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Uncertain Decade Ahead June 28, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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We are facing an uncertain future in the next decade because of several programs pushed by the current administration and other forces in the our daily lives:

  • Financial bailout: The federal government has pumped billions of dollars into banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies. The worst may be avoided for now but many banks still have a tremendous amount of toxic assets on their books. The results are that banks are reluctant to lend. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are still to be resolved. The financial turmoil in AIG is not over yet. GM and Chrysler, a private company, will face serious competitions from the likes of KIA, Hyundai, and later Tata and Chinese auto companies, not to mention Toyota and Honda who have been eating GM, Chrysler and Ford’s lunch for the past 3 decades..
  • Stimulus Plan: In order to stimulate the weak US economy which has been officially in recession since December 2007, the government has borrowed billions of dollars by auctioning record amount of treasuries in recent months. The federal deficit could reach $2 trillion in 2009 according to a Morgan Stanley report: $500 billion annual deficit, reduced in tax collections; $700 billion stimulus plan, on-going wars in Afghanistan, more bailouts for banks and insurance companies, etc. The national debt is estimated to reach $12 trillion by the end of 2009. The GDP in the first quarter of 2009 was around $14.1 trillion. Assuming a 3.5% coupon rate, the annual interest payment on this debt is about $420 billion. As economy recovers, interest rate will increase. The overall coupon rate for the national debt will increase too.
  • Climate Bill: The cap and trade program on CO2 will put a huge burden on every household in the United States through higher spending on electricity, heating oil, higher gasoline prices and higher natural gases. The United States has been living like a spoiled child and we are paying for the consequence now.
  • Trade deficit: The United States is importing 70% of its daily crude consumption and the trend will not reverse in the foreseeable future. At current price of about $70/barrel, we are paying foreign countries a total sum of $420 billion a year. The US is dependent on many foreign countries for its daily necessities: China for its household goods and clothes; Japan for electronics and autos; Mexico for its crude oil but the largest oil field in Mexico, Cantarell, is dying; Canada for its natural resources and heavy crude; Saudi Arabia and its neighbors for their crude oil, Australia for its copper and other industrial metals; Taiwan for LCD Panels, etc. Trade deficit will continue to increase and our living standard will suffer. If we have any hints of supply interruption of crude oil from Muslim countries, we will pay through our noses for gasoline. Whether we like it or not, we are facing the biggest re-distribution of world wealth in our life time. Have you counted the number of high rise buildings in Arabian countries lately? I am sure that you know where that money came from? This trend will continue indefinitely as natural resources get scarce.
  • Health Bill: In addition to the huge costs, i.e., more borrowing from China, the current administration is trying to extend its control in 1/7 of our economy by creating a government-sponsored health insurance program. mind you that this is just the beginning and more to come later. The employer-sponsored private insurance system will in time cease to exist as we know it. Health cost will not decrease because the government is notoriously inefficient. Innovation in medical research will suffer because the government will take out the incentives. Drug companies will shift their research facilities to foreign countries because of less government control. Our benefit and health care will suffer because the government insurance will dictate what you can get and what you are not allowed to have. The consequence is that the US will hand over another leadership position in drug development and medical instrument innovation to another country in time. Can you name another industry that US can claim leadership position in? Let me try: Aerospace. Defense. Processing chips. Software development. LCD panels? No. Auto? No. What about computer? Nope. Smart Phones? Easily copied. Financing? Nope.
  • The re-distribution of world wealth has another serious consequence that I haven’t seen too much discussion yet: the brain drain. When we were trying our best to come to the United States 30 years ago, the US was the only place to come for opportunities. Now many smart people either stay in their home countries or return home after being educated in the US because the US is not the only country where one can make a lot of money.
  • The burst of the financial bubble wiped out trillions of wealth in home equities and stock portfolios. The wound has been deep and the pain was felt in every corner of the US. The unforeseen consequence is the highest savings rate by the consumers; it reached 6.9% in the latest reporting period. This conservative mindset will be with us for a long time. The higher savings rate suggests that the economy will stay flat because we account for 70% of the US GDP. The slow recovery means more layoffs and higher unemployment. 401(k) contribution will decrease. Pension will cease to exist. Retirement is pushing further into the future. We all have to work longer instead of vacationing somewhere on a beach in Florida or Caribbean.
  • If the economy recovery is delayed and if the unemployment situation is not improved in the next year or two, the current administration will for sure drum up more spending programs before the next election to make sure he’ll get a second term. More deficit spending. More borrowing. More downward pressure on the US dollar. And, more threat of inflation 2 or 3 years down the road. The Federal Reserve has no option but to raise the interest rate. This translates into higher debt still and even higher interest payments.
  • The state and local governments will be forced to raise taxes or cut services in order to meet budget requirements. Living standard suffers and we will be a lot poorer. Simple as that!
  • I haven’t mentioned the lousy states of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They are all in the brink of insolvency. We are all getting older and will rely on these programs to help us trough our golden ages. Payroll tax will be raised. Retirement age will be pushed back. Medicare and Medicaid benefits will be cut. Many drugs will be out of our reach. Shall I continue?

What can we peons do about it? Dare I suggest the following:

  1. Reduce our taxes or cost of living like moving to a state with lower tax.
  2. Accumulate gold. Gold is speculative but if you believe that US dollar is heading lower, you should but gold. China has increased its gold reserved to 1,000 tons earlier this year from 300 tones in 2003. At $950 an ounce, it is worth about $30 billion. Their goal is to accumulate 5,000 tones in the coming years. Canadian Maple, American Eagle, American Buffalo Gold, Panda Gold  are all good choices.
  3. Buy hard assets like a house because it provides tax incentives and it appreciates over the long run.
  4. Buy Renminbi by opening a bank account in China.
  5. Buy a house or condo in China or Taiwan to diversify and reduce your risks.
  6. Buy energy company stocks as an inflation hedge. US or Chinese oil companies are good selections. Too bad I can’t buy shares of Saudi National Oil company or Iraqi national oil company.
  7. Buy solar, wind or water related stocks.
  8. Buy commodity-related stocks.
  9. Move to Taiwan or China.

Euro Bistro – Herndon, Virginia – Thursday, June 18, 2009 June 20, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
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Euro Bistro – Herndon, Virginia – Thursday, June 18, 2009

Euro Bistro on Elden Street in the heart of Herndon has been a favorite of us since it first opened about 9 years ago. We spotted the restaurant shortly after it opened its door and visited it a couple of times before it was on anybody’s radar screen. The combination of small space of less than 10 tables, cozy atmosphere, personable services, good crowd, affordable wines, and outstanding food made this restaurant a pleasant place to have a quick lunch or a homey dinner of mostly Northern European food. Back then, the tall chef took time to greet his customers whenever he had a chance to get out of the kitchen. He would ask his guests whether they like the food or the wine. He would then dash into the kitchen and back to his job.

