The little boy who can memorize everything!

Meeting Savi and Kid

We were perfect strangers until we met yesterday. And it turns out to be one of the most enlightening meetings of the entire year! Thanks to an old friend in India who connected us a month back.

Meet this amazing father and son, Siva and Anirudh.

Anirudh is only 10 and he is already one of the top memory talents in India. Representing India, Anirudh flew to Hong Kong to take part at the 27th World Memory Championships. Anirudh’s feats are aplenty. One of his feats is able to memorize up to a 100-digit number within minutes and recite it with distinctive accuracy. Not only that, he could recite the numbers backward. Anirudh is also able to memorize a couple decks of poker cards simply! (Yes, I thought of bringing him to the casino to play blackjack!)

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Anirudh is like any other kids you see on the street. He is shy, humble, curious and kind. Credits to unconventional and amazing parenting methodology, Siva unlocks the hidden wonders in his boy. A very humble (full of humanity and positive energy) and wise dad, Siva reminded us a few times that his son is not special or born with a special power. Siva said with discipline, conviction, and practice, all of us can unlock the other unused % in our brains.

We were at a cafe at Tamar Park when Siva asked if we wanted to see a little demonstration. Felicia, Elkan, Harshad and I were thrilled to see the wonder boy in action. Four of us formed a unique 22-digit number randomly and Siva read the number to his son (Anirudh didn’t get to see the number). In less than 120 seconds, Anirudh memorized the number and he recited the number effortlessly front and back to us. What’s more, Anirudh is able to tell us the sum of the same 22-digit number! It was amazing! 45 minutes later Anirudh is still able to remember the numbers.

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It was more than just Anirudh’s feat that enlightened us. It was the love and passion of Siva who enlightens us on some of the most important things in life:
1) Never give your child money or gifts. Anyone could offer the same thing to any child. Give them time, experiences and teaching so the child can become a better person when he/she grows up.

2) With good practice and discipline, anyone can be as amazing as his son. We just don’t explore the other parts of our mind and body. If a right-hander starts using his/her left hand more often, the left hand will grow strong over time. Just like our brain, we do not train it to its limit. Our reliance on digital tools made us lazier than ever. To unlock the wonders in us, we must start exploring and training the “unused” wonders of us.

3) Maintain a balance in life. Stay healthy in physically, mentally and emotionally. If we are able to achieve a state of good health, we will be able to channel our body and mind to achieve the unexpected. Watch our daily posture, maintain good oxygen intake, eat well and sleep well (not under and over), these are the nutrients our body and mind need.

4) The more we use our 5 senses, the more sensitive we are to capture all the memory. Because memory is more than just what we see or hear… we smell, taste and feel. All these 5 senses help to anchor and relocate back our memory.

Just before we say goodbye to our new friends. Siva gave my son and us 2 simple tips. The first tip never fears or be discouraged for not achieving the impossible. Start with the first steps and add more challenges as we grow stronger. Second tip, 10 minutes before we doze off every night, try to replay (in details) the things we did today. Not just in vision but also reenact the sound, the feelings and the taste of what we did.

Siva is a great father, teacher, and friend to his son. A very motivating and inspiring duo. A kind soul unlocked with amazing skills, I am certain we will be inspired by their next adventure in the near future!

Our real-life encounter with Siva and Anirudh is humbling and inspiring. And with that, we threw away our skepticism and started a little test last night. Never underestimate our human body and minds, and with that belief, Elkan attempted his little impossible feat last night with great success!

It is great meeting you guys! Hope to see you soon! Thank you, Raghu for connecting us.

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Addictive Laser Toy (Not LightSaber)

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I fell in love with laser personalization machine 10 years ago when I was working in the agency. Back then, I flew to Taipei to meet up with a Taiwanese vendor, Mr Chen whom I found in Alibaba (and we become close friends ever since). Mr Chen and I pioneered the first laser engraving machine that can be engraved directly on paper (through the thin packaging’s polywrap without burning the plastic wrap). What’s even more amazing was our machine took seconds to finish the engraving while other took over quarter of an hour. Our machine and software was indeed superior back then and Mr Chen traveled around the globe selling the machine. The machine wasn’t cheap then, one machine cost over USD32,000.

After a decade of experiencing different laser personalization machines (fiber, CO2 or UV) on different materials (glass, metal, paper, wood, leather, plastic), nothing surprises me anymore. In fact, I often tell my friends not to buy those cheap (anything that is under USD500) laser-engraving machines that were marketed on Kickstarter, Facebook Ads or Instagram Ads. Many of those videos were speed up to create the illusion of speedy engraving. In reality, these affordable (low-powered) laser heads work but it takes numerous minutes (not seconds) to engrave.

