Friday, October 31, 2008

2006 NZ Holiday 6

27th September 2006 – Day 13 (Wednesday)
Yep, today we are driving up to Christchurch for our flight home. We decided that it would be leisurely without forcing too many programs on the way. Originally I had wanted for us to visit the Akaroa Harbor to take a cruise out to spot penguins, seals, sea lions, etc. But the detour would be too rushed and we dropped it since we already have done a cruise.

After breakfast of the bread and noodles we bought before, we left behind unused sugar in the fridge, we checked out of LTC. Stephen expressed surprise that we are leaving as he thought we are there for 2 nights. I am beginning to wonder if he was trying to ‘confuse’ us into staying longer since he could not find guests to take up the cottage. I know that my booking was firmly for 1 night. We have a picture taken with him and his Thai wife, Amina, and 2 dogs, before we left to take pictures at the landmark Church of the Good Shepherd by the lakeside as well as the sculpture of a Collie Dog. After a drive to another part of the Lake Tekapo where we took some snapshots we began the 226km drive back to Christchurch.

We arrived at lunchtime and decided to visit the International Antarctic Center near the airport. Missed a junction and got a little lost. We took the Indoor Attraction option that cost us NZ$30 each. It was a good enough exposure for us. After that we drove to Windsor Hotel where we checked in. Today would be free and easy for all of us, which means both families are free to do what they want. We split after moving into our respective rooms. The Gans went for their lunch at the food court they took a week earlier. WH and I opted to have a complimentary tea on the house and biscuits to tide us till dinner (we did not have lunch at all) and took a walk to the Hagley Park one more time. It was quiet and we spent a relaxing time walking, talking and snapping pictures.

I don’t know why but I had my mobile phone turned on and WH kept it inside her handbag. During the walk, our movements must have triggered the SOS text message to Christine and Irene that I pre-configured. The next few hours were harrowing for them as they wondered if something had really happened to me or the both of us. We were blissfully unaware of the anxieties we caused back home as we continued our walk back to Victoria’s Square, took more pictures in the still bright afternoon, then to the Oxford on Avon Restaurant recommended by Donald, the front desk supervisor at Windsor for fine food at reasonable price, where we ordered our dinner.

Later in our walk towards the Cathedral Square in the waning evening lights, WH felt a vibration and realized that the mobile phone was ringing. I answered and heard Christine’s voice. It was then that I discovered the accidental depression of the SOS button (it need to be pressed 4 times in quick succession to activate the SOS message). Next time we will be more careful not to keep the phone loosely inside a handbag.

As the lights were fleeing and it was getting cold, we walked back to the Hotel nearby. After a bath we decided to sleep early as we have an early flight to catch. Donald had given each of us an alarm clock to help us awake in time for breakfast. But Veronica came in and spent over an hour chatting with us. We finally put out the lights at 10.30pm.

28th September 2006 – day 14 (Thursday)
We were up before 6am. Having done our packing last night, we only finalize packing what we used last night and this morning before bringing the bags downstairs to the car. Guess what? It was drizzling! Over the past 12 days the weather has been wonderfully good and on this departure day, rain came. God is truly merciful and good to us.

After our breakfast we left at 7.45am for the airport 20 minutes away. After dropping Albert, Veronica dn Wai Har at the departure zone with the bags, Adrian and I drove the car to the Sudima Hotel a short distance away where we parked the car as advised by Scotties and leave the key in the driver’s visor. I took some pictures to record the condition of the car in case of a dispute.

We left on NZ508 for Auckland, then NZ81 for Singapore and finally MH610 for KLIA. At Auckland we each paid NZ$25 as departure tax. There I also spent NZ$7 of loose coins buying a display souvenir. In all, I have left NZ$2.50 in loose change when we got home.

Upon arrival at KLIA and retrieving our bags, we split. Albert’s older son came to fetch them while we took a Burger King snack and took a pirated taxi home at RM60 fare. We were back in Rasah Kemayan at 12.15am and after a bath went to sleep on our own soft bed at 1am.

We each spent around RM6500 for the entire holiday, covering airfares to souvenirs. This was quite accurate compared to my original projection. It was satisfying because for the same amount a tour package would be for duration of about 8 days but we did for 12 days.

For our North Island drive-about we clocked 721km in the station-wagon, averaging 180km per day. However, for our South Island holiday, we covered 2320km over 8 days, or a daily average of 290km, which is to be expected because we covered a larger area. All in we traveled 3041km which agreed nicely with my estimate of 3000km. It would have been a little more if we drove to Waitomo Cave.

I was probably the most enjoying person in the entire group in spite of my residual cough. I tried to implant a sense of free spirit in everyone because we are on holiday so we should not be depressed over anything, even illness or discomforts or even adjusting to the beds, weather, food, lifestyle, etc. Wherever possible I tried to lift up each other’s spirit to bring forth a sense of happiness in this period that we are together as a group. For this I am thankful that I had a very close relationship with Wai Har and did not quarrel or showed any grumpiness. I know that we may not return to NZ again so I tried to savor every moment that is unique. Like in Lake Te Anau, like in Hagley Park, like on the Milford cruise. I want to remember them all and this journal will enable me to revisit this memorable 2 weeks of my life when I read them now and then years from now.

I always believe that a holiday is worthwhile if it stays recollected for future use, rather than become a disposable and never to be remembered or remembered poorly. For this alone, I find the effort taken to capture over a thousand pictures and writing this diary a worthwhile effort.

2006 NZ Holiday 5

24th September 2006 – Day 10 (Sunday)
We are 4 hours ahead of Malaysia so as we awake for breakfast our folks are still in bed. Today Wesley Seremban celebrates her 91st anniversary. I sent a text message to Pastor Paul Christie on this occasion before our breakfast. Before we checked out we went to the lakefront again and in brighter lights took more pictures. Wai Har would love to have them to remember many years from now. Periodically I want all 5 of us in the group picture. Today there was a bench outside the flat that I could position my camera and set for timer photography.

Among us there were 3 digital cameras and one video-camera so we would have ample records. As far as possible we would take every scenic spots. Being a more seasoned traveler I take what are worth keeping. Maybe that is because I have limited memory on my camera’s SD card. Eventually I managed to capture about 1400 pictures at 1600x1200 resolution.

We drove the 170km distance to Queenstown, our next destination. Because we arrived at the YHA Queenstown Lakefront before the 2.30pm check-in time we decided to check out Arrowtown and Wanaka, 2 places outside of Queenstown. Adrian was interesting in bungy jumping that Queenstown is famous for. So we took the Kawarau Road where we stopped by the historical AJHackett Kawarau Bridge Jumping site. Adrian didn’t jump and we took pictures and left for Arrowtown which was not much to see. There we have our picnic lunch of sandwiches. The next place, Wanaka, was better. We first stopped at the PuzzlingWorld just outside Wanaka to see the interesting structures and took pictures. We bought a souvenir puzzle game set there. Then we drove into Wanaka and beheld the beautiful lakefront where we took pictures to remember.

The return drive using the Cadrona way which is shorter was much more windy and hilly. I drove, unfortunately, but I managed to bring everybody safely home to Queenstown YHA.

After resting we drove into the town centre and enjoyed a sumptuous northern Indian dinner at the Bombay Palace.

25th September 2006 – Day 11 (Monday)
Albert, Veronica, Wai Har and I woke up early to take a walk by the lakefront. It was not that nice because the vehicle exhaust fumes were polluting the clean lake air. I find Queenstown to becoming more congested with the construction of new motels by the lakeside. In a few years Queenstown will lose its magic with pollution setting in especially in summer when tourists flock to this popular holiday resort town.

After the walk we had an interesting breakfast experience. Thinking that the NZ$4.50 per head breakfast was too good a deal, we ordered from the receptionist Akiko. We were provided our bread, spaghetti in cans and raw eggs to cook ourselves in the adjacent common kitchen where cooking utensils are provided. It was fun and everyone chipped in doing the preparation and cleaning up.

Today our plan we to sightsee the ‘less adventurous’ places in Queenstown which was noted for her outdoor adventure sports like sky-diving, bungy jumping, etc. The suitable activities for us that we visited were the Deer Park (which cost us NZ$20 to enter in our self-drive vehicle where we fed the deer, llamas, goats, etc with the animal feed we bought. Albert picked up 2 NZ$1 coins to pay for the feed which we probably would not do as none of us has any coins with us.), the Kiwi Birdlife Park (where we decided on the 3pm show that included a complimentary Maori cultural dance show. The rest were not that exciting anyway.) and the Queenstown Gardens (free entrance and rather scenic but being dusk, not many shots were taken.). In between the Deer Park and the Kiwi Birdlife show we took lunch at the MacDonald’s in town. We ordered the Boss and Chicken Royale burgers and enjoyed every morsel. Tonight we ate in.

26th September 2006 – Day 12 (Tuesday)
We were beginning to miss home. It was nice being in NZ and enjoying a variety of sights and seeing so many sheep. However, it is tiresome moving from place to place and sleeping on different beds as well as carrying out the unpacking and repacking, the bags seem to grow bigger and less adequate as days goes by. WH said that’s because the dirty laundry takes up more space. And, yes, we did buy some souvenirs, but they were small anyway.

Today marks the return drive for our journey home. After yesterday’s breakfast experience we decided to cook our own breakfast with the food we bought yesterday evening from the Four Squares Supermarket. When we checked out Adrian drove us towards Mount Cook, our next stopover. He decided to take the same Cardona route that I wish he’d avoid but he said it is shorter. His better driving skills put our anxieties away. When we arrived in Wanaka we had pizza lunch at the Da Vinci’s. Wanaka’s lake is nice but the town is pretty quiet. Sometimes I wonder how New Zealanders makes a living if there are very few tourists.

From Wanaka we drove towards Mount Cook’s National Park going through the Lindis Pass and passing through Twizel. Along the way to Mt Cook we skirted the edge of Lake Pukaki which blue waters matches the snow capped Southern Alps we approach. At the Peter’s Lookout (Yeh! Finally a place named after me, or was it really?) we stopped for some photo-shoot before proceeding to the Park. We did not find the Park of much interest and left after about an hour there and proceeded to our next rest stop which is in Lake Tekapo.

We reached the Lake Tekapo Cottages about 5.30pm and Stephen Hunter, our host, greeted us warmly, set up the heater in the Eastwing Cottage that we are rooming for the night, and brought in warm milk. He even offered free laundry service if needed but we did not take it up as there were not that many to warrant a wash. Stephen was very gracious in recommending the Kohan Japanese Restaurant for fine dining. It is surprising to find this in the village which is even smaller than Te Anau. But the food and service was good. When we got back Stephen said that he thought we had booked both the Eastwing and the Honeymoon Suite nearby. He was either careless or tried to nicely tempt us to take it at a discount since room vacancy in Lake Tekapo is rather high and the village does not have much to offer. We declined.

The Eastwing is really warm and comfy. However, the bathroom does not have a lock so we have to devise a way to warn the others that it was taken. 3 cats would stroll into our cottage to enjoy free company.

2006 NZ Holiday 4

21st September 2006 – Day 7 (Thursday)
We had our breakfast in the YMCA canteen. We left immediately for our long drive south to Dunedin. However, since we don’t expect to have another chance to sightsee areas outside the town, we decided to drive to the Lyttleton Harbor for a viewing as well as take the Christchurch Gondola for a sky-view of the city and the surroundings. It was a good and relaxing experience. There we bought a few souvenirs.

We drove non-stop, except for changing driver and toilet breaks, to Dunedin which is some 360km away. The total on-the-road time is about 5 hours, taking into consideration NZ’s city and highway speed limits plus rest stops. The road is not a dual carriageway that we come to expect for long distance driving. Instead it is a combination of highway and trunk roads. There are not very many vehicles and driving is generally unstressed and leisurely. We do see casualties but they are just dead possums on the roads. Throughout the entire holiday I guess we came across over 20 dead possums.

We arrive Dunedin before 5pm and drove directly to the Otago Peninsula hoping to view the Lanarch Castle as well as spot penguins on the Sandfly Bay beach. We were unsuccessful in both but managed to catch a sunset view of Dunedin from the Rotary Park Lookout Point. From there we drove back to the city and checked in Sahara Guest House along George Street, the main street in Dunedin.

Tonight we drove into the city for dinner. We chose Thai food but were disappointed with the quality. It did not taste much like authentic Thai food to me.

22nd September 2006 – Day 8 (Friday)
We had breakfast at Sahara before checking out. I asked Lynne, the owner for direction to Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street. We drove there and walked up and came down to get a certificate from the tourist office. Used to be free but we now have to pay NZ$2 for it. In NZ things are also getting expensive. After the morning walk we drove into the Octagon which is the city centre and while Adrian went looking for his All Black jerseys we took pictures in the Octagon area. From there we drove southward towards Invercargill.

Adrian drives mostly, especially in the city area or when the roads are expected to be less than easy. So along the highways Albert and I will take turn to relieve him. Something Veronica and Wai Har will take over for a short while. On the whole, Adrian is our main driver, with Albert and me backing him. I did all the navigating and the ladies drove a bit but took care of the cooking wherever possible.

We reached Queen’s Park in Invercargill where we had a picnic lunch and then spent an hour or so there. QP is not particularly scenic and Invercargill is quite a dull town but the roads are in grid formation so easy to driver about. From Invercargill we drove further south to Bluff, the southern-most town of New Zealand (excluding Stewart Island, of course). We managed to get to Stirling’s Point and took a few pictures there for remembrance. At Bluff we managed to spot a sea-lion who posed for us before swimming away.

Next we drove to Te Anau, our destination for the next 2 days. The total driving distance and time is about the same as for yesterday. We arrive at the Te Anau Lake View Holiday Park about 6pm and were pleased with the tourist flat which faces the lake. I asked Marie the receptionist to make reservation for the Milford Sound cruise tomorrow at 11am. When we asked for extra pillows she happily obliged. We have a good feeling staying here. Before the sun set I went out alone to experience the lake and snapped some pictures. It was chilly and quiet.

Te Anau is literally a dead town and we were relieved we bought food to cook dinner in tonight. The gas stations closed at 7.30pm so when we went out at 9pm to top up our car’s gas tank, we returned disappointed and a little worried that we may have to go into Milford Sound with insufficient gas since we were all advised to fill up because there is no gas station there and the 2-way journey is about 242km.

This evening we did our only round of laundry but had to pay an extra NZ$2 for an additional drying cycle. Each wash and drying costs NZ$2 so we spent NZ$6 for the load we washed.

23rd September 2006 – Day 9 (Saturday)
The main setback of the Te Anau flat is the spaciousness, or lack of it. The only toilet is squeezed in front of the double bed room (without door) that WH and I took, while Albert & family shared the twin bed room and the folding bed in the hall. To be fair, as far as practical, we give them the opportunity to enjoy the privacy of their own room, especially if it is double-bedded. Sometimes Adrian will get his own room, like at Iles Cottage where he opted to stay in the main house with the hosts. Most of the time the places I booked will roll out a spare bed for him, or that he sleeps on the sofa like in Sahara. But he has the ‘luxury’ of his own room at Iles and Lady Bella. This is the inevitable situation when friends come together for a common holiday; there is absolutely no identical treatment for all. Thankfully we did not complain or express our unhappiness. This holiday enabled us to know the Gans as much as they got to know us.

Even as Veronica (the main food preparer, WH helps out) got breakfast ready, I walked to the lakefront to enjoy the morning fresh cold and adore the sunrise. I took a few pictures documenting the sunrise. After breakfast we quickly left at 8.15am for a gas station to load up our tank. Thank goodness, one has already opened for business. Adrian then took the wheel to drive us for the 121 km journey northward to Milford Sound. The roads became more countryside and a little windy. Then the drizzle arrived and the outside temperature fell to as low as 3oC. We became dismayed that our sightseeing on the cruise would be affected by the rain. When we did arrive at the departure point, the drizzle has subsided to allow us to walk the 400m distance to the ticketing office next to the jetty where 3 cruise boats were anchored. We took pictures and noted the one we would be taking was the Pride of Milford operated by the Red Boat Cruises. We chose it over the RealJourney cruise because Red Boat threw in a free lunch pack for the NZ$55 we each paid. After all, it is the sight that matters, not the boat. The 1 hour 45 minutes cruise took us out to the opening of the Sound to the ocean. The sights of the spiraling cliffs and rivulets tumbling down then steep cliffs are grandiose. Thank God the drizzle stopped and we were able to get to the upper observation deck to enjoy the awesome sights and snapped many pictures to treasure.

Upon our return to Te Anau we proceeded to Lake Manapouri nearby to check out what was available. It was a launch point for the Doubtful Sound, a less majestic journey compared with Milford and harder to access as one has to take a boat ride and a 4-wheeler drive before taking the cruise boat.

We cooked in tonight.

2006 NZ Holiday 3

18th September 2006 – Day 4 (Monday)
Alie cooked us a basic continental breakfast. We chatted and tooked pictures before we left. We decided to go for the Agrodome sheepshow as well as visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley which is situated just outside Rotorua to the north-west and the south respectively. At Agrodome I took part in a cow-milking exercise and received a certificate of udderance for that. The entry tickets cost us NZ$22 and NZ$28 each respectively. We thought the Waimangu ticket was high as they did nothing except let us walk about the grounds, which we certainly did. At Waimangu we saw lakes spewing fumes. The area is part of a dormant volcano. We spent over 2 hours climbing the trails some of which was quite steep and rugged. Fortunately we all made it back to the reception in one piece albeit tired. We only had biscuits and water for our lunch. We did not plan for this but we were all game and adventurous.

Following that we drove some 80km into Lake Taupo town and arrived at the Great Lake Holiday Park run by the YHA (Youth Hostels Association) about 7pm. We ate bread and basted chicken we bought yesterday and opened a bottle of red wine to celebrate our achievements today.

19th September 2006 – Day 5 (Tuesday)
Have breakfast and then checked out of the holiday park and drove to the lakefront and played with the ducks, geese and terns coming to us for bread crumbs. Later drove further out to enjoy a beach side walk where we viewed the various types of houses. We joked that Albert will be buying houses in NZ to do mission work here and try to identify which towns and houses look good.

Leaving Lake Taupo and driving back to Auckland, we decided to following the route we came in and visited the Huka Falls which was one of the most popular tourist attractions. We saw why. The Huka Falls, although not exactly of the stature of Niagara, is in fact a torrent of sparklingly purified blue water that emanates from the Lake Taupo. Huka Falls is worth visiting even if it is not as magnificent because the sight of pure blue rushing water is something good to behold.

Along the way north we stopped by the only Prawn Park in NZ (which we saw nothing spectacular) Pamela Castle (which is a cheap model that housed toys of the owners, that we did not bother to enter to see) and Hamilton Gardens (Yes, this is good and quite scenic too. Actually the HG stop is for our late lunch break).

Originally my plan was to drive westward after Lake Taupo to see the famed Waitomo Caves which housed the glow worms. Because of scheduling and fear of arriving quite late in Auckland, we decided to skip this and gave ourselves the option to check out the Te Anau glow worm caves should we really want to visit one later.

Thankful for Bella’s concise directions, we got safely to her B&B guesthouse along Massey Road without making a wrong turn. Lady Bella guesthouse is about 10 minutes from the airport which is the reason why I chose to stay there for our last night in North Island before flying to South Island tomorrow.

Adrian again had an appointment with his friends so the 4 of us decided to walk to a nearby gas station and have fried chickens for our dinner.

20th September 2006 – Day 6 (Wednesday)
Bella came in from her restaurant where she stayed over last night and prepared breakfast for us. Later she and husband sent us in 2 cars to the airport. I left the Camry in her parking ground for Keith to collect later by agreement.

We took NZ flight 517 to Christchurch and arrived past 1pm. I called Scotties office there and waited for a pickup to bring us to the office where we went over the cars and finally chose the Toyota Rav4 for our 8 days holiday in the south. Allan Scott, the brother of Keith resembled Robert Redford and I did not hesitate to tell him so. The total cost of the car rental, inclusive of car and insurance upgrade cost us NZ$852. After collecting the car we drove into the city to the YMCA where we are putting up for a night. The YMCA Christchurch is vastly different from the one in Auckland. We are very happy with the room conditions, facilities and services.

We walked to the city centre nearby for our late lunch at the food court. While the rest chose to eat Chinese I ate Indian food instead. Food cost about NZ$10 each. Later we walked about to the Cathedral Square, the Victoria Square and then the Hagley Park where I led the group to walk the length of River Avon from one entrance to the next. It was a long and tiring walk and we managed to get back to YMCA past 7pm.

After a short rest, Adrian drove Wai Har and me to buy dinner. Albert and Veronica decided to stay in, probably tired. We bought Burger King and got lost trying to find where we parked the car. It was a hilarious end to a tiring day. Veronica requested that we don’t do anymore long walks again, the Waimangu and Avon experiences are sufficient for this holiday, she said! I assured here that we probably won’t have anymore of such opportunities.

