tokyo day 03: ramen, shibuya, shrine, yakitori alley


Did not sleep well last night, woke up between 3-5am, didn’t wake up till 10am. Luckily we had no particular plans. It ended up being decent timing, we went to Rokurinsha at Ramen Street Tokyo Station, which supposedly serves the best tsukemen in Tokyo, if not the country. This style of ramen is called dipping ramen, with the noodles (absolutely excellent) and soup (thick, full flavour) are served in separate bowls. We take some of the noodles, dip it into the soup and slurp to our heart’s content. There is a permanent queue there, we got there around 10.50am, just in time for them to reopen at 11am for lunchtime service. Still had to wait around 30mins, totally worth it.


Next stop was shibuya, the pedestrian crossing outside the station is arguably the world’s busiest intersection. The best view, from my research, is at the 1/F window of the starbucks right at the crossing. Good view.

tok0017market tok0018market

A 10min walk from shibuya is the weekend farmer’s market at the united nations university. Fantastic looking produce — fruits, vegs, flowers, honey, bread, pastry as well as small food trucks that look exactly like the ones at the real food market in London. We rested for a while with a drink of sangria from one of the trucks (alcoholic for me, non-alcoholic for mm).

tok0020shrine tok0021shrine

From the market we walked around 20-30mins through the harajuku champs elysee (same wide street with trees either side, same designer shops) to the meiji shrine set inside yoyogi park. A pleasant walk in the grounds, we stopped for a drink — coke float for me, coffee for mm. The shrine consisted of several large buildings, when we entered we joined the locals in the hand washing ritual. No photography was allowed at the main shrine, where people were praying.

tok0022yakitori tok0023yakitori

It was already 5pm so we debated where to go for dinner. At first we thought of going back to tsukiji but since we were only 1 stop from shinjuku we decided to go to Omoide Yokocho, otherwise known as memory lane or the more local name of piss alley. The narrow alley is situated next to shinjuku station and consists of dozens of tiny yakitori stalls. We went to one that proclaimed that it serves the best yakitori in Tokyo. A mother and daughter team ran the place and we had a mixed chicken and pork platter, green peppers and squid grilled skewers. Washed down with a beer. The place started getting busier as we left.

Back to the hotel later than the past 2 nights, by the time we made it downstairs to the onsen it was 8.30pm. Soaked for half an hour, had peaches and yogurt back in our room.

tokyo day 02: park, lake, market shopping

tok0006lake tok0007shrine

Breakfast at the hotel, buffet of rice, soup, stewed vegetables, salad, fish and fruit. Filling enough for us to skip lunch. We were in no hurry and didn’t leave till around 10.30am.

The destination today was Ueno 上野 to visit the park. Inside the park were several museums — the national museum, museum of science & nature, children’s library, art museum, a concert hall, a zoo and a few shrines. Didn’t go into the museums or the zoo, took a few pictures at a small shrine.

tok0004lotus tok0005lotus

A major feature of the park was a lake, divided into three sections. Two of the sections were in fact lotus ponds. Not all the flowers were in bloom, there were a few visible, very pretty. It took us a couple of hours to walk around the park.

tok0008alley tok0009freak
tok0010fish tok0011fruit

A few minutes from the park was Ameya-Yokochō アメヤ横丁, a rabbit warren of streets and alleys that make up a crazy open air market. The street is also called candy shop alley, but nowadays there are shops selling clothes, shoes, fish, fruit, toys, bags and many other things. Crowded on a Saturday. We stopped at a conveyor belt sushi place for a few plates of sushi, bought a few odd items from a pharmacy, some clothes and socks from the Uniqlo across the way.

tok0012unadon tok0013peach

Early dinner of unagi don (grilled eel on rice). It was only around 5.30pm so the place was a quiet oasis from the bustling street outside. Very delicately flavoured eel, really nice and not too filling.

Got back to the hotel early and went down to the spa again. Not too busy, at 7pm most people were probably out at dinner. Soaked in the spa for about half an hour, then back to our room for dessert of giant peaches we bought at the market. Very juicy, really sweet and delicious.

tokyo day 01: flight, tsukiji, whisky, spa

Long day. Flight was at 1am so we were at the airport at 11pm on Thursday. Check-in and everything else were quick so we found ourselves sitting at the gate with 2 other 1am flights. The plane was full, and the crew turned the lights off as soon as the plane levelled at cruising altitude. We were given a sandwich box which we saved till we landed at the airport. Landed around 6.15am, we were out at arrivals by around 7am. We sat, had breakfast of ham & cheese roll, chocolate muffin and a few pieces of fruit.

My research told me to get the NEX express train, by showing our foreign passport we get a 50% discount for the one way ticket to Tokyo station. A good deal. Our hotel is right across the road from the station. 9am was too early to check-in, we left our luggage there and made our way to Tsukiji fish market. We were too late to see the world famous tuna auction or any of the wholesale activities, but there was lots going on at the market.


We joined the queue for one of the small restaurant stalls for lunch — it took about an hour of queuing until it was our turn, there were lots of people and the restaurant only sat 12. We ordered hamachi, uni and salmon roe chirashi. The ingredients were fresh and we were pretty hungry, not as good as the fish in Hokkaido though. After lunch we had coffee in a very old-fashioned counter café. I had a milky coffee which tasted great even to this non-coffee drinker.


Walked around the market some more, both the wholesale area and the more familar outside area with dozens of stalls and restaurants. Had a snack of tamagoyaki (egg roll) for only ¥100. Washed down with green tea.


Walked to Shimbashi station and took the Yamanote line back to Tokyo station. Still too early to check in so we visited the department stores as well as the maze of underground shops at the station. Found an absolutely amazing liquor store with shelf upon shelf of whiskies, rum, brandy, vodka and all sorts. The best thing, they let you taste 10ml of many bottles for a small fee (¥100-200). We tried Amrut single malt and fusion — award winning from India and a Revival (3yr) plus Komagatake 10 from Mars distilery. All 4 are very unusual and hard to find. The Revival is supposed to be limted edition but at 3yrs it was like grain whisky and not worth the ¥10,000+ price tag. Our favourite was the Amrut fusion.