Being a geek and shopaholic, I was intrigued by a Taobao ad displaying a small USB-powered laser personalization machine (Brand NEJE DK-8-KZ极速微型激光雕刻机刻章机). The entire unit is only 16cm x 15cm x 20cm and weighs about 1KG! I watched the video (which was speed-up at least 20X), read the positive reviews and was impressed by the finished products. What attracted me was the price. It is selling at only RMB500! That’s about USD72! Without any hesitation, I bought it on Taobao and it arrived at my place 2 days later.

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Impulse Mistake Number 1 (Warning for Mac User) – this machine requires a PC to operate. To get this going, I have to spend extra HKD1,500 to install Parallel software and Windows OS on my iMac. The software UI is not as pretty as those offered by more established technology companies but it was quite easy for me to figure out (as it was similar to the other marking software I used). Connecting is simple. Just connect the USB power cable and data cable to any USB slots in the computer and the machine connects instantly to the software.

 

Using the machine is simple. Most laser engraving machines use the same process:

1) Import the Graphic (BMP) or Text
2) Select the engraving time/power (the longer, the slower and deeper the burn)
3) Pre-Marking Alignment – see the area where the graphic will be engraved
4) Adjust the effective laser height – the precise height for the laser to work
5) Start Marking

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I tested a couple of graphics (which came with the software) on paper and unwanted wooden items I can find at home. The machine was very very slow but it worked perfectly! The “marking resolution” was better than what I have expected from a USD72-machine. A small 30mm x 10mm graphic took over 15 minutes to engrave. For those who never experience the commercial machine, this speed may be acceptable. In comparison, Mr Chen’s commercial machine takes less than 12 seconds to complete the same task.

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After a week of trials and experimenting, NEJE is quite a reliable hobbyists’ tool. It is quite an addictive toy (to watch and use) and I had fun engraving my own graphics/text on the gifts I was making for my friends.  NEJE is a very low-powered Fiber-Laser Machine so it can’t be used on any reflective and transparent materials like acrylic, glass, stone, gemstones, and metals. Due to its small size, its maximum engraving output size is at 38mm x 38mm. This model is perfect for many households small items products like souvenirs and keychains.

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Verdict? At USD72, it is a steal and good buy! For someone new to laser engraving machine, there will be some confusion and frustration trying to adjust the marking position and also the effective laser height. Once the user is familiar with the machine’s logic and flow, it is as simple as getting set, on your mark, go.

Merry Time

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There is always something special about the Christmas season. Maybe it is at the end of the year when most are winding down and looking forward to another refreshing new year. Or it could be the cooler weather that brings out the best mood in people. Look around you, people, in general, are happier and smiling more during this time of the year. I see lesser hate news on social media, my news feed is flooded with endless photos of happy reunions. For those with friends and loved ones around you, this is indeed a blissful time to chill out and enjoy the joyous moment with those who matter most. Nevertheless, this can be an extremely sad and lonely season for those who are away from their families and friends. Hang on there, there is always something bright and positive to look forward to.

I never like to count down to any occasion cos’ it feels like the final moment of an awesome party.  On the contrary, I enjoy the moments leading up to the final countdown. If you have been to any firework countdown celebration, you know what I mean. Everyone is so hyped and excited right before the strike of midnight. Once the countdown and fireworks are over, the atmosphere becomes really awkward. It feels like someone has just broken the “happy spell”. Instantly, the people who were celebrating wildly minutes ago turned Cinderallas. Suddenly, everyone is heading home.

What I do love most is the festive gatherings! Mine was the healthy family version, no hard liquor, and other unhealthy activities. Like the year before, we had an hour of pretty intense violent indoor games (with guns, arrows, and bows), followed by a 3-hour long outdoor BBQ dinner at Taipo.

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The BBQ venue is big! It is unlike any other venue I have been. There are different formats of space where you can BBQ – standard tables, on platforms and even inside private huts. There is even a giant air castle slide for the kids. We made a mistake by parking ourselves right beside a big playing field. There were a lot of kids playing soccer by the edge of our platform. I wasn’t too comfortable having these amateur kids around me. A few times, the ball came flying into our space. I even yelled at a kid to buzz him away. Dear Joe, where is your Christmas spirit, Harshad asked.

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Thanks to 2 youthful friends – chatty Christy and crazy Fiona – they definitely lighten the atmosphere and made us feel younger with their youthful childlike not-so-old company and personalities.  Christy was so hyper that day. She was there for 2 things – fun and photography. I have never seen any girl so engrossed in selfies and bananas. Now, I understand the pain of “Instagram Boyfriend”.

Being a nice senior, I decided to end our little gathering before 930pm so it gives these youngsters enough time to head home, get dressed for their ultimate Christmas Countdown! Me? I slept soundly at 11pm leaving my poor son counting down to Christmas Day all alone by himself. My son was planning to open all his gifts at midnight but he was so nice to wait for us the next day.  Elkan also made us a very “green” Christmas Tree out of paper shopping bags and personalized greeting cards using old magazines this year! As usual, I got him a new gadget, this Christmas, a mini retro arcade machine.

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Merry Christmas to all! Can’t wait for my next festive reunion trip in Taiwan next week with my Taiwanese friends! Perhaps I shall make another exception and experience the firework countdown at 101. And here is another ZEPETO moment of us (while the fab lasts). See if you can recognize the fancy people here.
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Nipper’s Master Voice No More

Last of HMV

The day finally came. Faced with lawsuits over unpaid rentals, HMV closed its last 3 outlets in Hong Kong after 25 years of operation.

It is sad to see my favorite stores gone. After all, I grew up with HMV since my young adulthood. It has been a reliable source for all my gadgets, tech magazines, pop t-shirts, games, movies, and music albums. I bought my first PlayStation, PSP, drone (Parrot), first blue ray and many other “firsts” at HMV. Despite the rise of music and movie app stores, HMV was always a great weekend hang-out place for me.

I always knew this day would come. And HMV saw it coming too. They really tried to rejuvenate their retail offering. In recent years, HMV Hong Kong revamped their stores at Causeway Bay and Central, added other new categories (cafe, restaurant, event space, movie collectibles, computers, toys, audio accessories, designer fashion, and accessories, Kickstarter gismos and more!). They even tried to duplicate Ikea’s grab-&-go hotdog guns at a very attractive price of HKD5! Despite all these efforts and changes to attract a new generation of shoppers, HMV succumbed to its final cessation.

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What HMV did right was the new creation of the loft-themed retail space at Causeway Bay. However, the segmentation of categories (toys, games, gadgets, music, movie, fashion, accessories, electronics) was not well-curated and linked. The gaming zone and toys were placed separately on 2 different floors.

It is the lack of differentiation and high-selling price that led HMV to its final downfall. HMV is unable to compete with the convenience and lower pricing of iTunes offerings. While it tried to offer and introduced new categories into its store, HMV did not have any advantage in terms of pricing or varieties. Just like the downfall of BestBuy in China, shoppers went in to browse and experience the products but chose to purchase elsewhere online where the price was much lower than the physical retail outlets. With the emergence of Taobao (and the convenience of home delivery provided by SF Express), shoppers are spoilt for choices and lured by lower pricing.

Another failure of HMV was their slow and weak efforts to invest in their online APP and CRM program. For years, HMV VIP Program and APP failed to lock and incentified loyal shoppers. Instead of moving forward, HMV introduced the old “collect a stamp” card which shoppers can redeem cash rebates after a full collection of stamps. Their online web store was poorly designed and not user-friendly. Poor UIUX wasted the company’s investment.

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Really… it is a great brand with a rich heritage and a beautiful story. We visited the island stores over the weekend for one last time before it closed for good. Most of its suppliers and brands have taken back their stocks, leaving the store raw and empty. I felt sorry for the remaining staffs. It is never a good time to wind down, especially when Christmas is just around the corner. I sincerely hope the brand HMV will be revived to fit tomorrow’s demand.

2018 is the year of the Dog and sadly, it did not bring HMV the luck it needed to survive. Really wish to adopt Nipper for he will be homeless with the silence of his master’s voice. (Let’s hope Hong Kong HMV sells me Nipper).

Reunion with the in-laws

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Exactly a month ago, Mum-in-law returned with her 2 lovely sisters, Auntie Nyong, Auntie “Cookie” Fong and cousin Carrine! All 4 of them have visited us separately in the past. Auntie Fong and Carrine were here in 2010 while Auntie Nyong and mum-in-law last visited in 2009. It was memorable as she arrived on the same day as Typhoon 8. That was in August 2009! Also that year, she celebrated her 60th birthday in Hong Kong with us.

