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!

Whisky blending at the world’s best single malt distillery – Yilan Food Trip

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Heavy workload has taken quite an unusual toll on our yearly Christmas vacation. No matter how early I planned my vacation with Felicia and Elkan, major important projects disrupted all my planning. Unable to spend 2 weeks away with my family, I felt really terrible and guilty. Thankfully, they are very understanding and loving. After a few adjustments, I managed to plan a short weekend getaway with them in Taipei last weekend.

As always, I kept the destination a secret. Elkan had no idea where we were bringing him. He was extremely excited when we told him that we were flying to Malaysia. He is a foodie and he is fond of all savoury street food. Since he didn’t know we were traveling up north, he packed very little clothes. Thinking it must be hot and humid in Malaysia, Elkan wore shorts and jersey. He was actively planning his eating itinerary when we were walking on the air bridge.

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As blur as he can be, the streets of Taiwan do resemble the shop houses of Kuala Lumpur. He simply had no idea that we tricked him until we pointed out to him. Of course, he wasn’t intrigued by Taipei 101 or Ximending (西门町). What captivated his senses were the braised pork rice and peppery Taiwanese sausages!

We took the morning flight and arrived in Taipei at 1030am. We dropped our bags at the hotel and hired a taxi for a 4-hour round trip to Jiufen and Shifen. Weather was surprisingly good, this was the first time when I didn’t need to carry an umbrella. It was raining cats and dogs the last 4 times I was here.

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It was extremely crowded at Jiufen Old Street (九份老街). There were so many Singaporean tourists here too. It was so easy to identify our own people. Felicia, Tracy and Elkan were delighted by the local street delicacies. They just couldn’t stop munching.

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At Shifen Old Town (十份老街), we visited the newly renovated Shifen Waterfall Park (十份瀑布) and the old railway town where hundred of people were releasing sky lanterns (孔明灯/天灯) on the railway track. We were very lucky to see the train bypassing the old town (timing: 430pm-5pm). It was an unexpected and interesting sight. We didn’t even have time to figure out what was going on until we saw the approaching train. Within seconds, street vendors ushered the crowd out of the tracks. It was a very narrow track and when the train went by, I was just standing less 2 feets away. What an experience!

Despite the warning penalties and signages, the crowd gathered back at the track instantly right after the train left. What a dramatic and spectacular scene transformation.

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Day 2 – next morning, we headed out to Yilan (宜兰)with our Taiwanese friends, Chen and his son, Yifang. They drove 2 hours from Taizhong (台中) and picked us up at our hotel in Taipei. The journey to Yilan took around 90 minutes with a couple of jams along the highway.

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We stayed one night at a modern farm hotel (River Forest Farm Hotel) located at Dongshan. Surrounded by paddy fields and fancy villas, we explored and cycled around the big farming estate. The air was so fresh and cooling. The calm reflection of the paddy fields created a surreal landscape, a healthy and quiet place to calm my hectic mind.

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I was looking forward to fly my new Mavic Pro at Yilan but weather condition was awful. It rained for 2 continuous days. Stranded indoor, I had to forego all the outdoor itineraries. Instead, we visited some of Yilan’s prestigious food factories.

Kavalan Whisky Distillery was one of the main reasons why I made a stopover at Yilan. It is afterall the world’s best single malt Whisky! The distillery was free and opened to public. There was no age restriction, children of any ages were welcome. To my disappointment, there wasn’t any guided tour. Tour was pretty much self-guided and intuitive with many educational exhibits. I gave my son a short Whisky induction. From malting to distilling to ageing, we were greeted by Kavalan’s massive production line. We stopped by the retail store for more free whisky tasting and bought a couple of miniatures for our friends back home.

photo2photo5photo4Before we left, we signed up for an exclusive Whisky DIY Class where we got to blend and personalize  our own whisky. We spent about about 45 minutes inside the classroom experimenting over 15 unique blends. In the end, all of us picked Chen’s creation as the most favourite blend. Using his recipe (1.5A, 1.5B & 3C), I reproduced 2 bottles for our VIP friends!

