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Fortress of Seoul

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An ancient map of Seoul.

When dynasties once ruled the empire of Goryeo (what Korea was named once), kings were born & thrones were fought for. King Taejo Yi Seonggye declared a new dynasty in 1392 under the name of Joseon, thus reviving an older dynasty also known as Joseon that was founded four thousand years previously and renamed it to “Kingdom of Great Joseon”. He established himself a palace, known as Gyeongbokgung which served as the main palace for successor Kings of the Joseon dynasty and their households until it was systematically destroyed & burnt to ruins during the Japanese invasion. Restoration & reconstruction work began after it was left derelict for centuries & it stands as the most beautiful & the grandest of all five palaces in Korea today.

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Walking alongside the fortress.

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The old & new stone blocks as part of the restoration process.

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Taejo’ is a temple name, a posthumous title used for Chinese, Korean & Vietnamese royalty. Chosen to reflect the circumstances of the emperor’s reign, it means ‘ancestors.’ In Korea, temple names are used to refer to Kings in the Goryeo & Joseon dynasties.

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One of Gyeongbokgung’s grand entrances.

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The palace was not the only grand structure he built. The foresight of King Taejo who was once a General of the army of the dynasty he overthrew, knew the grandeurs of a kingdom should be demarcated by a structure around the city he ruled. He wanted to build a fortress. He decreed & enlisted the service of one hundred ninety seven thousand four hundred (197,400) young men around the country over two years to participate in the erection of an 18 kilometre fortress with four main gates and four auxiliary gates that fell in line with the Chinese cardinal directions of East, South, West, North. They are Heunginjimun (East Gate), Sungnyemun (South Gate), Donuimun (West Gate) and Sukjeongmun (North Gate) with the East & the South gates being designated as National Treasures today. The fortress took 30 years to complete.
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Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.

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The Throne Room.

King Taejo designated an auspicious day for the groundbreaking ceremony on 1 January 1396. The fortress was completed in 98 days after the war along the mountains of Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. The wall contained eight gates, all of which were originally constructed between 1396 and 1398. He ordered for the stones to be inscribed with the names of the county and prefecture responsible for constructing a given wall section, as well as the name of that section, while in the mid-Joseon, they were marked with the names of the supervisors and lead technicians, and the construction date. The inscribed stone blocks in the photo below, can be seen outside the wall, at the end section of the Naksan Trail.

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Mayor Park arriving at the start of the tour.

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Mayor Park elaborates on the history of the Fortress.

There are six walking courses or trails you can do, the Baegaksan/Bugaksan Trail, the Naksan Trail, the Namsan Trail, the Inwangsan Trail, Heunginjimun Trail & Sungnyemun Trail. We were taken on a journey along the Naksan Trail by the Mayor himself, Mr. Park Won Soon, who’s fondly loved by the people of Seoul for his candour & spontaneity. We walked along the path parallel to the section of the wall that cordoned off Ihwa Mural Village from the ‘’outer city’, marvelling at the artists who painted the stairways & walls of this village with vibrant murals, thus enlivening the place. We passed these colourful expressions either adorned with paint or mosaic-plastered on the riser of the staircase making the vertical hike not so challenging. This village was once left out in the urbanisation process, used to be seen as a backward neighbourhood but a collaboration between the public, cultural artists, the metropolitan government and the residents turned Ihwa-dong into a vibrant art village.

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Despite the fact that he overthrew the dynasty of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, King Taejo Yi Seonggye was very much regarded as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts. His sons of different wives, fought & killed each other in a preemptive move after the death of his beloved second Queen (wife). While he was still mourning, he crowned his second son to be king but 2 years later, this King voluntarily abdicated it to his brother, Yi BangWon, who became King Taejong, the one who rightfully deserved the throne as he had demonstrated the best potential of a good ruler even during his father’s reign.

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An artisan in the village who specialises in tie-dye artwork.

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The artisan explains the colouring process.

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The Joseon period has left an indelible mark on modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues. A substantial legacy was left to the Koreans of today, with much of the modern Korean language and its dialects derived from the culture and traditions of Joseon.

This fortress, even with some parts of it torn down in the city’s development process, significant parts had been preserved as a historical reminder of the dynasty that influenced the culture of Koreans today. It has in the running to be listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site by 2017.

What else can you do in Seoul? Gwangjang Market food experience, silver ring smithing & kimchi making workshop in the next post as I bring you other hidden treasures!

For more information, go to Seoul Tourism’s official page of the Fortress here and download your guide book! http://bit.ly/1gc6iJl
To download the English version, you need to view the site in Korean to get to the download section because the English section of the guide book doesn’t work. I’ve simplified the process for you by including the direct download link here:- http://bit.ly/1IuQ88R

Full resolution pictures can be see in my Flickr album

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Protect Your Credit Cards & Identity From Thieves

Ever since I read about identity thieves using RFID (radio frequency identification), I’d been shopping around for a wallet that contains RFID-blocking properties. What exactly is RFID? According to this Wiki, “Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information. Some tags are powered by electromagnetic induction from magnetic fields produced near the reader. Some types collect energy from the interrogating radio waves and act as a passive transponder. Other types have a local power source such as a battery and may operate at hundreds of meters from the reader. Unlike a barcode, the tag does not necessarily need to be within line of sight of the reader, and may be embedded in the tracked object.”

This simply means, anyone with an RFID reader/tracker who comes close (or not, depending on tracking device) to your wallet containing credit cards & ATM cards, they may steal vital information and access to your identity (and bank account) within seconds. Pacsafe has a range of RFID-blocking bags & packs, built with anti-theft features such as slashguard wire mesh woven into the bag and slashproof straps and temper-proof zips.

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Tatonka Euro Wallet with RFID Blocker

Getting around in Frankfurt & scouring around to look at equipment in their outdoor shops, I found Globetrotter, a 5 -storey trekkers’ haven, that stocks the most comprehensive solutions to camping, trekking, hiking, kayaking & climbing located at the East end of Frankfurt. Here, I found a range of Pacsafe bags amongst other big names in outdoor equipment & bought the Stashsafe100 GII in Midnight Blue, a hip pack with built in anti-theft features & RFID-blocker. I also bought a Tatonka RFID Block wallet for days I don’t need to use the hip pack.

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Pacsafe Stashsafe 100 GII hip pack

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Inside of main compartment.

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Comes with a lock/keys and slash proof strap!

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5 storey of excitement!

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Bags! Globetrotter has all kinds of backpacks!

To think that Malaysia is the first country to adopt the smart passport system, using RFID technology in 1998, our passports are vulnerable to identity fishing. Whenever I fly, I always have this insecurity about falling asleep & waking up to a ransacked bag. With a hip pack that is lockable on your body, zips that can be secured from opening & straps that are slashproof, I doubt anyone would want to attempt to remove/grab it from me but the added peace of mind of knowing that they can’t is already worth the money paid for. If you travel as much as I do, get the Pacsafe Stashsafe100 GII anti-theft hip pack. You would be glad to walk around the streets of South East Asian cities with the knowledge that nothing would fall out of your bag if it gets slashed neither could anyone pry the bag off you.

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. 😀

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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??? 😀
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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.

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.

Drive Around New Zealand in a Rented Car!

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Photo by Thomas Young

Seeing some of the pictures on National Geographic website, I’ve been stirred with the thought of exploring the land of The Lord of the Rings by road which would be the best option to see places of interest at my own pace. New Zealand is also known as the land of Kiwis and packing for a birding trip would be easier if I don’t have to worry about transportation that can accommodate all the detours I’d be making with a discovery. Checking my options, I found a car rental site that can provide me with a supersaver compact car for only NZ$25 per day! It’s RM2.458 to NZ$1 which is about US$0.815 only. Being mobile can take me to more places than if I were to stay in one place throughout a 10-day trip.

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There are two islands, the North & South islands to explore. Snap Car Rentals offers a range of rented cars from economy to premium depending on the size of your group. They take care of reservations of ferry tickets by Interislander Ferry if you want to cross the islands too. What makes it more convenient is that I’m able to select a pick-up at Auckland airport & choose to return it in another airport! The options are available as shown below in a simple dropdown list form to check the availability of the car of your choice for your dates of travel. While you are there, pick up some hip bags or some cool motorcycle gear in Motormart with a 3-day shipped to you option in New Zealand! And if you fall in love with the country & want to buy yourself a holiday home, check out this mortgage site too.

The notably large number of unique bird species & a mild maritime climate, this land was mostly covered in forest. New Zealand’s varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks caused by the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. This undulated landscape makes a perfect picture & one of the places I must visit is Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island. Self-drive is an option I choose to get the birds on my list to photograph!

Brought to you by Snap Car Rentals, New Zealand.
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Landscape of Lake Tekapo by Pichugin Dmitry.

Istanbul Aku Datang!

