Parents of young kids will readily attest to this: every time there’s a school holiday break, we’d have to wreck our brains to fill the break period with things for kids to do. Granted, there are typically enough toys and activities at home already – and we still try not to expose them to mobile gadgets like iPads and the like – but it’s a real challenge if we want to get out of the house to do something outside.

That said, Hannah at home after school yesterday shared excitedly that she was glad that mommy and daddy had a large number of activities for her this time round, and it went something like this:

MON: Universal Studios Singapore

TUES: Badminton @ Minton

WEDS: Outing with maternal grandma

THURS: Hay Dairies and Bollywood Veggies

SAT: Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe @ Seletar Airport

MON: Amazonia @ Great World City

For the last bit; it’s been several years since we last went by Great World City. The mall while reasonably central as it is, is situated at a somewhat less convenient location if you’re not driving since there aren’t any train stations immediately nearby. The mall has also seemed a little more tuned to the affluent crowd with its boutique shops. Still, we’ve been wanting to check out the Amazonia Indoor Playground with the kids, so made an effort over the public holiday earlier this week to finally go by.  And so, brief comments:

The playground opens at 10:00AM. The crowd was fairly thin at the start but by 11:00AM was pretty crowded with families constantly streaming in.

Admission was pricey at $33 per child with an additional $1 for accompanying parent, and $4 for adult socks. The two hours of playtime on a public holiday are adequate given the size of the playground. Socks must be won by all persons, and there are staff patrolling the premise reminding patrons of this.

The main attraction – the four level tall Jungle Play Gym – is the real standout, and most kids went straight for it. While it doesn’t occupy that much floor area, there are lots of inventive small areas cloistered on the insides to space everyone out. The three slides down are pretty helpful in sending people from the top floor right down briskly, and there were plenty of adults going for it even!

The Toddler Play area is for 3 years and younger. Older kids are not permitted, and the staff do remind patrons of this too.

The other areas – Space Ball and 3D Glow Golf – though were inaccessible and closed off.

The parents’ and caregivers seating area was limited, with seats at the Bistro taken up really quickly.

In all,the playground was a little smaller than expected in terms of floor area, but it’s also quite dense with activities. I reckon persons who’re claustrophobic might not want to visit on a busy holiday or weekend and look for a less busy day to go by. The place is also quite well-maintained though I thought generally lighting could be improved. Both Peter and Hannah enjoyed themselves on this outing, though by the time 2 hours were up, both were also ready to leave, with Ling completely worn-out chasing after the two (I was in the sitting area chilling out LOL).

The best part for the adults though was morning breakfast at Great World City’s Starbucks. Uncrowded, comfortable seating, and a slightly wider than normal range of breakfast items than what we’ve seen at other outlets!

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Five plates of pastries and morning brews for the adults.

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When one pair of finger bunny ear for Peter just isn’t enough.

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Mommy getting into the spirit of things too.

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Amazonia – kids loved it!

There are a couple of places one can hang out to watch planes land and take-off. For persons who cannot do without air conditioning, there’s most people’s favorite hangout spot: the viewing galleries @ Changi Airport departure terminals. In fact, the airport seems to recognize that those galleries are family outing areas and tourist spots themselves, and last we visited, they situated children indoor play areas for kids to alternate between watching airplanes and going up slides.

There’s another civilian airport that isn’t nearly as heavily used as Changi’s, and it’s Seletar Airport – and just outside it and along the length of the runway is Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe. This cafe apparently was just opened several months ago this year, and has garnered a strong following among vintage car lovers and biking enthusiasts, if the photos of its Facebook page are anything to go with. The place though located on Google Maps is a little harder to find in reality: we missed the right turn into the cafe from Seletar Aerospace View the first time round and had to double-back.

Once found: the place was fortunately fairly deserted on the Saturday mid-morning we went by for brunch. On a crowded day on the other hand, parking within the immediate compound might be somewhat limited with perhaps two dozen lots.

There are also two seating areas: one that’s air-conditioned and very neatly decorated with bikes hanging high-up on walls, and a smaller semi-outdoor area towards the back of the cafe and where the kitchen is. We chose the latter as it offered a less obstructed view of the runway – though things as they were, we saw just four private planes taking off in the hour we lunched.

As for food: we had the Gyu Don and Fish & Chips. Ling found the beef slices in the former pretty tough (chewy?!), and the latter was ordinary. Wait service on the overall was also rather nonchalant. On the other hand, prices were reasonable, and with few patrons around, the entire brunch experience was breezily relaxed and laidback. The kids were fascinated with the general area and had the run of the cafe – though they would have liked to see more planes about.

Interestingly; just shortly after we paid up and were about to leave, two separate groups arrived: one group of a dozen decked out in hiking gear who looked like they were training to climb up a mountain, and another slightly smaller group who all showed up in vintage Volkswagens Beetles! The place probably was going to turn lively from that point.

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Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe on a lazy Saturday midmorning.

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Fairly small menu but reasonably priced.

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Hulk getting constipation LOL.

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Fish & Chips that tasted ho-hum.