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Chen recommended 2 other big factories that we must visit – the famous Taiwanese cookie (宜兰饼发明官) and rice noodle factory (宜兰虎牌米粉). Elkan was super happy because those were his favourite food! It was a great educational trip for the 2 young boys. For the adults, we enjoyed all the delicious food samplings! We had so much yummy food that there was no need for lunch! It felt like a road trip down Australia’s Margaret River where tourists are pampered with local dairy goodies.

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All in all, it was a very short getaway with the family. Work was constantly, subconsciously flashing in my mind despite being away from office. Nevertheless, it was a good break with many priceless family -&-friends moments (our failed Mannequin Challenge and Extreme Bottle Flip was hilarious). As the saying goes, work hard, play harder. Enjoy the photos and vlogs. Looking forward to our next adventure!

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Aiya, chasing the Red Bull Flugtag dream!

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It has been a dreadful long wait, winter is finally here and so is my family! Felicia and Elkan arrives just in time for the cool season. Today’s weather was fantastic, cool and sunny. Perfect for a nice family outing on a Sunday afternoon.

What’s even better is cheering for our dear friends, Team Aiya Dreamchasers at our very first Red Bull Flugtag event! Thanks to my wonderful ex-colleagues (Kathy, Jasmine and Fay), their participation gave us another compelling reason to drop by. Geared with portable camping chairs, we sat through 3 hours of amazing outdoor entertainment. The participants were so creative with their home-made structures. Their pre-takeoff performance and 3-second plunges were even more spectacular and hilarious!

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Despite not winning the competition, Team Aiya Dreamchasers flew with great style. They had the longest “airtime” on the big screen. Armed with Nikon P900 83X Optical Superzoom, I managed to squeeze myself at a very tight vantage point with tens of professional photographers. Yes, they were pretty professional, many came with stools and super long lenses. It was challenging to find a line of sight through the mass of shutterbugs. The space was really tight and uncomfortable. I had a lens above my head and on the right side of my face.

All the photographers were pretty quiet through the performance until Team Aiya took the stage. It was so funny to listen to the photographers’ comments when Aiya pushed their “Dream-Machine” to the edge of the platform. In fact, it was the most talk-about performance.

“Wow… this one must be very special! No running take off! Standby camera!” one photographer said to his friend. Everyone of us lifted the camera to our face and paused. It was like the scene from the Mannequin Challenge. It was the silence before the thundering clicks.

After 3 long minutes of no movement, more photographers started to grumble among themselves. Unlike the rest of the participants, we were able to anticipate the drop with the running take off. For Aiya, it was standing still at the edge of drop. We were all waiting patiently for “that moment”. Something must be wrong as the launch music was replayed 3 times.

“What the hell is going on? My hand aching already! Faster, jump! jump!” an old man holding a heavy long zoom lens complained out loud. “PK! What’s holding up?”

Another photographer encouraged the old man. “Keep holding the position. I am sure it will be a blast off! Maybe with spring mechanism”

Suddenly, Aiya’s structure moved and hundred of shutters firing off continuously. To everyone’s surprise (and shock), it fell 90-degree straight into the sea! 

“PK! PK! PK! Now my hands are too tired for the next performance!” yelled the same old man who stood still faithfully with his gigantic long camera lens. Everyone around us broke into laughters. At least, this is one performance they will remember for a long time, I smiled to myself. 

I am sure the members of Aiya enjoyed their journey to the big Redbull Flugtag platform. It may have started off as a casual idea but the girls made it happened! Without any financial support from the company, they worked passionately to see it through. I witnessed their love and passion through their Facebook videos and photos. As an outsider, I felt so proud of them!

Aiya, aiya, aiya – Fly high! And thanks for reminding and motivating all of us to chase our own dreams! 

The Reunion Story continues… and ends.

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Changing shifts – Mum’s gone and dad’s coming!

