(Our spread)



And so...

The last few months I've been living cheaply and banking some money, seeing increasingly good art, painting and working.

Chad's been gone for some time now.  I still miss him, our wandering adventures, our dinner meetings after work...

I think I'm finally adjusted, have a renewed visa, a pleasantly redecorated apartment and some new (and exciting!) paintings I've been working on.

I'm busier with classes with semester than the last one.  I'm teaching a course about contextual shifts within art, which is a nice change of pace, but requires fumbled explanations of postmodernism to a classroom of students who barely understand English.  (Oops)  It's still fun because my students really care.

Winter is very much here, but it's infinitely more pleasant than last year.  The weather has been strangely clear and beautiful most of the time, and really not too cold.  I finally got to see the full red leaves of autumn, something that I was never able to see in Beijing.

Several months after Indonesia and Malaysia, I really want to travel again.  I have this India guidebook just sitting on my shelf...



  • I'm back from an unexpected, nerve-wracking visa run to Hong Kong.  It's a shoppy, fashionable place with a beautiful cityscape and a surprising amount of seedy Pakistanis and Africans offering drugs or massages. Or tailored suits.
  • Chad is settled, happy, and overcoming jetlag.  We saw art today, and 798 really delivered with a few choice shows.  I'm very glad he's here.
  • Classes start soon, so summer vacation is coming to an end.


SO, we're back in Kuala Lumpur after a harrowing bus ride to Solo and some ridiculous nonsense we had to deal with at the airport.  I'm going to wait before writing more about my month in Indonesia, but suffice to say I'm happy to have an air-conditioned, reasonable, hassle-free, artificial break in Malaysia before heading back to Beijing.

Traveling by bus, especially in Sumatra, you're bound to see signs which are actually in Indonesian languages, but act like English homophones.  It makes things even stranger that Bahasa Indonesia has no concrete spelling, so the same word can be spelled many ways, or there can be regional, dialect variations.  This also means that any recognizable English loan words (like "business") could easily be spelled two or three different ways.  I'm sure this is also true with the hundreds of languages in Indonesia, most of which use Westernized script.

English homophones I've seen on signs in Sumatra:

Cat oven (I believe this means "kiln")
Door smeer (This means a car/motorcycle polish)
Air (This means water or any liquid)
Semen (This means "cement")
Tie rod (Can't figure this one out!)


Bali, in various pictures


ARIEL enjoys our lush garden in Kuta beach.
ROSS sunburn-edly waits for warung food.
CHAO dramatically overlooks the Wild Buffalo temple, in a borrowed sarong.


So, I'm in The Aquarius Hotel on Kuta beach drinking insipid tea and rather delicious oatmeal waiting for the two others to wake up.  We're all quite happy with this place; very resorty, but the most beautiful beach I've ever seen with frothy, crystal clear water and powdery sand.  It's a much welcome fun and dumb and relaxing atmosphere, and is reminiscent of Florida beach towns.  Now that I've seen the two tourist meccas on the island, I can make some general observations: 

** Even though Ubud is the "cultural capital," you can eat actual Indonesian food at warung in KutaUnless you want overpriced nasi goreng or hideous things like "Balinese tapas," you have to actually leave Ubud to eat. 

** Balinese dance and gamlean are so beautiful, especially when seen in Ubud palace.  The beaches are all Tom Petty covers delivered with thick accents.

** Relationships between Balinese and foreigners seem to be more meaningful, deep and friendlier in Kuta as compared to Ubud. This may be due to the economic discrepancy between the two kinds of tourists that frequent these areas.  Certainly, the locals in the tourist sector are more friendly here and give the impression that it's not only about milking you for cash.
** Ubud is a thousand times more beautiful as a city than the poorly planned, overdeveloped Kuta.  Even north towards fancier digs, Ubud has a more rewarding and "Balinese" landscape.
** North of Kuta in Seminyak or Legian, you notice that the expatrate community living in and around the area seems larger than Ubud.
** Ubud: hippie, new-agers taking crystal infused spiritual classes, eating overpriced cranberry muffins, being nervous and pretending not to be in Bali.  South Bali: Surfer type, beautiful people who miss Australia while eating overpriced brick oven pizza and pretending not to be in Bali.

