How To Plan An Overseas Trip For The Whole Extended Family

The short answer to this is I plan it first for myself, then I add little bits and pieces of itinerary to cater to the diverse interest groups.

There are, however, some pre-conditions that need to be met:

1. Stick to a budget that everyone (I am) is comfortable with. That means most of our trips will be centred on Southeast Asia (which I personally like), with short-haul flights (yes!).

2. The holidays are for the kids. There is a common understanding within the family that when the kids enjoy, the adults will too, and we can trust ourselves to entertain ourselves.

3. The trips are more about spending quality time together, and about character-building. We try to cut out the frills and luxuries (we allow ourselves to cheat a little once in a while). In my opinion, what better way to achieve that than to rough it out in the jungles or mountains.

Actually, I added number 3 myself. However, since I have always been the organiser, I think I have every right to pursue my own agenda. The reason why I have been the organiser had its roots in me being a former Malaysian citizen. Our first overseas trip was a road trip to the organic rice farm in Kahang, Johor. Since I was born in JB, the responsibility of putting together this trip just fell on my shoulders. I think the successful reception of the maiden trip bolstered the family members' confidence in me. And hence the birth of the Wong's Travel Agency.

Pony-riding on Mount Bromo: one of the most unforgettable experiences for the kids. It was not riding around circles, but through undulating terrain and sometimes doing steep climbs.

Pony-riding on Mount Bromo: one of the most unforgettable experiences for the kids. It was not riding around circles, but through undulating terrain and sometimes doing steep climbs.

After adhering to the three pre-conditions, I would consider the specific needs of the various groups of people.....which basically, are the mothers. There is a common understanding within the fathers/brothers-in-law that when the wives enjoy, we will too, and we can entertain ourselves.

My wife has five elder sisters and a sister-in-law who is a regular on the tour circuit. They grew up in kampungs and anywhere or any activities that can bring back fond memories of those days will win them over. To sell them a suspiciously "hardship trip", all I needed to do was to include some appealing key phrases like : fruit farm, vegetables and fruit market, shopping for produce etc.

By adopting this strategy, we managed to experience the majestic beauty of Mount Bromo, the cool air of Batu and the unbeatable fun at Batu Secret Zoo; visited more volcanoes and hot springs and tea plantation in Bandung; took one of the last few KTM train journeys to a town in Pahang and spent Christmas morning munching away in a market in Temerloh; and observe semi-wild orang-utans up close in Leuser National park, and river-tubing in Bukit Lawang; and of course the most recent trip to Khao Yai in Thailand.

All these sound fun, but not many people know that it is actually a very stressful and thankless job to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of a "village". It was a first time for me too to all those places, and God knows if reality tallied with the research done online and in books. I had to live and die by the decisions and choices I made.

For example, the bungalows I booked for Bukit Lawang trip received very good reviews. I did not pay much attention to the few comments by travelers on the steep climb up the hill to reach them. How bad can it be, I thought. Boy was it bad for the aunties when they wanted to give up and change bungalows half way up the hill. A ten-km trek through Khao Yai National Park to spot wildlife? We had to call our drivers to help pick us up at the halfway mark.

These are part and parcel of adventure travel, even though they did not really sign up for an adventure package. However, these were also the stories that kept being repeated at dinner tables, (painful) memories that reminded the aunties about our mortality, even though I have received strict directives on what NOT to do on our next trip.

We enjoyed the chalet-type of atmosphere at the cottage in Batu, Indonesia.

We enjoyed the chalet-type of atmosphere at the cottage in Batu, Indonesia.

Visiting the volcano and having mud baths near Bandung.

Visiting the volcano and having mud baths near Bandung.

Enduring the tough road conditions from Medan to Bukit Lawang. The van we were in was not of the highest specs, with weak air-conditioning and thinly-cushioned seats. The driver was friendly though.

Enduring the tough road conditions from Medan to Bukit Lawang. The van we were in was not of the highest specs, with weak air-conditioning and thinly-cushioned seats. The driver was friendly though.

Crossing the unexpectedly long suspension bridge over a river in Bukit Wayang....I mean Lawang.

Crossing the unexpectedly long suspension bridge over a river in Bukit Wayang....I mean Lawang.

Next time I will spare a thought for senior citizens when planning the trips. This was the climb up a steep hill to our lovely bungalows in Bukit Lawang.

Next time I will spare a thought for senior citizens when planning the trips. This was the climb up a steep hill to our lovely bungalows in Bukit Lawang.

Some of the most enjoyable times for the kids are times when they have free play.

Some of the most enjoyable times for the kids are times when they have free play.

Or soaking in cold jungle rivers.

Or soaking in cold jungle rivers.

The guides prepared nasi and fruit picnic on the trek.

The guides prepared nasi and fruit picnic on the trek.

Tubing down the river after the trek. 

Tubing down the river after the trek. 

Curry puff hairstyle vs candy floss hairstyle.

Curry puff hairstyle vs candy floss hairstyle.

Eating fresh durians inside the durian plantation.

Eating fresh durians inside the durian plantation.

We are off to pick some durians!

We are off to pick some durians!


