Tracy ruined my surprise! (Trip to Singapore)

Tracy did it again! My secret surprise trip to Singapore has been leaked out by her unintentionally. Urghhh… I got a big surprise when I received my son’s text message minutes before I boarded my flight to Singapore. Elkan knew! Urghhh…

Luckily, I managed to save the nice surprise for my old folks, nephew and niece. Surprise costs little money (but lots of effort) and never fails to tickle the hearts. It is a gesture that runs deep in family. That’s why we never disclose our travel plans to any family member. Occasionally, a loved one appeared right where one least expected. That spark of surprise is an indescribable and priceless feeling. And I remember them all no matter how cheesy they were.

It will be a packed week of meetings all the way before CNY. I had 4 short days in Singapore before I flew off to Myanmar. I managed to balance a great schedule between work, friends and family time. Had lunch with Joanne and Juliana, meeting with Jimmy, Desmond & gang and dinner+dessert with Lionnel. I woke up early in the morning at 5am to catch sunrise with Felicia by the barrage. And Elkan and I spent the last 2 nights fixing up a new Wall·E Lego (with electrical accessories) that I bought specially for him!

Time to pack and leave for Yangon. Enjoy the Vlog video below.

Short Weekend Vacation at Melaka (Blog by Felicia)

One week ago, we just returned from Hong Kong and Elkan, my mom, my sister (Chups) and me headed to Melaka this weekend! It was a last minute decision for a short trip to visit my relatives and attend my uncle’s 82nd birthday celebration! At 82, he still drives, writes good Chinese calligraphy, and tends to his own business that was hand down by his father. It’s been a while since our last visit to Melaka, my mom’s hometown.

Online coach ticketing is so convenient and efficient. We managed to get a coach that departs from Marine Parade straight to Melaka. In the past, we had to make a trip down to Lavender Bus Terminal to purchase the tickets few days before departure day.

We got onto a very spacious and comfortable 21-seater coach on Friday afternoon after I picked Elkan from school. He was excited when he spotted free wifi was provided on board! After a short 3 and a half hour drive and we arrived at Melaka.

We checked into our hotel and quickly walked over to visit my uncle and relatives. I kinda miss the shophouse where I used to come here every school holiday during my primary school days and played with my cousins. Now we are all grown up and living in different cities so far apart, we hardly meet up. The old folks chatted and my eldest aunt spoke about the old days when they were still kids running up and down the wooden staircases, making a lot of noise and getting into trouble so often. Fond old memories.

Just two days before we left for Melaka, Joanne mentioned that she’s heading to Melaka for a short weekend trip with their family of 12 pax! So we planned to meet her and Sherane for dinner on Friday night. Elkan spotted them across the street when we were heading to Jonker’s Street. It was always good to see familiar faces when you are overseas.

The evening was hot and humid. As we stroll along Jonker’s Street, there were food stalls, souvenirs, handicrafts, toys, and many more. It is much more bustling than it used to be many years ago. There were also cruise by the river. At some point, the street was filled with the stinky toufu smell! For a moment, I tot I was in Hong Kong! Some of the locals speaks Cantonese too.

Finally we managed to get some seats and had local Chinese food for dinner. But our main course was actually the chendol! Unfortunately it was sold out by evening…. Such a disappointment. We had gula meleka with sago & shaved ice instead. Not too bad too! Then I spotted a guy stuffing a cake hand mixer into a small water melon! He was making instant watermelon juice right in the melon itself! So interesting! Perfect for the hot weather.

At the end of the street, it was lit up with many fancy cartoon decorated rickshaws! Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Frozen, Minions, etc. These are not cheap rides. Almost the same price as taxi rides.

It was great to catch up with the gals. The evening ended with happy tummies and Elkan was happy with his new bow and arrow toy!

The next day was a just indoor air-con shopping. We simply couldn’t stand the outdoor heat. The malls are similar like ours with all the familiar brands. Best part is you pay in ringgit!

We were looking forward to the birthday dinner where we met more relatives. It was a karaoke cum dinner session. The old folks were enjoying themselves, singing Mandarin and Cantonese oldies. They were good sport and sang heartily! The food was great and people were greater. I did not know many of my uncle’s friends but they were all very friendly.

Elkan and me were trigger happy snapping many candid shots with our nieces, nephews, cousins and the other folks!

阿Q, 生日快乐! May you be healthy and happy! 

The tears behind his debut TV drama (Updated)

“Is that Elkan on TV?” 

