Tuesday, May 24, 2011

parenthood

So here I am in the midst of being a parent. I guess this is a status that you acquire and never relinquish, no matter what happens. I think my sentiments is certainly shared by all parents out there. Now that I have a child and the joys that comes with it, sometimes I wonder what took me so long?

I think for me, because we set out and explored the world and "did our thing" before starting a family was very big factor in why we are so happy with our child (so far). I think if we had our daughter 10 years ago, I am sure there would have been mixed feelings. The love and care for the child would have been just as strong, but the feeling of unfulfilled promises would have lingered.

Not too long ago, we considered not even having children due to the burden that it brings. Funny thing, its that precise reason that we decided to have children. We are at a point in our life where many aspect of our lives have stablized. I think the stability has led to a sense of unfulfillment and almost boredom. There was seemingly a lack of purpose in life. Perhaps if I was a CEO or the President there will be plenty of things to keep me preoccupied. The vast majority of us are probably in the same situation once we move past our youth.

I felt that we were very ready to have children and now that she has come, we couldn't be happier. I guess it also helps that so far things have been fairly smooth. But I think we know deep down inside that there will be plenty of challenges, hardships and joy in the years ahead. And that is exactly what we are very much looking forward to. It doesn't seem that there could possibly be anything more satisfying that having your own child. I think this is something I only realized once it happened to me. It even surprised me how strongly I feel about this.

Sometimes parents selfishly say to children that "I gave you life". I get the feeling that this is just part of the equation. The other side is "You gave me life".

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Complicated Image

So the President has announced that Osama bin Laden is dead. A mission carried out by US special forces has decapitated al Qaeda. I absorbed this somewhat unexpected and stunning news throughout the day here in Shanghai. The announcement came at 11:30AM over here during a holiday so I had a chance to watch the news coverage, analysis and reactions from around the world.

Much has taken place in my life since that fateful day nearly 10 years ago. I was working in downtown Manhattan that morning about 1/2 mile away from the WTC. It was a harrowing experience but thankfully nobody I knew was killed in the disaster.

Life has moved on for me in the past 10 years. I have left that stressful job with the investment bank in downtown Manhattan, went backpacking in Asia for 6 months, moved out to Shanghai for the past few years and this year welcomed my daughter into the world. Life has moved on for sure.

There was coverage on the news of the celebrations back in the US and special attention was given to Washington DC and New York City. There was pure joy, as if one of the local sports teams had just won the Championships. I almost have the feeling that the people celebrating in that way were not from Washington or New York City. And many were relatively young. I find it troubling to celebrate in this fashion as if this was some kind of sporting event. The event that took place is real life, not a game. It's a reflection of the conflicts and struggles of society and life in general. In many ways all of this is a reflection of ourselves, the human race. It is a complicated image and I don't believe it warrents such an absolute reaction.

I personally feel happy that justice was served, but on the other hand it brings back all of the memories of that fateful day. I also feel that in the near future there could be retaliatory measures as I don't think this will end terroism. It also brings to the surface once again that perhaps there are things that we are doing as a nation that brings out such contmept for us in many parts of the world.

I think this is all part of getting older and wiser. Perhaps this is probably why I rarely see older people react as absolutely as the youth. I guess ignorance is indeed bliss.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Family dyanmics

Here is an interesting article about some of the consequences as a result of the financial crisis in America. It focuses on the issue of family and friends sharing living spaces out of necessity as a result of the economic conditions that exists in America.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/us/29families.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

It is well known in America that children are expected to be independent once they reach college age. There is such a culture of independence and freedom that exists in America that one feels stifled under a communal environment. I think most Americans have reached a certain level of affluence where independence is economically feasible. However once economic conditions deteriorate and people are forced to share things again, people have a tough time adjusting.

In China, there is much more of a culture of sharing and community, at least within a family. Families remain intact until the children get married and in many cases it could be intact even beyond that. It is common to see 3 to 4 generations living under the same roof. It seems each member of this extended family have less trouble finding a role to play within it. It is inevitable that are tension at times under these living arrangements but somehow the tolerance level seems to be higher.

What I am noticing is that these types of living arrangements is becoming less prevalent in Shanghai (a prosperous urban center) as compared to the rural areas. Economics definitely plays a big role.

It is interesting to see the opposing trends in the two countries.

Friday, August 13, 2010

the China World Expo

Its now August and I have discovered that I did not comment at all about the biggest thing that is going on in China that nobody else in the world knows much about - the China..er... World Expo.

The amount of hype that has gone into this event here in China has a very nationalist feel to it. Unlike the Olympics this is very much a China event whereas the former was a global event. In the media, you can't go a day without a mention of the Expo in some way. It has certainly been the event of the year in China. Seems like everyone in the country wants to come to Shanghai to see it. And this all makes a lot of sense.

As someone who has travel the world a bit and had access to cultures from abroad in a city like New York, the most enlightening thing about going to the expo was the myriad of interesting architecture that are standing side by side. The energy of the expo from the Chinese citizens is also very interesting to observe. The exhibits in these pavillions, however are not terribly intersting.

However, from the eyes of the average Chinese this is probably the only chance for them to see exhibits from all over the world and actually get to meet the citizens from other countries who are working there. These are people who have never travel abroad and perhaps had some misconceptions dispelled by attending an event like this.

Whereas the Olympics was an opportunity for China to showcase itself to the world, the World Expo was the world's chance to showcase themselves to China.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

上海话

我也住在上海有几年了。 不过我还没学上上海话。 现在只能听懂比较基本的词。 有可能我这几年还在漫漫掌握中文和普通话。 我在外面听到上海话我也没去注意他们在说什么。 上海话对我来说就是背景噪音。 其实这也很可惜, 学上一个新语言对一个人很有成就感。 我希望再过一段时间, 我可以起码说一点上海话。

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Drastic changes

Well, I guess its finally going to happen to me. I am going to be a father soon. This is the event that I have been avoiding for the longest time because I had other interests to pursue and things to see.

I think i just went through the most interesting 5 years of my life. To be able to have the courage to extricate myself from the daily grind that I found mundane and going down a very unusual path has been so fulfulling that my outlook on life is that anything is possible. Nothing seems unusual to me now, because there are always very simple reasons behind them. I am now able to empathize with people that I would have otherwise not understood. The great thing is that I have a partner in life who went down this path with me with the same outlook in mind.

Now that we are on the precipice of parenthood, I think I am as prepared as I can be to become a parent. I don't think the full impact of this has hit me yet, but I now feel absolutely ready to take on this drastic change in our life. There will be a new addition to continue on our very interesting journey.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Time marches on

A few days ago, perhaps just an afterthought in the newspapers was the the news of the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr at the age of 40. Ken Griffey was a superstar player for the Seattle Mariners and Cinncinati Reds for much of his career. I grew up an avid baseball fan and even though I was a fan of the New York Yankees, Ken Griffey was an symbol of my youth. I am only 2 years younger than him and his retirement from the sport of baseball reminds me again that I am getting on in age. I still remember Griffey as the young player who debut in the major leagues at the age of 18. He was one of those players who was so natural and graceful at the sport of baseball that made it a pleasure to watch. In his prime, Griffey was probably the best all around baseball player I have ever seen. He was truly a baseball polymath.

To me, his retirement reminded me that there is nothing more relentless than time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Pizza Tour: Epilogue

My recent pizza tour in New York was a really fun way to catch up with friends, visit various parts of the City and gorge myself on the best that pizza has to offer. Its funny how I never thought of doing these kinds of things when I was still living there. Now that I only go back once a year, there is incentive to think of creative ways to explore the city that I was raised and see the familiar as well as the changes. In some ways, I feel that the quality of the time I spend in those two weeks in NY as being better than while I was living there. This pizza tour was just one of the many wonderful experiences for me this time back.

Now, to summarize my findings over this pizza tour. My rankings of the 7 pizzerias that I visited:

1. Keste
2. Co.
3. Luzzo's
4. Grimaldi's
5. Veloce
6. Artichoke's
7. Posto

Considering that the number 1 pizzeria in my book prior to this tour was Grimaldi's and I discovered my top 3 pizzerias on this tour I would consider this was a very enlightening experience.

The only problem is now my standards has been raised, its back to Shanghai where Papa John's is considered good pizza. Oh, the pain....

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pizza Tour III

On one of my last days back in NYC last month I met up with my buddy Joe, another pizza lover to taste the number 1 pizzeria rated by New Yorker Magazine. During my trips back to NYC in recent years me and Joe have always had pizza when we meet. I feel like he is my kindred spirit when it comes to the humble bread from Italy.