Dinner was tempura and soba from one of the station restaurants. We were really knackered by then, it was only 6pm. We went back to the hotel to find that they had already placed our bags in our room and everything was sorted. After choosing our pillows we made our way to the small spa to wash away the day’s dust and tiredness. Early to bed.

spare day, get electronics


Our flight is 1am tomorrow, so there’s a whole day of waiting. Nothing much to do except eat up all the food in the fridge, watch tv and read. My mouse failed, the optical sensor has gone haywire. Couldn’t be bothered to find out what’s wrong, it’s easier just to get a new one. 5 years is pretty good for a mouse.

While I was at it, I got an external HD for mum because she lost her old one. I don’t know how anyone can lose a hard drive, especially since she never took it outside. Nevermind. Hard drives are so affordable now, I got her a 1TB one, I doubt she’ll ever need that much space.

And now back to waiting for time to have dinner, shower, do the laundry and leave for the airport.

#56 new recipe: chicken ballotine


Tasks #49-58 of 101 in 1001 are to try 10 new recipes. This is #8, the third savoury and only the second meat recipe.

One of the classics in cooking history is Jacques Pepin deboning a whole chicken, stuffing it and making a galantine, a truly amazing demonstration of butchery and cooking skills. Nowadays I see chefs on masterchef and cookery competition programs making ballotine of chicken, duck, veal or another meat. There are many names, Pepin’s galantine, Americans favour roulade and ballotine seems to be used in the UK and commonwealth. It all comes down to the same concept: meat swiss roll with some stuffing (meat, vegetables or a combination) rolled up in an outer layer of meat.

This is a recipe I worked out myself, inspired by bonappetit. Serves 4 with sides, or 2 very hungry adults:

  1. pan fry 2 chicken thighs, season and dice to small bite-size pieces
  2. dice mushroom into small pieces, cook with chopped reconstituted dried porcini and sun-dried tomato, season
  3. combine thigh with mushroom mixture to make the filling and leave to cool
  4. butterfly 2 chicken breasts, cover with clingfilm and flatten slightly — not as flat as an escalope, around 1cm thick, season with s&p
  5. layer jamon, fresh basil, emmental slices on top of the chicken breast — jamon because the packet I bought was from spain, I was initially aiming for prosciutto; emmental because that’s what I found in the fridge, mozzarella or provolone will work just as well
  6. spoon on filling and roll carefully, secure with toothpick if necessary — it was difficult to roll so I used another slice of jamon on the outside
  7. sear in a pan until golden brown
  8. transfer to oven and bake at 180°C for 10mins
  9. rest for 5mins then slice


Served the ballotine with roast potatoes, mushroom and cherry tomato. I made some sauce by combining the mushroom cooking liquid with the water from the porcini and sun-dried tomato. It tasted really good, I only cooked the chicken breast for 10mins so it was still juicy.

hollowed book with whisky flask

hollowbook01 hollowbook02
hollowbook03 hollowbook04

Here’s something for the person who has everything, via bb, an etsy store that sells hollow books: hollowed out hardbacks with matching whisky flask. Edgar Allan Poe, Pride and Prejudice, DC comics, even the Bible.

I’m trying to de-clutter and minimalise my life. I have been collecting whiskies, now should I get one of these book whisky flasks to enjoy a wee dram? Tempting.

more tokyo trip planning


Flight is confirmed, just need e-ticket. Hotel is booked. We decided against ryokan: the ones with availability weren’t as conveniently located as we like and we like the hot spring bath in the hotel we found.

So most of the day was doing research on things to do, possible day trips, food and, very important, where to drink and buy whisky. Everything is neatly organised in my evernote notebook. We’ll be there for almost 5 full days, arriving on the red eye at 6.25am and leaving on an evening flight. Even found some bargains: the NEX from Narita is half price for non-Japanese and sanrio puroland (aka hello kitty land) is almost half price after 3pm.

Then I remembered to check out /r/tokyo. Thanks reddit for the monthly travel megapost of ideas. Attractions, getting around and lots of tips. I know this already, that there are very few free wifi hotspots in Japan, but I didn’t realise there is free wifi at 7-eleven and starbucks, providing we pre-register. Other options are renting sim card or pocket wifi.

This being reddit, I learn that sumo season hasn’t started but we may be able to go watch the training, there’s a place in shinjuku with ¥120 beers and we must


The robot restaurant in shinjuku can only exist in Japan. It seems to be an insane combination of giant robots, flashing neon, cosplay, dancing, wrestling and more. Hmm, may be we’ll see if we have time.

tokyo short trip planning


Possibly the only good thing about living here is the proximity to Japan. We can go to places like Hokkaido or Kansai or Tokyo at a moment’s notice. Which is what we are doing, Tokyo for a long weekend, this weekend. Every time we plan a holiday, we skip Tokyo in favour of other more unusual places, because in our minds it’ll always be there. We’ve both travelled to Tokyo for business, but it’s been many many years since we actually visited for holiday.

I had to remind myself of the various districts and what to do:

  • tsukiji fish market of course
  • ginza for shopping
  • shinjuki 新宿 for more shopping and busy area
  • shibuya 渋谷 for the iconic busy crossing, shopping at Tokyu Hands and Takashimaya plus proximity to the Meiji shrine
  • ebisu 恵比寿 for restaurants and izakayas
  • roppongi 六本木 for bars and clubs
  • akihabara 秋葉原 for electronics and otaru stuff
  • ueno 上野 for park and zoo
  • asakusa 浅草 for a bit of history, culture and religion
  • odaiba お台場 artificial island with a bridge, beaches, exhibition halls and shopping

And that’s not including Tokyo Disneyland, Sanrio Puroland (aka Hello Kittyland) and day trips to places such as Hakone, Fuji and Yokohama.

I also had to remind myself how enormous the entire greater Tokyo area is. Superimposed on a map of the UK, it takes up most of the Midlands. Almost 40 million people. We are looking at a hotel near Tokyo station, which is 60mins by express train from the airport and 25-30mins from the popular areas like shibuya and shinjuku. It’s a newer hotel, good price and has its own hot springs bath.

16 books


Bought 16 books. Between a discount code and a gift certificate, total out-of-pocket was around $100 meaning I averaged $6.25 per book. The majority were full priced although there were a couple of novellas at lower price. Still, $6.25 per book, that’s a Mcdonald’s meal.

