Inaugurating First Edition of Flock in Zamboanga

Flock, the birding e-magazine by Amazing Journey Asia Media, reporting on the events in Zamboanga in conjunction with the 9th Philippine Bird Festival 2014. This edition will be updated progressively as the videos are edited & uploaded. I hope you would enjoy this birding chronicles in Flipbook style! A big thank you to the Department of Tourism in Philippines & the people at the Wild Bird Club of Philippines, without you, this experience wouldn’t have achieved so much fun, action & camaraderie! Enjoy the e-magazine!

Get Flock here.

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Where Every Grain Matters

In Daocheng county, Sichuan, China, the people farm wheat as the climate doesn’t allow them to plant other staple foods like rice. They can only harvest once, at most, twice per year. Stopping for a scenic take of the autumn trees, the workers clearing the wheat chaff on the land attracted my attention to cross the busy road plied by tourists buses using that route to head to Yading. They were constantly bent over, picking & plucking, occasionally rising to toss the little bundles into a woven basket that a boy was carrying. At the scene was an elderly lady with a baby strapped to her back. She seemed happy to converse with the workers. Looking at Andy Phua snapping away, I joined him & watched a scene in the daily lives of this Tibetan tribe.

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A view that leaves you speechless.

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The elderly lady with the baby.

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Back-breaking labour, pulling chaff to prepare the ground for winter before planting again.

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A panoramic view of the stream in Daocheng.

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A scruffy boy I met there.

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A sun-kissed toddler I’ve had the privilege of giving treats to.

Travelling further inward into the country, I caught sight of another group of farmers separating wheat grains using a blower, still manual work of hoisting the basket & pouring the contents into the wind, it was a fascinating experience for me. Learning how hard it is to get so little grain and yet this is all they have got.

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Wrapped my head in Buff™ & with my Cocoons sunglasses and hood, I approached the flying chaff onward to give you an insight of this hard labour.

Technical Jackets to Tackle Terrains

Yading Nature Park

Yading Nature Park, Sichuan, China – I almost passed out getting this picture. Subzero temperatures, sitting on frosted ground waiting for clouds to clear.

Having zero tolerance for the cold prompted me to look for different jackets & baselayers available for all my outdoor pursuits. Not sure if it’s owing to the lack of hair on my body or my internal heating system/metabolic rate is virtually not working or I may just be wearing clothes with poor insulation. My trip to China allowed me to truly rate each jacket’s warmth & insulation. Let’s just take the last reason for me to shop some more. :P

I have a Max Cocos insulated micro fibre winter coat for city trips to help me withstand the cold in winter countries when I have to attend meetings but I can’t use the same delicate jacket for outdoor adventure. I remember when I had to cover fam trips in all kinds of expedition around the country where I would tear a pair of pants or two every trip. It was quite a costly affair & this is in the tropics. What about zero degrees or sub zero terrain? I didn’t understand what ‘technical jacket’ was all about until I learnt the technology behind it.

My favourite brand is of course, Animal from UK. They have sizes that fit my long arms & legs perfectly. At 175cm, I tower over most Malaysian men & that’s without heels. I fell in love with the turquoise colour of this jacket & having a waterproof rating of 10,000mm & MVP of 15,000g, this jacket was perfect for times when I have to brave the rain or chilly wind on the dive boat ride back to shore.

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Animal Amaya Jacket

This 3 layer technical fabric is designed to keep water & wind out while venting away excess body heat.

Technical specifications:- 

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Textured Nylon 3 Layer Fabric With DWR
  • Waterproof Rating of 10,000; MVP 15,000
  • Taped Seams
  • Waterproof Zippers
  • Underarm Ventilation
  • Grown On Hood
  • Adjustable Hem And Hood
  • Adjustable Cuffs
  • Reflective Logo

Let’s examine this MVP rating. MVP is moisture vapour permeability. It tells you how much moisture can vaporise through the fabric per m2 per 24 hours. Which means, even if the fabric is waterproof from the outside, it allows sweat to permeate through the fabric without leaving you soaking wet. The waterproofing rating involves testing using a number of different testing protocols but most involve the equivalent of placing a 1” x 1” square tube over the fabric and determining how high (in millimeters) a column of water you can suspend over it before it starts to leak. So when I read that the Animal Amaya jacket has 10,000mm WP, I knew I had to have it.

Then came the Trespass Balbi. Trespass is another UK brand (I love their size 12) that is available online through their website. Being dark grey, I could use it for birding! So I got it in time for my trip to China.