We then saw the restaurant received great praises on local newspapers and magazines. Many food critics piled on and recommended the restaurant. It was always busy when we visited the place and the quality of the food stayed pretty consistent over the years. Then the situation went down hill and hit the bottom yesterday when Maria and I went for a quick lunch.

About 4 or 5 years ago, Euro Bistro took over the space next door. The new space added about two times of its original seats. Ever since then, the restaurant wasn’t as busy as before. Service became hit or miss because, I think, it wasn’t staffed with qualified personnel. The quality of the food also decreased, albeit slowly. And we stopped going all together because Euro Bistro has lost its edge and there were many other new restaurants opening up in Reston Town Center and Fairfax.

Maria was off yesterday (Thursday, June 17, 2009) and I didn’t have to work either. I fasted since midnight Wednesday for a blood sample at 11:00 AM as a follow-up of my previous visit to doctor’s office three months ago. Coming out of the doctor’s office, we went to the bank and took care of business for our restaurant. By then, it was about 11:35 AM and I haven’t taken Percocet for 28 hours. I felt good and we were pretty hungry too.

We first drove around the K-Mart Shopping Center in Herndon trying to find a decent place. We were shocked to find out that there were up to 10 stores closed for good: a Japanese restaurant, a Salvadorian restaurant, a big Thai restaurant, a vacuum store, Gold Gym, Hard Time café, an Indian place, and a few others. We came up to Euro Bistro and decided to give it another chance since we haven’t been here for a long time.

The parking spaces in front of the restaurant were quite empty. There were only a few tables inside of the restaurant, a far cry from the hay days of the past we remembered. We walked into the restaurant and found out that it was practically empty about 20 minutes before noon: three or four tables of 2 tops among 40 tables or so in two dinning rooms. Where was the lunch crowd? The restaurant was supposed to be bustling with customers and waitress at this time. There was no office workers dressed in shirt and tie or skirt and high heels. All we had was some locals quietly having their lunch in a quiet restaurant. Well, Panera just opened a big restaurant in the shopping center. Five Guys has been there for about a year and half. We also have McDonald’s, a Chinese buffet, a Vietnamese Pho place, a Chinese restaurant, Virginia Kitchen, an Italian restaurant, and a pizza place, a place called Russian Gourmet, Popeye Chicken, Subway, and a few Latino restaurants. There were too many choices within the walking distance not to mention all the restaurants (at least 15 if not 20) in the Reston Town center about 3 miles away. Well, time is tough and it is not easy to get noticed in time of economic stress.

The female manager casually pointed to a 2-top against the wall not far from the entrance and signaled us to sit there. She then disappeared into the back station and worked on whatever she was about to do before we came in. No warm welcome! No customary greeting of something like “How are you today?” or “Is this okay with you?” or “I will be right with you.” It wasn’t that the restaurant was busy and they were short-handed and, if it was me, I would try my best to give my customers any seat they want in the house and make them welcomed and comfortable. Nope, we didn’t get any of that. We got a half-hearted showing of her arm which was like “take your seat and I would be there later when I got around to it.”

Well, I didn’t like that table. It was a 2-top against the wall in an empty dinning room. I happened to like to sit side-by-side with Maria when we have lunch or dinner. I walked to the inside dinning room where other customers were. I picked a 4-top and sit ourselves with our back facing the window because it was bright outside. She came back with menu and asked us what we like to drink. Maria asked for an iced tea and I said that I haven’t decided yet. She asked me if I wanted to see the wine list. I said yes. But it never came and I wasn’t sure what went wrong there. I asked for a glass of water instead.

By this time, I wasn’t very happy with my choice of restaurant but decided to stick around. We also decided not to order a lot of food like we used to in many restaurants we went to. No wine. No appetizers. No desserts. Just two dishes from the lunch menu and try our luck.

Three more customers showed up. They were old ladies in their 50’s. The busy girl showed them to their table close to ours. A food-runner also showed up whose primary job was apparently delivering food to the customers. The waitress/manager came back soon and asked for our orders. What, so fast? I barely had time to finish the lunch menu and there was another sheet of paper with about 20 to 25 dishes that I haven’t gotten around to yet. She was apparently trying to rush her customers, or maybe just us, out and getting ready for a busy lunch crowd later. But what was the hurry? I wanted to take my time and the restaurant wasn’t busy at all. By now, there were 9 customers including us.

We finally decided to order the following:

  1. An Austria or German dish of pork loin with ham, red pepper, onion, and mushrooms in Paprika Sauce for $11.45. Egg noodle in the shape of small dumplings (kind like garbanzo beans) called Spätzle came with the dish. I decided to try this dish because the Paprika sauce intrigued me.
  2. California Pizza with roasted bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, garlic, olives and mozzarella cheese for $8.95.

Some bread came first with whipped butter. I counted 4 small, thin slices in a bread basket. The whipped butter was full of flavor and easy to spread but the bread wasn’t good enough that you wanted to fight for the last piece in the bread basket. It was only slightly warm to the touch.

The Pork loin dish came first. Two slices of pork loin about 3” x 4” were first pounded into thin layer of about ¼” thick. It was then sautéed with other ingredients in a reddish sauce. The pork loin was good but the sauce wasn’t very special: bland, not spicy, tasted kind like light tomato sauce. Maria gave me a few bites while I was waiting for my pizza to come. Spätzle was warm, chewy but had little taste by itself. It would be good with the sauce though.

Well, the pizza finally came: at least 5 minutes late. This was a big no-no for any restaurant. It showed the lack of paying attention to the detail by the kitchen staff. I wasn’t sure what went on in the kitchen in the back but the dinning room manager should have noticed this too. But she was busy with the ladies.

The pizza looked very good: colorful, plenty of cheese, inviting and quite large for lunch; about 10”. I took a wedge and gave it a big bite. Wow! What kind of pizza dough was the crust made from? It was the worst pizza crust that I had ever had: it tasted like card board box, it had no holes; it was hard; it crumbled into chunks of dry flour in the mouth and it had no taste at all. I bet that the chef forgot to add baking soda or baking powder and salt when he made the dough. It could be even worse: he probably put some flour in the mixer, added some water and egg and made the dough after I placed the order! That was probably why it came out late. I gave up eating the pizza after one slice and lost any appetite for anything else.

By the time we finished paying for our lunches, the restaurant had a total of 13 customers at 12:20 PM. Our bill came to $23.27 and I gave a tip of $3.50.

What a huge disappointment! A great small restaurant ended up like this? I believed that it was on its last days unless something is done to change its image. For me, I would never go back to it again.

Bye-bye, Euro Bistro! You should have stayed small. Your rent would be more manageable. Your customers would have the image of a busy and cozy place. They would come back if they had to wait in line for a seat. The chef would not spread himself too thin. And most of all, it should replace the manager for sure.

Kidney Stone, Percocet, Water June 19, 2009

Posted by hslu in Health.
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This graph shows the amount of time in hours between two Percocets. The higher the bar, the longer it was between 2 Percocets. When the bars are short, the pain came back quickly.

Percocet Intake graph

As of now, I have taken 31 Percocets in 307 hours, or 12.7 days. The average time between Percocets was 9.0 hours. At three incidents (yellow bars,) I had to take 2 Percocets at a time because the pain was severe and one Percocet didn’t do the job. Percocet was sometimes necessary because the pain prevented me from sleeping at nights.

Percocet, or Oxycodone Hydrochloride/Acetaminophen, is commonly used to relief moderate to moderately severe pain. The principal ingredient, Oxycodone, is a chemical made from natural opioid, a compound found in opium poppy seeds. It works kind like morphine. Oxycodone is combined with Acetaminophen, the main ingredient of Tylenol, to form Percocet. Acetaminophen, as you know, is used to relief pain and reduce fever.

The dosage of my Percocet is 5-325 mg tablets. It has 5 mg of Oxycodone and 325 mg of Acetaminophen. The maximum daily dosage for an adult is 12 tablets. It takes about 20 minutes to work. A regular Tylenol has 325 mg of Acetaminophen. My side effects, including dizziness, nausea constipation, and itching skin have been mild so far.

According to the pamphlet my urologist gave me, the best way to prevent kidney stones is to drink a lot of water. The rule of thumb is: if your pee is too dark (brown) in color, then you didn’t drink enough water. The pamphlet also suggests that if you take calcium supplements, your risk of stone formation is elevated.

Well, as of now, the stone is still inside. I am not sure how long this will continue. If the stone doesn’t pass out naturally, I need to take an ultra sound in 4 weeks and then decide what to do next.

Four Sisters – Merrifield, Northern Virginia June 14, 2009

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Four Sisters – Merrifield, Northern Virginia

Hương Quê Restaurant in the Eden Center in Seven Corners has developed quite a reputation largely because the owner’s four young daughters who helped manage the popular Vietnamese restaurant. Food critics at Washington Post and other publications liked the place and have praised its food in numerous occasions. Maria and I have tried Hương Quê Restaurant in the past but didn’t think it deserved the praise: the food ordinary, the decoration second class, the atmosphere slightly better than any other Pho places in town. For my money, I wouldn’t go there again. But the positive recommendations kept coming year after year. Heck, who am I to argue with the local restaurant authority? But, the least I can do is not to go to their restaurant.

Four Sisters have left Eden Center (Not sure about the Hương Quê Restaurant though) and opened their own, fancier restaurant called, what else, Four Sisters in a new development in Merrifield, about 4 miles to the west. The same critic has tried the place and has, as expected, gave his high marks to the new restaurant.

Well, I have to find it out for myself. There aren’t many good Vietnamese restaurants unless their Pho is worth a return trip. No amount of fancy decoration, comfortable seats, high class utensils and/or pretty servers can change that.

The new Vietnamese restaurant occupies the corner of the street level storefronts of a new office/retail building on Gallows just two blocks south of Lee Highway. In fact, the entire South-West and North-West corners of Gallows and Lee Highway are and will be for the next decade or so undergoing a dramatic and much needed face-lift. Old, low level structure have been demolished, replaced with new, high-rise buildings which command much higher rents than what the land owners could get before. Four Sisters shares the buildings with PotBelly, Noodles & Co, Panera, Chipotle, Pastry Xpo, and Sea pearl (another new restaurant still working on its kinks, in my opinion.)

We arrived at the restaurant a little before quarter to 2 in the afternoon on Friday, June 5, 2009. The restaurant is much pretties than hương quê: dark-colored wooden tables and chairs with turquoise blue seat covers, cozy booths of the same colored seat covers, bright and open interior, modern and somewhat abstract decoration, and fresh flowers in the open dinning room and bathrooms. There was also a professional portrait of four sisters on the wall. I particularly liked the emblem of the restaurant – four women in traditional Vietnamese dress showing their personable silhouette figures.

four sisters

The restaurant was still pretty busy with late lunch crowds. The guests were mostly professional office workers on their lunch break. A waiter came quickly to check if we need any drinks. He was cheerful and quite professional.

We ordered:

Glass of Oyster bay Sauvignon Blanc                         $6.75, Jennifer/Bobby wedding white wine

Glass of La Terra Chardonnay                                    $4.95

The menu was comprehensive with way too many selections and I didn’t like this because it confused its customers and really didn’t add any depth to your restaurant.

We decided to order

Roasted Quails                                    $8.95

Because I wanted to compared theirs with the one we had in a Vietnamese restaurant in Worldgate Center in Herndon. I liked to try their pho because it could tell me a lot about the quality of the kitchen. I wanted to order a small bowl of pho and the waiter told me that it was an appetizer sized dish and suggested that I ordered a large size. I took his advice and ordered:

Beef Noodle Soup (Their version of Pho)                  $6.95.

Another dish that we chose was:

Ground Chicken with Crepe                                        $7.50

The chardonnay was fruity but lacked depth. I didn’t like it but its price was reasonable. The roasted quail came quickly. A side dish of lime and pepper-salt came to enhance its taste. The presentation was nice but nothing extraordinary. The quail was just good but the taste lacked the complexity we had in the other quail.

Photo0131

The pho and chicken were served soon after but we hadn’t finished our quail yet. The pho came with the customary bean sprout, jalapeño, basil, and lime. The broth was clear with minced cilantro floating on top but the soup bowl was one size smaller than what one would get in most other Vietnamese restaurants. There wasn’t a lot of meat and they were stingy on rice noodles too. The presentation was however much better than most. However, I was disappointed about the broth because it wasn’t very delicious and a little light on the seasoning. The meat was nothing special either. It was obviously prepared ahead of the time probably early that morning or a day before. It was just like the meat in any other pho places: chewy, grainy and not very tasty in the mouth even after I dipped it in the hot sauce. The broth was clear probably they served only well-done beef with their pho so that it won’t cloudy up the broth.

Photo0133

Chicken with Crepe was also a disappointment too. The pickled carrots weren’t as good as my version. The crepe was actually a sheet of steamed sticky rice noodle or 腸粉 ”chang fen” placed underneath the white chicken meat. The crepe wasn’t hot enough. The chicken was serious in need of more sauce and needed a little more caramelization too. It was apparent to me that the chicken meat was also pre-cooked and re-heated before my dish was served. It just didn’t have that freshly-cooked meat taste.

Photo0132

We didn’t finish the quail and only about ½ of the chicken. By the time we got to the crepe, it was only slightly warm in the center and tasteless. It was bad and no amount of fancy decoration could compensate for that.

We didn’t try any dessert although a few looked very interesting such as Flan, and sweet bean and gelatin in shaved ice.

Well, for my money, I would not go back to Four Sisters for their food. I also think that the restaurant was over-hyped by food critics of local newspaper and magazines.

Chinese Food – How I got started in Cooking Chinese Food – Part I June 11, 2009

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Chinese Food – How I got started in Cooking Chinese Food – Part I

I started to develop an interest in Chinese food when I was still a boy in Taiwan. Dad always had his single friends came over to our modest house for dinner around the end of the month right before the pay day. Most of his close friends were his class mates from 南京國立中央大學 ”Nanjing National Zhong Yang Da Xue,” a very famous university comparable to 北大 ”Bei Da” or Beijing university in the early 1900’s. Dad married earlier than most of his class mates and the single guys would come whenever they ran out of money; usually near the end of the month before they got paid on the first of every month. We knew all of them by their familiar voices such as: 國伯伯 ”Guo bobo,” 陳伯伯 ”Chen bobo,” 胡伯伯 ”Hu bobo,”  劉伯伯 ”Liu bobo,” 徐伯伯 “Xu bobo,” and 胖子叔 ”Pang Zi Shu,” among others. Mom would cook a lot of food and welcomed them as her own friends. Back then about 50 years ago, cooking was a time consuming and tedious task: we had only one cooking stove made of clay. It was about 24” tall, with a 10” diameter hole in the middle. A small door on the side of the stove near the bottom was used to start the fire and air supply. In the middle of the stove about 15” below the top was a cast iron grate which was used to support what we called 煤球 ”Mei Qiu.” A 煤球 ”Mei Qiu” was actually a cylindrical shape heating element about 8” in diameter and about 10” tall made from small coal nuggets and mud. A worker mixed the gravel-sized coal nuggets and mud in a pit usually by walking in the pit. The combined mixture was then scooped out and put in a mold to make a 煤球 ”Mei Qiu”  one at a time. They were then dried under the sun for up to a week or more. In the middle of a 煤球 ”Mei Qiu,” there were about 20 cylindrical holes extending from the base to the top of every 煤球 ”Mei Qiu.” These holes were necessary because they allowed easy passage of air and promote a more even heating of the entire 煤球 ”Mei Qiu.” We purchased them from 煤球 ”Mei Qiu” maker directly and he’d send them to us and helped us stacking them up on the side of the house. Before a meal could be cooked, a 煤球 ”Mei Qiu” went into the stove and rested on the grate. I’d help my mom to light it up by burning paper and wood chips from the small door at the bottom. I bent my knees, put my mouth close to the door, huffed and puffed and blew air through the small door to keep the fire going until the 煤球 ”Mei Qiu” was burning good by itself. Once the 煤球 ”Mei Qiu” is hot, I would make sure fire burning nicely from the bottom to the top through each of those 20 or so cylindrical holes. Now, Mom could start cooking.

The feast usually started with a 拼盤 “ping pan” which usually consisted of four or five cold dishes such as 涼拌黃瓜 “liang ban huang gua,” 涼拌海帶 “liang ban hai dai,” stir-fried peanuts, 鹵牛肉 “lu niu ro” or something else. Our guests would start with the cold plates and drink 高梁酒 “gao liang jiu,” a clear, hard liquor made from Gao Liang (a plant that looks like rice plant but does not require that much water” and wheat, with 50 – 60% alcohol content. While drinking, they played 划拳 “hua quan” like kids playing rock, paper or scissors. The person who lost the game had to drink the hard liquor in front of him or her. They were loud. They were noise. And they argued a lot. The ones who watched the game had a lot of fun too because they always made sure that there were no drop of liquor left at the bottom of the small glass cup. It got progressively louder after a few runs of drinking and playing. 划拳 “hua quan” is a two-person game of wit and strategy. Each person would yell out a number and at the same time showing his or her hand with number of fingers extending out. The number of fingers ranged from zero to 5 and the number shouted out by the players should range from zero to ten. The pace of the game got faster and faster until someone won. The person who correctly shouted out the sum of fingers from two players won the game.

While our guests were eating and playing, mom would continue to cook other dishes. Since we only had one stove, the dishes were served one at a time until all dishes were served. Mom would occasionally go to the table, chat with them and drink a run or two with our guests. I and my sister would stayed in the kitchen and helped out with whatever task was on hand: stirring the food in the wok so that it won’t get burned, putting in a hand full of green onions before the dish was finished, or stirring in corn starch to thicken the sauce just before the dish was served. We also got a chance to taste a little of this and a little of that whenever we could. We kids never got to eat with them and had to wait until our guests finished their meals. I, being the oldest of five kids and the first son, occasionally was called to the table, drank some of that 高梁酒 “gao liang jiu” and received a bite or two from my Dad. Mom would join them after she finished cooking and we got to eat the left over when everyone was done. We liked the dinner parties even though we had more work to do because the leftovers were much better than what we usually ate on other days. This continued even after Dad’s single friends got married. By then, they continued to come to our house and they would bring their wives along too. Occasionally, we got invited to their houses and were treated with their home cooking as well.

As I grew older, I continued to help my Mom with cooking and shopping during the years when I was in college in Tainan, about 70 miles south of Taizhong and when I served two years in the Army after graduating from college. Whenever I came home, I would grab the basket and walked with my Mom to the small open market behind our 眷村 “juan cun,” i.e., a community specifically built for arm services personnel and their families. Ours was called北屯新村 “bei tun xin cun,” (a new village in bei tun) would help her with “dan fan,” washing dishes, pots and pans, cleaning vegetables, and cleaning dishes off the table. Occasionally I got to perform such odd jobs as killing a chicken, getting rid of its feathers, cleaning a live fish and making 豆漿 “dou jiang,” etc. Of course, I would stay in the kitchen and helped with dishes even though we didn’t have guests coming. By this time, we had a two-burner gas stove using bottled liquefied gas. The bottle for the liquefied gas was about twice the size in length of propane bottles we usually get from Home Depot or Lowes. Our guests continued to come but less often. Some moved away from Taizhong. Cooking process has been greatly improved from the clay stove and 煤球 ”mei qiu” era. It was much faster, cleaner, and not as messy. But the fun was still there: doing a little of this and a little of that and got to try a little of this and a little of that.

