Taiwan 2014

Day 1 – Taoyuan to Cingjing

Due to a typhoon in Japan, our scoot flight was delayed by 9 hours which was actually a blessing in disguise because I had more time to practice and fix some bugs in my game the night before the flight. Haha. Can’t sleep well anyway.

We arrived and took a bus and then the high speed train to taichung. We dabao 7-eleven for lunch. The 7-eleven here is qjite cool and different, they have some pasar malam tea egg and loklok kind of food which is quite good standard. Their drinks variety is awesome. We love the milk tea and giant size yakult bottle! The train is pretty cool, looks pike a variation of the japan toys I played when young. It travels at 230kmh but it doesn’t feel like it. Reaches our destination in half hour. Pretty awesome. We then got touted by a lady cab driver to take her cab, a toyota wish, to cingjing. She’s actually a very nice chatty lady and said she came to Singapore before 20 years ago. Haha. It was a longer 1.5-2 hours ride up to about 1600m above sea level. By the time we reached, it was almost sunset, but the mountains around the villa relax was beautiful and scenic. It’s a little bit like California, but not as beautiful I reckon. There are some pine trees but mostly mixed vegetation. After checking in, we walked uphill to a small complex with a few shops and ate 7-eleven (again yes) for dinner. We then played bridge and slept in early for the sunrise the next morning.

Day 2 – Sunrise and The Thing we came here for

Couldn’t sleep well again as usual as I was nervous. Haha. The next day we woke up at 3am to go watch sunrise lol. It was a 30min ride up the mountain and we had some stargazing tour (albeit in Chinese which liz couldn’t understand most of the words) but fortunately the Google Sky Map helped. The stars were amazing, splattered across the whole sky, more than Bali, reminds me of the night I had in Utah. It reminds us of how Abraham saw the stars in the bible. We could see constellations like Sirius, Gemini, Orion, Phoneix and many more. We even saw a few satellites flying past. It was breathtaking.

After that, the van drove us further uphill to hehuan mountain to catch a better angle of the sunrise. Along the way, the driver gave alot of commentary in Chinese of which we could only understand half as the accent was quite thick lol. Finally, we stopped and it was pretty bright already. The green grass on the rolling hills in the golden hour look like the shire, reminds me of the sunrise I saw in Malang. The sunrise wasn’t as impressive as Bali, but it was still amazing nevertheless.

After sunrise, we have simple toast and eggs breakfast at our villa. One of the initial plans was to execute the proposal after breakfast but I decided not to as it was too hot and not conducive with so many people around. Besides, we were quite tired after waking up so early. So we all went up to take a nap for an hour or so, before we go to cingjing farm. We wanted to take the public bus up, but one of the private bus decided to tout us and charge us slightly higher. Lol. But it was a comfortable big Mercedes transporter. We ate some random lunch at the hawker area, with fried vermicelli, vegetables and some salty chicken. After that, we started our hike in the farm with the meh meh. It was quite a nice mild weather with hot sun. The sheep are not that white, pretty yellow. Haha. We strolled around the north section and sat under a shade to chill for a bit while lizzy drew. Then we hike downhill back towards our villa. Stopped by thr carton king shop in front of the swiss garden to look at cute things. They didn’t want to go into the garden though, too cliche. After that, kaiwen had to go back earlier to use the toilet, while me and lizzy strolled back slightly later.

And here’s how the plan began. When we reached back the villa, zx said the electricity and the water supply for the villa is down, so lizzy decided to stay at the front patio to play with the cats. I then deceitfully told her that I’m going up to the room to put our bags down, and then I took this opportunity to tell zx and kw that now, now is the perfect timing to execute the proposal! I declared success in prayer and kw put some anointing oil on my back, and we agreed that they will appear at 3pm sharp with the balloons and the ring. Meanwhile, I brought the ukulele down as a distraction. Hahaha

And so, I went back and Lizzy was sitting on the red chair. We sat at the patio for a while and worshipped, with some random songs Broken Vessels, Whom Shall I Fear ans Magnificent. At about 2.55pm, Lizzy went to picked up another cat and we changed seats and I pretended to take some selfie with her on my phone. After that, I said, I’ve something to show her on my phone. So I began to show the interactive story – The Adventures of Lizzy the Blobosaurus on my phone. She thought it was just a random thing I do every month. When we reached the fake ending, I saw zx and kw hiding behind the bushes. Although we were facing them, Lizzy wasn’t noticing. The fake ending was to say “Happy 11 months” and Lizzy would think the game was just a monthiversary thing. I’m supposed to give the decoy gift: a pair of dino necklaces at this moment, but I forgot to bring it down. So nvm

Next strategic move was to put my phone on my table and start tapping my feet, hopping zx would notice. They approached us and I told lizzy, now for the real ending, and showed the real ending on my phone which ends with “Will you marry me” and as the text scrolls and she saw them approaching, on retrospect, she was thinking, oh no, is this for real? Is this the moment?

When the dinosaurs came, she was like, what is tizzz?? Haha. I took the ukulele and started singing the medley of songs – I choose you, You and I, and All of me.
However, just before the chorus of I choose you, I suddenly became very emotional and couldn’t control myself, and burst into tears. I was balling apparently, and crying louder and more than Lizzy. Lol. She’s crying of course. After trying to regain my composition, I attempted to sing You and I, and then burst into tears again, and then sang thru the tears for the remainder of the songs. Zzzzzz. So embarrassing. Not sure why I became so emotional either. I surprised myself. The only other time I’ve cried so much in my life was during my mum’s funeral. Tears of joy I suppose. All the while while zx and kw were videoing. Lol.

At the end of the songs, I was looking for the ring box, didn’t notice kw put it behind me lol. I knelt down and opened the box, and said, nothing else to say already. So Lizzy, will you marry me? After a few seconds of contemplation and disbelief, she said yes. She didn’t dare to look at the ring cos she had a dream about her not liking the ring. Haha. I slipped the ring unto her finger, it barely fits, slightly too small then I stood up and smiled. Zx say, hug and kiss! And so we did. Haha. Then I ask her to look at the ring. And oh there’s a dino on the ring! Haha she liked it a lot, and no one else would ever appreciate a dino on a engagement ring except her. It’s cute, it’s so her, and it had all the leaves thing she like. The diamond is not important (although it was shiny).

We sat on the patio for a little while to recover and talked. I told her about the inception of the idea. In July, deacon Sam met me after service and asked me when is my turn. He asked me to ask God for a specific verse. And so I did. The next morning, I randomly flipped open to Isaiah 61 and verse 10 popped out with the jewels word. Ring!

After all is said and done, we waited for the electricity to come back and then googled for a nice place to eat dinner. We ended up at a yunwu villa where there’s some yunhua chinese food. It’s not too bad, some cabbage, fried fish, beef and herbal soup. Then it’s 7-eleven again. We love the giant bottles of yakult with the huge variety of flavours and kw loves the malt milk which tastes like horlicks. Hahhaa.

Day 3 – Out of Cingjing to Taipei and Wufenpu

The next day we all woke up early cos of the early morning sunrise light, like aftee 6am. After breakfast we boarded the van/carpool which brought us to the HSR station. Along the way, I sang the medley of songs again haha, and we just spent the journey singing praise and worship songs, and time flew. HSR to taipei takes about an hour, and our awesome H132 hostel is within walking distance of taipei train station.

After checking in, we took a train to houshanpi and started our shopping at wufenpu! It’s like a giant bugis-like area but much better. After the first alley, I already bought a few shirts and a pair of shorts and shoes lol. However, the place was very dusty and I kept sneezing. We took a teabreak at a nearby bubble tea and familymart, took a short walk and started our 小吃 adventure at raohe night market! It started with fried yam with duck, beef cubes, bbq chicken like a sausage, true blue Taiwanese sausage, oyster egg, quail egg fried with prawn (amazing invention), touhuey, and many more. It was also a day buying a lot of socks (all 4 of us bought 32 pairs in total lolol). It was a day with a lot of 收获。

Day 4 – Jiufen

On Thursday we have a day tour with a taxi cum tour guide driver Phyllis. She drove us in a toyota wish to Yehliu geopark, which is a nature park with a lot of sedimentary rocks with holes and many many tourists. Too many. My friend was right, nothing beats utah. But nice breeze and waves of the pacific ocean.

Next stop is jiufen. The driver was nice enough to bring us on a short heritage walk and showed us the first old school theatre in Taipei. Then we climbed up the steps and walked the old street. The best find was a shop full of cute cat things! From postcards to stickers to souvenirs to tshirts. Lizzy bought many many things of course and she was truly amazed. Everything was ‘so nice!’ Hahha.

We walked down, bought some yam pastry and ice cream popiah and pineapple tarts. All super good.