Balbi

Trespass Balbi Jacket

Technical specifications:- 

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Adjustable Grown On Hood
  • 3 Zip Pockets with Water Resistant Zips
  • Water Resistant Zip at Centre Front Opening
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjustment
  • Form Cut Rubber Cuff Tab
  • Shell: 100% Polyester/ TPU
  • Membrane/ 100% Polyester
  • Waterproof 10,000mm
  • Breathable 3000g/m2/24hrs
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

Though I loved this jacket, upon the 3rd day of use, the inside started to peel away at the waterproofed seams. Since it’s still new, I am going to ask for an exchange. Coupled with the Trespass Wendy jacket as a midlayer, it provided me with enough warmth but due to a switch of bags for the journey, I didn’t get to wear this in Yading & wore the less effective Karrimor 3in1 parka instead. Naturally, I froze & almost passed out.

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Leong took a picture of me taking a picture of something! In my Trespass Balbi jacket.

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Standing atop a pile of earth at the edge of the ravine, we were in Yunnan, China. I was covered in my Buff™ balaclava & was wearing Animal Ski Pants!

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Trespass Wendy jacket – the soft shell fleece midlayer I wore in China. 

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Lafuma LD Donegal CLIMACTIVE® Jacket i

This is one of my favourite all-year round jacket. The lightest of them all, this pink jacket packs a hood in the collar & it’s great to ward off the rain on your photo walkabouts. I often wear it when I have my dinner outdoors at Chinese restaurants to repel wind. Did I mention that I have no tolerance to cold? As soon as the temperature dips to 24? or less, I will start to feel uncomfortable.

Technical specifications:-

  • 100% POLYESTER
  • 3 in 1 protective jacket with removable fleece
  • Structured Twill-effect fabric
  • Attached hood which stows inside collar
  • 1 zippered chest pocket with invisible zip
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets
  • Adjustable hem with elasticated drawcord and toggles
  • Velcro tab adjustment at wrist.
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets.
  • Seam sealed.

This Lafuma jacket can be found at Lafuma Bangsar. I believe there are men’s versions as well & certainly not pink in colour. ?

My fascination with pink has to do with being female. I can be a typical female when it comes to colour choices but for practicality sake, no one would want to steal ‘pink.’ This is my second pink jacket, the first being the Animal Kapelle Ski jacket.

AnimalKapelle

The Animal Kapelle is a soft shell fleeced jacket that works great in the cinema! I haven’t actually brought this on my expeditions yet to test the warmth rating & I should do so.

Technical specifications:-

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Softshell Fabric With DWR
  • Grown On Adjustable Hood
  • Mesh Lined Pockets For Extra Venting
  • Cuff Adjusters
  • Inverted Zips And External Taping Detail
  • One Handed Adjusters At Hem
  • Waterproof: 8000mm
  • MVP: 10,000g/m2/24hr

JadaCassis

My latest haulage is the Trespass JADA Women’s Waterproof Jacket. Similar to the Animal Amaya, the JADA jacket is the ultimate outdoor piece of kit. The Tres-Tex membrane is made with 3 layers – outer shell, membrane and inner shell- which are laminated together. High performance but lightweight, the thing I like about this jacket apart from its high visibility is the detachable hood. The highest waterproof-rated material at 15,000mm & I would really like to put it to a test in the harsh conditions of some snowy mountainous region somewhere or the jungle! I wanted to a more neutral colour but it only comes in Pink, Black or Turquoise which I already have. I never liked black. My Jada arrived in the mail yesterday!

Technical specifications:-

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Ventilation Zips
  • Adjustable Zip Off Hood
  • 3 Water Repellent Zip Pockets
  • 1 Sleeve Zip Pocket
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjuster
  • Flat Cuff with Velcro Tab
  • Back Tail
  • Waterproof 15,000mm
  • Breathable 8000mvp
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

All these jackets above are not padded with additional insulation. I thought it should work with base & midlayers & it did plus you can also use it on its own in the tropics to repel rain. Should I come across another highly rated jacket again, I will post it up here but chances are, it would be pink again. :D

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Donned in my Karrimor Parka, which could only help me withstand down to 7?C. I was freezing throughout until I got my to my main luggage & changed back to my Balbi & Wendy.

Benzilan – The Place I Barely Remember

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Panorama of Benzilan

Hit by an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale, Benzilan in Yunnan, China had temporary make-shift tents as accommodation for the people which lined the street outside our hotel. We got there at night & it was the start of a series of cold nights thereafter. And the hotel doesn’t have any lifts! I felt sorry for the guys who brought unbreakable chunky luggages. Walking up the stairs with such load is enough to bring on back pain. My room that I shared with Miss Lai was on the first floor, not that bad considering that I had brought a convertible Eminent trolley bag which I hauled up like a backpack.