When I first came to the United States in the summer of 1973, I shared a basement with three other guys; two whites and a Cantonese from Hong Kong, only ½ block from the campus. We cooked our own food most of the time using the standard range and oven in the basement because we were all too poor to eat out. I learned to cook some simple American food from the white guys and Cantonese dishes from my Hong Kong roommate. After a couple of semesters, I wanted to see what it was like to stay in the dormitory. It wasn’t a good fit to my life style: I couldn’t get up early enough to have breakfast and was always hungry late in the evening and into early morning hours because the dinning room closed at 8:00 PM. Fortunately, I got out of the dorm after one semester and moved to a very small room, about 6’ wide and 10’ long, in a basement of another house roughly 1.5 miles from the campus. The room had enough space for a twin-size bed, a desk and a chair. I paid $25 a month for that room but couldn’t cook because there was no kitchen in the basement. I had to figure out a way to take care of my meals.

I talked to three other guys who shared a small two-story house several blocks away. I said to them that I would do the cooking and buying food from the near by Safeway. They would do the cleaning and washing and we all shared the costs. They agreed without any hesitation at all since none of us really knew how to cook. We also got a single female student to join the program because she liked one of the three guys and eating with us provided her with perfect opportunities to be close to him. This was the beginning of my official cooking career, albeit without pay, even before I graduated from Wyoming University. To this date, I still remembered the sense of accomplishment when I, for the first time, used corn starch to thicken a pot of chicken corn soup which came out surprisingly good. I also remembered making many awful dishes but they had no choice but to eat them. The cooking deal continued for a little more than a semester. It ended after I moved to a larger place with cooking facilities. I guessed that they also got tired of my cooking and tired of being guinea pigs for so long. I sure got a lot of fun from the experience but the friendship between the girl and the guy didn’t flourish despite our encouragement. I went back to cooking for myself and the fond memory of those days is still in my mind even to this date.

My cooking skill received a fast paced training not too long after I finished the first draft of my thesis. I had worked for my advisor for three years laboring through the design, the purchase of necessary equipment and putting together a high pressure, high temperature combustion tube. I also conducted a series of tests of what was called “Reverse Combustion of In-Situ Coal Gasification Process,” modified a numerical program to simulate the tests results and marginally participated in a DOE-sponsored pilot test of said process in the field near Rock Spring, Wyoming. Coal Gasification received a lot of attention in the midst of sky-rocking crude price because of oil embargo from Saudi Arabia. I had done enough laboratory work for a PhD program and could get a PhD if I expanded my theoretical work further. Many other student had finished their master’s within 2 years and many didn’t even have to do any laboratory work, not to mention designing a high pressure (2000 psi) and high temperature (1500 oC) combustion tube and conducted a series of tests to prove the theory in the lab.

I felt cheated and used by my advisor after doing so much work for him. I asked him for more money but he refused my request saying that his budget was tight. I was so pissed that I finished my draft of my thesis, gave it to him, asked him to look over my thesis and mailed it back to me so that I could make necessary changes. I would then come back to school and do the defense. I also told him that I would move to South Dakota to co-manage the Chinese restaurant 京华楼 “jing hua lou” with my brother-in-laws. Maria and I drove our used car to Rapid City, South Dakota from Laramie with a U-Haul in tow on Christmas Eve in 1978 and worked with them in 京华楼 “jing hua lou” which was opened just a few months ago. The restaurant business was so good that we had guests waiting to get in until about 9 in the evening from Thursday to Sunday every week.

Unfortunately, we had a hard time getting good cooks from big cities such as New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta. Many of these cooks didn’t start as apprentices in famous restaurants in Taiwan or Hong Kong. None of them came from China because China was still recovering from Culture Revolution. They were actually young sailors who stayed in the United States illegally after port calls in New York, San Francisco, Houston or Los Angeles. They were young and single and most of them enjoyed life’s many options available only to Chinese cooks in big cities: gambling, women, night life, and job opportunities. After they came to Rapid City, no one liked the small town after a week or two because on their off days, there was nothing for them to do: no one to gamble with, no woman, no place to go, and no TV to watch because they didn’t know English. There were no buses or subways. And there were no friends either. We ended up driving them around on their off days, playing majong with them after restaurant closed for the evening. Many of them still didn’t like our arrangement and left us after a short stays. We then had to buy airline tickets to send them back to where they came from. Back then, we couldn’t order tickets on the Internet. We had to call travel agent and waited for the tickets. And an airline ticket wasn’t cheap either: it probably cost us somewhere around $1,000 or more to fly them back and forth.

We had to do something else to alleviate the situation and to reduce our labor costs. I decided to work in the kitchen during the day and manage the dinning room in the evening. By doing so, I could at least help out when a cook left unexpectedly. We then had enough time to look for a replacement from a big city in which usually took one or two weeks. Well, once I got this started, I didn’t get out of the kitchen until I left the restaurant and went back to school to finish my degree. That’s something for another time.

Kidney Stone – I hope you will never get it June 9, 2009

Posted by hslu in Life, Death and Yuanfen.
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Kidney Stone

It happened at 9:40 AM on Saturday, June 6, 2009.

I knew something was wrong when I felt a dull but constant pain on the left side of my body about 1″ below the rib cage and 1 1/2″ from the side. I moved around and changed my sitting positions hoping it would go away. But it didn’t. The pain was bearable but persistent. It worried me because this could be serious.

I didn’t go to bed until 5 in the morning because I was up all night preparing for the dinner party today in honor of my uncle and aunt who came from China to visit Mom and Dad. They stayed with us and would stay here for a while. From here, they will continue their tour of the United States to the west and eventually fly back to China from LAX early morning on June 25, 2009. Our family, including my son and daughter, has met them a few times: first in Canada in 1989 when I was working in Calgary with Mobil, then a couple of times when we traveled back to our home town in 廣濟 “Guang Ji” and 武漢 “Wu Han” in the 湖北 “Hu Bei” province.

I went back to sleep and woke up at 10:30 to pee. I noticed a lot of blood in the urine and knew this was very serious. I thought that I had kidney stone. I immediately started to drink a lot of water and took 2 tablets of Tylenol hoping to alleviate the pain but it persisted. A second pee about an hour later showed a lighter pink color, a remarkable change from the first one.

Around 11:00 AM, My uncle and aunt went out with Mom, dad and my siblings to have lunch at 半畝園 “Ban Mu Yuan.” I stayed at home and continued with my preparation for the dinner.

The pain briefly went away around 4 PM but only for about 30 minutes. By this time, I was about 70% ready on the dinner.

Maria called from work and said that she could come home early. I was very happy to hear her voice because I needed some help in dealing with my pain and the party.

