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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Thursday Tunes: James' Top 5 Albums of 2013

"All that's missing are my earphones..."
For this week's edition, we have a special guest blogger: James Williams, (or some of you may remember Captain James Sparrow from this post) hails from England, but is currently roughing it with the rest of us here in beautiful KK. James brought along not only his knowledge on marine biology and witty sense of humour when he moved here, but also (and possibly more importantly) his unconventional music taste (and a whole lot of height)!

Those who know me know that Marine life is my passion, but
only those close to me know that music is what makes me tick. I pay little to
no attention to who or what is in the charts and rarely find what the radio is
trying to force down my ear holes to do anything other than annoy me.

I can’t help but feel that music is losing its soul and
increasingly I find great new music harder and harder to come by. As such
I follow my ears; whatever it is that I can’t sit still to when I hear it,
whatever makes my foot tap, my head bounce and what I invariably end up
serenading my neighbours with when I sing loudly in the shower. Nothing is
off limits what sounds good sounds good regardless of genres and as a result I
am led to believe that my taste in music is broad and sometimes unexpected. While
my top 5 selection for 2013 may not hold any surprises for many of you I hope
that somewhere in here you can find something new and exciting, perhaps you'll give
something a try that you haven’t before. 

Right then enough gab! I’ll try to keep words to a minimum, I’m
sure you’d rather be watching and listening than reading my guff...

5.
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Kings of Leon's first 2 albums; Youth and Young Manhood (2003) and Aha Shake Heartbrake (2004) are amongst some of my favourites of all time. They were raw, basic, and shamelessly fun. But since then they have transitioned to be more polished and more marketable and as a result have blown up in popularity. However this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the 'new' Kings of Leon still have great songs. 

Their latest offering may not be the same mass chorus inducing floor filler as previous albums have been, it seems looser, slightly more generic and perhaps a little rushed, but the tone of the guitars and emotion in each song carries it. For me its not been an album I'm itching to play over and over, it's filled the niche of something to play when I'm busy, something enjoyable but not distracting.



5 other tracks to try: Genius, Velvet snow, King of the rodeo, Joe's head, Use somebody.

4.
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Nine Inch Nails (NIN) are certainly a marmite band, you either love or hate them, they're a bit unusual but in a creative way. I missed out on seeing them live in 2007 because I'm an idiot, they then promptly broke up and I kicked myself...hard! Trent Reznor went off an decided he fancied winning an Oscar and a couple of Golden Globes for his movie soundtracks... as one does of course, BUT! luckily they're back and as explorative as ever. 

On first listen Hesitation Marks can be a little alienating, but once you let your guard down you'll start to feel the groove of the digital rock combo. They key to the brilliance of NIN
is that unlike most pop releases today technology is not a mask or a tool for 'perfection', whatever that is? but it is an instrument like any other and Trent bends it to his will with maximum effect.

5 other tracks to try: Hurt, Head like a hole, Hand that feeds, Closer, Wish.

3.
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Sound City: Reel to Reel is the child born from Dave Grohl's (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) amazing documentary; Sound City. It documents the history of one of most infamous recording studios in rock history where some of the greatest ever rock albums have been recorded. Seriously if you claim to like rock music chances are one of your favourite albums or artists recorded there, the list of talent is just ridiculous. The film goes on to explore how music today is losing its human element and to exemplify how things should be done Dave calls on a bunch of past artists to record a new album. 

The album is a collection of all the songs they wrote together. Expect some interesting collaborations, a personal highlight was Sir Paul McCartney writing and performing a song with the remaining members of Nirvana. 

This film is a must watch and you can find it here, it's worth every penny and more. 

 

5 other Sound City artists to try: Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash.

2.
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Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) were MIA for years prior to this album, each member off pursuing other projects, most notably Josh Homme (the coolest man in rock) working on Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Dave Grohl. QOTSA have always been one of my favourite bands, the line ups change but some things remain constant; (i) they always have a beast of a drummer (ii) true rock and roll guitars that are greasy, grimy and leave you wanting to wash your dirty dirty body (iii) Josh Homme!, one of the great artists/producers of our generation, the man is a true wordsmith and can shred a guitar unlike anyone else, all while giving zero f**ks and looking like hes not even trying. 

