Monday, November 13, 2017

Nasi Lemak Burger & Ninja Burger Singapore

Nasi Lemak Burger for Breakfast

This was from the McDonald's at Serene Center, on a weekend morning.  I visited the Macs and discovered that they were serving the Nasi Lemak burger for breakfast!  Couldn't resist, so I had breakfast (again).  Ordered the Nasi Lemak burger plus Latte.  Pretty good for breakfast.


Ninja Burger for Supper

This was from a different McDonalds.  Decided to try out their latest burger, called the Ninja burger. Fit for a Ninja!  That's what the box said.  Satisfy your appetite for VICTORY with a juicy, crispy chicken patty, glazed with sweet Nanban Sauce, topped with shredded white cabbage and Japanese tartar sauce, all tucked between a charcoal bun.  Resistance is futile!  How did it taste?  Remarkably similar to the Nasi Lemak burger.  I think they used the same sauce!

Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cashless in China

China.  They are so advanced when it comes to cashless payments!  You got to visit China to see it for yourself, just how widespread WeChat pay and Alipay are used.  These days, the Chinese don't need cash, don't need debit or credit cards.  It is all about paying using their WeChat wallets or Alipay wallets.  Fantastic.

In China, they all use smartphones.  Even the elderly.  See this video taken on the Guangzhou Metro.

At the Guangzhou Bus station, you can buy tickets using the QR Code. They put up all the QR codes on the wall.  No more ticket booths. No more ticket lines.  Your phone becomes your ticket booth.  Your phone gets the e-ticket (no more paper).  Amazing stuff.

Even the vending machines accepted mobile payments.  In this video, we pay for our vending machine drinks using the WeChat wallet. It was so easy and convenient!  No need for spare change!

Amazing stuff.  We in Singapore are so behind.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

iPhone 8 Plus Unboxing and Speed Tests versus iPhone 6S Plus

Well, after using the iPhone 6S Plus for two years (which incidentally is a very good phone), I decided to get an upgrade.  At first, I was keen to buy the iPhone X, but it seems to be out of stock, and so I looked more closely at the iPhone 8 Plus.  I soon realised that the 8 Plus came with the same A11 chip, as well as the same rear facing twin 12MP camera.  Of course, the iPhone X would have all the new fanciful features, especially the front array of sensors, but I think given that this is the first iteration, I will probably wait out.

So I got the iPhone 8 Plus instead.  Here is my unboxing.  At 202g, it feels a little heavier than my existing iPhone 6S Plus (172g).  Size-wise, the two phones are almost identical, though the iPhone 8 Plus twin rear cameras protrude a bit.  Other than that, I can't tell any difference.

Installing my new phone from iTunes was very easy, so I had no downtime at all. Since I had both iPhone 6S Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus side by side, I decided to run a few benchmark tests, to satisfy myself that the 8 Plus was indeed more powerful.  After all, one was using the A9 chip, and the other the brand new A11 chip!   Here is the video.  Indeed, the 8 Plus did very well with all these benchmark tests, relative to the 6S Plus.

Thanks for watching!!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Singapore Changi Airport Lounge Compilation

Here is a compilation of all the videos I have made during my visits to various Airline Lounges in Singapore Changi Airport. I have put this in one blog page for easy reference.  Take note the year I visited these lounges, since things may have changed since.

First, the SilverKris Lounge in Singapore Changi Airport - the lounge at Terminal 3 is the flagship lounge of SIA.  Take note that this is NOT a Star Alliance Gold lounge. I have used this lounge a few times (flying SQ Business Class).

SilverKris Lounge - October 2013

SilverKris Lounge - November 2015.  On this visit, I had Fish Congee for supper.

SilverKris - November 2016 - on this visit, there was some Teochew Cuisine. 

Krisflyer Gold Lounge - March 2017
This is the lounge for Star Alliance Gold members. In this instance, I had Krisflyer Gold status, and hence could use this lounge, even though I was flying in Economy class.

SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 1 (June 2016).
This was also a Priority Pass lounge.  They had their Signature Laksa, which was cool.

SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 3 (Dec 2016)
Care for some Mee Siam before your flight?

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for updates!

MSC Preziosa Yacht Club 7 Gorgeous Dinners! 2015

We sailed on the MSC Preziosa in 2015, out of Genoa.  In this blog post, I put the movie links to the 7 gorgeous dinners we had in the Suite restaurant, dedicated to Yacht Club guests.  It was a most awesome experience!

Day 1 - The theme was Mediterranean Flavours & Savours.  This was the first of seven dinners and it was awesome!  Notice that the drinks list changed every day too.  Awesome!

Day 2 - This was a Tex Mex dinner. I had prawn cocktail to start.  There was seafood pasta.  I had the Tex Mex meat dish for the main.  Enjoyed both white and red wines, and plenty of desserts too!

Day 3 - Gala dinner, which came with a gold coloured menu.  The white wine was the Grillo 2012, which was super easy to drink!  I had the escargot, family member had the scallop. Rock lobster bisque was very good too.  My main was the beef fillet, and it went superbly with the red wine!  Desserts were very good as usual.  So much good food.  Thank God for the feasts!

Day 4 - Tonight was Italian Flavours.   The main course had beef too!  Overall, the cooking was good.

Day 5 - Dinner, while ship was in Malta.  They had some Dim Sum starter, which was, well... at least they tried.  Again, a very good dinner.  Care for some duck?

Day 6 - Our second gala dinner.  This time, we got some lobster!  Delicious!  Gala dinner again, with a beautiful gold menu.  Grilled oysters to start, cannelloni, Terrine of duck foie gras, and lobster tail! And plenty of beautiful desserts (as usual).  MMmmmmm!!

Day 7 - Final dinner before disembarkation.  Sob sob.  Excellent service from our waiter over the past 7 evenings.  Rack of lamb!  The last night, so I got drunk on the white wine (Chardonnay).  It was very addictive.  But if you are going to get drunk, remember, don't drive.  Sail instead!

