Mention Panasonic, and one would immediately think of the electronics giant whose refrigerators, TVs, laundry machines and all manner of household appliances line electronic stores like Courts, Harvey Norman and Best Denki here. The Japanese company though is as widely regarded by photographers as one of the main manufacturers of cameras and lenses.

I’ve owned a couple of Panasonic cameras now – including the compact LX7 that was used to take several of the wide-angled and panoramic shots of The Minton while it was still in construction, and also more recently the LX100. The four year old LX7 is still going on great and was recently used by Ling to take several hundred pictures of Malay clothes tailored made by mom-in-law. The LX100 used a m4/3 sized sensor and was wonderfully featured, but the lack of overall sharpness and especially softness in the corners when shot wide was a real bother.

Like Olympus and possibly even more so, Panasonic has been quite illustrious in continually releasing new and improved camera bodies and lenses. In fact, they’ve got as many as four distinct lines which in the m4/3 system, all with fairly recent updated models: the GF9 at entry level, the DSLR-styled G85, the video-centric, top of the line GH5, and two rangefinder-styled mid-priced entries: the GX8 and GX85. Of these: the GF9 is very compact, attractive styling, a tilt up/down screen for wefies, but does not offer sensor stabilization which I need as the majority of my m4/3 lenses are Olympus which are typically not optically stabilized. I wasn’t interested in another DSLR-styled (G85) camera – the E-M1/M5 combo is still my go-to when I have to do event photography at work – and the similarly styled GH5 is extremely expensive. Finally, the GX8 is over-sized.

The GX8 (left) is about as large as the E-M1 Mark I, and actually even heavier!

The GX85 (right) is literally the GX8’s little sibling in only size and not what it’s packing.

The GX85 as regarded as the younger and cheaper sibling of the GX8 from a pricing point of view at least, but the GX85 offers a number of newer and really useful features on top of the GX8, largely on account of it being released about a year later. The GX85 has been receiving a lot of praise, as it essentially offers a state of the art camera, jam-packed with technological achievements, and at USD799. Panasonic Singapore carries this model, and it’s recommended retail price is SGD1149 – fairly close to the USD equivalent. Not surprisingly, that Singapore RRP didn’t drop when large retail stores like Amazon dropped that attractive price even lower to USD699 just before the year ended. This price-point would really make Olympus sweat, since it’s only marginally more than the USD649 the Olympus E-PL8 commands, but the E-PL8 isn’t nearly as feature-packed as the GX85. It misses an EVF, support for 4K video modes, built-in flash, 3 instead of 5 axis stabilization, and overall build quality doesn’t feel as premium as the GX85.

Recommended Retail Price for the Panasonic GX85 @ Jan 2017.

So, when I did find a brick and mortar store here which was selling it for lower than the RRP at SGD929 – which at USD663 is substantially cheaper than even Amazon – I didn’t hesitate. I did think whether to just get the body sans 12-32mm kit lens, but while I’ve got plenty of kit lenses in the 12/14mm to 40mm-ish range, the general consensus is that the Panasonic’s 12-32mm pancake isn’t too shabby, and it can be separately sold away if necessary later. And the bundle even includes a couple of extras: a couple of Sandisk 16GB cards that are slow for my needs, and a very useful extra OEM battery.

Next post on my first impressions of the GX85 and first handling!

Normally, most non-techie persons wouldn’t be aware of the in and outs of the smartphone industry. But the Samsung Note 7 battery exploding fiasco of 2016 was so widely reported that it even became talking points for persons who couldn’t normally be more bothered with techno-trends. I wasn’t ever planning to replace the Samsung Note 5 with the 7, since I didn’t need the new features nor did I especially like the more curvy form factor. But the Note 5’s battery has started to become less effective in the last 5 months now – so I reckon a change of phone late this year might be necessary.

Ling is still using her Samsung Note 3 with a relatively still new battery, and Facebook friends with her will see that she posts a lot of pictures and notes on things that fascinate her, including plants, cooking, nature and our two kids of course. The Note 3 offers a fairly good resolution for its sensor type, but like most camera phone sensors and their accompanying lens, suffer also from distortion, noise and other optical imperfections. One thing that Ling has which makes all these normal limitations less significant though is framing. And this is one thing I have to hand it to the wife – she takes more compositionally interesting shots than I do! One could of course attribute it in part to that the Note 3’s camera lens is pretty wide-angled, but I think it’s more that she has that photo-gene that I lack.

So, here’s a small selection of pictures from her camera, and why I especially like them. The aspect ratio of the Note 3’s camera is also quite different from what I normally shoot with on the m4/3s, and there’s no cropping of the pictures below.

Candid shot taken near our old home in Sengkang; slight angle tilt, and that the kids’ posture are in almost perfect sync.


Baking at home; picture is tightly framed, and strong contrasting colors of yellow, purple and white.


Peter’s favorite fetal-sleeping position; notice the booster position underneath his torso, and that that the photo was taken at the body-down angle – very different from how I’d instinctively take a similar shot.


Harvesting baby tomatoes at home; that H is slightly out of focus, and the composition draws attention to the tomato and her palm in the lower half of the picture.


Ling’s current pet project – two lime caterpillars that were feasting on our balcony plants, which the wife then lovingly re-homed them in a container for their upcoming pupal stage lest they are easy pickings for bids. Liked this shot as both fellows are facing opposite directions.

 

While there’s a decent number of camera manufacturers who’ve sign onto the now almost a decade-old Micro Four Thirds system, most of the prominent camera bodies we see today continue to largely come from the two standard bearers of the system: namely, Panasonic and Olympus, incidentally also the two companies who released the standard in 2008. Oh, there are a couple of other manufacturers who have made bodies, with Xiaomi recently releasing their first m4/3 body – the YI M1 – with their usual bargain bin pricing. There were few takers though for Xiaomi’s camera, with sites like DPReview scoring the camera a relatively low 69% (the Olympus/Panasonic cameras routinely score 80%s or higher).

That aside, there was a slew of new camera bodies from Oly-Sonic (LOL) last year. At the top range and fresh out of the factory, the E-M1 Mark II and GH5 – both of which are priced at USD2K and well out of the usual norm for m4/3 bodies. At the entry-level, there’s the E-PL8 and GF9. I tried the E-PL8 at the Olympus showroom @ River Valley Road, and while it features obvious design improvements from the earlier E-PLX cameras, I reckon I’m ready to explore bodies other than from Olympus now, having owned the E-PL1, E-PL2 and E-PL6. The GF9 with its flip-up screen is a boon for selfies/wefies, but the majority of my lenses are Olympus-es, and the GF9 does not offer sensor stabilisation. So, a non-starter there.

The mid-tier (pricing and performance wise at least) is where I’ve been taking a hard look at, and it’s the Olympus Pen-F vs the Panasonic GX85 – or GX80 / GX7 Mark II depending on where you are in the world. Ok, there’s also the G85, but I’m not looking for another DSLR-type m4/3 body. While the two cameras are at different price points, with the delta being as much as SGD600 between them, they share several similarities. For instance:

Rangefinder-styled

Somewhat similar mass and dimensions

Built-in sensor stabilisation (hooray!) with options to couple them also with lens-based stabilisation using different technologies

On the other hand:

The GX85 is that SGD600 cheaper, shoots 4K video (been wanting to finally move away from 2K video), very useful 4K photo capture, slightly better AF, silent shooting, video output is less prone to distortion, cleaner menu design, slightly better battery life, and it’s not Olympus. I’m a little bored of Olympus, yep!

The Pen-F has arguably/maybe very slightly better stabilisation, is aesthetically far better looking, has a better EVF, lots of dials for the geek in me, possibly stronger internal frame with its use of metals, slightly higher resolution, fully articulating screen. And for all these, you pay SGD600 more.

