A week in San Diego

I had a work thing in San Diego last week. It was a blast. Really grateful for the opportunity again to meet up with the global teams, and the different people that we otherwise only see on Zoom. Lots of quality time together, from Monday evening through Thursday afternoon. After, Jeff and I went up to La Jolla with a few of my coworkers to explore the area and get in a cheeky dive.

I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

With my global team after our afternoon breakout session. Love working with these folks; so grateful that we got to spend quality time together in person and not over zoom
With (most of) the crew from APAC.
Survivor games with the team – glad the unseasonable rains cleared up by the time we got to Mission Bay for some friendly team competition. Tons of fun and laughter. Love this bunch!
La Jolla Cove at sunset
Beautiful walk along La Jolla Cove at sunset, admiring the sea lions and the wildflowers
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Shores – went surfing there during the week as part of my work excursion, and now we also swam past the surf zone to dive the canyons
I did not enjoy that dive. The wetsuit and hood gave me a headache, though it also kept me warm in 11 degree C waters
XL and I were done after one dive, but Aya and Jeff were game for another
Long swim out past the surf to the canyon – when we’d initially booked in, we were imagining diving among the kelp forests and with sea lions. Alas, the insane storms this past winter had ripped most of the kelp out in La Jolla Cove, and the surge there the past few days made diving there untenable anyway, so we changed spots to La Jolla Shores
Afternoon walk along the cliffs
We can imagine living here
Sea Lions in La Jolla
Last meal in La Jolla together
Since we had to drive one way from San Diego to Los Angeles, we thought to make it fun by renting a Tesla Model Y. And why not? Cost the same as a Ford Fiesta and infinitely more fun! We had to recharge when we got to LA, but it cost just $7 to add 20% and took less than 10 minutes
Chanced upon a greyhound meetup in Balboa Park
Brunch with Wendy in San Diego before we drove north to LA. So good that we were in SD the same week for work! Last time we saw her was 8 years ago in Fiji!
Got in a quick stroll along Santa Monica before meeting Eric for dinner – definitely way more people here than in San Diego
Scrumptious dinner at Redbird in LA, thanks Eric and Ian! Glad to have caught Eric before he flew back to his home base in Houston. Last time I saw him was 3 years ago in SF!

Five Rivers and Half Ubin Kayak

In the latter half of the pandemic, the inner mangroves of Pulau Ubin were crowded with different groups of brightly colored kayaks, many from various enterprising outfits that had sprung up to cater to people’s hungry need to get outdoors. Since borders have fully reopened though, the waters have vastly emptied. In our 5.5 hours around and in Pulua Ubin on Sunday, we spotted only a handful of other kayaks / paddle boards.

Indeed, this was only my second time paddling across to Pulau Ubin this year, plus a Southern Islands paddle in March.

Heron perched on the edge of a kelong, small floating house

Even as we pushed off at sunrise, the day promised to be super hot and humid. The air hung, heavy. Shan, our intrepid leader, had planned for a half island anticlockwise paddle past Chek Jawa to Mamam River, whereupon we’d meander our way through five different mangrove sheltered rivers before coming back out through Sungai Puaka on the southern side and back to Singapore. The plan was to coincide with the rising tide, which peaked at 1pm, that would allow us enough clearance through the mangroves. That also meant a paddle against the current. …

Crossing to Pulau Ubin on what already promised to be a sweltering day
Welcome quick pit stop to empty the water from our kayaks and to stretch our legs.

Aah, actually, we ended up going against the current more that half the time that day. I was in my single Oru, and struggled at times a little to keep up with the others in their trusty doubles. Huge thanks to Judy and Stanley who shared some of their water. I had just about enough, which is to say, I should have planned for more. Judy’s was ice cold, and lemon scented, and I was really grateful for that reviving hit.

Almost 21km paddle. One of my hottest and most humid paddles. Still, very thankful I got up for it! Most of the images were from friends on the trip. 😃

Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

Originally, our plan was to stay at a beach side resort, bring our SUPs and explore. I’d just booked the long weekend trip in a hurry, and promptly forgot about it.