This is Mum’s longest stay with me since I left Singapore 10 years ago. Like my old daddy, mum wasn’t used to life here in Hong Kong. She missed her grandchildren and home in Singapore and has been pestering me to shorten her stay here. Thankfully, mum was easily distracted by shopping trips to Shenzhen where she spent long hours combing shops after shops with Tracy over the weekends.

After 30 days of non-stop nagging, traveling, Pokemon-hunting, tireless shopping and makaning finally comes to an end. Autumn arrived and Mum fell very ill after catching my flu bug. Her condition worsen even after medication, I guessed she will recover much faster back in Singapore. Very unwillingly, 5 days ago, I got Tracy to change her flight. This early morning at 6am, she joined Tracy (who was traveling to Singapore for work) flew back home.

30 days ago, I was feeling pretty nervous about her long stay. I work long hours and worried no one accompanies her during the day. She managed to settle down well. Due to our small apartment, I slept on the couch for a month. Her presence changed many things. I got much tidier and I slept earlier too!

My mother is a SuperMum, she cleaned up my entire apartment so well that I thought we had a new coat of paint! Working quietly over the past few weeks, she transformed the entire messy space into a real cozy home! Kitchen, shower room, living room, shelves, fridge, bedroom – they are sparkling clean and dust-free!

From concert to Batman 4D ride, mum tried many new things during her short 1-month stay. Unfortunately, weather hasn’t been kind to us. The heavy downpour nearly ruined our holidays in Macau and Shenzhen. She was nursing a really bad fever and slept though the long weekend. Nonetheless, I saw the spark in her eyes and she took her phone to record our vacation.

Not going to hide my feelings here. But I really miss you, mum. And you are welcome to come back in the next few months to tidy my apartment again. For now, I am going to entertain my old daddy and hopefully, he can match up to you!

Knowing you dislike all my photos of you (without the beauty of Meitu App) – I create a short comic for you while you were in the air this morning. Enjoy!

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Mid Autumn Reunion with my darlings!

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I have been away from my blog for almost 2 months. Work has been hectic and my personal life has nothing worthy or special to blog (except for Aaron Kwok’s super fancy and spectacular concert!). Time flies and it is already September! My mum, wife and son arrived separately for short mid-autumn reunion.


I took 2-week leave to accompany my family.
Unfortunately, my mum and me fell ill during the first 2 days of our vacation. The change of season and the awful wet weather worsen our sickness. I decided to postpone the original trip (to Guilin) and settled for something cozy nearby. I booked 2 very spacious and special accommodations for the family at Macau and Shenzhen.

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The weather was gloomy and it poured heavily everyday.
We stayed mostly indoor throughout the trip. We didn’t do a lot of shopping in Macau and Shenzhen. Couldn’t resist the temptation, Tracy and I bought the latest mobile-gimbal gadgets at DJI’s first Flagship Store located just right beside our villa. Mum wasn’t feeling well and slept throughout the vacation. (Guess she misses the company of Auntie Amy.) Thankfully, Tracy and Elkan lightened up the villas with their endless jokes and laughers.

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The rain finally stopped for a few hours and we resumed our “violent play” out by the private pool. Poor “Clumsy Tracy” slipped and took a nasty, painful fall into the cold water when she tried to kick water at us. It was such a comical and scary sight that got my sick mum up from her bed! Despite the gloomy and wet weather, we had so much fun playing by the pool (playing a new game Elkan taught us ~ Bottle Flip). Nothing fancy, this was a simply lazy, relaxing bonding trip.

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It was a very short 4N3D reunion for Felicia, Elkan and I.
 Felicia and Elkan flew back to Singapore this evening. Harshad came by to finish the 3 chapters of the Uncharted 4 game with Elkan. No teary goodbye at the airport station this afternoon – now that’s a first! My boy is finally a grown-up! Tracy and mum will be flying back to Singapore tomorrow too. My Dad will fly in to Hong Kong this Wednesday to fill up the void. For the least, I won’t be lonely this mid Autumn Festival. I pray for mum’s speedy recovery and hope for sunny weather when dad arrives.

Enjoy my vlog and photos. Till we meet again in the next 6 weeks!

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