We stayed at Pullman Cairns International for my half business half pleasure work play trip in Cairns, the hotel where the conference I attended was held. There were also queen rooms and rooms with harbour view, but work booked the room for me through the conference and I got a 7th floor double room with a mountain/city view. Richard, of course, stayed with me.

The 5-star hotel room was very spacious even with the double double bed inside (not typo). Instant coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated), Twining teabags (tea and tisane) and milk are free at the minibar and refilled daily. We got complimentary wifi for up to three devices during the conference days, but didn’t bother with it after the conference was over.

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room and a Richard checking out the minibar

The bathroom was also really big and beautiful with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel also refilled daily. Loved the massive and thick hotel bath towels.

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room Bathroom

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: Double Room Bathroom (totally just an excuse for a mirror selfie)

It’s been showering intermittently through our trip, but we stuck around Cairns for a few more days for pleasure and extended our stay in the same room after all work finished. On the last day, the sun did come out and I managed to get this shot with a blue sky!

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: City Mountain Room View

Pullman Cairns International Hotel: 7th floor city mountain room view on a sunny day

The great thing about facing this direction was the view of the pool from the balcony, not for the reason you think — well, I mean, bikini views are pretty awesome — but because it conveniently gave me an opportunity to scout out the reception dinner that happened on the pooldeck before attending it on the first night. Shut up; social events are stressful. tongue

Gorgeous hotel room. The only thing I could complain about the hotel is having to clumsily insert the room keycard to operate the lifts instead of being able to do it through contactless. I also don’t think I ever dissociated the hotel lobby smell with the work conference, but absolutely enjoyed my very comfortable stay at the Pullman Cairns International.

Received my free sample of Vitamin Gum by Cenovis, the grape flavour, today.

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum

It’s sugar-free (i.e. artificially flavoured) and actually tastes pretty good. I may or may not have finished the whole pack in one night. Good thing my digestive system didn’t think 12 pieces were “excessive consumption”!

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum: Nutritional Info & Ingredients

Cenovis Grape Vitamin Gum: Nutritional Info & Ingredients

Anyone who already eats a diet rich in whole foods shouldn’t need the gum for its vitamin content (oh do I sound like I’m preaching again?), but if you’re going to chew gum, might as well make it slightly better for you.

For my third ski trip in Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), the 9 of us (later 8 as one left earlier) stayed at Hotel Oak Forest (ホテル オークフォレスト).

Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby

Hotel Oak Forest: Lobby

Hotel Oak Forest: Access

Hotel Oak Forest isn’t located conveniently near any slopes, which seems to be a common feature of all hotels and ryokans within the Hakuba ski resort. Getting to and from the ski fields involve a daily morning bus trip out and an afternoon bus back. Connecting trips are required for certain areas such as Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原). We actually arrived after the last shuttle bus had left and didn’t get any skiing done on the first day.

Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable

Hotel Oak Forest: Shuttle Bus Timetable

Oak Forest seems to be the first (and therefore last on the return trip) stop of many buses, which meant the longest trip, but also almost a guaranteed seat each morning; it has its perks, I guess. The hotel had also arranged to pick up and drop us off at our desired bus stop on arrival and departure, and also offered to send us out to town for free when we asked for them to get us a taxi, which was nice of them.

Hotel Oak Forest: Features

Free wifi! A lift! Daily housekeeping! In-room TV, fridge, safe! These were all features I never had from ryokans on my previous trips in Nozawa Onsen (Yamasanso) and Ishiuchi Maruyama (Garden Villa Ishiuchi). Hotel Oak Forest has been the nicest and most modern accommodation I’d stayed at for ski trips so far; well, I suppose the whole Hakuba ski area is very Westernised. We joked that our accommodation gets better and better with each trip.

The facilities that Richard and I didn’t use were the laundry and public onsen, the latter which I really regret. The onsens were open both in the morning and at night, and apparently had both indoor and outdoor sections. I should have at least got in and had a peek! … I just realised how inappropriate that came out.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Rooms

All rooms were en-suite, which is absolutely awesome! We first stayed in a traditional Japanese room with tatami flooring and futons on the third floor for the first day, then moved to a Western room with two single beds on the second floor from the second day on.