I actually could have reduced the spending if I used up all the balance on my gift certificate. One of the things I work very hard to overcome is not saving the last piece of something. It seems to be human nature, that the last chocolate was the best. May be it’s the freshest on our minds, or somehow we perceive that because there won’t be more, it must be preserved and saved. Mum a good example, there are many many single pieces of chocolate, cereal bar, snacks wrapped up in her fridge: almost always the last piece remaining. I’m trying to stop myself doing that as part of a general trend towards minimising clutter. I’ve also been burned — “best” pieces that I’ve saved to enjoy later have a tendency to spoil.

I tend to spend around $50 a month on books, and since I hadn’t done a big order since May, I feel good about the big order today. My aim is to slowly use up the gift certificate balance, may be $10 or so each month. This way, the certificate lasts longer and I can work in any sale or incentive available. This is apparently a savvy way to spend gift cards:

Get the most bang out of a gift card by spending it on already-reduced merchandise

I think I’m doing better at the not!hoarding business. Every time I’m tempted to save the last piece, I remind myself of the chocolate crickets [warning: insect pic] from Wittamer I was saving up but had to throw away because they got mouldy. Every time I buy something, I think about where it will go and how often I will use it. I will use up every $ on the gift certificate. I don’t want to add to the $44bn in unused gift cards sitting out there (okay, I won’t be adding to that because I’m not American, but imagine the global figure).

#40 update: hobbiton to rivendell


Task #40 of 101 in 1001 is to complete the walk to mordor challenge, following Frodo and Sam’s journey from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. It’s a total of 1779 miles.

No, I haven’t gone that far yet, though I’m determined to finish this task by the end of 101.1001. I’m happy to say that I’ve reached a milestone: 458 miles from Hobbiton to Rivendell.

This was from a combination of walking, running and cycling (both real bikes and stationary bike). Didn’t keep details of how many miles by each method, I think at the end of the day it’ll balance out.

Next milestone is 462 miles away. This is where Frodo and Sam set out with the Fellowship from Rivendell, through Moria, to Lothlorien to get to 920 miles total.


So it’s taken me 265 days to complete 459 miles. I’ve used up 26.4% of my time allocation to achieve 25.8% of my goal, so I’m very slightly behind. I have 736 days to cover the remaining 1320 miles, at just over 1.79 miles per day. So far I’ve averaged 1.73 miles per day so I just have to ramp it up a notch and I’ll be back on track.


time travel for success


It’s #tbt so I posted a 10 year old pic of the dolphin watch cruise at Port Stephens near Sydney. I’d almost forgotten about that trip! In 2004 I was travelling so much that it seemed like I spent more time at hotels than at home and the trips blurred into a giant foggy semi-memory. That trip to Sydney was part of a massive 3 week trip as part of the service centre set up. I managed to meet up with sherlock, her gf at the time and we drove up to Port Stephens / Nelson Bay for a dolphin watch cruise. It was my first time and it was very interesting.

The reason I can look back is because I have archives so I can see not only what I was doing 10 years ado but my general state of mind. Reading through august 2004 entries and doing a SB&T check:

  • physically I seemed to be suffering from back pain and eating out too much, not exerising
  • mentally I had to continue to be alert because of work, I had a lot of information to gather, analyse and present at the end of the trip
  • emotionally I was in a bad place, even now the loneliness and sadness came through — it was less than a year since mm lost her sis and our relationship was pretty rocky


Lots happened in the past 10 years. What I wouldn’t give to go back 10 years and have a talk with 2004!me. Or pick the brain of 2024!me. This is what the guys at nerd fitness are asking us to consider. Three things:

  1. something the current you would tell yourself 10 years ago:
    • don’t wait till you can’t bear to look in the mirror before getting your health in order; exercise, start eating healthier and watch the alcohol
    • work stress is not worth it; do the best you can, but don’t be lazy
    • things with mm will never go back to how it was, communicate positively and build for the future
    • keep a closer eye on your finances, you can be a bit more aggressive in your investments
  2. what your future looks like, being as specific and detailed as possible:
    • congratulations on another marathon PR
    • you won an award for your pics from the antarctic cruise (continent #7)
    • you finally get the recognition you wanted as a published author
    • the microfarm and the attached café restaurant are doing really well, and wow, new cookbook coming out
    • you and mm made some good property investments, and designed your new home
  3. what’s one thing the FUTURE you would come back and tell TODAY you so that you head down the right path? Actually I have two things:
    • learn more about mindfulness, just let things be
    • run. run more. don’t stop running

writing for myself in a social vacuum

A few years ago, I thought about moving to tumblr, because it was it for a while and I was at a low point, trying to find a purpose:

What is the No. 1 reason that people quit blogging? Because they can’t find and develop an audience

At the end it was login problems that prevented the move so I’m still stuck on ancient MT4 on my own website. I know I have a few readers (waves thanks!!!) but mostly I think it has become an internal process. It’s almost like a daily task, and I admit sometimes I write a post for the sake of checking the one-post-a-day task on my invisible to-do list. May be that’s why I don’t have six million views a year, because who wants to read about something that occupies the same level of priority as brushing my teeth or mindful meditation.

Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Most days I try to think of something worthwhile or interesting to write. It’s still primarily writing for myself rather than readers (waves some more). I should pat myself on the back for maintaining a website for 10 years and almost 7 years of one-post-a-day.

That’s why I was quite excited when I discovered medium. For me, it fills a space somewhere in between my website and tumblr. It’s more public (at least before the recent collection changes, more in a bit) and for some reason I feel obliged to take more care about the craft of writing on medium. I had in mind that I’d crosspost more thoughtful and serious posts to medium, almost like writing for a magazine. When I post on medium, I imagine that I’m writing for my readers.

I was quite sad when I posted my most recent medium article and found that I could no longer submit to collections. Instead of posters being able to freely submit to any number of collections, they have changed it to only one collection and only if you are already the owner or a writer of that collection. Sigh. This is so disappointing. What I liked about medium was that all members were treated equally, that anyone can write anything and submit to any collection. The chance being discovered was equal. With this new change, it’s getting back to the age-old clique. The most popular collections will be of named and featured writers, while us peons will continue to languish at the bottom of the pit. As one prominent user lamented:

It turned a system that was beautifully democratic and turned it into a system of clique based collections that are closed off to the average creator. It’s like content communism.