Keste Pizza & Vino
271 Bleeker Street
New York, NY 10014
212-243-1511


http://www.kestepizzeria.com/menu.html






So I met up with Joe at 6PM after a day of last minute shopping before going back to Shanghai. Joe just got off work and insisted on meeting early because he heard that the lines at Keste was really long after 6:30. Keste is in the heart of Greenwich Village surrounded by restaurants and bars. That area has some of the best that NYC had to offer. I've always wondered how students of NYU can focus on their studies in an area like that.

I walked into Keste and I realized why Joe was probably right. Even though there were a few empty tables, the place was fairly long but narrow with seating for about 15-20 people. If this is indeed the best pizzeria in NY then it is probably too small to accomodate the hordes of pizza lovers. In a place like Manhattan you find ways to make things fit into small spaces.

Joe showed up about 10 minutes after I arrived and we proceed to order two personal pies - my standard Magharita and Joe orders a butternut squash pizza. During our wait, I inquired about the making of our pies. Our server informed me that these pies are cooked in 900 degree ovens in a brisk 57 seconds. Our pies arrived and it looked strikingly similar to the other two Neopolitan discoveries - Luzzo and Co. I took a bite into my Magharita and it was just as I expected, crispy and airy crust, sweet tomato sauce and just the right amount of mozzarella and basil. I was in heaven again, savoring every bite. I sampled Joe's butternut squash pizza and it was quite interesting to say the least. It was quite sweet but the butternut squash sauce just didn't feel quite right being on top of a pizza. I think I will stick with my Magharita. Its a classic for a reason. After washing it down with a cold Italian beer, I was content. Hard to beat great pizza and a cold beer on a spring day on vacation in New York.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pizza Tour Part II

My first weekend in NYC in a long while rolled around, and I sold the idea of the pizza tour to my buddies Ari and Bryan. Ari is more adventurous when it comes to food while Bryan pretty much disqualified himself from enjoying meals with a myriad of self-created food allergies. Of course being allergic to tomatoes does not bode well for a pizza tour but Bryan accompanied us anyway because he hasn't seen his buddy in about a year.

The day started with me and Ari traveling to Manhattan from our suburban enclave of Little Neck. The plan is to hit a pizza joint before meeting up with Bryan for the rest of the day.



Co.
230 Ninth Ave. (near 24th St.)
New York, NY 10001
212-243-1105

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/co/menus/main.html




After getting out of Penn Station we headed to the nearest restaurant on my list - Co. The restaurant's layout was wide and open, the walls were of wood paneling. There was a contemporary showroom feel to it. The menu consisted of soups, salads and of course pizza. We decide to share a personal Margherita pie since we plan on going to about 4 other pizza places throughout the day. Our waitress was very friendly and we discovered that she was from Chicago and an aspiring actress. We told her that our plan for the day was to hit as many pizza joints as possible and she joked that she wanted to join us for the day. When our pizza came, it looked very much like Luzzo's. The crust was slightly burn and the crust is airier than Luzzo's. Again, it was the classic Neapolitan pizza cooked under a very hot (700F) oven for a short period of time. The mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil were all perfect toppings for the crispy but airy crust. I think so far, Co has taken over as my favorite pizza with Luzzo's a close second.



Posto Pizza
310 2nd Avenue (18th street)
New York, NY 10003-2724
(212) 716-1200

http://www.postothincrust.com/inhousemenu.html

After a delightful snack at Co. we got a surprise call by my other buddy Qi. Qi had told us he was expecting to work on that Saturday but he called us at around lunch time to take a break for his midday meal. Instead of going to one of our other planned destinations, we detoured to a Zagat rated pizzeria - Posto's. Posto's was to be a very different pizza experience. I read that they specialized in ultra thin crust pizza. The restaurant was on the corner of 18th and 2nd and from the outside it looked like a cafe with outdoor seating but the interior looked like a bar. I didn't pay attention, but this place probably doubles as a bar in the evening. We proceeded to order 3 personal pies. These pies were a bit of an anomaly. The crust was indeed very crispy and thin, but they were so thin that it crumble under the weight of the toppings. The taste was well, disappointing. After experiencing my 2 favorite pizzas in the past 2 days, expectations were running high for a new pizza experience ultra thin style. The experience, well crumble under the weight of expectations.



Artichoke
328 East 14th Street (1st ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-2004

http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/artichoke-pizza/menu






We said our goodbyes to our friend Qi as he returned to the Saturday grind and we proceeded to meet our other buddy Bryan on the L train station at 14th and 1st. There we hit Artichokes Pizza. Unlike all of the other pizzerias that I have reviewed so far this was not a sit down place. It was basically a store front with a cash register with guys kneading pizza doughs next to pizza ovens in the back. There was very basic foyer before the cash register counter. A nondescript place by all descriptions, except for one thing: the line. The line was just as long as two nights ago when I passed by and it was about 20 people deep. Normally I would just leave upon seeing such a line, but what the heck it was a lazy Saturday afternoon hanging with my two buddies and our mission was a search for good pizza. When you have three guys debating about the Mets and Yankees time really flies.

When it came to our turn to order, I stuck to my methodology of Margherita. Ari went off the deep end ordering a slice - yes by the slice - of crab. There wasn't much to choose from anyway - the other choices were artichoke and Sicilian. There was no seating in the place so we went out to 14 street to eat al fresco. The slice was actually kind of sloppy, a thick dense crust with mozzarella and oil dripping off the side. I was a bit apprehensive as I prepared to take my first bite. The first bite met my tempered expectations. The crust was dense as I expected (almost Sicilian like) and the toppings was very greasy and the oil exuded probably from the mediocre mozzarella. I took another bite for confirmation and I proceeded to throw the rest of the slice into the garbage bin. I did not dispose of the majority of my slice because it was so bad, but my belly was already full of pizza and I had one more place to go so there was no space for any more mediocre pizza - Posto had already taken up enough room. For 4 bucks a slice, I am not entirely sure if it was worth the price. I did have a chance to sample Ari's crab slice and to be honest it was interesting. Maybe next time when I am not as full maybe I will give the crab slice a chance. Honestly, if I had this pizza last year, I think I would have been quite satisfied with it but after having tasted Luzzo's and Co.....



Veloce Pizzeria
103 First Ave., nr. 6th St.
New York, NY 10003
212-777-6677

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/veloce-pizzeria/menus/main.html






As we approach our next destination - Veloce I was already quite full. Veloce rated very high on New Yorker Magazine's survey - and the reviews were that it was a different type of Sicilian pizza. The three of us walk into the restaurant and the entire restaurant was adorned with bottles of wine on wine racks. It felt like a wine bar and as expected as we ordered, the waiter recommended wine to go with our pizza. Not me, I think beer is better with pizza - leave the wine for steak. Me and Ari proceeded to order a $15 12 inch square pan Margherita while my tomato allergic friend ordered an order of calamari.

The pie comes and it looked a bit different than the normal Sicilian. I take a bite into it and it was indeed quite different. The texture of the crust was crispy on the outside but quite dense and spongy at the same time. The bread had the texture of Ethiopian bread that is used to sop up sauce with. It was actually quite interesting. I asked the waiter what accounts for this interesting texture and he informed me that potatoes had been added to the flour. The sauce and cheese were just OK so overall I would give this pizza a good effort to be different but probably would not make my list of favorites. Its not that it tasted bad, but the taste did not stand out from the crowd.

That concluded my day of pizza gorging, and overall I was very enlightened with the possibilities of pizza. The classic "New York style" pizza will never be the same.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Accountability

I don't consider myself as a tree hugging environmentalist, but I do consider myself a conservationist. What is developing in the Gulf of Mexico is not just solely the fault of British Petroleum, the owner of the oil rig responsible for potentially the biggest oil spill ever. I think this is a much bigger problem than that. Consider the hubris of the oil industry to drill into the sea bed miles below the surface of the ocean. We as a race do not even have a clear understanding of what goes on in the oceans, never mind at the sea bed and we have the arrogance to believe that we can disrupt that delicate environment safely.

Perhaps it's not hubris, but greed that is at play here. Its analogous to Wall Street's role in the financial crisis. People without a real comprehension continue to head down a riskier path in search for higher profits until a tipping point is reached.

Ultimately, we cannot place the entire blame on the oil industry either. We as a society all contribute to the problem. The complacency that exists in society leads us to take things for granted. We expect to have certain conveniences in life and we are intolerant of any disruption of that lifestyle. So can we as a society really put the entire blame on an industry that is there to fulfill a demand? The kind of "accountability" we place on oil companies and Wall Street banks makes it very convenient to scapegoat. We are not even aware of our own role in contributing to the problem. What if we all made a conscientious effort to conserve? Perhaps then the demand would not be high to the point where companies take undue risk in the pursuit of profit.