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My camera backpack, the Lowepro Photo Sport 200AW was filled with 80% essentials (survival equipment) & 20% photographic gear. On the first 2 days, people on the trip got a little surprised as to why I had a relatively big pack but only carried a Samsung NX200 wherever I went. I began to whip out things…….Lifestraw™……Lifeventure Shelter 2 Bothy Bag……Gerber multitool…….Sealskinz gloves…..survival kit…….Fenix PD32 light…hiking pole…..travel pillow….thermal blanket……spork…….power bars…..soup packs……purifying tabs……Platypus drinking bag……..alcohol wipes……first aid kit…..Garmin 76CSX…..batteries….. I explained to them that survival was my priority when going out into the wilderness for my adventures. Photos are secondary.

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Nice bag, no?

If I was going to travel for an indefinite period through the cold, mountainous region, I wasn’t going to leave my safety to chance or the tour guide. If we had gotten stranded for whatever reason, at least we would have purified & filtered water to drink. I’ve never been to China before & didn’t know what to expect except that the people look very similar to me. :D

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Angela posing.

Sandwiched between the demure Angela & the excitable Leong, their antics drove me to the toilet. I have never laughed this much, all 12 days mind you, at two contrasting individuals trying to take pictures & get along. Leong’s model-opportunisticism, both as the photographer & the one being photographed, was worthy of commend. He took very flattering shots of Angela but Angela felt that he did better with aunties & housewives making them look like stars. So the hammering begun. Leong was untameable. He went after cows, goats, yaks, whatever that moved……even other tourists, to get his portraits. He even managed to herd a bull back across the bridge over a torrential river! In witnessing such charismatic flaunts, I decided to document him. I don’t remember much about Benzilan or the journey thereafter except that I was always in stitches as the taunts & threats were continually thrown at Leong by Angela, should he not succeed at taking flattering shots of her again. Leong took his task seriously & clicked furiously to get that right shot afterwards!

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Feeling the pressure…..Leong has to perform, or else…..

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Leong succeeded to ask Alex to photograph him. Alex is a hotshot photographer!

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He got Uncle Nigel to take a shot of him too! How does he do it??? :D
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He would make sounds through the lens hood….

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And the only time we stopped laughing was when he was deep in slumber…..

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I took him taking me.

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Benzilan was beautiful but I can only remember how much those two amigos made me laugh.

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Walking across the suspended bridge.

A Great Man Has Gone Home

Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela. 18 July 1918 – 6 December 2013.

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Taken at Madame Tussauds, Wien, Austria.

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Taken at Madame Tussauds, Wien, Austria.

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But I’ve only just met you! Or your towering wax figure Tussauds made out of you. You looked so weathered, stood so tall, yet the battles you fought for the people against apartheid and poverty will make us all stand proud with you for eternity. God bless your soul and may you receive the many promised crowns in heaven!!! Thank you for the gift of yourself, Mr. Mandela!

Arriving in Kunming, Dali & Erhai Village, China in 24hours

As far as my eyes could see out of the little pane on my window seat, we were descending into a mountainous region. Whatever I’ve seen in paintings of old China plastered on the wall of coffeeshops as I was growing up actually reflected what was before me. Landing in Kunming, Yunnan, China, my 12 day trip began. The superfluous road journey was enough to set my hip off if it weren’t for the BackJoy Posture+ seat that I had lugged along. Absolutely necessary for long car rides. Each day, we travelled between 150 – 350km, stopping along the way for scenic spots & photo opportunity. Given the chance, I would have loved to stay put longer in one place to experience the culture & life of the people.

Our first stop was at ErHai Fishing Village, a lake that the Chinese term as the sea for the never-ending sight of the horizon. Not getting much sleep from the night before when we arrived at The Ancient City of Dali (Dali Gusheng), I woke up to a temperatures too low for my liking. A cotton-loving girl donned in Uniqlo HeatTech, fleece & technical jacket is hardly anything to marvel at. I saved my waterproof ski pants for the coldest sector of my journey…….Yading, in Sichuan near the Himalayas.

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At dawn, these boats are parked by the lakeside.

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Boats parked.

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Fisherfolks row out to haul in the catch.

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Wheat clusters left by the road.

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Mode of transport for the village folks.

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Taking out the vermicelli noodles at the factory.

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Noodles hanging out to dry.

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Garbed in balaclava, beanie & hooded jacket.

This was our first stop on our long & arduous journey to Yading Nature Reserve. On the bus, there were 12 other photographers & an MPV with 6 people plus the driver. Travelling 350km upon arrival in the evening was anything but nice. The fun only began on the 3rd day when I was accosted by Leong Taoping (Long Bean Army as I called him) and the demure but bean-bashing, Angela.

Exporting Mail from Mac to Outlook 2011

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I managed to import ALL of my client’s mail from Mail.app to Outlook 2011 flawlessly WITHOUT too much trouble. If you are a Mac user who has decided to use Outlook instead of the built-in proprietary Mail. Follow the steps below as Apple has nestled folders within .mbox & your mail has a ~.elmx (proprietary) extension rather than .mbox (UNIX mail format). Whatever you naysayers say about Outlook, you have either never used the advance features nor have you been on Windows long enough to know how it handles email just the way we like it so I would ignore anyone who tries to discourage you from getting onto Outlook. Microsoft may ‘dysfunctional’ in their OS but they have full-featured softwares like Project, Publisher & Outlook that some people deem ireplicable so let’s get on with the problem.
 
