S.E.A. Aquarium - A must visit place in Singapore

Singapore is one of the world’s topmost tourist destinations and it has a lot to offer in terms of theme parks, city life, fine dining, cultural events and the list goes on. Even though Singapore is a small country in terms of geographical size, I never get bored while I am in Singapore as there is always something to keep me occupied. When I first arrived here back in 2009, I wanted to cover all the popular tourist destinations like the bird park, zoo, Sentosa etc. By the time I was done with most of them, I realized that I shouldn’t have been in a hurry. Now that I have covered them, I’ll be be left with no place to visit when I am bored, or so I thought.

Within a few months, the Marina Bay Sands integrated casino & shopping center opened up and then came the Resorts World Sentosa and the Universal Studios. By the time I got a chance to visit them, they inaugurated iFly Singapore and Gardens by the Bay and couple of more attractions which I am yet to visit. Each time I visit one of these newly opened attractions, I think this is the best so far and nothing else can give me that ‘WOW’ factor again. But I am constantly being proven wrong. 

Out of all these attractions, I have a list of places which are my favorite, which I try to visit every time I get a chance. I added one more to the list recently - The S. E. A Aquarium. It is part of the Marine Life Park which is the largest oceanarium in the world. (The other part of the Marine Park being the Adventure Cove Park, which I am yet to visit) Even though it was opened around a year back, I waited till my family was visiting so that we can all go and enjoy it together. However, I was under the impression that, since I am an avid diver and have seen most of the exhibits in the real ocean, I may not be very thrilled. Also I had been to the underwater world in Sentosa before.

I was wrong again. Almost all the exhibits beat my expectations and I constantly found myself saying “WOW” for most of them. While diving, all the natural colors except blue gets absorbed by water once you are past a few meters deep and most of the stuff just looks blue under water. In the SEA aquarium, all of the displays were well lit and the creatures were a treat to the eyes. I felt like I could just stay there looking at the exhibits forever.

The largest acrylic display in the world

My naughty nephew went crazy seeing all the fishes there. He was happily running around screaming “fiiiisssshhhh, fiiiisssshhhh” everywhere.

Within the short span of 6 weeks, I have already visited the aquarium twice. If you are planning to visit Singapore, I strongly recommend that you add the SEA Aquarium to the top of your visit list. After all, the S.E.A Aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium and one of the best attraction I have ever been to, till date.

Another blue blue display

A ship wreck exhibit

One of my favourite displays, the jelly fish tank


A colourful wrasse. I spent a long time at this exhibit admiring its beauty

"Never underestimate a mountain"

Mountains have always fascinated me. Once upon a time, I used to describe climbers and trekkers as people who have nothing better to with their lives. But it changed over time. As I have written before, every time I am on a mountain, I feel like I am a different person. It all started when I first stumbled up on Mount Bromo, Surabaya for totally different reasons. After that, I got hooked on the idea of being at a summit to watch sunrise. That's when I started searching for mountains which are doable with my level of fitness (beginner).
As with all good things, trekking a mountain needs time and money. So I was determined to find a mountain reasonably tough, but at the same time cheap and nearby, so that I can finish over a weekend. After spending some time in the net, I read about Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang) in Johor, Malaysia. Information was hard to come by, numerous blogs talk about finishing Mt Ophir as a day trek. Since my main goal is to be at the summit for the sunrise (and of course, photography) I didn't want a day trek. That means, camping at the mountain before going up early in the morning.
Thanks a lot to my crazy friends, especially Jen, who was persistent to find all the details for such a trek, starting from the the contacts of the park office to what kind of diet we need during the trek. The itinerary she came up with was exactly what I wanted to have, a 2D1N with camping and lots of fun. Also, I wanted this trek to be done as a preparation to our upcoming Mount Rinjani trek (more on that on a later blog).

The rough itinerary from Singapore is as follows.