Let's for once look ourselves in mirror and be accountable.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pizza Tour - Part 1



I consider this the beginning of my pizza tour. The first place I went to was Grimaldi's - a place that I was familiar with and the standard up to this point. Going back there and re-familiarizing myself got me prepared for the real tour. Let's get started!!

Luzzo's
211 1st Ave
(between 12th St & 13th St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 473-7447
www.luzzos.com

On my second day back, I met up with my buddy Siu at a bar near Union Square in the early evening for some catching up and talked about the state of world affairs and other interesting topics. After a couple of hours and a few beers we decided to search for some real food. Since it was my time back, Siu deferred to me to choose a restaurant for the night. I told him briefly about the pizza excursion that I was to embark on. He was OK with it and I thought it would be a good idea to find the place closest to Union Square. Luzzo's was only a few blocks from where we were and it became the destination for the night.

The restaurant was small and cramp - typical by Manhattan standards. I noticed the hostess and many of the servers spoke Italian and for me that was a good sign. I ordered a personal size Funghi ( tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, basil) for $18. The large version was $23. It was a bit pricey for a personal size but being that we are in Manhattan, my only trip to NY this year and a for taste of the future, I happily plunked down the money for it.

When my pie came, I immediately noticed that this was very different from what I am use to. The crust was the first thing that I noticed... it was not dense like the typical New York pizza but airy and light, enveloped by a crispy exterior. There were some burnt spots on the crust which I expected from reading about 900 degree oven that these pies cook under for about 1 minute. I took my first bite into it and immediately entered my personal pizza nirvana. I feel as if I had broken out of consuming mediocre pizza and realized a new realm of possibilities. The crust was as it appeared - crispy and yet light and airy on the inside. The texture reminded me of my favorite bread - nan. I had always imagine that pizza made on nan bread would be a marriage made in heaven and I think this was close. The mozzarella was just enough in quantity and not piled on thick like some pies and most importantly it tasted fresh. The sauce, fresh basil and mushroom just enhanced the whole experience.




The one thing that spoiled the whole experience a bit was the service. They were friendly most of the night, but by the time we were close to finishing up our meal they were kept coming by trying to clear our tables. It became quite annoying as we were still trying to finish up our conversation while this was happening. It really gave the evening a bad ending. However, I was not going to allow the service get in the way of my evaluation of the food since these are separate aspects of the experience.

Here is a link to the menu of Luzzo's

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/luzzos/menus/main.html

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pizza, the next frontier.....

During my preparation for my trip back to NYC, I decided that I have to get my share of quality pizza in NYC that the Shanghaiese can't seem to get right. I spotted the following articles during my research:

http://nymag.com/restaurants/cheapeats/2009/57893/

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/dining/08pizza.html


I decided to take a pizza tour this time back. I was determined to squeeze as many of these restaurants between family reunions and meals at Sushi Yasuda and Peter Luger. As it turns out I was able to eat at 5 of the top 20 from New Yorker Magazine (http://nymag.com/restaurants/cheapeats/2009/57893/) and a two others not on the list which includes a New York institution - Grimaldi's. My mission was clear - to try the "new guard" pizza that has pervaded Gotham while I have been away. Before I go into details of each restaurant, I will say that these excursions have rendered my personal top 10 list obsolete. It is safe to say that my expectations of pizza have changed forever. That really sucks since this elevated sense of pizza does not bode well living in the barren wasteland of pizza known as Shanghai.

The methodology was simple, I will use the standard margherita pizza as the barometer since this represents the essence of pizza. Just the crust, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and basil for a dash of seasoning. No pizza on steroids and whacked out toppings to interfere with the essence. Maybe the next trip I will venture into alternative pizzas but this time I will start with the basics.

I will introduce each pizza joint in the chronological order of my visit.

Grimaldi's
718.819.2133
242-02 61st Avenue
Douglaston, NY 11362

My first night back in NY, I took the family out to a NY institution - Grimaldi's. Everybody knows the original location in Brooklyn under the Brooklyn Bridge, but the one that we went to was in Douglaston, Queens - only a 5 minute drive from my parent's house. This is a place that I am familiar with since to me it represents one of the pillars of pizza in NY, and is a place I have visited every time back to NY since I left for Shanghai. When it came time to order, I had to compromise a bit on my methodology since we had a wide spectrum of palates at the table. From my 5 year old nephew Spencer to my 87 year old father, compromise was a necessity. We ordered 3 pies for a table of 8 - one sausage and two mushroom/onion:





I enjoyed the thin crust, slightly burnt and the fresh but slightly tough cheese. The crust has a bit of crunch to it and the sauce was nice and sweet. It satisfied me but I must admit, it was not as good as I remembered. Even though I was a tad disappointed, to me it still served as the stardard that all other pizzas be compared to. I looked forward to exploring the next frontier now that I had a belly full of good quality pizza.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back from the Wild West

We just took a trip to Toronto and New York and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. For some reason, this time back felt really good. Much better than the last time back. Perhaps getting reconnected with friends and family was the main reason. Perhaps it was seeing the City again that gave me a dose of how good things could be. NYC is a great place to revisit for former residences since we know exactly where to go when we are back. These are places that really represents the essence of NYC. They are not the tourist attractions that a resident never goes to unless taking out of town visitors.

Anyway, this time back I fulfulled my cravings of pizza, steak and hot dogs. I even took a "pizza tour" where I ate at 5 of the top 20 pizza places according to New Yorker Magazine. I will be reviewing each of these restaurant in upcoming entries.

Anyway, I am now back in Shanghai and back to reality for the time being....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

distancing friends

Our recent trip to Malaysia over the Chinese New Year period meant reunions with friends and family. My wife was raised in Malaysia and still has many friends who she keeps in touch with. I tagged along with her to many of these reunions and discovered a phenomenon that also exists in my circle of friends on visits back to NY. It seems that our homecoming was a reason important enough to get a group of friends together, but without such an occasion people don't find the time to gather anymore. I had friends tell me that the previous time that they had a group gathering was the last time we were back. Its a shame, but I think its just a reality that exists in us.

It seems as we go through life, there are bonds that tie us together with our friends. However these bonds don't seem to stand the test of time especially when people start to evolve as they age. At one time perhaps it was school that tie some of us together, then it become work colleagues and friends of significant others. It then could become parents of your children's friends.

That being said, when I heard about a classmate in need that I no longer stay in touch with, somehow I still tried to lend support in some way. I guess these bonds never really break, perhaps they just become dormant for a while.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

food of malaysia

Another Chinese New Year means another trip to Malaysia, the homeland of my wife. Other than the family reunions and the well needed break from Shanghai, one of the joys of this trip is to indulge in the rich diversity of cuisines that exists in this country. One type of food that I really have a hankering for when I come here is distinctly Malaysian - Mamak food.

To explain what Mamak food is, a very abridged version of Malaysia's history and culture is in store. Malaysia is a diverse country with three main races - the indigenous Malays, the Southern Chinese and the Tamil Indians. Obviously the latter two are immigrants to this country and accounts for a minority in this mostly Muslim country. The Tamil Indians are the purveyors of the delicious but rustic fare known as Mamak.

Mamak establishments started out as inexpensive street food enjoyed by the masses, and has now evolved into an integral part of the Malaysian food scene. Now many popular Mamak fare is served in a more established restaurant partially indoor, partially al fresco. It still has its place as a cheap, informal dining alternative. Many establishments are opened 24 hours a day and becomes a great place to watch football games while enjoying a late snack (there is a 8 hour difference between Malaysia and Western Europe making it a perfect time to catch European Football matches during after hours). This is the type of ambiance that I really enjoy here in Malaysia. As a lover of food and the outdoors, there are few things better than eating roti canai, sipping on a ice lemon tea and watching Arsenal-Manchester United in 25 degrees (77F) nights of Kuala Lumpur along with other football fans that I surreptitiously met that night.

As for some of the favorite dishes that I would order are roti canai, paper dosai, fried chicken, fried fish,satay and nan. Most of these dishes are high in fat and are not authentic Indian food (Malaysianized), but who cares - its cheap, unpretentious and delicious.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where is home?

I recently went back to NY for a short visit. This visit like the one previously last Spring left me confused. The source of my confusion is that for the first time, I felt an urge to go back to Shanghai by the tail end of my visit. I don't think I would have ever thought I would feel that way about Shanghai. And maybe its not because its Shanghai, maybe its just my life has taken root in a certain place.

I no longer have a place of my own in NYC and for every visit, I have been staying with my parents. Even though it is the house I grew up in, I just don't have the same feeling about it anymore. Everything seems to a bit "off".

Now that I have been here in Shanghai for a couple of years, things have become routine. We have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, gotten use to certain conveniences in life that were not realistically attainable in NYC. I never would have thought of it that way while living in Shanghai, but when I spend about a week or two in NYC, I become very aware it.

When we first arrived here, I would have never thought that we would ever settle here. At this point, that is actually within the realm of possibilty.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Childhood memories

So today I had a chance to watch part of Michael Jackson's memorial services on TV. I would not categorize myself as a Michael Jackson fanatic but I find myself with a feeling of loss during this time.

Michael Jackson was at his peak as a star in the early to mid eighties when I was in my early teens living in NYC. I always thought that he was an incredibly talent performer and I really enjoyed his music back in the "Thriller" days. As the years went by, Jackson's life began to go down a very strange path. In my mind, he became more and more irrelevant as the years went by.

When I learned of his death, I began to reflect on his music and how relevant it was during those impressionable years of my life. The more I reflected on it, the more I realize that this was a loss of a significant figure in my childhood. I use to remember how incredibly popular he was back in those days. Many of my female classmates use to get angry at those of us who criticized Jackson (some of this was intentional to get the desired reaction).

As I started to watch some of his classic music videos and concert performances over the Internet, I was reminded of just how incredibly talented this man really was. As a performer, he is without a doubt true to the word - a genius. I believe another reason that his death has garnered this much outpouring of emotions was also how tragic his life was despite all of the success.

It seems in death, Michael Jackson has become very relevant again.

I guess all genius are tormented. Perhaps they just don't belong in this world, but the world is probably better for it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

blogger blackout

Well, this is my first post in over a month. This has been a combination of a busy travel schedule and the fact that blogger has been blocked in China. There are ways for me to get around it but I just haven't had the chance to get around to it until today.

Anyway, I guess with all of the politically sensitive events going on in China, they've decided to really clamp down on the Internet.

I will try to make up for some of the information vacuum in future posts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring Attire

So Spring is in the air here in Shanghai. As Spring attire appears on the streets of Shanghai, more skin is exposed. When it comes to attire, women here in Shanghai are more daring than I would have thought before coming over here. I would say they are no more conservative than their counterparts in New York.

What is quite interesting is the reaction to women dressed, let’s say on the high end of the skin exposure scale. In America, when a woman dresses like that, they quite literally turn heads and elicit some whistles or some other comments from men. Here in Shanghai, the reaction is muted. Nobody turns their head when a stunningly beautiful woman dressed in a miniskirt and fitted top walks by. No whistles, nothing. You might see a man move his eyeballs towards her direction while passing accompanied by very little head movement.

I think this is quite consistent with other differences between China and America. Chinese don’t like to create a scene and would rather “fly under the radar”. Any reaction from men in that kind of situation would be embarrassing for both parties. It’s not as if the men here does not admire the beauty of the fairer sex. I think I have 1.3 billion pieces of evidence of the contrary. In fact, I would say that almost every man and women on that street have already noticed that woman, except they are very discrete in their admiration and or envy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chinese on my blog

I just want to explain the abrupt change of language in my previous entry to my non-Chinese readers. I have decided to use my newly-acquired though rudimentary Chinese writing skills in a way that I would have not thought possible just a few years ago. Going forward, I will occasionally blog in the language of my roots even though it is not my native tongue. This is something that is quite personal to me and I feel it will further the growth that I am undergoing here in China. No, this is not making it convenient to my non-Chinese readers, but if you are that interested in what I have to say in Chinese there is always google translate.

Monday, May 4, 2009

我的博客中文版

我在中国已经有一段时间了. 来中国前用中文写博客是一个不可思议的事. 当然,也许我的中文程度现在只有小学的水平,不过有这一天也不容易. 我六岁就从台湾去美国定居. 到了三十几岁才回到中国. 那么多年在美国没当中文是一件事. 回来这几年才开始复学中文. 在美国那么久我只保持了最基本的中文口语水平跟我父母用普通话交流. 所以我起码还有一个基础, 不过读不了几个汉字.

在中国生活不可能不顾中文. 所以我就慢慢的吸收中文. 现在我还可以看看报纸, 基本上可以看得懂. 我的却是进步了不少,不过还有很长的路来走. 我希望我离开中国以前可以提高我的中文到流利的水平. 看看这个期望可不可以显示.

Monday, April 27, 2009

aciremA and anihC

What a difference a few years make! So America started last year with the classic reversal of fortune. First, as the center of the most important capitalistic society we got ourselves ensnared in a financial crisis not at our making, but certainly as the leading catalyst. China, whom America has scolded on many occasions for their command economy has emerged from this downturn in relatively decent shape thus far. Now word that the swine flu has emerged from Mexico, right at the doorstep of America. This after years of suspicion that the avian flu will likely emerge from China due to the perceived backward lifestyle and little attention paid to public welfare. The tables have certainly turned this time around and don't think the world has not taken notice. This is not to say that every thing China has done in recent years has been the gold standard and America has become the leper of the world.

This points to the fact that complacency has insidiously crept into the American mindset. After all, complacency only exists when one has success and America have experienced a long period of success on the world stage. This has led to the mindset that what we do must be correct and the best way to do things. This has led to the current state of complacency that is in the process of humbling us. We should no longer be as arrogant to believe that whatever we do is the best. We can still lead, but it requires us to consider that others may have good ideas as well and not to be quick to dismiss. One hopes that the current Obama administration is on that road and can turn this around.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Civilized or Ingenuous

In America, we view ourselves as "civilized" and likewise, I think of myself as being a civilized person. I personally believe that in modern society, we should have certain rules and structure in place to make our lives more livable and comfortable.

That being said, sometimes you find yourself in situations where civility might have to take a back seat to primal urges. The classic example is the need to urinate with no bathrooms in sight. I would dare say that most Americans would probably hold their urine as long as they can while searching for the loo until succumbing to nature. This problem is really no problem at all here in China. If one, especially a man has to go, he probably will just head towards the nearest dimly lit corner. Some men are even more brazen and would do this with no peripheral cover into some greenery. Such activities are not just restricted to dark alleys, sometimes you can see this in relatively busy streets in front of women and children. These sights are not even worth a second look from passerbys

Another example is the expulsion of gas. I think we all have had experiences where after a meal, especially a hearty one where one needs to expel some gas. We in the civilized world will either try to belch quietly or swallow one's gas until they are in the company of oneself. Here in China, diners have not qualms about belching during the meal. This is viewed as a natural bodily function and it would not be helpful to suppress it.

In many ways, I understand why we in the civilized society want to take such painstaking care to keep these activities private. However, from another perspective, I find that the attitude of the Chinese toward some of this is quite refreshing. There is no pretension when it comes to such bodily functions. After all it isn't as if you are the only person in the world to have these things happen to your body. So why bother to hide or suppress them?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Formula 1









I can't say that I am much of an auto racing fan. However, when the F1 tour came into town here in Shanghai, I was intrigued. My only exposure to auto racing back in the States is the Indy 500 and NASCAR; the exposure was limited at best. NYC was not exactly a hotbed of auto racing. After all, when most of one's driving experience in NYC is being ensnared in bumper to bumper traffic on the LIE or the Grand Central one does not view auto racing as a viable concept.

Being abroad, I started to learn about things that go on which dwarfs the popularity of similar activities in the States. World Cup soccer comes to mind and so does the F1 circuit. It is from that point of view which prompted me to go 20 miles out of the downtown area where I live on a rainy day to see if I can get some tickets from scalpers to witness something that not too many Americans have in person for the a race that only occurs in Shanghai annually. All of this trouble and the only race car driver I know from the F1 circuit was last year's champion, Lewis Hamilton.

Anyhow, me and my friend Kanlin (who is not even a sports fan never mind F1) made our way to the race track. We secured a pair of standing room tickets for 250RMB (face value 600RMB) after the race had already commenced.

The conditions were far from perfect as a steady rain accompanied by brisk wind gusts made not only the driving treacherous but viewing quite uncomfortable even with rain gear on. The first thing that struck me as we arrived at our viewing area was the noise from these engines. Instead of a roar as one might expect, the sound was a relatively high pitch whirring noise that was incessant. As I would find out later after I left the track the exposure to this noise continually for nearly 2 hours would leave me with a temporarily hearing deficiency.

Other things that struck me was the speed of these cars and just how surreal the entire spectacle was. Here I was, watching vehicles that one never sees on the road traveling at breathtaking speeds on straightaways and turns alike. It was a very different experience than watching it on television where we are use to viewing the fantastic.

