVision. The underwater drone can last over 2 hours and travel to a maximum distance of 1km. Targetted for fishing enthusiasts, this drone comes with an uncanny ability to detect & catch fish. Now, that’s super impressive. (I am sure Uncle Desmond will be super keen to get one!)

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Google was no doubt the biggest and most ambitious advertiser in town. We saw the presence of Google’s Smart Assistant ads everywhere (at the airport, in the casinos, malls and the city’s monorail!). Voice command will be a key driving force in tomorrow’s smart devices. Google was also one of the most popular and generous booths in CES, attracting visitors with cool prizes and cash vouchers to promote Google Assistant. I was one of the many lucky winners who won a Google Home Mini Smart Speaker!

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With the surge of new intelligent voice command integrated with the highly advanced optical display, I was hoping to see new emerging visor technology that will eventually replace today’s mobile devices. Disappointingly, there weren’t many. The display companies were still pumping out thinner and bigger OLED screens. The wearables companies were still focusing on the hopeless Google Glass AR concepts and other sport-related applications. I guess we have to wait for another 2-3 years before we witness a new mobile category of visor-wear.

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So, this is it for us at CES. We collected over 6kg of brochures and toys. Thanks to the generosity of our Canadian friend, we were given a wonderful treat of 4D rides and Madame Tussauds on our last night in Las Vegas. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ride world’s largest and newly crowned Ferris Wheel – High Roller.

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Leaving Las Vegas today and heading for a short 1000-km road trip to the City of Angels. Back at home, our motivated buddies in Asia are preparing for our next big show in CES 2019.

Now he can fly … and land!

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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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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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