Indonesian sambal recipe

indonesian samal salaa

Ikan sambal mentah is a delicious sambal (hot sauce) from the Bali/Lombok region of Indonesia. I was lucky enough to try it with some grilled red snapper while on the island of Gili Trawangan. It was so spicy I was hyperventilating by the time I finished eating it, but it was so good that I couldn’t stop.

I decided to make my own less spicy version of it and was super pleased with the results.
indonesian sambal ingredients

– lime
– chili pepper
– lemongrass
– garlic
– tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
– 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

My only real addition here was to add tomatoes in lieu of more chilies, which makes it more a sambal-salsa hybrid. I cut the lemongrass directly off the plant stalk (white part only). I used Tiparos Thai fish sauce, which is generally saltier than fish sauces from other countries.

Mix all of the ingredients pictured above and the fish sauce together in a bowl. For the last step, heat the vegetable oil on the stove until it is rippling and pour it over the fresh ingredients. You will hear a hissing sound as the smell of delicious spicy and salty goodness is released into your kitchen. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Serve it with grilled seafood, meat or veggies. I wasn’t really prepared for a big meal after I made it, so I just had it with some avocado and tortilla chips. Mmmmmmm.


2 days on Gili Trawangan and a final night in Lombok

The Gili islands are a set of three (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) situated on the northwest coast of Lombok. The largest and most popular one is Gili Trawangan, and that’s where we decided to go.

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3 days on the island of Lombok

After a rough end to my trip to Thailand (more on that later) in December, all I wanted to do for my next vacation was to go somewhere relaxing, isolated and devoid of people. When most people think of Indonesia, Bali is the first and only thing that comes to mind. Now that I’ve been to Indonesia, this truly blows my mind as the country has over seventeen thousand islands and is the fourth most populous country in the entire world. There’s a lot of ground to cover other than Bali.

A bit of research turned up Lombok, referred to by many as “what Bali used to be”. We booked our tickets for $200* round trip to get there from Shanghai through AirAsia, with the standard layover in Kuala Lumpur.

For our first few days, we booked a nice villa for $40 per night near the township of Senggigi. It was near a private beach, accessible by a walkway lined with palm trees. Here’s the view at sunset. Not bad, eh?


For our first full day on the island, we rented a motorbike ($5 for the day) and explored.

We were on the hunt for peresean, a traditional stick fighting festival that was supposedly taking place on the island that week. I say ‘supposedly’ because we kept stopping to ask people and got a different answer every time. But hey, it’s all about the journey not the destination (spoiler alert: we never found it). We did however find Kuta Beach, and not unlike Kuta Beach in Phuket it was pretty touristy and grimy. This was the first sign of tourism I had really seen on the island so far. We didn’t stay long because it was a 3 hour journey back home, but I found out later there are a couple of nice surf spots there.

This was my first time visiting a Muslim country, incidentally the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. Many women wear a hijab and many don’t; there’s an interesting article about that here. There are call to prayers throughout the day (starting at 5am) and you can hear the chants and prayers reverberating through the entire island via loudspeaker.

The following day, we booked a private car to see some of the sights around the island. For $30 a day and 4-5 hours of driving, it’s not a bad deal. Our first stop was the Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls. It was a fun little hike (approx. 1 hour long) and a little more challenging than I expected.

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Personal essay on Maui

This is a short essay I wrote in August of 2015 after returning from a week long trip to Maui.

When I first got on the airplane in San Francisco, I immediately noticed that it was filled with crying babies, stressed out parents and older couples. Your typical tourists. There wasn’t a single person on the airplane that looked like they were returning home.