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Unfortunately, due to failing memory, Felicia and I couldn’t recall many details about their last visits. Auntie Fong and Carrine were excitedly reciting what they did during their last Hong Kong trip. Half the time, Felicia and I listened in disbelief. Thankfully, I kept a blog (my most reliable memory vault) and after a few simple searches, I managed to refresh my memory with the help of the old photos and posts.

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Out of the short “4-day shopcation”, we spent 3 days shopping in Shenzhen. The ladies shopped tirelessly from dawn to dusk. Like my mum and Auntie Amy, they came fully-equipped. Every morning, they left the hotel with an empty suitcase and returned with hoards of bargained treasures. Most of the time, Elkan and I took refuge inside our hotel room, making appearance strategically during meal times.

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Age caught up with the old folks. They weren’t as energetic as before. They took more short breaks between their shopping sprees. On their last day in Hong Kong, I took them to shop at Sai Kung Weekend Flea Markets by the Pier. There, we took a 45-min boat ride out and visited a small UNESCO Geopark island, Sharp Island. We didn’t have time to attempt the 2-hour hike across the island as the ladies were flying back in the evening. It was more of a touch-&-go short tour.

Great to have you ladies here. Please do not wait for another 9 years to visit us again!

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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?

600km of Fun, Joy & … er … No hotel?

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Since 2012, it has been an annual ritual when dad and friends (Uncle Bok and Uncle Tan) will fly over to visit me every summer in Hong Kong. This year was a little bit different, Dad and friends knew about my business trip to Taiwan and they decided to hijack join our party there. It was dad’s first flight after his eye-operation. He was grounded by his doctors for over the past 6 months and this “escape” meant a lot to him.

 

This is my first Taiwan trip with my old dad and I was worried about mixing 2 different groups of people together. Afterall, it was an odd assembly of people from different countries, backgrounds, and generations. My worries were unnecessary, within the first hour, everyone blended in wonderfully! The chemistry amongst them was perfect!

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The original plan was to spend 4 relaxing days in Taipei with the old folks. Thanks to the insistence and great hospitality of my Taiwanese buddy, Chen, he planned an incredible 5D4N road trip for all of us. It was an intense 600km loop around the northern island of Taiwan. We started our journey from metropolis Taipei to the eastern coast of Yilan, through the mountainous roads along Hualien Taroko National Park and made our final stop at the old night market street in Taizhong.

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After a long day and late night of meetings in Taipei, we started our “workcation” right in the midst of my overseas teleconference. 7 of us barely fit inside Chen’s 7-seater car. Getting in and out of the car was a challenge for everyone. Not to mention how we managed to co-exist with all the bulky travel souvenirs that we accumulated along the journey.  Especially towards the end of the journey, there wasn’t any much legroom and lap-room. The entire car was packed like a can of sardine.

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First stop – we made our way to Kavalan Whisky Distillery. I was here with Felicia, Elkan, and Tracy 18 months ago. It was the perfect tourist destination for Dad and friends as they were whiskey lovers. We arrived just before the distillery closed and the entire place was so empty. Dad and friends signed up for the whiskey blending experience to blend their own whiskey. Unlike Tracy and me who did the same activity in the most chaotic manner, my dad and friends were very “serious” and “precise” in their engagements.

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Later that evening, we had our dinner at an interesting bunnies-themed restaurant. No, it wasn’t a Playboy Mansion. It was a romantic happy land with furry rabbits and giant heart-shaped air cushions. Located on top of a valley, the restaurant offered a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

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Just when the group was enjoying the beautiful evening and scenery, they were startled by my dialogue with Chen.

“Joe, where is the location of the hotel?” Chen asked.

“I don’t know. You booked the hotel. You didn’t tell me” I answered.

“No, I didn’t book the hotel, I thought you did,” Chen replied. That was the uncomfortable and hilarious moment when everyone stared at us with wide unbelieving eyes.

“Huh? No, didn’t you mentioned that you will settle all the hotels outside Taiwan?” I asked.

“Yes, I did. I sent you the photos over Wechat and you said okay” Chen answered.

“Yah, I said okay and proceed. You never give me the names and links, how the hell I know how or where to book?” I replied.

“Don’t worry, it should be fine. We just missed one night,” I assured everyone. “Right?”

“No Joe, it wasn’t just tonight. I didn’t book any hotel for the entire trip”. Chen exclaimed. This was the moment when everyone nearly fainted. There was a long eerie silence before all of us broke into waves of laughter! The old folks clearly didn’t really enjoy our impromptu and our state of confusion.

