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Europe 2010: Day 5 – Oxford July 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Day 5: Oxford

We figured it’d be cool to visit one of the oldest universities in the western world. Oxford is in Whileshire which is conveniently an hour of train ride from Bath. So we started the day with a train ride from Bath to Didcot Parkway and then the connecting train to Oxford.

First destination was Oxford Castle. The castle was part of a few battles but it became a prison for last few centuries. The coolest part was climbing the spiraling stone steps up to the tower.

After stopping by a Spanish restaurant for some paella, we headed toward Oxford. As I mentioned to Suzanne how unusually quiet the place was, we made a turn and boom! People everywhere… Oxford wasn’t a sleepy college town I had imagined. We walked toward Christ Church College which probably is the best known part of Oxford. The place was used to film some Harry Potter scenes. I can see why. The place was medieval and just reeked with old traditions everywhere you look. There main court was huge, surrounded four sides with high walks and old buildings. The center was a little lilly pond with a statue in the center. I imagined that the court yard can appropriately used to film scene where Harry Potter learns to fly the broom. Another highlight was this long dining hall. The walls where adorned with old paintings of famous Oxford people. The only one I recognize was William Penn– founder of the state of Pennsylvania.

Next, we visited St. Mary’s and climbed these narrow stairs to the top of the tower. It was interesting negotiating the space with other visitors in cramped spaces. The top had nice views of the town.

There were a few other places I wanted to visit, but we decided to head back. We walked through a few very busy blocks of town on our way back to the train station. That area of town was extremely commercialized and modern, a bustling contrast to the old and traditional Oxford that I had imagined. Too bad, because it kinda shattered the images I had in my head of Oxford. You know, like scenes from the old movie “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Day Trip to Yosemite March 6, 2009 at 7:28 am

A few days ago, my buddy Vince came up for a visit. So we decided to do a day trip to Yosemite to take some pictures. The drive there back wasn’t bad, very doable for a day trip.

The best part about driving to Yosemite is how the first glimpse of the valley takes your breath away when you make through the bend of the road. Yosemite seems to always sneak up on me, every time.

We grabbed lunch at the Ahwahnee hotel and then headed out to do the scenic thing. The water falls were flowing at full force. We abandoned our plan for a hike to Nevada Falls because of the heavy snow on the trails up the mountain. Looking back we should’ve tried a flat trail like Mirror Lake instead. I regretted that we didn’t do any hikes…

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“I See Everything In My Head” January 5, 2009 at 5:49 am

We spent two nights at my sister in-law’s on a short trip to LA after Christmas. On the last night, Suzanne was out late seeing an old friend. I was putting the girls to bed when they asked for a story as they often do. At home, sometime instead of reading books I would tell them stories– some true accounts and some I make up. So, I was looking around at the new surrounding for things to work into my story (I usually make things up as I go) when I saw a ceiling fan. That gave me an idea.

So I made up this story of a boy who woke up and discovered himself all sweaty on a sweltering summer day. He got ready for school, but grew increasingly uncomfortable in the hot morning. He kept complaining about the heat to his mother and didn’t want to go to school. His endless whining throughout breakfast gave her an idea. She gave him a shoe box and told him that it was magic! This magical thing in the box will instantly make him cool and comfortable. But there’s one condition: he cannot open it until he gets to class. Otherwise, the magic will not work. The boy got excited, grabbed the box and sprinted out the house. Along the way, he bragged about the magic box that will make him cool to every friend he encountered.

By the time he got to school the entire class knew about the magic box. As the boy sat down in class, anticipation built and all eyes were on him. The boy excitedly put the magic box on his desk, took a deep breath, surveyed the entire class and then calmly removed the cover. His eye bugged out, mouth gasped as he reached in the magic box with his hand and grabed its magical content: a paper fan which his mother made and inscribed with crayons “I love you, mom!” The boy raised the fan to show all his friends in pure delight. The collective excitement of the students exploded in a thunderous applause.

