Apart from the new Savic Bristol cage, we’ve been on small shopping sprees over the nearly 10 days we’ve had Stacy the Syrian, accumulating a small stockpile of food items, treats and toys for her. Here’s our rundown of things that worked and those that haven’t so far.

Sand bath and house: as a start, we went with Trustie’s Small Animal Bath Sand and Lavender flavored. I wonder if there are unscented sand about since I’m uncertain if scented sand will affect the hamster’s sense of smell over time. With VIP discount, each 1kg bag costs about $5.50, with the accompanying dome-styled bath house just a couple of dollars. Each 1kg bag of sand can last likely last for about 10 sand changes, or about 2 months. Now, hamsters are supposed to roll around in the bath house, as the sand helps with their cleanliness. Problem is that ours does everything except roll around in it. She’ll rather poop in it, and just yesterday after pooping, napped in the house too LOL.

I love rolling around in my poop.

I love rolling around in my poop.

Hamster wheel. The wheel that came with the Habitrail Cristal cage was a relatively large 7.5 inch wheel. Many cages – and even the larger ones – routinely include much smaller wheels. That said, after we upgraded her cage to a Bristol, we had more space to mount a larger wheel, so went with a 8.4 inch wheel that we picked up for cheap at Petmart @ Serangoon North Avenue 2. Funnily, the store assistant there thought I was buying the wheel for a Chinchilla. The Bristol cage can hold up to an even larger wheel of likely 11 inches, but that’d likely mean some major furniture rearrangement then. And oh yes – the Cristal wheel while reportedly of the ‘silent type’, was loud enough to wake Ling up when Stacy started speed running on it dead of the night. Hopefully this one’s sturdier to hold up the hamster’s weight!

Feeding bottle. Feeding bottles are typically bundled together with cages. The hamster at this young age takes perhaps just 15-20ml of water everyday, so we didn’t see a reason to use the 150ml capacity bottle that came with the Bristol.

Bedding material. This one was a tough decision, given the number of options available for it, and as a starter, went with Pet’s Dream: Paper Pure. The pellets are made of recycled natural products, is 100% biodegradable and of reasonable pricing. The material is pellet-like, which makes them easier to handle, and dust-free for the most part. They are also odorless and seem to mask Stacy’s excrement smell well enough, though she’s not pooping that much to begin with. The tricky thing about this product though is that the pellets are also dark-colored, which can make spot-cleaning (i.e. finding and picking her poop then tossing them) a little hard.

Trail mix and treats. Many enthusiasts suggest that the trail mixes that are sold in stores typically offer a well-balanced diet, and hamsters are perfectly fine eating these exclusively. Just for fun though we’ve been trying to spread her diet a little: and she’s taken after Sunseed Grainola Treat bars quite well – though they are typically far too large, and could take weeks for her to finish a single bar – and also Odour care treats from Mark + Chappell, and small thinly-sliced pieces of raw carrot. The challenge with fresh food is of course cleaning it up as they can go bad real quickly in Singaporean humidity – which can be tricky as hamsters like to hide food LOL.

Sunseed Granola with oatmeal and raisin treat, and loving it!

Sunseed Grainola with oatmeal and raisin treat, and loving it!

Chew materials. These are necessary as hamsters need to constantly gnaw their teeth down. Funnily, Stacy didn’t take after the mineral chews sold in-house by Pet Lovers Centre, and ended up chewing on the bars of her new cage instead. That is, until we bought her neatly cut apple branches for a couple of dollars – which she took after immediately.

Toys. Aside from hamster balls, the in-cage toys seem to come in broadly two types: wooden-made ones and extension modules that can connect to modular cage systems. Since we’d moved off the Habitrail cage, the latter extension modules didn’t make any sense for us. So we picked up a variety of wooden toys that ranged between a couple of dollars, to a one square feed large small animal maze. We’ve not really seen a persistent pattern of use from Stacy for these yet – or maybe she just enjoys them in the dark when we’re sleeping. Who knows LOL.

Pets these days have everything. With the exception of the maze, most were priced at about $10 apiece.

Pets these days have everything. With the exception of the maze, most were priced at about $10 apiece.

Care and concern: from left to right, chew sticks, bath sand, odour care treats, and roast mealworm treats!

Care and concern: from left to right, chew sticks, bath sand, odour care treats, and roast mealworm treats!

So all in, Stacy the Syrian has given the kids lots of interest and things to talk about though she’s also still shy and too jittery to let any of us hold her. Small steps, and more to report I reckon when she finally comes round to it.


It took us just a day to conclude that the cage we bought Stacy the Syrian was going to be a little too small once our baby hamster gets past a few months old, more so that Syrians are larger than their dwarf cousins. She seems fine in it now, but we figured we’d better just get a larger one now so she wouldn’t have to readjust again to a new habitat soon.

Still, our comments about her first cage – a Habitrail Cristal Hamster Cage.

Fairly small area of 166 square inches

Feels sturdy and well-assembled.

Affordably priced at $50 with the loyalty card, premium-looking, compact and pleasing aesthetically for her human owners. If nothing else the cage looks pretty. Good mix of clear plastic and wire cage to permit ventilation.

The cage door though is a little fiddly, and requiring a bit of skill to shut it without jolting the cage and possibly waking the hamster up.

Well-designed bundled accessories. Comes with a roughly 7.5 inch large wheel that runs silently (which we will transplant over to the new cage), a plastic ramp with ridges, and a small feeding water bottle (not too large or bulky).

Most importantly, as far as we could tell, our baby hamster looked happy enough in it!


As for the larger cage, some enthusiasts recommend a cage of 2 feet by 1 feet at least for Syrians, others go with the often-cited figure of 360 square inches. There aren’t nearly as many large cages specifically designed for hamsters sold in local pet stores, and we also had to be mindful that we would also need the cage to be reasonably mobile (i.e light) as different parts of the house can be quite warm in the first half of a year. There are some pretty nicely designed cages sold through Amazon UK, but are also pretty large.

We decided to go with the Savic Bristol, which has a floor area of about 348 square inches, and after hunting around for availability, picked it up from The Pet Safari @ Eastpoint Mall.

Nearly the recommended size at 348 square inches.

At S$75, affordably priced locally if you have Pet Lovers Centre’s VIP/Loyalty card. It lists for USD140 and £52 on Amazon and Amazon UK respectively.

Feels less premium than the Cristal.

Of sufficient height to allow both a basement (where we have her bedding, a cooling mat and a sand bath), a level for her to run around, and overhanging toys to be mounted at the top too.

Very large cage door that opens from the front. Some owners commented that the cage door swivels loosely and might crash on your end (or critter). Our unit seemed reasonably stiffed though so we don’t foresee this problem occurring for us.

The bundled feeding water bottle is IMO too large for hamsters, so we swapped it with the one from the Cristal cage.

The bundled overhanging cage which would let Stacy have a birdseye view is a little hard for her to get to. I might swap it with a hammock that’s closer to her level so that she can easily climb onto it. The bundled wheel is also too smaller for a Syrian.

Just two clippers that secure the wire cage to the plastic base. You’d need to find alternative ways of securing the cage if either of them break.

Our hamster seemed pretty happy with her upgraded apartment. Just after an hour after introduction to her cage where she burrowed at the basement level and slept for a bit, she was up and about exploring the cage – including, incredibly, hanging precariously on the top grill with just one paw before dropping to the bedding below.

Exploring all nooks and crannies.

Exploring all nooks and crannies.

Stacy seeking a second career as a spider-hamster.

Stacy seeking a second career as a spider-hamster.

Next post soon when accessories and the like!

Pets. As parents of young kids, we’ve heard a lot in media about not letting kids pressure us as parents into buying pets, and the dangers of impulse buying. As cute as some the furry little critters like hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits might be, the novelty cute pets bring to kids might die off quickly enough – and when that happens, it’s routinely parents who end up having to be the pets’ caregivers.

So, it’s a strange turn of events when it’s the adult – me in this case – who bought a cute furry pet for himself and not on the kids request, and certainly not on impulse. I approached this project in exactly the same way as I would buy a new tablet or mobile phone: a month or two of research, thinking of the various options, planning for its home at our home, and what we would do to engage any such pet. Hannah though suspected that something was afoot when she saw me especially starting to frequent pet stores in various malls and taking a visible interest in browsing wares and the like.

My summary notes of what was going through my head:

Went with a Syrian hamster. Why not rabbits? Well – we couldn’t quite afford the space at home to give a rabbit the necessary room to run around, and we’re staying in an apartment block with a large balcony and plenty of places for rabbits loose in the house to fall off the balconies and to their demise. Guinea pigs were a real possibility and perhaps at some point in the future, but we figured we should start small first.

Of the hamster breeds, Syrians are generally considered quite easy to care for, and also of the right size and temperament for kids to handle once both parties are ready for it.

We didn’t thoroughly explore buying from pet farms, nor adoption from Hamster enthusiast groups or SPCA (or rather, none were available for adoption when I checked). We checked out pet stores @ shopping malls primarily out of convenience, but took our time to select the most appropriate critter of the species.

We picked up a rectangular-ish cage that was a compromise between wire fencing and also transparent plastic. Some enthusiasts recommend going with aquarium-styled acrylic tanks, but I was worried that there would be insufficient ventilation for the fellow – more so if we have to mount a small fan somewhere during the hot/humid parts of the year. We did avoid cages with built-in plastic tunnels though, reckoning that they can be difficult to clean well.

There were a few options for bedding material, and we went with a large 20 liter bag of recycled paper pellets. They were quite attractively priced and fairly large pellets. But on the other hand, they’re also rather dark colored, which could make identifying areas to find spot-clean areas, and the hamster’s droppings are also harder to spot.

All in, the initial expenditure was a shade under $200. $32 for the critter, $50 for her cage, $3 for a chew toy, $10 for a large bag of store feed, $12 for a bag of sandbath and a hamster bath tub, $23 for bedding material, $40 of toys, and $8 for a sizable hamster ball.

Assembling the cage @ Pet Lovers Centre.

Assembling the cage @ Pet Lovers Centre.

Introducing Stacy the Syrian hamster!

Introducing Stacy the Syrian hamster!

More in the next post!

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!


Five plates of pastries and morning brews for the adults.


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


Mommy getting into the spirit of things too.


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.


Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe on a lazy Saturday midmorning.


Fairly small menu but reasonably priced.


Hulk getting constipation LOL.


Fish & Chips that tasted ho-hum.


Vintage Volswagen Beetles all lined up.


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, 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.


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!