The Japanese rooms were very spacious for just the two of us, but I’m pretty sure the room was meant for more because the 4-5 singletons all shared one room on the same floor. My only complaint of the room was that super bright piercing green light on the alarm on the ceiling.

Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese Style Room

Hotel Oak Forest: Japanese style room on the third floor

In comparison, the Western counterparts and their en-suite bathrooms were a lot smaller and felt cramped to me when we first moved there from the Japanese rooms. Richard appreciated the beds more than the futons, though.

Hotel Oak Forest: Western Style Room

Hotel Oak Forest: Twin beds (messy = mine) in a Western style room on the second floor

The rooms weren’t very soundproof, and twice on the one night I woke up from inconsiderate loud English speakers walking by. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure if we were just lucky, this time we didn’t have any issue with cigarette smoke sneaking into our room like my previous trips, and I didn’t for one second take that for granted.

Hotel Oak Forest: The Food

The meals included in our package were daily Western breakfast, and Western plus Japanese style dinner. The three rooms of us shared the same table for every meal except our first breakfast, likely before they figured out we were all friends. I took so many pictures, I have decided to move this section to an entry of its own!

Hotel Oak Forest: Lockers and Rental Shop

Ski gear lockers for every room were available in the dry room, and things dried properly overnight, at least for us. The brother told me theirs didn’t quite because there was simply too much gear for their locker.

Hotel Oak Forest: Rental Shop

Hotel Oak Forest: Awkward couple mirror selfie disguised as a photo of the ground floor changing room / laundromat / rental shop

Gear rental wasn’t included in the package, but we decided to rent our stuff from the shop downstairs anyway. I thought what I ended up renting (skis, boots, poles and ski pants only) was very acceptable, but they didn’t have the half size shoes we needed. They also had to summon the rental guy each time, which was fairly inconvenient; one time he took over 15 minutes to appear and we already had to leave to catch the bus.

Overall

Overall, the time spent at the hotel was very comfortable and I especially loved the free wifi available on every floor, as well as the breakfast buffet. I know the area is very Westernised and it wouldn’t be fair to compare a proper hotel to the more traditional ryokans I stayed at in other regions, but I would quite happily stay at Hotel Oak Forest again.

Full gallery sans food:

Hotel Oak Forest address: Japan 〒399-9301 Nagano-ken, Kitaazumi-gun, Hakuba-mura, Hokujō, 3549

We stayed at Redleaf Resort for 2 nights for our Blackheath weekend getaway. Redleaf has always been our first choice, so we really made the effort and tried many websites before we managed to book the weekend for us.

We got there on time for our check-in. There were only stairs at the resort to our first-floor room so good thing we travelled light, but parking is conveniently available directly below on both ends of the site.

The room was new and clean, and a lot bigger and nicer than my expectations; the air-conditioning was certainly appreciated! The resort was quiet most of the time as well, with the exception of that screeching noise from next door when they used the shower.

The highlight for me was the breakfast buffet (of course!). Well, our package didn’t come with it, but we added it at check-in for $19 per person ($17 if booked ahead through the websites?). It was nice to pig out before heading out for the day.

It is nice to pig out whatever and whenever. It’s good to live in the first world.

Overall, it’s a very comfortable stay. We didn’t use any of the other facilities like the sauna room, swimming pool (possibly closed when we visited), tennis court or game room. Maybe next time?

This is the creamiest and tastiest no-added-sugar, fat-free yoghurt I’ve ever tasted. A shame only Coles seems to stock it; the more convenient Woolworths doesn’t and the Supabarn I have access to only has the 1% fat “lite” version.

Tamar Valley No Fat Natural Yoghurt

Tamar Valley No Fat Natural Yoghurt: Old 500g tub ($2.99 at Coles; left) and new 1kg tub ($6.29 at Coles; right)

The unit price went up, but I liked that they upgraded to the 1kg tubs from their smaller 500g ones, as well as fixed their nutritional information panel. The numbers never quite added up!

