Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jersey Boys onstage in Houston

My parents told me on Skype the other day that they were going to see Jersey Boys onstage in Houston. I asked my mom to send me a review to post on my blog, and she has done just that. So, with her permission, here is a word from my mom....

A Layman's Review of Jersey Boys - Houston production

I am not a connoisseur of theatre or music (disclaimer).

"JERSEY BOYS is the new Broadway musical about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty. "

This production was fast paced, with high energy, a compelling story line, and classic rock and roll songs. The stage play is extremely well written, incorporating the music numbers into the story line without the typical "fantasy" impression when a character breaks into song. The songs carry the emotion of the story, but also prevent the menacing overtones that could have been present.

The cast was delightful. They appeared to be totally immersed in character, and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I had read numerous reviews, and they were all very positive. But the critics cannot accurately describe the sentiment and mood invoked by this musical. The audience was totally caught up in the story and the characters, and especially in the music. The 16 year old next to me was having as much fun as I was (I grew up with this group).

If you are a music buff who loves "classics," you must see this play. The musical numbers, all original Four Seasons fair, are great.

If you are not a music buff, but are from this era, you must see this play. You will remember places and friends, and relive many moments.

If you are just looking for a good time, you must see this play. It is very entertaining, and you will be intrigued by the story and the people portrayed.

My favorite: old TV footage of the original Four Seasons performance, on big screen, as the actors performed on stage, perfectly in sync. You felt like you were at a live performance, with everything being projected in real time on the big screen.

Worst: I was totally unprepared and shocked at the language. I truly did grow up with this group, and was of the same era. We did not talk that way in South Texas, small town, conservative communities. It may be true to life, but it did put me off a lot! Took a while to "get past it" and into the story.


Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I Never Book Package Tours

In a recent comment on an old post, Joe Tan's complaint about Misa Travel reminded me once again why I never book package tours. Joe complains about the service of Misa Travel, a company with which I've had a pretty good experience overall. (They don't do a lot of extras, just book your tickets and leave you to your business. I like that.)

Joe's experience of a lot of little extra expenses adding up during the course of the tour is an exact description of every package tour I've ever joined. They always tell you that everything is included up front, but it never is. There is always something else that needs a tip, a fee, or whatever. And that is not to mention the hours wasted at little shops here and there that have some deal with the travel agency. It ends up feeling, to me, like I've been cheated on my travels.

When I travel, I always book tickets only, or at absolute most tickets and hotel, from the agent. Everything else, I find on my own. If it is not a country I feel comfortable driving, I find out about public transportation. It is usually not too hard to get around, whether by driving or public transport. At worst, a bit of a walk never hurts.

But the high fees involved in package tours, and the limit on one's freedom (wake up at 6, be on the bus at a certain time, okay... now you've got 20 minutes to see the Great Wall... hurry! We've got to get to the shops before they close!!!) is all just too much for me.

There are a very few circumstances where I see a package tour being worthwhile, but otherwise I avoid them. It always makes the adventure more fun when it is something you've done yourself, start to finish.

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Memories of the Cold War

I recently wrote about my visit to Feng Jing, and the memories of the Cold War that one can visit there. It looks like they've got nothing on this theme park in Lithuania.

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Triple Play at the Esplanade

On Jan 31, you can visit the Esplanade and enjoy the Triple Play programme. This Thursday at 7:30, the programme will include these titles:

Ambush from all Sides
The Tune of the Mountain
San Liu
Night in hte Plan
Venezuelan Dance

The show will highlight the four key Chinese traditional string instruments, the pipa, liuqin, zhongruan and daruan. Performers include Hou Yue Hua, Zhang Li, and Jing Po from Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

The show will be in the Esplanade Recital Studio. You can get your tickets online, at the Esplanade website. Tickets are $28 per person ($20 for students, NSF, and senior citizens).

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dominica Blogger

I was very pleased when I found, via the BlogRush widget on this page, a blog called Dominica Weekly. It has been a long time since I've been to Dominica, but it is a place that still lives very vividly in my mind. In fact, there are certain smells that bring it back to me so clearly that I feel I am there.

Dominica (not the Dominican Republic) is known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, and it is very aptly names. The mountains that seem to just rise up out of the blue sea, the lush jungle covering the faces of the mountains, and the ever-clear blue sky is the very definition of a Nature Island. There are numerous rivers, and good beaches on which to take a nice "sea bath."