While Chen and I were in this morbid state of last-minute salvation and desperation to search for all the hotels at one end of the long dining table, my dad and Uncle Tan were celebrating joyously at the other end. Guess what, both of them just found out that they won Singapore lottery.  What an eventful night of surprises! And that was just the beginning of our joyous road trip.

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We spent the next few days on the road, visiting many attractions from Yilan to Taichung. Driving along the winding valley roads and through narrow mountain tunnels, we experienced 2 different seasons within hours – both summer and winter. We hiked through the majestic Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) under the scorching humid heat at 36°C and ascended the foggy 3,275m-peak of Hehuanshan (合歡山) at 12°C.

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Certainly, a good son never fails to give his old dad a good party at the karaoke. For the first time ever, dad and I experienced Taiwanese-styled karaoke. There wasn’t much difference (be it deco, hostesses or services) between the joints in China and Taiwan except we were able to bring in our own liquors without any corkage fees in Taichung. Within 2 short hours, we drank over 3 bottles of single-malt whiskey and two dozen of beers. As usual, I was too tipsy to remember my way back to the hotel. All I remembered was we all had a great time together.

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So, this was it. A long workcation of work, fun, laughter, bonding, and love! A very special thank to Chen for his awesome hospitality and friendship. It was no small feat taking the wheel all by himself throughout this 600km long road trip. Thanks to all my business-cum-friends for the great companionship to my dad and his friends. I am blessed to have all of you around me, throughout my life, my work and my family.

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I am very sure my old dad felt the same way too. Who knows, he may be secretly planning his next hijack.

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Coming up next, I will be flying down south for another annual reunion ritual with my mum and our infamous Rain-Goddess, Auntie Amy. Time to pack (with an umbrella of course).

Road to Pandora – The Surreal World of ZhangJiaJie 张家界

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The Glass Bridge of Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon (张家界大峡谷) has intrigued me since its opening in 2016 August. After watching so many comical videos online, I was curious to see if I am gutsy enough to walk across the 430m transparent glass bridge. I decided to visit the famed bridge in 2016 Christmas but Tracy booked us a flight to Vietnam instead. Finally, after a long 18-month procrastination, we finally made it to Zhangjiajie this Easter holidays (thanks to the swift and decisive action of Chowpo).

It was a tourist’s nightmare to travel during the Chinese Tomb-Sweeping holidays. Everywhere was packed with Chinese travelers. Knowing my fear to fly, my wonderful and considerate travel companions accommodated me on a longer route to Zhangjiajie.

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The entire journey took us over 12 hours. First, we crossed over to the border of Shenzhen. From Lowu, we took a 30-minute taxi ride to Shenzhen North Train Station where we boarded a 3-hour speed train to Changsha City (the capital city of Hunan Province). From Changsha City, we then took another 15-minute subway train ride to downtown where we hopped on a 7-seater van that we rode for another 5.5 hours before we arrived at Zhangjiajie National Country Park. We started our journey at 7am and by the time we arrived at our hotel, it was almost 10pm.

Weather in April is always tricky and unpredictable. My friend Hovman was at Zhangjiajie just a few days before us and he warned me about the blazing scorching sun. I packed very light clothing and even brought along a pair of shorts. To my horror, the temperature plummeted from sunny 28 degrees to 7 degrees overnight. It was so cold and wet. A deja vu of my Easter holiday at Xian 4 years ago.

Expectedly, I got the unhappy stares from my two female travel companions who took my advice to travel light. The next morning, we made a desperate run to the nearest shop to buy winter jackets and shoe covers. (This explains why in many photos, we were seen wearing the same design of 3 different colours.)

The hotel we stayed wasn’t exactly 4 stars as it stated. It reminded me of the typical Taiwanese home-stay accommodation (民俗). The bed was hard and there were ants, spiders, and bugs crawling on the walls and floor. Shower room was uncomfortably small. The shower head was installed right above the toilet bowl. A big group of noisy family resided right beside our rooms and they were extremely rowdy.

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Early next morning, we arrived at the infamous famed Glass Bridge where many macho men failed to conquer. It was still drizzling and we were warned of the slippery glass surface. Every visitor was given a pair of protective shoe-gloves to prevent damage/scratches to the glass surface. Security check was strict here. Any heavy, sharp or large object that poses a risk to the glass bridge is prohibited. I had to leave my walking sticks, DSLR, drone and gimbal video camera behind. I can only vlog the entire experience using my mobile phone.

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From far, the glass bridge looked like any suspension bridge. Spanning over 430m across, it was once the world’s longest glass bridge (currently the second place to the new 488m long Hebei’s HongYaGu Glass Bridge). Suspended 300m on 2 vertical cliffs, the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge still holds the record of being the world’s tallest glass bridge.

