Today I realized, I take an awful lot of pictures of reflections

My friend Mark is on a northern European vacation, and he came down to Berlin with his mom for a day trip. Of course, they wanted to see all the main sites of the city like Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall (don't worry, we also went to Gendarmenmarkt, Potsdamer Platz, and the Holocaust Memorial). To keep it interesting for myself, we ended up taking a different route, which took us past the [de] Trabi Museum (iconic East German car), the building formerly known as [de] Markthalle III, and the Topography of Terror documentation center.

At that last place, I caught myself taking this picture, which while pretty, has no redeeming qualities except that you can see the clouds and the gravel at the same time.

When my friend Melissa visited two weekends ago, we went up to the dome on top of the Reichstag building which houses the German parliament. I'd recommend to any Berlin visitors with the time, but it's easiest if you register for free visitor tickets or make reservations at the restaurant in advance. It's a great place for amazing views of central Berlin, also full of glass and mirrors... lots of fun reflections.
I dug a little deeper in my photo archives, and found several more from this year.

Visiting the Leftist Book Fair in Berlin

This past weekend I dropped in on some talks at the Leftist Book Fair in Berlin (Linke Buchtage Berlin). It was multi-day event where many of the progressive and left-leaning publishers and authors in Germany came to share their new publications at Mehringhof in Kreuzberg. 

There were a whole bunch of events I was interested in, but I ended up only making it to two of them:

CrimethInc.: "Work  –  capitalism . economics . resistance”

I hadn’t heard of the "CrimethInc ex-workers collective" before, but I am curious about works in translation, and in particular how a “translation collective” worked on taking this collection of essays on work and capitalism and translated it into German. The readings that the member of the translation collective read piqued my curiosity, and I’m hoping I’ll find time to read the whole book (in English) in the near future.

Between Migration and Work. Worker Centers and the organizing of precariously and informally employed in the USA

(My loose translation of the German title).
The other talk I made it was for this book by Martina Benz, who researched worker centers in LA and New York. I had not heard before about worker centers before I went to the talk, having not even read the Wikipedia article — but they seem to help address the needs of workers who aren’t or can’t be organized into traditional labor unions, and create room for them to organize and advocate for themselves. In general, a really fascinating topic, and one I hadn’t known much about. It was also particularly neat to hear about US labor organizing from a German researcher, whose perspective and grounding in a German/European labor movement naturally highlights different issues and struggles than say, a US researcher would have.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Meet the new residents of my balcony.

After asking for advice on the very first day I arrived, I finally got around to started growing some plants on my balcony in Berlin.

Over the years I've tried to grow little things, but I haven't had much luck, living in city apartments without much sun... which is why having a balcony is so exciting. My mother's the green thumb in the family, who can somehow even coax the pit of an avocado into a really healthy plant.

I got five little tomato plants from a woman named Anna on the Reflect-Info mailing list. This email list, in addition to posting calls to action for protests and counter-protests (against neo-Nazi and right-wing groups), sublets, and lefty event announcements, also has people giving away and looking for random things like moving boxes, refrigerators, and bicycles. Anna told me grew the plants from seeds that she collected from a tomato plant growing in the Tempelhof park, which the residents of Berlin just voted a little over a week ago to keep as public open space (instead of a somewhat vaguely formulated plan by the city government to sell the land to developers for market-rate and possibly some undetermined amount of below-market-rate housing).

The bigger plant in the middle is Strauchbasilikum, which is some sort of basil... though I can't seem to figure out what the English name would be. I bought it at the nursery just off of Mauerpark where I also got some potting soil. The tag says it's good for fish and meat, though the recipe for marinade on there is a little vague: "Marinate meat overnight in a mixture of oil, garlic, and some herbs." But let's not get ahead of ourselves, it needs to grow first!

A love letter to Taipei's public transit: MRT, you're awesome!

Taipei (photo by Pedro Angelini)

I'm really impressed with Taipei's public transportation system: the subway, buses, and high speed rail are all extremely modern and amazingly convenient. From the moment I got off the plane, it was pretty simple to navigate. Even though there's not a MRT (subway) line from the international airport in Taoyuan yet, it was pretty easy to catch the bus for 125NT to central Taipei. I hope that by the next time I visit, the new MRT line will make it all the way out to the Taoyuan airport. Construction has been delayed, but according to the project's Wikipedia entry, it should be ready by end of 2015.

Taipei's MRT is cheap, clean, quiet, and frequent. I don't think I've ever waited more than 2 or 3 minutes, the cars are uniformly clean, air conditioned, and run smoothly and quietly. Only the very longest ride (all the way to Tamsui) has cost more than 30NT (about USD$1). The fares are calculated by distance, which is generally considered to be more equitable.

Eating my way through the Raohe Street Night Market

Friday night, my friend Justin and I decided to have a walking dinner at the Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) in Songshan. It's  an easy walk from Xinyi, the neighborhood where I'm staying in Taipei. In fact, during my daily wandering around the neighborhood, I had run across it in the daytime on my way to the river, which is just north of the market street. It didn't look like much during the day, because all the booths and shops are closed down, but at night it turns into a pretty exciting stretch to walk through if you're hungry for food or looking for neat shops to browse through. If you want to shop for clothes, Wufenpu is a huge clothing market in the same area.

The market itself stretches down one street, with the very pretty Ciyou temple at one end.

Panorama Bonanza

I've thought this for a while, but the last week of exploring Taipei has made me sure: the panorama option is a really underrated iOS camera feature.
  • Square: How stupid, just crop the image later.
  • Video: Very convenient, but so far all I've done is accumulate some shaky footage.
  • Slo-Mo: Still no easy way to export to Instagram or Facebook.
  • Filters: The native iOS options are decent but I still prefer Instagram, or even VSCO's advanced options.
  • HDR: fun to play with at first but the difference between regular and HDR is pretty minimal, and I often prefer the non-HDR version.

I've had a lot of fun taking super wide-angle shot with it since panorama was included in iOS 6 (fall of 2012). Before it became part of iOS, I'd tried a few specialized camera apps, but they always ended up looking funny, and I found one desktop tool called Hugin for stitching pictures together on the computer, but it wasn't that easy to use. I did use it to create a beautiful photo view from the top of the US Bank building in San Francisco.

I admit, I've got a thing for views, whether from the top of a hill or a tall building, or even just a big open space. Particularly when I'm traveling or visiting touristy sites, taking a picture of up to 240 degrees helps capture the experience of being there.

Here's a photo I took recently on the Rainbow Bridge above Keelung River:
Panorama from Rainbow Bridge

A Visit to Grandma

Yesterday I went over the river and through the woods to Shilin to visit my grandmother (on my father's side) which is the same area where the famous night market is. My grandmother lives in an apartment with one of my uncles and his wife and a live-in caretaker. She's been in that apartment for a couple years; before that she lived with a different uncle. The house we used to visit her in when I was a kid was torn down to make way for what I think is now a public park. I haven't been back to visit that area, and actually I couldn't point it out on map. The details of what happened are beyond me, but it's possible that the whole neighborhood was built on public land, with a semi-legal status like a shantytown. Building- and neighborhood-wise, though, I couldn't tell you the difference between that area and the part of Taipei New City (formerly Taipei County) that my other grandmother lived in.

Confronting my own cynicism: Facebook's new gender options

Last year, I had this exchange on with my friend Laurie on Twitter. It's the kind of topic that straddles two of the worlds I live in in San Francisco: one fabulous queer world that acknowledges and celebrates the sexuality and gender diversity in the world, and a more normative world that's looking to quantify and measure people for better product development and marketing -- or more cynically, better advertising.

So it was a really awesome surprise when Facebook announced custom gender options for user profiles, almost exactly a year after that conversation.

But I'm the really cynical one these days, because I never expected a big company Facebook to do something like this and acknowledge different gender identities. Even more surprising is that Facebook added around 50 custom options, several of which I wasn't familiar with (and I try to keep up on these things). If you're wondering what all of the different identities mean, The Daily Beast did a pretty good job of explaining the options as well as the difference between sex and gender, if you want to brush up on that.

What's next?

Well, sex and gender are not sexuality, and Facebook has never given an option to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other sexual orientation. I just checked on my own profile, and there are still only two checkbox in the "interested in" section: men and women. Either we get to list our sexual orientation, or there should be 50 new options for the "interested in" section. Which will it be, Facebook?

Right-sizing the American Dream

"In either case, the financial hegemons win, since they, essentially, get to have someone else to pay their mortgages. As for society, it's a losing proposition. Rather than the yeoman with his own place, and the social commitment that comes with it, we now have the prospect of a vast lower class permanently forced to tip its hat to – and empty its wallet for – its economic betters. This is the fate ardently hoped for by many urbanists, who see a generation of permanent renters as part of their dream of a denser America."

Yes, there is terrifying and growing economic inequality in the US. But I disagree with the fulcrum on which the argument of "Downsizing the American Dream" balances: you can have wealth-building suburban single family home ownership or you can have dense urban permanent "rentership".

Thanksgiving musings

This year, I'm grateful for change.

I'm grateful that I'm not done growing up yet, that I'm still learning, discovering, and experiencing new things. This year's Thanksgiving lesson: if you substitute cream for milk when making cornbread, add water!

I'm happy that the world continues to evolve and that I have the chance to change with it.

I'm thankful that when life throws curveballs, I'm still nimble enough to jump out of the way (that's how I deal with balls flying at me at high speed).

I turned 30 this year, and I'm grateful that growing older can mean growing bolder too.

I look forward to new friends, new travels, new chances. And lest you think it's all about the new: I'm look forward (and back) to the old friends, revisiting places, and remembering past choices too. 

The aforementioned cornbread: