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Ushering The New Year in Taiwan

It’s a totally different feeling in a different country when I ushered in 2017. The last New Year ushered me in to Taiwan, where I have been living for the last one year. My adventures brought me to a place where I could discover my roots as a Peranakan (Straits Settlement Chinese), not knowing any ancestral Chinese practices prior to 5 generations ago. My great great grandpa had immigrated to Malaya (What Malaysia was prior to 1963 when we combined Sabah & Sarawak to form Malaysia) from Fujian (Hokkien, a province in China) in the 1800’s, sent my great grandpa, Peter Lim Teow Chong to Penang Free School where he also became the school captain, and onward to Kuala Lumpur with historical records of him being the first court interpreter in 1901.

I started an intensive Mandarin course that intensified not only my language capability but my own understanding of a culture that was not quite there for me not knowing why things are done in ways that couldn’t be explained by my Western influenced late dad, neither could it be articulated by my late mom for she was always busy making food or going out to play mahjong with her friends. Questions like why do we celebrate Chinese New Year or why do we have to have specific kinds of foods served during then or why do we do things this way and not that way, never really had an answer because the customs and practices were handed down by parents and grandparents and their parents who were educated and taught in English. The culture began to unfold itself from what’s ingrained in the Chinese characters as I will be finishing my 3rd term after Chinese New Year.

Grabbing my monopod (because I left my tripod in Malaysia), a chair and thermal mug of hot chocolate, my housemate and I went up Xiangshan ?? to the lookout platform and made our way through the enthusiastic crowd who had already gathered an hour before to find a place to park till countdown.

Sorry for the vibrations as I had to jostle with the crowd to get that window of opportunity to capture this. Hope you had a great start to the New Year!

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

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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! 😀

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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!

Amazing Encounters in Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei

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Ulu Temburong sounds like a faraway place owing to its name of being in the depths of the jungle. And indeed, it is as obscure as a hidden treasure tucked away to be found & marvelled at. Nestled in the midst, is Ulu Ulu Resort, by the banks of Temburong River, a terrain of pebbly rocks smoothen by the rapids. The journey begins in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, where we boarded the Flying Coffin (fast ferry speedboat) to weave through a Nipah grove along the muddy banks. This is also a place where big crocodiles sunbathe out in the open. The 45 minutes ride led us to a harbour in Temburong where we took another 40 minutes bus ride to a small jetty to embark on another 15-minute ride upriver. This might cause you to grip the side bars along the longish, narrow motorised boat as it tilts & turns. Each boat seats 5 persons, with our plastic bag-wrapped belongings, cruising became the adventure of averting splashes & collision with overhanging branches that sometimes, rests a Kingfisher.

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Surprises at every turn, sightings of perched Oriental Darters, Swifts & the ever elusive Crested Wood Partridge, caused a stir amongst the participants. A flock of 6 partridges flew across the river while our boat was cruising pass, sending all who saw them into squeals of delight. Sightings are rare & to see an entire brood is even rarer. It is no wonder why birders are going deeper into the forests to document birds. Half expecting the legumes to turn into a beanstalk inviting an ogre to descend, the perspective of size is evident in just the roots of this tree. I can’t even be Jack to climb pass the root, let alone cutting down the beanstalk. Not that I was about to cut anything but fantasical things come to mind when you have a vivid imagination.

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Landing at the banks of Ulu Ulu Resort, I felt like I had developed sea-legs & swayed as I disembarked. The gigantic trees (Legumes) structured the banks bowled me over with the towering stature. Every growth has its place in this pristine ecosystem. Birds & butterflies abuzz, each going about its own way. Ice cold pandan-infused lemongrass tea with condiment tray of curry puffs & appam welcomed us at the reception. Just as we attended the briefing, a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts began to mate  outside the room on bare tree, sending the birders into a frenzy. The race hasn’t resumed yet as breaks were an imminent part of the game. How can we contain our excitement when we are prominently situated at the heart of Bruneissic Park??

Thick foliage in tall trees meant that bird photography would be very challenging. The birders (race participants) set off to list their sightings armed with one spotting scope, one camera & 3 binoculars per team. Frequent reference to the Birds of Borneo book proved another challenge as the birds were fast & the lighting didn’t help with the colour identification. Most of these nations had never seen so many variety of birds in one place as they had in Borneo & Brunei seemed to be an undiscovered trove! Little is known about the birds in Brunei & the availability of learned/trained guides is even fewer with Roger Rajah (co-organiser of Borneo Bird Race) being the ONLY licensed bird tour guide operating in Brunei. Throughout the Brunei leg, Roger had been instrumental in providing logistic briefings & assistance to the entourage. Together with Tom Chong, a tour guide who works with Ulu Ulu Resort, they were giving us detailed explanations of every place of interest, cultural practices & customs of Bruneians. What a resource Brunei has in incredible people of passionate pursuits!