Wonderful food on a wonderful cruise!
Till we cruise again.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Guangzhou China Hotel, A Marriott Hotel, Executive Room and Executive Lounge Experience

We stayed for 3 night at the China Hotel, A Marriott Hotel, in Guangzhou, China.  We stayed in an Executive Room (17F), which is the same floor as the Executive Lounge.  This stay was for a short holiday getaway.  We flew to Guangzhou on Singapore Airlines.

We chanced upon the hotel after looking through various options.   The reviews said that while the hotel was on the older side, everything else was fine and location was good (right next to Yue Xiu Garden Metro station). Hence, we booked it since the rates were very competitive. We paid around $210 SGD (including taxes) per night for our Executive Room.

This hotel was built in 1984, and reportedly the first 5-star Hotel in Guangzhou. I'm not sure when Marriott took over this hotel (could be from Day 1).  As a result, the design makes it look a bit cramped, and the ceilings are definitely low.  Check out this fun video I made of my head almost hitting the ceiling when I jump.

Executive Room
Now, back to more serious stuff.  We had a standard Executive room, non-smoking, King-Sized bed.  It was a very comfortable room, not the biggest standard room you'd find, but that was because this hotel was built back in 1984, and probably the standard wasn't to built too large a room then.  Here is the video.

Executive Club Lounge Evening Appetizers & Cocktails
The Club Lounge served appetizers from 1730hrs to 1930hrs.  We ended up taking our dinner there every evening, after we had gone out for the day.  Though it got a bit crowded at time, we could always find a seat.  The food spread was decent, bearing in mind that they did not promise to serve dinner, but we always found enough to eat.  Here is a video compilation of the 3 dinners we had in the Executive Lounge.  There was always one manned station.  The fresh fish soup was excellent.

Executive Club Lounge Morning Breakfast
While the food spread at the Cafe Veranda downstairs was better, we always had our breakfast at the Executive Lounge.  We preferred the peace and quiet, and there was more than enough to eat anyway.  So here is a video compilation of our breakfast.

Mooncakes and afternoon tea
This video compilation shows you the afternoon tea (which was just a sandwich and mooncakes), plus a brief glimpse of the gym, and also the swimming pool.  No time for swimming for us, but the pool looked long enough to do decent laps.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Singapore Airlines Singapore to Guangzhou Economy Class Experience Airbus A330

We fly Singapore Airlines!  This time from Singapore to Guangzhou, in Economy.  We take a short holiday to Guangzhou.  On schedule, the flight by Singapore Airlines is 4 hours. SQ flies twice a day to Guangzhou, from Singapore Changi.

The flight we took was SQ850.  See below for a dummy booking.  The price we paid was much lower than $882.50 return (we paid around $350/pax).   If you book early enough, you should be able to get reasonable fares.  The timing of the flight was pretty good too, departing Singapore at 0820 and arriving in Guangzhou at 1220hrs. No time difference between SIN and CAN.

Flight - Singapore to Guangzhou
The flight to Guangzhou was smooth and enjoyable.  The actual flight time was 3hr 40min. It was a morning flight, so breakfast was served.  As usual, I chose the Asian option.  I managed to watch one movie on the flight up - Wonder Woman.  Check out the video below.  There was no crew change in Guangzhou. This meant that the same crew that flew us to Guangzhou, would fly back from Guangzhou to Singapore. 

Flight - Guangzhou to Singapore
Our return flight was equally good.  This time, it was an early afternoon flight.  Again, I chose the Asian food option, which was very nice.  I also had the Singapore sling, and some wine.  I watched one movie on this flight too - Great Wall (Director Zhang Yimou)

Two very good flights on Singapore Airlines. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Singapore Busker Lawrence Wong Khaw Boon Wan MRT - Hilarious!

This Singapore Busker uncle has a decent deep voice, plus decent guitar skills.  But what really stood out was his lyrics.  Really funny.  He sings about Lawrence Wong, Khaw Boon Wan, about HDB, about MRT, all to the famous tune of 'Blowin in the Wind' by Bob Dylan.

Worth a watch, Singapore talent!

Since you are on my page, why not check out the famous Nasi Lemak Burger!  This burger was introduced for a short while by McDonalds to celebrate Singapore's 52nd birthday, in the year 2017.  I tried it once, not too bad, though I still prefer the real Nasi Lemak.

Speaking of Nasi Lemak, the Adam Road Nasi Lemak is rather famous in Singapore.  This stall is called Crave, serving the famous Adam Road Nasi Lemak.  Yummy!
Have a good day!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Nasi Lemak Burger McDonalds Celebrates National Day 2017 - Pasir Panjang 99 Bends Night Ride

I try the McDonalds Nasi Lemak Burger.  The first reaction was - what?  Well, I only found out about this burger from some social media reports, as well as reactions from friends on Facebook.  So I decided to try it, since it was so novel.

How was the experience?  Not bad.  Worth a try, especially if you are a Nasi Lemak fan.  If you don't like Nasi Lemak, then no point.  Here is the video I made.

What's the big deal, you may ask?  Well, prior to this, nobody associated Nasi Lemak with a burger.  Why?  Nasi Lemak is a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked with coconut milk.  When you think of Nasi Lemak, you think of rice.

Which begs the question - Nasi Lemak Burger?  The name itself is a bit of a contradiction.  Nasi means rice in Malay.  So where is the rice?  Maybe precisely because it is so counter-intuitive, nobody has tried to make Nasi Lemak in a burger form before, until now. And, this must account for the great interest.  Usually, nobody is really very interested in burgers, well at least in Singapore.

We are not really a burger nation.  But now, with this Nasi Lemak variation, it has really opened our eyes to many new possibilities. Put the two most unlikely food together, and you can actually get something that works!  So, thank you McDonalds for teaching us a larger lesson in thinking out of the box.

Since we are on the topic of Nasi Lemak, here are some other Nasi Lemak videos that I have made in the past.

Nasi Lemak @ 35,000 Feet Singapore Airlines Business Class
Privileged to fly in SQ Premium cabins, and on this flight, I had Nasi Lemak for breakfast.  It was a heavy breakfast, and certainly I was very full thereafter! 

Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak - Air Asia
On another Airline, this time low-cost.  Air Asia!  I had the Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak.  Very good for airplane food.

Adam Road Nasi Lemak @ Orchard ION
This place was called Crave. Supposed from Adam Road Nasi Lemak fame.  The food was decent.  I have had their Nasi Lemak several times.

Qiji Nasi Lemak (with Chicken Cutlet)
This foodstore called Qiji serves decent Nasi Lemak too.  In this instance, I chose the Nasi Lemak with chicken cutlet version. Good!

Enjoy your Nasi Lemak! Oh, almost forgot, below are the videos of the 99 Bends ride.

Riding uphill - from Pasir Panjang, towards Kent Ridge.

Coming back, this is downhill. Didn't need to pedal much, just let gravity do its work.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

National Day Parade Song 2017 - Because It's Singapore

National Day Parade 2017.  The theme song this year is 'Because Its Singapore'.  A bit cheesy, but then again, National Day songs are such.

With NDP 2017 round the corner, rehearsals are in full swing. Here is a helicopter flypast, with the state flag.

F-15SG bomb burst, right over a rainbow!  Very awesome sight!.

Go Singapore!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

38 Oxley Road Exhibition 2015 Will of Lee Kuan Yew

So much has been said about the recent squabble between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings.  This fight has made news all over the world, and Parliament devoted 2 days to debate it.

Recall that there was this issue of the Estate of Lee Kuan Yew loaning items to the NHB for some public exhibition, and the requirement by the Estate to show the first part of the now-famous 'demolition clause'?  Well, how many people actually visited that Exhibition?

Turned out that there is this youtube movie showing viewers what this exhibition was about, as well as the famous clause and how it was displayed!

Screenshot - Scale model of 38 Oxley Road

Here is the video.  Happy watching!

Let's hope the saga blows over.   Not doing Singapore any good.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Thatched Hut on Concrete Poles Avani Sepang Goldcoast Church Camp Mitsui Outlet

Church Camp 2017 

Colossians 3:16 (KJV)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." 

Avani Sepang Goldcoast Resort.  According to their website, "AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort offers guests the ultimate over water escape amongst an untouched gem of natural beauty.  Stretching over 1 KM of water, the contemporary villas face the sheltered waters of the straits of Malacca, perfectly balanced accessibility and seclusion."

Just where is this resort?  The location is just south of KLIA, in the state of Selangor.  I drove there via the 2nd link and this is the route we took.  First, we drove to Mitsui Outlet Park KLIA, which is north of the resort.  That journey took us about 3 hours, with a stop in between.  The absolute distance as shown in the map below was 324km via the highway, from 2nd link. (Tuas)  Clearing the 2nd link took about 45 minutes, and after that the drive was very smooth.

We arrived at Mitsui Outlet slightly after noon and spent about 2 hours there.  The outlet was not small, but rather quiet.

Prices Not Low
There were many outlets shops, but as you can see the prices were not low, even after discounts.  We checked out the Timberland and Geox stores. Only window shopping for us.

Food not cheap & No Supermarket
By Malaysian standards, food wasn't cheap.  It wasn't too expensive either (if you compare to Singapore standards) but at least the place was clean and pleasant.  Our lunch was in two parts, first at a Japanese eatery called Don Don Tei, and then we had coffee at this cafe called The Loaf, a premium restaurant/bakery that started in Langkawi and owned (in part) by Tun Dr Mahathir.

The Loaf Signature Iced Coffee
We had some iced coffee (pour warm milk onto ice coffee cubes) at the Loaf.  Interesting experience.

Video of Mitsui Experience
The full video of our Mitsui Outlet Park experience here, including our lunch at Don Don Tei, as well as snippets of the various shops available at Mitsui.  Not cheap.

Drive from Mitsui to Avani Sepang
The drive took about 45 minutes.  Here is the route.  Drive was easy with GPS.  I must say that the resort was rather ulu (secluded).  There was a small town, about 10km out.  The biggest shopping center would be Aeon Seremban 2, which we stopped by on our way home.

Arrival at the Resort
We arrived before 3PM.  Unfortunately, our rooms weren't ready.   Many other church members had already arrived before us (including several coaches).  So we walked around the resort to 'look-see'. This photo below summarizes my main picture memory of the resort - Thatched Huts on Concrete Poles!  LoL.

Main Lobby & Parking - 25RM
Before I forget, what about parking?  You had two options.  First, pay 25RM so that you can park within the compound.  They call this valet parking, but in reality it is a 25RM fee to park your car, and they will charge you a re-entry fee of 10RM every time you drive out and come back in.  So, what happened was that most of us just parked for the entire time we were here, for 25RM.

Parking outside was free, but at your own risk.  At night, the whole place was very dark.  If you car disappeared, nobody would know.  None of us dared to risk it, well not for 25RM.  Here is how the parking looked like.  I realised it could get full, if too many people drove.  Parked cars from church almost reached the gantry! (But still some space on the right side)

This is the layout plan, shaped like a Palm.  I think when this place was first built, it was called Palm Resort, for obvious reasons.

The layout of the villas as seen from a top view.  There is a trunk which leads to the mainland (where the lobby and conference rooms were).  The center of the palm tree is the Bila Bila restaurant, pool, and other restaurants.  Then there are 8 other smaller branches (they still call it trunks).  Our Family Villa was 817.  In this video, I show you the buggy ride from our Villa (call the buggy by dialing 0 on the room phone, Free-of-charge) to the main lobby.  The buggy goes quite fast.  Hold on tight!

Family Villa
Our family stayed in this villa, which was very comfortable for the 4 of us.  There was a sitting area, plus two separate bedroom areas, with movable partitions acting as doors, all under this one thatched roof.  Two toilets, two balconies.  It was a unique experience to wake up to the sounds of water. During low tide, there was only mud though.  Check out the video.

Fitness Centre 
Check out the fitness centre (also located in a hut) plus the infinity pool.  The weather was very hot and the fitness centre was air-conditioned, which was good.  Not a big place, just two threadmills.  Hardly anybody used it.  The infinity pool wasn't very big either, and it could get crowded.  You could get pool towels, but they had to be returned at the pool, i.e. could not bring them back to our rooms.  Be careful if you have kids.  It would be quite easy to climb over the edge of the Infinity pool and fall over.

Infinity Pool
This is the edge of the Infinity pool. The pool was not deep at all.  My kids could stand throughout the pool, so I don't think the pool was any deeper than 1.2M at all points.

After some swimming, we decided to get a pizza to share.  This cost RM 33, 12 inch pizza.  Freshly made, taste wasn't too bad.  Good for sharing.

Room Service Menu
We went to the Bila Bila cafe to order the pizza, waited for it (about 15 minutes) and brought it back to our room.  Later on, we realised that we could have ordered room service, through the interactive TV in our room, and get it delivered.  Price was the same!  I decided to make a video of the room service menu, to give you a sense of the prices.  It wasn't too bad, given that this was room service.  Nasi Goreng for RM 30.

As this was a church camp, our meals were fully catered, so we didn't have to spend additional on food.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, all at the same place (Bila Bila), buffet style.  Overall, the food quality was decent, but not spectacular.  Then again, we did not expect spectacular stuff, just good-to-eat would suffice.  I didn't do many videos of the food this time round, just this one during a breakfast.

Thank God for Church Camp
Overall, it was a pleasant stay and a good break from the hustle and bustle of Singapore.  Even though getting around the resort took a bit of time (waiting for buggies, or walking, or cycling), campers were very co-operative and by and large, very few people were late for the official events and church messages.

The church camp committee wisely arranged for the older campers to stay on the main trunk, so as to minimize the distance of travel.  For the younger families, it was more fun to stay on the branches, because it was quieter.  The main trunk gets busy with plenty of traffic.

The overall feedback was positive, as we enjoyed a very different experience as compared to what we have in Singapore. This place was also popular for church camps, as we know of other churches which have had their camps here, and right after our camp, there was another church coming in for their camp.

Thank God for a safe and pleasant camp, and for the wonderful fellowship and the messages.

Colossians 3:16 (KJV)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." 

Address of Resort
No 67, Jalan Pantai Bagan Lalang, Kg Bagan Lalang, Sungai Pelek, 43950 Malaysia

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 4 - Beijing Underground, Lama Temple (outside), Hutongs, WangFuJing, Din Tai Fung

We have reached Day 4 of our wonderful trip to Beijing.  To recap, we are here for a short couple holiday (without the kids), and we had tremendously enjoyed Day 1 (SQ Flight and Hotel), Day 2 (Mutianyu Great Wall) and Day 3 (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City).

Today, we will get around the city ourselves, using the Beijing Subway! Now, the Beijing Subway is quite a subway to be reckoned with.  According to Wiki, the massive network has 19 lines, 345 stations, and 574km (or 357 miles) of track. The subway is the world's largest in terms of ridership, with 3.66 billion trips delivered in 2016, averaging almost 10 million trips a day, this is more than double of London Underground's ridership of almost 5 million a day.

The Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel is across the road from the Viva Plaza (富力広場), and the Shuang Jing (双井) Underground Station is connected to the Plaza.  Of course, you could enter the Shuang Jing (双井)  from the road.

Now, where were we going?  Here is an extract of the Beijing Subway map.  ShuangJing station sits on a Line 7 and Line 10 intersection, and we were headed to YongHeGong (Lama Temple).  In the image below, I circled both stations in black.

"You are here" - Exit A for the Viva Plaza.  That was the entrance we used.  Very cool.

Buying Tickets and Security Checks
Alright, we got to the station.  It was time to buy tickets.  In the video below, you will see us fiddling around with the self-service machine.  Click on the English option.  It was straightforward to use - locate the station that you wanted to go to, select the number of tickets you wanted, confirm and pay.  You'll get the tickets (which is a contactless card) plus change.  Pretty simple.  Now what gets very interesting is the security checks.  I soon realised that in every station, they X-rayed the bags of every passenger before they let you enter.  They also asked you to take a sip of your water.  Security is tight in Beijing, no doubt about that.

Somebody told me to be very careful with the X-ray machines, as sometimes, theft does occur.  The below video is an example.  The chap just behind the lady was planning to steal her bag all along.  He puts his hand into the X-ray machine, fishes her handbag out, and leaves. Scary.

We reached YongHeGong station and found our way to the Lama Temple.  The place was crowded! This was the line for tickets.

And the entrance to the temple after you have bought tickets.  The gate looked good in the bright sunlight.

Anyway, we decided not to enter.  This video shows you the ticketing area and the crowds.  Also something on Beijing Bicycle share.

HuTong Opposite Lama Temple
We realised that opposite the Lama temple, there was a Hu Tong.  What is a Hu Tong?  From wiki, these are narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with Beijing. Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan (or courtyard houses). In recent times, a large number of hutongs have been demolished, to make way for modern developments. Nowadays, the remaining hutongs are protected.

In this video, we take a walk around the Hutongs.  Check out the juxtaposition of old and new, especially the new cars!

See the Hutong conversion, to modern shops.  Just keep the shell of the place. Fascinating stuff.  Also plenty of locals walking around, enjoying the place.

A word of caution about Hutong toilets.  Not exactly first world.  No doors, mostly squatting, no sink to wash your hands.  My wife told me the female toilet was like this too.  Welcome to China! Check out the video below.

Heading to WangFuJing
Well, that's China.  Anyway, after the Hutong, it was time to go to WangFuJing.  Again, we took the Beijing underground. It was very easy.  To get to WangFuJing, we took the underground from YongHengGong to WangFuJing station. I circle the two stations below.  It was an easy ride, with one change at DongDan.

WangFuJing, Beijing, is one of the most famous shopping streets in China.  We weren't here to shop, but more to check the place out. Until the late 1990s, traffic could go through, but it is now largely pedestrianized, making it easy to walk. It was a bright and sunny early afternoon when we got there.