I am glad my children are blessed with a lovely extended family, and having the chance to grow up with so many cousins. Until the day the family decided to swap agency, I will continue to plan these trips, regardless if they make a profit or not, so that I can continue to gift them such memories. 

Fatherhood #1

A while ago, in conjunction with Father's Day, I had a special promotion package that caters to fathers. In our Asian society, fathers are traditionally the breadwinners and due to work, they do not spend enough time with their children. I just wanted to create an occasion for fathers and child(ren) to spend some quality time together for this photo shoot. I must say I enjoyed it very much myself.


The Big Hatter

Young, successive and productive: that's pretty much what came across my mind when I got to know Yinglan for his family shoot. A man who wears many hats (venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, writer and businessman), his impressive CV makes for long reading, but what impresses me most is his dedication to his family. He might be a jetsetter, has all the right connections in the high places, and a speaker on the global stage, but that day, at a neighbourhood park in Ang Mo Kio, he's just a loving a husband and a doting father.


The Goh Family

This is really one of the rare opportunities when everyone is in Singapore and spending some time together as a family because Evelyn and Jochen live in Australia. I am extremely glad we had this family portrait session, not only because of its preciousness, but also because it served as a sequel to their wedding which seemed to happen only not too long ago.


Laura's First Month Party

Thanks to my friend Winson Ho , I got to document his latest and youngest niece, Laura's first month party, held at SAFRA Toa Payoh. Her parents, Lincoln and Josephine, already have a 12-year-old daughter, so the near decade-long wait for a second child must have been exhilarating for them. In my mind, to dust off the stroller, re-assemble the cot, and unpack the old baby clothes must have brought back very fond memories of the times when they had the first born. However, not many are as cheapskate as I am. Baby Laura should be receiving better and newer stuff. And having me as her first photographer is a good start. (kekeke...)


If Eyes Can Kill

This is one serious kid whom you do not want to mess with. Give him a role and he would assume it with his life. Captain America, Jedi Knight or a Kungfu fighter. He would fight you till the end. #veryseriouswithplay #playseriously


Daddy, Mummy And Baby Khoo

And then there were three. No, I am not referring to KJ and Sylvia's new love, Ethan. I am talking about a hat-trick of photography services-----from their pre-wedding, to wedding day and now their family portrait. I had very little idea when i got into wedding photography that our vendor-client relationship could last so many years. I find this the most meaningful part of my job, and knowing that some pictures I have taken of them would be hanging on the wall somewhere or placed on a table in their rooms makes it just a tad more rewarding.

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The Song Of Joyice And Joyrain

Zuo Wei and Jia Jia are two of the most patient parents I have met. And we met many years ago when I first shot Jia Jia's sister's wedding, then her own wedding ceremony, and then her brother's wedding ceremony. In between I also took photos of their beloved family dog before he passed on, and took pictures of her firstborn as well as second-born----Joyice and Joyrain respectively.

The parents have their own sense of humour which they sprinkle on their kids regularly; there is constant communication within the family, and any spare time is spent with the girls. The result? Two very well-adjusted, eloquent, cheeky and bright kids. I wish more families can be like this.


There Is A Little History Here

Dr Jaime Koh (in spectacles) was an ex-colleague at Today newspaper. Both she and her partner Dr Stephanie Ho now run The History Workroom,  a research and editorial consultancy specialising in Singapore history and heritage. One fine day, they brought their adopted mongrel Benny to the studio for a family photo shoot. The handsome young dog was a bundle of joy and energy, but nonetheless, a gem to make photographs of.


The Tongue-twister Couple

I have always remembered them as the "tongue-twister" couple back when I shot their wedding, because I would always have to refer to them as Gerald and Sheryl. Another thing I remember fondly was I never failed to capture interesting expressions on their faces because they were always smiling and laughing throughout their wedding day. Obviously, this trait of theirs have passed down to their two girls, with dramatic effect. :)

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

Approaching Thirty......

No, we are way past 30 years of age.

It's amazing how photography can connect people. Maybe we need a reason, a spark, a push, and fortunately, photography provides all those. Wee Toon and I knew each other since we were in secondary one. He was already a macho guy back then, with a loud booming voice (he plays the tuba in the school band), which came in handy after he entered the education service. We met each other on and off over the years when our kids attended the same music school. It was very nice of him to visit the studio to have a family portrait taken.

After several years heading the Gifted Education Department in Raffles Girls School, he brought his unique way of teaching Mathematics to students outside the elite schools by starting Math Mavens. One thing I really like about his philosophy is the small-group based system, which he puts emphasis on individual students' progress rather than lining his own pocket. I knew because he politely declined to admit my wife's niece into his math support centre because the class was full, and also it was midway into the final term already. However, he was very kind to offer free advice to my sister-in-law when she encountered certain challenges.