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Attending the gala premiere of the movie Istanbul Aku Datang on the night of the 24 October under the invitation of Tourism Turkey, I truly enjoyed the performance of our homegrown actors, Harris (Beto Kusyairy), Dian (Lisa Surihani) & Azad (Tomok). The entire movie was shot in Istanbul, Turkey, a place that I will be visiting next year. The stars were mingling about while I said my hellos to my host, Ali Gulen & the people from the embassy. What thrilled me in the movie was how this idealistic blogger, Dian, who makes her journey to Istanbul a trigger to all her emotions, in a plan to get her boyfriend to propose marriage. She was confronted with the harsh realities of travel (and life) when she had to struggle with her many bags, (something that I too, have to manage), her hope for her love, her fear of cats and the unexpected circumstances that came her way. Thinking she had it all planned, she enrolled in a language course to stick around for 3 months, a period that was to encompass the fairy tale proposal.

On her second day, she was reminded to get a place of her own as her boyfriend, Azad, didn’t want her to be seen living with 3 blokes. Each night, she would blog & plot her moves with her readers giving her sound advice as she signs off with XOXO, D & publishes the blog. Her house-hunting became another nightmare. She ended up in an apartment without knowing it was already tenanted. The conflict starts when the rightful tenant, Harris, whom she antagonistically calls Awak (You) & her intrude into one another’s private space, especially while in the bathroom. Director Bernard Chauly, cleverly depicted the surprise reaction, when Harris stood in front of the water closet, he jumped & ”˜misfired’ the entire bathroom. There were other hilarious moments that had me in a fit. I was glad to note that I wasn’t the only one laughing so hard. There was a ”˜Maggi moment,’ which I could identify with, causing a stir to know how close to home we are when we have such familiarities. Harris starts out as an unrelenting, rightfully assertive, gay housemate…..until he received his Maggi Assam Laksa replacement in a box with an apology. His role as Harris is the man any woman would want while Azad’s act showed the unpleasantness of a man-in-want. Dian’s portrayal will ring true for any girl who has gone to the other side of the world to look for love. I will not give the plot away because watching this movie will stir you into a fury of emotions as their characters unfold. I can’t wait to get my DVD copy to get stirred up again. The movie has English sub-titles & when they converse in English, sub-titles would be in Malay.

        
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Tomok when singing on stage at the launch.

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Beto being interviewed.

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The actors & the host in a lighthearted moment before the movie which will debut on 8 November 2012 in local cinemas.

Set in Istanbul, you should plan your holidays to Turkey after watching this movie because if the romanticism doesn’t make you want to go, the beautiful architecture would.

Butter Coffee & Drunken Noodles in Banting

Banting is a town near Port Klang that bridges coastal areas like Morib & Tanjung Sepat. On our way to Tanjung Sepat, one stopover that you should not miss is the Banting Butter Brew coffee & Rice Wine Mee Sua, situated side by side at a row of government-owned shoplot. The coffee brew has a legacy of 60 years, left behind by the keeper’s father of Hainanese descent. The specialty black coffee is brewed & then a dollop of butter is added to give it a creamy taste. They serve the usual fare of toast with kaya (coconut & egg jam) & butter & half boiled eggs throughout the day.

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Beside this shop is Wo Jia Restaurant & I ordered their special Rice Wine Mee Sua, vermicelli noodles in rice wine soup served with an egg poached inside. It was absolutely divine as the wine in the hot soup brought out the flavour of the vermicelli & egg. My friend ordered a Pumpkin Pan Mee, hand-pinched noodle with pumpkin in soup.

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This row of shoplot is located near the bus stop & parallel to a huge monsoon drain. Perhaps the authorities should look into beautifying the area that hosts delectable street food along this entire row of shops. The outdoor seating beneath the big trees is quite a pleasant experience. We forget that when we live in & around concrete jungles. I got the shopkeeper to relate his thoughts to my friend who could speak Mandarin so if you speak the language too, do watch the video!!!
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Banting Butter Brew is in a shoplot called Sin Guan Huat & right beside it is Wo Jia Restaurant. My entire meal for two only costs less than RM15.00. Unbelievable but true. You have got to try it yourself to see what value you are getting. You can find them on Foursquare or at the coordinates here:- N2.810275, E101.502419. Make this your definite stopover as the trade of his butter brew is dying since his son has indicated no interest in continuing his business. The very few heritage trades of Hainanese left in Selangor”¦”¦

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My Selangorlicious entry needs your vote! Please click as many stars as you think it should have! http://bit.ly/OuTfjL

Cape Range National Park in Exmouth

Cape Range National Park is a wondrous place, with a rugged hilly terrain of limestone ranges situated on the west side of the North West Cape. These deep canyons form culverts in satellite maps and with 50km of pristine beaches, taking a roadtrip down would make you want to stop & dip at every bay.

