A Slightly Different View


Moving on from the Philippines I have a few days of meetings in Hanoi to attend to. The hotel (Melia) is a nice older hotel with good facilities. Best of all was that they checked me into a room on the 22nd floor so this was the view from my window this morning.

I have not been to Hanoi for about 10 years but I have noticed a lot of change – there are more cars and less bikes, for example, on the roads. The old French colonial architectural styles have been kept in many places and there are a thousand places to eat on each block.

We settled in last night to beer at four bars followed by a late supper – all within one block of the hotel.

Last night’s Hanoi induced sleep was the best I have had in the past month.

Commonwealth Bank – Overseas Transaction Fees

I travel. I have travelled recently to Singapore and the Philippines a couple of times. I have used ATMs against my debit card to draw cash whilst overseas. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has finally managed to bamboozle me on the fees until I sat down and worked it all out.

The first thing I should say is that I spent about an hour on the CBA website (http://www.commbank.com.au/) looking to find out how these fees are calculated. Unsuccessful. So, firstly, a summary of the transactions:

Location Date Bank Foreign Currency Aussie Dollar Equivalent Fee Charged % Charge
Singapore 11 Oct 2010 DBS Bank SGD 200 163.69 5.00 3.05%
Singapore 18 Oct 2010 ANZ Singapore SGD 100 78.03 7.34 9.41%
Singapore 25 Oct 2010 HSBC Changi SGD 200 157.67 9.73 6.17%
Singapore 1 Nov 2010 OCBC Singapore SGD 100 79.18 7.38 9.32%
Manila 13 Oct 2010 BDO PHP 8200 191.94 10.76 5.61%

I’ll admit it, I am was perplexed at this point. There does not seem to be any consistency in the charges – well, except for the ANZ and OCBC charges in Singapore. As they were so similar, there needed to be some type of consistency. The CBA is, after all, a bank and does not do inconsistency well.

I decided to make a guess and assume (yes, I know, always a risky business) that the charge is a combination of a fixed and floating percentage. So, if I guess a little and say the charge is AU $5.00 per transaction plus 3% of the transaction amount in Aussie dollars then that gives me the following:

  • ANZ – $78.08 – fee calculation is therefore $5+(78.03×3%) = $7.34
  • OCBC – $79.18 – fee calculation is therefore $5+(79.18×3%) = $7.38

So far so good. Now let’s apply this calculation to the rest of the table:

Location Date Bank Aussie Dollar Equivalent Fee Charged Fee Calculated Difference
Singapore 11 Oct 2010 DBS Bank 163.69 5.00 9.91 -4.91
Singapore 18 Oct 2010 ANZ Singapore 78.03 7.34 7.34 0
Singapore 25 Oct 2010 HSBC Changi 157.67 9.73 9.73 0
Singapore 1 Nov 2010 OCBC Singapore 79.18 7.38 7.38 0
Manila 13 Oct 2010 BDO 191.94 10.76 10.76 0

Looking  better and now somewhat understandable. However, the DBS Bank at the top of the table still had me flummoxed. It seems as though the bank had forgotten to charge the 3% variable part of the fee. Forgotten? I don’t think so. Perhaps it was an arrangement between the two banks and therefore I should look for DBS ATMs in future? Or perhaps all is not what it seems!

I remembered that for that withdrawal one of the options at the DBS ATM was to do the transaction conversion from Singapore dollars to Aussie dollars at the ATM itself and I had said yes. In that case, it must be that the foreign transaction fee charged is just a flat $5.00.

So, is the bank getting at me? Yep. sure is. On 18 October, the mid rates between Aussie and Sing Dollars were around 0.795. On 11 October they were around 0.775. The rate for conversion on those two dates was, respectively, .07803 and 0.81845. This means that there was a foreign exchange premium added to that 11 October 2010 transaction. Effectively, it meant that the total fee I was paying by doing the exchange conversion on the back of the transaction was $11.69 ($6.69 on exchange rate premium plus the $5.00 fee).

Of course, had I let this process normally, and not taken advantage of the exchange conversion at the time of the transaction, then I would have paid a fee of only $9.68, effectively saving myself $2.28.

Well, now I understand the way these fees work and I suspect you do to. Moral of the story – when the bank offers you a nice service that looks like it will save you money it will likely cost you more – it’s just that you will not be easily able to see where the costs occur. Next trip I think I will take cash out in Australia and convert that to foreign cash the old fashioned way at the bureau de change in the country of arrival – let’s see how that goes.

Robin Hood and Long Flights

It’s more and less. I watched Robin Hood, the one with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. In my defence, it was on the way back from Singapore and watch movies is the new black on aircraft – so many of them to watch.

I must admit, it was an interesting flight in and of itself. Before boarding I had the usual pre-flight cheeseburger and beer (just in case my selection is not available on the flight). I was looking at some of the other patrons at the bar and wondering which ones I would see in the flight. The two odd couples struck me as odd and sure enough, I ran into them on the flight. Well, not so much ran into them but they were seated a few rows ahead of me. It was a couple (late 40s I guess) and one set of their parents (early 70s perhaps).

Anyway, I boarded the flight and the first bizarreness occurred. I should note here that the flight was on the Airbus A-380 – the big mofo of a plane. So, the older couple called over a flight attendant to complain about the seat the woman was sitting in. Apparently it was uncomfortable as it was pushing her head forward. They complained and complained and the poor flight crew tried to explain that there was nothing wrong with the seat. They tried her husband’s seat then back to hers. The couple would not have a bar of it, even the explanation that there were like 400 other seats all the same. The flight crew even offered to try and have them moved but they would not. They wanted her seat fixed. Husband did not offer to change seats I might add. Flight crew gave up.

We disconnected from the sky bridge and taxied out.

We got to the taxi way, about half way to the end of the runway and then stopped.

There was an announcement, “we have a medical emergency, is there a doctor on board?”

As it turned out there were four doctors and a couple of medical college students. They looked at the patient then tried to decide whether she was fit enough to fly to Australia. She wasn’t so we after an hour we returned to a vacant parking spot and they took her off and found and unloaded her bags. We waited another hour there as the first aid kit needed to be replaced along with an oxygen bottle.

Whilst we were waiting there, we watch the plane next to us have a tyre changed – not so different to changing the tyre your car.

Anyway, we got into the air. I must admit, I was ready to not like the movie but, even allowing for Crowe’s Irish rather than old English accent, it wasn’t bad. I could also forgive the anachronisms and the oddities.

Seems Robin Hood was unsuccessful in having King John sign Magna Carta.

Then there was the scene where on the beach he pulled a bow out of the ocean and shot the bad guy with a great lob to the back court. Meanwhile Marion is trading sword blows with the French on the beach.

Best of all was when the said French had decided to invade England they arrived in LCMs. Yep, LCMs – Landing Craft Medieval. These were rowed barges with a squarish shape that were rowed right up to the beach then the bow dropped open to allow the knights and men-at-arms in them to attack straight onto the beach.

OK, that was the bit that was a bit over the top. I must admit though, I did enjoy the movie however – not a top 10 movie but one I’d watch again.

The Adventure of Air Travel

Virgin Blue in Australia has had a wicked time of it recently with computer problems virtually strangling their network. Today I was caught up in their problems, being delayed so long at the airport that I became a hobbit and had two breakfasts.

One of the things I got to notice this trip though was how much of an adventure flying somewhere was to many purple. As an old seasoned traveller, I’m somewhat jaded by the whole flight business but looking around the airport there were many who found it still an adventure.

Old ladies walking around and wanting to look at all the shops, old couples looking for a place to sit and grab a coffee, young kids wanting an already frazzled mum to get them something to do on the flight though it was just a one hope flight and some young guys off to Bali worrying about whether they will make their connection in Melbourne and what will happen if they don’t.

I’ve travelled a lot over the years and in some ways it was refreshing to see the excitement of those to whom air travel is still an adventure.

Shelly Beach Nambucca Heads


One of my favourite beaches on the Aussie East Coast, especially for a swim, is Shelly Beach at Nambucca Heads. Actually, pretty much every council area on the coast in Australia has a Shelly Beach 😆

The beach is unpatrolled (there are no lifesavers there) but there are usually no rips, or at least not strong ones, and as long as you exercise the caution we were all taught when growing up in Australia you won’t have any problems. It is certainly not my favourite beach for waves but as you can see, there are other compensations. The photo was taken in the late summers so it is not like it was a winter photograph.

The beach is well worth having a look at if you are in the area.

Visiting Brisbane

Panorama 4

I’ve had to take some trips to Brisbane recently. I’ve been here a few times before visiting family but they all live outside the city. These last few times I have actually been in the city itself and it has grown a little since the last time I was here – that would have been when I was about 12.

Night-time the city looks quite spectacular as well. These shots were taken from the South Bank looking across the river to the city proper.

Panorama 3

Travel, History and Wargaming

I was walking around the city today, it was lunchtime after all, and pondering what the next wargaming period would be after I finish the WW2 Italians, the Napoleonics and the WW2 Russians that are all on my acquiring and/or painting queue at the moment. My thoughts started to drift to the Great Northern War (1700-1721), famous as much for the commanders (Karl XII of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russia) as for the struggle. It also occurred around the time of the War of Spanish Succession in Europe. The thinking went something along the lines of

… hmm, what to eat for lunch
must get some food tonight – do the shopping
need to paint some more Prussians
Napoleonics …Prussia, Confederation of the Rhine, Duchy of Warsaw, Saxony
oh, northern Europe, Denmark (NATO modern), Danish Napoleonic fleet [must paint them soon too]
… Sweden [maybe I should do Swedish Army for Polemos?]
… Sweden, Saxony, Poles, Denmark, hmm, Great Northern War
… maybe I should do the Norwegian forces of the Great Northern War.

