2015 is one of those lucky years when the Lunar New Year falls just before the weekend, and extending the long holiday weekend for us too, and we got to enjoy a good 4.5 day stretch. Last year‘s family pictures taken over the festive season didn’t look so good on account that Peter was suffering from a bout of mosquitoes bites. We did better this year, since Peter was (slightly) more able to listen to instructions to look good for pictures, though not by too much still!

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

Us!

Us! Don’t mind the plant watering bottle on the top left corner LOL.

Lighting was a bit off for the first picture above – you can see that the right side of the frame looks a bit darker than the rest of the picture. The Metz flashgun wasn’t producing sufficient output. I guess that was because the flash head had not been fully turned to point upwards but at a slight off-angle, and that might have caused the flash gun to misunderstand how much light was required. The first picture had to be post-processed from the RAW file as a result. The flashgun was correctly adjusted for the second picture of the four of us at home, as it was taken an hour later.

One thing’s for sure. My next camera is gonna feature built-in wireless control capability. I’ve had enough mucking around with third party wireless remote-controllers for the old Nikon DSLRs and for the current Olympus E-M5. The wireless remote controller for the latter almost didn’t work on this occasion (I had to furiously jiggle the batteries a little). Otherwise, I would have been forced to use self-timers for the family pictures.

At play at our parents' home.

At play at our parents’ home.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy - as usual.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy – as usual.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

Olympus has just released the next iteration of the E-M5, nearly named the Mark II of the model. The new E-M5 II is a little better-specced for the most part, including providing support for a very high-resolution mode, and an improved IBIS (In-body image stabilization) that now offers up to 5 buffer stops for sloppy handholding technique LOL. Unfortunately, the continuous AF support from the more professional but also older E-M1 model did not go over, which makes it a little harder for enthusiasts deciding between the two which to go for. Decisions to make, maybe later this year!

Monsoon has passed since the last week. The weather has been gradually warming up during the day alongside rain becoming an infrequent occurrence. And while nights remained quite cooling, it won’t be long before the island creeps into daily temperature highs of 33°C and beyond. The transition in weather has also made our two kids more vulnerable, and Peter experienced mild-temperatures on and off in the last fortnight, and Hannah is just recovering from a week long bout with skin rashes, possibly an allergic reaction to seafood at a family dinner we had a fortnight ago.

Ling was remarking that Peter doesn’t look like his age at all. At past 19 months now, he still has a baby-ish look about himself and were it not for the fact that he has a healthy pair of legs that let him run around, could be mistaken for an infant that’s just a year old. While he’s unable to say words beyond “jie jie” (“big sister”) and “daddy” and loud Homer Simpon-like “DOHs”, he’s better able to understand simple instructions we give him. Like:

“Peter, put that toy back on the table.”

“Peter, go to your jie jie.”; and of course…

“Peter, get your bu** over here NOW!!!”

He’s also less clingy to Mommy now too, after Daddy made a concerted effort to bond better with him, and will happily follow after me when he’s called to without the accompanying hollers and screaming from a couple months ago.

But then again, he’s also been doing quite a few stunts that’s been making us tear our hair out, including:

Upsetting Ling’s plants, and eating the soil that spill out.

Taking Hannah’s hair-clips and dropping them into the toilet bowl.

Taking an entire toilet roll, and also dropping it into the toilet bowl.

Taking Ling’s NASA stress ball, and biting pieces off it.

Ling was especially furious about the last one, since the stress ball was a beloved memento. We’re of course not to the point where we’ll punish Peter for misbehaving since he’s not fully cognizant of his actions, but it won’t be long now before he gets introduced to ‘time-outs’ for bad behavior.

All this said, Hannah has been a real help. As Ling put it on Facebook:

God gave us a healthy son albeit a very lively one. Sometimes I do fret over the stressful situations his liveliness brings and forget that he is a blessing. Over a peaceful dinner at home just now made me realised this and that God has also blessed us with a wonderful daughter who helped to keep Peter occupied so that the adults could eat ‘in peace’. Let me not forget that and be thankful!

Pictures.:)

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Driving home at weekday's end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

Driving home at weekday’s end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Looking cute now - but not so cute at home!

Looking cute now – but not so cute at home!