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Exmouth Escape Resort.

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Thomas Carter Lookout

The 50,581 hectares park is just 40km from Exmouth. We drove here upon spending 3 days at Coral Bay & another 4 days at Exmouth Escape Resort. I saw some big red kangaroos here & stalked an emu for a picture!

According to what’s on record, ’in ancient times the range was isolated as an island as rising sea levels inundated lower lying areas. As a result of this geographic isolation there are some species of plants and animals that are endemic to the area, including the red centred variety of the Sturt Desert Pea. Surveys have recorded over 630 species of flowering plants on the peninsula of Cape Range National Park. This is a surprisingly high number for an arid limestone area. Over 700 caves are catalogued in the area and it is likely that many remain undiscovered. There are numerous gorges and sanctuary areas that provide a haven for wildlife and contain often rare and unusual flora. A beautiful array of wildflowers can be seen in late winter including Sturt Desert Peas and the beautiful Bird Flower.’

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I went on the Top of The Range tour of the Cape Range National Park to see the beautiful natural surroundings. Dave of Ningaloo Safari Tours, gave a brilliant commentary on the history & origins of this place, as he drove the 4WD over the ridges that overlooks the canyon below. The rock formations & caves in the area were a sight to behold. If I wasn’t taking photos of the rocks or the scene, I was looking out for unusual plants & fossils on the ground. Our first meander was through Charles Knife Gorge. We stopped for morning tea & fresh fruit cake on top of the ridge before continuing the journey to Milyering Visitor’s Centre. You can find interpretive displays, audio-visual facilities and a library containing a wealth of information on the National and Marine Parks to help visitors appreciate the natural environment.

Here, I bought some souvenirs & Torri Bottroff, the lady at the souvenir shop counter, suggested that I go for the patches & some stickers to commemorate my trip upon telling her where I was from. And I did just that! Thank you, Torri! It was a delight to have met you!

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We headed to Osprey Bay for a swim in the crystal clear warm sea & it was simply refreshing after the ride. Dave & his family who joined us in a separate car, prepared a delicious lunch of fresh prawns & sandwich for us after the swim & we continued to Yardie Creek to see the Black Footed Rock Wallabies! The walk to the creek before boarding the boat yielded some great fossil finds! According to Exmouth Visitor’s Centre, ”˜Centuries of erosion have formed a spectacular multi-coloured gorge. Hidden within the safety of the gorge walls is a colony of black-footed rock wallabies. Yardie is the only gorge in the area with permanent water however this is salt water fed from the ocean. This interesting ecosystem has mangrove areas that provide roosting sites for many bird species while the sheltered waters are a sanctuary for many marine animals. The beginnings of the gorge are deep in the limestone range. These timid creatures seek shelter on ledges along the gorge walls resting during daylight hours, coming out to feed in the cool of the night. There is a relatively easy walking trail along the top of the northern wall of the gorge or you can join a boat cruise through its cool depths.’ Definitely not to be missed.

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Yardie Creek.

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By evening, we headed towards Turquoise Bay & Ningaloo Marine Park, our last stop was Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. The moon had risen in the horizon & after the long ride, it was good to unwind with a glass of wine over dinner at Novotel Ningaloo Resort Exmouth to end our evening. To get to Exmouth, get your flights to Australia & land in Perth. Then fly to Exmouth in the North West.
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Shark & Yolanda Reef in Egypt

One of the most exhilarating dives I’ve had was in the Red Sea when I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Visibility exceeded 30m & water temperature was around 20 – 21 degrees Celsius, prompting me to wear a 5mm farmer jane wetsuit for protection. The initial shock as I entered the cold waters set all my senses into alert. My heartbeat fluttered for awhile but as soon as I saw how clear the water was, that apprehension turned to excitement. Wolfgang was my buddy & we went down to Shark & Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohamed National Park, which sat at approximately 15m – 30m of water. The wreck sits at 145m – 200m further below after the drop off & what’s left on the shallower bed is the cargo of bathtubs & water closets strewn all over.

The corals in the surrounding reef was amazing. Sunlight penetrated to more than 20m depth & with the help of strobes, I brought out the colours of the soft corals as we inched along towards the sunken cargo.

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There wasn’t a shark in sight. I was hoping to encounter at least a reef shark & was geared to film my first oceanic shark but they just didn’t appear when I was there. I could even get close to a Sea Perch without it flinching while I pressed the shutter button.

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Sea Perch.

