28 January 2017


We love our iPhones and use them for everything.  We take them everywhere and take photographs of everything, whether they move or not.  Some of us even record movies with our phones.  Unfortunately, shit happens and sometimes the beloved phone is lost and there goes everything with it.

I've tried a few different methods to backup my iPhone and was unhappy with them.  In no particular order, they were Apple iTunes, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Mophie Space Pack.

Apple iTunes costs nothing to use, mostly.  Some people may have only a smartphone as their only communication device, but most people also own a computer.  They would then need to download iTunes, hook the iPhone to the computer and everything just gets backed up to the computer.  Technically speaking I can go back to this method now, since these days I have regular access to my MacBook Pro.  Until a few months ago, my son hogged the computer most of the time and I didn't use it that much.  Logging onto the computer, connect the cable, wait for the backup to occur, etc seems like too much hassle.

Google Drive worked fine for a while but before I know it, 5 GB was almost gone.  The trouble with Google Drive is it holds not just photos you uploaded but also your Gmail stuff etc from other apps in the Google universe.  Sure I can buy more space but I hate the whole idea of renting if I can help it.  Again, I probably should re-visit Google Drive, that is, get the app and set it to sync my phone's content automatically and regularly when WiFi signal is found.  I recently ran some tool on Google Drive to convert photos to other format and free up a ton of space.

I have no space issue with Microsoft OneDrive.  15 GB is plenty for my photos and the few videos I occasionally take.  However, I cannot recommend OneDrive because new users only get 5 GB.  I almost missed the opt-in to retain the 15 GB.  5 GB nowadays is not too much.

Lastly, a big disappointment, is Mophie Space Pack.  A rugged phone case, 32 GB of space to store, and a batter pack, what is there not to love?  The case works great as long as you don't drop the phone face down, which ultimately happened to me.  The battery pack, perhaps like all batteries, dies slowly over time.  To get to the 32 GB of space, you have to go through a free app provided by Mophie.  It wouldn't be so bad if it actually works.  For me, it rarely did.  In the end, perhaps through some Apple updates, whatever I managed to put into the 32 GB somehow just disappeared.  By then I was too tired of the Mophie to bother troubleshooting it.

Finally, I think I have the solution in the Hootoo Flash Drive with Extended Lightning Connector, aka PlugMate.  The particular model I have is the HT-IM003, with 64 GB of space and made of aluminum alloy.  Like the Mophie Space Pack, to get to that big, empty space you need an app, in this case, iPlugmate.  Unlike the Mophie app, iPlugmate actually works, all the time!  Plug it in, iPlugmate asks for permission, and if you already configured the app to automatically backup photos and videos, that's what it will do.  You can also backup the address book.  It would be nice if settings for other apps can also be backed up, but just photos and videos is fine for me for now.  I manually backed up all my music files just now.

For peace of mind, this is all you need to do with the PlugMate.

Select the Setting symbol in the upper right (the gear).

Select Backup

Touch the toggle by Auto Backup to make it green.

That's all there is.  Now at least once a day, connect the Hootoo Plugmate to the iPhone and you'll be rewarded with a message so many photos were backed up.  You would be told if any files failed during backup, it hasn't happened to me yet, but your mileage may vary.

13 January 2017


Not long after landing in JFK, my family moved into our own apartment, way up in the Bronx, nearest subway station being the Fordham Road station on the #4 line. My father got a dishwashing job, I think at Club 21, while my eldest sister went to work and also attended school. All my working life I learned a few things on my own but they were just an extra hour here and there after work or on the weekend, never anything formal. It was really difficult to go to work full-time then go to school afterward. Good job there, sis!
Us kids had it somewhat easier just to concentrate on school. Some days after moving to the Bronx, one day my mother, my other sister, and I set out to find the school where we were supposed to register for. It was John Peter Tetard JHS, although I only know that years later when I return to the area after moving to Queens. In the movies, most of the time when someone asks for direction, it works like a charm. Not for the three of us on that day. Perhaps it was because of our broken English, we got pointed that direction then some other way. We went downhill at some point then made a right only to climb up a series of steps, like that shown below. The view in the photo is from just outside the school looking down. For the next few days or weeks that was how we got to school. Go downhill, make a right, then climb up the steps. We were just so unsure of what was where we stuck to that one routine.
At some point we learned we could ride a city bus to school. The school gave us some discount pass but we thought it was completely free. We would just show the pass and went to find a seat. I think because there were not that many immigrants back then, people’s tolerance of our ignorance was higher. We got free rides for a few weeks before one bus driver somehow explained that we had to pay a nickel for the ride. Or maybe it was a quarter. Eventually, we discovered that school was not really that far away. We ended up walking to and from school using the shortest route, which did not involve any hill repeats.