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Horned Spider.

Orb Spider eating cicada.

Flowerpeckers (3 – 5cm only) here are not afraid of humans & would come to a proximity of about 1 metre of you. Seeking a perch that they frequented, I parked myself on the boardwalk & documented hundreds of pictures of these tiny, flighty, cheerful birds. I also learnt that they ate guavas & pomegranates! Videos when I get back.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – male

Yellow Breasted Flowerpecker.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – female.

Being so natural, even spiders abound in the walkway to the rooms. A total of 17 rooms that can accommodate 50 people comfortably, we were the only guests at the resort that day. Bugs, cicadas, strange squirrels & the bizarres of bizarres occur naturally & thrive in this environment. We asked the resort to keep webs in its place to allow city bumpkins like me to document insects for the appreciation of all. It’s not every day that we get to see a Horned Spider or an Orb Spider eating its prey & every encounter is a witness of God’s provision of His goodness to the animal kingdom that He has created. Here’s to the bugs & birds!

Tasek Merimbun Hosts More Than Birds in Brunei

The Minister himself is an avid diver who has just taken a great interest in birds, citing the many species’ behaviour as he talked to the participants of the Bird Race. Flagging off the event in a celebration at the Balai Seni Bandar Seri Begawan, the 7 participating nations were given the Bruneian welcome & shown the gallery of photos of Brunei’s fantastic flora & fauna taken by local talents. He expressed that the Bird Race should continue to its second installation next year where they can better document the species of birds to showcase then.

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Birders off to add species to their list!

At one of the booths, the Wildlife Division has an impressive information of several types of mammals, birds & reptiles. Talking to their officers, I got to know that they have the Slow Loris & Maroon Langurs here. Many of the mammals are found in Borneo & Brunei has a beautiful backdrop when you go to Tasek Merimbun to find them. The race flagged off upon reaching the park office, participants were briefed to stay on trail & each Steward (very experienced bird guiding professionals) assigned to each team, would be marking their finds as they go & if needed, proof of photograph would determine the authenticity of the species. There’s really no grounds for cheating.

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Panoramic view of Tasek Merimbun.

Though the forest is a visibly large area, the birds that are in abundance are flighty & sparse. I hardly have any photos to show despite being there for 2 hours. The distraction is really in the landscape. The first leg of the race, progressed with teams getting a glimpse of what the Bornean forest hosts.

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Maroon Langur

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Dinner hosted by Brunei Tourism where we were taken to a cheerfully local place to eat! We love it!

Inaugurating Birders’ Paradise in Brunei

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The vast tropical rainforest-scape in Brunei gives rise to the appreciation & honoring of birds as Brunei has taken the initiative to promote conservation of bird species through the formation of an alliance with Sabah Tourism & Sabah’s most popular bird club, the Borneo Bird Club, led by Cede Prudente & his team of highly experienced bird guides.

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Taking the cue of advocating the love of nature by watching birds, talking birds & learning bird behaviour from bird ambassadors from 7 countries, Brunei Tourism under the Ministry of Industry & Primary Resources is recognising the wealth of their natural heritage in the pristine rainforest around the country. Launching the inaugural Borneo Bird Race, Brunei Bird Watching & the Borneo Nature Festival, this event is history in the making as never before had there been such a commemoration of birdwatching in the fauna-rich country of Brunei.

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The welcome dinner was lavishly appetising & meeting the Ministry officials themselves who are just as passionate serves to fuel us in the coming days. Our first destination if Tasik Merimbun Heritage Park where the 7 nations set out to find feathers of every kind.

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More in the next post as time & internet access allows! (Some group pictures have yet to be sent to us. Please stay tuned!)

If You Missed Reef Rescuers, Fret Not!