 

My follow-up post to the SP3 and XPS13 after having put both through two and one weeks of respective use.

My initial intentions for both devices were to leave the SP3 at home and for the XPS13 to be the workhorse replacement to replace the now kaput-ed Macbook Pro. Funnily, both devices are now getting trafficked to work everyday in my haversack. The XPS13 is the heavy duty work machine, even if the keyboard and touchpad isn’t as nice to use or that the overall unit isn’t as lighting quick  compared to the MBP – but the SP3 is just so much fun to use. I’ve always enjoyed scribbling on the Samsung Note 3, and the SP3 takes it to a whole new level with a more natural-sized pen and larger canvas to work with. It’s also become a diagramming tool I use for teaching, and also to take copious notes during meetings.

And Hannah loves drawing on the SP3. Quite a welcomed change for us parents, because she’d normally just draw them on pieces of art paper and leave them lying around the house!

Hannah's creation on Microsoft's Fresh Paint app!

Hannah’s creation on Microsoft’s Fresh Paint app!

Battery-life wise on the XPS13 – it’s nowhere near Dell’s initial claim of 12 hours at January 2015’s CES, not at least if you intend to do use the XPS13 for anything apart from just keeping a static screen on with minimal brightness. Using the XPS13 to do a slightly-over two hour class that used Powerpoint that also included several high-resolution videos, set on near maximum brightness with Wifi + Bluetooh on, the XPS13 showed about 65% battery life remaining. Plenty enough more to run for quite a bit longer. In such usage, I’ll put the XPS13’s battery life to about 5.5-6 hours. The SP3 seems to run for about the same length of time too.

Mobility-wise; both devices are in the same ballpark weight though I feel less nervous carrying the SP3. The latter’s type-covers provides a nice friction grip when it’s hand-carried or cradled underneath my arm, while the XPS13’s aluminum body is so smooth that I fear it falling off my hands. The SP3’s exterior is also very cool and pleasant to the touch – pretty much like the Macbook’s unibody exterior.

The mini-Display port sits on different sides of both machines too. It’s the right side for the SP3, and left for the XPS13. This is a very individual thing, but all my secondary displays at work and home are always on the right-side of the principal machine. So, in my case, the SP3’s mini-Display port is a more natural orientation to the secondary display than the XPS13 – which requires the display cable to run behind the machine’s width, and hence a little messier.

The near bezel-ess display on the XPS13 is just lovely, and you’ll be continuing to marvel at the engineering feat to make it possible. That said (and apart from the light-leakage there), it also requires a bit more effort to swipe on the right-side to bring up Windows Charms. The screen also presents significantly more reflective glare than the MBP – and it doesn’t help that the maximum brightness isn’t that high to begin with. The SP3’s display is less striking, and the screen’s thicker bezel makes it look unappealing. The very slightly odd tint on the screen there too has been improved somewhat after reading a post on Surface Forums.net on how to correct that color idiosyncrasy. The screen still doesn’t produce whites as pure as that of the MBP or XPS13, but it’s an improvement now.

Both the typecover and the XPS13’s keyboard are backilt – particularly useful in the SP3’s case, since the unit is used a lot in dim bedroom light.

I have mixed feelings about the XPS13’s weaved-patterned palm rest. It’s scratch-resistant and looks premium, but I prefer the metallic-alloy feel off the MBPs, or the rougher-textured rests off the SP3. Minor thing though. As for the keyboards on both; the SP3 provides a more tactile if noisier experience, while the XPS13 is very quiet but also mushy. Given a choice, I prefer the former.

The XPS13's palmrest.

The XPS13’s palmrest.

SP3's.

SP3’s.

That’s it for the week-usage notes. More to come – maybe!

 

Incredibly; more than 3 months have whizzed past since I last did a photo post on our two kids!

Hannah has been growing both in understanding the world around her and also in her sense of independence and decision-making. We’ve successfully taught her to shower on her own now since last month/year, though she still needs the occasional help bringing down the showerhead from its holder, or hanging up her wet towel in the yard. She also can easily find things on her own to entertain herself with, and – nicely too and something we observed from young about her – isn’t obsessed with TV or electronic gadgets. She’ll, very occasionally, ask if she can watch TV for instance (her current favorite are Tom & Jerry cartoons, no doubt a consequence of having watched tons of it over Cartoon Network while in Koh Phangan) or play her Mickey Mouse Clubhouse games on the iPad, but doesn’t mind if she can’t.

