Renee at the Italian Restaurant by the Shore, Coconut in Hand

I'm now writing this in late April to late May (this post took a month to write!). *Sigh*  Sometimes I wished I was retired (don't we all?) and have all the free time to do things that we want to do.  I remember hearing from somewhere that when students are asked what they would do if they had a million dollars, the teacher would tell them that that particular thing is what they should become once they graduate.  To that question, I would say sleeping, spending time with my family, traveling, and blogging.  Maybe I should quit my daytime job to blog about traveling with my family, while giving consultation to insomniacs! :)  Hopefully, I'll still recall some of the details of the trip.

Day 3 - January 30, 2011
Today was the Sunday that we were in Cuba.  We asked the hotel staff where the closest church was, and was told that there were no churches in the Cayo Coco area, because it was a conservation area.  The closest church would be in Moron, which is a city about 50 km away from the resort area.  Since it was Sunday, there were no excursions to the city.  We would have to hire a taxi to bring us to the city, which meant we would not have a guide with us.  We weren't that adventurous, especially with Adele being there with us.  So, we had to skip mass for that week (we went to Confession once we got back).

We explored the resort a little bit and found a children's playground and a small daycare.  We went inside to look.  There was a hotel staff there, a lady named Mocha, looking after a young girl.  We chatted with her a little bit, and she was kind enough to let Adele do some watercolouring.

That afternoon, we spent some time beside the pool.  I caught up on some sleep and read a little.  I brought a book called, The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz.  It's about the economics of the 90s, obviously.  But really, the focus was on the dotcom boom-bust, and also the corporate scandals exemplified by Worldcom, Enron, and Arthur Andersen.  Read a few chapters on the trip, but didn't get to finish it.  Still haven't...maybe I will at some point this summer.  Anyway, I digress...

So, after falling asleep by the poolside, Renee came back to me with a different daughter!  Adele had gotten dreadlocks!  While we were at the daycare, Mocha had offered to braid Adele's hair.  I didn't know about that, but Renee told me afterwards that it cost 10 pesos.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but that's more than a day's salary for the average Cuban!  It did look very cool!

Cool Dreadlocks

That evening after dinner, a band came to the hotel and played some Cuban music in the lobby.  The atmosphere was really good and there were a number of people dancing.  What caught our eyes was this huge contraption that looked like an organ, except no one was playing it.  We walked around to the back, and to our surprise, there was this man cranking a shaft that ran the instrument.  A ticker tape looking sheet was being fed into and out of the machine.  It was essentially a record and the instrument read the pattern on the tape and played the music.  It was the weirdest thing!

Cranking Out the Music (Literally)

Again, another fun day in Cuba.  Good company, good weather, ok food, and really relaxing...

Day 4 - January 31, 2011

Kayaks Were Readily Available For Us to Use

Today was our first action packed day.  In the morning, we went for an archery lesson.  It was very short; each person got to shoot about 5 arrows and that was it.  Then, we played some beach volleyball, and met a couple from Quebec.  While we were playing, a gardener gave Renee a hat made from coconut tree leaves.  They were beautifully woven.  When we gave him 2 pesos as a tip, he was so grateful.  Ever since then, he always gave us special treatment when he saw us, giving Adele grasshoppers made from the same leaves, etc.

Beautiful Hats Made From Coconut Tree Leaves

After lunch, we went to our scheduled catamaran trip.  It's not the catamaran excursion that we had booked, but simply a short ride on a catamaran.  We all wanted to go, but there were no life jackets small enough for Adele.  So, Renee and I decided to stay onshore while the rest went on the trip.  They all said that it was wise for us not to bring Adele because it was a rocky ride.  It did look very fun though.  The catamaran staff, Mike, kept offering a private excursion to the nearest town, Moron, where he lived.  He was going to charge us 40 pesos per person to bring the whole family there and also provide a lobster dinner at his house.  I believe an excursion to Moron was being charged 80 pesos per person.  It sounded like a good deal, but we decided against it, because we didn't feel 100% safe with Adele with us.  But just thinking about it, he'd make 240 pesos minus the cost of lobsters and gasoline.  The average Cuban makes a few pesos a!  He sure knows how to make money!

Johnson, Anita, Ryan, and Rachel on a Short Catamaran Trip

After coming back from the catamaran trip, we decided to stay on the beach because it was just too gorgeous.  Renee and I have always loved white sand beaches with clear water.  That was why we went to Sardinia in Italy for our honeymoon.  However, Cayo Coco just blew Sardinia away.  It was just amazing.