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Did you get to watch it? Wasn’t that a great documentary about the clean-up at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park organised by Astro Kasih? Organising a clean-up of the ocean is a monumental task as I recall the number of clean-up projects I’ve been involved with in the past. Check out my introduction about Astro Kasih’s Reef Rescuers here: http://pitch.pummkin.net/?p=3675. Oceans get littered with unwanted debris, many become mistaken for food by birds, turtles & other sea life causing premature deaths from choking. A plastic bag can be mistaken as jellyfish, one of turtles’ favourite foods. Apart from being a hazard to sea creatures, plastic bags & other debris an choke reefs by blocking sunlight that facilitates photosynthesis in the symbiotic algae living in the corals.

Really, you should make it a point to catch this documentary to be better informed marine-enthusiast & contribute to a better world. The record-breaking effort will be shown at these times below:

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Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Tuesday 4th June at 7pm

Wednesday 5th June 12am

Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Remember, if you have any ideas or suggestions for the Astro Kasih team, share your thoughts on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

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Congratulations to everyone who is enjoying a new GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih!

5th May 2013

Sitting at a little hawker centre in North Bridge Road in Singapore, after alighting from the fiendish express bus that was supposed to have dropped me off at Beach Road but made me disembark in the middle of Jalan Sultan at an unearthly hour of 5am when I’m barely awake from the journey. Venturing further with my Eminent wheelie luggage & Millet backpack, I found this place with the nicest tea that I’ve tasted in a long time. People just don’t make tea the way tea is supposed to taste like in kopitiams anymore. While waiting for my dear, uppity tangkachi  to pick me up in her ‘meet-Ah Lian-clothes,’ I am sitting here, sipping my tea & trying to put my thoughts together.

I watched a foreign worker in bright reflector vest, sweeping the street just outside our state of the art bus terminal building in Bandar Tasik Selatan when I went there after a workshop to collect my boarding pass. I felt a surge of compassion towards him & I asked God to bless him & the family that he probably has to send money home to. A storm was brewing & from the place he was sweeping, there was no way he could reach the building or any shelter for that matter when the skies pour down. He’s got to get wet to keep OUR streets clean. I couldn’t help but feel sad at the state of the country where foreign workers take up the jobs that are supposed to be filled by Malaysians. I feel sorry that they have to be subjected to harsh working conditions because they have no status here as odd job workers & manual labourers. I felt angry for the way these people have been reduced to such working standards that give them no way to voice their rights. It hurts me to see that despite these unjust treatment levied on them, many of these foreigners are given citizenship by a crooked system that’s bent on milking the nation dry.

Here in Singapore, Malaysians who have flocked here to make their mark have made their mark one way or another. They have been given recognition based on merits & many have decided to embrace the permanent residency offered by the administration & are thriving beyond any of their peers back home. The competitive trait that most of them have acquired, is actually a simulation of the environment that they have to be in & it’s no wonder that they can be successful. Comparing that trait to that of Malaysians’, we fall short & far behind. We don’t even have a minimum wage policy until recently & wages do not increase proportionately with the inflation of goods, leaving many working in jobs to sustain a life they can’t afford to live in. In a few days, I would finish my assignment here & return home where I will be commissioned again for other assignments. I can go on but I’m not here to lament about what has been done or hasn’t been done. I want to put to use what I know for the good governance that I’m looking for & hope for a flood that will sweep the nation. 5 May 2013.

Galaxy Wonderland in Malaysia

Malaysia’s multi-cultural society bridges people with the advent of technology that magnifies the splendour of the nation. Buildings, culinary delights, cultural practices, festivals & places are re-created artistically through a wonder mine of digital partnership with Samsung & our beloved songbird/songwriter, Yuna, who’s a Galaxy Note II ambassador after the first successful Sparkle Project with its predecessor, the Galaxy Note.

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This journey aided with the Galaxy Note II will bring everything special about Malaysia to life. A traditional congkak (an elongated wooden egg tray that holds glass marbles as part of the game) is animated into a dragonboat with rowers, depicting the annual races held in the waters of Penang. The stigma of a hibiscus magically transforms into a plant growing out of the fields & a pitcher plant intertwined with KL Tower. This is Galaxy Wonderland! A celebration of Malaysia’s identity through her culture, places & art in a musical voyage brought to life on  Samsung’s latest flagship, the GALAXY Note II. Yuna will once again work with a host of creative collaborators as well as her fans to paint a Malaysian Wonderland through the eyes of her people.

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Yuna is a unique artist embodying the heart & soul of the inspirational stories that Samsung wants to showcase on GALAXY Wonderland. The experience of being able to submit unique creations online as part of the project motivates one to connect with her on an artistic level. To contribute to a beautiful collection of inspiring personal stories with other Malaysians & be considered as part of the project inspires me to continue to shoot the essence of Malaysia in my travels. I submitted a few underwater pictures of several dive sites in Malaysia and will be submitting a few illustrations of what Malaysia means to me.

