09 December 2016

TPE: Things I Bought

So I was just recently in Taiwan for three weeks again, after having just left seven months ago. This time I was there to accompany my sister, her husband (AMR), and his parents. There are a lot of things to do in Taiwan but mostly it’s two things: eat and shop. I’ve already covered the foods of Taipei in my Eat Your Heart Out: TPE posts, but here’s a listing of the stuff I bought that were necessities during this trip.

Keep in mind, these are definitely not things you should buy -- for that you could consult a list like “20 Locals and Expats Share Their Gift Shopping Ideas in Taipei” -- but rather stuff I felt compelled to buy even though I was just in Taiwan a half a year ago. Prepare for an onslaught of cute things.

But first a plug for the Louis Vuitton City Guide, Taipei edition. My friend Steph, aka Thousandth Girl, was one of the writers on it, and I just got a copy. Right off the bat I learned that Taipei developed west to east, "from temples to glass towers" and the city centre slowly moved from Ximending to East District and on. Total aha moment as I never realized that small fact.

The LV Guide has a nice overview of Taipei's neighborhoods, and provides recommendations for hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, "good things," nightlife, arts and culture, interior cachet, five walking tours, and offers up an awesome 24 hours in the city itinerary. Go check it out! And now on with the shopping...

Wall Clock ($40): Apparently it’s not easy to buy cheap well-made wall clocks that have smooth sweeping action. And are whisper quiet. No tick tock tick tock. This was one of AMR’s top shopping targets and he knew just the person to bring him to the promised land: my mom. Tucked into an alley on Dongmen’s wet market is this store that just sells clocks. AMR was in clock heaven and he walked out with three, and then somehow I purchased a wall clock on a whim for a wall I don’t have. Oh well, first the clock, then the wall!

The clocks are all Seiko and I believe the style of clock a person selects must speak volumes about them. Mine is pictured on the left, with neon-style numbers and a palette of muted colors. Divine from that what you will. The owner of the shop hooked us up and says he also does brisk business online. The store is called Nasa Watch but I can't find an address so maybe my mom will have to take you there. [Link]

Black, scoop bottomed T-shirts ($9): During my time living in Taipei, I basically just went to one guy for my upper wear. He’s located in an alley at Shida Night Market and his corner stall was across the street from my friend’s apartment so basically we saw him all the time Dare I say it, we became friends. This 朋友 also happened to be about my size and build and whenever he wore something I liked, I just got it. After awhile, I pared down my selections to just white and black versions of this extra-long, scoop bottomed tee. They were perfect for me, and also came in tank top versions. You don’t know how hard it is for me to find T-shirts, I have a whole blog post in draft about this from years ago. Perhaps I should post it. Anyway, these were great T-shirts, and a perfect thickness for me.

So I went back to his stall this trip and poof, he was gone. Replaced by two young women running a women’s clothing stall. Tragedy! It’s hard to convey how devastating this was, and I had to settle for buying some inferior related type T-shirts at a stall in Shilin Night Market. The price was cheaper, $9 versus $16, but I’d have preferred to buy them from my friend. [Link]

Forever 21 shirt ($20): While the Forever 21s in Taipei don’t differ much from the ones Stateside, it’s still my go-to store for stuff. For example, I had to wear a collared shirt for a club opening thing. And since I didn’t bring anything appropriate, I hopped into Forever 21 and grabbed a white shirt with horizontal black stripes on the upper sleeves. Later some guy at the club said it was “very Korean.” I have no idea what that meant.

Fox tote bag ($17): At this small store, located at Shida Night Market, my friend bought a dress with illustrations of samurai on it and I bought a 八涂 branded tote bag. It came in a cardboard roll and was just too beautiful to pass up. Good features include a leather handle, a metal button up top for clasping, a gridded interior design, separate hand and shoulder carry straps. Do I already own tote bags I never use? Of course I do, but I’m a sucker for bags!

Triangular folding glass cases ($5): One of my greater finds, I must say. I bought some of these glasses cases before but returned for more. Turns out they were easier to find than I anticipated, just keep your eyes open at night market glasses shops. The great thing about these glasses cases is that they fold down flat. Similar ones can be purchased on Amazon for about ten dollars. My sister and in-laws bought like twenty to give out as gifts. Everyone needs one, or two! [Link]

Skirt Pants ($9 - $50): Lately all I’ve been wearing is skirt pants. I bought my dream ones last year at Mana 嗎哪民族風服飾 — they have a few stores in Taipei — but had a hard time finding street versions. This time around, I found them at street markets and got a pair for super cheap. The Mana ones are more quality, and I bought two, but those were for friends. Straight up, pant skirts are the best, so ridiculously comfortable. [Link]

Glasses and sunglasses ($9): I bought a pair of sunglasses and a pair of regular glasses because when in Taiwan, you just have to. And if you have prescription glasses, getting them done in Taiwan is ridiculous cheap. Plus you don’t need a prescription. And duh, the frames are sized and fitted for Asian faces. You can buy expensive frames and go to expensive places to get the lenses, but I prefer to just get night market frames for like $8 and then have lenses put in for $20. Beat that.

Cell phone cases ($8): If you’re looking for cell phone cases, the night markets are a wonderland. Especially if you lean toward the splashy ones. One night, I sent my wish into the aether for a cactus design and the next day I found a great one. And then I bought another watercolor one for non-cactus days. Double steal!

Rohto eye drops ($5): While I couldn’t scientifically declare what the best eye drops are, I will tell you conclusively that these Rohto eye drops are the best in the world. It’s all in the design, which is square and flat and a joy to have in your bag. Beware, there are a few different types, including specific ones for contact wearers and non-contact wearers. I use the one with the blue cap. Which Amazon apparently doesn't offer. Get. These. Eye. Drops. [Link]

Uma Hana bags ($5): All around the night markets, especially Ximen, you’ll see these plastic-y waterproof bags with various prints on them. George wanted a nice sized overnight bag, and then once we got into a particularly large store, her and AMR ended up purchasing much more than that. Backpacks, tote bags, sling bags, you name it, they probably got it. Turns out Uma Hana is a Taiwan brand and if you’re carrying one it conveys ultimate “FOB life” status. I bought a rainbow bear printed smartphone pouch for when the trusty fanny pack just doesn't go with the outfit. Because bears are universal.

And now onto the useless trinkets that I can’t resist. Even if I basically resisted 90% of the stuff I actually would have bought.

Mouton the Elephant luggage lock ($7): The best thing to do if you’re gonna buy any mascot type stuff is to just pick one and go with it. Unfortunately, I have more than one mascot love. And Mouton is one of them. Mouton is a pale blue circus elephant with pink and white striped ears. Irresistible. I don’t even use luggage locks, but I just wanted this piece as a figurine. I mean, as a gift for my niece...

Snoopy mug ($8): My mom hates mugs. (She has no mugs at her house.) We love mugs. And if AMR was going to brew us daily cups of wonderful Taiwan roasted coffee, we had to have mugs. And so we both bought Snoopy ones and then carried them home with us to continue the adventure.

Taiwan bear magnet ($5): It’s a magnet shaped like a can of Taiwan Beer, but with a smiling Formosan bear on it. And the word mark says “Taiwan Bear.” Brilliant?! I can’t wait to buy a fridge to accompany this magnet.

Kumamon keychain, Formosan black bear keychain ($5): I don't really have keys for anything, but that won't stop me from collecting keychains. Kumamon is a Japanese black bear (apparently now "Japan's most popular bear”), and I couldn’t pass up a tiny Formosan black bear keychain. Now to get keys to pair with these keychains...

