Drone Racing at MakerFaire – Slate Piece

I wrote about the new sport – and yeah, it’s a sport – of drone racing for Slate. I headed to World Makerfaire in Queens at the end of September, which was definitely the first time I’ve ever been out to Queens. (It takes a long time when you’re heading in from Brooklyn, as it turns out, though I’m glad the NYC subway has a flat fare).

Drone racing was a huge hit at World MakerFaire 2015, and it was fascinating to watch the public reception, considering that I’d only just become aware of the sports existence a year ago. Here’s hoping we’ll soon be able to bet on high-tech drone races in Macau and Monaco in the not so distant future. Check out the Aerial Sports League for more information.

Some bonus photographs from the event, which didn’t make it onto Slate:


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Kenneth Loo on the field. FPV goggles are at least semi-cool, if you ask me.

eli tinkering

Eli attaching a baseball to a Hiro battle drone,  since,  duh, what else are you going to do?

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Jason fixing a drone before getting back into the race.

reiner and jason

Reiner is having some sort of strong opinion here but I can’t remember what it was.

fighting drones and kids

In which I experiment with action photography settings on my D600.

It’s a Weird World After All – China’s Foreigner Theme Park

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It’s a Weird World After All – Roads and Kingdoms

“The white form of Christ the Redeemer, standing considerably shorter than his Brazilian counterpart, spun in slow motion atop a yellow pedestal on an orange, artificial mountain. Candy-colored gondolas bobbed gently above the Christ’s outstretched, beseeching arms. A waterslide, painted blue and rimmed with green, snaked down the side of the mountain. The scent of cumin-flavored lamb skewers hung in the air. Off in the distance I could see an ersatz Egyptian pyramid; the white and shining spire of a Western-style church; and the Guinness World Records-certified world’s largest public bathroom. Beyond the attractions, across the wide brown expanse of the Yangtze River, rose the green and hazy hills of Chongqing, dotted with white apartment buildings still under construction.

I was at an international themed Chinese amusement park, and it was exactly as weird as I’d expected it to be.”

Sometimes I still travel write! Special bonus offer – this Flickr album has all the photos I took while I visited Meixin Foreigner’s Street.

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Anti-Vietnam Protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Oct 6th

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Protests against a Vietnamese officials statement about the historical ownership of Kampuchea Krom – what is now Southern Vietnam – continued into a third day on Monday, as members of various groups allied against the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia gathered outside the Vietnamese Embassy on Monivong Boulevard.

By my estimation, around 100 people were at the Embassy by 11:00 AM, and I was told that other activists had convened at the French Embassy and at the National Assembly – I’d appreciate it if someone could verify that for me.

Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.
Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.

Many monks had turned out to support the nationalist cause, and they had brought sundry burnable items with them. First to go was a flag, set ablaze to shouts denigrating the “Youn,” a term for the Vietnamese many feel is pejorative. (One of the monks told the Phnom Penh Post that the flag burning, while effectively symbolic, was also rather expensive).

People smiled and laughed as the flag burned, snapping photos with their mobile phones and tablets. The monks added a rather showman-like element to the burnings, posing dramatically for the cameras, and shouting their complaints about the Vietnamese and their spokesman’s statements about Kampuchea Krom into a large white microphone.

Riot police seemed disinterested.
Riot police seemed disinterested.

As the day wore on – punctuated with occasionally bouts of heavy rain – the monks brought out a sheaf of conical hats, meant to represent Vietnam, and proceeded to write upon then destroy them. “This blood is black blood” read the hats, which were alternately sat upon, spat on, and crushed beneath the sandaled, sticker-adorned feet of the activists present.

A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.
A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.

I chatted with a few of the activists who were present there, including 26-year-old aluminum factory worker Rakin Sok, who told me he works in South Korea and recently returned to participate in the protests.  “Cambodia is not a free country – it’s Communist like Iran or China,” he said, noting that the government prioritizes benefits for foreigners (such as the Vietnamese) over those doled out to its own people.

“If we don’t have negotiations, we will burn the Embassy,” 45-year-old retiree Pearun Nuon told me, taking a harder tack that has been stated publicly before by the activists. “All Cambodian people, they don’t like Vietnamese people, you know – they’re thieves, they stole my country, they stole my land.”

Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.
Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.

There is, perhaps, some precedent here: in 2003, the Thai Embassy in Cambodia was sacked and partially burned, after a Khmer newspaper claimed that a Thai actress said Angkor Wat historically belonged to Thailand.

Nuon told me that there are “now around 4 million Vietnamese” illegally living in Cambodia, and expressed his desire that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party take power in the next national election. “I hope some future new government will send them back to their country,” he said.

Chantou, a 29-year-old local government volunteer for the Chankarmon district, claimed that the Vietnamese largely control the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and by proxy, Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Ho Chi Minh always tried to drive away the government of Vietnam, to get Cambodia to belong to Vietnam,” he said.

Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.
Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.

While he believes that the Vietnamese enjoy special privileges, he prefers that the problem be brought to the Hague, rather than violently dealt with. A new government might help accomplish that, he said, albeit with the people’s consent. “Sam Rainsy has lots of promise, but if he doesn’t follow that promise, the people will protest, and Mr Sam Rainsy will stop his powers.”

Eighteen-year-old Em Chhuna told me he’d come to demand an apology from Vietnamese officials, claiming that the government is “under the slavery of the Vietnamese.”

Preparing to stomp on hats.
Preparing to stomp on hats.

“Last year I read a book by William Shawcross,” he said. “Even my King, Hun Sen, and others, they vote for Vietnam. Everything is prepared by Vietnam. I absolutely want Vietnam to leave Cambodia.”

Chhuna lamented that his neighborhood along the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh was being taken over by the Vietnamese, but said he would be willing to accept a small number of Vietnamese immigrants if they arrived legally.

What does he think of these protest tactics? “It could become a violent demonstration,” he told me.

“Are you OK with violence?” I asked him.

“Maybe,” he said, with a thoughtful look.

Burning paper Vietnamese flags.
Burning paper Vietnamese flags.



Chengdu: First Impressions

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Chengdu falls neatly into the orbit of massive, bustling Chinese cities that the West has given almost no thought to. Certainly I hadn’t, beyond a vague sense that it was in Sichuan and was where people went if they wanted to go see pandas. I was not expecting an immense, modern metropolis with a Metro system, massive designer shopping outlets, and a mall that so huge that it has an actual, simulated beach in it. Such are the wonders of modern China.

I mainly came here for the food, after a life-time spent being intrigued by the kind of peppers that make your mouth go numb and strange upon consumption. I flew in from Shanghai, catching a late afternoon plane from the immense and disturbingly empty Pudong airport.

The new Shanghai airport is like someone’s vague, poorly-expressed fever-dream of a welcoming and luxurious international airport, with gate upon gate laid out in a grey and very clean expanse, with nowhere to buy much of anything beyond a single Famly Mart convenience store, as well as some souvenir luxury food emporiums that sell little beyond very strange-looking beef jerky. Thankfully, my China Air flight was on time, which left me with only a bit of time to enjoy my ready-packaged tuna fish sushi roll.

The hostel sent someone to pick me up in Chengdu, and we drove into town – allowing me to immediately appreciate how enormous the city really is. I had a vague idea of Chengdu as being Northern and largeish, but no comprehension of its true scale: it is in fact China’s 5th largest city and has a population of 14 million. For reference, the 2012 population of New York City was 8.337 million. (Some fudging may have been done on the municipal area vs. the city proper – this link puts Chengdu at a respectable 39 on the world scale of biggest populations, between Hyderabad and Lahore).

Street crawfish in Chengdu.
Street crawfish in Chengdu.

As we drove in, I saw the curious neon expanse of the New Century Global Center, which is supposedly the largest building in the world. Coming in, I tend to believe it. That’s big enough to house 20 Sydney Opera Houses. China, as is evident to anyone paying attention, is going hell-for-leather to rack up as many world records as humanly possible.

