Amazing Places – The Mysterious Moeraki Boulders

We were driving north from Balclutha towards Christchurch on the east coast of New Zealand back in 2007, and we discovered these mysterious Moeraki Boulders.  The Moeraki Boulders are a group of very large spherical “stones”, and they were scattered like enormous marbles from some giants.  There were hundreds of them.

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These boulders are actually concretions formed in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago that have now been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs.

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The Boulders are one of the most fascinating and popular attractions on the South Island.

Some of the boulders weigh several tonnes and are up to 3 meters in diameter.

Maori legend tells that the boulders are remains of calabashes, kumaras and eel baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe, the Araiteuru, was wrecked at nearby Shag Point.

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Watch the video below for a short introduction and some fascinating facts about the Moeraki Boulders!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMV3PH-wio8

 

 

 

 

The Happiness U-Curve

There was an analysis done by the Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova, drawing on Gallup polls done in 2013, that shows a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Respondents to the polls rated their life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best.

The happiness u-curve

U-Curve

The result was a U-shaped curve, with the low point in happiness being between 43 to 47 around.  We start out as being very happy and carefree in our teens, but with the increasing responsibilities of the 20’s & 30’s, our degree of happiness decreases.  And when the “midlife crisis” hits us sometime in our 40’s, we look at our life and wonder, Is this all there is to it?  This feeling ends about 10 years later, when we look at our life again and say, Hey, actually, this is pretty good.”

And surprising, it’s quite true.  I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20’s and early 30’s. I wake up excited about the plans ahead rather than the decades past.   I am picking up the sports and hobbies that I never had the time before, and planning my travel, outdoor adventure, and fitness bucket lists.

In another study conducted by a Stanford University psychologist team in 2011, they found that “the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade”. They discovered that most people during their 40’s felt that they never lived up to their expectations; never good enough in terms of social competition.  But when they turn 60, they start to ” feel so privileged”, and “to feel it now.”  As people age and time horizons grow shorter,” they write, “people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.”  Also,  “when the future becomes less distant, more constrained, people focus on the present, and we think that’s better for emotional experience. The goals that are chronically activated in old age are ones about meaning and savoring and living for the moment.”

So, I am looking forward to our “golden years” when our degree of happiness will be going up!

Source: The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis in The Atlantic

Finding Time for Adventure

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Jebel Shams, Oman

For many of us who are old enough to consider retirement, the scarcest resource in our lives is probably not money, but time.

Life, they say, is what happens while you are busy making plans. Time is ticking away, life is short. These days, everyone is saying how busy we are.  But, as we all know, we all have the same 24 hours as everyone else, and it is up to us to prioritize how we want to spend our time doing the things that we want to do.

When we were younger, we only had a few weeks of vacation each year to plan for vacation and/or trips, typically 2-4 weeks at a time. Now, once we retire, we can choose to go on super long trips such as 2 months, 6 months, or even years at a time.

Many people delay their retirement for a variety of reasons.  They want to be conservative in their finances to ensure that money will never run out, or that they think they enjoy their work as compared to no specific plans, hobbies, activities or adventures after retirement.  They like their status quo. This sentiment is easy to understand, but whenever I hear about some friends developing critical illnesses or some famous people who just died on the news, it makes me want to take action for some big adventures.  Here is an interesting grave stone marking that speaks to this (Brandon Lee’s grave in Seattle):

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

And here is a website that calculates when you are likely to die, based on various parameters about our life (age, weight, gender, whether you smoke) – www.deathclock.com.   A big, unstoppable clock counts down the remaining seconds of our life.

This type of thinking is morbid, but it takes deadlines to spur most of us into action.  This non-extendable deadline is scary, as there is still so much I want to do before September 14, 2042.

There is no solution to make more time.  Money cannot buy more time.  But learning about my “Expire Before” date will help me decide not to waste any more time on unimportant things, and to take action on some new possible adventures.  We need to begin the conversations with the people in our lives – our family, our boss, ourselves – about ways in which it might be possible to pause the daily rhythm of lives long enough to do something different and really memorable.

One of reason why I like traveling to new places is that it makes me more aware of how much time I have.  I really don’t have any more time, but I have just freed it up to spend it on the things that I truly feel is important to me. I wake up excited, as the day is available to explore and experience something new.  And the day stretches long into the night.  I might meet some new people along the way, learn about new cultures and world heritage sites, visit some world wonders, or hike a mountain to see some wonderful vistas.