This is the first time I have come across a blogger from Dominica, so I am very glad to have found the place. I'm off now to inform familyfunandfaith. I don't know anyone who loves Dominica more than he does.

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wrangler National Finals Rodeo

Since I have been living overseas for the past 15 years, it has been a very long time since I attended a rodeo. Growing up in Texas, though, I have been to quite a number of rodeos over the years. I remember one, the first really big rodeo I ever attended. I was 6 or 7 years old, and went with my family to the Texas State Prison Rodeo. It was really fun to watch, even though there was a mishap in the bull riding event. I remember being very impressed with the clowns who dared to tease the bulls in order to keep others safe.

One of the biggest rodeos in the whole country is coming up soon. The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is held in Las Vegas, and is quite an event to attend. Sponsored by Wrangler jeans, and hosted by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, it is the rodeo event of the year. (Think "World Series" or "Super Bowl," but in terms of the rodeo world.) I haven't been to this event in Las Vegas. In fact, the last time I went was in Oklahoma City, when the event was out at the old State Fair grounds. But I know it has only gotten bigger and better since then, and that is saying a lot. It was a huge event when I was there, with lots of excitement all round.

Events at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo include all the regulars: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, bull riding, and barrel racing. The events at this rodeo are being performed by the best of the best, and so can be very fun to watch. The grace of some riders, and the absolute athleticism of those involved in events like steer wrestling, roping, and bull riding, can be quite surprising if it is your first time to attend a rodeo. And the prize money that is available to contestants can be pretty impressive too. There is really something on the line for participants, so it is fun to watch them compete, and compete hard.

If you plan to be in Las Vegas, you can get National Rodeo Finals tickets and see the best rodeo show in the country. The big event is held in December, at the Thomas and Mack Center. If you have a chance to see it, book your tickets, and be ready to enjoy the grand event!

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

(Thanks to the sponsors of this post!)
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Great Tips for Would-be Travel Writers

Freelance writer Sharon Hurley Hall has just posted an article entitled How to Write a Travel Piece and Stay at Home. It has some great tips for writing about travel, and writing well... even if you've never been to the destination about which you are expected to write. I love Sharon's emphasis on good research, along with the tips about how to do it. She really knows what she is doing, and is always so generous in sharing her tips.

Silken has also left a comment there about her very interesting blog called Places to Go, where she blogs about places she's never been, but would like to see. Silken and Sharon are both excellent researchers, and I think these blogs show how research can go a long way toward good writing. I enjoy reading a good travel piece about one's own experiences in/of a place. But when it comes to getting good information about a place, nothing replaces good research. Even experience can quickly become outdated, or can reflect too subjective or one-dimensional an opinion. Research, whether of a place one has been to or not, goes a long way in fleshing out one's perceptions of a place, and help to make travel writing solid and useful to the reader.

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Friday, January 18, 2008

A Class Beyond First Class

Singapore Airlines introduced their new Airbus A380 late last year, and it has some perks that put it in a class of its own.

To me, the most impressive feature of all has to be the availability of suites for passengers. It's being billed as "a class beyond first class," and I can't think of a more apt description.

AS the cranky flier points out, though, it isn't likely that most of us will ever get a chance to sit (or recline, or lie) in the Suite Class, given its price tag, so what else does this Airbus have to offer?

The big perk for "the rest of us" is the additional 100 seats available in Economy Class, due to the 2nd tier. The seating offers 2 arrangements, a 2-4-2 seating arrangement or a 3-4-3. The seats are just a little roomier, and are especially good for making it so that have a better chance of getting a seat because of higher seat availability.

Overall, the A380 seems to be doing very well for Singapore Airlines. It's been fun listening to the buzz in local media about it, and great to see another level of success for an airline that does business right.

Read Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time and join us for the book club discussion in mid-February

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time

Colin Fletcher is an outstanding travel writer. I am finishing up his book The Man Who Walked Through Time now, preparing for the book club discussion I'll be hosting on my other blog next month. It is really good reading, and I highly recommend that any travel writer have a look at Fletcher's writing in this book. It is a great travel narrative, touching on all the right sorts of things to treat both travel and writing effectively.

The book was written in the 1960s, and it details Fletcher's journey on foot through the Grand Canyon. It is the first recorded journey of someone traversing the length of the Canyon, and it is a beautiful piece of writing.

If you do manage to read Fletcher's work, pop in at my other blog in mid-February and join the discussion. It will be great to have you around and hear your insights on this book.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dream Theater

Catch Dream Theater tomorrow (17 January) in Singapore. The show begins at 8 pm at Fort Canning Park.