I stayed at the Chengdu FlipFlop Hostel, which was a deceptively large place near the Chunxi Metro area of the city – near the glitzy International Finance Square mall, which has an entire wall covered in lightbulbs compelling you to buy exceedingly expensive  Louis Vuitton products.

The hostel happened to be near a nice food area, and I walked down the street watching Sichuanese promenade on a Friday night. Slightly less accustomed to a sea of foreigners than those in Shanghai, young men said “Hello!” to me as they went by on their silent electric scooters. Hot pot place after hot pot place lined the streets, as well as small BBQ places selling fish and squid and small birds on sticks.

There were also small tuk-tuks selling noodles, and numerous restaurants filled with hard-drinking and very sociable Chengdu natives. I noticed a rough collie – the Lassie-type dog – standing by a BBQ stall, shaved down with a summer cut like all the other furry dogs with owners here. There were also crawfish, which I wish I could get the chance to try.

beef fried with pretzel chengdu (1 of 1)

Eager to use a picture menu, I opted for a restaurant. Eager to try Sichuanese food in its native home, I walked into a popular looking spot and walked in. Pointing wildly at the menu while a disenchanted looking Chinese woman stared at me, I ended up with a delicious dish of stir-fried beef with Sichuan chiles, peppers, ginger, and – curiously enough – chunks of breadstick and peanut. The combination was delicious and entirely unusual, with the oil-sodden breadsticks adding a tasty, carby influence to the stir-fry.

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I also enjoyed ordering green beans with stir-fried eggplants, which is a typical sort of Sichuanese thing. There’s a photo of the restaurant sign up above, and someone could do me a favor and translate for me if they’re feeling compassionate.


In Which I Confess I Like Florida

I harbor a controversial belief: I like Florida.

It is time for me to admit that I am in fact from Florida – one of those curiously marked number who did not alight in the state from somewhere else on the way to somewhere else again. I was born in Tampa and my earliest culinary memory was of a Cuban sandwich with salami on it, which I feel gives me some validation.

florida fort 2

My grandparents still live in Tampa, and I manage to make it there every year to visit them, usually meeting one or another family member at the Ancestral Residence, which is really just a nice white house on a canal. And reader, yes: I enjoy visiting Florida. I look forward to it. I am only a little crazy.

I admit it. Florida has a bad rap lately. This is due to the constant stream of absurdist news stories that come out of my native state’s swamps, beaches, and endless rows of slowly sinking tract housing: cannibals, drug-addicted women with funny names armed with rocket launchers, fatal bug eating contests, very slow but extremely determined dowager beach toy thieves, and an endless march of baroque sex scandals.

washed out sun lizard

Florida is also the home of sundry political horrors, including such low-lights as George Zimmerman, hanging chads, and Mark Rubio’s furtive, terrified expression over a certain tiny water bottle. Finally, Florida boasts a remarkable menagerie of animal life: starting with pretty pink flamingos and ending with poodle-eating alligators, flanked by boa constrictors that happily live (and eat) in your pool shed.

With all these nightmares taken into account, why do I like Florida? I should sit down and make a little list.

1. The food is excellent and unusual. Florida is the most South American of US states for glaringly obvious geographic reasons, and boasts a diverse array of cuisines that can be rather difficult to find in many other bits of the continental US. Combine this South American potentiality with excellent fresh seafood and the influence of the other cultures who flock here to enjoy the weather, and you’ve got a delightful diaspora food scene. Guatemalan, Cuban, German, Vietnamese, gulf-coast seafood, and barbeque are readily available. (But forget about Chinese, I haven’t figured that out yet.)

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Whenever I come to Tampa, I ritualistically track down and devour a Cuban sandwich, made with ham and pickles and salami and cheese on pressed, garlicky bread. For some reason, the best Cubans almost always lurk within the suspicious facades of gas station cafes.