This video shows you our leisurely walk along WangFuJing, as we headed towards the APM Mall.

What we were looking for in the Mall? Lunch!  Our plan was to have lunch at this place called Din Tai Fung, which is a rather famous eatery, well known for her Xiao Long Baos (Pork Dumplings).

Xiao Long Bao Controversy
Time Out caused a controversy by likening Xiao Long Bao dumplings to popping zits.  I've watched the Time Out video, which isn't very flattering.  Basically making fun of the awesome Xiao Long Bao.  Anyway, here is how you should eat Xiao Long Bao. We had a share of delicious Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung, at Beijing APM Mall.  The food was good, though I must say that I couldn't taste much of a difference between the normal Xiao Long Bao and the Crab Meat Xiao Long Bao, though the latter was twice the price of the former!

This was the entrance to the Din Tai Fung at Bejing APM Mall.  I recall it was on level 5.

WangFuJing Snack Street
After a good lunch, as we were heading back to the underground station, we passed by the snack street (almost by chance) and decided to head in to take a look.  Oh wow, this place was crowded, and sold all types of exotic food.  Grilled tiny lobsters caught my attention.  Check out the video - the tiny lobsters were still alive, but skewered on a stick, ready to be roasted.  Seeing is believing!

Alright, our last stop before heading back to the hotel was the Silk Street.  We took the Underground there, but really, this place is more like a tourist trap.  Many shops, but very few people.  Didn't want to haggle, so decided not to buy anything.  Saw posters like these, and felt that they were trying too hard.

So, after all that walking and taking of the underground, it was time to go back to the hotel to chill out. We were too early for dinner in the Club Lounge, but we parked ourselves at the lounge anyway, helping ourselves to some drinks and light snacks.  Made this video during tea time.

It was good fun watching the staff set up the place for dinner.  Many staff, all very busy.  Wonderful place to chill, and watch our dinner being laid out.

And soon, it was time for dinner!  Plenty to eat, as usual.  Plenty to drink as well!  Tonight, the speciality was Panini. Rest of the food was pretty good too.

Pandas Bei Bei & Jing Jing showing you the Studio Suite
And, the final video of this post?  A rather silly one done by my two toy pandas, Jing Jing and Bei Bei.  They will show you our studio suite again!  Take it away, Panda!

Thanks for watching!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Saint Joseph's Institution (SJI) Open House 2017

Attended the SJI Open House at Malcolm Road today.  Decided not to drive, as the school had warned that parking was very limited and there would be congestion. So we took the MRT, which was a good thing because now I know for certain how far the School is from the nearest MRT station, which was Stevens MRT station on the Downtown Line.  The walk from MRT station to school didn't take more than 5 minutes.  Very manageable.

SJI, founded in 1852, is the 3rd oldest school in Singapore.  The school had recently been renovated (and in some places rebuilt), and they moved back to the Malcolm Road campus earlier this year.  The sight that greeted us going into the school.

School field, and the new Indoor Multipurpose Hall (which incidentally is huge inside - 8 badminton courts)

Very nice field.

SJI Open House 2017

The whole process was very well organized.  When we arrived, we headed to the registration foyer, and the students found my son's name (we had pre-registered), and we quickly joined a tour of the school.  Well, the tour was a private one because we were the only tour participants!  The school got many of their Sec 3 Uniformed Group students to lead tours, and our tour guide was from the NCC Cadet Air.  He gave us a tour of the school, including the library, science labs, humanities room, indoor sports hall and many more areas.  It was a big school.

Glass paneling at the library.

Secondary 1 Talk
We were registered for the 12:30pm Sec 1 talk, and we got there early.  See the empty lecture theatre!  But not to worry, it filled up completely very soon.  There was large interest.

Father Adrian (SJI Principal) Speech
The talk started with a Sec 1 boy giving the opening prayer. Prayer is an integral part of school life. After that, the Principal, Father Adrian, gave a speech, which was very interesting because he quoted from two of his favourite poems.  He told us that he was an English major.  I managed to record the entire speech, and here it is.

The two poems cited were Days by Philip Larkin, and the Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.  Fascinating stuff.  Father Adrian cited the closing line from 'Summer Day' - "Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"  Worth pondering over.

The main segment of the Sec 1 Talk was conducted by the Secondary 1 Level head, who gave us very insightful information.  I will just highlight a few points here.  SJI offers both the O-level and the Integrated Programme Route.  In terms of numbers, about 220 boys for O-level, and 120 for the IP route accepted in previous years.

The Integrated Programme is different from most schools because SJI offers the IB, or International Baccalaureate.   Most IP schools offer the A levels.

Cut-Off Points
In terms of cut-off points (a very important question), the parents were shown this slide.  You can see that the Cut-Off Points were high.  For O0level route, non-affiliate schools was 246 in 2016 and for Integrated Programme (IP), it was a hefty 253 in 206.  Take note - no affiliation for IP programme.  Even the Cut-off for affiliated schools (for the O-level track) was rather high at 238.  In short, if you want to get into SJI, your PSLE score must be pretty good.

School Fees
There was also the issue of fees.  SJI is an independent school, and the fees are not insignificant. This was the chart shown below.  For O level track, it was $340 per month, for IP Track, it was $380 per month. MOE provides a means-tested Independent School Bursary (for Singapore students only). Finally, the Level head assured all parents that if any kid had financial difficulties, please talk to the school.  They would find ways to help the kid.

Distinguished Alumni - parents were also shown several slides on the distinguished alumni of SJI. This is one such slide. Bottom right is Dick Lee, who infamously caused a controversy  by saying that everyone 'did drugs' at SJI.  Oh well, maybe during this time!

I have no affiliation with SJI, but decided to visit SJI because I had read that SJI was achieving very good IB results.  My impression of the school was generally good.  I think the focus on values and character is important, yet there is also an increasing pursuit of academic excellence.

After all, SJI must the one of the few mission schools with such a high cut-off point for its affiliated schools.  Also, there is no affiliation for their IP programme, and hence the student quality (as measured by PSLE score) would be high.

Definitely gave us a lot of food for thought.

For those kids taking PSLE this year (2017), good luck and God Bless!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 3 - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace

Day 3!  After a good night's sleep, it was time to head out again on the third day of our holiday in Beijing!  Recap, Day 2, we visited the Mutianyu Great Wall and Ming Tombs.  Today, we focus on the sights within Beijing capital itself.  Again, we decided to go with Simon, our trusty driver.

Breakfast in the Exec Lounge
But before we set off, breakfast was needed!  We woke up a bit later and decided to take breakfast in the Exec Lounge, since we had breakfast at the main cafe on the 4th floor the day before.

The Egg's Benedict was good.  There was a live noodle station, but I didn't get any noodles this morning.   See the video for the spread and what I ate.

Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 - Passports Required 
Driver Simon picked us up at the appointed time and our first stop would be Tiananmen Square.  There was plenty of security and barricades and he could only drop us at a junction which was a short walk to the security screening tent.  So we joined the queue, which moved fairly quickly, but I hit a snag.  They X-rayed my backpack, and took a look at my Sony Handycam, and the supervisor declared that I could NOT bring this piece of equipment into the Tiananmen area.  Goodness, I was stuck!  Obviously, I wasn't about to argue with the Chinese police.  This was when I was very grateful that we had booked a private tour with Simon.  We quickly called him, using the mobile phone that he provided us, and asked him to come back to the same point where he dropped us off so that he could safekeep my video camera.  Simon duly obliged and turned up within 10 minutes or so.  Thankfully, we had no issues with entering after this.

Tiananmen Square is indeed large.  As this was low season, it didn't feel like there were that many people around.  Tiananmen Square is very famous, for many reasons.  Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on this square, on Oct 1, 1949.  More information on Wiki -

Another picture.  Most of the visitors were locals.  I saw very few foreigners. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, when British and French troops invaded Beijing, they pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning down the gate and the entire Forbidden City. They decided ultimately to spare the Forbidden City and instead burn down the Old Summer Palace.

Make no mistake, the British and French have invaded China several times, and marched all the way to Beijing, and did all sorts of nasty things to the Chinese.  Frankly, any modern Chinese citizen, reading up on this history, will come to the realisation that the hundred years of humiliation of China by the Western Imperialists power was only possible because the then Government of China (a monarchy, Qing Dynasty) was pretty much incompetent. Faced with internal revolts, they couldn't even stop the British from capturing Canton, a city of more than 1 million people, with fewer than 6,000 troops!

Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 Video
And here is a video of our experience in the Tiananmen Square.  We didn't spend too long here.  Just took some photos and moved on.  Our main objective was to visit the Forbidden City.  To get there, from the Tiananmen Square, we had to cross a major road via an underpass.

Underpass, which was very nicely decorated too.  I did notice very tight security all around, not just manpower, but plenty of CCTV cameras all over the place (typically on lamp posts).  I felt very safe.

Forbidden City
Once we crossed the road, it was time go get into the Forbidden City.  We just followed the flow of human traffic, couldn't go wrong.  The way this place was designed, it was a one-way street.  You would need to enter the Forbidden City from this side, and exit at the other North side.  So in the picture below, as well as the video that follows, you will see us entering the Forbidden City like every other tourist that day.  You can see Chairman Mao's portrait on Tiananmen "Gate of Heavenly Peace" Gate.

Here is the video.  The video starts with us walking into the Heavenly Gate.  We needed to find the ticket booths to buy tickets into the Forbidden City.  It was off-season, so we could get tickets that were slightly cheaper.  And there weren't any queues at the ticket booth!  Cool.  During peak, be prepared to wait in the long lines.  We proceeded in quickly, and the rest, they say is history.  I did feel like an Emperor, walking into the Forbidden City.  It was quite something, given that it was completed in 1420, almost 600 years ago!

Many tour groups, almost all were domestic tourists.  Already, we were there during low season, and the number of visitors during peak is way more than what we saw.  So, get ready to face the big squeeze of China, when you visit the Forbidden City during the peak season!

After we completed the Forbidden City, we exited by the North Gate (only one gate to exit anyway), crossed the road, and walked to the first junction to wait for our driver Simon.  There were many people waiting at the junction, since all the tour groups had to find a place to gather too.  We didn't have to wait too long and soon, we were on our way to the next destination, which was the Temple of Heaven.  But before that, I spotted this vehicle, which I thought was rather quaint.

But seriously, there were many more big continental cars and SUVs than the modified scooter you see above.  Cars like the Audi below were common.

Temple of Heaven  (天壇)
Our next stop was the Temple of Heaven, which wasn't very far from the Forbidden City.  This is an imperial complex of religious buildings, visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for ritualistic ceremonies of prayer to the heavens for good harvests.  The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, and extended under later Emperors.

The place was rather large and there were several different entrances to the compound.  We entered via the North Gate, after buying our combined ticket to see several sights within the compound.

No doubt, the most famous building to take a look in this complex is the one below.  Pretty cool, with distinctive architecture.  This was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

And here is a video of what we saw in the Temple of Heaven complex.  You couldn't actually go into that unique structure.  But you could peek in from the outside.  We also visited the Circular Mound Altar, a place which was also built for religious purposes, and use for animal sacrifices.  And then, we took a look at the Imperial Vault, of which the Echo wall was nearby.

This was the Imperial Vault.  There were more sights within the Temple of Heaven compound, but we didn't visit all.

It was lunch time, and we would be meeting Simon at East Gate. Simon drove us a short distance to a rather famous restaurant called Brown Door.  What was so interesting about this place?

Brown Door Restaurant - Beijing 
When we stepped into the non-descript restaurant, which Simon told us serve fairly authentic Beijing cuisine at a reasonable price, we were taken aback that almost all the entire restaurant was patronized by foreigners!  Wow.  Did our driver kid us?  Was this a tourist trap?  Not at all.  Indeed, there were many foreign tourists, but the food was pretty decent and the prices reasonable.  This video shows you what we ate.  I recall paying no more than 110RMB (or 16 USD).  The cooking standard was decent and we ate a very full lunch, to get all that energy to walk some more!