Hello Kitty tin, with stationary inside ($3): I allowed myself only one Hello Kitty themed item, aside from my subway card, and this was it. I'll probably use it to store secrets or something. Your secrets!

Cell phone ring ($2): These are everywhere now, and as loathe as I am to affix anything to my beautiful cell phone case, I did get a yellow bell-shaped ring holder, just in case it proves useful. My new cases are real slippery and I'd hate to drop my phone. Fashion versus function right? [Link]

Totoro eyemask ($4): When you need to fall into a deep sleep, why not have Miyazaki lead you the way? "Full of sweet memory, full of deeply happiness." If only it were that easy right?

17 November 2016

The Re-Do

So I’ve had a personal podcast for awhile, “You, Me, Us” that was maybe sixty or so conversations I recorded over the years with friends. But that kind of died down as people stopped wanting to speak with me. Wah wah! But I love podcasting and wanted to make more, and last year I met a friend who also loves talking -- and can tolerate me! So we decided to make a podcast: The Re-Do.

Margot and I are long distance friends — we met last year in Taiwan — and she’s a world traveler and rambler like me. Well, I can’t really be called a world traveler, but she certainly is, as she’s been to over 30+ countries and counting. (Check out this You, Me, Us interview about her trip to North Korea.) We happen to have tons of stuff in common, but enough differences to be shaded differently in just about everything, so it makes for everlasting conversations. And now they're recorded!

We get together every two weeks or so to recall, recap, and reassess, and so far we’ve covered important topics like Harry Potter World, BBQ BFFs, and Tinder adventures. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud, and so if you want to hang out with us, please do!

Note: I'm recording on a Blue Microphones Yeti, finally figuring out how to audio edit with Adobe Audition, and would appreciate any feedbackon (bad) audio. Thanks!

PS: The logo is a pencil, but sort of stylized like a cityscape. Do you see it?

26 September 2016

Skyline To

I went down to Barrio Logan for The Little Big Art Show at La Bodega Gallery over the weekend. Truthfully, it’s likely the only art thing I’ve been to in San Diego for at least ten years. I was curious what the crowd would be like mostly. Short answer: the same as anywhere else! Although maybe it skewed a little older than I expected. Then again who am I to talk about age?

And while on the subject, support Susie's campaign against Francesa's, who has been ripping off indie designer's designs for their own store. Susie has long been a champion of artists' rights and what Francesca's (among many other companies) is doing is just deplorable. There's more than one way to draw a cat but Francesca's just had to steal Susie's eh? If you're against rip offs, go support Susie!
While shopping at a nearby record shop before the art show, I grabbed a zine about Indian casinos and a short self-published book about cholos in college. Published in the Eighties, this book seemed intriguing on the surface but I read it and basically wanted to puke. The author was not from the community, didn't present things in an anthropological manner, and the whole thing was basically a self-congratulatory ode to himself: a professor who played self-styled savior for gangsters from the area. Big pat on the back! I would quote from the book directly but it’s just too much and I wouldn’t want to shine any light on this terrible tome.

Whew, that felt good. It’s rare you read something that makes you so angry right? I mean, offline that is. The main issue with the book was how condescending it was, and you guessed it, it’s a white dude trying to show how “down" he was, with all the lingo set off by quotes. Trash, absolute trash. But at least I’m one book closer to fiftyfifty. I’m currently at 18 books and 44 movies. I’m behind on books obviously but there’s an outside chance I could cross the finish line if I shape up for the rest of the year.

And since I’ve yet to talk any books in 2016, let’s plug some! First up, I can’t stop shutting up and recommending Ted Chiang’s short stories to people. I went to go see him speak at AAWW a few months ago but finally finished his collection of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others. The titular story is brilliant, as well as many others, but the one that really caught my attention was "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate," about a mirror that enables time travel. Anyway, go read this book! And then get ready for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, and looks downright amazing.
And speaking of New York, I finally got around to reading Asterios Polyp, a graphic novel that my friend highly recommended years ago. So long ago that I think we were both still living San Franciso. Anyway, Asterios Polyp really is great, even if the plot seems a little under hatched. But the art style and thematic elements are so strong. Everyone says it gets better with each read, and I’m excited to dig into it again.
Also on the graphic novel tip, I got the first volume of Monstress, written by Marjorie Liu with art by Sana Takeda, aka two Asian-American women putting out a comic book in an overwhelmingly male dominated industry. (I mean, what industry isn't right?) The fantasy world they’ve created is filled with intriguing characters, a two-tailed cat, and when you're done you'll just with there was more Monstress to catch up on.
And although I haven't left the house much recently, I did get out to La Jolla Playhouse to watch Tiger Style!, a play from Mike Lew about growing up Chinese-American. You can see how it was right up my alley… And it proved to be exactly what I wanted: witty and arcastic, unapologetically direct about ethnicity and race, and very very funny. The line that sums Tiger Style! up perfectly, as spoken by a U.S. customs officer who is giving two characters a hard time and refuting their calls of discrimination: “I don’t hear race."
It’s been a pretty bad year for movies but I can recommend Dearest on Netflix and Hell or High Water in the theater. The latter is a neo-Western about two bank robbers down on their luck, and Dearest is a powerful “based on a true story” account of child abduction in China. Both are real crowd pleasers! Okay, don’t quote me on that...

And last thing, my friend Cindy wrote a cyberpunk YA novel set in near future Taipei. WANT features an Asian-American male on the cover. And I repeat: An Asian-American male on the cover. I stopped updating my CoverMale Pinterest board two years ago, but WANT would have been a fine edition. Just look at that beauty. And did I say it’s set in Taipei?! I can't wait to read this thing.

10 September 2016

Eu Gosto De Bolo

Alright, I’m back! After about six weeks in Brazil. “For the Olympics?” Hell no! I wouldn’t have gone to Rio if you’d paid me as I hate crowds, have little to no national pride, and can’t be bothered to pay attention to the Olympics, even if I was Stateside. I mean, aside from listening to podcasts about Team USA basketball. So yeah, I missed all the brouhaha about the two Simones and unfortunately couldn’t help but know too much about Lochte. I was simply in South America because I was done with New York and I had friends to host me in Brazil. Thanks friends!

Brazil is not that far away actually. From New York it’s just a ten hour flight down to Sao Paulo. (On the flight over I did meet someone who goes to every Olympics with her friends, all dressed up and everything, and it was fun to talk to her about her experiences in Athens, Beijing, Sochi, etc.) Also, I wasn’t near the beaches or anything, as I started from Sao Paulo and then went inland, near the border of Paraguay and Brazil.

Things I knew about Brazil before I went down there: not much. Especially the geography. Basically any Brazilian cities I was familiar with was a direct result of playing lots of Pocket Planes, which introduced me to important hubs such as Salvador or Recife, the latter of which is the closest South American city for creating an efficient route to Western Africa. Actually, Pocket Planes was also helpful in that each city on the map was accompanied by a population number, which was very useful.

I hate that my only metric for comparison is basically the United States. I was constantly Googling for city sizes (Ex: Ponta Pora is the equivalent of Alhambra, CA), prices of things, and just generally always in compare and contrast mode. I guess that’s how it is when you travel anywhere, but it just felt kind of gross. Without any American frame of reference though, I was often lost. At least the Stranger Things hype hit everywhere all the same time. Binge watching is universal.

