Ethan’s Second Birthday

2016
07.25

I am finding that every post I write now includes pointing out just how fast time flies! Ethan is already 2, and I swear it felt like yesterday that he landed on our lap and invaded our lives. All good… his actual birthday being 21st July, was on a week day (Thursday) so we didn’t really do a whole heap except a small celebration with other kids at his play school.

Fortunately his actual birthday celebration on the 23rd (Saturday) was a bit more interesting. I didn’t quite have anything ‘grand’ in mind, but wifey had a slightly different idea. She went ahead with most of the planning for his party that centred around this new indoor playground called Red Bean Park at 100 AM shopping centre. It was a bit of an accidental discovery when we decided to pop by our old neighbourhood of Tanjong Pagar, and found this place when we ‘revisited’ this shopping centre one of the weekends earlier. The reasoning for choosing this place was relatively straight forward, being a place that Ethan and all the invited kids can play and enjoy themselves. After all it’s about the kids, not the parents right? Grandpa and grandma, along with Ethan’s auntie (Wifey’s mum/dad/sister) came along for this celebration, and was probably the only help we needed.

The actual party starts late afternoon, after most kids would have had their nap. As expected Ethan wasted no time playing right away..

So did most kids that came long. We probably didn’t do too well convincing everyone to come to the party room itself to eat food..

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Eventually we did..

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Sang the birthday song.. no speeches though..

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Plenty of food left..

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We tried to get a few group photos together, but any attempts for a big group photos were a big epic fail..

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The kids simply weren’t interested. Anyhow, Ethan rarely lasted more than 1 hour at a playground. Today he lasted the whole 2-2.5 hours. Obviously he liked the playground and perhaps the company of his school mates provided. For the parents, we barely had enough time to catchup nor had time chance to talk to all the guests properly. We didn’t even go out for dinner that evening, and simply had the left overs.

The party was declared a ‘success’, all thanks wifey. As for this post.. I guess this little baby video was put together by myself, to remind us down the track of our little devil and how fast he’s growing up, a pain and a joy at the same time..

 

 

Trip to Rainy Paradise

2016
07.10

Time flies when you have a baby. Before we realised it, it had already been 3 years since we were last in Maldives. Life was simple back then, with just the two of us, and the trip was our delayed honeymoon destination.  We decided to go back to Maldives this year given how much we liked it last time. Somehow we justified/rationalised it with an excuse that went something along the lines of celebrating my birthday, with the added significance of  ‘the last trip’ before baby turns 2 after which we have to pay for his air flight going forward. Well.. the last time he could sleep like this in a basinet…

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Given the plethora of resorts available in Maldives, we made sure we chose a different one this time with focus on good child facility. Wifey did the research, and landed with Per Aquum Niyama located somewhere south west of Male. It’s quite the opposite to where we were last time (which was the same distance north west of Male). Apparently it opened just 3 years ago, so it’s a relatively new resort and with ‘the biggest kids club’ and one of the largest islands, so we went there with plenty of expectations! Intention was definitely there to ‘dump’ Ethan at the kids club while the 2 of us have some time to ourselves to explore the ‘big’ islands.

What we perhaps didn’t plan too well this time, was underestimating the impact of the monsoon season. The timing of our trip was such that it was right in the middle of it! Apart from the mornings, our stay essentially consisted of heavy rain and dark clouds right from day we arrived to the day we left. Pretty disappointing really, but it didn’t bother me too much though. For example, our seaplane ride took MUCH much longer than the usual 40 minutes that it should take. It ended up being almost 2 hours when the pilot realised we could not land at our resort given the heavy cloud and bad visibility, so we had to stop at another resort to wait for the cloud to clear! On the positive side, being so close behind the cockpit, I did learn quite a few things about flying a seaplane. I swear by the end of the 2 hours, I could fly that thing myself 🙂

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By the time we reached Per Aquum Niyama, wifey was a bit airsick, and Ethan was getting very restless. I was probably the only one left smiling. Having said that we were all glad to be out of the plane on stable ground again. Things improved once we were greeted by Yoosuf at the jetty, who was our personal butler for the stay. We were finally able to checkin to our so called ‘Water Studio with a pool’..

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It probably had the biggest bath tub I’ve ever seen. Ethan certainly didn’t complain and screamed as he usually does at home begging not to go take a shower. None of that here!

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A nice feature of the room that Ethan particularly loved had to be the popcorn machine! It was definitely used just about every single day of our stay! One cute little behaviour he showed us was just how comfy he gets himself in a chair/bed/pillow to enjoy the popcorn, along with TV!

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As I said, the weather didn’t co-operate with us at all, so quite a bit of the time spent this trip were indoors, which was sad. We did get some sun, and had some brief period of time (mostly mornings) where we did get to experience what typical postcard Maldives look like!