Please go check it out fast if you don't want to be "locked out of the door". :)


All About Today

Today's post is about.....Today. Ariel , mum of the two boys;   Lawrence and Meifang, parents of the two girls; Phei Phei, mother of son and daughter ----- are  all ex-colleagues from Today newspaper. Ariel, whose husband Chris is working in Business Times, was a sub-editor when I worked as a photojournalist. Phei Phei was a reporter while Lawrence was and still is in IT and Meifang was a photo technician. Meifang was eager to learn photography, and we were happy to share our knowledge with her. Before long, she was shooting assignments on top of her usual duties, and more rewardingly, she and our IT colleague became an item.  Those were good days because back then Today was a start-up which nobody really gave a chance when we were fighting the Goliath Singapore Press Holdings. We had a well-respected boss in P.N. Balji, but at the junior level, most of us were either rookies or fresh graduates. Wide-eyed, wet behind our ears, but most importantly, FEARLESS.

 I am very happy to document some precious moments of their families. It is an honour to have them visit The Family Man studio. Sometimes, just once or twice, I wonder what it would be like if I stayed on with Today? Would it have been a better tomorrow? *chuckle*


Kiara's First Birthday Party

Remember Aarav's birthday party post? Well, Vihari got my name from Aarav's mummy not long after that birthday party, and there I was documenting another milestone of yet another adorable toddler. Kiara was dressed elegantly in a simple white dress but received royal treatment from whoever was present. The good-natured girl was friendly and smiley throughout (even towards me), and I wish the little princess good health! 


Of Books And Kids

I am blessed to have two children who are book lovers. You cannot imagine how their reading habit has made my wife's and my lives so much easier. At home, we do not have to constantly (and involuntarily) devote our time and attention to them. On travels, we do not worry about impatient or listless children throwing fits. Just given them a book each and the parents can rest easy, take naps or even go out and drink coffee (yay!). That's how I can enjoy daily a few hours' peace and quiet while doing my work.

Our weekend (and often times weekday) outings mostly involve trips to various libraries in Singapore. Near, far, big, small. We discovered libraries are not all the same. Some stock more of their favourite authors, and some have a bigger comics collection. Other than going outdoors for some activities under the sun, visiting libraries is my favourite family activity. It is free, it comes with the comfort of air-conditioned rooms, and nothing beats the sight of my kids' eyes glued on books and getting lost in the sea of mystery, horror, magic, adventure, love and fantasy. At the same time, I follow the simple logic that if I want my kids to cultivate the good habit of reading, I should surround them with books.

It is also my conscious decision NOT to take the kids to the malls because with malls come merchandise and consumerism, then the clamour to buy this and that, then followed by tantrums and tears. This is something I can happily do without.

We do not have a TV set in the living room. There is a small one in my parents' bedroom, which the kids have limited access to. When there is no TV in the common area, there won't be the tendency to switch it on when we are at home. We do not own any ipads or tablets, except for a Kindle, and no handphones for them either.  Naturally, the kids turn to books, board games, chess, card games, doodle, Science experiment kit, handicrafts, Lego and just about any objects they can find and extract interest from (e.g. discarded cardboard boxes, plastic bottles etc.). Maybe because my wife and I are rather lazy parents----in the sense we don't plan which exciting places to go on weekends -----I choose to be a "firm believer" in boredom being the mother of creativity. Read this to show that I am not making this one up. That is why I find it amazing that many parents, especially those parent-bloggers, can amass so much energy to take the kids all over Singapore to have a taste of everything on offer. Will the kids remember all these experiences when they have become their staple weekly diet? This reminded me of a Father's Day note my son wrote to me. He said he loves the time we spent playing badminton at home. It was not ice-skating, or Legoland. It is the simplest form of activity that can be repeated which left a mark on my son. To me, it is a revelation. It is always the little things that matter.


Sum Of All Parts

Family portraits or photos need not always depict the family members huddled together. Depending on how you may want to display those pictures, we can capture portraits of individuals and then assemble them in a collage on display. You can arrange them in a row or column, or two by two (as shown below). It is elegant, classy and looks artistic when framed on the wall. The sum of the individual parts can be much greater than the whole.


I would like to thank Daniel and Lydia for being one of my best clients through the years. They were the ones who engaged me as their pre-wedding and wedding photographer after a short meeting at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch, and also hosted me in Shanghai when they were based there. Daniel also provided much fodder for sarcasm with his misplaced loyalty with Manchester United. And I love their kids, Julien and Madison, to bits.

The Singapore Dae Jang Kum

My one and only Chinese physician bride-client so far, I was happy to reconnect with them again after several years. They have a pair of beautiful and gentle fraternal twins. They were so cute and spontaneous: at the end of the session, they just sang and danced on the spot, performing their parts in the just-concluded school play. I only hope I can break out into a song and dance too in front of strangers that easily. That is how we shorten distances between people.

Well, if you need TCM consultation, you may check out . It's a mother-daughter team.


Coming 2020

Cold War 2 is an upcoming Hong Kong-Chinese crime thriller film written and directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk. The film is a sequel to the 2012 box office hit, Cold War, and stars returning cast members Aaron KwokTony LeungCharlie YoungEddie PengAarif RahmanMa Yili and Alex Tsui, joined by new cast members Chow Yun-fatJanice ManTony Yang and Bibi ZhouCold War 2 is set for release on 8 July 2016 in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D.

Cold War 3 talks about what happens four years after the events in 2016, when the kids pick up where their parents left off. Directed by KC Wong, aka The Family Man.