As the date drew closer though, I thought to do a bit more research, and found that in Phuket, Phang Nga was the premier bay to go to for kayaking. We could bring our SUPs, but it seemed more trouble than it was worth, and I didn’t have time to dig into the logistics and area maps etc. So, I defaulted back to our original plan from April 2020 before Covid shut everything down: going with Paddle Asia.

They have trip dates advertised on their site, but none fit our schedule. Happily though, the owner, Dave, was more than happy to accommodate, pairing us up with another guide, Mr Har, who, along with our own long tail boat, would guide us around the bay.

If you don’t love crowds, and love being in the outdoors, highly, highly recommend kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. Unlike overrun Krabi and Phi Phi Islands, we had the entire bay to ourselves, save the occasional fishing boats that we passed by. Granted, because we’re in the bay, the waters aren’t as clear as Krabi or Phi Phi, but during this period of the year, whale sharks do venture into the bay to feed. Alas, we didn’t spot any. Haha.

We’d booked a 2-day kayak tour, and at the end of day 1, our long tail boat picked us up to drop us off at a local resort on Phang Nga. It was basic, but had a hot shower and a comfortable bed, all we needed. We strolled 8 minutes along the bay front at sunset to a shack serving up cold beer and satisfying Thai food for dinner.

The winds had picked up overnight when we awoke, and we could see white caps on the water. No matter, the captain charted a new course, bringing us to a group of islands on the leeward side that we could explore, including a couple fun caves.

We had a blast, and kayaking in Phang Nga Bay again certainly is on our list of to-dos; hopefully we can find another long weekend in the new year!

Weekend in Yosemite

Back in May, where, off the back of my company offsite in Monterey, a group of 7 of my coworkers and I spent a weekend in Yosemite.

Fun times. We rafted, went for short easy walks, and just generally had a blast and enjoyed one another’s company.

Afterwards, I met up with Jeff in Chicago at our friends’, our first times back since 2015! Short trip to organize our wine cellar, and proper wine-soaked dinners with old pals, just like old times.

To NYC next, where I got laid low for a bit with covid, but happily, I didn’t have much symptoms, and so, when released from quarantine, still managed to catch up with friends and family there before we headed back to Singapore.

Kayaking: Pulau Hantu and Semakau mangroves

So grateful for the opportunity to explore another area of Singapore this past Thursday: Pulau Hantu and Semakau, the latter which is Singapore’s first offshore and now remaining landfill.

We had to go through immigration to board a ferry to Hantu – it felt almost like international travel again, except that our identity cards sufficed, even though we had also brought our passports, just in case.

It was a gorgeous day on the water – the skies were a brilliant blue, with voluminous cumulus congestus clouds, a sure sign of rain to come. But the rains stayed away, even as we heard the ominous rumblings of thunder grow ever more urgent right after noon. We could see grey walls of rain in the far off distance, on the main island, but the skies remained clear where we were.

Which is to say it was a scorching hot day. I was just wearing a tank top initially, but after just a half hour lounging in my kayak, waiting for the others to set up their inflatable boats, I had to pull on my long sleeve rash guard to get some relief from the sun. Dipping into the water helped too. The tide was still low mid morning, so we could see the blanket of soft corals in the little bay on the southwestern side of Pulau Hantu. The water was silty – Huey said it is generally much better in the latter part of the year, but not having been able to see any coral reefs at all for over a year, this was a treat.

Our paddle wasn’t terribly long, just under 10km, but it was a beautiful one. We crossed the narrow strait between Pulau Hantu and Semakau, then leisurely meandered our way around the shallow coastal mangroves. Unlike on Pulau Ubin and even Khatib Bongsu, the mangrove trees here were sturdier, with broad gnarled trunks. Brown kites soared overhead, while in the waters we spotted the occasional schools of tiny silvery fish. A few in the group even saw a small black tip shark darting away in the shallows.