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Despite my fear of flying (acrophobia), I suffer no acrophobia. I have absolutely no fear taking the walk of faith. It was a surreal experience to walk across the mountains and canyon river on the solid glass. It felt very safe and sturdy. There were still many visitors chose to walk across the bridge on the metal sidewalks.

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Getting rid of the horde of unwanted photo-bombers was easy. All it took was a couple of heavy loud jumps in the middle of the glass panel, the nearby crowd will immediately back off in fear.

After crossing the bridge, we took a 2-hour scenic riverside hike at Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. It was a gentle hike with lots to see – the unique rock erosions, the cascading falls on the side of the cliffs, the turquoise lake and lots of old abandoned bandit caves. At the end of the hike, we took a short boat ride to the exit of the park.

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After a tiring morning hike, we had a relaxing tour in the afternoon. Our guide brought us to another iconic attraction, the Baofeng Lake (宝峰湖) where we sat on a 30-minute scenic boat ride around the spectacular basin. There were little wooden huts scattered along the rocky bank where local performers sang (山歌) for the audience on the boat. Even though none of us understood the songs or its story, it was indeed a unique waterfront musical concept.

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By evening time, we were so exhausted. Our muscles were sore and aching badly. We visited the night street market opposite our hotel and retired early for the night. What a tiring but rewarding first day.

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On the second day of our tour, we checked out of the hotel at 7:30am and made our way to the most famous site of Zhangjiajie, the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve (天子山). Gained worldwide fame by the blockbuster movie, “Avatar”, the quartzite sandstone towers of Tianzi Mountain inspired the surreal world on Pandora.

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True to its divine reputation, Tianzi Mountain didn’t disappoint. The 8-minute cable car ride over its enchanted sandstone obelisks was an unforgettable, priceless and mesmerizing experience. Nature is indeed the Grandmaster of Art, perpetually sculpting these majestic pillars through time. I was very lucky to be able to fly my drone over the sea of “stone forest” and see Nature’s masterpieces from different angles. (At the same time, my drone flying stunt attracted lots of tourists who also want a glimpse of what I saw through the drone’s camera lenses.)

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After a long stop at “Pandora”, we hiked further to experience another multiple world records breaker – the BaiLong Elevator (百龙天梯). Installed on the side of a massive cliff in 2002, the 335m-tall BaiLong Elevator currently holds 3 Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest outdoor elevator, the world’s tallest double-deck lift, and the world’s fastest (pax & speed ratio) lift. Each lift can take up to 50 passengers and it takes only 66 seconds per trip. At a ticket price of RMB72/pax, that’s about RMB1.10 per second. This is the most expensive elevator ride I have paid to descend. Still, it was worth it, considering the knee-torturing steps down the mountain.

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At the base of Tianzi Mountain, we took a slow sightseeing train to view the sandstone pillars from another perspective. The entire 5.8km journey took less than 20 minutes.

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Our last attraction of the day was a 2-hour outdoor folk musical at the base of Tianmen Mountain (天门山). Debuted in 2009 with Tianmen Mountain as its stage backdrop, the Fairy Fox Musical is very similar to another real-scene show directed by world’s renowned director, Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) at Li River, Guilin (丽江, 桂林). Having watched both musicals, I preferred the songs and special effects of the Fairy Fox Musical more. The tragic love tale between a Fox Spirit and a woodman was easier to comprehend compared to Zhang’s Liu Sanjie Musical. Overall, it was emotional, beautiful and magical.

Day 39

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Just when we thought we ended our second day of activities, our tour guide surprised us when she checked us in a very new and clean “love hotel”. Although the hotel was filled with family groups (with young children), the hotel decor and amenities (circular bed and big jacuzzi tub) were very suggestive. All of us had a great laugh over Wechat the second we walked into our individual room. Every room has a unique portrait of a naked lady. I enjoyed the thoughtfulness of our tour guide, after all, I am desperate for a good hot tub to ease my muscle aches.

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We woke up even earlier on the third day of our “not so free and easy” tour. At breakfast, Chowpo told us that she couldn’t walk anymore. She wasn’t used to the long strenuous walk. With the aid of 2 walking sticks, she paced herself slowly and painfully along the way.

Unfortunately for her, our hike at Tianmen Mountain was more strenuous than any of the hikes before. Our helpful and friendly tour guide plotted a route that minimizes walking. To survive this hike with the least effort, we need to take 2 cable-car rides, 10 super long escalators and a very scary drift-driving roller-coaster minibus down the mountain.