The Olympus Pen-F. I’m in love! (From Olympus-Malaysia)

The more pedestrian looking Panasonic GX85 (Picture From Imaging Resource).

Do I really need a new m4/3 body? Nope – but it sure is fun to do a comparison and think of reasons why I could use one! :)

The routine of the new 2017 year has settled in nicely over the last two weeks now. Peter is now in his second year at his childcare/kindergarten, and displays none of the separation anxiety he briefly showed a year ago. Interestingly, his teachers at the last Meet-the-Parents meeting said he’s very well-behaved in school and mixes well. But at home, he’s continuing to drive us (or rather Mommy) up the wall with his antics, which include all manner of variations of “not listening”. When we recounted his behavior at home to his teachers, they quipped that it just might be because our second born is socially intelligent, and recognizes that there are different forces at play when he’s around friends, teachers and other people. And while at home, he slips into his normal, real self LOL.

Hannah is now also in Primary Two, and doing pretty well in school – if the couple of academic and study awards she picked up at the end of her first year is any general indication. Though just two months into lessons, she’s coping with her music lessons, and – from what her teacher says – and is very musical, something that pleases us both to no end and we’re both claiming more genetic credit than the other for it! Well, like Daddy at least, she has good musical memory, picks up new pieces quickly and transpose them back on the piano by listening, and can improv – so there.

Funnily, between the two though, it just might be Peter having as strong a music gene as his sister, going with what Ling is observing. P sings and hums. OK, so all kids probably do, but this boy does it a lot. And at his young age, he can also recognize music pieces and say where he heard them. At the moment, much of his recognition comes off the numerous piano pieces I’ve been playing at home, and some of them would seem fairly complex music for young kids to digest.

Photo collage coming out of a bed-time series. The two really enjoy each other’s company, with P especially looking up to his “big sister” (X70 + Meike MK320).

CompassOne, the newly refurbished Compass Point, has re-opened, and it’s been one of our weekend hangout areas. This shot was very near the minimum focusing distance, and incredibly the X70 didn’t trip its AF point.

Beneath that cheeky grin lies a raging force of destruction (E-PL6/17mm f1.8 + Meike MK320).

Both children beds have got new quilts that Ling sewed over the December period. Ya, Mommy pattern like badminton.

The two of us actually compete for time on the piano on weekday evening.

 

We had plenty of discussion time over the long new year holiday weekend, and have revised our Perth itinerary quite substantially. The first version of the proposed 11D10N trip would have seen us driving a fair bit as soon as we land – about 4 hrs and 281KM. Since there was a good chance we’d be having a red-eye flight, Ling was worried that we’d be too zonked out as soon we’d land – especially if Peter decides to keep us awake by not sleeping on the plane! The other consideration was that the itinerary required us to be perpetually on the road most days, requiring changes of our stays almost every night. Moreover, as we were reluctant to drive in the evening, our foray north of Perth also did not seem that worth while after all. We’d only have just two days left in our stay, and can only travel as far as Cervantes – about 200KM north of Perth, and the more interesting bits of Western Australia seemed to be well beyond that.

So, we reworked out Perth itinerary to:

Stay in Perth for the first evening and only drive out after a good night’s sleep

Reduce the number of times we’ll have to change our accommodations

Increase the duration of our Farmstay

The itinerary is now much slower-paced and spread-out, and here’s what it looks like (itinerary below is clickable to a larger version).

This updated Perth itinerary looks pretty much set – if we do decide to go with this region come June! As an alternate, here’s the Sydney equivalent that I’ve started scratching out:

Day 1: Sydney to Katoomba (Blue Mountains).