I asked the tour guide if she could bring us to the small town with many cats which I read online, and she said sure, 30 minutes of cats! Lol. So she drove us to houtong train station, a small town named after monkeys but now famous for cats. It started to rain though so there weren’t many. But still, everything in the station was cat-themed, from the toilet signs to the maps to the shop and statue. There were a few molest-able cats. And even cat-themed penny coin machines. #toomuchcutecats

Our last stop was Shifen where we get to release the lanterns, or tian deng. It was actually drizzling quite badly but people were still doing it anyway. The strange thing was the activities were conducted on a live train track where a train passed by every now and then. Lol. We chose a multi-coloured one and drew some bible verses on it, Liz drew Psalm 23 while I wrote Isa 61:10. We let it go after taking some photos. After that, we had the great idea of getting a white one and writing No Other Name and Jesus on it, along with Chinese characters. Haha. It was quite funny. Alot of people were staring at it too, some probably know what it is, some of them even read it out. Pretty cool moment. Still raining though.

All in all, Phyllis was a very friendly and great driver. I’m also amazed how she has wifi in the car, a tablet to showcase maps and photos, and also a little GPS which she also uses to watch TV (while driving, yes). She even tried to print out photos that she took for us, but that day her printer went out of ink. It was supposed to be a surprise gift. Haha.

At night, something happened at home and kw needed to fly back one day earlier.

Day 5 – Design week and shida

The next morning we walked around to hunt for breakfast again. Ended up buying 蛋饼 and carrot cake from a roadside stall. After that the plan was to find a cafe to chill. Couldn’t really find any as everything only opens after 11. We decided to go to 101 and see if we can go to the secret starbucks, but alas, now they need reservations. We then started shopping around at Eslite, which is like a giant departmental stall with very well curated cool brands and a huge bookstore. They even have a enormous food court with alot of Jap style food. Amazing place which Lizzy found a lot of ‘nice’ cute things again haha. After that, we walked to songshan creative and cultural park for the taiwan designer’s week (twdw2014), which is held in some old Japanese tobacco warehouse building. There was a young boy who sold us early bird admission tickets, so we saved some money. Quite a number of cool stuff inside the exhibition, which includes furniture, print, cloth, interactive and many more. We spent a couple of hours looking at the nice things and the adjacent exhibitions on industrial universal design, social design, creative expo etc.

After sunset, we took a train to shida night market. We walked along the main road and then realised the night market is in the alleys. There were many people queuing for this fried yong tau foo like things, which I later found out it is yan shui ji and yan shu ji which is fried or salty chicken with many other side dishes which look like yong dau foo. Haha. But we ended up eating porridge instead as we were will quite full. We shopped around and found out that there’s more dresses and clothes suitable for Liz here at Shida. We also found a very well designed taiwanese bag brand – rite. We were sold by the promotional words of the salesgirl, with pretty prints and many ways of carrying the bag. Of course, Liz bought one haha. It was drizzling though, which wasn’t very pleasant for walking.

Day 6 – cafe and ximending

The next day, they wanted to go to a floral market. So we decided to find a cafe to chill for abit. Went to dongmen area, found another random place for breakfast. Breakfast here is mostly beancurd, or sandwiches and hamburger, or egg crepes thing. Later we found a rooster coffee place and sat there. There are so many hipster cafes in different parts of taiwan. They’re everywhere we went and everyone seems so legit. We chose this one cos it seemed to have nice beans. Over the next couple of hours, she drew while I read the bible.

We met them for lunch at Daan where I found some tainan claypot ee mian, which is slightly different from ours but still pretty awesome. We then walked to New Life church and took a peek.

After church, we went to ximending. The drizzling rain kinda dampened the moods but it was still super crowded on a Saturday night. We didn’t really shop as most of us already shopped enough. So we hunted for food (again). First was the most legit mee sua with big intestine. Then was 大肠包小肠 which is a sausage wrapped with some rice roll. And also some cheese potatoes and egglets. Fooooodddd. We walked around a bit but we all felt tired and decided to go home early.

Day 7 – creative markets and tonghua

Today is the last day. In the morning we went for a breakfast hunt for some beancurd I found online but the queue was like hundred people long. Ridiculous. Seriously. Fortunately there was the famous Yong he across the street (which singapore has a branch but is not as good). We had super awesome you diao, beancurd drink, fried egg crepe wrapped around a you diao, fried biscuit, onion egg pancake (like prata), and xiao long bao. Super awesomest breakfast ever.

Zx had to send kw off, while liz and I went to fuzhong for this Fz15 animation and art gallery. It’s like a small museum space which they showcase films and some art. Nothing much though. We walked around the smaller eslite there before going to this Maji square at Yuanshan, which is somewhat like their turf city pasarbella equivalent. There was a lot of angmoh food, lots of hipster stuff, and a small creative market. A good find online the night before for taiwanese night markets. Even the chairs at the food court are vintage hipster chairs. We walked around, lim kopi, and then found out that in the expo area inside the old stadium, there’s a beef noodle festival going on! Another accidental find. And so of course we joined the longest queue for beef noodle which was pretty awesome and had yummy soup. We also bought a egg crepe that wraps around some beef and bbq sauce. Super delicious as well. Great detour.

The sun came out and we walked out of the car sales area into the park and sat under the tree for a while. Talked about our future. It was a nice chill afternoon in the park. From afar, the elevated train station looked like almost like our chinese garden station.

Next, we took a train back to 101 area for simple market, which is like their public garden equivalent. It is held in an old military barracks kinda courtyard, with vintage hipster-looking concrete and brick walls and doors. Plus a cho cafe that sells bagels which are supposedly so good that they are sold out. Fortunately we came this second as the things at maji were cuter and money was spent there. After walking a short round, we just sat on the grass slope and watched the sky turn dark.

At 6pm, we walked to tonghua street for the smaller night market there. Finally ate the fried chicken and fried sweet potato plum fries which were really awesome. And we also queued for some jian bao (fried dumplings in bao shape). Also bought some clothes from a shop which was surprised that we tourists are there because tonghua is not as popular as the other markets.

Our last stop was to go to Yong Kang st near Dongmen station for the mango slush ice at the famous Smoothie House. It’s super big an awesome, the snow flakes are more flaky and less icy. We even managed to dabao some for zx.

Day 8 – home

The last morning, I found another tau huey place within walking distance. We tried the salty beancurd for the first time, which tastes like chanwanmushi (beancurd + soy sauce + spring onions) and also tried soya bean drink with egg (wow?), peanut drink (like the peanut paste back home) and the awesome pork chop egg fried biscuit (shaobing). Super delicious. We bought our final round of snacks before heading to the airport.


It felt like a super long trip, especially in taipei. A good mix of both countryside and urban shopping. Taiwan is better than Hong Kong because it is easier to communicate in Chinese than Cantonese (albeit with traditional chinese words which are hard to read), less hustle and bustle, and less crowded. Food is awesome and transport is similar to ours in many ways. No wonder many singaporeans like to come here. We can totally fit in here!

Bali 2014 – A trip of many firsts

Going to Bali has many firsts: the first trip with my girlfriend, my first whitewater rafting experience, my first time eating Bali crispy duck and pork blood sausage, my first time dropping down 5 storeys of a vertical water slide, Lizzy’s first time climbing a volcano, and many more.

The first night we landed, we took a taksi to our villa in outer Ubud. It was a nice small hotel and we had the whole 2-storey 2-room villa to ourselves with a pool in front of it. We took a cab to town to eat their famous Dirty Duck, smoked duck and crispy duck with bali sambal. Pretty amazing. After that we bought stuff at the supermarket and went home and sleep early to prepare for the Mount Batur trek the next day.

At 2am, the driver picked us up in a Suzuki APV, one of the most common cars on the road here which I also sat in my mission trip last time. I was about an hour’s drive to the start of the trek. The unique thing of this package (Pineh Trekking) we were on is that it includes a breakfast stop. We walked into this dark forest into a hut, which was a little suspicious-looking initially, like a Alice In Wonderland forest. We saw a luak, the rodent which eats coffee cherries to output coffee seeds. We had a nice banana crepe breakfast and 5 different flavours of drinks: vanilla coffee, ginger coffee, bali coffee, ginger drink, lemon honey. It was pretty amazing and the owner/operator, Mr. Pineh, was very kind and hospitable. He asked if we wanted lunch when we return, and we agreed.

After that, it was a short drive to the starting point of the trek. The first half was pretty easy, a wide sandy path through lalang and forest. The path grew steeper gradually and Jeremy was wondering if it is going to be this easy the rest of the trek. The silhouette of the volcano could be seen dimly in the starlit sky. Unfortunately, the terrain became steeper and harder, and soon we were literally climbing up volcanic rock, somewhat like Kinabalu but the latter is granite. It was slippery cos volcanic terrain has many loose rocks. We had to take many breaks because Jeremy was not feeling well and couldn’t keep up with the pace. As for me, it wasn’t too difficult as nothing is difficult is compared to Kinabalu. Lol. We saw tiny lights in the distance of other people’s headlamps and torchlights, and they look pretty far away.

After a 2-hour climb, which seemed neverending, we finally reached the foggy peak. It was 6am and getting crowded. Sun’s rising soon and the colours of the sky started to change. The peak is not exactly the tallest point, but a big crater where the volcano is. One can climb higher to the highest point of the crater, but most will just go to the plateau area to see the sunrise, which we did. There are even benches to sit on. Initially we thought it was too foggy, but it cleared and we could see the whole caldera area with Lake Batur below. It was pretty breathtaking. Soon, the oranges began to glow in the purple with some clouds covering in the horzion. The golden hour lighting is beautiful. As we watched, the guide was cooking hard boiled eggs in volcanic steam and we had that and warm bread with banana for breakfast. After a while, suddenly, the edges of an orange marble rose out of the clouds. It was the sunrise! Being designers, describing the scenery with Photoshop terms became a joke. It was like an eclipse with inner bevel and outer glow and radial gradient in the horizon with some gaussian blur. Hahahah.

When there was more light, we could see the volcanic steam rising out of the crater, but we couldn’t see the bottom of the crater as there were many trees. Soon, a herd monkeys came over and the guides feed them. Seems like a morning ritual. Some of the monkeys have babies clinging unto them.

The walk down was much easier with the light. Just like Malang, it looks like the Shire because everything looks so bright and green. Lizzy asks where are the dinosaurs? Haha. Cos the mountainous landscape is like Jurassic Park with giant long necked dinosaurs walking past. After walking through some vegetable farms, we finally reached the bottom. Saw like 5 kids riding motorbike together. Wah.

We went back to Pineh’s hut and his assistants let us try some fresh passionfruit and tomatoes from the vines. We were presented with a sumptuous home cooked lunch, with rice, satay, meat wrapped with banana leaf, banana plant soup and crackers. And he cooked that all for us! We ordered a cup of Luak coffee, which he didn’t want to charge us for. The coffee is very fragrant but more powdery. Once again, we were impressed by his hospitality. We wanted to tip him and he sort of rejected but accepted it in the end. We will definitely recommend him to other travelers.

After going back, we slept for a bit before going to down for roasted suckling pork lunch and then for a Balinese massage! It was really cheap like $10 for an hour and it was my first time experiencing a full massage actually. We walked around the market as well, and then we ended the day with dinner at some pizza place.

The third day we went for whitewater rafting. It was about an hour’s drive to the river and it was my first time, so I was afraid of capsizing and I never really quite liked water stuff. But it wasn’t so bad after all! It was like a 2-hour long Universal Studios Jurassic Park raft ride, the only thing missing was the soundtrack lol. The water wasn’t really deep and the rapids are about class 3, which is quite medium speed. Pretty fun actually, some parts we had to row around, splash water at other people, jump around rocks, go under trees and cliffs, and take photos with a waterfall. There were a few jerks which send Lizzy and I falling behind and then Jerm and Dot were laughing at us. The highlight was the last part, which was a 5-metre jump down a ramp. I was pretty scared but it was fun. We sat down inside the boat with our legs up and it was a huge but fun splash!

After that, it was 500 steps up the cliff to the hut where we had a nice buffet lunch. Everything was included, including a towel for showering and stuff. Pretty good.

We spent the afternoon nuaing in the hotel before going out for another foot massage, and then dinner at this popular grill place called Nuri. The spare ribs and fillet mignon were awesome and there were many tourists alike eating until it was actually sold out by like 7.30pm. We had a nice chat with some Americans who were from California but living in Bali, teaching at an international school.

At night, we discovered this crazy stupid adult cartoon on cartoon network called the Amazing World of Gumball.

The next morning we traveled to Kuta and went to the Waterbom theme park. I never quite liked water theme parks as I don’t like getting wet, some childhood phobia. So again, I have to push my fears away. The funny thing was the first ride we tried was the most exciting one called the Climax, in which you are launched from a capsule, the hatch door opens, and you drop into a 70-degree tube into a loop and into a splash, all in a few seconds. It was really gratifying and climatic. It’s like the best and scariest ride. After that, it was like a walk in the park since everything else was milder. I was slightly happy that the happening rides are closed for construction. Haha. But the boomerang and superbowl rides are quite fun too. We spent about 3-4 hours in the park, shorter than expected, including some time soaking in the pool and lazy river.

In the afternoon, we had lunch at A&W, walked around town, took a nap and nuaed on the bed watching TV, and walked to Kuta beach for a scenic sunset. It was pretty. The waves ain’t as huge as I thought, and it wasn’t totally cloudless but nevertheless it was pretty and romantic.

Dinner was crispy duck again, but a different franchise. It was actually better than the one on the first day. We seemed to be always hungry and always eating so fast. Haha. We spent the night trying to watch gumball again.

The last day was quite uneventful and boring. Just shopping at some tiny outlet stores and then trying to find mee bakso but we ended up eating the fast food version instead. That’s about it.

It was a good trip of firsts.

Thanksgiving for 2013

So today is the final day of 2013. It has been indeed a year of open doors and Daddy God has fulfilled all of my 3 wishes! The first half of the year spent in the states seems so distant and far away now, it seems like I’ve been in Singapore forever. I really miss the winter snow and the feeling of living in a foreign country though, and also my friends made there.

Thank you Jesus for…

  • A great last semester in Carnegie Mellon where I learnt the process of a 3D pipeline together with my team Stardust. Even though we had a tight timeline, we still managed to finish a 6-min 3D animated short for Give Kids The World. I learnt many things in those few months, from project scheduling, storytelling, compositing, rendering to 3D lighting. The best part was to travel to Florida and showcase the finished short to the kids. It was heartwarming.
  • Also, touring all the cool animation and entertainment companies during the West Coast Trip, experiencing South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX during Spring Break and learning the basics of  lighting for theatre
  • The privilege of experiencing the grace revolution on the ground in a small scale at Freedom Fellowship of Pittsburgh. It was an honour to be an ambassador, the physical hands and feet of my church and my pastor, someone all the way from Singapore to a small church in America that preaches the gospel of grace. I had a great time getting to know Pastor Debbie, as well as volunteering to lead worship there.
  • His safety and protection in the 3-day train ride from West Coast (SF) to Midwest America (Chicago), and also the 20-day graduation road trip from East (Pittsburgh) to West Coast (SF) of USA. They were both significant journeys, both physically and spiritually. It was a precious time in which I could just spend days by myself and Jesus, and seeing his Favour that surrounds me like a shield every step of the way, looking at the scenery go by, and even through a minor tire puncture and some mechanical work in the car, I survived 5700 miles / 9173 km. Run in such a way to win the prize!
  • Allowing me to be planted in serving in Zone Lighting and Spark Film the moment I came back to Singapore, opening doors for a greater quality of lights and LED board graphics design, Christmas Service, as well as testimony and short film editing.
  • Opening doors for not just a job, but a career position. It was a time of waiting, yet it was a time worth waiting. It allowed me to trust Him for His provision that he would provide me a career that I will find fulfilment and enjoyment in!
  • Opening doors to meet my life partner. God is cute in every way in letting us to know each other only at this time and not earlier or later!

The Truth about NUS-CMU ETC Concurrent Degree in Entertainment Technology

When Randy Pausch founded ETC, he envisioned it as a “dream fulfillment factory”. When I signed up for this programme 5 years ago when I was a freshman in NUS, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. So I am writing this for those who are considering to take a Bachelor of Computing (Communications and Media) degree in NUS and then a Masters in Entertainment Technology in CMU.
First about the NUS Computing degree. What it is NOT:
  • It is NOT a fine arts degree. I.e. it will not teach you drawing, 3D modelling and animation in the traditional sense. It will not teach you how to be a great Photoshop or Maya artist.
  • It is NOT a mass communication degree despite the word “communication” in the name. It is not a course about writing and filmmaking, although you can take some classes about those
What it is:
  • It is almost like a computer science degree. So expect lots of Math, programming, and coding algorithms. You cannot escape from Math.
  • Depending on what classes you take, it is a course which trains you how to program for interactive media. The keyword is programming: you will learn coding for video games, 3D, graphics processing, robotics, console controllers etc. Again, the keyword is programming. Occassionally you will have to design stuff like user interface and game mechanics, but the main focus is programming.
Therefore, it is a very right-brain oriented course. However you get to develop some of your left-brain skills in your electives as you can take those from the Faculty of Arts, Communications and New Media (CNM) department. The NM modules are good for visual aesthetics design, writing, PR, game design etc. Similarly, the arts faculty is not a fine arts department. So don’t expect too much.In summary, expect a research-based academic study environment. (After all, that’s what NUS is known for. Otherwise go to School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) in NTU if you want a fine arts based curriculum, something which I regretted I rejected but that’s another story.)
Now about ETC. Probably a lot has changed since Randy Pausch passed away and now Don has left as well. I didn’t know what was the course going to be. I signed up in faith. But here what it is NOT:
  • It is not a course which will teach you technical/artistic skills through a curriculum (although you can take some electives for them)
  • It is not a course for you to develop your other side of the brain, I.e. if you are an engineer and wish to be an artist, this course will not make you one, and vice versa
However it is:
  • It is a course which expects you to be already very talented in whatever field you are trained in and to use your skills further. E.g. if you are trained in computer science, you are expected to use your programming skills to create new things. If you are trained in fine arts, you are expected to use your graphics/design/etc. skills to create new stuff.
  • It is a course which will train you well with interpersonal, teamwork and communication skills as you will get to work in different project teams which you cannot choose
  • It is a course which will connect you to great people both in the course and in the industry, opening doors to many jobs, as many companies like Disney Imagineering hire many ETC graduates.
  • It is a project-based curriculum, so no research papers are needed to be written
And as for the type of projects in ETC, despite the broad definition of entertainment technology, probably 70% of the projects are video games related, while 20% are location-based entertainment/museum installations and the like, and 10% are film/animation related. Due to the nature of the “technology” in “entertainment technology” and the skepticism of the faculty, there are no pure film film projects.So is it a dream fulfillment factory? Yes, if you absolutely love video games. Yes, if you have some related project ideas that you wish to pitch. Yes, if you are already very talented at what you are currently doing.