After a satisfying lunch, it was time for the final stop of the day, the Summer Palace.  Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this was a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces.  This place was huge!  And full of domestic tourists too.  Here is my video.  After entering, we first crossed a bridge to an island. .  What bridge?  It was the Seventeen-Arch bridge built during Emperor Qian Long's reign (Qing Dynasty).  Then we walked back to the mainland, and walked one big round, passing the Long Corridor, passing some Marble Boat and finally to the North gate to meet our driver Simon.  It was a long and interesting walk.

On the burning of the Summer Palace controversy, this BBC article gives an interesting perspective -; to quote,

"There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK's relations with China - a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country's most beautiful palace."

And with all the looting of the Summer Palace, it has also left a controversial legacy in British art collections - royal, military, private - full of looted objects.  Oh well, let's hope and pray that we live in peace.  Waging war in the modern era between powerful countries would almost certainly mean nuclear annihilation.

Travelling back to the Hotel
On our way back to the hotel, I was again doing some car watching.  And again, I saw many nice cars. I called this video BMW, Audi, Lexus and many other nice cars.  

We got back to our hotel in good time.  Again, we went to the Executive Lounge to have our dinner and this evening, there was Won-Ton noodles!  Awesome.  Plenty of good food to eat, and plenty of history to ponder over. 

End of Day 3, and we move on to Day 4 where we take Beijing Subway.  Stay tuned for more!  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 2 Mutianyu Great Wall Following Michelle Obama Tobbogan Ride and Ming Tombs

We were in Beijing!  We were staying at the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel, and flew up on Singapore Airlines (see page 1).  As we landed late and went to bed only in the wee hours of the morning, we decided on a later start on Day 2 of our holiday.

The alarm clock woke us up and we had breakfast at the 4th Storey cafeteria (too much to eat!).  After that, we went up to the 21st Floor Club Lounge to get some bottled water, and I was surprised at the buffet spread available for breakfast.  They even had a live noodle station. Impressive.  Here is a video.

The Plan
Today, we hired a private driver.  His name is Simon and he runs his own company - My family had used his services before and all was good.  He met us at the driveway at 10AM (as agreed) and he would drive us to Mutianyu and Ming Tombs today.

The drive to Mutianyu Great Wall took a while, I think about 1.5 hours.  The distance was more than 70km.

Along the way, I was watching the cars.  Many nice cars on Beijing Roads.  I commented to Simon that many of the cars I observed on the roads were larger cars (i.e not compact), and many SUVs, Mercedes, BMW, Audi.  Simon confirmed that the Chinese (Beijingers) loved nice cars, especially the Audi.  He said many of these car manufacturers have set up factories in China and most of the cars I saw were made (or at least assembled) in China.  He also said that getting a license to own a Beijing car was like striking lottery.  There was some lottery system and when you got the right to own a car, people tended to splurge and buy the nicest car possible.  Still, given that so many nice cars were widespread here, I could only conclude that people in Beijing were getting rich.  Towards the end of this car watching video, I even spotted the new Tesla SUV.

Mutianyu Great Wall
The visitor center at Mutianyu Great Wall looked rather new.  Simon told us that far fewer coaches and large tour groups go to Mutianyu, as compared to Badaling.   Well, the latter is older and more established (having been opened since 1957) and the Wall was very well preserved.  However, as you will see in my following pictures and videos, Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is pretty awesome too!  Another important reason why almost all tour coaches go to Badaling was because there were plenty of these Chinese shops there.  Tour companies will often make it compulsory for the groups to visit some shops or shopping village.  They want you to spend money.  Simon said there were not that many large shops near the Mutianyu Great Wall, which in my opinion made for a much quieter and more pleasant visit.

We arrived and we were blessed with a brilliant day to visit the Great Wall.  Bright sunshine and good temperatures (around 15 deg). Very light winds. Awesome.

We bought the tickets and decided to have some food before we ascended up via cable car.  Reason was that it was close to lunch time, and even though we had a late breakfast, it was better to fill up on some food before we do the walk.   Since we were so full, we just shared a Whopper Junior Meal from Burger King, and changed the drink to hot milk tea (which was good!)

In this video, we arrive at the Mutianyu Visitor Center, buy our tickets and head to the Burger King nearby to have a light meal.  Then we take the shuttle bus from the visitor center area up to the area where there were cable cars.  In the latter area, you could either take a cable car up to Tower 14, or chair lift up to Tower 6, or walk.  Our route today was to take the Cable Car to Tower 14, walk downwards towards Tower 6, and take the Toboggan back down.

The cable car ride up was fast.  Not many passengers today.  This was the low-season, and also at Mutianyu, you don't get the huge hordes of people that you may see at Badaling, well at least not during low season! The views when we got up the Wall were breathtaking!  We even spotted a Chinese couple take wedding photos.  I can understand why.

In this picture, you can barely make out the Cable Car station in the distance.  Watchtower Tower 14 is at the top of the ridge, slightly to the right of the Cable Car station, followed by by more towers.  I think I was already near Tower 7 or 6 from this angle.  Trust me, it was breathtaking.

In this 5 minute video, you will see snippets of our walk from Tower 14 to Tower 6, which took us about an hour.  Stop to take plenty of photos and videos! Beware of the steep steps. You will see that the steps were very steep at times.  So, come to the Wall while you can still manage steep steps, up and down!  Otherwise, it could get challenging.  Mutianyu Wall is definitely NOT disabled friendly.

At the Great Wall, I saw a photograph of Michelle Obama taking the Tobbogan, and coming back home I found it on the official White House website.  Here it is. (Official White House Photo, 2014)  The guy in black sunglasses following closely behind can't be the odd tourist!  (I am guessing USA Secret Service).

