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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...


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.


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.


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.


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


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, 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!!! 


*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
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!