Days 2 to 3: Katoomba

Day 4: Katoomba to Farmstay

Days 5 to 6: Farmstay

Day 7: Farmstay to Sydney

Days 8 to 11: Sydney

The above outlay is rather unusual, since most visitors to Sydney typically just do a day trip to the Blue Mountains to see the sights there rather than plan to spend 4 days. We figured we’d really just take our time in the area to soak in the sights, enjoy the mountain air, and just chill.:)

There’s a popular quip among some Singaporeans here that there’s only one reason why we toil at work: and it is to pay for our twice a year vacations in June and December. And our planning for a new holiday spot begins as soon as we’re done withe the last one! So – my last post of 2016 centers on possibilities for our travel spot in June 2017.

The planning for our Melbourne trip in June this year took just over a week to nail down most bookings and itinerary items – and it wasn’t a particularly complex trip to plan for, since we stuck to the city for half the time, and all outbound trips were taken care of by day tours. Since we’ve started planning much earlier for the June 2017 trip, we figured we’d reduce as far as possible our day tours (and save a lot of money) and get to as many places as possible on our own, and with two young kids in tow too.

The first itinerary we’ve written up is for a 11D10N day trip to Western Australia, self-drive and will see three main segments: Perth itself, down south to Margaret River/Permberton/Walpole, and finally up north of Perth to Lancelin, and the total driving distance should be a pretty manageable 1,600KM in all. Ling has been to Perth twice now – both times to visit me during our dating days haha – while I also visited the Margaret River region with family 13 years ago too. But as these things go and for this period of years, family vacations are really more for the kids than for the parents. The map is embedded below, with pins to indicate the places we’re looking at:

And a brief summary of what this 11 day itinerary looks like at the moment:

Day 1: Perth to Busselton (Busselton Jetty and Observatory). Busselton to Margaret River

Day 2: Margaret River to Augusta (Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Whale Watching, Boranup Karri Forest, Jewel Cave). Augusta to Pemberton

Day 3: Pemberton (Gloucester National Park, The Cascades, Pemberton Tramway, Beedelup National Park). Pemberton to Walpole

Day 4: Walpole (Valley of the Giants, Treetop Walk, Giant Tingle Tree). Walpole back to Margaret River/Pembelton

Day 5: Margaret River/Pemberton Farmstay

Day 6: Margaret River/Pemberton to Busselton (Choc Factory, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, Ngilgi Caves). Busselton to Bunbury (Dolphin Discovery Center). Bunbury to Perth

Day 7: Perth to Rockingham (Penguin Island). Rockingham to Fremantle (Fremantle Market). Fremantle to Perth

Day 8: Perth to Yanchep (Caversham Wildlife Park, Yanchep National Park). Yanchep to Cervantes (Pinnacles Desert)

Day 9: Cervantes (Nambung National Park). Cervantes to Lancelin (Lancelin Sand Dunes). Lancelin to Perth.

Days 10-11: Perth

This version of the itinerary will have us staying at six/seven properties:

Margaret River (1 night)

Pemberton (1 night)

Walpole (1 night)

Margaret River/Pemberton Farmstay (2 nights)

Perth (2 nights + 2 nights)

Cervantes (1 night)

The main considerations and parameters for this itinerary were:

That we’d drive and get from point to point only when there’s daylight, short as it will be since it’ll be winter.

The farmstay will be a key highlight for the kids, but there are only about six farmstays in our consideration and they tend to get booked fast. So the itinerary has to plan around that stay.

Depending if I can take additional days how for this vacation stretch, we might get real ambitious and go beyond Walpole and to Albany, though the sights there are more coastal than of national parks.

Well, that’s one itinerary. Along the way we’ll work out alternate itineraries to different cities/countries, so more to come soon.:)

 

Doing an update to this ongoing series of year-end review posts can be really distressing on account of how the year again just went past and that we’re all a year older again.

Playstation PS4 – Mixed: our first toy-technological purchase of the year, and the number of PS4 games I’ve played on it is still.. one. The device works great as a Netflix, YouTube, media and Blu-Ray player – but is criminally underused as a gaming rig.

