You are what you is.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Mothers

Seeing as it's mother's day I thought I'd relate a tale from the early eighties concerning two influential mothers from my childhood. 

                                                                                                                      The first mother is my own:
My mother, sometime around
this story's occurrence.
Quite a looker, eh?

The second: H.R. Giger's Alien:
The image that haunts me to this day.

My mother had been divorced for a few years at that point, and had been dating a guy for a couple of months. 

The other mother's mating habits have been explored at great length, so I'll not comment further on them.  

My mother's paramour - Bill? Chuck? Who can remember these things? - decided to take her to see at movie at one of those second run movie theaters that once upon a time could afford to exist in Brooklyn. 

The movie he'd chosen was Alien.

Mom - my mom, not the Alien - couldn't find a babysitter.

It's worth noting here that the Alien's children would have needed no babysitter, pouncing as they did into the world fully equipped to take care of themselves.

Myself, lacking claws, fangs or acid blood, was less equipped for self-protection from whatever sort of dangers might have awaited a young boy, so Rob or Charlie or whoever convinced my mother that bringing me along would be a reasonable show of good parenting. 

I was eleven.

It was an evening show on a school night, and I think the ticket seller looked askance at my mother and her date as they brought me into what was considered among the most frightening movies made to date. But the eighties were a more permissive time, and would get more permissive still.  

My mother and her date settled in the back of the theater. Bob or Eddie or whoever gave me a few dollars for popcorn and soda, encouraging me to sit as far away from the grownups as possible. Perhaps there was a wink involved. This is not the part of the evening that sticks out in my memory.

Neither, ironically, do the next 98 minutes. It was just a surreal nightmare of blood and terror as the crew of the Nostromo were stalked and killed by the titular Alien, described by the Nostromo's android shipmate as "the perfect organism".

Actually, this line was said by the android's severed head, through a pool of its own semen-like goo after being reanimated by jumper cables. 

Also, there was a computer called "Mother" in there somewhere. "Mother" the computer was about as much use to the crew of the Nostromo as my own mother was to me at that point in the film, being fondled by Archie or Jughead or whatever his name was twenty rows back. 

They were younger then than I am now. Who can blame them?

When the movie ended, I had to be pried from my seat.  I think the imprints made by my fingers clutching the armrests tightly for 117 minutes were there until the theater itself was gentrified along with the rest of Brooklyn.

I remember the drive home, not to my own home (which would have been a small comfort), but to the Brooklyn home of Jones or Brett or whoever. He'd managed to convince my mother to spend the night, and thought that my sleeping on the lower bunk in his daughter's bedroom was a reasonable idea. 

I spent the entire night with my eyes open, staring at the underside of the upper bunk, listening to a stranger's breathing mingling with unmentionable sounds from the rest of the house.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.


Like my writing? Dig exotic Places? Buy my Ebook, How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness, 19 illustrated stories, observations, and exotic hallucinations from the increasingly demented mind of Travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lonely Planet Brunches

Arrived home from a brief road trip to find two copies of the just-published Lonely Planet: the World's Best Brunches, on which I worked last year. My contributions to this collection of culinary histories & recipes (the third such tome on which I've worked) include eggs Baked in Avocado, Dim Sum, Waffles, Buttermilk Pancakes, Congee & Steak & Eggs, all traditional brunch-type dishes from various spots across the globe. Other entries into the book include dishes from across the globe that are traditionally eaten sometime between morning and afternoon, usually in a relaxed fashion.

A major facet of the book is the recipe portion, and every entry within also includes a tried & tested "how to" for the dish itself. Here's a secret for you, oh loyal Snarky Tofu reader (or my ten or so mysterious visitors daily who've stumbled upon this blog as a result of the entry I did on Thai Ladyboys waaaaaaay back in 2008) - all of the dishes I created for this book were made gluten free.

For some of these - congee, steak and eggs, eggs in avocado -  it wasn't an issue. For others - pancakes, waffles & dim sum (for which I made Chinese style dumplings using an old Yeh family recipe from my days living with the Hakka people of Shuang Shi, Taiwan) - it was tricky.

So for you, dear readers and fellow gluten-free diners, here's the secret: Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour. No changes in recipe needed, just use the 1-to-1 as normal flour. Worked great for the pancakes, waffles & especially well for the dumplings (steamed and fried).

Buy Lonely Planet: the World's Best Brunches here.