Quick facts: Sao Paulo is a megapolis, with two more million people in it than New York. Although to my limited experience, it felt more like San Francisco. But with a better subway system. Also it’s supposedly very dangerous, but I hesitate to make any generalizations, as I wasn’t in Sao Paulo that long.

This was the first time in awhile I was in a setting where I couldn’t really understand anything. Sure, I had been playing with Duolingo for awhile to learn some Portuguese but I couldn’t pick up anything verbally. Usually I’m in an English or Mandarin speaking environment so I can get the gist of stuff, but I was mostly helpless there. The good news is that I wasn’t ever left to my own devices and my hand was held every step of the way. Safety first!

Things I did do in Brazil: Tok a sixteen hour bus ride, rode in an armored car, flossed a lot due to many meals involving meat, drank coffee in little cups that made me yearn badly for Starbucks-sized cups, talked a lot with people about how Brazilians perceive/view race, learned some history and local economy, got introduced to the works of architect Oscar Niemeyer, saw hordes of Pokemon chasers, watched an entire (animated) movie in Portuguese. Thought an insect laid an egg in my palm — “ovo” means egg — but after some friend-based needle surgery, turned out my panic was just over some clotted blood...

Also, the Museu Afro Brasil turned out to be our favorite museum in Sao Paolo’s Parque Ibirapuera. And I was stunned by the size and scope of Livraria Cultura, a chain bookstore whose Avenida Paulista branch was oh so beautiful. Another highlight was just happening to be at the local mall when Brazil beat Germany in the gold medal match. #witness

So yeah, that’s where I’ve been and now I’m back in the U.S. again. For how long? Let’s seeeee!

27 July 2016

Goodbye to All This

"Something has changed inside me, something is not the same…” Can you tell I watched Wicked last week? For maybe the fifth time I think, but only the second time on Broadway. This time we were just five rows back and it was spectacular.

To recap, I first tried to watch Wicked on Broadway right before Idina Menzel left, flying out in November of 2004 in an attempt to get lottery tickets. That didn’t work out, unfortunately. But since then I’ve made it a point to watch it in whatever city I’m in. Los Angeles in 2005, San Diego in 2006, San Francisco in 2010, and then on Broadway in 2014 and this year. Where next?! Maybe Japan! Through the power of Spotify I stumbled upon the Gekidan Shiki cast recording, which is entirely in Japanese (duh). I’d be curious what they may have changed, if anything.

Anyway, every time I watch Wicked, I pick up new things — or forget past feelings in the interim — and just want to gush over how great and clever it is all over again. If you haven’t seen Wicked, I’ll be ready to go again in another two years. See you in Tokyo?

Of course, Wicked's not all I’ve been doing. Even if that was the definitive highlight of my last week or so in New York. Yup, I’m on my way out again. After just two months this time. Most of me was hoping that I would last longer, and maybe I would have, but maybe my attitude was defeatist from the beginning. Much of the charm and magic of New York for me involves late summer nights, lots of dancing and park-ing, and just generally running around and having fun. But that part has now slipped away. People ask me why, if it’s me or the city. It’s probably both.

I can’t even stand going out in LES anymore, overrun as it is by douchebags galore. I guess it was always like that but it just seems worse now. And Brooklyn, faraway Brooklyn has the same feeling too, at least the few times I've tried to go out. And to be honest, a lot of the change has been me, as I’ve had a very “the death of fun” attitude about things. I’m trying to stop chasing the same thrills, putting the same record on over and over again. It’s like when a dance track is objectively great but after the hundredth time it just loses its power to make you move. Example: Faith Evans, “Love Like This.” You get semi-excited but it just gets tired quickly you know?

Sad as I am, overall I think this is good for me, as I'm finally feeling a little settled down. Inside and out.

Numbers: Over the past seven years, dating back to 2010, I’ve lived in New York for twenty-nine months, with one or two months at a time being the norm, excepting 2011 when I was here for seven months and then 2012-3 when I was here for all of 2013 and four months of 2012. So sixteen months in a row. So yeah, I just keep running back and forth and back and forth. But this time I'm running with no real plans on coming back...

Sure there’s a chance I’ll be back soon enough, never say never, but I don’t know when. At the very least, I've realized that it's unlikely I could live here long term. However, as my friend put it, “You could be back in two months…” And really, where else can I go for the culture -- and people -- kick that I need from here? For now though, the positives of being here are outweighed by the negatives, and so many aspects of the city has curdled for me. So I’m out!

I haven’t seen Netflix's Bojack Horseman yet, but I am newly in love with its co-creator, Lisa Hanawalt. I saw her XOXO talk about creative paralysis and she’s just perfection. And just by coincidence, I came across her Lucky Peach article about leaving New York in 2015, which I’ll link to below.

I didn’t realize Hanawalt was part of Pizza Island, an all-female cartoonists’ collective in Greenpoint that shut down in 2012. I mostly followed Julia Wertz and Sarah Glidden from the Island but I’m thinking I should start following all of them. And heck, Wertz is also leaving New York, or just left, rather. While I’m a merely a fan of Wertz, it seems to say something that she too is leaving the city. When the cartoonists go, I go! Sidenote: I wonder if it's too late to start learning how to draw, I feel like there is a cartoon strip in me. And I have just the topic and name for it! Shhhhh.

Before I leave, I’m wrapping up with Sleep No More mid-week, along with a just finished amazing meal at my friend Pam’s restaurant -- now Michelin starred!!! And maybe I’ll sneak in a bike ride across one of the bridges if I can swing it, since I haven’t done that yet this trip. Play the hits that still hit, as it were.

This was my second visit to Semilla, and it was even better than the last. Pam’s bread and desserts are out of control. Tonight’s rye and potato sourdough bread with Cowbella butter was perfection. Here’s a bunch of links from this 2014 post I did about Semilla, just before Pam and Jose opened shop, lest I re-inundate you with their much deserved praise and acclaim. Also, the Cowbella butter was served with this ridiculously chubby knife that I must get my hands on. Pam revealed it was simply a Crate & Barrel purchase but I can't seem to find it online. Please help me shopping elves, I neeeeed this dull and stout knife in my life!

Ooooh, also, I’m here to plug Mian Tian Sing Hair Salon, which would be my new go-to if I was sticking around. Brandon, my Taiwan school mate, found this place and it’s both cheap and great. For $18 you get a head/shoulder massage and the best (Asian hair) haircut around. I was caught in the torrential downpour of Monday, but managed to sneak my way to Mian Tian Sing under cover of a newly purchased umbrella. Was a great haircut worth getting drenched for? You betcha! Alert: No Pikachu showed up during the thunderstorm, as rumored...

And speaking of Chinatown, I went to Wing On Wo & Co. last Tuesday for a panel discussion co-organized by a friend. Wing On Wo & Co. is the oldest store in Chinatown and it sells various porcelains and antiques. Choosing to forgo graduate school, twenty-five year old Mei Lum took over the family business, preserving it and also expanding its scope by organizing a summer series of talks about the changing face of Chinatown.

I went to the second event, which was a loose panel about the encroachment of (non-Chinese) art galleries in Chinatown. Things got heated pretty quickly, with lots of rising emotions, accusations, explanations, tensions, and even some tears spilled. There's a livestream of the event up on their Facebook page, but beware because the audio is very low. Regardless of outcome, these conversations are the beginning of something and need to happen for the community as Chinatown organizes and struggles with many issues surrounding its increasing gentrification. As one audience member pointed out, he visited DC's Chinatown awhile ago and was saddened/shocked by how it was basically a Chinatown in name (and signage) only.

19 July 2016

The New Normal

Hey guess what? New York is hot. Like finally tank top weather — which I’ve been waiting for — but now that it’s arrived, it’s just making me dread going outside.

But venture forth I must, as my New York time dwindles to a close. In two more weeks I’m basically out of here, so it’s time to jam in as much as I can. First, there was Dhonielle and Sona’s book launch for their follow up to Tiny Pretty Things, which is called Shiny Broken Pieces. Instead of a traditional launch, they threw together an entire panel of ballet in YA themed authors. Note, the correct answer for best ballet movie is clearly Centerstage, and nothing else compares.

On Wednesday, went to Union Docs in Williamsburg for a showing of The New Black, Yoruba Richen’s 2013 documentary about the LBGT African-American community and their work to get marriage equality passed in Maryland.

Actually, speaking of movies, I’ve seen just a handful recently, and of all of them, the only one I can wholly recommend is Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s take on a Jane Austen novella. Kate Beckinsale is perfect in it, as a manipulative and scheming widow. Doesn’t this summer block of movies feel especially crappy? I have half a mind to watch The Neon Demon, but scarred by Only God Forgives, I’m hesitant to give Nicolas Winding Refn another chance. And aside from that, nothing is drawing me to the theater except as a respite from the heat.

So let’s talk books! I caught the tail end of Ted Chiang’s talk at AAWW, and he brought up this article, “The Strange Case of the Woman Who Couldn’t Remember Her Past — And Can’t Imagine Her Future.” It’s about a woman who leads a perfectly normal life, despite the fact that she has no episodic memory. Basically it means she lives perpetually in the present, with no access to previous memories or experiences. The article is great and well worth a read.

Also, if you don’t know Ted Chiang, he’s basically the Galactus of the scifi world, having won literally every award for his writing. And he so happens to be Chinese American, which is an important, if not defining, fact. Actually there are quite a few Asian American writers who have been dominating scifi, and I’ve been trying to get caught up on all their works. Ken Liu, you're next!

And I’ve recently been working through Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island, which is a fictionalized version of the White Terror era in Taiwan, from 1947 through 1987, when martial law was in effect. Having recently visited Green Island, to see the prisons where dissidents were incarcerated, the book holds special interest for me. And what Yang Ryan has done is pretty unprecedented, in taking a period of Taiwanese history that is often overlooked, and creating a compelling novel for English reading audiences.

Then there's Detention, an upcoming game from Taiwan-based indie developer Red Candle Games. Detention is also set during Taiwan's martial law period, and is a survival horror game with fantasy elements. "Detention draws on local Taiwanese cultural references to tell a unique and terrifying story." Check out the game trailer and I think Detention should be available via Steam soon enough.

Also, recently read Eddie Huang's second book, Double Cup Love, which was a decent follow-up, if you like to continue on his adventures, but mostly I'd only recommend it only to Huang completists. What I would recommend for all is his Huang's World Orlando episode, in which Eddie returns home for Lunar New Year to hang with his family. They cook up a storm, and Eddie's mom is the unquestioned star of the show.

Despite saying I never travel to beaches, I found myself riding two hours out of Manhattan to Fire Island last weekend. My friend got a car -- to have something to put in her car port -- and she's been trying to make out-of-town trips with it. I was commissioned to be the night driver and so I went. Getting to Fire Island is a bit of a trek, but it involves a ferry, which is always fun. And once there, I promptly napped the afternoon away before we had a super amazing seafood dinner by the ocean as the rain poured down over the roof. Summer 2016: Keep it beachy!

10 July 2016

Is This the End?

My de facto office has been Cafe Habana on Elizabeth Street. Not that I work there, but it’s where I meet everyone. Advantages: there are benches outside, there is corn inside, it’s a straight shot down 2nd Ave on a bike for me. Basically my range this summer has been “anything up/down 2nd Avenue or maybe off the L train.” Going across town to Chelsea or the West Village has been too much of a hassle, and Brooklyn, forget it!

Although I have been to Williamsburg more times than I can count over the past week — including a night with the douchetastic crowd at Freehold. Still, if we’re meeting up, it’s starting off at Cafe Habana and then probably a walk around Nolita. And of course I’ll buy a corn and then carry it around for a few hours thinking I’ll eat it but then I toss it in the trash. Food waster, that’s me!

I’ve trolled those few blocks around Nolita at least three times, and I still don’t actually know exactly where I am. Who am I without my trusty compass? Also, as if you had to ask, but of course I’ll all up on this Pokemon Go craze. I can’t stop talking about it, I can’t stop making people download it (Team Instinct/Yellow please!), I carry every single portable charger with me nowadays, and I’m waiting for all the features like trading to get into the game. My main worry about leaving New York is that anywhere else won’t have the density of Pokemon, gyms, and pokestops.

New York is the perfect city to go Poke-hunting and without the easily accessible walking spaces, I’m worried my collection will never be complete. So far my best place to find stuff has been at Pratt, where the sculpture garden was full of interesting stuff to look at. But enough about Pokemon…

The rundown the past week included Fourth of July celebrated from the comfort of my room, which just so happens to look over the Hudson River. Nice view, but my interest in fireworks is nil. So I just stood back while my cousin and aunt peered outside.

After going through a pizza, ramen, sandwiches, Cubanos, and salad phase, I’m now squarely into my diner life. I’ve eaten at three diners recently and while each experience was squarely a B- or a C+, I still loved it. (In case I’ve never mentioned it, Malibu Diner in Chelsea is my favorite one, because it’s got really the best food for a diner.)

I have dreams of just sitting in a diner, quietly reading or writing, but that’s happened zero times so far. I read that Rembert Brown did a lot of his Grantland writing from the old Bauhaus, which I can’t even imagine. I wish I was one of those people who could be productive at cafes or eating places, but mostly I just get all paranoid about the foodstuffs and potential spillage around my computer.

I've learned, over time, that the only way I can get any writing done is in a controlled environment that has little in the way of distractions (or dirt). So much for the image of a traveling writer who parks it all day in a cafe!

An epic half-rainy Saturday unearthed five straight hours of karaoke. To be honest, that’s not that much, because in Taiwan I’ve had people go karaoke for like eight hours. I couldn’t do that back then — due to the dearth of English songs — but I could have gone even longer on Saturday night. We started off with Madonna, whipped through some classic Eighties, got even deeper with the Eighties, moved onto ballads and lite R&B, and then had a sprinkling of Les Mis and Aladdin. Categories skipped that I hope to return to: pop, duets, alternative songs of the 2000s, Guns N Roses.

Till next time...

03 July 2016

For the Longest Time

So my friend's wedding happened, it was beautiful, it was in Bryant Park, and the respect you get on the streets for walking around in tuxes was certainly nice. People are so friendly when you’re dressed up! This was the first (and probably last) tux I’d ever worn. From what I can tell, the difference between a tux and a suit is the lapels. Also you’re supposed to wear French cuffs, and there’s fancier buttons and a bow tie involved.

Since my tux came very loose, I had to get the shit tailored out of it. Basically it was like I had to get a whole new outfit made out of baggy drapes. Upon recommendation of my friend, I went to Dejavu Tailoring in the East Village and over the span of two weeks went by a couple of times. Sometimes just to say “hi” because I’m trying to make new friends! And my new semi-friend — I asked for his Facebook, does that count? — pointed me to @TheSalon, where I got my pre-wedding haircut. So you know, I was at peak fancy and it’s all downhill from here. I kind of wanted to have a cummerbund though, since I'd never worn one before. Do they make cummerbund fanny packs?

It’s only the second time I’ve been a groomsman and once again I performed all my duties spectacularly. Actually I really had no duties, aside from just wake up on time and be there without complaining. With those low expectations set, I think I did my absolute best. Thanks K&M for having me!

One of these days someone will ask me to do a speech and I’ll be sooooo ready.

Aside from that to wrap up my first month here, there was an ultimate Eighties / Nineties karaoke session with two of my favorite karaokers. It’s been awhile since we’ve all sang together. And fueled by tequila shots — none for me thank you — and just general joy, we blasted through our jams, new and old. Here’s a sampling of the night’s hits:
  • Billy Joel, “The Longest Time” (1983)
  • Phil Collins, "Against All Odds” (1984)
  • Alphaville, “Forever Young” (1984)
  • The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love” (1992)
  • Meat Loaf, "I Would Do Anything For Love” (1993)
My personal new go-to is “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. It’s in my range, vocally and emotionally. Bailamos! Also, I’m waiting for that special someone who can do a credible CeCe Peniston's “Finally.” (Is that even a fun karaoke song? Let’s find out!) And while we’re on the subject of singing, watch this twelve year old, Grace VanderWaal, on America’s Got Talent. It’s from last month but it’s worth a share because she’s just amazing.

Went to the NBA draft too, way up in the cheap seats. Watched the Celtics take the guy I didn’t want them to take, and then got bored and left by the latter half of the first round. Verdict: C+. Going to the draft isn’t that fun unless you know who’s being taken. Even with the ESPN app open to watch it on a screen and IRL at the same time. My advice is to just stay home, watch it on TV. And damn Danny Ainge for not taking Dragan Bender...

A week later, I cruised out to a thing for Chuck Klosterman’s newest book, But What If We're Wrong? He was in conversation with Wesley Morris, of Grantland fame and while the conversation they had was overall pretty good, I would probably have enjoyed it better as a podcast. It's just hard to sit there and watch people chat for an hour and a half these days isn't it? Verdict: Decent B.

Also, Klosterman is very tall, Morris is very short. That should make for a winning combination but Morris seemed to be off his moderator game. Very impressed with Klosterman in person though. He's got this nice ability to take an audience member's (inevitably) rambly Q&A and instantly summarize the question into something understandable. He'll listen and then go, "So what you're asking is <insert nice wrap up>." Useful skill to practice and emulate I think.
One of my very first podcast episodes (with Lilly!) was about Klosterman actually, concerning his intellectual douchebaggery. The thing is, Klosterman is super smart, and I do really love his writing and he always brings an interesting twisted perspective to things. So I change my verdict, Klosterman's not really a douchebag at all, with the possible exception that he's likely a serial mansplainer. But is that okay because he just knows so much?!

Last thing, if you’re into ex-Gossip Girl leads, sharks, and beautiful surf scenes, go watch The Shallows. Nobody would go watch it with me so I was forced to see it myself. Well naysayers, you totally missed out because Blake Lively versus shark was everything I wanted it to be and more. Since basically all of the current crop of summer blockbusters are kind of sucking right now, at the very least The Shallows will make you cringe and get nervous for Serena van der Woodsen’s well-being. Shaaaarks!

And this past Friday I hit up a New York beach for the first time, Long Beach, which was way far out there. I wouldn't normally have gone except my friend offered to drive. (I live right by the beach back home, why would I sit on a train for an hour to get to one?) Anyway, you try new things and you learn new things. Two word game changer: beach chairs.

23 June 2016


And now I’m fully in the swing of things, having gone so far as to fill out my Google Calendar with potential events. You know, things you think you’ll do but then pull out at the last minute? Like this Romy and Michele's Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance that I really want to go to — just look at those playlists! — but I know there’s slim chances of me making an afternoon dance party. Still, dare to dream.

As I’ve already covered my NBA Finals exploits, the other things of note I wanted to highlight was Eclipse, a play I saw on Wednesday. Actually I’ll just quote myself (how gauche!), from the fourth issue of Cool It Now: "Let's be real, you're never going to get Hamilton tickets. So what's the next best thing? How about the first all-black, all female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway? Eclipse is a play about four captive wives during the Second Liberian Civil War....the whole play was amazing, and Eclipsed will likely make the rounds, even if it's leaving Broadway soon. Just keep the play's name on your cultural radar!”

So that was Wednesday, and then on Thursday I hopped to AAWW again for a reading featuring Esme Wang, a writer I’ve been following online for awhile. Wang’s work is emotional, confessional, and often has a focus on creating while struggling with mental disorders, specifically schizophrenia. Her new book, The Border of Paradise, is partially set in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and I can’t wait to read it.

Also during the reading, a new writer I was introduced to, Wei Tchou, shared with us her Tiny Letter about Wendi Deng, aka "the world's most perfect woman.” Sign up with me and stay up-to-date on the former Mrs. Murdoch!
And last Saturday I went to a local B&N for Dhonielle and Sona’s book panel, as part of B&N’s inaugural YA book fest. (And in a month is their debut party for Shiny Broken Pieces, the follow up to Tiny Pretty Things). Afterwards we trekked, well Ubered, to Shanghai Cafe for some Chinese food. And after hanging out at yet another great NYC secret bar — Genuine Liquorette, which served wonderful music —we cleaned up with more Chinese food at Congee Village. Verdict: Chinatown Chinese food is greasy! But we knew that. Sigh, I guess you can't have Taiwan back again... Unless you go to Flushing! Please someone take me to Flushing?

Exactly a week later I found myself at Parkside Lounge, waiting for my friend’s DJ to spin. It was a long wait, as he didn’t come on until 2AM or so, and in the meantime I just sat on the sidelines, not moving. It got to the point where my friends were worried I was sick or something. “Nope, nope, just old!” I wasn’t feeling the middle set and had to conserve energy for the old school hip hop that was sure to come. And when it finally did, we got in a good hour or so of fun and finally I got some good proper dancing in.

Maybe this will portend more summer dancing, otherwise I’m not sure what I’m even doing with my (night life) here. Note: The usual crowd at Parkside is not one we like, but the once a month party is old school hip hop and had some amazing throwback jams.

Oh, popped by the Brooklyn Makers Market on Sunday, and bought a handy pouch with an egg on it, but otherwise passed on all the jewelry and various other tchotchkes. One guy was selling pens shaped like disembodied eye stems and eyeballs. No thank you!

20 June 2016

Finally, and Good Riddance

What were you doing when LeBron re-ascended the throne? I was surrounded by like twenty TVs in a previously raucous Golden State bar. Oh how the Cleveland fans emerged from their silent bubble after Kyrie hit the game clinching three over Steph. Fifty-two years between championships is basically a lifetime, so I guess I’m happy for Believeland.

Up until GM7, I was cheering for the Warriors, but after a piss poor GM6, I switched allegiances and wanted LeBron to win. Mainly to just get him out of the headlines, and have this “Cleveland hasn’t won…” storyline out of the way. Make no mistake, I have no love for the Cavaliers. I mean, I hate/fear LeBron, wasn’t sold on Kyrie as a star, pray every day the Celtics don’t trade for Kevin Love, and basically have cheered against the Cavs for years. But if it takes LeBron making the greatest comeback in Finals history to get him out of my life, so be it. Congrats King!