Semakau kayaking
Semakau kayaking
It was fun paddling on the clear shallow waters
Semakau kayaking
Semakau kayaking
Jeff all covered up to protect from the sun
Semakau kayaking

After, when we got back the Hantu, the rest of us lounged around – some seeking relief in the water; others went out for a bit more kayaking – while chef Desmond Foo whipped up some delicious spicy buttermilk chicken and prawn paste drumsticks on the barbie, accompanied with homemade toasted focaccia and corn veloute soup with bacon bits. Finished with super ripe mangos and coffee. Bliss. Especially since right after we returned to land, the government sent out a directive banning social bbqs for the next two weeks as we grapple with a rise in community cases again.

Chef Desmond’s spicy buttermilk quarter chicken, so deliciously succulent and smoky.

Kayaking: First paddle of 2021 at Pulau Ubin

We rang in the new year with relentless rain. Literally, from the first day of the 2021 till pretty much last Thursday, it poured buckets everyday. Heavy, pounding rain that lashed against our windows, along with howling winds and startling claps of thunder and angry flashes of lightning.

We ended up cancelling all our outdoor activities and hunkered down indoors, spending the first weekend painting away.

Paint by numbers of our favorite Sydney sunrise from my kayak

Last Saturday though, the weather finally cleared, and eight of us (yay for relaxed covid restrictions!) eagerly got into our kayaks for a paddle to Pulau Ubin.

Photo by: Jingyi

After weeks away, our muscles definitely felt it. The strong currents and headwinds didn’t help either, so after battling our way to Ubin, we abandoned our plan to get to the Chek Jawa reserves and instead turned to go with the currents to explore Sungei Tiga, one of the many rivers on the island.

After, we beached up on Ubin itself, in the hopes of some belly warming Mee Rebus from the Muslim lady in the store by the jetty. Alas, she was closed for business, so we just found another store for some refreshments.

Felt almost like we were in another country – Malaysia / Philippines / Thailand
Our paddles neatly lined up

Felt so good to be back out on the water, even though I was honestly wiped out and had to nap the rest of the afternoon. 😂

Kayaking: Exploring my backyard in Pasir Ris

The tides didn’t line up with when we wanted to go out to explore the mangroves of Pulau Ubin. Rather than wait another weekend though, we decided to venture out anyway. Even if we couldn’t find a river to cut through the island, it still would be a great way to get in some fresh air and workout.

The rain overnight did not clear the clouds, which still loomed low in the sky. The air also felt still and heavy, but at least we had a smooth crossing from Pasir Ris over to Pulau Ubin. Within a half hour of launch, we entered the river fronting the abandoned PA chalets. As soon as we rounded the first bend, the chirping of the crickets enveloped us. We spotted our first pair of otters placidly swimming past.

As always, the cacophony of crickets enveloped us when we entered the mangroves

On our past forays into the mangroves, we had friends guide us. This time, my brother and I were alone. With the help of a grainy Google Earth (Google Maps did not offer enough detail here) and a compass though, we felt confident enough to map our way out of the labyrinth network of riverlets.

We squeezed past narrow gaps in search of navigable routes to the northern shores of Pulau Ubin

Alas, no matter what small channel we managed to squeeze past, the tide was just a little too low, the mangrove roots too exposed. Oh well. We retraced our path, following a brilliant blue kingfisher that flitted just ahead of us with every quiet stroke of our paddles.

On a whim, when we got back to Pasir Ris, we decided to venture up the canal bisecting Pasir Ris Park. We’d crossed the main bridge hundreds of times in the years past, but never did venture up its length. But the canal is much cleaner now, evidenced by another pair of otters that ducked between the mangroves alongside the water’s edge, watchfully eyeing us as we paddled past.