I quote from the First Lady's well written blog:

"Today we drove about an hour north of Beijing to a village called Mutianyu to visit a section of the Great Wall of China, which was simply breathtaking. The scenery on the way there was beautiful – a wide vista of mountains and trees – so the car ride alone was a treat. But then, running along the highest ridges of the mountains, you see it: The Great Wall – one of the great marvels of human history.

"In its entirety, the Great Wall stretches from east to west across more than 13,000 miles of Chinese countryside (that's about four times the length of the entire United States from Maine to Oregon!). It is not a single, uninterrupted wall, but rather a series of smaller walls which sometimes overlap and run parallel to each other.

"Certain sections of the Wall date back as far as the seventh century B.C., but the majority of the Great Wall we know today – including the section at Mutianyu – was built between the 1300s and the 1600s.

"To get to the Wall, we rode a cable car up a mountain (and we later rode back down on a long slide!). The section we visited is one of the more popular parts of the Wall for tourists, and it’s easy to see why. At Mutianyu, the Wall is roughly 20 to 25 feet tall and full of stairs, and there’s a watchtower every 100 yards or so. Those watchtowers serve as a reminder of why the Wall was built in the first place – to defend against attacks from armies descending from the north. Throughout its history, the Great Wall has gone through decades, even centuries, of ruin and disrepair. But it has always served as not only a physical barrier, but a psychological one to intimidate potential invaders.

"During our visit to the Wall, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a massive undertaking it must have been to build it. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and peasants were given the dangerous, painstaking – and often fatal – task of carrying ton after ton of granite, brick, dirt, and wood through the forests, up over the hills, and down through the valleys to create this incredible structure. They did this year after year, decade after decade – and it’s because of their hard work and sacrifice that the Great Wall remains standing today."

Upon reading Michelle Obama's blog (after I returned to Singapore), I realised that we had followed the same route to the Mutianyu Wall!  First, Cable Car up to an area near Tower 14, then walk down, reaching the Toboggan near Tower 6, and taking the Toboggan down.  Awesome.

So, if the First Lady of USA (obviously that makes her a VVIP) could take this ride, I figured it would be safe enough for mere mortals like myself to try.  So I decided to make sure I documented my Tobbogan experience.  Check out the following videos.  First, I arrive at the Tobbogan area.

The cost for a one way downward ride was 80RMB.  So be it.  And, here we go!  The ride was relatively long (almost 4 minutes) and at times, you could go quite fast, if you didn't want to apply the brakes.  They stationed men along the way, especially at the sharp turns, which was a good sign, though some of them were snoozing under the shade.  Fun ride and well worth it! Be warned though, no helmets provided.  If you are a speed devil and try to take the corners at 100MPH, mind your head.

That was fun!  After the ride, we took another short break at the same Burger King (shared some food), and it was time to make our way to the next destination - Ming Tombs! The ride took about an hour as it wasn't that near, and there wasn't a highway to get there.

The Ming Tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the Emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The following write-up from Wikipedia.

"The first Ming emperor's tomb is located near his capital Nanjing. However, the majority of the Ming tombs are located in a cluster near Beijing and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (Chinese: 明十三陵; pinyin: Míng Shísān Líng; literally: "Ming Thirteen Mausoleums"). They are within the suburban Changping District of Beijing Municipality, 42 kilometres (26 mi) north-northwest of Beijing city center. The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Huangtu Mountain), was chosen based on the principles of feng shui by the third Ming emperor, the Yongle Emperor. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The subsequent emperors placed their tombs in the same valley.

"From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming dynasty emperors were buried in the same area. The Xiaoling tomb of the first Ming emperor, the Hongwu Emperor, is located near his capital Nanjing; the second emperor, the Jianwen Emperor, was overthrown by the Yongle Emperor and disappeared, without a known tomb. The "temporary" emperor, the Jingtai Emperor, was also not buried here, as the Tianshun Emperor had denied him an imperial burial; instead, the Jingtai Emperor was buried west of Beijing.[1] The last Ming emperor buried at the location was the Chongzhen Emperor, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25 April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun dynasty, Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compared to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming emperors."

So, what's the point of going to see Tombs?  Well, apparently this entire place was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.  Why?  The grandeur of these 15th Century tombs is a symbolic reminder of how powerful and rich the Chinese were in that era of history.

Our first stop was the Chang Ling tombs, of Emperor Zhu Di (1360 to 1424), also known as Emperor Yongle.  Plenty to read about him online, so I shan't repeat that here.  Interesting that his ascension to the throne was not a given and he led  an internal rebellion against his own relatives and pretty much made himself Emperor.  This was the Jingnan Campaign, a civil war that lasted 3 years.

In this video, you will see the large numbers of Chinese domestic tourists.  People and more people! So many tour coaches in the parking lot!    

After Chang Ling, we headed over to the Ding Ling Tombs. Located in the southern foot of Tianshou Mountain in Changping County of Beijing, Dingling Tomb is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563 - 1620) of Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and his two empresses, Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Zhu Yijun was the thirteenth emperor and occupied the throne for 48 years, the longest among all of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Built over six years between 1584 and 1590, the tomb, which covers an area of 180,000 square meters (44 acres), is of great historical value, attracting millions of tourists from home and abroad every year.

At the Ding Ling tomb, you had to walk in a fairly long way and then you could literally walk down many floors (via steps) to the underground Palace.  A very interesting experience.   Check it out!

We stayed at the Ding Ling Tomb area museum until closing time, which was 5pm.  On the way back to the carpark area, we came across this steele on a turtle.

Drive back to Hotel
It was a rather long ride, primarily because the traffic got very heavy as we got closer to Beijing.  Did some more car watching along the way.  Spotted a couple of Trumpchi SUVs.  Didn't know what brand of car this was.  Only later did I find out that this was a local China brand (not to be confused with Donald Trump), and the car would be launching in the USA this year!

Once we reached our hotel (around 7pm), we headed to the 24F Executive Club lounge.  Since there was sufficient food, we decided to take our dinner there.  The lounge was pretty crowded though.  Check out the video I made . !

This concludes Day 2.  Check out Day 3 as we visit Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and others.  Thanks for reading!