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Vintage Volswagen Beetles all lined up.

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Must be an enthusiast club outing.

We didn’t get to spend as much time as we would have liked with the kids this one week of school holidays, what with my having to be back at work on several days and also that the car was due for its twice a year servicing. We did make a trip to the west side of the island to what Singaporeans like to quip as “Kranji Countryside” – keeping in mind that the size of this countryside is nothing like what one normally associates with that term outside Singapore! There are a large number of farms that dot the area, and we selected just two spots for the mid-morning visit: Hay Dairies, and Bollywood Veggies.

Hay Dairies is a farm that’s been around for 50 years now. Today it seems to occupy a smaller plot of the land area it once did when it did various types of farming, and specialising in the production of goat milk. We reached the place at 9:15AM, and were in time for to see groups of goats herded in for milking. We were initially the only visitors around, though it wasn’t long before a couple of other families with young kids arrived, followed thereafter also by two busloads of primary school kids.

The farm allows for free and easy visits, and the self-help main viewing area is elevated and airy for visitors to get a good look at the milking process. There is also a viewing and petting area that’s a little further-in (just follow the signs) where very docile goat younglings permitted the kids to satisfy their long-festering desires to pet goats! The farm packages small bottles of milk for sale, with the small 200ml bottles – original or chocolate-flavored – costing $2.50 a bottle. Interestingly, the kids liked the original unflavored milk more than the chocolate ones. One point to note though: these bottles need to be quickly refrigerated, so you’d need an ice box if you’re thinking of buying singular bottles to bring them home. The farm also packs large quantities of milk bottles into their own ice box, so that’s another option. All in, the farm makes for a pleasant enough visit: shaded and small-enough to provide an about an hour long visit.

Bollywood Veggies is a very different experience, putting aside that it’s not animals now but organically grown fruits and vegetables, the place melds a farm for produce, educational visitation place, and a nicely done-up and laid back cafeteria. The organic vegetable farm offers to walking trails for education visits: one that’s 10 minutes which covers perhaps about a third of the overall area, and a longer 30 minutes trail that covers the entire farm. I reckon the visits will also be a lot more meaningful if you had a guide, or are accompanied by a horticulture enthusiasts – like the wife LOL.

We initially wanted to do the full trail, but the buzzing mosquitoes and almost noon-time humidity got the better us, so we ducked back to the cafeteria for lunch. The air-conditioned cafe – cutely named Poison Ivy – offers a range of local cuisine, including one that read that it’s the best Nasi Lemak around – and also hot beverages at fair prices, and no GST and service charges were levied too. The cafe has a laid back ambiance with is eco-friendly (“No WIFI here – talk to your friend!”), has 80s’ pop music played from local radio stations, and is waited by friendly staff. If it wasn’t for that Kranji is really way out for us, we’d be happy to come by more often for relaxed brunches.

 

Hays Dairies!

Hay Dairies!

Machines and mammals at work.

Machines and mammals at work.

About a dozen goats get milked at the same time.

About a dozen goats get milked at the same time.

Starring contest. The goat won.

Starring contest. The goat won.

$2.50 for each of these 200ml bottles of goat milk.

$2.50 for each of these 200ml bottles of goat milk.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Hilarious signages everywhere in the farm.

Hilarious signages everywhere in the farm.

Exploring Bollywood Veggies.

Exploring Bollywood Veggies.

According to the restaurant, the best Nasi Lemak around. Not in our books though, but it's still decent, and a single large plate of this was enough to feed the entire family.

According to the restaurant, the best Nasi Lemak around. Not in our books though, but it’s still decent, and a single large plate of this was enough to feed the entire family.

Some netball action after lunch!

Some netball action after lunch!

 

I don’t think there are many Singaporean families who’ve yet to visit Universal Studio Singapore (USS) – our island’s very own theme park – since it’s opening 5 years ago. We’ve largely put it off because the kids, at various points, were too young – and we also have this thing about avoiding crowds where possible!

Still, when my workplace selected the USS as this year’s Family Day outing venue and in the month of September with heavily discounted admission prices, I figured this was about as good a time to visit as any. I reckon there’s enough material online already about the place, so without getting into the park introduction bits, here are our summarized notes on the trip.

On account that Peter can only be energetic for so long in a typical day before he gets grouchy, our trip out to USS was early in the morning and we were right there lining up for entry when the park opened at 10AM. That probably isn’t the best time for most visitors, since you only have a very small window to get to the popular rides before the inevitable long queues form up. Since the park closes at 7PM, it might just be better to get to the park in the early/mid afternoon onwards when the queues start thinning out.

Parking was easy though this early early in the morning with spots aplenty, though the charges were hefty. We paid $16 for an approximately 6 hour parking.

The most popular rides all begin on the right turn after Hollywood zone, and that was pretty much the direction most of the crowd made a beeline for as soon as they were past the gate at 10AM. If you’re crowd adverse and don’t mind missing the rollercoasters, take the left and start with the Madagascar rides.

And some brief comments on the rides and shows we got to.