The honest truth is that I do not ultimately enjoy touristy places.  Less simulated reality is healthy, even if it isn't pretty.

Tomorrow we leave to Candikunning and the lakes and hill towns of north Bali for a few days.  Also, a botanical garden and volcanic sand beach!  Hopefully it won't be overrun.


We've been in Bali for about five days now and have been mostly in the so called cultural center of Ubud and one night in some horrific beach town in the south filled with middle aged Australians dancing frenetically to Bob Marley covers delivered in slurred English. There is a lot to say about Bali, not all good, but I think Ariel puts it best in his email to family back in Miami:

"Hey guys, 

Bali is great but too damn expensive and touristy.  There's a lot of things that I hate about it, but it's so damn pretty at times that you really want to stay for years.  On the other hand, the locals are cash fiends and most people want nothing from you except for money, and that obviously leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Bali is best if you're an indulgent, naive person willing to spend at least a hundred dollars US a day.  Backpackers it seems, deserted this bitch a long time ago and won't be coming back anytime soon.  

Out of all the places we've been to in Southeast Asia, Bali is the least friendly to it's tourists, (especially those who aren't desperately and stupidly throwing away money) and that's not a great feeling when you're on vacation and genuinely interested in the culture you've come to explore.  Bali is best it seems, for rich old ladies who think "Eat Pray Love" is the greatest story ever told, or people who've never been to asia before and never want to come back after.  Sometimes it feels about as hokey and removed from any reality as the World Showcase in Epcot center.  At present, I sit somewhere between moderately happy and terribly underwhelmed.  And nearly broke."

I'd also like to add: where is this money going?  Every single tourist facility in Bali overcharges (and occasionally just cheats tourists) dramatically, but the basic infrastructure here is below that of anywhere in Java, more comparable to Sumatra.  My father told me that the Balinese say that beggars on the island are from Java, but that is total nonsense.  Outside of tourist zones, the Balinese use poor roads, throw trash literally everywhere, have sidewalks with gaping holes and have large amounts of dogs with mange and disease wandering around.  Besides hostility, what lasting effects has tourism actually brought?

More on this later, as I formulate a more fair assessment of the place.  On a positive note, the temples, culture, babi guleng (roast pork) and especially music are magnificent.


Indonesia food is delicious.

1 - Ayam goreng (Indonesian style fried chicken with mint basil, spicy bean paste and rice)

2 - Gudeng telur (Rich, stewed jackfruit with a hard boiled Chinese style tea egg, with fried buffalo skin and tofu sambal)

3 - A rojak vendor's display (sliced fruit salad with a tangy, salty, spicy dressing)

Not pictured, but much beloved: tempe sambal, (fried, fermented bean curd slices coated in a chili sauce)  roti bakar, (pan fried bread with a variety of different fillings, including chocolate sprinkles, peanuts, cheese or jam) bakso, (meatball soup with bits of fried tofu, glass noodles and fried shallots) es campur, (refreshing shaved ice with fruits, syrup, preserved tangerine, croutons, young coconut, etc.) ikan goreng, (fried fish, usually with sambal and lime) and nasi goreng (fried rice! Cheap and everywhere).

Regional variation means you'll try many different versions as you travel.  (Guess which one of the above was influenced by the Dutch!)


Flower tiles and a preparing gamelan orchestra
Chao in our 60s bungalow-type homestay lobby

Prambanan's Shiva temple
Public artness
Endless transportation
Gamelan on display
A certain photographer at Prambanan
The Sultan's daughters
Restored pleasure palace of the 18th century Sultan
Deco train station


This is the culture center of Java, and it's fairly obvious.  Marred a bit by unchecked, rip off tourism, it's still a lovely, small city arranged around the kraton, or Sultan's palace, who still officially runs the show.  Lots of old converted Dutch buildings intermingled with intricate Javanese wooden porches, endless crappy batik sellers with that ubiquitous call of "hello mister!"  A lot less heavy traffic, with becak bicycle rickshaws and horse drawn carriages for tourists.

Today we leave for Borobudur, which is possibly the largest Buddhist temple in the world, built over a thousand years ago.


Consider this for your next vacation and you won't regret it.  Breathtaking views, resort style Batak houses for surprisingly cheap, the kindest people ever and a totally unique culture, all on a tiny island floating in the center of a tremendous volcanic lake in Sumatra. They need and want your business. Come.

Oh, and be sure to try pepes ikan (steamed fish with coriander, lemongrass, candlenut, coconut, green chili, etc. wrapped in banana leaves) at Juwita's Cafe.  Possibly the best food on earth made by the loveliest woman ever.


Greetings from the island of Sumatra.  We've been having issues with several details including domestic flights, ferry failures and Chao's card getting hopelessly trapped in an HSBC machine because of a (frequent) power outage. 

This country is markedly different from Malaysia considering the similarities in Malay-Indo culture/language/food.  Everything is much, much more third world and overwhelming, more Cambodia than China.  We're adjusting.

Recent travel: We just left two blissful days in Bukit Lawang village, where we trekked in the rainforest, saw a mother and baby orangutan in the wild (!) and climbed on all fours into a bat filled cave.  That, and stayed in a gorgeous traditional house with a view of the jungle and rushing river.  Breathtaking and humid.

We're currently in the north Sumatran city of Medan, famous for rat filled sewers and the smell of burning trash.  (Also a couple of old mosques, I've heard.)  However, owing to Indonesia's jaw dropping economic disparity, the city center is blanketed with air conditioned malls, which we are naturally enjoying.  We're having more issues with Air Asia, but after some kind of resolution we are quickly heading to Lake Toba, where we will swim in a volcanic lake and see Batak houses.

More to come!


-- In Malaysia, no shoes inside most buildings or temples. --


UPDATES: We had a small change of plans since we went yesterday to buy our ferry ticket to Indonesia and found out that the ferry to Sumatra from Penang Island has been canceled permanently.  So what this means is that we must fly, an unnecessary expense and a delay.  The cheapest flight we could find leaves on the 13th, giving us a little less time in Sumatra.  However, we could do worse with our surroundings; tropical weather, crumbling Deco architecture, garish Chinese temples, endless lounging, mountain view beaches and iced drinks in lazy warung shopfronts.  This island has a great feel, a little like a larger Hoi An in Vietnam.  Why, then, am I anxious to leave?

A slower pace is clearly healthier.

<3- One of Ariel's three daily lunches. -<3
Penang Island, Malaysia


About a thirty minute bus ride outside of Kuala Lumpur lies the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple complex inside a huge cave with a great number of stairs and a huge statue of a deity out front.  The complex is most important during the Thaipusam festival, when devotees celebrate the son of Shiva by piercing all sorts of things through their bodies and faces.  Outside of festival time, it seems to fall to disrepair with rather unimpressive religious tableau and more construction material and bags of cement than Hindu objects.

There were a lot of tourists when we arrived, mostly Chinese from various countries and Australians.  As you walk up the steps to the mouth of the cave, you're more or less greeted by about twenty monkeys that eye you suspiciously.  The cave interior itself is massive, dark, blanketed in sleeping bats and impressive.


ARIEL always wears cool sunglasses for all occasions.
ROSS likes photographing stupefyingly delicious food.
CHAO enjoys architecture, walking and raincoats.

-more to come-



I'm sitting in front of a computer in a Chinatown guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur that doesn't block my blog and doesn't have Chinese text support, both of which I'm not used to.  We haven't seen the city yet since we arrived late last night, but today is day one of a six week trip around Malaysia and Indonesia.  

First impressions are that this city is strictly divided into three major groups: Malays, Indians and Chinese with exotic looking groups in between.  This is my first Asian city with such a diverse ethnic population.  Far more to come. (with pictures!)


oil on paper
(click for larger picture)

I haven't been posting my recent paintings, but I have a few in the works.  This one is a quick, small oil sketch over an advertisment for wedding services.


