Taipei in Postcards

Classic view of Taipei City taken from the Fireworks Lookout of Elephant Mountain.

Hi there.  Like everyone these days, I take the time to rekindle the flames of inspiration and remember why we love doing the things that we do.  If you’re like me who loves to move around and take photos, then you are stuck at the moment.  One of my favorite photographers (Joe McNally) suggested that now is a time to go back to and go through our collection of photobooks and images.  Like him, I have been collecting photobooks and magazines all my life and I still have hundreds of images in piles of cards that I still need to process.  That might take quite a long while, but I can still post images here that I have already posted elsewhere. 🙂  So we take the time to “squeeze” activities like these in the middle of our work schedule.  There’s no point in being too “productive” at work these days as we are all working under a different situation and circumstance.  We all need to stay sane right? 🙂  So like most of you, I am trying to catch up with my writing (aside from picking up a few more skills).  Besides, I haven’t posted in this blog for quite some time now.  So here we go.

I had the chance to visit Taipei last December with my wife.  Actually, I almost gave up any chance of taking photos in this beautiful city after I saw the weather forecast showing a week of rainfall.  But surprisingly, we had good weather and sunny days the whole time since we arrived here.  So what I’ve read is true:  weather is really unpredictable in Taipei.  By the way, the image above is a classic view of Taipei City (on a fine and windy day) taken from the Fireworks Lookout of Elephant Mountain.  The climb to get to that viewpoint was challenging enough but the view was extremely worth it.  I stayed on that location for hours; not willing to move or give up my spot because other photographers were already set to capture the iconic twilight photo that this spot is famous for.  Besides, no one knows what the weather will be like the following day; so I had no intentions of coming back.  🙂

Taipei is described as the Yin and Yang of cities; a mix of the modern and the traditional.  Its beauty was created from a blend of Chinese, Southeast Asian, Japanese, and American influences; which is obvious from its cuisine, entertainment, and the courtesy of its people.  Taipei is one of the most tourist-friendly places on the planet.  Its people is one of the nicest I have encountered; taking the extra effort to speak our language (unlike other Asian locals in my previous trips) and going the extra mile to make the tourist experience memorable.  Shopping and street food is a quintessential experience, in addition to your search for the most authentic Bubble Tea. 🙂  Aside from these, there are other day trip attractions and destinations which is always a part of a Taipei visit.  But we never went to any of those.  Like most of my trips, I basically stay in one city and try as much to absorb its story, architecture, and of course its food.   A Taipei trip on its own is never disappointing.

Taipei City at Night viewed from the Observation Desk of Taipei 101.

I have committed one big sin though.  You might think that I forgot to post my photo of Taipei’s National Palace Museum.  I did not.  It’s because we missed that one which is quite unforgivable considering that it’s a must-see attraction for first-timers in Taipei.  On our way to the museum (it was our last day in Taipei, if I remember correctly), we decided to have lunch first and stumbled upon Japan’s famous Ichiran Ramen inside one of the malls in Xinyi.  Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day queuing.  So there goes our museum visit.  It’s silly I know.  Sorry about that.  Well at least, I know where to go first when I visit Taipei again.  🙂

But despite this, I still managed to take a few decent photos of some major sights.  And with the unexpected beautiful weather, I really enjoyed the street food experience and those photography sessions during the late hours of the day.  I am particularly passionate about cities and their architecture and Taipei is a treat for architects and architecture fans.  Taipei is made up of a few districts or neighborhoods and each district is notable for at least something; whether it’s shopping, food, or a famous landmark.  So I list them below with their most popular sights.  Enjoy my unofficial guide to Taipei.  Enjoy the photos too as much as I enjoyed taking them.  🙂

Zhongzheng:  This is Taipei’s central district and the site for its government offices, museums, shrines, and some of the city’s major tourist attractions.  This is where you get a sense of the nation’s recent political history.  The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the most iconic of these attractions.  The neoclassical main hall is a monument to authoritarian leader Chiang Kai-shek.  Aside from Chiang’s statue in the main hall, there is also an artifact museum of Chiang’s memorabilia on the ground floor.  Don’t miss the very popular hourly changing of the guards in the main hall.  This structure is flanked on both sides of Liberty Square by the two halls of the National Theater and Concert Hall; with the main hall hosting large-scale cultural events such as dances, musicals, Chinese and Western Operas as well as classical and popular music concerts.  The 2/28 Peace Park is a beautiful garden park dedicated to the victims of the February 28, 1947 incident.  This event is of major importance as it led to the country’s transformation from dictatorship to democracy.

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Datong and Zhongshan:  Datong is one of the oldest districts in the city, while Zhongshan was once a hub of finance and international business activities.  Bao’an Temple and the National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine are my favorites in these districts.  There are more attractions of course and I apologize for not having visited the rest of them.  🙂  Bao’an Temple is a UNESCO award-winning site and is the mother of all Taipei temples.  Taipei has hundreds of temples but Bao’an is the most elaborate and richly decorated.  People come here to pray for good health.  The National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine is a beautiful complex of traditional structures dedicated to the memory of almost 400,000 soldiers who died for the ROC.  Like most shrines, there is an impressive hourly changing of the guards.  The shrine is windy and peaceful with a lush landscape, a long courtyard, and a beautiful mountain as a backdrop.