Trying to watch big sports games in New York is always an exercise in scrambling. Most people don’t have big enough apartments, or a large TV, to invite people over. And since I hate sports bars, my ideal setup is just to have a handful of people in a quiet space. For example, I watched GM5 at my friend’s hotel lounge down in Tribeca. It was just three of us, with the occasional stop in from some of the staff. The television was large and the room was quiet, it was glorious.

Here’s where I watched all the games for the 2016 NBA Finals.

  • GM1: Landed into JFK airport, flipped on League Pass, and watched the Warriors dismantle the Cavs from the back of a cab. Then turned it off to get Korean chicken wings in the East Village.
  • GM2: Went to a friend of a friend’s apartment in Flatiron after watching The Nice Guys, and ate pizza and Italian food for a home style viewing experience.
  • GM3: After going to last week’s AAWW thing, I watched the first half at a Five Guys on my phone and then went to meet my friend cross town. She was watching it with a bunch of her younger co-workers, who were streaming off an illegal Reddit stream. Also, there were bongs.
  • GM4: Trekked out to Long Island City for my friend’s combo pizza and watch party. Cleveland lost and we thought the series was basically over. No surprise: Pizza parties are the best!
  • GM5: The aforementioned hotel lounge. So quiet we could’ve taken a nap. Ate McDonald's cookies to power up for the second half. Both us and the Warriors petered out by the end.
  • GM6: A Cleveland blow out as I sat around at a Times Square area bar, trying to squint across the room at the televisions. USA was playing Ecuador too, and half the bar was split between basketball and soccer. Not ideal.
  • GM7: Reserved a table for eight at Campeon in Union Square. There are almost TVs on every square inch of the walls. The place was packed, the volume turned up high, and DJs spun during commercial breaks. It was like we were at the game. For a big sports event, this was the perfect viewing experience. High recommend.
So yeah, that’s how you gotta scramble around if you’re devoid of a regular spot to watch, and also don’t like to be around rowdy drunk people. At first I was thinking how this long ass series was ruining my New York social life, but upon consideration, the games did provide a good reason to gather random groups of people together and hang out. Now I guess we'll have to just focus on Game of Thrones... Until that ends too.

This coming Thursday I’m attending the NBA Draft at Barclays Center. While tickets seem overpriced for something that would be far better to watch on TV, this is a rare opportunity. The Celtics have the #3 overall pick, plus two more first-rounders and four second-rounders. We’ll be in the action all night! Plus, for a mere $50, who knows when I’ll get a chance to go to a NBA draft again?

For the record, assuming Danny Ainge doesn’t trade away our top pick, I hope he swings for the fences and drafts Dragan Bender. Boom or bust baby, boom or bust! And if Ainge somehow trades that #3 pick for Jahlil Okafor I'm gonna cry.

09 June 2016

The Town

Here we are, one week into New York, aka another summer! My first take upon arriving last Thursday was that it’s a cesspool here, as I biked down toward the East Village on 1st Avenue. But I tried to remember that’s what I always feel when I get here — especially post-Taiwan and having such clean subways and stuff. With New York, you take the good with the bad and a few whiffs of garbage and drunks wasn’t going to diminish its greatness. As a Lucky Peach article comparing SF versus NY food stated, "People move to New York to be plugged into the pulsebeat of the world.” I needed to feel the pulse.

After a weekend of co-ed bachelor party stuff, mainly consisting of a burlesque show at Duane Park, I was ready to dive into some of New York’s cultural offerings. Oh, this time around, I’m subletting a room in Stuy Town, which is located between 1st Ave and Avenue C. Stuy Town is a private residential village, six blocks high by three avenues deep, and filled with massive brown buildings where nice Manhattanites are silo-ed in. It’s a bit far from most of the subway stops but my summer plans are to just Citibike everywhere so no matter. (While I probably wouldn’t live here full time, my sublet is only for two months so I figured I would want to be in the city at least.)

If there’s any restorative for my joy in the city, it’s biking up and down the streets at night. 2nd Avenue bike lane, you're the best!

On Tuesday night, I went to my friend’s open salon at his School for Poetic Computation. Brandon, who’s actually my classmate from Taiwan, has also moved here from overseas concurrently with me, and is engaged in this ten week course. (The school's motto: "More poems less demos.”)

The salon featured a variety of artists, coders, video game makers, and other speakers who were sharing their works. It was a packed room and it made me think of how just about any niche interest in New York can bring in a crowd. That’s the beauty. Plus the crowd was quite diverse, filled with minorities and women, which was a pleasant surprise.
And then last night I went to a reading at AAWW, after biking up to the Flatiron and picking up dumplings and boba on the way. Hua Hsu, of Grantland and The Atlantic among many others, was introducing his new book, and the co-guests were stellar. Jon Caramanica, music writer for the New York Times. Ashok Kondabolu, formerly Dapwell from Das Racist. Plus Kiese Laymon, whose work I’d been following for years. (Laymon couldn’t make it unfortunately.) It was an all-star lineup and even with all that, I found myself there by way of Esther Wang, a writer I’ve only recently started following on Twitter.

Again, packed house. And a thought provoking event. I didn’t stick around afterwards because I rushed out for a hamburger and to watch the GSW-CLE game, but I’ll be back next week for an event with Esme Wang.
And I guess that’s what I’m talking about, that stuff like this doesn’t happen for me elsewhere. Maybe it’s there, maybe I’m not digging hard enough, but in New York things are just easy, accessible. There’s too many things that bring my various interests together. Of course this is weighed down with the inconvenience of living here, and the high cost, but that's just part of the package isn't it?

My stated goal this summer was to revamp my circle. Find some community, find some new friends, get inspired, get some work/writing done. And underpinning that is to find out where to stay for the next few months. I guess it’s a beginning. Again.

30 May 2016

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

I have never seen a season of the Bachelorette but due to following many Grantland / Channel 33 podcasts, I know more than my share about the shows. And while it’s fun listening to Juliet and Co. break down the contestants, I’ve decided that I’m going to follow the Bachelorette even more closely: by watching it.

I’m in because there’s a hole in my summer programming — the NBA playoffs are ending soon — and also because I hear good things about this season’s Bachelorette, Joelle “Jojo" Fletcher. She’s supposedly down to earth, goofy, a good hang, funny, and pretty real, by reality standards.

Oh right, if you don’t know how the show works, and really, congrats on avoiding the mega-franchise all these years, one lucky guy or gal gets sequestered in a house with twenty-plus members of the opposite sex and then they go about a process of dating, elimination, and heartbreaking to win a chance at eternal love. Currently only a few Bachelor/Bachelorette couples have made it all the way through to a successful post-show relationship, but hey, that’s just math isn’t it?

The popular parlour game is to ask your friends if they’d go on a show like this. Most sane people would say “hell no!” but really, when you think about it, when else are you presented with twenty odd people who are all vying for your attention? Sure, most of them have ulterior motives and some of them are total douchebags, but chances are you’ve probably never had so many people working so hard to get to know you.

Having now caught up on the premiere episode, here’s what I noted from EP1 of the twelfth season of the Bachelorette.

• There’s a meet and greet when the guys first get to the house. They emerge from a limo and have a few minutes to make an impression on Jojo. As one of the guys in the house succinctly puts it, there’s two types of guys in the house: classy dudes who project confidence, and then the ones who try too hard, were super nervous, and trotted out the gimmicks. The latter type sometimes got a laugh but when the jokes fell flat and the gag flopped, it just left the contestant in shame, on national television.

