Missing the Rain Goddess this CNY

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Never underestimate the rain-power of my Auntie Amy. Wherever she goes, rain follows. She is indeed very powerful, she even brought typhoon to Hong Kong in May when she visited me 2 years ago. It wasn’t even the typhoon season. Yes, strange weather occurrence happened with her around. (We went having BBQ that night and every time she walked over to the BBQ pit, cats and dogs pour! In the end, her own sons commanded her back into the room.)

So, you can imagine our joy when Auntie Amy announced that she will not be able to join us this CNY. Finally, after so many years of rainy CNYs, we were going to enjoy our first sunny (rainless) lunar new year! It was a mixed feeling of joy and sadness. Auntie Amy’s absence brought out the sun but dampen the festive atmosphere. Without the usual noisy Cheng Clan, we had a very quiet CNY reunion gathering this year.


Worst of all, it didn’t help to make plans early. 5 months ago, I booked a big 745m²-ocean villa at Montigo Batam (that can house up to 6-8 pax) for this year’s CNY gathering. In end, only 4 of us went – just mum, wife, son and me. The Cheng Clan had relatives visiting from the US while Dad recently underwent an eye operation 2 weeks ago and he was unable to travel.

It wasn’t that bad. Afterall, we have all the big space to ourselves. And yes, we had plenty of sun and great weather. Just a little quiet for such a big villa. Guess this is the price we have to pay to send the Rain Goddess away.

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Mum & Elkan were so excited the minute we arrived at the villa. As usual, mum, son, and wife love taking selfies. We realized we had 2 outdoor private swimming pools instead of 1! The 3-bedroom villa also comes with a big indoor spa pool that is big enough to house 2-3 adults. It provided all the comfort and privacy I needed. It was so quiet, peaceful and relaxing out here. I finally have all the time and private space (plus the sun) to tan up my superwhite body.

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While wife and mum were chatting in the large family hall, son and I spent a lot of time playing mobile games + suntanning together by the poolside. I had a spare bedroom just to house all my toys and gears! Mum tried the virtual goggles (streamed real-time from the camera of my drone) while I flew the drone around the resort. We didn’t see a lot of people around the resort except during breakfast when we saw hundreds of guests. There was such a big crowd and long queue at the restaurant during breakfast that we had to travel out to the nearby town center to get our meal.

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It was a short 3D2N stay at Montigo. Quality and happy time flew really fast. We went back to Singapore, just in time to spend a short CNY reunion with the Cheng & Pohs clans and an early birthday celebration with my dearest dad!

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This was a short home trip for me too. I didn’t manage to meet up with all the usual CNY groups (missing Hovman, Kendrick and the Katong boys). Just a handful of dear Wahbaing buddies and lovely cousins.

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Despite having all the sun and great weather this CNY, I do miss the usual big noisy rainy gathering. It was all too quiet this year. It was so un-CNY. Okay, Auntie Amy, you are welcomed to bring rain to all our parties and gatherings from now on. Guess no rain no gain, the more the merrier. Looking forward to your presence (with more people) next CNY.

Time to go back to Hong Kong for more work and meetings. More gatherings with my buddies in China next week.

旺旺。

Surprise, I’m back!

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The last time I planned a surprise home trip, Tracy accidentally let the cat out of the bag.
So this time, I warned her the night before my flight not to disclose anything. Guess what, I bet she behaved oddly during her daily chat with my son. Despite keeping the cat deep inside the bag, my son smelled a rat and told my wife he sensed a “surprise” heading their way. 45 minutes before I arrived at their doorstep, my wife sent me this terrifying message “Elkan asked me if I am planning any surprise. Are you planning a surprise?”

Staring blankly at her message in disbelief, I almost nuked Tracy for the leak. However, it wasn’t her fault this time. It was simply the telepathy connections between both father and son. The “Force” in him somehow sensed me nearby. Unbelievably amazing!

Despite their intuitions, I managed to give them a pleasant surprise at the door. The second I stepped out of the lift, Stella spotted me! Luckily, she remained calm and composed. I waited for a few seconds before Felicia and Elkan walked past the door. They froze the second they saw me standing by the gate. What a delightful scene!


It was a very short and packed 3-day business trip.
 I had a few meetings to attend and also came back to check out Singapore’s latest “not-so-friendly” self-checkout supermarket. Guess we are still not ready for “Smart Nation”. Stop wayanging and move faster, Singapore!

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Managed to spend an evening with my parents and a short reunion with my Wahbiang Clan. I was longing for durians but it wasn’t the season. Felicia urged me to try the McDonald’s incredibly crazed Nasi Lemak Burger. Thankfully, the craze has subsided and I didn’t have to queue to buy one. Verdict – there wasn’t any rice (Nasi) but the authentic chilli flavour with the tendering juicy chicken made it super yummy! No wonder it drove Singaporeans crazy months ago!

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Just before I took off for Hong Kong, Elkan gave me a nice treat at the airport’s arcade centre. For once, I beat him in electronic games. Of course, he cried foul because that was a very very old classic game we played! And yes, his old dad topped the score on the board!

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Now, back in Hong Kong for almost a week. Looking back, it was a sweet surprise after all. That “Kodak moment” was indeed priceless and memorable.

Last night, I received a sweet moving note from Felicia. “Every time I walk past the doorway, I am hoping to see you again.”

See you guys very soon. In exactly 2 weeks!

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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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