I've always loved their balls to the wall style however ...Like Clockwork adds a whole new dimension to the QOTSA repertoire, the band has matured and it creates a much more complete musical experience, especially their live shows. Additionally some music icons contributed to this album; Alain Johannes, Dave Grohl and Sir Elton John to name a few.  This album is like a journey, a story, with headphones on its truly immersive, I've repeatedly lost 46 minute chunks of my life over the past year and appear to have developed a habit of uncontrollably gyrating my hips like Elvis...

Finally ...Like Clockwork had the best pre-release teasers I think I've ever seen, animated by Boneface they're creepily awesome, check the medley out below!     

5 other tracks to try: No one knows, Go with the flow, Make it wit chu, The lost art of keeping a secret, Little sister

1.
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Biffy Clyro are with out a doubt one of my favourite bands...ever. Back home they top charts and headline festivals yet outside of the UK they are perhaps one of the most unrecognised and underrated bands out there. They have it all, from songs that can make you cry to songs that make you want to punch your friend in the face, melancholy ballads to screaming choruses, Earsplitting riffs to orchestral ensembles. With each album they only seem to get better and better, Opposites is no exception and the cherry on the cake is that its a double album...and its all killer no filler.

'Mon the Biff




5 other tracks to try: Mountains, Livings a problem because everything dies, Many of horror, Machines, Glitter and trauma

Before I go (and assuming you made it this far) you may have noted the shameless plugs to iomoio.com, no they're not paying me. 
However I'm sure you go to work everyday and expect to get payed for it, so don't be a d*ck pay for your music! iomoio charges 16 cents per track, that's way less than itunes, less than what you'll pay for the pirated ones at the market and the artists get paid :)

I hope you all enjoyed the journey, now be free, free to ignore the top 40 charts!!! 

Risus,
James

*You can find James goofing around on Instagram (there are instavids no one should ever have to see), or showing off his equally amazing pyjamas on facebook HERE. Drop him a friend request and  enter a world of wacky! Also, drop us a comment if you want James to be our guest blogger again! =D

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Da-Keng Leisure Farm 大坑休闲农场 - The Family-run Paradise in Tainan, Taiwan

The entrance to Da Keng Leisure Farm
Arriving just in time for dinner, we were introduced to the food before being introduced to the owners! And a hearty dinner it was:
From top left: Chicken in herbal tea soup, bamboo shoot and leafy veggie rice porridge, Vegan rose pasta, free range roasted whole chicken, baked sweet potato, pork veal roasted sausages, sauteed fish in herbal gravy, deep fried veggie fritters and fresh bamboo shoots.
Ka Mei was so excited she started to dig into that chicken, but we called the expert out before she ruined it =P
Ruby Tsai (pictured above, right) is the culinary-genius-of-a-daughter of the Da Keng family. Every dish that was laid out before us was prepared by this 21 year old, and I can definitely see (or rather, taste) why they are so well-known! Even with the absence of their famous "grilled mini pig", we still ate so much we could barely move, and there was still about half of each dish left!
When fresh fruit was brought out for dessert, I thought I was in heaven: it was all so juicy and sweet! The apple, guava, "love fruit" and, in the middle, flower buds, were by far my favourite part of the meal - and with Ruby's amazing cooking, that's saying something!
Lobby / Restaurant
Source: Da Keng Facebook Page
As we filled our stomachs, the Tsai's shared stories on how Da Keng came to be: Starting off as a small farm, Papa Tsai took over the business from his parents, and, along with Mama Tsai, invested money, sweat and blood into the now much-larger agricultural leisure farm Da Keng is today. Mama Tsai diligently perfected her culinary skills to become one of Tainan's most sought after eateries; the three Tsai daughters each grew up and became experts in each of their related fields: Chai Ling, the eldest, handles the farm's PR, Ruby is an excellent cook, and Eva is the most organised manager you will ever meet - not to mention a qualified bartender!
Eluba House Boat, Da Keng's bar where we got to try Eva's special cocktail, which includes white sugar on a lemon slice - which goes up in flames! (The burnt sugar with lemon is so good though!)
Source: Da Keng Facebook Page
As for Papa Tsai? Hats off to this hardworking man! Most of the farm is hand-built, and because of it's hilly terrain, logs etc had to be hand-carried all the way up as there were no roads yet.
These steps are an example of Papa Tsai's hard work - he laid them himself!





