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Philadelphia Visit – Day 1, July 20, 2009 July 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants, Travel.
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Philadelphia Visit – Day 1, July 20, 2009

We have been to Philadelphia before: once with our two kids when they were little. We visited the city to see Liberty Bell and Museum of Science. The Liberty Bell visit was for kids’ American History classes. The Museum trip was one of parents’ way to expose their children to anything science. Another time was when my uncle from my Mom’s side “大舅舅 dajiujiu” was studying there. I visited him with my parents but I couldn’t remember what we did there back then.

I thought Philadelphia was dull and old. Their much hyped cheesesteak @ Jim’s on South Street was dry, tasteless, greasy and expensive especially after we had to stand in-line for more than 10 minutes. With those images in mind, I really had no desire to visit it again.

That changed when Maria and I visited Philly last week on July 20 and 21, 2009. I decided to go on the morning of July 20 because Maria had worked three day straight and I didn’t want to make dinner. I did some checking on the web that morning about where to stay, places to go, what to do and food to try. I planed to finish my research after finishing my lunch shift at the restaurant. I wanted to refine my research to 1) find a cheap place to stay, 2) choose a good restaurant to have our dinner and 3) finalize our plan in Philadelphia. When I got home around 3 PM, the power was out probably because the power line was cut by Verizon’s crew which has been installing optical cable in my neighborhood since a week ago. Well, I had no choice but to play by ear. I did get some idea of where to go though: the Reading Terminal Market, Italian Market, China Town and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia is about 150 miles from Northern Virginia and, if the traffic condition is right, we can get there in about 2.5 hours. Fortunately the Beltway was very light and I-95 was manageable all the way to Pennsylvania. We left here around 3:45 PM and got in Philadelphia about 6:25 PM. On the way to Philadelphia, our daughter helped us landed a great deal at Hilton Garden Inn through Hotwire. We got in for $80 which was at least $120 below the deals I got from Expedia and Hotels.com. Hilton Garden Inn is conveniently located in downtown Philadelphia. It is within walking distance to China Town (3 blocks,) City Center (3 blocks,) Market Street (3 blocks,) Broad Street (3 blocks,) Greyhound Bus Station (2 blocks) and Liberty Bell (7 or 8 blocks.) The DC-NY China Town Bus stop is across the street and the Reading Terminal Market is just around the corner.

I originally planned to have dinner at Reading Terminal Market on the first night of our visit but by the time we got there the place has already closed for the day. We decided to walk around the Market Street and Broad Street using street signs all over the downtown. I wanted to see if I could find a decent restaurant for dinner. Well, most businesses were already closed but the streets were filled with people on their way home. A few restaurants that remained open weren’t attractive enough to have dinner there. We then strolled back to our hotel and followed the street sign to China Town.

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Philadelphia China Town is a lot bigger than the puny China Town in DC, if you can call it a China Town. A few markets were still opened and many restaurants were busy with customers. I looked around and noticed a couple of restaurants had displaced a sign indicating that they have been selected by the Chinese Restaurant News Magazine as one of the Top 100 Chinese restaurants in the US. Wow! This is not an easy title to get because there are about 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, more than the number of McDonald’s and Taco Bells combined. Well, our choice for tonight’s dinner was rather easy since it was already been chosen by the Chinese Restaurant News Magazine which I get to read from time to time. We chose Tai Lake Seafood Restaurant “太湖酒家 Tai Hu Jiu Jia” because it was so busy that we had to wait. On a Monday night!

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太湖 Tai Hu is the third largest fresh water lake in Jiang Su Province “江苏省 Jiang Su Sheng” about 60 miles due west of Shanghai. The beautiful city of  蘇州 ”Su Zhou” boarders the lake to the east.

Jiang Su province

We waited for about 15 minutes and got an inside table away from the entrance where there are several tanks holding various seafood and frogs. We ordered:

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A bowl of Shark Fin Soup $15

Steamed fresh Rock Fish $24.99

Vancouver Dungeon Crab $24.99,

空心菜kong xin cai $9.90, and

Two bottles of Tsingtao beer $3.70.