Apple has hidden the Library folder in Lion & Mountain Lion OSX to prevent accidental access by newbies so you need to access it in Finder.
 

  1. Download the emlx converter to mbox app here. Run the app.
  2. Go to Finder, in the tab under Go, press ALT/Option to show Library folder, select it & go to Mail folder.
  3. Copy any ~.mbox files to a folder on your Desktop. You don’t want to mess with the original file.
  4. Go to folder on your Desktop, click on INBOX.mbox, select your folder till it opens to show folders titled 2, 3, 4…..etc.
  5. Click on each of these folders till it shows files with .emlx.
  6. Select ALL & drag them to the EMLXConverter but don’t start the conversion yet.
  7. Do this with each of the 2, 3, 4, 5 titled folders & add to the converter so that it would convert & place them into Outlook as one folder.
  8. Click Convert.
  9. In Outlook, select Import & choose ‘Contacts & messages from a text file’
  10. Select ‘Import messages from an MBOX-format text file.’ Choose your converted file & you will have a folder entitled, ‘Mbox’ in your Outlook. Click on the folder, select all the messages & drag them to ‘Inbox.’
  11. Do the same from item No. 4 onwards for your SENT.mbox to be converted & imported into Outlook.

 
I spent hours looking for a solution using different search criteria until I found a conversation thread in a Microsoft Community & it was Garret Mickelson who posted it. I reckon I didn’t need to register as I wouldn’t be communicating in a Windows forum since I switched OS 6 years ago. Meanwhile, I’ve converted all my mail from my Entourage app to Outlook using the inbuilt import feature. Took about half an hour for I have many mailboxes that I manage. I hope this would help solve all your frustration & let you use your favourite app after becoming a Mac user!

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Taking Your Smartphone Underwater

Spending in access of RM1,000 for your smartphone, warrants a smarter solution to protect it especially if you are going out to sea. How often have you been caught in a situation where you wished your phone (which has doubled up as your camera) was waterproof or robust? Salt water is especially corrosive & keeping it inside a big dry bag with all your other stuff may cause you to miss precious moments around you so how do you protect your phone from accidental slips into the sea or splashes that might short-circuit it?

I got a chance to take my Galaxy Note underwater (before acquiring the Sony Xperia Z1) & I tested the Dicapac DCP-WP-C2 casing that allowed me to operate the touchscreen whilst in the water. My favourite online camera shop, Shashinki, sells it for only RM80 & delivered right to your doorstep! There’s a selection of Green, White, Blue, Yellow & Pink casing & it’s no brainer which one I picked! So I decided to take it skin-diving with me!

I snorkelled to where the reefs sloped to about 8 metres deep & all the while, I can operated the touchscreen through the thick bubble atmosphere the casing created when I locked the zip-lock top. The air pocket created space between the screen & the casing. On the surface, I could still touch the ‘shutter button’ on the screen but once I nose-dived down to 8 metres depth, the pressure flattened the air space & I couldn’t ‘touch’ the screen again. The casing is rated to 10 metres, which to most users, is more than enough waterproofing. Not a problem as I could turn it to video & take screenshots later. Little did I know that I had filmed the video upside down because I was inverted! Here are some shots taken with the smartphone in the Dicapac casing in the water below the surface & at 8 metres.

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Just adjusted the levels of the picture, no other edits.

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Birds eye view from below the surface.

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The house reef in Tenggol!

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See my fins beneath the surface?

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At the drop-off, I managed to take a picture….

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Yours truly staring at the phone…..

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With the supplied lanyard, I never have to worry about misplacing my phone on the boat & if you drop it in the sea, it floats!

P.S. – Also good for situations where you run the risk of getting sprayed by water cannons…… ;)

Check out their range of Dicapac casings that fit your smartphone!

Hiatus Ended

Whenever there’s a hiatus from my blog, I take time out to do everything that I’ve been wanting to do for the year before finding that inspiration to write again. After my round-Malaysia camping trip with Rufus, my work started to pile, visits to my clients’ place became more frequent & delivering my assignments meant I had to burn the midnight oil. Not that unusual but sleeping late doesn’t sync with Rufus’ timing to get his walk in the morning where he struts happily to shower the caterpillars at the shrubs near the pond. Beckoned only by the crows tailing us as we encircle the our morning fields, we watch the Purple Heron from a distance, an indicator that winter migration has begun.

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Before the season of diving ended I was plagued by a childhood injury & dislocated my hip again. Having the Low family help me in & out of the water during their certification trip was somewhat embarrassing but when I was water-bound, I was weightless/painless & free. Grimacing as soon as I leave the ocean, I spent Raya being bedridden till I could access my chiropractor after his holidays to have my hip adjusted into place. While horizontal, I got acquainted with Chinese serial dramas again & was given the desire to see China. Lo & behold, Soo offered me to take over her trip & when God healed me during a specific altar call where He had given me a vision 4 days prior at the start of the Pentecostal World Conference & just after a lady gave me a book entitled, ‘The Church in China,’ I was convinced that God was indeed, sending me to China.

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I visited my reefs & said hello to the resident Risbecia tryoni while the inquisitive Sea Perch decided to have its picture taken as well. Doing several dive trips before the season ended gave me an opportunity to accustom myself with the Olympus E-PM1 & the housing.

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In the month of Ramadhan, I witnessed the Tourism Minister together with Secretary General of Tourism giving red packets to under-privileged children at a buka puasa dinner hosted by the Ministry of Tourism. I caught up with fellow journalists from travel mags & Julini, my ex-colleague from Concorde Hotel.

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In the passed 2 months or so, I couldn’t bring myself to detail all that’s happened because life is just too fast paced & I had tons of writing to do for my clients. From 17-pages reports to drafting letters to minutes of meetings, all of which overworked my braincells & took away my creativity for awhile. I was even getting upset over events that had transpired in a meeting that I was minuting so nothing from me could be comprehensible in the last 2 months.

Just then, Sony Mobile selected my picture for the launching of Xperia Z1 in Malaysia & the picture of the Twin Towers was taken with the phone that they have presented me with.

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Soon after, I participated in another event & another picture was selected. Yes, I got busy with the 20 megapixel camera on the Z1 instead.

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I needed time out & China was a major trip traversing across mountainous terrains spanning over 1000km on the way to Yading in what I deem as freezing temperatures. I guess I’m made for the tropics. Will tell you about my trip in between my travels as soon as I appease Rufus because I’d been away too often & too long…..

Merdeka Giveaway – WinX HD Video Converter worth US$49.95!

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You spot an unidentifiable floating/flirting object, crawling, creeping, undulating or it might even be getting ready to cast its next generation into the ‘air’ (atmosphere, depending on whether you should terrestrial or marine life) & the first response is to whip out your camera and flash your shutter planes at it. You take a breath & resume your most comfortable position to record the motion instead. Minute by minute, your aching arms tell you that your footage is enough but your bug/slug/mollusc decides to demonstrate some kungfu or calisthenics to stun its prey and you finally get footage worthy of National Geographic’s mention.

You get to your computer & you want to edit it to include your signature & insert music to complement the excitement but you find that you must convert it to MOV or MPEG before you can even edit it. And you have many files to edit. Your free converter only converts one file at a time. For a 500MB video, it takes almost 20 minutes & not all converters can give you a high definition output or give you the controls to increase the volume nitrate or output to any format to be readable by your iPhone/iPad/Android as showpieces. Predicament like this can be solved with having a batch HD video converter like the WinX HD Video Converter Deluxe (for Windows) & WinX HD Video Converter for Mac to convert all your HD videos. Leave it running in the background & before you know it, all your videos are converted!

Here are the reasons why you should get the WinX HD Video Converter for Mac (or Windows):-

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Support Multi-track HD and Blu-ray Video

The first Mac HD video converter that supports converting Multi-track HD video BDAV, M2TS, MKV, AVCHD, TrueHD, MTS, MPEG-TS Audio/Video. E.g. it lets you convert Multi-track MKV to MP4, M2TS to MKV, Blu-ray M2TS to MKV, which is a definitely useful feature when making a digital copy to backup your Blu-ray videos.

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Convert Videos from HD-Camcorder
Convert AVCHD, MOD, TOD and MTS videos recorded by HD camcorders, such as Panasonic, Canon, Sony, JVC to AVI, MPEG, MP4, FLV, JVC and other most popular video formats, so that you can play the videos on portable devices or edit the video in iMovie.

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Convert Videos to Portable Devices
It can convert all HD and regular videos, such as AVCHD, MKV, MTS, M2TS, MPEG-4, AVI, WMV, FLV, MP4, to other formats for playback on most popular portable devices like iPod, iPad ( iPad 2/iPad 3), iPhone (iPhone 4/4S/5), Apple TV, Xbox, Xbox360, PSP, PS3, etc. So you can watch them without assistance of third-party codecs.

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Create VOB Files on Mac for DVD Burning
It can also create VOB files (one of default DVD video formats) from the videos recorded by HD camcorders, downloaded from online video sharing sites, or made by your own, and then you can burn the VOB video to DVD Disc by your DVD authoring software. It offers an all-round solution to make backup copies of your videos.

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Youtube Video Downloader and Converter
With a built-in website video downloader, it is also a video tool for online content downloading to help you extract videos from millions video sharing site like Youtube, Vimeo, Google, Facebook, Megavideo, etc. Then you can convert all downloaded video directly.

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Amazing Output Video Audio Quality
High Quality Engine is built in this HD video converter to manage the output image quality. With advanced De-interlace Accelerator, it delivers more original output video, compared with similar Mac HD video converter. Besides, you can balance the video/audio quality and file size by adjusting the bitrate resolution parameters.

To be entered in the giveaway, please drop me a comment & tell me the model of your camera that you shoot with & the current converter you are using & include a shout out ‘MERDEKA!’ at the end of your comment. (Merdeka is a Malay word for independence, shouted by our Prime Minister on 31 August 1957 when we gained independence from the British). Please include your email address & state whether you need a Windows or Mac version. And thank you for sailing by Pummkin’s Pitch!

Giveaway is sponsored by the good people at Digiarty.com! For more information, please visit www.winxdvd.com.

Half A Year Gone

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Taiping Lake Gardens.

There are not enough hours in a day for me & every minute is precious when I’m doing the things I love to do most. When Wolfgang visited, we spent a week exploring the jungles of Malaysia equipped with tents, poles, four-legged companions & survival kits. We learnt that even a simple tent can bear quite an effect on your sleep if the roof is not vented & the fly-sheet is not totally waterproof. The tropical rainforest usually lives up to its name when you are least prepared and with Rufus & Spice coming along, there’s no option to stay in a resort. I have no problem with that & it’s so nice to see Rufus getting all protective of his space & master (or slave aka me).

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Rufus having a snooze while I drove.

Hearing the nocturnal insects & the quaak-quaak frogs at night made me feel like I was on a different planet. There was no ‘ribbik’ nor the ‘oowooongg’ noises from the bullfrogs but a very distinct & loud ‘QUAAK!’ which is then answered by their fellow species somewhere else. It was an interesting night. Rufus was adapting to all these foreign noises too. Aziz had to alternate between his tent & the 4WD because Spice kept him awake frequently with the need to answer nature’s call. He decided to sleep in the car so as not to wake Wolfgang.

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Rufus taking a cool dip with me!

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The Milky Way!

We spent nights shooting the Milky Way & visited Lawrence & Ina in Gua Musang in Kelantan. After that, we headed to Grik & spent a night at Belum. There, I was visited by a wild boar while I was in the tent. We drove to Taiping for some sight-seeing before returning to KL for a dive trip to Aur & Tenggol. In between, I caught up with my ex-boss, Dato’ Loy & ex-colleagues to celebrate his birthday & facilitate sessions for FInancial Psychology’s workshops.

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Ex boss & colleagues.

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Pulau Dayang, off Pulau Aur.

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Sandwiched in between a colour-coded (coincidence) dressing for the day, Bose & Soo.

I am constantly reminded that I have to stop & smell the roses each time work gets too hectic or when the assignment gets the better of me. I found one in such splendour that smelling it alone would not justice to it. It put a smile to my face that God flutters the heart of His children when His flora flourishes! Here’s to more discoveries in the wild!

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Celcom iPhone 5 Raya Deal

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With the Hari Raya celebrations coming up, have you thought of treating yourself to a new gadget? All you need to do is sign up with a Celcom First Data mPro Plus plan at RM88/month (24-month contract).

Now, Celcom is giving you an exclusive Raya deal you just can’t miss. From 11 July – 15 September 2013, you can get a brand new iPhone 5 from just RM1,488!

Here’s what you get with the Celcom First Data mPro Plus plan:-

  • Low monthly commitment fee of only RM88/month
  • Special price on the iPhone 5 at only RM1,488 (Retail price is RM2,199)
  • 5GB data volume monthly
  • FREE 60 mins & 60 SMS (Additional usage: 15 sen/min/SMS)

What better way to start your Raya celebrations than with an exciting new gadget to capture the mood of the festivity when you ‘balik kampung!’ Staying connected with your loved ones is just a button away & don’t forget to post your rendang tok, ketupat, dodol conquests to share with your network of friends online! With the widest coverage on the fastest network in Malaysia, Celcom makes sure you won’t have to miss a tweet, forego an Instagram or fast Facebook!

Visit any Blue Cube or Celcom Xclusive to enjoy this privilege today! For more information, you can find it online here.

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Delights at Miss Ellie Teahouse

If there’s a place that you should go to for respite & be filled with an afternoon of treats, it would have to be at Miss Ellie Teahouse, a classic Tudor-styled English teahouse. The teahouse is located in the heart of a housing area in Taman Melawati & having opened less than 6 months, they are already whipping out more than 2 dozen kinds of main course, pastries & desserts to accompany your tea! Stepping into this teahouse was like stepping into someone’s home, decked in wooden furniture from the British Colonial days with wrought iron shelves displaying their finest selection of teas complemented by the rustic wooden beams on the ceiling! And it doesn’t even look old.

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The thought put into this place to complement Chef Justin Wong’s culinary creations was a combination of his preference for offering top class whipped delights in a cosy ambience replicating a homey feel when one sinks their teeth into his delectable desserts! He spent a great deal of time in Australia studying culinary arts before continuing as a chef in their shores. After several years of learning the trade, he returned to supervise the church’s ‘cafeteria ministry’ before deciding on opening his own tea house. Assisted by his mother, Nancy Wong, elder brother, Nigel & Auntie Helen, they embarked on a journey of keeping their hoards of foodie friends sated. With each dish served, one covets the next till just about every tooth is satisfied.

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Scones with strawberries & cream!

Starting the lunch course with Beef Casserole, it was followed by the creamiest of Créme Brulée & their signature Pandan Panna Cota. Staying a bit longer, the call of Scones was too powerful to ignore & we called upon Chef Justin to give us some of his classic concocted pleasures!

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Panoramic view from inside.

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Treats like these makes you want to have tea all day!

At Miss Elie Tea House, corners are created for you. Perfect if you are alone or when you need some privacy in this extra homey tea house. Even the washroom is decorated to make you feel like visiting twice.

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Everything is made with love!

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My favourite Créme Brulée……

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Unless you live in Taman Melawati, don’t trust your instincts to get you there. You need a GPS & Waze app preferably. They are located at 7 Jalan H3, Taman Melawati, Selangor, Malaysia & using Waze, by searching for Miss Ellie Teahouse using Foursquare connection. The GPS coordinates are GPS: N 03° 13.658’ E 101° 44.675’. Call them if your GPS fails – +603-41620113 or +6012-2055171.

They are found on Facebook at http://bit.ly/MissEllieTH. Like them for new stuff on the menu!

Sizzling To End The Race At Sepilok

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Saving the best for last, no race is ever complete without experiencing the festivity of Borneo Bird Festival & the grandeur of the hospitality of Sabahans (people of Sabah) with the organisers & Sabah Tourism. After the 6 hour bus journey from Mount Kinabalu, we checked into Sepilok Jungle Resort, another wildlife haven near Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre where we spent 2 nights doing night walks & stargazing. The International Borneo Bird Race 2013 is truly the first of its kind, beginning in the Brunei, ascending to Kinabalu Park & descending to Sepilok lowland forest.

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Birdwatching for some, may be a pastime but for those who pursue the understanding of their behaviour, flight pattern, habitat & nesting activities go far beyond watching. Birders don’t just hang a pair of binoculars around the neck, they now tote big cameras, bazooka lenses & rock-steady tripods to document them. Even then, there are distinctions in bird photographers, one who take pictures for the sake of getting beautiful pictures & the other who go the extra mile to remember the names, geographical distribution, migration routes & their unique bird characteristics. Pictures & videos are used to spread awareness & to create the love of birds for the vibrant display of feathers, courtship & nesting. The Borneo Bird Race attracted 8 teams of likeminded individuals from 7 countries, 3 members in each & all could rattle out names of birds like they lived in their backyard. Rightly so, when they make birding their profession!

Setting out the next morning, the 7th day of the race, birders reached the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre & proceeded to explore. The pristine jungle here is well mapped out, with marked trails & visible signboards. Some trails have benches or logs for you to sit & rest which makes birding very leisurely here despite the hills you have to walk to get to them.

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On the way to these trails, birds hop from tree to tree in such a flight fashion that it gives a symphony to a bird wave! The participants were in for a treat! Ticking off species in their wanted list as they add on to their competition entry. And on the 8th day of intense racing, one team went home with the Champion’s Trophy. During the opening ceremony of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013 on the 7 June which was opened by the Minister of Culture, Arts & Tourism of Sabah, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Team Philippines, comprising of Adrian Constantino, Mark Jason Villa & Ivan Carenas took home a title to do their country proud as they had come this far to race against the 6 other nations in a relations-fostering event to promote travel-for-birding within the region of Asian birding nations. Team Thailand wasn’t too far behind with their list of birds, taking the 2nd Prize & Team Singapore came in 3rd, with the advent leadership of Kim Seng, who had been entering bird races since 1992! What a great interest that becomes a lifelong adventure!

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Revelling the 9th day of the adventure, participants could finally share information after the race as the took to the trails together. Team Taiwan was birding with Team Philippines as from the start, biologist Wayne Hsu found something in common with Mark, a professional bird guide, in the love of bird-findings & being in the same age group. It was a day of trying for the Bornean Bristlehead, an endemic species which Team Japan was most eager trekking the jungles for as they had even foregone their rest day on the 10th day to make it back to Sepilok Forest to spot the elusive wonder. And they were rewarded!

