The Soviet Bread Line Border Crossing

We’ve been through a few sketchy overland border crossings before. Come to think it, many overland crossings can seem a bit dicey at times. Crossing from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan was definitely one of those times. We had just met our driver Hasan, who spoke zero English, that morning in Almaty. The drive to the border was a couple of hours and took us through some remote and desolate pitstops on the way. When we got to the crossing point, Hasan gestured for us to venture out on foot while he brought the vehicle through. The scene was dusty and chaotic, with a few odd vendors and hustlers before being corralled into a caged area. Continue reading The Soviet Bread Line Border Crossing

Fermented Horse Milk For The Road

I was pretty sure before even starting this trip that gaining any weight wouldn’t be an issue. It’s an active itinerary with a fair bit of walking and hiking, sure, but that can easily be offset by rich lavish meals on a daily basis. So that’s not the reason. The issue really is that Central Asia is not a region you typically seek out for the amazing food. I figured that over the course of a few weeks, I’d probably miss a meal or two. Fortunately, my expectations were low enough from the outset that it didn’t take much to be pleasantly surprised.  Continue reading Fermented Horse Milk For The Road

The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

One of the prize games in Japanese arcades is a variation of the quarter games you sometimes find in American carnivals. The concept is to push a stack of goodies over a ledge into a bin that you open during play. Like many well-designed, profitable, and therefore infuriating prize games, the game provides an illusion of progress early on and becomes deceptively difficult the closer you get to success. Those carnival quarter games achieve these gravity-defying antics with a magnet. However, the nature of this particular game’s deception lies in the way prizes are stacked and the domed shape of the machine. Once the Jenga-style stack of candy or whatever starts moving over the ledge, the plexiglass dome provides another point of contact and support, keeping it from falling in and you walking away with an obscene amount of treats. Continue reading The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

Ejected from Meerkat and Friends

Cat cafes are nothing new in Tokyo and have existed since at least the turn of the century. We’ve visited a couple of them. The concept has also grown popular in a number of other large East Asian cities. In terms of uniqueness as a business model, it’s possible that cat cafes have become a bit passé. In Tokyo at the moment, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes are a thing. It’s a workable model for probably any cute animal that doesn’t smell awful or attack your patrons. Prior to our short visit to Seoul on this trip, we were excited to learn about a “Meerkat Cafe” there. Not just Meerkat… “Meerkat & Friends”. Some small fox and other adorable animals seemed to be in the mix. Our niece Emma is obsessed with cats in the way that a six-year-old can be obsessed. A brief visit to a cat cafe last year made a lasting impression. We held back on this find, the meerkat cafe, as a “surprise” once we got to Seoul. Continue reading Ejected from Meerkat and Friends

Oceans of Green, Fields of Lavender

Sometimes pictures don’t fully communicate the enormity of a landscape… a barren desert, an isolated island in open ocean, jagged mountaintops in a cascade to the horizon. The Mongolian steppe is another such place. The simplicity of grasslands, smooth and undulating like gentle waves into the distance, is an odd landscape to take in. The uninterrupted space is completely at odds with the environment we experience almost anywhere else. You get lost staring into it.

If you’ve followed this blog over the years and taken in some of the thousands of pictures, I’ll let you in on something: photographers, myself included, are oftentimes total liars. Continue reading Oceans of Green, Fields of Lavender

Tokyo For The Kindergarten Set

Once again, catching up on the last trip, right before we head out on another. This is a picture gallery from a family trip to Tokyo last fall. After touring Taipei for a few days, we spent about a week in Tokyo. As usual… long aimless days and no time to post any updates. The love affair really hasn’t waned. Like Taipei, this visit included our 5-year-old niece, so a few elements were different. 

One thing we noticed that was new for us is the way rules get broken or amended with a small child in tow. Especially a cute and well behaved one. Continue reading Tokyo For The Kindergarten Set

Mainlander Finishing School

A friend once told me that “if you wish China was more like Japan, you’d really like Taiwan.” I won’t attempt to touch on the myriad of problems with that statement, but I think I know now a bit of what he meant. Our first stop on this little two week family trip is in the capital city of Taipei. Something a little different for this jaunt is that we’re traveling with our 5-year-old niece and her parents, who are all visiting these places for the first time. To that end, Taiwan has been very visitor-friendly. As Americans, we didn’t have to be concerned with any visas. The capital city is clean, with great public transit, and no internet firewall shenanigans. I certainly don’t appreciate all the cultural and political differences between Taiwan and (People’s Republic of) China, but I do understand that they both try to hold the claim to being the “real” China. That’s nothing I can comment on meaningfully. However, if I had to throw in for one side, for purely selfish reasons, I am finding Taiwan to be a vastly more polite and civilized place to visit. As far as comparisons to Japan, I know there is a history of intermingling going back to colonial times, and you can see the influence in the present day as well. There is a lot of culinary and cultural overlap insofar as I can appreciate as a foreigner. Continue reading Mainlander Finishing School

Here, There, and (hopefully) Back