Peter on the other is quickly turning into more than four handfuls. At his age of 19 months now, we’ve concluded that the amount of care and labor that goes into managing him has long surpassed what Hannah required at the same age and even younger. Peter is a fussy eater (vomits food that he doesn’t like), doesn’t easily go to bed for naps or overnight, and gets into baby tantrums at the slightest unhappiness. Ling in fact quipped yesterday that the effort to take care Peter is easily twice that of Hanny. The difference between baby girls and baby boys – until this point we’d never realized how true such differences can be.

Kids @ Mcdonald's at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Kids @ Mcdonald’s at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister's lead.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister’s lead.

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out - even if it's just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out – even if it’s just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Playing catch at the lift lobby - we were just about to head out for Hannah's weekend ballet classes.

Playing catch at the lift lobby – we were just about to head out for Hannah’s weekend ballet classes.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

 

Another year, and time for my annual year-end post on our big decisions of 2014 – what went well and what didn’t!

Choice of Interior Designer – Win: Our renovation project took a good part of all our free time in the first four months of the year, and it was a tough decision shortlisting from 13 IDs we checked out to 2, and then finally deciding on who to go with. Our renovation project was of course a culmination of many activities – the main renovation, the individual furnishing items, choice of decorations, the other subcontractors we enlisted to do other parts of the house etc. On the overall and briefly; our renovation project went on balance very well, though 8 months into the fact, we’re starting to regret our choice of LED lights. Oh well – lesson learned.

Selling The Rivervale – Win: Another tough and significant decision we made this year; whether to sell away or rent out our old Rivervale home, and which estate agent to go with. We’re still not absolutely certain that selling our old home was the best financial decision long-term, but we did benefit from a great estate agent who was accessible, and got us a selling price that we were comfortable, and an easy and fast sales transaction to boot too.

Koh Phangan and Santhiya – Mix: Peter’s first vacation out, and the entire experienced gave us mixed feelings. The resort was nice enough and holiday unrushed and quite laid back. But it was also a pretty expensive holiday and the overall resort package wasn’t matching to the premium price charged for the stay, Peter wasn’t on his best behavior, and both the men of the household fell ill.

iPad Mini Retina – Win: The first of two iPads I picked up during the year. This was to replace the Google Nexus 7 – whose screen I had to squint at from deteriorating eyesight. The tablet is perfect in size, pocketable though screen wise it’s not quite up to what the Air 2 below is capable of. I’m still figuring out which will be my go-to tablet long-term; this one or the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 – Win: Came with a mobile broadband bundle I signed up for late in the year. Lovely screen, quick performance, thin and light if almost also a little fragile; but if only the form factor was just a little smaller. This one can’t fit into my bermuda pockets!

Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom – Win: I picked this portable Bluetooth speaker at the start of the year for use during my classes, given the number of videos I use for teaching purposes. The speaker is stylish, loud, has a battery that charges quickly and runs forever – though ironically, the speaker doesn’t pair very well Bluetooth-wise with my Macbook Pro, and I end up using the old analog 3.5mm audio jack LOL.

Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear – Win: The audio quality of the Walkman isn’t as warm as the Cowon it replaced, but the pair is now my music companion whenever I’m on the treadmill.

Novita 611-I Air Purifier – Lose: We bought this for the impending haze, and it turned out to be a white elephant when the haze didn’t return much for this year.

2015 ought to be an interesting year; since our mobile phone plans are both up for renewal (new smartphones in other words), the Panasonic TM700 Camcorder will be five years old and approaching end-of-life, and the Macbook Pro Retina will be three years old – the typical point where notebooks in general start getting wonky!

The accommodation package we chose at Santhiya @ Koh Phangan was half-board – breakfast was provided, and the other meals would be of our own arrangements. Our stay though was at the fast North-East corner of the island, with the town center and most of the island’s other resorts on the opposite corner – south, and south-west, and very hilly and winding roads in-between these two spots. Fortunately, there was a small village within walking distance of Santhiya that we visited, and it had several streetside restaurants, alongside several other beach-side restaurants along the way too.