You know you’re getting old when you get all excited about yoghurt. tongue

I dropped my Opal card the other night.

I didn’t realise it until the next morning. Panic ensued. Frantic searches were performed in all known accessible previous locations. I had some feeling where else it could be, but it wasn’t long before I accepted defeat (I had a train to catch) and went to the shops to buy a new card for immediate use.

I registered my new card with the same account I used for the first one and did a quick check to see if the lost card has been used by anyone. No, it hasn’t. I already knew about the daily travel cap ($15) so even if someone were to pick up the card and use it, the damage shouldn’t be too high. FAQ also told me I didn’t have to worry too much about it all, because as long as I registered previously (I did) and report the lost card, they would transfer all remaining credits to a new or existing card of my choice. I received that balance transfer notification the next day, and got it to my new card the next time I tapped on.

NSW Opal Cards I’m very used to smart travel cards. Hong Kong has had the Octopus card from the 1990s on, and it’s since been expanded for use in many shops and vending machines. Function creep or not, we sure appreciate the convenience. Comparing my experience with the Octopus, I often thought the Opal card rollout was disorganised — until I lost my card and practically lost nothing but a bit of travel rewards. I’m considerably impressed with their implementation. Opal really is quite a gem.

I found my now deactivated card. It was in my #1 suspect place: Richard’s car.

I tried on about 6 pairs of hiking shoes across two stores the other day. Half a size down, they’re too tight at the toes; half a size up, they’re too loose at the heel. I didn’t think I’d be able to find any comfortable walking shoes that would fit me that day, until I tried on the Teva’s Kimtah Mid WP Leather boots ($199.98 member price at Kathmandu in mid-September 2014), in bison. Yesterday, I finally had time to test them.

2-3 hours of bushwalking on rocks, sand, mud, branches, grass and steel walkways later? No swollen feet! No squished toes! No blisters! I didn’t even break them in and went straight for the walk. There wasn’t quite enough grip on steel mesh surfaces, but I guess it’s all about a balance of things.

My credit card bill is going to be pretty crazy with my other big purchase this month, but these are totally worth the money. Now I’m ready for more bushwalks! Let’s see how long these new shoes last. smile

Alternative post title: The Power of Social Media. TL;DR summary of events at the bottom of the entry. This post is tagged #firstworldproblems like the other one for obvious reasons.

31 August 2014 (Sunday)

It is not possible to get a phone line at my current place and there’s no NBN access yet (boo), so I decided to order 4G mobile broadband service from iiNet in the morning — in the super early morning, 2 am. I hadn’t cancelled my naked DSL service with them at my previous place, so I still had an active account and received my confirmation email very shortly. I went to bed expecting this to be a very smooth experience. Well, my naked DSL service did take a good month and a half before it became active, but surely mobile broadband wouldn’t be so complicated, I thought.

1 September 2014 (Monday)

I logged in to Toolbox to discover this note in the task:

31 Aug 2014 10:12AM – by Customer Service Melbourne

Mobile Tasking:
– hardware order hasn’t been generated, however service has been created
– this was only submitted today, however fairly sure that this will fail because the company name in the delivery address is too long
– manual hardware orders in RUMBA appear to be working again, however not sure whether creating the installment works yet…
– deferring till tomorrow, if hardware order still hasn’t generated we will either need to order hardware manually, or delete the unactivated service and do a new signup

I was more amused than annoyed to see the comment that the company name I provided in the delivery address was too long — it wasn’t even the full thing. It seemed like the staff were working hard to get this done for me, so I shall wait patiently.

Sidenote: I also called in to support to cancel my naked DSL and to change the username for my mobile broadband service. Christopher was the staff who helped me. He initially thought it was impossible to change the username, but instead of disregarding me, he checked with another staff and found the right tool to do so. It took a while before I could use that username to log in, but I was quite impressed with his service.

