Good Dessert

Passionflower @Capitol Square
Specials on Mon-Wed, with this just $10.

BlackStar Pastry (CBD, Newtown, Rosebery)
Delicious yet quite healthy Strawberry Watermelon Cake.

Adriano Zumbo @QVB
Several beautiful and yummy desserts


Outdoor Opera - Turandot on Sydney Harbour

Turandot on Sydney Harbour is the 5th of the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, the outdoor opera set in the beautiful harbour that started in 2012 when Dr Handa partnered with Destinations NSW and Opera Australia with a $3 million donation.

Outdoor Opera
The Turandot outdoor opera features a large dragon that breathes real fire in the performance, and has its tail shaped like the Great Wall of China that allows various captivating projections on the wall throughout the play as well as lets casts walk on top of the wall.

There's also a tall tower (18m pogoda according to their blog) where the cold princess Turandot appears at the top, and descends through a lowering mechanism. During the performance, the lowering mechanism is however not smooth and resulted in Turandot wobbling which amused some of the audience.
The director also arranged fireworks to be lit behind the stage, just after the principal tenor, Calàf, sung one of the most famous and beautiful aria, Nessun dorma, which gathered much applause. tthe performance doesn't allow recording, so you'll have to hear it in other recordings of Nessun dorma in YouTube.)

In addition to real fire and fireworks that can only be done in outdoor operas, it also allows food and drinks to be consumed in your seat. The opera is also more family friendly in the outdoor setting since in indoor operas principals often perform without microphones. Using speakers in outdoor operas mean that children or coughs are more tolerable.

Performing Team
Personally I find the story of many operas not very convincing, including Turandot. However, I feel it's still better for children to watch compared to many movies. For one, at least at the end of the opera, all the casts would appear together and hold hands as a united team to thank the cheering audience. It's thus clear that everything is purely an act, no matter how much the characters might hate each other in the performance, or whether some are "killed" in the act, or whether some are ghosts or emperors or gods.

The cost of watching operas are typically higher than going to movies, inherently because of the live cast and real stages. The regular adult price for Turandot on Sydney Harbour is $70 to $330, with occasional specials for last minute seats or when they are recording the performance for DVD releases. I tend to prefer seats near the front so I can see the principals up and close, while at the same paying less -- the premium seats are near the center (purple in the diagram).

One question I have is that there seems to be two alternating casts for the three principals Turandot (Dragana Radakovic / Daria Masiero),
Calàf (Riccardo Massi / Arnold Rawls), and
Liù (Hyeseoung Kwon / Eva Kong). Anyone know why? (other than letting us see the same show twice XD)


Whale Watching

There are numerous places to watch whales along the east coast of Australia, with roughly May to November being the time to watch their migration here. I opted to take a cruise tour to get up and close to the whales.

There's plenty of whale watching cruises in Sydney. I took one that provides BBQ lunch on the way out of the harbour at $39 per person. I liked the tour guide who was sensitive to the whales and coordinated with the skipper to not disturb the whales in their natural migration.

The whales we saw this time were not very active. The active ones can jump out of the ocean and make a splash. Most of the cruise tours guarantee sighting of whales, but don't guarantee seeing splashing display of whales. Anyways, just seeing the large humpbacks up and close is still quite impressive. Be prepared however to have to wait for a long time to see the whales, especially when they take deep dives (aka down time) that can be many minutes long.

Another unexpected thing I learned from the tour guide is the nudity-allowed Lady Bay Beach that's close to the tip of the South Head. We can see several nude men and women sunbathing on the beach when going past the Head.


Breakfast Point

Friend recommended Breakfast Point that is the suburb he likes best in Sydney. Saw one apartment there with front yard adjoining the tranquil waterfront greens. Very tempting 

My strategy is to visit one suburb at a time on Saturdays and see a dozen open inspections at once. I'll then get a feel on how I like the suburb, and afterwards can delve deeper on the one or two suburbs I like the best, hopefully finding a really nice place to buy/rent.