Day 1, Saturday
6:00 am: Start from home towards Woodlands checkpoint. Thanks to my dear friend Andrew, who picked us up from home and dropped us at the checkpoint.

7:00 am: That was our meeting point. After immigration we took an SBS 170 towards Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The group that rocked Mt Ophir

8:30 am: Since my friend Yao had bought the tickets to Segamat earlier, we just had to reach Larkin terminal to board the bus. We had our breakfast there too. We reached the bus station around 11:30 (~3hrs). We asked around to find a nice restaurant (apparently very famous for their beef) for lunch. Then we got a taxi from the bus station to the park office, gate B for RM10. 

 Gunung Ledang Park Gate

The Gunung Ledang Park office and resort

Since Jenn had done a thorough job of arranging everything (including our camp, cooking stove etc), all we had to do was to fill up some forms with the details of the stuff we were carrying, get our camping stuff and walk on.

A guide explaining the route

2:00 pm Our guide was a bit late, so we started our hike around 2:00pm with another guide.

Starting our trek

Check Point 1

On our way through the jungle

 Using ropes

Our plan was to hike up till checkpoint 4 (CP4) and camp there.

Setting up our camps

4:30 pm We reached and put up the camps. After a short break, we went to the nearby twin waterfall. Its a steep descend and using slippers can get very slippery.

Relaxing by the waterfalls 

We had a great time in the waterfalls. The water was so cold that all the tiredness will go away with one dip there. We also went up to the bigger waterfalls, slightly up hill and stood directly under the falls to get a free back massage.

Cooking dinner by the camp fire

7:00 pm Reached back at the camp and started boiling the water. We had cup noodles and a lot of extra food. After dinner, we spent some more time chit chatting with others. By 9:00pm, I retired to the tent as I wanted to get as much rest as possible before the start of the summit hike

Day 2, Sunday
2:00 am: We woke up to find that it was drizzling. So our hike got delayed by an hour.
We started the hike through the dark and thick jungle around 3 am. Now all I could remember is the long hike through the steep and tough terrain, sometimes climbing almost 80 deg surfaces at KFC on tree roots, walking up top over rocks using ropes, dodging protruding rocks and tree branches etc. I couldn’t take any pictures.

5:00 am: We had our last stop for break here.

6:00 am: As usual, I had to rush the last 20 minutes to reach the summit in time to get the sunrise. The path was narrow and getting crowded with people posing for photographs. However, I managed to reach up top with enough time for me to set up my gear. Even though we were still under the clouds, we got a gorgeous sunrise. People rested for around and hour (except me, who was busy clicking)

 One of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen

The group

For the record - Yeah, we did it

8:00 am: Started our journey back through another “supposedly easier” route. It was just another treacherously long route through thick forest. The only good thing was, we were protected from the sun at all times due to the thick foliage.

I never thought the supposedly easier path will look like this

Using all fours to climb down

Yeah, we had enough water supply from the springs.

Another 40 more grueling minutes to our camp 

Preparing quick lunch

11:00 am We reached back our camps, had an hour of rest, took a quick bath in the river nearby and had our lunch.

2:00 pm: We started our journey back from CP4

4:00 pm: Reached the park entrance, had a quick shower and boarded our van (thanks to Yao who arranged it) back to SG. On our way back to SG, we had a short stop for our dinner.

8:00 pm: Reached back home with lots of great memories (& photos) and the satisfaction of bagging yet another mountain.

The time when I almost got cheated!