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The soup was filled with shark fins and it tasted fantastic with savory chicken broth and crab meat. We shared the soup and got every bit of shark fins out of the bowl. We had never had rock fish before and I was surprised that rock fish meat was even finer than that of Chilean Sea Bass. The kitchen did a great job preparing the fish: the meat was tender, the belly of the fish was soft and tasted like jelly and the light broth was carefully seasoned with ginger, wine, cilantro, salt, sugar and soy sauce. Some of the 空心菜 kong xin cai was a little tough maybe I should have ordered the spinach instead. Maria liked the crab a lot and she worked slowly with her fingers and chopsticks to get every bit of the crab meat out of the claws. I had a few bites of the crab and probably wasted more than I ate.

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I love to see the way Maria ate the crab which reminded me the time I first saw her eating a piece of fried chicken at the cafeteria of her university in Columbus, Mississippi 34 years ago. I went to Mississippi because my sister and her husband had invited me to visit them. They introduced me to Maria and the rest was history. Initially I was going to go back to Laramie but decided to go back to see her again. I went back to Tupelo and asked her Mom and brother to let me take her to her university, The Mississippi University for Women because school started in a few days. One day I was eating with her and few of her friends at University’s cafeteria when I noticed the way she was eating the kitchen: she was very focused with the task on hand: her fingers were greasy, her eyes opened wide, her lips were shining with the grease, she totally enjoyed every piece of the chicken meat and she used up tissues as fast as I could send them her way. It was so interesting to see and I enjoyed that piece of chicken almost as much as she did. The total came to $84.85 and I gave our waitress $15.15 to make the total $100 even.

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We were going to have some coffee and sweets after dinner but decided not to because it was too dark outside and the street was quite empty too. We went back to the hotel and exercised for an hour to compensate for the excess tonight.

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Job Losses of Recent Recessions July 29, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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Job Losses of Recent Recessions

July 2009 jobless report will be out on Friday, August 7, 2009. By any measure, this recession has been severe and the prolonged retraction of economic activities has taken many people out of the job market.

Just a little statistics on current job market conditions:

Job losses on recent recessions:

Recession of December 2007            6.5 million

Recession of 2001                               2.5 million

Recession of 1991                                1.5 million

Recession of 1981                                3.0 million

Recession of 1973                                2.2 million

We’ll see what the job report will tell us in 9 days.

La Canela – Rockville Town Center July 28, 2009

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La Canela – Rockville Town Center, July 19, 2009

Rockville Town Center was built about 2 years ago in the heart of Rockville, Maryland. It is managed by no other than my restaurant’s landlord, Federal Reality Investment Trust.

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It encompasses six city blocks with a central playing area, twenty four restaurants, boutique shops, and many high-priced condos. We liked the area and have stopped by there for ice creams. We also wanted to try its restaurants for sometime now.

I have heard of a Peruvian restaurant called La Canela in Rockville from magazine reviews and liked what I saw. Peruvian food is interesting to us because one of Maria’s co-workers came from Peru and has talked to her about Peruvian foods often. I have tasted some of her home cooking when Maria and her co-workers got together for their regular celebration at each other’s homes. La Canela is one of the  restaurants at Rockville Town Center and finally got a chance to try it on Saturday, July 19, 2009.

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La Canela means The Valley of Cinnamon in Spanish. It is a beautiful restaurant away from all the activities near the playground area.

We chose an outside table on the sidewalk under an umbrella. We first ordered two glasses of wine: a Turnleaf Cabernet ($6) and Ruffino Chianti ($6) to go with our meal. Both wines were spicy, smooth with a long finish. Their wine prices were quite reasonable too. Many bottles went for less than $40.

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The menu was very extensive. We ordered an appetizer, a seafood dish and a steak:

Papitas $8.00, an appetizer

Fusion Steak $19.00, and

Mariscos $16.00, a dish similar to Paella

Before our appetizer arrived, our young and somewhat shy waitress bought us some bread and butter and a small complementary dish from the chef. It was beautifully and tasted great with a sweet and sour sauce mixed with a spicy mustard kick. It looked a lot like a deep-fired wonton but the fillings were fish, cilantro and a lot of sauce.

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Papitas was a version of slightly deep-fired mashed potato with ground beef filling and something else I wasn’t sure of. It was moist and tender but it was very filling. The red onion condiment went well with the hot potato and spicy filling but Maria thought it was a bit too sour. I also like their hot sauce made from jalapeño juice and cheese. The hot and cheese sauce was infused with a fair amount of jalapeño juice which opened up our appetite. It was so good that we ended up eating the hot sauce straight from the small cup bowl and with other dishes as well.

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Mariscos was La Canela’s version of paella with fish, jumbo shrimp and mussels. The rice was soft, moist and full of flavor. The fusion steak was served with a sunny side up egg. The beef was good but a few pieces were slightly over cooked on the grill but the sauce was great: thick, delicious and full of flavor. Roasted onion and red bell pepper complimented the beef. The dish was well worth the price tag and I liked it.

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The bill came to $58.30. I gave our waitress $12 tip for chef’s complimentary appetizer,  her warm service and beautiful smile.

We will go back to La Canela when we want to have Peruvian food in this neighborhood. We will also use the food at la Canela as a standard to judge other Peruvian restaurants in Northern Virginia and other cities.

Maybe one of these days, we’ll travel to Peru and other cities in South America to sample their wonderful food and hospitality.

Jason’s Deli July 28, 2009

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Jason’s Deli

Jason’s Deli opened a sandwich store in Idlywood Shopping Center across the street from our restaurant in Falls Church about 15 months ago. It is at least twice as big as our restaurant with probably 120 seats. Over the years, they have been doing good business especially at lunch time. I think it has taken away some lunch business from us. The impact on Jerry’s Sub in the same shopping center may be even more so. Dinner business was somewhat lighter probably because the majority population in the neighborhood is from Central America countries. The restaurant is located at the corner of the main building in the space used to be occupied by a video store.

We knew Jason’s Deli from our years in Plano, Texas more than 15 years ago when Jason’s Deli opened a shop on West Parker at Preston, about 2 miles from our house.

We liked Jason’s and frequented the new store often when our kids were still small. The shop was busy, open, clean and big. The sandwiches were big and they were filled with a lot of meat. I liked Pastrami Melt and we also ordered club sandwiches and salad bar for everyone. The salad bar was a real treat with fresh vegetables, pasta salad, dried fruits, pickled peppers, and free mini chocolate muffins. If I remembered right, soft ice cream on a sugar cone was free for everyone. As you can imaging, kids loved them a lot.

Nowadays, they also have wraps, paninis, and muffalettas but I haven’t tried any of them yet. I stopped by the store with Maria a while back and ordered a pastrami melt. I was somewhat disappointed because it was (a lot?) smaller than what we had before and I think it was slightly below $7.00. I guess the inflation has taken its toll on the prices but it also shrank the sandwich. The higher living standard in Northern Virginia doesn’t help either.

I am not too sure how the on-going sandwich war between Quiznos and Subway affect its business. I think the new sandwiches promotion by Quiznos, like the $5 Torpedoes and $3 Tasty Bullets, have greatly helped its top and possibly bottom lines. Surely it will impact Jason’s business as well. In the middle of all this, I am not sure what Jerry’s is doing to protect its turf.

Rediculous Rate at Econo Lodge in Atlantic City July 26, 2009

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I just checked the rate for Saturday, August 1, 2009 at Econo Lodge across the street from Tropicana and couldn’t believe my eyes:

$259.95.

Wow! That’s a lot of money for a so so hotel!

Last time when we stayed there on a weekday, the rate was $69.

What a difference!

My head chef’s California Dream is on hold now July 26, 2009

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My head chef re-considers his eventual Retirement to California

Many of my head chef’s family are in California. He has more than once expressed his desire to retire to California. He cited stories he heard as how good California treated its poor people.  However, he has also told me that serious abuse has been going on for many years among Asian communities:

People who open restaurants hided their wealth and claimed SSI or Supplemental Security Income in the amount of several hundred dollars a month.

How a poor person, real or fake, was able to receive excellent medical benefits from the government without paying even a dime.

A person he knew who has a “yin lou  銀樓” or gold and jewelry shop in LA hided his property be registering the gold shop in other people’s names so that he can claim SSI from the government.

He asked me many times where I will retire and talk about working for another 10 or 15 years and move to California because of its excellent weather, close proximity to Asia, low property tax rates and excellent welfare benefits to the poor.Now that California is facing a severe budget crisis, he began to have second thoughts.

You might say that his California Dream is put on hold for now. And I don’t blame him a bit.

Over the past 30 years, many immigrants, legal or illegal, came to this states from near (Mexico and Central American countries) and far (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.) The most liberal state in the US has enjoyed a tremendous boom in economic growth with many new companies called the Golden State their homes.

However, the bubble has finally burst as demonstrated by the current budget crisis. The impact is felt in every corner of the state and has also put a dent on my head chef’s dream, so to speak.

This spring, California closed its $41 billion budget short-falls (out of a total budget of with cut in health care services, public transit, school and courts, hike on personal income tax and state sales tax, and possible a hike on gasoline tax plus new borrowings. However, California’s budgeting by ballot dealt the state another blow and California face another round of budget deficit of additional $26 billion dollars.

Although it is likely that the law makers and the terminator Governor may have found new ways to trim the budget without a tax hike, the damage to my chef’s dream has already been done.

All the sudden, the downside of living in the great state of California looms larger and larger which shook his trust in California: poor schools, stubborn illegal immigrant problems, higher income taxes, inability to pay for generous welfare benefits, and high property prices.

I wish him luck.

Canadian Tar Sands July 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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California recently passed a bill rejecting import of heavy oil from Canadian tar sands because the state’s research found of.

California usually leads the country in new trends such as gay marriage, legal use of marijuana, liberal mindset, and stringent environmental policy, etc. This new bill may lead to other states following their lead.

Although the impact to Alberta and Canada is small now, the negative effect may be much higher in the form of higher gasoline prices in the future as conventional oil supply declines in the coming years.

In a free and global market, the pain to California and US is the gain to other countries especially those in Asia. China is more than happy to secure a steady long term supply of crude oil from a stable government such as Canada as they are scouting around the world to look for countries strapped for cash in a global recession.

It proved a point again and again: whenever you have government mixed up in a free market, they will do more ham than good.

Every time!

Do cats eat mice after catching them? July 26, 2009

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Coming back from an early afternoon trip yesterday to Sam’s to purchase some supply for my restaurant, Maria called me to the front door and asked me what it was on the floor?

I bent down to take a closer look and said to her that it was the rear section of a small dead mouse. It was gross: all it was left was two hind legs and a 1.0 to 1.5″ long tail. Sorry, I didn’t use a ruler.

I looked around but did not find the other part of the dead mouse. Our cat came by and walked around the carcass like a proud soldier claiming its trophy after a hard fought war.

I have seen a mouse in my garage about a month ago usually when I pulled my car into the garage after work in the night. But I have already caught it using a glue pad. Apparently there were more than just one and it came into the house despite our aggressive cat: mao mi. it was terrible!

Can someone answer the question, please? A simple yes or no is suffice. I do not want to know any details. And no picture, please.

How come the unemployment rate is 9.5%? July 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics, stocks.
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How come the unemployment rate is 9.5%?

Back in January 2009, the $787 billion stimulus package was heavily promoted by the president and rammed through the Congress with little debate. The president said back then that the package was necessary to prevent systemic risk to the global economy. He also said that the stimulus package will create new jobs to American people and prevent the jobless rate from reaching beyond 8% according to a report released by his economic team. The unemployment rate stood at 7.2% when he spoke on January 8, 2009 at George Mason University in Fairfax, about 12 miles from my home.

He warned us that if we (implying: the Congress) waited or pointed fingers or dragged our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs and the country will face double-digit unemployment without the stimulus package.

Well, the package got passed in the Congress with the help of media which played up the dire consequence without a stimulus package.

Let’s take a look of what happen to the unemployment rate since his speech according to data released by the Bureau of labor Statistics:

December 2008                       7.2%

January 2009                            7.6&

February 2009                          8.1%

March 2009                               8.5%

April 2009                                 8.9%

May 2009                                   9.4%

June 2009                                  9.5%

Mind you that the official data did not include the discouraged job seekers who have left the job market, those who wanted to work full-time but only found part-time works and those who got their wages cut because the companies tried everything they can to hold on to their employees.

Well, where are the jobs?

