Friday, December 31, 2010

Asia trip 2010

For an Asian Marketing Blogger, Asia trips are frequent. In June of 2010, I took my parents along for a business / pleasure trip to Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. Here are some highlight pictures:

At Computex Taipei

At Buddha Mountain Taiwan

At TenAnMon Beijing

At the Great Wall of China

At the River Bound Shanghai

At Shanghai Libao Cyber-Tech, one of the company I represented

and Finally, At Shanghai World Expo 2010

I got a lot of business done a long the way. However, it was extra special as it was the last trip I took with my mother, who past away in September 2010 due to brain cancer. I was able to take her to many places that she really likes one more time, and I am very grateful for it.

I'll have more Asia trips in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Upgrading the Audio System

(Note: in the sequence of events, this should have been posted in July 2010)
Many people like to listen to the engine and road noise when they drive. I don’t. That’s why I really like my BMW525i. It is agile, smooth, plenty of power, and quiet. The audio system in the Bimmer is first class, too. Nice clear and full audio with two subwoofers underneath the seats. The Esprit, in the other hand, has one of the worst audio systems for an “upper class” car. It has no bass, and the tinny sound from the 4 small speakers is usually covered up by the engine and the road noise. This is fine on short trips, but I want to drive it more. I need to update the audio system.

In order to have good sound quality when I turn it up loud to cover up the road and engine noise, I need an amp. I got an small Kenwood amp for the 4 smaller speaker set. The amp fits nicely between the back window and the steering fluid tank, can’t even see it if you do not know it is there. The big problem is the bass boxes. We all know there is not a lot of room in the cockpit of an Esprit. A big bass box will not fit anywhere. Luckily I found the perfect place for the bass boxes.

I am well under 6 feet and so do most of my friends and families. I have to move the driver’s seat up in order to reach and press the clutch fully when driving. Therefore, I have an about 3 inches behind the seats. I found a pair of Fusion 8” powered subwoofers that can fit behind the seats nicely. I decided to use two power subwoofers in series so I can get the effect of a bigger subwoofer. I have Fry’s installed them for me. They did a good job and it looks nice (see pictures below).

The last and the most important thing to upgrade is the head unit. Since the Esprit only have a single din space for the audio head unit and I wanted a GPS display with the unit, I got a unit with a 7” retractable screen. It has built in GPS, Blue tooth, CD/DVD/MP3/Video/iPod control, pretty much everything I wanted. I installed this myself. It look simple enough, until I found out the screen can’t not pop out fully due to the end of the Esprit S4’s instrument panel is sticking out. I solve this problem by sticking the unit out for a couple of inches. It looks kind of ugly, but it does the job. Now there is another problem. Since it is sticking out so much and there is not much room to start with, whenever I shift into first, third, or fifth gear, my hand will touch the unit’s control knobs. This means I will have to drive with the screen folded in most of the time and pop it out when I am cruising (not shifting much) or when I really need the GPS screen (shift carefully). It is inconvenient, but workable. I may upgrade it to a double din unit in the future to correct this problem. I will need a pro to do it as it is required to move the air flow controllers down.

All these work and money is really making a different. Now the audio system is almost up to par with the BMW. Clear sound and deep thumping bass. The engine and the road noise are still there, but I can cover most of them with great sound and music. It is a total joy to drive the Esprit now. I would not have it any less.

(Next post: Oh NO! First major problem – the Timing belt broke and the engine went with it.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My first driving impression of the Lotus Esprit S4

(Continue from last post: Why an Esprit now? published on July 15, 2010)

I don't have the car in my garage yet on May 24, 2010. The previous owner needs to get it smog checked before the transfer of title can take place so I paid, but left it with him for now. I did drive in it for a couple hours. This is the first time I drove a Lotus and my other car is a 2006 BMW 525i w/ sports package. Here is my initial impression on the car. 
I looked for a S4 because I want power steering, easier shifting, ABS brakes, more modern interior, and most importantly, the most reliability I can possibly get. So far so good and everything seem to be working in my car so far. It is much smaller than I thought; however, once I got in the car, everything is OK again. I actually have much more trouble getting out of the car as I have to move the seat all the way back to free my legs. The foot well is tight, but I can find a position to fit my feet fairly well inside and drive fairly comfortably. My biggest problem was actually the gear shifting. After driving automatics for 20 years after my "stick" college car, I almost forgot how to drive a stick again. I could not find a stick rental anywhere, so I have to refresh my muscle memories in this "exotics". I stalled 3 times on the road. One time I actually shifted into first after a red light and forgot to press the clutch, that stalled the car for sure. I hope I did not put any bad damage on the transmission yet. I got progressively better over the 2 hours. It is not where I want to be yet, but I can "drive" the car up and down the road, do 3 points U turn, and get on the freeway cruising for now. I hope I won’t get stuck in stop and go traffic in this baby anytime soon. I wonder if anyone else "learned" how to drive a stick in a Lotus?

The power steering makes the car easy to drive in any speed. The handling is precise. The ride is stiff, but not uncomfortable. Since I do not plan to drive it in a track meet, I wonder is there a way to make the ride a bit softer for everyday use?

Compare to my Bimmer 5, the Esprit is loud, and everything in the car seems to be rattling and noisy in any speed. I tried to compensate by turning up the Radio / CD, but the stereo setup in it is pretty weak, too. I wonder is this the way of life for a Lotus driver? Any tips to make it better?

Of course the Esprit is a performance car. Until I get the total control of the manual transmission, I won't do anything too fast. Maybe in later posts I can share some "real driving experiences".

I post the questions on a couple forums and here are some of the feed backs:

From Lotus4S:
“As for the noises, it's fairly common to have rattles/squeaks/creaks in the cabin but I have found that with a little judicious searching and work and adding some cushioning material in the right places, most of the annoying noises can be eliminated.

On the ride, we need to know what suspension you have now. Are the dampers (shocks) OEM or aftermarket, are they old and worn? With the proper setup the S4 is actually pretty smooth for a car that's closer to a race car than a luxury coupe. It will never ride like your BMW however. Different animals.”

From Jonathan:
“Probs with the ride is when you soften it (usually with adjustable dampers) and then you want to play you forget and the thing bites you.
Same with the ride noise - its a supercar, it tends to do 1 thing really well and the rest rather mediocre/poorly. This is why people buy Porsches etc to insulate themselves from the road.
Remember you buy an Esprit with your heart, not your head !

The pre GT3 interiors are rattly - my GT3 is pretty quiet (build is much better imo) there's less panels and they are alcantara finish, not leather so they don’t creak and knock.
Poeple poke felt buffers inbetween the leather to try and silence it but really, without major interior re-trimming, it's aleays going to be a noisy car. Tyres dont help either being low profile, neither does the fibreglass which tends to amplify the sound on the bumps etc.

The one thing you can do is ensure all the panels are correctly aligned and the windows seals are ok, that will stop some of the wind noise. Best antidote though is to put the roof up, pull the windows down and just drive.

I notice it's got wider that standard wheels on - that'll make a difference to road noise for sure. Esp on them hard roads in Cali - it's not as if they can pour tarmac down on the roads there is it (you'd be sticking rather than driving !)”

From Waynef:
“I was in the same boat as you five years ago I chucked in my Mazda RX8 for my Esprit and first drive was awful.

It was really hard to engage gears without crunching it was noisy it creaked, it had lots of wind noise, but it did one thing that no other car i've owned ever did........kept a smile on my face five years on.
She still has a creaking sunroof, a louder than ever exhaust, oh forgot to mention the wider V8 wheels like yours so even noisier road noise and yet every journey is special, if i want to enjoy comfort i use the Espace V6 but The Esprit gives satisfaction and still gives me grin factor. No stereo, the windows down and roof out (summer time of course).

After all is that not why you have the BMW for comfort .”

From Christopher:
“Noises are part of the character of the car. Unlike our leader ( Bibs ) , and I can personally attest that he does not use the stereo, I use my stereo. I have upgraded all the components. But the car has plenty of squeaks and rattles. The nature of the beast. They become familiar and when you do not hear them you begin to worry.”

From Paul:
“Your experiences so far pretty much mirror mine shortly after I bought my first car, a 1985 Esprit. I currently have a 1991 SE, which is much more civilized and reliable. The S4 is even better. Actually I was looking for one, too, but the SE surfaced here in California with the right number of miles, good cosmetics, and MOST IMPORANTLY a documented service history. So I got it and have been happy with it.”

From Tom:
“I think the “Lotus Experience” is tempered a great deal by the realistic expectations of what you think the car is capable of providing you and how much you have an interest in all phases of the car.
They are sort of supercars, but by modern standards they are pretty simple, and they are NOT “luxury cars”. They are made to drive and be moderately comfortable and accommodating but their no Lexus or Acura.”

Well, I guess my first impression is quite similar to a few other Esprit owners. I will have more driving impressions later.

(Next: Upgrading the stereo in the car)

Why an Esprit now

(Continue from last post: My Lotus Esprit S4 blog – Forward, published on July 15, 2010)

To make a long story short is not easy, but I’ll try.

I was a satisfied 1997 Lexus ES300 owner for 9 years, I wanted a reliable and affordable luxury car and it delivered for nearly 250K miles. One day I felt the suspension was getting way too soft. I was short on cash but wanted the best handling car and bought a used 1997 BMW 528i. It was great while it last for a year. I was flying down the freeway full of confidence. I got a taste of what a good sports car can feel like. However, water bump and radiator leaked on the highway and burned the engine twice. The repair bills were a lot more than the cost of the car. I had to travel between Northern and Southern California often at that time and I had to trade it for a much more reliable car – 1995 Lexus LS400. The driving experience on the Bimmer had totally changed my taste in driving. I put racing coilovers on the LS but the balance was just not there. I want a reliable BMW. As a new one was way over budget, I looked hard in 2008 for a used 2006 model. This model year has a new engine and electronic water pump so I won’t likely to suffer the same fate as my last Bimmer. I found a good deal on a 2006 525i with Navigation and Sports package and traded the LS for this car which I still currently own and very satisfied with it. While I was looking over the auto websites for the BMW, I went to see where the Esprits are costing these days. To my pleasant surprise, the used Lotuses are almost the same price as the used BMW. For a moment I almost went with an Esprit instead. However, the need to carry a family and a reliable car was a more “logical” choice. I drove the Bimmer home and the whole family was happy.

Since then, I become a regular checking into Esprit prices on the internet. I was tempted in February this year when a couple local used car dealers advertised a couple 1989 Esprit for under $20K. I final draw came in April 2010 when I saw on MSN Auto a 1989 Esprit in San Diego went on sale for $13K. I know the calling is now; I can no longer sitting on the sideline. If I don’t get it now, I may never fulfill one of my life time dreams. Even if I will be able to get it at a later day, will I still have the physical to enjoy the car as now? I guess this is what some call mid-life crisis – the need to feel young again in mid life. I am taking out my check book and digging into my savings (emergency fund?). I am getting a Lotus Esprit this year.

Why a S4?

The original Giugiaro design was the first love. The angular wedge shape design is timeless. Even though it came from the same pen, I still think the Esprit is much better looking to BMW M1. However, the reliability issue that goes with the early days Esprit kept me looking.

The Stevens redesign was right on the spot. It kept the beautiful wedge shape but soften the angle for a modern look. The Esprit identity is intact. The various rear spoilers on the later models added the sporty look. The most important consideration was the newer parts in the newer Esprits are a lot more reliable and much easier to get.

Just because a 1989 Esprit Turbo was selling for $12900 does not mean it is a good buy. I want to able to enjoy driving the car and not to worry about it too often. I need to do more home work. I checked out all the major Lotus Esprit websites, like,, Lotus Esprit Fact Files, The Lotus forum, and Turbo Esprit at Yahoo group. I know I will get my hands full if I do not get a good Esprit, especially since I do not plan to work on it myself.

The 1989 has the old Citroen gearbox in it (older parts), and the car has over 100K miles in it. I am worried about the timing belt at this age. The steering rack also may have problem down the road. I had to mark this one as a back up and look for a more reliable Esprit. After more studies, I have decided the S4 will be the best model for me to get. The main reasons:
  1. Power steering. This should not have the steering rack problem and should be a lot easier to drive.
  2. ABS brakes. It is nice not to change your “braking habits” as all my cars have ABS these days.
  3. 100K miles rated timing belt for California. I should not have to worry about it for a while.
  4. Along with the S4s, the S4 is being called the most reliable Esprit around.
  5. It is a lot cheaper than any of the V8 models.
  6. I like the unique spoiler that made S4 stands out even in groups of Esprits.

My S4

Just like fate, this red 1995 Lotus Esprit S4 showed up in eBay Motors in May 2010. The car is listed just 50 miles from where I live, too. The next decent S4 listing is in Colorado and it is a good $10K more ( I don’t like black cars either). It has some serious issues on paper that’s why most people are cautious about it. It is a “Salvaged” title, which means this car was treated as a “complete goner” one time. It also has a bad mileage discrepancy. The car history report has it at 73,388 miles, while the owner claimed the odometer is showing only around 46,000 miles. Here is the statement from the former owner on ebay motors:


The listing price of $16500 sure is attractive. I will have left over budget for fixing the car if needed. I called the owner up and made an appointment to check out the car. He told me two other people are also very interested but not in the area and have to fly in to check it out. I got there before they do easily. The Esprit S4 looks even more stunning up close. There was no sign of any obvious damage at all. The odometer reads 45,893. The car starts right up and settled into a good idle. Everything seems to work in the car, except some minor things like the lift rod for the back engine / trunk lid, and no back view mirror. The previous owner, Marc, drove me around the block and it felt smooth and powerful. No warning light of any sort on the dash. The engine bay is clean and no leak or oily smell observed (However, there is no engine cover). Marc owns a small car oil change and repair shop and I think he was honest and straight forward on everything. I also think he did a very good job restoring the car to fully operational condition and some more. I think the discrepancy on the mileage was due to a clerical mistake (type in a 7 instead of a 4 as they are next to each other on the numeric pad) and the history should really state 43388 miles. It makes more sense as the miles recorded before this was only 17408 miles. With such a good deal on the table and the car appears in good shape, this is a very good risk to take. I rushed to the bank and got a certified check for Marc. He handed over the pink slip and the keys. 

On May 24, 2010, one of my life time dreams finally came true, I become a Lotus Esprit owner.

(Next: My first driving impression of the Lotus Esprit S4)

My Lotus Esprit S4 Blog - Forward

Ever since 1977 when I watched 007 drove a beautiful sports car under water and turned into a submarine as a little elementary school boy who just starting to get interested in cars and mechanical things, I have a big crush on the Lotus Esprit. The love was reconfirmed 4 years later when Bond drove the Turbo Esprit. Even today, I still think it is the most handsome automobile in the world. Not any Ferrari or Lamborghini or Corvette, but Lotus Esprit. I majored in Engineering in college, and I love the efficiency (smaller engine, lighter weight, lower cost) the Esprit presented compared to the other Super Cars. I went into the Library to look for all articles about the Esprit and made copies on most of them (which I still have some of them). One of my graduation gifts I requested was a poster of the Turbo Esprit (which is still hanging in my home office). One of the first gifts I asked my mother-in-Law to give me was a Lotus Esprit, a plastic model of it. I always dream of one day I will have a real one in my garage one day.

However, the reality of life set in after college and all my car purchase were 4 doors sedans and minivans. I live with my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and a young daughter (very Asian like) and these cars were very practical and even necessary. I still enjoys fine automobiles, my current other cars are 2006 BMW 525i and 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan. On the rare occasions when I saw an Esprit on the road, I always wanted to get closer to have a better look, wishing I am inside driving one. On all the driving sims games I always picked the Esprit if it is available, dreaming how it actually handles on the real road.

Dream no more. 33 years later, I am finally a proud owner of a Lotus Esprit S4. To celebrate this ownership, I am trying to document my Esprit experience on the internet to share it with all the people who own, owned, or want to own a Lotus Esprit (in another words, Esprit nuts like me). My angle will be very different from many others as I am not good with automobile mechanic at all. I changed my own oil once and made a big mess, burned my arm, and never tried to do it myself again. I am working as a sales person in international trade these days. I will try to present it as an everyday Joe point of view for the experience.

Since I actually bought the car in May 24, 2010, I will have to do some back tracking on the posts. I will try to present it in chronological orders and release them as it is written. Hopefully, it will catch up to the present day soon.

Now sit tight and enjoy the ride with me.
Howard J Chen
Rialto, Southern California, USA

(Next: Why an Esprit Now?)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Review of Sony X-Series Walkman (Jan 2010)

The model I have: Sony MWZ-X1061 (32GB). This is the best personal music player (PMP) I ever have, and I have a lot of them ever since the very first Sony Walkman 20+ years ago. I also owned (still have many of them) iPod, iPhone, Creative, Memorex, Samsung, RCA, AIWA, Panasonic, Emerson, Disney, and many others PMP over the years. None even comes close to the sound I get from this player. The last PMP sound I really liked was a Sony MiniDisk player I bought 12 years ago and I still listen to it on my trips. I guess I can finally retire it now. I also own 3 other Sony MP3 players for the past 10 years, they were OK. They sound better than the iPods, but awkward to use. However, the S-Master Digital Amplifier in this latest Walkman just blows them away, too.