2 September 2014 (Tuesday)

I logged in to find this:

01 Sep 2014 03:11PM – by Customer Service Melbourne

MOBILE TASKING
– Ordering 12 month installment hotspot in rumba as per above notes.
– Activated in rumba
– Defer 7 for delivery

“Defer 7 for delivery”? I was suitably worried, so I fired up a support ticket mentioning that I would be very happy to submit a new order with a shorter company name in the delivery address. I also mentioned the fact that I had changed the username of the service just in case it caused further complications. Shortly, I received a text from iiWarehouse that my hardware order has been dispatched and a staff wrote back to tell me the same. Hooray!

3 September 2014 (Wednesday)

I was given a tracking link and a reference number. I didn’t use the iiNet tracking site; I went straight to their courier of choice, StarTrack. I saw this:

02 Sep 2014 00:00 Freight Manifest Transmitted
02 Sep 2014 19:25 Sydney DFPC Arrived at StarTrack Location for processing
02 Sep 2014 22:58 Sydney DFPC Arrived at StarTrack Location for processing
03 Sep 2014 07:05 Sydney DFPC Onboard with driver for delivery
03 Sep 2014 13:42 [home suburb] Receiver not available Attempted Delivery Advice No [#]
03 Sep 2014 14:05 [home suburb] Delivered and ready for collection at Post Office: [PO address]

StarTrack attempted to deliver to my home address, even though I provided my work address for delivery at sign-up so that I could actually be there to sign for it. (I’ve also heard that many couriers won’t bother with residential addresses.) The iiNet staff who did the manual order must have plugged in the billing address — the wrong address. I wrote another ticket to ask what was going on while staying calm and polite.

Inside, I was getting quite annoyed because it’s been almost 3 days of what I perceived to be unnecessary delay and I was still out of internet. I posted on Twitter:

To which an iiNet staff responded within an hour:

I wrote back with a huge rant so long I had to use TwitLonger:

A couple of hours later, a CSR from Cape Town replied to my ticket:

Hello Vickie,
Thank you for your email.
I have wonderful news for you, your hardware is delivered and ready for collection at the post office: [PO address].
Thank you so much for being part of iinet family.
If you have any further questions please feel free to respond to the email or call 132258.
Kind regards,

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Later, I saw that Customer Service Perth updated the task ticket with my social media activity, with my long rant attached.

Note: I will not have access to the mailbox until Saturday, so I wasn’t able to pick up my delivery card.

4 September 2014 (Thursday)

The Cape Town CSR called me in the afternoon to apologise on behalf of iiNet, as well as to tell me they will credit me for the service I never got to use. It was… an awkward phone conversation, but I was glad to hear that the issue might finally be resolved. I told her I wouldn’t be able to pick up the router until Saturday, and she had agreed to set the service start date to that date instead.

5 September 2014 (Friday)

Nothing happened because I couldn’t pick up the router yet.

6 September 2014 (Saturday)

iiNet MobiiHotspot 4G I went to pick up my pocket wifi router in the morning, but it wouldn’t work when I tried to activate my SIM card. I tethered, logged in to Toolbox, and noticed that a CSR from Melbourne just wrote in the morning that they would call me to activate the service in 5 days if I hadn’t called already. I did that immediately. The phone call took 17 minutes before the support staff got to the mobile team to figure out what to do from there. He told me my service would be ready when I receive the confirmation text.

I waited for almost 8 hours before writing another ticket to ask politely what’s going on again. No response.

7 September 2014 (Sunday)

So I realise it’s Sunday and it’s Father’s Day in Australia, but I did expect something from support especially since iiNet outsource some of their staff to Cape Town. I was quite unhappy that it’s been over 24 hours and my SIM card still hasn’t been activated or heard back from my open ticket. That’s until I checked again in the afternoon: that new ticket has been closed and the existing task hasn’t been updated. So much for crediting me for days I never used.

8 September 2014 (Monday)

Over 48 hours and counting, I hadn’t heard a pip from iiNet since discovering that ticket being closed. I had no choice but went back to Twitter and posted a reply to the previous thread.

In about 15 minutes, a staff replied.

So I wrote back, providing the task and ETS reference numbers.