Overall, I must say that despite the weather conditions, I really enjoyed my first experience at F1. It might not be my last.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wolverine



So the other day I was out on the streets of Shanghai browsing through a street cart of DVDs and saw copies of "Wolverine" being sold. I don't really follow movie releases very closely, but I seem to remember seeing advertising for the movie recently. For that reason, I thought Wolverine was a recent release and when you see DVDs of recent releases on the streets of Shanghai, they typically are of very low quality. Usually they are copies of people recording the movie from a camcorder in the movie theater.

I asked the vendor if this was a good copy or a bad copy. He told me that it was a good copy. I told him that I did not believe him so he promptly whipped out a portable dvd player to show me the quality of the DVD. He played the first 2 minutes of the movie and indeed it was of DVD quality. So I plunked down my 5RMB (73 cents) and happily brought it home. I watched the movie the next evening and started to see some funny things. Certain scenes such as the overhead view of an island was composed of skeletal graphics. And some of the scenes that required special affects looks as if it was computer animation. In some of the fight scenes cables could be seen strapped to the actors to provide lift.

After the movie, I did some research on the movie over the internet and discovered that the release date is on May 1 which is 3 weeks from now. I realized that the copy of Wolverine that I just viewed was probably one of the pre-final versions of the movie. It seems that somebody on the inside must have made a copy of it and sold it to the DVD pirates.

I just spoke to a friend in NYC and found out that pirated copies of Wolverine has made it to the States. He has not watched it as of yet, so I wonder if the States got the same copy. My guess would be yes.

Digital age is a double edge sword.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Blame Game

OK, I think I am getting to the breaking point with all of the finger pointing when it comes to this financial crisis. We all know the usual suspects when it come to the guilty. Wall Street, government regulators, predatory mortgage agents, banks, etc. These groups are certainly the most obvious of the culpable. The less obvious are the regular folks who went ahead and purchased homes by leveraging themselves to the point of bankruptcy.

I think the problem was insidious because it was very gradual in its nature. Little by little, as the lending standards loosened, and people on main street just like the ones on Wall Street began to adjust their actions to the new landscape. This meant it was actually acceptable to take out second mortgages to finance the renovation of a new kitchen. It was acceptable for somebody without much business experience to use their homes as collateral to raise capital to start a small business. It goes on and on. It became a money grab as people thought of new ways to consume as available cash was everywhere.

I think when a person making $50,000 a year qualified for a mortgage to buy a $600,000 home and decides to go ahead with the purchase because they believed the value of it will rise to $800,000 in a few years at which point they will sell it and downsize with a tidy profit before the mortgage rate resets really knows exactly what they are doing and cannot possibly claim ignorance and pass the responsibility to the banks. To do something like this one must already have an understanding that there is considerable risk being taken or they will not plan on taking such drastic actions before their rates increase to an unaffordable rate. Perhaps they did not understand just how big the risks were because in recent past the landscape has temporarily shifted where nothing could go wrong.

For average folks to claim that they were not educated enough or were swindled by cunning bankers and mortgage brokers is really just passing the responsibility. I don't think this is very constructive because as long as people blame somebody else for their mistakes, a valuable lesson will not be learned.

This is analogous to the gambler or alcoholic who blames everyone but themselves for their transgressions.

Lets be perfectly clear, there is plenty of blame to go around. Sometimes you might have to start with the person in the mirror.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

mirror reflection

Last night Major League Baseball and baseball fans (including me) around the world received earth shattering news that the best baseball player in the world and perhaps one of the greats in the history of the game tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez currently of the New York Yankees reportedly tested positive for steroids in 2003. The history and records of baseball is very integral part of being a fan of baseball. Currently the sacred record of baseball - all time home runs is held by the notorious steroids user Barry Bonds. Alex Rodriguez was to be the player who embodied the ideal athlete who through diligence and talent was to restore the integrity of the sacred records of baseball.

Listening to the New York sports radio stations over the internet, the disappointment of the fans is palpable. For fans, sports is the diversion to escape from the rigors of real life. It affords people to be entertained by seemingly larger than life heroes who one can live vicariously through.

Unfortunately, the sports world is very much part of real life populated by real people like us all. The competition is high and the payoff for the top performers like any other industry can be very high. Its actually not surprising that people are willing to take the risk and take performance enhancing drugs to give them the best chance to succeed. This sort of thing happens in all walks of life. Here in China, parents line up to buy Chinese medicine reputed to enhance cognitive activity in the days leading up the College entrance exams for their children. Scientists are engaged in genetic engineering that may one day produce intelligent babies. What parent wouldn't want a child like that? How many people lie on their resumes in hopes of getting their foot in the door of a better job?

Trying to get an edge on the competition is an inherent character trait that all species have. I think it is safe to say that at this point, humans has gained such an advantage over the rest of the animals that it has become unfair.

So just how unfair is what Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have done? That is a tough question to answer, as they are only doing what we humans are programmed to do. Just like any other subset of society, sports is just a reflection of who we are. Sometimes we don't like looking in the mirror because we might not like what we see. Unfortunately, heroes are just creations based on standards and ideals that nobody can never live up to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shanghai Comfort Food 生煎包








So the other day, I had some spare time and decided to head over to one of my favorite restaurant that specializes in a Shanghaiese type of pot sticker pork bun (生煎包). The restaurant is located near the biggest square in Shanghai - People's Square (人民广场)and the famous pedestrian shopping street - Nanjing Road. The restaurant is called Yang's Fried Dumpling (小杨生煎)。

The first thing you have to realize about these buns is that it does not pretend to be healthy. It is pan fried and has lots of soup with pork and some pork fat, but the taste is very satisfying. The bun is slightly larger than the size of a golf ball and the bottom of the bun is fried to a perfect crispy texture but the top half has a doughy soft texture - a nice contrast. When you bite into one of these - like its soup dumpling brethren which I will profile in a later entry - you have to be careful because it encases a nice size pork ball along with copious amounts of soup from the pork itself. You would be advised to take a small careful bite, just enough to open up a hole on its soft top side so you don't blind one of your fellow diners with hot pork soup squirting out of your bun. Then you should suck out a good amount of the soup before continuing on to finish off the bun. The price of these are a minimum purchase of 4 pot sticker buns for 4RMB - 58 cents (exchange rate of 6.84) with each additional bun at 1RMB apiece.

The restaurant itself is basically a hole in the wall with a bare minimum of service and decor. The menu contains some complementary dishes such as beef soup with soy bean noodles , duck blood soup (another topic for another day), fried tofu soup, etc. But make no mistake about it, the star of the menu is the pot sticker bun. For the uninitiated, in order to get your buns, you have to pay for the meal first at the cashier then proceed to the line to get your buns located next to the front entrance of the restaurant. After getting your buns, if you have any other complementary dishes, you need to present your receipt to the servers inside the restaurant. Finding a table is another adventure, as during dining hours the place is normally packed. You can either wait for about 5 to 10 minutes, take out and eat on the street, or find an empty seat on an occupied table (there is no sanctuary here).

I am not a big fan of Shanghai style food, but if it is known for anything it is this pot sticker bun (生煎包)。

The particulars of the restaurant:

Yang's Fried Dumpling (小杨生煎)
97 Huang He Road (near People's Square) 黄浦区黄河路97号

Other locations include:
54-60 Wu Jiang Road (near West Nanjing Road) 静安区吴江路54-60号(近南京西路)
720 East Nanjing Road 黄浦区南京东路720号食品一店内

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Bailout, The Stimulus

So now that we are in the middle of the global financial crisis, governments are scrambling to attempt the remedy the situation. Since we are in the internet age, problems have to be addressed by yesterday or the natives will become restless. Therefore, governments - notably the US Government have been engaged in a campaign to save the economy.

The question becomes this, how can governments faced with an economic crisis of unprecedented scale and complexity be expected to tackle this issue in a intelligent, pragmatic way? I think the answer has been partially answered already with the seemingly haphazard fashion that governments have responded so far.

The latest theory is to throw massive amounts of money into the economy with the hope that it will stimulate it. I am certainly not smart enough to figure out if this will work or not. But I think in the big picture sense this credit bubble was created in the first place by massive over consumption by everyone around the world.

A few years ago, when I was still back in New York and was observing the real estate bubble growing, what struck me was that the real estate around the world were also growing at an unreasonable pace. In the newspapers all you read about was that countries as varied as China, Ireland, UAE, England,India, Poland, Vietnam, etc were experiencing even bigger real estate booms than the US. I read stories of economies in those countries booming and its citizens enjoying an accelerated rise in standards of living. All of this consumption were directly or indirectly related to the cheap credit available at the time, and that is how interconnected we all were. Therefore, spending was more and more dependent on the house of cards named credit.