Whenever I visit, I also find myself eating at least one fish sandwich — flash fried and served on a sesame bun with a bit of mayonnaise, a classic that Frenchy’s over in Clearwater probably does best with fresh slabs of flaky grouper. (The conservation status of grouper being what it is, you’re better off ordering mahi-mahi). If they’re on offer, I always like to order Greek-style boiled shrimp: plump shell-on beasts served with a marinade of olive oil and oregano and lemon.

There is also Key Lime pie, which out of state bakeries usually butcher into a green, artificially flavored abomination that sits unloved on the buffet line. Here, Key Lime pie is a fine art. It must be off-yellow, the graham cracker crust must be fresh, and it must taste aggressively of fresh, real-world key limes — offset with a bit of sour cream and condensed milk. The Publix key lime pie? It’s just fine.


2. The exhilarating feeling of living in a place that wants to kill you. If you’re from Down Under, you will immediately and viscerally appreciate this. Florida and Australia’s tropical regions are very similar places — fetid, lush, and full of fecund creatures that are capable of harming or killing you. One can only imagine the profound terror Florida’s earliest settlers must have felt when first entering this actively hostile but rather interesting ecosystem, an adrenaline rush any average Florida homeowner can experience if they regularly turn over rocks in their backyard.

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Floridians do not get complacent: as soon as one begins to forget about the reality of alligators or Burmese Pythons, one comes across a prehistoric beast curled up quietly in your grill, or waddling with grim determination across the interstate on a Tuesday morning. Beware.

It doesn’t end with giant reptiles, of course. We have insects as well, ranging from venomous, swarming fire ants to gigantic cockroaches that are delicately called “Palmetto bugs.” In recent years, Florida has in fact witnessed an unholy battle between non-native fire ants and equally non-native but meaner Raspberry Crazy Ants — little creatures that like living inside one’s personal electronics, and die in such voluminous numbers that they resemble brown snow.

Finally, we have sharks. I have vivid memories of being a little kid, vacationing on Boca Grande, and being told that it was not OK to swim in the ocean at night. I asked why not, and was told, quite seriously: “That’s when the sharks hunt. They attacked a guy swimming off the dock last year.”

And for years afterward, I was even more convinced than most children that sharks lived in swimming pools.

I firmly believe that residing in places full of top predators and malevolent insects and deadly sea-life makes one smarter, in the classic Darwinian sort of sense — or at the very least, it makes one feel a lot less bored. I attribute any modest life success I have experienced to my early encounters with Florida’s natural wonders.

I  also have some anthropological theories about why this proximity to natural danger makes both Floridians and Australians unusually fond of drinking cheap beer while wearing tank-tops, but that will have to wait until next time.

florida beach

3. The platonic ideal of Gulf Coast beaches. I grew up on Florida beaches, and although I have lived in California off-and-on since 2001, I never accepted these chilly and wind-swept expanses that Bay Area denizens rave about as the real thing. What good is a beach if the waves can merrily break your bones, and if you require a wetsuit and a powerful insurance policy just to go for a dip? Why would anyone spend much time on a beach that is regularly swept by chilly winds, and obscured by great inrushes of fog?

But Florida beaches — they’re superior. They have plush white sand that grows warm and chalky by 10:00 AM, and banks of seaweed that take on a vague but nostalgically fishy smell, one I find immensely and immediately evocative. The water is bathtub warm and very shallow, and as kids, we took great delight in swimming out a seemingly impossibly long distance to stand on the sandbar, and look back at our families waving at us from the shore.

seashells detail

Even at the edge of the water, there are small quotidian delights: sand crabs burrowing like frightened white groundhogs, and the astounding array of fashion-swatch colors found in tiny, sand-loving coquina clams.

I would gather these coquina clams in line with the finest designs, and deposit them in small sand enclosures on the beach — they resembled something out of a cartoon, small living chips of a mosaic. To this day, I find it remarkable that something so colorful is real.

Suck it, Northern California beaches, where you have to put on a windbreaker just to go read your book.

4. Enormous thunderstorms. This may sound unusual, but hear me out: the weather in California is boring. The weather forecasters in most of California look so completely under-stimulated that you can tell they’re just hoping for a tsunami or heinous earthquake to manifest, anything to break up the horrid monotony of predicting — yet again — that it will probably be sunny and somewhere between 65 and 80 degrees.

Not so in Florida, where enormous, lurid thunderstorms roll in most afternoons with little advance warning, savagely drenching tourists from New England who lack the biological adaptation to weather that wants to maim you.

But Gulf Coast residents know better. Experienced Floridians know an impending thunderstorm or two-day hurricane is a delightful excuse to hole up on your screen porch with some alcohol and the latest Carl Hiassen book. It’s free entertainment: as a native Floridian, I might even pay good money for a channel that played nothing but aggressive storms at regular intervals. This could also  explain why I’ve adapted so nicely to the similar weather in Southeast Asia.

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5. Ridiculous gift shops. Florida is and has long been America’s finest purveyor of tacky tourist experiences and the cheap, bizarre crap that invariably accompanies them. As a young patron of the touristy Greek enclave of Tarpon Springs, near Tampa, I fell in love early with pink and green rubber sharks that squeak when poked, preserved alligators that are pretending to smoke cigars, vaguely pornographic postcards featuring bikini models from 1981, and endless variants on the theme of Yard Flamingo.

Now, these strange objects are imprinted into my soul, and some instinct deep within calls to me gently, imploring me to fill my future home with a healthy assortment of bullshit Florida tourist goods.

I mostly resist, but I know there is a day coming when I will outfit multiple rooms of my future domicile with weird little magnets and decorated, plasticized puffer fish. There is no sense fighting this. Indeed, I await it, hungrily.

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There are probably more reasons I like Florida, reasons that embedded deeper in my psyche and are harder to outline in simple list form. Perhaps the main one is that I was born there and have gone every year, and one’s birthplace — even one as fetid and surrealist as Florida — becomes imprinted into one’s DNA. Our geography makes us who we are, and we are always inclined to remember it.

I believe this geographical theory, as I look out across a scrubby landscape of palm trees and South American strip malls and poorly-parked Cadillacs, all of it sinking further into the ocean with each passing year.

“Ah,” my mind says. “This is fetid and trashy! And this I understand.”

Taiwan: The Maokong Gondola, Ignore Hello Kity

The Maokong gondola.
The Maokong gondola.

Taiwan’s tourism board is very intent on getting you to go try out the Maokong Gondola.  A gondola system imported from France, Taipei hails it as one of its top tourist destinations, allowing visitors to be conveniently ferried from the Taipei Zoo to the Zhinan Temple without having to clog up the roads or hail a cab.

As more than a bit of a contrary dick, I’m normally suspicious of tourist attractions that people are very aggressively trying to get me to go see. Especially when they’re thoroughly emblazoned with Hello Kitty, which is exactly what the powers that be have done: little cartoons of Hello Kitty greeting pandas. Hello Kitty riding the gondola – expressions of Taiwan’s national romance with a bizarre little mouthless cat.

Farmer at Maokong.
Farmer at Maokong.

Regardless. We went and did it, and we were very happy we did, because the Taipei gondola system is a remarkably relaxing (and pleasingly cool) way to spend the day.  To reach the gondola stop, we jumped on the endlessly convenient MRT and rode to the Taipei Zoo Station, which we could readily identify from the sea of panda images at the stop. A nice young college student who attended Michigan State made sure we went to the right place, as often happens in Taipei: a concerned local will find themselves wondering if you have any clue what you’re doing, and will steer you in the right direction.

Views from the gondola.
Views from the gondola.

Gondola passes were inexpensive, and we were able to swipe ourselves into the boarding area with the same EasyCard we’d purchased and filled up on our first day here. You’re charged based on how many stations you exit at. Even though it was a Friday afternoon in summer, we got there around 10:30 AM and were pleased to find there were no lines.

Skipping the zoo — sue me, I think pandas are evolutionary dead-ends who should be chastised — we decided to ride all the way up to the final stop, the Maokong station. This proved to be a wonderful 30 minute ride over dense jungle, with immense views of the Taipei skyline, the highways snaking off into the distance, and the blue, jewel-box expanse of the Taipei 101 Tower. The only annoyance were the Hello Kitty stickers that had been thoughtfully affixed to the windows, though one could pretty easily see over the top of the eponymous cat’s bulbous white head. It was almost silent inside the gondola, and we were well ventilated by the wind. It was in fact so pleasant that my dad fell asleep at least twice.

We didn’t know what to expect at the top, but got off anyway. Maokong proved to be a pleasant little tea growing community, with leafy walking trees and a wonderful high-altitude breeze that was a far cry from the infernal temperatures of Taipei in the inner city in summer. Tea houses and small restaurants dot the walking path in either direction, as well as small-scale temples and the occasional summer home.

Maokong, interestingly enough, translates into “cat empty.” This has nothing to do with the actual population numbers of felines here, but is probably a Japanese bastardization of the original  Taiwanese Hokkien “jiâu-khang,” a name for the little natural potholes that dot the rocks here.

Buying a very excellent onion cake.
Buying a very excellent onion cake.

It was quiet up here too, with only a few tourists in evidence, and a couple of exceptionally hardy (and sweaty) hikers huffing past on the way down to somewhere. We stopped and bought a flaky and delicious onion cake with egg inside from a woman and her young daughter, then walked to view a small temple, brushing flaky crumbs off our clothes.

“If you move to Taipei, you want to know someone with a place up here,” my dad observed, as another quiet little breeze swept past us.

dragon fountain 2

We walked back to the gondola stop after a while and descended down the hill to the Zhinan Temple stop, intending to check out the remarkable Chinese edifice in red and blue that we’d spotted on the way up. At the MRT stop, we walked to the left to check out the decadent water and garden feature outside, featuring a golden dragon, an artificial waterfall, and well-thought out spritzers of cool air.

dragon head derp

There was a path through the forest with represetnation by different animals of the Chinese zodiac, but we turned around and walked to the famous Chi Nan Taoist temple itself, the other direction below the MRT line. Founded in 1882, this exceedingly majestic mountain-side temple is devoted to Tang dynasty scholar Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese mythology. Getting here was once an exhausting affair consisting of well over 1,000 up-hill steps, but in recent years, a bus route and now a highly sophisticated gondola allow anyone with a pulse to view this sacred site – so goes progress.

temple hill

We wandered through the red and yellow halls and looked at the offerings of fruit and snack food to the Immortal at the central Chungyang Baodian chapel. Locals filtered in and out, carrying offerings of purple orchids, incense, and fruit to be placed at the shrine. An attendant informed us that the temple had free water and tea, and we poured some out from a large silver jug.

The aggressively bearded Lü Dongbin is known to be the patron saint of barbers and their “immortal patriarch,” in case you were wondering about this kind of thing. He’s also supposed to be very good at delivering people from poverty and seducing unmarried women, although I admit I did not find myself seduced by an immortal Taoist scholar during my visit. (This is almost disappointing).

Tree on the path near Zhinan Temple.
Tree on the path near Zhinan Temple.

Unmarried couples are traditionally warned not to come here for this very reason, although I submit that this is the most excellent excuse for a breakup I’ve ever heard. “I’m sorry, it’s not you – it’s the irresistible influence of the spirit of Lü Dongbin.”

Proceeding to the basement, we were impressed to find a room full of golden tag-like offerings and statues of the Eight Immortals, with a ceiling painted blue with tiny lights meant to represent stars.

Trees with golden offerings on the path to Zhinan.
Trees with golden offerings on the path to Zhinan.

We came out again and decided to walk down the covered path towards the farther off temples — with great views of the temple behind us, and a brief respite from the direct sun.  Eventually, we headed back to the MRT stop and another highly relaxing aerial trip back down the hill.

Regardless of your stance on Hello Kitty and popular tourist attractions, you should take the Maokong Gondola ride if you’re in Taipei. When I return here, I’m especially interested in taking the gondola ride at night, which will guarantee a remarkable night-time view of Taipei and a quiet evening meal at the restaurants up at Maokong.


maokong view

Taiwan: Taipei Night Markets

cooking night market

Night markets are likely Taipei’s most iconic attraction, and probably the one most visible to those who have never visited the country before. Food Adventurers like Anthony Bourdain regularly traipse through them with a camera crew following behind, sampling this and that from different carts, beneath a canopy of red-and-yellow lights.

Not that I’m going to be contrary, regardless of my opinion on Xtreme Travel television shows. Taipei night markets are awesome, and the food is unmissable. They’re huge, walking food-courts, and if you do manage to find a place to sit and eat, they provide remarkably pleasing people-watching, with all of Taipei’s different subcultures on display.

All are united by one thing: the desire to eat something inexpensive, tasty, and preferably exceedingly fully-flavored. And they do mean full flavored: as a friend of mine observed to me yesterday, “I think Taipei is the stinkiest city in the world.” (In the good way).

Kids gambling for prizes.
Kids gambling for prizes.

We visited a few different night markets in Taipei but were particularly taken with the Ningxia street variant. It’s an easy stroll from the Shuanglian or Zhongshan MRT stops, and you’ll know it when you see it from the surrounding commotion on any given evening. Friday evening found the place packed face-to-back with strolling, hungry people, perusing the wares from stands that seemed to be intentionally packed uncomfortably close together.

Once you get over the closeness of the situation, you quickly realize that English signage has been provided for your convenience (well, probably), making it a bit easier to determine what you’re actually getting. Not that it’s too important: if it looks good, point at it, pay a rather nominal amount of money, and you’ll be eating it within five minutes.

taiwan oyster pancake

Taiwan has unusually fantastic oysters – tiny and briny, with a delicate texture. It’s considered essentially mandatory to order oyster omelette at the night markets here, which is made with egg, oysters, green onion, and some starch to give the whole affair a characteristically glutinous texture.

making oyster pancke

The starch is tossed into the skillet, the eggs come next, and then come the oysters. It’s all served with a slightly sweet, savory sauce that’s placed on top, and there’s chili sauce on the table. It’s a pleasantly filling and briny comfort food, the sort of thing I wish you could just order ordinarily for breakfast at American diners.

spicy chicken nuggets

They didn’t really look like much, but it turns out that the Taiwanese have, through some dark pact, become some of the finest chicken friers in the world. We were exceedingly impressed with this bag of dark meat chicken nuggets, coated with a pungent dusting of five spice powder, chili, some sugar, and who-knows-what-else. Also keep an eye out for fried Taiwanese chicken served with a distinctive vinegar sauce, an elegant combination of flavors.

sea urchins

Seafood is an immense draw at the nightmarkets, with great assortments of prawns, lobsters, sea urchins, and oysters large and small displayed on ice and ready for grilling or stir-frying.

grilling scallops

It’s beautiful, fresh seafood that would be the envy of any locavore snob with a fixed gear bicycle in San Francisco. (Taiwan, of course, has its own complement of people with ironic facial hair who ride fixies and have very strong opinions about food.)

squid stands alone

Both squid and chicken cutlets are flattened to remarkable dimensions and flash-fried here, providing one with a conveniently hand-held slab of protein custom built for walking around and looking at things. Sitting while eating is not considered particularly important in Taiwan.

stir frying

We also tried the “aboriginal style pork sausage,” which tasted pretty much like a standard Asian style sweet sausage but was quite tasty. Beyond that, we simply wandered around taking in the energy of the place, and enjoying the photographic potential one is accorded by a place with a whole lot of different kinds of lighting.

Night time in Taipei.
Night time in Taipei.