What pissed me off even more was the Democrat leaning news media which clearly showed their bias again and again. The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS and NBC spun the administration’s failed economic policy and the bad economic news by looking for silver lining in the terrible jobless number and deteriorated economic conditions. They changed their tone in reporting bad economic news which was completely different from their harsh treatment of foreign Republican administrations. And none of these main street news media mentioned the millions of jobs supposed to be created by the stimulus package.

Well, nobody says that the life is fair.

To remind you the clear bias against Republican in general and Bush in particular, let’s take a look of a report on economics by Dan Rather from CBS (The most left leaning news media organization if you ask me) who was fired from his anchor position by CBS after his report on 60 Minutes II based on forged documents:

On October 8, 2004, Dan Rather in reporting the October 2004 job number by saying that “It’s the first net job loss on a President’s watch since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression of the 1930s.” The nation’s unemployment rate was 5.4% that month and he dared to compared the economy back them to that in the Great Depression.

What is most disturbing was the distressed labor market on the economy and the projected federal deficits and national debt in the next few years.

You might ask me where is the connection?

In current administration’s 2010 budget, the administration assumed that:

  • The economy will see a peak unemployment rate of 8.2% in the second and third quarters of 2009. It will decline to 7.9% in 2010 and 7.4% in 2011.
  • A shallow recession and a stronger recovery of economy.
  • The economy will resume growing in the third quarter of 2009.
  • The real GDP will grow by 3.2% in 2010 and 4.0% in 2011.
  • Inflation will creep up to 1.6% in 2010 and 1.8% in 2011.

Hmm…, the unemployment rate stands at 9.5% in June 2009. The recession is in its 19th months. Americans are changing their spending habit and started to save as much as 5 to 6% which will certainly reduce GDP growth going forward because consumer spending accounts for 70% of the US economy. The end of the third quarter of 2009 is barely one month away and I don’t think the economy has grown any yet. The V-shape recovery projected in 2010 after recession is not at all guaranteed at this moment.

What’s going to happen to the federal deficit and the national debt? We’ll wait and see the spin by the administration and the main street media in the coming months.

The downside of a National Health Insurance Plan July 25, 2009

Posted by hslu in Health.
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The downside of a National Health Insurance Plan

It is unavoidable that my parents will gradually require more health care in the near future. The same is true about me and Maria. Being in their 80’s, they may not have to deal with the unpleasant thought of a national health insurance plan. The same cannot be said about me and Maria. This gets me worried.

In addition to the enormous cost, a national health insurance plan promoted by the president and is taking shape in the Congress may come down to the following:

* Everyone has to enroll in and pay for an insurance plan. If you choose not to, you will be fined $2,500 every year until you comply. A minimum insurance premium will be determined by a federal agency.

· An electronic data bank will be established which will include everyone’s medical records.

· The medical records will be made available to a medical advisory board which will likely make medical decisions on behalf of patients.

· The medical advisor board will have power to ration health care based on patient’s age and health condition. The board will have the power to determine the cost-effectiveness of specific treatments to each patient. It will also choose particular services the national insurance plan will cover.

* The advisory board will determine a drug or a procedure’s cost-effectiveness. Based on its findings, the health board would issue recommendations about which treatments should be used and how new technologies should be deployed.

* The board will also have power regulating private insurance plans in the name of controlling the runaway health care coasts.

* In time, our existing insurance plans may adopt similar coverage standards developed by health advisory board. The day when this practice is adopted by private health insurance companies, we will have a de facto national health insurance plan.

* If the private health insurance company does not adopt the standard, people in this plan may have to pay income tax on health insurance benefits.

In a few years, I will be eligible for Medicare. By that time, I am sure the national health plan will be signed into law. What’s going happen to my health insurance with ExxonMobil?

Why do we have to have a national health insurance plan? My answer is that we don’t need one. Name a single program sponsored by the federal government that is not plagued by inefficiency, waste, abuse, red tape and cost-overrun. Can you? I can’t. And I am sure the national health insurance program will be the same. Its cost will eventually be out of control which will require tax hike or reduction of the quality of health care to pay for it.

To achieve health insurance for everyone, the federal government can simply give the uninsured a voucher which can be used to purchase health insurance from any qualified private health insurance company.

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