Also, here's a photo of Twilight, Me & Bob (of the Red Mill) himself.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

KBOO Radio Interview

Interviewed last week by the great Ken Jones for KBOO's Between the Covers. As usual, I managed to not make a total ass of myself, but just barely.

Click here for the interview.

Among the subjects discussed were travel writing in general, my work for Lonely Planet, the difference between the Chinese and Taiwanese languages, where to get good hot sauce, and of course, How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Lena, Bellybutton of Norway

Author's note: Last month found me teaching a four-day seminar on Travel Writing at a “folk school” in Lena, Norway. On the final day some of the students and I walked around the town of Lena, where we collected bits of information to be used for a short article about the town. What follows is the collaborative effort of the dozen or so students who took part in the exercise.

Welcome to Lena, Bellybutton of Norway

With a population just above a thousand, the town of Lena hardly seems a likely candidate to experience a tourism explosion and is thus unlikely to warrant a multi-page guidebook feature anytime in the near future.
This isn't to say Lena isn't without its bucolic charms. Located in the Østre Toten municipality of Norway, The town sits on the western side of Mjøsa, which is either Norway's largest lake or it's longest inland fjord (depending on who you ask). Surrounding Lena are rolling hills, pastoral farmland and the occasional interesting find for those who take the time to explore.
Should you wish to get a closer look at Mjøsa, the Paddle Steamer Skibladner (built in 1856 and named after Norse Goddess Frey) takes visitors on the lake (or inland Fjord). There's also an excellent restaurant on board. Tickets are 180 KR per person, children 12 and under free. Click here for more details

What to Eat:
A small town with only a handful of restaurants (Lena Grill and Restaurant is on the town's main street, while a few smaller take-out places are popular with students on a budget), you'll not find much in the way of culinary variety in Lena. For that, you'll want to head to Oslo.
A traditional Norwegian meal with Lutefisk
It's possible to get a traditional Norwegian meal in Lena, just not in a restaurant. 
In order to really experience a meal featuring Lutefisk (dried codfish that's been boiled in lye, rinsed, and turned into a fishy, jelly like substance - it's actually quite tasty, especially when served with bacon) or lapsskaus ( a stew made with vegetable, meat, and whatever else is on hand), you'll want to get yourself invited to a family's house for dinner.
Failing this, the restaurant at the Silongen Resort (see below) sometimes serves some of these – and other - quintessentially Norwegian dishes.

Where to stay:
Locals speak highly of the Sillongen resort, which offers offers not merely respite to weary travelers but also amenities such as golf, massage & great meals. Click here for more information (in Norwegian only, alas!): 

Spending Your Crowns in Lena
For a small town, Lena is a pretty good place to shop (especially when one is already used to the ridiculously high prices found in Norway). The town has many small stores, including antique shops and secondhand places. Couples traveling together should check out a place called Nyli. It's a small boutique with lovely clothing and a cozy little café, allowing ladies to shop for clothing while their men hang out and read over coffee.
Skapeglede (Silogata 17) is run by two crafty women who produce about half of the shop's content in their workshop at the back of the store. Selling everything from cups to syrups to decorating-items, tea and woodwork, nearly all the items in Skapeglede (even those not made by the owners) are locally produced. Norwegian People's Aid is a secondhand shop carrying everything from books and toys to shoes and clothing. The shop is run by volunteers, and prices aren't set so bargaining is possible. Some proceeds from the shop go to help people in need in Estonia. The shop is open 10am-3pm on most weekdays, 9:30am-2:30pm on Tuesdays.
If you're looking to get some body art done, check out Lena's only Tattoo Shop (61169766 / Kinogata 10). Owner Ingunn Holte has been doing tattoos for 13 years in addition to running a skin care business in the same location for 26 years. Holte works with two other tattoo artists in the studio, each of whom have their own individual style of tattooing. The owner's specialty is black ink line art style tattoos and shading.

An Afternoon's Wander Outside Town
Wandering the hills outside of Lena on a snowy winter's afternoon, I came across the workshop of Mesterstuen Henning, a carver of wooden figures of characters from Norse mythology, including Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya, as well as trolls of both genders. 

Having exhausted the day's discretionary budget on elk-jerky earlier, I made no purchases but instead walked over the hill and down again until I reached the Hoff Stone Church, which dates back to the Eleventh Century. 

Though built originally as a house of prayer and quiet reflection, something else was afoot on the day of my visit, as there was a small band setting up for what they told me would be a performance later that evening. Whether they wound up incorporating the church's massive pipe organ in their act I never learned, as the sun was setting and it seemed prudent to mosey on to the home of my host family or risk freezing to death.

Trolls (and Floyd)
I never did come across the pile of rocks by the church that a student at the school in which I'd been brought to Norway to teach later told me had been hurled by trolls to prevent the church's construction. 

I knew those trolls were up to no good!

Getting There and Away
Lena's lovely and centrally located train station is alas only for show, the tracks having been removed decades ago. But several daily busses do the 115 mile trip between Lena and Oslo, stopping at the airport on the way.

This project's authors / researchers / participants, December 2014 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures

Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures

As a travel writer, I've dabbled here and there in what might be called adventure travel. Still, for the last several years the majority of my trips - mostly guidebook gigs for Lonely Planet - have had precious little in the way of elements that might prove fatal. 

Oh, I've been stung by scorpions in Belize, leapt over poisonous snakes in Taiwan, faced drowning on shoddy watercraft in Malaysia, flown on (and once, jumped from) tiny airplanes. 

But for the most part I haven't had weeks-long adventures in the wild, the stuff of legend often resulting in glory, and sometimes in the adventurer being found years later in a cave, having spent their last hours gnawing sherpa jerky, final doomed entries scrawled into the battered leather-bound journal that will eventually be found alongside their corpse by some future (hopefully more fortunate) adventurer.

No, I'm not that sort of adventurer. I like comfort too much, and sherpa meat is bad for my gout.

Leigh McAdam, on the other hand, is that sort of adventurer.  She's lived her life in the spirit of Earnest Shackleton and Amelia Earhart, and I should know, having followed her adventures on Hike Bike Travel  from the comfort of hotels, hostels and less transitory homes for years.

Leigh writes about doing the sort of stuff that I wish I did, and probably would do if only they were a bit easier.  She snowshoes in Alberta in -20 Celsius temperatures, goes cross-country skiing in Quebec and kayaks in the icy waters between Newfoundland and Labrador.  And that's just for starters.

(To be fair to myself, I did that last thing in 2001. But it was summer, and I wound up seasick and barfing on a baby seal.)

Leigh not only does all this stuff, but she writes about her adventures beautifully and takes amazing pictures along the way. So naturally, my expectations were high when she sent me an advanced copy of  DiscoverCanada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures.

Also, I was a little jealous. And since this my blog (and my readers expect no less), allow me to digress:

It all started around 1990…

I was getting my BA degree in Brockport, New York, clocking crazy bicycle miles daily through the dull and flat terrain of western New York State. I was dreaming of traveling someplace else, someplace with hills, ocean and nautical cuisine.

(I was sick of chicken wings.)

At some point I found a book at a yard sale, a 1978 publication by Mandy Joslin called How do you bicycle across Canada? Slowly, very Slowly.  An avid cyclist since the 13, Joslin's book gave me focus for the adventurer I wanted to be. 

I was most interested in the final stage of Joslin's journey, which took her across Newfoundland. I vowed to repeat the Newfoundland part of her adventure, and headed out with a fully loaded GT mountain bike that June, intending to make it to Newfoundland by July.

I only got as far as Prince Edward Island (a lovely place, but hardly a substitute) before my money ran out. I hopped a train to Montreal, where my friend Lewis picked me up and brought me home. 

Though I didn't make it to Newfoundland (I did eventually, but that's another story), that trip marked the start of my life as an international traveler. Since then I've circled the globe a few times, become intimate with several exotic lands, written hundreds of travel articles, authored two books of short stories and authored or co-authored thirteen travel guides for Lonely Planet (not to mention hundreds of travel articles from strange and interesting spots around the globe).  

So much for bona-fides; point being, it was a book called How do you bicycle across Canada? Slowly, very Slowly that put the travel writing bug in me (as well as my penchant for cumbersome titles).

So back to this review, eh?

Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures hits all the notes of great travel writing, being  informative, inspiring and fun. The book is chocked with information from the obvious how much stuff costs to more esoteric - but ultimately more valuable - tidbits like what to do when you run across predatory animals while hiking alone in the Canadian Backwoods.

(At the risk of digression, let's again revisit our juxtaposition of regular travel writer with adventure travel writer, shall we?

A few years back I drove from Boulder to Denver and wrote about interviewing Bobcat Goldthwait. Around the same time, Leigh McAdam  was riding her bicycle halfway across Canada and writing about almost being mauled by an actual Bobcat.

A subtle difference, I know…)  

The information Leigh gives for each of her hundred adventures is so detailed that she could have gotten away with just providing the guidebook-type facts; this alone would have allowed any adventure-minded reader to follow in her footsteps (or tire-tracks, ski-trails or kayak paddles, as the case might be), and Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures would still be well worth buying. 