Don't miss out on Dream Theater's Chaos in Motion tour. It sold out within a week when it was showing at New York's Radio City Music Hall — and that without advertising. Sounds like just the sort of thing to get Singaporean audiences excited.

It is a bit late to get tickets at Sistic, but check the website for a phone number you can contact.

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When Planning a Trip to Italy

When you're planning a trip to Italy, finding a perfect hotel to stay has to be one of the top priorities. The website at Cheaper Than Hotels offers to make the task easier. You can check out their extensive lists of Roma Hotels, Fierenze Hotels, Milano Hotels, Vinezia Hotels, and hotels in many other Italian cities. (Those websites are available in Italian. The prices are good, and there is a wide range of hotels available at the site. You can find anything there, from budget hotels to high end places to stay. Stop by to have a look while you are planning your trip to Italy. I think you will be very pleased with what all you find there.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Cycling on Singapore's East Side

I did what I said I would do. I spent the day yesterday exploring the system of cycling paths that has newly opened on Singapore's East side, and I have to say that, over all, it gets a big thumbs up from me. It has made cycling in Singapore a whole lot more fun, and I really look forward to seeing the network extend all over the island.

I started my trip from Carpark E at Pasir Ris Park.

Pasir Ris Park is a pretty location, and was especially enjoyable when I started (mid-morning on a Monday) because it was pretty empty. I've been to the park many times when it was much more crowded than this, and didn't enjoy cycling there before — and in fact had not even tried cycling there in some time. However, the path has been extended over the years, so that it reaches all the way down to the Loyang Government bungalows. When you get to the side of the park nearer to the government bungalows, the paths are especially quiet, and make for very nice cycling.

The Tampines Park connector makes it so that you can extend your cycling trip beyond Pasir Ris Park along, stretching for quite some distance (I made 70 km yesterday, all on the cycling trails linked up through the newly opened park connector system.)

In Pasir Ris Park, as in the other parks linked up through the park connectors (East Coast, Changi Beach, etc.), there are plenty of bicycle rental kiosks, where you can get a bike fairly cheap for the day. The bikes, of course, aren't as nice as the one in the first picture (that's mine), but they'll do for a short ride. I would have hated to be on a rental bike for the 70 km trip yesterday, though. Most rented bicycles are not exactly great machines, but they will service for a more leisurely trip.

The trail through Pasir Ris Park, and those through the various parks connected in the network, is really very nicely put together and maintained. Besides the nicely paved paths, there are lots of rest areas set up in breezy, scenic spots.

You can see lots of interesting things along the way as you cycle along the bicycle trails in the parks. Even the large shipping sites at Loyang and various other points along the East Coast don't detract from the beauty of the area.

All throughout the trip, while ships, planes, residential estates, and all the other signs of "civilization" are visible, you can also have a real feel for the natural beauty of Singapore (true to the government's hope that this network of park connectors will make it feel like a city nestled in a garden). The surrounding mangrove forest, bird sanctuaries, and various spots where "green and clean" is certainly the rule of thumb make for a very pleasant ride.

For me, the ships add to the interest of the ride, as do the airplanes that take off from the runway alongside the stretch of path between East Coast Park and Changi Beach (which may have become my favorite cycling point in Singapore, now that I've been there).

The various parks, especially on the Eastern side of the island, have long been nice spots to cycle. The problem has always been that the trails were too short for even the moderate cyclist. The newly built park connectors are meant to remedy this shortcoming. The circuit itself is reported to be 42 km (some reports have said 48). I detoured here and there to cycle through various parks (end to end in Pasir Ris, Changi Beach, and East Coast Park), and managed to make it into a 70 km trip, without a whole lot of backtracking over the same ground. That makes for a very nice ride. Overall, the trails are shady and have a good breeze throughout the day. I was out from 10 am to 3:30 pm exploring various trails, spending about 4 1/2 hours of actual riding time, and even in the heat of the day found it fairly comfortable to ride because of the shade and wind. There were some portions of the bicycle trails there were not well shaded, but that's to be expected, and didn't at all detract from the trip for me.

There are only two minor complaints that I have. The first is that there are spots where the cyclist is expected to dismount and push the bike across a bridge. While I understand the need for the warning, especially as I have seen some inexperienced cyclists make a mess of some of the overhead bridges and all, it does get to be a bit old. The real issue is that the park connectors often run alongside, or even through, residential areas. While the paths for pedestrians and cyclists are usually separate, it is very common for the pedestrians to disregard this (except when they want to complain about a cyclist making use of their path). For the serious cyclist, this is a nuisance. I would say that for anyone wanting to do serious cycling (like preparing for a race or something), the parks are not all bad, and some of the connectors are very good (particularly the stretches between Bedok and East Coast Park and between East Coast Park and Changi Beach). The connectors that run through the various residential neighbourhoods are definitely not ideal for higher speeds(the stretch through Pasir Ris is not bad, but Tampines and Bedok are maddeningly slowed up by interruptions). When cutting through Tampines and Bedok, I'd recommend the serious cyclist take to the road, and then catch the park connector again from Bedok to East Coast Park. That stretch is a nice run along a very breezy canal, and it cuts through some land that is otherwise a little difficult to traverse. The only drawback is that you have to use an underpass to get through to East Coast Park, carrying your bike up and down the stairs at each end.

The above complaint is actually quite minor, to me, as I would not mind getting onto the roads for more serious trips. And, I really like that the park connectors make cycling trails more easily accessible from the residential areas. I think the irritation of bridges to cross and such is pretty much a good compromise.

The bigger issue I have, though, is the problems you run across here and there along the path with the direction markers. It is not as clear as I'd like in this photo, but you can see 3 arrow-shaped signs on the pole just behind the "Tampines Park Connector" sign. On the arrow pointing left, it indicates that the Bedok Reservoir Park is reachable by heading that direction. But when you head that way, there is a dead end just a few meters down. Instead, you have to cross a bridge and head that direction on the other side of the canal. There are several spots where the indicators are unclear, like this, and result in a bit of backtracking for the cyclist unfamiliar with the path. This is a bigger issue than the bridges, to me, because it is entirely avoidable. The direction markers can easily be make to point in the proper directions, but for some reason there are errors like this on the signs throughout the whole system of connectors. I liked it much better, for instance, that on the path from Changi Beach to Pasir Ris Park, the direction indicators were painted directly onto the pavement, along with larger signs beside the path. That made for a very clear means of pointing the cyclist into the correct direction.

That said, I was very impressed overall with the whole system of trails. It was a fun day of exploration, and I plan to make further exploration of the extending network of park connectors.

And, most of all, I am very eager to see it spread throughout the North, where I live. The cycling paths in my neighbourhood are pretty lame. It would be good to see better use made of some of the very pretty parts of this area that are not readily accessible by bicycle at this time.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Park Connectors completed in the East

On December 8, The Straits Times reported the completion of the park connectors in the eastern part of Singapore. This creates a 42 km circuit for cyclist, walkers, and joggers to move safely about the eastern portion of the island while engaged in their activities. 42 km is a nice ride for a cyclist, and it is not easy to find enough open road in Singapore to cycle safely, at least not for inexperienced cyclists. (For those more experienced who are willing to ride with the traffic, it is not too bad riding on the roads.) The system of park connectors being built helps address this problem.

More park connectors are planned, with the western part of the island being next on the agenda, according to the article. The projected date of completion is sometime in 2015. It is unknown when the whole island will finally be connected by these scenic paths, but it is in the plans... eventually. Most of the park connectors run alongside the canals that cover the island.

I was overseas most of the time since the date of completion, and so have not seen the newly completed circuit in the East. I am planning on heading over there today, if the weather holds up, and will report back once I've seen it. I'm hoping it is as good as the government has wanted to make it for those of us who cycle.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

the first thing to do in a strange city

I noticed that I've gotten some traffic from search engines for readers asking what to do in a strange city. I suspect that a lot of those people are being sent to a city (one they might rather not visit) for work trips. It got me to thinking about my routine when I travel to a place I've never been to before.

For me, as soon as the bags have been deposited in the hotel, the first thing I want to do is roam the streets. I prefer for it to be an aimless wander, but because of the realities of travel schedules and all, it is more often a wandering with a specific aim — finding food. That can always be an adventure in itself, especially if you are traveling to a foreign country, and it is something that helps to make the trip interesting. I am not one of those overly cautious travelers who will suggest that you only find the cleanest spots to eat. In my experience, it's the roadside stalls that seem a bit suspect on the hygiene front that often have the best food. I'd say it depends on just how suspect said stall is. Use your discretion, and be adventurous.