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Wanhua and Ximending:  Wanhua used to be a trading center for tea, coal, and camphor (a compound used to make ointments).  Today, it is best known for its temples and historical neighborhoods.  Ximending is Taipei’s shopping district and perhaps the most popular destination for most visitors to Taipei.  Bopiliao Historical Block is one well-preserved neighborhood in Wanhua.  Most of the buildings here now house art galleries for upcoming artists.  It has less visitors however, but it’s still an interesting neighborhood because of the gritty buildings and lanes that give the area its texture and character.  Ximending Pedestrian District is everyone’s night shopping destination and is filled with hotels, cinemas, and shops selling cosmetics, clothing, food, and all sorts of bubble tea claiming to be the original (among many others).  I suggest booking a hotel in this area when planning to visit Taipei.  We stayed at  Diary of Ximen Hotel which gives you a good value for your money.  I am not getting paid for this advertisement by the way.  Just trying to help.  🙂

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Da’an and Songshan:  Da’an is Taipei’s latest and most expensive residential and commercial neighborhood.  This is where top restaurants, high-end shopping streets, and major universities are located.  Its main attraction is the beautiful Da’an Forest Park which is Taipei’s leafy Central Park where people come to play and have picnic.  Its architectural centerpiece is the beautiful Daan Park StationSongshan is famous for those areas around its train station, the night market, and beautiful bridges dotting the Keelung River.  Raohe Street Night Market is Taipei’s oldest night market and the highlight of a visit to Songshan.  You can load up on a great assortment of Taiwanese street eats and treats.  Don’t forget to try the famous black pepper pork bun.  You’re sure not to miss this one as its stall always has the longest queue and is the nearest to one of the main gates of the market (the gate next to the temple).  Adjacent to the street market is the peaceful Rainbow Riverside Park with its riverside promenade and beautiful bridges.  While the Rainbow Bridge is the most popular for young lovers, my favorite is the beautiful 2nd MacArthur Bridge; best viewed at night when you can see the luminous Taipei 101 Tower from a distance.

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Xinyi District:  Xinyi is the big city part of Taipei and is the city’s financial and city government district.  Taipei 101 Tower (Taipei’s most famous icon) dominates the skyline of this part of town; supported and surrounded by some of the biggest malls and office buildings occupied by multinational companies.  Taipei 101 Mall should not be missed which has branches of some of the famous restaurant chains in the region.  A climb to Taipei 101 Observation Deck is a part of a visit to Taipei 101 Tower.  The best time to view the city from the top is at night when all the building lights are on making the city look like an inverted night sky.  Xinyi Place is Xinyi’s premiere shopping destination with high-end malls carrying the biggest names in retail as well as several specialty stores.  The plaza between the mall buildings is a hive for busking and entertainment and is particularly attractive during Christmas season.  A hike to the top of Elephant Mountain is a must-have and challenging but rewarding experience.  Expect a steep trail to the top.  Elephant Mountain is the vantage point of every classic and iconic postcard shot of Taipei; so expect a large crowd and come at least a few hours early if you are planning to photograph the city at sunset or twilight (yes I mean a few hours early).  🙂

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So there you go; my incomplete and unofficial guide to Taipei.  🙂  I hope that somehow, I have inspired you to visit this beautiful and progressive Asian city (when things go back to normal of course).  And I hope you are making the most of your time and reviving your passions (and learning new things as well) during this period.  Take care and stay safe everyone!

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

101 Eastbound

Taipei Classic:  A postcard view of the City of Taipei taken from Elephant Mountain.

I almost gave up all hopes of taking good photos after I saw the weather forecast showing a week of rainfall in Taipei.  Surprisingly, we had good weather the whole time since we arrived here.  Weather is really unpredictable in Taipei. 🙂  I also did not know what to expect or see here (other than Taipei 101 of course) but this city turned out to be an enjoyable one not only in terms of food but also in its architecture.  Photography for me of course is a given; and with the cool and unexpected beautiful weather, I really enjoyed those photowalks out in the cold. 🙂

The image above is a classic view of Taipei City taken from the Fireworks Lookout of Elephant Mountain in Xinyi District.  Every photographer visiting Taipei must have this shot.  The climb up the hill to get to this viewpoint is challenging enough, but the view is definitely worth it and extremely rewarding.  I waited on this location for hours and not willing to move or give up my spot as other photographers were already set-up to capture this twilight moment.  Besides, no one knows what the weather will be like the following day; so I have no intentions of coming back.  Sorry about that.  🙂

I can’t wait to write about this beautiful and progressive Asian city in my next post.  Meanwhile, I have saved a few photos from this recent trip.  You can click here for the photo gallery.  Enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them and I hope this inspires you to visit this beautiful and surprising city (in case you haven’t done so).

Happy Holidays Everyone!  Thank you for reading.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

South Korea: Season 2

New Snow. Winter in the beautiful city of Seoul viewed from Novotel Dongdaemun Hotel.

I am about to experience my second winter this year.  This time (that’s next week) in Melbourne, Australia and probably a third one this December in Taipei, Taiwan.  I was just thinking of how the world is so amazing that you can experience the same beautiful season more than once in a year and in different places (or all the four seasons in a year and in different places).  Anyway, I am just being melancholic and trying my best to write; so I have to start somewhere.  Besides, I have quite a number of photos I had finished editing and that should have been posted a long time ago.  It’s been a long while also since I last wrote and posted on this blog; and I missed writing (blame it on our toxic workload these past few weeks).  So this is obviously a very late post written simply to share a few thoughts and to cure tunnel vision.  🙂

So earlier this year, I had the chance to see Seoul, South Korea a second time (the first time was way back in the early summer of 2015) but now with a side trip to wonderful Jeju Island.  And what’s a better time to revisit this beautiful country than in winter.  Thanks to our employer who made this trip possible for all of us.  We call events like these as incentive trips which help motivate everyone to perform and allow us to bond as a team.  As my employer puts it:  the more we make, the farther we can go.  I believe we did well the previous year so we were rewarded accordingly.  🙂

I honestly enjoyed the trip despite the fact that we were on a travel package.  Yes that’s right.  We were on a guided tour; something that I really don’t like which I made quite clear in most of my earlier posts.  For the most part, we were constantly moving from one hotel to another; focusing only on the highlights of the places we go to.  In a group tour, the 6:00AM wake up call is really cruel.  It’s also always a guarantee that the tour guide (as part of the itinerary) will take you to some healthcare product or cosmetic store where the experts get to point out the maladies plaguing our human bodies and how their products would help provide the cure.  At this point, everyone starts to cringe or feel guilty about their respective lifestyles and give all sorts of rationalisations as to why they are not yet ready to (or not supposed to) buy the product.  It really felt like a trap.  And yeah I did fall into it and had my own rationalisations too as to why I decided to buy the product.  🙂  As a photographer on the other hand, I have these ideal times of the day when I plan to shoot certain scenes.  A guided tour (with a set itinerary) will not support this; and you will most likely end up sharing the famous spots with other tourists who come by the busload every minute.  So now you know why I don’t like travelling with a big group.  🙂