And then, magic happened. Within an hour, I received a text and a tweet reply that my service had been pre-activated and would be available in 2 hours. I went home that night to find that the service has indeed started to work and after almost 8 days from sign-up, I finally had internet to use.

2 October 2014 (Thursday)

Fast forward to today, I received my first invoice and can confirm that even though my data usage resets on the 1st of each month, they didn’t charge me for the days before successful activation as promised. I know they use Optus’ 4G network and their hardware is the Huawei E5776, so I’ll leave the performance out of this order experience.

Table Summary of Events

31 Aug 2014 (Sun) Order placed
1 Sep 2014 (Mon) Company name in delivery address too long; defer one day for manual hardware order
2 Sep 2014 (Tue) [ nothing happened ]
3 Sep 2014 (Wed) Hardware delivery attempted at wrong address due to staff error — used home address instead of work address supplied; I ranted on Twitter
4 Sep 2014 (Thu) Cape Town staff called to apologise and said I will be credited for unused days
5 Sep 2014 (Fri) [ nothing happened ]
6 Sep 2014 (Sat) Picked up router but self-activation unsuccessful; attempted to activate service through phone support
7 Sep 2014 (Sun) [ nothing happened ]
8 Sep 2014 (Mon) No news until I turned to Twitter again; within an hour, received text and email that my service would work in 2 hours; confirmed mobile broadband finally works
2 Oct 2014 (Thu) First invoice received; confirmed no charge for pre-activation days

Epilogue

Looking back, this was almost a funny experience; all of this happened because the company name I provided at sign-up was too long. Though I continue to wonder how long I would have to wait if I’d never gone to Twitter.

Back before Richard introduced me to better coffee, I’d just been an instant person. To me, there were only a couple of requirements for coffee in the morning:

  1. The coffee must be caffeinated.
  2. The coffee must be black.

I suppose for the large part that hasn’t changed. Some thought I would be really picky about my coffee because I drink it black.

The other day, Richard grabbed the Ironman Geisha, an apparently much more expensive, limited-edition roast. This isn’t my first coffee from Campos; I’ve been getting my caffeine supplies through Richard back when they still had the bigger and easier-to-open packages. I only never kept a record because I didn’t have as strong an opinion about the earlier standard roasts and blends I tried.

Panama Ironman Geisha
Farm Auromar Estate Campos Coffee: Ironman Geisha
Farmer Roberto Brenes
Region Candela, Volcan
Altitude 1600m
Varietal Geisha
Processing Natural Sundried

What do I think about this coffee? Well, let me share this conversation we had while we were having our caffeine dose this morning:

Me: I know what the taste reminds me of now.
Richard: What is it?
Me: Black bean sauce.
Richard: … Now I can’t untaste it.

I’m clearly not a coffee connoisseur. tongue

I needed a laptop for my upcoming overseas trip at the end of this month but my funds were very tight, so I was thrilled when I saw the huge list of manufacturer refurbished laptops on sale at oo.com.au at the end of the financial year. After a lot of research, I found the laptop I wanted within my budget and everything indicated that oo.com.au was a trustworthy seller. I put in my order on 24 June 2014 and eagerly waited for my laptop to arrive, which it did on 26 June 2014.

The laptop looked perfect on the outside but the performance was sluggish. The machine was meant to come with 2gb RAM soldered on the motherboard plus a 4gb stick, but a quick look in System Properties revealed that there’s only 2gb onboard. Being a computer geek, I wasn’t afraid to open the case to check if the RAM was just not sitting properly in the slot, which would be a problem I could easily fix myself.

Empty Ram Slot

Inside the U840W from oo.com.au: a clearly empty RAM slot

Nope. The RAM slot was empty. I quickly fired up a support email to oo.com.au about the issue of the missing 4gb RAM stick, expecting them to rectify the situation efficiently. I received this response the next morning.

Hello Vickie,

Thankyou for your email.

The two gigabyte’s of memory are allocated to your graphics card, you should have four gigabytes of ram memory.

could you kindly right click on your “my computer” icon and select properties from the dropdown menu.

This will show the hardware installed on your computer as well as some other details.