My cynical view is that the ultimate end game is monetisation. They can charge to feature certain collections belonging to coporates and writers will clamour to be included in that group in order to get exposure. Imagine a Huffpo or Upworthy collection with millions of followers, who wouldn’t want their article to be a part of that?

Will I continue to post to medium? Perhaps. I’ve had to create my own collection. I’m the only writer, and I’m back to writing for no one / myself. It’s a copy and paste job, and my posts look pretty on their clean interface.

What then becomes of tumblr? My login problem has resolved, so it’s active again. I’ve noticed that I’m using it not as a blogging platorm, but to curate content.


Like many people, I have far too many social media accounts (am I spread too thin? That’s another question for another time). When I signed up for IFTTT i had to figure out how my online presence flows. Where are my active vs passive presences. How I use each site:

  • website: traditional blogging — personal thoughts, experiences, longer posts
  • medium: public writing — more “interesting” posts
  • twitter: random observation, log exercise, feeds to google doc for record keeping
  • instagram: started off as food pics, trying to expand and be more interesting, a little more social, keep an eye on niece
  • flickr: photo repository, not using for social purposes
  • facebook: community, sharing, keeping in touch
  • tumblr: curation for my own and other people’s content

Originally I wanted to curate everything to tumblr, then to facebook. I decided against it and made both tumblr and fb end points to the flow. There are certain things I prefer to curate rather than share openly. There are people on my fb friends list that constantly share cat (and worst, dogs, yuck) pictures, inspirational quotes and minute details of their lives. I don’t want to be the tool who does that. I may experiment a little though, not post for a while, over post for a while, crosspost. I doubt anyone will notice, it’s all an empty vacuum anyway.

the future includes robots

Published another article at medium.

The humans need not apply video has been doing the rounds lately. An apt summary:

“Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can’t match” + “Economics always wins” = “Automation is inevitable.”

So the message is, humankind should look forward to being treated like horses in the early 20th century and become obsolete as robots take over jobs previously performed by humans. And it’s presented like it’s a bad thing.

Here’s what I think. I think that automating tasks currently performed by humans is awesome. The cost of “running” a human is so astronomical compared with running a robot, and it includes errors and inconsistencies made by humans. Am I the only person who has been following news about driverless cars with enthusiasm and happiness? Driverless cars (and buses and trains and other modes of transport) will probably be much safer because robots don’t get tired, fall asleep, text, or get distracted while they are driving. The current difficulty of integrating driverless cars isn’t just the technology, it’s that these cars need to negotiate roads occupied by unpredictable human drivers. There’s not been any difficulty in using driverless trains or trams that use fixed tracks. I’m sure that the map of roads in a few hundred years will be vastly different from our network of highways, but it’s progress.


There’s always been resistance to change over the course of history. People used to manually write out copies of books by hand, their jobs were eliminated when printing was invented. The Industrial Revolution replaced manual labour with machinery. The digital revolution had similar impact on jobs.

But every time there was a new invention or progress, as dust settled, people went on to do something else — trading, finance, services industry. Going back to the printing example, yes there was no longer any need for meticulous book calligraphers, so did humankind grind to a stop? History tells us otherwise. The widespread availability of books meant improved literacy and education. Humans who used to copy book contents went on to create content for more and more books. When robots assume the more mundane tier 0 or tier 1 tasks, a human brain is freed to take care of the more complex, emotionally driven, critical thinking tasks that robots can’t do yet. Robots can cook burgers, pizza, sushi, but they can’t create sublime dishes that are more art than mere food. I can live with robots at Mcdonald’s, but there will still be a place in the world for the Fat Duck or Noma.


Leisure, that’s our lot in future.

Our ability to consume leisure nowadays is astounding and something that our parents’ generation would never imagine. When I think of horses, who, as the video told us have been deemed unemployable, I see them grazing in meadows. The ones who are working are mainly “employed” in the services industry — touristy horse-drawn carriages, horse racing or in the services of police forces or farms. Just as horses’ lives have changed, it is up to us, humankind, to find a new place in the brave new world of robots. As wired said (emphasis mine),

We’d still have to find our place among the robots, except this time without work as a guidepost for defining a sense of purpose. By eliminating the need for people to work, robots would free us up to focus on what really makes us human.

I admit, I’ve presented an overly simple and westernised view. How the next generation will work is unclear. May be we will see the end of robot-like commuting and fixed hour (9-5) work as people gain more flexibility not only in hours they work but where and how. The world is going through a prolonged recession, if I knew how the next generation of jobs will evolve, I’d be a famous economist.

random post topic


Yet more people on my twitter and facebook feeds telling the world about their new blog. SMH. And most of them are WRITERS. I wish they’d learn the difference between blog and blog post. grrrrr.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Remember what SB&T has been teaching.

Let it be.

Alright. Do something else. What shall I blog about today? How about using random topic generator. As one blogger described it,

a tool for bloggers utterly devoid of inspiration and internal thought process

Good one. Sometimes though, I do find myself utterly devoid of inspiration and internal thought process. The most exciting I did in the last 24hrs was I cooked pork chops and okra for dinner. I could write about that, I suppose. How to pan-fry okra without them going slimey. Except I’ve done that already. Or that I made a packet of instant grits, added too much water and had to use up another packet. Note to self: add instant grits to US shopping list.

So, back to random topic generator. Not sure how random it is, or how many topics it has in its database. It splits topics into 12 categories, so let’s try a few of them.

health — eating late at night

I try not to eat after around 9pm, even though my bedtime ranges from 11pm to 1am. Not quite for health reasons, I just don’t like going to bed with a full stomach and (TMI) don’t like waking up all the time to go to the loo. My family’s dinner time is early, sometimes even before 6pm and I try to have some fruit after dinner too.