While there were a lot of shockingly horrible entrances, bad puns ("I must-ache you a question, but I'll shave it, for later”), and cheesy lines, the ultimate fail grade goes to Jon, the hapa contestant who actually said, "I’m half Chinese and half Scottish. But luckily for me, I’m half Scottish below the waist…” Whut?! Jojo was not amused. And while we can bag on Jon for his awful line, the fact that everyone else in the house ragged on him for wearing a “skirt” was even worse. Get over it, it’s a kilt. (Oh yeah, by the way, most of the Bachelorette contestants are total douchebags, even from the go, and I wouldn’t want to hang out with more than one or two of them for longer than five minutes.)

• Most everyone gave Jojo some variation of “you’re so beautiful, sweet, beautiful, etc.” A few contestants came out sincere, with move like "I didn't come here for a rose, I came here for a relationship.” The one was my favorite, “I love that you have a really good sense of self, that you're grounded, and that's super sexy.” I don’t know if this kind of stuff works, but it’s probably better than just saying how stunning Jojo looked all the time. Seriously, Jojo must have been gorgeous in person because all the guys were drooling over her.

• And there was one guy’s job description that was simply “hipster.” Unfortunately, a show like The Bachelorette has no idea what a hipster is and Brandon simply has longer hair than the other guys — and a weak chin. He confessed to having no idea about this show, or Jojo in general, and I was shocked to see stick around until next episode. (At the end of EP1, six contestants are sent home.)

• One guy also came out of the limo and greeted Jojo with a cheery, "How's it going girlie?” The use of “girlie” irked me to no end and it seemed so condescending. Tell me, is it condescending or not? Especially when the guy using it had just awful hair.

• Who knew All-4-One wasn’t a group of white guys? They came out to sing “I Swear” for one of the contestants and I was like shocked. All those years of George playing the song over and over and I had no idea they were a diverse group. In my defense, I didn’t know Billy Ocean was black until at least fifteen years ago.

• When in doubt about what to say, repeat Jojo’s mantra: “I’m so excited you’re here, we’re gonna have so much fun!” This will be my new go-to line in awkward situations. The best thing about Jojo was her absolute lack of a poker face. You could tell when she was into someone and when she was simply confused or put off. And that’s when watching her fake interest in stuff got 200% more exciting. To her credit, Jojo was really good about being game for everything the guys threw at her. Including sitting on an ex-Marine’s back while he did push ups. Who does push ups to make an impression? Oh right, little dudes with a Napoleon complex.

• So the big loser move of the night had to go to the guy who did the origami fortune telling thing and the “prize” was a kiss. After Jojo gave him a half-hearted peck, he asked her if it was a sympathy kiss. C’mon! If you have to coerce someone into a first kiss then you’re doing awfully wrong. Especially when you’re doing it elementary school style.

• Let’s talk about touching. Like is it normal for guys to touch a girl so much on a first date sort of thing? Technically the contestants weren’t on a date but they each had a few minutes alone with Jojo and the camera really zoomed in on how certain guys were so touchy with her. Caressing her hair, rubbing her back, holding her hands, etc. Is this okay? I feel like guys who are touchy feely off the bat are so gross. Who’s with me?!

• The Canadian guy with the creepy stare. Was, creepy. And then he got drunk and took off his clothes and started poking people in the belly button. And then he jumped in the pool. That is why you definitely need to meet your dates quickly in the process, otherwise a perfectly nice looking guy could turn out to be a total creepster. It's all in the eyes!

• Dating tip: If the best thing a girl can say after meeting you is “he’s so sweet,” you’re in trouble. Most of the guys who got the “sweet” kiss of death made no impression and were swiftly kicked out. Maybe nice guys don’t finish last in reality, but on reality TV they certainly blend into the background.

• Aaron Rodger’s younger brother, Jordan, is on this show. There’s no question he had the best chemistry with Jojo, both physically and emotionally, and he really put her at ease while most of the other guys were tense and nervous. However, there’s already drama about him as Jordan’s ex-girlfriend has taken to the interwebs to call him out for cheating. "Riding the bench [Jordan used to play in the NFL] doesn't get in the way of a relationship, but cheating does.” Oh snap! There’s also allegations that he’s on this show for exposure and not “in it for the right reasons.” While all of this may be true, it’ll be a major upset if anyone but Jordan wins Jojo’s heart.

• My friend Des is in a Bachelorette pool at her office so I'll be exclusively cheering for Chase, Derek, Robby, Chad Jordan, and Christian. The promos suggest Chad becomes a physically dangerous maniac so luckily Des crossed him off her initial list. I will be cheering extra hard for Christian, who seems like a stand up guy, and more importantly, is biracial and would be a nice reprieve from the complete whiteout of the previous Bachelorette winners. Oh yeah, there's so many basic dudes on this show it's like a documentary for me. David Attenborough presents Planet Earth: White Guys. Then again, most reality TV is full of these types so maybe it'll be nothing new.

• So far it has been interesting to see the guys size each other up, get jealous, sweat in nervousness, and generally try to create a pecking order. I'm hoping this type of shenanigans continues and I'll be taking careful notes all season long about what tips I can glean from Bachelorette.

25 May 2016

Hello Robot!

For many years I’ve kind of co-opted Kidrobot’s robot head logo and used it as my avatar for everything, especially social media. Back in the mid-2000s, we loved Kidrobot and would always make a point to stop by if we were in Santa Monica or in the Bay. My friend JMZ had a nice collection of designer vinyl figurines but I don’t recall ever buying more than a few small items. Instead I adopted, ahem stole, the Kidrobot Mascot.

Well, a month or so ago I started using Fiverr to make random stuff like cartoon portraits for my friend. The first time I heard of Fiverr was years ago, when another friend hired someone to make a hamster eating lettuce birthday video. It was brilliant.

For some reason I’d never touched Fiverr until recently, when it occurred to me that I had some websites to redesign and wanted to revamp the logo. Well, turns out that Fiverr was perfect for the job. While there’s a lot to be said for undervaluing graphic designer’s work and paying just $5 for a logo (I tended to pay $50 due to extras, revisions, and ownership), I couldn’t resist. It's hypocritical, I know. But if you don't have lots of money to splash around, and can take good creative control, I can see using Fiverr for an abundance of tasks. Although here are some links to read through before you embark on your Fiverr quest:

Personally, I have enjoyed the results of my Fiverr gigs. For example, I redid the Rich in Color logo, and then used Fiverr to make a matching tiled background too. And I had another logo person do my podcast logo which I'll throw up later. And while I may have been able to make something with my limited Illustrator/Photoshop skills, it was nice to offload the work to someone technically superior to myself.

Most importantly, I found a guy who specialized in robots and it occurred to me that I could have my own robot head! So I commissioned him to make me a robot head and after some back and forth, I emerged with my very own logo. Wheeee!

Another friend liked this robot-me idea so much that she recently commissioned her own -- complete with a signature hoop skirt -- and now we both have robot-me’s. So, despite how you may feel about the gig economy, and how Fiverr operates, it can be handy to use for a quick purchase or even for something purely for fun. I mean, its only five bucks! I downloaded the Fiverr iOS app and kind to like just scrolling the various options.

While many have complained about the quality of service and results they receive on Fiverr, I’ve had a great experience so far, and would like to link to the Fiverr designers I used. And encourage you to get your own robot avatar!

15 May 2016

Stay Cool

I read a lot of newsletters, like a lot. I rattled off a list of my favorites at the beginning of the year here, "Fit to Print," and now I finally have my own. Okay, well, I have like a ton of other newsletters, just like I have a bajillion blogs, but my new newsletter actually has a purpose. And a mission.

The format is four or five things a week about movies, words, music, books, apps, TV shows, random stuff, etc. All with the idea that those who have lost their "cool" can stay semi-relevant by subscribing. Mostly I just want to get the song stuck in everyone's head. "You got to cool it now / Ooooooh watch out / You're gonna lose control." Partially it's fun to say I have a newsletter in polite company, partially it fulfills my dream of being a pop culture coach, and partially I'm learning how to use MailChimp on a higher level.

So yeah, subscribe to Cool It Now! Like right now. And here's the quickie Tumblr I threw together for it, featuring Snoopy. Plus past issues if you want to take a look.

10 April 2016

Eat Your Heart Out: TPE Night Markets

If you live a late night lifestyle like I do, Taiwan’s night markets are essential eating for you. Most of them are open until midnight or later and they have all the delicious foods you crave while taking that disco nap. While I didn’t explore every night market in Taipei, I went to a lot of them. Trying to do a must-eat list of any night market is beyond the scope of this post but I wanted to highlight some favorites items. If you’re looking for fancy photos and nice reviews, you’re looking in the wrong place. I was there to eat, eat, eat.

My basic M.O. was to walk along and collect everything I wanted, and then sit down at a soupy noodle place to eat everything. Some of my staple foods at night markets: fried chicken, guava, fried squid, aiyu jelly or grass jelly drink, pan fried dumplings, maybe an egg fried rice if I’m feeling rice-y. And if I’m around any tofu pudding 豆花 I have to get it. I can eat a lot at one sitting, despite appearances. Nothing disappoints me more than when a partner-in-eating takes three bites and then declares that they're stuffed. Really?!

Here's my other post on late night and non-night market foods I liked: TPE Eats. And if you're don't want to read a thing, just check out the Foursquare list I made.

Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市
This was my go-to night market for late night dinner or a snack. The main drag is pretty short but filled with delicious foods. While the fried food selection tends to be lacking, there's a little bit of everything here, even if most of the stuff isn't top notch. Still, it's an easy in-and-out option, with a slew of shaved ice and dessert places. Sometimes I would swing by Ningxia right after dinner elsewhere, simply for dessert.
  • Boneless Milkfish @ 李家香無刺虱目魚 : This delicate fish soup is light and delicious. Perfect to wash down all the other stuff you just gorged on.
  • Sesame Peanut Mochi Shaved Ice @ Linji Mochi 林記燒麻糬 : One of my favorite desserts in Taiwan, although when I took friends to it, half of them weren't as enthusiastic. I don't care, this giant mochi ball concoction is a winner.
  • Sweet glutinous balls 湯圓 and sweet tofu : There’s actually two stands right next to each other on the right side of the street, and they serve similar but slightly different items. Pick your poison, as it were.
  • Thai fusion @ 泰味鮮 : It's more like Taiwanese food with Thai flavors, and good for some staple rice and noodle items.
  • Pig liver soup @ Yuan Huan 圓環邊蚵仔煎 : Most people come here for the oyster pancake 蚵仔煎 but I don’t mess with that stuff so I come for the liver soup.
Raohe Night Market 饒河夜市
This is the night market that many people cite as their favorite. The main reason is that it's got a huge selection of food and with just one long street, it's easy to stroll down. Of course, if it's crowded, which Raohe most often is, getting through just one side can be a chore.

Ciyou Temple 慈祐宮 sits at one end of Raohe and is a nice "wow" moment if you're bringing friends. Note: I tend to skip the wait for the famous Fuzhou pepper bun, or hujiao bing 胡椒餅, because the line is always so long. But if you've never tried it you should get it at least once.
  • Okonomiyaki @ Fukushima Yaki 福島屋圓圓燒 : There's two okonomiyaki spots but this one is better. Look for the yellow awning, the two dudes slinging it, and the round portions (as opposed to the square version).
  • Oyster vermicelli @ 百年老店 : There's a lot of rice vermicelli around, of course, and you might be intrigued by the line at the various Ah-Chung Flour Rice Noodle spots. But this tiny stall at Raohe is delicious and I'd recommend getting the oyster vermicelli, the meatball soup, and the rice. [Can't find a link to this place, so not sure if that's the name. Consult the photo.]
Shilin Night Market 士林夜市
The most touristy and biggest night market in Taipei. Shilin is often a shit show. But there's a ton of shopping there, multiple alleys and avenues to explore, and you gotta go just to go. For most of my time in Taipei I avoided Shilin except when friends visited because I didn't love any of the food there.

Then I discovered the best cold noodle place in all of Taipei. Exclamation exclamation! Now, I've had a lot of cold noodle places -- after hours, for lunch, in my dreams -- but this one is seriously the best. Something about their peanut sauce is just way better than the other cold noodle spots. Sure, Shilin is a little far up there but the Jiantan MRT drops you right off at the entrance and shockingly, Uber-ing there is pretty cheap, like NT150 from Zhongxiao Xinsheng.
  • Cold noodles @ 好朋友涼麵 : They only serve cold noodles and egg drop soup but what a combo. This was my last meal in Taipei right before I left. I weep for how late I discovered these noodles. The name means "good friend" and it's very apt. Farewell friend, farewell...

Shida Night Market 師大夜市
For three months I lived right in Shida night market so I’m pretty familiar with it. Even still, there’s a ton of food I haven’t tried there, and even something pretty well-known, like the salted water chicken I didn’t try until my last week in Taiwan. There’s too much stuff to go over in detail but my go-tos were the scallion pancakes (not as good as one in Dongmen, but serviceable), the gua bao 割包, saying hello to the noodle robot, lu wei 燈籠滷味, and the breakfast spot when you go to class at 10AM (or when you come back from Chess at 5AM),… The list goes on. But below are some highlights.

Also, Roboppy has a list of her favorite places to eat in Shida and covers quite a lot of ground, so you should take a look. Actually Robyn is dropping incredible posts about everything Taiwan recently, so go check out all her Favorite Things Taiwan pieces.
Lehua Night Market 樂華夜市
While this night market is quite a bit further away, out to the east by Dingxi MRT in New Taipei, I really like it. For one, it's expansive, with a variety of foods and shops to look at. Also, I've only got one recommendation here, which makes it a super special spot...
  • Thai papaya salad @ 官記泰式涼拌木瓜 : The story goes that this guy used to be a gangster (and I believe it) but is now slinging papaya salad. It's a husband-and-wife team and there's always a huge line because he makes the papaya salad one by one. You'll see why it takes so long once you get there. (Tip: Be careful when ordering because even the mild spicy is crazy hot.) I've only ever had this dish twice but I've gone to Lehua four times to look for it -- it's often closed. This papaya salad is fucking great and I kind of just like watching him make it. Maximum effort for maximum papaya. 
And of course there's a whole bunch of other night markets in Taipei but these were the ones I frequented the most. I went to Tonghua a few times, walked through Datong once, cruised the very traditional Huaxi one, including the weird and sort of scary Snake Alley. When we were very young I remember going to Snake Alley and thinking how cool it was, but now it's basically dilapidated and freaky. Some interesting turtle specimens in the tanks though!