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Apart from that.. it was cloudy most of time..

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So lots of photo posing time near the pool in our room…

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And hey.. Ethan had to get in the action too..

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We did manage to use the pool itself, although it was way under-utilised given it was a bit cold with the lack of sunshine to warm up the water. Ethan was super happy with his float that wifey brought long, but he just didn’t get to spend much time in it, with rain pouring soon after this…

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We did more massages and facials this trip than our last Maldives trip. Massages and facial isn’t really my thing at all, but I have to say this time I had nothing but praises for Lime Spa. It does sport a super nice view of the ocean as well, if only the dark clouds didn’t keep hanging over it!

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Pity that Ethan didn’t get to spend more time at the Kid’s Explorer Club, which is suppose to be the biggest of all resorts in Maldives. He absolutely loved being there and had no trouble with the caretakers that took care of him while we were away at Lime Spa.

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By the third day of the trip (4th July), the birthday celebration for me began. I am definitely not one who celebrates birthday in a big way. This year is probably the most extravagant for no particular reason. We had lunch at Subsix, which is an underwater dining/night-club. It wasn’t on the island itself, and can only be reached by a short ride by boat to the restaurant. The best feature of it was perhaps this view…

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Wifey was certainly super impressed by the place, given it feels like we are in a mini version of Underwater World, except there’s restaurant tables and chairs in it! Not that the corals looked all that colourful, but still! You would think this place would be packed during lunch. But NO! We almost had the whole restaurant to ourselves for a good half an hour, until we had to share the restaurant with the hotel general manager and his family who came along to have lunch there as well! Food was nice although it wasn’t cheap! For USD$200 per person for lunch, I can tell you the food was a little bit hard to swallow.. 🙂

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The hotel did make quite an effort to make me feel special and surprised me with a cake, nicely decorated desserts, and even the bed in our studio was decorated with birthday wishes!

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Too bad the nice weather started to go south by the afternoon. So we were back in the room most of the evening. We were suppose to have our sunset photo shoot with the onsite photographer on my birthday which had to be rescheduled. That was a bummer. You might wonder why there’s a photo of instant noodle above? That’s what we ended up eating for dinner that night… 🙂

For the next day, we were smart to have the photo shoot scheduled for the morning while there was a brief period of sunshine. Now, I personally did not have good experiences with past photo shoots including our wedding, so my expectations were pretty low. Surprisingly, with SNAP (the onsite resort photographer), it turned out much better than I thought..

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Having said that, one lesson we did learn is that don’t expect too many good photos with a soon-to-be 2 years old. Ethan hated the sun, and screamed and cried most of the time..

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Eventually he fell asleep on us as well..

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Nevertheless, we had some good photos. I definitely regained my faith in professional photographers, after our session with Chris. It was only an hour session though, and with dark clouds hanging over the sky, we thought we would make the most of it with a bicycle ride as well (provided as part of the accommodation). It just did not include a child seat!!! So, we had to improvise..

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Again.. it didn’t last very long with rain soon coming down forcing us to go back indoors. Thinking back, I do want to mention that perhaps the biggest difference between this resort and the last one we stayed at was the staff of this resort, especially our personal butler, Yoosuf. He is far too helpful than what I’m comfortable with at times and that’s perhaps because I lived in Singapore for too long with far too many crap service experiences! The guy was always finding ways to make sure our needs are taken care of, from mosquito creams for wifey, offering dolphin ride, delivering birthday cake, booking restaurants, taking Ethan to kids club for us, showing us around the places … the list goes on. You might say it’s his job. What I can say is that, I certainly can’t recall the butler I had at our last Maldives resort at Iru Fushi, but I will definitely remember Yoosuf!

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The trip had to come to an end, and frankly the weather won. I told my wife, the seaplane was arguably what I most looked forward to, given my side interest in aviation. So I was happy to be able to jump on the seaplane on the last day when it arrived to pick us up, even though it was time to leave! For wifey, the holiday probably wasn’t what she had in mind..

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Funnily though, Yoosuf (our butler) told us that we came exactly on the day the weather turned bad. On the day we left, the weather seemed well and I did not dare ask after our return, whether the weather turned good again. I would hate to know that it did! If we ever come back to Maldives again, we definitely need to remember to book outside of the monsoon season! We didn’t even get to snorkel this trip!

 

Week in Shanghai

2016
05.29

Work had a sudden change in direction for me this month, which meant I will be focused on efforts to establish a new development centre in Shanghai for a couple of months. Good part was that it included a trip to Shanghai, possibly multiple trips there in the near future. Little did I know that I was up for my first one within weeks of starting the new role! For this first one, it was to be a 1 week trip from 9th-15th June, and wifey and baby wasn’t going to miss out! So we all went!

A380 Singapore Airlines

Having said that, I was at work slaving away most of the week though, so there wasn’t much exploring done around Shanghai at all. We really only had the one full day on Saturday (14th) and half of Sunday, before we headed back. So let me summarise some of what we thought were highlights below.

First, the arrival at Pudong airport was welcomed by long lines through the customs, which I expected. When we finally got out, we felt a little ‘privileged’ when we were picked up by a BMW 5-series. Thought that was a bit over the top! It was organised through work, and I had no idea it was going to be a BMW!

BMW Limo

It was then a rather smooth 40 minutes ride to the Langham hotel, which I thought was a little too ‘girly’ to my taste. There’s just too much pink to my taste.

Breakfast Langham Hotel

Having said that, Ethan loved it… why wouldn’t you when nice hotel staff lets you play with toys on the floor like this!

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One part about the hotel room that I did remember was the huge bathroom that could easily fit all 3 of us, complete with 2 separate washing basins, and a Japanese style automatic toilet. This must be the only hotel that I had ever been where the size of the bathroom is just about as big as the bedroom itself!

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Nevertheless, it was a very nice hotel at Xintiandi (新天地) which is probably the newer area around Shanghai. It was a short walk for me to work from the hotel and what I did recall were the range of luxury car brands around there including Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin etc etc. It’s one way to make me feel like I’m the poorest guy in town, given I don’t own or can’t ever imagine owning any one of those!

As I was at work most of the time, wifey and baby Ethan basically spent most of the week exploring the area themselves. At least my impression of it was that they spent plenty of time sleeping in, having LONG breakfasts and spent most of the day either window shopping or playing at some kids playground.

Breakfast

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Onehour @ Shanghai Times Square

On the evenings we did manage to squeeze some typical Shanghai highlights like the Bund (外滩). Not that we did or walked much. The view of across the Huangpu (黄埔) river was very nice though..

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Another evening, we went to Oriental Pearl TV Tower (东方明珠电视塔) which is just across the Bund. Most memorable part was probably the transparent glass floor that gave us more than just a few shivers walking on it..

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We did have buffet dinner on the revolving restaurant as well. Wifey’s comment was that it was not as romantic as she pictured it to be, because of the huge tourist crowd and lines. I probably agree with that. It’s one fact of travel to China that every you go, there will be huge crowds and lines!

There was at least one other evening where daddy did get to explore some old shopping centres away from the famous touristy areas..

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And of course, the famous Nanjing Road shopping street..

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When Saturday finally came, we did what we thought Ethan would like… the aquarium!

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In the afternoon, we made it to Yuyuan (豫园), where we at least got to see something that resembled old traditional China. Yes it was a bit touristy and crowded, but wifey and Ethan had fun 🙂

Yuyuan

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Cuisine wise, there were some memorable dishes including this dish we had at Shanghai Min restaurt (小南国), called flavored Wantons in Yellow Croaker Soup ( 浓汤黄鱼野荠菜馄饨 )

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And this braised pork dish(外婆红烧肉) is probably what Shanghai is most famous for. Yes, it looks a bit fatty.. but we’re on holidays!

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Oh.. and how can I forget this bottle of whisky (石库门) which is apparently a local favourite. I had it with a bunch of persistent work mates who demanded that I drank with them. I didn’t regret it.. it was good indeed!

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It wasn’t the first time I’ve been to Shanghai, although it was 2010 when I was last here (almost 6 years ago) with my parents for a much longer holiday around China. Only memory of it was that Shanghai Expo was on at the time! It’s good to go back to some of the same places this trip, although I got to admit my memory sucks, as I barely remember half the places I went to! Looking at some old photos of my trip to Shanghai, I can’t help but feel how time flies!

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Anyway, back to 2016. We really didn’t venture very far out of Shanghai city centre itself at all this trip. I am expecting to be back here a few more times though, so it was probably good to ‘take it easy’ this time round. Ethan has improved a lot on longer flights, although admittedly it involved quite a lot of iPad and well… ice cream?

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Will be back in Shanghai soon!

 

 

Time To Relax at Lombok

2016
05.04

Lombok is my third trip to Indonesia this month, since the visa waiver announcement for Australians. This little stint was the longest of the 3 trips, being a four day weekend due to Labour day public holiday plus an extra day off work. Our trip didn’t start off too well though, given that Ethan got sick and had 39 degrees temperature which was worrying. Our trip started on Friday with a flight to Kuala Lumpur and a stay overnight in the transit hotel Sama Sama Express KLIA2. We thought we can get the view of the runway for Ethan to watch planes take off and land. Instead all we got were the view of terminal gates!

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Ethan really didn’t get to see much of the gates either, given he was sick and didn’t sleep too well throughout the night. Eventually I had to check out of the hotel with him slumped over my shoulder like this..

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Nevertheless, it was nice and convenient stay overnight, allowing us to jump straight on to the flight to Lombok the next morning. Our hotel this time was Sudamala Senggigi, which is a small boutique hotel, presumably owned and run by an Indonesian. It was located right next to the beach. Being a stone’s throw away from Bali, I was quite impressed by the relatively clean beach..

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Our unit was located next to the beach, and even allowed us direct sunset views!

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People come to Lombok for its natural beauty, or climb Mount Ranjani. With a baby, and a ‘not-so-keen’ climber wife, most of our time was spent by the pool..

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Ethan spent plenty of time with his new iPad by the pool.. in style…

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.. And during dinner..

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.. plenty of selfies..

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.. oh.. we didn’t miss the sunset view..

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… and of course.. Ate plenty of local dishes from the restaurant.. (surprisingly affordable by hotel standard).

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.. oh.. I loved the outdoor standing shower in our unit..

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We only made two ‘expeditions’ out of the hotel, first one being Epi Centrum shopping in town (Mataram) barely a few months old. Mummy enjoyed the shopping. Ethan enjoyed the train ride..

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.. and the one thing we love about Indonesia so far.. affordable arcade!!

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I had  ‘Ayam Taliwang’, a Lombok specialty..

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Unsatisfied with just spending time in the hotel, I did eventually convince Wai Kuan to venture out for a day trip to the popular Gilli Trawangan island requiring a short boat trip to get to it. We didn’t plan for it particularly well though. My initial plan was to just take the local public boat for 20,000 IDR (approx. SGD $2), which would have taken 45 minutes after waiting for each boat to be full. Somehow during our trip to the public harbour, our taxi driver convinced us that we should take a speed boat which cost a ton more at 700,000 IDR (approx. SGD$70) to save time. So, instead of the public harbour, we were dropped off somewhere called Kecinan,. It was along the beach but relatively isolated, no crowd. From there, it was not much of a negotiation with a company named Aisyah speed boat, and off we went..

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Baby couldn’t pass up the opportunity to touch the steering wheel just before the ride started..

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Sure enough.. short 10 minutes later, we were on the Gilli Trawangan island!

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We really didn’t have all that much time there, given we arrived fairly late (around 11am) and had to leave by 2:30pm when our speed boat suppose to pick us up. The main strip was about as touristy as it can get, and looked like all you can do here is either drink by the beaches, or go diving, neither which interested us. Eventually I found a rental bicycle with a baby seat (costing us 30,000 IDR for just a few hours riding!)…

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Ethan enjoyed the ride though. The island was small enough that we could cover almost the whole island in 30 minutes. Most interesting parts to Ethan were the farm animals we found closer to the center of the islands. Plenty of cows.. horses.. roosters…

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The best part for me was the short lunch stopover by the beach farther away from the main tourist strip. I had some of the best nasi and mee goreng for just 20,000 IDR (approx. SGD $2 each) at a bar towards the southern end of the island..

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Of course, no trip to Indonesia is complete without at least a bottle of Bintang!

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My idea of taking a dip din’t work out too well either.. It was littered with broken corals, making it hard to walk around the water with your bare feet!!

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Before you know it, it was already time to head back to the Lombok main land! Ethan fell asleep on the way though riding to the rental bicycle shop..

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Before we could make it back, there was a bit of drama, where our boat didn’t turn up at 2:30pm as agreed. I had to make a call to them directly, which they first claimed I only bought a one way transfer! Eventually they sent the boat to take us back at about 3:00pm. When we got back, we encountered MORE drama, where they were suppose to call us a taxi. Instead they tried to talk me into one of their private cars starting at triple the price of 200,000 IDR! I refused, and eventually they settled for 60,000 IDR (the same as a taxi). The experience was just plain annoying really! Thinking back, we probably should have just gone to the public harbour where public transport would have been more accessible, and used a more reputable private speed boat company. Not to mention, this company was in the middle of nowhere, and they could have ganged up on us, and demanded more money!

Having eventually made it back to the resort, it was time to relax for our last night in Lombok..

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Four days went by pretty quick! Some time in the future, surely I’ll have to make another trip back to Lombok, to at least climb Mount Ranjani. It was a nice preview of the island so far, and we certainly have lots more to see. Unlike Bandung, it was relatively traffic jam free. Definitely need to come back, before it turns into Bali which I can see it turning into soon!

 

Day Trip to Batam Revisited

2016
04.26

Looking back at my photo archives, Batam was one of the first destinations we went exploring outside of Singapore on weekends when we first moved to Singapore in 2013 (just over 3 years ago). It didn’t leave an impression good enough to even blog about. Back then, as an Australian passport holder, a visa fee still applied, so a short trip there was barely worth it, even with a cheap ferry ride there. Now that the visa fee no longer applies, we thought we would give it another shot. After all, it’s only a short hour ferry ride away. With my parents here visiting Singapore as well, it was an opportunity to go somewhere other than shopping centres on a weekend. So, heading out to Vivo City / Harbourfront, and a quick Toast Box breakfast later at about 8:15am…

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Off we went to Batam Center using the ferry company called “Batam Fast”. What we didn’t pay in visa fee, we ended up paying a hefty premium for the ferry fare, as we didn’t book it upfront. It was close to SGD$45 per person, for something that is normally half the price.

Once we got there, we hanged around Mega Mall in the morning which we haven’t been before. It’s nice and convenient, located right next to the ferry terminal. Believe it or not, the first place we went to was Timezone on the top floor where Ethan got to play. The games were so cheap (under SGD $1 per game), we can easily hang out here all day. This time, we do have my parents with us, so decided to go find a lunch place not long after. It didn’t take long to discover a place called Moi Kitchen. We didn’t go there because that place was famous. We just went there because Moi is the name of my brother in-law back in Australia. The menu looked ok, so we just sat down.. took a photo of the restaurant..

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The food was only ‘so so’… After lunch, it was a quick trip to Nagoya Hill shopping centre about 7km from Batam Centre with a local taxi.  Good thing my dad’s Bahasa Indonesia appeared top notch with his early working life based in Indonesia, still able to converse fluently with the taxi driver. At least we think we didn’t get ripped off paying 75,000 IDR (~SGD$7.50) for the taxi ride to Nagoya Hills. Once we got there, we realised we had actually been to the same shopping centre the last time we came to Batam. It’s suppose to be the biggest, but really it wasn’t much to rave about. Of the two, I would still prefer the Mega Mall near Batam Center. It’s less crowded, cleaner, newer and I don’t believe it’s short on choice of shops either.

That was pretty much it. We couldn’t wait to rush back to Singapore after this. We did manage to squeeze in a few drumsticks at A&W which is apparently a must try at one of the outlets at Mega Mall before we left.

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The highlight of the day was actually when we got back to Vivo City. Ethan simply couldn’t resist when he saw water up on the rooftop, and ran straight in…

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Kids!! As it was grandpa and grandma’s last day in Singapore, more highlight came for Ethan, when they got him an iPad Mini 4 as a present!!

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I guess he’ll spending a LOT of time in front of that little screen.

Oh well.. as much as I whinge about Batam Island, we are still planning to go back there, perhaps with an overnight stay just to properly experience the island to its full potential. Maybe a couple of years later? 🙂

 

 

 

Bandung Weekend Holiday

2016
04.04

It feels like ages since we had a break, even though looking back it has barely been 2 months since our last holiday in Japan! Nevertheless, this felt like a much needed rejuvenation trip from the hustle and bustle of daily life. We only booked this trip weeks ago, perhaps on the back of the recent news about Australians finally not having to pay a visa fee to enter Indonesia!!

http://www.smh.com.au/world/indonesian-tourist-visa-fee-set-to-be-scrapped-for-australians-20160201-gmj9cy.html

For a country that’s literally next door, we really haven’t visited it all that much, and I blame the fee for that. So, the excuse needed to go finally came, and we chose Bandung as our first visa-free trip to Indonesia! It’s only a weekend trip though, so we didn’t really get to see and do all that much. Staying at Padma Bandung Hotel helped, which is located just outside the city, higher up on the mountain that we could at least feel like we are getting some country side fresh air!

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The hotel came highly recommended on TripAdvisor, and we couldn’t agree more. The food was great and reminded us just how much we love Indonesian food.. starting with the awesome Nasi Goreng Buntut

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And some basic Soto Ayam ‘Aziz’…

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The hotel offered plenty of activities as well, including horse riding..

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Fish feeding…

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Rabbit feeding…

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Lots of family bonding time in the swimming pool…

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And some pretty awesome afternoon tea with a view!

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Wifey even bumped into the family of her high school friend! Talk about a small world!

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We really only had one full day to explore out of town. It didn’t take us long to learn just how bad traffic is over there. We got a hint of it on the day we arrived at Bandung airport, and took us at least 50 minutes to travel just 8km of road to the hotel! So, we picked just 2 places both about 4 km from the hotel to explore. We explored Rumah Mode (An outlet shopping centre), and Paris Van Java (a big shopping mall).  I bought 2 pair of flip flops for SGD$6.00 each at Rumah Mode which I thought was a bargain, and had some pretty damn good Indonesian food…

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For Paris van Java.. it wasn’t the shopping I was interested in. There were two things that stood out for me. For one, the arcade machines were so damn affordable, that we spent a whole hour playing there! Ethan certainly enjoyed it, that he finally gets to sit on arcade rides that ‘moves’.. yeah.. in Singapore.. he would just be sitting in an idle ride.. 🙂

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The other kick-ass reason why I liked Paris van Java was that there was a domestic farm on the shopping mall roof called ‘Lactasari’ for Ethan!! OK.. it wasn’t a ‘farm’ as such.. perhaps a ‘mini farm’.. where you could go feeding all sorts of animals ranging from goats, cows, sheep, rabbits….

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Ethan saw and touched more animals in the last 2 days than he did since he was born. Now why can’t there be a farm like that in Singapore?!

We are aware that there’s a lot more to Bandung than just outlet shopping, malls, a mini farm and a hotel. We barely seen the tip of the iceberg, given there are lakes, volcanoes, hot spring resorts, waterfalls.. the REAL Bandung that didn’t get a chance to touch at all. We definitely need a second trip back here to see the rest! Having said that, the only thing that would put us off is the super bad traffic. The return trip back to the airport on the Sunday afternoon took us almost 1.5 hours to travel that same 8km back to the airport!

I sure damn hope that will be fixed the next time I’m back in Bandung!

 

First Day of School

2016
03.22

It’s Ethan’s official first day of ‘school’. Perhaps I really shouldn’t be calling it a ‘school’, or even a ‘pre-school’ as they call it. It’s really just a child care centre, where mummy gets to take a break and get a few hours to herself. Nevertheless, this ‘school’ requires uniform, which to me is just another way for them to suck more money out of parents! Anyway.. the school is called ‘LeClare’ which is a relatively new school not too far from our place, located at Shaw Towers near Bugis. Luckily for Ethan, both mummy and daddy were there for him on his first day of school.

Can’t say he’s too happy though, given he hasn’t had to get out of bed at 7:30am ever since he was born! So, getting him up and out of the house by 8:00am to make the 8:30am class meant that he had this ‘look’ on his face…

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It didn’t get much better in class for breakfast…

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Not even when he get to sit in a ‘little tikes’!!

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Mummy was there for him on the first day, so at least he didn’t cry like mad that we saw with other kids when parents left them. Things eventually improved when things got ‘dirty’!

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No smiles just yet… but you could see his expression warming up..

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A bit more when playing with toys..

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Never got a full smile. But it was only his first day of school. For us, it’s another milestone to remind us just how fast Ethan is growing up!

 

 

First RC Helicopter

2016
03.10

After my dad got a toy RC helicopter from Japan a couple of months back and fooling around with it, I decided I needed a ‘real’ RC helicopter. The one I’ve been playing with is a Jozen 3-channel, that’s perfectly fun for indoor. Funnily though, the toy heli was intended for Ethan! Except he’s way too young to play with RC toys. So, who better to ‘play’ with it than me!? After a couple of months playing with it, it eventually died. After watching a couple of inspirational RC heli videos on YouTube, I was hooked and here it is in the post….

My first RC Hobby Helicopter

It’s a XK100 helicopter that I ordered through eBay, which apparently can do flips and all sorts of stunt moves. It’s well beyond my abilities, and will probably take me some time to learn it. Wonder why I’ve never got into this stuff when I was a kid??

 

Nozawa Ski and Hakone Onsen Break

2016
02.23

It’s our 4th year living in Singapore now. Looking back the last 3 years, being on this side of the world, we typically either go to Japan to satisfy our need for cold weather/snow (Yes I miss the cold), or we celebrate Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur. We chose the former, and this year we settled on Nozawa Onsen being recommended highly by my colleague. The 11 days itinerary also included a bit of self-driving, a relaxation stay at Hakone for the famous onsen, and then a bit of retail therapy in Tokyo. Let’s start with the snow…

As expected, skiing was good although I would say there’s not a lot for a snowboarder when it comes to black runs (unless moguls are your thing). Lots of happy smiles from wifey though, as there were plenty of green runs!

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Whilst skiing was good, we probably chose the worst year for snow though. Snow base was barely 1.6m since the season started, for an area that averages over 3m!? Out of the 4 days we were there, it only started to dump 40cm of snow on the day we left! What a bummer!

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Having said that, if I had to pick a resort to go to with beginners and a baby, I would definitely pick Nozawa Onsen again! I can’t recall a single run from any of the other resorts I’ve been to, that could beat their LOOONNGG green run that stretches from the top of Uenotaira station to the kids park at the base. We did have a beginner skier with us this year, wifey’s friend, Wei. Whilst she did have some snowboarding experience in the past, she never skiied. Taking her up to the top of Uenotaira meant that she had over >6km (I think) of green slope to practise on, without having to constantly spend time on chair lifts or travelators! That meant that she was comfortable doing big ‘S’ turns down the long and wide slopes by the end of the day. No, she wasn’t able to or comfortable doing the narrower runs at the lower part of the trail (and fell a couple of time), but she could at least spend time enjoying the skiing most of the time!

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For Ethan, being a 18 months old, I was probably pushing it trying to put him on one those kid’s skis.

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He was just not a happy kid on skis. Maybe next year. Luckily, he did enjoy most other aspects of the snow, namely the super long travelator that takes us from our ryokan / hotel up to the base…

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He had fun playing with the snow, which is positive sign.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, was the child minding service / nursery. We used it 3 days in a row, and by the 2nd day, Ethan had no hesitation being left there with the kind looking babysitters .. And I thought it was good value at 2500 yen for half a day. Once we dropped him off, he didn’t even look back to say good bye to us! He simply ran straight for the ‘magic’ room that we weren’t allowed to go in to take a look at. Maybe it’s a Willy Wonka factory in there.. we’ll never know..

The onsen town itself was pretty interesting, although it started to feel/look the same to me given we’ve been to 2 others near the area before, namely Myoko Kogen and Shiga Kogen. It’s fairly touristy and we did do the public bath thing just to cross it off our list. It was too damn hot to enjoy though!

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Next.. it was time for a bit of driving in Japan, which is something I wanted to do for years! To cut a long story short, I finally sorted out the requirements (namely a ‘valid’ International drivers license) and hired a Nissan Tiida!

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First thing you’ll probably realise driving in Japan is that, there really are plenty of toll gates! If you can read Japanese, the onboard GPS spells it out for ya! What’s really cool about this GPS, is that it even tells you the services that are available in the coming rest areas, including calling out ‘Starbucks’ if there is one! NEAT!

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Apart from that, it was a pleasant drive that given our route/destination, coupled with a nice & clear sky day, meant that we get to see a pretty awesome view of Mt. Fuji!

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No wonder they had a sign in the rest area, that told us to focus on driving, not staring at the scenery! I’ve been to Japan quite a few times, but have never been lucky enough to see the mountain itself. So that was a first for me! Perhaps it was the distance, it just didn’t look all that high to me, even though it’s a good 3700m tall mountain!

Our 4 hours drive eventually got us to our destination.. Gora Hanaougi (強羅花扇) of Hakone (箱根). It was meant to be the ‘relaxation’ leg of our trip, so plenty of lying back like this..

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Good food… and sake..

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Lots of time spent in the resort onsen…. including the private one on our balcony

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It’s a nice resort.. but a tad expensive though. Driving into Hakone, we realised there’s quite a lot more to Hakone than just onsen resorts. We managed to squeeze in an outdoor museum of arts, a cable car ride, an aquarium (for baby) and a bit of shopping. It’s definitely worth coming back again just to cover off a few of the attractions that we missed.

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And then.. it was time for the last leg of our trip.. TOKYO! Getting here by car was the first and probably the last time I want to get here this way (Think traffic.. tolls.. complicated multi-storey roads). We covered a few new grounds.. namely.. staying in a Japanese apartment using the AirBnB service (at Gotanda).

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It was nice enough of a place, and frankly pretty good one from my perspective. There were little issues here and there (ADSL Internet didn’t work, and couldn’t communicate with host by mobile, dusty… etc etc), but frankly I’m happy with it (Ask my wife, and she’ll tell you a different story).

Plenty of things/places covered in Tokyo, namely a maid cafe…

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Oh, I would have liked to take baby Ethan to a cat cafe  too, except he was deemed too noisy (at least the one in Shibuya told us)! To hell with them! Fortunately, Ethan had a ball with plenty of other things, like just running around the streets of Shinjuku… It was probably the Yodobashi music that got him dancing..

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He showed us how to play with massive model/toy car (in one of the RC shop at Akihabara)..

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And plenty of ‘woo’ and ‘ahhh’ just watching trains flying past..

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Oh.. something about the train ticket machines that kept him entertained..

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Oh.. that reminds me.. how about bumping into a couple of Mario Karts (Akihabara)..

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And.. Sushi train.. not the ones that go round and round.. the ones that deliver the sushis you ordered  directly to you!

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Gotta love Tokyo. Gosh.. it must be like the 5th time I’ve been there, and I’m still not sick of it. That explains why I keep coming back to Japan every single year for the last 6 years??

End of Year Trip to Taiwan

2016
01.15

The end to 2015 was a bit of a haphazard exercise, to put it plainly. Holiday planning took a backseat while we moved to a new place (Same unit type, just down from 61st floor to 17th Floor) and just a couple of days before Christmas when our holiday was suppose to start. Apart from a booked flight and accommodation for a few days in Ho Chi Minh, and a few days in Taiwan, there really wasn’t much thought into what we were actually going to do. Disaster began when we arrived at the airport to check-in, when we were told we didn’t have the correct visa arranged to go to Vietnam!!

