China Trip: Thank Yous

It’s now the second day of October and I’m beginning to think more and more about China. (Not that I haven’t been thinking about it — it’s now just a closer reality)

A few updates: I’ll be in Shanghai right after Christmas, will spend two to three weeks there and then make my way over to the Zhejiang province. I’ve been researching both areas intensively during my free time here in Nicaragua and some topics I’ve been particularly interested in are: the anatomy of a true xiaolongbao and vinegars from Zhejiang. AND I have a couple of contacts in both places who are going to show me around already.

As promised, on my Indiegogo page, I wanted to openly thank the following people for helping me on my journey. Honestly, I’m getting goosebumps as I’m typing out the list below. A lot of you guys I know; some are complete strangers. I really want to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being so supportive. I know words don’t mean much, but just seeing the physical list below is a huge source of motivation for me. None of you guys had to help me, but you did anyways, and that in itself is an extremely humbling fact. I’m indebted to your support and grateful for your faith in my ability to carry out this project.

So, once again, thank you so much to all the people below and to the anonymous donors as well.

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Good news: I’ve been doing my due diligence with recipe-collecting. I have an article coming out for a magazine in the next couple of weeks with my very first recipe. It’s a recipe for zongzi that I collected from my own grandmother. Can’t wait to share it with you guys.

Andrew Zimmern: because without you, I wouldn’t have had the courage to launch the campaign.
Jenny Yang: because you have been an amazing cheerleader and fundraising force and I can’t wait to travel with you
John Larson: for your helpful email and encouragements!

Lian Leong
Ross Shibata
Kennedy V. Kabasares
Alexader Lee
Zhou Wang
Eric Kim
Mark Sulkes
Sharon Chen
Po-Chen Chang
Samantha Huey
Lili Chin
Bonnie S Chen
Avery Segal
Jo Stougaard @MyLastBite
Mark Amaro
Lianne Lin
Anita Chikkatur
Marvin Yueh
Christopher Wong
Scott Okamoto
Martin Lewis
Garrett Schneider
Jayson Joseph
Aileen Xu
Chi-wang Yang
Alexander Lee
Scott Chan
Joe Wang
David Shia
RushOrder App
Benjamin Jackson
Elton Keung
Catherine Ferguson
Mark Beamer
Charmaine Cordero
Angel Chang
Samantha Huey
Khanh Nguyen
Andrew Stern
Michael Yu
Justin Ton
Scott Palmer
Vivian Wang
Avi Conzevoy
Misha Sesar
Nina Ha
Avery Segal
Simon Fung

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What I’ve Written Lately


Confessions of a lost sheep: How my life changed after leaving the church (Liberty Project)

Sushi Slang 101: Decoding The Secret Language of Sushi Chefs (First We Feast)

How To Take A Road Trip Up The Pacific Coast Highway (Liberty Project)

The Best L.A. Restaurants That New Yorkers Have Never Heard Of (First We Feast)

Also, L.A. Weekly’s Best Of 2015 Issue came out! Here were my contributions:

The Best Salsa Club: The Granada

The Best Country Music Club: Montana’s

The Best Caribbean Food: Who’s Hungry Food Solutions

The Best Hot Pot: Mokkoji

The Best Traditional Sichuan: Chengdu Taste

The Best Chinese Hole-In-The-Wall: Ahgoo’s Kitchen

The Best Food Truck Experience: Dollar Hits Truck

The Best Night Hike: Echo Mountain

The Best Scuba Dive Site: Casino Point

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A Guided Map Of Leon, Nicaragua

I’m nearly six weeks into my volunteer stint here in Leon, Nicaragua and so I made a map for new volunteers at Quetzaltrekkers. A helpful tool for first-time visitors, I think. Orange is restaurants, red is nightlife, blue is miscellaneous. I don’t know the real names of a lot of the spots and so I’ve labeled a lot of the favorites by their nicknames: chicken lady, wedding lady, beer man, etc.


an torchas: quiet little bar with cocktails and seating on the top. katie, the bartender, is from new york.

banks: withdraw your money here. and those sketchy-looking men sitting outside with a large wad of cash? totally legit. they give you a decent exchange rate.

beer man: one liter beer bottles. exchange empty bottles for fresh ones at a discount. 42-46 cordobas per beer!

cathedral: the biggest tourist attraction / landmark in town. rooftop access.

chicken lady: delectable jalapeno or grilled chicken. served over rice and beans. hidden gem, by all accounts. real name of this eatery is asados something.

coco café: great iced coffee, decent paninis. menu is in english so of course it’s pricier. they have cake!

cuban: pretentious hipster cuban resto. great for special occasions and mojito nights.

gloria’s: spanish teacher’s house

go mart: convenience store reminiscent of 7/11. think florescent lights and tiled floors. it’s good for rum (flor de cana!) or for when beer man is closed.

hamburger stands: go to LuLu’s for giant, greasy hamburgers doused in a ridiculous amount of sauce. hot dogs also readily available and cooked the same way. ideal for drunken nights.

iglesia san felipe: a church

jack’s: quality hamburgers (not those giant-ass things from the stands). be on the lookout for jack himself. he’s quite the character.

la merced: a church

la mexicana: burritos are decent here. basic mexican fare. they have guac!

la union: the supermarket where we buy everything

lazy bones: a hostel

libelula: bougie coffee shop that makes really good espresso and iced coffees. of course, it’s expensive

nicaraguita: solid westernized café with good jalapeno chicken and pastas. skip the burger.

ortiz gurdian: a museum (expert tip: museums are free on sundays!)

oxygen: standard, top-50-billboard music-playing dance club that charges a cover on weekends. tip: come only when drunk

pan y paz: french bakery with a lovely courtyard. the place in town to people-watch while sober. (for drunken people-watching — go to via via) try: salami croissant and the cheese platter. it is also where we buy baguettes.

patio bar: bar on the basketball court. it’s on the second floor, with patio seating

pizza: share a large pizza, tastes like home!

pupusa: el salvadorian pupusas, serve with salsa and an addictive slaw. 28-30 cordobas a pop. service is quite slow but the family is sweet so we never mind

revolution museum: a museum

san benito: a commodore we like simply because it’s close. good food, if you make it during the right hours.

san juan: a church

san juan market: the OG market experience — with animal carcasses and piles of veggies in a labyrinth of concrete and makeshift stalls. not for the squeamish. lots of ready-to-eat food and quite a bit of vigoron (chicarron, yuca and pickled cabbage over rice) vendors here.

smoothie: 60 cordobas for a large smoothie. you can build-your-own if you think their combinations are weird. a quetzal staple

sopa de leon: my favorite nica resto in town. soup place with bombdiggity tacos and asados. always teeming with locals; that’s when you know it’s good

via via: roomy bar/restaurant with live music on weekends. it’s where all the expats are and where people meet up and flirt.

wedding lady: quality frijoles, salad and rice. meats are okay.

sonati: a hostel / tour company with some sort of social mission

quetzaltrekkers: the best tour operator in town! we do volcano boarding and two-day hikes. it’s completely volunteer-run and all profits go to at-risk kids in leon.

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IMG_4066So one of our volcanoes that we regularly hike over here just exploded. Sent up a pillar of ash and smoke … no lava ….yet.

Doesn’t seem to be affecting anything yet. People aren’t evacuating, tour groups are still going. If anything, more people are interested in going up to see it.

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My Favorite Readings Lately

China Scenic: A hidden gem in the world of Chinese food writing. Each article is infused with all the information I aspire to attain: historical and cultural background, science facts. Written by Chinese nationals, translated into English. I hope this publication stays around for a long time.

Wok of Life: The most lovely online archive of Chinese recipes I’ve stumbled upon yet. I was so excited to find this recipe for Ants Climbing A Tree. It’s a shame I can’t find glass noodles here in Nicaragua, or else I’d be right on this! Also the regional representation of their recipe list is stellar. (i.e. Xi’an stuffed pancakes!) I aspire to one day have a cooking family like this. #goals

Paris Review: Interview with legendary writers. I especially digged this exchange with Hunter Thompson and of course, an interview with E.B. White on writing.

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We think of life in grandiose sweeps, big milestones, noteworthy accomplishments. Pick up an obituary — a human’s lifetime is defined by a choice number of descriptions: who he married, who he fathered, what he did, where he lived.

Even years and months are remembered provocatively. 19 was when I first fell in love, 21 was a year of drinks, heartbreak, and laughter. 22 was magical. 23 was painful.

Reality is not so well-edited. Life is in fact, just made out of little pixels. The majority of my days are forgotten days — the days in front of a computer, the days lost in my own thoughts, the mundane hours of errands and chores.

My problem with this all is that time keeps on moving. It moves the same distance whether or not my pixel that day is memorable or forgettable.

That truth scares me.

So how can I make today memorable and productive? How can I color my squares with love and connection?

Because though I’m quite aware that the screen will one day turn off in silence, as long as it is playing — I’m committed to putting on a hell of a show.

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Drunk Notepad

Whenever I’m too drunk, my first step is to head straight to bed without talking or bothering another soul. I get too honest and emotional for confrontation. I’ve found, through experience, that nothing good ever comes out of sloshed conversations.

My second step is to pull out a notepad and wonder out loud, “What is your truth?”

This happens always.

And then I’ll write. I’ll write up a storm and tuck it away deep into my archives. And then months later, I’ll rediscover that little note, written under the influence of truth, and realize that I knew the answer to my struggles all along. Instinct trumps logic.

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Working With My Body

One of the most invaluable discoveries I’ve made on this trip is that I really like working with my body, with my hands. I’ve always suspected as much before, but never made the firm conclusion. Too much time behind the computer always renders me lethargic and depressed, too many days spent philosophizing and talking makes me confused and crazed.

I enjoy going to the grocery store, after office hours, to shop for the next day’s hiking trip. I like carrying the weight of the carrots, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes on my back, coming home and chopping it all into manageable pieces. I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to dicing, I’ve realized. But I enjoy the process.

I like riding in the back of a pickup truck with my clients and leading them up crumbly volcanic rock. At this point, a month in, climbing Cerro Negro is like a walk in the park. So I like to see how fast I can walk before I have to slow down and help the clients carry their boards.

I enjoy pushing my body to its limits and on steep inclines on the two-day hikes, zone out to a meditative state. When I do that, all I see are my feet on dirt, and all I hear is my breathing. I try to be a rhythmic as possible and think of nothing else except my breathing. That, I’ve found, takes the pain away.

On days like today, when I’m doing office work, or have a couple of articles in queue, waiting for the moment patience and inspiration intersect, I realize that I’m much more productive when these types of days are limited.

[Read more…]

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Raindrops Don’t Fall

DSC_1397-2Raindrops don’t fall. They don’t fold gracefully into the ground, into a neat flat puddle. No, raindrops don’t fall — they crash. They crash and explode into hundreds of smaller drops, hitting everything their way. And so when it rains, especially here in Nicaragua, I like to pull up a chair, or rest in the nearest hammock, and watch chaos ensue.

It’s funny how we often lament that money doesn’t grow on trees when the most essential resource of all, water, spills unapologetically from the skies.

Rain in Nicaragua comes unexpectedly. There isn’t a misty breeze and even a light drizzle of a warning. She comes down quickly, aware that her time is short. In Nicaragua, rain doesn’t draw out her stay with calm pitter-patter on windowsills. She’s emotional, she pours out her heart, like a Latin ballad. She’s almost always accompanied by her brother thunder. At times he’ll roar in the distance, and then a slight crescendo, like someone dragging a heavy wagon on uneven pavement. Other times he’ll get in closer, chomp on rocks and stomp his feet — metal on metal. And then there’s the occasional flash, as if someone above, amused, was taking a photograph at the wet world below. Sometimes she’ll get really loud and the rhythmic crashing will be overridden by the popping and gurgling sound of water on water. Bubbles will form, streams will flow. It’s always the most exciting and most tragic when rain, thunder and lightning intersect. It’s the climax of the discordant symphony but soon the dance will end.
[Read more…]

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E.B. White On Being A Writer

E_B_WhiteFound this link on Twitter and was immediately hooked. It’s a dug up interview with the late E.B. White. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the exchange:

“This was a matter of high principle with me: I believed in the doctrine of immaculate rejection.”

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

“The urban scene is a spectacle that fascinates me. People are animals, and the city is full of people in strange plumage, defending their territorial rights, digging for their supper.”

“Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. Delay is instinctive with him. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along.”

“A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter.”

“When you consider that there are a thousand ways to express even the simplest idea, it is no wonder writers are under a great strain. Writers care greatly how a thing is said—it makes all the difference. So they are constantly faced with too many choices and must make too many decisions.”

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