Even in my younger days when I used to go out drinking, I was never tempted by the post-pub foodstuff like a greasy kebab or fish & chips. There’s a program on tv called last call food brawl where chefs face off against each other cooking epic iconic late night food of whichever city they were visiting that week. The creations are more gigantic, stodgy, crazy than epic. Anything deep fried, smothered with sauce with bacon added seemed to qualify. Who in their right minds would want to eat that? I guess only drunk people at 2am.

Another image of eating late at night is of Nigella, in her sleeping gown, raiding the fridge and getting something yummy she made earlier, be it ice cream, biscuits, leftover dinner or fish finger sarnie. Then smirking at the camera with a combination of self-satisfaction and guilt. Now that’s eating late at night.

science — early uses of the abacus


I’m not sure what early uses mean. Abacus is a calculating device used in many parts of the world dating back to BC times. It’s pretty much used for the same purpose. Early uses that didn’t include calculation? As a weapon? As a foot massager? To build houses? The random topic generator should have said, uses for abacus in early history.

I was taught how to use an abacus, I can read numbers off it and probably use it very slowly if necessary. It was more a toy. Very occasionally in one of those traditional herbal medicine shops I may see one in use, I hope I remember to take a picture if I see it.

technology — european architecture


I wouldn’t put architecture under technology, but I get what is given to me, right? Anyway, one can’t live in or travel to europe without having some appreciation of architecture. Do I know the difference between romanesque and renaissance? I could probably recognise examples if someone told me or I looked it up. Like for romanesque imagine the Tower of London, St Albans cathedral and L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Provence, where we visited a couple of years ago.


And for renaissance what better example than St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

recreation — history of baseball

Skipping the topic. I only have a small passing interest in baseball. I guess if I grew up in the US I’d like it better, I do like playing rounders.

opinion – chocolate or vanilla?


Vanilla. That’s all.

all — cities to visit


There are other categories like businss, world, people, art, music. And then the all categories gave me cities to visit. Now that’s a task by itself. A long list. The next city I’ll visit will be Seoul, going there with mm in a few weeks’ time. New Orleans next July hopefully. There may be others in between.

In terms of travelling, I tend to prefer cities rather than, say, beach resorts. Nothing much there to do at beach resorts since I’m not a big fan of swimming in the sea or getting a tan. I’d rather find quiet time in a park or village café.


noisetrade music discovery

New downloads from noisetrade. Free (optional tipping) music and books to discover new artists.

A sampler from sleeping at ast, aka Ryan O’Neal from chicago (no, not the actor). Comparisons to radiohead and nick drake, which is how I got to them through search on the site. I thought he sounded more like coldplay, which, depending on point of view, may or may not be a good thing. Personally, I like coldplay so I’m keeping the sampler. He’s also performed a few songs for films and tv.

On the homepage and top of the downloads list is delta spirit, similar to the shins and my morning jacket. A bit too loud for me.

A great new discovery is the rival, comparable to keane, the killers, MGMT and U2. No surprise there. Run Run, the first song from the album was actually the iphone 5 launch song and a pretty good addition to my running playlist.

And just to show I’m not always about the male indie bands, I also downloaded Welsh singer sera. I like her, she has a good voice and you can hear the Welsh lilt when she sings.

Finally, there’s classical pianist Ben Amend, a couple of miscellaneous pieces and an EP called winter woods, more new age-y music than classical. Really, really good. Great playing, great atmospheric pieces. My favourite out of all the downloads today.

For some reason, noisetrade won’t let me download ebooks. Ah well, I’ll stick with music discovery. I also wish they had a shopping cart to consolidate all tips made in one session instead of having to do multiple small $5 transactions.

burger and cake

habituburger201408 habitucakes201408

Met with mm for late lunch/tea at a café near me. We shared a burger, cooked medium and served on focaccia. They didn’t have mayo for the fries though — the 1st waitress looked at us blankly, the 2nd waiter disappeared and the 3rd explained that they didn’t have mayo on its own, it’s already mixed in the salad. Huh. Stupid, but the burger was decent.

Shared small cakes for dessert, a chocolate layered caked made apparently from 65% chocolate and a lemon meringue tart. We started talking about having our own café again. A small place only open a day or two a week. Small selection of coffee, tea and cakes.

#55 new recipe: key lime pie


Tasks #49-58 of 101 in 1001 are to try 10 new recipes. This is #7 and the 5th baking recipe so far.

Mum went to lunch at the restaurant of a training hotel the other day. She had chocolate mousse (“like really bad ice cream”) and tried her friend’s key lime pie (“it was good”). Sis and gis had key lime pie recently and liked it. It’s my dad’s birthday. So all these events combined mean I should make key lime pie.

Yes, it’s quintessentially American, but the recipe I trusted was from bbc good food because: a) hob nobs!! and b) grams not cups.

300g hob nobs
150g butter
3 egg yolks (I used 4 because the eggs were small)
1 can (397g) condensed milk
zest and juice from 4 limes (these were tiny limes so I used 5)

Make the base from crushed hob nobs and melted butter. Allow to cool. Whisk egg yolks for about 1min, add the condensed milk and whisk for 3mins. Add lime zest and juice, whisk for another 3mins. Pour over base, bake at 160°C for 15-20mins. Leave in tin to cool overnight in fridge.


I tried to make candied lime peel. Blanched lime slices in hot water then simmered in a simple syrup made from equal quantities of sugar and water for 15mins. Was still quite bitter (from peel, not pith) so I didn’t use it to decorate. Instead I whipped up some cream and used strawberries. Couldn’t be bothered to break out the piping bag so I just quenelled the cream.

Everyone seemed to like it and no complaints. I thought it was an extremely simple recipe, I liked that it was loaded with lime flavour and wasn’t too sweet. Next time I’ll make mixed citrus peel, may be that’ll work. Or just grate lime zest over a heap of cream.

slooooow running


4.0km 39.56min 9.59min/km (16.03min/mi)

While my niece was at the track with her long jump coach, I ran around the track 10 times. Very, very, very slowly. I felt heavy and far too hot to go any quicker. It’s no more than walking pace, really. I guess I have to reconcile to not getting my speed back, and just be glad that even slow running reduces the risk of heart disease. I’m kinda looking forward to cooler and less polluted days when I can run a bit more. The past week I’m so dependent on antihistamines it’s not funny. A couple of times I had to take 2 tablets to make the allergy symptoms go away or even to get to sleep. Annoying.