Dining Route Map!

Santhiya’s Chantara Restaurant – where we had our daily breakfasts – was of course a deluxe five star-esque-styled hotel restaurant with all the trimmings. Unfortunately, dining was not cheap – and in my opinion was charging way too high even after considering that this is a hotel restaurant – that we largely skipped dinners at this place, outside the BBQ buffet the third evening, and the following evening with Ling and the kids after I got violently ill from food poisoning.

The much talked-about little village beside Buri Rasa Koh Phangan is actually a short 10 minute brisk beach walk way from Santhiya, though because of our two kids and also the strong waves and winds on several evenings, made the walk across the beach harder than it should had been normally. One of us had to carry Peter at least throughout most of the way. Still; we checked out two streetside restaurants on the first two evenings of our stay: Again & Again, and Bamboo Hut. Both whipped up authentic Thai cuisine, at about SGD4-5 per dish item, and both times – mindful of what the kids could take at these tender ages – stuck to pretty safe fare. Basically light curries, lots of stir-fry vegetables, and the occasional meat item too. The bills came to between THB 400-450 / SGD16 to 20.

With a restaurant placard like this, who wouldn't want to LOL.

With a restaurant placard like this, who wouldn’t want to LOL.

Bamboo Hut - almost directly opposite Again & Again.

Bamboo Hut – almost directly opposite Again & Again.

Inside Bamboo Hut. The two streetside restaurants didn't have baby-friendly seating, so the both of us had to take turns eating with one hand and holding onto Peter with the other.

Inside Bamboo Hut. The two streetside restaurants didn’t have baby-friendly seating, so the both of us had to take turns eating with one hand and holding onto Peter with the other.

I recovered somewhat enough to venture out again on the fifth evening for dinners again. The Beach Love is Phuwadee Resort’s main restaurant, and offered not only Thai cuisine, but also Western-styled fare, including burgers, sandwiches, and even pizzas. Hannah had one look at the pizza items and wanted to try one badly – so we had a western-styled dinner this time round involving club sandwiches and a Hawaiian pizza. Not surprisingly, the prices for such more exotic cuisine were higher than the local fare – and THB500 / SGD20 this time round. The restaurant has baby-friendly furniture too, so if adult seating is too dangerous for your child, this restaurant is an option.

Beach Love Restaurant

The sixth and last evening was at Baan Ta Pan Noi Restaurant / Thongtapan resort, the beachside restaurant closest to Santhiya. The restaurant had uniformed wait staff who spoke pretty good English, were quite friendly, but no baby-seating oddly. We had a bunch of local dishes again and ate our fill for THB 655 / SGD26. The restaurant has a lovely ambiance too with their tree-lined lights, and are situated on a pretty flat beach area. Of the bunch of restaurants we dined at outside Santhiya, this one would had been our favorite.

Beachside dinner @

Beachside dinner @ Baan Ta Pan Noi Restaurant. Peter is sitting on a stack of four cushions!

Not surprisingly too – the prices of fare increase the further one is away from the village, notwithstanding the premium prices we were paying for dining at our Resort, though quality-wise, the local fare were savory but close enough all times round that we couldn’t really distinguish between them, putting aside price-differences and presentation of fare. All-in, if you’re staying at Santhiya, there’s no reason not to at least visit these restaurants and save some money.

 

Of our two kids at our week-long stay in Koh Phangan, Hannah – easily – enjoyed it more than Peter did, and probably more than the both of us too. Peter was already a little cranky for the first half of the stay, and from the second half, picked up from me the viral infection and experienced a bucket load of tummy trouble – so bad that we nearly ran out of diapers and had to come up with interim solutions involving toilet paper LOL.

e

Mommy and daughter in the villa. Hannah’s on her usual iPad Mickey Mouse Clubhouse games, and Ling’s reading a book about life in North Korea. LOL.

d

Hannah easily finds things to do on her own – like twirling our villa’s umbrellas!

c

Peter regaling morning breakfast guests with his version of ethnic music-making – mainly involving percussion effects…

g

… while Hannah is teaching Pluto how to fly!

Our girl in her usual eco-friendly and helpful self. She swam around the large main pool picking up leaves. At least she's channeling her energy into doing useful things. Maybe the Resort will give us discounts for her contributions!