The resort is situated somewhat on the east side of the beach.  I think we were the second resort from the east side.  So, there was a beach on the east side of the resort and one on the west.  The one we were on today was the one on the east.  There was some shore erosion where the sea level seemed to have risen over the years and eroded away the sand.  Some of the coconut trees had fallen due to this erosion.  Nevertheless, the beach was still really beautiful.

Adele and Renee by the Beach

A Badly Stitched Photo of the Beach at Sol Cayo Coco

We swam for a little bit and then had a few burgers by the beach.  This part of the beach was pretty windy. So, we ended up going back to the resort and continued our sun tanning by the pool.  While the men sun tanned and slept, the girls went to the beach on the west side of the resort and took many pictures.  They claimed that this side was much prettier...I'll create some suspense and will post the pictures on my next post.

That evening was the beach party night that our tour operator organized for us.  We got bused to the "most beautiful beach" in the area, the Playa Pilar.  The party was a held at the outdoor bar by the beach but it was so dark by then that we couldn't really see the beauty there.  Anyway, there was a band which provided live music and an MC who taught us how to salsa.  I think I still remember the basic moves.  The dancing was pretty fun.  The night ended with a game of limbo.  There were about 30 people who played.  Ryan, Rachel and I all made it to the last 6 or 7 people.  Ryan got eliminated first and I went shortly after.  In the end, Rachel won the competition and brought home the prize...a bottle of wine!

Here's a Video of Us Limbo-ing

We got back to the hotel at around 11 pm.  Adele was really good and didn't make too big of a fuss!  Another great day in Cuba!  I'm beginning to there a bad day in Cuba?
Today was Adele's swimming class.  It's her first time swimming since our trip to Cuba.  Naturally, she was a little nervous when she went into the pool.  In one instance, we had to lay the toddlers on their backs to do back floats.  So, I tried laying Adele down and she started squirming and screaming, because she didn't like the sound of water in her ears and she was also afraid of drowning.  These days, we're trying to get her to stop whining and screaming when she wants something, because she can pretty much say anything now.  So, I told her, "Adele, just say, 'Baba, please don't let go.'"  She grabbed onto me, looked into my eyes and said, "Baba, don't let go, don't let go!"  I almost teared up right there and then.  I held her in my arms and whispered into her ears, "I won't let go."

Adele, I'll never let go!

On January 28, 2011, we headed to Cayo Coco, Cuba for our family trip.  This year, Renee's father, Johnson, is turning 60 and we (the kids) decided to treat him and Renee's mom, Anita, to a trip down south.  It's our first time going to the Caribbean; so, naturally, we were really excited.

We started planning for the trip during the Christmas holidays.  After deciding that we were going to an all-inclusive resort (as opposed to a cruise), we started reading reviews on  Renee and I are crazy about beautiful beaches with clear, turquoise water, and after reading countless reviews and looking pictures, we converged on Cayo Coco, Cuba.  Cuba seemed to give the best bang for buck, and Cayo Coco was a relatively isolated place with beautiful beaches.  We ended up picking the Sol Cayo Coco resort.  We paid around $700 per person, which includes flight, accommodations (including 3 meals), and taxes.  Since Adele was under 2 years old, we had to pay a total of $16 of taxes for her!

Day 1 - January 28, 2011

Our Canjet flight was at 5:20 pm at Terminal 3 at Pearson airport.  I took the day off, but ended up working from home in the morning.  Every time I go on an extended vacation, the week leading up to the vacation is always a nightmare at work, because I usually have to either get things done before I leave or somehow hand it off to somebody else.

The day didn't start off too well.  I dropped Renee off at the bus stop in the morning and then drove back home.  The side street leading to my street has a no-left-turn sign that came into effect in the morning, but since I only turned left there during the evening, I just made the same turn, without taking notice the sign.  The cop who's there every morning had no problem stopping me and giving me a ticket.  Unfortunately, my acting was not good enough, and he was not about to give me a second chance.  He did say that "if he were in my place", he'd ask for a "first attendance meeting" to bargain with the prosecutor to have the charged revised to a lower one.

