2016 Photo Challenge: January

This post is the first of a 12-part photo challenge for 2016 to capture “personality” on the street. This challenge is inspired by  Valerie Jardins podcast This Week in Photos: Street Focus, the episode “2016 Resolutions,” featuring Marco Larousse.  

My first month of the challenge was a lot different than I had imagined. To start off, I wasn’t able to go out and shoot because of work commitments and later a missing European converter for my charger. No battery, no camera.

When I finally got a chance to go out and shoot, I found myself paralyzed with fear. I would see what I imagined to be a perfect shot, and later avoid clicking the shutter. I was scared of confrontation and had never realized how much it would affect my ability to take photos. It was also the first time I practiced photography in my home country. When I’m traveling, everything I see seems exciting and different. Finding inspiration in the U.S. was much more difficult. I realized I relied much more on the “exoticism” of a new place instead of artistic talent.

Nevertheless, I’ve managed to find a photo for the purposes of this challenge. Below the photo of the month I’ve placed others I considered. Comments and criticisms welcome.

Photo of the Month

Two women show their support at the Pride March in Melbourne, Australia.


While based on skill I don’t believe the photo of the month is of top quality, it fulfills the category “personality.” I took this photo at the Midsumma Pride March in Melbourne, Australia on January 31, 2016. These two women stood around after the parade and laughed and posed with attendees. They caught my attention because of their creative protest and colorful demeanor.

Other considerations:

Break dancers perform in in the Central Business District of Melbourne, Australia.

On Saturday night, my friend and I were roaming around the CBD of Melbourne when we came across a group of street performers called Young Masters. They were an incredibly talented group of boys with immense strength. They were doing tricks I’ve never seen before. While they were amazing, I was more drawn to the two girls watching behind them. They have style and attitude, but what I loved was the juxtaposition of the enthusiasm in their style with the lack of enthusiasm for the incredible talent the boys had. Most of the performance, they looked bored out of their minds.

The following photo was taken during a walk around Midtown last week. I saw this truck driver smoking and playing something on his cell phone that was making me laugh. I wish I would have gotten closer and a better view of his face.

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A truck driver smokes a cigarette in Midtown.

Photo Friday: A Walk Around NYC’s Midtown

“It could be huge, or it could be nothing,” my driver said as he flipped through radio stations debating whether or not the snow would amount to what they said it would. “Depends on if you believe the mayor or the governor,” he explained.

I landed in JFK last Friday night, right as the flakes of the dreaded New England snowstorm began to fall. It was a miracle I even made it. “We’re not optimistic about it,” my friend Emily said referring to whether or not my plane would be able to land that night.

My flight from California was not one of the 13,000 cancelled as a result of snow. Winter storm Jonas, or “snowzilla,” as Wikipedia cheekily indicates, resulted in 30.5 inches of snow in New York City. For two days, residents had a travel ban and were advised to stay put.

Monday morning, things finally got moving again. I took my camera out and walked between 65th and 50th street from Lexington to 5th Ave. By midday, the snow had been plowed from the sidewalk and people were resuming their normal business.

The snow didn’t stop people from piling their garbage high above it.

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A woman yells at her son as they pass garbage.

The cold weather didn’t seem to make a difference whether or not people bought frozen yogurt. Or, it didn’t make a difference to its advertisers. Bikes made their way through the snow and slush faster than the fancy women in high heels boots tiptoeing around the puddles.

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The snow doesn’t cover all graffiti. 

I couldn’t help but notice the absurdity of seeing a tanned, naked model in the midst of such a frigid, insufferable snowstorm.

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Some advertisements feel at odds with their surroundings. 

During my walk through Midtown, I noticed a lot of older women in extravagant fur hats. Older men in wheelchairs were accompanied by caretakers of color and foreign nannies were telling kids not to run too fast or jump in the street.

Some of the women weren’t as elegantly dressed as others, but two older women I saw had color coordinated outfits. Perhaps they were going to yoga together.

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Two women in matching colored hats and jackets walk down the street. 

While New York has colorful street art, the most provocative thing I witnessed in this neighborhood was a sticker that said #legalizeorgasms; I later discovered that it’s a marketing campaign by Foria, a company that sells “All natural cannabis infused sensual oil designed for female pleasure.”

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New York City gets provocative. 

Sugar Packets From Around The World

Wouldn’t the featured photo be even more fun if I hadn’t have had to post the collage with the watermark? In case you’re wondering, I uploaded my photos to http://www.photovisi.com, and was too cheap to pay $2.30 for the one without it the watermark. This is not even meant to be an advertisement.

Different hot beverages from around the world. From top to bottom, left to right:  [First row] Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi, Iraqi mint tea in Phnom Penh, classic earl gray in Pai, Thailand, [second row] latte and jasmine tea in Chiang Mai, Thailand, latte and green tea puffs in Phnom Penh, milk and honey in Istanbul, [third row] churros and hot chocolate in Zaragoza, Spain, Turkish tea street art in Istanbul, and a matcha latte in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
If the featured photo is an testament to the way I enjoy traveling, its that I ingest a variety of hot liquids in all of the places I visit. I love lattes, teas, matcha, hot chocolate and even hot milk and honey.

While many of these drinks are sweet enough on their own, others require extra sugar. And I’m not shy to make it as sweet as possible. With the frequency with which I visit cafes, this means I’ve seen a lot of sugar packets.

Some caught my attention for being crafty and colorful; others might have been considered boring had it not been for the allure of another non-Latin script.

Some of the photos below were taken quickly on my IPhone, sometimes as an afterthought. Please excuse the low quality.

Seville, Spain. The packet reads: “Smile, life is happy, enjoy it.”

I have a friend who posts inspiring, short Facebook statuses. I once told him that I really appreciated them. When I scroll through my newsfeed, they are micro-reminders to relax, collect yourself and to be kind to others. Sugar packets with reminders, like one above, serve the same purpose. Just like a good cup of tea, a short quote can bring you back down to earth.

The sugar featured below is from Cafe Louvre in Prague. I was visiting last January, and realized that would be the last time I traveled to a freezing place on purpose. I found comfort on the second floor of the elegant cafe. I sat alone at a table for two and indulged in a sweet sampler platter. My motto was “treat yo’self.” I sipped from my latte and dug my fork into red velvet and chocolate cake as I wrote in my journal.

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Prague, Czech Republic

I didn’t realize the religious undertones (it does say “God”…) of the quote found on the sugar packet below, but here is an explanation. The takeaway? See opportunity in difficult circumstances instead of a failure.

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Pai, Thailand

Sometimes, it’s just sugar. Nothing fancy.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cups are red. So is liquid.


Sassy Susan getting her morning brew.

Camino de Santiago, Spain

Underwater themed! With bubbles and butterflies…




Sassy Susan also makes desserts…


“Love life, love food, love nature…”

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Hearts and sugar.


Yes, you, sugar, you inspire my life…


More red!


Palm trees and pirates = sugar.

Florence, Italy

7 Best Meals of Southeast Asia

Because normally humans eat at least three times a day (and we often eat more than that), we ended up trying a lot of different foods. We’re not Andrew Zimmern, but I’d argue we’re much more adventurous than your average twenty something North American “white girl.” We’re no experts, but we are hungry girls with a food blogger mother (see her blogs Yates Yummies and Oranges and Almonds) and lots of appetite.

Sadly, there aren’t many things that bring us as much happiness as a satisfying meal, and Southeast Asia had a lot of hits and misses for us. Towering highs and plummeting lows. Look at our 7 best meals of Southeast Asia, and please, do yourself a favor and visit the restaurants we ate them at. Don’t succumb to the pressures of a gag-inducing pho with a side of dripping spring rolls in a corner cafe in Hanoi. You’ll never forget the stain of red grease on your fingertips.

In case you’re dying to know, although we have a love affair with sticky rice with mango, it’s not included on this list because that’s technically a dessert. TBD, To be debated…

1 – Pad Thai

Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Establishment: Thip Samai 
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Why: Just go ahead and ignore the haters on trip advisor who call this establishment “overrated.” You’ve clearly never had to spend years getting the closest thing to Pad Thai you could at Noodles and Co. Paired excellently with fresh orange juice and lots of hot sauce. Fresh off the plane, we inhaled the pad thai and slept like babies afterward.





2- Hotpot

My sister, Colin, and Toni digging into the hotpot.

Establishment: Bun Dau Mo
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: Hot, fresh and delicious, this chicken hotpot made for a lengthy and relaxing lunch. The garlic, lemongrass, chilies and fish sauce all made for an incredibly flavorful experience.


3- Fresh and Fried Spring Rolls

Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Establishment: Góc Hà Nôi
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: This bright and cheery cafe in Hanoi had friendly staff and excellent service. The fried spring rolls were accompanied by a spicy dill dipping sauce and the fresh spring rolls had colorful rice paper. Although we didn’t order a huge quantity of food, we were quickly full.

4- Everything at Sister Srey

Detox salad and bowl of goodness at Sister Srey.

Establishment: Sister Srey
Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Why: Even though I discuss the ethical complications of being a patron at a training restaurant in this post, their food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Because we visited the restaurant so many times, we tried many dishes. Their “bowl of goodness,” filled with hummus, falafel and tabouli, mango chicken burger, and the detox salads were exceptionally delicious. Being there was also a pleasant experience. The staff was funny, friendly and inviting.

5- Chicken Shawarma

Establishment: Taste of the Middle East
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Why: I sadly didn’t get a picture of this dish, but you may remember this experience in this post about encountering refugees while being a privileged traveler. The welcoming Iraqi family invited us into their home and served us, with kindness, some of the best shawarma. It was exactly what we needed in that moment…when rice and noodles are just too much.

6- Laotian sampler plate

Tamarind wants people to try different types of Laotian food.

Establishment: Tamarind
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Why: Unlike avoiding Cambodian food in Cambodia, it was often difficult to find anything authentically Laos in the tourist areas of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Tamarind, a restaurant owned by an Australian-Laotian couple, prides itself on giving tourists education on Laotian cuisine and authentic food experience. We sampled fried, grilled, and fresh goodies pictured above. We ate sausage, stews, and lots of vegetables. It was spicy and satisfying.

7- Seafood and Entire Garlic Cloves

Establishment: Red Snapper
Location: Koh Lanta, Thailand
Why: Similar to the non-compliance of eating food native to place we were visiting we previously experienced in Cambodia, we suffered two bouts of food poisoning in Thailand and wanted something familiar. It took me a while to be able to eat red curry again. At Red Snapper, we sat next to the owner’s parents, two talkative and humorous Dutch folk. We ate giant shrimp, chorizo, and other tapa-style European favorites. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos of the excellent food. The food here was on the more expensive end, but well worth its price.

Noteworthy Bad Experiences

Because even though it’s important to focus on the positive, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. Read: learn from our “mistakes.”

1- Love Strawberry Pai

In Pai, Thailand, we visited this strawberry-themed restaurant. I ate strawberry fried rice, which was good but I expected something more than just fried rice with dried strawberries sprinkled on top. I defied all odds and ordered it against our waiters insistence on having every order the pad thai. On a side note, my sister got food poisoning from there. And guess who didn’t…(but still got it somewhere else…).

2- Dried Octopus

In Ho Chi Minh, we were peer pressured into eating dried octopus dipped in chili sauce. Watch us discuss it in the video below. You just chew and chew and chew and chew… sounds like the time my friend Kourtney ate kangaroo.

3- The Pineapple Incident

After a meal in Hue, Vietnam, described as dismal at best, we went a little “wild” you could say and sprung for a flaming pineapple. After watching them struggle to make the pineapple flame up (all employees were rushing in and out of the kitchen for 10 minutes. We were the only ones in the restaurant), a thick slice of limp, gooey pineapple was delivered to our table. It was not worth $5. The pushy owner of our hostel had pushed (yeah, pushy people push) us into eating there. The depressing weather, cold and the restaurant’s proximity to our hostel made it an easy (but regretful) decision.

What were the best meals you ate in Southeast Asia?

Featured Photo: Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Another great dish but didn’t make the cut. Photo credit: Jennifer Yates

Video: Transiting Around Asia

What did moving on bicycles, motorbikes, tuk tuks, buses, and our own two feet look like? This short videos gives a look into what you see from the back a moving vehicle.

Videos taken in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Featured photo: My friend Colin on his motorbike in Hanoi, Vietnam. At that point I was too scared to film for fear of dropping my camera. That would have been great footage. 

When I Flew To Asia On A Hello Kitty Plane

I am about to fly to Australia with Emirates. You know, the airlines that uses Jennifer Aniston in their marketing? The one with showers on board? They have a reputation. But a lot to live up to. I’ve already had a magical flying experience.

I was taking EVA Air from Houston to Taipei before transfering to Bangkok. When I checked in in Houston, I looked at my ticket. “Is this Hello Kitty?” I asked the flight attendant.”Yes, you’ll be flying in our special Hello Kitty plane,” she replied.


Excuse me? Is this the best day of my life? Have I always dreamed of this moment?

No, but it didn’t make it any less exciting.

I anxiously waited as the multitudes boarded the flight. I was one of the last ones on. I waited in a long line. Stopped in traffic, I had a great view of our festive plane. A woman burped loudly behind me as I took a picture.

air plane

The flight attendants were announcing information as I found my seat. The one speaking at the time sounded strikingly similar to Marcel the Shell.

I sat in my seat. I was in a middle seat, squished between an elderly man to my left and middle-aged man to my right. I think they noticed me sending selfies to my friends and family.

Had to do it. WELCOME !
I curled into their amazingly warm blankets. I put on my pink slippers. I watched Bollywood and Korean films and was fed on no less than five different occasions. The highlight was the red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.

You may have already guessed I also frequented the bathroom. All pain from my bladder subsided as I walked into a pink wonderland of Hello Kitty mist, lotion, and soap, with Hello Kitty Dixie Cups and pink toilet paper.

If I had to take a 16 hour flight, I’m glad it was with you, Kitty.



A WTF DIY Project Idea for 2016

Is 2016 your year of creativity? If it is, I’ve got an idea for you.

After traveling in Southeast Asia, I came home for the holidays. I walked in, put my stuff away, and looked around at my room. My walls still hold the same paraphernalia from high school. At that time, my motto was “if you like it, stick it to your wall.”

I have layers upon layers of concert posters, magazine cutouts and photos. I had flags of eight different countries and souvenirs from all around the world. I started to take it all down. 2016 is time for a fresh start for a room I might never live in again. Right?

Some of my stuff went to Goodwill, some of it I threw away, and other things I saved if I’m ever a high school Spanish teacher. I’ll have a bomb room if I ever am. Then I found a box of goodies. Small pieces of paper. The use of these goodies doesn’t correspond to any of the above options-especially not being put in a Spanish teacher’s room.

These things should be recycled, reused, and re-gifted. What are they? 

In high school, and again in college, my severe acne led my dermatologist to prescribe accutane. Pumping a thorough dose of Vitamin A into your system, it has several damaging side effects that I chose to deem unimportant.

The time I took it in high school gave me chronic bloody noses that usually hit around 1:15pm in Algebra II. My teacher usually excused me from the room with a hand pointed towards the door and wailed if it appeared I would touch anything. “There are health concerns!”

There are worse effects than bloody noses. The medication has the potential to cause severe birth defects if a patient becomes pregnant. This means proving two forms of birth control, taking monthly sexual education quizzes (not very effective if you ask me. Lots of room for cheating, and if you get an answer wrong they tell you what the right answer is before you retake the quiz), monthly urine pregnancy tests at the dermatologist (they don’t appreciate it when you decorate the cup. “We only need your first and last initial,” they scolded me), and best of all, visible reminders. The paper “goodies” I found in my room.

Pill covers. 

Each pill was individually wrapped with a cover. On the cover, there was a silhouette of a pregnant woman in a big red circle outline and a cross through it. Seeing the paper each day was like having a small voice in your ear yelling “DON’T GET PREGNANT!”

Years after taking my last “don’t get pregnant” pill, I was once again confronted with them. I had saved them all in a decorated box that was a gift from a friend.

Seeing them now inspired me to do something. In these half inch strips of anti-pregnancy was potential. Potential for creativity. Potential for making people think, “What the f***?”

My first order of business was to create something that unites my interests. Because I love the world (do I?) and sexual education (I was a sex positive au pair and an informational language assistant), I decided to make a world map covered in the strips.

In my head, it was going to be aesthetically pleasing, maybe even provocative.

My empty canvas 
What resulted from the brown glue I found in my parents’ desk drawer and the small size of the paper was like a Pintrest fail.

It somewhat resembles the world, doesn’t it?
I didn’t give up after the first try. Inspiration for my next project came from the presence of my brother-in-law to be. He was spending his first holiday at our house as her fiance. A warm welcome was necessary.

You can tell by the look on his face that was touched by the gift. 
This one still had the same low-quality glue and green dry erase marker and one of the letters is significantly smaller than the other. That aside, I’d argue it’s definitely a step above the previous project. Is this progress?

The third try was a greeting I sent to a friend I met while traveling. I wanted to wish him a very special 2016. All I want is for it to be pregnancy-free.


Finally, I wanted to send a thank you to a friend who had recently come to dinner. I knew he would appreciate the gesture.

This won’t be my last project. If you get a strange looking envelope with no return address, maybe you’re not infected with a chemically ridden terror tactic but rather a warm greeting for the coming year.

Until then, they’ll be here, in this box.

I’m here when you need me.