Our girl in her usual eco-friendly and helpful self. She swam around the large main pool picking up leaves. At least she’s channeling her energy into doing useful things. Maybe the Resort will give us discounts for her contributions!

Just check out the look on her face LOL.

h

Peter with his stunned look when in the water. This vacation was his first extension forays into the pool.

b

After a mid-afternoon swim at the Resort’s main pool. The weather was quite cool during the week we were there, so swims were in pretty cold waters.

 Just check out the look on her face LOL. — with Tay Ling Ling.

The sand in the Resort’s private beach was quite coarse, which made stepping on them somewhat uncomfortable. Didn’t stop the kids from having some sandcastle-building time when the waters were calmer on Day 3.

Taking the walk along the beach for grub in the village. Check out the waves! We didn’t see many guests braving these waters.

a

Trying one-hand stands on the dance podium after breakfast.

 

The issues we had with our stay at Santhiya began almost immediately after we landed at Koh Samui airport. Sigh.

Upon landing at the airport and after clearing customs and collecting our luggage, we headed to the Arrivals pick-up point and waited there stupidly for 45 minutes, before a friendly local who was also waiting for his pick-up gestured that we were supposed to go to the other pick-up point – which I assumed was the Departures drop-off – for our ride to the Koh Samui pier. Yep you’ve guessed it. We had no idea there was this other pick-up point that while was just a few minutes away, was not within eye-shot. We were thus late for our pick-up for our scheduled speedboat transfer to the resort’s pier. Not that our late arrival mattered, since the choppy waters meant that the speedboat could not directly transfer us to the resort’s pier, but instead brought us to the back-up location – Baan Tai pier, which was on the opposite end of the island. The boat ride in choppy waters was terrifying for Hannah and Peter, but there was more to come. Between the pier and the resort were winding roads up and down hills, and a very bumpy stretch of muddy road where our 4×4 vehicle had to inch forwards trying to navigate the path.

At the start of the boat ride to Baan Tai pier Within minutes, both kids are gonna look terrified instead.

At the start of the boat ride to Baan Tai pier Within minutes, both kids are gonna look terrified instead.

Thing is; I’d read a lot about the transportation options getting to the resort, and opted specifically for the direct speedboat transfer from Koh Samui to the resort as I wasn’t sure how the kids would handle bumpy rides. I also checked my correspondence with the resort to see if they said anything about the other pick-up point. Nothing on that end either. When I pointed this out to the Guest Relations Officer at the Resort, all I got was an apologetic reply that the choppy waters meant that the speedboat could not bring us to the Resort’s pier, but there was no offer of a refund or even partial discount off the premium we paid for it.

The unit as I described previously is indeed lovely and well-decorated, but it’s not without its sets of issues. For starters, the teak wood floor base did not seem to absorb vibrations well. In fact they seemed somewhat hollow beneath. While I didn’t for a moment think that the structure was going to collapse under its weight anytime soon, it did mean that we had to tiptoe everywhere we were in the unit, less our foorsteps gave the rest of our family nausea. The problem was less pronounced in the common areas like the main restaurant, presumably because it was less elevated than the villa units, but we had to frequently confine Hannah to her bed when Peter was trying to nap, lest her foot steps around the villa wake him up.

Oddly too, we faced power disruptions several times a day – especially at night. It wasn’t a big thing, since the disruption came back on simultaneously each time, but I observed that their WIFI router reset each time too in these power outages, which meant an inconvenient re-login reconnection back to the router

And talking about Internet access, believe or not – Internet access was better in the toilet end of our villa than the main living/bedroom areas. In fact, WIFI was so spotty in the latter areas that it was practically unusable for a good part of our stay. The Internet access in the main restaurant and concierge areas were much better though, so you’ll want to head there if you have serious work to do.

And the mosquitoes – ugh. We live in the tropics and know more than a thing about mosquitoes. But the situation in the Resort can get pretty bad. One evening while waiting for dinner, we hung out at the concierge lobby – and Ling with her eagle-eyes, smacked a total of five critters in the space of 15 minutes. And Hannah got one even. The mosquitoes for the most part didn’t get into our villa, but on the occasion when a couple did one evening, gave all of us bites (excepting Peter who slept in a mosquito net).