Aftershock S17 – Win: the largest notebook I’ve owned with its 17.3″ screen. The S17 is now a permanent fixture in our bedroom, sitting on top a portable laptop desk on the bed. The machine is brisk, the keyboard offers great depth and tactile feel, and I’ve gotten use to the relatively less bright matte screen. Not so good for watching video material, but great for productivity!

Melbourne – Win: our longest family vacation to this point, and one in which nearly everything went along swimmingly: the accommodation we selected, the itinerary, the three day-tours, and the flights both ways. The only mishaps: weather was gloomy for the second half of the stay, and the newly purchased Xiaomi Mi Note 3 kissed concrete.

Fujifilm X70 – Mixed: lovely form factor and takes stunningly beautiful pictures when used outdoors. But indoors focusing is a real hit and miss when your subjects – i.e. our kids – are constantly moving. The 3 year old E-PL6 just got fixed too – and and there’s even less reason now not to sell away the X70 soon.

The X70 vs the E-PL6 – and I’m likely only gonna keep one in 2017. Which one?!

Thule Enroute 2 Blur Backpack – Win: capacity-wise, it’s very slightly larger than the older Enroute it replaced though I still prefer the notebook compartment design of the older backpack.

Huawei Smart Watch – Win: seven months into the watch, and it still looks as pristine and new as it was. The manufacturer provided watch charger dock remains finicky, but cheap third party replacements can be had off eBay that – ironically – secure the watch far easier than the original manufacturer equipment.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 – Win: decently spec-ed phone that was picked up for cheap. This phone was purchased specifically for the Melbourne trip and sadly was the only outing it’d ever have. The phone still works, barring the cracked display screen which looks like it can completely shatter anytime and thus dangerous to use. Sigh.

Xiaomi Mi Max – Win: the largest smartphone in my inventory, nicely contrasting display though maximum brightness is a little low, and funnily, as a grey import purchased at an even lower price than the Note 3 above. And the Energizer Bunny battery that runs forever!

Stacy the Syrian – Win: I wonder how many fathers in their mid-40s purchase a Syrian hamster not for their kids LOL. But our Syrian has provided our kids with learning opportunities, though we don’t feel they are yet old enough to provide responsible care and maintenance of the hamster. The only down side? That we’re reminded that Syrians have short lifespans of 2-3 years.

Yamaha U30BL – Win: apart from the Melbourne vacation, our most costly purchase in 2016. I haven’t used the Silent Piano module very much yet, on account that my piano technical skills have, surprisingly, not degraded by that much for me to feel embarrassed of having to practice on the piano. Both Hannah and myself now spend an hour each every night making music. It’s a nosier household sure but also a lot livelier!

Wangz Staycation – Win: small boutique hotel in Outram we stayed at for our 10th Wedding Anniversary. A little light on property amenities, the room was lovingly appointed, clean and modern. Recommended for couples on short vacation stays if you like the off-city location too.

D’Resort @ Downtown East – Mixed: were it not for the bundled admission to Wild Wild Wet – a significant bonus – and that this resort was about the only property to stay in in the immediate vicinity, the resort just wasn’t as cracked up as what we’ve read from social media.

All in, this was a mostly good year for us. We can only hope that 2017 will be just as good!

Memory cards are a dime a dozen these days, with prices coming so low and capacity limits far outreaching camera sensor image resolutions. In fact, it’s quite common for new cameras to come bundled with Secure Digital memory cards. These freebies are fine for single shot or casual use, but if you’re thinking of firing shots in RAW in quick succession or even in drive mode, they’re just too slow.

I’ve accumulated a small mountain of memory cards over the years now, so figured it’s time to do a simple benchmark cycle of selected cards. This isn’t a scientifically grounded test by any means, but it does give a rough indication of where some common memory cards lie in along the performance spectrum.

Clockwise from top-left: SanDisk Extreme Pro, SanDisk Extreme, SanDisk Ultra, SanDisk SDHC, and Panasonic SDHC.