Anyway, that day turned out to be a busy and stressful day.  We parked at Park N Fly at Pearson (which costed about $60 for 8 days).  The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Cuba at around 9:30.  However, when getting off the plane, I got too excited and left my camera on-board.  I got really worked up, thinking that it was gone forever.  The Cuban airport personnel didn't seem too concerned and told me to wait.  I was thinking, "Great...I'm going to wait and they're going to tell me they couldn't find anything."  To top it off, I left my cellphone at one of the X-ray machines at the security check.  I almost lost it when I realized that.  But to my surprise, both the cellphone and camera were returned to me in quick order.  Not bad for a first impression!

We arrived at the hotel after a quick 10-minute bus ride.  Check-in was easy, and since it was close to the 10:00 pm closing time of the buffet, the receptionist advised us to grab a bite before heading off to our rooms.  She said we could leave our luggage out in the lobby and just go.  We were reluctant at first about doing that, but she reassured us that she'd watch over them for us.  After we came back out, we found our luggage as they were, safe and sound.  Good second impression!  We were starting to realize that Cuba is a relatively safe place, at least when compared to Mexico!

Our rooms were on the first floor and was fairly nice.  The resort was rated 4 stars, but in reality, it's probably a 2.5 star if it were in North America (better than a Days Inn, but not as good as a Residence Inn).  We are not terribly picky, and so, were more than satisfied.  The hotel also prepared a crib for us without us asking.  We didn't end up using it because we thought we'd let Adele sleep with us since she was on vacation too!

Day 2 - January 29, 2011

This was our first full day in Cuba.  We woke up and had a nice breakfast.  They had eggs cooked to your liking, pancakes, pastries, etc. at the buffet.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The pancakes were quite bland, but putting syrup on it cured that problem.  Overall, the food in Cuba is not what you'd get in North America or Europe.  They have the same stuff, but the taste is blander and the quality of the ingredients are not as good.  For example, beef would be tougher and very chewy.  Renee and I aren't picky eaters and so we were always able to find something we liked.

We met with Colin, the representative of our tour operator, Hola Sun Holidays.  He explained the hotel amenities, excursions, things to do/watch for, etc. to us.  He was very thorough and gave me a pretty good impression.  We decided to go on the catamaran excursion which included a lobster lunch and 2 snorkeling sessions.  It was quite pricey at 75 pesos per person.  To make things worse, the exchange rate at the hotel was brutal.  The rate as posted on the web was something like 1 peso to $0.94 CAD, but we ended getting a 1 peso to $0.84 rate.  We heard that the bank that was on-site had similar rates, but didn't go to check.  Oh well...

The weather was very nice compared to the freezing weather in Toronto.  It was in the low 20s and sunny, and a little windy by the beach, which by the way was absolutely heavenly.  So, we decided to stick around the pool for the first day.  The water in the pool was not heated, and so, it was quite cold to swim.  Adele had no problem though.  She really loves swimming.  Whenever we picked her out of the water, she'd start crying!  I'm not a very good swimmer and it kind of sucks, so I want my kids to be able to swim well.

We had a relaxing day and a nice dinner at the buffet.  After dinner, there were some vendors selling trinkets and stuff outside.  There was one vendor who had some toys and stuff and Adele saw a little banjo which interested her.  Renee worked her magic and haggled the price down from 5 pesos to 3 pesos.  We felt victorious for a few seconds and then thought that he needed the money more than we did, but of course, we weren't going to give him money back.  So, Renee asked me to grab the nicest piece of used clothing that I had brought to give to the Cubans and gave it to him.  It was a fall blazer type jacket that I used to wear, but had gone out of style.  We gave it to the vendor and he was very grateful for it and shook my hands.  It was such a cool moment.

That night, Adele went to bed in Rachel's room, and we went to see the show that the entertainment crew put on.  The theme revolved around Disney cartoons and there was dancing and lip-syncing to Disney music.  Adele would have enjoyed it, but me, not so much.  That was the only show that Renee and I saw because for the rest of the nights, Adele slept in our room, and naturally, we had to be there.

All in all, it was a first full day in Cuba!
Tonight, Renee and I went to a Latin dancing session.  She was invited by her co-worker to this event held by the Toronto Chinese Business Association.  The first half of the session was a networking session, mainly aimed at helping their members meet people for business purposes.  We obviously weren't there for the networking, but we met some nice people and had some good conversations.  We met a gentleman who helped people invest in real estate (i.e. buying a property, finding a tenant, etc.).