But back to the true aimless wanderer. I think there is nothing better for seeing your host city than a good walk. I recently read a short story (in the anthology Dante's Disciples) that commented on the act of walking through a city. The vagrant who is the character of main interest in the story says that you can never really know a city unless you walk through it. There is so much that is missed when in a cab, car, bus, or train, but that is experienced more first hand when walking. The sounds and smells, the expressions on individual faces, the up-close look at what people in this strange city you are visiting do on a daily basis... that can all be overlooked when viewed through a window on some sort of vehicle, but you'll find yourself right in the middle of it when roaming the streets.

On my other blog, I'll be hosting a book club discussion in mid-February on Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time. Fletcher was a compulsive walker, and a great deal of good nature writing has grown out of his obsession. No doubt, walking in the wilds can bring one to be more observant and more "in sync" with nature. It works just the same way in urban environments. Nothing beats walking the streets, and getting up close to the real life of the city.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

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I've never been to Minsk, and as I have mentioned in a previous post, my perceptions of most of the area that formed the former Soviet Union were shaped in a very negative way during the years I was brought up. Back then, Russia was always the "bad guy," and the country was pictured as bleak and oppressive.

My blogging friend has been to Minsk, though, and he's posted a very nice video that gives a more accurate picture of the landscape there than the grey images given to me in my childhood days. It seems such a bright a cheerful place.

It's great when negative stereotypes can be challenged by more accurate images.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Boarding in a Few Hours

It's just a few more hours before I board and make my way home after a holiday season spent with my family. It was a doubly blessed time, with my newest godson being born while I've been home.

This quiet few hours before leaving for the airport, when the family is all asleep, always generates an odd feeling. I'm sure it is partly the weariness of the hectic schedule, accompanied by a lack of sleep (which makes it easy to adjust to the time change — I will certainly have a nice long sleep when I reach home). But the thing is that these few moments always bring to me the feeling that I am in between worlds. I'm neither here nor there, but just in a state of some sort of non-being.

I kind of wonder if I will leave any fingerprints between now and the time I reach home? If this feeling of being neither here nor there is any indication of a "real" situation that I am in, then I think not.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008


On my first trip to China many years ago, I decided to avoid the coastal regions, but I wanted to see a combination of urban and rural China. I chose Sichuan as my destination, with Chengdu as the urban area I would visit (it is considered the Beijing of Western China), and Jiuzhaigou as the main rural area I would visit.

Jiuzhaigou is a long valley with 9 villages spread through it. The 9 villages were isolated until 1971, their very existence unknown to the rest of the world. Being that I was born in 1971, I found this fact very cool. And, since I was in my early 20's when I visited, that meant that Jiuzhaigou was a fairly new and untouched place to visit. In this sense, it is on the opposite end of the spectrum than Zhang Jia Jie in Hunan, which was the area first set aside by the Chinese government for preservation as a national park.

When I went to Jiuzhaigou, it was a very rugged trip. We were told it would be an 18-hour journey by bus, but it was quite a bit longer. (It was stretched into an even further journey on our way home when we got held up by a landslide.) I have heard that the trip is much easier and much smoother now. Jiuzhaigou has changed a good deal since I was there. (1971 is a long time ago now!) Better roads and transportation make for a much easier journey than it used to be. And hotel standards have gone way up. But one thing has not changed, and that is the natural beauty of the place, as you can see in photos like these. Jiuzhaigou is often called a fairyland because of its idyllic beauty, and that is a very apt description. There were so many quiet, beautiful moments that I experienced in Jiuzhaigou, and they have stayed with me as very vivid memories.

One thing that the photos you see of Jiuzhaigou today really highlight to me is that there are so many tourists there now. This was not the case when I traveled there. I don't know how this might have affected the surroundings, but I can guess. I suspect it has had a two-sided effect. On the one hand, I am sure it is more cluttered and dirtied with the usual trappings of human traffic. On the other, I can only imagine the significant upgrades its meant for hotels, transportation, and important facilities like public toilets.
And trust me... that's a good thing.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

For Singapore and Malaysia Bloggers

A short note especially for Singapore and Malaysia bloggers —
at my friend's blog, I just stumbled across a button for Nuffnang, a blog ad site especially for Singapore- and Malaysia-based bloggers. Stop in over there and have a look. If it looks good to you (like it did to me), just sign up and get started hosting ads on your blog.

Nuffnang isn't just an ad company, though. There are lots of other great benefits too. They are working to organize events for bloggers in Singapore and Malaysia, and they have affiliate offers and contests just for Nuffnang members. There are some very nice things going on over there. Do stop by and have a look.

Happy New Year to all!