2006 NZ Holiday 2

15th September 2006 – Day 1 (Friday)
At 2pm Michael the taxi driver we called came to send Wai Har and me to KLIA where we will meet Albert & family. We took the MH613 flight into Singapore at 5.15pm. While in transit at the Changi airport we ate a simple meal of Turkish sandwich and hotdog at the Fuzion knowing that food will be served on the flight. At 8.20pm we boarded Air New Zealand flight NZ82 to Auckland. I was quite impressed by the Boeing 777 airplane with good firm and well sized seats. The food served on the flights was also above par and I ate most of them as I had a good appetite.

16th September 2006 – Day 2 (Saturday)
We arrive in Auckland international airport at 10am and were met by Keith Scott of the car rental firm. We agreed to opt for a bigger car and Keith has the Camry Gracia station-wagon for us. We paid an upgrade fee to rent the vehicle for a total of NZ391 for 4 days, inclusive of insurance. When I noticed that the vehicle license has expired, he said ‘I’ll have it fixed’ without explaining how. Instead he drove to the nearby VIZ (Vehicle Inspection Zone) station at the airport and in a jiffy came out with the renewed license. He then drove us to a gas station to fill up the near empty tank, saying that we should return with the tank near empty as well. The gas price was about NZ1.50 per litre and varies from day to day and station to station. During the next 2 weeks the prices ranged from 1.43 to 1.56 per litre, depending on where.

Keith next drove us into the city and left us near his office to drive to Pitts Road where YMCA is situated. It took a little learning in reading the NZ road maps but we finally find it with me navigating while Adrian drove.

My Dell PDA malfunctioned and the batteries drained very fast so I could not use it to maintain the daily entries. Instead I depended on handwritten notes which I now expand into this journal, including parts that I can recall.

The part of Auckland where we stayed was not very impressive. Maybe because this is weekend and the area we stayed was quite deserted. While Adrian left to meet his friends, we walked out to have our late lunch at the Subways and later drove the car to the Albert Park, the harbor and Mount Eden’s summit lookout.

Tonight we ate dinner at the Sri Pinang Malaysia Restaurant which served delicious Penang style curried food. It cost NZ$55 for the 4 of us which averaged to under NZ$15 each which is very reasonable. I have budgeted a daily food cost of NZ$40 per person and unless we splurged, I think we should stay well within this limit.

The rooms we stayed in the YMCA does not have electric blankets nor heating except for a portable oil heater in my room, that I shared with Albert. The supervisor said the rooms are floor heated which I doubt and that they don’t have another portable heater which I am disappointed. Anyway I am not recommending YMCA Auckland for accommodation.

17th September 2006 – Day 3 (Sunday)
After checking out at 8.30am we drove south towards Rotorua along Motorway 1 South. On the way we stopped by a service centre for MacDonald’s breakfast. My flu has nearly subsided but my cough is lingering. Wai Har’s flu is also recovering but a wee bit slower than mine.

We arrived at Rotorua at 12.30pm and immediately checked into Iles Cottage. No trouble finding it as the hosts, Alie & Douwe, gave clear directions. After a preliminary get-to-know-you chat and checking our bags into the cottage we drove into the town for food. We had our lunch at the Papa Luigi’s Pizza which was pretty good. Later we drove around and found the Rotorua Museum grounds very scenic under the bright clear afternoon skies. We took many pictures and later tried to visit a thermal centre but found both either closed or under renovation. As it was getting late we drove to the Kuiran Park and Lake Rotorua lakefront and played with the ducks before having our dinner at the Mac’s Steakhouse. Both of us took the sampler plate which comprised salmon, prawns, mussels, lamb and steak that we enjoyed. Before we return to the cottage we stopped by the CountDown supermart to buy food for tomorrow’s stay at Lake Taupo where cooking facilities are available.

2006 NZ Holiday 1

Of the places I have yet to visit, New Zealand ranked high because of the scenic and peaceful countryside. Two years ago WH and I had hoped to go for a self-drive holiday with Siew Bing and Lily. However, our plans did not coincide. Last year, we were approached by Albert and Veronica to join them and Peter Chew and Sadie for such a holiday this year. Although we were looking after Victoria, the thought of taking a break was uppermost since by then Victoria would have been easier to look after. Sometime during February, Peter Chew indicated that he and his wife could not join as they had other commitments. I felt the downsized group is better as we can rent a sedan instead of a van.

Veronica was feeding me ideas from some websites she searched and I asked for holiday materials from Mei and SK as they went to NZ for their honeymoon in 2004.

In late March, in a travel fair, we bought the promotion air tickets from Air New Zealand. We each paid RM2956.10 for a return economy air ticket from KL to Christchurch via Singapore with a stopover at Auckland. The stopover will allow us to take a break to do a short tour of North Island. I planned for a 4 days tour of the North Island concentrating on Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Auckland. For the South Island leg, which is the highlight, I planned 8 days to sight-see Christchurch, Dunedin, Te Anau, Queenstown, Milford Sound and Lake Tekapo. Based on my cost calculation, the total cost per person, inclusive of all meals, lodging, entrance tickets and land travel, should come to about RM7000.

Albert's youngest son, Adrian, is joining our group so we have 5 altogether. It is better as almost everyone can drive and navigate. This will makes the travel more leisurely.

I undertook the task of planning the itinerary, booking the accommodations and car rental. I depended a lot on my internet search. It was fun and interesting as I am building up our own tour customized to our needs. I thank God that all five of us were able to buy tickets for the 15th September departure because the flight was fully booked. The travel period was chosen based on the fact that it is the end part of the season before the room rates are revised annually from 1st October. Being in early spring, the weather will be OK for us and I personally would prefer a spring holiday although it is going to be still quite cold, especially in the South Island.

Since both Irene and SK are working during our planned holiday we encourage them to get a maid to be trained so she can help do the housework and look after Victoria in our absence.

By mid April, I had all our accommodations reserved and by end April the car rental with Scotties was also reserved at NZ$69 per day x 12 days, Camry requested. Next I will concentrate on identifying tour highlights at each of our destination. In the following months prior to the holiday we will have one or two meetings with the Gans to finalize details. I managed to buy NZ$900 notes at the very good rate of RM2.305 to a dollar because after that the rate rose to about 2.40 when we left. For the holiday I will bring along USD500 as backup. I will pay for car rental and accommodation while Albert will pay for fuel and food. At the end of the holiday we will contra account.

One week before the departure I came down with flu which thankfully subsided by the time we fly. As we expect the weather to be cold we are bringing sufficient warm clothing. We are constrained to minimize on traveling bags as we have to be sure they do not overload the rented car.

On the departure date, Sept 15, Nancy came over to pick up Victoria and Sinta. At 2pm, taxi driver Michael came to take Wai Har and I to KLIA where we meet Albert, Veronica and Adrian. We flew first to Changi Airport in Singapore at 5.15pm via MH613 to connect NZ flight NZ82 at 8.20pm for Auckland. Tonight Christine will be alone in Seremban as Stanley who is on work assignment in Chongqin, China is only returning tomorrow.

2005, Our First Grandchild was Born

On 18th April we became proud grandparents to a baby girl, Victoria, who quickly became the focus of adoring parents and grandparents. Victoria was under the care of my wife who a few months earlier decided to leave her nursing career to devote her full attention to her grand daughter. For over 2 years Victoria stayed with us and it was only in January 2008 that she left to stay with her parents, Irene and SK, in Petaling Jaya. We missed her but we stayed in touch.

Here daddy looked adoringly at his little princess.

2004 Taiwan Holiday 3

November 11, 2004 (Thursday)
Today we leave Taipei for Taichung. Our plan to visit the Sun Moon Lake on the way was changed because of heavy freeway traffic. The weather is again forecasted to be sunny. At breakfast we met a Seremban tour group. At a reststop in Miaoli county, we bought more titbits.

We arrived Taichung at 11.40am and went for our shabu shabu steamboat lunch. It was delicious with soup base using sugar cane. After that we were brought to the Fong Jie Night Market which started opening as early as 1.30pm. We strolled around as well as the shops selling clothings and bought 11 items of Hangten clothings costing 1939NT. We then waited till 4pm for the coach to fetch us and send us to our hotel, Sin Fu Da Hotel, an old hotel. Our room at 510 is more spacious than the Paradise Hotel in Taipei. Although not very grand, it is clean.

We repacked and rested. Tonight we settle our own dinner. Had roast pork noodle, sui kau and fried oyster Taichung style. Came back to watch the movie 'A Perfect Murder' starring Michael Douglas and Gweneth Paltrow on TV before retiring.

November 12, 2004 (Friday)
We woke up at 0615 and had breakfast at the hotel basement before embarking for our tour of the Sun Moon Lake. The weather is again sunny, thank God. On the way we entered the Nantou County which is popular for its pinang and strawberries.

The Puli area has a very mild seasons all year round suitable for planting grapes. Our first stop is the Puli liquor factory & outlet. We managed to clear our bowels there. From the we went to the SML where we visited the Wen Wu Temple and have lunch there. Because of the bright weather I managed to take several nice pictures.
Arrived Kaoshiung at 4pm and we were driven to a different night market area. However, we find it boring. After buying a drink and a stick of taiwanese sausage we walked back to our rendezvous point and joined the evening joggers at the jogging track for some brisk walk.

Tonight we have our best dinner - lobster and abalone - before we returned to National Citizen Hotel for our last night's stay in Taiwan. After finalizing our packing and watching some TV we retired.

November 13, 2004 (Saturday)
Woke up at 0515, bathed and checked out at 0600 for the airport. The traffic is light, being morning and Saturday and the weather great. Gave 300NT tips to the driver. We ate sandwich breakfast at the airport and waited for Steven to check in the luggage and Jessie to fill in immigration papers. Ate 0850 we left on flight CI657 for Malaysia. Upon arrival I called Michael to come to the airport to fetch us back.

2004 Taiwan Holiday 2

November 8, 2004 (Monday)
WH woke up before 0600 and when she rapped the side of the sink during brushing I mistook the sound for morning wake-up call and approved the room service as wh's watch showed 0600. Later we had a good laugh over it. I felt refreshing after a good rest. My back is fine even after the whole day outing. What I need is a good bed to rest my back. We went down for breakfast at 0715 and checked out at 0800 for Hualien. The group voted overwhelmingly to take the inland instead of the ocean route north. The route passes the rice fields, a major supplier to the country's demand. This area also supplies much of the white sugar canes which white-collared prisoners worked to harvest them. The prisons are without walls and prisoners caught escaping will be severely punished.

