mitcho Michael 芳貴 Erlewine

Postdoctoral fellow, McGill Linguistics.


Archive for the ‘travelogue’ Category

Jetpack Ambassadors in MV

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

A couple weeks ago I went out to Mozilla HQ in Mountain View for a Jetpack Ambassador meetup. Jetpack is a project at Mozilla labs intended to make writing Firefox add-ons easier, and shares some ancestry with the Ubiquity project dear to my heart. The Jetpack Ambassadors are a team of Mozilla community members who will be involved with Jetpack marketing, evangelizing Jetpack and writing about our own experiences working with the exciting new Jetpack architecture.

We spent a good chunk of time with a team from Invisible Elephant who came in to give us some training on making technical presentations, and then dug into the code on Day 2. It was great to have the geniuses at Mozilla Labs like Atul and Myk show us the latest Jetpack code as well as get the latest project direction from Daniel, Aza, and Nick, from which we could see the amount of careful consideration and effort that’s gone into the Jetpack reboot.

The best part of the whole experience, though, has to be the fellowship with the other Jetpack Ambassadors. The Ambassadors came from all over the world, encompassing Europe, Asia, S. America, and of course N. America. Each are involved with some really exciting projects and have each made a name for themselves in their respective communities. I’ve put together a twitter list of all the Jetpack Ambassadors and the core team members and invite you to follow them.

We also had the greatest number of Ubiquity core developers to have ever been in the same place at the same time, which of course had to be documented. :)

(More photos can be seen in my gallery.)

I had a fantastic time in MV and it was a shame I could only be there for such a short time. I feel honored to be a part of this group and am looking forward to speaking on Jetpack soon at an event near you!

Mashing up the browser in Maine

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Last week I was invited to give a talk at the TechMaine annual conference in Portland, Maine.

Being a longer time slot than I previously have used to talk about Ubiquity, I decided to dedicate a good portion of the talk to Jetpack. Being outside of Mozilla for the past few months, this gave me an opportunity to get reacquainted with the Jetpack APIs. I myself was impressed by how easy it was to develop a quick Jetpack. I ended up preparing two to live-code during the talk: one called Helvetica which, with one click, replaces all fonts on the current page with Helvetica; and You Are Here which uses an open API from IPinfoDB to display the physical location of the domain you are currently visiting in the status bar. Both are now on the Jetpack Gallery.

Unfortunately there was a bit of a snowstorm leading up to the event, but there was still a nice turnout and I got to meet some fantastic people there. Ken Shoemake of [[slerp]] and [[quaternion]] fame came up to me after my talk and said “the Ubiquity parser reminded me of the dancing bear… it’s less surprising that it works well as that it works at all.” :) I also enjoyed the other great presentations in the technology track, covering the virtues of REST and basic iPhone development.

Mashup the Browser with Ubiquity and Jetpack

91 Hours in Japan

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I just spent 91 hours in Japan. This is what it looked like.

Friday, April 10th, 2009

桜 (sakura) is Japanese for cherry blossom, an important symbol of spring time in Japan and, with it, a symbol of renewal. The cherry blossom is a beautiful fluffy and light flower which falls quickly off the tree with wind and rain, making it also an important representation of [[mono no aware|物の哀れ (mono no aware)]].

Last weekend my family (including my aunt Mikako and Bailey) took a short trip to Yugawara (湯河原) at the base of the [[Izu peninsula]]. Last weekend was possibly the peak of the cherry blossoms this year, making it a very picturesque trip. It’s quite rare for the four of us to all be in the same place at the same time, so these photos are definite keepers:

One of my personal highlights was going down a slide at Azumayama Park in [[Ninomiya]] right through a grove of cherry trees in full bloom—it was so beautiful that I had to go back down it again and take a video! Unfortunately the Flash video encoding (or my camera) doesn’t do it justice, but I hope you can fill in the gaps with your imagination.

Cherry blossom slide - 桜のすべりだい(二宮吾妻山公園) from mitcho on Vimeo.

