CNY Reunion in Phuket – Hangover & Burnt

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Since young, it has been our family’s tradition to spend the eve and the first few days of Chinese New Year outside Singapore. Back then, we had all our annual reunions in Muar, a small Malaysian town just south of Malacca. Since the passing our granny in June 2012, we stopped traveling back to Muar. We continue to have our annual reunion at many different locations outside Singapore.

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(See: Sentosa 2013, Desaru 2014, Kukup 2015, Bintan 2016, Batam 2017, Batam 2018)

Last year was exceptional. Despite having it planned out months before CNY, we didn’t have any overseas reunion in 2018 due to many unforeseeable reasons. My dad was recovering from his eye operation and the Cheng family couldn’t join us because they were hosting relatives from the United States. In the end, I had the smallest and quietest CNY reunion in a big pool villa in Batam with my mum, wife, and kid.

 

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This year was exceptional too, for the first time ever, all the families flew to meet in Phuket. We parked ourselves at the most happening street in Phuket, in the heart of Patong Beach City, right beside the popular chaotic Bangla Street where it took us only a 3-min walk to the beach. With hundreds of shops, restaurants, massage parlors, and bars around us, it was certainly a big contrast from our usual CNY destinations (private family villa or quiet resort). The streets and beach were so congested with tourists from all around the world. This is our most crowded and noisest CNY reunion destination ever!

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Phuket was the perfect CNY holiday destination for everyone. The older folks indulged themselves at the nearby massage parlors/shopping mall while the sporty brothers showed off their abs at the indoor wake park/pool bar.

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Felicia, Elkan and I preferred the tranquility of Phuket’s more pristine attractions. We left buzzing Patong and traveled 4 hours to a group of islands northwest in the Andaman Sea.

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Similan Islands are well known for its clear water, fine sand and ocean life. Unfortunately, for a Singaporean, the name “Similan” (meaning “nine” in Jawi) bears the exact pronunciation as another common Hokkien expression “what-the-f**k”. I couldn’t resist myself from laughing every time the tour guide mentioned the name. This was apparent when the tour guide announced loudly in his voice when our speedboat anchored at the island “Hello, everyone, welcome to Similan! Enjoy yourself!”

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Similan Islands are indeed worth the visit. At first glance, its clear turquoise water and soft white sand are comparable to the Maldives. However, the state of tranquility vanished as hordes of tourists arrived onto its shore. We were lucky to be one of the earliest visitors of the day. By noon, the entire island was occupied by thousands of people.

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The sea life beneath was in very bad shape. Most corals have died out. It wasn’t as colorful, diverse and lively as the Maldives. Today, out of the 11 islands at Similan, only 3 are opened for the public. Many islands are closed off for turtle hatching protection program and reef conservation efforts.

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On the eve of Chinese New Year, Felicia, Elkan and I traveled eastward towards the Straits of Malacca to visit another popular, iconic tourist destination – Phang Nga Bay. We went island-hopping from the colossal Khao Phing Kan (aka James Bond Island) to enigmatic Koh Hong. 

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There, we hopped onto a kayak and explored many beautiful sea caves where we spotted a “heart-shaped skylight” above the center of an inner cave lagoon, outlined naturally by the canopy of the forest. There wasn’t any fixed exploration route at Koh Hong, our kayak rower was extremely nice to us and brought us to many limestone islets where we saw many stunning limestone rock formations up close. We ended our day touring the floating fishing village of Koh Panyee.

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While we were exploring the sea caves at Phang Nga Bay, the rest of the families were exploring a different world at the Upside Down House. It was hilarious to see my old folks doing the impossible poses.

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Later in the evening, we rejoined the rest of the families at Patong where we had a super sumptuous CNY Reunion Dinner at a “Pig-themed Restaurant”. And yes, pork ribs were the restaurant’s signature dish! Because we were in Thailand, this was our first CNY reunion dinner without any “lo hei” ritual. Thanks to Chester’s generous treat, we had so much food leftover!

