Jogja – no “Y” sound here

After three days in Jakarta, we flew to Yogyakarta today for the next segment of our trip. Yogyakarta, nicknamed “Jogja” is the city that Indonesians from all over the country visit when they want to go on holiday. It’s a major cultural and arts destination, known for its many UNESCO World Heritage sites, not to mention its art scene. They have these intense puppet-type shows where all the puppets are handmade and carved from buffalo skin (I got to touch one of these today, and they feel so soft, almost like leather!). 

We were lucky while in Jakarta because the traffic wasn’t anywhere as bad as we imagined it to be based on all the travel blogs and sites we’d read, but then we quickly realized and were told that the traffic was lesser in the Big Durian because they’d all left the city in preparation for the new year’s holiday. Where did a lot of them go? To Jogja, and the traffic was absolutely horrific here today as result of this. Today, we only got to visit the Taman Sari, or the Portuguese water castle, as a result of this and the rain. 

My first impressions of the city are that it’s definitely far more quaint than Jakarta (obvious given the size of Jogja is just a fraction of Jakarta) and actually reminded me of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, and even Siem Riep, Cambodia. The streets, the roads, the traffic, the tuktuks – a lot were very similar to these other two cities I’d visited previously. 

We ended up sleeping early and not staying out late to welcome in 2020 because we will be waking up at 3:30 to leave for our 4pm car to see the sunrise over Borobudor Temple tomorrow. This just means that we will be waking up bright and early for 2020 to see the very first sunrise of the new year. 

Jakarta – a foodie’s dream

We ate some of the most delicious dishes during our Jakarta segment of our trip today, ranging from soto Betawi, a Jakarta beef stew made with jerky-like beef, coconut and fresh milk, ginger, galangal, garlic, kaffir lime, among other spices; martabak durian, a thick pancake with crispy edges stuffed with durian fruit; to nasi campur, an Indonesian mixed rice dish that had many Chinese barbequed meat components. And during the day, we were stopped by a few potential fans who asked to take photos with us and also for my channel name/Instagram handle so that they could subscribe and watch. It was so cute and sweet that they would stop and ask and also be a follower of mine; this is the first time this has happened during our filming outside of that one time at Ba Xuyen in Brooklyn. All this interaction/interest has encouraged me and given me more motivation to get these videos up as soon as I can. The only challenge is the massive backlog I have of videos to edit and upload, not to mention the endless amounts of footage I have from all these places. The cooking videos have a pretty predictable beginning, middle, and end. The food travel videos can involve more creativity and definitely take more time because of it, so I tend to spend more time and energy on these. I hope these will generate more interest from audiences abroad, so fingers crossed. 


When I was little, I always enjoyed many types of arts and crafts, from drawing, painting, paper mache, to beading and scrapbooking. What I never mastered that I wanted to do was braiding hair. This seems a bit frivolous, but to me, being able to do hair seemed like an important thing because why not have some fun adding variety to one’s appearance? It seems so simple, the idea of braiding hair. It’s essentially creating decorative knots in the hair. But for some reason, I never really learned how to do the most basic braids. My “braids” always ended up looking like twisted ropes, which was clearly not correct. 

Yet as an adult in my own kitchen, I mastered braiding challah quickly and enjoyed the entire process. So today, as I was struggling with the tropical heat and humidity of Jakarta, I wasn’t sure if I should wear my hair up in a bun because that would mean I couldn’t wear a hat to protect my face from the strong sun. If I wore my hat, I’d need to tie my hair in a low ponytail, but the hair from the ponytail would constantly stick to my sticky, sweating skin. The only remedy would be to braid my hair. And I thought to myself, if I have no issues braiding challah, then how is hair any different? This was so silly! 

So, I finally attempted braiding after 30 years of staying away from it, and somehow, it actually turned out looking okay. I looked up YouTube tutorials on regular braids, Dutch braids, fish tail braids, and French braids. It’s crazy all these things that really are not that hard as long as you have a very clear visual, step-by-step guide. 

Yep, I’m 33 going on 34, finally mastering braiding hair, all because I was sick and tired of having my hair stick to my skin in this unbearable heat and stickiness. This new skill is achieving my goal of preventing my hair strands sticking all over my body. At least it’s better late than never. 

The Big Durian – Jakarta

We arrived in Jakarta last night to a heavy rainfall and humidity so high that every piece of glass in sight continuously fogged when exposed to the outside world. I was wondering what Jakarta would be like, particularly in the light of the fact that pretty much everyone I know who has been to Indonesia on holiday has completely skipped Jakarta; instead, they use the city as a transfer point to get to the much hyped up island of Bali (thanks so much, Australians and Eat, Pray, Love). Jakarta has a bad wrap for its congested traffic, pollution, and crowds. It made me wonder…. Ummm, aren’t those the same reasons people hate on cities like LA or New York? Yet people continue to visit those cities. Are people just pre-judging too much and straight up being assholes about what they don’t even know? 

Jakarta is also known affectionately (or not) as “the Big Durian.” It’s debated why this is Jakarta’s nickname, but some plausible theories include: like the polarizing and stinky durian fruit originating in Southeast Asia, you either love Jakarta or you hate it. For some, it’s an exciting and delicious city. For others, they simply cannot stand any part of it and want to avoid it like the plague. Another theory: durian is smelly, and so is Jakarta (I don’t agree that Jakarta is smelly, but yes, as a city with a high population and poor and rich areas, of course the poorer areas are going to have worse sewage systems, so….). 

After exploring the city for two days, I would argue that Jakarta is certainly worth a visit. Yes, it doesn’t have a lot of “tourist” sights the way a city like Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, or New York would, but it has interesting and quirky neighborhoods, crazy large malls, and an eclectic assortment of food due to its extremely diverse population representing many surrounding countries, its 17,000+ islands, and previous colonization by the Portuguese and the Dutch. From a culture perspective, there’s plenty to learn and soak in from this capital city. And from a foodie perspective, it’s kind of like a dreamy paradise. Who would have thought to put jerky-like beef into a coconut and cow milk-based broth, or to make coffee from coffee berries defecated from a civet / luwak cat because going through its digestive track would result in a more rich and chocolatey flavor? Also, I’d never before visited a country with SO many different types of sambals (spicy chili pastes) ranging in level of heat, sweetness, sourness, saltiness. Indonesian cuisine is vast, rich, and diverse, so heavily influenced by Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian cuisines, just to name a few. I cannot imagine anyone who enjoys trying new foods to find this city even remotely boring. 

Family dynamics

Speaking of confrontation, Chris’s brother confronted him about some things he was upset about during our car ride to the airport for our side New Year’s trip to Indonesia. Needless to say, it was an animated conversation en route to the airport, but what needed to be said was said, and some lingering issues were resolved. Yep, that’s what I call adults being adults and seeking resolution. More people need to do this. Seriously. 

Even though I enjoy coming to Australia to explore the country and see Chris’s family and friends, there’s certainly a point I reach when it gets to be a bit exhausting for me. This would be normal for anyone to get tired of hearing the bickering and bantering that tends to happen with siblings and parents who have obviously known each other all their lives. In my family when Chris is around, it’s more passive aggression than any real bickering or yelling for the most part; my parents always attempt (but usually fail) to try to act “normal” when Chris is around, but Chris can see through it and all the things they say and do that seep out without their even being aware of it. But in Chris’s family, it’s constant debates over everything such as local Australian politics (how similar is the current ruling party to Trump?), whether British royalty should still exist, or whether a photo should be submitted for the family Photo of the Year contest because someone in it is topless. It’s just the way they talk and banter. On the bright side, at least it’s meaningful conversation about important world topics (well, not the topless photo one). These conversations can get a little too colorful and loud at times. This is why I don’t really mind having distance from family on either side; it actually gives us some breathing room. 

A decade in personal review

As the 2010s decade comes to an end, many articles are being posted on a recap or reflection of the major events/milestones of the last ten years. On social media, influencers are posting summaries of their most popular posts or products they’ve advocated for, while Facebook and Instagram posts are about a highlight of each year of their life of this last decade, and what the biggest takeaways have been for them personally. 

My life today is quite different than what it was like in 2010. Today, I have a very different job at a very different company. My perspectives have changed on people and travel; I travel very differently (and much more often) than I did then. I have a life partner now who complements me and pushes me to be better and do more, and a slightly different attitude on life and the future in general. But at my core, I’m still the same person: just trying to find as much meaning (and as many laughs) as possible wherever I can find it and attempting to learn as much as I possibly can about things I think are important to the world. 

If a theme exists to the last decade of my life, I’d likely say that each year, it’s been an attempt to go out of my comfort zone and do something “different” for me. I used to think that being “comfortable” was good enough. I wasn’t much of a risk taker at all and became way too comfortable and used to doing things the way I always did them without realizing how bored I could actually get; it was as though my life was passing me by and I wasn’t discovering anything new. I spent too much time with people who didn’t have very strong opinions and didn’t have much conviction about anything, not to mention people I didn’t really care about because I was so concerned with being “nice” and accommodating to everyone. You are what you surround yourself with; if you choose to spend time with people who aren’t ambitious, you will likely become lazy and accomplish less. If you are around people who lack strong stances, you will likely become indifferent yourself. 

I started this decade with an older brother; I ended it with a dead one and a new big brother by marriage. Losing Ed was the biggest tragedy I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was the worst pain I’d ever known and the most powerless period of my life. His death forced me to reconsider so much, everything from work and career to the way I interact with my parents and wider family, to how I prioritize my life and goals. Experiencing this major loss also gave me better insight into the people in my life who truly cared vs. those who did not; as such, my circle of friends has gotten smaller, not to mention the circle I actually confide in regarding the most personal topics. I’m at peace with that today, though it can still be a struggle. I was never going to be the person with dozens of friends and a packed social calendar, nor did I ever want to be because for decades I have found that empty, superficial, and downright exhausting. Since high school, I realized I rather have a few really close friends I truly trust and can talk to as opposed to dozens of friends who just want to discuss celebrity gossip and someone to do activities from their “bucket list” with.  

Getting out of one’s “comfort zone” obviously varies quite widely depending on the person; my list is never going to be like yours or your friend’s or your friends’ friends. 

In addition, I hate confrontation – this is one of the worst things for me and makes me so uncomfortable. I get sick (literally, in my stomach) thinking about, leading up to it, doing it. But in the last decade, I’ve probably done the most confrontation I’ve ever done in my life, ranging from colleagues, my parents, relatives, friends. It is never fun, but sometimes, things that need to be said are never said, and problems continue to linger and boil over, and that’s just not healthy or right. I unfortunately in many cases need to continue being the bigger person, but if I am the reason that conflict ends, then I’ll be satisfied and relieved. If you want to think I am an aggressive person, that’s totally fine, but realize that this likely says more about you than it does about me because I am NOT an inherently aggressive person AT ALL. I just don’t like lingering problems, plus I hate bullshit. 

Over the last decade, I’ve realized that perceptions mean a LOT. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you do or how you evolve, but people’s perceptions of you will continue to stick just because they don’t want you to change, their minds are stuck on a certain time they interacted with you in a certain place, or they want to judge you by a particular interaction that was completely dated and should have been forgotten. That’s not necessarily something you can control, and that’s okay. Again, that says more about other people than me. 

The Mark Manson article on “the subtle art of not giving a fuck” really resonated with me this decade. Periodically, I re-read it to remind myself to stop worrying about things that are inconsequential to me and my well-being. 

In the next decade, I hope to expand my creative outlet with my YouTube channel and video shooting and editing, continue my meditation and yoga journey, and make sure that I am having meaningful conversations and confrontations when needed. I also hope to surround myself with more creative, opinionated people who can help me expand my own views. A motto I picked up through my Aaptiv fitness app that I keep repeating to myself is something I am trying to live by: if it doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you. 

I’ve learned a lot over the last ten years, and I hope to learn even more in the next ten. More fun and excitement await. 

Southern Hemisphere Christmas and the downfall of the Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie

Dear Southern Hemisphere,

Thank you for welcoming me to have Christmas down under (and in South Africa) over the last seven years. I am very grateful for your generosity in hosting me and allowing me to fully experience and immerse myself in a summer Christmas. It has been a true, refreshing delight to see Santas on surf boards and beaches, cars decked out in tinsel, reindeer antlers, and Rudolph red noses, as well as people wearing shorts and T-shirts on Christmas Day whilst barbecuing. Warm weather, “White Sand Christmas” in place of “White Christmas” on my Spotify playlist? Yes, please. “I rather be freezing cold than basking in warmth,” said no one ever.

However, I have a confession, or rather, a complaint to make. In the Northern Hemisphere, I have never really had a problem making pumpkin pie, or most desserts, for that matter. There, I bake in Fahrenheit. I have access to a cold-ish kitchen in the winter time (pro tip: cold kitchen = best pie crusts and anything that has buttery, flaky layers). I have all the necessary tools and guides at my disposal to make my ideal silky smooth pumpkin pie. Here, year after year, things seem to go wrong. Year 1, I discovered that canned pumpkin is not a thing down under. Therefore, there was no pumpkin pie. Then, year 2 and 3, I attempted an all-butter crust for pumpkin pie, and the pie dough was gooey and lumpy. The crust “bled” butter, shrunk, burnt in some places and were raw in others — all the common mistakes of a pie making novice, much to my embarrassment. One year, I had to throw the entire crust out. Southern Hemisphere, why do you fail me? Why can’t you allow me to show my pie crust making skills down here? Now, Chris’s family thinks I just cannot make pie in different environments. On a report card or performance report, they would comment, “Incapable of adapting to change or new environments.” Today, the pie crust was so hard at the rim that we had rip and peel it off the pie pan and discard it. At least the bottom was edible. The part I did try to eat felt like plastic in my mouth, which I immediately spit out.

Then, with the pumpkin custard, we have another issue (because of course, the problems noted above were not enough). The adjustment from Fahrenheit to Centigrade is not exact. 350 degrees Fahrenheit is technically 176.67 Celsius, but there’s no setting that is that exact on a centigrade oven, so you either have to choose: 170 or 180 C? Do you round up or down? I round down, which seems to be the conservative approach. And what ends up happening? The custard doesn’t set in the middle; it never sets in the middle and instead of pumpkin custard, we reveal pumpkin MILK coming out of the oven with pumpkin custard at the edges. WHY?

And for the second round of custard, I round up. What happens? The custard CRACKS, meaning that it has been overbaked. Sure, the custard has set, and it’s no liquidy mess, but it’s no longer pretty to look at. It’s like a reject pie from the pie shop.

So, I’m admitting this now: I have given up on making pumpkin pie, or any pie for that matter, while I am down here. From now on, I will stick with cookies, custards (well, who even knows about that!), and potentially cakes. The battle is over, and you have won. I can’t stand the wasted time and ingredients, so I defer to you. I hope you have a great Christmas knowing you have defeated my pie making down under.



When you’re the only white guy at a very Indian restaurant

Chris and I met his best friend at a relatively new Indian restaurant called Vel Restaurant & Cafe in the Carrum Downs suburb of Melbourne today for a quick Christmas Eve lunch during his lunch break (it was actually our second time eating here this trip, as Chris’s aunt and uncle introduced us to this South Indian restaurant last week when we saw them – the dosa here is delicious!). He got there earlier than we did and sat at a table that was apparently dirty, covered in crumbs and food from the previous diners who were at the table. When we arrived and he got up to greet us, a worker immediately noticed and came over to clean the table he was sitting at. Chris’s friend laughed, saying, “Wow, so I was sitting here for at least 15 minutes on my phone and never got looked at, yet as soon as CJ comes in and he’s a brown person, the table magically gets cleaned! That’s service!”

Chris’s best friend is a white Australian, clearly a minority in this very crowded and busy Indian restaurant full of Indian families with their children, in addition to this massive birthday party of a very large extended Indian family celebrating in the back of the restaurant. It was a bit comical to see the “reverse racism” that he experienced today as a white person in a predominantly white person. He took it all in stride and laughed about it with us, though. He knew the food was going to be good, so he sucked it up. Plus, Chris was his brown “majority” savior and would make sure he got his food.

Christmas light shows in the Melbourne CBD

Every year, the city of Melbourne gets fully decked out for the holiday season in Christmas trees and lights everywhere. The center of the city, or the central business district (CBD) always has a Christmas light show, usually at the Town Hall, and last year, in Federation Square. This year, there’s actually a light show at the library, the Town Hall, AND at Federation Square. Along with the annual Gingerbread Village and the Myer Christmas windows (this year, themed with gum nut babies!), it makes the city so festive and fun. And every year I think, wow, this really makes the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the light projection show at Saks Fifth Avenue seem so boring.

This year, the actual light projection show is at the State Library of Victoria on the Swanston Street facade. The Town Hall has a fixed light projection given that there isn’t enough space along Swanston Street to safely allow big crowds to watch. The projections at the state library tell the story of “A Melbourne Night Before Christmas,” written by Melbourne Writers Festival Director Marieke Hardy and narrated by Lee Lin Chin.

It was a fun and unique rhyming story of a night before Christmas with a very Melbourne twist, mentioning local neighborhoods, buildings, and staples throughout Melbourne such as St. Kilda, the Rialto Tower, and lattes (because what would Melbourne be without its coffee culture?). Chris noted that unless you were a Melbournian, you probably wouldn’t understand most of the rhymes. Since I’ve been coming here for the last seven years, I actually understood a good number of them. It’s almost like I am a quasi-local, or at least a regular at the same time each year.

The projections are on repeat every four minutes and light up the library daily from 9pm until 10:45pm every day until Christmas Eve. It’s such a fun and happy tradition to have here each Christmas season. I always get excited to see this changing and evolving light show each year; it’s one of the biggest highlights of our visit during Christmas.

Grocery store exploration in Clayton and while traveling

One fun thing I always do when I travel anywhere, including Melbourne, is check out the local grocery stores to see what interesting things I can find that I do not normally see back home. Today, we did some Christmas cooking shopping in Clayton, a very Asian neighborhood of Melbourne, and discovered some interesting finds: Singapore laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, and egg paratha with fish curry flavored chips (or crisps); Malaysian Chinese New Year treats ranging in flavors from pandan to vanilla — things I never see in New York. They are imported from Malaysia! We also found Taiwanese papaya and mango milks, like the ones we actually had in Taiwan on the streets, but in a canned form. Of course, they cannot compare to the freshly blended milks we had on streets of the night markets across Taiwan, but these were still tasty nonetheless and did contain real fruit juice and not just artificial flavoring as you might presume.

In Melbourne’s central business district (CBD), we also came across an Asian grocery stores that specialized in goods imported from Southeast Asia, and I found jarred minced galangal. I wasn’t quite sure how good it would be, so decided to hold off on buying it. My experience with buying dried galangal in Thailand was awful; it ended up making my soups taste more like sawdust. In most cases, the fresh stuff is always preferable, but fresh galangal is rare in New York to find unless you are at a Thai grocery store, and even then, it’s so so expensive. The jarred version may be a consideration, but I’d need to do more research on this before buying it; I hate food waste.