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In the gaps between, we attended a talk by Team Gujarat’s biologist, Dr. Bharat Jethva, whom I’ve had the pleasure of birding with in two consecutive years of birdwatchers’ conference in Gujarat, India. Speakers like Andy Boyce, whom we had bumped into in Kinabalu Park, was showing his findings in video clips of nesting behaviour, giving us a great insight to the life of these tree-dwellers.

Ending the adventure on the 10th day was the beginning of another as the nations added one another on their social media profile on Facebook. The flurry of pictures & updates denoting their excitement of their 10-day encounters flooded our timeline & with appropriate responses, bridged the distance even further.

The dinners hosted by the Sandakan Town Council & Sabah Tourism cemented relationships & chiselled away the last bits of ice in the participants as they cheered their comrades on in a bid to get the Proboscis Monkey stuffed toy by impersonating an animal seen on the journey. Laughter permeated the dinner, stopping even the waiters who stood to laugh along with us. The jovial sporting mode that they wore transcended barriers of language, culture & nation. An event that stands uniquely Borneo & with a promise of a bigger & better installation next year with the possible inclusion of Sarawak & Kalimantan, Indonesia. You want to make yourself available for it even if it takes 15 days for you win not only the race but a camaraderie that will win you friends for life.

Racing in Kinabalu For Birds

Mount Kinabalu holds a special place in the hearts of Sabahans, being the tallest mountain in South East Asia, its surroundings host between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified making it one of the most important biological sites in the world. Rightly so, it earned a place in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site. This is right after we got so pampered in Brunei that we left with a heavy heart not being able to see more of what it has to offer. This will make some of us come back for sure.

The flight was a short 35 minutes to Kota Kinabalu where we were transported to Kundasang shortly after immigration clearance. We met Tengku Adlin, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board, when Sabah Tourism hosted the welcome dinner in the cool mountain inn. Vegetation changes were prominent as it spans 4 climate zones. As we ascended every 100 metres, we could even see stars at eye level! The following morning began with a wake up call at 4am for a headstart towards Timpohon Gate by 5:30am. This is where climbers usually begin their ascent up the mountain & we were there for its inhabitants! The birds! And did we see birds! It was also 15 degrees C!!

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Indigo Flycatcher

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Participants at race!

Roger Rajah pointed out to me a particular fern (pteridophytes) whose spores are used as the dusting powder for fingerprints in forensics! How awesome is that? There are 600+ species of ferns here & it would not be surprising if scientists find other miracle uses for them. Taking a stroll down the 4km road to the park’s headquarters, there were beautiful plants popping up in the most unusual of places. Apart from finding several swift nests on ledges of a rock cliff, we found a group of foreigners marvelling at a Bulbophyllum orchid by a tree on the side of the road!

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The Borneo Bird Race is not just about the race but a reason to combine expertise from each of the 7 nations participating to document the most number of bird species. It is a melting pot of minds to find the flamboyant & the elusives of Borneo’s avian life, some endemics, while promoting travel within Asia. Known as one of the most hospitable nations, Sabah has a great expanse of natural resources to marvel at, with the Minister citing to keep 65% of the state to be maintained as forest reserve. What a fine example to set for the country! And if these sightings of wild & rare orchids, magnificent birds, superb bugs & awesome mammals are anything to go by, Sabah will be one big wild secret that’s difficult to keep!

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Bornean Whistler, Pale Faced Bulbul, Black & White Flycatcher(?), Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

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Spores for forensics.

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Keeping quiet was imperative although at times I felt like exploding with delight when I see a bird I hadn’t seen before. The teams were concentrating hard to spot the skittish birds & identifying them through Quentin Phillips’ guide book or Susan Myers’. Most of these birds are lifers to them (also to me) & some of them even went into the trails. There were times when there were no birds at all & that’s when we turn to other flora & fauna. What kept the teams apart during the race (they can’t discuss birds), they made it up during bus rides & pit stops! After breaking for lunch, the entourage embarked on a 6 hour road journey through a picturesque inland to Sepilok in Sandakan. Along the way, we even stopped to see the Bornean Falconet! We can stop a bus for a bird! :D

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What’s camaraderie if Adjudicators like Alim here, doesn’t take a break to fool around by hijacking the gas tank of a mountain porter??? Here, he poses with a backpack belonging to one of his porter friends who were later seen lugging it up Timpohon Gate!

The remarkable Stewards were always on hand to give advice, tips & suggestions on how to spot the birds & rightly so, a few of them have made the Borneo 400 Club! A club that recognises a record of over 400 species sighted!

Don’t miss my next post on Sepilok Forest as I take a weekend break to cover yet another bird race in Fraser’s Hill!