After dinner, we were taken up to the bar for *posh English accent* a spot of tea before bed. Ana, Sherrie and I tried True Love Flower Tea (真爱茶), Peppermint Milk Tea, and Floating Pretty Lady Tea (飘飘美人茶). Not a fan of milk tea or peppermint in general, but the flower teas were to die for! Definitely recommended! Would have liked to sit there and just enjoy it a while longer, but we were all quite tired from our long day...
Yes, there are huge teddy bears just sitting at the end of this gorgeous bar!
These - Lemons - On - FAIYAR~~!!
Full and contented, we were then taken to our rooms, where we all slept like logs in anticipation of an early morning - the famed sunrise at 二寮观日亭 (2nd Lookout Point), 草山月世界 (literally, Hilly Moon World or CaoShanYue ShiJie).
The room was really comfy! Ours was a room for 3, so Ana, Sherrie and I shared.
Photo credits: Sherrie aka Cutebun
At 5am, we all crawled out of bed and met at the lobby. While most of the team climbed into the back of a pick-up for the 10 minute ride up to the lookout point, a few of us got to enjoy the comfy back seat of Ruby's 4WD. The pick-up truck looked like so much fun, we decided to take that on the way back though!

The first rays of light breaking through the misty morning.
CaoShanYue is apparently a very popular spot, for photographers and youngsters alike (after singing karaoke all night), to catch a glimpse of the break of a new day. The lookout point got its name from the way the hills below remind their onlookers of the surface of the moon, which are also frequently covered by a sea of clouds.
Waiting for the perfect shot, or just taking in the breathtaking view
A rather misty morning; on a clear day you can see right across the valley to the mountains on the other side.
Packed into the back of an old pick-up truck~
Could be lyrics to a country song =P
It was a fun ride back, but I was literally freezing in the cool morning breeze!
When we got back, a small buffet breakfast was ready and waiting for us to fill our growling tummies with - much needed, as we'd be hiking to the farm's observation platform next!
After feeding some free-range chickens, that is!
Da Keng is known for its hormone-free poultry and pesticide-free vegetables - health is wealth, as they say!
As expected, the scenic hike up the steep slope was a challenge in itself for me, and luckily I wasnt alone! ;p
An obstacle course on the side - for those of you who are about 10x fitter than I am lol
To reach the observation tower, you still have to climb steep steps (bottom right), but the view is definitely worth it!
After catching our breath for a few minutes, someone suggested the girls do a lil jumping shot - this is why I dont do anything exercise-related: it makes me look SO attractive. Not.
Getting back to the farm was an easier journey, with a walk through the lush forest (ooh, I almost forgot! IMPORTANT TIP: Do remember to smother yourself with the farm-provided mosquito repellent before this hike - it's nature after all, so there are plenty of mosquitoes waiting for their buffet breakfast!). To create a "short-cut" back, there is a sky slider (a zip line with a chair?) or a rope bridge you can take across the ravine.
No prizes for guessing which mode of transport I chose
Arriving back at the farm, we explored a little further and found the hot spring spa pools. Unfortunately, they were closed for cleaning when we arrived, so we settled for taking a hot shower in our rooms before bidding farewell to Da Keng and the heart-warming Tsai family.
A hilarious sight just before we boarded our bus - a real live chicken had somehow gotten into the toy vending machine! He looked quite content, but Ruby was racking her brains trying to figure out how he got in!
Taiwan is now in the top 5 list of leisure farming countries in the world, all thanks to dedicated and resourceful farmers such as Papa Tsai, who recognised the dangers of "靠天养" - depending on crops/poultry alone to survive. With hard work and belief in their dreams, farms like Da Keng incorporated education and experience into their land for travellers to beautiful Taiwan, and unwittingly went from small farms, to helping the tourism industry of a whole country.
Souvenirs from Da Keng! The dried mango is to die for! =D