The Hualien county is a popular water rafting area between April and October. The rivers flowing down the steep mountain sides are ideal for this sport. The longest is only 187 km.

We made an ice-cream stop before having our lunch near Hualien town and watched an Ah Mei cultural dance. Hualien is the largest of the 16 counties but only has a population of 400,000. This is because of its eastern location, isolated by the mountain range from the more developed eastern coast. The main industry that provides employment to the locals is that of marble mining and cutting. Hualien is a major supplier of marble outside of Italy.

Steven brought us to the entrance of the Taroko National Park which cuts across the mountains into Taichung. While walking along the ledge and viewing the spectacular steep marbled slopes, there was a small rockfall that almost hit WH and some others. Fortunately no one was hurt. Steven said the fall was from new tunnel work nearby.

We checked into the Union Hotel in Hualien around 5pm and an hour later went for BBQ dinner. I dressed casually in my shorts. Shared same table with a taiwanese lady from the group. Didn't quite like the food especially those we have to fry in oil. Felt rather unhealthy after that. Maybe this explained why I awoke around 12.30am (I went to bed at 9.00pm) feeling stuffy and bloated.

November 9, 2004 (Tuesday)
Our tour group comprises 42 in which only 9 were men. Of the ladies about half were young adults to middle age. The Yong family was tied the biggest group with a Kutien group from Ayer Tawar. Weny Yong was a very helpful girl who loves to wear colourful clothings. A pair of friends, Jenny and Mei Ling, who cannot speak Mandarin, sat behind us in the bus. The tees - husband works as QS in Ho Hup and wife helps in her parents coffeeshop in Ampang, are nice couple. David Kong who brought hid wife and mother are from Klang and always shoot with his video camera. He works for genting. Ms Phang who came with her parents is an auditor with KFC. We didn't get to know the rest as it was a very big group, especially the half behind us in the bus. Typical of Asian tours, we did not rotate our seats. And so far everyone is well behaving and nice. Steven is a very nice 40 year old, smoker and married at 16. A foochow, he is an excellent guide and very organized.

Our morning call today is at 0545 followed by 0630 breakfast. At 0715 we were scheduled to leave for Jiufen at the NE part of the island. However, rockfall on the connecting highway caused by earthquake in the ocean off Hualien forced a plan change. We agreed unanimously to take the train while the driver delivers our luggage to Taipei via Kaoshiung and Taitung. Because this deviation was a natural cause, we each have to pay for the train fare of NT368 from Hualien to Rueifang, a journey of almost 2 and half hours.

The train ride was pleasant, comfortable and communication system excellent. The train passes through several tunnels dug into thr mountains, some long some short. We arrival Rueifang on time and boarded a replacement coach which drove us to Juifen for our own lunch. Juifen is a very small town inside the Yangmingshan Park. It became popular after 2 movies were made there. We ate 4 different types of local foods and bought some snacks.

Our next stop to the TianLai Spring Resort was the highlight of our tour. We enjoyed bathing in the different spa pools, jacuzzi and sauna. I felt good but a little tired. Later we visited the Siaoyoukeng, a fissure emitting volcanic gases and steam. After that we entered Taipeh around 5.30pm and were taken to the Shilin Night Market for our own dinner and some shopping in the nearby bazaar. Here we bought a blanket for Irene's new baby and hot packs to soothe body aches.

At 8.00pm we checked into Paradise Hotel. Our original driver has already returned from Hualien driving almost non-stop since this morning and unloaded our luggage in the hotel lobby. We appreciated his sense of responsibility.

After we brought up our bags and purchases to our room 2215 where we will be staying for 2 nights we went out to explore the shopping market next to the hotel which is situated inside the Ximenti district. Our hotel room is not as good as expected. The bathroom is ver congested and the beds small.

November 10, 2004 (Wednesday)
Our wakeup today is 0700 and breakfast at 0745. At 0830 we began our sightseeing of Taipei. The weather is fine and sunny, beating weather forecasts. Our first stop is to the matyrs shrine to see the change of guards at 9.00am. Next we were taken to Mao's House which sells linzhi and honey products. Because I want to look after my health which has weakened in the past year I was willing to spend NT13,000 or about RM1,300 to buy a 6 months supply of linzhi to see if it helps.

After that we visited Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world at 508 meters. However, we only visited the first 4 floors as the rest of the building will only open next year. 101 is impressive and well designed inside.

From there we proceeded to lunch. After lunch we were driven to see the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. There we took several lovely pictures. After that we visited the National Palace Museum where Steven rushed through some narrations before taking us to a shop selling feng shui and good luck charms. Some of us felt unhappy that he prioritises this over the museum.

We returned to Paradise Hotel where we have our dinner. Tonight is our last night in Taipei but we decided not to go out as we felt we have seen enough last night. Furthermore I felt a little tired. In town we see many huge posters carrying pictures of election candidates. On television there are interviews and debates on current issues.

2004 Taiwan Holiday 1

November 6, 2004 (Saturday)
Flight CI658 is on a Boeing 737-800 with a fully chinese crew. We took off at 2.20pm and scheduled to arrive Kaoshiung 4 hrs 15 mins later. The weather was good, although a little hazy at take-off. 20mins into the flight Wai Har felt the need to use the toilet and found the facility not up to expectation.

At the start of the flight we got to know the Yong family traveling in a group of 6. Daughter Wendy told us that the travel agent should refund each of us RM69 being reduced airport tax from switching from Cathay Pacific to China Airline. This we will pursue with Hong Thai later.

Less than 2 hours into the flight my Timex watch battery died. Meal was served. I ate seafood pasta while wh took diced chicken. Food so-so or maybe we're still full with the Macdonald's meal.

It is 6pm but it is already dark outside. We are some 40 minutes away from arrival and the plane is abuzzed with conversation. Some ladies sitting behind us are speaking in Kutien. I wonder if they are in our tour group. Earlier I leaned from Jessie, our tour guide, that the 42 members group are combined from Hong Thai, Roystar and Mewah Holidays which a apparently related. When I asked about the airport tax refund, she said to deal with Hong Thai as she is from Mewah.

The plane, being small, gave us a claustrophobic feeling. Wh felt tired and I not particularly well. Maybe as we grow older air travel becomes more of an inconvenience. I wonder how we cope with a long flight like to the States.

Landed at 6.45pm, local time, which is the same as Malaysia's. After clearing immigration and custom we retrieved our luggage and boarded the Hong Thai coach. Local guide Steven Lin, gave us a rundown of local customs and practices as we approached the Liuher Night Market where we sampled local cuisines. Spent NT30 for a cup of hot almond drink, NT40 each for fried oyster and noodle, and NT100 for a pack of soft rice pastries which I felt overcharged.

The weather was fine and comfortable with temperature around 25-26C. I think my Timex watch is faulty. Unable to display time. Plan to courier to Tony for warranty claim if I cannot repair it when I return from the holidays.

Tonight we checked into the National Citizen Hotel in the downtown area. At best a 3 star hotel. We stayed in room 8012.

November 7, 2004 (Sunday)
Morning call at 0700, buffet breakfast at 0745 and at 0830 we checked out for our tour around kaoshiung. Kaoshiung is the main industrial port of Taiwan with a population of 5.5 million. It is quite polluted and it is reported that it is hard to see blue skies. As we start our tour I noticed the skies are hazy and some of the locals wore facemasks. Our first stop was to the spring and autumn pavilions and the tower of dragon and tiger. Then we proceeded to the fo guan shan and have lunch at the restaurant there. The weather was sunny but slightly cool. Had to use the umbrella during our 90 mins walk to the FGS.

After lunch we drove south and then east via route 9 to the east coast of the island. The Pacific Ocean pounds ruthlessly against the coast. Where the road runs next to the beach, erosion is mitigated using concrete blocks embedded into the sand as wave breakers. We have to cross the hills and took the windy roads for about 2 hours. We were ok as we were seated in the mid-section of the bus but napped a little.

Along the route on the lowlands we saw lots of pinang palm. The taiwanese love to chew pinang nuts. Some 5 million enjoy this pastime. All along the way there are many shops and stalls advertising pinang sales. Sometimes young girls in skimpy dresses are employed to promote the pinang.

The sun set around 5.30pm as we headed north. We arrived the Master Bear Resort for our dinner while we waited till 6.30pm for the food we ride bicycles and explored the surroundings. It was my first riding experience since my youth. Though my initial movement was ungainly I soon found my rhythm. Wh felt more hesitant and gave up (abandon) after one try. The food was good.

After dinner we drove for 45 mins to the Yawan Hotspring Resort where we overnighted. We donned our swimwears and took a 20 mins dip in the outdoor spa pool. It was invigorating, therapeutic and I felt like I'm being cleansed. The water had a wiff of rotten egg smell (hydrogen sulphide), very warm and slippery (soft). I bathed in spa water in my room and went to bed before 10pm while WH washed up some laundry. Although the room is older and the bed was firm it was better than the NCH in Kaoshiung. both of us slept very well.

2004 USA Holiday 2

6/6/04 (Sunday)
I woke up first at 9am to a very quiet house on this Sunday morning. I am sure we are all happy that the hard works put in to prepare for the wedding has ended successfully. Thank God for very good weather and turnout.

We went for lunch at the Sun-Dial Restaurant on the 72nd floor of the Westin in downtown Atlanta. The SDR is a revolving restaurant that makes a full revolution every 35 minutes . We arrived just when it was to close at 2.30pm but managed to get in and have lunch and enjoyed the panoramic view until 4.00pm. Did not realize that Tony & family were nearby visiting CNN and Coca-Cola at that time.

Called Irene tonight to wish her happy birthday.

7/6/04 (Monday)
Today is our last day in Duluth. This afternoon we will be flying to Newark. At 1.30pm Julian and Winnie drove us to the airport where we met up with Tony and family. Our flight on CA1150 is at 3.15pm which was delayed to 4.00pm. It took off at 4.13pm in a drizzle. We landed at Newark at 6.15pm and boarded Tony's stationwagon to his house at Franko Ave that we're visiting for the first time. Because the Honda stationwagon was parked very far away in an economy carpark we had to board a shuttle. Tony parked there because it only costs $10 a day. On the way back we stopped by the Dragon Pearl Island Chinese Restaurant for dinner.

