Saturday, April 9, 2016

Perth Mint

Perth Mint is just right behind our hotel, so it is one of our destinations of the very first day.

Perth is not the capital of Australia, but why there is a mint here, in a provincial capital?  The story has to go back to the two gentlemen whose statues are right in front of the Perth Mint building.  They are the ones who first discovered gold mines in Western Australia.  With subsequent gold rush, Perth became a very important center for gold mining.  Decision was made to establish Perth Mint for gold and silver bullion production in Australia.  Money printing and coin production is not at Perth Mint but else where.

From outside, you can still see the old fashioned chimneys propping into the blue sky, although I don't think they are still in use today.

In the Perth Mint building, there are galleries where you can buy gold and silver souvenirs.  There is also a gold and silver bullion trading room.  Here you can buy and sell your gold and silver bullion.  I think the best souvenir you can get is to buy a silver Koala bullion produced by the Perth Mint at spot price plus a premium.

The mint is open 7 days a week, and on most of the public holidays, but the trading room is only open on weekdays, it is closed on weekends and public holidays, as the precious metal exchange is closed.

For $19/pax, you can go for a guided tour of the mint.  This is highly recommended if you are a gold bug.

With the tour, you can go into the exhibition area, where you can find the world's biggest gold coin.

As no photography is allowed in the building, I can only share with you with a picture of the mint's brochure.  The gold coin weights 1 ton!  At the current price of gold, it is worth at least US$37 million!  And it is right in front of you, just a couple of feet away.  It serves as a very important lesson in life.  US$37 million right in front of you, but you can't eat it, drink it, use it to warm you up, or cool you down, and you can't even carry it away with you.  The US$37 million is just a meaningless number.

There are many gold nuggets in display, too.  Gold nuggets are something that you can't mine, or manufacture.  It is nature's wonder which you can only find by luck.

As a teaser, the mint also lets you get a feel of touching and lifting a 12kg gold bar.  The bar has the size a bit smaller than a piece of brick, but it weighs a lot more.

The highlight of the tour is definitely the demonstration of gold pour.  The guide will take out a bucket of molten gold and pour it into the mold of a gold bar.  Once the gold solidifies, he will put it in cold water to speed up the solidification process.  At the end, a glittering 200g gold bar is presented in front of the audiences.

You can find my other Perth travel posts here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Arriving in Perth

After we landed at Perth airport, getting through immigration and custom was a breeze.  Singaporeans can use the automatic clearing system.  It works similar to the one in Singapore.  You scan your passport first, then instead of using thumb print for identity verification, they use photograph.

Perth Airport Terminal 1

There are three terminals at Perth airport, terminal 1 is for international flights, so that's the only terminal you need to know.  The terminal building is quite small, but you need to know one shop, Optus.  Optus offers pre-paid sim cards for travelers at $2/day.  It provides you with unlimited calls and SMS (domestic only), and 500MB of data each day, and it is on Optus' 4G network, which is really fast.  Don't leave the airport without getting one.  However, as the shop is small, customers are many, you have to be more patient.

From the airport to Perth city, we decided to take a cab.  There is a shuttle bus too, but it will cost $15/pax, while the taxi to Perth city center is ~A$40, so it makes sense to take a taxi if you are in a group of 2 or more.  In our case, our taxi fare ended up as A$44.

Our hotel was Perth Ambassador Hotel at Adelaide Terrace.  The location is very good.  Just 10 minutes walk down to the water front of Swan River, 17 minutes walk to city center, or you can choose to take the free RED Cat bus.

We booked a twin room, but they gave us a triple room.  The room is spacious, but the interior design is a bit dated.  They also still use room key, those physical room keys, instead of the modern electronic card keys.  Other than that, it is quite clean, and comfortable.

After we settled in, we took a walk around the hotel.  Surprise surprise, we found out that the Perth Mint is right behind our hotel.  I will write more about the Perth Mint in the coming days.  For today, just enjoy its exterior night view.  It is a treasure trove in there, but it looks so ordinary, you may just pass by thinking it is just one of those Victorian-era buildings.

Perth Mint at night

And we decided to have our dinner right across the street of the Perth Mint.  We enjoyed our meal while admiring the beauty of this building.

We ordered a pizza for dinner, but it is not your ordinary pizza.  This pizza is folded, like an omelette, but it is a pizza.  There is a special name for it, but too bad I didn't really catch it from the friendly waitress.  It retains the crispiness of a pizza, at the same time, it retains more juice than a conventional pizza.  Thumbs up!