We started our hike on the world’s longest cable car ride – Tianmen Mountain Cableway (天门山索道). Covering a distance of 7,455m, the entire ride took 28 minutes and it accented to a height of 1,518m! That’s twice the height of the world’s tallest building!

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While we were in the cable car, a few of us stood up to shoot the scenery outside. It caused a minor panic among the other passengers as our abrupt movement caused the cable-car to sway side by side. As the cable car accented, the temperature dropped drastically. We felt a sudden chilly draft entering into the cable car. Throughout the journey, we need to adjust the pressure in our ears. Without any doubt, It was a breathtaking and scary ride! Certainly not for the faint-hearted passengers. I personally thought to ride the cable car ride was 10 times scarier than walking on the glass bridge itself!

At the peak of Tianmen Mountain, we hiked a short distance to the second glass bridge of our trip, the West Glass Skyway (玻璃栈道). There are currently 3 glass bridges on Tianmen Mountain (east, west and Panlong Cliff). As the distance to the other 2 other glass skyways was a few hours hike away, we decided to give them a miss.

Compared with the Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, the 60m-Glass Skyway on Tianmen Mountain was much more terrifying – both psychologically and physically. First, it is built almost 5 times higher than the Glass Bridge at 1,430m above ground. And it hangs itself with lesser support by the side of the cliff. There is no additional harness that supports the Glass Skyway from the top. There aren’t solid sidewalks for those who want to walk on solid ground. It is a narrow one-way route and jam builds up easily. We found ourselves sandwiched between a group of slow shutterbugs and a group of terrified thrill-seekers who wanted to bail out frantically. Surely, this is not a good place to be stuck during a catastrophe or a mad panic attack.

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Thankfully, most of the glass floor was scratched so badly that it looked almost frosted. So visually, it wasn’t very intimidating. Nevertheless, there were still many terrified “cliff-huggers” who crab-walked across the Skyway. A terrified old lady grabbed my arm unapologetically as she looped over me frantically on the bridge. She continued holding on to the other strangers’ arms as she made her way to the exit. Another strong hunky man in his 30s found himself stuck on a tiny stone slab as there was no more solid floor ahead and he was desperately begging his friends to U-turn. Drama on this bridge was much comical than scary.

After surviving the dramatic glass walk, we proceeded to the next thrilling walk – the Cliff-Hanging Walkway (鬼谷栈道). The cement walkway was built on the sidewalls of the vertical cliffs. The 1.6km long, 1,400m high walkway offers beautiful, unblocked panoramic views of the valleys.

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We finally arrived at the final pitstop of our long scenic hike at Tianmen Mountain Temple (天门山寺) where we took a return 20-minute chairlift ride back to the summit of Tianmen Mountain (near the cable car station). From there, we then took a series of super long connected escalators, through the mountain, down to the entrance of the colossal “Heaven’s Gate” (天门), which is also the world’s highest elevated natural arch. There, we saw the infamous 999-step “Heaven’s Stairs” (天梯) where only the strongest and bravest souls ascend the treacherous climb to the gate of heaven. Well, the path to and fro Heaven is never easy.

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We decided to leave Heaven’s Gate the lazy way – by another long flight of escalators. Just when we thought all the terrifying commutes were over, we were dead wrong. I boarded the most horrendous ride of my life. It was like a deadly hell ride to the real Heaven’s Gate. The minibus sped down the notorious winding Tongtian Avenue (通天大道), maneuvered extreme 180-degree turn at every bend. For a few times, I thought we were going over the cliffs. I could see the fear on the faces of all the passengers. The 99-bend road wasn’t fun for me. Lesson learned – the lazy path is often full of deadly traps, twists, and turns.

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Just before we headed back to Hong Kong, we planned to spend our last night at another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient town of Fenghuang (凤凰县). Located 3 hours drive away from Tianmen Mountain, the 300-year-old Fenghuang ancient town is a beautiful, cultural-rich riverside settlement with well-preserved ancient buildings and colorful ethnic Miao villagers. I can’t compare Fenghuang with Amsterdam or Venice. Or other similar water towns (like Suzhou Tongli 同里古镇 or Zhouzhuang 周庄) in China. The old water town is just different, it is charming, unique and mysterious in its own way.

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What impressed me most was the clarity of the flowing river and the locals’ way of life. Despite the dense settlement on its banks, the local kept the stream clean. Day and night, I saw local washing vegetables and clothes by the river banks. The streets were filled with little makeshift table-stores of local souvenirs and handicrafts. Price was surprisingly low, there was no need to bargain. The stall keepers were peaceful, humble, honest and friendly, unlike the typical aggressive ones I met at most Chinese street markets in first-tier cities.