8/6/04 (Tuesday)
Last night when we arrived, Anthony excitedly introduced me to his cockatoo, Kenny, who lives in a cage in the family living room. This morning at 8.30am he has taken the schoolbus to school and will return after 3.00pm. When the week is over he will start a 2 months summer break. Anthony is a lovable kid who enjoys talking about things, like his dad. He was very gracious to give up his personal room to Christine and stay with his parents. The master room has a huge extended closet that can accommodate a double bed which Ai King sleeps in when the son joins them. The house had lots of things but not too neatly arranged.

The weather this morning is bright and clear. The house is filled with conversations and the squawking of Kenny. The whiff of breakfast fills the air. Ai King is a great cook and we are certain to enjoy our leisurely stay for the next 7 days.

9/6/04 (Wednesday)
10/6/04 (Thursday)
11/6/04 (Friday)
Did 30 mins workout on the treadmill and watched the funeral service of President Reagan (who passed away on June 5) at the National Cathedral in Washington DC and the departure from the Andrew AFB in Maryland for California where he will be buried in the Simi Valley.

After dinner Christine bought me a Timex heart rate monitor from the Sports Authority as my Father's Day gift.

12/6/04 (Saturday)
Tony took us into NYC to deliver shoji frames and then to Flushing for lunch and meet Lawrence Drucker, a customer, at Wendy Restaurant on 69th St, Northern Blvd. It was a good and long meeting which ended about 7pm. Next we drove into Canal St of Chinatown where we stopped to see the site of the former WTC and took pictures. Finally we had a sumptuous dinner at Tong Yan Guy.

13/6/04 (Sunday)
After late breakfast we left at 11am for NYC for a day trip. Our first stop was the United Nations where we did some photo-shooting outside before heading to Broadway where we walked about among the throng of tourists. Then we visited the American Museum of Natural History and enjoyed a 20mins display of inter-galactic travel in the Hayden Planetarium. After a snack of MacDonald's apple pie and nuggets we again drove around Manhattan before ending in Chinatown.

14/6/04 (Monday)
Anthony has just left for school when we woke up. Tomorrow we will wake early to see him off and say goodbye. I don't think we'll be going out today. Tonight we adjourned to the basement after dinner for a round of karaoke till midnight.

15/6/04 (Tuesday)
Today is our last day in the States. We'll be flying home at 12.35pm. Saw Anthony off to school. At 9.10am we all took Tony's Honda to the airport after taking some photos in front of the house. We arrived at terminal B in 30 mins. Checking in was a breeze. We have to pay $3 airport tax per person. As the boarding time of 11.50am is still sometime away, we have some coffee and chatted.

Flight MH91L took off in clear blue skies at 12.48pm. It was smooth but I was hungry so ate a bar of trail mix while waiting for lunch to be served. Flight time to Dubai is 12 hours. We expect to land around 9am local time for the stopover.

Flying eastward, we are speeding into the sunset. Some 5 hours from takeoff we headed into night somewhere over the southern Scandinavia at the height of 37-38,000 ft. The outside temperature was -40C. I was seated in 19J window seat with WH next to me and Christine on the aisle. As I write we are over the Baltic Sea and 5 1/2 hours away from Dubai, UAE. It is 7.30pm now in NJ and I think Tony and family are just about to have dinner. Back in Malaysia it is 7.30am on June 16. Irene and SK is about to wake up for work this Wednesday morning. I wonder if they are in their PJ house or in Seremban. Tonight they'll be driving my Camry to the airport. Time to switch my watch to Malaysian time for the following entries.

16/6/04 (Wednesday)
8.00am. We have been flying for 7 hours. I have slept sporadically and watched the movie, Twisted, starring Ashley Judd and Andy Garcia. Passengers are stirring and moving about. The flight so far has been smooth apart from an occasional turbulence. I am feeling good except for some irritating coughs. My back is ok. I think flying to USA via Dubai is a sensible choice with MAS my preferred airline because of its service as well as suitable menus. Also I've enrolled in its Enrich frequent flyer program so I should be supporting it.

2004 USA Holiday 1 (Julian and Winnie's Wedding)

Julian and Winnie plan to be married on June 5, a Saturday, in Atlanta. Wai Har and I, together with Christine, will be flying there for the special occasion. To make the trip more productive, we also plan to visit Tony in his new house in Piscataway, NJ. He has moved into the new house in December 2002 with John, Ai King and Anthony. Tony said that he will drive us to some nice spots for a holiday.

On February 14, 2004, at the MAS Travel Fair at Mid-Valley, we fought a huge crowd and managed to buy 3 economy class roundtrip flight tickets to Newark costing RM1548 + RM227 airport tax or in total RM1775 per person. We bought the tickets through Boustead Travel Service. At the same fair, Irene and SK also bought their honeymoon package to South Island, New Zealand, from Udara Travel, an agent for Air New Zealand. They will be flying on March 25.

Our US flight will fly at 10.45pm on May 31. It will fly westward to Newark with a stopover at Dubai. The flight is scheduled to land at Newark Liberty International Airport at 9.20am on June 1. We will be returning to Malaysia on June 15, leaving NLIA at 12.35pm via Dubai again to land KLIA at 10.00pm on June 16, local time.

31/5/04 (Monday)
Stanley drove us to the airport and Irene and SK came all the way from Petaling Jaya to see us off. The weather was good when we left at 10.58pm. MAS offered a good choice of snacks, supper and dinner with equally good service. I was in great mood for this trip. With Christine around WH has better company. They sat together in the window seats while I took the aisle seat next to an Indian national on his way also to Newark.

1/6/04 (Tuesday)
We landed at 1.18am (5.18am M'sia) at Dubai on transit. Outside temp 27C. Dubai International Airport is very modern. Saw many people, local and foreign. Brightly lit. Took some pictures and video. Security check tight upon re-entry to transit lounge. Had my carry-on luggage opened and checked item by item. My ppc triggers the sensor and WH's shoes also. DIA impresses me with its high tech features like Internet stations.

The onward flight to Newark supposed to start at 3.10am with a new set of flight crews was delayed to 3.40am. The duration will be 13 hours 10 mins with Newark arrival at 9.10am. For the KL-Dubai sector I managed to grab 2-3 hours sleep. My neighbor snores, so does another oversized passenger a few seats behind. I was not able to use the ppc much except for journalizing this trip.

Flying to the States is always dreaded for its duration. Fortunately we had the 2 hours break at Dubai to stretch. For the Dubai-Newark sector there's not much to do but watch movies on the personal screen before me, or listen to the music, or nap away the time. From Dubai we fly northward to Iran and Turkey before swinging into Finland, Sweden, Greenland and N.Canada. When we left KLIA it was a straight line flight north-westerly passing India and the Arabian Seas.

6.20pm M'sian time, June 1. We are under 3 hours from Newark. The flight has been smooth and uneventful. I either nap or watch movies. The seat is comfortable.

We landed at Newark at 9.09am. Weather was cloudy with 14C outdoor temp. After clearing immigration and customs, we re-checked the big luggages into Atlanta. Then boarded the airtrain to terminal A where Continental Air is located. Called Julian to let him know we've arrived. Printed out the e-boarding passes and bought two cinnamon buns to eat. Very sweet. Waited for our flight at 1.45pm.

Flight CO1161 left at 1.50pm and landed at 4.15pm. I slept most of the 2+ hours flight as it was past midnight Malaysian time. Took the airtrain to the baggage claim which is very far off. Checked out our luggages and waited outside for Julian. He arrived just when we exited. Julian drove his 'new' Honda Accord V6, 1999 model, silver colored, he bought 2nd hand for 12,500 against a market value of 14,000.

2/6/04 (Wednesday)
I slept very well last night but woke up 4 times to go to the bathroom. I also had a cramp in my left calf but it eased off later. We took sandwiches for breakfast and chatted with Julian and Winnie before they went to work separately. I took some outdoor pictures and later checked my emails. The morning weather was hazy turning to sunny by 11am.

The entire neighborhood is very quiet. Hardly see anyone out. Perhaps because of the mist this morning I did not see anyone taking a morning walk. The garbage truck must have come around noon to clear the purple-colored bags and the recyclable items placed in a plastic bin. The purple bags are the only bags allowed. The cost of purchase goes to support the service.

3/6/04 (Thursday)
The weather today is bright and sunny. Helped Julian pot plants for decorating the wedding venue. After bath WH and I followed him to Walmart, fetch Jason and then to Gingiss to try out the tuxedos. I bought a stepdown voltage converter from RadioShack, Perimeter Mall.

4/6/04 (Friday)
Tony and family drove over from their hotel to visit at 10am. They added 'life' to the quiet house, especially with Anthony around. They stayed for lunch, ordering Domino's pizza delivered. Originally I had hoped we can spend today sightseeing Atlanta but with the late wedding rush it is not possible.

At 5.30pm we all left for Polo Golf Club for the wedding rehearsal followed by dinner at Dominik's Little Italy Restaurant. After that we followed Tony to the Holiday Inn Express on Windward Parkway in Alpharetta on Windward Parkway to overnight.

5/6/04 (Saturday)
Today is Julian and Winnie's wedding day and we pray for a great weather, perhaps with less sun when the service begins at 6.00pm. Yesterday the sun was quite glaring which is not good for photography.

We joined Tony and family for breakfast at the lobby. HIE is a very small hotel but the rooms are clean and comfortable. The rate is very reasonable at $45 per night which ups to $50+ inclusive taxes.

At 12.30pm the bridal car, a Jaguar arrived and Anthony opened the door. Following are two other cars with Alan, Brian, Fui Chin and Christine. Phan drove the Jaguar. WH and I waited in 312. Winnie was dressed in red Chinese gown and Julian in black suit. The ceremony in the room was full of love. Julian knelt before us but we asked him to stand. Another of Julian's friend, Tuck, who just flew in from Norman, also witnessed the ceremony. Alan helped take the pictures while Christine video record the event. Fui Chin prepared and served the longan-red date tea. She was also responsible for decorating the bridal car.

At 5.00pm Tony drove us to the Polo Club. We were all dressed in our best. Christine was with Winnie and would travel there in the bridal car. The wedding service started late at 6.30 pm which was better as the weather was sunny. The wedding vows were exchanged at 6.50pm. We had a photo session outdoor before we joined the guests for cocktail. I paid $5 for a shot of Jim Beam whiskey with Sprite.

Dinner was buffet style and began at 8.00pm with the main table given the first right to the food table. The food, which tasted good, has a choice of western and chinese entrée. Champagne was also served. The wedding reception was very western. However, the black DJ was not very good. Firstly, the lapel mike on pastor Tom did not work during the wedding service. Secondly, his announced Christine as Marina Pang whom she replaces and later when corrected announced her as Christina Yew.