Da Keng Leisure Farm
Tel: +886 65760121
Web: www.168big.com.tw
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Dakeng520
Address: #82, Dakeng Li, Sinhua District, Tainan City, Taiwan
Group photo with the Tsais!
AirAsia flies from Kota Kinabalu (BKI) to Taipei (TPE) once daily and twice daily from Kuala Lumpur (KUL).
Til next time,
Calista xx

*Once again, all photo credits to Ana Jonessy & Chun Tak!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Quick Look At The American Music Awards 2013

The AMAs (as they're fondly called) aired yesterday and by chance I turned on the TV just as it was about to show on Astro. I decided to watch it after seeing highlights all over Twitter, and I have to say, as all awards shows go, there were both high- and lowlights to the event.
Pitbull aka Mr 305 aka Mr Worldwide
Pitbull was surprisingly good as a host, even though I don't like him (mainly because his songs are always about one thing and one thing only, aka how many girls he can sleep with, and because he just comes off as a dirty old man to me. Anyway.), I have to give credit where credit is due, and he was quite natural and entertaining on stage.

The opening act was actually the one thing inspired me to write about the AMAs. I came across a few articles about Katy Perry's Unconditional performance, like this one from the Daily Mail:

This is so stupid. I'm so sick of everything being "racist". I'm not a big Katy Perry fan, and yes when I saw her performance I thought it was a really strange outfit choice seeing as it has nothing to do with the song, but did the word "racist" come to mind? Not for a second! How was it racist? Maybe she just likes wearing traditional outfits, I do too! They're gorgeous! If I were to wear a baju kebaya out, would I be racist? What about different ethnicities the world over wearing "American" clothing? Are we all racist now? Here in Malaysia, if you go to a studio to take pre-wedding shots, you can choose to wear cheongsams or kimonos or hanbok for the photos, no one has ever found a problem with this! Or is it because we're all "Asian" that it doesnt count? Newsflash: "Asia" is made up of many nationalities and races!

Katy Perry aka insensitive geisha
I was more concerned about her obviously-lacking vocals that night. But not once during that performance did she say/do anything that would have made it the slightest bit racist. I think the world would be a better place if we didnt try so hard to be "sensitive" all the time.  *fumes*
One Direction
Moving on, I am starting to like One Direction, their songs are pretty ok, they seem like ok guys, and some of them are quite good-looking *cough* Zayn Malik *cough*.
Yes, yes you may.
Hate on me all you want, but I dont see any need to dislike these boys. It's gonna take a while before I would admit to being a full-blown Directioner though.

Naya Rivera aka Santana Lopez
Photo credits: JustJared.com
Naya Rivera looked drop-dead gorgeous as usual. No words needed.

Kendall & Kylie
Photo credits: PerezHilton.com
As did Kendall & Kylie Jenner, they're definitely the lookers in the family!

5 outfit changes, with 3 of those on stage, I have to say JLo looks absolutely stunning in this one.
Jennifer Lopez killed it as always - there is nothing this woman cannot do; gorgeous, sexy dancer, great voice and just downright amazing!

Rihanna with her mom (& award!)
Rihanna was awarded an all-new award called the Icon Award, which was presented by her mom. Does she really deserve such an award, given everything that's happened, and, btw, she's only 25. Sure she's had tons of hits, everyone and their grandmother knows her name but, is it all because of how wonderful she's been? I went from feeling indifferent when she first came out, to loving her during her Disturbia period, to losing any respect I had for her after the whole Chris Brown debacle. I know it's hard when you feel like you're obsessed with love for someone, but I'm really glad she seems to be coming back now, with songs like Stay and What Now (as opposed to repetitive lyrics sung to a bunch of noise).

One of the biggest highlights for me was the discovery of this amazing song:
A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera - Say Something

It's so beautiful, and I'm sure a lot of people will be able to relate to it.. Searched for the video as soon as the performance ended, and just fell in love!