Last but not least, we arrived on the 15th day of the lunar month, it was a full moon night.  We had the view of the Perth Mint, and the full moon in the sky while enjoying our dinner.  Don't you think it was a great enjoyment?

Other posts about Perth are at: Journey to Perth 2016

Fly Scoot to Perth

We booked our flight to Perth from Singapore through FlyScoot's website last Oct.  Including check-in luggage and a meal, the total cost was $461.  We were quite excited as it would be our first time flying Boeing's much touted 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Spacious Legroom

The Dreamliner is sleek and spacious.  For our tall and leggy friends, they would like the Dreamliner, as there is very comfortable legroom between rows.

The window shade is also different.  Instead of the manual version, now there is a button for you to press to darken or lighten the window shade.  It is electronic control.

The first impression was very good.  However, once the plane took off, all the good impressions that I had so far became meaningless.  From the moment of take-off, the plane vibrated violently.  You can take a look at the YouTube video I took during the flight, and this was NOT during a turbulence!

When turbulence comes, what will happened?  We encountered two major turbulence during the 5-hour flight.  Once the plane lost a bit of altitude.  The air stewardesses were still pushing the carts, the sudden loss of altitude made a lot of them fall and scream.   Drinks were spilled, unsecured objects flying.  It was a scary scene.

Finally, we reached above Perth airport.  The weather was good, sunny, good visibility, but our landing was terrible.  It was like we were landing in a big turbulence.  The air stewardess sitting behind me said it was the worst landing she had ever experienced.  To me, it was the worst flight and worst landing I had experienced.

Our air ticket included a meal during the flight.  This is what I got.  For 20kg check-in luggage and a hot meal, we paid additional S$55/pax.  If you are hungry, I don't think this meal can cure your starvation.

In-Flight Hot Meal

After the plane landed safely at Perth airport finally, the cabin light changed from a single color to a rain bow.

Rainbow Cabin Light

The rainbow cabin light was beautiful, and it was something nice and fuels passenger's fantasy, however, flight safety is what is most important to any passenger, not the fancy stuff.

I wondered whether my poor flight experience is to do with the Dreamliner or the pilot.  I got the answer after my return flight from Perth to Singapore.

I will say 10% due to the Dreamliner.  As the Dreamliner is really slim, the hulk is tiny, naturally it is less stable compared with the heavier planes.  For the remaining 90%, I will say it is due to the pilot.  Our return flight had been relatively smooth.  We encountered some turbulence too, but the plane didn't shake so violently.  When there was no turbulence, the ride was smooth in general.

After this experience, I would think twice before I fly with Scoot again.  Anyway, the price difference between Scoot and SIA is only about $100.

Other posts about Perth are at: Journey to Perth 2016

Journey to Perth 2016

Over the Good Friday long weekend, I paid a visit to Perth, one of the most livable cities in the world.  I will use this post to collect all the posts related to this trip.

1. Fly Scoot to Perth
2. Arriving in Perth
3. Perth Mint

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mind the Weight of Your Luggage

In this modern day of traveling with budget airlines, you have to pay to have check-in luggage.  The amount you pay depends on the weight of your check-in luggage.  For example, you have to pay SGD50 for 15kg of check-in luggage for Tiger Air.

You grumble about the steep charges, but have you ever wondered what is the weight of your luggage bag itself?  I have two luggage bags, both are 24", one is from United Colors of Benetton, the other is from Slazenger.  They are of slightly different shape, but both are made of ABS material.  Just out of curiosity, I weighted both of them.  Guess what, they weight 4kg each!  Just the luggage bag itself, it weights 4kg.  That's 27% of your 15kg luggage quota.  It means you can only stuff another 11kg into your luggage before it goes over the 15kg limit.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Sponsor A Child

It is both great joy and great sadness that I received a letter from World Vision Singapore, informing me that the boy that I sponsored in China has completed his high school education, and is now independent enough to leave the program.

When I first started sponsoring him, he was still in primary 4, now he has completed his high school.  So many years had passed.  I am really happy that I am able to make a small difference to someone's life, to give him a potential to lead a better life than his parents.  It feels good to give others hope.

Now that this Chinese boy has left the World Vision program, World Vision Singapore recommended another boy from Sri Lanka as the candidate for my sponsorship.  I think I will just continue with this program.  Maybe I can only offer a little bit help, and I can only help a very small number of people, but it is always better than doing nothing.