We sat on the main table with Julian and Winnie, her mom, her grandma and auntie, both from Hong Kong. Altogether the number of guests was 90. Dinner ended at 10pm. There was a sending off of the couple using bubbles instead of confetti or rice.

2004 Irene and SK's Wedding

Unlike Christine's wedding in December 1999, which was hosted by the parents and simpler to organize, Irene's wedding required more detail preparation because she wants it to be an occasion to be remembered. I don't want to deny her the memory of a nice wedding in a hotel and with grandeur better than her sister's. Since she announced that she wants to be married to SK around beginning of 2003, they have begun planning the event with much enthusiasm. They wanted to be the main host so I agreed. I help take off the greater load and both Wai Har and I will be providing assistance where needed.

The preparation brought out the best and the worst in Irene, revealing her organizing skills as well as her temper. Overall, I must say that she has matured tremendously through this period that she take charge of her life. SK for the better part let her make the major decisions and that sometimes upset her as she wanted a clear mandate from the man she would be marrying. Perhaps SK got this character from his upbringing, a trait that can serve him well as well as prove his failing when it comes to making crucial corporate decisions.

During the one year I see the couple spending much time working out on the venue, menu, choice of wedding studio, gowns, tuxedo, rings, helpers, church program, dinner program, wedding invitations, logistic. At the same time they have to go through marriage counseling classes with the pastor of Agape, Benjamin Yeoh. All these while she has to plan for her MBA studies and carry on her normal work in office. It was indeed a stressful one year but it did not undo her or the relationship. Through it all we regularly pray to God for sustenance, blessing and wisdom. Indeed, He was behind them through the preparation as we see the big even unfurled before us.

I am writing this on February 23, 5 days before the actual wedding date on 28.2.2004. At this moment, the wedding day program has been fixed, the guest lists done and the Allson Klana full briefed on the details of the wedding dinner program. Relatives have indicated their accommodation and rooms have been booked at Allson. All that's left to be done is stay calm and have plenty of rest in the run up to the big day.

It is indeed a real blessing that my father-in-law and his maid, Rowiyah, came over from Melaka to stay from Sunday, February 22 until the wedding day. During this week, Rowiyah will be able to help Wai Har in cleaning up the house and help in food preparation. She is really adapted in many things having worked with the Chan family for more than 6 years. In fact, during Fond Nee's wedding, she helped in the tea serving ceremony.

Irene and SK were married in the Agape Church, Seremban followed by hawker style lunch in the church compound. Later in the evening a formal wedding dinner was held at the Allson Klana grand ballroom. The dinner was jointly hosted by both families.

2003 Guilin Holiday 4

Day 6 – 18th December 2003 (Thursday) Xing’an – Merryland Theme Park
Morning call at 7.30am and at 9.00am we assembled at the lobby to get instructions from Gan on how to enter the Theme Park and use the facilities. This morning my lower back starts to ache a bit. Could it be due to the accumulated physical activities of the past 2 days? Anyway, we took a very leisurely walk around the Park. The weather was very cold. In spite of my winter wear and gloves and long john I still feel cold. At 12.30pm we got back to the Hotel for lunch. In the afternoon I decided to rest my back in the room, applying my yoko. Wai Har joined the Sits and others to see the rest of the Park. She got back at 4.00pm and said we saw most of it in the morning.

The Theme Park was nowhere near the standard of Disneyland or other American theme parks. We took joyrides, roller coaster ride and merry-go-round and watch the Allisan dance show. The Merryland is a Taiwanese owned business.

My diarrhea eased after taking immodium.

Day 7 – 19th December 2003 (Friday) Xing’an - Guilin
At 8.30qm we checked out of Merryland to return to Guilin. This is our 2nd last day of the holiday. We are starting to know more of our fellow travelers. Thus far everybody has been very punctual and nobody has been difficult to each other or to the tour guides. We did not rotate seats. Wai Har and I were seated on the 4th row on the right, which is fine for us. Seated in front of us were Mrs. Lai and friend and, behind us, the older Tan and wife. During mealtimes we always join the Tans and Yongs to make up the full table.

When we got into Guilin we had lunch and then visited the Fubo Garden and climbed to the top to take pictures of Guilin and her surroundings. We also visited the Elephant Hill, symbolic of Guilin and here we gathered for a group photo for remembrance. In between Gan took us to the Bao Soo Tang and another medicinal hall before we checked into the Lijiang Waterfall Hotel, the best premier 5 star hotel in Guilin and surpassing the Merryland. This would be our last night stay in Guilin.

Tonight, the optional tour continues for those who paid. At dinner each of us paid Eric 90 renminbi for the airport tax and he returned us our passports that he has kept for us the past 6 days. We rested after dinner and at 8.15pm gathered with the other tourists at the back of the hotel to watch the 10 minutes display of the world’s largest artificial waterfall. At 8.30pm sharp, to the sound of music, a torrent of water sprayed over the roof of the hotel down the glassed façade creating a magical display of rushing water. I took pictures to remember it. After the show we strolled about the shopping mall next to the hotel, just Wai Har and I as the Sits wanted to rest. We bought a pack of fong luk to eat and later 2 sets of VCDs. Watched TV in the room before we sleep.

Day 8 – 20th December 2003 (Saturday) Guilin – Kuala Lumpur
After breakfast at 7.45am, the paid members went to visit the emperor’s tomb while the rest of us did our own things. The Sits and us took a walk to the lake park opposite the hotel to enjoy the view and chatted. It was a very leisurely time since we only have to check out at 11am. After that we walked to the shopping area we did not check out last night. Met the Ongs who suggested we try the underground shopping centre behind the hotel. We did and. Although the shops were just starting to open again, we bought a rigid trolley bag that is small enough to carry on. It cost is 70 renminbi after bargaining from 160. Since I only had 66 renminbi left we eventually paid the rest with RM2 more to close the deal.

On the way to the airport we had lunch and also stopped by a hawker centre to do last minute shopping. I changed RM11 into renminbi to buy some sweets and kamkat. Just before the airport we stopped at a silk outlet but did not buy anything.

MH8849 left at 4.35pm and arrive at KLIA 4 hours later. Upon arrival we bought 2 bottles of duty-free Benedictine DOM at RM86 each and checked out without any trouble. We helped to see that the Sits got to get their luggage correctly.

Overall Impression of Guilin Holiday
1. Winter travel though nice is less scenic, river level low.
2. Less crowded than in summer or spring, less waiting and delays.
3. Did not expect climbing.
4. Not much travel content, maybe Guilin cannot offer more.
5. Get to see more local customs and real China than in Beijing and Shanghai.
6. Food quality satisfactory but not as good as Shanghai
7. Enjoyed the leisure and the shorter traveling time between points.

2003 Guilin Holiday 3

Day 4 – 16th December 2003 (Tuesday) - Yangshuo - Longsheng
I woke up feeling better and since I missed the viewing of Yangshuo last night I went out before breakfast with Wai Har to take some pictures. What I missed was the busy night scenes.

After breakfast we headed north to Longsheng, passing Guilin where we picked up Mr. and Mrs. Ong from the hotel. We had farm-style tribal lunch in Longsheng and learn to reply ‘lou sot’ after the waitresses sing us their welcome song. Our local guide, a very pretty and sweet girl called Miss Luo, accompanied us from the moment we arrive in Longsheng and shared with us the local customs.

After lunch the bus took us to climb a hill to see the Dragon Back Terrace Field. To access the climb, we have to split into two groups in smaller buses and then take the climb along rocky steps. Many chair lift carriers offered to carry us up but Wai Har and I declined, wanting to take the challenge ourselves, having done the same for the Great Wall last year. However, the Sits are too old to climb so they took the ride, costing each of them 50 renminbi for the two way ride. As Mr. Sit is overweight, the two carriers had a bad deal and had to stop several times to rest. The walk up took 45 minutes and downward 35 minutes. As the weather was good and sunny, we could get a good view of the terrace field, the efforts of hundreds of years of hill cultivation by the tribes. The peak of the hill we climbed is almost 900 meters above sea level. On the way down I had a nice chat with Eric. Both Wai Har and I find Eric to be a very nice person and tour manager with good PR and personality.

The climbs made us all very tired. Mrs. Ong who could not stand height, gave up half way. On our way to our overnight hotel, the Longsheng Hot Spring Hotel, we stopped briefly by a suspension bridge to get a feel of how people living in the hills use such bridges to cross the rivers. We arrived at the Hot Spring at 7.00pm and it was dark. In Guilin at this time, it is dark by 6.00pm.

After dinner at 7.15pm we were offered to rest and take a bath at the hot spring pool outdoor but we must be wearing swimsuits. It was a blessing that we did not have swimsuits as even taking a hot spring water bath inside our room leave us shivering in this cold and chilly mountain region. Originally we wanted to take a walk outside to check the night stalls some 200 meters away but decided to stay in our pajamas watching TV instead. Later we found that the stalls did not have much to offer except exotic meat like rat and wild creatures.

The Hot Spring Hotel has the poorest facilities of all the hotels we have stayed so far but Gan has forewarned us not to expect too much being a rural 3 star hotel. The air-conditioner could not be set to warm and room service was nil. Tonight I begin to suffer from diarrhea again but no fever as I was taking Panadol to stem any fever.

Day 5 – 17th December 2003 (Wednesday) - Longsheng – Ziyuan – Xing’an
Morning call was at 7.00am with 45 minutes to breakfast and another 45 minutes to check out for our drive to Ziyuan. Miss Luo said goodbye to us just outside the Hot Spring Hotel, waving as we go. Today we head towards Ziyuan, about 100 km east of the hotel. At Ziyuan we took early lunch and then changed bus to go up the hills to see the Baoding Waterfall. The windy roads pass through small villages but the driver skillfully navigated every curve confidently. As there are two buses we have a local guide in each. Ours is a young and handsome looking male guide whom Miss Cheok took an ‘interest’ in.

The Baoding Waterfall is very small in comparison to the Niagara Falls, maybe 50 times smaller. To reach the waterfall we have to take a ferry there along the lake which is also very shallow. After spending less than 10 minutes there taking pictures we retracted and took the bus to the Baihui Valley in the same area. To get there we also have to sit in a ferry that sits only 20 passengers a time, so our group has to split into two rides. We got into the first group and arrived there first. My diarrhea is upsetting me and I had to go every 2/3 hours. At the Baihui Valley I had to go and found privacy in a clean and quiet public toilet. The Baihui Valley reminds me of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies but a pale shade by comparison. At the Baihui Valley we walked a little distance to the hills but did not proceed as it was lonely. However, Ms. Cheok and Alwin Wu and some others did try to go to the top and they delayed our departure to the hotel in Xing’an. While waiting I managed to chat with Ong and know more about him and family. He has two daughters, one graduating from Brisbane soon while the second is studying locally. Overall impression of both the Baoding and Baihui visits is that they fill up our time with nothing really worthwhile to see.