Being an engineer and a gadget geek, I know how easy it is to confuse a branded product (especially in electronics) with a counterfeit one and get cheated by a ‘creative’ salesman. That’s why, I usually stick with the trusted shops, when I shop for gadgets, even if that means I am paying a premium for the name. I always try to go with guideline, “If its too good to be true, its probably not true”. Even with these safeguards, I almost got cheated over the weekend at a shop in Funan mall and learned a couple of things from the experience.
I have to admit that I am a sloppy negotiator, especially when it comes to buying a gadget. Usually I go straight to one of the reputed shops which quoted the lowest price over phone and buy it without a lot of bargaining. This time, it was a Canon Speedlite I was looking for, along with couple of other accessories and I decided to go to Funan Digital mall, Singapore. Since I was not short on time, I decided to put my negotiation/people skills to test. 
I went around asking for the prices at various shops. The first shop I walked into was named 25 Cam (#03-25). The salesperson quoted a price which was around S$30 less than the price I had in my mind. “Wow!”, I thought, “a nice bargain and that too at the first shop. Today might be my lucky day”. I told him I’ll be back and went searching for better deals.
After an hour or so, I finished my recon. All of the other shops quoted a price similar to the one which I came up with, after my research. I had a decision to make. On one hand, I had a good offer from the first shop. One the other hand, couple of things nagged me at the back of my head.
1. Is the offer too good to be true? But, I countered with the argument that its not a discount of 20-30%, but somewhere around 10%. (I didn't calculate exactly how much, my mistake).
2. If this shop provided such bargains regularly, why haven’t I heard about it in any online forums? But then again, I don’t necessarily know about all the camera shops in Singapore, may be I have missed this one.
I went to the first shop and let him know about the other things I wanted - a neutral density filter, rechargeable batteries and a diffuser. I wanted a Hoya filter and that’s when the salesman started lecturing me about why Hoya doesn't produce a good ND filter. He offered me a Kenko filter, which in his argument, is better than Hoya. But I could see the real reason why he was pushing me a Kenko - he was out of Hoya 77mm ND filter. But I calmed myself thinking “if I buy couple of things from here, I might be able to get a better price”. Again, my mistake.
Once I had all the things I wanted, I told him to give me the final amount. That’s when the salesman told me to look at a third party flash with a better performance & a similar price but with no obligations to buy. “Alarm!”, a red flag was raised in my head of a possible fraud. I was never fond of third party products. But, I decided to go along with him as I didn't want to offend him.
He told me how the third party flash is better by having a better zoom with support up to 105mm and Canon doesn't (it’s a plain lie) and how it has a better guide number than the Canon one (the guide number he quoted was also wrong) and that the third party one being made in Japan even though he was unable to show me the “Made in Japan” print on the unit. When he saw that I was not convinced, he started to demonstrate. He opened a brand new looking lens cover, and attached it to an EOS 7D and the flash unit. Later he put it back the same way. BIG MISTAKE! If he is opening a brand new cover to demonstrate to a customer and putting it back the same way, how can I trust the unit he is offering me is a genuine product?
I was beginning to think of a way to back off from the deal. I asked for the final quote saying I am going with the Canon unit. That’s when his true colors came out. He said, the price quoted was exclusive of GST (Goods & Services tax) and that I have to pay extra money. (The new price came around the price quoted by other shops). When I tried to argue, his reply was, “I won’t get the money, it goes to the Lee’s (a.k.a the Singapore Government)”. But by then, he had already started putting the stuff back because he knew that I had already made up my mind. 
I was shocked and relaxed at the same time; shocked because of the extend of lies he told me and how nearly I got cheated and relaxed because I didn't get cheated in the end. I waited a bit to decide what to do next and simply walked out of the door. Later at home, a simple internet search showed me that lot of people have fallen prey to these techniques.
I learned a couple of things from the encounter,
1. When there is a voice inside your head telling you about a possible fraud, better listen to it. Proceed with extreme caution.
2. Always ask whether the final price is “inclusive of GST”. Later I realized that if I had done a simple calculation, I could have figured out the price difference was exactly 7%.
3. If there is a difference of more than 5-10% from the consensus price, most likely there will be a catch. Find  it.
4. Its OK to try and find the lowest price, but be prepared to face situations like these where you can be harassed and let down. Be ready to take what you have learned and move on.
Above all, I realized that there are people who lie through their teeth, at your face, to sell things (sometimes faulty), for a profit of a couple of dollars (sometimes, even the reputed stores). These are the ones who doesn't have any ethics, who doesn't know the values of honor and integrity. So it is the responsibility of us - the customers - to be vigilant and not to fall prey to these techniques.

