Dinner in Rio de Janeiro

I’ve had two good dinners already here (for those who are meat eaters). I should hit the gym to convert all the protein into muscle! The first was at Via Sete, which has pretty tasty appetizers, salads, and grilled meats and fish. We got some crab cakes (bolinhos) and calamari with manioc flour batter (it’s much soggy than normal fried calamari). I had a salad with grilled meat which was delicious (and also not too heavy, which was nice). The next dinner was at Braseiro de Gávea, a more traditional Brasilian restaurant. It was packed and the food was delicious — you basically order a set of grilled meat and it comes with one zillion side dishes (like farofa with eggs and banana, surprisingly delicious). I didn’t get to take pictures, but I might add them in later. Note : one dish serves about 3.5 people, so 3 dishes was waaaay too much food for the 7 of us. Afterwards we hit up the Academia de Cachaça, which was appropriate since some of us were in academia. They have a crazy array of cachaças to try in a pleasant open-air environment.

Pictures from Hong Kong, etc.

I have been castigated for not putting up more pictures of my trip to Hong Kong on Ye Olde Blog, so I’ll give a quick pointer to my Picasa album which has a lot of the pictures. So here is a somewhat backdated post on the trip.

On my first night there we went to Gaia Veggie Shop (大自然素食) in Mongkok for dinner. It’s an all-vegetarian place (with dishes containing egg marked on the menu). One of the dishes I liked best was a simple stir-fried pea shoots with ginger. I had forgotten how tasty pea shoots are, and the simplicity of the dish really brought out their flavor (this is the Cantonese style, I guess). The other option for dinner was Modern Toilet, a toilet-themed restaurant which may be worth a try later, although I was told the food wasn’t as good. I tried to take pictures of my restaurant adventures there (see the link). It’s spoiled me from eating Americanized Chinese food. Sidharth, my host, lives in a “market town,” which means he walks through a fresh produce market to get home every day. I got to try a lot of exciting fruits that are hard to get the US, including mangosteen, dragonfruit, lanzones, sitaphal (which I have only had in India, and is soooooo good), and even a durian shake (my second ever).

Being able to be in a place for more than one week was a real blessing, because I could go to some nieghborhoods more than once, and by the second week I would even leave without taking my guidebook or map with me, and just trust my memory and a hastily scribbled set of directions. Hong Kong is a pretty safe city, so wandering around and getting lost was a good and fun strategy. I’m sure people around me are sick of me talking about all the cool things I saw there, the quirky fun facts, and my love of the transit system there.

The coolest thing about transit in Hong Kong is the Octopus card, an transit card that works on all transit systems, various convenience stores (7-11 is everywhere there!), and even the CUHK cafeterias. You can add money to your card at 7-11, and there’s a deposit to get the card, so you can go to a negative balance (once) if you don’t have quite enough to get home. A close second is the red minibus system. These are 16-seater minibuses that run all night between different locations in Hong Kong. There are two that I used that went to CUHK, one from Mongkok and one from Causeway Bay. You pay something like 20 HKD and then once the bus is full it takes off at breakneck speed, only pulling over when someone calls out to the driver to stop. There’s a speedometer in the bus that starts beeping when the driver goes over 80 km/hr. Since I always took them late at night, the experience was a bit like being in a careening stick of dynamite. Exhilarating!

Oh, and we got some research ideas/projects started too.

Visiting CUHK

I’m visiting the Chinese University of Hong Kong for the next 16 days, hosted by Sidharth Jaggi. I got in at 7 this morning after a 14 hour flight from San Francisco, and while jet lag has not completely overwhelmed me, my brain is a little slow. The bus ride from the airport to Sha Tin was quite beautiful, as the sun was just starting to burn off the fog. I’m staying on campus with a nice view from my window:

View from the guesthouse at CUHK

View from the guesthouse at CUHK

Blogging may be light or medium, depending on how loquacious my fingers feel. Probably light until I give my talk on Friday…

reviewing in the air

In the last year and a half, I’ve been getting more requests to review papers, and I’ve been flying more. Surprisingly, they work well together, since I find airplanes to be a great time to work on paper reviews. I can’t really use my laptop on the plane, so I’m forced to sit with the paper and read it. There’s no internet to look up references, so I have to make sense of the paper on its own terms. This helps a lot when trying to evaluate how clear the exposition is. Finally, a plane trip is a chunk of time in which your distractions are limited, so it’s a good chance to really dig into a paper. The contiguous chunk of quiet time is an elusive beast in the world of research, and while the confined space of economy class is not conducive to proving lemmas (at least for me), it’s not bad for checking the proofs of others.

A much belated report on my trip to Baja California in early November

We drove from San Diego to Calexico, passing through some of southeast California’s deserts. In Calexico we had a classy meal at a Foster’s Freeze and purchased Mexican car insurance (a necessity for Americans driving over there, although we were never asked to prove that we had it). Another quirk of the law is that you have to bring the title for the car with you, which seems a bit risky. Going through the border to Mexicali was no problem, although getting out of Mexicali and on to the highway was too difficult for me, so Jen took over at that point and we coasted down the highway (which was in pretty good condition, despite what tour books suggested) to San Felipe. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for the obligatory stop and car-check by incredibly bored Mexican military dudes who are being paid by the US to look for drugs. Or at least that’s what I assumed they were doing.

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Denali and surrounds

Denali National Park and Preserve is a huge national park, somewhere around 6 million acres. Although some hiking is allowed in the park, there aren’t a lot of trails, so a lot of people take these tour buses along the central road through the park. Our bus driver/naturalist had a voice that reminded me of old filmstrip documentaries we would watch in grade school. A little soporific. We took an 8 hour trip, and we saw Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, moose, a fox, hares, ptarmigans, owls, magpies, and other denizens of the woods, taiga, and tundra. The park was founded to save the Dall sheep, a kind of wild sheep that lives way up on the crests of mountains. We saw lots of them from a distance, with lambs prancing about. My simple camera wasn’t up to taking photos of most of the wildlife, but I managed to get a few (somewhat fuzzy) snaps.

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Kenai Fjords and Aialik Glacier

The Kenai Fjords National Park is mostly inaccessible by land — there’s not much in the way of hiking, and a lot of it is occupied by the Harding Icefield, which is a gigantic sheet of ice out of which several glaciers flow. To see the park you need to take a boat into the fjords. We went around the Aialik peninsula to see the Aialik Glacier. We saw lots of Steller sea lions, bald eagles, tufted and horned puffins, harbor seals, a black bear or two, mountain goats, porpoises, and other birds whose names I forget. The sea otters kept their distance so it was hard to see them up close. The ocean was a bit choppy so most of my photos came out a bit blurry, but I managed to snap a shot of some Steller sea lions hauled out on a rock:

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Seward, Seward’s Folly

Interestingly, the internet in my hotel is provided by Meraki, which was speadheading an urban mesh network in San Francisco. On Wednesday we took the train from Anchorage to Seward, named for the US Secretary of State who pushed for the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for the sum of $7.2 million. The train ride is very scenic and we passed some beautiful mountains, the Turnagain Arm (named by the navigationally frustrated Captain Cook), and a beautifully clear lake:

Reflections on the way to Seward

In Seward we checked out the Sea Life Center, which had some puffins:

Puffins hanging out

Today we went on a day long tour via boat of the Kenai Fjords National Park and saw the Aialik Peninsula and Aialik Glacier. I haven’t gotten the photos from there yet but if any turned out nicely I’ll post ’em.