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Sadly, this ancient town is undergoing major upgrading for tourism. Some parts of the town are overly “urbanized” and it loses its authenticity. For readers who are intrigued by this town, do come by soon before it loses its identity.

How I wish I could extend a few more days to explore this unique place. We did a very short 2-hour tour of the town before we took a long dreadful 12-hour return trip back to Hong Kong.

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This is a very rewarding and fulfilling Easter vacation for me. Thanks to our wonderful and thoughtful Chinese tour guide, this 5-day-4-night trip is more than what I expected. All I wanted was to satisfy my humble curiosity to walk on the new Glass Bridge but the long winding journey enriches me with many unexpected new discoveries and delightful experiences. It is a place where I truly escape from the chains of the city vacuum, where my mind wanders and interacts freely, appreciating life in a different time and space.

Pandora is indeed a unique world full of man-made marvels and natural wonders. It is not far away and it is a great place to discard the avatar in us. There is no place like Zhangjiajie.

Bride’s Pool Hike

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It was China National Day long weekend and we were dying to go somewhere new. Hiking season has just began and I wanted to take my drone out for a spin. Chowpo showed us a new site that none of us has been – an UNESCO Geopark site where there is a sizeable waterfall.

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We took almost 90 minutes (taxi, car, taxi) to reach the starting point of Bride’s Pool Nature Trail where we spent a good 60 minutes hiking in circles, searching for the entrance to the falls. We were actually stopped right at the rapids where the stream will lead us to the falls but we totally missed that! Before we knew it, we exited the trail on the other side of the very small geo park.

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Just when we were about to leave the park, Tracy and Harshad spotted the falls half a mile away. It was located right at the spot where we aligned our taxi! Chowpo, Harshad and Tracy were too tired to walk back to the falls.

Smiling deep inside, I took my drone out and flew it effortlessly to the falls.

“Mmm…what a nice dynamic view from the top. 🙂 ” I thought.

That is the reason why I carry a drone to all my trips, there is always an easier way to enjoy the great view.

Flight, don’t hike.  Enjoy the vlog.

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Never too late to say “Thank You”

Note: Wanted to write this “Thank You” note on the last day of my job (30th June) but I was moving house and all my gears weren’t intact then. And by the time I settled down my new apartment, I had to start rushing for deadlines and multiple business trips. Never had time until now to start gathering the photos and thoughts to pen this. Well, this was never meant to be a “Goodbye” blog… All I want to say is simply ~ “Thank You”. 

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2017 is an amazing year of changes.

First, I surprised many (including my old folks) when I made an announcement to leave my decade-long cushy agency job to co-found a new tech start up with a few partners. It was indeed a big decision but the feeling felt so right. With the departure of 2 of my beloved co-founding partners of the agency, it didn’t take me very long to make up my mind to leave too. After all, it’s time to chase my own dream.

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I wasn’t alone and I had many great help along the way.
I was very lucky and blessed to have many great partners and friends supporting my new venture. Saying goodbye to a “family” that I have seeded, shaped, nurtured and grew for over 10 years wasn’t easy. On the last day of my 11-year job, I received a touching token (a miniature gondola of all my favourite friends+wishes)  from these great friends who have been laying every brick of success in this agency with me throughout the years. Indeed, it was a very meaningful and lovely farewell gift. (Thank you Celia, Bianca, Wing, Chowpo, Aaron and Tracy for organising the farewell gift!)

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I originally planned to take a 3-month break touring outside Hong Kong. As things with the new start-up were progressing so fast, I had no choice but to postpone my holidays until mid September. There were a few weeks when I was working round the clock that I lost sense of time. It also coincided with the moving of my new apartment. With the slow unpacking, I simply had no gears, space and time to blog.

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Thankfully, things are getting back on track this month and it is time for me to post what I should have done 3 months agoA long overdue “Thank You Note” to my wonderful company of friends, families and soulmates who have been there with me every day for the past 11 years of my life at the agency. Especially to my lovely wife, son, mother, dad-&-friends, Chups and Auntie Amy (and not forgetting my brothers from Chicago, Taipei, Tokyo & Singapore) who were here with me throughout the past 3 hectic months. I love you all! Thanks for everything!

And yes, the blog is back! Time to travel, blog and fly my drone! On the road again!

Mum in Town (15 - 20 June 2017)S8 Photo Transfer

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