Friday, January 30, 2015


This is the place you want to go. Definitely. And go there hungry. "Happy Island."
See the food? See the beer? See the Haagen-Dazs? Yep. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Residency Tropical Mead*

3½ pounds Clover honey
3 pounds local wildflower honey
1½ pounds Taiwan Longan Honey
18” sugarcane, peeled and chopped
2½ oz. fresh ginger, pulverized
2 oz. fresh lemongrass, chopped
Peel and juice of 2 limes
1 fresh pineapple
3 kiwi fruit
1 dragonfruit**
1 mango
tropical guava
Yeast nutrient, Acid blend, Gypsum & Irish moss

Simmer sugarcane, ginger, lemongrass, lime peel & juice, and chemistry in 1½ gallons water for 1 hour. Remove w/ strainer. Bring just to a boil, then cut heat. Add honeys and stir vigorously to dissolve. Return to heat, gradually bringing just to a boil and skim foam.

Puree all fruits in food processor. Pour into nylon mesh bag and tie bag securely. Remove honey mixture from heat and add fruit bag; leave covered for 15 minutes to bring fruit to heat. Add 3 gallons of cold water to open fermenter, then add honey mixture and fruit bag. When cooled to room temperature, pitch with Pasteur Champagne yeast.

Should be ready to drink by the first week of May.

*Okay, technically it's a melomel, you brewing nerds.
**Mary wanted to keep this as a pet but I wouldn't let her. However, a week later I did buy her another one as a pet. We'll see how that works out.

Friday, January 23, 2015


The group packet-switched their way home, some opting for OSPF, others using more exotic protocols. We'll see if we dropped any packets by a week from Saturday.

We stopped on the way home for a big bowl of pho, with lean and fatty brisket and gristle, accompanied by a thai iced tea. After that, we went to the Asian market for tropical guava and dragonfruit, and sugarcane and mango, and limes and ginger. Some papaya, some kiwis, bok choi, ping tung, oyster mushrooms, stuff like that. No plum powder to be had, unfortunately, but that may have just been a language problem; it's hard to tell.

I want to do whatever is necessary to keep the magic alive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Choices in Movie Watching

Watched part of "Elysium" on the flight home. Definitely should have watched it on the flight over.

Time Travel

After the epic last supper on the Beautiful Island, I went to bed, got up the next morning never wanting to eat again. Breakfast was a cup of Earl Grey. We drove to the airport, and now I am sitting in another airport seemingly picking up where I left off...this morning. This feels like the morning that follows that evening. But I'm pretty sure something transpired in between...I just can't quite put my finger on it, knowudimean?

One Last Stab at It

So for our last night on the Beautiful Island, we began by convening a single malt post-debrief debrief. That was pleasant in the dwindling twilight and slowly appearing stars, but alas it did not constitute a meal. And there was still the last minute souvenir shopping to take care of. So I wrangled a posse and we set out for one last nocturnal urban adventure.

It was pretty cool wandering about on Sunday and Tuesday with But it was pretty funny to see the reaction a phalanx of three beefy big white guys got strolling down the sidewalk. First stop was the ginormous shopping center/mall a few blocks away; the upper floors were pretty much standard issue urban mall, exactly like any department store anywhere. The lower floor was a spectacular grocery store with little eateries attached to it. Souvenirs in hand, I rejoined mis compadres back outside, where some vital reconnaissance had already taken place in my absence.

We had identified the little sidestreet where all the good local eateries were (as well as some of the probably pretty crappy ones as well. We’re starting to get good at this). We identified the two key determiners on the signboard outside: “Beef” and “Beer.”

We quickly realized it was a buffet, where a host of raw ingredients were arranged on ice as a kind of meat salad bar. The table had two hot spots, and the server briskly brought two large, shallow pans, divided in two down the middle. Into one side, they ladled a clear-ish vegetable broth; into the other side, a richer bone broth glistening with a sheen of chili oil. With an assortment of various implements, we cooked our choice of items in our choice of broths, and finished them with sauces of our own concoction.

The beer tap was self-service. The cooler case of Haagen-Daz was self service. To suggest I overdid it would be an understatement. Yet the three of us were able to make our way back to the hotel unassisted and without incident, and actually have some additional normal human interactions with various and sundry. (I don’t count the waking up at 2:00 AM in a cold sweat with the room light still on and the Discovery Channel playing on the TV, having no idea of where I was as an actual ‘incident,’ more of a simple misunderstanding. Nothing broken, nothing lost, nothing stolen, no blood, no foul. )

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stinky Tofu, BTW

I started several times trying to write about the Night Markets, but everything I wrote inevitably bent towards the trite, trivial, touristy and unavoidably condescending. Also, like a maroon I forgot my camera so there would be no visuals on which to build.

So if you want details on the Night Markets, go here. 

But I will say I was among the group who ordered and ate stinky tofu. My impressions were mixed; not wholly unfavorable, but not something I expect to order in the future. I mean, it's okay, but it's no durian. 

Some Images That Speak for Themselves...

...which is great because I don't really have much to say about them. Enjoy.

Part of our group, at that place where we heard the people talk about the stuff. It was great. And no international incidents were exacerbated.

I do't know why but this picture cracks me up every time I look at it. Keep in mind we are standing on a helipad overlooking an entire city featuring a very tall building.

Another view of part of our group. We all had personalized name tags at our seats. Okay, like 83% personalized, but they were very nice. Everywhere we went our hosts were extraordinarily kind and considerate, probably far more so than we deserved.

There we are, and there's that building again. It's hard to hide.

"No! Further back than twenty or thirty feet further...maybe more to your right..."

You want architecture, Lion City? We got yer architecture right here.

Nobody gave it a second thought, except for us, who seemed to think that ritually burning items on a busy city sidewalk at lunchtime was out of the ordinary.  The scooters were really good at avoiding it though.

Afternoon debrief, last day: "You must leave here as ignorant as when you arrived, so cough up all that learning RIGHT NOW."

"...something something IS NOT THE SAME AS INNOVATION."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Scooters on the B.I.

How many scooters are there?

Take the biggest number you know. Double it, then add three, and cube the result. There's more than that.

It's interesting, because over the last few days I've been estimating a rough distribution of powered two-wheeled things and I would say that less than one or two percent are motorcycles (defined as having a manual clutch versus just a throttle).

Of the motorcycles, less than one in five is over 250cc; a grand total of three (that's three bikes) have been over 750cc—two Harleys and one Oilhead. Ironically, the oilhead was in traffic next to us last night while we were cabbing to dinner; it was identical to the one I mentioned earlier when we were in Lion City. And in that context, a GS Adventure with hardcases and all the farkles looks positively brobdingnagian; a whale among minnows.

Scooters filter to the head of the line at traffic lights, and when the light changes they are unleashed in a snarling, screaming pack of two-stroke rage. They are binary, apparently having just two settings: idle and full throttle. They come in every possible permutation of hardware, rider, pillion and cargo, and a typical pack will comprise two dozen scooters.

There are repair shops, really just the size of a one-car garage, shoehorned into the streetscape every few blocks.

The sidewalks are lined curbside from one end of the block to the other with scooters, and sidewalks serve as an overflow lane when convenient.

The rules of the road are more generally seen as gentle suggestions, not so much hard-and-fast things. Hell, the rules of physics don't even seem to be applied that stringently.

I consider myself to be a pretty hardcore rider, and I'm comfortable in urban traffic; I thrive in that environment. But standing amidst the hustle and bustle, the noise and the fumes, the scooters careening every which way (and that's just on the sidewalk) I can sum up my feelings this way:

This homeboy ain't never gonna ever ride on the B.I. ever never no way.

Official Staffing Announcement

The Minister of Culture announced today that Boris & Ava are now honorary members of Team DGKK, having had their Excellence clearly and demonstrably Discerned on several occasions.