Anyway, it was nice to be able to run on a track again. Short of scenic routes like the lake or Hyde Park, a track, any track, is better than along polluted and traffic-heavy roads.

visited states

tor040cntower mpngra171ngralake

According to the OECD I should live in Canada and Australia. So I was wondering where exactly, which led me to think about which states I’ve visited. In Canada I’ve only visited 2 states: Ontario and BC. I’ve been to Toronto twice, neither times I’ve been that impressed honestly. Niagara Falls was impressive, I won’t want to live there. Niagara-on-the-Falls was pretty, and again not somewhere I want to live. I liked Vancouver much better and really liked Victoria, so may be somewhere on the west coast.

syd156gap mel074station

In Oz I’ve been to NSW, Victoria and Queensland. The usual suspects, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Since I’ve been to Sydney many times, I’m partial to it. That said, I’m not Aussie enough to appreciate the rivalry between Sydneysiders and people from Melbourne, Brisbane and other parts. I love Australia, it’s like the UK with better weather and great wine. A bit far away from everything though.


I have a map of places I’ve visited in the world, but the other big map is of US states visited. I was very tempted by the big magnetic map with magnets shaped like the various states, but too large to carry home. Lots of online map making sites though. I made one that shows states I’ve spent time (at least stopped at an attraction) vs states I’ve only travelled through. 30 states visited and 8 travelled through. I think it’s correct, I should look back to our big Chicago—>Fort Worth—>Washington DC in 2007 to double check.

where shall i live?


Spotted via lifehacker is a fun little exercise from the OECD to determine which countries we should live based on how we rank important topics like housing, health, safety.

Doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. Canada, Australia, Norway and Switzerland come out top for me. I know that these countries have good health systems and infrastructure, they normally come out top in most satisfaction indices anyway. I will be quite happy living in any of these places. Reminds me, I need to dig out and scan pics of my apartment in Zurich.

#66 new whisky dalmore 18


Tasks #64-68 of 101 in 1001 is to try 5 whiskies. This is #3 of 5.

Next in the highland/speyside rotation is the bottle of The Dalmore 18 I bought at DXB last year. It was on special offer, and I couldn’t help remembering that Dalmore boasts the most expensive whisky in the world, a very limited (12 bottles total) edition of the 1962 sold at Chiangi airport for US$250,000. My flawed theory was, if they can sell the world’s most expensive whisky, their other offerings must be good, right?

Well, not so much. I found the 18 to be flat and abrupt with barely any finish. It’s smooth enough, I must say. Some notes of bitter chocolate or bitter something. The first few sips were disappointing, then I got used to it and was prepared for the lack of finish. Not quite sure why it gets such good reviews, may be it’s my palette.

It costs around the same as Macallan 18 and even though I’ve pretty much gone off Macallan, I think the Dalmore compares poorly with Macallan and other high street 18s. The problem with Dalmore is that they’re trying too hard to market themselves as a premium brand, with a distinctive bottle, stag logo that screams county squire, and gimmicky £1 million pricetags.

Yes, there are people with more money than taste who will throw money at something very expensive because it is expensive. But to make it as a premium brand, the product itself has to be of sufficiently high quality consistently. In the crowded 18yr category, I’ll take Highland Park 18 any day, or Bunnahabein 18 (£70 at TWE, a bargain) or the stunning Yamazaki 18 (a bit higher in the price bracket, but I can get it when I travel to Japan). I think I should have saved my money or gone for the 12 or 15 if I wanted to try Dalmore. Mr Murray gives the Dalmore 18 a disappointing 76.5 points and I think it’s about right. Nice bottle design though.

fun with wine apps

Downloaded a few wine apps for fun.

First, a couple of wine scanner apps. Both vivino and delectable recognise wines from a picture of the bottle’s label. They then give information about the wine, region, vintage, pairing and ratings from other users.


I grabbed a random bottle, a fuzion tempranillo 2012, and both apps got the brand and country right. Vivino got the vintage exactly right, but it’s pretty subjective. Both offer additional features, users can buy directly through delectable and vivino gives a list of places where the wine can be purchased. That said, when the correspondent at the washington post tried to find stores near to him, vivino told him to go to mcdonald’s.


Both apps encourage users to connect via social media, in fact delectable won’t let me proceed without signing up with facebook or my email address. I can use vivino as a guest, and this is the big reason why I’m keeping this app and I’ll probably delete delectable. I don’t want to be tracked or receive notifications thank you.


From wine scanners to a new app wine4me, yet another wine discovery app. This one creates a wine profile based on my preference of type, region, country. I entered a few like rioja, oregon, alsace and it gave me a profile and a list of wines it thinks I may like. As I add more wines that I have tasted, the app is trained to fine tune more choices. It’s good for casual wine drinkers but I find that it skews towards new world wine and doesn’t have my all-time favourite chateauneuf-du-pape (buried in southern france) or current favourite cabernet franc.


Finally, one that is a bit different and sort of fun. The WSET wine game is offered by the wine & spirit education trust who provides education and qualifications on wine. The aim is to place 10 bottles correctly in their country of origin. Level 1 even gives the region (eg central otago) and the challenge is to click on the map fast enough. It’s pretty much a simple game to market the WSET school and qualifications. Quite fun for a few minutes.

#100: try meditation


Task #100 of 101 in 1001 is to try meditation.

Most people will agree on the benefits of meditation. There are many different types and practices of meditation, some relating to religious practices. I didn’t want to get into religious meditation, and didn’t want anything too fancy or new age-y or deep. A free app is perfect for trying. Stop, breathe and think is

a friendly, simple tool to guide people of all ages and backgrounds through meditations for mindfulness and compassion

I’ve used the app daily for a week now. It’s a simple process — check in, note physical, mental and emotional status and the app will present a few meditations to follow. For a few minutes, it tells me to close my eyes and be aware of my breathing, then it tells me to think about happiness and compassion and noticing what is around me. It may tell me to think about my current position, then expand to the room, the city and then the whole world.

