tag:powen.net,2013:/posts Powen Shiah - the space between 2024-01-08T23:46:33Z Powen Shiah tag:powen.net,2013:Post/2071701 2024-01-07T18:11:48Z 2024-01-08T23:46:33Z 2023 Travel and Photo Updates


I pretty much stayed in Berlin. Brr!!


Back and forth on one day to Hamburg for a Fairlanguage inclusive language workshop we gave at Inditex.


Weekend trip to the Frankfurt area for the Democrats Abroad Germany Annual General Meeting, where I've been treasurer. Not even actually in Frankfurt, it took place in Ingelheim am Rhein, didn't take many photos to be honest.


Long weekend in Paris (flew there, came back by train!) with my friend Jens. It was mostly a work trip for him, and I took the opportunity to tag along.

Check out the full Paris album on Flickr. I just resubscribed for another year, as part of some digital clean-up. I've uploaded everything there!

The last time I was in Paris was in 2009, I'm having trouble finding stuff online digital proof that I was there. It was so long ago, I still blogged fairly regularly (if inanely and briefly) and used Flickr: March 14, 2009: Photographs from Paris


I started a new job at the Sovereign Tech Fund, so stayed put in Berlin!


Went to Leipzig for a day for work stuff, nothing really exciting to report.


Finally made my way back to London. My friends Garima and Pravesh had been living there since 2020, but were moving away soon so that's the kind of thing that helps motivate me to plan a trip. It was a lovely long weekend (bit rainy of course, being London), less regular tourist stuff and more just spending with friends, like Sarah and Dylan, Chris and Mike, and Shruti, Ravi, and their chickens.
I think the last time I was in London before July 2023 was for a silly 24-hour trip in September 2017 to go to the Tate Modern's Queer British Art exhibition, of all things.


For work, we had a couple days at an offsite at Coconat in Bad Belzig. That's about an hour by regional train and bus from Berlin in the surrounding state of Brandenburg.

It seems weird to write this in a post detailing all the cool places I went in 2023, but I do have a hard time actually taking time off and using it to go to new (to me) places. I've been talking about going to one of the Baltic countries for years, usually when it gets hot in Berlin, and I fantasize about somewhere with a more temperate climate an actual coastline. Finally, finally, I booked a trip and spent two weeks in August in Tallinn, Estonia. The first week was properly off work, and the second week I worked remotely. It probably deserves its own blog post, but the remote work wasn't quite as refreshing / change of scenery-inspiring as I had hoped. Nonetheless, it was great to go to a new country and city.

Okay Queen Graffitti

I also took the ferry from Tallinn for a day-trip to Helsinki. I love ferries! Sadly I somehow deleted most of the photos and only could cobble together a few of my first visit to Finland

I also took a one-night trip to Leipzig (by train) for SPRIND's summer event/party. Since they're the host organization for STF (work), it was interesting to see all the other projects they support and meet more of the people who work there.


My friends Tom and Stefi got married to Italy, in a beautiful seaside town called Castiglioncello. I always have to look up how to spell it, maybe that's why it's off the beaten path? Though there are plenty of hotels and places to stay, so I don't think it's a secret.

It's near where Stefi grew up, and absolutely gorgeous. I flew in and out of Pisa, stayed overnight there, and then took the train down to Castiglioncello.

2023-10-01 17.09.55


Took a train trip down to Frankfurt, or technically Eschborn for a work conference called OSPOlogyLive hosted by SAP and the Linux Foundation. Eschborn is basically an enormous office park outside Frankfurt city limits. Maybe it's a tax thing?


I lived in San Francisco before l moved to Berlin, and the first few years after I left, there were lots of occasions to go back for work or friends. But basically with pandemic and a few other factors, the last time I was there before this year was September 2018, which seems just wild. But this time I got to go for almost two weeks, combining two work conferences with some other things, so the long flight was definitely worth it. 


Stayed put in Berlin! In fact, in the last couple weeks, barely left the apartment.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1925208 2023-01-05T17:09:48Z 2023-06-18T00:36:52Z Here a -verse, there are -verse, everywhere a -verse

As I get older, I've noticed I'm slower to try out new tools and platforms, even though I've often had a lot of fun being an early adopter. I'm probably shifting from "early adopter" to "early majority" in the technology adoption life cycle -- or hype cycle.

In this case, friends have been talking to me about Mastodon and the "Fediverse" for quite a while, but I never bothered to sign up until late 2022 Twitter Troubles began. I dithered a bit on which server ("instance") to join, but ended up picking tech.lgbt because why not? Find and follow me over there: @polexa@tech.lgbt

If you're trying it out, I can highly recommend these two tools for finding your (Twitter) social graph on Mastodon:

Regarding the other -verse on the tip of everyone's tongues: I'm not on the Metaverse bandwagon yet.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1526577 2020-04-02T21:26:29Z 2020-04-02T21:26:29Z Money makes the world go round – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

Both the United States and Germany have been busy, passing aid packages to help support people and businesses during COVID–19 pandemic. I won't get into the nitty gritty details of everything in there, since I'll likely miss key things, but there's lots of news reports about it out there. There are a couple of financial support measures in this legislation that I have been following:

US Economic Impact Payments

These are the much-anticipated "checks" (hopefully electronic bank transfers for as many people as possible). Apparently Americans abroad, as long as we meet the income criteria, will also be eligible to get these $1200 payments. Democrats Abroad has posted an update on the website, and also linked to a FAQ (it's a Google Doc). Lucky for us, the IRS has also posted some useful information, like that they're going to create a web portal where people can provide their direct deposit information, to avoid the aforementioned paper checks. 

Berlin & Germany's Emergency Aid

Germany's also moved surprisingly quickly to get help out there to people who need it. For those who are employed, Kurzarbeit (often translated as short-time work, which I think is silly) is a program to replace lost wages for people who are furloughed. In my lay understanding, if your hours are reduced or cut completely, the government will pay up to 60% of those lost wages. Companies have to apply for it, it's not something individual workers apply for. The idea is that companies shouldn't let people go, but reduce their hours or keep them officially employed so that when the economy recovers, they can get back to work quickly.

For freelancers, another part of the emergency aid package applies. It's a combination of Berlin state and German federal funds. There are big loans and support available for larger companies, but also for individual self-employed people and small or micro business. For freelancers, you can get 5000 Euros as a grant from Berlin funds, and up to 9000 Euros from German federal aid (but that can only be spent on certain types of expenses). They've even put a page up in English called "Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Information and support for the Berlin economy." It looks pretty complicated, but the actual application process was managed by the government investment bank IBB.

They started taking applications online on Friday March 27, 2020 at 1pm, and as you can imagine, the site was overrun! There was this virtual line system they set up, so each person who tried to reach the site got a number, and then had to wait until it was their turn. You could ask the site to email you when it was your turn, but if you missed your window (which I heard some people did), you'd have to go back to the beginning. The application itself seemed to be fairly straight forward. Lots of boxes to check that you're telling the truth, but basically you just need your German tax ID number, your name, address, be based in Berlin, and an ID.

People complained on Twitter and elsewhere about having to wait in this online queue, but in the end it seems to have worked fairly well. I've heard from friends and seen reports of the money arriving at the beginning of this week, so just days after people submitted their applications. Bravo, Berlin!

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1524130 2020-03-26T20:47:01Z 2020-03-27T12:55:13Z Is everyone baking except me? – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

I wasn't planning on going to the grocery store today, but I passed a fairly empty Lidl on my walk (should we call them constitutionals to sound fancier?) so I popped in. Under normal circumstances, I go to the grocery store every couple of days and buy a few things. I like grocery stores, even after several years in Germany, I get a kick out of browsing the selection – less than most US supermarkets, but much cheaper – and trying out the pre- and semi-prepared foods. These days, I'm trying to go less frequently and spend less time there, which means that I am keeping a list and don't linger as much.

Inspired by some other people's activity on Instagram and elsewhere, I wanted to buy some fresh yeast to try baking bread. I've never baked bread (excluding things like banana bread or corn bread which work differently) before, and why not try something new? Unfortunately...

(Photo of a refrigerated shelf, above the sign for "fresh baking yeast" for 9 cents, the shelf is empty. Below the price tag, there's a handmade sign that says in German "Yeast -> max 3 portions")

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1523660 2020-03-25T19:34:59Z 2020-03-25T19:41:06Z The things Google seems to know about me

A few months ago, I went to Munich for the annual general meeting of Democrats Abroad Germany. I got to visit my friends Ryder and Andrew, see some of the other activists and volunteers from all over Germany, and of course, try out a few new restaurants.

Saturday evening, since I didn't sign up for official dinner and speaker part of the meeting, I was on my own for food. Ryder and Andrew were having dinner with friends, so I thought I'd try to meet up with them. I put in the location of the restaurant to see how hard it would be to get there

What Google Maps showed me

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1522841 2020-03-24T19:48:26Z 2020-03-24T19:49:58Z Mental Health – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we're mostly focused on physical health: whether we or our loved ones will catch it, have severe symptoms, need medical care. It seems like half the people with Medium accounts are armchair epidemiologists, and we're all reading and sharing articles holding forth about exponential growth (yes it's real) and prognosticating about the impact of COVID–19.

Still, I have noticed a lot of friends and folks checking in with each other, and being cognizant that social distancing (or shelter-in-place or self-isolation) is tough, even for people who characterize themselves as introverts. There have been lots of jokes about practicing for quarantine their whole lives... maybe you can teach the rest of us! In any case, I really appreciate that my loved ones, friends, and family are treating our collective mental health as an important barometer in what is, for most people, an unprecedented time of stress and chaos.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1522840 2020-03-23T20:51:17Z 2020-03-24T19:33:45Z Snapshots of how Berlin is handling COVID19 – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

What a time to resolve to blog again! At least I haven't started a podcast while social distancing, though depending on how long this goes on for, I'll be sorely tempted. Since circumstances are changing so much from day to day, I'd like to document for myself (and for whoever happens to read this) what it's been like for me in Berlin the last few weeks. This post is mostly grocery stores, restaurants, and bars. I have a lot of photos of drug stores, so that will be a post all on its own. It feels like we're in an unending news cycle and all the days are blurring into each other, so I'll try to note the dates on the photos below and as much context as I can.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1459779 2019-09-26T19:06:04Z 2019-09-26T19:37:17Z Facebook's privacy settings are so broken, I can't post photos anymore

I've found a few reports of this around the Internet of similar issues, but no resolution so far. I know it's not really that en vogue to complain about problems on Facebook that aren't broad, democracy-damaging issues. Still, I do use it to keep in loose touch with a lot friends and acquaintances, so I'd like to be able to post photos in albums! I basically haven't been able to this from my phone since May 2019. I tend to post travel photos in albums (that's my inner need for organization) so I know that the last time it worked for me was May 16, 2019 (if we're not Facebook friends, the link to that specific post obviously won't work).