On Sunday, Victor and I went skydiving for the first time. It has always been in my bucket list of things to do as an adventure seeker, and I always liked the feeling of free falling on a roller coaster or a drop ride. I call it a stress reliever. I wanted to do bungee jumping too but skydiving seemed more fun!

I researched and found the cheapest one around here, called Parachute Center, near Lodi, CA. It was only $100, and no reservations required, which is quite surprising. However, Sunday was a cloudy day, and we were afraid that the weather would not hold up and we are not able to jump. But they were still open and we went anyway. Another setback was my car needed a tire change but fortunately I found a place to change it in the morning before we set off.

We reached the place at around 1.30pm and within 30 minutes we were getting ready. There were no long instructional videos, no frills, just a single piece of paper to sign. The place is like in a warehouse/hanger, with many lockers storing the parachutes. While waiting, someone shouted that they need an ambulance. I was slightly alarmed. Apparently a single jumper veered off-course and got stuck in a powerline across the freeway. Woah…what a good sign.

After a short wait, we went to the gear-up room, where our instructor came to help us wear our harness and give us basic instructions. My instructor even better, he said he will give me instructions on the plane. Our photographer/videographer also met us. They will jump with us and help us take photos and videos. Mine had a Canon DSLR and an oldschool DV camera mounted on his helmet, while Victor’s guy had two GoPros, one for video and one for photos. (It turned out that his video was better quality than mine.)

After a while, the plane landed and it was time for us to board the plane! They really packed the plane to the brim, with everyone sitting facing the back of the plane chest-to-back, with our instructors behind us. The photographers all sat on the floor near the door. During the flight, my photographer took a video and asked me if I have any last words. No, I said. Haha. The plane flew in circles and took a slow climb up to 13,000 feet, or about 4000 meters. And that’s almost the height of all the clouds on that day. The plane actually flew through the clouds and it was all white around us, but they found a gap in the clouds, and the door opened. The moment has come.

Sometimes I think that I am scared of heights. But I think I am not really scared of heights, but I am more afraid of falling and not having a safety net. Skydiving IS falling and has NO safety net. Haha. (except the parachute of course.)

A couple of people went before me and then it was my turn. We had to squat because the ceiling of the plane is pretty low. The photographer went out of the door, one hand on the side railing, to be ready to capture me coming out. Then he jumped. Then my turn, “Ready, set, go” and off we jumped.

“Ahhhh” I yelled. My expression was priceless, so says a Facebook friend. The instructor said most people forget to breathe so just yell. Yelling is stress-relieving anyway. The first few moments of the jump was the most overwhelming and most intense. It was like, wow I’m really jumping off a plane into nowhere. Wow this is really fast. Wow, this is amazing. Free like a bird.

The free fall was really fast, lasted about a minute. It was so fast that I didn’t realise it was over. During that time, the photographer flew around me to take photos and videos. At one moment, he grabbed my hand to link up and get a close-up shot. (He told me about this before we jumped.) After that he left because he has to land earlier to take a photo of me landing. I tried to keep smiling for the camera, but because the wind is so strong, it causes my cheeks to puff up and make me look weird and funny in all the pictures. haha.

I didn’t know that the instructor pulled the parachute until after a while. I felt an upward surge and I was like “Woahh” and I thought we were flying upwards. But it was the parachute. Haha. The instructor did a few quick turns to make me feel dizzy, but also just for fun. After that, it was a slow and gradual ride to the ground. The view was mostly grape farms, but it was still spectacular. I asked what if we land in the farms, the instructor said it never happened before. Haha.

We landed by sitting down on the grass. I guess it was a safety precaution to prevent people from breaking their ankles. When I stood up, my legs felt a bit jelly.

The whole experience finished in less than 2 hours. We collected our DVDs and CDs from our photographers, who each had like a little locker with their computers and burning devices. It was an amazing experience, thank God for we were safe and sound, and I want to do it again!

The Quest Across The States

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For my grad trip, I travelled across 13 states from Pittsburgh, PA to Redwood City, CA, through 10 national parks, clocking 5700 miles (~9170 km) in 20 days, from 23 May to 11 June.

Day 1 (Thursday) – Pittsburgh to Chicago

The first day was spent driving from Pittsburgh to Chicago. What was meant to be a 7 hour drive became a 10 hour drive because I wanted to avoid the tolls on the turnpikes. It turned out that I ended up on a 60mph road in Indiana. And everyone says you can’t speed in Indiana because the fines are $1000. Driving west is pretty interesting though, because it seems that the sun has set but the more you drive, the more light it remains. It is also interesting to cross the time zone line while driving to Chicago. As with most big cities, the drivers are more aggressive as they drive 70mph on a 55mph freeway. That’s why they have 375 traffic deaths a year according to the info ticker.

I reached the Airbnb place which was hosted by a Chinese lady. Because I arrived late, I slept on the sofa instead. But the next day she transferred me to a private room in another house. The neighbourhood is mostly Chinese because it is near Chinatown.

Day 2 (Friday) – Chicago


I took the Chicago elevated ‘L’ subway to downtown for breakfast. The Chicago subway train is similar in design to the NYC ones but it has few carriages, usually about 4. I think that the loop design around downtown is very thoughtful and well-designed. It is also interesting to see rusty tracks through the skyscrapers, compared to the polished concrete of our MRT.

I ate red velvet pancakes at supposedly the best breakfast place in town. After that, I walked along the shores of Lake Eric and finally reached the famed Millenium Park, with the sci-fi looking Cloud Gate sculpture as the centerpiece. It is very cool and photogenic, and the reflections are distorted, making it seem like another world. After that I walked across the Chicago river. Every big city needs a river and a bay, doesn’t it? Then I walked along The Magnificent Mile, which is their Orchard Road. H&M never fails to tempt me haha.


I ate Chicago hotdogs for dinner before going to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears) for sunset. The view is comparable to the Empire State building, just that I think NYC’s architecture is more interesting.

Day 3 (Saturday) – Chicago

I went to Chinatown for dim sum breakfast. Surprisingly the dim sum here is pretty good because they have Liu Sha Bao (Liquid Custard bun) and it is quite authentic. Too bad nobody to share more food with me. After that I went to downtown to watch a memorial day parade. They had soldiers, armored vehicles and high school kids in uniforms, their version of national cadet corps. And of course there’s some LGBT representations and also a random guy preaching the ministry of condemnation and judgement through a loud hailer. Wish he can preach more grace though.


I decided to buy something from Craigslist so I made a detour to meet someone. And then next attraction was the Navy Pier. It is their mini amusement park along the lake. Nothing much though. In the evening, I went to old town to watch Second City, an improv and sketch comedy show. They are pretty famous here and all their shows were sold out. Their sketches are actually pretty funny and the improv is comparable to the ones I saw at sxsw.

Day 4 (Sunday) – Chicago to St. Paul


On Sunday morning I woke up early to drive to the outskirts of Chicago to attend Willow Creek Community Church in South Barlington. It is one of the pioneers of the megachurch movement. As expected, they have a huge campus, albeit nondescript, with a 7000 seater auditorium, cafe and even a mini food court. And the joke is, they have a lake, not a creek haha.


The next stop was the Illinois Railway Museum, which has supposedly America’s largest collection of trains. They have a pretty impressive collection of locomotives and carriages in their barns, from steam engines to streetcars. They even have joy rides on some old trains. I took the Nebraska Zephyr, which has a cool observation car at the end.

At about 3pm, I left to begin the 6+ hour drive to St Paul, Minnesota through Wisconsin. Along the way I ate dinner at an uniquely Wisconsin fast food restaurant called Culver’s. They have Buttermilk burgers and milkshakes. Pretty cool.

Finally at about 10pm I arrived in Inner Grove Heights, a suburb south of the twin cities. The Airbnb host was a nice Indian couple and they had a big king bed for me. They offered me supper but I was too tired.

Day 5 (Monday) – Minneapolis to South Dakota

The next day before I left, the host’s husband offered to heat up the goat curry for my breakfast plus Indian coffee Over the meal, I told them about Singapore and why I like Indian Food. They were then inspired to visit Singapore in future. The couple then drove me to a park by the Mississippi river.


My first stop in St Paul, MN was to visit the Cathedral of St Paul, a gigantic Catholic church. I also walked around the city to see the state capitol. As with most American cities, it suffers from urban diaspora.


After that I drove to the other city, Minneapolis to visit the Stone Arch Bridge and St. Anthony Falls. There is a lock in the river, the first time I see one, and it is actually managed by the army engineers. The lock helps barges and boats to travel down the river bypassing the falls, pretty interesting. I also drove around downtown and that reminded me of what I studied in geography class: the sky bridges. They connect many buildings in downtown and allow the people to move around in climate controlled sky mall, escaping from rain and snow. Singapore should have some of these!


Next stop was the chain of lakes and then I decided to give my car an engine oil change at Jiffylube as there was some memorial day discount. They were pretty fast. Lastly I went to Mall of America, which I also studied in my class. The mall is so huge that it has a Nickelodeon amusement park inside. It is amazing.


Finally at about 7pm, I drove 5 hours to Mitchell, South Dakota, which is my rest stop at a motel 6. The cool thing is the speed limit on the interstate here is 75mph!

Day 6 (Tuesday) – South Dakota

I had breakfast at Perkins, biscuits and gravy hmhmm. After that it was another 3 hours drive to Badlands National Park. The cool thing was when I crossed from central time zone to mountain time zone, and there was a sign on the interstate that says so. But I am still in the same state!


Badlands reminds me a lot of death valley with the dry valleys and hills. I did a couple of hikes, the door and the notch, and also climbed up a rocky hill. However the weather threatened to rain, so I could not stay for sunset. In the end, it rained and I drove out to Wall, SD where there was a famous Wall Drug store which kept advertising along the freeway just now. They have 5 cents coffee which is really funny and cool. And everything is wild west themed. They even have a tiny chapel in the store.

For dinner, I drove to a mall to Rapid City, SD for a cheap fake greasy Chinese food fix at the food court. But better than nothing right. The Caucasian server asked me where I am from. Haha.

After that I drove around motels to see if I could use a discount coupon. But they were mostly full. Fortunately I found Foothills motel, which was not listed under Expedia but they have pretty good rooms at only $39. So I stayed there for the night.

Day 7 (Wednesday) – South Dakota to Wyoming


In the morning, I drove to Mount Rushmore. As usual, the movies make the rocks look much bigger than they actually are. The faces actually look pretty small in the distance. And there’s no way to hike to it, only slightly nearer from the bottom.

Along the way to lunch at Custer I saw a sign for Crazy Horse. It is apparently also a sculpture carved out of rock, but this time by Native American Indians of one of their heroes. It seems like a direct competition to Mount Rushmore, pretty interesting.


After lunch I drove to Jewel Cave National Park, another attraction in the black hills. I paid for a 1 hour plus tour of the cave with a ranger. We have to take an elevator twenty storeys down which is really cool. The cave is lighted up for the tourists, otherwise it will be pitch black. According to the ranger the caves are so long and huge that they only managed to explore less than 10% of it. It is amazing. And each exploration expedition lasts up to 4 days and they have to take out their own trash, and human waste…

At about 5pm, I drove 5 plus hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming which is at the border of Colorado. This was when I first noticed one of my tires had lower pressure than usual. On the way, I ate Taco John’s for the first time. Their grilled stuff tacos are pretty good. At night, I decided to save money and sleep in the car at the rest area at the border of Wyoming and Colorado, which was one of the newest and nicest rest areas I have been. There were a few RVs and trucks parked there overnight too. It is tough to sleep in the car as there is not enough space to stretch my legs.

Day 8 (Thursday) – Colorado

The next day I drove to Fort Collins, Colorado for a nice sumptuous breakfast in a small cafe. After that, at the visitors’ center, I asked for advice on visiting the Rockies. According to them, the roads might still be closed because of thick snow. Got me a bit worried. I-70 TO Utah goes through the Rockies at 11,000 feet through a tunnel and there was some congestion, and if there’s bad snow, chains are required.


I decided to drive up along highway 34 anyway and see what it is like. It was still pretty warm and nice at Estee Park, one of the entrances to the park. I decided to take a break from driving and took two shuttle buses to Bear Lake, one of the deeper parts of the park. Because of the higher elevation, it is actually starting to snow there. I was a little underdressed for the weather. But anyway I decided to hike around a bit to a small waterfall before taking the shuttle bus back.

At 4pm, I started the drive to Grand Junction, Co through a scenic byway to i-70. At the mountain pass, there was a tunnel through the continental divide, and then after that it was steep grades all the way down. Indeed, it was wet and snowing at the top, although pretty light and still drivable.

I had Thai food at a Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere at Silverthorne. It was some fake thai curry noodles. But at least they had bubble tea. I walked around into another drinks shop and talked with the cashier and he said he was from Cambodia. Wow. All the way from there.

Finally at 11pm or so, I reached Mesa Inn at Grand Junction.

Day 9 (Friday) – Colorado to Utah


In the morning, I ate the hotel breakfast, charged air into my tires, which seemed fine, before going to Black Canyon of the Gunnison about 90 minutes southeast of Grand Junction. It is also a canyon formed by a river, but the rocks are black. It is magnificent in its own way. Not Grand but Black.

After that, I drove through another scenic byway through the Grand Mesa National Forest. It was not worth the extra hour detour though. The forests are beautiful and has icy and snowy lakes due to the higher elevation. Other than that, nothing much.

I ate Golden corral for dinner, my first time in the buffet restaurant. Pretty cool, like college dining hall style.


After dinner I drove up the Colorado National Monument to think that I could watch sunset there. But alas, all the views are facing east. So the sun sets behind the ridge. In return, I had some nice golden-hour colors of the canyon and the city. Was not that bad. Wished I had more time to explore instead of just touching and go.

After that it became dark and I drove like 2 hours across the border to Utah. This was when I was considering between staying in a hotel or sleeping in my car again so that I could watch the sunrise. In the end, I chose the latter. I parked in an empty gravel lot in the middle of nowhere, next to a closed gas station. However. For some reason, I couldn’t sleep well and kept waking up. Finally at 4am, I decided to drive to Arches or Canyonlands for the sunrise.

Day 10 (Saturday) – Arches and Canyonlands


To my amazement, when I woke up, my rear left tire was bloated and visibly deflated, although not fully flat yet. I was very worried if it will last. I drove to the nearest gas station 5 miles away to pump some air. It looked better but I am sure it is still deflating. Based on the GPS data, there are some auto shops in Moab, Utah, which is the nearest town about 30 miles away. I decided to bring it to a shop in Moab after sunrise. Drove to Arches National Park instead of Canyonlands since it is nearer. I can hear the tire still hissing while watching the sunrise. I was too worried to enjoy the sunset fully, kept praying that the tire could last. Finally I drove down to have breakfast, just next to a tire repair shop. When it finally opened at 8am, I brought my car in. Miraculously, the mechanic simply removed the tire and patched it on the spot. Thank God. No replacement was needed. Thank God that it wasn’t an instant puncture, otherwise I will be stranded in the middle of nowhere!


After all my worries were eased, I drove back to Arches to do a 3-mile round trip hike to the famous Delicate Arch, the most photographed arch in the world. I also saw the Balanced Rock and the Double Arches.


In the afternoon, I drove to Canyonlands. At this time, the heat of the sun and the exhaustion was killing me. It was scotching. I got sunburnt just by driving the car! My left hand is more tanned than my right hand as it is nearer to the driver’s seat window. Took a short break at the visitor’s center before driving to the various overlooks on the Island in the Sky. I would say that Canyonlands is like miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Many small canyons formed by the same river Colorado, and the Green River. Not as impressive, but scenic in its own way.


I decided to leave early at 4pm as I was tired and it was still a 4+ hour drive to Salt Lake City. Along the way, I had dinner at Green River at the highest rated place on Yelp. I reached Salt Lake at about 8pm. Salt Lake is just like any other big American metropolis: big roads, many lanes, heavy traffic. Nothing special about it at first glance. Nothing “Mormonish” about it.

Finally I arrived at my Airbnb host at Cottonwood Heights at 10pm. It was a nice big house. She told me she is a Mormon and I asked her a few questions about her church and stuff.

Day 11 (Sunday) – Salt Lake City


On Sunday, I woke up early and the host cooked nice omelette and hash browns breakfast for me. It was delicious and it was very nice of her. I drove downtown to Temple Square to attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir weekly broadcast at 9.30am in the Tabernacle. It is an interesting dome-shaped building with seats like pews, and a huge organ in the background, with the choir and the symphony orchestra in the foreground. It was a short 30-minute program, with the choir singing a few hymns and songs, and a short inspirational message, which was apparently pre-recorded. I would say it is not exactly a church service, since there was no Bible preaching whatsoever. However, there are many Mormons and visitors present, probably about 50-50. It is apparently the world’s oldest broadcast.


After the broadcast, there were tour guides standing outside speaking in various languages. They are known as “missionaries”, i.e. Mormons from all over the world who come here to Salt Lake City to volunteer for a period of time. During the tour, I actually spotted one or two ladies with the Singapore flag with their nametag, but I did not manage to chat with them. The tour brought us to the Assembly Hall, and to 2 visitors centers and also around the Temple. However, the temple is a sacred building and only Mormons above 18 years old with the “right standing” can enter it. The visitor centers display what is inside the temple, about the gospel, the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith. At the end of the tour, the missionaries tried to preach a little bit of the gospel and ask people to believe in Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon.


I spent quite a few hours in the visitor centers, as they are pretty big with quite a number of museum exhibits. I also watched a 70-minute film about Joseph Smith, and got to know about the history and how and why he founded the Mormon Church. Interestingly, they believe in baptism by proxy, probably because his elder brother died earlier, and a few other unorthodox beliefs. I also visited the other buildings, like the gigantic 21,000-seater Conference Center, which is supposedly the largest front-facing auditorium in the world. Very impressive indeed. Trumps any other megachurch easily. I also visited the Church History Museum across the street.

This was also when my friend Joel asked me if I wanted to go Yellowstone National Park. I took a long time to decide because I was a little tired, wanted to rest, and I am not sure if my car can make it to the end. I was feeling unrest about the car mostly.

At the end of the day, I went shopping at some nearby shopping center and then I drove 2 hours to Wendover, the border of Utah and Nevada, and spent my night in an Inn there. At night, we were still contemplating whether to go Yellowstone or not. We even considered renting a car. Initially, I said no, because I was tired and feel not at peace about it. After all, I always think that I should leave something unexplored so that I can return with my wife and kids in future. Haha. But finally, I decided that I would go fix the car’s wheel bearings, and my friend will fly to SLC the next day immediately.

Day 12 (Monday) – Salt Lake City

I spent the day at the mechanic who fixed my piston and wheel bearings. I felt vibration more than usual, hence I thought I need to fix it since it was known to be wearing out 6 months ago. I went to do my laundry in a laundromat nearby while waiting. Haha. The mechanic fixed my steering wheel wobbling problem, and but there is still vibration. In fact, it seemed worse. Well, I continued anyway. Waited for Joel at a shopping mall and then drove to the SLC airport to pick him up. I brought him to Temple Square for a short tour before driving an hour up north to our motel for the night.

Day 13 (Tuesday) – Grand Teton


We drove through Idaho, had some awesome potatoes of course for lunch, in a small town called McCammon. Then through Jackson, WY and finally reached Grand Teton National Park, en route to Yellowstone. The only thing was it was too cloudy and the sun was setting, hence the colors were not very vibrant in our pictures. We were debating whether to do a hike or not, but realized there is probably not enough time. We drove through the scenic route through the lakes, and up the Signal Hill for a nice panoramic view, and down to Jackson Lodge for dinner. The Lodge is a nice hotel apparently built by Rockefeller, and it has nice huge bay windows overlooking the mountain range.


After dinner, we drove to our lodge, Hatchet Resort. It was a nice long heated cabin, pretty comfortable, with everything you expect in a motel. Not too cheap though since it is 40 minutes from Yellowstone.

Day 14 (Wednesday) – Yellowstone

In the morning, we ate breakfast at a grill in our resort. After that, we drove to Yellowstone, finally! Our first destination was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, right in front of the huge Yellowstone Lake, the highest altitude lake in the world. It is our first exposure to the hundreds of geysers in the park. We saw some hot springs, mudpots and geysers. After that, we took a 2-mile hike up an overlook hill to have a nice view of the whole Yellowstone Lake.


Next destination was Old Faithful. The famous geyser is predictable and erupts every 90 minutes or so. Everyone sat there eagerly, waiting for the geyser to sprout. There were some false alarms, and then splash, it erupts into a 50-metre high fountain. Pretty amazing.


After that, we spent a few hours walking around the geysers in the area. There are so many! Some are unnamed. We saw a few erupting in the distance. We even walked past two bisons which were like 2 metres from the boardwalk! We walked towards Riverside, another famous geyser, which is also predictable. It is also the most picturesque one, because of the river and the forest in the background. We waited for like 20 minutes past the predicted time, and it finally erupted! The cool thing was because the sun was shining at the correct angle, we could see a small rainbow in the fountain depending on where you are standing. Very impressive. After that, we saw a few more hot springs before driving to another area.


The next area was the midway geyser, which has the largest hot spring in the world. It is actually more like a lake which is continuously vaporizing and smoking. We then drove to the next section, which is the fountain paint pots area. More geysers. After all there are about 500 geysers in Yellowstone, of about 900 in the world. At the end of the day, it got a little boring because the geysers all look the same after a while.


However, the huge vapour rising created a nice “natural haze” effect for sunlight and lighting. It is pretty in the golden hour to see the smoke rising with the orange sun. After the sunset, we drove out to our accommodation in West Yellowstone, Montana. On the way out, there was a congestion along the road. Then, the ranger told us there were bison. True enough, there was a herd of bison walking on the road and we had to drive carefully past them.

We settled in a nice Best Western Inn, and we decided that we should stay for one more night in the inn because Yellowstone has so much to see and cover!

Day 15 (Thursday) – Yellowstone


Best Western has the one of the nicer free breakfasts in motels because it has hot stuff like a small egg omelette and biscuits! We drove to the Canyon Village area for our first stop. I wanted to try to hike Mount Washburn, which is not an easy hike. We drove to the parking lot, and we walked about 1/4 of the way, and decided that there is too much snow on the trail to continue. It was not really that cold, but somehow a lot of the snow on the trail has not melted, and it is very hard to walk on the snow uphill without the right equipment. We gave up and turned back. Nevertheless, the views on the hill were quite impressive already. We could see abit of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the distance.


The next stop was to drive to the Grand Canyon’s north rim. The canyon is very beautiful, with yellow rocks on both sides. Maybe that is how Yellowstone got its name. We stopped at almost every lookout point, from the Upper Falls to the brim of the Lower Falls to the Inspiration Point. We also drove to the south rim and walked down this long flight of steps, almost 25 storeys down, called Uncle Tom’s Trail. It rewards you with a nice frontal view of the Lower Falls. We also went to the Artist’s Point, where I though I heard some Malaysian/Singaporean accent from a family. Haha.

After the canyon, we drove to Mud Volcano, which is another smaller area with a few mudpots and geysers. It is not as impressive, after a while they look the same, which probably explains why there are less people there.

Towards the end of the day, after having dinner at Canyon Village, we decided to drive a loop around through Tower Falls. Tower Falls is quite disappointing, just a small waterfall viewed from a distance, nothing much worth travelling all the way there for. We then drove towards Mammoth Falls, and we saw a small grizzly bear along the way! It was a bit dark though. At Mammoth Falls, we managed to see some elk, both male and female. It was not my first time seeing elk, since I saw some in Point Reyes before.

Day 16 (Friday) – Yellowstone


On retrospect, it was a good decision to extend a day in Yellowstone. After all, we have not covered everything in 2 days. The last day, we went to the Norris geyser basin area. There are always bison along the way. At Norris, more geyers and mudpots and hot springs. I was getting a little tired of walking around them already. After that, we drove north to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was a little more interesting, because the hot springs flow out of fountains and they look like those fengshui rock formations. They are also very colourful, with orange, blue and white rocks, like Igloo. Another dry spring, called Liberty Cap, looks like Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat.


After saying bye to the elks, we left the park, driving back through West Yellowstone, Montana and all the way south to Pocatello, ID, where we spend the night in a Rodeway Inn.

Day 17 (Saturday) – Idaho to Reno, NV 

This day was a long day of driving, about 9 hours in total. We drove two hours west to Twin Falls, ID for brunch. And then it was a long and grueling 7 hours through the Nevada Desert to Reno via Elko. It was hot, really hot, and doesn’t help that my car doesn’t have a/c. We found an interesting Taiwanese restaurant in Reno for dinner. It was surprising authentic and good! We actually walked around the Circus Circus casino which was just a block away, and we saw one of those free Circus shows. Pretty fun to walk around the casinos, makes me feel like I am in Vegas. We then drove a little south to stay in an Extended Stay inn.