I was aware of the pre-arranged visa requirement, as I have been there in the past. However, I’ve read online that the rules have changed to ‘Visa On Arrival’, which I misinterpreted to mean that there is no requirement/procedures prior to arrival into the country. Except I was dead wrong, when I discovered on the day that we (as in me and Ethan on Australian passports) needed an approval letter from immigration department prepared before departing for Vietnam. It was Christmas day, so it was too late to do anything about getting a visa. Quick on my feet, I’ve decided to abandon going to Vietnam at all, and called up Vietnam airline reservation office in Vietnam to change the booking to proceed to Taipei on the day without stopping over Ho Chi Minh for a couple of days. Fortunately, the lady at the other end of the line understood English pretty well, and it was sorted with less than 1 hour to actual departure time!! Yes, it did mean that I had to forfeit my Ho Chi Minh accommodation booking, but it meant that I can take off on the day!

Well.. the decision to go straight to Taipei meant our total stay in that city was 10 days instead of 5. Proved to be the right decision, as we felt like we could stay longer! The holiday started with a stay in Yusense Hotel (有诚商旅) close to National Palace Museum. Naturally, we started with visiting the museum.

National Palace Museum

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It was also close to Mirramar Entertainment Park, with a big ferris wheel. We took it for a ride, and performed our first ‘mid air nappy change’ 🙂

Mirramar Ferris Wheel

Then it was a visit to nearby Shilin night market (士林夜市), as well as Beitu Hot Spring Resort (北投天玥泉會館) where we enjoyed a private onsen experience.

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We spent a day (although it was a rainy one) to the Taipei Zoo (臺北市立動物園), along with nearby Maokong (猫空).  Ethan appear to have enjoyed it, shouting out animal names or sounds he recognise like ‘nay’ for horse..

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The nearby Maokong was only a short gondola ride away, which featured plenty of ‘high tea’ and ice cream opportunities…

Maokong Gondola

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… And featured this transparent floor gondola!! It wasn’t as scary as we thought it might have been.

Maokong Gondola

The second part of the stay involved moving to ‘Home Hotel’ where we intended to stay right next to Taipei 101 where the fireworks was. We had a room which had partial view of Taipei 101 itself, although in hindsight, that wasn’t really needed, given we watched the fireworks outside with the crowd anyway!

Taipei 101 Fireworks

I had pretty high expectations of the fireworks display itself, given there were talks about it being the ‘last one’. Some say they weren’t able to get enough sponsors, some say there were environmental concerns.. whatever it was.. the real thing wasn’t as impressive as I imagined it to be. Don’t get me wrong. It was nice, just not THAT nice..

Taipei 101 Fireworks Taipei 101 Fireworks

We could at least say we’ve been there.. done that.. and even scored a decent spot at the New Year Concert…

New Year Concert

Except.. we had a baby. The music was probably too loud, and we felt like we were given the look for bringing a baby along! So we left..

We did enjoy our stay in the city though, visiting the shopping centres nearby, namely Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, along with famous Taiwan ‘original’ restaurants ‘Ding Tai Fung’

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And ‘Shin Yeh’ (欣葉)..

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Both of which have franchises in Singapore. For Din Tai Fung, we are regular customers of near the one we live (Marina Bay Link Mall). Was it worth the long wait at the ‘original’ store? Probably not.

A Taiwan holiday would be incomplete if we didn’t visit the numerous night markets everywhere. We covered quite a few, namely Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市), Huaxi Night (華西街觀光夜市) and Wufenpu (五分埔).

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The bigger names were, as one would expect, tourist traps. The lesser known ones, like Huaxi.. felt a bit more ‘genuine’.. but we didn’t quite expect it to be more of a market for ‘dirty old men’ where plenty of porn CDs/DVDs were sold.

Anyway, our last stop was at XiMenDing (西门町) where we stayed at a place we booked via AirBnB. It’s the first time we’ve used that service, and we were probably lucky to have found a damn good host (I only know her as ‘Newz’ on AirBnB or 许小姐). Super helpful, friendly, went way beyond her responsibilities to help us.

Whilst XiMenDing was interesting, we actually used half a day to travel out of town to visit a couple of places outside of Taipei, namely Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十分). The most memorable part was probably the ‘Lantern Release’ (发天龙) at Shifen..

Lantern Release

 

 

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Shifen Railway Station

A close second would be the supposedly ‘Niagara of Taiwan’ or Shifen waterfall..

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We were quite lucky that we had a good driver that liked kids!

Ethan with Taxi Driver

Overall, I was glad we stayed longer in Taipei than original planned. It was my second time here, and the last time from memory was almost 10 years ago! As the driver told us, Taiwan haven’t changed all that much at all, apart from a couple of new MRT lines. I concur! Nevertheless, the trip was a great end to 2015, and a great start to 2016!