Who brings a shopping trolley to Mekong River? They did.

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Right after my 600km-road trip with Dad and friends, Felicia, Elkan and I flew to Saigon to meet my mum and Auntie Amy for another annual birthday reunion. Our trip to Vietnam was a very last minute impromptu decision that I made while I was on the road with my dad in Taiwan. Dad was having such a great time with me in Taiwan and I thought I should plan something special for my mum too. Thanks to my cousin Chester, we managed to book and settled everything within 24 hours.

I always wanted to bring my mum and Auntie Amy to Vietnam since my last family vacation in Saigon with Felicia and Elkan in 2013. (Mum and Auntie Amy have never been to Vietnam.) Knowing their travel preference, I am sure they will enjoy shopping in Ho Chi Minh City. My only worry was the “rain spell” of Auntie Amy (aka Rain Goddess) who was infamously responsible for all our past stormy trips. I was telling my dad and friends in Taiwan how Auntie Amy miraculously brought typhoon to Hong Kong when she visited me in May 2 years ago.


(Not a sponsored blog – The entire vlog was shot with Huawei P20 Pro)

True enough. On the day when I flew out to Ho Chi Minh City, typhoon III hit Hong Kong. When our flight was delayed for over 2 hours, we were so calm about it. We have been mentally trained by Auntie Amy to expect the worst-weather scenario.

Felicia, Elkan and I arrived at the hotel late in the night. My mum and Auntie Amy popped by our room with a sweet surprise – a specially-baked birthday cake plus a surprise guest! It was Auntie Zhu! For some strange reasons, they held on to the cake and waited for Felicia to appear before they made their presence known. Mmmm, I thought I was the birthday boy, wasn’t I?

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Many friends asked me why my mum and dad didn’t travel together with me. The reason is simply that my mum and dad have different travel preference. Dad is more active and loves roaming the streets while mum likes shopping and taking it slowly. Moreover, by traveling with them separately, it gives me more 1-2-1 interaction time with each of them. And with Elkan around, I am no longer in their center of attraction. They now harassed my boy instead of me.

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Never underestimate the power of 3 shopaholics. For 4 days, they shopped fearlessly and tirelessly. They bought so many things on the first day that they bought a new luggage bag to house all the items. The grannies weren’t even affected by the rude, infamous Saigon’s “Don’t-Buy-Don’t-Ask” attitude displayed by some of its most unfriendly shop staffs. The witty trio simply counter-attacked with their “No-Happy, No-Buy” response. Their tactics won them great discounts against the savvy, greedy sellers.

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Their shopping addiction was so extreme that they decided to bring an empty shopping luggage to our Mekong tour. My god, I cannot imagine how they are going to drag the luggage along the muddy rocky unpaved paths and onto the sampan boat. It was such a hilarious moment when I saw them with the luggage just before we boarded the tour bus. When I banned them from bringing the luggage, Auntie Amy and mum displayed the most unbelievable protest. Good thing that I captured their expressions on video!

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Rain Goddess was unexceptionally nice this time. There were a couple of rain showers but nothing upsetting. In fact, the short rain showers cooled down the heat. It was really comfortable and breezy.

Our visit to Mekong Delta was nothing new for the grannies. To them, it was like a visit to their past. The old swampy village reminded them of their childhood in Malaysia. We visited an old brick factory, a small straw-weaving mat hut, and a makeshift coconut workshop where we bought some locally-produced souvenirs. We rode on an open-top modified tuk-tuk along a long narrow winding road through the rustic village where it led us to the sampan boats. For once it was good to see the grannies relaxing on the boat. Simply, there was nothing here to shop, hunt or bargain.

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On the last day, I decided to pamper the ladies and brought them to Ann Dong Markets – the unofficial distribution markets where prices were much lower than the shops in District 1. I confessed to them that I should have brought them here on the first day instead of the last day. They were really mad because I could have saved them from all the unnecessary hustles and dreadful bargainings. When they found out the asking price at Ann Dong Markets was so much lower than what they paid before, I ran into hiding. That’s how I pranked the grannies, it was priceless. Afterall, what’s the fun of shopping when there isn’t any hard bargaining or hustling, right?

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Beyond shopping, we also visited all the usual “touristy iconic attractions”, took a 360-wefie at the Saigon Sky Deck and even watched a movie, “Jurassic World” at Bitexco Financial Tower. Later in the evening, the grannies pampered themselves with relaxing hair-wash and body massage right beside the hotel. What a pleasant holiday trip with the grannies.

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Just before we flew off to Hong Kong, I gave them more shopping tips at the airport. I wasn’t worried about leaving them alone in the city. Based on how they crossed the chaotic roads, they were pretty tough and solid. Good to see you all here in Ho Chi Minh City. Thanks for the birthday cake surprise! Till we meet again in CNY! Or sooner!

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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.

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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.

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。

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pilgrimage to the Mecca of Gizmos – CES 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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