Weekend in Osaka

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

A few weekends ago, I went out west to visit Bailey. While I normally visit her in Kyoto, it was a three-day weekend, and we decided to explore another city near her: Osaka (大阪). If Kyoto is the historical capitol, Tokyo is the modern and imperial capitol, Osaka has traditionally been the merchant capitol of Japan. It’s known for its food, comedy, and business.

My trip began with the three-hour bullet train (新幹線 shinkansen) ride out to Osaka. I hadn’t purchased a ticket in advance, so that meant standing in a non-reserved seating car for most of the way there, the sole consolation being the great view of Mt. Fuji. Lesson learned: buy reserved tickets for holiday weekends.


Our first stop was the [[Osaka castle]] (大阪城 ōsaka jyō). Located at the center of the city, the castle is surrounded by a moat and a pretty big park. Many of the paths are lined with cherry trees, making it a popular [[hanami|cherry blossom viewing]] venue in the spring.


The Food I Ate

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Perhaps with increasing restlessness to find increased variety in my diet or perhaps by hanging out with Aaron more, I’ve been eating some great food recently. Here’s a documentation of some great food in Taiwan (Yilan and Taipei) and where to find it:

Best Curry Udon ever (Yilan)

I’ve been craving some good udon noodles, called 烏龍麵 (wūlóngmiàn) in Taiwan which originally confused me as those are the characters for Oolong tea.[^3] I haven’t found great soup udon in Yilan but I did find some fabulous fried curry udon.


Linguistics in 嘉義

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

A couple weeks ago I went to Chiayi (嘉義, pinyin: Jiāyì) to present a paper at the Linguistic Society of Taiwan’s National Conference on Linguistics.[^1] I got a chance to meet some wonderful and kind Taiwanese linguists, make friends with some linguistics students, as well as explore the city of Chiayi.


Scav Hunt!

Thursday, May 8th, 2008


It’s that time of the year again—Mother’s Day weekend—and that means Scav Hunt! Every year at the University of Chicago we have a huge Scavenger Hunt (a.k.a. “Scav,” or “The Hunt”). On Wednesday night at midnight, a list of roughly 300 items is released in some obfuscated fashion. The items are to be presented three days later, on Judgement Day (Sunday). While some items are simply rare and must be found, most are some sort of construction, production, or art project. There are also some other scav staples: some of the items make up the Scav Olympics, the Party on the Quads, Scav All Stars, and the Road Trip.


新年快樂! Chinese New Year with Andy

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

It’s been two weeks now since Chinese New Year—I suppose it’s about time to write up the final adventures of my New Year break. My friend Andy from college who is Taiwanese-American came back to Taiwan to celebrate the New Year and invited me to tag along.

Day 1: New Year’s Eve

The adventure began now three Wednesdays ago, when I took the [[Taiwan high speed rail|high speed rail]] down to [[Kaohsiung]] (高雄). Andy showed me around the city a little bit (including the nearby temple with the European-looking knight) and we had the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, which is one of the most important parts of the New Year. We all stayed up watching TV (and the adults playing Mahjong), then Andy and I then set off some fire crackers at midnight.


北京 Part 3: The Great Wall of China! and noodles

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Day 3: The Great Wall

Before we finalized our plans to go to China, K80 just had one criteria for an itinerary: to go to the [[Great Wall of China]]. We reserved all of our final full day in Beijing to going to the Wall. After our delicious breakfast, we hit the roads, taking a bus from the [[Dongzhimen|Dōngzhímén]] bus station out to [[Miyun county|Mìyún]] (密雲) and then a taxi to [[Simatai|Sīmǎtái]] (司馬臺). Compared with other more popular Great Wall sites, Simatai is less restored, less touristy, and a more challenging hiking experience. We gave in to the adventurers within.

The weather was actually pretty nice, hovering right above 0°C, with beautiful clear skies, making up for [[2008 Chinese winter storms|the rest of China]]. We could see miles across. The higher up we went, the more of the Wall we could see.

They weren’t kidding when they said Simatai was more challenging of a hike… with some sections >45° up, sometimes it felt like a climb rather than hike… the path also sort of disappeared towards the end.