MoC, DoE

Monday, January 19, 2015

Okay. Fresh Memories and Cheeses. Okay.*

Yesterday was a long day on the road, beginning with an annoyingly premature wake-up call, a rushed breakfast and a seemingly endless bus ride through morning rush hour traffic. The visit was interesting, only modestly marred by a few faux pas on our part which might be chalked up to caffeine deprivation. Or poor upbringing. Maybe brain trauma. Anyway. Questions were asked, responses received, knowledge transferred, then off to round two.

But before we continue, 500 ml of Americano, by mouth, STAT.

It is truly gratifying to see how we are received. Our hosts have all been genuinely interested in helping us understand their missions and how their missions relate to our program and ambitions. Following our second visit, we had lunch at the beautiful buffet of the local Five-Star hotel. With any luck, our visit will not cost them more than a star or two, and of course they can always try and get them back next year.

That's us, postprandially perambulating.

Our Official Booty Call

But it's not all fun and games. After returning to Mission Control there were massages to be had, shops to be shopped, dinners to be found, drinks to be drinked, et cetera. There were even some who ventured to the Executive Lounge to write up their post-visit reports, like grown-ups. Heh.

That is not the Executive Lounge. But it totally could be. Okay, prove it's not.

You can actually SEE him ordering.

This is not one of those places I was talking about.

"Yet, time and again those restrictive trade policies have been proven to be wholly ineffectual!" (j.k; they were totally talking about girlie stuff.)

Now there's something you don't see everyday: A hand-pulled scrumpy: fresh farmhouse-style hard cider served like  English ale (flat and warm). The dude actually tried to serve it to me in a pint glass full of ice. They clearly don't know from scrumpy.

Man, I wish this picture had come out better. That dog was totally owning the scene at the little corner shop where we ate dinner. I swear it was smarter and more alert than some of...nevermind.

Is there any more universal experience than shopping at the 7-11 at the end of the day for that thing you need? You know, that thing? Do they even have the thing? I mean, there's a place on the shelf for things, but of course it's empty. B.I. has the highest number of 7-11s per capita in the world. And we walked by all of them.

*I might have to explain that title to you if you weren't there.

Taipei Personalities, and then some; A.K.A. 'Boris's Grand Day Out'

Sunday was a play-day, and boy howdy!

We met up outside Mission Control a little bit after noon with Boris, our local connection. Let me tell you a bit about Boris.

Boris is tall and gaunt with a ready smile, a quick wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture in several cultures. Standing a full six inches above the typical B.I. crowds with a shaved head and classic Slavic looks, he makes a uniquely distinctive tour guide, looking in his grey hoodie and shades like a cross between a Bond Villain, a video game assassin, and the Unibomber (on a good day).

Boris leads us briskly to the subway like a duck with ducklings, and in short order has equipped each of us with farecards. We wade into the crowds and are quickly on our way to lunch. We ride a few stops, change train lines, ride some more, and exit the Metro to dog knows where; we are in Boris's hands now.

The five of us—Boris, Capstone Killer, XO Diva Enforcer, MD Adrenaline and MoC—move deliberately and with purpose along the crowded sidewalks. At some point, MD Adrenaline was bitten by a radioactive spider and is developing the superpower of reading and speaking Mandarin. But like all superpowers, it seems to have its limits, and comes and goes.

We turn down a tiny side street packed with market stalls and scooter moving with a casual disregard for...well, pretty much anything stationary. We dodge and weave for several blocks until we finally come to a place I'm pretty sure we never would have even noticed without Boris's help. It is the best beef noodle soup joint in town. It is across from the Accordion Studio in case you want to check it out.

We scrunch ourselves into a tiny table while Boris orders for us. In five years, he has picked up a fair amount of Chinese, and seems at ease everywhere. Shortly, we are brought a small dish of slaw in apology for a delay we had not noticed, followed by huge steaming bowls of what you might call Pho, but B.I. style. Thick, hand made and hand cut noodles, dark bone broth,
generous chunks of several kinds of meat...Boris has nailed it. It is Sunday afternoon, the day for family things in B.I., and the tiny space is packed with families of all descriptions enjoying their time together. And our little ad-hoc family is one of them.

