- A tiring but fruitful first semester in Pittsburgh. It was one of the busiest semesters I have had, but it also taught be alot about my own working styles and what I like and dislike to do, and how to work well with others.
- A very fulfilling summer internship at Burpple in Singapore. It was a tough wait to get an internship with a company but Burpple and co has been very nice to me! Even though I didn’t get to work in Lucasfilm or Microsoft in Singapore and I had to wait a long time, Burpple is still a good experience.
- Hillsong Conference in Sydney and Melbourne. It is certainly fun to go with a huge group of people from our church to support our pastor. He is certainly faithful as I registered for the conference in faith half a year ago without knowing where or what I will be doing. Yet doors were open and I could go to the conference with Dixon and Elisha.
- A wonderful stay in California. It was certainly a right place and right time and divine appointment which allowed me to get to know the Les and his family through Daffy and to stay with them. I will miss the food, the home and the noise! Thank God for giving me the patience and wisdom to make decisions like buying a car.
- Another fun semester in Silicon Valley in which I get to do what I like to do: filming, editing and post-production. Thank God for more than enough time to finish everything which we wanted to do, as well as being able to learn new tools such as Nuke.
- And all the adventures I have had: Mount Kinabalu in Jan, road trip to Florida in spring break, Sydney and Melbourne, Crater Lake, LDI, Death Valley, Lake Tahoe and more.
- And being able to attend all the wonderful concerts like Winter Jam.
Snowboarding at Heavenly ski resort was a great way to end the year. I went with my host family and we stayed at The Ridge Tahoe resort which is just next to the stagecoach ski lifts. It took us almost 7 hours to drive there due to snow and accident along highway 50. The first snowboarding day Nick brought us up the Granola to the Big Easy bunny hill. The view at the top, about 9000 feet high, was pretty amazing with the deep blue lake below (not as blue as Crater Lake though). I practiced and remembered my snowboarding skills and soon I managed to get by smoothly.
The second day we went up stagecoach which was much higher at 10,000 feet. The view was even more gorgeous which Carson City, Nevada on the right side and mountains and ridges. The slopes are definitely steeper and harder. I went down slowly most of the time, almost perpendicular. I could only do heel-side turns and was not able to learn toe-side turns yet. Hence I couldn’t figure out whether I am normal or goofy, although by the end of the day, I think I was more towards goofy. One of the runs we went down the stagecoach slope which I thought was too steep for me when viewed from the ski lift. I was afraid I would go out of control and fall off the cliff lol. But in the end, I was able to conquer it slowly and the views were amazing. But there’s always one part which I couldn’t gain enough speed and would end up getting stuck and have to unstrap. Managed to do 5 long runs in about 5 hours with breaks.
The next two days we basically didn’t do much as one day it forecasted snow but it didn’t snow much, and the next day it snowed like crazy. So we spent the time playing Warcraft, walking around Raley’s, watching TV and eating. One of our meals was at a local Italinman restaurant, Cafe Fiora, which Les was constantly raving about. It certainly lived up to its reputation. Tasty, amazing Italian food and bread and desert.
The last day of the year we went snowboarding again. This time we went further to the Comet and Dipper ski lifts. Those were pretty fun too, but slightly shorter and easier. The view at the top of dipper was the most stuning: Lake Tahoe, CA on the left, and Carson City, NV on the right. It was also our longest day, managed to do 9 runs in about 5 hours with some breaks. However, I fell pretty bad a few times, once facedown in the powder as I was taking a shortcut through the trees. It hurt my back and reactivated my old injury again. Yucks. And hiking back to the main path through the powder was no joke. I took a long break before going for my last run. All in all, it was still fun. At night, my body was aching as fireworks sounds were heard in the background.
The weekend before Christmas I went to Death Valley with Victor and his friend Wei Zhuang. We were deciding between an RV or a four wheel drive and in the end we decided on the former since it sounds more interesting. I had to take public transport to Newark to rent the smallest 19-feet RV from CruiseAmerica. It is a pretty solid vehicle powered by a Ford E350 van cab chassis, fits 3 property on a double bed above the cab and a dining area, kitchen area, fridge, microwave and even a tiny bathroom. A self-contained motor-home with all the essentials but still can fit into a regular parking lot! Driving it was a little bit challenging initially. First, it is a big fat monster, hence its acceleration is very slow. Second, you cannot see through the rear view mirror, so the ultra wide side view mirrors help to see the rear. Third, the turning radius is slightly bigger than a normal car, causing it harder to make u-turns and park.