Convoluted process but the result of all that was starting to think more about wargaming the Great Northern War. this is something I have thought about many times before. I have rules, books and some figures, in both 15mm and 6mm scales. But why was I thinking about building a Norwegian Army for this war, after all, at that stage Norway was part of Denmark and their troops really did not have a great involvement in the GNW, being only at best a small sideshow?

It occurred to me that the reason I thought of Norway (and Denmark) was that I had visited the “festning” Kristiansten and Munkholmen in Trondheim as well as the main fort in Copenhagen and these all date from around those times. Indeed, Trondheim was the site of a successful defence of Midt-Norge (Middle Norway) against the Swedes who sent a small force of 3000 men to invade that part of Norway. I travelled to these places, lived in Norway in Trondheim for three years (and I would happily live there again at the drop of a hat) and find that I have developed an interest in modelling their armies in wargame terms.

I then started to see a connection between history, travel and wargaming and noticed that there were a few armies I was particularly interested in modelling in wargame terms, such as the Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Mongols, Koreans from the time of the Three Kingdoms and Choson, Arabs (conquest or to about 1400), the English Civil War and South East Asia (Khmer and Thai in particular). Those are armies that have been inspired from what I have seen when travelling (Thomo doesn’t only sit at bars drinking beer when travelling, although truth be told, there is a lot of history in many bars as well). More though, they are the armies of the places I have spent a lot of time in rather than just visited for a week or two. The last strong motivators for me are books as well – and the Centurion series (Macro and Cato) are stimulating me to consider Roman and Briton armies.

So, now I know what motivates me. I live somewhere for a few years, have a look around, learn some of the history then later, when looking for inspiration for the next big thing wargames wise, I select a period or army and conflict related to one of the countries I have resided in.

Travel, History and Wargaming all becoming related for me. The exception? Ships.!Love ships!

Singapore Trip

P1182638 I had to take a business trip to Singapore recently. I can’t recall having written much about Singapore in the past although that could be because I have not had so many trips there over the past few years.

The trip started early and to make my flight I got to watch sunrise over the Charles Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney before boarding the flight and heading to Singapore. The one advantage of a flight so early was that I arrived in Singapore early enough to stumble around the city and find my way from the hotel I was staying at to the office. This I managed to do without maps, relying instead on the bush craft all Aussies have to find my way in a strange city. Oh, don’t believe it? OK, I know the office was about a ten minute walk away so I wandered down the river until I recognised a bridge and walked in from there. This gave me a chance to pass on the box of Tim Tams I had bought for the office staff to share. Memo to self, bring two boxes of Tim Tam’s next time.


The hotel I stayed at – the Park Hotel on Unity Street (they call it Clarke Quay but it is next to a hotel called the Robinson Quay hotel – and that hotel is between the Park Hotel and the River) is a reasonably new hotel. The food there was OK – nothing special. The service was generally quite good and the rooms whilst not large were comfortable and well tended.

Of course, being a new hotel, the rooms were built to look more spacious by having a glass wall between the bathroom and bedroom. This does, of course, open everything up and give you something to do in the morning when having a shower – watch the TV.

I do like these internal glass walls I must admit, except for one small matter. When one is contemplating the universe whilst seated in the throne room, this is the view. Of course, I figure if I can see the end of the pool, then the end of the pool can see me. Not a sight to consider when turning in the pool whilst doing your laps.


The plus side, however, was each morning taking a stroll along the river to the location of the daily training sessions. At this time of year, the wet season for this part of Asia, the morning temperatures are warm but not too hot so it is a good time for a stroll.

I had two days of training in Singapore, followed by a couple of days of meetings. I also managed to catch up with an old buddy or two (and consumed quite a few Tiger’s to boot). After Singapore I’m off to Bangkok for a few days R&R before returning to Oz. Whilst in Bangkok I’ll be looking at tigers of a different variety.

The other thing I did in Singapore was attend the company Dinner and Games Day. The Singapore office has this each year and it coincided with the trip to Singapore. The day was held on Sentosa, based around the Megazip. More on that later when I get the photos.

In the meantime, thanks to the folks in Singapore for their kindness, as well as the prizes at the party – I am sitting by the pool here reading one of those prizes  🙂

Thanks also to C&W for the iPod shuffle – it has been a great addition to my travelling kit and I must admit, it is my first Apple product … sigh … now I guess resistance is futile – soon it’ll be an iPhone then an iBook.

Thomo is Travelling

Yep, its been over a year since I travelled internationally but I’m off again. I have a business trip to Singapore next week. This will be followed by a few days sitting on a beach somewhere with those umbrella dressed drinks that arrive in the smooth end of a pineapple. I’m not sure of the beach yet but will post to the Hole when I get there.

I am also hopeful of getting some writing done whilst away.

In any case, normal transmissions will resume in about two weeks time.