The end…

Katelyn and Allison were cracking up as I finished the story– just the feedback I was looking for. Allison then excitedly jumped out of her bed, made a fist with her hand, put it on the middle of her forehead and excitedly said to me: “Daddy, when you were telling the story I see everything in my head!”

Well… with a response like that, I guess that story was magical to me too.

Afternoon In The Park October 13, 2008 at 9:41 am

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Afternoon Hike October 5, 2008 at 10:29 pm

This past Saturday, I had a rare afternoon which I didn’t have to tend to the girls. I took advantage of it, grabbed my camera bag and headed out for a hike at Rancho San Antonio. The rain the night before cooled the afternoon but not enough, fortunately, to leave mud on the trails. The highlight was the view at vista point at “High Meadow” and my encounter with a pack of deers on my way back.

It was a nice way for some quality time alone and decompress…

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Maui: August 2008 August 17, 2008 at 11:28 pm

We returned to Maui this summer after our wedding there 8 years ago. It was mainly a family vacation but we scheduled it so we got to celebrate our anniversary on the island. It was a quiet celebration at Roy’s, one of our favorite Hawaiian fusion restaurants.

The girls are bigger now, so traveling with them is so much easier & less hassle. Also helps that we traveled a little lighter this time. Airlines these days charge hefty fees for additional or over-weight baggage.

The girls had blast, spending most of their time in the pools & beaches. We pretty much stayed put at the hotel most of the time. We didn’t even make it to Kea Lani (hotel where we stayed when we got married) as planned. πŸ™‚ Katelyn got around the pool by herself this time, good to see those swimming lessons paying off. In fact, she’s pretty much like a fish. Allison too enjoyed it more since she’s much more comfortable in water.

We hooked up with a few friends. My buddy Vince flew over from Oahu; hanging out with him and his friend Vijack made us feel less touristy. We also hooked up with our friends, the Truongs, for a few days. Our hotels were close by, so the girls got to swim with the Truong boys. It was a shame our stays only overlap for a few days. One highlight of the trip is a sailing trip with Alex & Nicholas. The kids were super excited we spotted dolphins & turtles. It was a first snorkeling experience for our girls. It was a kick for them to see the fish & corals in the water.

Another highlight was a trip to Haleakala summit with Vince. Haleakala is a dormant volcano in Maui. We started out around 2AM up the windy road and made it to the 10,000 feet summit while it was still dark. Dozens of other tourists crowding at the the little shelter– it was very cold and windy. Dawn broke and we saw a glorious sunrise (my last memorable sunrise was at Bryce Canyon in Utah). Wow– sunrise above the cloud! Vince & I spent the next 4 hours snapping pictures, including some with us jumping up & down at the top of the world. That was great fun.

We also took the girls to a luau at the Sheraton, it was way overrated for me. But it was the first for the girls and they enjoyed it. They even went up the stage with Suzanne to do the hula.

As with other family trips, I found I was so busy having fun with the girls and I barely have time to shoot some real photos. In fact, I had all but one opportunity to shoot sunsets. So the night before we left, I spent 2 hours in the middle of the night shooting some night photography. It was cool to walk the emptied beach at night under the moon light. Plus I don’t have too many chances for night shooting.

Below is a few shots, check out more here @ Flickr or here @ Shutterfly.

Kung Fu Allison June 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm


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Our Lives In Pixels June 3, 2008 at 4:29 am

shutterflyI use Flickr for sharing my photographs. While I like the social aspects of it a lot, I always find the page rendering to be too minimal for sharing (after all these are pictures not search results).

Shutterfly is a “personal expression” site and is one of few sites that store photos in full resolution, with no storage limits. Your photos are guaranteed never to be deleted. All free of course. Check out the photo books, they’re pretty awesome!

This isn’t meant to be a shameless plug. But Shutterfly is beta-testing a new photo share service. It’s very cool and super easy to design pages and render photos. Since I started to upload pictures on a monthly basis mainly for online storage, now I can effortlessly share them and make prints all in one place. I’ll use Shutterfly for family photographs but I’ll definitely continue to use Flickr for my other type of photography.

Anyway, check out Our Lives In Pixels of regular updates of our family pictures…

Day @ The Zoo March 23, 2008 at 6:28 pm

This Saturday was a beautiful, typical Californian spring day. So we decided to take the kids and spend the day at Oakland Zoo. Kids had a fun sun-filled day and I got to snap a few pictures.

Horsies March 5, 2008 at 5:59 am

This past weekend I drove the girls to Palo Alto for them to check out some roaming horses on this open pasture. The girls got to feed and pet a few horses, they always enjoy that. I got to snap a few shots, and I enjoyed that.

   

Holiday Getaway January 6, 2008 at 11:01 am

We spent this past Christmas with a big get-together at Tahoe. I mean big: four families! The cozy cabin I got was barely big enough to accommodate all of us. The weather was nice so the kids went out and played snow pretty much every day.

We probably had the most fun spending the afternoon sleighing at a snow park on Echo Summit. We also spend a day at Squaw Valley; the kids went snow-tubing while I snow-boarded with some of my cousins. Snow-boarding this time wasn’t as fun as I remembered– yet another subtle reminder of me getting old! We stopped and checked out Emerald Bay along the way. Too bad we were in haste and only spent a a few minutes snapping pictures; the place was simply breath-taking.

It was a nice break for everyone and it was timely for me after a few stressful weeks on the new job. I especially enjoyed the opportunity just relaxing and snapping some pictures on a snow-covered landscape.

 

 

Delicate December 2, 2007 at 9:20 am

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I spent parts of Saturday morning doing some macro shots in the back yard. I’m happy with the shot above, capturing the water droplet on a flower; I called it “Delicate”. I got to use Live View on the Canon 40D for the first time, and I came to appreciate the feature. I can’t imagine using the view finder for prolonged sessions of macro shooting– too much strain on the eyes otherwise..

Macro November 25, 2007 at 9:44 pm

I’m finding myself shooting more flowers lately. So too bad, my camera lens collection is currently missing a macro lens. Well last week I decided to rent a Canon 100mm macro lens. Yesterday, it came via UPS and I finally had some free time to use it this afternoon to do some shooting. These are my first macros ever and am happy with the results. See if you concur.

I’m hoping to have some free time to do more shooting with it this week.

Crowned October 4, 2007 at 6:12 am

I came home a few days ago, my dear Allison excitedly ran out and greeted me at the door, proudly showed me her alphabet crown. Her pre-school awards the paper crown when a kid learns the letters and their sounds. Yeah!

I was very happy and proud of my little munch-kin. And as a reward for a job well done, I made her a promise of getting her a toy of her choice.

Conservatory of Flowers May 16, 2007 at 4:39 am

lotusWe visited the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park this past Saturday. I’ve been meaning to pay it a visit when it reopened a few years ago after undergoing years of renovation. It’s basically a giant green house of rare plants and flowers. The place is actually smaller than I imagined but the collections were amazing nevertheless. The orchids and the lotuses in particular were just flowerspectacular.

Best of all, it was a fabulous photo opp. for me, as I don’t get to take many floral shots. A lot of the visitors there were photographers, some lugging very impressive equipments. I’m very happy with some of the photos I managed to take.

Caribbean Blue May 3, 2007 at 9:40 am

Suzanne and I been talking about taking a cruise for a while now; finally we spent this past spring break visiting Caribbean on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. We were first-time cruisers– so everyone was excited, especially the kids. For the parents, it was our second time visiting the Caribbean, but first time for western Caribbean.

On our second morning, we docked at the island of Cozumel. Katelyn went on a submarine ride with her cousin Malia while Suzanne & I took Allison to downtown for a bit sight-seeing and shopping. I had originally booked an excursion hiking to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, but canceled the last minute to spend time with Suzanne & Allison instead. It would have been a good trip with lots of photo ops. Oh well, next time…

In Grand Cayman, we visited Stingray City– a famous sandbar in the middle of the ocean where stingrays congregate. The excursion was over-booked and so we were first sent to a beach with beach chairs packed like sardines. I took the opportunity to test my new water-proof case for Suzanne’s camera. An hour late, we finally boarded the boat. The boat ride to the sandbar was enjoyable, the water was aqua and just beautiful. No doubt that Grand Cayman is the playground for the rich– huge spectacular mansions dotted along its shorelines as far as the eyes can see.

Many boats already anchored there by the time we arrived. The water was waist-deep at the sandbar. We were given chunks of squid to feed the stingrays. While putting on my snorkel one huge ray swam up and rubbed my legs– I was startled but that was really cool. Suzanne was also at first a bit nervous at their “friendliness.” It was real neat to see all these rays all around us and be able to touch them. The coolest thing was feeding the rays, as they swim over your hand and their mouths sucking away the squid from your hand like a vacuum. No wonder the guide asks us not to stick our thumbs our while feeding!

I tried taking pictures and videos of the rays under water but let’s just say my first stab at imitating Cousteau wasn’t a success– among the excitement and all the action, I managed a total of 1 decent underwater photo. πŸ™‚ The videos were crude but still pretty neat. All in all, it was a very cool experience. It would’ve been even better had it’d not been so crowded.

Next, we visited Dunn’s River Falls and its cascading waterfalls. It’s apparently a very popular tourist attraction in Jamaica. A local guide would take a group climbing the water falls. The climb wasn’t very treacherous but enough danger to make it exciting. It was overly crowded but Suzanne & I had fun anyway. There were lines like Disneyland.

The last port was Labadee, Haiti where we spent the entire day with the kids on the beach. The place was secluded and very pretty. Because it was private property it lacks the tourist traps and commercialism. I really enjoyed my time there.

The dining on the cruise was great. We enjoyed the service of our friendly Indian waiter named Freddy. But by the 5th day I had enough of fine dining– would’ve happily traded my steak or lobster for a bowl of pho. I guess there’s only so much of fine food a simpleton like me can take!

There were plenty of activities on the ship.The kids naturally enjoyed the pools the most. Suzanne & I tried wall climbing. I participated in a volleyball tournament– our team placed 2nd. There was a surf machine that makes artificial waves, but I never braved the crowds to use it. The whole family tried ice-skating. We were depleted most nights after a day of fun activities.

One nice thing about cruising is minimal planning: either for food or activities. It’s all inclusive. Each night, we look forward to a nice sit-down dinner and a show afterward. I even got to try some new food like parfaits. It’s not as good as Donkey made it out to be (there’s a scene in Shrek where Donkey says “parfaits gotta be the tastiest thing on the whole damn planet“). The nightly variety entertainment was top notch Vegas-quality– I enjoyed everyone I saw. I was surprised at the quality production the cruise line was putting up.

With food and entertainment factored in, cruising can be reasonable in terms of cost. Another big plus is the activities for kids, basically free childcare while the grown-ups go on their excursions. I think cruises attract those who’s looking for doing most activities, visiting as many visited places, being most entertained and eating as much fine food, within a span of time. In essence: it’s all about efficiency. You can’t really beat that if that’s what you’re looking for in a trip.

The downsides to cruising, I find? First and foremost, it’s the crowds. For me, it’s hardly relaxing when I keep running into people wherever I go. Lines everywhere. Second: minimal local interactions. You’re constantly hit with tourist traps when you leave the ships. I must admit that I’m the low key back-country type of guy when it comes to vacationing. I don’t particularly enjoy overly-commercialized places. I rather chill out in a quiet place. I find our last trip to north shore of Hawaii a tad more relaxing.

All in all though, everybody had a great time. I wished I had more camera time. I failed to find enough free time to take my camera through the paces whenever I vacation with the kids. They just keep me too busy. I didn’t get up early enough to capture the sunrise as I intended– not even once. On the other hand I got tons of family photos of the wife and kids which is just fine with me.

Here are some of the photos.

Tet Parade February 19, 2007 at 10:50 pm

We dressed the girls in their traditional Chinese outfits and took them to the lunar New Year parade in downtown San Jose this past weekend. It was the girls’ first time watching a parade. Despite the cold & gray morning, the girls seemed to enjoy it. The lions & dragons came up right next to the girls! Katelyn & Allison even got to pet a few of them.

There were a lot of photographers there, some of them pro’s wielding very impressive equipment around. I definitely felt inadequate. πŸ™‚ But here are some of my snapshots. Interestingly, I encountered more Nikon than Canon users…

Katelyn’s 5th February 16, 2007 at 8:42 am

Katelyn had a little party at The Little Gym to celebrate her 5th birthday, this past weekend. The kids had a blast doing kiddie gymnastic activities. Katelyn definitely seemed to enjoy the extra attention. Even Allison, who’s normally a bit shy, participated in all activities whole-heartedly. Here some snapshots from the party.

I was happy celebrating Katelyn’s birthday. She’s making great strides this year- constantly surprises & impresses me with things she learns and does. She likes to sing, loves to color and teaches me the names of all sorts of dinosaurs (most of them I really didn’t even know)! She’s getting more inquisitive and can be thoughtful at times. She’s always very active and plays rough sometime. I see a bit of tomboy-ness in her. She can write words phonetically and do simple math. Not as crazy about Dora as last few years, but definitely still way into Disney princesses. Still likes pink but shuns Barbie because she knows I don’t like her getting into Barbie. Still a picky eater, but she’s at least trying new things; she even eats brocolie now. Her best friend is her cousin Malia, who she loves sleeping over with. She’s starting to help out little bit around the house- her biggest responsibilities being setting up the table at dinner time and feeding the fishes. Her face is usually the 1st thing I see when I come home from work, she’d run to be the first to open the door for me.

But the best thing I saw in Katelyn this year is the little glimpses of her trying on the role a big sister: helping, encouraging and protecting Allison at certain times. I simply cannot be any prouder when I see that…

Unbelievable to me that Katelyn turned 5. At the same time, it seems forever that she’s part of our lives though. I can barely remember the bk era- before Katelyn. πŸ™‚

Happy birthday kiddo…

Weekend of Parties September 19, 2006 at 7:44 am

Our kids had a blast of a weekend, full of birthday parties. We took them to our friend Sandra & Brad’s party for their daughter Emily. Being My Little Pony themed, the kids got to wear cowgirl hats and ride a beautilful pony. Even Allison braved the crowd and took her ride without her parents’ help. Then on Sunday, the kids attended their cousin Malia’s birthday party when they were entertained by a magician.

Suzanne & I had fun just watching them and we also got to hang out with some of our friends. I also got to shoot a lot of pictures. Shooting kids on sugar high constantly running around is always challenging. And tiring… πŸ™‚ But the shutter bug in me had fun nevertheless!

Houseboating @ New Melones Lake September 17, 2006 at 11:18 am

We spend this past labor day weekend houseboating with a bunch of family/friends at New Melones Lake. It was our first time houseboating. We spend the weekend eating, drinking, hot-tubbing, fishing, swimming and jet-skiing. The best part was sleeping under the open sky filled with stars and the beautiful moon. Surprisingly, I didn’t snap many pictures. Guess I was too busy having fun…

One funny incident involved my horrible navigation skill. One the morning, after we picked up the rest of the passengers. When we head out, I figured to hug the shorelines and go straight, figuring it’s a simple matter getting back the marina. Anyhow, we had various different people skippering the boat throughout the day and somehow we circled back and saw the same marina we departed from earlier in the day. Well, silly me. I figured that was a second marina. The next morning, when we head back to pick up the waverunner & refuel, I told Doc’s brother who was skippering the boat that morning to ignore the 1st marina and look for the 2nd marina. Needless to say, we wasted an hour or two wandering aimlessly. We had to stop and ask other boaters about this 2nd phantom marina! Of course, they thought we were out of our mind and told us that there’s only 1 marina on the lake. Normally, I’m pretty good with directions, but boy did I feel silly that morning. πŸ™‚

Here are some of the shots from the trips…