The latter part of the night was a Latin dancing lesson.  It was taught by Renee's co-worker, Josie, who teaches dancing on the side.  She was really good.  So, we learned a little Merengue and a little Salsa.  Honestly, it was more fun that I had expected.  I actually didn't want to go at first...partly because I don't particularly enjoy dancing, and partly because it was a busy week.  So, anyway, this was fun.  It was my first time learning how to dance and I think I wouldn't mind taking up more dancing if time allowed.  Maybe in a few years when my various commitments taper off.

So, if you're a guy and your girlfriend or wife asks you to go dancing, try it out.  It may be more fun that you imagine!
Last night after dinner, Renee and I spent some time with Adele playing with Playdough.  On most weeknights, we try to spend as much time as we can with her before she goes to sleep.  Because she sleeps at around 8:30 pm, we only get to see her for a couple of hours each day.  We really miss out a lot and it's a shame, but that's the reality of life, I guess.  This is the reason why I think we need to invest aggressively (but safely) to have an early retirement, but that's a totally different discussion (see my other blog).

So, while we were playing with Adele, I walked away for a while, and immediately, she cried out to me, "Baba, play Playdough, play Playdough!"  I then walked back and said, almost not thinking about the words, "Yuet Yuet, one day, you will grow up and not want to play with Baba anymore."  Immediately after those words, a feeling of melancholy came over me.  Those words are probably going to come true at some point in time.  The saddest thing is that there are times now that I wished Adele would not require so much attention from me.  I have different things to do like watch TV, surf the web, write blogs...How ironic!  When Adele grows up to be an adolescent, I can just imagine that we would make a switch.  I'd want her to spend time with me, but she would rather hang out with friends, etc.

That is life...and so, I'm going to consciously maximize the amount of attention I give to her, while she still wants it.  Sometimes that's more easily said than done, but every time I find myself doing something else when I can be spending time with her, I'll be sure to correct myself!
I'm in San Francisco right now, on business.  It's my first time to SF, but I haven't seen much of it.  The 5 of us arrived Wednesday at 12:20 pm.  Got to the hotel by around 2:00 pm.  There was a World Junior Hockey finals at 7:30 pm EST (4:30 PST) and the crew wanted to watch the game.  So, we headed off to a sports bar and had lunch while we waited for the game to start.  Canada lost, by the way, 3-5 to the Russians.  The Russians scored all 5 goals in the 3rd period.  What a disappointment!

We stuck around for a bit after the game and left the bar at around 8:30 pm.  But since we're 3 hours behind, it was really 11:30 pm.  I was dead tired when we got back to the hotel.  Called home and talked to Renee for a bit.  Adele was sleeping, naturally.  Then took a shower and went to bed.

I managed to get up at 6:00 am (but it's really 9:00 am to my body) to prep for the customer meeting.  Went downstairs and had a pretty good breakfast.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Alameda.  Hampton Inns are usually pretty consistent.  They have good mattresses and a not-too-bad breakfast selection.  I had some scrambled eggs, sausages, and a waffle.  I'd stay away from the scrambled eggs.  I'm pretty sure they were powdered eggs.

The customer meeting today went quite well.  Hopefully, we get this job as it's a pretty big program, with potentially 3 to 4 lines down the road. you know what I do for a living?  Maybe I should elaborate a little bit.  My company, ATS, designs and builds factory automation for all sorts of manufacturers.  I'm not allowed to disclose customer names, but this particular customer makes medical diagnostic devices.  Our machine would perform the assembly of the components into the final product and put it into its packaging.  Eventually, you'd see these devices being sold at your local pharmacy.

I've been at ATS for almost 7 years now.  I really can't believe that!  It's probably the longest I have stayed anywhere, doing essentially the same thing.  Good thing is I don't feel like it's repetitive.  I guess that says something about the "enjoyability" of my job.  I'm happy with what I'm doing.  It's pretty much what I've envisioned to be doing when I went to school.  However, as with all jobs, I wished the pay was a little better (who wouldn't, right?).

So, I'll be flying back to Toronto tomorrow afternoon (Friday).  I miss Renee and Adele already!  There's a Chinese saying that says, "A temporary absence beats a new marriage (小別勝新婚)".  I guess that's true!  Anyway, this entire post sounds like I'm just thinking out loud.  Maybe it's the beer that I had tonight...
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