I stayed with my good friend and roommate from college, Keely. Keely and her 3 siblings were raised in Kauai and Maui and have attended Kamehameha schools their entire life. These private schools are named after a former Hawaiian king and are specifically geared towards children with native Hawaiian ancestry.

airport beach

Their home is very beautiful and special – the living room is a large, open room with a large couch (usually with a teenager passed out on it), tables and bar area with ceiling fans whirring away at all times. They have a paddleboard and surfboard “graveyard” that takes up an entire fence. There are coconut trees, papaya trees, aloe plants and chickens in the yard.

maui home

maui home 2

maui home 3

This summer, Keely is working at a luau. Her brothers work for their father in construction. Her sister Leimana works at a hotel. We went to visit her and the hotel pool was filled with people, despite the fact that the beach (almost empty) was no more than 20 yards away. Tourists in Hawaiian shirts walked around with Mai Tais. Newly built condos were being painted. We took a quick jump off Backside…


I started reading some books on Hawaii’s history. Kings and Queens once ruled these islands. I am still haunted by their dark eyes, and those of the fishermen and their children. Now things are different. I opened another book of aerial photographs of Maui today and saw the ugly condos and hotels and hotel pools marring huge stretches of landscape. My heart is broken. Keely told me about a project down the street from her house where they are focusing all of their efforts to save a small chunk of coral directly in front of their house.

After spending a night with Keely’s cousin Nohea Upcountry we decided to go up to Haleakala National Park for sunrise. When we arrived, some police officers told us it was closed for “equipment moving.” The next morning we found out the real reason: people were protesting the construction of a big telescope (it has been going on since November) and one of Keely’s classmates had been arrested that night. The people of Hawaii are desperately trying to preserve their sacred land.

road to hana maui

While in Hawaii, I drank coconut water and ate its meat, rubbed the aloe plant on my sunburns and scrapes and ate fresh eggs and papaya. I tried poi and lau lau and tako poke. I went to the beach every day, where I surfed, snorkeled and slept on a towel in the sunshine. I saw turtles, eels and schools of fish in the water. I listened to the myna birds calling in the trees. My legs and feet were covered in small cuts from when huge waves crashed over me and knocked me down while I attempted to free climb the rocks. I had never before felt such a connection to the living and breathing beings that we share the world with.

People come to Hawaii to enjoy its beauty and escape their responsibilities in the “real world”. But Hawaii is the “real world,” the realest natural world I have ever seen. And it needs our protection.

I want to live a life that I don’t need a vacation from.

maui butts

maui sunset butts

10 unusual things to do in Shanghai

Personally I think Shanghai is pretty shit as far a tourist destinations go. The only way to truly enjoy this city is have a local show you around. Otherwise you’re limited to shopping at Tianzifang or bumping elbows with the crowds at the Bund. It’s not a bad time, but it’s only enjoyable for so long.

Here are some other things you can do in Shanghai to get a good feel for the city and what makes it such a great place.

1. M50

For all you art lovers out there. It’s a rare find in Shanghai because it isn’t crawling with people. The galleries are clean, tasteful (depending on your definition of the word) and there are many artists just hanging around painting or sleeping. If you’re in Beijing, I highly recommend the 798 Art Zone.

2. Xing Guang Photography Equipment Center

All things photography can be found here. I’m not aware of everything you can do here, but here are a few options:

1. Sell your equipment, or get your equipment fixed or cleaned.
2. Purchase cameras and accessories (lenses, lights, storage) from both major and lesser known brands.
3. Browse massive selections of vintage film cameras and film. Pick up a little film camera for around $200 or an oldschool Polaroid camera for around $80.
4. Get photos printed on just about any surface imaginable.

You could spend half an hour to half a day here, depending on your level of interest.

More to come as I finish editing photos…

7 places to see in Japan

Let’s take a look at some great places I visited in Japan, based on one roll of film on a disposable Fujifilm camera I bought at a 7/11 in Tokyo.

I’ve got a lot more photos that I took on my DSLR, but you don’t get such a luxury with a disposable camera. You really have to pick the special moments, and I think these photos encapsulate some of the most beautiful times.

1. Tokyo

kyoto train station

First, a day in Tokyo. Lots of cute girls in kimonos walking around. A quick hop on the shinkansen and we are on our way to…

2. Osaka

osaka beer vending machine

A rare sighting of a beer vending machine. I really enjoyed walking the streets of Osaka, especially at night. We befriended some cool moms at a local coffee shop, some Korean tourists and some skaters on our cruises around at night.

3. Kyoto


A quiet and clean street right near our Airbnb.