I was attending the CES in Las Vegas, so I got the opportunity to check out most of the latest PMPs from many of the PMP makers. I used my own ear buds so I can hear the differences between PMPs. I also have an iPhone with me all the time so I can have a reference on the sound quality. Most of the PMPs, including the Zoom (HD), iPod, Samsung M1 (the new P3), all sound good, but flat. If I boost the bass, they become muddy. If I boost the treble, they sounded cold and pinging. Sony is in the back of the huge hall, so I got to it last. However, once I started to listen to it, the music just came out alive. More I played with it, more I liked it. I returned to the show the next day and tried all the PMPs again and came to the same conclusion. If you like your music, there is no better sounding PMP than this Sony X-series Walkman right now. I ordered one once I got home the very same day.

Now I have played with it for three days now, I loved it even more. Here are some quick points on my experience with this player:

1. Content Transfer: It is extremely easy to load music and video into this player. I just dragged my MP3 and other format songs into the player’s MUSIC folder and it is ready to go. It supports up to 8th level of folders, so I can just dragged the whole folder full of songs into it and minutes later, it is ready. If I don’t want certain songs, I just delete them as files in the folder. All are done in the Windows Explorer. No more SonicStage or iTune.

2. You can do the same thing with the video files, the player’s Content Transfer will even convert many of the videos into the correct format (using the computing power of the PC’s CPU).

3. You can make playlists on the Windows Media Player then load into the player. No playlist on the fly.

4. The S-Master Digital Amplifier is the major difference in this player. Even with the factory default settings, the music sound clear, full, and warm. Then there are 3 digital sound technologies that really make the music comes alive.

a. Clear Bass: 3 level of digital bass boost. This is definitely my favorite feature. I can boost the bass and it stays tight and clean. It does not make the mid and high muddy. I have a couple Bose and Shure headphones / earbuds that I stopped using them because I did not like the weaker bass response. Now I just give the music a boost of clear bass and the headphones are great again. I can turn the clear bass down if I feel too much of it on certain songs or using certain headphones / earbuds.

b. Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE): This technology restores the highs lost due to the sound compression on most digital music formats (ex: MP3, WMA). Now the music sound clear and warm, not thin and pinggy.

c. Clear Stereo: This makes separation of left and right sound even more clear. I really enjoy it when I hear a concert music and clearly hear the left side of the stadium and the crowd in the right side, too.

d. There also are various digital sound processing that make the music sound more “spacey”, like in a studio, concert hall, Disco, or Karaoke room. I usually don’t use them, but they are fun to try out. They can make cheap and small earbuds sound a lot better.

e. You can see a web demo of these features at the SonyStyle Asia site: . Why it is not on the SonyStyle US site is beyond me.

5. Digital Noise Cancelling. Do not throw the included earbuds away. They may not compare to the expensive models that cost in the hundreds, but they are good enough for music on the move. I just played around with all the digital sound settings and found a setting that makes them sound almost as good as the expensive ones. They also have mics on them that are required for the Digital Noise Cancelling. When I turn this feature on, the background noise just subsided and bring bright clear music right to you, does not matter where you are. I was in a DMV yesterday to do paperwork, and I was so happy that I can enjoy my music without turning up the volume. A tranquil personal enjoyment space in a sea of long line madness. The waiting time passed by so quickly and pleasantly is worth the price itself. Suggestion: use your expensive headphones in your home or office where it is quiet, but use the provided Digital NC earbuds when you are on the move and in a crowd. You will really appreciate it. You can see a web demo of these features at the SonyStyle Asia site: . Why it is not on the SonyStyle US site is beyond me.

6. You can also use the X-Series as a standalone Digital Noise Cancelling headphone with the included cable adapter. It works great. Consider a standalone Digital Noise Cancelling headphone will run for $300 to $400 itself, making this Sony X WM an even greater value.

7. The touch screen is easy to use. I figured how to use it in minutes without ever reading the manual. It is fun to use it, too. Sometimes it can get sensitive as I accidentally brush it with my hands or fingers during play back. That’s when the big “hold” switch on the back of the player is pretty useful.

8. I am using this mainly as a portable music player. It does have other features that may be important to others: A beautiful OLED screen, video play back (I loaded several Music Videos), photo viewing, “WiFi” for Web browsing, Podcast, or YouTube (I still use my iPhone for these), Slacker Radio, and FM radio. I am not reviewing these features as this review is already too long.

9. Using this player compare to other PMPs I have is like listening to a live concert compares to just CDs. The Sony X-Series Walkman is small, light, beautiful, and solid quality. With the great sound and Digital NC, there is no Apple, Microsoft, or other products that even come close.

You can read this review on the link:


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let's get the Blogging started

I look forward to share my experiences with the Asian consumer markets and the American consumer markets and the key differences with all of you in the coming days.