The sight of bathtubs stacked together was quite nostalgic as my mind wandered to how I’d been raised taking herbal baths for all my ailments but to me, it was a time to frolic! Toilets & pipes were all over the place too, albeit encrusted with corals.

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It was interesting to see what we sit on with our bottoms at the bottom of the ocean & this WC having great growth prospects gave me a new sense of respect for them!

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An inverted WC!

This part of the cargo below has turned into a reef. Can you see the pipes & bathtub?

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Visibility was near perfect!

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Flying to Egypt was quite an experience. I flew UAE & had a stopover in Dubai. I will be planning another trip really soon as I’ve yet to see the SS Thistlegorm, sunk during World War Two. If you are planning a trip to the Red Sea, you can check out holidays to Egypt & request to dive with Diving & Discovery, awarded as the best dive centre in Sharm El-Sheikh!

Going On Air with Linora Low on Red FM

On 11 May, I was invited to be on air as a travel blogger on Red FM, made possible when Donovan Chan introduced me to a very cool babe who’s a DJ for the show. Linora Low is a fitness devotee & her hair colour suggests the bubbly personality that goes with her show! It’s red! You can find her on FB.

We got on to a great start talking about the myriad of gadgets that I take on trips & what they were for. Our video camera recorded even instances of an alarm ringing in the background, something she picked up while I was totally oblivious to it. In the studios where the acoustics absorb sound & exude silence, Linora was probably more acute to buzzes & rings than I would have been. So we got on chatting. Then we went on air & did things behind the camera where no one could see. We were Facebook-ing & Tweeting!!! Muahahahahah! And swapping seats!

We talked about everything under the sun & where the moon can’t shine given that we had attended the same launch of the Vibrance Kegel Device. This is what girls get up to when they meet. Of course, we covered food topics, how can we not? We are Malaysians where we are predominantly filled with thoughts & suggestions of what to eat & how to eat it. The one hour on the show was really short considering how much we talked when the mic was off. Wait for the recording to be posted!

Here’s a shot of me behind the console!

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Her own mic cover!

And then the super fit DJ herself in her red tresses & Macbook Pro!

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Redhead!

Then a shot of the two of us!

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Note:- Uploading the video now & will embed once done! I’ve been filled with assignments all month & that takes precedence over blogging but do know that I tweet in between. Will post more once I settle my work!

Citrawarna Malaysia 2012 – Parade of 7,000 Performers

Citrawarna Malaysia 2012’s opening ceremony on the 19 May 2012 was graced by the Tourism Minister, Ng Yen Yen, who was accompanied by hundreds of children clad in traditional costume, each holding a flag waving to the beat of the rhythm. The grand fanfare displayed a diverse offering of Malaysia’s tourist destinations & products, paraded by performers in costumes. The night heralded approximately 20,000 people, 7,000 of those were performers.

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In conjunction with Mega FAM Tour 2012, a media & travel agents’ familiarisation tour for representatives all over the world, Citrawarna Malaysia showcased one of the grandest parade of the year at Merdeka Square, the site where Malaysia’s flag was raised on Independence Day in 1957.

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Against the backdrop of the former courthouse turned Ministry of Information, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building was lit up by many colours beaming into the sky. The ground was laminated with white vinyl flooring to illuminate the dancers & their equally elaborate costumes. Despite the rain earlier, many turned up to catch the multi-coloured parade of performers ranging from uniquely decorated floats to sportsmen & chefs accompanied by fireworks in the sky. Scores of trishaws ferrying passenger from the World Heritage City of Melaka were brought to the parade.

The sound system provided surround sound throughout the stretch of the parade giving a very carnival-like atmosphere that got people to their feet with the rest of the performers.

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My Wild Encounter With A Living Legend At Sukau, Kinabatangan River

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Bukit Melapi Resort – private dock.

When we left Labuk Bay, we headed straight for Sukau. In the interiors of Sabah, the ride itself was an interesting one because Hamit, our guide kept spotting birds for us to see. We stopped several times for the Greater Coucal that walked on the fringe of the jungle. We tried to ambush it from the car with my lens sticking out of the window but this bird outsmarted us. Even the journey gave us several species of Kingfishers & Herons. I was wondering what Kinabatangan would be like.

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The crew.

Soon as we got into Bukit Melapi Resort, we headed out on a cruise. Then a boat with foreigners sailed by asking us permission if they could fly a helicopter overhead as they wanted to film. There was a boat tailing this one & looking at the solitary person sitting in front, I did a double take. I asked the foreigners, “Where are you from?” to which they replied, “We are from the BBC!” proudly. As I couldn’t hold my excitement further, recognising the lone ranger on the boat behind, I asked, “Is that Sir David Attenborough???” And they nodded excitedly. Before you know it, Alex, Marts, Hamit & myself were waving frantically saying hello to the living legend! Then I turned to the crew & said, “Sure! Fly whatever you must & take as much footage as you need to show the world what Kinabatangan is all about!!!” And the crew politely thanked us in their thick British accent.