Hmm.. What else was note-worthy.. Let me see.. (Judging by Perez Hilton's twitter, I think some scenes were cut from Malaysian TV, but I'm not 100% sure)

Taylor Swift all bright & shiny
Taylor Swift was looking gorgeous as usual, and no matter what you wanna say (sure she may not be the greatest singer), she deserves all the awards she gets, because she knows how to capture everything many girls around the world are feeling, and give them something to relate to in her songs. Artist of the Year over and over again, I think it proves that no one is ever really alone in heartbreak.

Oh Miley, I do wish I could spend some time in your head..
The only thing I can think of worthy of ending this AMAs post, is the strange, strange mind of Miley Cyrus. I love the song Wrecking Ball, but her singing-cat-who-cries-diamond-tears was a bit too out there.. Better than her twerking all over Robin Thicke again I guess.

Til next time,
Calista xx

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Thursday Tunes: The Pretty Reckless - You

I had a talk with someone who really means a lot to me last night, and, to save being way too personal in such a public domain, I came away from the the situation feeling pretty.. Lost.

"Our attraction, or addiction, or whatever, was strong."

I dont know why, maybe I'm just weak sometimes, but the thought of things being different, makes me sick to my stomach. Not that things are perfect as they are, far from it, but it's something. I dont know what I've gotten myself into, I just know that things are not the same as they used to be, and I dont like it.

"Serendipity"

What would I wanna take away from this in the long term? Can't say for sure, but then again, I feel maybe I do know, it's just locked up behind my walls, to protect me from the obviously stated fact that it's not anywhere near to how far you want it go.

"You dont get to break somebody's heart and still say you care about them."

I actually had a short list of songs - this was gonna just be text of a playlist, with songs like Wrecking Ball, Give You What You Like, What Now, Back To Black, Give Me Love, The Last Time & Torn. But as I was writing the lyrics, I realised, only one song actually says what is going through my head, taking into consideration that no single song can encompass the unconventional situation we're in.
So here it is. You.

  

You don't want me, no
You don't need me
Like I want you, oh
Like I need you

And I want you in my life
And I need you in my life

You can't see me, no
Like I see you
I can't have you, no
Like you have me

And I want you in my life
And I need you in my life

You can't feel me, no
Like I feel you
I can't steal you, no
Like you stole me

And I want you in my life
And I need you in my life

Til next time,
Calista xx

"I'm just sad because I really like you more than I've liked anyone in a long time.
Tonight I got slapped in the face with the reality that I'll never be able to call you mine
and that it isnt a very big deal to you.
"

Friday, 15 November 2013

Hualu Flower Farm - Taiwan Leisure Farming with Air Asia 花露休闲农场 - 与亚航去旅行!

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently went on a trip around Taiwan with Air Asia and the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association.
Many thanks for a memorable trip!
Leaving Kota Kinabalu at 6.10am (yes that means we were at the airport at 4.30am zzz) with the rest of the media (bloggers Ana Jonessy & Sherrie Pui, Chun Tak from Asia Times, Karen from and Shirley from United Daily News), we breezed through the check-in and boarding process like VIPs under the care of Ka Mei and Joanne of Air Asia (also known as our babysitters haha). Having checked us in online the day before, we were given Red Carpet treatment and skipped the queue to drop our bags and get through to immigration. At the gate, we got to skip the queue again and board first! Haha.. I also got my favourite seat - window only please people!
The up-side of flying so early - you get to witness the breathtaking sunrise against Mount Kinabalu!
Now I have to clarify before I start: I had some bad luck throughout September, which finally came to a climax the 2nd night in Taiwan - my micro SD card became undetectable, causing me to lose every photo I'd taken at and before Xian Hu Leisure Farm. 2 wonderful people have fortunately come to my rescue, so all photo credits on this blog are to Ana and Chun Tak! Much love you guys for saving my skin!

Upon arrival at the Tao Yuan airport, we were warmly welcomed by our tour guides for the trip - Shinny and Jicky - then boarded a huge tour bus: Our 2nd home for the 5 days and 4 nights! (Seriously, we spent more time on this bus than anywhere else; but for a good reason - we were travelling all over Taiwan!)