Day 18 (Sunday) – Reno to Yosemite

In the morning, the hotel did not provide good breakfast. So we decided to drive back to the casinos to have…buffet brunch! We ate at Flavors in the Silver Legacy Casino, next to Circus Circus. It was pretty worth it, $12++ for brunch with all the breakfast stuff, some lunch, seafood, and desserts, and even champagne. The most awesome meals ever. I realised that only Singaporeans are crazy about buffets, because some Americans detest them.

After the meal, we watched another free Circus show before starting the drive down Highway 395 to Yosemite National Park. It took us longer than expected, the distance is not long, but the mountainous roads make the travelling time longer. We reached the Yosemite east entrance on Highway 120 at 5pm, but it took us another hour or so to reach the valley. It is pretty interesting to enter Yosemite from the high sierra side, since I have never been through there before. The elevation is higher and it is colder, and less touristy. There was a nice lookout point at where you could see the back side of Half Dome Rock.


Finally, when we reached the valley, I brought my friend to Bridalveil Falls. At this place, it was a little deja vu as I have been here before. Coincidentally, we met two Singaporeans, of which one is actually Joel’s friend. After photo taking, we went to Tunnel View, which my friend thought was not as impressive as he thought.


After Tunnel View, we went to the Lower Yosemite Falls. It has slightly less water now because it is in the middle of June. Nevertheless still pretty. We then drove to Curry Village where we had a tent for the night. During dinner at the pizza place, it seems like I spotted two other groups of Singaporeans from the way they dress and the Singlish coming out of their speech. Haha.

Day 19 (Monday) – Yosemite

We woke up early as we wanted to enquire if there are still tickets for the one-way tour up Glacier Point. We had a nice breakfast at the Curry Village dining hall, where I spotted one of the groups of Singaporeans. I spoke with them, and found out that they are from NTU and are on a grad trip. Haha.

We drove to Yosemite Lodge where we boarded the $25 tour. It was a nice guided bus ride up to Glacier Point and the driver-cum-guide explained to us a lot of things about the nature and animals of the park. Apparently you can play dead to the bears in Yellowstone but you cannot play dead to the bears in Yosemite because you’d be dead after that. Also, even though Yellowstone is the first national park, Yosemite was the first state park and then became the 3rd national park. They say Yellowstone stole the glory first.


At Glacier Point, it was an impressive view of the whole valley and Half Dome. I have never been here before. We were debating whether to take the longer 8-mile panorama trail or the shorter 4.5-mile trail to the valley. We decided to take the shorter one as we still need to hike in Mariposa Grove later. The trails offers sweeping views of the valley and the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls as we descent. There were some people trying to climb up too. Must be much much tougher. Took us about 2.5 hours to reach the bottom. Not too difficult, nice cool weather as it was cloudy.


After a lunch snack with our snack bars and tuna, we went to Mirror Lake, which I have been to before. However, it seems prettier this time. The photos I took on my phone turned out pretty good that my friend says looks like Eden. The weird thing about Mirror Lake is that the actual reflective part is at the far end, and many people at hanging out at the less-reflective part at the south end. Perhaps they have not seen the actual reflection and are deceived…

We walked around the loop through the Happy Isles, and then finally took the shuttle bus back to our car as our legs are aching already.


We drove down the mountain to Mariposa Grove, which I think is a must-see. There, there are Giant Sequoias (pronounced as Sir-choirs) trees, which I always think look like the giant trees in Lord of the Rings and Narnia. I still vividly remember the last time I came 3 years ago, it was not snowing, and then it snowed and I had some nice snow pictures.

This time, other than the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel, we hiked a little further to see the Faithful Couple and the Clothespin trees. And then, the sun set and we have go head back. But we clocked the most amount of walking today, 25,000 steps with almost 25 km of walking!

After a long day, we had dinner at some random Chinese restaurant in Oakhurst, CA, before driving to an inn in Merced, where we spent the night.

Day 20 (Tuesday) – Back to SF Bay Area

We had In-n-out (what else!) for brunch at Tracy, CA and then we went shopping at the premium outlets in Livermore, CA. Managed to get some Coach bags at 65% off. Amazing. After that, we met Victor for dinner at fb before parting ways. My friend flew back to Pittsburgh, while I finally settled in at my friend’s house in Redwood City.

After 20 days, I got a little bit tired of travelling and just want to go home…but…I’ve to sell my car first.

Spring: Easter, Freedom Church, Stardust

Finally Spring is here! Temperatures have been rising to 15-25 and the flowers are blooming!

I think God has really placed me at the right place at the right time. If I didn’t buy the car at Santa Rosa, I wouldn’t have received the title late, I wouldn’t have shipped the car to Pittsburgh, and I wouldn’t be able to drive to Freedom Fellowship church every Sunday here. Now that I am able to, I have been playing piano for their Sunday worship and it has been awesome. They are very blessed by my presence and every Sunday they kept praising me. I am teaching them some NCC songs as well. Definitely blessed to be a blessing!

So one of the couples from the church invited me to their house for Easter Sunday family dinner. I invited Joel along too. Seems like a tradition similar to Thanksgiving but smaller scale. The house is in a far away suburban area called Canonsburg and it is on a nice cul-de-sac. Their whole extended family was threw with 4 (!) generations of people, total about 20 people. It was a pleasant All-American feast, with ham, salads, mac-n-cheese, bunny-shaped bread, pineapple crust, and 3 different kinds of desserts. It was delicious. The family is pretty nice to talk to as well and they were great hosts. They have been so gracious to me that I decided to invite them for my graduation ceremony as well.

As for ETC, Project Stardust had a rocky start with the script being finalised only after quarters. Nevertheless we are advancing full steam ahead into softs and I wonder if we can render finish on time. One animator and one artist and one modeller and one compositor is definitely not enough! It is like only one person per role! But we hope to finish it so that we can go to Orlandoo…

Which reminds me of the Book of Mormon song. It is a pretty funny musical which is slightly vulgar and makes fun of the Mormon church. But I would say that the ending is slightly redemptive as the message is that as long as the religious teachings are put in proper context, they can achieve good.

As for other news it seems like every gadget I have is breaking apart. First, my laptop’s motherboard died last August and I have been surviving on my lousy tablet which touchscreen is horrendously weird. And the recently, because I dropped my camera too many times, one of the lens has some crack internally and it is faulty. Only my Samsung phone is surviving after 2 years and 4 months. Amazing.

I am still waiting for God to open doors this summer…


SXSW: South by Southwest Film / Music / Interactive Conference

Last week during Spring Break, I went to SxSW conference in Austin, TX with Ricardo and Albert.

Keep Austin Weird

Austin is a nice, clean and small but definitely bigger than Pittsburgh. The weather reminds me of California, just right. Food reminds me of California too, tex-mex rocks! It is certainly the live music capital of the world, especially along 6th street, where all the pubs and bars are. There’s also random people busking on the street and weird people walking around. Saw a LGBT parade on Congress one of the days. There are also many trishaws  and bicycle rickshaws, with the cyclists dressed up like superman, wonderwoman, scooby-doo and the like. There is no subway network, only a small tiny 2-carriage commuter train. The streets are surprisingly clean with many trashcans around. Congress Ave is also very picturesque with the Capitol building at the end of the road.

Interactive Documentary

I attended many film workshops regarding interactive documentary storytelling over the first few days. It seems like a new trend nowadays. They inspired me to create an interactive documentary of my own in the future, perhaps in a Singapore context. It seems like a good fit for me too, since I can combine both my web design and filmmaking skills together. One of the workshops also talk about the intersection of user experience design and filmmaking, which is pretty interesting. I also went to a workshop which talked about DSLR and tools for filmmaking.

There was a party hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and ETC was part of hosting it. So we were involved in a tiny booth helping to promote ETC. The music was really loud but we managed to showcase some ETC projects, including World of Goo as well as parts of our Project Xenon video. We managed to impress some people and also help to give out some swag.