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Sir David Attenborough himself!!!

He smiled & nodded, acknowledging our frenzy before continuing their journey. I shot the helicopter alright, with the cameraman sitting precariously over the edge as they filmed.

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Later, the helicopter parked by the open space next to our resort & we went over to ”˜inspect’ the machine as all curious creatures do when there are subjects of interest in the area. Couldn’t resist the pose with the flying machine!

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We didn’t think that we would meet him face to face after seeing tons of his works on TV & being such a fan of them. Saying we were star-struck was an understatement. He was a real-lifer! What else did we find at Kinabatangan? Find out in my next post….. 🙂

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The Golden Proboscis Primates of Labuk Bay, Sabah

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The owner of the land had wanted to convert the forest into an oil palm estate but upon discovering a family of Proboscis Monkeys in the boundaries, he decided not to cut the forest down. Instead, he went on to set up the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary to protect these primates, admitting visitors to have a closer encounter with these grunting & gleeful golden monkeys.

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The Alpha Male

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One of the females leaping onto the feeding platform.

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Don’t stare……

Feeding them twice a day at two platforms, I was able to see the harem & spotted the alpha male by the sheer size. A macaque was in the vicinity & the Proboscis monkeys were not the least perturbed by its presence. It was exhilarating to see the Silver Leaf Monkeys in the sanctuary too, roaming freely in the building & accepting humans as part of their community. One baby Silver Leaf Monkey scampered across the hall to leap onto a visitors lap, moving to perch itself on her knee. What a sight that I forgot to click the shutter. I had come for these kinds of encounters & allowing the baby monkey to grab my finger was a connection that I can’t describe. The adult monkeys would walk about the railings & plonk themselves right next to humans. One of them watched me while I shot the Proboscis when in fact, I should have grabbed my compact camera to shoot the Silver Leaf Monkey’s curiosity of my gear!

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Silver Leaf Monkeys

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Baby Silver Leaf Monkey start their lives in golden fur!

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Juvenile Proboscis Monkey

There was an ultra clingy Oriental Pied Hornbill adopted by the sanctuary since it fell out of the nest as a fledgling. This hornbill took an extreme liking to one of the girls & by that time, I couldn’t differentiate which bird was shrieking.

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The lush greenery of the sanctuary

Labuk Bay is about 30 – 45minutes drive from Sepilok, Sandakan & is a destination that you must not miss. Observe the feeding times & go earlier to set up your camera & tripod to catch them leaping into the air to traverse to the feeding platform.

Hamit Suban was our dedicated nature & bird guide who brought us to Kinabatangan River, making stops along the way to see the magnificent monkeys in Labuk Bay while giving us the history of how it all began. He is with the fantastic people at North Borneo Safari, owned & run by Cede Prudente, the NatGeo photographer whom I had hijacked by in 2007 to autograph my bird books. Four years on & I’m finally heading to Sukau, Kinabatangan River!
Let the good people at North Borneo Safari take you to Labuk Bay enroute to Sukau! I can’t wait to have my Orang Utan encounter!!!

Hours / Feeding times
Platform A : 09:30am & 02:30pm Daily
Platform B : 11:30am & 04.30pm Daily

For further information, please contact:-

North Borneo Safari Sdn Bhd
Lot 31, 1st Floor,
Block B4, Jalan BU 5/1, Bandar Utama
Mile 6, 90000 Sandakan,
Sabah, Malaysia.

E-mail:        inquiry@northborneosafari.com
Telephone: +6089 235525
Fax:         +6089 235526
http://www.northborneosafari.com

The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo

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Panorama shot of the trails within the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pictures do not tell a thousand words when the eye of the beholder does not know the behaviour nor the habitat of the bird the picture was taken in. The level of effort corresponds with the level of commitment to obtain the shot given the probability of  most conditions that are not favourable to photographers. With a very small window of opportunity in the thick foliage of Sepilok jungle, you have a few seconds to respond to adjusting your lens to frame the bird & get it into focus before firing the shutter.

Most times, you need to be up early & light is usually not favourable to you. Making the best of these situations, you either use fill-in flash on 2nd curtain sync or bump up the ISO to the max, depending on how capable your camera is. Pictures shown here are the exact lighting conditions without any adjustments.