Since the sequel of the Dream Makers aired on Singapore TV 2 weeks ago, Felicia and I received many messages from our friends and relatives asking if our son acted in the drama. Yes, that is indeed our little prankster, Elkan.

The story began almost 7 months ago (May 2015) when Elkan was attending a 30-week acting course for children. Thanks to his teacher, he was invited to an audition for a MediaCorp Channel 8 drama. Felicia and I had no idea what role Elkan was auditing for. All we wanted was some new experience for our son. Nothing more.

The next day, I received a note from Felicia that Elkan was selected for the role. I was delighted and asked about the role. She said the crew was looking for a child to act in several crying scenes for the drama and Elkan passed the test.

“Wow, how did he convince the casting panel?” I asked.

“He cried. Really cried, real tears,” Felicia answered.

“Wow…amazing, how did he do that? It must really difficult to get him crying in front of the strangers,” I exclaimed. “Did they ask him to use the eye-drop?”

“Not really, it was you,” she said.

“Me?” I laughed aloud. “Must be one of those episodes when I was scolding and yelling at that naught boy, right? Oh dear, the crew must be thinking what a cruel dad I was!”

“No. I told the crew to ask Elkan to think about you. Especially those sad farewell moments at the airport. He cried immediately the second they asked him about you.” Felicia said. “He misses you a lot.”

My heart sank instantly and guilt filled my soul. Tears blurred my vision. I couldn’t carry on the conversation. I remembered vividly the scene outside the moving taxi. It was making an U-turn outside Times Square, heading towards Central.

Felicia’s words rewinded in my mind for many days. I never knew the impact I had on my boy. It was really bad.

Like the old Chinese proverb “人生如戏 戏如人生”,Elkan’s character in the show mimics our situation. In the show, Elkan’s mum (played by Huang Biren) left the family to pursue her career. In our case, I park my wife and kid in Singapore while I pursue my career in Hong Kong. The difference is we meet as much as we can and we treasure all the time together. Absence doesn’t divide us, it bonds us stronger and closer.

That summer holiday, we had one of our happiest holidays in New Zealand! Felicia and Elkan had to fly back to Singapore 1 week earlier for the shoot. As the show required Elkan to cry in a couple of scenes, I was worried about his mental state. Thankfully, the crew and his teacher were very kind and encouraging. He managed to finish all 7-8 scenes in 12 hours. We were told to catch his debut in December.

Being abroad for so many years, I have not watched any Singapore Channel 8 for the past decade. It was only 3 weeks ago when I read about the drama “The Dream Makers II (志在四方II)“, I realised Elkan was indeed very lucky to act alongside Singapore’s veteran actor/King of Caldecott Hill, Li Nanxing (李南星) and actress/Meryl Streep of MediaCorp, Huang Biren (黄碧仁).

Thanks to my son. I fell in love with Singapore Chinese drama once more. I have been watching Hollywood and Hong Kong dramas and realised Singapore drama has improved so much! It is indeed a very emotional and powerful show. I love the characters played by Jeanette Aw, Zoe Tay and Rui En. Just so addictive.

Certainly, Elkan is less excited than his old dad and mum. Afterall, he isn’t from our era. Elkan was more interested in the camera equipments than his old folks’ idols. And “fame-chasing” isn’t something in his mind. All he wants is to have fun and experience new things. He is more worried about facing his school mates when school reopens in the next 2 weeks.

So, here’s me – a very proud dad, sharing my son’s debut (and maybe his last) reel! Enjoy! I am sure his grandparents will be thrilled! I remember my first school holiday job working in my dad’s timber factory. This is certainly a more meaningful one for my boy! While there is both sweat and tears in his work, I hold his emotion dearest to my heart.

This blog is dedicated to Elkan’s best friend, Harshad who sees the rockstar in my boy since the first day they met. Harshad is also one of the reasons why we sent him to the acting school. And big thanks to his teacher for giving him this priceless experience! And big hugs to mummy for enduring 30 weeks and 12 hours of companionship.

Felicia and sisters’ surprise Easter Gift for Mum – A Trip to Penang

BLOG BY FELICIA (21st April 2014)

My first family trip was when my father won some lottery money and brought the whole family including my grandparents to Hong Kong! That was my first trip on the plane and I was 15 then.

This Easter, my sisters and I decided surprise our mom! We decided to go Penang!

Keeping the secret was easy task for us. Breaking the news was a tough one. Coz mom didn’t believe us and kept saying we were just pulling her leg! It took us a while to convince her before she decide to pack her luggage. Eventually she became excited and so much she couldn’t sleep the night before!

DAY 1: GOOD FRIDAY

First stop, 8:30am, Sunflower Garden at Changi Airport. This is just one of the many mini gardens within the compound of Changi Airport. The huge sunflowers kick start a very happy trip for us!

By 12 noon, we arrived at our hotel in George Town (named after King George III of England), capital of Penang!

It was free and easy for the first day. We spent the afternoon roaming the streets and eating along the way too. We all agreed the Chendol along Penang Road was the best! Only RM$2.30! There was a long queue under the hot sun for it. Best Dessert of the day!

There were always a small crowd around the wall paintings with tourist like us snapping fun shots. Other than Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings, there were other artists from Japan and local ones too. There were also some metal sculptures by the state of Penang to promote tourism. Ernest Zacharevic’s wall paintings have become so famous in George Town, even the Trishaw men offered routes to tourist to visit all the sites. But do beware of their charges. Usual rates of RM$40 per hour. They usually exceed the time and charge for more. So you got to watch your own timing! Or you could rent a bicycle at RM$10-20 for the whole day!

Dinner was great at the local food street along Chulia Street. Although the weather was still hot and humid in the evening, the fresh fruit juices were great so were the Fried Kuey Teow, Satay, Wanton noodle, Assam Laksa, Lok Lok and Fried Carrot Cake in a cone-shaped take away banana leaf!

DAY 2: SATURDAY

Our friendly local guide pick us up in the morning in a mini coach and brought us to the Penang Hill. One of the oldest colonial hill station established by the British during their time in Malaysia. A 8min tram ride up took us up the 823m hill. There’s lots of nature like botanical gardens and nature walk trails. An Owl Museum great for kids. Guided hikes were available too. We took a short 30min buggy ride touring around the hill top. The air was cooling and refreshing at about 21-3º.

Just a short drive from Penang Hill, our next stop is at Kek Lok Si Temple. Situated at the slope of a hill, a seven storey pagoda of the temple or the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, was built in 1930. Some 70 years later, another 30.2m bronze statue of the Kuan Yin was completed and opened to the public. It was located on the hillside above the pagoda. The huge interior structure of the pagoda has beautiful ceiling paintings and sculptures. However the Kuan Yin bronze statue didn’t offer a good view as there were too many pillars around it.

We wrote some wishes and hang them on the wishing branches in the Pagoda. You can pick from the many wishes that were printed on colorful ribbons. Some interesting ones like: “Listen to the words of my father/mother”, “World Peace”, “Beautiful and Good Looking”!

Time for food again! Penang is known for it’s rich Peranakan heritage, Nyonya Baba food is not to be missed! Our guide drove us to Nagore Square where this area is dedicated to arts & cultural, F&B and entertainment. Lots of shophouse eateries along the streets. The Nyonya food didn’t disappoint us. Even Elkan loves it! He had 2 servings of rice!

The next attraction was a 200-year old Kuan Yin Temple. A very small temple. While mom and aunt do their prayers in the temple, I found caged birds which were sold at RM$4 each for you to release them so that they regain their freedom. Poor birds. They are kidnapped, and released if ransom is paid! Whoever paid for their freedom is their savior. This equation does not work out for me.

We get to see treasures belonging to others in the museums. But in this particular one, The Pinang Peranakan Museum, we found a treasure of ours! This museum is a mansion built in the end of the 19th century. It has over a 1000 pieces of antiques and collectables. My mom and aunt love the museum’s very rare displays. The biggest excitement was when my youngest sister, Chups, spotted a signage that says: “利昌金铺“. This signage belongs to our grandfather in the hay days when he owned a goldsmith shop. It brought back fond memories of days when we were young and running around at my grandfather’s shop house along Beach Road in Singapore. Best find of the day!

After the museum, we went to Batu Feringgi. Famous for its long stretch of beach. However, it was too hot to stroll along the beach, so we headed to the Straits Quay Marina. It’s a shopping mall by the sea and a Marina Club as well with a capacity of 40 pontoon berths. You can take a water taxi for an island tour.

By evening, our guide drove us to Gurney drive, well know for Penang’s local street food. We were dining under an umbrella to shield us from the evening’s drizzle. The variety of food is good but the queues are crazy…. And the food is a little over rated. Not the best choice so far.

Elkan was eager to move on to our next destination in the evening. The firefly boat trip. It was an hour’s drive to the mainland of Penang. We took the old Penang Bridge built in 1985 (13.5km) and traveled south along the North South Expressway. The boat trip was pleasant under the moonlight. We were well prepared with creams and sprays from mozzies! Our boat cruised along the dark riverbank with mangrove trees which were the natural habitat of fireflies. Elkan was excited to spot them and pointed out to us in a few directions. The boatman bumped gently into one of the bushes which scare the hell out of Elkan when the fireflies started to fly towards us. The boatman then handed me a net and signalled me to catch some of the fireflies. Elkan was relieved when he saw how tiny the flies were. Not some mega big bugs!

The boat trip ends our long and tiring day. We traveled back by the second Penang Bridge (24km) which was opened just about a month ago!

DAY 3: SUNDAY

We had a slow and easy morning. Elkan got to go for a fun dip at the pool while the ladies took their time the breakfast. We headed to our last attraction for this trip which was the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or more commonly known as the “Blue Mansion”. The former home of tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze. It was rated one of the ten greatest mansions in the world by Lonely Planet in 2012. This house has a Feng Shui inspired architecture. Every corner and detail was carefully thought of.

After the mansion, the ladies preferred to stay indoors to enjoy the aircon. While Elkan wanted to try hop on to one of the colourful trishaws. So the ladies went to the nearby shopping mall while I took Elkan on our little adventure.

We went to search for the wall paintings which we missed on the first day. The trishaw man also took us to some interesting spots like the Camera Museum, Cat Cafe, Made In Penang Interactive Museum and the Clan Jetties. We stopped by the last stop, the Clan Jetties where we walked through houses on stilts to have a view of the jetty. Along the way every household sells some sort of souvenir or local food right in front of their door steps. My best find was the durian ice cream! Elkan hates the smell most. Haha… love the look on his face!

Too bad we didn’t have enough time to explore all of it. We had to head to the airport. This trip we had the best dessert, best found treasure and best of all, our family traveled together! Looking forward to the next one. Be prepared, mom 😛

This chick in mini is my Mum

They are right when they say a picture is worth a thousand words. It is one of those things that my parents never showed me until now. These aren’t just ordinary old photographs. These are the photographs of my grandparents and my parents in their early teens. It opens up a new chapter of my parents’ lives that I never knew.

These vintage photographs are well-kept and most of them are in great condition. For the first time ever, I got to see my dad’s old kampong house and his childhood days. Page after page, these old tinted photographs are layout in chronological order and it replays their lives like a comic strip. I saw my late grandfather in his smart suit and the old vintage car they owned. I saw my dad in his primary school days (coincidently, I also studied in the same school compound!) I saw the factory where my dad worked and the Volvo he drove to date my mum. Both my mum and dad had many lovely dating shots. In those days, there weren’t many romantic scenic places in Singapore. Most of their moments were shot by the water fountains or in the parks.

Believe it or not, “selfie” was pretty popular amongst the youth back in those days. Except they have to get their “selfies” shot in the photo studios. Both my dad and mum have a decent collection of their own studio-made “selfies”. Mum confessed she used to spend her pocket money on studio shots every month. It does sound very familiar to what we do today. Generally, people like to take their most beautiful expression!

It took me less than 60 minutes to finish this photographic strip and that’s 60 years worth of precious memories! I also saw other photographs of my late uncles in their younger days. It was a day filled with so much emotions and wonders. I wondered how their lives were back in those days. I saw my parents in their teens, 20s and 30s, their attires and poses. Dad was very handsome and mum was sweet and demure. I saw the strong characters of my grandfather through his eyes. He must be a strict and tough old man.

I borrowed their photo albums and went to buy a photo scanner last night to capture some of the best images of my family history. It’s worth every effort and money to preserve them.

While looking through these photographs at my parents’ flat yesterday afternoon, I took a peek at my lovely parents. They have aged so much. Time has weathered so much from them. Photographs like these make me cherish my time and remind me to treasure every single moment with my loved ones. It is good to see my parents in their youth and it is even better to see them happy today, like they used to be in their younger days!

CNY Reunion in Desaru

2014 CNY is a special one. It has been half a decade since the 2 families got together in full during CNY. For one rare occasion, we had the presence of Uncle Asty and Cousin Chester this year. In total, there were 16 of us this year! The last time when we had a full assembly was in 2009. That year, Leon and I flew back from abroad to join our families in Muar, Malaysia. Since the passing of our late grandmother in 2012, CNY has been a lot quieter.