Eagle-eyed wife said this was the Aedes mosquito, capable of carrying Dengue fever. Thankfully, there was no such outbreak in this part of the world - unlike Singapore for several months this year.

Mosquito population -1, thanks to Ling. The eagle-eyed wife said this was the Aedes mosquito, capable of carrying Dengue fever. Thankfully, there was no such outbreak in this part of the world – unlike Singapore for several months this year.

Most seriously though was the overall pricing of dining in the Resort. Granted that this is an island, and I guess most fresh produce has to be brought in, but it was hard to believe the dine-in prices at the Resort’s restaurants when a nearby village with numerous street-side restaurants were whipping up local cuisine at a fraction of the price. Stir-fried mixed vegetables for instance cost 330 THB in the Resort, and 70 THB in the village’s restaurants. I don’t think higher prices for better service standards at least, hygiene probably and culinary quality are unusual, but the price difference was almost 5 times in this case. That’s just too much differential in my opinion. Peter didn’t get spared too, picking up a touch of diarrhea at the last few days.

On the third evening, we had the international buffet at 799 THB an adult – and I had food poisoning. Yep, me – a Singaporean who’s used to stomach abuse with all the wildly different food available here at the International crossroads – vomited and stayed sick for the next 2 days, making miserable a good part of my stay. Oh, maybe it had nothing to do with the buffet, but the nausea and vomiting started 30 minutes after we finished. Too close to not draw a relation.

Topping it off; our vacation was at a period when the weather was mostly gloomy. That caught us by surprise, as we’d thought this part of the world wouldn’t be experiencing monsoon. Not at all the fault of the resort of course.

All-in; would I recommend Santhiya? Yes on account of the generally good condition villas and exclusiveness of the Resort – but with caveats. Specifically: be aware of the transportation options and risks, live with the mosquitoes, be prepared to take the 10 minute brisk walk to the nearby village for meals, and bring diarrhea medication – just in case!

Next couple of posts to come on the various other parts of our stay, and additional notes on our stay @ Santhiya.

 

Well – six of seven days later into our 2014 vacation at the Santhiya @ koh Phangan, I’ve got decidedly mixed feelings about the place! Some parts of it were indeed as advertised, while others weren’t – and to top it off, we had a few unexpected mishaps.

Some brief facts about our stay first: we stayed at the Hideaway Pool Villa for a seven day stay, opting for also the private speedboat transfer. Total damage was about TBH58K, or about SGD2,351. Not exactly cheap for resort-centered stays, more so that this resort isn’t situated in an overpriced everywhere Singapore.

Firstly; the good things.

The villa sits on a pretty secluded north-easterly spot on the island, and has its own private beach that’s marked out by inaccessible rocks on one end, and by more rocks on the other end. Not easily accessible from the rest of the island too (more on that later). The villa we stayed in was also reasonably private. While the villas themselves are not spaced that far apart, foliage and trees are cleverly used to isolate one unit from the next. Our villa also sat near the top of one steep incline, which meant that we could occasionally hear vehicles that were trying to get up-hill. Not loud enough to be of a bother at all, but it’s there if you’re the type to notice these things.

Our Hideaway Pool Villa Suite. It's as lovely as it looks from the picture here

Our Hideaway Pool Villa Suite. It’s as lovely as it looks from the picture here

The resort spans a very large 18 acres spot, and uses the space to maximum advantage with beautifully landscaped features all around. The beach, main restaurant and main pool sit on the lower end of the resort, while the other restaurant and pool are situated at the upper end. The villas and units are served by buggies which serve guests round the clock for those who don’t want to manage the climb. The resort is also reasonably new, opening its doors in July 2006. There are 60 villas in the Resort, and two other accommodation buildings housing maybe another dozen or so units. All in, it’s a fairly large resort with very few units.

Our villa, like the others in the resort, had golden teak wood with intricately carved wood as a central theme. We like the general architecture of the unit, though our specific unit configuration wasn’t what we’d initially expected. Specifically, some of the villa units feature outdoor shower areas. I did inquire during our back/forth correspondence about outdoor bugs that might invade the shower areas (wouldn’t want Hannah freaking out in the middle of the night!), but the resort assumed I was requesting the units with the indoor shower type, and allocated one such. That did mean that we had somewhat less common space after the children’s bedding was put in, but hindsight, it worked as well – since the cloudy weather and occasional rain brought out a host of insect inhabitants to run around in the outdoor areas!