When I am away on trips, I do not feel busy, but my days are full and fulfilling.  I cherish spending that time.  At home my days feel short, hurried, and too routine.  At the end of most of those days, I feel I have not accomplished much that is really memorable.

I hope this post will urge you to fill your days with what feels important and worthwhile to you, not with the stuff that conventional society deems us to be doing, or with stuff that might be easy and uncomplicated but is not meaningful and rewarding in the long run.

The Fun and Health Benefits Of Playing Badminton

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My wife and I enjoy playing badminton a lot.  It is a great game that requires agility, speed, power, hand-eye coordination and stamina. It is an easy game to learn the basic skills, but it gets quite technical for an advance level of playing.  There are many fine skills to master.

I picked it up initially when our kids started to play when they were 8 & 6.  I would hit and rally with them to give them practice.  Soon, they surpassed me as they advanced to the provincial and national level of competition in their age groups.

My wife picked it up only about 5 years ago.  After a few months, she got hooked into playing more and more.  She started taking some lessons, and we played some internal club tournaments.  Now, we are playing 3 to 4 times a week, and we challenge ourselves to improve as we started to play more age-group and master level tournaments.

Here are some health benefits of playing badminton from an article in a Men’s Fitness magazine I read a few months ago:

1. The Easiest Way To Reduce Weight

Playing Badminton for an hour helps in burning 480 Calories (the highest among all sports) and if you make a habit of it then you can lose a bare minimum of 4 kg within a month. Badminton as a sport is very exhausting and makes use of almost every muscle in the body, while running for the same amount of time burns half the calories.

2. Helps In Muscle Toning And Maintaining Your Physique

Be it a smash or a drop, every shot in Badminton is a mini figure-toning workout. So, if want to cut down all the flab around your waist before prepping those abs, then half an hour of this game daily is sufficient to achieve the results. It is great for calves, butt, quads and hamstrings.

3. Improves Your Metabolism Rate

Badminton helps in improving the cardio-pulmonary function which in layman terms means that it makes your body habitual of sweating naturally. The toxins leave the body through heavy sweating and make you feel light headed and burden free.

4. Perks Up Reflexes, Intelligence And Productivity

Practising the sport makes you more alert and helps you concentrate on the work at hand. It makes you more agile and develops strength to endure physical stress.

5. Helps In Achieving Optimum Heart Function

Often the walls of our heart get clogged due to high levels of Cholesterol. Badminton strengthens the heart muscles and even people with pre-existing heart condition can benefit with proper medical supervision.

6. Increases The Bone Density And Makes You Stronger

Playing badminton helps in the growth of those cells which form bones and help in accumulating the calcium matrix which strengthens the overall physical appearance.

7. Decreases The Chances Of Getting Diabetes

Badminton helps in getting enough physical activity within an hour to decrease the blood sugar levels. It decreases the overall production of sugar by the liver and which makes you less susceptible to diseases.

8. It’s A Definite Cure For Hypertension

Reducing the effects of hypertension without medical drugs is a hassle as the patient becomes addicted to those drugs. Badminton lowers the blood pressure and produces chemicals which counter the drug’s addictive properties.

9. Improves Lung Function

Badminton improves lung function quite significantly and helps in reducing the dependence on nasal sprays for snoring while sleeping.

 

Travel with Purpose

family tree

It is always nice to be able to travel with a specific purpose in mind. It can be to attend a conference, to participate in a sporting event, to meet a family member or a friend abroad, or to attend a world class festival or watch a major sporting event.

I have traveled on several trips to research on, and to meet new extended family members, while doing my “family tree” project.  My first trip with that purpose is to New Zealand and Australia in 2007 with my two older sisters to meet over 100 extended uncles, aunts and cousins, who immigrated to that part of the world while the majority of us immigrated to Canada.  It was an amazing discovery trip to enable me to expand our family tree from about 150 to over 300 members. I did not realize that I have so much connection to New Zealand.  This trip laid the foundation that allowed us to plan a huge family reunion event in Vancouver in 2008 with over 130 attendees, and expand the family tree to over 480 members at present.

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Large family dinner in Sydney, Australia

Another trip on this “family heritage” theme was in 2010 when a group of Vancouver and New Zealand family members traveled to Balingzhuang village in Guangdong Province of China to visit our ancestral village.  The 6 houses that our grandfathers built are still standing, and we met family members there that still remember to exact details of our parents’ time there.  They reminisced about the good times, and we paid respects to the older generations.  A year later, we brought our two adult children back to this village so that they are aware of their cultural heritage.

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Family photo, at the Balingzhuang ancestral village, near Guangzhou, China

In 2014, I went on an amazing trip to South America to hike Mount Roraima and Angel Falls.  As part of this trip, I flew to Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname, to visit another branch of my family tree.  With modern technology, I was able to make contact with them via social media ahead of time (QQQ & weChat), and we made arrangement for them to pick us up at the airport, and then visit them over a two-day period.  It was very interesting to learn about their immigration stories, and their way of life in this small South America city.

Inside kitchen area, again explaining to them about our family tree.
At the back of their restaurant in Parimaribo, Suriname, I was trying to explain to them about how we are all related

These are the type of travels that are really interesting and purposeful.  I hope to do more of these in the years to come.  With our love of playing badminton, we will try to incorporate some tournaments in our travels as well.

Land Border Crossings

Leaving Uzbekistan and entering Kyrgystan
Leaving Uzbekistan and entering Kyrgyzstan

In my opinion, crossing country borders by land is much more exciting than by air.  In the old days, air transportation is costly and limited in the choices, so overland travel is more common.  Nowadays with discount airlines and people having limited vacations, it is cheaper and less time consuming to just fly everywhere.  People can visit different countries by cruises too, especially to all the coastal cities and islands.

India - Nepal border
Hectic India – Nepal border

For me, going through the areas bordering countries is exciting and interesting, even though going through customs and immigration can be stressful.  It is interesting to think that just because of some arbitrary fence, wall or invisible line that is drawn up, people are separated in their way of living and are restricted in their freedom to move, even though they may come from similar backgrounds or environment.

Decided to cross into Zimbabwe to see that side of the Victoria Falls first. This is the Victoria Falls bridge.
Crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge to enter Zimbabwe from Zambia.

 Here is a summary of our land/ferry border crossings (73) so far:

Border Crossings   / Crossing Details /    Year
1 Canada USA, Surrey-Blaine (via Peace Arch crossing) 1971
2 USA Mexico, San Diego-Tijuana (via rental car) 1971
3 Canada USA, Surrey-Blaine (via Pacific crossing) 1975
4 Canada USA, Delta-Point Roberts (via highway) 1976
5 Canada USA, Fort Erie-Buffalo (via Peace Bridge) 1980
6 Canada USA, Niagara Falls-Niagara Falls (via Rainbow Br.) 1980
7 Canada USA, Windor-Detroit (via Ambassador Bridge) 1981
8 Canada USA, Waterton-Glacier (via boat across Lake) 1983 9 Canada USA, Rossland-Northport (via own car) 1983
10 Canada USA, Fort Frances-I Falls (via Fort Frances Bridge) 1985
11 Canada USA, Stewart-Hyder (via highway) 1988
12 Canada USA, Aldergrove-Linden (via Aldergrove crossing) 1991
13 Canada USA, Abbotsford-Sumas (via Sumas crossing) 1991
14 USA Mexico, Nogales-Nogales (via foot) 1992
15 USA Mexico, Catalina Island-Ensenada (via cruise ship) 1994
16 USA Bahamas, Fort Lauderdale-Freeport (via cruise ship) 1995
17 USA Canada, Bellingham-Vancouver (via cruise ship) 1998
18 Canada USA, Vancouver-Ketchikan (via cruise ship) 2001
19 USA US Virgin Is, Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas (via ship) 2001
20 Hong Kong China, Hong Kong-Shenzhen (via MTR & foot) 2006
21 Hong Kong China, Hong Kong-Macau (via ferry) 2006
22 Argentina Brazil, Puerto Iguazú-Foz do Iguaçu (via bridge) 2008
23 Brazil Paraguay, Foz do Iguaçu-Ciudad del Este (via bridge) 2008
24 Hong Kong Macau, Hong Kong-Macau (via ferry) 2009
25 Macau China, Macau-Zhuhai (via foot) 2009
26 China Hong Kong, Zhuhai-Hong Kong (via ferry) 2009
27 Czech Republic Slovakia, Prague-Bratislava (via train) 2009
28 Slovakia Hungary, Bratislava-Budapest (via train) 2009
29 Slovakia Austria, Bratislava-Vienna (via train) 2009
30 Germany Poland, Berlin-Szczecin (by train) 2009
31 India Nepal, Sunauli-Bhairawa (via highway) 2009
32 South Africa Namibia, Pofadder-Keetmanshoop (via road) 2010
33 Namibia Botswana, Buitepos-Mamuno (via road) 2010
34 Botswana Zambia Kasane-Kazungula (via pontoon ferry) 2010
35 Zambia Zimbabwe, Livingstone-Victoria falls (via bridge) 2010
36 Argentina Chile Calafate-Puerto Natales (via highway) 2011
37 Chile Argentina, Puerto Arenas-Ushuaia (via highway) 2011
38 China Tibet, Xining-Lhasa (via high speed train) 2011
39 China Nepal, Zhangmu-Koderi (via Sino-Nepal Bridge) 2011
40 Egypt Jordan, Taba-Aqaba (via ferry) 2012
41 Jordan Israel, Amman-Jerusalem (via shared taxi) 2012
42 Israel Palestine, Jerusalem-Bethlehem (via tour van) 2012
43 Norway Sweden, Oslo-Stockholm (via train) 2012
44 Sweden Estonia, Stockholm-Tallinn (via overnight ship) 2012
45 Estonia Finland, Tallinn-Helsinki (via fast ferry) 2012
46 Finland Russia, Helsinki-St. Petersburg (via overnight ship) 2012
47 Denmark Sweden, Copenhagen-Malmo (via train) 2012
48 USA Mexico, El Paso-Ciudad Juarez (by foot) 2013
49 Turkmenistan Uzbekistan,Turkmenabat-Bukhara(via truck)2013
50 Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan, Andijan-Osh (via overland truck) 2013
51 Portugal Spain, Faro-Seville (via bus) 2013
52 Spain Gibraltar, La Linea-Gibraltar (by foot) 2013
53 Spain Morocco, Tarifa-Tangier (by fast ferry) 2013
54 Romania Bulgaria, Bucharest-Sofia (by bus) 2014
55 Bulgaria Macedonia, Sofia-Skopje (by bus) 2014
56 Macedonia Kosovo, Skopje-Pristina (by bus) 2014
57 Macedonia Albania, Ohrid-Tirana (by bus) 2014
58 Albania Montenegro, Shkodra-Podgorica (private driver) 2014
59 Montenegro B & H, Herceg Novi-Trebinje (private driver) 2014
60 Bosnia & Herceg Croatia, Mostar-Dubrovnik (by bus) 2014
61 Croatia Serbia, Zagreb to Belgrade (by bus) 2014
62 Serbia Bulgaria, Nis to Sofia (by bus) 2014
63 UK Belgium, London to Brussels (via Eurostar) 2015
64 Belgium Luxembourg, Brussels to Luxembourg City (train) 2015
65 Ireland Northern Ireland, Newgrange to Belfast (rental car) 2015
66 Northern Ireland Ireland, Sligo to Ballina (rental car) 2015
67 Canada USA, Haines Junction to Haines (rental car) 2015
68 USA Canada, Skagway to Whitehorse (rental car) 2015
69 Austria Italy, Innsbruck to Brenner (train) 2015
70 Italy Austria, Bolzano to Feldkirch (rental car) 2015
71 Austria Liechtenstein, Feldkirch to Vaduz (rental car) 2015
72 Liechtenstein Switzerland, Vaduz to Lugano (rental car) 2015
73 Switzerland Italy, Lugano to Como (rental car) 2015

Going from Chile (Puerto Arenas) to Argentina (Ushuaia)
Going from Chile (Puerto Arenas) to Argentina (Ushuaia)
I took a sneak photo at the Friendship Bridge crossing (even though we were not supposed to)
Almost got into big trouble when I took this photo at the Friendship Bridge crossing from China to Nepal (even though that were big signs not to do so)

Flight Statistics from 1967 – 2016

Our one-hour Druk Air flight from Kathmandu to Paro
Our one-hour Druk Air flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Paro, Bhutan

Ever since I started traveling frequently as part of my engineering career, I have kept track of all my flights taken, including adding back the few flights I took before my career started.  Flying was quite special back then in the early 1980’s, with meals on china plates, silver cutlery, wine and liquor served, even on domestic flights.  Who can remember great airlines like Canadian Pacific, Wardair, and Pan American Airlines?

I use an online program called OpenFlights.org, where one can enter the to/from destinations, airline names and plane model numbers, flight numbers, and even seat numbers if one wants to.  The program will calculate the distance flown and the duration of the flights.  And it gives a great summary and one can export to an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis.