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1449553 2019-08-29T17:58:26Z 2019-08-29T18:40:42Z Renewing my U.S. passport in Berlin in 10 days

I've had my passport since November 2010, when I had to do a rush-renewal in Philadelphia ahead of an unforeseen trip. It's technically good until late 2020, so I planned on renewing my passport after electing a new president (fingers crossed). 

I had forgotten that many countries won't let you enter if your passport isn't valid for at least 6 more months. I'm also up to extend my residence permit later this year. My roommate David warned me that the Ausländerbehörde may want my passport to be valid for longer when issuing a new permit. How much time left they want you to have isn't clear, but all these factors combined made me decide to go ahead and get the new passport.

I thought it might be useful for other people if I write down my experience renewing my passport, since this seems to be a pretty common topic in the Americans in Berlin Facebook group

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1352930 2018-12-13T07:13:30Z 2018-12-13T07:13:35Z On the internet, nobody knows you're a curator

Over the last few years, I've been assembling a set of links on a very irregular basis, loosely around the theme of "numbers and charts." My friend Martin Weigert invited me to do this for The Scope, a startup which at that time focused on having individual experts curate differently-themed boxes. Since I have a penchant for digging up graphs and studies to support my point of view in any discussion, he thought I'd be good at putting together at least a few useful-to-know links.

While I never really found a good rhythm for sharing those links, it was fun mental exercise and made me pay closer attention to the different kinds of information that flow past any denizen of the internet on a given day. I described the Numbers & Charts box as "A variety of insightful, surprising, and enlightening numbers, statistics, and data visualizations." From charts to graphs to maps to random statistics, sometimes my links were interesting and shed light on a particular issue, sometimes they were more like cocktail chatter.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1144132 2017-04-05T11:23:07Z 2017-04-05T11:23:07Z The Art of Asking Questions

I haven't been writing much lately because I've been doing a lot of writing in other places, over at test IO and for Democrats Abroad. After spending the weekend moderating (and facilitating workshops that I designed) the annual general meeting of Democrats Abroad, I've been thinking a lot what it means to ask good questions.

Some questions are so insightful and present a special perspective on the issue. It's immediately clear that the question-asker has thought deeply and engaged with the subject. Sometimes questions are an attempt to seem smart in front of a group. Sometimes questions aren't even questions, but long-winded statements that end with "I'd like to know what you think about that."

Lately, I've been interviewing people inside companies in order to put together some case studies on how they're using a product. One of my predecessors put together a long list of questions that they would send to the contacts. Many of these were pretty banal, like "how many people are on your team?"

I don't think it's wrong to ask these questions. Sometimes you need to lay some groundwork before you can get to the really interesting topics. But my goal is to get a sense of the company on a high level and then go into more detail on the parts of their work process that I'm interested in, so a few easy questions to start off with help warm the interviewee up.

What I did notice though, is that a lot of the questions are too easy. It felt more like the checklist in a doctor's office (Where does it hurt? How long? What medications are you taking?) than an invitation to have a conversation and for the respondent to share. By asking questions that show you're engaging and thinking about what someone has told you, you're showing them that you're really listening and that you care about what they have to say.

Usually people talk about how we get in trouble if we are content with easy answers. In this case, it's the easy questions that we shouldn't settle for.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1133436 2017-02-22T18:33:50Z 2017-02-28T23:36:10Z Art Auction in Berlin for ACLU on Sunday

The last few weeks have been a political whirlwind of astonishing news coming out of the U.S., followed by outrage, disbelief, but also amazing displays of protests & solidarity by people not only in the U.S. but around the world. Still, it's been hard to know what to do, to figure out what is actually effective and make an impact.

That's why I think my friend Rachel's decision to hold a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union is amazing. She's gotten together over 20 artists in Berlin to donate works which will be up for auction this Sunday at Decad, and pulled together a few people to help make it happen (me included).

If you've wanted to take a stand against the gross violations of civil rights that have been happening in the U.S., this is a way you can do it -- and get some art to decorate your apartment. I know mine could use some! Even if you don't think you can bid, come and get some coffee and cake (I'll be baking) or wine & beer, those small donations help too.


Silent Art Auction for ACLU (More details on Facebook, please share!)
Sunday, February 26th, 2017 3-6pm
Decad, Gneisenaustraße 52, 10961 Berlin (U7 Südstern)

UPDATE (March 1, 2017):

There are still a few works available. If you couldn't make it and regrets not bidding on the art, you can still make a donation (50 euro or higher) and receive a work on paper. There are images of the available works via Dropbox here. Some excerpted below for your perusal! Leave a comment below with contact info or DM me on Twitter.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1129475 2017-02-09T13:35:08Z 2017-02-09T13:35:44Z Weekend in Sofia

It's hard to remember all the nice parts of a trip when it's bookended by Ryanair flights and extremely backed up German border crossings, but setting that aside, I had a wonderful time in Sofia this weekend. After months of incompatible schedules, my friend Owen (yes, really) and I finally found somewhere we could meet, with him coming from Düsseldorf and me from Berlin.