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The site shows you several options that you can do. You can either select the illustrating pen & draw whatever you wish or select the picture or video upload of your work.

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You can submit your stories about your inspirations, on GALAXY Wonderland’s online portal, http://galaxywonderland.my as Yuna will use these personal accounts to find her own creative spark to write a new song! Anyone armed with the GALAXY Note II or a simple writing tablet and stylus can populate the online portal with whimsical illustrations or submit pictures showcasing what is unique about Malaysia to you. In its expanding landscape of ideas & surreal elements, GALAXY Wonderland will incorporate your submissions (upon approval) in a music video featuring her new song produced with the GALAXY Note II.

Yuna’s journey on GALAXY Wonderland will be featured in a series on Astro Ria. Catch her to see if your work is in her song!

Samsung and Yuna’s first collaboration, the Sparkle Project, saw Malaysia’s first music video created with the GALAXY Note. This musical partnership is a true showcase of creativity and a testament to what can be achieved when people, music, and technology are brought together. Recently, the Sparkle music video won the Best Music Video award on Anugerah Industri Musik (AIM), Malaysia’s premier music award-giving ceremony.

To be a part of her inspiration in her next song, journey with GALAXY Wonderland and the new Samsung GALAXY Note II & submit your artistic impressions now! On GALAXY Wonderland’s portal,  galaxywonderland.my  or visit Samsung Mobile Malaysia Facebook page at  https://www.facebook.com/samsungmobilemalaysia .

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.

Note2bly Launched for Creativity

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For the love of all things tech, the gearget girl makes an appearance at the much anticipated launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone on 11 October 2012. Weaving through the heavy traffic in the rain to Zebra Square, the crowd mingling at the foyer greets me as I scan for familiar faces. It’s a much younger crowd at the do, most notably making up the numbers were the bloggers who appealed to the Generation Y.

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Samsung selected three celebrities to showcase the Note II, the first being Adam Carruthers, the TV host, whom I had to do a Google search on to see what he was about as I don’t watch television & certainly didn’t have any interest in football to know how prominent he was in the field. FIrst I got a jolt upon seeing the same name appearing as a sex offender in my search results only to laugh at the disparity between the two. Adam is charming & charismatic as he evidently addressed the crowd & his co-speakers on stage when he demonstrated the Note II. Deborah Henry was the stunning host for the event & calling the second person in line, Razif Hashim, an actor & food show host, got on stage to join Adam. The third person was a real boon & he was none other than the talent behind the street murals that adorn Penang’s heritage buildings, Ernest Zacharevic!

The use of a Note II I would say, is befitting of an artist like Ernest who makes art so inviting in encompassing the culture of Penang as he painted the murals that he’s so well-loved for. He’s changed the streets of Penang & connected young & old folks in his depiction of culture in his art. Here, Ernest sketched a girl on the Note II before showing what one can do with the S-Pen, which is apparently vastly improved from its predecessor. WIth a vivid Super AMOLED screen, Samsung banks on inspiring everyday creativity in offering this tool of expression. WIth a full suite of apps that make use of the S-Pen, Samsung has added more productivity tools in the Note II’s Jelly Bean operating system.

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There were 2 phones up for grabs, literally, when the balloons were released to the frenzy of people jostling & shoving to get at. Hidden in every balloon is a slip of paper that mostly says, ‘Better luck next time’ or ‘Congratulations!’ Whoever thought of this gimmick probably didn’t think enough when they centred the cluster in the middle of a huge hall. Why would they expect ladies in the room to jostle with men just for a phone? Whoever thought of the idea of guests grappling to seize & burst those balloons obviously thought very lowly of the guests in attendance. Seeing a lady get groped & shoved to the floor, much to her dismay, her winning slip flew out to the person who opportunistically claimed it for himself. I wonder if the event company thought we were hard up for the phone……

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The activities outside proved to a hit with the guests who got to fiddle with the units to see how it performs. There was a ‘decorate your cupcake’ counter that you can creatively garnish & being distracted by taking photos, I forgot to eat mine. The Note II is equipped with an 8 megapixel auto focus camera with LED flash, illuminating subjects when light fails you. Built to power movies, its 1.6GHz quad core processor can multitask as you watch your favourite films or YouTube funnies. The exterior is similar to the Galaxy S III’s smooth screen body & shoots pictures like the SIII too.

With insufficient time to explore this gadget, I will continue to cherish my Note & endeavour to bring you useful Android tips in my FB updates. You can subscribe to my public updates & #askpummkin any questions pertaining to how you can maximise the productivity of your Samsung smartphones. May the Note II set the standard for stylus-driven smartphones in time to come!

Category: Event  2 Comments

Cherish Whats Left of Our Cities

Some of the issues I have had to deal with in my line of work are not your day to day operational issues where you can summon help from your peers, colleagues or subordinates. I get calls for help. Calls of distress. Calls of emergency nature that sometimes, I think I need to be equipped with not just a boat, a tent & a rations bag but a comprehensive first aid kit that includes a plaster big enough to cover hurts & an automated defibrillator to stun guilty parties out of their stupidity. And I’m licensed to use one. I train people to use them too. (Don’t try it on stupidity, it might backfire on you.) With so much happening, cycling & photography have become my best pastime.

Emergencies aside, I did find the time to board the KTM train to Klang for the Tourism Selangor Day Out on the 26 May 2012 for the Selangor Heritage Photo Trail & exhibition beneath the Klang City Bridge. Meeting Dian, Nigel, Hannah & David again was good as we explored a bit of the town to bring you the old charms of the place. David broke his leg when he jumped onto the boat fully kitted up & out of disbelief, I laughed out loud. I couldn’t believe it. Get well soon, David! LOL! Sorry, I always look at the brighter side of things, not laughing at your misfortune but at how it could happen to you! 😀

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We went into an old antique shop where I found an old pair of rollerskates amongst the knick-knacks that you won’t find anymore. There was an old ID card dated back in1894!

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Old radios, photos of yesteryears & even a magazine with the dashing young P.Ramlee were for sale. (Pictures above were taken with the Samsung Galaxy S3.)

Taking a walk around the shops was interesting because we came by many florists that had many kinds of fake flowers for decoration.

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The competition was launched by YB Elizabeth Wong, who was as usual, super punctual for the function.

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The event drew many studios, photography buffs & models who were dramatically made up to don on the Mardi Gras costumes.

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I never thought water meters were this artistic. I want the pink one…..where can I find it?

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Seeing veteran citizens using the bridge with their classic bicycles brought back nostalgic past of this town. We hardly see any old folks using the bikes in Kuala Lumpur any more. I had to ask if it was ok for me to take a snapshot of him!

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And I’m glad I got to be a part of this historical event under this bridge on that day, and was told that one of my photographs won the #TSDayOut Shot of The Day Competition! Thank you, Tourism Selangor!

All pictures here were taken using the Samsung NX200 unless stated otherwise.

Samsung Galaxy S3 for the Movers & Shakers

Samsung has outdone itself again by introducing the next in line to the flagship of Galaxy ‘super phones’ after the incredible success of Galaxy S2 & the magnificent Galaxy Note, both having their own class of cult following. Getting my hands on this sleek & slim beauty during the launch at One World Hotel, the Galaxy S3 comes moulded with super smooth Corning Gorilla Glass, that sticking a screen protector would not do justice to it. The seamless screen seems to blend into the frame of the phone. Noticeably, the Super AMOLED 4.8” screen gives an eye-catching real estate with the 16 million colours that it emanates.  It causes the icons to virtually pop out. Dazzling & life-like photo display.

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Who are the movers & shakers of the world, you think? Mothers, photojournalists, bloggers, movie-makers, scientists, captains of merchant ships, CEOs of banks & think tanks, ministry officials, rulers & leaders, of course! Not to mention those engineers who service aeroplanes & pilots who fly them. And professional builders & architects responsible for drawing up the city & beautifying landscapes! Yes, you are whom I’m writing for today & I hope it would assist your field as much as the phone has assisted mine.

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The moment I powered up the phone, the Android intelligence prompted me to key in my Google credentials & before long, all the apps that I have ever owned in my current devices came flooding in without me having to fuss over the reinstallation of apps that I’m so used to on my current Android devices. The 1.4 GHz quad-core Cortex-A9 processor excelled the operation of any app including the most important function for me, which is the Camera. Virtually no shutter lag. Great for mothers wanting to snapshot fidgety kids at their most active moments or travellers who want to take mementoes of street performers on their tours without worrying if the camera’s settings are appropriate or designers wanting a snapshot of their work for reference to share with friends on Google+ & Facebook. The possibilities with the inbuilt camera are endless. You can be as trigger-happy as you want. With the industry’s standard of 1GB of RAM, the S3 runs on Ice Cream Sandwich version 4.0.3.