After lunch at the Village, took the Cessna plane back to Ciudad Bolivar
Our Cessna flight from Canaima National Park to Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela

So, here is the summary of all flights I have taken since coming to Canada from Hong Kong, with some interesting statistics at the bottom:

Year  /  Kilometers/ Duration/ Places Traveled To
2016 Total 14,264 20:48 UAE, Oman, Qatar
2015 Total 51,862 22:45 Wales, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland,                                                                     Northern Ireland, Yukon, Italy, Greece
2014 Total 58,213 29:00 Ecuador, Galapagos, Venezuela, Suriname,                   Trinidad, Guyana, Dominica, Barbados, Balkans (9 countries)
2013 Total 63,979 37:17 Iceland, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,                                                Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, UK, Spain, Portugal, Morocco
2012 Total 83,421 43:04 Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Norway, Sweden,                                                       Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Japan, Korea
2011 Total 90,256 48:59 Patagonia, Antarctica, Philippines, Borneo,                                 Brunei, Tibet, Bhutan, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar
2010 Total 60,979 32:03 South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia,                                                        Zimbabwe, Utah, Arizona, China, Hong Kong
2009 Total 61,958 34:19 Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy,                                                                       Germany, Poland, Turkey, India, Nepal
2008 Total 41,306 30:31 Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil,                                                                                                               Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan
2007 Total 45,243 32:59 London, Spain, New Zealand, Australia
2006 Total 20,406 26:30 Hong Kong, China
2004 Total 8,800 12:00 Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI
2003 Total 12,173 17:12 Toronto, Milwaukee
2002 Total 7,261 10:04 Montreal
2001 Total 8,157 11:10 Florida
2000 Total 1,363 2:42 Calgary
1999 Total 1,472 3:48 Seattle, Calgary
1998 Total 29,434 27:44 China, California
1997 Total 24,803 20:58 Hawaii, Cancun
1996 Total 8,771 12:56 Las Vegas, Dallas
1995 Total 14,688 20:20 Orlando, Bahamas
1994 Total 3,459 5:18 Los Angeles
1993 Total 6,298 8:52 Houston
1992 Total 16,539 20:07 Los Angeles, Tucson, Houston
1989 Total 6,896 9:36 Pittsburgh
1988 Total 5,827 9:16 Washington, Savannah
1986 Total 17,712 13:04 Winnipeg, Boston, Vancouver, Dallas
1985 Total 4,691 6:50 Charleston
1984 Total 15,187 19:58 London
1982 Total 8,650 11:48 Honolulu
1967 Total 10,187 13:14 Hong Kong to Vancouver

Grand Total 804,256 km traveled

Total flight air time duration of 47 days & 11:12

Total Distance Traveled = 20.19 times around the world

Total Distance Traveled = 2.104 times the distance to the moon

Total Flight Segments = 272

Busiest year of travel = 2011 with over 90,256 km traveled

Most Number of Flights in one year = 37 in 2014

Longest Flight = Vancouver to New Zealand at 11,354 km / 14:36

Number of Unique Airports = 50

Number of Unique Airlines = 63

Northernmost airport KEF (63.98°N 22.61°W) – Keflavik, Iceland

Southernmost USH (54.84°S 68.3°W) – Ushuaia, Argentina

Westernmost HNL (21.32°N 157.92°W) – Honolulu, USA

Easternmost AKL (37.01°S 174.79°E) – Auckland, New Zealand

Amazing Places: Ireland’s Scenic Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow, scenic mountain pass between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain just outside Killarney National Park in Ireland’s County Kerry.  It is a spectacular 11 km serpentine road (paved), but the terrain that is passes through is more like a hiking trail (narrow and steep) than a road.   Every turn opens to another idyllic farm scene or dramatic mountain view.  One can travel through the Gap of Dunloe by car, bicycle, or horse & cart.P1100026_sm

“Jaunting cars” tours (horse and cart) is great way to step back in time to enjoy the trip for those who are not up to a longish walk or bicycling.  Killarney Horse and Carriage Tours has about 25 carts and operates seven days a week. They’re said to have the oldest jarvey (jaunting car operator) in Killarney, and the carts and horses are guided by men from local families, using a rotation system to determine who takes the next customers. They’ve used this “turn” system since the 1920s, passing it on through generations.P1100010_sm

After we drove through the Gap, we came up to “Ladies View”, which is the panoramic view that enchanted Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in 1861.  One of the ladies was so taken with the sight of steep cliffs, ravines and clear lakes, she declared it “the finest view in all the realm.”  P1090998_sm

On the descent from the mountain pass, we pass through Black Valley, so named because the valley remained in the dark without electricity. It was not until 1976 that the homes in this valley were connected to the grid, making it the last outpost in Ireland!

Black Valley is a remote and untouched part of Ireland (even though it is only 22 km from Killarney).  It is so named because the valley remained in the dark so long without electricity.  It was not until 1976 that the homes in this valley were connected to the grid, making it the last outpost in Ireland!