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 most recent family vacation to Club Med Bintan in December last year turned out to be such a let-down that we’ve sworn off beach resorts for our family holidays for the immediate future. I reckon that the disappointment was made the worse as many Internet bloggers had written glowing paradise-like praise for the place. And that let me to really wonder whether we’d finally gone to the same place or not over the five days! A Minton neighbor was recently quite interested in our blog, and commented that she especially appreciated and would rather follow independent bloggers than those affiliated with influencer agencies or receiving sponsorships and what not, and even withstanding caveats/open declarations/editorial policies. We’d write without having to feel as though we’re obligated to only say favorable things.

That aside and in any case, we have a window this year in June where we could make plans for a longer than the usual five-six day trip we’ve been making do in the last few years. And at that time of the year, the northern hemisphere would be typically warmer than the south, so we decided early on to arrange for an at least eight day trip, and somewhere south. Like the last three trips – to Legoland Malaysia, Koh Phangan, and Bintan – Peter would be with us.  And apart from prevailing climate, we were also mindful of other considerations, including:

Airfare costs

Availability of direct flights

Not too far (we were worried if Peter could handle anything more than 12 hrs in a plane!)

Child and pram-friendly

Self-drive as an option

Cool weather

With these criteria in mind, we really weren’t considering many options – yep, it was going to be Australia. Again.

Truth to tell, I’ve spent so much time in Australia, comparatively, that I’m not sure if I wanted to go there again for a vacation. I reckon if we were planning for a September or December holiday, we’d travel to Taiwan, Japan or Korea instead. And if funds had permitted, to visit our Ang mo bud in Missouri.

Of the several cities in the country, Ling wasn’t so keen on Perth as she’d already been there and didn’t think there was much, city-wise. I concurred – I would know as I lived there for three years! The next two cities which were going to see fairly cool weather was Sydney and Melbourne, and both cities were connected to Singapore by several airlines whose fares were competitively-priced, and they also offered direct flights. The two cities architecture and vibe-wise are different, and they also offer a very slightly different basket of sights off-city. I’ve previously spent a bit of time in both, and my preference was Sydney while Ling’s was Melbourne – and we eventually decided in favor of the latter, and a ten day trip.

At this point, we’ve confirmed our flights – we booked Emirates on a pretty decent deal that was about comparable price-wise to budget offerings after taking on board the additional food and baggage charges, and also our accommodation arrangements. More comments on that to come, alongside of our itinerary in-planning!

melbourne

Melbourne, June 2016.

And some pictures of our kids with the new X70! The camera was configured for shutter speeds of 1/80s and ISO3200 max, and also a mix of program-auto and aperture-priority.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired head-on. The picture is still correctly color balanced though I reckon that the soon to arrive Meike MK320 will allow for a less-noisy ISO setting.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash. Early weekday morning at about 0620 hrs. Peter does not like sleeping on his bed! Handheld shots like this are easy on the E-M1/E-M5, and tough on the X70 because of its lack of optical stabilization.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash. Peter just after he was disciplined for his usual misbehavior.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired. It’s amazing how quickly primary school kids are introduced to computer use in school. Hannah has weekly scheduled lab time where the kids do independent learning through an education portal.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash. We’ve been frequenting Toast Box @ Parkway Parade of late, on account that our two kids love the varieties of thick toasts there.

I’ve mostly stayed clear of virtual reality headgear, on account that the few I’ve tried in the last couple of years have invariably induced massive bouts of vertigo within minutes. I’ve also found these head mounted gadgets massively discomforting, to say nothing that I’ve not found them to work well with the current prescription spectacles that I wear.

That said; the current hot name in wearable VR devices now is Oculus, and they have a device that has long been in gestation – the Oculus Rift – with the consumer version finally to be available sometime this year. The Oculus Rift is expected to cost a pretty penny and I’m not prepared to throw half a thousand moola on the this. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the recently released Samsung Gear VR – which goes about providing for consumer-level VR experiences at a pretty attractive price-point.