Venue:- Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sandakan, Sabah.
Heat & Humidity – This place must be the most awesome creation of tropical foliage in the rainforest of Sandakan but having so much thick cover, the humidity can reach well above 90% on an average day. It’s almost like the foliage on the canopy had trapped a massive amount of moisture for the life below that lingering inside is like a mist-cooker, you would be melting without even moving an inch. Lugging your gear with you & walking in the trails can cause you to be drenched wet with perspiration within your first half hour into your excursion. Solution: Get a Cobber, an expandable water-activated gel tube scarf to tie around your neck, cooling your carotid nerves as the day gets hot & hotter. Wear quick-dry & light attire to wick off moisture & sweat.

Hilly Terrain  – Be prepared to trek uphill as well as downhill. Carrying your mounted tripod if you have a 400mm lens or above would test your stamina & endurance but that’s just the beginning. Your essentials are almost always needed on an expedition like this so add it on to what you will be carrying on your photo backpack. Apart from carrying the right bag, an airtight/moisture-tight container is recommended for your batteries, memory cards & any peripherals which you think might be subjected to the humid air. A mini trolley would be an ideal partner for your bag & tripod as walking to the hotspots (spots with rare bird sightings) from one location to another can really drain you. Bring a 1.5litre bottle of water to rehydrate. You would not want to move from your spot for water only to discover from your birding buddies later that the bird landed, courted, fed & possibly mated when you were gone.

Wet Ground – Bring a foldable chair. Camouflaged preferred. I had to resort to sitting on the ground with my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod shortened to fit into the little window. Alternatively, bring a small piece of spongy, exercise mat to sit on. Wear shoes with traction. I had my Timberlands Chocorua Trail on & it has served me well for the last 6 years.

Here are the shots, unedited, a few of them just cropped to give you clarity.

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In this picture, there is a hole in the tree. What we didn’t know was that this hole, is a secret bathtub for the birds!!! Note the twigs & branches obstructing the view.
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Close up shot of the bird bath…..
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And I managed to capture a Leaf Bird! I took videos of this bird & will upload them when I have better internet connection!

Updated! Video of secret bird bath!
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See the full frame picture……
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….and this section here where I pointed my lens!
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Here the bird sits quietly as it hunts for food. And a twig was in my way! Grrrr…..!
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Sometimes, you get lucky. There were two Kingfishers in this shot! Unfortunately, they were too far in even for my 500mm lens’ reach.
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To get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (8cm in size only & this male was in a feeding courtship!), there was only one window around the leaves.

 

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This is the ‘window.’ The blurred parts of the picture are leaves obstructing my view.
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See the leaves again?
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Courtship in action! I gotta find a male who would feed me too! LOL!
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I think marriage is on the way…….yay! (Chan Pak, the HK veteran birder, eventually got the mating shot of these OD KF!)

 

The jungle is filled with sounds of bugs & birds. We were so engrossed with the little Dwarfs that we missed the big red Trogon behind us. The Diard’s Trogon has a red chest but always remain hidden with its back facing us so any opportunity to take a frontal shot is a shot in the dark…..

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See what I mean??? Obscured, I managed to get an ID shot of its chest.

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Still obscured despite me shifting position & angle.

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Getting a little frontal shot is still not considered good enough for any birdmasters, who will never show shots like these.

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Finally after a strained neck, a twisted back & wobbly legs from contorting myself to get the shots, I got the Diard’s Trogon!

My foray into bird photography in 2006, was attributed by my best friend, Chien, (who passed away on the 24 August 2011) when he talked to me about how he got those waders by staking out in the water to wait for the right moment. His pictures are astounding. His passion was even more infectious. He was born to teach & by sharing what he knows, he had enlarged his circle of influence to emulate what he did. And everyone enjoyed doing what he taught us to do, birding & learning about the habitat of birds to get the right time & capture the right shots. He had been a great friend & I am a product of emulating what he did with bird photography. I will share with you my discovery along the way just as Chien was so enthusiastic about sharing his discoveries when he was alive. Whatever challenges in bird photography that comes my way, his teachings would always echo in my head.

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Nature’s umbrella In the jungle – even the yam leaves are taller than I am!

The people behind the Borneo Bird Festival were fantastic & the resort I stayed in (Sepilok Jungle Resort) gave me a lot of opportunities to shoot birds in their compound. Being appointed as one of the judges in the Bird Photography Contest of the Festival, I want to thank the organisers for that honour & opportunity although it blew my cover as The Wannabe, I still think I do better stalking & reporting in my profession! Make Sepilok Forest Reserve as your next birding destination & be thrilled!