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We spent our last hours in Phuket back in the hotel room, drinking and playing cards with the old folks. I couldn’t drink as much as before. Sigh, it must be a sign of old age.

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The next day, all of us flew out of Phuket. Strange but it is true, we were on 4 different flights (3 separate flights to Singapore and me alone back to Hong Kong). The families continued to celebrate their CNY gatherings back in Singapore, yes, with more festive dining, drinking, and playing cards.

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Me? That marks the end of my 7-week holiday travel. Now, back to my little nest and spending the second day of CNY with my Indian brother. Enjoying the peace in the city while preparing for my next trip. What a great year ahead!

Sleepless in The Caffeine City, Seattle

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Long before the mass popularity of Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon Go, Nora Ephron romanced the world with her classic hit “Sleepless in Seattle”. The perfect on-screen’s love chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan combined with the soulful duet of Celine Dion and Clive Griffin weaved an everlasting love story in the hearts of millions. It was through this 1993 movie that I formed my first and lasting impression of Seattle.

26 years later, I am finally here. And it was the lure of Amazon Go that brought me to Seattle. Chowpo was extremely excited to show me around, after all, she grew up in Seattle.

 

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I was very lucky to be blessed with great sunny weather during my visit as Seattle is one of the wettest cities in the world (and heavy downfall is generally expected between January and May). We visited Seattle’s most popular Instagram sites, the Snoqualmie Falls Park, the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Art and Kerry Park.

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There is something unique and charming about Seattle. Perhaps its buildings and its people. Or maybe it is the weather and its spacious lush terrains. It is like falling in love with an old typewriter or a vintage car, I just can’t describe the feelings in words. I had a very good cozy feeling about this city of old-&-new and it intrigued me to stay longer. Good gracious, what kind of “charms” they put in the Starbucks drinks here? I am started to get addicted to this small city.

We visited the first Starbucks shop at Pike Place Market where I bought many souvenirs for my friends back home. It was a small shop filled with busloads of tourists.

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Chowpo then brought me to an unusual tourist attraction at the lower alley of Pike Place Market. It was the infamous grossest Gum Wall. At first, I thought it was fun but the pungent smell of gums and sight grossed me out. And being a brainwashed and law-bidding Singaporean, spitting chewing gum and vandalizing public properties are offenses that carry heavy, painful penalties, I didn’t even think of leaving my mark here. (I left that place with one big question – why aren’t there any ants on the wall??)

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Thanks to the connectivity of social media, I met up with my childhood penpal, Venina & family (our second meeting in 30 years!) and cousin Bin in Seattle! What a small world!

When I told Chowpo and my cousin Bin that I am meeting my penpal in Seattle, both of them asked me the same question separately, “You mean meeting a friend from Paypal?” I had to repeat it was a penpal. And their next question was “What’s a penpal?” (Yes, you can imagine my long unhappy face. Can’t blame them, I bet my son didn’t know this term too! Sigh….)

Venina was my first penpal. (I only had 2, one from Indonesia and another from Tripoli, Lebanon whom I lost contact) Venina and I connected when I was only 10-11. We first and last met in Singapore when I was 14 years old. We lost touch when she moved overseas and we managed to reconnect back on MSN and later Facebook. Till date, I still keep all the letters she sent. This is our second meeting in 30 years! And she is happily married to a wonderful doctor with 2 lovely boys! We met at Starbucks Reserve Roastery at Pike Street. Never expect to meet my penpal in Seattle! It was one of the best things that happened to me here! (Thanks for reaching out on Facebook and it was great meeting all of you, my old pal!)

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Our next stop – meeting Cousin Bin at Seattle’s must-visit iconic site. Housing over 40,000 plants, the iconic Amazon Spheres are impressive with its pentagonal hexecontahedron panels. The spherical domes are more than just a gigantic greenhouse, it houses Amazon staffs and a discovery center, Understory, literally at its first story.