Three beds in the main bedroom.

Three beds in the main bedroom.

Our villa’s pool – one of our eagerly anticipated highlight – didn’t disappoint. It was as large as it looked from the pictures, reasonably well-maintained, and also deep enough at the deepest end for swimming. Make no mistake though; you won’t be swimming length-wise laps in this pool, but it’s somewhat wide enough for you to swim circles around it at least. The kids certainly loved the pool. We spent several afternoons lazing on our pool’s deck chairs; with Peter napping in his cot, Hannah scampering around anything that caught her current attention, and Ling reading a borrowed library book about life in North Korea (duh – yep!).

The resort never felt crowded, and the over the week we were there, guests were mostly Caucasians (especially Germans), and we encountered just one other local Singaporean family. Yep; no other Asians, and certainly and thankfully no misbehaving or rowdy North-Asian tourists!

The staff were as a rule, friendly and hospitable – well, at least apart from one buggy driver who did not smile, did not greet, and instead gave us a cold hard look whenever we boarded his vehicle to/fro the common areas and our villa. Other than that, we found the staff accommodating and attentive, and possibly even over-staffed during meal times that we never needed to call long for attention. Oddly though while the staff were hospitable, we observed that they didn’t as a rule make attempts at polite conversation to most guests. The smiles were genuine, but unlike some of the other five-star establishments we’ve stayed, the staff didn’t attempt to engage most guests beyond greetings. Housekeeping was brisk and spot-on too for the most part, excepting one evening late in our stay when they missed their housekeeping service. We observed a team of four (two chambermaids and two pool boys to scoop leaves out of the pool, and clean the general surroundings), and we had four bottles of water brought to our villa twice.

Hannah especially liked the croissants at breakfast, and had at least two every morning.

Hannah especially liked the croissants at breakfast, and had at least two every morning.

Breakfast was a mix of Asian and Western cuisine types. The fare was generally savory, though by the time we got to the midpoint of our stay, we were getting a little tired of more/less same spread each morning! The restaurant and adjourning areas was large enough to host a sizable number of guests, so we never felt like we were rushing for seats, nor did we feel compelled to finish up and go to make space for others (not that we ever chose to overstay our welcome). There was in-restaurant live local music each day too, which added more local flavor to the ambiance.

More in the next post – the not-so-good.

Every year-end, Hannah looks forward to her year-end concert where each class of students in her school get onto stage to perform a dance item. The occasion for Hannah’s K1 year occurred a fortnight ago, and our girl was – as before – quite enthusiastic about it in the weeks leading up to her big day. She wanted us to watch her practice and give her critique, and even drew a very helpful map of the dance stage, explaining where she’ll start, where she’ll be at each beat, and the spot she’ll be standing on at the end. Got to say – the map was loads helpful, as a year ago, we spent several seconds hunting for where she was when her class item came, as we were sitting quite far from the stage! We felt that sense of parental pride watching Hannah on stage. Our girl is nothing like her daddy at that age for sure – i.e. no stage fright – and she did her moves with a visible display of confidence, never hesitating, and quite matter-of-fact. Probably all muscle-memory at this point from lots of practice!

The 75-300mm lens did the photographic honors again, and it the focal length at the extreme end was more than adequate for close-up shots of the action. Pity that the maximum aperture was a relatively small f6.7. The speed of the dance moves also meant that a reasonably quick shutter speed was necessary. All in, ISO was driven up to 3200. Sadly too, the pictures this year taken by professional photographers engaged by the school weren’t quite as good as last year’s efforts.

This might be one of those reasons why Ling is glad we've got a daughter; Mommy gets to makeup her girl.

This might be one of those reasons why Ling is glad we’ve got a daughter; Mommy gets to makeup her girl.

Ready to head out of the house to Kallang Theater!

Ready to head out of the house to Kallang Theater!

On stage. One of the few professionally taken pictures that turned out decent.

On stage. One of the few professionally taken pictures that turned out decent.

Family selfie with the 14mm.:)

Family selfie with the 14mm.:)