Goodbye, old friend!

This is a post which I wrote the day after I moved out of my previous apartment.

Everyone has their routines, like morning chores or commuting to work or buying groceries, routines that people give little or no thought to, activities that just happen in everyday life when most people are busy planning other things. All of it changes when you know that this is probably the last time you are going to do what used to be just a routine in your life.
Yesterday when I walked to my apartment from the train station, I took my time to do it. I enjoyed the sunset more than I use to, forgot to cross the road since I stayed longer at the signal, simply looking around, got immersed in the beauty of the blue sky during twilight (my favorite time of the day) even though I have seen many times, all of this because I didn't want let go of that feeling, the feeling which I get when I am around that neighborhood for a random walk to the nearby shop or a Saturday morning jogging session, when the feelings are always that of hopes and dreams.
I didn't want to let go because, it was time for us to move out from our apartment, the place where I started my life with the love of my life, the place where we not only lived, but enjoyed every bit of it, for the last two years. The place which gave us nothing but happiness, the place which is full of happy memories, laughter and energy, the place which we set up from scratch, where we painted the walls with “loud” colors, the place which automatically gets transformed to a party place every Friday night, the place which we transformed from a mere apartment to our home.
When its time for us to move on, we all think about the time when we started it and it never looks that far into the past, it always feels like yesterday. The apartment was no different. It gave us a lot of memories to cherish for the rest of our lives. Each of those walls or windows had some special memory etched to it. The place never stopped inspiring and motivating us.
By the time we were done with cleaning and packing the last of the stuff, it was late night. Still we just sat there for a while thinking about all those nostalgic moments. Both of us felt heavy at heart. We felt that the apartment has a soul, one which we created out of our own soul, our lives, one which we hope will follow us, no matter wherever we go.
The last of the beer cans we consumed before passing on the keys to the landlord

Varnam 2013- My first Art Exhibition

As some of my readers already know, I have ventured into many types of visual art forms over the years. I started with sketch pen, crayons & watercolor as a kid but continued to use water color as my main medium until very recently. Lately I've been using acrylic as my main medium due to the ease of use and many other factors.
I enjoyed the whole process of “creation” immensely (the frequency was going down recently as I focused more on photography), but mostly I did it only for my own satisfaction. My family and close friends were my audience and it was their encouragement that inspired and motivated me to do more. I never exhibited my works for an external audience to see (except for the exhibitions I was part of in school and college days).
The fact changed when my good friend Nikhil called me a with an invitation. An invitation for an Art exhibition organised by Kaleido - a digital arts club led by the youth wing of Singapore Malayalee Association (SMA). The goal was to create a platform for amateur artists in Singapore to showcase their work, to give it an international exposure.
Immediately I agreed to join. I had 3 of my works in Singapore and I decided to exhibit them. Even though I wanted to do a new work just for the exhibition, I couldn't make it as I had a lot of things going on.
The exhibition was organised on Jan 26-27, 2013. It was conducted in the SMA building, in Singapore. 11 artists - both amateur and professionals - participated in the event. More than 80 artworks were exhibited with a variety of media like watercolor, acrylic, oil, charcoal etc. Clay modelling, miniature modelling and animations added new dimensions to an already vibrant collection of art forms. The event was a huge success with more turnover than expected by the organizers.

For me personally, the event was a big opportunity, an opportunity to showcase my ability as an artist in front of a greater audience. But more importantly, it gave me the chance to meet a lot of like minded individuals who share a common passion and spend 2 days with them, discussing ideas and exploring various possibilities of a variety of media. This enabled me to get back in track with my long fading passion for colors and to kick start my “painting” activities, again.