If you like to sponsor a child, making some difference to someone's life for the better, you can visit:  Together, we can make a better world for everyone.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Peach Garden @ Miramar Hotel

Went to Peach Garden at Miramar Hotel for an ala carte lunch buffet.  The service was quite good.  After we arrived, they ushered us in, and served us drinks promptly.  Menu was also provided for us to start ordering.

Dining environment was not too bad.  As the restaurant is hidden inside a hotel, and it is not very accessible, and it was a week day, so there were not many people.

The first dish that  came was fried fish skin.   The fish skin was very crispy, and still a bit hot.  The taste was great, but one of my friends complained it was a bit on the oily side to his taste.

Then came the deep fried shun hock fish.  The fish was fresh, and the deep fried was just nice, even the bones became crispy.  For people who hate fish bones, this dish would be a good choice.

They served the dishes a bit out of sequence, as the fish came before our appetizer, drunken chicken.  I would say this one was not bad.  It had the alcohol taste, but not so strong that it would become bitter.  The chicken meat remained tender, with a little taste of Chinese herbs.

We ordered four different types of prawn dishes.  They used good quality fresh prawns.  I must give them a thumbs up for this.  All four dishes were good.  When you squeezed the prawn, the meat would come out nicely.  And the prawn would pop in your mouth when you bite it.  Good!

They also have many different meat dishes, such as pork ribs, fried chicken wings, etc.  They were not bad too, but the portions were simply too big, even though we ordered 'small' portions.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience.  The service staff should be praised too for their good service, especially the duty manager.  He was very polite to us and also to his own staff.

For the ala carte buffet, you need to have a minimum of 4 dining parties though.  The price was S$58++/pax  for weekday lunch, with some discount.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Current State of Microstock

It has been many years since I last wrote about the microstock 'industry', so today let's take a look at how it looks like today.

In the past decade, almost all the microstock agencies had seen a change of hands.  iStockPhoto had been acquired by Getty Images, 123RF as well?  Fotolia had been bought over by Adobe, while BigStockPhoto had been bought by rival ShutterStock.

For the only two great survivors, namely ShutterStock and Dreamstime, ShutterStock went public in 2012.  Its share price went from US$25 at IPO to over  US$100, and then it is back down to below US$30 now.  Even so, its Price to Earning ratio is still at 51, high by every standard.

Dreamstime is dying a slow death.  My sales there went down to almost 0.  Just when I thought it is because I don't have a good portfolio, I check the sales of another photographer, who has 2233 photos in his portfolio, and plenty of models.  He only manages to have 3 sales in a week!

Dreamstime used to have this practice of removing photos that don't sell in the past x number of years, but now they don't do that anymore.  I suspect many contributors removed their photos in large numbers in their portfolio at some particular time when Dreamstime was in some difficulty.

The competition in microstock is simply fierce.  I met one professional photographer the other day.  He told me that when he shot for stocks, he did 3200 photos in a day.  You see, 1) the pros are doing this as well, competing with hobbyists and amateurs; 2) they produce a huge volume in a very short time.  How can people like me compete with them?   At the same time, I feel sorry for the pros.  They have to come so low.

I think microstock had already seen its best time, and in the future, we will only see more and more fierce competition, and thinner and thinner profits for photographers.  It is ok to keep it as a hobby, but as a means for making a living?  I don't think so.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sen of Japan

As part of Canon's Triple Treat deal, I was offered a free food photography workshop at Sen of Japan restaurant.  The restaurant is located in Marina Bay Sands shoppe, right next to the Art and Science Museum.

For us to practice our photography skills, of course, a delicious 9-course Japanese set lunch was offered :-)

Our Lunch Menu


Entree was Aspara salad.  Other than the normal vegetables that you can expect, they also have some fried items, which give you a different sensation from the wet and juicy vegetable taste.

Sushi Roll

Their sushi roll was really good.  The softness of the sushi rice, coupled with the freshness of mango and avocado, plus the pop pop pop sensation of the fish roe, and not to forget they actually have some kind of sauce that adds one additional layer of texture to the sushi.  All these combined together is a great feast to your taste buds.


Food is not just all about the taste, it is also an art of presentation.  The salmon sashimi has been carefully styled as a rose.  Isn't it beautiful?


Their tempura set is just as impressive.  You are not just satisfying your taste buds, but also your visual sensors.

Main Course - Beef

The main course was beef.  The chef already cut the big piece of beef into smaller slices, easy for you to pick up and eat.  The Japanese spirit of attention to details is amply demonstrated here.  In terms of taste, however, I must complain a bit, as the beef is a bit on the more chewy side.  Then I am not sure whether it is my fault, because I took as much time photographing it, as I ate it.

Overall, I think this is a great restaurant where you can have multiple sensations satisfied.  And kudos to the Canon folks who delivered such a great experience for us!

Friday, February 5, 2016

How to Grow Radish Sprouts

There is a new trend in growing your own food, especially the so-called 'microgreens', such as bean sprouts, radish sprouts, etc.

Today, let me share with you my experience in growing radish sprouts at home.

Day 1: Sowing the Seeds

First, put a thin layer of soil in the flower pot, about 2-3cm thick.  Then spread radish seeds on the soil surface generously.  Don't worry about the density, just spread the seeds.  You don't have to cover the seeds with soil, leave them on the surface, exposed.  Most importantly, spray water on the seeds generously, make sure the seeds are well moistured.

Day 2: Germinating

The seeds will start germinating on the second day.  Continue to spray water on the seeds, twice a day.  Ensure the seeds have enough moisture.  If twice a day is not enough, increase the frequency of spraying water.

Day 3: Sprouting Out

Day 5: Radish Sprout

On day 5, the radish sprouts can grow about 1-2 inches high.  If you like it this way, you can already harvest the sprouts.

Day 7: Fully Grown Sprouts

On day 7, the sprouts are already really tall.  This is the perfect time to harvest the sprouts and enjoy the fruit of your labour.

Radish sprouts are easy to grow, minimal care needed, while it is healthy.  You have full control of the sprouts from seed to maturity.  It is a great choice for modern day city little farmers :-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lens Back Focus Test

Lens back focus has been a known issue for a long time.  With the arrival of 24mega pixels entry DSLRs, this issue become more prominent.

You can follow a simple test on your lens and camera to check for any auto focusing issue, below is simple video by a Malaysian young chap, but it is very to the point.

However, there is more to it.  From my own experience, I would like to add some points.

1. The focus chart that you use.  If you just download it from the internet, and print it out on normal print paper using your office laser printer, the print and paper qualities are not that high in the first place.  It is more difficult to tell which point is sharp, which point is not.

Sample Auto Focus Test Shot 1

The sample test shot above is an example.  Can you tell whether the word 'sharp' is sharp, or the numbers 2 & 4 below it are sharp?  Or the number 2 above it is sharp?

2. If you are doing this test with a zoom lens, you need to do it at the extreme ends of the zoom range, as well as the mid point.  You expect the performance to be consistent over the zoom range, but the actual fact is not.  You may have good auto focus at the mid point, but your auto focus may be off at the extreme ends.  You have to decide what is considered to be good for you.

That's all for today.  Happy shooting photos!

Friday, January 15, 2016

UberX vs Comfort Taxi

Uber had started its operation in Singapore for quite some time.  The review has been mixed, so I decided to give it a try and do my own comparison.

UberX is said to be the cheapest of the Uber series of services provided so it obviously became my No. 1 candidate for the comparison.

First, I hailed a Comfort taxi outside my office during lunch time, and went to a nearby sports complex.  We were not so lucky that day, as we hit multiple traffic lights, and waited the maximum wait time.  At the end, the trip cost me $6.50.

Then on another day, I got myself a UberX car, also during lunch time, from my office to the same sports complex.  The wait time for the car to come was 4 minutes.  The ride was smooth, and the driver took the exact same route as the Comfort taxi, but we were a bit more lucky this time, and didn't get stopped by traffic lights so often.  The trip cost me $6.80.

At first glance, we may conclude that UberX is more expensive than taxi, but then as you think about it, if you call a taxi, you need to pay additional ~$3.20, factoring in this cost, the total taxi fare would have been $6.50 + $3.20 = $9.70.  In this case, UberX is cheaper.

However, the not so good side of UberX is that you don't know how much your journey will cost before hand.  Their rate is based on real time demand.  If you are unlucky, you may end up with a much more expensive journey and it will really shock you.

Which one is better?  It is up to your own decision.  I probably will be more conservative and hail a cab, as I won't be surprised by a huge bill.