Last CNY, we stayed at Resort World Sentosa. It was chaotic and very crowded. This year, we thought of traveling outside Singapore, to a quieter destination where the 2 families can relax and spend more quality time together. The planning started 4 months ago over WeChat and the group picked Desaru as this year’s CNY celebration venue.

On the first day of CNY, we set off to Changi Ferry Terminal where we took a 45-minute ferry to Tanjung Belungkor Ferry Terminal in Malaysia. Entering Malaysia via the causeways during CNY can be quite an awful traveling experience. Thankfully, there wasn’t any long queue at the ferry terminal. It took us less than 20 minutes to clear the custom. From there, we took a 45-minute bus to the Desaru Lotus Beach Resort.

Desaru Lotus Beach Resort was fully packed with holidaymakers! Its car-parks were filled with Singapore-registered vehicles. Despite the overwhelming crowd, the hotel staffs were efficient to clear the queues. We didn’t need to wait very long before we got the keys to the apartment rooms.

The resort was big, housing over 700 apartments but most of its facilities were very old and poorly maintained. The water at the small water theme park was greenish brown. The swimming pool was small. Overall, this place felt more like a big condominium than a private beach resort. Buffet breakfast and dinner were appalling and pathetic! For RM$60/pax, the food actually tasted horrible. The only food that was acceptable was the roti prata. The dining hall and the food reminded me of the awful canteen food I had during my army days.

I will not recommend this resort to anyone. For almost the same amount of money, I rather spend my holiday at Bintan Lagoon Resort.

Despite the poor review of the resort’s facilities and food quality, we had a great reunion at Desaru. Afterall, it is the company that matters. For one rare moment, I can fully enjoy the slow siestas and not worried about the itinerary or travel logistics. The kids ran freely on the field, blowing bubbles, kicking ball and chasing one another. Thanks to my wife, sister and cousin Chester, they got every thing well arranged and covered perfectly for the families.

The next day, we went to visit the Desaru Tropical Fruit Farm. The kids didn’t find it very interesting. It was more for the old folks like my parents and myself. It was quite a good educational tour and we got to see many fruit-bearing trees and plants. A couple of new facts I learnt there: Coffee beans and longans grow on trees, bananas grow between the petals of its flower and plants are classified as unisexual and bisexual.

In the evening, we had dinner at an unusual venue – on a Kelong (an offshore fishing platform built in wood)! We took a 10-min boat ride across the swampy river to the Kelong. The Kelong is big and it offers air-conditioned accommodation (with attached bathroom) for only S$50/night. It also offers activities like fishing, kayaking and jet skiing. The seafood dinner is fantastic! The dishes came in big portions and were very tasty!

A big thanks to my wife, sister and Cousin Chester, we had one of the best CNY reunions ever! Let’s do it again next time and many more years to come!

The adventure continues… (New Videos & Photos)

Our adventure didn’t ended the moment we came back to Hong Kong. In fact, it continued with quite a fair bit of drama.

First, we discovered we had left a luggage in London! Incredible, none of us realized that until we were back at home – 22 hours later! At first, I thought it was an unimportant bag with all the dirty laundry. I told Felicia that we can afford to lose that. It was only after a night of unpacking when I realized all my expensive gears were in that missing luggage! Amazingly, it was a big luggage and all of us simply missed that! It took us a long night to trace back its whereabouts. In the end, we had to trouble a colleague to hand-carry it back to Hong Kong for us. At this very moment, it should be in the air, on its way back to Hong Kong. Lesson learnt: Travel with lesser luggage bags in the future!

Second, Felicia and Elkan received a big and unforgettable surprise New Year Gift at Changi Airport. Well, they spent their New Year Countdown in the airport’s police station. Apparently, Elkan’s plastic toy gun resembled one of the banned firearms and Felicia was prosecuted for bringing in the restricted item. Elkan was so terrified by the experience that he broke down in the station. Not bad for my boy who received his 2nd police warning letter before he turns 10! That must be the first police report of 2014! They weren’t the only ones who spent this very unique countdown at the airport. My mum, auntie Amy, Lionnel and Joey shared their unpleasant New Year day’s experience outside the arrival-waiting hall. I apologised for this dramatic night.

Let’s hope these 2 are the final closures to our little European adventure. What an amazing and dramatic trip we had – from the 1st minute to last! Enjoy our final travel photos and videos here!

 

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