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A Sunbird in natural lighting.

Lifestyle Change Begins With A Foldie!

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Folding Bike shop.

The recent craze for folding bikes, fondly known as foldies, has hit town & people are realising the sheer simplicity of packing it & tucking it in the car to go anywhere & ride. I was given a rundown by Andrew Sia, the Chief Reporter of The Star daily, for the kinds of foldies there are in the market. My first encounter with an ultra cool foldie, was in front of a hardware shop in Bangsar, where a Brompton bike was parked. I was gawking at it so much so that the owner came out to demonstrate how it’s folded & unfolded. The conversion of the rear rack to a little wheeled trolley won me over. This owner whose name I didn’t manage to get as I was so engrossed in his description of the usability of the bike, has been all over Europe cycling & recently got back from China. I was totally impressed! The bike had only 16inch wheels! When he told me of the price, I thought, wow, would someone actually spend RM6,000 on a foldie??? Well, I was so taken up by it, I started doing my own research & recalled that Andrew had one so I deluged him with questions & midnight calls because I was very eager to have one.

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ORi C8 Classic

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Top view of the bike when folded.

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Andrew taught me a lot on how to search for one that suited what I’d want in a bike. Aesthetics was important too. Above it all, functionality & foldability.

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I went around town searching for the perfect bike. I found that most bikes with good components start at RM1,000 & above. Most importantly, I wanted something close to a Brompton but not the price. When I found Folding Bike Trading, I was so ecstatic to see a similar designed model but much more compact than a Brompton bike. When I got to the shop, a beautiful lady by the name of Well Tan, greeted me & served me a cup of tea before she proceeded to ask me about what kind of cycling I would want to do. I told her I was thinking of touring & maybe just for daily fitness. She recommended me the ORi bike.

The ORiBikes are designed by the award winning designer Jon Whyte, a former Formula 1 engineer from the U.K. Stylish and functional, ORi folding bikes bring an unprecedented experience of performance and practicality. I especially liked the C8 Classic model where the saddle & handlebar wraps are made of leather. The way it folds matched what I saw in a Brompton bike & for the price of RM2,699 for a C8 Eco series, it’s less than half the price of a Brompton. The Instant Rebound Catch (IRC) mechanism enables ORi to fold up in seconds and easy to carry and store. The brilliant idea was inspired by the simple and intuitive operation of airplane safety belt. IRC also works as a reliable hinge locking the bike together when unfolding. Thanks to IRC, the safety and convenience are perfectly connected together. It even has an easy rolling kit to commute to & fro the LRT!

Well taught me more about foldies & how I should go about owning one. A far cry from a few shops that I had been to in town whose main business is selling & servicing roadies (road bikes/racers) or mountain bikers. Her knowledgable guidance convinced me that owning the right bike is to be done pridefully & no one should rush you into a buying decision. She answered every doubt that I might have & went on to serve me more tea. Then she explained the difference between mainstream bikes & foldies, that the purpose is totally different. A foldie is used for commuting & touring with ease of being able to bring your bike anywhere & everywhere with you. It sounded perfect for my lifestyle! And it wasn’t about competition.

The thing with conventional bike shops is, you always feel pressured into conforming to the norms of cyclists, what they should wear when cycling, what kind of accessories you must buy etc. but with a foldie, YOU ARE YOUR OWN STYLE. I will come up with some fashion bits advice for the ladies who wish to embark on this journey with me. Do let me know what your preferences are & I will detail what the change that the cycling scene needs.

With that, I took a forthnight to mull over it & after My Selangor Story 2011, I took home the ORi C8 Classic foldie! Well is giving a very special deal on the ORi bikes & if you tell her that you saw this on Pummkin’s Pitch, she would give you a 5% discount + a bike cover bag with a further RM30 off on selected helmets to help you get started!

I’ve decided to form an all-girl cycling group to get fit & have since recruited several ladies to join me in my pursuit. Will be organising more photo trips on foldies too so get into gear, guys! Do get your foldie from Well as she can explain in detail what you ought to get & what will save you money in the long run. I will detail with more pictures once I get to ride on my new foldie soon!

Meanwhile, check out her shop at:-

Folding Bike Trading
G 10, Emerald Plaza East,
Jalan PJU 8/3, Damansara Perdana,
47820 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor,
Malaysia.

Tel: +603 771 33 888
Mobile: +6016 393 2229 ( Well )
Fax: +603 771 33 222
Email: foldingbiketrading (at) gmail (dot) com

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The frontal black bag holds the bike cover inside.

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Groovy helmet to protect your main asset….