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Cousin Bin and I went next door to visit the world’s first Amazon Go shop where we attempted “deliberate shoplifting”, in the hope of breaking its unmanned system. We sneaked products discreetly into our pockets and left the shop. For 2 days, I tried numerous methods and failed. No matter how carefully I concealed the products from the ceiling-mount cameras, Amazon Go knew what I took. There is no way to trick and confuse the 2-year old system.

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A day before we flew back to Hong Kong, Chowpo insisted that I should visit Vancouver as it was only a short 3-hour drive away. Our journey was affected by heavy fog that blanketed the entire highway. Driving through the thick fog and icy road at night was something new for us. It was a scary experience for me because the visibility was less than 20m away. Chowpo is an experienced, calm, confident driver, despite my worries and fear, she got us to and fro slow and safely.

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I had planned another surprise meeting in Vancouver. Earlier that morning, our ex-colleague, Raymond messaged me for a meetup. We planned to surprise Chowpo at her favorite Hong Kong cafe but it was closed. Finally, Raymond turned up and gave Chowpo a fright at the food court. What a pleasant surprise!

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It was great to see Raymond after so many years! 5 years to be exact! He gave us a short tour around town. Due to the heavy fog, we didn’t spend too much time in Vancouver City. I was trying to get back to Seattle before nightfall. We had a 2-hour tiring hike at Capilano Lake and headed back to Seattle. We were so exhausted and hungry by the time we crossed into the USA. We took a short dinner break at a Starbucks cafe by the USA border.

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On our last day in Seattle, Chowpo brought me to another unusual tourist attraction. It was an underground city tour of old Seattle town which was burnt down a century ago. We spent an hour walking through old underground tunnels, immersed in historic and haunting stories about Seattle’s founding pioneers.

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On our way to the airport, we made one last stop at the most instagrammable site of Seattle, the Gasworks Park. We had another beautiful view of Seattle city from the other side of the lake. The sun was setting and it was time to go.

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Looking forward to coming back soon. Hopefully, with my family, old folks and kid to experience Seattle hospitality and charm.

Valleys of Wonders (Part II – Death Valley)

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Las Vegas McCarran International Airport never fails to delight me with its unique fanfare of bright and chirpy whimsical slot machines. The sounds of play companied by vibrant visuals of promised payouts create a celebratory atmosphere of winning. Lining right outside the connecting airbridge, these visually stimulating slot machines are the first and last things travelers see when they visit Las Vegas. Never underestimate these harmless-looking game machines, they are built with deep psychology insights to lure and keep you coming back.

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I love CES! More than just an expo of the latest tech offering, it is a big trove of everything! I get to touch and experience some of the latest and most interesting gadgets. Best of all, I get to ask all the questions I need to know about the magic behind the tech. The effort to put together such a great show requires infinite resources and millions of hours of creativity, research and development, production and planning. It is worth every cent, effort and time just to be here.

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This year, we were much more mentally and physically prepared. We knew where to go to look for the kinds of stuff we needed. We actually walked lesser and covered more grounds. We paced ourselves pretty well.

2019 is going to be another exciting year with many AI-aided innovations. From smart watches to autonomous electric-vehicles, every smart gear that you have will only be smarter as AI is taking over most of the control. The presence of powerful optic, audio, and atmospheric sensors enable AI-engines to be faster and even more precise. You don’t even need to give any vocal command to Google or Alexa, predictive patterns and AI-analytic models are going to remember your movement, preference and anticipate what you need. When technology is being put to good, sustainable purposeful applications, it fulfills mankind with A Better Life, A Better World (echoing the core aspiration and value of CES).

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What’s delightful to know was despite the advancement of better tech-offering, many suppliers are keen to keep retail prices at an affordable range. A 3D-printing-cum-laser machine used to cost around USD2,000 is now priced at USD800. It is something Apple must learn to avert its falling sales.

This trip, I didn’t visit any casino (other than the exhibition halls at Venetian Sands) or any naughty joints. Some cheeky friends texted me to visit Playboy’s Mansion. Guess they didn’t know that the infamous joint closed down for many years.

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Instead, I went to have a drink at a pretty well-known bar, Tipsy Robot Bar. It is the world’s most famous unmanned theatric robotic bar that is capable to mix a cocktail in less than 90 seconds. Ordering is easy via a tablet, just pick and pay with a credit card. The robotic hand picks up a cup and start to draw different blends of mixers from the ceiling. It then shakes the concoction in true robotic style before pouring the mixture into the cup. Just before the cocktail is being served, the robotic arm gives a final touch with decorative garnishes. I paid USD15 for the drink. It was fresh and rich in taste! And yes, no tips required.

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Just before we fly out of Las Vegas, I wanted to make a quick visit to another world’s famous valley, the Death Valley. Not sure what kind of terrain we will be encountering, we rented a 4-wheel-drive Jeep. The Death Valley was a 3-hour drive away from Las Vegas City. The entire journey will take us about 8 hours to and fro the valley.

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We were blessed with terrific weather. It was clear sunny blue sky! Due to the recent US government shutdown, we drove to our first destination with uncertainty. True enough, we were unable to proceed to our first destination as the road was closed due to the federal shutdown. Thankfully, we were able to visit the other attractions as there were friendly park rangers working without pay.

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Death Valley is full of wonders. It is certainly not a dead place but a big gallery of timeless canvases of colors, textures, and formations. Crafted by the forces of nature and time, each canvas is sculptured vibrantly with unique depth and style. Here, we don’t just see the art, we literally live and breathe in the art. Walking through the gigantic terrains and deepest point (85m below sea-level) of USA, we get to see its artistic form in various different dimension, lighting, and perspective. Feeling so small in its majestic presence, it is a humbling and awakening experience for both of us.

It is, after all, a mystically deadly and beautiful place.

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Valleys of Wonders (Part I – Silicon Valley)

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After last year’s bad traveling arrangement, we needed more time to adjust the uncomfortable jetlags, this year, we began our annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of Gizmos (CES 2019) 3 days before the opening of the event. And it was the wisest decision ever!

This year, we also decided not to transit at the City of Angels. Instead, we made a short 3-day stopover at the City by the Bay, San Francisco to visit one of the world’s most famous valleys – the Silicon Valley. It is the birthplace of many new start-ups and home to 3 global technology giants – Apple, Facebook, and Google.

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While Chowpo enjoyed her business class status, I was extremely “lucky” to have an upgraded “SSSS” status on my boarding pass. Trust me, it is a special privilege you won’t want when flying to the USA. It stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. According to a UK news website, it says travelers who are given the SSSS code are on an FBI counter-terrorism watchlist and there are others who are assigned this code at random. For some strange reasons, TSA viewed me as a high-risk traveler. (Nope, I didn’t fly or crash any drone in the USA last year!) Due to this, I couldn’t check in my luggage at the downtown airport express. Prior to boarding the plane, I had to go through another “special body massage” and had my bag scanned and checked.

Other than this special treatment at the airport, I had the best long-haul red-eye flight ever. It was so smooth and gentle compared with last year’s violent rocky ride to Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the dreadful rain spell followed me from Taiwan to San Francisco. Luckily, we arrived one day before the big storm which resulted in the cancellation of over 300 flights. I slept through the storm and adjusted my sleep cycle.

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San Francisco’s steep slopes are scary and challenging even for an experienced driver like Chowpo. It was so rare and unreal to see fearless Chowpo driving in anxiety. I can’t blame her. Some of these roads are visually impossible to drive. Some of the steepest roads are at only 17.5°. Now, that’s insane!  Imagine doing parallel parking on such crazy steepness (under heavy rain and strong wind), our logic and senses simply couldn’t compute.

We had our worst nightmare while crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge at the peak of the storm, confronting the unexpected gales. I panicked when Chowpo told me that she was unable to control the vehicle straight. We literally crawled through the ferocious gales. Our cheap light Japanese car was just too weak to handle such weather condition. Thankfully, I had a very skillful and fearless driver.