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure: easy-going river boat ride that takes place inside the hull of the large cargo ship featured in the films. The seats are a little small for large adults though and uncomfortable.

Far Far Away: Shrek 4D Adventure: the preamble in the main holding area was a little too long and to the point where the kids got a little restless, but the 3D stereoscopic show itself was lots of fun – especially with the water, wind and seat vibration effects. The freely provided 3D glasses were flimsy though and not quite capable of providing anything beyond a small degree of visual depth.

Far Far Away: Magic Potion Spin: the children’s Ferris Wheel Situated inside the zone’s gift shop. Pretty long and slow moving queue (albeit inside a comfortably air-con room) since there are just six carriages that can sit at most two each. Nothing particularly exciting but it’s at least a nice place to hide out from humid weather.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure: Peter couldn’t be admitted into this one, so it was just Hannah and Ling – and from the way they described it, it was pretty fun though both got a little drenched!

The Lost World: Waterworld Show: very well-done up show that starts at 1:15PM. The arena-type sitting can sit hundreds, and avoid the soak zone if you don’t want to get drenched from the water splashes from the Jet Skis nor the performers pranking the audience before the main show begins.

The Lost World: Dino-Soarin’: another child-friendly ride, with the pterodactyls-styled cars going about faster than they look from the outside. Queues move slowly though as the ride is popular.

Sci-Fi City: Accelerator: whirling twirling ride with cars that can sit a family of four easily. Child friendly though those particularly susceptible to vertigo will want to give it a miss.

New York: Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase: another low-intensity and mostly sedate ride for children. Queues cleared pretty quickly.

New York: Sesame Street: When I Grow Up: situated inside the large Pantages Hollywood Theatre, and a reasonably done up live performance show featuring several of the show’s most popular characters. The most fun part though was at the end when bubbles were released from the ceiling and floated down. The two kids had a lot of fun chasing all the bubbles down LOL.

It took us about 5 hours to do one round in the park, and we skipped most of the most popular rides, figuring that we’d likely come back in a few years when Peter and Hannah are older. Pictures below were taken on the E-M1/M5s with 12-40/40-150mm f2.8s. The E-M5/40-150mm performed very well again, capturing the action-centric shots during the Waterworld Show though we were seated well away from the front of the stage.

The audience volunteer getting pranked by the show's performers.

The audience volunteer getting pranked by the show’s performers.

'Smokers' making their appearance on Jet Skis.

‘Smokers’ making their appearance on Jet Skis.

A full-sized PT boat with a live-sized gatling gun that spewed pyrotechnics!

A full-sized PT boat with a live-sized gatling gun that spewed pyrotechnics!

Time to break out the bazooka! The actor performing the role of The Deacon, one of the late Dennis Hopper's defining roles.

Time to break out the bazooka! The actor performing the role of The Deacon, one of the late Dennis Hopper’s defining roles.

Universal Studios Singapore - we'll be back in a few years!

Universal Studios Singapore – we’ll be back in a few years!

 

The TL:DR version of this long post about the new Xiaomi Mi Max phone is this: great phone especially considering its asking price and in my opinion, the best all-round Phablet at this price-point. But it’s also just too large for most people to use as a primary phone.

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The Xiaomi Mi Max, 32GB/3GB Gold edition.

That out of the way, here are my further-on first impressions of the Mi Max!

The Max isn’t a one-hand phone… for the most part. You can hold it comfortably with one hand and do the usual scrolling and button tapping – just so long as the button’s icon isn’t past the imaginary horizontal midpoint of the phone. So, reading a long web page is fine since you can scroll, as is clicking on links.

Even though it has a 6.44″ screen and this is the largest phablet I’ve owned so far, there’s little wasted space form factor-wise. Bezels are thin though there’s an approximately 1.5mm black border around the screen which will likely not appeal to many. Nonetheless, the phone could had been even larger and thicker than this, more so considering the huge 4850mAh battery it packs in. Bottom line, it’s a large phone – but might had been even larger.

I especially also like that the phone offers dedicated keys for phone navigation. Many phone manufacturers implement onscreen keys instead. The jury is still out between onscreen and dedicated keys, but I prefer the latter by far. Onscreen keys eat into the actual usable screen area – in that a phone with a 6″ display with onscreen keys would typically have maybe 5.7″ usable area then.

Build quality is very premium for its price, and is similar in overall styling to the most recent iterations of the iPhone. One reviewer remarked though that the Max bends with just a bit of pressure, but I found no such characteristic on my unit of the phone. Granted, it’s not as dense or rigid as the Note 5, and given the phone’s thin girth the Max might indeed bend or even break under severe pressure, but it’s just doesn’t creak under normal use in my case. Bottom line: for just about S$280, I got a phone that’s akin externally at least to what I’d get if I paid thrice that.

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Very iPhone-like chamfered edges on the left.

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And likewise on the right.

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Dual speaker grills that sit on opposite sides of the micro USB charging and data port.

Battery life is amazing! I left it 100% fully charged before turning in for the night. Six hours later, the battery had dipped just 1% to 99%. Right like a champ.