This is a nice sambal (chili sauce used in Malay and Indonesian food) that I've come up with.  Use it as a dipping sauce for fried tofu, a salad dressing good with cabbage and thai eggplants, a fish marinate, or as a sauce for BBQ, churrasco or roast pork.


you'll need
ten green chilies, whole
five shallots
five garlic cloves
juice of two limes, one teaspoon reserved
about two teaspoons shrimp paste
scant teaspoon ginger julienne
about a tablespoon of peanut, coconut or canola oil
pinch of turmeric
pinch of salt

set aside to blend
one tablespoon white vinegar
reserved lime juice
two stalks of thai basil (around 10 leaves)
half as much peppermint leaves

Using a mortar and pestle, crush chilies, shallots and garlic roughly.  Fry all three in oil on low heat until flavor is released and shallots and garlic start to brown.  Add lime juice, shrimp paste, turmeric and salt and cook together for one to two minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Once cool, Add mixture along with ingredients to blend (if you'd prefer a chunker sambal, you may used a mortar and pestle) Blend until combined and a paste is formed.  Will store in refrigerator for a week.


杜拉拉升职记 Go Lala go!
(Where exactly is she going?)

(NOTE: This film is already months old, but I'd like to add an English review where none exists)

Lala, a recent graduate, sends out her resume sitting in her over-sized, over-decorated apartment and then timidly hunts down an office in Beijing's financial district for an interview with her somehow naive ponytail and white nurse shoes. She gets the job, and starts bottom rung in an indistinct foreign run company, scraping by using her charm, food rationing skills and perceived business savvy to slowly climb the ranks, eventually having a relationship with her higher up, procuring the requisite car and apartment and traveling to a cardboard version of Thailand for company vacations along with whatever else you're supposed to do with money in contemporary China, including becoming jaded with it.

Go Lala go! is directed by the very popular Xu Jinglei (徐静蕾), who also stars in the role at Lala. To say this is a vanity project would be to state the obvious, and critizing it as such is also meaningless. It features every possible A list celebrity from the Chinese speaking world as well as two zombified American bosses, played by Caucasian actors whose only purpose is to speak Mandarin. (something Chinese absolutely fetishize.) Characters operate in a sanitized, absolutely false version of Beijing, set entirely amongst plastic skyscrapers and shiny malls, offensive considering the real poverty and distinctive local culture so noticeable in this city. (Regardless, movies are about escapism and so it does this well.) It's safe to say the film has absolutely nothing new to say about anything, but the film itself isn't important; it's the tone and persevered message.

There is not a single film that more encapsulates the attitudes of Beijing's new middle class or anyone wishing to join their ranks more completely than this movie. "Rags to riches" this certainly is. It illustrates the drive and desire to "make it" in a way that we no longer portray with a straight face in Western movies, and equates material/financial stability with a strong desire to achieve, but also a kind of moral superiority. The fact that this film spawned counterfeit "Lala" movies is the proverbial cherry on top, making it a pitch perfect critique of China's mindless, "wild west," uncreative, unchecked growth.

Swirling martial arts epics have as much to do with China today as Merchant Ivory films have to do with contemporary England. Go Lala go! is about as ugly and accurate as possible.


[Hu Jin's (胡晋) tiny, but arresting, blue tiger cub.  Part of an altogether kitschy collection of tiger-themed Chinese ink painting.]

Today Ariel and I saw a rather great collection of Czech sculpture from the sixties to the eighties at the National Art Museum of China, along with a few not so great Soviet Realist oil paintings, redeemable only for that dramatic grotesqueness that can be interesting.

Some highlights include Jiri Kolar's "egg object," which is a collaged egg with three circular panels each covered with cut out flowers and bird's plumage, all with the technicolor look of 50s "Life" magazines, and Eva Kmentova's "plants:" an evocative watercolor of hand shapes with multiple sprouting fingers.


Yesterday I hosted a dinner for a few friends that was so easy and quick that I actually had time to concentrate on wine and conversation.  Nearly everything I made was recipe free and fusion, either conveniently prepared well in advance or put together almost instantly, making it more creative than previous ventures.