Test environment: using the Aftershock S17, and CrystalDiskMark v5.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SD 32GB

I bought a couple of these for the E-M5 several years ago. They were quite pricey back then, and while prices have come down quite a bit, they still command a premium over other cards. There are better performing cards than these now, but they are still worth the money you’ll plonk for them from cost/GB against the performance you get.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SD 32GB

SanDisk Extreme SD 64GB

The cheaper and supposedly slightly less quick sibling of the Extreme Pro. This was picked up well after I’d bought the Extreme Pros and mostly for the X70. Interestingly, the 4K performance surpasses the Pro cards:

SanDisk Extreme SD 64GB

SanDisk Ultra SD 16GB

This one’s a freebie card from some years back:

SanDisk Ultra SD 16GB

Panasonic SD 16GB

Another freebie that came with the Panasonic LX100 that was sold away earlier this year.

Panasonic SD 16GB

SanDisk SDHC SD 16GB

Yet another pretty old freebie and slow as molasses.

SanDisk SDHC SD 16GB

 

The Olympus E-PL6 spent the better part of 2016 in the cabinet: earlier this year, it started developing stuck shutter curtain issues alongside the touch screen becoming a little finicky. The latter was an annoyance but it didn’t affect photo-taking functionality. The stuck shutter was a different challenge altogether – the camera simply could not work when it struck. No amount of DIY solutions seemed to stick, and the repair job would have involved a trip down to the Olympus Service Center situated in the River Valley area – not exactly the easiest location to get to. All not very pleasing, since the E-PL6 is just over 3 years old, not been heavily stressed nor mistreated.

Still; I finally got round to making the trip down in early December. The repair took 8 days, and – surprisingly – wasn’t that expensive:

Damage could had been worse!

The first pictures of the repaired E-PL6 was again with my preferred lens I have for it: the 17mm f1.8 – and I’m reminded why this particular combo is one of my favorites for taking candid shots of the kids.

There’s a Nam Kee Handmade Pau eatery located at River Valley Point, and it also features an open kitchen concept. Peter liked the char siew buns so much he actually got all snarky when Ling asked him for a taste LOL.

Unlike Peter, Hannah is photogenic and likes having her pictures taken.

Hannah still has the little Nikon camera I bought her for her birthday 2 years ago. This picture required White Balance to be manually dialed in because of the strong red seats in the Monster Curry restaurant we had dinner at.

Dim Sum lunch @ Crystal Jade Jiang Nan at Toa Payoh. The restaurant’s setting provided a rich array of colors for pictures. The JPGs produced by Olympus are slightly saturated though I can see why they are really pleasing for many owners. That said, I prefer still to edit from RAW images.

Just before bedtime. She rotates between a whole bunch of stuff toys to bring to bed every night.

In short, the E-PL6 is still easily capable of producing lovely pictures with high keep-rates, with the touch AF really helping in nailing focus down each time. I really wish though that Olympus’ equipment weren’t failing so soon. This is the E-PL6’s second visit to the repair center already – the first visit after the shutter release spring becoming dislodged – and the camera’s touchscreen remains wonky. Even the E-M5 has also started randomly locking up on occasion.

Oh well; we’ll see how it goes.

We’ve got a rule of thumb, and it is to avoid 3D2N holidays as much as possible, even if it means forking extra to stay for a longer period and having to wreck our brains thinking of how to fill up the itinerary! The only 3D2N stay we’ve ever had at this point was at Capella Sentosa 5 years ago. The short duration was largely on account of cost, but that property still remains by far the best we’ve ever stayed at.

While we received admission tickets to Wild Wild Wet for all four days of our stay at D’Resort, we ended up just using passes for one day – as we accidentally dropped our entire ticket stack somewhere in the water park. We did put in a Lost and Found report at the Information Office and the park crew were nice to follow through it, but finally had no such luck finding them back.