The Gear VR has garnered quite a bit of interest here, and Samsung (Singapore) has spared no expense in marketing their product. The Gear VR is carried widely in the Samsung Experience stores in many places on the island, alongside also in smaller demo areas in the large consumer electronic chains like Best Denki. So, I paid $148 for one such device over the weekend at the Parkway Parade Experience store, and here are my bunch of first comments on it after playing around with it intensively over the last day.

samsungVR-01

The product works as advertised.The product is compatible with the most recent generation of Samsung smartphones, and no other accessory is required for it to start working. Getting it to work with my Samsung Note 5 was also painless. Apart from installing the requisite Oculus/Samsung apps onto, the smartphone easily connected to the headset via the micro USB port, snapped in place onto the two device holders, and I was all set.

The device fits snugly on the head, more so if you also use the head strap. The visor’s cavity is deep enough for my pair of glasses. The front focus adjustment wheel permits you to adjust the optimum eye focusing point, though I found myself having to adjust it each time the visor shifted.

You need a good pair of headphones to complete the experience. The device’s holders do not impede using the headphone jack, so a wireless headphone set isn’t mandatory.

Interesting content. I’ve tried/purchased quite a few of the VR apps/games at this point, and there are some that provides for a really immersive experience. Of particular note are these three:

Jurassic World Apatosaurus – where you come nose to nose with a lumbering dinosaur… that looks very real, even with one as normally jaded with CG as I am. The app is fairly short at just a few minutes, but it’s an amazing couple of minutes.

Ocean Rift – paid app, but there’s a free demo version for one to try out. Each setting has a particular marine wildlife for you to find and interact with, and you can swim about in each setting too. Can take a while for you to find the critter though, and the app doesn’t feature more than one wildlife type in each setting.

Eve: Gunjack – paid app. This VR turret game was one of those that was loaded at the Samsung Gear VR devices at the demo shops, and it’s pretty much the kind of game genre that will sell VR devices like these. It’s visually impressive enough and gameplay is straight forward (i.e. shoot at oncoming alien ships) with increasing tactical challenges as the levels advance.

I’ll write more on other apps along the way. Of the couple of issues I have with the device so far though:

The touchpad on the right side of the device is finicky. The first couple of days’ use will likely see many users accidentally pressing the touchpad.

The thing sucks battery power like no tomorrow. There is a micro USB charging port on the headset itself though which helps heaps, though you won’t want cables dangling from the headset when you’re trying to experience full 360 degree content.

The viewing experience is still somewhat pixelated. Not much of an issue for typical moving visuals, but you can see jagged edges in text displays. If there was ever a need for 4K resolutions on smartphone, here is it!

Below picture says it all. Yeah I know the device is not intended for kids under 13, so we’ve only been letting Hannah try it for a few minutes!

samsungVR-02

 

Hannah has finally finished pre-school and will be progressing onto Primary One next year. She’s been really looking forward to starting in a new environment and meeting new friends and teachers, so much so that every night at bed time she’ll ask us to tell her about her P1 school again. We shared with her too that over time, she’ll be making friends and forgetting old ones – including her pre-school ones. Rather than get emotional about it, she’s resolved to make memories of her old friends, including taking pictures and also inviting them over to our home for play dates this December break.

One such break was just yesterday, and one segment of which saw the kids head over to the Minton waterplay area for fun and activities. Another opportunity to fish out the new 40-150mm f2.8 lens for pictures! The selection below was shot using this lens, with several at maximum focal length (though not always wide-opened), which provided some interesting depth of field levels. The subject distance made possible by the long focal-length enabled non-intrusive pictures – none of the shots below were posed.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

Intrepid explorers, these two - as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

Intrepid explorers, these two – as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

This one's a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

This one’s a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

The shallow end of the kids' waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

The shallow end of the kids’ waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

The next major outing for the lens will be the upcoming Club Med trip, so more to come soon!