Setting aside all these funny things, nothing has changed much about the South Korea that I loved so much.  The people are still beautiful and hospitable; going the usual extra mile to make the tourist experience more memorable.  The food is always great and is a highlight of every Korean trip (on top of the endless shopping).  In Korea, everything tastes better when it’s free.  A different season also brings a new perspective on the same and old but familiar scenes.  Now because of my bias against guided tours, I never really maximised photographic opportunities in all my previous company trips.  But this time (thanks to a new colleague who was also into photography), I learned how to shoot spontaneously, tried not to think too much, and just simply enjoyed the moment.  So in this recent trip, I was happy I brought home a few decent photos despite the limited time and the not so ideal situations for an aspiring travel photographer.  So I share these random photos below.  You can also click here to read my earlier write-up on this beautiful country.

The Tour Jars. Stone Park in beautiful Jeju Island, South Korea.

This is supposed to be an informative travel post but I’m a terrible travel blogger and guide; and I will not write about all the things that we did (and eat) during this short company event.  But I list below the places which are the highlight destinations for this trip.  May I just request that you look them up yourself as the internet is a far more reliable source of information.  🙂

JEJU ISLAND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Jeju Dragon Head Rock (Yongduam Rock):  Dragon Head Rock is a beautiful rock formation created by strong winds and waves over thousands of years.  Legend has it that the rock was either a former dragon that fell from the sky and froze immediately after it landed on Yongduam; or a horse who once dreamed of being a dragon but immediately froze after being caught by a soldier.  Visitors can enjoy viewing the scenic coastlines as well as checking out several cafes, bars, and restaurants near the rock lookouts.
  2. Jeju Stone Park:  Jeju Stone Park was inspired by Jeju’s history of myth, stone, and spirit.  The park provides a historical, informative, and cultural space where the stone collections explain Jeju Island’s foundation and culture.
  3. Jeju Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ichulbong):  Jeju Sunrise Peak rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago.  The site is made up of cliffs, ridges, and verdant grassy hills ideal for walking and horseback riding.  The long walk to the peak was exhausting enough, but the view from the top was extremely rewarding.
  4. Jeju Rail Bike Park:  Rail Bike Park provides an unusual way of weaving through the grassy plains below Yongnuni Oreum (a volcanic core covered with grass).  The ride and panoramic view of the grassy meadows opening up before you is naturally mind-clearing and refreshing (with the added benefit of the physical exercise of pedalling).
  5. Dongmun Market:  Dongmun Market is Jeju Island’s best representative of a traditional public market.  It serves customers selling diverse and inexpensive items.  As a representative traditional market, it is best known for selling fresh seafood.

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SEOUL CITY & AROUND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace:  This is Seoul’s largest palace and has been the principal residence of Korean royalties.  It has been destroyed several times and in different periods by Japanese invaders and colonisers.  What you can see now are mostly recent accurate reconstructions.
  2. National Palace Museum:  This is one of few museums you can find within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.  This museum houses royal artefacts that showcase the artistic skills of the Joseon era, including hanboks worn by Korean royalties.
  3. Namdaemun Market & Myeongdong Cathedral:  Namdaemun is South Korea’s largest market with hundreds of stalls ranging from clothing, handicrafts, accessories and of course, food.  You can spend the whole day here and still not see it all.  Myeongdong Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic style structure that served as sanctuary for students and protesters during the military rule.  It has become a symbol for national democracy and human rights.
  4. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP):  DDP is perhaps Seoul’s most impressive contemporary architectural masterpiece.  It’s a cultural hub and houses event halls, galleries, and several design studios.  The curves of the structure make it the most futuristic (or sexiest) building in the city.
  5. Hongdae:  Hongdae is Seoul’s hipster district and home to Korea’s leading design and art institutions.  It has less of the traditional sights but more on modern day entertainment and distractions.  Come here to enjoy bars, galleries, and street art; as well as clubs and live music.
  6. Alpensia Resort:  Alpensia Resort is a ski resort located outside Seoul in the county of Pyeongchang.  We stayed at the adjacent hotel for one night so we could do the skiing the following morning.  The resort has several slopes for both beginners and experienced skiers to enjoy.

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One can never get enough of Korea.  Aside from its colourful seasons, the food and attractions (as well as its hospitable people) are always reasons for one to return.  In the next trip, I hope to see this beautiful country in either spring or autumn.  🙂

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

Anything Under The Sun

Grand Mosque Mystique. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at Night

Anything under the sun.  Well at least that is how I remember or describe Abu Dhabi.  It seems like anything is possible here.  Dubai may be the most popular of all the Emirates in the UAE but Abu Dhabi is still the capital; and it has several reasons for being so.  As one travel guide puts it, Abu Dhabi is not afraid to challenge World Records.  To start, Abu Dhabi has the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet (which is found inside perhaps the grandest mosque in the Arabian peninsula).  You can enjoy the highest high tea in one of the city’s latest observatories.  You can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster here.  With its geographical location under the sun, it is one city championing sustainable energy.  Abu Dhabi also has the world’s most leaning building (Capital Gate Tower which is tilted at 18 degrees; four times more wayward than the leaning tower of Pisa).  And to highlight its cultural ambitions, it is a city with the branch of the famous Louvre outside of Paris.  Among upcoming others (whew).  🙂

Abu Dhabi is a popular day trip destination for people traveling to Dubai (a 2-hour bus ride from Dubai’s bus station in Deira).  A day trip to Abu Dhabi however wouldn’t do it justice.  I was in Dubai last year and stayed there for a week.  I basically resisted the day trip temptation.  I’ve read somewhere that Abu Dhabi is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own.  So I made it a point to visit the place while the temperature and the heat is still at its moderate.  This is a late post by the way.  🙂  Below are a few practicalities.