The fingerprint sensor is very responsive and quick. I liked the Mi Note 3’s fingerprint sensor, and the Max’s implementation of it is equivalent. There’s one minor annoyance though: the sensor is placed fairly high on the back of the phone, and I have to fidget around to find it when grasping the phone. It would had likely worked better if the sensor had been sited lower on the back.

The Max – gold edition in my case – has a textured back that makes finger smudges a non-issue. Totally unlike the Note 5’s reflective glass back – which is also a magnet for prints and feeling like you’re holding a bar of soap at all times. The Max’s chamfered edges gives one some grip on the phone, but I highly recommend a non-slip case for this nonetheless.

The Full HD screen – as in 1080×1920 pixels – is fine for general usage, but the lower resolution is also apparent in selected apps – e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp. The display advantage of a Quad HD screen of 1440×2560 pixels, e.g. that on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, is apparent in those apps.

Maximum screen brightness higher than the Mi Note 3 but lower than the Samsung Note 5’s – which will make outdoor use in direct sunlight a little problematic. Screen viewing angles though are decent, and outdoor use in the shade is still fine.

Phone performance-wise; I’m not a mobile video gamer, so the performance aspects of the phone’s GPU aren’t of much concern for me. The phone feels brisk enough with page navigation, and launching of the general suite of apps that I use.

As for a couple of first oddities:

The touch screen seems very occasionally finicky for selected apps. Pulling down to refresh my Facebook newsfeed requires several tries.

No NFC. I’ve started using Samsung Pay on the Note 5 and love it. The absence of NFC support for the Max means that it’d be hard for it to be a primary phone.

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The fingerprint sensor placed quite high on the back of the phone. Not ideal.

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Capacitive keys. I would have preferred a a physical button for Home (the middle button above) but oh well.

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Both phones on maximum brightness: the Mi Max’s screen – good as it is – just isn’t a match for the Samsung Note 5’s.

I remembered when Samsung released their first Galaxy Note phone with a 5.3″ screen. A screen that size today is considered only ‘average’, but 5 years ago it was gargantuan, and many phone users wondered if the thing would even sell. Steve Jobs as widely reported scoffed at the Galaxy Note then and said no one was ever going to buy a phone that size. That remark was of course one of Apple famously bad tech predictions, and they ended up having to eat their words with their own line of similarly sized phones and play catch-up to Android market leaders.

I have a thing about phablets ever since owning the first Note. And today, anything that’s under 5.5″ display screen isn’t in my reckoning anymore. While the Note 5 remains the best smartphone I’ve owned, I’ve been on the lookout for a second replacement phone after our one week old Mi Note 3 kissed concrete whilst in Ling’s haversack in Melbourne. From checking around, it would have cost half the price of that phone just to fix the cracked screen – simply not worth it.

And as usual, several phablets made the list – with the main requirement of it featuring a 6″ or larger screen:

Leagoo Shark 1: 6″ screen, very attractive priced (available on eBay for just a mite over S$200!), mammoth battery of 6300mAh, and halfway decent build. But some troubling issues with the phone noted in reviews, and I also had low confidence on whether the relatively unknown manufacturer would be keeping the phone current with software upgrades.

Lenovo Phab: a whopping 6.98″ screen and well out of a phone-size at this point. Dim and low resolution display too.

Asus Zen 2 Laser: 6″ screen, moderately-priced and available at many stores, but I’m not fond of the tapered phone edges, dim display and the odd color cast on the screen.

Asus ZenFone 3 Ultra: 6.8″ screen, not released yet but from early indications, well out of my price bracket.

Sony Xperia XA Ultra: 6″ screen, fairly small capacity battery at 2700mAh, and also costing more than what I was willing to part (S$648).

Huawei Mate 8: 6″ screen, very nice premium build, good battery size of 4000mAh, but way more than what I was willing to pay for a second phone.

Xiaomi Mi Max: 6.44″ screen (!), supposedly great build – but more on that later – dedicated buttons that weren’t gonna eat into the screen size, and pretty cheap.

The Mi Max though has only seen release in China and India so far, and there are no indications yet that it would be ever brought in officially for sale in local stores. That said, there are plenty of Qoo10 and Lazada sellers who’ve brought in export (i.e. warranty-less) sets and attractive prices. So – after waiting for the periodic discounts to show up, one such Mi Max unit was ordered at a price that was even less than the Mi Note 3. Amazing.

The new Mi Max beside my daily driver - the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

The new Mi Max beside my daily driver – the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

More to come in a bit.:)

 

Second part of our post two years into staying at The Minton, and this time round, my notes on what we’re planning for our mini-renovation project next year.

To be fair; much of our apartment is still swimmingly fine and without any real major issues. Well, apart from that half of our initially installed LED Downlights failed, though thankfully the replacement units we bought from a different vendor have worked just fine and we’ve been able to dismount the faulty ones and mount the new units without too much difficulty on our own. And there’s also the slowly de-coloring grouting in the living/dining hall that would likely cost a lot to replace, never mind the having to move all our furniture somewhere while it gets rectified.

