In Transit at Changi

We are currently twiddling our thumbs here at Changi Airport in Singapore while we’re waiting for the boarding call for our connecting flight to Tokyo, Japan. We’ll be spending a few days in Japan and hopefully we’ll get a lot of sight-seeing done. Meantime, we have a few hours to kill here at Changi Airport.

Although we were fed twice on the flight over from Melbourne, I still felt hungry when we got here. The chicken pie and the vegie frittata the airline served wasn’t at all filling. Here at Changi, there are a lot of shops where we could buy food. The only problem was that we didn’t have any Singapore dollars.

Fortunately, the nearby foreign exchange counter said there wasn’t a minimum amount that we could have exchanged for local currency. So, we had $20 Australian changed over to Singapore dollars (around S$24). At last, we have the money to buy some food.

Since we’re in Singapore, albeit only in the airport, I didn’t miss the chance to eat Chicken Rice. Frankly, I’m so tired of this dish that I once considered my favourite when we used to visit my Dad in Brunei in my youth. But the Chicken Rice here seems different. It seems more delicious. Either that or I’m just really hungry.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to make another blog post though. I’ll just do back-dated posts when we get back to Melbourne if I can’t post anything while on the road. Anyway, I’m signing off for now.

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Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 10:04 am  Comments (2)  

Waiting for Harry Potter

The last book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be available in Australia on July 21 later this year. I’m a big Harry Potter fan and I’ve been so looking forward to the final installment of the series.

Normally, I wait till the paperback version of the book comes out before I buy one for myself to read. However, after an incident with my brother spoiling the sixth book of the series for me when it came out a while back, I decided not to take a chance with spoilers this time.

The seventh book is available for pre-order at Dymocks Booksellers for only $29.95 (as opposed to the regular price of $59.95 for the hardbound book). So for the first time ever, I pre-ordered something to ensure I get a copy on the day it gets released. Having to pay for it cheaper than the regular price is and added bonus, of course.

Can’t wait.

Published in: on April 24, 2007 at 8:10 pm  Comments (3)  

Photo Galleries

Over the years, we’ve used different sites to host our photos. Now, I’ve created a new page on this site that links to these different galleries and list down the albums we have in it. You can go to that page by clicking the “Photos” link on the top header of this site. Or basically just click here.

I might individually link the albums listed in the future but I’m feeling a bit lazy right now. So, I hope the link to the galleries would be enough for now.

Published in: on April 23, 2007 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  

C-list Bloglebrity Status?

Our friend Rick emailed us today with the following:

From: Rick
To: Geejay
Subject: Hey, you’re a C-list bloglebrity!


http://www.kineda.com/are-you-an-a-list-bloglebrity/?url=palabok.com

Congratulations!

(they get their info from technorati
(http://www.technorati.com/blogs/http%3A%2F%2Fpalabok.com) which place you as the 118,286th highest blog in the 53 MILLION they watch. Wow!

Cheers!
Rick

A bloglebrity? Our blog? Okay, ours maybe a C-list bloglebrity but it’s better to be on a list than not at all, right? Well, Raquel and I had a good chuckle about this. It’s still cool to think that we’re at least not on the D-list.

Using a Technocrati-powered widget on Kineda’s Blog that determines a site’s level of bloglebrity of a given site:

With 38 links in the last 180 days, Technorati places palabok.com in the middle authority group.

That makes you a C-List Blogger!

Show Off Your Status with an C-List Badge:
C-List Blogger

Here is a short explanation of what a C-List Blogger is:

The Middle Authority Group [C-List Bloggers]
(10-99 blogs linking in the last 6 months)
This contrasts somewhat with the second group, which enjoys an average age not much older than the first at 260 days and which posts 50% more frequently than the first. There is a clear correlation between posting volume and Technorati authority ranking.

Thanks, Rick, for bringing this to our attention. It’s great to know we’re at least in the middle authority group.

Published in: on April 21, 2007 at 9:24 pm  Comments (6)  

Next-gen Console Wars

Lately, I’ve been thinking of getting one of the three next-generation gaming consoles: Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3. Sad to say, I can afford to spend money on only one so I have to choose carefully. After selling our old Playstation 2 recently, I only played games on either my PC or laptop. Although I still love playing Counter-strike on the PC, that’s about all I can play on it. The newer PC games have steeper minimum requirements and I have to upgrade my PC (again!) every couple of years maybe just to play those.