Now that credit has been effectively cut off, I think we are in a process of returning to normalcy. The problem is that from where we came from this is a drastic change of the credit landscape. The actions taken by governments around the world to lower interest rates and throw money into the system in hopes of stimulating the economy is the obvious short term answer to cushion that fall. The problem is that I hope that all of these actions will not act as a catalyst to return our economies to the broken model that pervaded globally in the past 10 years in the long run. I am not sure if the answer is to get people to buy more cars by lowering the standards of issuing credit again by stimulating the banks. Maybe its better to just go with the scorch earth way. Clean up everything in sight and start anew. Maybe everyone has to suffer in the short run and take a step back before moving forward again.

The other problem that we don't have is time to intelligently and carefully consider these issues in this day and age of the internet before people become agitated. Patience is a virtue that not many of us have these days.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy Birthday God of Wealth and Fortune!


Chinese New Year this year fell on 1/26/09. Traditionally, the Chinese set off fireworks on the 1st of the lunar new year. As tradition evolves, in Shanghai people have started to set off fireworks on the 5th day to celebrate the birthday of the fortune god. As you can imagine, if there is a day to celebrate money then it is a reason to set off fireworks in a city like Shanghai where money is paramount. Local Shanghai residents I have spoken to about the topic told me that setting off fireworks on the 5th is a practice that started to take hold only within the past 30 years and is uniquely Shanghaiese.

Buying fireworks could not be any easier here in Shanghai as temporary fireworks stands pop up everywhere this time of year. I am not sure as to the legality selling fireworks, but either they are legal or law enforcement is looking the other way.

As I am writing this entry it is half past midnight of the 5th day of the lunar new year. For most of the evening leading up to midnight, the people of Shanghai has been setting off fireworks sporadically. By 11:30PM the rate of pyrotechnic activity builds until it reached climax at around midnight as the 5th day approaches. The minutes before to about 15 minutes past midnight, it is an absolutely spectacular and mad scene outside my 16th floor apartment window. All kinds of fireworks and firecrackers are being set off everywhere you look. At its peak, the illumination of the sky is enhanced by the light from the fireworks reflecting off the smoke created by such a profusion of pyrotechnic activity. The sound is deafening and continuous. At one point the smoke was so thick, that it lowered visibility to the point where the firework display was almost completely shrouded.

There were a few rounds of fireworks that were set off directly on the ground level below my apartment. I can literally see the incended shell being propelled to about 20 feet outside my window then exploding with the residue hitting my window. That is how close to the action I was. I have never seen such a display anywhere in my life. Fourth of July is nothing compared to what I saw outside my window tonight.

Even though these were not professional fireworks, it was probably the best fireworks show that I have ever seen. This has to be seen to believe. The whole experience was quite surreal.

Hope the god of fortune brings us luck this year,'cause we really need it right now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Sanctuary

Its funny at how much more tolerant I am of certain things now that I have lived in China for a while now. Being a Chinese-American, I am able to somewhat penetrate the realm of the local Chinese. Therefore, unlike other expatriates here in China I am able to get a better sense of what life is like for a local. It also helps that I am open minded enough to try things that would have made me uncomfortable in America.

One such example is embedded in the dining experience. In America, dining is very much a social event especially when dining out. It is a time when one relaxes with food, drink and conversation with friends or family members. There is an expectation of privacy in order for that ambiance to pervade. This is true no matter if you are dining in McDonalds or Lutece.

Here in China, there is a somewhat different expectation from the dining experience. It is more about the eating that is emphasized rather than the social interaction especially at the mid to lower price of the spectrum. It seems its all about getting seated and having your food, therefore it is very common for people to share tables in restaurants during peak dining hours. I had experiences where I have sat at a table for 4 and every person at the table is a stranger to one another. Since everyone is a stranger there is an aura of awkwardness where no conversation is taking place. This leads to a strange dynamic of just putting your head down and eating your food as fast as possible to get out of that awkward situation. Its almost akin to the experience in the men's urinal where every man is staring at the wall in front of him so he doesn't accidentally look at the private parts of the man standing next to him.

Sharing tables would have been something that I would never consider in America and its something that I would still avoid even here in China, but sometimes during peak dining hours and my stomach is growling I will make the sacrifice. Besides, you really can't control the situation if a stranger plops himself next to you while you are in the middle of your braised pork.

Of course, this is not to say that this is true in every restaurant in China. First, business has to be good enough where table sharing becomes necessary. Second, this is less true as your move up the price spectrum. Therefore, the sanctuary of your own table in a restaurant can still be had here in most cases.

Monday, December 22, 2008

NY Times updates

Mysteriously, without any explanation the NY Times website appeared in my firefox window. Of course there was an article in the NY Times announcing their reappearance in China. The Times could not get any explanation as to why the site was blocked in the first place.

The NY Times are constantly running articles about China - positively and negatively but did not suffer any censorship in my two years in China. I don't even want to surmise as to what happened. As things always are in China, there is no explanation for anything.

Anyway, I am just happy to have access to the Times again.

Friday, December 19, 2008

NY Times web site blocked

Agrrrrahhh! Probably the website that I get most of my news these days is now blocked in China.

I heard recently that the Chinese government have resumed their tight censorship over internet access recently after a period of relaxed control around the time of the Olympics. It seems that the NY Times website is one of the casualties. Its funny that for a couple of years now I have not experienced any censorship of the NY Times. Anyway, the funny thing is that the global version of the NY Times, International Herald Tribune is still up and running. I think if you try to figure out China, all you will do is come up with questions with no answers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wii

I finally purchased the game console Wii on an impulse. I have heard plenty about how wildly popular it is. When I finally got a chance to play it, I realized that the Wii has taken this form of gaming to another level.

Gaming up to this point in the past 10 years or so has made tremendous strides in graphics. This has taken games from cartoons to look almost like movies. Games have also gotten more and more sophisticated and complicated over the years and this translates well to the hardcore gamers. What was left behind was the regular person who was not very sophisticated when it comes to games. They are typically intimidated by the complicated controls. At parties if you were to bring out the X-box or PS3, you would only be able to get a small percentage of people to play it. The Wii has brought the fun to every person at the party with controls that makes the user interaction with the game intuitive.

I owned the PS1 and XBox in the past and could never get my wife to play with me, but now she has as much fun with the games as me. Nintendo really hit a home run with this machine. An added bonus is the fact that my Wii has been modified to play copies of games which are being sold throughout Shanghai for a measly 5RMB (current exchange rate of 6.8 translates to 73 cents).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Election thoughts

The results of the US presidential elections was not a shocking one by any stretch considering the state of the US economy. However, the results was historic as the first minority ever ascends to the top position in the most powerful nation on Earth.

The significance of this event transcends race relations in the United States. This was a significant event for race relations world-wide. This was not just an African-American becoming the president but a Asian-African-American if there is such a title. Here is a man who was born in Hawaii, with ties to Kenya and Indonesia. He is truly a man of the world and following his win there were mass celebrations throughout the world. The celebrations were especially poignant in his father's hometown in Kenya and his home for 4 years of his childhood in Indonesia.

This event gave people hope worldwide that the person leading the most powerful nation in the world can understand other points of view. I believe that is the factor that Obama brings to the table. This factor can be very effective in many regards if it is used properly. It forms the foundation of a strong tailwind for an Obama administration. I don't know if Obama can be the great president that many hopes he can be, but I can say that the conditions are right for that to happen. I hope he steers the plane along that tailwind even though there will be turbulent times ahead.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Qingdao






The first week of October is known as "Golden Week" (黄金周). This is one of two weeks in China (other being the week of Chinese New Year) where the country is off from work for the entire week. Needless to say this is a perfect opportunity to take off and to a little traveling.

During this period me and the wife traveled to Qingdao in Shangdong province, about a hour's flight north of Shanghai. Qingdao is known in China and internationally as the city that produces China's most famous beer - Tsingtao beer. This city was under the control of the Germans earlier in the 1900's and it was at that time that the Tsingtao brewery was established. German influences are evident here in its architecture.

The city is situated right along the ocean, and despite its Chinese name 青岛- literally translated as "Green Island", this city is not an island.

While planning for this trip we were pleasantly surprised and then apprehensive when we discovered that the Tsingtao Beer Festival was being held right at the time we were planning on visting. We were happy that we stumbled upon the highlight event of Qingdao on the calendar because normally this event is held in August. This year Qingdao held the sailing events in both the Olympics and Paralympics from August to September. Therefore the beer festival was postponed until October. What we were apprehensive about was the specter of going on vacation during a weeklong holiday to a city holding its biggest festival of the year. This had all of the ingredients of a week filled with a sea of humanity vying for all the recreation resources the city had to offer.

In reality while there was some sites where there were crowds of people, our worst fears were really never realized. The beer festival was attended by lots of people, but just enough to make the ambiance festive instead of becoming overcrowded. The food at the festival was overpriced and not too tasty, but the combination of beer, music and a general festive atmosphere made for a great time.

We also toured the Tsingtao beer museum which detailed the history of the company and there was a live brewery along with a bottling facility. The end of the tour in the museum brought us to a bar where we were given samples of Tsingtao draft and Tsingtao raw draft beers. The beer museum is also located in Qingdao's "Beer Street". This street is strewed with seafood restaurant serving of course, Tsingtao beer. This is a great place to relax in the evening especially when there are lots of people sitting on outdoor tables.

When we were not drinking beer, we were touring the city with its German influences. The city has a leisurely pace that was quite welcoming considering where we live.

Overall, I found Qingdao to be a nice place to visit for a few days to get away from the madness of urban life.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ferrari on the streets of Shanghai



With traffic like this, why bother with a car like that?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Global financial crisis

After blogging for over a year and touching on the oft-mentioned theme of the Chinese stock market meltdown, I am now confronted with a meltdown of global proportions.

Ironically, the Chinese economy might be in a better position than many to withstand this global crisis. I think at this point, the Chinese economy will no doubt feel the effects of this crisis roiling in the US and Europe. The effects will be indirect - lower demand for Chinese imports and less overseas investments.

The banks in China was not plagued with the same problems with their counterparts in the west ironically because the economy here in China is not as mature. Credit is not used as much as America as a tool to finance investments and purchases. Therefore, the impact on China will be coming externally rather than internal. The key for China and its large eastern cities will be their own credit markets and the real estate market. After the stock market meltdown, China can ill-afford to have a real estate meltdown. The real estate market have shown signs of weakness, and are indeed very much over priced. If this part of the economy starts to deteriorate, things could become quite ugly as well

Of course, it still remains to be seen if things will get as bad here in China as elsewhere in the world. One thing is for sure, Chinese economy is not as leveraged as Americas, and that just might be enough to keep things from getting really ugly.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

haircut for life!!

I have been sporting a military style buzz cut for the past 2 years. This new hairstyle started during my backpacking trip in 2005. This was done with pure practicality in mind as it minimized the amount of grooming time during our trip to the third world. The other reason was to see how I would look without much hair since we have a history of male pattern baldness on both my maternal and paternal sides. After the trip I decided to keep the look because I was never a hairstyle kind of guy anyway.

I have been cutting my own hair with a pair of electric hair clippers since my hairstyle has uniform length on all sides. Before people start to draw conclusions to my thriftiness, I must tell my side of the story.

Barbershops, like many service industries here in China like to promote the pre-paid membership pricing strategy. What this means is that when you go for a haircut that costs about 15 RMB (around $2.20) including hair wash you have to endure sales pitches from nearly every person who services you. When the haircut is over and you are ready to pay, then you would typically get a hard sales pitch where you would have to reject the offer about 5 times before they retreat.

The deal typically goes like this: you prepay 1000RMB value for a prepaid/membership card and enjoy a 20% discount for all services at the store as long as you keep a prepaid balance on the card. The absurdity of the whole thing is that a prepaid 1000RMB card gets you monthly haircuts for 5 years before the value on the card is depleted. Of course, the typical barbershop offers many other services that the card can be used for such as that hair washing, back massage, earwax removal, etc.

This give some insight to the mentality of the Chinese consumer where they can be enticed into "buying in bulk" to enjoy discounts. To me, when you buy in bulk, you also tend to consume in bulk.

The high pressure sales pitch and a new outlook on my hairstyle are the top reasons that I now typically cut my own hair. Its funny but its true.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Visit to Taipei

I had a revelation on a trip to Taipei last month. The place where I was born has become a modern world class city right under my nose.

I left Taiwan in 1978 and did not make a return trip until 1994. Since then I have been going back there every 3 to 4 years. On my initial trip back to Taiwan, the country was evolving. Conditions reminded me of the way Shanghai looks outside of the downtown area. Things were still under construction and had somewhat of a third world feel to it. The air was very polluted from factory pollution and construction sites. The traffic patterns was very much like they are currently in Shanghai - wild and not for the faint of heart.

Even though I have been going to Taiwan every so often since that initial trip, I somehow did not noticed the changes as they were subtle. During this trip, I reminisced about that initial trip and realized just how much the city has changed. The city now has a new subway system which has alleviated much of the traffic problems that plagued it the past. That along with the move of the manufacturing sector to mainland China has really lessened the pollution. The development of a highway system along with the completion of a high speed railway system has also led to an efficient transportation system.

The other aspect of improvement in Taiwan is the culinary scene. The native Taiwanese food has always been a favorite and is best eaten in the multitude of street stands. This is an aspect of dining that is far better than what Shanghai has to offer. There is also a high quality of fare of foreign influence.

Service has improved to an excellent quality in all aspects of the service sector. It appears that what American would consider a middle class lifestyle is within reach of many Taiwanese.

I still remembered on my initial trip back to Taiwan in 1994 I never thought that I could actually live in Taipei, but after my recent trip I must admit that my birthplace has become a very livable place.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Turmoil on Wall Street

The past two weeks have been incredibly eventful in the financial world. Several of the biggest names on Wall Street have either gone out of business, forced to be sold, or saved by the US Government.

This is very relevant to me since I use to work at one of the two remaining independent investment banks still embroiled in the turmoil. I have spoken to some of my former co-workers and can sense the nervousness about their uncertain future. It is likely that they will have to be forced into a merger considering the adverse market condition for an independent investment bank to operate under. This will most likely result in layoffs as there will be redundancies in any merger.

As this financial seismic event was taking place on Wall Street, people in China also felt it as their stock market dove in concert with the global markets. Its actually pretty amazing how many people in China actually know the names of Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. I don't think most Chinese actually know what these firms do, but then again it seems like the firms themselves don't seem to either.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节)

So today is the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节). This will be the first time in China where this holiday will be observed with a day off from work. Even though the actual holiday this year (its 8/15 on the lunar calendar) lands on a Sunday, businesses will be closed on the following Monday.

The Mid Autumn Festival is marked by the gifting of mooncakes (月饼)to friends and family members. I like to compare these mooncakes to fruitcakes that traditionally gets gifted around during Christmas time. Neither are particularly tasty but are both ubiquitous.

The gifting of mooncakes is such a tradition here that it is taking on a life of its own. Its similar to Christmas in some ways, except the only gift to give is the mooncake. Businesses make sure that they give mooncakes to their important customers, not doing so will be seen as a sign of disrespect.

I personally don't like to eat them, but we get so many from friends and business associates that we don't know what to do with them. Well, at the very least I get a day off from work and that would be the best thing about this holiday.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The bubble that was

This recurring theme continues to bear fruit. Who can resist talking about money? The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite sits today 9/5/08 at 2202, a 64% drop from its high of 6124 on 10/16/07. This is also a 22% drop from my last blog entry (6/11/08 - 2856) about this historic collapse.

I no longer consider this a bubble anymore. By conventional measures, this index is probably close to its fair value (but still a bit on the high side). Of course this does not mean that the decline will halt because during a panic, stock market values tend to overshoot fair value to settle at below value. This could mean another several hundred points of decline in store for this market. To their credit, the Chinese government for the most part have not made any dramatic policy changes to placate the investors who have lost a considerable amount of their investment. Accountability should rest on the investors in order for capital markets to reach maturity.

The retail investors have really taken it on the chin. A cross section of society have been affected by this, and that is a pattern when a market is in a bubble. It can only get to that point when all kinds of people start to invest in it. Where I work there are people who are mail room clerks, landscapers and chauffeurs all investing in the stock market. Our maid have also dabble in it. This correction was necessary and imperative in order for this stock market to mature.

The latest development in the real estate market in China is that it is following the stock market in a correction. Sales volume have really slowed to a trickle for the past year and the prices are dropping throughout the country. We will see where all of this end soon enough.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fortune Cookies in China

This goes to show you that something that is as ubiquitous as fortune cookies in America is actually not what it seems:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Olympics hangover

So the Olympics ended last Sunday with the closing ceremonies. The funny thing is that if you turn on the TV here in Shanghai, you can still watch the Opening Ceremonies, the Closing Ceremonies, selected events such as the USA-Spain basketball gold medal game and the USA-China basketball match.