So – that aside, here’s what we’re currently planning.

Re-purposing our Study Room

This is the ‘+1’ in our apartment. The room as delivered is just long and wide enough for a study table that can run along the full length of the wall. But our initial renovation intention from 2014 was to treat this as a mini-library. Basically, we had our ID design and fabricate strong and reinforced book shelves. The book shelves almost 30 months later have borne up incredibly well – zero sagging despite bearing the weight of a lot of our books – paperbacks, very large coffee table books, and even heavier photo albums. The remaining space held Peter’s cot after we moved in.

A couple months back though we decided to move him out of the cot to join Hannah in their bedroom (something about wanting the kids to enjoy each other’s company more), gave his cot away to a Minton neighbor who was just about to deliver her baby – and now we have a room that looks like this:

Empty room - what to do with it?

Empty room – what to do with it?

We can’t fit a full-sized upright piano in the room, so that was tossed early on. Alternatively, the room can maybe hold a 50-60 cm deep study table on the opposing wall – we’ll likely have a designer fabricate one so that it can run the length of the wall, though there’s really enough table surfaces elsewhere in the house for us to do work – with books or multiple notebooks.

The last possible function: toss in a bean bag, and just treat it as a lounging area.:)

And we’ll likely have to find a different fan configuration for the room too. The current Crestar Idol 30″ ceiling fan is attractively looking, but is also severely constrained in its ability to move air around because of the room’s size and keep persons in it cool.

Paintwork

Not the entire house for sure, but little spots especially in the external parts of the apartment. There’re a few hairline cracks on the balcony wall – nothing serious of course though a little unsightly:

Very minor hairline crack.

Very minor hairline crack.

And maybe just a mite more serious are these paint bubbles that have started appearing on the front balcony wall. We reckon it’s that there’s some water seeping into the underlining paint layers, and we’ll have to watch if it gets more serious in the next months. And if it does, whether something needs to be done about it.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it's really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it’s really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Fans

Our unit’s facing means that we get terrifically frequent breezes and outright strong winds about 4 months a year – usually from around October to February. On the other hand, the front-balcony also gets a royal roasting from direct sun between April to October. It’s great for Ling’s plants of course, but it’s also gets terrifically hot that apart from the occasional laundry and also for the several rows of Ling’s plants, we really can’t do anything else on that balcony. This was one thing we didn’t fully anticipate in our main renovation project. Specifically, we should have fitted one of those industrial-sized ceiling fans from the get-go.

Since we can’t enclose the entire balcony in glass and just air-condition the thing up – and mind you, I am ready to fork out that expense if such major alterations were permitted – Renovation Project 2017 will see a new fan mounted on the ceiling.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

And we’re also thinking of installing a fan into the kitchen too. Crazy idea eh? We really like our Minton home, but if there’s one thing I can name about it being deficient compared to our first home @ The Rivervale, it’s that the latter’s kitchen was large and so airy that we routinely had to close the kitchen windows to cook, as the frequent breezes was causing havoc on the gas stove flames. Our Minton unit’s kitchen is smaller, more claustrophobic, and just doesn’t move air well. I don’t know how Ling manages it when she cooks, but it’s terrifically uncomfortable for me, the Must-Have-Air-Conditioning-Everywhere-I-Am person I am.

Messy kitchen.

Messy kitchen.

Though whether we can even find a ceiling fan for this setup is going to be a long shot even. We might have to make do with a wall-mounted fan.

It’s been more than two years since we’ve moved to The Minton and I figured it’s time to do another annual post on little things we’ve observed about our home, and our plans beyond that too.

Adults are too busy to use amenities

That’s in specific reference to us, and not as a general rule. One of the main selling points of the condo was the wide-ranging facilities. As in, what other condo can boast of having a full-sized and air-conditioned badminton dome. As it turned out and funnily, we’ve still yet to use that dome – and it’s not just on account that we’re not badminton players. The dome is also used for other selected sports activities – e.g. Yoga, Zumba. We’ve been invited several times now by our neighbors to join into these fitness groups (and they sure look fun!), but Ling is too busy at this point, and me – no thanks. I have too much flab, and would rather just jog in the gym! And the latter is just about the only facility that we use.

Hannah is a different story though. She has swimming lessons now every week at the pool. So, it’s not quite a total loss against the quarterly condo maintenance fees we pay for.

Commercial and retail establishments

Apart from the wide-ranging facilities, our condo also has several units designated for commercial and retail businesses. Briefly: the mini-mart is still there and quite convenient when we need some household appliances or common food items double-time (e.g. “Ahhhh… we forgot to buy onions from NTUC!!!”). We also had Peter enroll in the condo’s childcare center this year for several months, until they had to suddenly close down, leaving parents scrambling. Quite displeasing, but at least Peter is now as happy (if not more so!) in the other childcare center we found him. There was also a pizza joint ran by a bona fide Italian person, but they had to vacate after about a year. They made pretty yummy pizzas for residents to buy, but I wonder if the business volume was ever sufficient to sustain their ongoing operations.

More recently, there’s a in-condo hair salon which also serves kids (super convenient), and also a new cafe which dishes up home-cooked styled food and a daily changing menu. The cafe has been quite a big hit among residents, with genuinely tasty food, reasonably-priced, and run by a very pleasant and friendly lady and chef. In fact, one of the longest-running threads in The Minton Residents Facebook group are the daily reports from residents on what the cafe is serving for the day LOL.

Just a very small sampling of the daily stuff that’s whipped up for residents to try out:

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Fried pork cubes

Fried pork cubes

Honey-baked Chicken

Honey-baked Chicken

Japanese curry

Japanese curry

Sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish

Poolside vs Amazonian Lily Pond

This is one of those almost accidental decisions that we didn’t realize the significance of until well into the fact. When we decided to purchase a unit @ The Minton almost 5 years ago, we had an inclination for a quiet apartment. Our previous home @ The Rivervale was peaceful for the most part, until the previously nominally-used road our unit faced became a major connector for the just-about then completed Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway. As luck had it, the Minton apartment configuration we wanted – a 3+1 bedroom type – against the actual units remaining when we were committed to purchase resulted in us having to choose a unit that was facing the very Tranquil World. A happy coincidence we thought at that point.

Well, more than 2 years living here now, I reckon that our unit’s facing is one of the most lucky coincidental outcomes we’ve had. The Minton main pool is an extremely popular area for kids and partying adults young and old alike. And early on, there were feedback from residents whose units faced the main pool complaining about the noise generated. Because of how sound can bounce around the compound or get especially amplified by the surrounding blocks, we can occasionally even hear kids screaming out their lungs at something fun at the pool from our end of the compound, and it’s probably even worse for the pool-facing units. Still, at least the pool users are mostly well-behaved, and the condo’s guards are fairly strict in keeping the peace in the night hours. So past about 10PM, the pool returns to its serene state.

And before one thinks that the Amazonian Lily Pond-facing units are heaven, we ‘enjoy’ a potpourri of barbecued and grilled food aromas from the three BBQ pit locations. Every. Single. Weekend… without fail.

Getting In and Out

While the condo is situated along a main road, we’re also lucky in that the end of the road – Lorong Ah Soo – where the Minton is situated is actually not too heavily used. So, the traffic junction that resident vehicles have to turn out from moves vehicles pretty quickly. And the three different vehicular exit points also help loads.

Though we still get occasionally comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points.

Though we still get occasional comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points. Required the estate guard to untangle the mess.

It’s quite a different story just further down the road in the early morning though. Two popular schools sit right along Lorong Ah Soo, and it can be a bit chaotic every morning when school-going children get dropped off in the two-lane road.

Well; next post to come soon once I think of more things to say about our home. We’re also planning for a mini-home renovation project in 2017, so a post somewhere in this series will deal with that!

Whoops. Spoke too soon about the last post on our Melbourne trip being the third and last of the retrospective posts. This one is about things that worked especially well equipment wise, and things that broke and just didn’t work. All for our collective memory so that we don’t do them again.

Before we had kids, we routinely brought along for vacations an entire bag full of camera bodies, filters to do different things, wireless triggers, heavy lenses and even that full-sized Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod/ballhead in the ThinkTank Bazooka case. Things are different now though, since our backpacks now have to hold stuff we need for our kids – diapers, wet wipes, children water bottles, meal bibs, emergency medication, and spare clothing. I brought along far less camera equipment this time round for the Melbourne trip; just the E-M1, the two Olympus Pro f2.8 lenses, Fujifilm X70, and the Panasonic TM700 camcorder. And summarily:

The E-M1 performed superbly again in its second overseas outing.

The 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8 lenses and especially the latter worked well beyond my expectations. The close-ups of Lemurs @ Melbourne Zoo were tack sharp center-wise, and the lens was able to resolve very fine detail – right down to strands of Lemur fur at 100% crops.

I’d ordered from Amazon UK a couple of third party E-M1 batteries (‘MaximalPower‘ brand) and brought them alongside the OEM ones as batteries in cold weather routinely don’t hold their charge as well. But I ended up not having to swap batteries at all. Even though a typical day of activities saw about 400-450 pictures on the E-M1 – and there was still power to spare at the end of each day.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing. As to whether they will bloat like the DSTN ones did – time will tell.

The JobyPro camera strap worked great, and the strap length was easily adjustable depending on what I was carrying on my back.

The X70 was mixed. It was convenient as a small camera that fitted into my jacket pocket, responsive in starting up and general usage – but just slow in AF when indoors. The lack of optical stabilization, especially important in low-light shots, was a real clunker, and I obtained far more picture keepers using the E-M1 with the 12-40mm taking wide-angles in low-light than with the X70.

Our old Panasonic TM700 was also carted along  with an extra battery and its dedicated charger in our luggage case, and never got taken out. In its place, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 took pleasing video.. for the most part as there were still that jello effect when panning around and also frequent focusing issues. Still, looks like it’s time to retire the TM700 – it’s served us very well in the last 6 years now.