One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.

Hammocks!

Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!

 

Ling comments that it’s hard buying tech toys for my birthday every year. Thankfully, it’s easier on my end for her birthdays – on account that, apart from apparel and things that women use (i.e. handbags LOL), there are always new kitchen or home appliances or gizmos out there. And I actually enjoy the learning process involved with finding out about the new home innovations, and comparing between them using the usual spreadsheets.

One home item that Ling mused about early this year was a juicer. We do consume some fruits at home as a family of four on most evenings, but it takes time to wash, and slice/dice them. Moreover, I’m a temperamental fruit eater: there are many fruits I dislike, and I have low tolerances too for fruits that are sour or bland. The juicer is supposed to take care of all that, since when they are mashed and squeezed into pulp and fluids, and mixed into different concoctions, blandness and tastelessness become less of an issue.

There seems to be at least two broad types of fruit juicers: fast juicers that use centrifugal forces to essentially grind fruit pieces into pulp and juice, and slow(er) juices that use pressure. The ‘net is awashed with a lot of material comparing between the two and occasionally trying to separate fact from fiction of both juicers’ advantages. The fast juicers as sold here are also somewhat lower in average pricing than the slow ones, with some premium models in the latter category coming close to or crossing the thousand dollar mark.

Possible hype and unfounded fears aside, I decided to go with the slow juicer early on – if nothing else that I think power-pulverizing by motors does strike me as being very cruel to fruits! There’s a wide range of slow juicer models, with the cheapest ones costing just slightly over a hundred dollars. I wasn’t sure how a juicer would finally fit into the kitchen, since there’s been a couple of big ticket household appliances that turned into white elephants (a certain vacuum cleaner from OSIM or breadmaker machine for example), while other low price items that have turned out to be a lot more useful than we envisioned (e.g. an Electolux handheld vacuum cleaner). Erring on the side of caution this time round again, we went with a fairly cheap slow juicer – the Philips HR1830 that cost slightly more than S$200.

Despite it being Ling’s birthday present, I’ve been the primary user of this new juicer now since its purchase 5 weeks ago now – on account that it’s fun to juice, and everyone gets their Vitamin C fix almost every night. Some comments about the juicer and juicing!

Our concoctions most of the time are what comes out from a pineapple, 3 large oranges, 4 apples, 1 carrot, and 1 celery stick. Enough for everyone to get at least a full relative-sized cup – even Peter. We’ve of course tried many other fruit types at this point, but this particular mixture seems to provide us with a blend that is reasonably tasty without strong flavors in particular directions.

The HR1830 isn’t a heavy duty juicer, or at least not with the daily abuse it gets put through. The machine wobbles, and depending on how hard one nudges (or forces) the cut fruit slices down the main vertical tube, the juicer can shake quite a bit as it tries to slice fruit and drive them through the metallic sieve.

The machine’s not silent. But the motor sound is far less than the din of what you’ll normally hear from a fast juicer.

The juicer is fairly easy to clean too. Disassembling the machine takes just a minute, as also is its assembly, and it’s super easy all round. No really small parts to figure out either. No parts with sharp edges either too. Pretty child friendly!

From what I’ve observed against online notes from other juicer models; the HR1830 does an adequate job at squeezing juice out from pulp, but there are clearly other models that do an even better job at maximizing the amount of juice you can get from the cut fruit.

Soft fruits are easy to juice – up to a point. We tried water melons, but they provided so much liquid volume that it was hard to balance it off with other fruits and to reach an appropriate taste… unless you don’t mind drinking what is essentially gonna taste like melon juice to the max.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Hannah's interpretation of what is really going on.

Hannah’s interpretation of what is really going on.

I can’t believe I’ve gone from talking about photography and cameras in the last post to kitchen juicers now LOL.