She came home about 1/2 an hour later and asked me to feed the fish with hers; one of her daily routines. I told her that I couldn’t. She begged me to come but i said I couldn’t because I was ill which was kind of serious. I told her my symptoms and she gave me some pain medicine left over from a previous dental treatment. But that wasn’t a good match to my pain. I continued to work on the dinner and got most done before 6:30 PM, the time of the dinner party.

Mom and Dad showed up first. The others came a little later. My uncle and aunt came back around 7:15 PM with my sister and her husband who took them on a tour of George Washington’s old house in Mount Vernon.

By this time, my pain was difficult to hide and it obviously showed on my face. I couldn’t stand straight and had to put some pressure on the point where it hurt the most. I told my siblings about my symptoms and they all helped to put the rest of the dishes together with my verbal instructions. Maria whispered in my ears and said that it may be more serious than a kidney stone and said that I needed to see a doctor. I knew that I needed to go too but wanted to finish the dinner first.

Dinner started at 7:30 PM and here was what I’ve made for the special occasion:

2009年6月叔叔嬸嬸訪美聚餐

6/6/2009 6:30PM

聚餐盡興酒                            Choya Umeshu with Ume fruit (乌梅)

錦繡大七拼                            脆青椒 (with 蘋果)﹐ 涼粉﹐大頭菜﹐豬耳朵﹐

豆腐乾﹐蠶荳﹐海帶

下酒小炒                                小魚花生﹐黑豆﹐杏仁

野菇燴魚糕                            Oyster mushroom, Korean fish cake

韓式烤排骨                            Korean style short ribs﹐洋蔥﹐紅辣椒﹐mushroom.

倫敦烤牛肉                            London Broil,﹐酸溜翠椒, red wine reduction.

甜酸雙側魚                            Deep-fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce.

白果燴百合                            白果﹐百合 in white sauce.

美味炒雙冬                            中國冬菇和冬筍 in Hoisin sauce.

台南魯肉飯                            碎豬肉﹐五花肉﹐鹵旦

紅燒獅子頭                            Stewed lion’s head with Chinese cabbage.

紅椒釀排骨                            排骨紅椒, 油豆腐 in black bean sauce.

Baked for 1 ½ hours.

蜜汁八寶飯                            Sweet rice, blood rice and eight treasures.

Steamed for 2 hours.

清香白米飯                            香米延壽飯

人參大補湯                            雞湯﹐中藥﹐棗子﹐苟芰﹐喬麥麵條

I had originally prepared more food in case kids were coming. Since they weren’t, I had to pull some food off at the last minute because I already prepared enough food for all of us.

At this time, my pain was manageable but didn’t go away. Since I didn’t want my parents to know about my condition, I sat at the table, made the toast, gave the wine to my brother, and ate a little bit to pretend that everything was normal. Around 8:30 PM, the pain came back in a hurry and I knew that I have to lie down. I left the dinning room and sat at the stairs to keep me from falling. My uncle spotted me and I told him that I didn’t feel well and needed to go upstairs. I walked to my room, took a shower, brush my teeth, took a nap and mentally prepared to go to the hospital soon. I may have to stay there for a few days.

They left at 10:30 PM or so and I didn’t even go downstairs to say goodbye. Maria and my siblings took care of the left over and everyone left soon. Maria came upstairs and asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I nodded my head and started to get dressed. My uncle wanted to come to help out and three of us came out at around 11:30 PM or so.

I insisted to go to the restaurant first so that Maria didn’t have to come back before opening. On the way to the restaurant, the pain became intolerable and I was panting and moaning continuously and loudly in the back seat. Maria said that she shouldn’t listen to me and should have gone to the hospital directly. The pain eased off a bit as we left the restaurant and headed to the Fair Oaks Hospital where Maria works. I checked into the emergency room and waited there to be called. I told the receptionist that my pain was some where around 6 or 7 on a scale from 1 to 10 but at times it was much worse. He politely said that he didn’t know whether I would be called earlier than the others who also needed medical attention too. A little while later, my name was called. A nurse took my personal information, asked for my symptoms and put them into the computer. She then said that she would a blood test first and sent us out to the waiting room again. It was about 12:35 AM, Sunday morning.

While waiting outside, the pain became totally unbearable and I couldn’t help but panting loudly and openly. I closed my eyes, put my face close to my knees and tried not to make a scene in a crowded emergency room. The unrelenting pain just kept coming and coming. It hurt me with twists and turns at the same place where it started. I changed my sitting position but couldn’t find any that would relieve the unrelenting pain. I couldn’t stand up because it hurt so much. Maria and my uncle sat next to me but couldn’t help me at all except asking me to hang in there. Well, that didn’t help either. Maria told the receptionist about my worsening condition and he said he’d tell the medical staff and got me in there as soon as someone was available.

I suffered at least another 15 minutes before my name was called. A lab technician escorted me in and led me to a room. I was hurting all the time and couldn’t say a word. She took 2 vials of my blood, asked me to hang in there and said that she’ll get the charge nurse here to check my condition.

The charge nurse by the name of Michelle came a little later. She was a young nurse in her 30’s who knew Maria because she had worked on Maria’s floor. She checked me out, asked a few questions about my symptoms and took me to a different room. She said that she would get the doctor as soon as he was free so that he can give me something for the pain. It was at least five or ten minutes later when I saw the doctor. Doctor Raj Chand, in his early or middle 30’s, quickly assessed my condition, asked my symptoms again, and said that he would give me three different kinds of medicines and ordered a CAT scan. He then entered his order in the computer and said someone would come soon.

After a few minutes, Michelle showed up and gave me the medicines Dr. Chand had ordered. The pain didn’t go away but was a bit better. She came back in a few minutes and asked me how I was doing. I told her that I was still hurting and she gave me another shot of the pain medicine, Dilaudid. The pain was finally gone and by now it was 1:30 AM in the morning. I had suffered a excruciating pain for about 50 minutes.

The next step was to get a CAT scan in order to find out what was wrong with me. But I had to wait. I dozed off in and out of sleep and Maria and my uncle could finally take a nap too. It was especially hard on Maria because she had worked all day at the hospital since 7 AM yesterday and later at home. After about a 20 minute wait, a guy came over and took me to the CAT scan room. CAT scan didn’t take long. I was in and out of the CAT scan room in about 10 minutes. We then had to wait for the results which would take up to 40 minutes.

By this time, my pain was totally gone but I had a serious problem with nausea and dizziness, a common side effect of the pain medicine. Dr. Chand came back about half an hour later and announced that I had a kidney stone and it was about 4 mm in size. He also said that a stone of this size should pass out of my body naturally and suggested that I visit an urologist soon. He prescribed Percocet and Ibuprofen to manage my pain. He gave me Flomax to ease urine movement and a few pills for dizziness. He also wanted a urine sample to be analyzed. And he said that if the analysis came back normal, he’d send me home.

Michelle came, took me to the bathroom next door, gave me a small container and left. I did the sample but puked in the toilet. After another 30 minutes, she came back again and gave me release forms to sign and said that the urine analysis came back normal. I asked for another shot of Dilaudid because the pain had gradually come back. She quickly came back and took care of that. She then removed the IV and the needle in my arm. I asked for a wheel chair and she rolled me out of the door of the emergency room. I thanked her for her kindness and Maria took us home. By the time we got home, it was a little before 5:00 in the morning.

Before getting off the car, I puked again in the pink wash pan which I took with me from the hospital. I had anticipated that I may need it again. I got upstairs and lie down on my bed totally exhausted. I was weak, had no appetite and was nausea and dizzy. Well, at least the pain is gone. For now!

What a long day! Until the stone is past out naturally, I had to drink a lot of water; like 8 big glasses a day, use pain medicine to manage my life, take Flomax to easy the flow of urine and get enough rest in between. The nausea was gradually gone because of the small pill I took and because my body may have developed some kind of defense against the side effects of Percocet. I’ll see an Urologist in a week and hopefully I’ll feel a lot better by then.

A day in Washington DC June 8, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants, Travel.
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A Day in Washington DC

I have heard of Dupont Circle for a long time but never had a chance to visit the place since I came to Northern Virginia nine years ago. One day in early April this year, I decided that it was about time that we paid a visit to this place. I also wanted to check out Ben’s Chili Bowl, National Geography, and El Pollo Rico in Arlington. Ben’s Chili Bowl is famous for its Chili Half Smoke and has been around since the 50’s while El Pollo Rice is a popular place for Peruvian chickens.

The weather was nice: clear sky and high in the low 70’s, an ideal day to take a leisure stroll and enjoy outdoor. U Street is an unfamiliar place to us and we have never been to this part of the city. We found a parking spot that’s about 6 blocks away from the restaurant. We locked our car and started to walk and checking out this part of the city along the way. There were many boutique stores, fast-food joints, restaurants, metro station, bars, night clubs, graffiti on the walls and empty store fronts. There were groups of tourists from foreign countries. There were office workers dressed in suits and ties or pretty dresses. There were locals who just sit in front of stores chatting and enjoying sunshine. Occasionally, you had people you really don’t want to meet after sunset. We also saw metro officers dressed in uniform standing next to bus stops with clipper board and pen in hand. They didn’t talk to metro customers as they got on or off the bus. They just stood there and apparently were doing some kind of riders’ survey.

We arrived at Ben’s around 1:20 in the afternoon and there was still a line of about 8 deep waiting to place their orders. They included tourists with cameras, local residents, office workers and foreigners. We waited in line, placed our order (a half smoke, chili fries and cokes) , got my half smoke at the counter and were told to wait for the remaining food at a table in the back of the restaurant. We weren’t given a number to claim my order which was kind of odd in a restaurant about 2/3 full. I also wasn’t sure why can’t we just took our orders at the counter and ate our lunch at a table in the back of the restaurant. It turned out that our remaining order was delivered to us by a dinning room helper and I gave him a couple of dollars for the service.  I wasn’t sure that was by design or that was the way it supposed to be. In any case, the sausage was juicy, greasy and hot. The buns were quite ordinary; just like any buns you can buy from Safeway or Giant. The chili was a disappointment: it has no texture and no character because it was kind of mushy, it definitely needed some more seasoning such as cayenne pepper and cumin, it also needed more salt because I didn’t like to sprinkle salt on my sausage before sink my teeth in it. When I started I couldn’t even tell which bite had more meat or which bite had more filler like beans or something else. And the worst part, to me, was that the chili was a little on the black side in color which wasn’t too appetizing to me. French fries weren’t too bad but I’ve had better fries before. On the way back to our car, we saw several

As we walked back to our car, we saw many poster-size metal signs through out the greater U street district displaying historical images and the significance of this place to Africa-American culture and their struggle to freedom and respect.

Our next stop was National Geography Museum. I parked about 4 blocks away and dropped in 10 quarters into the parking meter for 80 minutes of parking. Although it was very expensive, it was still cheaper than parking in a garage which cost ~$15 for the first 2 hours. The display at museum lobby was about North America birds using photos and drawings. Inside the museum, we saw many impressive videos on lions, tigers, leopards and bob cats. We also took a picture at a booth near the exit of the museum. The picture, cost $5, had the famous yellow board around our images and we got to choose the animal as background. The small garden on the outside of the museum was very nice too. It allowed us to relax under tree shades and enjoyed a symphony of sounds from birds, winds and running water. We wished we could stay there longer but we had to go back to our car before time ran out. I have gotten too many tickets in DC and I didn’t want to contribute to DC’s general fund any more. By the time we got back to our car we were six minutes late. Fortunately, we didn’t get a ticket this time.

IMG_1706_edited

Our next stop was the famous Dupont Circle. This area is famous for gays and lesbians, ethnical food, and street performers. We drove to there and parked our car in a near-by garage which wouldn’t close before midnight. We walked to the circle and found a cross-section of people there: old citizens enjoying the nice sunshine, young lovers chatting softly to each other, school-aged teenagers reading their favorite books, college boy drawing his dream lover on the ground, joggers crisscrossing the circle to get some exercise before sunset, young office-workers walking swiftly to their home after work, shoppers stopping at local bakery to pick up some bread for tomorrow, a few guys dragging a luggage through the circle apparently just came back from a trip, and a couple of young kids blowing bubble into the wind and giggling at the beautiful sight, and a young black guy playing his guitar and singing a few song in order to collect a few bucks from passing-bys for his effort. He even got a young black lady to sign with him. The young woman apparently knew a few songs, had a good voice  and enjoying the crowd just as much. They had a great time performing together and we had a good time listening to them. We dropped $5 in his hat and thanked him for his performance.

We then stopped by the Starbucks on the north side of the circle, shared a nice cup of coffee and some sweets and watched people walking home in the midst of beautiful sunset. We walked up and down the Connecticut Avenue trying to find a suitable place to eat. The place I’d googled on the Internet wasn’t that pleasing and other restaurants weren’t that nice either. Maybe I looked at wrong place. I guessed that I had to come back with a better research next time. I was also a bit disappointed because we didn’t see any gays or lesbians while we were there probably because we didn’t go the right place or we went at the wrong time.