Unless I pay up for expensive top-of-the-line hardware, I’ll only get a mediocre to decent media experience out of these newer PC games if ever. At least with a console game, I won’t have to worry about minimum requirements and upgrading all the time. Any game I buy for the console I own will always play the way it was meant to (and as reviewed by game reviewers) and a console should last about five or so years.

Of course, consoles aren’t cheap. But if I compare the cost of the console to the cost of hardware needed to bring my current PC up to spec (or buying a totally new cutting-edge PC), I get to save a lot of money in the long run. Another advantage of consoles over PCs is that whenever I want to play a game, all I have to do is place the CD in the console, boot it up then play. On a PC, I have to boot up Windows first, then run the game I want to play. This takes quite a while specially if you don’t have a top-end PC. Since I don’t have a lot of time to play nowadays, being able to get into the game as quickly as possible is a big bonus as every little minute counts.

Another cool thing about playing console games is that it doesn’t require installing anything. And here in Australia’s EB Games at least, if I buy any console game, I can return it within 7 days if I’m not happy with it. It’s a good way for me to try games that I’m not sure I’d like. I can’t do this for PC games though.

So, I want a gaming console. But which one? I had to do a lot of research on the Web, comparing features of the three current consoles to get to my choice. Each console has pros and cons, so it was a bit difficult to choose from among the three.

Here is my personal pros and cons list for each console:

Nintendo Wii
Pros:

  • Cheapest of the three.
  • Great family and party games due to its user-friendly wiimote motion-sensing controllers.
  • Free online gaming.

Cons:

  • Not a lot of games I’d love to play for now and the foreseeable future.
  • For games that I’d like to play, there is a version of the same game on the two other consoles and provides better graphics.

Microsoft Xbox 360
Pros:

  • Lots of awesome games I’d like to play right now.
  • XBox Live. The online features on the 360 are well developed and the community is already large.
  • Can be used as a media centre.

Cons:

  • The Xbox Live Gold service isn’t free. That means, I have to pay a subscription fee just to play online against other players.
  • According to users who post in forums, there is a big chance of getting a machine that conks out in about a year or so. hence the popularity of the terms “red ring of death” and “bricking” in gaming circles.
  • Wifi adaptor costs extra.
  • Downloaded content only works on the hard-disk and Xbox 360 combination it was downloaded on. Meaning, I wouldn’t be able to view the stuff I bought on my hard disk if I use it on a different Xbox 360.
  • Supposedly, very noisy.

Sony Playstation 3
Pros:

  • Plays a lot of popular Playstation 2 games including God of War II and few more of my old favourite PS2 games.
  • Free online gaming.
  • Built-in Wifi capability.
  • Built-in Blu-ray Disc player.
  • Controllers get recharged via USB cable.
  • Slots for standard-type memory cards (like SD and Memory Stick).
  • Easily upgradable hard disks (and cheaper than the proprietary hard disks used by 360).
  • Can be used as a PC if Linux is installed.
  • Can be used as a media centre.

Cons:

  • Most expensive of the three.
  • Not a lot of games I like at this moment but according to release lists, there are games I’d like to play to be released soon.

From my list above, you must’ve guessed by now that I’m leaning towards getting the PS3. Sure, it’s more expensive but it has most of the things I wanted out of the box. With the Xbox 360, I still have to buy a separate Wifi adaptor and an extended warranty. After that, I still wouldn’t have a Blu-ray player, a recharge kit and only a 20GB hard disk. As for the Wii, it may be the cheapest in the market now, but I really think the novelty of the games I’d like to play on it would wear off after a while. And the type of games I’d probably want to continue to play (like first-person shooters) are better played on either the 360 or the PS3.

One of the major draws of the 360 for me is its large and growing Xbox Live community. This meant that there are a lot of players I can go up against in games. My main problem with it is that I have to pay $79 per year for the benefit of playing against other players online. And if Raquel wants to play online too on her own account, that’s another $79 a year. This wouldn’t really be such a big deal if I had lots of free time to play because I’d be getting my money’s worth of online gaming time. As it is, it’s possible for me not to play for days, weeks or even months. That’s why free online gaming provided by the PS3 appeals so much to me. I can skip playing for a month and I won’t feel like I’m throwing my money away on a subscription service I’m not using.

Another thing that turns me off from buying a 360 is that, according to reports on the Internet, the 360 is a lot more noisy and literally hotter than the PS3. There’s also that off chance that the 360 will scratch and ruin my gaming CDs if I’m unlucky (I’m not sure if this problem still happens though). At worst, I’ll get the infamous Red Ring of Death where my 360 will become “bricked” and unusable. It’s scary to think that the machine I’m buying might become useless in a year or so.

It’s good if the 360 breaks down before the standard one-year warranty ends. I can ship it off to Microsoft to get get it “fixed” (which could mean getting a different refurbished machine instead). But according to my research, there are quite a number of people who got their 360 bricked after year one. So, to be safe, I should get an extended warranty that’ll cost extra but at least I can just have the 360 replaced with a brand-new one in the event my the one breaks down within two years of purchase.

As for the Hi-Definition (HD) aspect of the 360 and the PS3, I don’t care much for it right now because I don’t own an HDMI TV yet anyway. Supposedly though, PS3 does have the better HDMI capability at the moment. That is, until the Xbox 360 Elite (a more beefed-up but more expensive version of 360) comes out some time this year.

Nevertheless, I’d like to be able to play HD movies eventually. To do that on the 360, I’d have to purchase a separate external HD-DVD drive while the Blu-ray drive comes built-in on the PS3. Note that although these two formats are both HD, these two are incompatible with each other, hence the format war going on between HD-DVD and Blu-ray. In my opinion, Blu-ray will likely win though because more film studios (including Disney and Sony Pictures) support Blu-ray whilst only a couple of studios back HD-DVD. So, Blu-ray seems like a safe bet and the ability to play those movies already comes built-in on the PS3.

And even if the Blu-ray format loses the HD format war, the built-in Blu-ray drive will still guarantee that games for the PS3 can contain a lot of content as one Blu-ray disc can hold up to 46GB of data. On the other hand, the 360 only uses DVDs for its games which can only hold up to 8GB of data. The 360 can probably get around this limitation by using multiple discs and swapping between them when needed or make use of the hard disk for pre-storing of important data like 3D textures and sound effects.

That reminds me of another thing I’m disappointed about the 360. Microsoft released a Core version of the 360 without a hard disk. This made the hard disk an optional requirement for 360 games. So game developers should assume that there is no hard disk that can be taken advantaged of when developing a game. That meant, no hard disk caching of data during game play that could result in slower loading times. I suppose eventually, they can program the games to still use the hard disk if it is detected by the game at start up. We’ll see if this happens. Last generation of consoles, Xbox has this advantage over the PS2. This generation, it’s now the PS3 that has this advantage over the 360 as all PS3s come with a hard disk.

Still, I may want to buy a 360 solely for its great games (like Gears of War, Lost Planet and the upcoming Command & Conquer Tiberium Wars) and the ability to play with or against countless other gamers on Xbox Live (if I’m willing to pay for it). However, I can’t be sure I’d get to play all the time. It just seems like a big waste of money to be paying a periodical subscription fee for a service I’ll only use on occasion.

So, my choice comes down to the PS3. You may choose differently though and that’s fine. For me, the PS3 is the way to go. The PS3 may be more expensive right now, but it would be cheaper in the long run as I wouldn’t be wasting extra cash on subscription fees. And although I won’t be playing the great 360 games, there are still cool games out for the PS3 right now anyway (like Resistance: Fall of Man and Motorstorm) and some games I like coming real soon (like Half-Life, Unreal Tournament 3 and God of War 3). On top of it all, I would also have a Blu-ray player and maybe a Linux PC (after I install Linux on the PS3) that can play XVid and DivX movies. What’s not to like?

Published in: on April 17, 2007 at 11:17 pm  Comments (9)  

Lunch at Geelong

After spending the whole of Saturday outside (played badminton, went shopping, attended Elmer’s and Greg’s birthday party — Happy Birthday, guys!), me and Raquel planned to just stay in the house last Sunday. Didn’t happen that way though.

Around noon, we didn’t have any food to eat so we decided to eat out. Then we remembered Smorgy’s, the all-you-can-eat restaurant we saw the past weekend in Geelong. I was in a mood to drive to see the ocean anyway so Geelong it was.

It was surprisingly good value, actually, at only $14.95 each for the buffet lunch. I liked best the honey chicken, fried rice, rissoles, lasagna and the stir-fry vegies. Here’s the rest of their menu: Click here.

As expected from having eaten all we can, we were feeling very guilty. We definitely needed to walk off some of that food we’ve taken in. Fortunately, we have yet to see the remaining bollards we’ve missed from the weekend before. According to the tourism literature, the rest of the bollards are on the other side of the beach going to Rippleside Park.

I think we got all of the bollards this time though.

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 9:50 pm  Comments (4)  

Easter in Bendigo

I’m so busy with work that it took me till today to post about something we did last Sunday. Anyway, we decided to spend Easter Sunday in Bendigo for Bendigo Easter Festival (from April 6 to 9). Bendigo is one of Victoria’s bigger cities out in north central Victoria.

We decided to let Melbourne Victoria Route Planner provide us with the simplest route from Werribee to Bendigo. Yeah, right. We drove through coarse roads we’ve never seen before that provided almost no signs as to where we were at any given time or where we’re heading. I was overjoyed when we finally got on the Calder Freeway which meant that we’d get to Bendigo if we just stay on that road.

We went to Bendigo for the big Chinese cultural events that they apparently hold annually every Easter. While waiting for the start of the major events, we dropped by the Yi Yuan Chinese Garden to watch some kids perform cultural dances there. Afterwards, we went to the adjacent Golden Dragon Museum which I actually liked very much. The museum has lots of historical and cultural Chinese artifacts from the 1800s when Chinese migrants left China to seek their fortune in Bendigo’s gold mines.

Of the Chinese Bendigo events, we specially wanted to see the Bendigo Chinese Association Awakening of the Dragon. From the event’s website:

Awaken the Dragon! Bendigo’s own Sun Loong is the longest Imperial Dragon in the world. Take part in a special Chinese ceremony to wake him out of slumber for his special appearance at Monday’s Gala Parade.

It was a very hot afternoon for it though. The sun was beating down on us. Thankfully, we had our backs to the sun. We went to the open plaza 15 minutes before the event was to start but even then, we were too late. All the seats were taken and the crowd has already gathered behind the seats. Thankfully, we were still able to find a spot where we could still see the event at the centre of the plaza.

We enjoyed the first several minutes of various cultural dances like kids doing a ribbon dance (click here to see our video) and the lion dance (click here to see our video). But after over an hour under the smouldering heat, we gave up waiting for the Awakening the Dragon event. We only stuck around for the smaller “Awakening the Lion” number which was too drawn out, in my opinion. After that, we just wanted to spend the remainder of the afternoon going around Bendigo.

Although, I liked the Chinese cultural portion of our trip, I also liked the Talking Tram Tour. The tram took us across Bendigo while providing very educational commentary about the community and its history. What I loved the most was when we stopped at the Tram Museum where all Victorian trams go to die, it seemed. A lot of old trams used in Melbourne were eventually transported there and it was great to see these antique vehicles up close.

All in all, it was a wonderful out-of-town experience and I’m glad we went. It was certainly lovely to see a different part of Australia.

Published in: on April 12, 2007 at 12:47 pm  Comments (3)  

Gallivanting in Geelong

Geelong (from the Aboriginal word Jillong), meaning the place of the sea bird over the white cliff, is only about half an hour’s drive away from Werribee. We’ve been to Geelong’s waterfront before but we thought we could explore Victoria’s second largest city a bit better. We drove there at about noon yesterday and headed to Pakington Street, where cafes and shops are supposed to be located according to Geelong’s tourism brochure. We parked our car near the community centre and strolled along the street and browsed at the some of the quaint shops there.

Feeling hunger after a few minutes, we went back to the car and drove to the esplanade where we dined on battered prawns with a side salad and a big bowl of potato wedges at the Wharf Shed Cafe, which was pretty packed by the time we got there. A few minutes wait and we were shown to our table near the back of the restaurant (not much of a view since all we could see from where we were sitting was the grassy area leading to the Carousel). The food was okay and cheap ($35 for the food and 2 bottles of softdrinks) and the service was fast. Customers could opt to pay right after ordering so bill-paying was pretty much hassle-free.

After lunch, we went to the Cunningham pier to take some photos. We discovered that there are two restaurants housed on the pier – Smorgy’s and Buccaneers. Geejay had a look at the sign outside Smorgy’s door and found out that the family restaurant offer an eat-all-you-can buffet. I think we’ll give that a try next time we’re in the area and perhaps we also wouldn’t be disappointed by the (lack of) views then.

One of the most recognisable icons in Geelong’s waterfront are the brightly painted bollards that are situated in various points of the esplanade. We took some photos with the bollards and realised that these bollards are in sight of the next one, making a trail for anyone who’d be interested in following these quirky artworks. Now, we’ve only ever been to Geelong a couple of times and we’ve stopped walking once we get to the Royal Yacht Club, thinking that there’s nothing beyond that point worth seeing. This time though, we were led past the yacht club by the bollards and were pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a baywalk along the beach on the other side!

We got to the Eastern Beach and realised that this is the place to be to soak up the sun, swim and have a BBQ. With its tall palm trees, enclosed pool beside the beach, fountains and beach umbrellas, the place is gorgeous to look at and an ideal place to laze the afternoon away with family and friends.

We stayed at the Eastern beach to catch our breath for a few minutes and continued on to the trail of bollards along the foreshore. We were now starting to get tired and sore from all the walking, this is just too much exercise for a couple of couch potatoes! We got as far as Limeburners Point to the last bollard we could see and headed back. Now we understand why some people opt to take the mini-train ride from the Carousel to the Eastern Beach, it’s a long walk especially if you weren’t prepared for it! Bikes and scooters for hire by the hour located near the Carousel area would be another good alternative to walking as well.

The number of bollards in the Geelong area totals to more than a hundred (reportedly 107 bollards in 48 different locations). We were able to photograph at 28 of the 48 locations so there’s still quite a number of them for us to find on our next trip to Geelong. Hubby commented that maybe the trail could be featured on the Amazing Race and they could have the teams take a photo of all the bollards as a task. Now, that would be fun to watch.

Published in: on April 8, 2007 at 7:46 am  Comments (3)  

Out in the You Yangs

I first heard the term “You Yangs” from an officemate of mine who lives in Werribee. This was before we live in Werribee ourselves. He commented about “getting lost out in the You Yangs” or something like that. I thought You Yangs was just a slang word for boondocks. It turned out to be an actual place.

According to Wikipedia, the name “You Yang” comes from the Aboriginal words “Wurdi Youang” or “Ude Youang” meaning “big mountain in the middle of a plain”. And it is the name of a regional park in the Werribee lava plains area.

We’ve lived in Werribee for a while now but we have never even seen the You Yangs up close so, yesterday, we decided to pay it a visit.

It didn’t take too long to get there. And when we did, we headed for Flinders Peak which supposedly only takes one hour to hike and climb and return from. Took us more than two hours for the round trip. We were exhausted but it’s good exercise at least. I needed some form of penance during Holy Week anyway apart from not eating meat.

Published in: on April 7, 2007 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Medical Costs?

A reader wrote:

Geejay,

Can you add more details for us newbies in Oz — how much do these checkups cost? Is that a public or private hospital?

How much did the checkup cost? How do people normally pay for such things? Is it from personal finances, through work medical insurance, etc?

Vince

Good questions, Vince. For the costs of a medical checkup, here is a rough guideline based off the consultation fees list for the GP I go to here in Melbourne:
Standard (30 mins) = $154.00

Of course, different doctors charge different rates. Some even allow for Bulk Billing (they have a sign outside their clinic if that’s the case). That means, if you have a Medicare card (all migrants and citizens do), the service is essentially free. The GPs that offer Bulk Billing seem competent enough so you shouldn’t be worried to seek their medical advice.

The list I have isn’t even entirely accurate. When I went to see my GP recently, it was roughly a 15-minute session and I only paid $50 for it. So, I guess the fee gradually increases relative to the length of the consultation.

You can then take the receipt afterwards to the nearest Medicare office to get a rebate. I’m not sure exactly how much money you’d get back but you can maybe check the Medicare website for more information. If you are new to Australia and need more information about Medicare, here is their Information Kit page.

For medical checkups, you go set up and appointment with a GP (general practitioner), what we would maybe call a family doctor back in the Philippines. They would have their own clinics and sometimes two or more of them come together and work from a private medical centre. Just to be clear, this medical centre is not a hospital.

Unlike in the Philippines, you will unlikely be able to just drop by a doctor at the hospital for a checkup unless its to see a specialist. Even then, you would probably be referred to the specialist by a GP first.

With private hospitals, you pay out of your own pocket whenever you wanted to be treated in one. Public hospital services are free so you may want to go there instead. The good news is that the public hospitals here are very reliable so you wouldn’t feel the need to go to a private hospital unlike in the Philippines. The advantage of going private probably is that you’ll get the attention you want because there’ll be less people going there.

I know that in the Philippines, it is common that the employer provide some form of medical benefits scheme. Here, it is not so common (if at all). When you get hospitalised in a public hospital, you don’t have to worry much because Medicare should cover it anyway.

Lastly, in case you are wondering, the abdominal ultrasound service I had on Thursday cost $190 and I had to pay it out of my pocket. I’ll probably get some rebate from Medicare later this week when I find the time to drop by their office in the city. So, yeah, pathology tests are usually expensive and you will have to pay for it yourself.

Of course, I’m only speaking from experience here so I could be mistaken in some of the things I’ve written. Still, this should give you a vague idea of what to expect.

Published in: on April 6, 2007 at 8:10 pm  Comments (2)