Can you please take a screen shot of this information and email the screenshot to me.

To take a screenshot you click the “printscreen” button on your keyboard, then go to Microsoft paint and press “control and the letter V” on your keyboard to paste the screenshot into Microsoft paint.

You then need to save the file and attach it to an email back to us here.

If you cannot reply to this email, then email me at [redacted]

If you cannot do this we can have it returned back to us but there is a big chance that if we find that the laptop has been sent to you with the correct hardware that we will send it back as is, because this is more an issue of understanding what you are looking at.

Regards

Quickly followed by:

Hello Again Vickie,

This guide I found online may help with taking a screenshot if you are not sure.

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/9717-screenshot-paint.html

Regards

My face flushed up from the perceived condescending tone and insult when I read the emails; but of course the staff wouldn’t have a clue that I write codes and build rigs in my free time. I took a deep breath and sent the screenshot as requested. An item return authorisation was shortly arranged, and my laptop was gone on 7 July 2014 (delay on my part) with a receipt confirmation on 10 July 2014. I expected the laptop to be replaced. 4 hours after the confirmation email, however, I received another email informing me of a refund sans shipping fees being processed. I wrote politely to support again about the situation including reference numbers, apologising that perhaps I didn’t state explicitly that I wanted the item replaced, not refunded.

Another staff responded the next morning:

Good morning Vickie,

Thank you for your email.

The reason that you were refunded is that as we are not a computer company and are simply re-sellers for this item we are unable to add parts to the laptops.

I have also requested that our Buyers confirm if this has 2, 4 or 6 GB of RAM which is free to use.

There is the possibility that the RAM is 6GB but the only available space is 4GB due to a graphics card being used and possibly other items using the RAM as well.

As such [first staff] determined that as we cannot add to the RAM on the laptop and have still to have the information about this confirmed a refund for you would have been the most viable option.

Kind regards,

No to the 2/4/6gb RAM comment, but fair enough about not being able to just plug in the missing RAM stick themselves. I revealed that I am in fact very computer hardware literate and what they suggested was probably incorrect, and that I would appreciate it if they could please replace the item.

Good afternoon Vickie,

We originally refunded you as we can not confirm what the 6GB is allocated to.

Our buyers have advised that the empty RAM slot is to allow for a further expansion of the memory and not for a card which is missing.

As such the 6GB of RAM may only have 2 GB free 2GB allocated to the graphics card and another 2 specifically dedicated.

If you still wish to have this replaced instead of the refund we are more than happy to accommodate you, however please be advised that the RAM slot is supposed to be empty on arrival to you.

Kind regards,

Your buyers were wrong. Very wrong. I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall, and then thought perhaps the manufacturer’s tech support’s words would carry more weight. The next day, I forwarded that email correspondence to oo.com.au and, once again, requested the item replacement at no extra cost than what I originally paid for.

Good afternoon Vickie,

Thanks for forwarding this on to us.

Just to confirm you did advise the Toshiba tech support that this is a refurbished item correct?

Kind regards,

Facepalm. But before I could respond, I received this 10 minutes after:

Good afternoon,

I have confirmed with our buyer that this should have the 2GB on board and the 4GB as a card in the RAM slot.

As such I am more than happy to send this out to you at the original cost that you paid for it.

If you have the same problem again and discover the RAM slot is empty, perhaps contact Toshiba as the laptop will be under warranty and as such they are responsible for placing the RAM into the laptop prior to them sending them to us as we are simply re-sellers and cannot do the work ourselves.

Kind regards,

I finally received my laptop on 17 July 2014, this time with all 6gb of RAM, but the sides of the screen had light but noticeable scratches all over. I sighed and convinced myself that the cosmetic damage would probably happen over time regardless… which is actually quite unlikely.

If I hadn’t been a geek, I would have used this laptop thinking it was a slow piece of junk without knowing that it had a defect. The customer service staff might be right that I could have gone to the manufacturer if there’s a missing part in a refurbished item that came in a sealed box, but I expected a reseller to be so, so much better.

You get what you paid for, I guess.