But Leigh goes deeper, crafting each entry in a way that makes every destination pop to life and seem not merely worth visiting, but worth reading about as well.  And then there are the pictures, which are spectacular enough to make the book excellent coffee table gift book material for that special someone in your life with little or no travel adventure aspiration. 

Of course, the fact that Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures starts in the best of all Canadian provinces only serves to make it a must-own on my list. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014 acquired taste...

Had a moment of quiet peace today in between tours, standing in the Potemkin village that is Portland Chinatown, just a stone's throw from the Hung Far Low Chop Suey sign marking the place where no restaurant has been for years. Walking down the block I decided I wanted to a cigarette, and that I'd let myself have one. And why not? In this of all vices I have always proven more than moderate. So I found an older white lady with dreadlocks and a tie-dye, maybe homeless (who can tell?)and gave her a dollar for a Camel. Good deal for her, not a terrible one for me. And I stood on the street and watched the sun getting low behind Big Pink and thought,
Jesus man, I'm home, I really am.
I think I've managed to make this place home, asking no more than a fair return on what I've put in.


All those places hit running, expertise gained quickly, books and articles written, pictures taken. (Hell man, don't even get me started on Belize, on Singapore). Years spent, camera hanging heavy around neck, angling for the perfect shot, carving paragraphs to craft perfect summaries.

I don't do that here. Here, my job is to tell Portland's stories verbally. It seems somehow cleaner, less contrived. This gives me the right to say ich bin ein Portlander. There is no next book, no update, no constant rush for the next top ten list.

Ah yes, the rush. Sometimes I find myself missing the rush. It was a two-way street. Lots of ego involved in getting it done right. The spoken word is forgiving, the written word far more demanding.
(And this is why I don't blog much anymore, friends. This character I've created on Snarky Tofu... he's best consumed in constant motion, outrunning his expiration date. You can read more of his adventures -- with illustrations -- here).

But not in motion...another matter entirely. Was Henry Miller happier in Paris or Big Sur?

I am getting overly philosophical here, so let's call it a night. If I have any readers left from the travel days, please be advised that an adventure or two might be on the near horizon, as I'll be heading off to Norway (with a stopover in Iceland) at the end of the month to teach a course in travel writing, to visit the Reykjavik's famed penis museum, and to knock an item (eating Lutefisk) off the bucket list.

It's an acquired taste I'm told. Like me, I guess. And I'm OK with that.

Now go buy my book How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness from Amazon.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness


What's the road-toasted travel writer to do after leaving the road behind? 

Why not put together a series of insights and observations from Belize to Shangrila, have each illustrated lovingly with a one-panel cartoon and put together a collection of short stories with a memorable yet slightly unwieldy title? 

Announcing How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness by Lonely Planet Author Joshua Samuel Brown, nineteen stories ranging from new journalism and creative non-fiction to surreal dreamscape and exotic hallucination.

"I've often thought that guidebook writing attracts the mad, the bad and the slightly crazed. If he didn't start that way – perhaps a pre-writing career as a bike messenger helped – his years on the road have certainly contributed to Joshua’s off-kilter take on the world." - Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Co-founder.

  • My Parents Are Little People, a story of the bizarre lengths a travel writer will go in pursuit of a hotel review;
  • Supper in Uyghurville, a gritty tale of menace, drugs and journalism from Beijing's darkest hutong
  • The Milky Teat of Serendipity, a hallucinatory flight of fancy featuring Singaporean Prime Ministers, Taiwanese presidents and a wandering goat-milk salesgirl; 
  • The Worst Place in the World, strong contender for the 2015's "travel story most likely to garner a cease and desist letter from Ikea" award.

How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness: Nineteen stories, observations, and exotic hallucinations from the increasingly demented mind of Travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll. 

Click here to order Kindle version from
If you don't have a Kindle, download the free app (just below the book cover).

Print version available in 2015.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015

Extremely proud to announce that Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015 has arrived (literally, on my doorstep yesterday), meaning that it's in bookshops an available online. My contribution to this year's title (which was top secret pending publication) was an essay encouraging people to visit Belize's least-trammeled district, Toledo (AKA the Deep South).

I'm especially proud to have been able to get Toledo included in this year's BIT, as the district is both both deserving and markedly under-visited in the overall Belize travel picture. Jungles, Cayes, Caves, Maya villages & ruins, the sweet seaside town of Punta Gorda, and of course some of the planet's finest Cacao.

And of course, lest we forget, my Belizean home-base Maya Mountain Research Farm, the hemisphere's preeminent permaculture farm and home to winner of 2012's "Composting toilet with the best view" award.

Like this view, only slightly lower as I never bring my camera into the bathroom.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2015 can be purchased online here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Drowning in Chicken Fat

For health reasons I've been on a 2.5 day fast, subsisting on nothing but a slow-cooked broth of chicken fat, skin and bone, with a few vegetables thrown in for extra vitamins before being strained out and turned into a product even the cat refuses to eat. Today is the last day.

The dreams began well before dawn on day one, perhaps motivated by fear of fasting. Food and coffee and candy, impossibly technicolor. Like Godzilla vomiting up an all you can eat neon buffet. I expect things will only get weirder. I did a five day fast once upon a time, at a hose and bucket spa in Thailand not too far from where the backpackers exchange date rape drugs under the full moon, but that was a long time ago. I remember that by the third day I'd achieved a certain peace with the process, but the first two were difficult. This time it was easier, though there was a small bit of cheating on my part.

Cheating during fasts is not unheard of. I came across an egregious case of it a few years back when a BBC-Lonely Planet assignment brought me to Malaysia during Ramadan to research a top-ten story. A travel company had been hired to drive my photographer and I (though the photographer was a straight up pro with way more experience than myself, so in the grand scheme of things I suppose I was his writer) on a fairly grueling whistle stop trek across the Peninsula.

There were two drivers, both Muslims, and I was concerned because they told me they'd be fasting for Ramadan. "But don't worry," one of the drivers, a pretty rotund guy called Aziz, told me. "We always work during the holy month. We wake before dawn and eat a massive meal, which gives us energy throughout the day."  

The men took turns driving, and on the second day I was relieved to note that both were cheating, nibbling from a box of fried chicken they'd kept out of sight underneath the driver's seat.

"We are traveling." Aziz told me. "So it is permitted."

I could use some fried chicken myself right about now. Perhaps an Arby's $10 meat mountain?
Four more hours!

Clearly getting loopy here. Best to end this post with some imagery, perhaps a collage of some sort featuring photos from the trip. The trio walking is the photographer, one of the drivers and our guide. The flowers are called the Rafflesia, quite large as you can see. The hills, a tea plantation in the Cameron Highland section of Malaysia. The tea plantation workers were pretty cool. Note the dude with the EXPLOITED sweatshirt.

Apologies for lack of blogging lately. It's been a busy summer. The work proceeds on the upcoming title, How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & Other Tales of Travel Madness. The book is done, and the illustrations are 3/4 done, with a few left to go. Minor setbacks, but nothing unusual, and my ETA is still Halloween for the book - 19 tales of travel madness, batshit lunacy and a few serious and culturally edifying stories from China, Taiwan, Singapore, America and Belize (and one from Malaysia - mustn't forget about Malaysia) - to be available for download on E-readers around the globe.

We now return to our scheduled fast.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Twerk Queen at The Farmers Market

Earlier this very day my partner and I were blessed to find ourselves in the presence of royalty, as evidenced by this photograph taken surreptitiously by smart-phone.

T'was sublime honor indeed to find ourselves in her royal presence. Her Majesty the Twerk Queen carried herself with grace worthy of her station in life, especially given the unusual circumstances of the demise of her late father (Reggie "Smooth-T" Honeybon, Twerk King and first of his name), found poisoned in his royal Twerk chamber only hours after a heated confrontation with her majesty, (then Twerk Princess Amber Jade Coors Light Honeybon the Third) over issues of curfew and the late king's discovery of discarded condom wrappers in the back of his majesty's Ford pick up.

Nonetheless, I chose not to dwell upon the vague and unpleasant circumstances of His Late Majesty The Twerk King's passing (and her majesty The Twerk Queen's ascension) but instead to celebrate that for one all too brief moment my partner and I, both lowly peasants in the Twerk Kingdom, were able to bask in the presence of Twerk Royalty.

That such a person should chose to walk among commoners I believe can only bode well for our Kingdom of Twerk's future. It is my deepest wish that God watch over and protect the reign of our Twerk Queen, and that the various Twerk Dukes, Twerk Duchesses and other Twerk nobility (major and minor) put their differences aside and stand arm in arm, buttocks gyrating in unison in unflapping support of our majesty The Twerk Queen.

God Save The Twerk Queen!

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