A Mid-summer Night’s Dream. Yas Marina & Yas Viceroy Hotel at the Blue Hour.

  1. Traveling to the UAE is never cheap (for me).  Without a sponsor in the UAE, I have to fly with Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi’s official airline) and get them to sponsor my online Visa application.
  2. But food and transportation cost in Abu Dhabi felt less expensive for me (compared to Singapore where I am currently based).  🙂
  3. Hotel accommodation costs are high, but plummets during the summer months.  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls, early summer is the best time to book a hotel in this wonderful city.  That’s what I did here.  🙂
  4. There are no trains in Abu Dhabi (as far as I can remember).  While taxis are the most convenient way to get around, you will appreciate the lay of the land better and feel like a local (or save more money) by riding the bus.  Abu Dhabi has reliable and comfortable bus services with air-conditioned bus shelters and stations.  Get a rechargeable green card from the airport.  Cards can be recharged at most bus shelters.  I got my card free from a very kind, tourist-friendly Starbucks barista.  🙂
  5. It is best to book a hotel near the city center or around Abu Dhabi’s central bus terminal (Al Wahda Bus Terminal).  I stayed at Centro Al Manhal by Rotana (along Airport Road) which is conveniently located behind Al Wahda Mall and Al Wahda Bus Terminal.  The hotel facilities and services give you the best value for your money (I am not getting a fee for this recommendation by the way).  Most bus services to major attractions stop infront of the hotel; so you need to remember only a few bus numbers.  In this write-up, I will assume you will book your stay here.  🙂

Needless to say, travellers come here for the desert safari experience.  But I honestly don’t like extreme sports and desert safaris.  Sorry about that.  My boring bias has always been towards architecture (and food) which is the best way for me to understand a new city.  🙂  But there is more to Abu Dhabi than just the desert safari experience.  I share my photos below.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:  This is Abu Dhabi’s iconic and most recognizable attraction.  I have seen hundreds of photos of this mosque before; all taken from the same angles that it almost already felt like cliche.  But seeing the mosque with your own eyes will leave you in awe.  The architectural detailing is magnificent and the scale of the structure is overwhelmingly amazing.  I am an architect and I believe that the amount of effort and detail you put in the design of a religious facility is directly proportional to your faith in the Supreme Being that you worship.  Like most places of worship however, access is allowed only at certain areas (which explains why we end up with similar photos).  It was a bit smoggy during my visit here so the haze created a different color cast in the twilight sky which gave my photos a different mood despite the familiar shot angle.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road | Visitors must wear trousers | Women must have their heads covered before entering the Mosque)

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Emirates Palace & Etihad Towers:  The ambitious Emirates Palace Hotel feels more like a cultural hub and tourist spot than a luxury hotel.  The expansive hotel grounds dominates the western end of Corniche Road.  You don’t need to check in as a guest to check out this hotel as it is open to the public.  Appropriate attire is a must though (no shorts please). Don’t miss the beautiful atrium ceiling (as well as the coffee sprinkled with gold leaf) and stay a bit longer to see the hotel outside when beautifully illuminated at night.  Across the hotel courtyard is Etihad Towers, a cluster of sexy and modern buildings competing with the hotel for your attention.
(Tips: Admission is free | Smart Casual Attire | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina)

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City Views from Jumeirah at Etihad Towers:  I always bring home a photo of a new city taken from a high vantage point.  Few things can match the exhilaration of standing on top of a city’s tall building.  And if my schedule permits, I will wait for early evening and take a photo of the city at the blue hour.  Enjoy the highest high tea at Observation Deck @ 300, a cafe at the 74th Floor (Tower 2) of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers; a cluster of beautiful and modern buildings punctuating the western end of Corniche Road.  The cafe has breathtaking views of the city and the Corniche shoreline embracing the Persian Gulf.
(Tips: Admission is Dh95 which includes the Dh55 for food | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Etihad Towers is just across Emirates Palace)

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Abu Dhabi Louvre:  Few places can match the vision and ambitions of Abu Dhabi which accommodates a branch of the Louvre outside of Paris.  Unlike other museums, the Louvre’s exhibits focus on human commonalities rather than regional differences.  The highlight of this facility is the intricate metal ceiling under the dome which reminds me of the interior of a Bedouin tent used by desert nomads.  Like the Bedouin tent, the thick ceiling mesh brings the interior temperature down; with the mesh creating beautiful specks of light and allowing the hot air to rise and pass through.  This creates a breeze which lowers the interior temperature even more.
(Tips: Admission is Dh63 | Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Bus 94 terminates at the Louvre | There is a cafe within the museum serving one of the best burgers 🙂 )

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Abu Dhabi Heritage Village & Breakwater:  The glitz of modern Abu Dhabi will not overshadow its seafaring and nomadic roots.  Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is a microcosm of a desert and nomadic life.  The Village features a museum, a small souq (market), exhibitions of traditional crafts, examples of wooden dhows (boats), and a small desert environment.  A few steps outside the Heritage Village will lead you to the breakwater (marked by the big UAE flag) where you get a panoramic view of Corniche Beach and the city skyline beyond which looks really romantic at night.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Bring lots of water)

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World Trade Center Mall & Etihad Sqaure:  World Trade Center Mall is located at the base of the World Trade Center Towers (the city’s tallest building).  The mall atrium with its rich decorative timber latticework is a modern rendition of a traditional atmospheric souq.  Adjacent to the mall is Souq Central Market which shares the same design theme but focuses on local specialties and shopping for souvenirs.  The widest and best selection of dates can be found here.  🙂  Outside the World Trade Center Mall is Etihad Square, a traffic island featuring five concrete street monuments which symbolize traditions of Emirati life and Bedouin hospitality.
(Tips: Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal)

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Ferrari World & Yas Marina (Yas Island):  Ferrari World is a unique amusement park and a celebration of all things fast and furious.  The world’s fastest roller coaster can be found here and is as close as you can get to riding a Formula 1 race car.  I didn’t ride that one but was content in watching other people go through the experience. 🙂  In between the fun rides and thrills are exotic car exhibitions and live shows.  The Ferrari World entrance is inside Yas Mall.  Also within Yas Island is Yas Marina connected to the beautiful Yas Viceroy Hotel.  The best way to experience the Marina is to walk along the promenade in the evening when the yachts and the waters of the marina are illuminated by the beautiful mantle of Yas Viceroy Hotel.
(Tips: Admission to Ferrari World is Dh250 | Take bus 195 from Al Wahda Bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Travel time is 1 hour | A looping shuttle service will take you to the different attractions within Yas Island | Warner Brothers Studios is an upcoming attraction in Yas Island)

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A holiday in a hot desert environment is something unusual, but is always an eye-opener.  It will certainly change your perceptions of the Middle East.  So in this write-up, I am also hoping that Abu Dhabi will no longer be just a day trip destination. 🙂

So there you go.  This is my photographic and written account on this beautiful and peaceful Emirati capital.  I hope I got you inspired and as always, excited.

Thank you for reading.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

My Tokyo Blues

Lost in Translation.  Tokyo at twilight viewed from Tokyo World Trade Center (circa 2017).

This is one example of those late melancholic posts.  I finally had the chance to see Tokyo a second time last Winter.  The first time was way back in the Autumn of 2013 when I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a 3-day convention.  Since then, I always remember Tokyo as a cold city (my first encounter with the outside world); the city I fell in love with and the one that inspired me to explore, to travel, and to discover more of the world around me.  I don’t know how I will do it; but after this recent trip, I promised myself (and my family) to return to this place at least once a year. 🙂

That photo of Tokyo Tower above is one of my favorites from this recent trip.  I have always wanted to capture Tokyo at twilight from that vantage point (at the top of the Tokyo World Trade Center).  It was not really the composition I had in mind though.  A new building was being built infront of the World Trade Center; blocking the iconic and signature view of the cityscape below as well as the silhouette of Mt. Fuji beyond and forcing me to shift the camera to place the tower on the left side of the frame.  This is another example of the importance of acquiring updated research before reaching your destination.  Still not bad really, as I ended with a different take of this beautiful city (at least for me). 🙂

Morning Calm.  Early morning at the Tokyo Imperial Palace Grounds (circa 2017).

Anyway, I should stop stalling.  I know I just needed to write (or blog) regularly.  I just simply miss Tokyo.  A protracted throwback is not really my thing and very seldom do I visit the same place twice.  But I honestly still have the blues for this city and still can’t get over those late night photography sessions out in the cold. 🙂  As always, I had my shot list on hand (which took me months to diligently prepare).  The thing is that long holidays are always short and chances are you will not be able to do all the things in your shot list (unless you’re traveling alone).  Besides, we took a couple of ad hoc day trips to nearby Kyoto and Osaka which required me to take a bit of time off from my rigid and regimented Tokyo photography schedule; to spend quality time with my family and in-laws.  Kyoto and Osaka however are different and wonderful cities (and the essence of a Japan trip for most travelers) which arguably deserve a separate visit as well as a proper write-up of their own.  Meanwhile, the unfinished tasks in my Tokyo shot list gives me a valid reason to come back next year. 🙂

It’s a good thing we will have our summer company trip next month; and that will give me enough time to let this melancholia of cold places to subside. 🙂  So I’ll just share them here: my incomplete and random postcards from this recent Tokyo trip and a few from my earlier 2013 trip as well.  I have to apologize for all that drama up there and for not being the supposedly informative Tokyo travel guide in this blog post.  The internet anyway is a far more reliable and accurate source of information and I do not want to bore you with my profuse writing.  I did label the photos though so you could look them up yourself. 🙂  I honestly enjoyed taking them and these I gladly share to those who enjoy travel photography and to travelers who plan to visit this beautiful and unforgettable city.

Enjoy the images as much as I do and always remain excited and inspired.

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

From Tokyo to the Bay

Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay (circa 2013)

“…a thousand miles from comfort…there’s no place I’d rather be…”–Clean Bandit
This is where it all started.  The first time I saw Japan was way back in November 2013.  I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a convention in Tokyo.  It was a 3-day event with a 2-day extension for us to do anything we want.  It was my first time to travel outside my own country (other than Singapore of course where I am currently based) and to be honest with you, I was childlike ecstatic.  Autumn was very much well on its way when we arrived; and with the cold temperature, I fell in love with Tokyo almost immediately.  I remember the last time when I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this country.  I really regretted that one.

I also just got started with photography during this time, so I was able to put it into practice during my stay here.  Like most newbie photographers, most of the photos I took home later were just average.  But I was happy with the thought of being able to document the travel experience in pictures.  With the days also shorter in autumn, I found myself doing more of night photography.  That sense of peace and being alone as a stranger in those cold autumn nights gave me the confirmation that I am happiest as a photographer when shooting during the late hours of the day.  That first travel experience also gave me the desire to explore more of the world around me with whatever limited time, opportunities or resources I may have.  I remember looking outside our Tokyo hotel window one early morning and promising myself to return to this place.  Four years and twelve Asian cities later, I will finally be back this winter.

30/30 Vision.  Asakusa, Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Skytree (circa 2013)

Seeing only Tokyo is barely scratching the surface of the beauty that Japan has to offer.  Chances of snow here in winter is minimal and the landscape barren and devoid of color.  But I don’t mind.  I can always come back.  I have always loved this beautiful city, with its pace and busyness.  I usually don’t write about an upcoming trip (honestly, I am just making full use of what I am paying for in this blog space) and seldom do I visit a certain place twice (unless it’s to find something I lost).  But in this beautiful case, I will make an exception.  But I did lose or missed something:  it’s those precious moments alone outside in the cold; in the same place where peace and a perfect and unforgettable experience had started.  I haven’t listed yet what I will do here, but I do hope to make more time to cover those places I have missed the last time I was here.  Looking forward to more photography sessions in the cold. 🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!  🙂

Shinagawa Night Scene (Tokyo, circa 2013)

One Lovely Blog Award 2017

Marina Bay Sands with Arts Science Museum at the Blue Hour.

A month ago, I was given the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD by my fellow blogger Audrey.  Audrey pens Living for Experiences, a blog about her wonderful insights on life and useful tips on travel.  Do check her wonderful blog.  This is my second award from her, with the first award causing me to earn a few followers.  It is encouraging to know that people are actually reading some of my thoughts and writings.

RULES OF THE AWARD
1) Thank the person that nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2) List the Rules.
3) Display the Award in your post.
4) List seven facts about yourself.
5) Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and comment on one of their posts to let them know you have nominated them.

Bay Gardens East View in Singapore.

A FEW FACTS ABOUT MYSELF
1) I am an architect from the Philippines.
2) I am currently based in Singapore (an Overseas Filipino Worker away from my wife and daughter) and working as an Interior Designer.
3) I became an architect because of my love for drawing and the LEGO (which I wrote about here).
4) I am an obsessive compulsive, phlegmatic control freak (with a tendency to overthink and overwrite). 🙂
5) If I am not doing architecture or interior design, I practice writing, photography, and do a bit of traveling.
6) My love for travel started in 2013 after a first trip to Japan; and fell in love with Japan and anything Japanese ever since. 🙂
7) I always wanted to write a book about my professional work but started this blog in 2015 instead; and have used it since to share my travel postcards and insights brought about by my Christian faith.

MY NOMINEES FOR THE ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD
For the next ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD, I list below my nominees whose posts I read for a variety of reasons which include a zest for life, passion for travel, love for architecture, excellent photography, and an emotional or unique style of writing.  Congratulations to all my nominees.  It’s okay not to accept the award but I sure would like to know more about you my fellow bloggers. Enjoy!!!

1) Eat, Pray, and Love Kind of Adventure
2) Travel Happy
3) My Life in a Snap
4) Albert
5) Weeknightly
6) Architecture Wander
7) Joshua Dunn
8) Tiny Nectar
9) WanderingKakat
10) A World of Adventuring, Learning, and Loving
11) Jet Set Brunette
12) Ezekiel Kok Photography
13) Jandreiventures
14) Yen and Again
15) The Weary Travelers

Again, thank you very much to Audrey of Living for Experiences for this wonderful ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD.  See you all in blogosphere.  🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!

Dubai Retrospective

A Light Between Oceans. Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach at Sunset.

I got this idea from one spontaneous traveler.  He would spin a globe and stop it with his index finger.  He will look at the place where his finger had landed and then pack his bags or suitcase quickly to go to that place.  I did the same thing.  My finger landed somewhere in the Gulf (or purposely made it land there) and decided that it’s Dubai.  At least it had to be because it’s the only place I know that is within that neighborhood.  So I literally ran to the airport and fly to Dubai right after that.  Of course I am just kidding. 🙂  I believe I planned this all along and I am not a spontaneous traveler.  My passport is not really one of the strongest in the world, so traveling to Dubai is a challenge.  Besides, the Middle East (or Western Asia) is a dream (up until now) and way over my travel budget.  Looking back now, it was not also the best time to visit the place.  Summer has started and it was 40 degrees during the day; with the heat a different kind of painful on the skin and the air a bit stifling and suffocating for first timers.  But it was also the time to take advantage of lower hotel rates and speedy Visa processing.  I lodged in my Visa application on a Saturday afternoon and got the Visa the following day (a Sunday).  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls during the day (which I am sure you don’t), early summer is a good time to visit this wonderful country.

I am doing quite well at the moment, happy and busy with work; having found a job in a new company with a more positive atmosphere.  I am inspired again and I can draw again; doing now what I believe, the things I was always meant and supposed to be doing (with the added bonus of deciding for myself which direction my projects should go, which maximizes my time) and still manage to squeeze in a bit of time-off from work.  A big project was coming up over the horizon and I needed to prepare for that one.  So despite my busy schedule, I decided to go to find fresh inspiration and do something else other than my architectural work (in this case, to practice photography). 🙂  And what is a better place to find inspiration in architecture and to do travel photography than in Dubai?

The Fountainhead.  Burj Khalifa and Souk Al Bahar at the blue hour.

I’ve read somewhere that Dubai can be viewed in two ways: either as a stopover destination for people traveling to Europe (if you’re coming from Asia), or a place where you can do something different or impossible.  I have to agree.  I really love spending time in stopover and day trip destinations because it’s in these destinations where you will find the most interesting places often overlooked by travelers and day trip packages.  Impossible is also a word that you will not find in the Emirati’s dictionary.  Dubai is preparing to host the 2020 World Expo, so a lot of architectural projects are pretty much well on their way; most of which are without precedent.

Obviously, tourists come here to experience the Desert Safari, as well as Skydiving.  Tourists (and even the locals) take the time to escape from the big city and into the desert landscape of Dubai and come back later refreshed.  A desert experience can be amazingly mind-clearing.  But I didn’t do all that (for fear of getting sand or dust into my camera 🙂 ).  I didn’t do skydiving either.  Sorry about that.  I’m a certified bore; and extreme sports and adrenaline rush can really make me sleep to death.  Besides, I honestly really don’t like guided tours and traveling with a group (except with my wife and daughter).  I could very well read my travel guide beforehand so I could maximize my time in my destination.  But I love and enjoyed the architecture of this beautiful city.  If you’re an architect, it would be a sin not to see Dubai in your lifetime.  Suddenly, 40 degrees for me was not so hot anymore. 🙂

Arabian Nights. The beautiful Madinat Jumeirah at night.

