Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chinese Lunar New Year 2017 Year of Rooster Cool Videos

2017 marks the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese Zodiac.  What struck me was the many varied Rooster animations and videos sent around on the social media.  I think the Rooster and all the crowing lends itself very well to these fantastic animations.  Here is a collection of some.

We start with a short video.  As usual, the Rooster crows at the start, and a bunch of them starts to do some type of catchy dance.  Watch out for the Rooster in cool dark sunglasses swaggering along.  Very funny.

Now, this video talks about the virtues of how to succeed in 2017. Virtues include patience, hard work, alertness... the usual stuff but the animation makes it fun to watch.

Oh McDonald Had A Rooster!
Oh McDonald had a farm Rooster song is downright hilarious. I had a good laugh watching this, and frankly, I watched this many times. A mixture of East and West often hits the right spot with me. sd

Many Well Wishes New Year Video
A more traditional type of Chinese New Year video, saying all the nice things, well wishes and the like. It gets boring after a while though.

Hip Rooster Band Video
Now, this Rooster Band is way more hip. Roosters are natural pop stars, as this video shows you why. The animation is very cool, I like it.

The compilation of foreign leaders sending Chinese New Year greetings is nice.  Leaders featured included Donald Trump, Theresa May & Rodrigo Duterte.

Robots Taking Over the World!
Not so much a song, but some robot calligraphy. Felt a bit ominous watching this. Robots taking over the world soon?

Malaysian Airlines Awesome Lunar New Year 2017 Video
Finally, the best of the best Lunar New Year video for 2017? Ironically, nothing to do with Roosters. Rather, it was this amazing, mind-blowing video from Malaysian Airlines showcasing the Malaysian people - it was truly a picture of racial harmony! Non Chinese, speaking Mandarin and other Chinese dialects fluently! Hats off!

So, which was your favourite?  Or do you have a favourite that I am not aware of?  Please let me know. Blessed Lunar New Year to everybody.  Have you received it yet?

Lunar New Year 2017 Blessings!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

China Won't Return Terrex Vehicles to Singapore Unless....

Watch this video by a very articulate Chinese person, likely speaking on behalf or speaking on proxy for the Chinese Government. What is he saying?

Well folks, let's face it. We are in a David vs Goliath situation. As the old saying goes, Big Countries do what they want, and and small countries suffer what they must. Big China has decided to teach Small Singapore a lesson by seizing the Terrex vehicles that were transiting through Hong Kong's port. After more than a month, there is no end to this saga.

 This Chinese official (obviously told to go on media), has explained it very clearly. Singapore has not given China the assurances on two very important conditions.

First, Singapore did not inform the Hong Kong authorities that such sensitive cargo was transitting through the port. Why was this?

Second, and the real reason, Singapore did not adhere to the 'One China' policy because Singapore continues to train in Taiwan. The official said that Singapore's reason that the relationship with Taiwan goes back to the 1970s does not take into account that the modern reality is different. China is not the China of 30 years ago. Back then, Singapore started training in Taiwan (with the silent backing of the USA), China could do nothing about it even though China was not happy.

Today, China has decided to do something about it. Until these two conditions are met, the Chinese official categorically stated that Singapore will NOT get back her Terrex vehicles.

Not Going To Give You Back, Big China tells Small Singapore
Poor Singapore. Kena bullied. How can an island of 5 million stand up against an emerging superpower of 1.3 billion? In Singaporean lingo, China is telling Singapore to 'wake up our idea'.

What should we do? That, ladies & gentleman, is the million dollar question.  Now, bear in mind, the whole world is watching this closely, watching what Singapore would do, watching whether Singapore would cave in to China, watching whether the people of Singapore would scold their Government and tell the Singapore Government to give in.

If we give in, I'd say we are doomed.  Yes, we will get back our 9 Terrexes (apparently worth $30 million or so), but what will we lose?  We will lose our credibility as a sovereign country in the eyes of the rest of the world.  We will lose our reputation as an independent country, upholding international law, respecting rule of law.  So, give in, and don't blame our foreign friends for thinking that we are now part of China.

What We Should Do
Much as I don't like Donald Trump, I would like to quote his tweet as a possible Singapore response, in the event China simply refuses to return the Terrex.  Here was his tweet,

To paraphrase Trump,

"We should tell China that we don't want the Terrexes they stole back - let them keep it!"

Tell the whole world that China is the thief, the big bully, the country that unilaterally disregards international law.  They stole our good and let them keep it, so that the whole world can see for themselves who the thieves are.

As for the 9 Terrexes, we'll just build another 9 lah.  After all, aren't they locally made?  Create jobs for ourselves ain't a too bad an idea is it?

Majulah Singapura!

Monday, January 2, 2017

UK England and Scotland Driving Holiday Day 1 and Day 2 Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford upon Avon December 2016

Greetings to all!  Over the next few pages, I shall document our recent UK Driving Holiday in December 2016 for easy reference.  Bear in mind this was a holiday in winter.  Why winter?  Well, we had to plan our holidays around the school holidays, and since we had been to UK before, we decided to do a driving holiday for the fun of it, even though we knew that it would be colder and the day light would be shorter.  Still, what's life without an adventure of sorts?  So off we went.

Day 1 - Arrival, Picking up Car, Going to Stonehenge & Bath, Overnight Premier Inn Trowbridge
After a wonderful flight on Vietnam Airlines (we were in the Business Cabin), we arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 4 in the morning, just after 7am.  It was fairly chilly, around 6 deg C. Getting through security and immigration was very quick (thanks to Fast Track) and before we knew it, we were in the arrivals hall trying to figure out how to get to SIXT car rental.

Then, I spotted this wall, which looked promising.  After all, it said "Car Rentals".  So we headed to the temporary looking display for a closer look.

And this is what I saw.  Under SIXT Rent a car, it put Bus stop 2.  Great, let's go to Bus stop 2 for the pickup.  But wait a second, I decided to read the fine print.  This is what is said - "Please call 0203 462 6791 to request a shuttle service, then make your way to bus stop 2 to be collected."  I read it a few times.  Duh!  You had to call them?  Ok, let's try using the phone, but look carefully, the phone was broken!  Oh goodness gracious.  Imagine if you did not know how to read English, you would have just gone to Bus Stop 2 and waited like a fool.  Even if you could read English, how to call?  Thank God, we had UK mobile numbers (Lesson learnt, always good to get a local mobile number when travelling, because you never know when you need to call somebody) and I called the number and true enough, the person on the other side said that they would despatch a shuttle bus to pick us up.  (No call, no bus LOL!)

Well, the Lord is good.  So we made the call, found our way to the Bus Stop 2, and waited.  At Bus Stop 2, I noticed three other shuttles waiting for passengers, including Hertz.  Later, I figured out that you didn't need to call if you booked from say Hertz, because they have constant shuttles to the various London Heathrow Terminals to pick up and drop-off passengers.  SIXT is a much smaller set-up compared to the big-boys, hence they will only pick you up if you call them.  Makes sense, however, SIXT should at least ensure that the phone in Terminal 4 is working! 

Well, the good thing from hiring from a less busy company was that we had the entire shuttle bus to ourselves.  It came to pick us (we waited only around 5 minutes from the time we arrived at the Bus Stop 2) and the ride to SIXT took around 10 minutes.  This was the sight that greeted us.  It was fairly bus and I had to wait about 10 minutes before I was served.

Service was efficient, though I expressed disappointment when I couldn't get the car I had hoped to get, which was the Mercedes E class Estate.  From the SIXT website, the choice of car in the category I booked looked like this.  It was the Premium Class Estates PWAR category, and advertised as Mercedes Benz E-class Estate or similar.  The key is the word 'similar'. Unfortunately, they did not have this model so I had accept the Audi A6 Estate instead.  No matter, it was a very new and nice car, Adblue issues aside!

Why choose an Estate Car?  Well, we needed more boot space, and since this is a rental, I decided to get a Premium model since I don't think I'll ever own an Audi or Mercedes in Singapore (just too expensive to afford).  Another practical reason - only premium models came with onboard GPS, or they call it Sat Nav.  Car models without Sat Nav means that you have to hire Sat Nav separately and that costs at least 10 pounds per day.  (Or you could buy or bring your own, but that is just too troublesome for me).  The rate I got was similar to the one you see in the screenshot before, approx 70 pounds per day for the day.

When you get the keys to the rental car, there is a huge temptation to load up, and drive off.  I would caution against that.  Better to check the car carefully for damage otherwise you may have to pay for the damage!  So I walked one round the car and took this video and some photos.  Something like this.

Alright.  After inspecting, and loading up, it was time to go!  In the UK, the most reliable way to get to your destination is using the SatNav, but even SatNav will only bring you to the immediate vicinity.  Useful to have your itinerary printed out in front of you too, in case you need to make quick reference.  Also useful to use maps like Google Maps to visualize the route.  Our first stop for the day would be the Stonehenge Visitor Center, almost 75 miles or 120km away.  Time to drive.

Traffic was fairly light and we got to Stonehenge quickly.  All the way here to see some stones?  Yes, that's about it.  Stonehenge is about stones from the pre-historic era.  The weather was a tad chilly, but good enough to spend an hour outdoors.  All to see some stones.  You can read up about why the Stonehenge is so famous online.

And here is a video of our Stonehenge experience.   Looking at stones from pre-historic times, even before Roman times.  The stones were left by a culture and people that left no written word. This place gets super crowded during the busy times in Summer, because it is one of England's most famous tourist site.  This place can't cope with the crowds and you are encouraged to pre-book your arrival times otherwise you may not be able to enter the exhibit. We didn't have any of such problems in winter.  The loads were very light.  While in line, we were approached by a staff selling the English Heritage Visitor Pass, which we bought. Turned out to be useful because it could be used at many English Heritage sites.    Oh, one more things, due to large crowds, visitors can no longer go right up to touch the stones.  The video will show you the closest you can get to the stones, which is still quite far off.  Still, this was a bucket-list sight for us, and we're glad to have done it.

There was a cafe at the Visitor centre, but we decided not to eat anything, because time was tight and we wanted to visit Bath before going to our hotel at Trowbridge.  Why so complicated?  Well, when we were looking at hotels to stay in Bath, they turned out to either be fully booked or very expensive.  There was something happening at Bath over the weekend, so we booked the Premier Inn at Trowbridge instead.  The following map extract shows you the two places. The distance from Stonehenge to Bath wasn't too far, however, it would be on smaller A-roads, so it would take a while.

Took a little over an hour to reach Bath from Stonehenge.  The problem we faced was parking.  I circled around the city a bit but couldn't find any place to park (entered a car park but it was full), and finally had to park at a Cricket Club which was about a 10 minute walk to the City Center.  Take note that parking in UK cities would cost some pounds, and enforcement is quite prompt.  Usually, it is a pay and display type of system.  You got to find a machine to pay money, get the ticket and display on your windshield, like this.  In this case, I paid 4.50 pounds for 3 hours of parking.

Our first stop in Bath was to find a place to eat.  Googled and found some chinese restaurant where we had some Chinese food.  The food was only so-so (and at UK prices), but we still need to eat.

What we noticed was that this restaurant was very crowded, and Sichuan food was very popular!

Turns out that Bath City centre was quite crowded.  Heard that there was a Rugby match going on and many people were out and about.  There were also Christmas markets.  With our tummies full, we decided to talk a walk around the city center, but we did not visit any of the paid sites.  Just felt a tad too crowded for our liking, and after some walking we headed back to the car for the drive to Trowbridge.  Here is a video of the people in Bath.  Oh, this was a Saturday, so that helped explained the crowds too.

The drive to Premier Inn Trowbridge too about 30 minutes.  By this time, it was getting dark and jet lag was setting in.  We had arrived in London that morning! It was also getting cold. Fortunately, we found the hotel, as well as car-parking (take note, carparks are not always available) and checked in Kids didn't want to go anywhere and since we were quite full, we just bought some takeaway pizza from a nearby restaurant and that settled dinner.  The UK was hitting a cold front.  Usually, it isn't this cold during this time of the year. We were all tired, so went to bed quite early. Weather was getting cold and tomorrow would be Day 2.  Fortunately, the weather looked like it would warm up after a few days, but tomorrow (Sunday) looked chilly.

Day 2 - Breakfast and onwards to Stratford upon Avon
Day 2 morning.  We slept well and didn't wake up too early, I think around 6AM.  Soon, it was time for breakfast.  We like the Premier Inn chain for its breakfast because Kids eat free! And they define kids up to 16 years of age.  So we buy 2 adult breakfast, and up to 4 kids can eat free.  We only have 2 kids, but that's good enough!  How much per adult?  Here is our receipt.  It was 8.99 UK Pounds per adult.  Notice the VAT in UK - 20%.

Breakfast - we were the only customers in the restaurant!  This was the low season after all.The self-service Costa coffee machine was always very welcomed, especially in winter.  Have as much as you like, when you have the breakfast.

Here was my feast. Way too much for breakfast, but hey, I was on holiday.  Just eat and be merry, since it was cold, and we would be out for the rest of the day.

Here is a video of the Premier Inn Trowbridge Room and breakfast experience.  The room cost 66 UK pounds for that one night. You can see that it was a large Family room, with sufficient bedding for the four of us.

After a good breakfast and plenty of hot coffee (I usually have 2 cups and my family members too!), it was time to get going.  But before that, we had to deal with a somewhat frozen car.  Check it out!

Yes, it was below zero overnight, so there was some frost on the car.  Nothing too serious, though coming from tropical Singapore, this was an interesting experience for us who were so used to 30 deg C heat and humidity! Anyway, after warming up the car, it was time to head off.  Today, the plan was to go to Stratford upon Avon.  This was the route:

The absolute distance of about 75 miles didn't sound too far, but because we were travelling largely on smaller A-roads, I couldn't drive that fast so the journey did take some time.  Along the way, we must have stopped at some supermarket to buy water and snacks, since I found these videos in my collection:

We arrived in Stratford upon Avon in good time.  Fortunately, the sun was shining and it was longer as chilly as the morning.  Parked the car at a public carpark and it was time to explore Stratford upon Avon.  Here was a map.

The town wasn't big at all.  Very easy to walk around on foot, using these maps, and my phone GPS. By this time, we were feeling hungry. We found a decent look pub, and it turned out to be part of the Wetherspoon chain.  So we decided to have some pub food.  We have dined at the Wetherspoon chain of pubs before, so we more or less knew what to expect.  The video shows you what we had for lunch.  The portions were quite large and the four of us could easily share three portions.  Here is a video of the food, plus the pub menu.  This place was crowded!

After lunch, it was time to visit the various Shakespeare historic sights.  The most interesting was the Shakespeare's birthplace.  I had read on TripAdvisor that there wasn't really very much to see, and I was given the impression that this place would be a tourist trap.  The verdict? Well, if you want to be cynical about it, yes it was kinda a tourist trap.  However, I did find the 16th Century house that Shakespeare was born in to be very interesting.  And also found out that Shakespeare's Father was a craftsman (he made gloves) and even rose to become the Mayor of Stratford upon Avon.  During Shakespeare's time, this town had a population of around 6,000 (I think).  So, yes, I could be cynical about it but Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer of our time (had to read so many of his works while in school) and it was in our bucket list to visit his birthplace. So we did it!  If you are not a fan of Shakespeare and you don't like 16th Century houses, give this place a miss.  Here is a video of our experience in Shakespeare's Birthplace.

On top of the birthplace, there were a few other sights included in the ticket price, but it didn't leave much of an impression with me.  So, this concludes Day 2 as we would then head to a Premier Inn at Stratford upon Avon Waterways, to spend the night.

(To be continued)