I did not know a lot, or really anything about Sofia. I still don't. I remember from elementary school that the capital of Bulgaria had a nice and easy-to-remember name. I've met some Bulgarians at different points in my life, but I would be hard-pressed to recall anything about country or people. Are there any famous fictional Bulgarians? In fact, a new friend in Berlin is Bulgarian but I didn't realize it until I ran into him at a party a week before the trip. So suffice it to say, I went in pretty blind.

The City

I don't think Sofia sticks out as having particularly beautiful or interesting architecture or urban design. There do seem to be large number of parks and public spaces, though in winter everything's covered in snow and ice anyway. Buildings tend to look (to my untrained eye) basically socialist blocks or 70s concrete. What's actually the difference? There are two subway lines, one which goes to the airport, so points for convenience, especially compared to Berlin. There are lots of buses and trams, but I couldn't figure out how to use them and we mostly walked places anyway. Someone should make an app with a trip planner for Sofia!


This was one area where Sofia really surprised me. We got a few tips for restaurants to check out and even went on a free food tour. Almost everything we ate was really good! It was interesting, experimental, well-cooked. I didn't expect there to be a forward-thinking food scene, but there was and we were lucky enough to experience a bit of it!


My final thoughts on Sofia and Bulgaria are that I'd like to understand their history better. While on the walking tours, our guides tended to gloss over the thousands of years of history, explaining that there were Thracians, then Slavs and proto-Bulgarians who came to occupy the land that is now Bulgaria. I'm sure it was bloodier and messier, and a country that has 3 kingdoms and was conquered by the Ottoman empire surely has a complex history. But I always feel this way after I go on trips, so please recommend any good (interesting) histories of Bulgaria that you might have! Even fairytales would be an interesting place to start.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1127739 2017-02-01T00:17:41Z 2017-02-01T00:25:38Z When you go to a concert and belatedly realize you've seen the band before

Sunday night I went with my friends Thomas, Kristian, and Jens to see a German singer-songwriter called clickclickdecker. There were actually 3 people on stage, does that make it a band?

Despite listening to their albums a lot on Spotify the past week, it wasn't until I was standing in Lido (the venue), when I had a vague feeling that I might have seen clickclickdecker play before. What's the best way to find out? Since I can't trust my memory, I turned to my external brain archive, Gmail, and turned up this blog post from January 2009. Mystery solved! I have seen clickclickdecker before, almost exactly 8 years ago and in Hamburg.

Warning: shaky phone video clip but having walked down nostalgia lane already for this post, I'm preserving it here for posterity... in 2025 when Kamala Harris is sworn in for her second term as president of the United States and I go to another clickclickdecker concert 

Also, the whole night I had this sensation of people I should know being behind me. Turned out it was a poster for my friends Laura & Andreya's band Gurr. They're playing there on Feb 20, everyone should go see them!

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/1034158 2016-04-15T19:12:04Z 2016-04-15T19:18:59Z Miles to Go Before I Sleep

I've been told that it's high time I wrote an update. Short on details, but baby steps, right?

Current location

Istanbul Airport, in what feels like the largest airport lounge in the hemisphere.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/887122 2015-07-28T22:27:19Z 2016-04-23T15:57:18Z Searching for signs of extraterrestrials in Brandenburg

A little over a week ago, I made a new friend who was very excited about going to take a look at some crop circles nearby. I don't think about outer space aliens very much, but I love seeing new things, and I've been meaning to get out of Berlin more often. What better way to start than to take the regional rail (S-Bahn) almost to the very end of the line?

Our motley crew assembled at S-Bahn Lichtenrade, which is not quite the southern end of the S2 line.

We took a bus (I can't figure out the exact number, which is a testament to Berlin's suburban transit system) and then started walking along the side of road, passing by "Zum Ponyhof" which I hoped we would be able to stop by on the way back for a nice, cold beer. But alas, das Leben ist kein Ponyhof and we never saw it again. Instead, we neared our first crop circle.

Did I mention it was an incredibly beautiful day to be out in the Brandenburg farmland? The sky was blue and full of fluffy white clouds, there was a gentle breeze to cool our (my) sweaty urban brows.

We wandered around the first circle. I thought it was pretty amazing how evenly the wheat was pressed down, sometimes in quite pretty patterns.

Whatever you think of crop circles and the mystery surrounding them, I realized I liked them most because they're in the middle of a wheat field. There's something about being confronted by a huge swath of golden grain as high as my shoulder, and walking down a tiny little path that leads to a beautiful pattern of flattened wheat.

The second one was much smaller, but we stuck around and had a little picnic before walking back to civilization. Human civilization, that is.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/864285 2015-06-02T11:52:38Z 2015-06-04T09:55:34Z Berlin Restaurant Week 2015 Map

The great folks at Berlin Restaurant Week have kicked off their first year with 18 restaurants in Mitte, Wedding, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, and Neukölln. This week (June 1 - 7, 2015) you can get a 3-course meal for 20 Euros. Not that these places aren't usually a good deal, but as with past restaurant weeks I've eaten at (San FranciscoPhiladelphia), it's a great excuse to go out and try some place new. 

Julian & Moritz put together a really beautiful website, but I was missing a map of all the restaurants that are participating. With some help from Google Maps, here it is for the geographically-inclined gourmands among you. Click on the pins for a link back to the specific Berlin restaurant week page.

View full map
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/844035 2015-04-21T14:45:48Z 2015-05-24T16:12:33Z What I've been up to lately

For someone who lives (and makes a living) on the Internet, I've been surprisingly delinquent in posting here regularly. Months ago, I started collecting topics on Wunderlist that I want to write up. Instead of actually getting them out there, the list just keeps getting longer! In lieu of all those, here's a not-so-brief update on what's going on with me.


The biggest news first (and probably pretty obvious): I got my visa to stay in Berlin: a freelance work permit!

In the middle of January I moved into an apartment in Kreuzberg, not too far from Cocolo, one of my favorite ramen places in Berlin, and coincidentally down the street from Feli, a San Francisco, Hamburg, and now Berlin friend.

My friend David and I are thinking about finding a place together though not in a rush, so if you happen to hear of any great 3-4 room apartments with a balcony in Berlin with good transit connections, keep us in mind!

The good folks at Democrats Abroad Berlin elected me to the board, where I'm serving as the Communications and Media Coordinator. I'm really looking forward to planning working together with the new board and getting some of our ideas off the ground to engage Americans and people interested in U.S. politics over the next two years. If that sounds like fun to you, drop me a line.

Finally, I've been tossing around the idea of starting a podcast (in English) about being all the exciting things going on in Berlin. Since it's about stuff that I like, it'll probably be a mix of cultural stuff, events, tech, and miscellanea. Suggestions, advice, ideas, and offers to come on the as-yet-undebuted show are welcome.


Through a lucky confluence of events, I started off the year with an exciting project: organizing a trip in March to San Francisco and Seattle for a group of German media folks (editors and publishers). I got to work with Ulrike Langer and Annette Milz (Chefrunde, Medium Magazin), and we put together an eye-opening set of technology and media companies, focusing not only what they're changing/disrupting but also how they're doing it.

I just signed on for the New York version of the trip at the end of June / early July, so I welcome any suggestions for and introductions to New York-based startups.

I've also been working on a project for a documentary film, The Forecaster. We're putting together a crossmedia website to accompany the film, which covers a lot of historical and financial topics. I'm working on pulling together the editorial content and links to resources for people who want to know more about things like the Nikkei crash in 1990 or the role currency played in the fall of Rome, or even what caused the housing crisis (though Planet Money has done that better than just about anyone).

What's especially fun has been just being introduced to various startups in Berlin and getting to know the cool things that people are working on. They deserve their own blog posts, but most recently: Kitchen Stories (thanks Verena!), TestCloud (run by another SFer in exile, Frederik), and Resmio (I owe Yasha a coffee).


In December, I flew to Michigan and spent Christmas with my family there, which in addition to being a much needed visit, was calculated to put me right over the threshhold for United Premier Gold. If you didn't know that about me, I am a little obsessive about frequent flyer programs and collecting miles. So far all I've gotten out of it is picking Economy Plus seats early on United flights and some time in a lounge in Newark. 

One of my reasons for moving to Europe was to travel more and to do it spontaneously. That's how I ended up deciding a week or two before Mobile World Congress and 4 Years From Now to go to Barcelona. Many thanks to the friends who convinced me that it would be really fun and not stressful (Hendric, Feli, Malte) and to GfK for the extra conference pass.

With just a weekend back in Berlin, I flew off to San Francisco for about two weeks the above trip and also to catch up with all the friends and folks I didn't really say goodbye to when I left a year ago on my sabbatical (which then turned into staying in Berlin forever). I also took the time to clean out my old room in the Mission, which was the last big thing tying me to the city. Surprisingly, despite how striking San Francisco is, gorgeous views like this made me happy to be there, but not heartsick for what is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived.

Seattle was a great way to round out my West coast return, I hadn't been there since I lived in Portland and my parents took us on a trip through the Pacific Northwest.

For the next few months, I'm planning on mostly staying put and enjoying the summer in Berlin, though I'll be in New York (and Philadelphia), and there's a part of me that wants to take a last minute trip to Pioneers Festival in Vienna.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/813020 2015-02-18T17:00:44Z 2015-02-18T17:06:07Z Happy Chinese New Year and a beautiful video from PFLAG China

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year, it's the year of the sheep. Right now in Berlin I haven't really made any plans to celebrate, but maybe some event will spontaneously present itself. I haven't celebrated the last few years except to go out to dim sum or dinner with friends -- I never even made it to a lunar new year parade or festival in San Francisco.

Regardless, it's a special time of year and an email from my mom with several emoji in the subject and a cute picture of a sheep reminded me of how lucky I am to have loving parents and family in my life, even though last year I moved from a city 2000 miles away from them to another city around 4000 miles (and an ocean) away.

Many people aren't as fortunate to have the acceptance and love of their families, especially many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people. It's not often anymore than a video on the internet touches me (so jaded), but this short film "Coming Home" (回家) produced by PFLAG China is worth your time to watch. Grab some tissues, and reach out to your loved ones.

(You can also watch it on QQ where it has over 100 million views)

Now that you're all teary-eyed? Cheer up with the sheep my mom sent me!


Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/769798 2014-11-14T17:30:21Z 2014-11-14T17:30:22Z 25 Years after the Berlin Wall: Lichtgrenze

This past weekend, Berlin was full of people and events commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. November 9th is actually a pretty important date in German history, it's also the date of Kristallnacht when the Nazis attacked Jewish synagogues and businesses all over Germany (1938) as well as the end of the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German Empire (1918). But these days most people think about it as the end of socialist East Germany (German Democratic Republic).

I went with some friends on November 8th and 9th to check out the balloons that were set up along the entire stretch of the Berlin Wall, an awesome art project called "Lichtgrenze" (Light Border). The balloons were released on the evening of November 9th, which I tried to catch on video but didn't really succeed very well. If I can somehow edit the footage into something watchable, I'll post it here. For now, here are my photos:

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/766204 2014-11-06T16:55:59Z 2019-08-29T22:03:19Z Berlin's Better Philly Cheesesteak

Last week my friend Tom and I went on a hunt for some good Philly cheesesteak here in Berlin. He grew up near Philly, and we became friends when we were both living there, so we are pretty discerning when it comes to cheesesteak.

The Bird

We first tried The Bird (Kottbusser Damm 95, right by U Schönleinstrasse) which has a lunch special: Philly cheesesteak, fries, and a drink for 8.50€. Tom and I split one, since we knew we'd be having a second cheesesteak in short order. Verdict? Decent, but didn't scratch the Philadelphia cheesesteak itch. The fries were pretty good, and there were plenty of them.

The cheesesteak was on a hamburger bun (though they use English muffins for their burgers, so maybe it's their thing?) and therefore not cheesesteak-shaped. Traditionally it's on a longer Italian roll, or at least what people in Philly call an Italian roll. The meat was good, but very chunky instead of being more thinly sliced. The green peppers you can see are a nice touch, though we didn't ask for them. I can't even remember what kind of cheese was inside.

Hamburger Heaven Kiosk

Our second stop was Hamburger Heaven, of which there are two. We went to the one at Graefestraße 93, which is basically a food stand with some outdoor tables. Dress warmly if you're going in winter! There you can get 6" cheesesteak for 6€ or a footlong (12") for 8€, so we got a big one and split it.

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Berlin Philly cheesesteak number 2!

A post shared by Powen Shiah (@polexa) on

This one reminded me a lot more of the cheesesteaks of yore. It was cheesier, it was in a long, crunchy roll, it had onions and peppers, and came wrapped in paper. Needless to say, both of us were much happier about this cheesesteak.

Since I've only been to two places, I can't call this the best Philly cheesesteak in Berlin yet, but of the two I've tried so far, Hamburger Heaven's is better by far. But in neither place do you need to worry about how to order a Philly cheesesteak properly. There weren't any options.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/710310 2014-07-16T15:24:03Z 2014-07-16T15:28:55Z Crowdfund it: My Sister's Documentary to Circumnavigate Taiwan; End Big Money in Politics; Chicken Soup for the Social Entrepreneur

HuanDao: a modern exploration of identity

My younger sister SueAnn has launched a really exciting project to document the journey of riding through the entire island of Taiwan, where our parents emigrated from. Instead of backpacking through Europe or journeys of self-discovery (says the 30-year-old on sabbatical) like recent college grads do, she's put together a meaningful way to explore identity and the differences between the US and Taiwan. You don't have take my word for it, here's the fancy Kickstarter video:

If you want to find out more (or want to read it in Chinese!) SueAnn and her fellow producers have put together a great multilingual website about the documentary: HuanDao Documentary

Rooster Soup in Philadelphia

This is the best kind of social entrepeneurship that I can imagine — taking the waste (who knew there was such a thing as chicken backs?) from Federal Donuts as the base for another endeavor, Rooster Soup, creating jobs and profit to support the work of the non-profit Broad Street Ministries. Best of all, it's happening in the city-of-my-heart Philadelphia, which is an amazing laboratory for great ideas like this one.

I just chipped in $20, and I can't wait to pick up my 3 donuts the next time I'm in town.

MayDay PAC

I'm a little bit behind the curve on this one. MayDay PAC has been flying around the internet, its idea being to end the influence of big money in politics by using money to help candidates win who support getting money out. It's already hit the $5M goal, but I just threw a few more their way, since every dollar is being matched by some wealthy altruists -- putting their dollars against their own interests for the public good.

Here's a video, and if you prefer reading, a write-up on MSNBC.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/710274 2014-07-03T13:18:57Z 2014-07-03T13:18:57Z Homejoy kommt nach Deutschland, hält sich nicht an den neuen Mindestlohn*

* Ja, das Gesetzt wird erst 2015 in Kraft treten,

In den USA sind die "Profis," die dein Haus putzen, nicht angestellt:

"Workers on the platform are independent contractors—they aren’t Homejoy employees."

Sie sind stattdessen selbständig und so nur prekär beschäftigt – ist das eine Lücke in dem neuen deutschen Mindestlohn?

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/707112 2014-06-24T17:20:00Z 2019-08-29T18:29:17Z Housing in San Francisco got you down? Our house is looking for a roommate from August to May 2015

Another creative re-subtitling of this famous scene of Hitler blowing a gasket from Der Untergang (Downfall) has been making its way around the web this week, this time as he tries to find a place to live in San Francisco.

House Valencia is looking for a subletter!

You're in luck! My wonderful roommates and I are looking for someone to sublet a lovely sunny room from August 2014 - May 2015 (10 months). One of us is going to grad school, so you could be the one to join our merry home. It's a 4-bedroom 2-bathroom top floor apartment off Valencia Street (at 22nd) in the Mission. 