We didn’t do much in San Francisco. Despite the driving nightmares, I asked Chowpo to drive me down the world’s crookedest road at Lombard Street. We visited the San Francisco Cable-Car Museum, Chinatown and dined along the Fisherman’s Wharf. We actually wanted to pay a visit to one of the world’s most famous cages, Alcatraz but it was closed over the weekend.

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Finally, on our last day, the sun was out and we made our way to the Golden Gate and a speedy tour around Silicon Valley. On our way to the new Apple Park and Google Campus, we paid our homage to the late Steve Jobs at his old garage.

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Most of these tech campuses looked old and lifeless on the outside. The endless rows of short flatted factories reminded me of Singapore’s old industry parks in the 90s. The new Apple Park Visitor Center was pretty disappointing. Over 70% of the visitor center was the usual Apple Retail Store. There were many expensive exclusive items for Apple Fans (like T-shirts, mugs, and pens) but many of those limited editions were produced in China. We couldn’t enter the UFO-shaped complex. Visitors were given an iPad to view the building through an interactive AR app. Yawn… What’s the point of traveling all the way there just to play with an iPad?

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Google Campus was slightly more colorful and fun. The Android Statues Park is home to many giant Android-sugary-characters. Made of soft foam, it is a harmless joyous sugary playground for all adults and kids, even for the diabetics! There is a Google Store next to the park where we bought a few Google Exclusive toys and t-shirts (all made in China too!). I got a Google Home Hub which cost 50% cheaper than the ones in Hong Kong. What a sweet deal!

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We left Silicon Valley and made our way to the airport. Next stop – Sin City, Las Vegas!

 

A Belated Happy New Year Blog

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Usually, I try to finish my vlog editing and blog writing within 48 hours after I shot all the content. This takes a lot of effort and it drains out a lot of energy into the late night. Editing and uploading a travel blog takes me around 3-5 hours now. I realize I am unable to travel and edit my content on a daily basis now. I must be getting old and rusty.

I am writing this belated new year blog in the wee hours (as I am still coping and adjusting from my recent jetlag). I just came back from my long 17-day travel. There are tons of photos and videos waiting for me to sort out. I love sharing my blogs and vlogs with my loved ones back home. I just need to finish all the travel blogs before my next trip.

 

This new year, Tracy and I made a short 4D3N trip to Taiwan. I chose the destination because I volunteered to deliver 3 large boxes of hardware to my friend in Taiwan. We flew out at the same time as Felicia and Elkan (who were flying back to Singapore) on new year eve.

Despite being a frequent traveler to Taipei (at least 2-3 times a year), I realize that there are still so many places around Taipei I have never been. Thanks to Mr. Chen, Sean, and lovely family, I had a great rewarding trip. From local art districts to geothermal sites, every moment is a brand new refreshing experience.

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This was also a good short casual trip for me to test out my new tiny travel gears – The new DJI OSMO Pocket and Huawei Mate20pro. The verdict? Amazing compact travel gears for bloggers and vloggers! The DJI Osmo Pocket is super user-friendly and it captures footage in 4K quality! Huawei Mate20pro is awesome too. Its HDR photos are stunning! With this trials, I convinced myself I do not need to carry heavy bulky gears for my upcoming US trip.

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Sean and family picked us up at the airport and he drove south to avoid the rainy weather up north. Sean brought us to an unusual tourist attraction, Longteng Broken Bridge (龍騰斷橋) at Mouli County (苗栗縣). This unusual attraction is actually an earthquake ruin caused by 2 major earthquakes – the 1935 Shinchiku-Taichū earthquake and the 1999 “921” earthquake. Since then, this unique ruin has been listed as a national monument by Taiwan’s Cultural Heritage Assets.

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Just 15-minute drive away, Sean brought us to an old locomotive village, Sheng Xing Train Station (三義勝興車站) where we saw many adorable “self-paddled” electric train coaches. These mini train coaches offer a colorful rejuvenation to the long-abandoned railway track. This place reminded me of Shifen Old Street (十分老街). There are many local shops selling local crafts and food.

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By nightfall, Sean drove us back to Taipei where we joined hundreds of thousands of people congregating at Taiwan’s most prolific new year countdown site, the Taipei 101. It was a traffic nightmare and many roads were closed. Thanks to the uncanny skillset of Sean, he managed to avoid many roadblocks miraculously. It was pouring cats and dogs and we were worried about finding a parking lot. Another miracle happened when our car came to standstill just right below Taipei 101 just 5 minutes before the final countdown! What an amazing precision! We were in the right place at the right time!

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Despite the cold rain and foggy weather, we had an enjoyable and memorable countdown. This was my first ever countdown at Taipei city. Getting out of the traffic was a nightmare. It took us more than an hour to leave Taipei 101. We were extremely lucky when we got back to our hotel before 230am. I remembered when we were in Kaohsiung 9 years ago, we were stuck in traffic for more than 4 hours!

We stayed one night in Taipei and 2 nights in Beitou (北投溫泉), a small hot spring town location right beside Yangmingshan (阳明山) National Park. Pardon my ignorance, I have never been to these 2 places despite their close proximity to Taipei City! I complained to Mr. Chen and Tracy about their “inhospitality” for not bringing me to these sites earlier. I felt like a frog in a well. I always have this false impression that all the geothermal attractions are located far far away from Taipei city. Goodness, where have I been for the past few years? This is such an unforgiven mistake.

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There are so many hot spring resorts in Beitou. Sadly, I am never a fan for hot spring as my body is not able to take the slightest warm water. It was still a delightful trip for me to visit the geothermal sites (hot spring lake and sulfur lake). The sites are not as big and impressive as the ones that I saw in New Zealand but it is located just minutes away from the city center.

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This is a surprisingly rewarding trip for me as I didn’t expect to see so many new things in Taipei. Taiwan is indeed a “treasure island” full of many hidden gems. What a great new year with so many new discoveries. We are blessed to have good friends like Sean and Chen who sacrificed their family & working days to show us around. Thank you once again! May our countdown to 2020 filled with happy discoveries and rewarding journeys!

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Didi said the darndest and funniest thing!

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Like all the trips before this. It was impromptu, unplanned and last minute. It all started during a family reunion dinner in Singapore when Didi spoke to me about his passion for programming. Somehow that dialogue continued after I left for Hong Kong. After a few exchanges of messages with my sister (and with the blessing of my tech partner in Ho Chi Minh), the entire family (including my parents) flew to Ho Chi Minh!

Thanks to Didi, a small chat triggered an overseas family trip. For a long time (except for CNY), we haven’t been traveling as a complete group. The last time when all of us had a holiday like this was back in 2008 when my sister family and parents visited me in Hong Kong. Wow, that was 10 years ago!

As it was such a last-minute trip, tickets were extraordinarily expensive. To avoid paying a ridiculous extra HKD2500/pax for the tickets, it was more worthwhile for us (from Hong Kong) to fly in 48 hours before the arrival of my sister family and my parents. We had 2 extra days and saved over HKD4,000!

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This is our 2nd family trip to Saigon this year. We were here with my mother and aunties in June. Felicia and I spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh City fully in the hotel working. We were trying to clear some work before the arrival of the others. We had booked a big service apartment right above the most popular city mall, Takashimaya in District One. Food and shopping was just a stone’s throw away. We hardly left the hotel at all!

On the 3rd day, I went to pick up my sister family and parents at the airport. This is Jovel’s family first trip to Vietnam and they experienced several unpleasant events at the immigration. As expected, Vietnam’s stuffy hot weather and the congested messy traffic didn’t give them a good impression. It was a good thing we stayed at the Sedona Suite at Saigon Center. It provided good comfort for them to slowly get used to the city’s harmonious rhythm. There is an unwritten logic within this chaos. It takes one sometimes to feel it.

Right after we checked in the folks at the service apartment, my partner sent 2 cars to pick up the children and adults to the tech lab. For the next 3 days, we are going to park our children there to pick up some basic coding fundamentals. Hopefully, through their limited time at the lab, they learn something useful.

It started well with the robots. My partner taught the kids how to program simple body movements and dance moves. In less than 1 hour, the kids mastered the logic and got bored. Before I knew it, they were throwing balls in the meeting room. My poor tech partner didn’t know what to do with them. And that was just the first day.

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While the kids were at the lab, the adults explored the city. I brought my sister, my brother-in-law, and dad to the usual “must-visit-touristy” sites. Their favorite place – local SUPERMARKET! At VivoCity, my dad bought a carton of local beers! Yes, one big carton of 24 cans beer! When I questioned the feasibility of bringing so many cans of beer back to Singapore, my sister exclaimed: “We plan to finish all of these here! Come drink with us brother!” With that, that terminated all my excuses to sneak out at night. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from bringing them (both adults and kids) to the notorious sleazy Little Tokyo. Nope, the men didn’t get any chance to experience “special massage” but we had the best Japanese ramen there. Even Didi verified that.

It was our session at Little Tokyo when Didi said the darndest and funniest stuff. When my brother-in-law and I were walking in the alley, a couple of beautiful skimpy-dressed massage girls approached us. Didi (who is 10 years old) became very protective and tried to shield us from the girls.


Puzzled by his act, I asked Didi “why you did that?”
He replied, “Because my dad is taken, I cannot allow any woman to touch him if not, I will push the girls away”. I then asked him what if these girls approach his grandfather (my 70-year-old dad), he instantly said: “Okay, no problem!” I asked why the double-standard, he explained “Old people must enjoy themselves before they…….” and he gave me a finger gesture that depicts “death”.

We laughed at his reply. And then, I asked “what about grandmother (my 70-year-old mum)? If a group of young handsome men approached her, is that okay?. Instantly he gave me a comical puzzled expression. That was as good as shouting “stupidly impossible” to my face.

“No lah, why would handsome young men want old auntie?” and that was Didi’s most direct nonchalant reply. Including my mum, all of us burst into waves of laughter! Too bad my sister wasn’t there to witness her very talented boy!

Vietnam has a strange charm over her visitors. In less than 48 hours, both adults and kids forgot about the chaotic traffic and indulged themselves in shopping. Staying in the heart of the city, we were just 5-minute walk to any major shopping markets (Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Day/Night Markets) and local coffee shops. On their last day, I booked them a half-day trip to Cu Chi Tunnel. I don’t think the adults enjoyed the tour as much as I did. My dad has a phobia of dark tunnels as he has a fear for worms and snakes. And Mum cannot walk too much due to her weak kneecaps.

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It was also a good time for me to return to Vietnam. Besides work and attending a few meetings with my partners, I got to replenish my favorite ceramic mugs. I just broke one a couple of days before the trip.  (I love those handmade ceramic mugs made by Amai Saigon. Feels very organic and uneven, earthly but polished. Check it out here.)

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My family reunion in Vietnam ended so fast. It was a very rewarding trip with friends (Kelvin) and family. I got to work (with Tai and Tu) and meet new clients while traveling with my family. This trip, I got to spend more quality time with my brother-in-law (James) and Didi. Indeed, we had such a great time together!

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Sorry, it took a little longer to finish this blog and vlog. The entire blog and vlog were shot using Huawei Mate20pro phone (NOTE: this is not a paid blog for Huawei). I think I made a mistake by not selecting 4K in the setting. Some of the videos were quite blurred and bad. Most of the photos are acceptable. Guess convenience does come with a price. Overall, the phone replaces all my heavy gears. I must say it is quite good for a casual vlog. Enjoy!

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

Day 112

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?

Day 15

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!

Day 229

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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