One other good thing about visiting nice homes is in checking out good home decor ideas. For example, I saw this "mirror" which is actually a special frame with electronically-toggleable screen put around a TV -- functional and aesthetically appealing 


House Package

A very nice house like this costs ~$350K to build in Sydney (and then ~$400K for this particular land lot), which seems pretty affordable given the high median income in Australia.

Noticed several nice things in the design homes such as:
1. kitchen with builtin LCD screen and coffee maker, and glass cupboard in center island
2. separate media room for TV&consoles
3. fancy movable drawers in kitchen pantry
4. dual basins in toilets
5. outdoor living is under cover (weatherproof)
10 photos


Flying a Helicopter

I was pleasantly surprised to find the websites Adrenaline and RedBalloon, which showcase many activities such as driving a supercar, horse riding, flyboarding, flying a plane, and many more. I didn't realize that so many activities can be done around Sydney!

I went through the activities listed on the websites and noted down ones that I'd want to try. I saw there's scenic helicopter flights over the Sydney Harbour (picture from RedBalloon), which looked very cool. Then I noted that I can even fly a helicopter myself, which is even more awesome! However, both websites only had 30-min long trial flights, which seem quite short. So I searched on Google and found Bankstown Helicopters offering a 2-hour long flight discovery experience.

I booked one for Saturday morning, and started doing research online on how to fly a helicopter. This is after the lesson I had flying a plane, where I knew very little and the instructor had to explain many things to me. I read through several Wikipedia articles and webpages that explain helicopter aerodynamics, which turned out to have prepared me well for the actual flying.

Flights are usually better in the morning where winds are calmer, and the flight discovery experience ended up taking the full morning (8~12). It started off with watching a short video on introducing the three controls of a helicopter (cyclic stick, collective lever, and anti-torque pedals), which I mostly knew already from the self-study. The instructor then explained things in more detail and make sure I understand the basics of flying a helicopter, before introducing me to the real helicopter.

The helicopter is an R22 two-seater and has dual controls so that it can be controlled by either sides. The instructor did everything -- start up the helicopter, take-off, radio calls, and initial climb -- until the helicopter is flying 500ft in the air, and I just observed next to him seeing how the controls are moved. The instructor then handed over control of the three controls one-by-one so I can learn the effect of each of them and be able to fly the helicopter over where I wanted.

I saw Wet'n'Wild was close by, so of course took the opportunity to fly over it (picture from Internet). We flew for about one hour before the instructor takes the helicopter back and then did a post-briefing on the flying lesson. He then explained what we would do for the next one-hour lesson and we took off again. Overall, I enjoyed the experience very much, and look forward to fly more in the future!



Just got my first traffic fine in Australia for going 10km/h over the speed limit on a highway in ACT. Learned a few things.

First is that there is indeed automatic speeding cameras (with adequate warning signs in my case) here in Australia. In contrast, a friend in California said that they don't have speed cameras and only police vehicles would catch offenders. I found that people there would drive a lot faster than the indicated speed limit on highways.

Second is that the traffic fine is quite expensive. My penalty of $167 would already be considered a lot in countries like Taiwan or India, even though it's actually on the low end of the spectrum here. Looking at the RTA website, an unrestrained passenger or driver can get a penalty of at least $298, speeding 45km/h over the limit (e.g., 135km/h on a 90km/h highway) would cost over two thousand dollars, and drinking and driving can cost more than $3000 of penalty.

Third is that there's a points demerit system. Smaller offences cost 1 to 3 points, and more serious offences 6 or more. When a driver accumulates a certain amount of points in a period (usually 3 years), his/her license would be suspended for a certain period (such as 3 months). A driver may be disqualified for life for serious offences.

In comparison to Australia's relative "safe" and strict traffic regulations, it's interesting to note countries such as Germany that have expressways without speed limits (German autobahns). Here's an YouTube video showing a bike going at 299km/h (probably electronically speed-limited), and yet there's still a car going faster than it.