We watched many films, such as

  • Evil Dead (remake): a gory, scary remake of Evil Dead (1981)
  • And Who Taught You To Drive?: a nice funny documentary about driving lessons in Japan, Germany and India
  • Hours: about Hurricane Katrina
  • Animated Shorts
  • Improv
  • Downloaded: about Napster
  • Cirque du Soleil #EVOKE13
  • Much Ado About Nothing: a remake of the Shakespeare classic
  • TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard
  • Documentary Shorts 1: After, Recollections, The Village
  • Reality Show: a movie about making reality shows, shot in a documentary style
  • V/H/S/2: a nice stitching of many horror/zombie-related shorts
  • We Cause Scenes: a documentary about ImprovEverywhere
Music and the Singapore connection
Over on the music side, I managed to catch LeCrae live in a collegemixshow. Everyone else is a non-Christian hardcore rap/hip-hop artist, except for LeCrae. He was really talking about God in between his rap songs. Pretty amazing. Managed to take a picture with him too. I also found out that there was a Singaporean band The Sam Willows performing, so I decided to pop by and check them out. Pretty cool and funky band with nice timbre-style music, and they’re all just slightly younger than me. Amazing people. Nice to see our local talent being exposed to the US market.
Over at the Trade Show, I realised that IDA has a booth and they brought some Singapore startups to showcase too. I managed to talk with one of the IDA persons and found out that they actually have an international office at Redwood Shores! So close to where I was last semester and I didn’t know! Pretty cool.
Twitter and Swag
Twitter is a wonderful thing in such conferences. I was searching “Singaporean SXSW” to see if anyone tweet about Singapore stuff, and managed to link up with someone from sge, an entrepreneurs group and invited him to the ETC party, and found out that he was working in Blk 71 as well. What a small world. Twitter is also a good thing to search for free stuff. There’s a channel called SouthByFreeNoms with all the free food and drinks posted. On the first day, we were talking with some random guy in the line, and he said we shouldn’t be spending any money or more than $20 on food a day. It is true. There’s always free breakfast, sandwich and drinks somewhere! And of course, free swag. There’s so many places giving out free t-shirts that you actually don’t have to bring shirts to the conference. And free pens, beer, tacos, beer, stickers, etc. Breakfast tacos are the best. One of the best swag was from the Oreo booth, after taking a photo and guessing where the photo behind you was taken, you get oreos, plus a small portable charger, plus a $25 voucher somewhere. I’ve got a voucher at a fruit juice place called Juiceland while my friend got his for Waterloo Records. Cool local places.

Everything is bigger in Texas

That’s what they say. The roads and freeways are definitely bigger in Texas. Bigger than the ones in California! It seems like a uniquely Texas thing to have a “frontage road” beside every freeway! And it is certainly a car country. In Houston, there 6 normal lanes plus 2 carpool lanes plus 3 lanes on the frontage road. Crazy! Speed limits are higher too, from 75mph on freeways (instead of 65) to 40mph on normal roads (instead of 35). And another strange thing is that the traffic lights here are mostly horizontal instead of vertical. Another interesting Texas phenomenon is the Texas U-turn.


I went to visit Austin Stone Community on Sunday evening. It was held in a high school gym. The Texas music genes is pretty strong, everyone looks like Crowder. Haha. On Wednesday, I decided to drive 3 hours to Houston, TX to attend Lakewood Church’s midweek service. I also managed to convince Albert to come along and we had a nice chat during the drive. We had Church’s Chicken for lunch (which is called Texas’ Chicken in Singapore), and it is more peppery than Popeye’s and KFC. We drove to Houston’s “Chinatown” and found a huge area of strip malls filled with all kinds of Chinese stuff. We had Malaysian food at Banana Leaf (which is not related to the one in Milpitas), and spotted some Singaporean goods at the Chinese supermarket like Yeo’s and Owl’s. After dinner, we drove to Lakewood Church. It is HUGE, after all, it was a basketball stadium. It was pretty empty since it was a midweek service. We managed to get good seats in the middle. Worship was good, no Israel Houghton though. Joel Osteen came for a while to say hi, and then his sister Lisa Osteen preached about writing down our visions. All in all, a pretty surreal experience, as usual.

On the way back, we drove around Houston downtown before driving back. Downtown is like many other downtowns I guess, quiet at night. Houston is a large city, 4th largest in the states, and sprawling, like many others. It seems to have many suburban cores too.

Getting Around

We took bus most of the time, even though our motel was on the freeway. Fortunately there’s a bus a short walk away to downtown. At night, we have to take the last bus or take the night owl bus and walk. But the music crowd was crazy. Once they came, it was like the geeks meet the hippies, and 6th St became super crowded with many people partying. On the last night, we almost couldn’t get back – all the taxis were full and the buses were full too. Zipcar saved the day! Managed to find one in Downtown to drive back and then we could drive it back downtown the next day.


It was a good week. Feel very inspired now. And I’d miss Austin’s weather. Back to cold Pittsburgh where spring does not exist.

The 54-hour Train Ride

Some people think that I am insane to embark on such a ridiculously long train ride from West Coast to Midwest of United States. 2 years ago, I wanted to take a train from New York City to San Francisco, but I took a flight instead. And now I have the chance to take it so I seized the opportunity. After all, Don says it is the “most artistic way to travel” and I love trains. I thought it would be a good time to relax, read and think about life. I also thought of driving across but snow and black ice is dangerous and was afraid my car cannot make it.

The cab ride from South SF to Emeryville was expensive but fortunately there was no congestion on the Bay Bridge. One of the interesting things that happened was that I was wearing a Facebook tee so someone asked if I worked for them. And then another lady called me ‘Facebook boy’ because I haven’t introduced my name to her. She’s a nice lady who travels on trains often because she loves trains too. It was a birthday present for herself. She would go ecstatic in the sightseeing car whenever there’s some cool scenery we passed by and she would take pictures of everything. It was nice to chat with her.

The journey from Sacramento, CALFO to Reno, Nevada was the first scenic portion. It was interesting to see the transition from greenery to white snow. The train went slower as it climbed higher. There was also onboard commentary in the lounge car which was pretty cool. I learnt about snow sheds which are used to shield the trains from the harsh winter conditions. We had to crawl behind a freight train for a while before we managed to find a passing track to overtake it.

After Reno the sun set and I could see some casinos in the distance. Ate an overpriced beef short ribs dinner ($19.75) in the dining car and met some interesting people. I added milk to my iced tea and a college kid from Nebraska mentioned that he did it once and his friends think he was weird. But he agreed that it tastes good. So I told him in many parts of Asia milk tea is a common drink and there’s also bubble or boba tea. He said he never heard of it before. Haha

When I woke up we passed Salt Lake City, Utah and we near Helper, UT. It waas so named because in the past, a helper locomotive would attach to a train to help it climb the mountains. I ate a packed crossiant for breakfast. The journey from here to Grand Junction, Colorado was the most scenic. We went through many canyons which look like little tiny siblings of Grand Canyon. There was an almost 2 hours delay when we had to pass a freight train and the switch mechanism for the tracks wasn’t working. Had reasonbly priced burger ($9.75) for lunch. Towards Denver, CO, the train followed the windy Colorado River through many mountain ridges and canyons. By the time we were crossng the tunnel through the Continental Divide it was dark already so I couldn’t see how the Rockys look like.

Before Denver I ate some overpriced microwave pasts ($6.75). I tried to ask how much it costs to upgrade to a sleeper car just for one night. The conductor made a call and quoted me $250, which is the same price as the website. After Denver I asked again to a different conductor and he quoted me $232 which is not much difference. I decided to sleep in the lounge car that night, although there were many people hanging out there.

The next morning we arrived into Omaha, Nebraska. I ate some decent pancakes and sausages ($12.75) and chat with a lady who was traveling to Iowa. She told me that apparently there was an arrest last night. Apparently there was a guy with a guitar and he as harnessing people and she was the 4th person to complain to the conductor. He played something and then asked her for his food. So the train made an unscheduled stop and police came onboard and took him away. So interesting. I was probably asleep when all that happened.

We crossed into Iowa which was mostly flat dry farmlands with little snow. It was pretty boring. The only highlight was when we crossed the Missouri River after Burlington into Illinois. After that it was flat farmland again, just with a little bit more snow.

Finally after a total delay of almost 3 hours, the train caught up with time a little bit and we reached Chicago at about 5.30pm. The first impression when I stepped out of the station: smells like urine, reminds me of NYC. Haha. Found a nice Indian restaurant on yelp and treated myself to briyani. Fortunately, my flight back to Pittsburgh was booked for a few hours later so I had some time to take the metro subway to the airport. Pretty interesting and similar stock to NYC’s too.

On the whole, it was a good time to reflect, read Steven Furtick’s Greater, listen to a few sermons, see some amazing scenery, think about 2012 and what’s in store for 2013, chat with random people, and to be able write all these down in slow moving time. Certainly the most artistic way to travel.

P.S. the only bad thing was I didn’t get to shower for 3 days. Haha.

End of 2012

2013 came without the usual fanfare for me this year. No fireworks at Marina Bay, but there was snow and snowboarding with Daffy and family! 2012 has been a blast, and God has taught me many things, including waiting and being patient on many many things, resting in his grace, guarding my heart and not being afraid, for perfect love cast our fearsand the gospels’ first words were do not to be afraid. Certainly unceasing fruitfulness.Thank you Jesus for…
  • 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.
Patience also relates to how all my technology seemed to break down. My laptop display wasn’t working and I had to wait very long and after finding 2 places to diagnose, the verdict was the motherboard and display chip is not working. Not worth it to repair so I sold to a repair shop for $100. Haha. The other thing was my tablet’s touchscreen is going cranky. And to think that I managed to survive on a half-broken tablet and no laptop apart from the desktop in school is amazing. Only my phone is still surviving.