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With the inception of S-Voice, you can use natural language commands and dictation to instruct the phone to wake up, effect a sentence & direct it to purpose a call or start an app or send a message to any one of your social media networking apps such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & so on. First, you have to train the app to recognise your voice & your diction. You can choose to start S-Voice with ‘Hi Galaxy’ or any other phrase you think is appropriate.  Use it to start any app or Google Navigation (when you are outside of Malaysia) by saying, ‘Navigate to – <your destination>’ and a notice would pop up to turn GPS fix on followed by another saying that Google Navigation is not available in your country. Upon selecting ‘start Google Maps,’ you will be presented with a list of plausible locations that match your chosen destination. Selecting on one will prompt it to give visual & written turn by turn directions from where you are to the place of your choice. Apart from this, there’s a very good reason for you to get to know this feature well & perfect it for self-protection. With the increase of crime towards women, rampant abduction & robbery, it would be good for you to command the phone to call an emergency number for help in the event you get into such situations. Program the phrase to something less likely to be suspicious, like ‘I’m hungry’ in replacement of ‘Hi Galaxy’ & ‘Call for what?’ to dial an emergency number of a friend. If you ever get tied up & phone is in your pocket or handbag, this would be the situation to use it. What is technology for? This is truly a smartphone! Get one for yourself, your wife/girlfriend, your sister & your teenage daughter. You can send the women to me for classes on how to use the phone later.

Exploring further, the S-Suggest app does what is says, suggests apps for any kind of task. Here are the screenshots of suggestions given. I liked it for the Angry Birds Space that it suggested. How smart. It knows I’m a fan.

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It took me awhile before I found out how to do a screenshot on the S3. By clenching your hand into a fist, use the base of the fist to run it along the screen to capture the screen, doing away with the previous method of pressing the power button & home button simultaneously on the S2. Taking videos & photos can be stored onto an external card in the MicroSD slot, memory can be expanded to 64Gb. Again, having a super fast processor cause everything to run with ease. Watching a HD movie is a breeze! You can even multitask to check your web browser or answer an incoming SMS without having to leave the movie! It supports playback for these formats:- MP4, DivX, XviD, WMV, H.264 & H.263. Playing music goes without saying. Standard fare for MP3, WAV, eAAC+, AC3 & FLAC for as long as you have enough juice to power your journey.

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The virtual keyboard though small, is very responsive once you touch & type. The intelligent typing auto-corrects your spelling mistakes & lets you select the right word. Always check though. You wouldn’t want to be caught typing something else that’s not intended while communicating with your client as I have done in the past. With the removable 2,100mAH battery, you can spares or get a powerbank to charge your phone after a heavy day’s usage. The battery life is quite standard, with my apps running in the background such as 4 email accounts, Plume for Twitter, My Data Manager, News Republic & Facebook, a day’s work include updates to these apps & reply of emails on top of what the phone is designed for, accumulating to about 14 hours of life. As battery ages & have shorter life span, consider getting one spare & one powerbank.

I downloaded My Story from Samsung Apps & had fun writing stuff to send to friends with pictures appended to the ‘letter-like’ note. For those who are expressive, this app is for you.

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With Wifi Direct, you can transfer files wirelessly between devices with the same feature. I use it to beam pictures to my Asus Transformer 3G tablet or Macbook Pro for backup & if you have an On-The-Go USB cable, you can plug in a flash drive to transfer your files directly. Especially large video files. Here’s a sample that’s uploaded in high definition when I watched Alfred Ho in action. A blind singer, his immense talent in unparalleled & he’s available for engagement at dinners & corporate functions. You can reach him at +6016-6359800 & alfredho.music@gmail.com.

The downside is that it uses a micro SIM card which require you to cut your current SIM & keep an adapter handy should you wish to swap cards/phones. I’m skipping all technical jargon because it means very little to movers & shakers like yourselves as I prefer to bring your attention to what the phone is capable of. You can read through other bloggers’ reviews if you wish to get to know the technical bits of the Samsung Galaxy S3 a little bit more but I’d suggest you go to your favourite dealer & swipe that credit card of yours now to personalise what it can do for you. Happy gadgeting!

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Photo taken by Jaz Khai at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 on 24 May 2012.

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!