So you see?  That’s the good thing about travel and photography.  It helps you (and others) change perceptions about certain places.  It’s a counter to the never-ending stream of images provided by news media which oftentimes focuses only on the negative.  This recent trip certainly changed my perception of the Middle East.  I stayed here for five days.  If you plan to do the same (or have plans of coming back), you should be able to cover the following places:

1) Deira and Bur Dubai: Deira is one of Dubai’s oldest districts oftentimes overshadowed by the glitz of the modern city.  Built around Dubai Creek, its most prominent feature is the cluster of souqs (or markets) connected by narrow lanes and alleys which can be very busy in the late afternoon (particularly the Gold Souq).  The Abras (traditional wooden ferries) are still in use here today; not so much for transporting merchandise but for sightseeing along Dubai Creek.  Bur Dubai provides you with a glimpse of Dubai’s past.  Take a tour around the beautifully restored Al Fahidi Historic District and understand Dubai’s beginnings at the Dubai Museum housed inside Al Fahidi Fort.

2) Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah: Burj Al Arab (perhaps Dubai’s most recognizable and iconic building; and the only 7-star hotel in the world) sits along the beautiful coast of Jumeirah Beach.  Madinat Jumeirah (another recent development) is a modern rendition of a traditional Arab village built around an artificial river flanked by palm trees and signature restaurants.  Don’t miss Burj Al Arab at sunset and see Madinat Jumeirah at night when the buildings are beautifully lit with Burj Al Arab in the background.

3) Downtown Dubai: Burj Khalifa towers over Downtown Dubai, the city’s main urban hub and a major destination for sightseeing tourists.  Climb your way to At The Top (Burj Khalifa’s observation deck at the 124th and 125th floor) and experience the exhilaration of standing on top of the world’s tallest building.  Dubai Mall (the mother of all malls as they call it) is nearby with its overwhelming 1,000 or more shops.  Adjacent to Dubai Mall is the equally handsome Souk Al Bahar, with its grand colonnaded atrium and signature restaurants, most of which have enviable views of Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain at night.

4) Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah: Dubai Marina is a posh private residential development and provides you with a glimpse of the Dubai high life.  The best way to experience the Marina is by walking along Marina Promenade in the evening where you pass by fancy restaurants and berthed yachts set against glimmering high rise buildings.  Opposite Dubai Marina Beach is Palm Jumeirah, a palm-shaped artificial island jutting into the Gulf; with several residential and commercial developments along the Palm’s fronds.  At the tip of the Palm along the outer crescent is Atlantis The Palm (another hotel development) and the adjacent Aquaventure Waterpark, a family theme park.

A visit to Dubai usually includes a day trip to Abu Dhabi, which you can reach in 2 hours by bus from Deira.  Sadly as always, I really don’t like day trips.  Abu Dhabi I’ve read is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own, which I look forward to doing so soon. 🙂

So here you go: my personal postcards from this beautiful and peaceful Emirati outpost.  I hope I kept you inspired and as always, grateful.  Enjoy the images as much as I do.  See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(Click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Macau Musings

St. Paul's Church Ruins (Macau)

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church in Macau, China (January 2017).

This wanderlust has been an effective family therapy for us.  I’ve been writing here for a while but I forgot to mention that I work abroad (currently based in Singapore) and away from my family.  Like most overseas worker, I made it a point to go back to my hometown every 6 months and spend a week or so with my family.  But before that one week is over however, we were already crying; knowing it will take another 6 months or more for us to see each other again.  My father also used to work overseas when I was a kid; so I know how it feels like now for my own family.  Nowadays however, distance (and long distance communication) is dead and modest travel is available for everyone.  So instead of just me traveling alone, my family and I decided that (if I have the resources) we will meet regularly in some nearby foreign lands and explore those places together.  Parting ways at the end of those journeys however is stll difficult; but now, the sadness is eclipsed by the memories of those travel experiences .  Whatever. 🙂

Anyway, I am being cheesy and talking gibberish back there.  Sorry about that.  It’s been a month since I took the photos in this write-up and I really don’t know what to say about this recent trip.  Except maybe that I was glad my new employer announced the Chinese New Year break a bit early last year; which gave me enough time to plan on spending the week-long break in a place that’s Chinese.  I could have chosen Hong Kong (which would be the easiest), but decided to see Macau instead; a small Chinese outpost known mostly as a day trip destination for most people touring Hong Kong.  You can’t blame them; as Macau is generally a walkable city and most of the major sights are within walking distances from each other.

But that wouldn’t do justice to the beauty of this place.  I love Asian cities especially if it has a history of colonization.  Because the end product would always be a blending of cultures of sorts; confusing but exciting.  Which is very much like Macau.  Known as “The Vegas of China”, the city obviously comes alive at night with its megacasinos, luxury resort hotels, and shopping districts.  So the word “day trip” wouldn’t be correct. 🙂  But Macau is more than that.  A Portuguese colony for more than 300 years, it only became part of China in 1999; two years after the British withdrawal from Hong Kong.  Remnants of colonial architecture, churches, and grand public squares give the place a tangible Mediterranean flavor; oddly picturesque and peculiar in a city that is strongly and culturally Chinese.  You can walk through cobblestone lanes and hear people chatter in Cantonese; asking for directions to find streets with Portuguese names.  To add to this, megacasinos and modern high-rise hotels in ambitious themes and scale appear almost every minute in districts with well-preserved Macanese architecture.  I fell in love with the confusion almost immediately. 🙂  If you’re a fan of postcards, night photography, and architecture, your day trip to Macau will not be enough for you.

City of Dreams. One of the recently completed attractions along Cotai Strip in Macau.

Needless to say, food is a part of the general travel experience.  But you won’t find it here.  I’m a mindless eater and a really lousy food photographer (sadly) so you just have to believe me (or anybody else who has been here) when I say that the local food here is one that you should try and experience. 🙂  Obviously, my bias has always been towards the major sights and architecture of a place; which is my way of understanding a new city.  So a typical photowalk in Macau covers its 2 main islands; within any of the two you can do some exploring on foot as the major attractions are close to each other.  A bus ride however is needed to get from one island to another.

The Macau Peninsula holds the Old City Center, with its 2 most popular day trip attractions: The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church and Senado Square, a grand public plaza. It is also the site of some of the earliest hotels and casinos including the Grand Lisboa, Lisboa Hotel, Wynn Macau, and MGM Hotel.  Along the fringes of the peninsula are Macau Fisherman’s Wharf (a themed park) and Macau Tower with its open-air observation deck.  Towards the south are the integrated islands of Taipa, Coloane, and Cotai.  Taipa has well-preserved colonial houses. Coloane has Macau’s beaches, and Cotai is home to the high-rolling Cotai Strip (Macau’s version of the famous Strip in Vegas), an avenue of megacasinos, luxury hotel and shopping centers including The Venetian Macau and Galaxy Macau, as well as the recently completed City of Dreams, Studio City, and The Parisian with its Eiffel Tower replica.  As much as I would like to give a description of each of these (and for fear of boring you to death), I will just allow my personal postcards below to hopefully speak of the glitz and beauty of this city. 🙂 I tried to cover as much places as I can during my 5-day stay here but missed out on the important Chinese temples and colonial churches (which speaks so much about the place’s history) because of a rain shower on the day I planned to visit them.  Sorry about that.

Not surprisingly, I was able to take home more photos from this trip as compared to previous ones.  Only because my family and in-laws decided on our fourth day to take a day trip to Hong Kong to do some shopping (only to find out later that most of the stores there were closed for the holidays) while I decided to stay behind and catch up with my personal photowalk.  So what happened to that family bonding we were looking forward to that I was talking about earlier?  And I thought Macau is supposed to be the day trip destination (and not Hong Kong). 🙂  I hate to say it, but I have to admit that the brief moment alone helped me maximize my time.  Don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I guess the travel therapy really worked. 🙂

So there you go.  My two cents worth on this beautiful and quaint city (which I think deserves more than just being called a day trip destination) and my first of many other adventures I am looking forward to in days to come.  Enjoy the postcards below.  Stay grateful and inspired.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

About Anniversaries

Marina Bay (Singapore)

Heartland. Singapore CBD at twilight.

It’s been a while since my last write-up (or to be more accurate, since I last travelled).  Honestly, I have maxed out my paid leave for the first three quarters of the year and have to wait for a few more weeks to be able to make use of the available balance.  But that may not happen.  I have resigned from my current post which might cause that balance to be forfeited; and it will take another long period before I could be allowed to take a long leave under my new / future employer.  The good thing is that Singapore will have 7 long weekends next year.  Some of the public holidays in 2017 will fall either on a Monday or Friday; so I am looking forward to working my road trips and photography projects around those long weekends.  At least; until I get to my next major holiday.  Meantime, I take the time to write this post to feature this beautiful country that has been second home to me for almost a decade.

It’s my 9th year working as an FT here in Singapore (Foreign Talent, as they call it) and my first time to find new work since I came here.  This post simply could have waited for my 10th year anniversary (which sounds more appropriate) but it couldn’t; thanks to this period of inactivity and travel hiatus.  Honestly, I just felt guilty I didn’t write about Singapore’s 51st Anniversary which happened last month.  None of the fireworks photos I took during the celebrations was really successful; which was supposed to be the highlight of my aborted Singapore Anniversary write-up.  So I simply write here and make use of the photos I have; images I have created recently as well as those I have amassed during my long stay here.

Fullerton Hotel at the Blue Hour.

You know what’s good about anniversaries?  They actually help you remember.  I have been blogging for a year now and I just realized I really haven’t featured this beautiful city.  How could I forget a country that took care of me for the last 9 years and that has allowed me to do my best work and rewarded me accordingly?  Ten years ago, I never would have imagined working here; much less move outside my own country and travel to see other places.  But now I am here; and for too long.  Familiarity does breed contempt (or even complacency); and you’ll never know of the wonderful things you have until you find yourself stuck somewhere in limbo with all the time available in your hands (which happened to me just recently). 🙂

Anniversaries also remind you to be thankful.  The problem with being a foreign talent is uncertainty.  I honestly feel quite fortunate for still finding new work in a foreign country especially at a time when most companies are either downsizing, reorganizing, or folding.  Back where I come from, it will require an enormous amount of fortune, an intricate network of connections, and a miraculous economic upheaval to be able to succeed in my profession.  Working in another country has levelled the playing field for me and has allowed myself and others to reap the benefits of meritocracy.  So like any foreigner working in another country, my mantra has always been “to endure and succeed, or pack up and go home”. 🙂

Lastly, anniversaries allow you to start afresh.  It allows you to take stock, appreciate your own uniqueness or strengths, and assess what worked well and what didn’t so you could better prepare and be stronger the next time around.  We are only as good as our last projects; and this tempering process has painfully changed me from being an impractical theorist to more of a humble, open-minded learner.  This recent activity of finding new work has taught me just that (the hard way, to be honest). 🙂

Marina Square (Singapore)

These City Walls. Blue hour at Marina Square in Central Singapore.

In most of my posts, I usually write a short historical background of the place or city being featured.  But in this case, I am happy to forego that one and just allow the images to speak of the beauty and wonder of this place (hopefully).  I just wanted it to be more personal and leave all the researching to you.  Travel photography is all about shooting places in the best available light (those fleeting moments before sunrise and after sunset) which you do not have a lot of when you are traveling (how ironic isn’t it?).  The best thing about living in a photogenic country is that you have all the time to do just that.  So I share them here; my personal postcards from Singapore (my favorites) which I hope will entice you to visit this surprising and beautiful country (in case you haven’t done so).  Enjoy the images and stay grateful and inspired. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

(Click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel.)