We'd had breakfast on the plane, but we were all peckish as soon as we touched down. Our stomachs would have to wait though - It was a 2 hour journey to our first destination: Hualu Flower Leisure Farm!
Ticket Counter
Hualu is located in Miaoli (苗栗), and we were greeted by the sight of nature the moment we pulled into the driveway of Hualu. In awe as we walked down towards the restaurant, we forgot about our growling stomachs as cameras came out and photos were taken.
Just sit down, relax, watch the falling leaves while listening to the fresh breeze...
Take a walk down the road less travelled; leave your worries behind!
Sit and watch fish swim peacefully to the calming sound of flowing water
Everything at Hualu is made as eco-friendly as possible
Before we reached our grub-tub, we were asked to take a look at the men's room. Yes, even the girls! Why? Well, wouldnt you like to see such a sight?
Which one would you choose to do your business in? ;p
Our tummies crying in despair, we finally reached the restaurant where food was served immediately - all 10 dishes ala Chinese dining style! We separated into two table: One for the tour agencies, and one for media - the ones who feed their cameras before their stomachs!
Shall we start with a spot of tea? Easy on the eyes, easy on the throat!
养生蔬果裸虾 Organic Vegetable and Fruit Salad with juicy Prawns
甘蔗草茶山鸡 Pheasant Roasted in Sugar Cane Tea Leaves
迷迭香宫保双味 Kung Pao Pork Belly
鲜炖莳蔬猪排 Pork Chop with Freshly Steamed Broccoli
细香葱鲜鱼蒸 Freshly Steamed Fish
脆皮鱼柳 Crispy Battered Fish
金沙杏鲍菇 Abalone Mushroom Stir-fried with Salted Egg
季节炒莳蔬 Stir-fried Seasonal Vegetables
竹叶一品炊 Stir-fried Bamboo Leaves
 And no Chinese meal is complete without the nutritious soup!
酸白菜鱼头汤 Sour Vegetable Fish Head Soup
Ana, being vegan, had her own special set of food throughout the trip:
素食罗汉斋 Vegan set lunch
*Our group package lunch costs NT4000 for a group of 10
**For a set lunch like Ana's, it only costs NT380 - 680 depending on what tickles your fancy!

After pleasing our bellies, it was time to please our eyes - we were taken on a tour of the farm, starting with the guest house.

The guest house aka the Essential Oil Castle
Window details - those are little bird statues!
The lobby
It's here where the guest rooms are - 3 different types of suites decorated with rich, earthly colours and twisted branches, and an essential oil-filled jacuzzi overlooking nature's very best. With prices ranging from NT$4280 - 9800 a night, you definitely get what you pay for!
王后房 Queen's Room
桐心房Heart Room
香氛房 Fragrance Room
 *Room photos taken off Hualu's official website

We also got to learn a bit about the different plants and their uses, in a session that won me a very useful prize: I got an au-naturale gel that stops any insect bites from itching - my long term enemy the mosquito in particular!
Mystery-shrouded Lake
We had a full explanation on all 4 plants - I actually took videos of the lady explaining, but those are lost too.. =(
We got to feel and smell the essential oils made by Hualu, and also learnt how to differentiate between natural and synthetic oils - If you still get a strong smell after 30 minutes of application, it's probably been "modified" =/
To end the tour, we visited the little shop where guests can purchase products ranging from these cute owl statues...
...to pure essential oils...
...to handmade soap...
...to potted plants!
It was a great experience to have Hualu Flower Farm as our first destination, and it really got us geared up for the rest of the trip. If you're looking to stop and smell the roses on your next trip of relaxation, Hualu should definitely be at the top of your list!
Goodies! The 3 different types of handmade flower soap, and the au naturel mosquito gel I won!
Hualu Flower Leisure Farm 花露休闲农场
Address: No. 43-3 Xiping, Xiping Vil, Zhuolan Township, Miaoli County
              苗栗县卓兰镇西平里西平43之3号
Tel: +886-4-25891589
Fax: +886-4-25897048
Email: flowers.chen@msa.hinet.net
Website: http://www.flowerhome.com.tw/
No trip is complete without a group photo - and yes, the sun was blazing!
Til next time,
Calista xx