Ditto also for the little Nissin i40 flash. That got brought along but never left the luggage case.

The iPad Air 2 was great for reading when sitting down on a bed or in a seat at the cafe, but terrifically unwieldy when on the move. When my mobile broadband contact ends in a few months, I’m going to seriously consider getting the iPad Mini 4 when I renew for the contract bundle.

The Google Nexus 7 – which we stored all the children cartoons – were used only on selected evenings when the kids wanted something other than the ABC Kids‘ Channel. But then Peter got extremely restless on the flight home and significantly stressed Mommy out, and he only calmed down after we remembered we had the Nexus 7 in our carry-on luggage, and turned it on for Tom and Jerry cartoons.

The Anker 5-port USB charger I’d ordered from Amazon a year ago was worth its weight in gold. 40W through 8 amps – yummy – and wrapped in scratch-resistant material.

The Anker – and last multi-port USB charger you will ever need.

The Mi 16000mAh Power Bank never got used. The devices it was intended to sustain beyond their typical battery lives – the iPad Air 2, our two smartphones, the Google Nexus 7 – all had enough juice to last for the day’s activities.

The Thule EnRoute Blur 2 Backpack could hold a huge bunch of stuff: two tablets, the Surface Pro 3, the Mi 16000mAh Power Bbank, medicine, lightning and micro USB cables, a small umbrella, a water bottle, the Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi, all our AA/AAA/TM700/E-M1/X70 spare batteries (could not be sent as checked-in luggage at the airport), the E-M1/12-40mm/40-150mm in protective padding, the X70, all our passports, an A4 folder of our key itineraries and map printouts – all still with plenty of space to spare. Shoulder straps were comfortable and helped a lot in distributing the weight. And the backpack could also fit comfortably underneath the airline seat too.

The Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi usage was mixed The Optus Prepaid data SIMs were so affordable that we got enough for all our mobile devices. The Hotel WIFI connections were occasionally unstable, so I tried using one of our spare Optus data SIMs in it, but oddly, connection continued to be flaky. I couldn’t say for certain if the Mi-Fi router was wonky, or 3G/LTE network coverage inside the hotel itself was bad as well.

The shiny new Mi Note 3 – bought specifically for this trip – kissed hard concrete on the very first day of our vacation. It had been left display face-down in Ling’s backpack (made of fairly thin canvas), and the backpack accidentally hit a hard surface. The tempered glass layer shattered, and when removed, the top third of the Mi’s display screen was similarly damaged. The phone is still functional – just dangerous to use as there are tiny bits of glass loose in the screen now. Heart-breaking.:(

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

So in summary for our next vacation:

Bring only the two Olympus Pro lenses for the Olympus E-M1.

Rethink on keeping the Fujifilm X70.

One spare battery is enough for the E-M1.

Ditch the filters… unless we’re traveling without kids.

Ditch the Panasonic TM700.

Ditch the Mi 16000mAh Power Bank. Bring along the smaller Mi 5000mAh one – just to be safe, y’know.

Ditch the Nissin i40. Alongside the 4 Eneloop batteries and its charger.

Ditch the Mi-Fi router if data SIM cards are cheap and easily available.

 

While reading up for our Melbourne trip early on and doing general searches for itinerary planing for a family with kids, I was startled to find that the majority of local blogs seemed to be by ‘social media influencers‘ or sponsored content writers. Non-sponsored and non-influencer agency affiliated bloggers who write about life experiences like us seem to be uncommon nowadays. We used to have at least three friends in our church small group who also independently blog about life experiences, family and kids 7-8 years ago – but none of them do anymore.

I reckon it’s a larger trend that you see in digital spaces now. Social media networks are a lot easier to write for, with access controls to boot. And for those who still write for the web, fewer today want to volunteer information for (totally) free anymore. We first started seeing it in digital newspapers, then technological and hobbyist sites and beyond now. Revenue or incentives in the form of adclicks, complimentary or sponsored services to sample etc. can be indeed hard to pass up especially once your site is past a certain following, and possibly even mandatory to pay the bills for a high-traffic web site.

So, we’re blessed we have no such need or desire to be sponsored. Our corner here on the Internet doesn’t receive quite the same traffic as influencers, so we have no pressures.:) While our about 17 year old blog has a stub tagline (“Reflections of parents of young kids”), we don’t have a consistent focus on what we write. We don’t desire to be affiliated with any social media companies, are completely self-funded and independent and do not derive any income from this site, and do not have any embedded code snippets to track your browsing behavior (unless they are built-in by my domain host provider without my knowledge!). And when we talk about a particular experience with a place, product or service, it’s exactly as it is – and not because someone asked/paid/encouraged us by giving complimentary stuff and we’re thus obliged to say nice things, claims of honesty or not.

I guess I’m an unconvinced skeptic on the real authenticity of evaluations on sponsored content – more so after our experience of Club Med Bintan turned out to be vastly different from the slice of heaven some lifestyle bloggers had made sound like.

But that musing aside – we’ve written 20 blog posts – including this one – of our Melbourne trip. That’s a lot less than the whopping 60 posts about the Boston trip in 2010 – our Ang Mo bud will relate particularly memorable experiences we had at a Indian restaurant, watching people vomit while whale-watching, and also of a visit to gay town LOL – or the nearly as many 58 posts about our Japan trip that same year. We’ve already covered our overall comments for each of the key places we visited. Here’s our summary and notes if you’re planning for a similar family vacation to the city.

Plan your own itinerary, and decide exactly how much time you want to spend and what places to visit. The majority of attractions have up to date web sites that you can visit and mine for information and directions. Pay special attention particularly to weekend admissions, as kids are admitted for free in some places on weekends. Check also if your hotel has bundled admissions with discounts too.

Take the SkyBus from the airport to your place of stay in the city center and save yourself a bundle of cash from taking a private car or cab. It’s easy, runs frequently, and shouldn’t take more than an hour to get you from the airport to your stay.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The city is stroller and pram friendly. There’s the occasional elevated pavement ledge that you have to roll up onto. But by and large, we had no difficulties navigating Peter’s stroller along the pedestrian pavements and traffic junctions we walked along extensively during our stay. One thing though: cross roads only at designated crossings, and look left and right even then. Cars coast along fairly slow – perhaps 35-40 km/h – in the city center, but trams are quicker. Our Great Sights guide said as much: putting aside the hefty fines involved in breaking traffic rules, getting run over by a pretty fast tram will ruin your vacation – likely permanently.

There are plenty of places to eat, and breakfast places were open as early as 0600hrs. We visited in June and winter season for Australia, so several dining establishments closed early by 1700hrs, though there always remained enough options if you’re willing to explore a little further. If you’re staying in accommodation with a reasonably large fridge and cooking facilities, then it’s also practical to get fresh produce from QVM and cook (keep in mind that you might still need condiments though). Alternatively, if your accommodation has a microwave oven – like ours did – then hot microwaved food from Coles and Woolsworth awaits you.:)

If local fare is your thing, then there’s Chinatown along Little Bourke Street. We also spotted Pepper Lunch, Ajisen Ramen, and even something called Breadtop which offers pastry and bread items very similar to Singapore’s own Breadtalk.

There’s a free tram service in the city center itself, but we ended up not using it at all. We just walked everywhere and often from one end of the city center bounded by the free tram service boundaries (where Pegasus was located) to the other end (Spring Street). There are some gentle inclines uphill here and there, but nothing like the joint-hurting up/down/up hill of San Francisco city. That we walked was just as well, because the myki ticketing system just seemed too much of a hassle for tourists.

If you have no Google Maps or your phone ran out of battery and you are now lost, look for the city’s visitor info guides. They are in unmistakable red jackets, and are strategically located at several key junctions and will readily offer you advice on where/how you need to get to.

Within the city center itself and walking distance are a number of reasonably easy to reach places. You could set aside about 3-4 days to visit the key sites within the center, and perhaps another day just for shopping if that’s your thing.

We walked everywhere. Peter's cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

We walked everywhere. Peter’s cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

Driving is an option, and traffic within the city isn’t intimidating with plenty of road signs and landmarks to spot. What might be less appealing though are the parking charges. The alternative is to rent cars only on selected days to do self-drives to the places outside Melbourne.

The majority of the day tour offerings are centered around these places: the Great Ocean Road, Dandenong Ranges/Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Ballarat, and Philips Island. I reckon you could fill up as many days as you need to by booking a couple of these day tour outings – though keep in mind again that weather can significantly impact the experience you get on the tour. Remember also to inquire if you can get discounts if you book more than one day tour with the company.

If there’s bad weather or your feet are just tired, you can head for the nearest hotel. There are often one or two city’s cabs hanging around at the hotels’ entrances.

If you’re visiting in winter but do not have a lot of winter clothing and hope not to spend a lot of money buying them first in Singapore, then head to Target Center or Queen Victoria Market first thing and get what you need at bargain bin prices.

Mobile Internet is great. Optus My Prepaid Daily Plus is an absolute must with its very low daily Internet costs, and you can get as many data SIM cards as you have smart devices. If there’s a long queue at the Optus shop at the ground floor @ Melbourne International Terminal, don’t sweat it. Just get to the city center first, and then to any one of the many Optus shops there to buy the cards you need. Top-ups are easy too, either by purchasing additional top-up cards at convenience stores and supermarkets, or via Optus’ online payment system. Remember to preload Google Maps for the city, and rely on your smart device’s GPS locator. That can really cut down on your mobile Internet costs. Notwithstanding that, many cafes and restaurants also offer complimentary WIFI.

This wraps our principal posts on our Melbourne trip. All in, I reckon a 8 day stay is pretty good for this city, and anything above 10 days would be stretching it, unless you’re really wanting to take it real slow. Hope all this helps if you’re planning for a Melbourne trip. We might try Sydney next June, since that again was my initial preference for this year’s holiday. More to come at some point.:)