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).

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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