By this time, it was getting dark. We decided to get our car and drive back to Arlington for our dinner. Our last stop was El Pollo Rico in Arlington. This was actually our back up restaurant since we didn’t find a suitable place in Dupont Circle. I chose this restaurant because Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations on the Travel Channel had come to this restaurant when he visited Washington DC a couple of years ago. He liked it and apparently a lot of people also liked it according to Yelp.

The Peruvian restaurant was huge with cheap tables and chairs, dim ceiling lights, plain decoration, a full parking lot and a line of about 10 people even at 8 PM on a Tuesday evening. Many people ordered carry-outs and the line was constant while we were there until about 8:45 PM. I actually wasn’t that impressed by the food: the chicken was juicy inside and crispy outside but was slightly under seasoned and needed a little more salt. The two types of sauces that came with the chicken weren’t that tasting either: the white mayo sauce was ordinary; the green spicy sauce was simple without any depth. French fries were ordinary too! I guessed that the restaurant’s popularity may have to do with its cheap prices which by default would always attract many people to its door. For me once is enough and I will not return again.

Well, a day in Washington DC went by quickly. We had a good time even though we had two ordinary meals. We will try something else next time.

Health Inspection June 8, 2009

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Health Inspection

He was late. We have been waiting for him for 2 and half months. He was due back in the third week of March but didn’t show up until last Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

I was working in my small office when I heard my counter staff saying something about “衛生局 wei sheng ju.” I knew the health inspector was here. It was about 12:45 in the afternoon.

Normally, our County sends out health inspectors to all restaurants, food stands, public swim pools, convenient stores, day cares and school cafeterias on a semi-annual basis. They have been checking our restaurant roughly every six months in the past. And he was late this time. Not that I am complaining but he may catch us unprepared. All health inspectors are not created equal: some were very difficult to deal with and quite stubborn in picking out your minor mistakes in order to show you who was the real boss. But some others were quite professional; they took their work seriously and politely. If it wasn’t a big, serious offense and if you corrected it on the spot, he would let you pass without writing you up. I didn’t know what we’d get this time but I would soon find out.

I came out of office to greet him and told my kitchen staff that ”衛生局來了 wei sheng ju lai le” so that they could properly prepare for the inspection. The inspector was a white guy in his early 40’s and I haven’t met him before. I asked him if he wanted to use my office to keep his stuff. he said that was okay. I also asked him if he wanted to have something to drink. He declined politely. He asked me for my food manager license. I took it out slowly, gave him that and said that I was preparing to take the test to renew my food service manager’s license which expires in 2 weeks. he seemed pleased that I was actually studying for the test because I had the book open on the desk and I was taking notes as I went through the 200-page textbook.

Our county requires a full-time manager at the restaurant all the time. If a manager wasn’t present when they come to inspect, they have the authority to close the restaurant down until a manager shows up. But usually they do not carry out this harsh treatment unless a manager doesn’t show up for a long time. At my restaurant, we have 3 qualified managers (1 full-time, 1 part-time plus me) so that we usually are in very good shape.

The inspector started with temperature measurements. According to food service guidelines, everything has to be below 41 oF or above 140 oF. Since all of our dishes are prepared hot from the wok, we usually don’t have problem with the high temperature limit.The soups were running at 160 oF and higher. The dishes came out from the wok were at 180oF for some fried rices and even higher for dishes like General Tsao’s Chicken.

It is the low temperature threshold which could give us problem from time to time, especially in the summer time. Our walking coolers were badly designed. The compressor and the condenser of the cooling unit of both coolers were inside the kitchen. This design was forced upon us because our contractor didn’t want to move them on the roof which would add considerable cost to his operation. As a result, all the heat generated from the compressor and condenser stayed inside the kitchen and had no way to get out. Our ceiling was very low which makes the matter even worse. In the summer time, it usually gets very hot in the kitchen when temperature may reach into the low 90’s. I had purchased several big fans to keep my kitchen staff cool but the efficiency of the coolers and ice machine suffered every summer. the bad decision gave us numerous headache and big maintenance bills.

We have two walking coolers, two under-counter coolers and a freezer. He checked everyone of them and found that our meat walking cooler had a temperature that was 3 to 5 degrees above the 41oF limit. I told him that we had to come in and out of the cooler very often to get supplies such as egg rolls and lo meins for the lunch crowd. He then checked the temperature of air coming out of the fan. Sure enough, it wasn’t cold enough. Theoretically, he could order us to dump all the meat in the cooler but he didn’t. He asked me to call my electrician immediately and get this problem corrected. By now, I knew he was a reasonable guy to deal with. I called my regular guy and told him that health inspector was here. I asked him to come immediately. I then told the inspector that he was still on a job and would come once he finished his work there. He asked me to keep the meat cooler door closed for now so that he could check the temperature later.

The next stop was our three-sink station where we washed our pots and pans. The first sink has to have detergent to clean the pots and pans. The middle sink is for rinsing and has to have warm water at 95oF or so. The third sink is for sanitizing which requires a chlorine concentration of 50 ppm. I checked the chlorine concentration and passed inspector’s verbal quiz with high flying color. He was very pleased probably because I took his advice seriously and kept careful notes of his tips on manager’s test as we went through the inspection. He then checked our hood for cleanness, storage room, and the back of the restaurant. He seemed to be satisfied with what he found so far. I knew my kitchen was cleaner the most chinese restaurants and I am sure he has noticed that too.

He then checked the front counter and found that we were in compliance with the guideline. He stayed there for a little while and went back to the problem cooler again. Sure enough, the temperature got stuck at 46 oF and won’t come down. He asked me if I would get an invoice from my electrician. I said yes. He asked me to fax him the invoice once the job is done. I, of course, comply.

He did notice a few violations: kitchen staff drinks from uncovered glasses, kitchen staff didn’t follow strict hand washing guideline, a kitchen helper didn’t wear glove to handle rice, some knifes were pretty dirty and the grinder wasn’t clean enough.

He then told me that he had finished the inspection and would now prepare a written document. I gave him a bottled water, a glass of ice and left him alone to do his work. He came back in about 40 minutes and showed me what he had done. It was a simple 3-page document; much better than a six-page document we got about 3 years ago. He quickly went through the points he mentioned to me during the inspection, have me signed every page, asked me to fax him the invoice and wish me good luck on my manager’s test. He also said that I should study hard and see if I could beat his score. I asked him what his score was; he said 95. Wow! The first time when I took the test, I studied for about 10 days and got 85. I thought I was good but this guy was amazing! Well, this time around, I am aiming at 75 since this is the passing score.

My technician came later, fixed the problem and came again the next day to make sure the temperature was okay. I faxed the inspector the invoice and thank him for his attention and help.

We are good for another 6 months.