Saturday, July 21, 2018

New Sony RX 100 VI (Mark 6) Videos and Pictures

Bought a brand new Sony RX 100 VI.  This compact camera is a very well known camera, for its quality and compactness.  I owned a Sony RX 100 II and used it for many years.  But in recent times, I used other cameras, until the RX 100 VI came out and I decided to jump back in!

I will put some of the videos and photos I have taken on this blog page, to give readers a sense of the capability of this camera.  Bear in mind, it is after all a compact camera (albeit an expensive one), so you can't expect it to perform wonders.  But I like it precisely because it is compact.

This video, taken in the Buona Vista area, shows you the zoom capability.  The RX 100 VI comes with 70mm to 200mm zoom, which is about 8.3X optical zoom.


NO ZOOM, 70mm
Here are some photos to show you the extent of the zoom.

FULL ZOOM
Zoom fully deployed at 200mm.  Pretty cool isn't it?

NO ZOOM
Another test of the zoom.  NTU club in the distance
 '
FULL ZOOM
Zoom fully deployed 200mm.  You can clearly see the NTU Alumni Club signage.

Ghim Moh Market Zoom Zoom
National Day was around the corner, check out the any Singapore flags!

Singapore Flyer and Marina Mandarin.
Here are more videos of the zoom capability.


SONY RX 100 VI in low light.


Unboxing the Sony RX 100 VI


Thanks for watching!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Durian and more Durian! Let us FEAST on the King of Fruit

Let us feast on the King of Fruit! Durian season is here again. In 2018, there is a bumper crop from Malaysia.  Plentiful durian supply, and hence the price has come down.  At this store in Clementi Town Centre, the Mao Shan Wang durians were selling for $12/kg.

Here are 2 videos taken on consecutive weekends.  Business was brisk.  There were many onlookers too. Watch the guys expertly opening the durian.  Onlookers were salivating.


Another video of the same store in Clementi.


Do I eat durians?  Well, yes, but I don't buy them.  I just eat them when my fellowship group decides to do a durian party.


Yet another Durian party, this time from 2015. How time flies, we have durian parties every year! (Since durian season comes every year.)


Enjoy!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Day 4 - Transfer to Shanghai Marriott City Center, and the Bund!

Day 0 - Depart Singapore to Hangzhou (Scoot Airlines), Arr. Hangzhou 2135hrs
Day 1 - Hangzhou, got a driver, tour the city, including West Lake and Ling Yin Temple
Day 2 - Depart from Hangzhou to Wu Zhen (water town), and then transfer to Shanghai Courtyard Marriot near Disneyland
Day 3 - Shanghai Disneyland! (One full day)
Day 4 - Transfer to Shanghai Marriott City Center, the Bund and Hai Di Lao Dinner!
Day 5 - Private day tour to SuZhou
Day 6 - Shanghai Free & Easy
Day 7 - Home sweet Home - Shanghai to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (Business Class)

Day 4 of our 2018 China trip. After a fun day at Disneyland, and a good stay at the Shanghai Courtyard International Tourism and Resorts Zone, it was time to head to central Shanghai for the last segment of our holiday.

We hailed a taxi using the Didi app, to take us from Courtyard Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone to Marriott Shanghai City Center.  The distance was about 30km and it took us about 45 minutes to get there.  Fortunately, the highways were quite clear, though there was minor congestion closer to the City center.

Multiple Mobile Phone Array
A highlight of the journey was the taxi driver's array of mobile phones.  He had 4 facing him, plus an additional phone in this pocket!  He told me that in the past, he had 8.  Why so many?  To access all the various ride hailing apps, to snatch for business as fast as he could.   He also told me that the Apple iOS phones were a tad faster than the Android ones.  His apple phones got the notification about 1 second earlier than Andriod phones, so he used old Apple phones to snatch business.  Fascinating. In the video below, you will hear me trying to converse with the driver in my poor Mandarin.  At least he understood most of what I said, and could tell us long stories about Shanghai.

The video also shows you some of the scenes from our ride into Shanghai City Center.


Here is a picture of the driver looking at one of his phones.  This being China, the taxi drivers won't speak English.  You need know some Mandarin to be able to communicate with them.  We went by the metered fare, and the total fare came up to around 150RMB, or 23USD for a 30km ride.  Already, taxi fares in Shanghai are considered the most expensive in all of China.  For those of us who are used to taxi fares in Western countries, such a fare is still very reasonable for the distance travelled.

Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Center
We chose this hotel because of its location, near Nanjing Road.  Also, the reviews were excellent.  While not exactly the cheapest, the hotel offered a Family Suite, and we could add an additional pull-away bed so that all of us had proper bedding.   And we certainly had no regrets!  The Family Suite was awesome, as shown in the video below.  The suite had a separate living and bedroom area.  The living area could take 2 super singles, and still have room to walk around.


More pictures below of the lobby area.  It was a grand lobby.  It was also a bustling lobby.  Very busy at times, especially during the peak check-in hours.

They had 5-6 general counters opened. The line could get long, but things moved along fine.  Efficient service.

Internal water feature, next to the bar area, which served drinks and food.  Welcome to Marriott Shanghai City Center!

Walk to Huang He Road 黄河路 for Lunch
After putting our bags and washing up, we decided to take a short walk to Huang He Lu (黄河路), literal translation is Yellow River Road.  It was about a 5 minutes walk (500M) and there was plenty of local food on this street.  We headed to a famous chain called Yang’s Dumplings 小杨生煎
(http://www.xysjg.com/), as we had read a lot of about it.


Pan-fried pork buns (生煎包)
The patrons were largely local.  Most were eating the Pan-fried pork buns (生煎包) Tasty, moist pork wrapped with half-soft, half-crispy dough, Shanghai pan-fried pork buns, traditionally served as breakfast, make a great party food.

Some food pictures.

57 RMB for Our Lunch (4 pax)
Here was the bill.  The total was 57RMB (or 9 USD) for 2 servings of Pan-fried pork buns (生煎包), 2 bowls of soup noodles, one bowl of soup and one Pepsi Cola.  That's quite a lot of food for under USD 10.  Each serving of 生煎包 came with 4 pieces and only cost 8RMB.

Dessert at McDonald's
It was a good lunch.  After that, we took a walk back to the hotel, and beside the hotel there was a McDonald's!  Time for some dessert.  We had two Sundaes which came with Fried Dough Sticks, a layered cake, and some coffee.  The fried dough sticks looked like Churros.  Well, maybe they were!  Certainly they were fried, and made of dough.  Dip it into the ice-cream, and the dessert became very filling! 


Nanjing Road Shanghai 南京路
It was time to do some walking!  It turned out that Nanjing Road was just a stone's throw away, 3 minute walk max.  Wow.  This shows you how centrally located this hotel was.  We would try to walk all the way to the Bund.   It was a very pleasant walk, and the street wasn't very crowded during this time of the day.  Very nice.


Shanghai Bund
It didn't take us very long to get to the Bund.  The viewing area was awesome!  Check it out! There was a couple taking wedding photos.  Happy marriage!For a century, the Bund has been one of the most recognizable symbols and the pride of Shanghai. The architecture along the Bund is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s. You've never been to Shanghai if you haven’t seen the Bund.


We took the touristy tram back, on a one-way ride, along Nanjing Road.  The cost was 5RMB per person.  Saved us a lot of walking!  Let's go!


To be continued...

Saturday, June 23, 2018

St Regis Formal Dinner Exquisite Occasions John Jacob Ballroom

Had a couple of nice dinners at St Regis Hotel (yes, this is where Chairman Kim of North Korea stayed), in the John Jacob Ballroom.  This is a 6 star hotel.  It is not a very large property, but the finishings are all very nice indeed.

Awesome dinner banquet at St Regis Hotel, Singapore.  Exquisite Occasions!


The menu served:
1. Trio of appetizers (Fried Prawn, Crispy Pork, Drunken Chicken)
2. Double-Boiled Superior Soup with Fish Maw, American Top Shell, Dried Scallop, Bamboo Pith and Cordycep Flower
3. Braised Baby Abalone with Flower Mushroom and Broccoli
4. Oven-Baked Cod Fillet with Japanese Miso Sauce
5. Oven-Bake Kurobuta Pork with Black Pepper Sauce
6. Stir-Fried Mee Sua with Seafood in XO Sauce
7. Chilled Lemongrass Jelly with Aloe Vera and Yuzu Sherbet

Taste Of St Regis Formal Dinner 2018 Three Treasures Combination
Had a wonderful dinner at the St Regis Ballroom (called the John Jacob Ballroom).  Good food!  This was the menu:

1. Three Treasures Combination: a) Pan-seared Hokkaido Scallop with Green Mango, Pan-fried Foie Gras, Chilled Lobster Salad
2. Doubled-boiled Superior Broth, Fish Maw, Conpoy, Bamboo Pith with Chinese Ham
3. Braised Six Head Abalone, Sea Cucumber with Flower Mushroom and Seasonal Greens
4. Oven-baked Cod Fillet with Japanese Miso Sauce
5. Herbal Chicken with Red Dates
6. Braised Mee Pok with Assorted Seafood in X.O. Sauce
7. Chilled Bird's Nest Soup with Rock Sugar in Thai Young Coconut

Good food, even better company!  Enjoy.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Day 3 - Shanghai Disneyland! The Happiest Place in China

Day 0 - Depart Singapore to Hangzhou (Scoot Airlines), Arr. Hangzhou 2135hrs
Day 1 - Hangzhou, got a driver, tour the city, including West Lake and Ling Yin Temple
Day 2 - Depart from Hangzhou to Wu Zhen (water town), and then transfer to Shanghai Courtyard Marriot near Disneyland
Day 3 - Shanghai Disneyland! (One full day)
Day 4 - Transfer to Shanghai Marriott City Center
Day 5 - Private day tour to SuZhou
Day 6 - Shanghai Free & Easy
Day 7 - Home sweet Home - Shanghai to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (Business Class)

Day 3 - Today is Shanghai Disneyland! 
We woke up late.  Ha.  All very tried.  But, that's fine.  We were on holiday, and the whole idea was not meant to rush.  Once up, we made our way to DisneyTown for breakfast.  Our room rate didn't come with breakfast, so we figured it would be more cost effective to head straight to DisneyTown and have breakfast there, before entering the park. BreadTalk and ToastBox opened at 0800hrs.



ENTERING THE PARK
By the time we entered the park, it was close to 1000hrs. (Ok, as I said, we woke up late). The video below shows you the barricades, and we entered the park!


Download the DISNEY APP and buy your tickets before you arrive.
In case you missed it in the video above, this is what the ticketing booth looked like at close to 1000hrs a park day. COMPLETELY CLOSED.  It wasn't just a reduced ticketing system, it was closed.  I was taken aback.  It looked like that was NO WAY to buy a ticket from the ticketing counters, and I didn't see any self-service machines either!

Bought Our Tickets Months Before
Just how did we get our tickets?  My dear wife (have read all the reviews) had alerted me some months ago that we needed to get our tickets sorted out.  So I downloaded the app and bought our tickets.  I was also reminded that I will need my phone to be fully powered for the entire day, which meant I needed to bring batteries to charge my phone.  I brought two.

You Need Data
Wait a second, for the app to work, you need WiFi or data connection.  Does Shanghai Disney provide?  Not that I was aware. There was no free WIFI.  So, another cruicial tip - make sure you got a good reliable data connection!  I was using data roaming with my Singapore SIM Card, so no issues on that front for me.  Remember, no data, the app won't work either!

See this short video clip below of how the app looks like.  When you buy tickets, you have to give a document number (in our case it would be our passport).  At the entrance gate, the staff asked to see the original document (so you have to bring your passports along).  Once she verified the document against my electronic ticket (on the App), she proceeded to issue 4 paper tickets.  After that, I had to scan the paper tickets issued  using the app, to group them together so that you can get FastPasses via the App!   We had to keep the paper tickets because that is what they used to scan at the entry and exit gates when we left the park (to DisneyTown to get food) and entered again. Sounds confusing?  Yeah, it was slightly so.


FASTPASS Selection
What about Fastpasses?  Get them through the app too.  Once you are in the park and tickets are linked, you can see which Fast Passes are available.  See the screenshot below.  At 1011AM, the first First Pass I could get was for TRON Lightcycle Power Run, to enter between 2:10PM - 3:10PM.  I could only make another FastPass selection at 12:11PM.



Pirates of the Caribbean
Anyway, once in, we consulted the App for wait times, and decided to head towards Pirates of the Caribbean!  Guests can be any height, and the ride was suitable for all ages.  It was a very impressive ride indeed, with great effects, as you ride a boat around.

A picture of the line.  The queues were orderly and there was palpable excitement in the air.  This was Disneyland, after all.

Even though the app said the wait was 40 minutes, it certainly didn't felt that long.  We probably waited around 20 minutes. I left my iPhone 8 Plus running as I enjoyed the ride. Unfortunately, this phone isn't great in such low light conditions, so the video is very dark.  The ride was beautifully done.  Amazing use of technology. But you get an idea.  This ride is definitely worth it.


Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Roller Coaster of sorts)
From pirates, we head to dwarves - the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland.  It is supposedly a roller-coaster.  Guests must be 97 cm or taller, so we figured it couldn't be too hard on the stomach. The waiting time was long, but we decided to try the Single Rider method.  We had read about it.  See the sign below, which made clear that you will be seated separately from travelling companions/friends.

SINGLE RIDER LINE - Only Waited 20 Minutes
We ended up waiting only 20 minutes for our turn to ride.  Indeed, we rode separately.  I went the last, and for some strange reason, I had a cart to myself.  (It is 2 person per car).  I was in the very last car. Here is the ENTIRE RIDE filmed with my GoPro.  Thank God I didn't drop the camera.


Disney Castle
After that, we were headed to another ride in the direction of Tron.  Here is a video of us walking towards the castle.


Once Upon a Time Adventure
At the base of the castle, we saw this attraction called 'Once Upon a Time Adventure'.  Since the waiting time wasn't that long, we decided to check it out. According to the website, we are to step through the Magic Mirror portal and enter an enchanted dimension of wonder: Snow White’s fairy-tale world.

Asian Cinderella Singing in Mandarin
It ended up being a walk-through of the Cinderella story, completely in mandarin of course.  Didn't take very long.  What struck me was an Asian (Yellow-Skinned, Chinese) Cinderella singing to a well in Mandarin.  That was cool.  What was she singing?  Based on my limited mandarin, she was asking to meet her Prince Charming.


BUZZ LIGHTYEAR! 
Next, we headed to the Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue Arcade Ride. Blast away at Emperor Zurg’s abominable bot army in an all-out battle to save Planet Pepperonia! Go from zero to Space Ranger hero—join Buzz on an interactive galactic adventure to stop Star Command’s most wanted! Ready to wreak cosmic chaos, evil Emperor Zurg has returned to demolish the Space Aliens’ planet with a crystal-powered Superblaster. It’s up to you to infiltrate Zurg’s secret lair, neutralize his army of underlings and eliminate the weapon of “mass alien destruction” before it’s too late! [Source]

Guests can be any height and all ages (I saw babies). According reviews, this was the best Buzzlight Year ride on the planet, and it certainly didn't disappoint!  The waiting time was very short, hardly anybody, as you can see in the video below.



Why was it so empty? It was close to noon, and all the crowds were lined up along the streets of Disney, waiting for the noon parade!

TRON LIGHTCYCLE RIDE
Immediately after Buzz Lightyear, and given our realisation that 99% of the people in the park were happily watching the parade, we decided to try TRON, since it was just next door to Buzz LightYear. Take note, there was only one parade a day at noon.  Yes, we missed the parade.  In life, we have to make choices.

Got this from the Shanghai Disneyland website:

Sync the pedal to moto-metal while twisting, turning and riding for your life in the cyber-fi world of TRON! The Ultimate Competition Experience high-speed thrills and chills as the Grid comes alive in a heart-pounding race for survival. Created as a friendly way for “Programs” and “Users” to interact, the Power Run pits team against team in the quintessential quest to capture 8 Energy Gates and triumph over opponents. Prepare for digitization after entering the portal—this is your access into the energy, lights and excitement of TRON’s high-tech universe. As you leave the real world behind, you’ll proceed to the games as a member of Team Blue, ready to compete against some of the Grid’s most menacing Programs.  Guest must be 122 cm or taller.

I was not a roller coaster type of person, but I read that this ride was very good, and more importantly, we didn't go upside down.  So, we decided to go for it, before lunch!  True enough, the lines were very short, and we were in line no more than 10 minutes.  Beautiful dark/twilight waiting areas inside.  The video below shows some of the waiting, but I didn't take any footage of the actual ride.


BAG DEPOSIT
They had bag deposit machines outside the ride, but we observed many people entering the ride with backpacks, which we did.  Take note, we had to deposit our backpacks in a large bin  just before we got on the ride, and retrieved our bag when the ride was completed again.  I was a bit worried because there was no guarantee that our bagpacks would still be there when we returned, or more likely another park visitor could take our bagpack, even if not deliberately, it could be by mistake.  Thank God all our bags were as we left them.

I found this TRON Coaster Ride-Through, which gives you an awesome view of what the ride looks like.  The ride was rather short, thankfully.  I'm not that amenable to such rides.  Felt a bit woozy after that.


LUNCH TIME! 
So, it was 12 something, we just took TRON, and it was time for some lunch! We decided to head to the restaurants at DisneyTown for a proper lunch.  There was a side entrance/exit into DisneyTown too (we had observed that when we were walking around DisneyTown the night before), so that certainly helped.  It took no more than 10 minutes to walk from the TRON ride to the restaurant at DisneyTown. They had 2 manned security gates (including X-ray machine).  You needed to use your paper tickets to get in and out.

We ended up eating both our lunch and dinner at this Chinese restaurant called Nan Xiao Dian.  At this restaurant, you had to order and pay up before they served you food.  They do have paper menus, but it was quicker to order and pay online!  See the screeshots below of the bill. Very advanced, China.  Our meal cost RMB 202, or 32USD.  Pretty reasonable to fill 4 stomachs.



Here is the video of the food!  I even a Tsingtao Beer, for 18RMB. Good food!  Very tasty.


VOYAGE TO THE CRYSTAL GROTTO
After lunch, and after consulting wait times, we decided to go for the Crystal Grotto Ride. Journey deep into a cavern where favorite Disney tales come alive in a dazzling display of music, light and wonder!  What about the Fastpass for TRON?  We gave that up too, since we already had done TRON.  And there were no more FastPasses available too (based on the app).

This time, the lines were rather long, but orderly.  In total, we probably waited 30-40 minutes for this ride.  It got a bit warm. Pity the parents who had to carry their kids.  It probably felt very claustrophic if you were short. No fun.

It is a typical boat ride.  Suitable for all ages.  Video below shows you the line and the entire boat ride.  The ride itself was about 8 minutes. Enjoy!


TARZAN SHOW
Next, we wanted to catch a show at the Pirates Cove but we were too late, and they had already closed the gates.  So we had to wait a bit to catch the final Tarzan show of the day.  The theatre was very large.  The queue lines were opened 1/2 hour before the show, and already long queues had formed by the time we got to the queue, about 30 minutes before.

TARZAN SHOW
In the video clip below, you will see the final minutes of the show.  We weren't seated that near the stage, but we were in the best block for viewing.  Video is a bit dark, but you will be able to make out the acrobatics etc.


After the Tarzan show, we had wanted to go for another famous ride, but the wait times were just too long.  So we adjourned to the Starbucks instead. Starbucks was located in DisneyTown.  We wanted to get some coffee.  We were all getting a tad tired.  See the video.


The queue length for Soaring over the Horizon never dropped below 120 minutes. So, we decided to give it a miss.  We didn't feel like queueing for 2 hours.  Instead, we went back to the same place we had lunch, to have dinner!  Yes, we liked it so much.  And then, we made our way to watch the fireworks display at around 7:20pm.  We thought we were early, but by the time we made it to the area to watch the fireworks display, it was completely full!

So, we didn't have much of a choice, and had to choose another vantage point which was slightly blocked, and rather far from the castle. Here it is.

Just 5 minutes before 8pm, there was an announcement to say that there would be NO FIREWORKS tonight, due to the air quality. ARGH! What a mega disappointment.  You could almost hear the collective grown.  Anyway, since nobody was going to get any refunds, we decided to stay on to see the light show.  Well, to be fair, the light show was still pretty impressive.  Here is the entire show that I managed to record using my iPhone on a Gimbal.  My hand felt a bit sore after that.


The light show took a good 20 minutes.  It was that long. I'm sure it would have been much, much better with fireworks.  It was soon over, and time to leave!
Hordes of park go-ers would make their way out of the park at the same time, and it was certainly a sight to watch.  See from 3:08 of the video below.

People and more people.  This is China.

We let the crowds go past, as we wanted to get some Breadtalk bread for our breakfast tomorrow.  The sales at Breadtalk after the light show had ended were very good.  There were lines to get bread.  We headed to the taxi stand, expecting to see a long queue, but it turned out that there were very few people at the taxi stand.  I concluded that most park-goers didn't take taxis.  Buses perhaps? Anyway, we took a taxi back to our hotel, costing us around 20RMB.

And that concludes our day in Shanghai Disneyland. Tomorrow, we take a taxi to central Shanghai, where we will be staying at the Marriott Shanghai City Center.  Stay tuned!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Day 2- Wu Zhen 乌镇 Water Town, Courtyard Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone (by Marriott) near Shanghai Disneyland

China Trip 2018

Day 0 - Depart Singapore to Hangzhou (Scoot Airlines), Arr. Hangzhou 2135hrs
Day 1 - Hangzhou, got a driver, tour the city, including West Lake and Ling Yin Temple
Day 2 - Depart from Hangzhou to Wu Zhen (water town), and then transfer to Shanghai Courtyard Marriot near Disneyland
Day 3 - Shanghai Disneyland! (One full day)
Day 4 - Transfer to Shanghai Marriott City Center
Day 5 - Private day tour to SuZhou
Day 6 - Shanghai Free & Easy
Day 7 - Home sweet Home - Shanghai to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (Business Class)

Today was Day 2, we leave Hangzhou!  Before that, we had a nice buffet breakfast at the Holiday Inn, and the video is below.


Today we would be using the same driver from yesterday, who met us punctually at the agreed time.  It helped that we had WeChat and could communicate with him.  The ride to Wu Zhen took more than an hour, but time flew by as we were playing mobile games on our phones.

Wu Zhen 乌镇
Wuzhen is one of the six famous ancient water towns south of the Yangtze River. It’s within the triangle formed by three top tourist cities: Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou. It has charmingly restored architecture and canals. Though some people complain about its commercial atmosphere, restored buildings, and the crowds, the charm and the elegance of this ancient water town is undeniable. We first toured Wu Zhen East.  It was crowded!  Check out the scenes in the video below.


There were many tour groups, of local (Mainland China) tourists. I found the signage below to be funny.  This was called an Ancient Tree of Wu Zhen East District.  But the age is merely 45 years? Maybe that is ancient by Chinese tree standards.  Anyway....

From East to West 乌镇
From the East, we headed to the West. The drive took about 15 minutes.  The Western part was much bigger, with boutique hotels.  People stayed for 1 or 2 nights here.  Before you entered the Water Town proper, you had to go through these gates.  We had bought a combined ticket earlier (when we visited the Wu Zhen East).  A combination of modern and ancient, made this place feel a bit like a theme park.  We used the toilets before we entered.  They were large and clean.  Very good.

Wu Zhen Video
Video of our exploratory walk of 乌镇 Wu Zhen West.  When we entered, I didn't realise that there was a free ferry (human powered) to bring us across to the otherside. We followed the footpath, but that turned out to be a good thing because we got to see the impressive Wu Zhen theatre.  Check that out in the video below.  The video also shows us taking the free ferry on our way out.  It was a purely human powered boat.  Two men using long bamboo sticks to punt.  One more using some type of rudder cum paddle at the rear.


Lunch at KFC
We walked around a bit, but as it was lunch time, and we couldn't find any place to eat that we liked, we decided to cut short our walk (after seeing enough of the place) and get back to the entrance.  Kids wanted lunch, and the safest place to bring them for lunch was KFC.  So we headed back to 乌镇 
East and settled our lunch at a KFC there.


Transfer to Courtyard Marriott Shanghai
The full name was Courtyard Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone.  It is located at the outskirts of Shanghai, about 20 minutes from Pudong International Airport.  The reason for us staying here was Disneyland!  We would be here for 2 nights.  The transfer from Wu Zhen to Courtyard Marriott took about 2 hours.  This time round, all of us took a nap, while our good driver drove us safely to our destination.  The roads were very smooth, and most of the time we were on the highway.  No speeding.  I figured that my driver would get a speeding ticket if he went too fast.  Cameras were everywhere! Elegant sign.  Our check in was very smooth and easy.  The hotel didn't seem full.

Peppa Pig Room
We had a very good laugh when we walked into our "Camping Room". Here is why.  It was hilarious!  We tried fitting into the tent.  Didn't work very well (legs sticking out), but they, it was fun.


Some more pictures of the room. A nice touch was that the Mini-Bar in the hotel room was complimentary.  Granted, there wasn't much in there, but still, a nice touch.

What was in the Mini-Bar?  Pepsi, Seven-Up, some nuts and Coconut Juice. Coke, Seven-Up.  The Coconut Juice wasn't the clear type we had in Singapore.  It was milky.  I would call it Coconut milk.

What to eat?
Now we had an issue.  It was close to dinner time.  What to eat?  The immediate vicinity of the hotel did not have anything.  It was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, no shops, no restaurants, no malls.  The hotel itself had a restaurant (or two) but we were sure that the prices would be quite steep, so we didn't even check them out.  The hotel website said that this place was 900M to Shanghai Disneyland, but that is as the bird flies.  Going by vehicle, it was quite far (you had to go up a bridge), and the distance was probably more than 2km.  So we decided to take a taxi.  My wife used her DiDi app to call for a taxi.  Yeah, she's quite amazing, she has all these Chinese apps loaded.


Shanghai DisneyTown
From the taxi stand, it took about 5 minutes to walk to DisneyTown.  Good atmosphere.  Decided to walk around to check out the various eateries.  Found out that they had a BreadTalk which was co-located with ToastBox.  Food Republic, a Singapore Food Court operator, also had a sizable presence there.  Check out the video below.


Dinner at DonDonYa
After a brief walk, we settled with DonDonYa, an eatery selling Japanese inspired food.  They had sets for 65RMB, which looked to be of decent value. So we had 3 sets and then went over to Food Republic to buy some Shanghai Dumplings (takeaway).  We took a taxi (from the official line) back to Courtyard, cost was 20RMB.


This ends Day 2 of our tour. We would have a good rest this evening, and head out to Shanghai Disneyland tomorrow!  Thanks for following along!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Day 1 - Hangzhou Sights Ling Yin Temple, Red Carp Pond and more

We were going on holiday!  Our destination was Hangzhou, followed by Shanghai.  The plan:

Day 0 - Depart Singapore to Hangzhou (Scoot Airlines), Arr. Hangzhou 2135hrs
Day 1 - Hangzhou, got a driver, tour the city, including West Lake and Ling Yin Temple
Day 2 - Depart from Hangzhou to Wu Zhen (water town), and then transfer to Shanghai Courtyard Marriot near Disneyland
Day 3 - Shanghai Disneyland! (One full day)
Day 4 - Transfer to Shanghai Marriott City Center
Day 5 - Private day tour to SuZhou
Day 6 - Shanghai Free & Easy
Day 7 - Home sweet Home - Shanghai to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (Business Class)

This is Day 1 - Hangzhou

We were in Hangzhou, China! We arrived the night before, via Scoot Airlines (Singapore to Hangzhou.  Today, we would hire a driver to bring us around to see the sights of Hangzhou.  But before that, let me show you the narrow beds in our hotel room.  Our room came with two twin beds, but when we booked on the Holiday Inn IHG website, it room clearly stated two double beds. Oh well.  For the fun of it, I got two models to show you the breadth of the twin bed, for laughs!


Breakfast
The day started with a good breakfast at the Holiday Inn Buffet.  Our room rate came with breakfast for two adults.  The buffet supervisor allowed my two kids to eat for free.  Video below shows the good food we had.  Breakfast area wasn't too crowded, which was nice.


Below, a picture of the stylish buffet area.  A mixture of Western and Chinese food.  I liked the porridge and fried dough sticks.  Also had eggs from the egg station.  Breakfast was good and we felt happy.

Journey to West Lake (Xi Hu)
Our driver picked us up from the lobby, as per the arranged time.  Our ride was in a very comfortable MPV.  There were many skyscrapers in Hangzhou.  It looked to be a developed city.  There was construction outside our hotel - driver told us that they were building new metro/underground lines.

Driver's 7 Year Old Kid Studies All Day
Glad that we could speak some Mandarin, and that allowed us to have interesting conversations with our driver.  We did not book a guide, only driver.  But as you can see and hear from the video below, our driver was more than happy to tell us about China, and his family and other interesting nuggets of life in China!


West Lake, Hangzhou 
First stop, the famous West Lake 西湖!  West Lake (Chinese: 西湖; pinyin: Xī Hú) is a freshwater lake in Hangzhou, China.  There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake. Map of the West Lake in Hangzhou, China Leifeng Pagoda West Lake has influenced poets and painters throughout Chinese history for its natural beauty and historic relics, and it has also been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, described as having "influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries"and reflecting "an idealized fusion between humans and nature". (Source wiki)

Below is the video of our very calm boat ride.  Again, glad that we could understand some Mandarin.  The boatman was most enthusiastic in telling us about Chinese culture and history.  Made for some good story-telling.  The scenic boat (or human powered sampan) ride took 40 minutes and cost 150 RMB.  The boat can take a max of 6 pax, but I think 4 is ideal.  Any more may be a bit of a squeeze.


A picture of another boat going past.  See that the boat is very low and we are very close to the water.  You could play with the water, if you wished.  Don't fall in! (Not sure if there were life jackets, maybe under the seat).

There were these larger boats too, but we didn't take them today.  The ticketing booth was near these boats and they cost 70 RMB per person.  I think the ride is a longer one, and it brings you to the other side?  Not sure.

After an calming boat ride, we took a walk around the waterfront.  Even though we only paid for a driver, his service was excellent. He took pains to bring us around the waterfront.  He brought us to see some squirrels, and then a slow walk back to the vehicle.  I noticed all the electric buses and carts.  Saving the environment!


Even the Police Car was an electric one.  Looks like the Chinese authorities were very serious in ensuring clean and fresh air around their famous Lake. 

Next stop, Ling Yin Temple (灵隐寺). 

Lingyin Temple (simplified Chinese: 灵隐寺; traditional Chinese: 靈隱寺; pinyin: Língyǐn Sì) is a Buddhist temple of the Chan sect located north-west of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. The temple's name is commonly literally translated as Temple of the Soul's Retreat. It is one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in China, and contains numerous pagodas and Buddhist grottoes. The monastery is the largest of several temples in the Wulin Mountains (武林山; Wǔlínshān), which also features a large number of grottos and religious rock carvings, the most famous of which is the Feilai Feng (飞来峰; literally: "the peak that flew hither"). [Source: Wikipedia]


We decided not to enter the temple, so we only bought a ticket to view the external areas, which had the famous Buddha carvings into the rock. Check them out in the video above.  Here is a photo of the main entrance to the temple scenic area.

And this is the famous Buddha (was he laughing?) carved into the rocks.  One of many, but this particular one is the most famous (I think).  There were some paths for us to walk up to the peak, but we didn't get very far.  In the video, you will see how steep the steps were.  We got up to a pavilion and the adults took a rest.  I sent the kids higher for a look and they reported back that there was nothing to see.  This was also confirmed when I asked some passers-by whether it was worth the climb all the way up.  They said 'no'.

KFC 肯德基 in China
After our climb, it was time for lunch!  We decided to settle with KFC, which was located just opposite the ticket booths.  Got some Rice box as well as KFC Asian-style wrap.  All very good.  Video is below.


Tea Planation
After lunch, we took a leisurely drive by the waterfront and found our way to a tea plantation.  Stopped by the roadside, and got out to take some photos.  Hangzhou is famous for tea.  There was some saying that the poor drink alcohol, but the rich enjoy tea.  Plantation was set against rolling hills.  Neat stuff.  Didn't spend too long here, just for a photo opportunity.


Red Carp Pond
Next stop? A garden that contained the famous Red Carp Pond! This attraction was called View Fish at Flower Harbour, Red Carp Pond of Hangzhou, China. As one of top ten attractions at West Lake, Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor features the flower harbor plus red carps, peony flowers, a big lawn and dense woods. With a total area of 20 hectares (49 acres), it is located on a peninsula between West Inner Lake and South Lake in the southwest part of West Lake, and is sandwiched in between the Yang Causeway and Su Causeway. The history of Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor can be dated to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Back then, the government official Lu Yunsheng built a private garden at the foot of Flower Hill (Huajia Hill). He dug a pond, and raised various fish in it. The garden was first called Lu Garden, and then became known as Flower Harbor. Later, Ma Yuan, a great painter of the Southern Song Dynasty, depicted the scene when he created the Ten Paintings of West Lake. From then on, the beautiful scene has been known as 'Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor'.  This attraction was free of charge.

True to its name, there were plenty of gorgeous carp.  No natural predators here.  Many people feeding the carp.  No wonder some of them are so big and fat.


Here is a picture showing the description of the Red Carp Pond - a few thousand red carps.  The Chinese loved to watch the fat carp.  It helps them write better poems and profound sayings.
There is a Chinese proverb 鲤鱼跳龙门 that translates to "The carp has leaped through the dragon's gate."  On first read, you would be, "DUH?".  But it is rather profound.

鲤鱼跳龙门
"According to Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is located at the top of a waterfall cascading from a legendary mountain. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough for the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp successfully makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon. A Chinese dragon’s large, conspicuous scales indicate its origin from a carp. The Chinese dragon has long been an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The image of a carp jumping over Dragon’s Gate is an old and enduring Chinese cultural symbol for courage, perseverance, and accomplishment. Historically, the dragon was the exclusive symbol of the emperor of China and the five-character expression, Liyu Tiao Long Men, was originally used as a metaphor for a person’s success in passing very difficult imperial examinations, required for entry into imperial administrative service. To this day, when a student from a remote country village passes the rigorous national university examination in China, friends and family proudly refer to the “Liyu Tiao Long Men.” More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved."

After the garden of the red carp, we would head to the famous pedestrian street. But before that, we did a quick stop at a Silk Shop.  Video below. Not cheap!  We didn't stay long.


Qinghefang 清河坊古街 Ancient Street
Our last stop of the day (before dinner) would be Qinghefang Ancient Street 清河坊古街, which is a section of Hefang Street which is located at the northern foot of Wu Shan Hill in Hangzhou. It is just several hundreds meters away from the beautiful West Lake. With an area of 13 hectares (32 acres), the street is the only well-preserved part of the ancient city.

As a miniature of the city's long history, it is the best place to embody the historical and cultural character of Hangzhou. Qinghefang Ancient Street 清河坊古街 has been the most flourished street in the city since the ancient time. During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279 AD), Qinghefang with lots of shops, restaurants and teahouses was the center of politics, culture and commerce in the city. After so many years, it is still a prosperous business area. Many famous century-old shops are located in this ancient street, such as Wangxingji Fan Store, Zhangxiaoquan Scissors, Wanlong Ham Stack, Huqingyutang Pharmacy, Baohetang Pharmacy, Zhuangyuan House, Wangruixing, Yiyuanjindian, Jingyangguan and Sheep Soup Restaurant among others. It was fun to walk around and take in the sights and sounds!


Dinner at 录茶餐厅
Finally, it was time for dinner.  The driver brought us to a shopping center (which was rather empty) but the restaurants were fairly crowded.  We had dinner at the Green Tea restaurant, or 录茶餐厅.  This was a rather popular place (you can find it reviewed on the internet).  We didn't really know what to order, so we got pretty random stuff.


Heading back to Hotel
It wasn't that late when we finished dinner, but it was time to head back to the hotel to get some rest.  It was a pretty short ride back, and along the way, I asked the driver about all the overhead cameras that were flashing at us everytime his vehicle went past.  He told me matter of factly that those cameras can capture our faces as we drove past, even at night.  Welcome to 21st Century China!

Well, that's the end of our day in Hangzhou.  Good fun, and we saw a lot!  Thanks for following along.  Tomorrow, we check out of the Holiday Inn, and stop by Wu Zhen watertown before heading to the Courtyard by Marriott near Shanghai Disneyland.  Stay tuned!