After a while I got used to it and we are on our way for a 10-hour drive to Death Valley. It was a pretty smooth drive, although I have to keep right more than usual for the “overtaking game” on i5 as I am slower. You know cars overtake trucks on the two-lane road but some cars are too slow yet they stay on the left lane, and then the worse is when trucks overtake trucks and they try to be smart. Gas mileage is horrible at about 10mpg but the 40-gallon tank helps to reduce the number of top-ups. Over the Bakersfield pass it turned dark and there was police and traffic because there was a trailer accident and it spilled some of its load on the freeway and hence everyone had to maneuver slowly. Highway 395 and 14 was a pretty boring stretch, straight, dark and devoid of civilization. Finally we reached the dark entrance of death valley. My high beam wasn’t on and we almost crashed into a black buffalo which was crossing the road. Fortunately I managed to seurve in time. We also saw a coyote on the way. I was also surprised by the elevation climb through the mountain to Panamint Springs. I was initially worried about the return route through Lake Isabella and decided to cancel it, but this was probably worse and hence it was good training. (In the end, I decided to book the Lake Isabella KOA again for the last night since the elevation/rain won’t be a problem compared to these). Our first meal was instant noodles with fishballs on the RV. It was pretty cosy once we hooked up the electric at the campground and the heater could be turned on. Stars filled the night sky.
The next day we went to the bathroom without the car keys and locked ourselves out! The funny thing was we were wearing slippers (so Singaporean) in 3 deg C. We asked the campground front desk for help. They said the maintenance guy would only come an hour later. Meanwhile we fiddled the keyhole but to no avail. Why God? Fortunately the guy came with a slim Jim and he managed to pop the lock open by wedging the window and putting the metal rod through the gap and pressing the unlock button. (I wonder if God was making a joke with me when I was mediating on “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”)
And so we had a buffet breakfast and are on our way. A kind gentleman was talking to us and warned us about black ice as we drove across the mountain pass. It was very scenic and breathtaking with a straight road up a rocky mountain. We finally arrived at stovepipe wells and we visited the Mosaic Canyon, which had some real cold marble rock. I was a bit worried as we had to drive through rocky gravel dirt road on a huge truck. Thankfully the RV handled pretty well actually. Dirt roads are not that bad for cars after all. After that, it was another drive to Furnace Creek, and then up to Zimbrakie’s overlook and Dante’s Peak. The road has a 25-feet length limit which we fit and a 15% grade near the top. The ice forming on the sides of the narrow road was slightly intimidating. At the top, we have a nice view at about 2000ft above the death valley. It was very windy and cold though. We then drove back to Furnace Creek where we cooked instant noodles in the parking lot which is hilarious if you think about it. Haha. We attended a boring star gazing talk before heading back to Stovepipe Wells for the night. This place had slightly better facilities like a pool and showers.
After another sightly better buffet breakfast, we are on our way to the sand dunes for a morning hike. The early morning sun casts nice blue shadows on the sand, and along with the ripples and footprints, it was quite picturesque like a desert postcard. We hiked 1 mile to the highest sand dune on the soft sand and it was pretty fun like a giant playground. After that, we went to badwater basin, which is the lowest point in the valley at 85 feet below sea level. Here, salt forms sendiments and patterns along the whole valley. Lots and loads of salt. After that we went to Natural Bridges, which is a hole in the canyon (dried up river) and formed a “bridge”. We played with rocks and created our own marker tower. The next attraction was Artist’s Drive, which was slightly disappointing. It was a one-lane windy dippy road and there was a spot which many drivers stopped but there was not much to see. But there was another spot called Artist’s Palette with lime-green and red rocks but not many people stopped to see. Weird. The last attraction we went is the Golden Canyon, which leads to a massive rock formation called the Red Cathedral, which is like a mini-grand-canyon viewed from the bottom. It was getting dark as we hiked out. At the restroom pit stop we met some Singaporeans whom Victor knew. What a small world. And we set off for our destination for the night which is Lake Isabella. The plan was to drive more at night to drive less the next day. We had to make a dinner detour to Lone Pine as that’s the only place with real food (like McDonald’s McRib lol) and our fuel tank barely made it there. Thank God it lasted for the whole of the valley because the gas prices are exorbitant in the national park. After 5 long hours at 11pm we finally arrived at Lake Isabella KOA where we camped for the night. Thankfully not much rain as forecasted.
The last day, the drive down highway 178 wasn’t as bad as I was worried about. It was pretty scenic actually, with the river running by rocky mountains and nice autumn trees. Weird that they still have trees with yellow leaves. We had a nice sumptuous brunch at Bakersfield which made us so full that we need not have dinner. However, due to rain over the Gilroy pass we still took a long time to drive home. I was surprised that people still drive fast in low visibility. By the time we reached Redwood City it was 6pm. We cleaned up the RV, vacuumed all the sand, and went home.
Thank God for a wonderful trip without any major mishaps. For even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Next time, should drive a 4×4 to Death Valley!