10 January 2017


Just like that, 37 years went by. It was a cold night in New York City, just like tonight. Maybe colder since my family just came from tropical Singapore. Sure, we had a stop-over in Belgium but we stayed inside the airport the whole time so we didn’t know what the outside temperature was. An uncle on my mother side, a first cousin of hers on her father’s side, was the sponsor. He met us at JFK Airport with winter jackets for all of us. Uncle lived near the intersection of Neptune Avenue and Brighton First Street in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. We were to stay with him for a short period of time so technically our first home in the U.S. was in Brooklyn. Uncle probably drove us home along the Belt Parkway West but I don’t remember anything from the car ride. Except that I threw up at the end of the trip. Unlike other family members, I don’t easily experience motion sickness, whether on airplane or on boat, but for some reason the car trip from JFK did it.
We stayed with Uncle perhaps for a week before the refugee agency found us an apartment in the Fordham Road section of the Bronx. Again I have few fragments of memory of the stay. I do recall being introduced to cheese pizza and most likely Sprite or 7-Up. It was sweet, bubbly, and white, that much I’m sure. I also remember being a bad guest by taking too long a bath. It was the first time I bathed in a tub, the tub filled with water and bubbles, and there was my younger cousin’s toy aircraft carrier, perhaps other toys too. So I got carried away. Auntie had to gently knock on the door to tell me to finish up.
We arrived on a Thursday so perhaps on Monday someone, perhaps Uncle and his son, accompanied me to some school perhaps to register. Maybe the plan at the time was for us to stay there a few months so Uncle thought I should be enrolled in school. I took one year of English before leaving Viet Nam but had no actual experience of using the language. Maybe my Uncle walked his son to school and thought it would be nice for me to come along to see the school. I am sure I went to some school shortly after arriving in the U.S. but for what reason I am not sure now.
I vaguely recall my late father saying that he made sure Uncle understood that he would like us to have our own place. That he didn’t want to burden Uncle any more than necessary. Of course it all depended on how quick the refugee agency can find us a place. Perhaps the refugee agency already prepared things ahead, or it was 1980 and apartments were plentiful in the Bronx, we had our own place shortly. Maybe by then the effect of jet lag wore off or I already gotten used to the new environment, I do have more clearer memories of the place. We did stay there for almost half a year. Next time, I’ll try to dig up some memories from that time.

07 January 2017


Around January 7, 1980, I made the following preparation for my plane trip to America from Singapore:
  • made sure I brought along a pair of running shoe, as I love exploring the new area on foot
  • Googled local running clubs, maybe I’ll have time to join them for a run
  • also Googled local races, also a great way to see the new neighborhood
  • charged my cell phone and laptop, brought all chargers and extra batteries
Huh? Yeah, other than the fact that yes around that time I did take a plane trip from Singapore to the U.S., indirectly, none of those so-called preparation happened. Not because the technology etc was not yet available, but because I was a mere teen who literally came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on his body. Plus a pair of sneakers unworthy of New York City winter. OK, maybe I did have a few other sets of clothes, perhaps some life essentials like toothbrush, but none of these other creature comfort things.
After a few months spent on different islands in Indonesia, we spent two (?) weeks in Singapore to catch a plane to the U.S. The “home” we stayed at was just a shaded parking spot. Wide open on four sides, perhaps with a tarp and some sheets as “floor”, all our meager possession in one neat pile. By the time we arrived, the nearby buildings were allocated to other refugees so our group had to stay on the outside. I suppose we used the lavatory inside the buildings but I cannot recall how we prepared food. We probably just ate right there in the little spot.
It’s been almost 37 years so I cannot remember much but two events are still clear in my mind. In the first event, I recall going to my father’s workplace, a construction site, the new airport, I think, to let him know we had a visitor. Back in Viet Nam, we had a neighbor who had a relative living in Singapore. Somehow we notified the relative about our arrival in Singapore so she came to visit, with her husband, bringing much needed supplies. I don’t remember if someone asked me to go notify my father but off I went. I think I even ran. It started to rain, not heavily, but just enough to make it uncomfortable, poorer vision and being wet. Somehow I asked a man on motorcycle for help in locating my father and he gave me a ride. I don’t know how I expressed myself, I know I knew some Cantonese back then, but isn’t Mandarin the main language in Singapore? Maybe I was lucky to bump into a Cantonese-speaking person who happened to know my father, because he did bring me to my father. Of course my father was working and couldn’t just leave. I still remember he told me later to be careful not to get my toes caught in the motorcycle’s spokes. Singapore is a warm-climate country and we wore flip-flop everywhere, open toes and all.
The other memory is a just a hand away. While I don’t recall what I did in Singapore for two weeks, I know I played a lot of chess. Chinese chess, that is, with the elephants, the guards, the kings who cannot face each other directly, etc. The chessboard may have been a real one, printed on foldable plastic sheet, or handmade on cardboard. The pieces were somehow bought, usually made out of plastic or wood. (Some other time I’ll tell you about how I participated in making pieces for a set of Chinese chess.) Whatever flimsy cardboard box that came with the chess set usually break down over time so we usually keep the pieces in tin cans, re-purposed after we finished with our rationed food. One day during a game of chess I had my hand on the can, fingers inside the ragged, metal edge, while my opponent had his hand around the can. I think we jokingly fought over the can, for whatever reason, and he yanked it hard. The index finger on my left hand was cut and blood splashed. I bled a lot and I still remember one of the adults say I should eat more vegetable so that my blood wouldn’t flow so easily. Maybe I was bandaged or maybe the blood clotted after a while, but I still have the white scar to look at years later. I also know that my chess opponent was a nice kid, someone I got along well, so it was just a silly accident.