After being inundated with wall to wall Olympic coverage on 5 CCTV channels and the Shanghai sports channel, you can say that I am pretty much Olympicked-out (if there is such a word). But its been a week after the Olympics and its almost as if the country cannot put this event behind them. I guess it is no wonder since this is the first large scale international event that China has hosted where it gave the country so much "face" (面子), and we all know how important that is to the Chinese people.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fall of an Icon

Today, the Chinese 110 meter hurdler Liu Xiang withdrew from his first race thereby ending his dream of repeating as Olympic champion in his event. I think it is fair to say that this sent shock-waves through the collective Chinese psyche. This is the last athlete that anyone in China would want this to happen to.

To understand the magnitude of this development, one has to consider the place that China sits in the world today. China is an country whose people believe that they are on the threshold of being a superpower, even though in reality it probably already is. There is a deep seated inferiority complex in the Chinese psyche. The times of chaos, upheaval and poverty was only a generation ago. There are deep scars from those times. The education system very much emphasizes how tough life has been for the Chinese in the past 100 years. From being occupied by the western powers in the earlier part of the century to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during WW2. Even though the madness of Mao is not taught in the schools, they are very much fresh in the memories of the middle aged to the elderly in the Chinese population. The Chinese very much recognize their shortcomings.

The other factor is the obvious fact that the Chinese do not excel in track and field events. The rare events that the Chinese had previous success are in the endurance events, not the short distance track event that are normally dominated by the black athlete. The Chinese excel at events where skill, quickness and hand-eye coordination are important. The 110 meter hurdle and other sprint events represents power and speed and machismo. Liu Xiang represents the rarest of the Chinese athlete.

This confluence of factors has stirred up very strong feelings for Liu Xiang. He symbolizes the image of a new China, one that is constantly improving and ready to show the world what they are capable of.

I personally believe that the Chinese would trade all of the ping pong and badminton gold medals that they have won in these Olympics for Liu Xiang to get his gold. It may take another 30 years for the next Liu Xiang to come along.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic controversy



What would a world event be without a controversy? The Spanish Olympic basketball team apparently posed for an advertisement for a Spanish courier service where they used their fingers to push the side of their eyes upward to mimic a "slit-eyed Chinese". I think the image speaks for itself. There will be prejudices among us no matter what because of our differences. It is just part of our nature.

For me personally, I found the pose offensive since I grew up in America in the 1980's, a period of time where a place like New York was not as diverse as it is now. During my childhood these kind of insults were commonplace. It speaks to the deep-seated prejudice that exists in all of us that emerge from ignorance. Children are the most honest, so it is in that environment where you see the true image of society. In that environment, there wasn't a day that went by where I was unaware of how I stand out among the crowd. I think my surroundings let me know all of the time. So for me, I recognize the gesture by the Spanish Olympic basketball team immediately.

The more interesting thing is that when I showed the picture to my colleagues who are native Chinese, they couldn't figure out what the pose stood for. I suspected that the reaction would be as such. The Chinese people who grew up in China live in a more homogeneous society where they were the majority. They have never been exposed to the type of racism that those of us who were raised overseas experienced. If anything, they were the ones perpetrating the stereotyping of the ethnic minorities in China such as the Tibetans and the Uighers.

I have learned over time, that every once in a while you are reminded of some the ugliness of human nature that exists in all of us.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympics thoughts 2

I just had a chance to see the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I must admit that even though I grew up in America, there was a definite sense of pride that I had for the country being able to host these games.

The opening ceremonies started with a 75 minute tribute to the 5000 year history of China. For those with some knowledge about Chinese history, there was some meaning to these performances. However, I am sure for most people in the States, about the only thing that they could specifically understand is probably during the Tai-Chi performance.

The parade of the athletes was a drawn out, near 2.5 hour affair. Honestly it was interesting to watch in the beginning but after about a hour of seeing countries being introduced and circumnavigating the stadium mostly from nondescript countries it became a bit mundane. The most anticipated event was the lighting of the Olympic torch. It certainly did not disappoint as the former 3 time gold medalist (and 6 time medalist) Li Ning from the 1984 Olympics circumnavigated the top rim of stadium hanging from thin cables to light the torch.

Overall, it was a celebration of China and its willingness to engage the rest of the world. I was struck by the spirit of the volunteers who performed in the ceremony, as there was a definite sense of excitement and enthusiasm one typically does not see in Chinese people. It was almost as if they knew everyone was watching and they just wanted to connect with them through the television screen. I think I underestimated how important the Olympics is to a country like China who have been secluded and shrouded in mystery to most outsiders. I think now I understand, and I hope this marks the beginning of a true understanding of the culture and the people of China. I hope it changes the perception of China from the rest of the world.

Monday, July 21, 2008

weekend trip: Huangshan












One of the goals during our stay in China has been to travel and explore Asia as much as we can. With this sentiment in mind forms the basis of our spontaneous weekend trip to Huangshan (黄山).

My wife's co-worker was planning to go to Huangshan with relatives and asked us to go. This was last Wednesday and we were to go on Saturday. Visit a place in China with a legendary status that we have never been? Absolutely.

Huangshan has a special place in Chinese history as it is often acclaimed in Chinese art and literature. It is known for it beauty and spectacular scenery. One of the most surreal and beautiful sights is the "sea of clouds" (云海). Since the peak is above cloud level the ebb and flow of the clouds between and through the ranges can be observed at these mountain tops.

Huangshan is about a 6 hour bus ride from Shanghai or an 11 hour train ride. Why the difference? This is because Huangshan is on the western side of a mountain range and since Shanghai is east of Huangshan, there are quite a bit of mountain terrain between them. The railways of China has been in existence for many number of years while the highways have only been developed on a mass scale recently. This means that the railway track were built around the mountain range in the distant past, while newer technology was available to build the highway through the mountain range.

We decided to break up the trip by leaving Shanghai for Hangzhou, another place of legendary status in China that is situated at nearly the half way point between Shanghai and Huangshan. This affords us a shorter bus ride Saturday morning and more time and energy for the hike.

There are 3 trams that takes visitors up to the peak. These trams rides can fit up to 6 people and takes about 10 minutes to go to the top. When we reached the top the, the Huangshan revealed itself in a surreal way. It had rained earlier in the day and the peak was intermittently shrouded in fog throughout our 2 day visit. Certain lookout points revealed views of the clouds shrouding and moving between the peaks. Other areas offered stunning views of deep gorges on artificial concrete trails cantilevering off the side of the mountain.

Our first day and a half consists of hiking on trails that were sparsely trekked, that is probably because we were no where close to the more famous areas of the peak. This afforded us the feeling that we were really in tuned with nature. One trail we hiked on - the Western Steps was a 5 hours hike that was physically grueling as it interval between climbing and descending steps. This was also where we saw the deepest gorges. By the end of day two we descended on to the more touristy side of Huangshan. It was every bit the China tourism nightmare. The trail was narrow and there were throngs of people clogging up these trails. Some parts of the trail was hazardous as there were too many people trying to climb and descend on the same trail. We were so busy dodging people that I don't remember seeing anything worth remembering. It was a good thing that we got to this area to take the tram down the mountain and we only spent about 1 hour in this area.

Overall, if one were to visit Huangshan and hike off the beaten trails one will be rewarded with the best that nature has to offer.


Logistics:

In visiting Huangshan, one should plan to stay overnight for at least one night. Lodgings are available at the peak and at two different points at the base of the mountain. At the base of the mountain there is a small town called Tangkou (汤口)which is right outside the front gate of the Huangshan recreation area. This is about 20 minutes bus or cab ride to the trams. Accommodations here are spartan by western standards, with rooms available for around 80-100rmb. The other area at the base of the mountain is the city of Tunxi (屯溪), which is about an 1 hour cab or van ride away from Tangkou. As this is the main springboard point to Huangshan, there are hotels of all types and the area airport is located here as well. If budget permits, I would recommend that a visit to Huangshan should be spend overnight in hotels at the peak. Hotels up there are 3 star quality and they run about 1000rmb and up. Dorm rooms costs about 220rmb but the rooms tend to be dirty and uncomfortable. The quality of all accommodations at the peak do not justify the price, but the walk to see the sunrise at 4:30 in the morning might. The tram to the peak of Huangshan costs 80rmb and the entrance fee to the Huangshan recreation area costs 202rmb.

To get to Huangshan from Hangzhou, there are buses available for 100rmb from the west bus station to Tangkou (3.5 hours) or 85RMB to Tunxi (2.5 hours). From Shanghai, there are buses available from the Hutai street station to Tangkou (6 hours) for 130rmb and 100rmb to Tunxi (5 hours).


Here is a map of the Huangshan area:

http://www.maps-of-china.net/tourism_map/h_touristmap1.html
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