Before I started reading up on the app, I thought meditation was basically sitting there with your eyes closed and not thinking. As usual, that’s over-simplification. The SB&T app teaches mindfulness, which a fellow user aptly describes as a non-judgmental, neutral state of mind:

mindfulness is all about acceptance. Feeling shitty? Want to rip your hair out? Waiting for Tylenol to kick in? Super jealous of your friend’s new car? Want to punch that guy in the face? Well, ok then. Just feel that for now

I like the just let it be part of the teaching. If I had to state a goal for trying meditation (aside from checking off another 101.1001), it’s to temper my constant anger towards people, because they exist. Whenever I have to venture outside, I look at all the people around me and I wish they could be exterminated. The other extreme is I completely don’t care about anything or anybody. I think I need to find some middle ground that acknowledges that, like it or not, other people exist in this world and I have to tolerate them. May be mindfulness meditation can help.

It’s only been a week, too early to tell if it works. I try to focus and follow the app, but i must admit I still get distracted sometimes. Instead of getting uptight about it, I allow myself to be distracted while the rest of the meditation plays and I can usually get back to it. If I don’t want to follow the recommended meditation I can go to the main menu and select another one. There are longer meditations available as IAP but for the time being I’m sticking with the free ones.

There are loads of mediation apps, including best selling mindfulness meditation and headspace. I already have apps that play relaxing melodies or white noise. Lots of resources.

imogen heap run time song and app

via giz

Imogen Heap is awesome. Not only is she a great musician, she is also working on an app called Run Time that customises a run. It takes ambient sounds like breathing, footsteps, traffic and even birds and layers them with a pre-recorded electronic track. The best thing is that the runner can adjust the tempo of the music according to stages of a run: slow warm up, walking, running, acceleration and deceleration. She demonstrates this perfectly in her video.

Run-time, the song is based on the app. The album Sparks will be released on 19 August.

The app is still in development. Depending on how much it is, I will likely get it. Although, I won’t lope around NYC like a crazy person the way she did.

camera ready


The last day of our road trip, my small camera broke down all of a sudden. All I was doing was turning it on to take a picture. The lens extended part way, then there was some grinding noises of it trying some more, then a couple of beeps. The display said lens error and the camera shut down with the lens extended. I don’t know if it was the heat of the badlands or if a grain of sand had gotten inside or if I’d been turning it on and off too many times.

We had atrocious internet that night at the Ramada Inn Mitchell, I spent the little connection I had on the iphone in the lobby googling how to fix lens error. Methods included cleaning around the lens with the edge of a sheet of paper and tapping the side of the camera. Nothing worked. Fortunately a) it was the end of the road trip and b) I had my big camera. Worse case scenario, the iphone camera takes acceptable pics. Lesson learned: bring 2 cameras on a long trip, even though it’s a pain to lug the big camera.

The small camera is my day-to-day camera, so I have to get it repaired or replaced pronto. I bought it almost 2 years ago, so it’s out of warranty. Official repair quote was US$170. Gulp.


A little more digging led me to a small local shop that quoted me US$50. I figured, this guy Raymond has good reviews online and it’s worth a gamble of $50. The tiny shop, more a glorified store room, is located on the 22/F of a dingy office building in the middle of the most crowded shopping district in town. The shop is stacked full of boxes and equipment and parts with a tiny space just inside the door for customers to stand. They’re professional though, taking care to mark down my camera’s serial number, not charging till it’s fixed and giving a 30 day warranty. Took them a few days to get the parts and fix the camera, I picked it up yesterday and it’s working fine. Raymond told me that the lens mechanisms on s100 and s110s last about 500-600 times, so obviously Canon doesn’t test like Ikea.

Since there were no other customers, I asked him for recommendations and tips. We agreed that the s90 and s95 are better and more reliable cameras than the newer models; the product cycle for modern electronics is too short for meaningful testing. Interestingly second hand s95 cameras are still costly, which reinforces our argument. I’m also half thinking of replacing my almost 10 year old EOS 350D. His response, ditch the dSLR and instead look into the G1X. It occupies an undefinable place in the market, with all the power of a dSLR (except detachable lens) and yet too large to be a real point-and-shoot. He showed me the quality achieved by the 4x digital zoom and it’s impressive.

Reviews are okay, there are some issues like slow auto focus (which I also find with the s110), macro needs filter (macro on s110 isn’t up to par with s90) and it’s neither here nor there in terms of size and weight. It’s more expensive than the s110, and the s110 was already at the top of my price tolerance.

I’ll always want a small camera that fits in my pocket so the question is whether the G1X is the right camera if I want to downsize from the big camera. I need to think about what I really use the big camera for: the last few years it’s been events like conference and weddings. Can a mid-range camera do the job? Should I get a second hand dSLR instead? The ideal set up will be s110, G1X and either 5D or 7D. That’s wishful thinking, I don’t do enough photography to justify the expense.

remembered for a while

nick drake
ben dylan / flickr

A new book about Nick Drake, Remembered for a While, is coming out. Edited by Nick’s family and friends,

This is not a biography. It is, rather, an attempt to cast a few shards of light on Nick Drake the poet, the musician, the singer, the friend, son and brother, who was also more than all of these.

The book is £35, the deluxe edition at £150 includes a 10” vinyl of tracks from a 1969 John Peel session, photographs and other goodies. The guardian has one of the tracks available for listening. It’s brilliant and haunting and sad. Another great musician who died young. There are no known live recordings of Nick’s performances, so we only get to listen.


#4 complete online course


Task #4 of 101 in 1001 is to complete an online course.

I was working on a javascript coding course on codecademy but have sort of given up because I got stuck and the instructions weren’t clear. So for just for the hell of it I started browsing around other online education places and came across some simple short courses on graphic design at udemy.

The free courses are all very basic. The one on introduction to graphic design took less than 30mins to finish and I took away some theory:

6 elements in design = line, form, colour, texture, mass space
5 principles of design: alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, repetition

I also took one called real life graphic design: photoshop and illustrator. I learned how to darken a blue sky using gradient, add a sunset, use curves in photoshop — all of which I know. The course also touched on Illustrator, which I don’t have much experience or confidence in using. I learned basic manipulation. There was one comment in the course, that the instructor went too fast. I totally agree. I know what he was doing in photoshop because I’m really not a beginner, he was clicking and telling us what he is doing without explaining where the controls are or what settings. That said, I think I can start practicing using Illustrator for simple graphics.