After lunch, we retrace our steps to the main road, pausing at market stands to browse and take in the sights ans smells. M.D.A. buys some fruit to take back to the hotel, and we are offered samples of Taiwanese Guava. It is reminiscent of a slightly underripe pear, but a dusting of plum powder brings the flavor to life. It is very refreshing; good fresh fruit is always a treat.

Boris leads his flock onward with the promise of good coffee. We walk for a few minutes, to a hipster coffee bar which would be unremarkable IN MY COUNTRY (hey, it's no Java Shack...) but that's a trend that hasn't yet quite caught on here* on B.I. It's small, open to the flood of scooter noise from the major intersection outside, and pounding with vaguely familiar metal music. But

Two hours, several subway rides, two repasts, a few miles of walking. We're just getting started.
We walk some more, making our way towards the Big Kahuna. Boris maintains a running commentary, touching on the sublime and ridiculous, sacred and profane. We try and keep up, physically and mentally.

The Big Kahuna is even bigger IRL than you could imagine. Its environs are full with tourists of all shapes and sizes (okay, the sizes are mostly in the medium-and-small range, except for us) and it does not seem like a good prospect for today. So we move along towards we're not sure what, but, you know...Boris.

We do the touristy thing, and soon we are joined by Ava, Boris's delightful wife of several weeks who is a B.I. native. Again driven by coffee, we wander a bit, and Ava recalls a coffee destination on a lower floor of the Big Kahuna, so we retrace our steps through a dazzling throng of shoppers and Sunday Strollers. It is amazing.

Well, our coffee destination—a Starbucks—requires a reservation a day in advance. But now we are in the belly of the beast, so we really have no choice but to go full Tourist. And in short order, the six of us are hurtling skyward in a World-record holding elevator.

Once again, we have managed to hit the jackpot. Sunday was bookended by hazy grey days with terrible visibility; today is overcast but the air is clear. It is spectacular.

I'm just gonna throw these pics up here. You can figure them out.

This is the Omega 13. It serves as the 'Warp Core,' if you will, of the Big Kahuna. It has the power to reshape the space-time continuum, at least I think that's what the sign implied. I really wasn't paying attention. 


We seem to have gotten into this weird feedback loop where it's obvious the only option is to keep doing stuff.  (Did I mention the liquid nitrogen mango chunk ice cream we ate at the top? No, I did not, But let me tell you, if you are going to have  brain freeze, a liquid nitrogen brain freeze is the only way to go. Also, when you walk the two flights up and go out on the outside observation deck, the wind is literally shrieking through the railings. It is an unbelievably eerie sound.)

Dinner? How about dinner? Boris shifts back into subway guide mode, ably assisted by Ava (might have been the other ways around actually, but whatever) and again, we are being deliberately driven off the beaten path from main street to cross street to side street to alley, and there we find the most extraordinary little restaurant. You know, the kind of place where the locals eat, but the tourists only find out about if they happen to have guides like Boris and Ava? Yeah, like that.

Ava begins to order food rapid-fire (I assume it was rapid fire, because the whole transaction was 100% English free, except for maybe 'Beer.') And just like with our magic lunch, food begins arriving little white plate by little white plate, kind of 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' style until we have no more room on the table.
We drink big green bottles of B.I beer from little glasses, toasting our new friends and passing plates until we can neither eat nor drink another thing. Ava marks up a menu for us in case we want to come back again before we leave...which we definitely do.

At this point, we are beginning to run out of steam. But the six of us start walking back in the general direction of Mission Control, and a few blocks short we part ways with our wonderful guides, hosts and new-found friends.

We are full, we are tired, our feet hurt, and we have smiles on our faces.

*It totally has caught on here. I was just looking in the wrong places.