The menu
1 - cucumber, lychee and bean sprout salad with a pickled chili dressing
2 - Chinese style braised beef with radish leaves and potatoes
3 - Indian pickled eggplant
4 - tomato, watermelon and mint salad with yogurt and homemade chaat masala
5 - Fried butterfish with lime, shallots, fish sauce, green chili, coriander and Thai basil
6- Caramelized sweet and sour bitter melon

Now I just have to work on food presentation and food photography!

A recent bright, sunny day on our open balcony.



North Indian/Pakistani vegetarian from my newly busy kitchen: bhatoora (fried Pakistani yogurt leavened bread), chickpea masala, palak panner, brown rice lentil pilao, pineapple and pickled chili raiti, lime pickles, green mango pickles, yogurt with chat masala & a furiously hungry Ariel!



After teaching in Beijing for several years, I want to compile what I've learned into an easy how to for anyone else about to teach here.  Specifically, this is for anyone teaching at a high school or college level.  Teaching elementary school students is quite different.

Through years of lecture, test taking, book reading style teaching, your students will have little actual communication skills.  Do not be surprised if your students cannot understand you when you speak or are unable to answer simple questions, even if they've studied English for over five years.  You need to coax something out of them over time.  Patience is key.

Culturally, you will be dealing with terminally shy students.  Most students at this age are unbelievably nervous speaking English in front of you and their peers.  Some students will completely ignore you when you ask them questions in class, which is mostly a way to deal with their nervousness.  As cliche as it sounds, face is important in China.

Because of the level of competition, the Chinese education system encourages constant correction.  If a student speaks aloud in class, other students will interrupt them quickly to try to correct their pronunciation or grammar.  Discourage this by telling students that you are the English teacher and you can handle all corrections.

Even if told otherwise, teach grammar.  Schools want you to focus on oral English, exclusively, but your students will undoubtedly have huge grammar issues.  Teach them English so they will be understood by native speakers, no matter what you've been told.

Depending on where you teach, your student demographic could easily be almost exclusively wealthy students.  This is especially true of college study abroad programs or "special study" departments in major universities.  In China, it's common for wealthy families to pay extra to allow their children to study in an English only special schools, especially if their sons and daughters cannot pass entrance exams.  

Many of your students are the only child in the family, and so can be surprisingly sheltered and spoiled.  Do not be surprised if students sleep in class, read or do something off topic.  You must earn their respect and have a strict hand when needed.  Also, remember that most Chinese students do not choose their majors and are studying exactly what their parents what them to, and are therefore unmotivated.

From the beginning, students expect entertainment.  The quality of English teaching in China varies greatly, and many students want the clownish, loud foreign teacher they've heard about or assume we all are.  Students will treat you very differently than Chinese teachers.  You have to work hard to earn respect.

Stereotyping is common in China, so expect this to be applied to you or your culture.  Even very educated Chinese can be surprisingly unaware of the outside world.  Don't be surprised if asked odd questions.

Many, and possibly most, Chinese English teachers do not have real spoken English skills.  Do not be surprised when English teachers speak to you in Chinese first.  Sometimes, the school staff in will actively avoid you just to avoid the embarrassment of being unable to communicate with you.  It can be lonely.

Expect special treatment.  Some students will give you pull you aside before or after class for conversations away from peers, invite you out for dinner or ask for your phone number.  Chinese staff will treat you outside of the group, like a special prize or "trophy teacher."  Sometimes this can be difficult to deal with because you are occasionally treated less like an actual teacher and more like a symbol.

Knowing Chinese can be a detriment.  If you show that you can speak and understand Chinese, you'll get stuck responding in English to questions posed in Chinese.  Firmly asking students to use NO CHINESE is necessary.

Have a lot of patience, always.  Best advice of all!



How're you doing, 爱美丽?

1 - lamb vindaloo, rajma kidney bean curry, chicken in yogurt and almond butter, mango chutney
2 - lentil dhal with brown rice, mango salad with chaat masala and lemon, spiced tea (chai)

3 - lamb kofta, black eyed pea curry, pineapple-lime raita, cucumber with mustard oil & green chili salad, mango pickles, naan bread from our local Xinjiang place.


Ever since I cooked Indian for Emilie's going away party, I've been obsessed with Indian food.  It's a wonderful, versatile, full cuisine that may be my absolute favorite.