4. Hiroshima


A quick train ride away from Kyoto. I recommend renting a bike around the train station, as many nice places are easily accessible and there is a lot to see. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is lovely, and so is Hiroshima Castle (pictured above). If you want to see the Miyajima Floating Shrine make sure you get there early, as the last boat rides end around 5pm every day.

5. Kobe

kobe waterfall

If you’ve just got time to see one thing in Kobe, Nunobiki Falls is a lovely hike. It’s quite close to the Kobe Herb Gardens; walk or take a gondola to the very top for some pretty spectacular views.

6. Takamatsu & Naoshima Island

naoshimanaoshima islandnaoshima island 2

This is one of the rare, pure and untouched places left on this earth and I hope it remains that way forever. What we did is stay in a cheap hostel in Takamatsu and take the ferry over to Naoshima Island, but it is possible to stay directly on the island in an Airbnb. While you could just be satisfied trying local cuisine (they are best known for their udon) and cycling around, if you’ve got the chance I highly recommend visiting the Chichu art museum. Naoshima is known as the art island, after all. I’m personally a big fan of going to art galleries but Chichu can convert even the biggest skeptic.

7. Nagano & Obuse

nagano snow monkeynagano snow monkey parkobuse train station

For the final leg of the trip I stayed in Nagano, a wholesome northern Japanese town with great sushi and kooky, friendly people. I took the bus out to the Jigokudani Monkey Park in the morning, spent a few hours there and then took the shinkansen back. On the way I made a quick stop in Obuse, a quiet town with some art galleries and temples.

Teaching English in China

And now for the most ridiculous and lucrative venture out there: teaching English in China. Luckily for you and the content of this blog, I have taught English in just about every possible outlet available in China so I know the ins and outs.

Pictured above: My first student, Kitty. A tough little 7 year old who had to go to school 8-5pm every day. Plus the 3 times a week she had to have 2 hours of English lessons with my sorry ass…

Qualifications for teaching English in China are slim to none.

1. You need the face of a foreigner. You don’t even have to be particularly good at English. I have Chinese-American friends who can’t even speak Chinese but they have been rejected from numerous schools because they look Chinese and therefore aren’t desirable as teachers. Some of my fellow teachers hail from Germany, Russia, France, etc. and their English is elementary level.

2. If you do not work well with children (i.e. positive attitude, singsong voice, goofy smile), employers will notice and they will (a) complain and criticize, or (b) fire you. Older students are a bit easier in this sense, but you can’t bullshit your way a through a class as easily. If you are working with adults, make sure you prepare beforehand. You can’t just make stuff up as you go along with adults… they will notice.

3. If you are working with children, Google some basic English grammar concepts and teaching techniques in advance. You’ll need some pictures (I recommend Powerpoint presentations for this) and interactive activities as well. Don’t bore the child to death. There are unlimited resources online for teaching materials, including worksheets and lesson plans.

There are hundreds of thousands of opportunities to teach English in China, and you are 100% guaranteed to find a job if you meet the qualifications I have listed above. Here are your main options for finding work.

Through an agency:
Agencies are the middle men between students and teachers. These places only give you a fraction of what they are charging the parents, but the pay is consistent and you are guaranteed to have students. The agencies I have worked at in the past always pay in tax-free stacks of cash, which is an added bonus. Give them your schedule, and they will fill in your free time with students. Pays $24-30 per hour.

At a tutoring center or school:
These jobs are usually full time and will require you to sign a year-long contract. As always, be wary before signing any contract and have a native speaker read it over. You will usually teach small classes of 3-5 students at a tutoring center, and up to 30 students at a school. Pays $30-40 per hour, although at a school you might make up to $60 if you find a good one.

Private tutoring:
This is the most ideal. Students can come to your home, you can go to their home or you can meet in a public location (I recommend a coffee shop or library). Pays $33-50 per hour.

Do not be afraid to ask for more money. For private jobs, I like to throw out an obscene number at first. For the agencies, I have furiously demanded more money if they go back on anything we originally agreed on. They will screw you over if given the opportunity.