Drone Journalism Survey and a Sacramento River Video

stanford kit drone

If you’ve spent any time at all around me in recent months, you are probably aware I’m really, really interested in UAVs — often called “drones.” I did a brief story on consumer-level UAV technology for school, realized how unfathomably cool they were, and joined the Stanford University UAV club.

Now, I own a Phantom 1 with a camera gimbal and am hoping to build my own. I’m also planning on going overseas with a couple of camera UAVs and putting them through their paces on the Southeast Asia correspondence beat. One way or another.

Now, you can help me out by filling out a survey I’ve put together for my digital entrepreneurship class at Stanford. I’m interested in figuring out a way to put together a NGO or a small business using UAVs to gather both images and data, and your input would be most helpful.

Find the survey here.

Here’s a quick and dirty video of the Sacramento River in spring near my parents house in Carmichael. Why Paganini? Why not Paganini?


I Drive to Half Moon Bay A Lot

I drive to Half Moon Bay a lot, and I take pictures of landscapes. My one complaint is that it’s still too damned cold this time of year. Otherwise? Perfect.
kids at hmb

I don’t know these people, but they’re cute.

pint reyes textures

Weathered rocks, which are always appealing to me.

more abstract HMB


more surfers

Paddle boarders and using vignetting to compensate for over-exposure…beach footprints

I like this one.

more deets hmb

Nothing living in those tide pools — I think.

abstract HMB

Better you than me, swimming in that.

hmb viewMagic Hour, or just about.

Amusing Things I Photographed: Boston, New York, DC, Stuff

The Boston Aquarium has an extremely important message for you.

Good god, I hate it when my cephalopod slithers away into the dark night. And then ends up at a tastefully appointed pop-up tapas bar somewhere in the dark heart of Chelsea. Just hate it.


“Oh no, honey—that sound you hear late at night? That is merely the wailing of the unpaid interns. You needn’t worry about being among them—we’ll ensure you major in something practical,” he told his child. “In New England.”

He closed the shutters of the child’s bedroom in their handsome Manhattan apartment. It would not be good to tell him the truth. Not now.

“They are lost souls, honey. Lost souls who believed the humanities would ensure them professorships and fulfilling careers someday,and other silly fantasies like that. You mustn’t let them unsettle you,” he said. He flicked off the light. “Now, good night.”

The child stared into the darkness, fixing his eyes on the glue-on glow in the dark stars on his ceiling. “I wonder if Daddy is telling the truth,” he thought.

If you go to an aquarium with your friends, be prepared to argue for approximately 20 minutes about whether Pacu are actually piranha’s, and what exceptionally exciting things might happen if you decided to go for a dip with them with an open, bleeding wound. (That guy on the show about FISH THAT WANT YOU DEAD can provide a pretty compelling answer).


The Mormon Temple of Nauvoo, Illinois. Insert canned Mitt Romney joke here. It’s rather magnificent and was constructed in the 1990s to replace the original, which was taken down when the Mormons decamped to Utah after the death of Joseph Smith in the mid-1800s. My gentile ex-boyfriend was allowed to tour it right after it was built in 1999, before they consecrated it. He said it was more than a little creepy.

It’s also the source of a lot of tourism in the immediate area from Mormons, which explains the remarkable preponderance of local buffets and ice cream parlors. (How else do you unwind when you aren’t allowed to drink bourbon? The mind boggles).

A little scatological humor on behalf of the capitol of world power? Yeah, I can totally do that. (I spent an embarrassingly long period of time adjusting my cameras settings for this photo, while Asian tourists wondered why I was STANDING RIGHT THERE and being very serious).

Thy eyes do not deceive you. That is a Hipster Ice Cream TukTuk (or autorickshaw, if you prefer). Christ, I wish I’d thought of this.

I do intend to someday purchase a Khmer-style tuk tuk, paint it Mardi Gras colors, and haul both my friends and exotic booze around in New Orleans. It’s good to have goals in life.