Update: photos of the actual room

It's $1000/month for the furnished room, including utilities and wifi. The roommates are 29, 30, and 35, and we request that you have experience living with housemates. No pets, please.

Update: better pictures of the rest of the apartment and building

If you're interested, or know someone who is, get in touch! Please include some information about yourself, but if you're serious about house-hunting in San Francisco, you'll already have figured that out.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/703939 2014-06-15T17:15:24Z 2014-06-15T17:15:25Z The sweet reward of a recipe "translation" well-done: banana bread

With a couple of bananas making their way from ripe to too-mushy-to-eat on my shelf in the kitchen, I decided to dust off my recipes and try my hand at banana bread.

Two things that are different about baking and cooking in Germany. First of all, they use metric units like grams and milliliters, which is to be expected. Second of all, and this catches me off guard every time, they don't use volume measures in their recipes, e.g. 3 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt. Instead, most recipes call for a certain number of grams of flour. To make things even more confusing, baking powder (Backpulver) and baking soda (Natron) usually come in single-use packets instead of in jars or containers, so while an American recipe may list 2 tablespoons of baking soda, a German one might just say two packets of Natron.

My very simple banana bread recipe (courtesy of my friend Miler) looks like this:

  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3-5 bananas
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda

Converted into metric and weight units, this is what I ended up with, using the guidelines on this handy reference "the Metric Kitchen":

  • 120mL of oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g of sugar
  • 3-5 bananas
  • 240g of flour
  • 7-8g of baking soda (1 packet)

(Mix oil and sugar, then add eggs, then bananas. Make sure it's all evenly mixed. Add flour and baking soda and mix until completely blended. Bake at 375*F / 190*C for about 30 minutes)

The main thing that takes some getting used to is that volume to weight conversion depends on the density of the substance. A cup of sugar weighs significantly more than a cup of flour, so when converting, you have to find the right table for that ingredient.

After overthinking this, I went into the kitchen and actually started getting ready to bake, when I discovered that there isn't a scale! Instead, there's a giant measuring cup with markings for how much volume is approximately how many grams... so after taking the time to convert from volume to weight, I wound up using volume to approximate the weight anyway!

Here's how it looked part way through baking process:

I'm not enough of a baker to know how important the exact ratios of the ingredients are, but it tastes to me like the banana bread turned out fine. It tasted especially delicious fresh out of the oven.
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/703080 2014-06-13T17:07:45Z 2014-06-13T17:07:45Z Balcony Garden Update: Boo for Aphids, Yay for Heatwaves

It's time to check in on my little garden of five tomato plants and a purple basil plant. I keep forgetting to take photos every day, so here's one from earlier this week.

(taken June 10, 2014)

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/703064 2014-06-12T17:13:15Z 2019-08-29T18:22:49Z Can you imagine being in love with someone for several centuries?

That's the premise of this movie featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires, if it has a premise at all. I won't bury the lead, I enjoyed watching it. But the caveat is, there isn't really that much plot or explanation, things happen but they don't really drive the story in any deeper way. Mostly, I simply found it beautiful to watch two fascinating characters interact who have been deeply, spookily (quantum) entangled with each other for hundreds of years. Movies without action-driven plots seems to be my luck these days, since that's how Boyhood felt too.

If you haven't heard of Jim Jarmusch's latest film, here's a trailer to give you an idea.

Tuesday night, I finally had my wish of going to one of the outdoor movie nights that pop up in Berlin over the summer. This particular one was set up by Nomaden Kino at ://about blank, which I've also been meaning to go to -- the club hosts the monthly (twice in June) Homopatik party. If we had gone the night before, Nomaden Kino had shown Only Lovers Left Alive at Badeschiff which is a pool on a ship (or from the pictures, it just looks like a pool in the middle of a river).  Also potentially a neat place to see a movie, right?

I swear I had listened to some group of people on a podcast talk about the film. After I saw it, I tried to find some mention of it in the show notes for any one of the many Slate podcasts that I listen to, but to no avail. I started to doubt that I had actually heard anyone review or discuss it, but then I remembered someone rhapsodizing about the scenes in the movie where Tilda Swinton dances. I don't think that's the kind of memory or discussion I would construct. Unfortunately, podcasts are difficult to search through, and even a publisher like Slate that does a pretty good job of documenting everything that gets mentioned seems to have let this one slip through the cracks.
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/701532 2014-06-08T13:06:43Z 2014-06-08T13:06:43Z In which I meet an old friend and finally see the enormous Tempelhof Park

As I've mentioned before, Berlin has an old airfield which they've just decided to keep as public open space instead of building more housing.

Yesterday, I met up with my friend Mehregan who spent a year as a volunteer in Philadelphia and Camden. Since she lives pretty close to the Tempelhofer Feld, we decided to go there, and it was really was amazing to finally see the what airport turned park looks like.

It's a huge open space with a small community garden off to one side of it, but the rest is really just an enormous grassy space where people can hang out, picnic, barbecue, and relax. It was very sunny and hot yesterday, and I would have liked to sit partially in the shade, but there are no trees (yet)!

Even though Mehregan and I haven't seen each other in years, it felt like we were able to pick up just where we left off and talk about the really important and meaningful changes and conundrums going on in our lives right now. It feels really amazing to be able to do that, and in the middle of an enormous former airplane field under a brilliant blue sky was a gorgeous place to do it.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/701142 2014-06-06T19:26:44Z 2014-06-06T19:26:44Z Lost in Translation: English and "Chinglish" in Taipei

I wasn't looking for instances of mistranslated signs when I was in Taipei in April, so when I went digging through all my photos for this post, I didn't find many photos of noteworthy or particularly amusing uses of English. A few of these are classic Chinglish (more examples on the very popular Engrish site), others I just thought were funny.

On the ATM

"Attention! The gangster may use the english operation interface to cheat you"

This message recurred over the course of my trip, but not every time I tried to use an ATM. This particular ATM when I was quick enough to snap a picture was in the Guang Hua Digital Plaza. Each time, It made me wonder, who is this gangster? Do they just mean thief or con artist? In Berlin, the signs at the public transit ticket remind us to be aware of "tricksters." How is this gangster going to use the English operation interface to cheat me?

On park signs

"Danger: Deep Water"
"No Release Any Animals"
"No Fishing"
"No Toast and Cracker"
"No Littering"
"No Bicycle"

This is the classic example of Chinglish, confusing rules on signs in public parks. This isn't a very good one though, since almost all the strictures make sense, except for "No Toast and Cracker," and even that one makes sense if you look at the picture – it's just about not feeding the fish. I'm going to charitably assume that people were releasing animals into the pond, prompting the authorities to include that rule. 

On construction sites

"all design endeavors express the zeitgeist"

This is not exactly poorly translated, it just seems very high-brow for what is basically gussied-up scaffolding. It would make a good debate resolution, if you think about it... who wants to take the negative?

In bookstores


I feel a little bad for pointing this one out, since spelling mistakes can happen to anyone. It seems particularly egregious though, given the word that is being misspelled, and the fact that it is in a fancy English-language bookstore in the mall at Taipei 101.

On monuments

"Visiting the Chungshan Steles in addition to the powerful character being profoundly fused with the essence of chirographic beauty, we feel an awe-inspiring righteousness flooding in our chests and emerge out of a sentiment to model ourselves on martyrs and past sage's spirits to share themselves with the life of all creatures, carrying forward the cause and forging ahead into the future, so as to set an immortal foundation for the country and establish a peaceful world for all ages."

They said a lot in that one sentence, I don't need to add any more.

Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/700616 2014-06-05T17:56:47Z 2014-06-05T17:56:47Z My thoughts on Boyhood, the 12 year film project by Richard Linklater

Last night, I went with Thomas Weigelt to see Boyhood at Kino International. Boyhood was directed by Richard Linklater, who also made Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013) starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (NB: I've never actually seen this movies, but I keep hearing about them and I really want to).

The first thing about the movie to pique my interest was reading that it was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same actors, in particular the main protagonist Mason, who is played through the entire film by Ellar Coltrane. It's an impressive long-term project, considering how everything in media feels like it's moving faster and faster, with shorter lead times and quicker production. It's a totally different category, but I had a similar feeling of temporal disconnect when watching Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which premiered in June 2012, dealing with real events which took place a little over two years before the airing date.

The Verge did a good job going over all of the neat twists and turns that came about from filming over 12 years, if you want to find out more. 

The song in the trailer is beautiful and fits the feeling of the movie perfectly. I've been listening to it on repeat for hours every couple weeks, and somehow I still haven't gotten tired of it. It's Hero by Family of the Year, and here's the original video:

The last bit that I was really curious about is to see what the movie had to say about growing up, about adolescence, and being a boy in America today. I think masculinity and manhood are underexplored topics in mainstream US discourse, and I really wanted to see what this film had to say about it.

In that respect, it was a disappointing film, but that's why I shouldn't make movies. By avoiding shining the spotlight directly on the socialization and education of boys into men, Boyhood is a better piece of art. There were no big turning points in the story, no huge decisions that altered the course of Mason's life. Without being overly preachy or having a pat message about the meaning of him growing up, Linklater put together a compelling, beautiful, yet strikingly normal story of a boy from age 5 to 18. There were funny parts, a few scary and sad parts where I was really worried about what was going to happen to the family, but no crazy reveals or plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat like your normal summer blockboster. In fact, it's a testament to the acting and the storytelling of what a non-story that I got so into the lives of a fictional family that I couldn't bring myself to go to the bathroom at any point in the 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Patricia Arquette plays Mason's mother, and she is an amazing character and actress whose presence underpins the entire movie. Olivia ("Liv") is strong, weak, loving, confused, and terribly human. She does the best job she can raising Mason and his sister Samantha, making hard choices and doing her best to provide a good home and pursue her own dreams at the same time. While her evolution from single mom to twice-divorced college professor is only peripheral to the focus on Mason's life, it's the one I admired and sympathized with the most. Ethan Hawke who plays Mason's father has his own interesting development over the course of the movie, but it's not nearly as fraught or compelling as hers.

I definitely recommend going to go see Boyhood. It's long, but it's worth the time. There are no huge plot twists or anything really to spoil -- it's not that kind of story. It's meant to be enjoyed, and it left me with a lot to think about what it means to grow up and be responsible for creating your own life.

Final note: Kino International is a really interesting and beautiful theater. It was designed to be the place where film premieres were held in the former East Germany, so it only has one screen and it has some 50s/60s fancy decor inside. They yelled at me for taking pictures, so this is the only one you'll ever get to see:

Powen Shiah