How do I find one of these jobs? Agencies and tutoring centers are everywhere. Go to your nearest mall and you are guaranteed to find at least two of them. Print out a few resumes (or don’t and just write down your e-mail on a slip of paper, they don’t give a shit) and you’ll be summoned for an interview. The interview is usually a joke, although some schools might ask you to prepare a demo lesson. This will be given on a Powerpoint and isn’t a huge deal.

Finding work at a school or private tutoring is only slightly more challenging. Make friends, and ask around. Or go on eChinacities or Craigslist. There are a lot of expats in China, and the majority of them are teaching English or have at some point in their stay in China, so you have many resources for finding out the best agencies, schools, etc. to teach at. Gather a couple of solid options before you commit to anything.

Part time or full time? Teaching part time is a great way to make some cash on the side, especially if you have been lucky enough to find yourself a job in a field you actually enjoy and it doesn’t pay well. Keep in mind though that you are likely to teach in different locations all over the city, which means you will be spending a lot of additional time and money taking the metro all over town. If you teach full time, you can make good money (up to $2,500 a month), enough to pay for everything you need and to buy your mom something nice.

New apartment checklist

Pictured above: The view from my current apartment. Loved the view so much that I forgot a few key elements.

Here’s what you need to know.

General questions:
▢ Is there any mold? Check every corner, surface and near windows.
▢ Do the windows close tightly and securely? Do they all lock?
▢ Are the walls solid and not rotting anywhere? If you press with some force, they shouldn’t sink in…
▢ Is the paint peeling anywhere? Stick a piece of tape on the wall and see if the paint comes off with it.
▢ Is there a clothing washer and dryer? Most apartments will not have a dryer, so make sure there is a good place to hang dry your clothing.
▢ If your neighbors or roommates smoke, it will waft into your bedroom and your clothes and bedsheets will smell. You’ll also eventually perish from the secondhand smoke.
▢ Where do you get your mail? Is there a mailbox or is it dumped unceremoniously on your doorstep? Are utility bills delivered by mail?
▢ Are there any indications of mice? Look for poop, chewed corners, etc. If this ends up being a problem, I suggest sticky traps. They work like a charm, but the mice will still be alive when you find them and it is a gruesome sight.
▢ Do a basic check of the appliances and make sure all electrical outlets work.

Look out the window:
▢ Where is your closest vegetable market, fruit stand or grocery store?
▢ What is the closest metro stop or bus station?
▢ Are you located near any construction sites? Construction nearby means: potentially noxious fumes drifting into your window, 7am construction times (if they start any earlier, you can call the police to get them to stop)
▢ Are you located near a school? The school is going to play music periodically the entire day.
▢ Are you located near any bars or busy corners? Late at night, especially on the weekends, the street food hawkers will be out in force and people will be drunk and loud.

▢ Does the heater/air conditioner work? Are there any strange smells when you use it? Open it up and inspect it to make sure it is clean.
▢ Is the bed comfortable or will you have to buy an extra mattress pad for it?
▢ Is the previous owner or landlord leaving any furniture for you? Bedrooms should come furnished with a bed and desk at the very least.
▢ Do the windows close with a good seal? In the winter, cold air is going to leak in. To combat this, you can buy sticky foam padding to seal any cracks, or simply tape over the cracks with packing tape.
▢ Are the walls thin? Can you hear your roommates or neighbors breathing?

▢ If the bathroom does not have a fan or windows, it is going to stink. After you shower, the steam will collect and have nowhere to go. The foundation will eventually rot and there will be mold and little winged bugs.
▢ How hot does the water get? Does the hot water last for a long time or does it come sporadically?
▢ Can the toilet flush a big #2? Don’t wait until it is too late to find out…
▢ Does the water drain well, or does it collect in a little pool that takes several minutes to drain?

▢ Is there a kitchen fan for the stovetop? Again, no fan = stinky home.

Signing the lease:
▢ Get a receipt/proof of payment
▢ Take a photo of your landlord’s ID
▢ Make sure you have a native speaker with you to help with any translation issues
▢ Make sure your lease is in Chinese. An English lease won’t hold up in court, this ain’t an English speaking country!!

▢ Are they a douchebag?