The whole experience fills with you a sense of awe, especially when you think of the people, real humans just like us (at least, we think), building this hundreds of years ago. Its scope is mind blowing. We made sure to make our visit memorable and well-documented as well.

In the end we turned back after climbing for a couple hours, and when we saw that the next peak ahead of us looked particularly menacing. We took some final pictures and turned back.

K80 made sure to steal a brick on the wall down. Shh… We also saw a frozen river which excited the Floridian.

Noodles for dinner

For dinner we met up with Anna again and her friend. Anna recommended a noodle place where you can watch the guys whip up the different kinds of noodles in front of your eyes… there’s a guy lassoing some into a pot, a guy beating some dough into submission, another shaving little noodle bits off a ball of dough with a knife. These are the Chuck Norris of noodles.

For desert we had what I describe as Chinese 大学芋… some chunks of sweet potato, dipped in hot candy-ness. You then pick some up, dip it in water to let it cool off, and eat it. It was wonderful.

Thus concludes our haphazard trip to China. We all had a fabulous time, enjoying many cultural sites and seeing and making many friends.

北京 Part 2: Summer Palace, bargaining, The Tree, and fried apple pie

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Day 3: The Summer Palace

Day 3 begins with the Summer Palace. After Magi, K80, and I finally met1 in the morning, we hit the (new) [[Summer Palace]] (頤和園). The Summer Palace is way out north-west, past [[Tsinghua University]] (the Beijing one), but well worth the trek. In retrospect, I would recommend going earlier, as I could have spent more time there.

The Summer Palace is built around a lake which, apparently, is quite shallow, as it was covered completely in ice on our visit, making for some great skating/sliding.

Much like the [[Forbidden City]], the Summer Palace houses a museum-style areas, with various cultural relics on display. Again like the Forbidden City, however, the architecture and gardens are the reasons to visit.

The main attraction is probably the Tower of Buddhist Incense, which involves going up stairs after stairs, moving up this small mountain. At the top is a beautiful [[Guanyin]].

Behind this tower is a little temple with many beautiful Buddhas on the walls.

We had a great time at the Summer Palace, with one exception…

Suzhou street: a warning

I must warn any potential travelers away from the part of the Summer Palace known as Suzhou Street (蘇州街). But first, an aside on park ticket pricing.

In some parks, such as the Summer Palace, you can buy two types of tickets at the door: a “gate ticket” (門票) and a “through ticket” (聯票). The gate ticket will let you into the park, but it doesn’t include the separate tickets for a number of “special sections” of the park, while hte “through ticket” includes these. You can also just buy a gate ticket, enter, and pay the 10 yuan or so for each special section. The Summer Palace has four such special sections. If my memory serves me right, the gate ticket was ¥20 and the through ticket was ¥50. Each special section was ¥10 if you paid as you went. So the through ticket is a great deal!

So if you’re cheap like me, you’ll buy the through ticket, and then make sure to go to each of the places listed on your through ticket. After all, you paid for them, right? One of these was the Suzhou Street. Suzhou Street is on the north side of the Palace and is a little hard to get to… many signs make it seem like you’re just a few steps away, when in reality it is still at least a 15 minute walk. Once you get there, it’s the definition of a tourist trap… it does look nice and you must pay or have the through ticket to enter but, once you’re in, you must walk around this lake (it says one-way, so you can’t get out quickly), along which there are stores with touristy junk and little tea places. There are no exhibits or anything of real cultural interest here. You have to walk around the lake, at least half way, in order to leave.

In conclusion, the through ticket is convenient, the other three “special sections” were great, and you won’t be wasting money if you get one and don’t go to the Suzhou Street. Just don’t waste your time finding or visiting the Suzhou Street.


After the Summer Palace we went back into the city and to the Hongqiao Market (紅橋市場), a mall in the city famous for pearls, which the girls were interested in. I realized I just don’t have the attitude to bargain properly—I’m just too soft. I tried, and I believe we did get a fair price, but I’d definitely need more practice to get good at it, and it’s not the kind of practice I particularly enjoy. At least the price did immediately drop to half or so once they saw that I spoke Chinese. Funny how things work.

The Tree and fried apple pie à la mode

Finally we met up with Magi’s friend who took us to The Tree, a great pizza place in the [[Sanlitun|Sānlǐtún]] bar area. Magi reminisced about darkly-lit bars like this in Germany, and we enjoyed the conversation and hearth-baked pizza. I highly recommend The Tree.

Finally, we went over to another bar called Rickshaw for desert, and I had the deep-fried apple pie. I felt like I was back at the state fair.

  1. A warning for all of you traveling to Beijing: transfer stations can have multiple different Exit A’s, one for each line. This is not immediately apparent, given that you can transfer for free between lines at these stations, and that each Exit A outside has a pole saying, for example, “Exit A: line 5 and line 1.” 

北京 Part 1: Fulbright love, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and Houhai

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

It’s amazing how time flies… just over a week ago I’d just returned from [[Beijing]], but it feels like it’s been weeks… I’ll take this chance to write up my adventures before my memory falters.

Day 1: 北京,你好!


After getting into Beijing two Mondays ago, we took some time to explore the city. Our hotel arrangement (the Red Wall Hotel) was much nicer than in [[Hong Kong]], with windows, free internet, nice decor, and a great location, on the north-east corner of the [[Forbidden City]].

Walking around in Beijing, we were both immediately struck by the size of the city, in particular of the amount of open space. The streets were incredibly wide, with sidewalks and space between buildings! The landscape looked much more like an American Midwestern city than any other city I’ve been to in Asia.


In the evening, K80 and I met up with my high school friend Anna. Anna and I never took Chinese together in high school, but it turns out Anna now is on a Fulbright in Beijing researching environmentalism in China, particularly leading up to the [[2008 Summer Olympics|summer olympics]]. She mentioned she would bring along a friend from her Chinese program who taught English in Taiwan last year, “doing something similar to you.”

It turns out this friend was one of the English Teaching Assistants from last year, in the exact same program that we’re in now. What a small world! K80 and he even lived in the same apartment! We had some great Korean food and shared had a wonderful time catching up.


Day 2: The Forbidden City

Magi and we met up in the morning for some breakfast, and then it was off to the [[Forbidden City]] (故宮)! The Forbidden City is quite literally a “city,”1 but it now a museum with many gardens and historical relics, about half of which is off limits to the public. While most of the “better items” are in the [[National Palace Museum]] in Taipei (the joint result of [[Chinese Civil War|”history”]] and [[Cultural Revolution|Mao]], for he is beyond history), I was pleasantly surprised by the items in the City. That being said, I do think the best parts were the architecture and the gardens, which include various perilous hills.


We started in the back (north)—the rather unconventional route—having curry for lunch halfway through. The north half houses most of the exhibits, after which the second half is mostly the larger-ticket items, and a number of large courtyards. The City is definitely not just preserved history… Starbucks most famously had a brief stint in the City for a few years, though it is gone now. The curry was good and it was nice to be inside for a bit, satisfying priority one.2


There were a few items of particular note here. First of all, I was surprised by all the signs having both Chinese (traditional, the real Chinese) and [[Manchu language|Manchurian]] on them… it turns out the [[Qing dynasty]] court used Manchu as a primary or secondary language throughout its rule. I never expected to see that interesting script there.


Second, I was surprised to see a bicycle inlay on the ground… this led to my skepticism of the Forbidden City actually being built in the 1400’s.3 I present Exhibit A:


Finally, but not least: my four-star toilet experience.


Meet Mao

South of the Forbidden City is the [[Gate of Heavenly Peace]], though you might have heard it as 天安門 Tiānānmén. You know, where the tanks ran over protesting students in 1989.4 Everyone and their mother has seen a picture of the huge wall with Mao on it… what you don’t realize is that it’s HUGE. I was standing in front of it, a decent ways away, and it didn’t fit in my camera’s viewfinder. K80 did one of her American [[Pledge of Allegiance]] photos there too.


Temple of Heaven

Afterwards we went to the Temple of Heaven (天壇), a large park a little south of Tiananmen Square. There were some really cool trees, including the camouflage tree, below. The gardening organization of the vast expanse reminded me of the [[Gardens of Versaille]]. Surely it would have been even more beautiful in the spring or summer.


Afterwards we had some [[Beijing duck]] for dinner, though priority one was sadly unfulfilled.


Houhai café

On our final leg of Day 2, we went up to the hip Hòuhǎi (後海) area, basically a lake with many bars and restaurants around, with many traditional Chinese streets ([[hutong|胡同]]) nearby. We stumbled upon a cute café where we drank some citrus tea, tea, and some cakes, all ordered off of their hand-written menus. It was a little hold in the wall, but fulfilled priority one, and had some great conversations about life, politics, and food. Thus concludes Day 2.


  1. At least, if [[Dent, Minnesota]] gets to be a city with 192 people get to be a “city,” the Forbidden City is for sure. 

  2. Priority one: warmth. The temperature was hovering around 0°C (alas, no snow!) but it was pretty chilly for walking around all day. 

  3. Only to be followed by all the simplified character graffiti on the [[Great Wall]]… they must all be hoaxes! 

  4. It’s articles like that that got Wikipedia blocked in China, as my website will be soon, to be sure. Apparently copies of Lonely Planet sold in China also have censored history sections as well. Reminds me of [[Warai no Daigaku: University of Laughs]], [[Mitani Koki]]’s humorous film about the censorship of plays in war-time Japan. I guess it’s only funny if you don’t live under such a government. 

Hong Kong

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Day 1: Snack time

K80 and I got into [[Hong Kong]] last Friday after staying overnight in a hostel in Taipei. After taking care of our Chinese visa and settling into our hotel in [[Tsim Sha Tsui]] (尖沙嘴, or TST in English) in [[Kowloon]] (九龍), K80 and I walked around the neighborhood, first snacking at a [[cha chaan teng]] (茶餐廳), a kind of Chinese diner, where they serve an interesting mix of Chinese and western food. I got a hot milk tea (熱奶茶), Hong Kong style, which entails some strong, way-overbrewed tea with condensed milk, as well as a roast pork sandwich, and K80 got some noodles, both of which were advertised as part of their “afternoon tea” menu. They were all delicious, though the tea did need some extra sugar… but maybe I’m just too used to Taiwanese drinks. They also had prices written using [[Chinese numerals#Suzhou numerals|Suzhou numerals]], an interesting form of writing numbers which I’ve never seen before in Taiwan, though I recognized them as it was described in [[James McCawley|McCawley’s]] Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters.


Museum time

We spent a little time walking to the nearby [[Hong Kong Museum of History]] (香港歷史博物館). The main exhibit is a walk through of the history of Hong Kong, starting with a geology primer and the land that Hong Kong sits on, through the four ethnic groups of Hong Kong, then the British, Japanese, and finally the return to the Chinese. It was a great museum with many life-size buildings and cultural relics, making it much more engaging than just some artifacts behind glass cases.


Dinner and stand-up

We met up with Michael/Kikai, who’s going to school in Hong Kong now, and his friends. We took the world’s largest system of interconnected escalators up from Central to Taco Loco. It was probably the first time I’d had Mexican food since I’ve been in Taiwan, so that was great. We then went out to see Paul Ogata and a couple openers at TakeOut Comedy’s first anniversary show. TakeOut Comedy is Asia’s first full-time stand-up venue, and they also recently started stand-up in Cantonese. Paul Ogata is a Japanese-American comedian from Hawaii, who recently won the San Francisco International Comedy Competition and also an avid Mac fan. The show was fantastic!


Afterwards we went out to a bar nearby, where I randomly met a guy I who was in my Computational Complexity class at Chicago. It’s a small world. K80 and I also got to know Kikai’s friends, including two students from France and Magi from Germany. K80 and I mention we’re going to China, and Magi (below with me and my duck) says maybe she’ll join us…


Day 2: Dim sum brunch

I cajoled K80 into having Dim Sum (點心) for breakfast. We went to a restaurant that Magi recommended in TST and had some fantastic dishes… our favorites were the fried shrimp wontons and pork buns.


10,000 Buddhas Temple

In the afternoon we visited the 10,000 Buddhas temple on 寶福山. After some introductory guard animals and shrubbery, you take the escalators up to the temple, which is made up of a sanctuary with 10,000 Buddhas, and then probably 50 or 60 rooms, each of which house hundreds of graves. K80 happened to see a family bringing in an urn. I was amazed by the number of plates in these rooms which had Christian crosses on them.


Ladies’ market

The Hong Kong Ladies’ Market, as it is called, is like a huge day market, much like Taiwan’s night markets, but with much taller stalls. Kikai took us around the market and then to one of his favorite snacks: a hot waffle layered with peanut butter, butter, condensed milk, and then sugar. It was both delicious and deadly. K80 then saw a [[Krispy Kreme]] (nonexistant in Taiwan) and went over for a donut (after the deadly waffle).


Symphony of Lights

At night we walked around and saw the [[A Symphony of Lights|Symphony of Lights]] on Victoria Harbour


Hong Kong Miscellanea

K80 and I both got saw Hong Kong as a stereotypical yet fascinating mix of east and west. It’s also a very cute city: the emergency man runs even faster than in Taiwan, some trains have a quiet car, a “do not trespass” sign has a cute enter (入) man, and [[Oracle Database|Oracle]] is 甲骨文, literally [[oracle bone script]]. We had some great food, met great friends, and I’ll be sure to go back again—now much more of a possibility as I’ll most likely be back in June for the Association for Language Awareness conference.


Going to China just got more expensive

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Here we are in [[Hong Kong]], on part one of K80 and mitcho’s haphazard trip to China. Let our mistakes give you wisdom.

We were coming in from [[Taiwan]] a.k.a. the [[Republic of China]]. If you’re a Republic of China national1 you can get a visiting permit from Taiwan. But if you’re a foreigner in Taiwan, you have to stop in some other country to apply for a Chinese visa. (China can’t have an embassy in Taiwan, because Taiwan is part of China! Duh.) Thus, we’re spending this weekend in Hong Kong.

Lesson 1: If applying in Hong Kong, give yourself a good weekday or two

Here’s the deal. You can apply for a Chinese visa at China’s Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong SAR. They’re open Monday through Friday and, for express service, you need to get the visa to them before noon (1:30 at some travel agencies) and pick it up in the evening—you can’t pick them up, either, on the weekend. You may have heard that you can get a Chinese visa even on the weekend: this is only if you have a longer layover in the Hong Kong airport, and you can get the visa in transit—you can’t get the visa on the weekend just by going to the airport.

As our flight to China is scheduled for this coming Sunday, that means we need the visa today. In our case, as our flight came in around 11 this morning, this meant an adrenaline rushing couple hours to apply for the visa before a travel agent’s 1:30 deadline. When we finally applied for our visas, though, we encountered another surprise.

Lesson 2: China just raised visa fees for US citizens. Because they love us.

Normally a single-entry visa to China costs HK$150 for most countries, plus whatever expediting charges. Fine. But going to China just got more expensive. As of January 20th, 2008, the base fee for US citizens went up to HK$1020. Not for everyone—just for US citizens. Because they love us.

Now you know.

  1. or, as China calls it, “Taiwanese resident”—this does not mean foreigners who have ROC resident cards like me… they just can’t say Taiwanese citizen. 

Midyear conference in Hualian and Taroko

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I just got back from the Fulbright Taiwan Midyear Conference, this year in [[Hualien]] with a day trip to the nearby [[Taroko National Park]]. Here’s one for the travelogue. I had a great, stimulating trip with lots of talk of linguistics (mostly about Classical Chinese), religion, economics, and politics—some of my favorite subjects. This being a Dr. Wu gig, there was also of course ample food, and Taroko was absolutely stunning.

Day 1: Trains, buses, and talk

I met up with everyone in the morning at the Hualien train station. Living in Nanao, I actually live really close to Hualien (about 40-50m) so I just elected to take a local train and meet the crew there. We then drove around to a couple interesting coastal points. (The one taking pictures below is Dale… I’m sure his blog will soon have photos more beautiful than mine.)