I reckon it was just as well, as it forced us to think harder of what to fill up the rest of the days with. And of that:

Disney’s Moana @ Downtown East Cathay: Peter’s first late night cinema experience for a cartoon that hearkens back to the Disney themes from its films starting 25 years ago. This one was a gamble as we wondered how Peter would handle an 8:50PM screening – and we lucked out. It didn’t take beyond the film’s midpoint before he got grouchy (probably from just being tired) and generally annoying the heck out of Ling.

Didn’t take long before he wriggled out of his Eskimo outfit.

Orchid Bowl @ Downtown East E!Hub: you know you suck at something when your 7 year old daughter hands you your butt:

You know you suck at it when even your 7 year old daughter is handing you your butt.

Then again, this is how she got there:

Ball, meet foot.

Longkang Fishing @ Mainland Tropical Fish Farm: with ‘longkang’ literally meaning ‘drain’ for our Ang Mo bud.:) Our parents’ generation will quip that this was one of their leisure past times before Gen Y and Z’s iPads, video games and smartphones. But Ling and I just a few years ago climbed down into a large drain opposite Hougang Mall to catch fishes to supplement our freshwater aquarium – and we caught several Corydoras even!

The Farm was just a few minutes drive from Downtown East, and we spent an hour there in a small tidily landscaped and man-made drain of about 18 meters long catching critters. There’s a token fee of $4 per child for every 30 minutes, but the very nice and super laid-back auntie there gave our two kids 45 minutes of catching time.

Some bloggers have remarked how difficult it was for kids to catch these critters given how fast they swim. Funnily, we had no such difficulties. We caught 15 with most going between Hannah and Ling. I was taking pictures, but in the space of a minute also caught three too. The fishes do detect movement – I assume from the mid-morning shadows we cast onto the water – and typically scatter free quickly. So, the trick is simply to use the tiny nets provided in the opposing direction and where clusters of fishes are. We were able to scoop 1-2 critters this way a time.

Safe for kids, though Peter didn’t catch anything!

Hannah camping where the drain outlets were, since large groups of fishes were gathering there.

Our catch for the morning.

Peter looking as though he’s prepared to eat the fish – raw.

We returned all we caught back to the farm though, since our home aquarium is already densely populated with tetras and snails. But the kids enjoyed this one – and the activity gets a solid recommendation from us.

Pasir Ris Public Library @ White Sands Shopping Centre: the E!Hub @ Downtown East is a little rundown, while White Sands has just recently undergone refurbishment. Its offering of stores and restaurants remain pretty much standard fare for Singapore shopping malls, but the also recently renovated public library is very nicely done-up. We stayed and left with about a dozen loaned books.

We again feel terrifically fortunate that Hannah prefers reading instead of electronic gadgets.

And Peter just treats every thing as toys to smother his body parts with.

eXplorer Kids @ Downtown East E!Hub: we’d gone by this indoor playground earlier this year. The area was also just recently refurbished, and it looks slightly brighter now, with a few new play areas that we didn’t previously see in our last visit. More importantly is that there’s a current promotion for NTUC Members: each card holder can get free membership for up to two kids. More details here. The offer was good enough for us to drive back home to pick up our kids’ birth certificates for registration.

This was about as high as he could manage, even with assists from Mommy.

Starbucks @ Downtown East: half of the indoor seating in the store were squatted by young adults pretending to study, but we managed to put together two separate tables to chill over brewed coffee, Hazel Nut Lattes, and Signature Hot Chocolate for the kids.

Listening to pieces from the accompanying CD in the Suzuki Method book.

Signature Hot Chocolate – yummy.

His latest thing: stick his tongue out whenever a picture is taken.

After all the trauma you routinely cause mommy, you better invent some world changing technology to benefit all mankind, bud!

There was also a small Tayo & Friends demonstration area beside Starbucks. One of Ling’s ex-students was temping in the area, and he kept our two kids jolly entertained around this children road circuit.

Hannah quips that this was our best vacation ever. Putting aside the bleh stay at D’Resort, it was certainly enjoyable also for us parents. We’re start planning for our mid-year vacation spot for June 2017, so more to come on that soon enough!