Going up the Pasir Ris River

We were so astounded by the quiet beauty of the river, and of the uniquely Singaporean sight of the colourful housing blocks peeking from above the trees. What a lovely view these residents enjoyed of the river, with the resident egrets and herons nesting on the high branches. My brother spotted another otter, this one bravely swimming right under his kayak and then popping its head out of the water to stare at him.

Beautiful morning.

Back on the water after lockdown

Friday, June 19. After more than two months of lockdown, we were finally allowed back out on the water. I couldn’t wait, and so took the morning off to go kayaking with three other similarly anxious friends. (Good thing we did too, as it’s pouring buckets this Saturday morning!)

I walked through Pasir Ris Park to my parents’, where I store my kayaks. It’s rained overnight, so the ground was still wet, but the air cool and fresh. There were a few other early morning joggers about.

Whilst we were in lockdown, the park services had stopped most essential services, including the cutting of grass. As a result, we tromped through knee high bunches of wild mimosas and dewy bunches of morning glory to get to the beach. One upside of the enforced stay-at-home orders: beaches free of trash.

Wild morning glory by the beach

I pushed off quickly once I laid my kayak at the water edge, eager to float once again. I pulled on my buff to cover my mouth, though wondering at the government’s logic in this directive, given that I was more than at arm’s length from anything else.

We couldn’t stop grinning. It felt glorious, so glorious, to be twisting our core, feeling our boats glide forward underneath us and hearing the comforting swish of water as our blades sliced through the calm seas. The Malay fishermen were back on the jetties and along the beach fronts too, and we cheered one another on with merry waves.

Our merry crew of four

It was a short 5.5km paddle to Changi Village. Where normally the water there was rough due to heavy bum boat traffic, we had calm landings. The hawker center had also just reopened for sit down meals, so we enjoyed a breakfast of champions: nasi lemak (coconut rice with fried chicken), coffee, and a celebratory bottle of sweating beer.

Brunch at Changi Village. Nasi lemak, coffee and beer

What a beautiful morning! The paddle back was uneventful as well, and the threatening clouds that had looked overhead on our paddle over had blown past us to the northwestern side of Singapore. I got a bit sunburnt, but it was worth it.

[Photo credit: Shirley] Mussels clinging to the bottom of the bouys lining most of the Pasir Ris beachfront, a deterrent to would-be illegal immigrants attempting to swim across from Malaysia. Those bouys are an eyesore, and make crossing over to the island across, Pulau Ubin, a pain, since we couldn’t just cut straight across. But it was lovely to see those mussels. If the water was cleaner, we would have been tempted to pluck them for dinner, as we used to do years ago by the kelongs (houses built on bamboo in the ocean).

2020 – the year of appreciating life

Despite the government’s best efforts, the number of Covid cases in Singapore continues to rise, now driven overwhelmingly by outbreaks in the foreign workers’ dormitories. As such, the government has instituted ever tighter restrictions on our movements.

I had been primarily working from home already, ever since I returned from LA on March 8. But while we’d cut down our social gatherings, and nights eating out, we had still continued to swim, to play tennis, and to kayak. Now all of these, even kayaking, has been taken away from us. Technically, we can still go to the parks for walks, but given that the government has closed down ever more places, everyone is just going to congregate in ever greater numbers there. I guess it’s time to just hunker down in our apartment for the next few weeks and hope that these measures will work.

Otherwise, I can’t really complain. Not being able to go out sucks – and in normal circumstances, we would have spent Easter in Phuket, kayaking. But, unlike a lot of people, we are able to continue working from home – and still have a busy schedule to keep up, which means job security. Also, unlike many others, Jeff and I have our own home offices, so we aren’t on top of each other while we take our conference calls. And also, we don’t have kids, so we can’t really empathize with the harried parents who have to deal with both working from home and teaching their kids at the same time.

So, instead of 2020 being the year of travel, this is the year I learn to appreciate what we have. Our health, our jobs, a comfortable roof over our heads, and a spread out but still close circle of friends we can keep in touch with in these times.

