Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sydney [18/04 - 25/04]

This will be my first time visiting to Sydney. It's also the first time visiting to a major Australian city. The last time I visited Australia was back in my secondary school days when we visited the desert and iron ore facilities in Pilbara - Western Australia as part of an educational tour. 

I booked the flight out on Saturday morning as I was planning to do some work on Sunday before the start of a week long programme there. As I arrived at the gate, I was pleasantly surprised to be given a free upgrade to business class. And I am also granted express lane at customs control upon arrival.

Past the airline experience, I took a cab from the airport to Parkroyal Darling Harbor, which is 30mins away and the ride cost A$60. According to my colleague, the hotel room has a cosy feel which I find to be very true.

19th April 2015 (Sunday)

Sunday is the only day where I have the most free time available. After consulting with Lonely Planet Sydney and a few other travel guides, I came up with a walking tour of the below route. In all, it took us 6 hours (starting at 9.30am and ending at 3.30pm). The landmarks at each point are listed below:
1) City Hall and Queen Victoria Building
2) Sydney Observatory
3) The Rocks
4) Sydney Opera House
5) Royal Botanical Gardens
6) Art Gallery of New South Wales
7) Martin Place
8) St Mary Cathedral
9) Memorial at Hyde Park
A) Shopping at Pitt Street
B) Central Station
C) Market City Shopping Center
D) Chinatown and the Gardens

We left our hotel and began our uphill walk towards the City Hall and Queen Victoria Building (QVB) area. QVB is actually a shopping mall.

And we proceed along George Street, which is the main street of the central business district where there is a mix of old and modern buildings along the way. In the picture below, we have an old office building with shopping centers around it and the tall Sydney Tower behind.

After an hour of walking, we arrived at Sydney Observatory. There are showcases of telescopes and astronomy in there.

From there, we have good vantage view of the residential area and the river beyond.

As well as a very good view of Sydney Bridge.

We walked along the winding road from there towards the Rock, beneath the bridge.

And there is a large outdoor market with pubs around the Rock.

At last we arrived at the Sydney Harbor which provides great view of the Opera House and a large cruise ship besides.

Here is another perspective of the Sydney Bridge.

A view of central Sydney Harbor bustling with people.

And a closer view of Sydney Opera House.

We walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens next.

On the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens is the old parliament house. They offer free tours every 30mins. We did not sign up for it as we just missed it.

As it is around lunch time (12.30pm), we decided to stop here for lunch.

After lunch at 1.30pm, we proceed down towards the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is at the corner of the Royal Botanical Gardens. This gallery has been mentioned by the travel guides a few times, so we decided to pop in and take a look. Entry is free.

There are European and Australian arts being showcased in there.

And we made our way towards Martin Place, there are several museums lining along the street.

Here is the majestic St Mary Cathedral. I will recommend a visit to the cathedral to have a quiet moment and reflection on life.

Outside the cathedral, we have a statue of a little boy using the iPad (according to my friend Perry).

We arrived at the quiet waters of the memorial ground in Hyde Park.

Just next to Hyde park, are the shopping streets of Pitt and George Street. We arrived at the City Market shopping center. At the first floor, there are hundreds of shops selling souvenirs trinkets.

We spent 3 of our nights in our hotel for dinner as it was raining heavily in Sydney. For the other nights, it's at Darling Harbour. We have the day scene and night scene below.

And here are the meals we have in Darling Harbour. The first is My Angus with their great entrees below.

And also Blue Fish seafood below.

And we are back to My Angus for their steak and ribs below.

Here is our dinner group photo.

On Thursday and Friday evenings when the sky start to clear up, we started to do shopping. Here are some interesting shopping stuff. There are Kangaroo, Ostrich and Crocodile Jerky.

The famous local Australia Vegemite.

And lots of Manuka Honey.

We departed from Sydney to Singapore on the 25th April. Below is picture of the lounge.

As our plane depart from the terminal, it will travel over the bridge to the runway as seen below.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pengerang Korean Zen Retreat [31/03 - 05/04] 2015

I came upon a Straits Times advertisement on a Korean Zen Retreat in early March. As I needed to clear my leaves towards the end of March and the retreat happen to fall during this period, I decided to sign up for it. The full 7-day retreat costs S$120.

Unfortunately I could not depart for retreat on the 29th March (Sunday) as planned due to work commitments. I booked the ferry tickets myself from Limbongan Maju Ferry Service online and departed on the 31st March.

The ferry tickets cost S$25. Besides paying for the ferry ticket, it is also important to book the ferry through a booking form which they will email over to you. As there are very few passengers leaving for Desaru, the ferry may not operate at all. When I took the ferry, there is another 2 more elderly couple leaving for vacation in Desaru.

Do note how empty the Changi Ferry Terminal is below.

It is also important to request the zen center to make taxi booking as there is no taxi plying from the Ferry Terminal in Johore. It took me 30mins to travel from the Ferry Terminal to the International Zen Center and it cost RM$50. I alighted at the entrance and walked towards the zen center, appreciating the plants and flowers along the way in.

There is a beautiful landscape pond next to the path in.

Here is the daily schedule. You will notice there are two main routines, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. It consist of 3 sets of sitting meditation and 2 sets of walking meditation.

In the evening, we have Dharma talks by the zen masters.

Here is Zen master Dae Kwang enlightening us with his speech.

Three times a day, we will need to do chantings.

And there is an elaborate procedure on how we go about having our meals.

On the Wednesday (1st April), is a fasting day. I also joined in the fast. It's the first time I abstain from meals the whole day. By the Thursday (2nd April), we have a special breakfast to get us ready to have our meals again.

Our seniors explaining to us on the process of getting our stomach ready for the meal.

At the end of the retreat, there is a short and simple sharing from everyone.

And a group photo is taken.

We departed from the zen center at 1.40pm by taxi and arrived at the Pengerang Ferry Terminal at 2pm. Along the way, we noticed the massive construction work going on at both sides of the road. Many animals were displaced because of the construction work.

And we board the ferry back to Singapore. After departing Pengerang shortly, we came upon a huge piece of reclaim land. This is under Pulau Tekong. It is very impressive. Compare to 4-5 years ago, there is nothing except for barriers. Now the reclaim land are up - it is indeed long-term planning by Singapore government.