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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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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