And given the additional time I have indoors, I thought it might be a good opportunity to root through old photographs on my hard drives and back them up online.

Here are some memories that I dredged up from 2006-2007:


Ice climbing weekend in Munising, Michigan. That was the first time I’d gone ice climbing ever! Fun memories. Some quotes from my journal from that trip:

The lands around us – even the road – were blanketed in a thick, glorious white, a fluffy pure white that I have not seen in Chicago this winter.

Rows of Christmas trees lined the road, their sturdy pine branches seeming to bend under the heavy weight of the snow. I was excited – we all were. There was no more doubt that there wouldn’t be enough snow/ice for us this weekend. As it were, it was starting to snow out – heavily. The howling winds churned up those fat wet flakes that had just settled onto the ground, and sent them twirling in mad spirals in front of us, around us, such that visibility quickly fell to a mere 10 feet.

Our planned 7.5 hour drive was stretching out into a 11 hour marathon before us. No matter though, we were still excited; I forgot my usual attempts to spare the others from my singing and started belting out all the camping songs I could remember.

Finally, finally, we pulled into the parking lot by our trail head. Remembering the ranger’s backcountry camping directions, we each shouldered our camping gear and set off on the trail to find a nice sheltered spot to pitch tent. The wind had by now picked up, and screeched and yowled while sending snow flying directly into our eyes. With bent heads, we struggled our way across the foot of snow, slowly raising one leg and sinking it knee-deep into the snow, and then even more slowly raising the other to step forward. 

I picked up climbing regularly in 2006, and Pauline, whom I’d met by chance at a local bouldering gym the day we independently decided to pick up the sport, became my fast climbing buddy. We made an early trip out to Devils Lake Wisconsin in the spring, and it was just gorgeous.

Climbing in Devils Lake Wisconsin with Pauline, circa 2006


We went up to Munising for the ice climbing festival again in 2007. We’d intended to camp again, but aborted our plans at the last minute given the frigid weather. Luckily, we had a couple other friends who drove up from Chicago too, and they let us bunk in at their cabin.

Kayaking for social distancing

Since I last wrote, the world has completely changed. The financial markets are in free fall, many countries have instituted bans on foreigners coming in and mandating that returning residents and citizens quarantine themselves for 14 days. Travel has essentially ground to a halt, and most companies have instituted work from home policies.

I couldn’t have predicted this a month ago. Then, I’d just come back from a spat of international travels, and still anticipating a couple more kayaking trips to Phuket and Ningaloo over the next couple of months. Then, we’d thought colleagues who decided to skip our work conference in LA as being overly cautious – I could not have predicted that just a week after, the US would shut down travel to Europe etc.

Of course, none of this should have been a surprise to me. Most of China has already been in lockdown since end January. But things only really hit home for me a relative got diagnosed with covid, and all his family and friends who had had contact with him had to go into home quarantine. Then a friend could not come home from Europe to be with her family, who is undergoing radiation. Another friend in the States has early stage cancer, but hospitals have told her they need to delay her surgery, indefinitely, because they need the beds for Covid patients. I realized too, that if anything happened to my own relatives here in Singapore, our family from overseas would be unable to come back.

So, we count our lucky stars that we are still healthy, still with stable jobs. Having to cut down on going out, on traveling, is just a minor inconvenience, in the broader scheme of things.

In the meantime, to practice social distancing, we can still go kayaking. We have our own kayaks that we carry to the beach, and once in the water, we are in our own vessels, plenty safe away from everyone else.

So we did. And it was glorious. We went the week before too, but the water was disgustingly dirty then. Yesterday, it was clean – I’m not sure if less people have been out and about or if the current swept everything downstream, but it was a beautiful paddle yesterday. We did around 20km, and got back to the beach right as the heavens opened up.

At least here, we can still go outdoors. But I did also read articles where some national and state parks are shutting down as well – to reduce the strain on rangers and the impact on local communities. That was definitely more food for thought for how every little action could have vast trickling impacts.