At 7.30pm we arrived at the Merryland Resort Hotel where we will spend two nights. We had steamboat dinner tonight. The Merryland is the best we have stayed so far but it is rather quiet and not well occupied.

My diarrhea did not subside. Maybe it is due to the ginger drink they serve at mealtimes.

2003 Guilin Holiday 2

Day 2 – 14th December 2003 (Sunday) - Guilin
After our morning call at 7.00am, we went for breakfast a 7.45am before beginning our first local tour of the 7 Star Park in Guilin. The park is located on the west bank of the Li Jiang River. The 7 stars represent the seven mountains around the park and the seven mountains apparently are arranged like the 7 stars of the Big Dipper in the constellations.

On the way to lunch Gan started putting the idea of the optional tours to us. The package consists of 5 tours: cultural show, emperor tomb visit, night drive along Li Jiang, watching cormorant catching fish and seeing the largest artificial waterfall. I was shocked when he said that it would cost 250 renminbi per adult. Since we only have 520 renminbi, it would leave us with nothing if we go. However, the main reason we decided not to go is the poor value for money since we would not miss anything if we did not go. True enough we did not miss anything after analyzing the individual items. Later we discovered that besides ourselves, the Sits and the Goh family also decided to miss it.

At lunch we told Gan our decision. I think he was not too happy as he would not be able to earn commission from us through these optional tours.

After lunch we visited the Crown Cave along the Li Jiang. The Cave is created through thousand of years of erosion of the limestone inside. In order to access the cave we have to take the electric rail car ride from a station. Each car can sit two passengers front and back and has a lever to adjust the forward speed and braking. I asked Wai Har to ‘drive’ the car. It was fun as we move in tandem towards the cave.

Inside the cave we were guided through 3 levels, walking along lighted pathways or taking a train or sitting inside a boat. We also took an elevator ride to the top of the cave to view the grandeur of its beauty. It was a long walk but not tiring as the temperature and humidity were very comfortable. To the Sits and a few other senior members, the walk was tiring. I commented to Eric that future package tours should be ranked according to degree of physical exertions and he thought it was a good idea to put forward.

After dinner, while the 30 members went for their first optional tour of the cultural show, the Sits and we took a walk to another area near the hotel before returning to rest and sleep.

Day 3 – 15th December 2003 (Monday) - Guilin - Yangshuo
We checked out of Zhonglu Hotel and drove south to Yangshuo after breakfast to visit the Yingzi Cave. On the way we visited the Shangri-La of Guilin, a place habited by the tribal people along the riverbank. There, we observed the tribal wedding rituals and drink their welcome wine and see how they weave and produce handicrafts to earn a living. We took a river ride to see how the indigenous people live in peaceful surroundings.

We had lunch at a restaurant near the Yingzi Cave. During lunch I felt a little off so I know I am going to get sick and quickly took some Panadol. After lunch I went out to the small park to enjoy the cool weather, wind and scenery. An old woman came over with her grandson and a plastic bag of empty bottles. Later I realized that she was picking empty bottles for sale, each bottle would earn her 2 cents, or 50 bottles to 1 renminbi. It was a hard life for the old people who have no welfare support. Nearby I spotted an orchard with some persimmons trees.

The Yingzi Cave is like the Crown Cave but without the rides. The guide was telling us the various resemblances of the rock and limestone formations to animals and other imaginations.

From the Yingzi cave, the driver, Mr. Yeang, took us south to Lipu to take the cruise of the Li Jiang. While we were almost there, one of the rear tires punctured and he has to drive slowly towards the ferry point. He dropped us in the nearby village and we walked the back lane to where we boarded a ferry.

The ferry condition was poor without any safety features. Also at this time of the year, Li Jiang is very dry and there is not much scenery to see. Along part of the way, the bottom of the ferry actually scraped the riverbed and a helper has to use a long bamboo to push the ferry out of the situation. The host of the ferry, a lady offered us local mandarin and pomeloes. The mandarin tasted OK but the pomeloes not as good as our Tambun pomeloes.

After the cruise we boarded the bus, with the tire repaired, for our overnight stay hotel, the Yangshuo Paradise Hotel. Since this and the next hotel do not have a lift, we were told to pack our things in a lighter bag for easier carriage.

Yangshuo is in the hilly area so the night temperature is colder than Guilin city. Also since I was starting to feel unwell I opted not to go for night shopping just outside the Paradise on the Westerner Street (Western Street, so named as the white tourists love to come here during summer). I went to bed after dinner after taking Panadol and Actifed and slept right through the next morning. Wai Har went out with Mrs. Sit and bought a few souvenirs.

During the night I started to have diarrhea which I thought was better than having constipation during a tour. We brought along both type of medicine in case we need it. The diarrhea could have been caused by the fruits we ate or the type of food was not suited to our stomach. In fact Mr. Ong was the first to get this on day 2, causing him to miss the trip to Yangshuo. So he and his wife stayed back in Guilin.

2003 Guilin Holiday 1

The 8D/7N Guilin Holiday package for Wai Har and I was signed up on October 19, 2003 during the MATTA Travel Fair in PWTC. I was attracted by the package because of the Mastercard promotion as well as the fact that it was offered by Reliance. Although slightly pricey at RM1999 each before other costs, we took it as we missed the planned holiday in June to Sydney and Melbourne with Mansfield Travel, canceled due to the SARS scare in March this year.

The total net cost per person, including KLIA airport tax, visa fee and tips, less fair promotion and discounts, is RM2151. Adding the RM45 (90 renminbi Guilin airport tax), the net cost per person comes to RM2196. I also bought travel insurance for both of us costing RM85 before we fly.

For incidental expenses I bought 400 renminbi from a money changer in Sungei Wang Plaza at an exchange rate of RM46.60 per 100 renminbi. Add to the about 120 renminbi left over from our previous travels, we brought the 520 renminbi and USD120 along. We never intend to spend much on souvenirs or optional tours anyway.

Guilin was chosen as our 3rd China holiday destination after Shanghai and Beijing for her reputed scenic beauty. The fact that this will be a winter travel did not deter me as I expect to see her beauty from the winter perspective. Also I have to use up this holiday slot as next year we may have other plans after Mei and SK is married. Also my health may not allow me to travel much after this as my degenerative spondylosis condition has spread to my lower spine.

Day 1 – 13th December 2003 (Saturday)- Seremban – KLIA – Guilin
We packed our clothing into the red trolley bag we bought from the Silk Street market in Beijing last year and the black trolley bag that has traveled faithfully with us for a few years. We also brought along both Reliance black travel bags as well as a GTT travel bag which Wai Har found more useful.

The taxi driver, Michael, husband of Wai Har’s colleague came at 8.15am to take us to KLIA. Eric Choong, our tour manager from Reliance, has asked that we be at the MAS group check-in counter at 9.00am.

Our Reliance group consists of 40 travelers excluding Eric. Over the holiday I identified them as follows:

Tan Families from Klang – 5 (including the younger Tan’s son, Wei Jian, who resembled Julian when he was young)
Yong Family (friend of Tan) – 3 (including their 8 year old son who got along very well with Wei Jian)
Phoon & friends (Ipoh) – 6 (a little aloof and keep to themselves type)
Goh Family and friends – 6 (photography enthusiast and a nice fella. Mrs, Goh offered flu medicine to me on day 4)
Wu Family – 6 (wealthy type and with a spoilt kid, Justin)
Lau Family – 4 (with two lovely daughters, Camy and Caryn. Lau works for Motorola PJ)
Ong and wife – 2 (wife is Taiwanese and owns a house in RK6 but stays in PJ. Ong works for Reliance as marketing manager)
Sit and wife – 2 (hardware dealer, senior citizens)
Cheok & mother – 2 (Wai Har’s first contact at the check-in area in KLIA).
Lai and friend – 2 (keep to themselves but appear rich. Friendly)
Wai Har and I – 2 (poor spenders compared to the others)

Flight MH8848 is a direct chartered flight to Guilin which we boarded from the main terminal building. The passengers are all travelers from different travel agencies. We took off at 11.30am and landed at Guilin airport 4 hours later. Wai Har almost did not get a seat. Later it was discovered that her seat number was wrongly written as 11F (non-existent) while it should be 11E. I was put in seat 14F right behind the emergency wing exit so I had full legroom. I was seated next to Mr. Sit but I did not know then that he and his wife would be close to us throughout the tour. Guilin is in the same time zone as Malaysia so we need not have to reset our watches.

We were met at the airport by Mr. Gan, our local tour guide for the next 7 days. Gan is a slightly big size man with fair complexion and bald. He wears either a cap or hat throughout the tour. We were driven into Guilin city, a small size town by comparison with Shanghai and Beijing as her population is around 400,000 only. Nevertheless, she is better developed than Seremban and in some ways better than Kuala Lumpur. After early dinner at the Gui Xing Hotel restaurant, we were driven to the Zhonglu Hotel where we will stay for 2 nights. This is ranked a 3 star hotel. After our bath we went out for a walk to the busy shopping area nearby. Joining us were the Cheoks and the Sits. Since most of the other tour members are families, we quickly form our own little group. The Sits, being elderly at 71 years old, quickly stick to us for companionship and we helped them throughout the holiday, even snapping photos for them as the did not have a camera. Eric also grouped us in adjoining hotel rooms wherever we move. The Cheoks are more mobile and move to other groups as the need arise. Ms. Cheok, in particular, is very sociable and talkative. On our first night we saw the night life in Guilin. People love to come out a night to socialize and to shop. We saw street performances but feeling cold from the night winds, we entered the Wei Siau Tang (Smiling Hall), a shopping mall, and did window shopping. Mrs. Sit nearly hurt herself when she slipped and fall on a sloppy walk.

I was glad to have brought along the NorthFace winter jacket I bought from Beijing. I did not expect the winter to be as cold since the forecast for the period was 12-16ºC in the daylight and 1-3ºC a night. Maybe I misjudged the night temperature.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

2002 Canada/US Holiday 6

Day 14 – 13th September 2002 (Friday) - Atlanta – Asheville, NC
Today Julian took leave from work and is taking both of us north to Asheville in North Carolina for a weekend break. We will be returning on Sunday evening. Winnie is unable to join us. For the trip, Julian rented a car, a Ford Escort SE from Hertz. In the morning, Winnie came over and followed Julian in her car to the workshop where Julian’s Accord will be serviced over the weekend. Later, she’ll send Julian to Hertz to pick up the Escort, white color and around a year old. Julian said that most rental companies, especially the reputable ones like Hertz, sell off their cars after 2 years of use. The cost of rental is USD63 over 3 days with a full tank of gas, which has to be topped up upon the return of the car. I work out this to be a very profitable business, even at 50% rental rate since the cost of the car is about USD14,000 and resale at the end of 2 years around USD8,000 or more.

We left at about 11.30am. The weather forecast for the day and the weekend is for a wet time and I just hope and pray that we will still manage to see something. Julian drove and I sat next to him, helping to navigate. Wai Har was in the back seat. It drizzled all the way as we drove along I85 towards Greenville in S. Carolina and then toward Spartanburg before heading northward on I26 toward N. Carolina. Soon after we crossed the state border we stopped by the Visitor Center and picked up some maps and brochures. It was still drizzling. We then headed northwestward, passing Hendersonville, to Asheville, arriving at 3pm and we checked into the Days Inn near Asheville Mall. The cost of staying in a room with 2 double bed is about USD60 per night, tax and buffet breakfast included. We’ll be staying tonight and tomorrow night. The room condition is fair. After the excellent hotels we stayed in Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies, this was no comparison. The long bath outlet, unfortunately, was slightly clogged.

After a rest in the room we left at 6pm for Biltmore Village to check out what is there to see. I made a few mistakes navigating and Julian overshot thrice. We finally get into the village, which is rather small and not as quaint and pretty as Eureka Springs. Furthermore, as it was past 6pm, all the shops has closed. We walked around a bit and sat on a bench to chat before leave for the motel. On the way back we stopped by Asheville Mall but found its offerings rather limited although the mall is pretty and friendly. Since we did not stop for lunch nor had a picnic because of the drizzle, we were rather hungry, especially Julian, who is not used to going without lunch. We decided to have dinner at IHOP (stands for International House of Pancakes, Julian said). The meals cost us USD26+ and I added tips (typically between 10-15%) rounding up to USD30 for the waiter, Barry, a black American.

Day 15 – 14th September 2002 (Saturday) - Asheville
Julian set his Nokia to beep at 8.30am to wake us all up. At 9.30am we went down for our buffet breakfast. There were quite a number of American guest, we seemed to be the only Chinese there. The breakfast was average, comprising the usual stuff to be found in an American style breakfast. An hour later we left for Biltmore Estate near the Biltmore Village. Although rain stopped in the morning, it started again when we reached the Estate. Arriving at the entrance and ticket center, I bought 3 adult tickets costing USD34 each after we watched a preview video. Our first visit was to Biltmore House, the main highlight of Biltmore Estate. The house with 250 rooms is touted as America’s largest home. Built in 1890s by George Washington Vanderbilt, this house has 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces covering 4 acres of floor space. Mr. Vanderbilt, who has no sons but an only daughter, Cornelia, eventually left the property to the present owner, William Cecil, the second grandson who is 74 years old. The property is privately managed and maintained from private funds and entrance fees collected.

We took our time, as it was drizzling outside, to follow the guide map to see every room opened for public viewing on 3 floors and the basement. In between we rested in the balcony area and took pictures of the vast estate and the balcony area, as photography indoor was prohibited.

Although the Biltmore House is huge and magnificent, it cannot compare with the Scone Palace outside of Perth, near Kirkcaldy in Scotland. There we spent 54 pounds for the 5 of us.

Day 16 – 15th September 2002 (Sunday) - Asheville – Atlanta
Our plan today is to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from the exit point on Tunnel Road north-westward towards the end point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, take a break at Cherokee for lunch before heading back to Atlanta. Throughout the drive, the beauty of the mountains was shrouded by fog and drizzle, along certain stretched the fog cast an eerie and ghostly feeling. We traversed several tunnels with strange names, like Devils Courthouse, which probably took root from the Cherokee and other tribal traditions. We managed to stop by the French Broad Overlook and Raven Fork Overlook when the fog and drizzle cleared somewhat to snap some scenic views. When we reached the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we went to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center as well as visited the Mountain Farm Museum and the Raven Fork River nearby. At the Visitor Center I bought 2 souvenir books on the Parkway and the National Park while Julian bought a few postcards.
After MacDonald lunch in Cherokee we drove down the hills along I441/23 towards Gainsville. It was a drizzly and slightly windy drive, not as windy as along the Blue Ridge earlier this morning. We got into Atlanta about 5.30pm.

Day 17 – 16th September 2002 (Monday) - Atlanta
Winnie came around 9.15am to pick up Julian to send him to Hertz to return the car as well as to the workshop to pick up his Honda. Both Wai Har and I stayed indoor to catch up on things as well as update my diary. The weather outside has cleared and the sun is out. How I hope this was the case yesterday instead!

Day 18 – 17th September 2002 (Tuesday) - Atlanta
The environment here is so quiet and the atmosphere so pleasant that it is easy to sleep a lot and I hardly sweat, which explains why I go to the toilet at least twice each night here.

Day 19 – 18th September 2002 (Wednesday) - Atlanta
Today we are invited by Winnie's family to a dinner at the Royal China Restaurant in Chamblee (intersection of Buford Hwy and Chamblee-Dunwoody Hwy) next to the Chinatown area. It was a sumptuous 8-course seafood dinner including oyster and red lobster.

Day 20 – 19th September 2002 (Thursday) - Atlanta
Wai Har and I took a 40 minutes stroll around the neighborhood, our very first try since arriving here 12 days ago. It was very quiet, the only living thing we saw was an occasional car and a squirrel. We first walked up towards Jimmy Carter Blvd, turned back and took the other roads around the house, taking notes of the gardens and cars. This neighborhood is not as high in standard of living as Willbrooke’s.

Day 21 – 20th September 2002 (Friday) - Atlanta
This is our second last day here in Atlanta. Tonight we spent the night chatting with Julian right till past 2am when we slept. Wai Har’s right knee aches from varicose vein problem.

Day 22 – 21st September 2002 (Saturday) - Atlanta – Denver – Vancouver
At 2.20pm Julian sent us to the airport. We arrived 40 minutes later and after checking in, we spent the next hour and half chatting. At 4.30pm we said goodbye and proceeded to the security checkpoint. My camera bag was subjected to critical search and we have to remove our shoes too. I was glad for the search as it assures us of a safe flight. Our flight today on UA1691 using an Airbus 320 from Atlanta to Denver is at 5.35pm. We were seated on 13E, F (window seats). There were less than 30 passengers. For a weekend, this is pretty bad, and suggested the fear Americans have on air travel. Airline companies are struggling from this poor business.

Although no meals are served on this flight, we were served generous amount of free drinks and savory snacks. After 2 hour 40 minutes in the air in good weather condition we arrived Denver and set the watch 2 hours earlier to the Mountain Time. At the Denver International Airport, while waiting for our connection flight, we called Julian at 7.00pm to let him know that we’ve arrived and also have MacDonald burgers for dinner. From Denver we flew onward to Vancouver on UA1043 at 8.05pm local time (10.05pm Atlanta time) to arrive Vancouver at 9.55pm local time. Flight occupancy was even poorer than UA1691. I counted less than 20 passengers on board. We chose seats that allow us to stretch and napped on this 2½ hours flight. Our connection to CX889 back to Hong Kong will be at 2.55am the next morning, so we will have about 5 hours to wait, which we did in the transit lounge after clearing Canadian immigrations and exiting the customs to check in at the CX counters. They were not opened this early so we waited.

Day 23 – 22nd September 2002 (Sunday) - In-Flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong
After checking in at the Cathay Pacific counter at around midnight and paying the AIF of CND15 per person, we went to the waiting lounge in gate B52. CX889 left on time and we were assigned seats, which were not contiguous and I asked for contiguous window seats, which were given as we were cleared at the departure gate into the plane. Next to our seats on 61J, K was a slim Chinese man from New York on his way to Guangdong in China. I had my jacket on for this 12 hours flight to keep me warm. The jacket has been my faithful and useful protection over the past 3 weeks, sheltering me from the drizzles in the Rockies and the cold in the coach and while I sleep. In the process has gotten a little dirty. CX889 on a Boeing 747-400 left at 3.05am for Hong Kong. The flight was fully occupied as it originated from New York and there were many Chinese passengers. Throughout the 12½ hours flight I managed to sleep using my air pillow. However, the strain is often on my lower back and neck, which I ease by doing stretching exercises whenever I get up to visit the toilet. Although I felt physically OK but I know that I still need to adjust my biological clock to Malaysian time later.

We had checked in all the 3 big bags at Atlanta direct to KLIA. I hope that they will travel on the same planes as we do all the way home. Only the GTT bag, our respective camera and the handbags as well as a paper bag of chocolate and soft toys travel on board with us, lightening our burdens.

Day 24 – 23rd September 2002 (Monday) - Hong Kong – Kuala Lumpur – Seremban
CX889 landed on the Chek Lap Kok International Airport at 6.20am local time (same as time in Malaysia), 50 minutes ahead of schedule. We brushed our teeth and waited in the transfer area until an hour later before calling home to Irene’s handphone to let her know that we are in Hong Kong. While we waited for our flight back to Malaysia we checked out the duty-free shops. The prices are not particularly cheap, after converting to the Ringgit. For example, the Benedictine DOM costs about RM93 a 1-liter bottle compared to just RM80 in KLIA. Also the ice-wine here costs about CND67 a bottle compared to CND50 we bought in Kelowna. We did not buy anything in Hong Kong airport but I responded to a survey on the airport facilities.

CX723 departed at 11.05am and landed in KLIA at 2.12pm. The weather was sunny and nice. We bought 2 bottles of duty-free Benedictine DOM at RM80 each before going to the baggage claim area and claimed our 3 bags before checking out of the customs green lane. Since Beh said he is not able to pick us up because of airport regulations, we wanted to get an airport taxi. The rate to Rasah Kemayan was RM66.40 but finally got a private taxi for RM60 driven by Krishnan.

Our house is as good as before. Stanley had mowed the lawn a week ago; the mango tree has many fruits ripening; and Lipton behaves as before. Thank God for His mercies throughout the past 3 weeks.


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