It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours, better than playing a game. I get nifty completion certificates too. I’ll definitely go through some more free courses on the site, not ready to pay for anything yet.

music lab concert

We went to a concert by music lab, an orchestra of young and enthusiastic musicians. The concert was billed as multimedia, and there were slide shows and videos of artistic works created by other young people on a large projector.

The program opened with the orchestra playing Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Debussy followed by the Mother Goose Suite by Ravel. Good playing, and quite enjoyable. Then it was Ms Nancy Loo playing Rhapsody in Blue, she is a well known solo artist and teacher at the APA. The finale of the concert was KJ Wong playing the Asian premiere of Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky-Naoumoff. I’ve heard the piece before, but not in its entirety and it sounded very technical and difficult to master.

The main attraction of the concert was undoubtedly KJ, a sort of music wunderkid and the subject of a documentary when he was still at school. He is now in his early twenties, and presents as a mixture of arrogance and uncertainty and talent. Surrounded by almost screaming fans, of course.

For more on KJ, check out his channel or listen to him playing Etude by Emile Naoumoff. There are a few videos of other pianists playing plctures at an exhibition too, This one, audio only, is played by the master himself, Vladimir Horowitz.


sisuk158bluewhale ldn119bigben

The theme for this week’s photofriday challenge is big so I searched through my flickr archive. With 23,000 pics there has to be one that fits right? The first pic is of the blue whale at the natural history museum. Good. Blue whales are big. Then it gave me big thunder mountain at disney world and big ben. Also good, keyword match.

lolla021crowd islay332bowwash

The rest of the search results included all pics from bear country, because in the description I said big horn sheep. By the same logic it gave me lollapalooza 2009 (big crowds) and the visit to Bowmore distillery 2012 (big conglomerate).

Not the search results I wanted, except perhaps the blue whale. However, I don’t like submitting snapshots to challenges. There has to be at least some technique or composition or something more thoughtful. So what image would be best to convey big? The usual suspects came to mind as I proceeded to search again.

big sky — the parent-child tree at hokkaido:

big ocean — surfer at bondi beach:

big nature — frozen niagara falls :

big buildings — skyscrapers in central district:

big machine — snowplough engine at white pass railway:


big food — steak at maze grill:

This is both an easy and hard photo challenge. The current submissions aren’t that helpful either, most people have gone for the easy option. Big scenery, big statues, big heart represented by someone wearing a t-shirt with a heart (seriously?). Some are quite irrelevant too. I’m undecided on this challenge, I don’t think I have found the perfect pic to submit. May be it’s a mood thing, that I’m in the mood for something intense and broody and all I can find are literal interpretations.

p.s. the google image search for “big” gives very…interesting results, mainly of human bodies partially covered by small pieces of cloth. May be they’re supposed to be attractive but I find these images of stupid big brother contestants, big muscles and big boobs to be off-putting.

#85: bbmm day trip to tai o

taio017houses taio010bridge
taio026village taio028village

Tasks #85-6 in 101 in 1001 are to do 3 new things with mm. This is 2 of 3.

We met up after mm’s piano lesson and took the train all the way to the end of the line, then another bus for almost 1hr to go to the fishing village of Tai O. It was an extremely hot day, the queue for the bus was long and it was crowded. We discussed for half a second whether to go, and decided that we should persevere since ee’d been talking about going there for ages. The village itself is more a tourist attraction now, although some of the traditional activities like fishing and preparing dried seafood still remain.

We walked to one end of the village, doubled back and shared a snack of fried rice and squid with shrimp sauce at a local place. Walked to the other end and went through the market and the pretty waterways area. One of the attractions of the village is houses on wooden stilts, many were destroyed in a fire in 2000, thankfully some are still standing. Other houses in the village were constructed from metal, tin or aluminium I think. They must be scorching inside, although some have been modernised with air-conditioning.

Right at the end of the waterfront is a hotel converted from the old police station. Very colonial in architecture and with great views out of the pier and sea.

A nice afternoon out, very hot and we were grateful for some shade and areas where we could feel the breeze. I didn’t have my camera, so everything was taken using the iphone. Not a bad set.

trip pics uploaded

Finally the trip pics are sorted and uploaded. From the 1846 pics and 11 videos it’s now 977 pics and 10 videos:

  • general road trip — misc pics taken during drive, platte river archway museum, lincoln highway monument, salt lake city, antelope island, twin falls, columbia river, coeur d’alene, old montana prison, wall drugs
  • portland — city, waterfront, foodcarts, distilleries & wineries
  • gcls 2014 — mostly private set of a few pics I took or with me in them
  • yellowstone national park — beautiful scenery, waterfalls, geysers & volcanic activity areas, a vast lake, and buffalo
  • devils tower & deadwood — iconic devils tower including the prairie dog colony, mount moriah cemetery, days of 76 museum, deadwood historic main street, winery
  • south dakota — custer, crazy horse monument day & night, mount rushmore, badlands

Some favourites that haven’t already been posted:

Antelope island state park, the haze making the great salt lake look like a painting.

Vines growing under Mount Hood, such a picture perfect picture.

Vintage cookery books at Powell’s. I had about 45mins to explore, after I walked through all the rooms to get pictures I spent most of my time at the food & drink shelf.

Old Faithful.

Fisherman at Yellowstone lake whilst we were having lunch. We were respectfully quiet, watching him cast.

I wish we had more time to try the pies at the purple pie place in custer.

The finale at crazy horse laser & light show.

Panorama badlands national park.

The weather was fine, the only major rain we encountered was heavy isolated showers as we headed towards Bozeman, the rain patches were so dense we could see them.

Fire danger never went above moderate.

We saw a lot of buffalo, both real and sculptures:

trip022platte trip123antelope sd078bison sd204gate  sd153buffalo sd253keystone ynp176bison ynp193bison

From left: platte river archway museum | antelope island | days of 76 museum | nature gate at crazy horse | buffalo parade custer | keystone | single one yellowstone | herd at yellowstone

And finally a couple of videos of animal encounters close to the car, the epic buffalo encounter at yellowstone (this audio is safe for work) and the arctic wolf at bear country: