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世界日報 and 馬英九總統 August 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Politics, Taiwan.
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世界日報 and 馬英九總統

The position taken by the editorial pages of 世界日報 “shi4 jie4 ri4 bao4” on 馬英九’s “ma3 ying1 jiu3” handling of Typhoon Morakot really surprised me.

Like its parent 聯合報 “lian2 he2 bao4” in Taiwan, 世界日報, as far as I know, is a pro-KMT newspaper. But the comments of its editorial pages in recent days really shocked me.

On August 17, 2009’s editorial page, it called for a new head for President Ma and suggested his government incompetent.

On August 19, 2009, the paper’s editorial page compared Wen Jia Bao 溫家寶 and 馬英九 suggesting 馬英九 is no where close to 溫家寶’s media savvy, decisiveness, and willing to make necessary decisions in a moment’s notice. The paper questioned the personal traits and characteristics of 馬英九 and implied that he lacked necessary quality to be an effective leader in the midst of natural disasters.

溫家寶 is China’s Premier of the State Council. His handling of the 921 earthquake in 2008 in the province of 四川 “si4 chuan1” won many praises from Chinese people.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it 良藥苦口利于病 “liang2 yao4 ku3 kou3 li4 yu2 bing4” or it is simply taking this opportunity to sell more newspapers? 良藥苦口利于病 means that a good medicine tastes bitter in the mouth but is beneficial to fight the illness.

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Dinner Party at Home August 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Cooking.
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Dinner Party at Home

My friend’s wife went to Taiwan for a month. Maria and I invited him and another couple to our house for a 家常飯 “jia1 chang2 fan4,” or 便飯 “bian4 fan4” which literally means a casual dinner.

I made many side dishes and a few main dishes using simple ingredients and light seasoning. Many of them were vegetable dishes more suitable for summer time.

Several of them came out very nice but Chicken stuffed with sweet rice was a huge disappointment.

The following two were excellent:

  1. Sweet pepper stuffed with shrimp and tofu with oyster sauce reduction. I added cilantro to shrimp and tofu to enhance its flavor.

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  1. Deep-fried tofu with plums and dates in honey and wine sauce. The thick and savory sauce complemented the tofu nicely. It was simple to do as well but it took almost one hour to achieve the desired consistency at very low heat.

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You might call both dishes 功夫菜 ”gong1 fu1 cai4” because both took a long time and extra efforts to make.

I also made this vegetable dish which was a healthy addition at the end: snow peas, winter bamboo shoots and 白果 “bai2 guo3.” 白果 “bai2 guo3” is the seed of 銀杏樹 “yin2 xin4 shu4” or Ginkgo. 銀杏樹 “yin2 xin4 shu4” has been found as early as 270 million years ago and are widely available in China and other parts of the world including the United States, Canada, Korea and Japan. It can grow up to 120’ tall with trunk as big as 12’ in diameter.白果“bai2 guo3” has long been used for cooking and medicine in China. It is said that 白果“bai2 guo3” is good for asthmas patients and older men with frequent urines problems, among other benefits.

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ginko leaf

This is what ginko’s leaf looks like.

I’ll do the deep-fried tofu with plums and dates again because it is a such an easy dish to make. It is also a crows pleaser too.

Making Wine at Home August 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Wine.
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That’s a lot of work!

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Conclusions:

I’ll continue to buy wine from the stores. it is simply not worth the effort.If I have a nice juicer, it may be a different story.

This is only the beginning though. There is still a lot of work to do in the next 3 to 6 months. I’ll know how it comes out in a year or so.

By this time next year, I’ll have a new crop to test with.

Hu Tong and Michelin – Hong Kong August 30, 2009

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Hu Tong and Michelin – Hong Kong

On the August 9 – August 15, 2009 issue of 世界週刊 “shi4 jie4 zhou1 kan1;” the weekly magazine of Chinese World Journal “世界日報 si4 jie4 ri4 bao4,” Ms. Wang Ya Lan 王雅蘭女士 gave an interesting description of traditional Cantonese cuisines versus the new style Chinese cooking in Hong Kong “香港 xiang1 gang3”. She chose four restaurants in Hong Kong and Kowloon “九龍 jiu3 long2” to illustrate the differences in cooking style and approach to Chinese cuisine.

The first restaurant discussed in the article was Hu Tong “胡同 hu2 tong2” which Maria and I went to in 2008. Hu Tong is one of the Michelin’s Top 10 Restaurant Values in the world according to the director of Michelin guides. Hu Tong is a one-star Michelin restaurant and is very affordable. Michelin even suggests that if you have only one night in Hong Kong, this is the restaurant you should go. Ms. Wang liked the stunning scenery overlooking Victoria harbor and Hong Kong Island, nice décor in the beautiful Chinese style dinning room and chef’s casual approach to fine dining. We liked it a lot when we were there.

The other three restaurants were all traditional Cantonese or Chinese restaurants: 竹園 “zhu2 yuan2” in Kowloon for its lobster in cheese and butter sauce, 西苑 “xi1 yuan2” in Hong Kong for its roast pork and pineapple buns and 浣紗廚房 “wan3 sha1 chu2 fang2” in Hong Kong for its smoked chicken and 擔擔麵 “dan4 dan4 mian4.

You might want to try them out when you are in Hong Kong next time.

Curved Spacetime August 30, 2009

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Curved Spacetime

If you are interested in science like I do, you should read the article by Eduardo Guéron on Curved spacetime in August 2009.issue of Scientific American.

Mr. Guéron used simple English and interesting illustrations to explain the concept of curved spacetime to common people. Take your time to read the entire article if, for instance, you are wondering what gravity is but are afraid to ask.

The best part to me is the table near the end of the article in which several effects predicted by Einstein’s general relativity such as gravitational time dilation are explained with examples and real life applications.

What if Morakot Happened under President Chen’s Watch? August 29, 2009

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What if Morakot Happened under President Chen’s Watch?

Katrina happened when Bush, a Republican, was the president. Many of New Orleans’ poor neighborhoods of predominantly black and presumably Democrat voters were destroyed after Katrina dumped record amount of rain causing levees to fail. Katrina became the deadliest and costliest hurricane in the US history. President Bush’s handling of the emergency responses and rescue actions received many harsh criticisms from black residents, black leaders and Democrat-leaning news media.

What if Katrina happened during Bill Clinton’s watch instead? Would the first black president receive the same amount of harsh criticism as President Bush did? I wonder?

Morakot happened under President Ma’s watch who is a 外省人”wai4 sheng3 ren2” or one who came from mainland China when government controlled by 國民黨 “huo2 min2 dang3” or KMT exiled to Taiwan in 1949. After Morakot dumped record amount of rain in Taiwan, many people in the county of 高雄 “gao1 xiong2” of southern Taiwan lost their lives and properties. It is well known that many residents of 高雄 “gao1 xiong2” are friendly to the opposition party, the 民進黨 “min2 jin4 dang3.” President Ma’s handling of the crisis became a lighting rod among victims and news media and Morakot became Mr. Ma’s Katrina.

What if Morakot happened under President Chen’s watch? Would the leader of 民進黨 “min2 jin4 dang3” receive the same harsh treatment from the victims? I wonder?

The division between 外省人”wai4 shen3 ren2″ and 台湾人 “tai2 wan1 ren2” will for sure deepen in the coming elections in December 2009 and next year. The situation will not improve because politicians on both sides will not let this issue die.

Why is ethnicity a factor here, you might ask? May I remind you the division between Quebec and Western Canada and independence sought by Tibet “西藏 xi1 zang4” and Xinjiang “新疆 xin1 jiang1?”

I couldn’t help but to notice that the world we lived in is filled with conflicts stemmed from religion, ethnicity,  class, wealth, and idealism. It is too bad.

And for this reason, I don’t think peace is even possible in the world.

Is the Housing Market in Northern Virginia near the Top? August 29, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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Is the Housing Market in Northern Virginia near the Top?

My head chef asked me if I wanted to invest in real estate recently.

With foreclosures in record numbers, record numbers of distressed properties were auctioned out by the banks in recent weeks. The banks purposely set a low starting bid to attract as many interesting buyers to the process as possible. Since mortgage interest rate is still very low and since government’s incentive program is about to end, many investors and first time buyers alike have came out of the woodwork to bid on these properties.

My head chef has shown some interests and has been looking for properties to invest. He asked me if I am interested in investing as well.

In 2005, he asked me the same question and soon after the bottom of the housing market fell out. Is the real estate market near a short-term top or is it about to bottom out?

My Life as a 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” in a Chinese Restaurant August 29, 2009

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Food, Restaurants.
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My Life as a 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1”  in a Chinese Restaurant

To be a Chinese cook, the first thing I needed to learn was 翻鍋 “fan1 guo1”. It involved flipping whatever ingredients were in the hot wok in a more or less constant motion so that the food wouldn’t get burned. If sauce was added in the cooking process, 翻鍋 “fan1 guo1” would ensure that the ingredients were coated with the sauce evenly. Back then, no one would teach you cooking skill in a Chinese kitchen. Almost every cook started their career as a dishwasher. If he (there were practically no women working in a Chinese kitchen) worked hard and the head chef liked him enough, he would get promoted to a 油鍋 ”you2 guo1”; one who was in charge of deep fried orders. BTW, Xiaobao has worked as a part-time油鍋 ”you2 guo1” for a few weeks at my restaurant. In a year or two if our 油鍋 ”you2 guo1” could handle the job well; he would be promoted to a 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” in another year or two. In that two or three year span, he would secretly watch what a油鍋 ”you guo” or 炒鍋 “chao2 guo1” did and picked up a point or two along the way if he was smart and willing to learn. Very seldom, a cook would be willing to teach a new comer any skill because he was afraid the new comer would take his position.

Another thing all Chinese cooks didn’t like was to have an owner working in the kitchen because they didn’t like to work under owner’s watchful eyes. At the time when I decided to become a炒鍋 “chao3 guo1”, I had worked as a dishwasher at an Italian deli in Silver Spring and at National Cathedral School for Girls in DC but had never learned to deep fry anything, had never operated a wok in a Chinese kitchen, and had never attempted to翻鍋 “fan1 guo1” or cook anything. Here I was the night before my official debut as a Chinese cook and I didn’t even know how to翻鍋 “fan1 guo1.” None of the cooks would volunteer to teach me and I wasn’t about to ask them either. I believed that they were waiting to see how I would make a fool out of myself and thinking that I couldn’t survive very long in a busy kitchen.

Well, I had to learn翻鍋 “fan1 guo1” first and learn it before 10 AM tomorrow. I remembered the night before I officially started being a炒鍋 “chao guo,” I waited until everyone left the restaurant, locked the front and back doors, turned on the lights in the kitchen and fans of the hood, stood in front of the big, long cooking station, took a steel brush, put it in the wok, and started to flip the hell out of it in the wok. It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of it once I figured out the trick. I went to bed confident with my翻鍋“fan1 guo1” skill and it thus landed me in the kitchen for almost a year and three months. I was a 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” during the lunch time and dinning room manager in the evening. As a炒鍋 “chao3 guo1,” I also did whatever other 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” did, namely cutting vegetables into the right sizes, dissecting thousands of whole chickens into chicken breast and leg meat without bones, making about 1,000 egg rolls every week from scratch, and preparing plain fried rice in huge woks before restaurant opened in the morning and after lunch crowd was over.

I vividly remembered, for about a year or so, I worked side by side with another炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” by the name of 小蔡 “xiao3 cai4” (蔡 “cai4” was his last name and小 “xiao3” kind implied that he was a young guy.) He was in his early 30’s, about 5’ and 3”, didn’t speak a lot and had been working as a炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” for a couple of years. He came to work for us because our head chef had worked with him in New York and liked his work. When another 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” quitted his job at our restaurant, our head chef invited小蔡 “xiao3 cai4” to Rapid City and worked for us for a long time. 小蔡 “xiao3 cai4” was a good 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1”: he was quick with wok, he wasn’t sloppy at side jobs, and his刀功 “dao1 gong1” or cutting skill was first class. I often secretly watched him de-boned a whole chicken in less than 40 seconds with about 20 simple cuts as if it was done by a machine. Chicken after chicken, he would separate the breast and thigh meat from bones in recurrent motions. When he joined us, I had already worked in the kitchen for a while. I had de-boned hundreds if not thousands of chickens. I was quick with knife and I was good too because I was young and learned fast. But when I stood next to him; each using a corner of a commercial sink as support to our cutting boards and each with a Chinese cleaver in one hand and a chicken in the other, I would secretly compete with him and see if I could de-bone a chicken faster than he did. But I was no match to his cutting skill no matter how fast I tried. In the end, I always lost by at least a leg or half a leg. The secret cutting competition didn’t win me any rewards but it certainly provided a good training ground to hone my cutting skills or 刀功 “dao1 gong4.” It eventually led to faster preparation time when I had many guests coming over for dinner over the years in Carrollton and Plano, Texas; sometime as many as 30 or even 40 guests at a time.

Since I was new to cooking, I was assigned to be the fried rice and lo mian炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” because these dishes didn’t involved any delicate cooking skills and were relatively easy to make. I also helped out with 抓碼 “zhua1 ma3” which involved putting the right ingredients together in a small 6” steel bowl (for meat) and plastic plate (for vegetables) according to orders came in. I then handed the steel bowl and plate to the right炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” and he would cook the dish or dishes accordingly. One thing I never got used to was to prepare this dish on the fly which called for julienne cut of carrots and celery with shredded chicken. Celery was a little easier to cut but carrots were hard and difficult to get them nicely cut. Whenever this order was called, I would rush quickly to get celery sticks and carrots from the walking cooler, cut them according to specs, give them to炒鍋 “chao3 guo1”, and go back to take care of my orders of fried rices and lo mians. My cooking skill improved over time and by the time I stopped working as a half-time 炒鍋 “chao3 guo1”, I could cook 4 orders of fried rice or lo mian at the same time without spilling too much rice or noodles outside the wok. I also cooked other dishes when the work load became too much for the other炒鍋 “chao3 guo1” but couldn’t get the taste consistent from dish to dish.

Another important skill I learned was how to do things fast in a kitchen. I had to cut stuff fast, make egg rolls fast, cook fast and clean fast. No one had patient to wait for you when things were hectic during rush hours. The Kitchen was loud, hot, and humid. Customer orders came in fast and non-stop especially on evenings of Thursday through Sunday. Waiters yelled out new orders as they walk through the kitchen door and asked if their earlier orders were ready to go. I, as an owner, had to keep my cool, functioned as a part-time 抓碼 “zhua1 ma3” and took care of my cooking orders as they came in. As you can see, I had to act fast otherwise I’d lose face among other cooks and that’s not going to happen on me. I had to learn multi-taking especially when it was busy. All the training back then made me an efficient cook in the kitchen. When I could make thing happening fast, cooking wasn’t as painful as one might think.

After I left the restaurant and went back to finish my degree in Petroleum Engineering, I considered cooking a fun thing to do. After we had kids, I didn’t mind putting things together and making something good for them to enjoy. I often had guests and their kids coming to our house, enjoyed my cooking, drank wines, karaoke to 1 or 2 in the morning, and had a good time together. I’d wash dishes and cleaned the kitchen because I could do them fast and good at the same time. When I made something people like, I felt I had accomplished something. When things came out miserable, I felt sorry for the people who had to eat them.

This continued until now. Along the way, I became very picky on what I eat and I enjoy eating as much as I enjoy cooking.

And that’s the way it was!

MMoA Hot Dog Vendor Can’t make It August 27, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants, Travel.
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MMoA Hot Dog Vendor Can’t make It

Chih-Wei sent me an email in responding to my blog on a NY food stand doing great business on 6th Avenue near MMoA. His email included a link about a hot dog stand owner, Pasang Sherpa, who failed to pay NY Parks Department $642,701 a year on two hot dog stands on the south and north entrances at MMoA: $362,201/yr for the one on the south and $280,500 for another on the north. That’s $53,558 every month for two stands.

http://www.slate.com/id/2224941/

My guess for the rent on the stand on 6th Ave. was $3,000. I based my estimate on the $1,000/month rent paid by a kiosk owner near the old food court @ Tysons I shopping center here in Northern Virginia. The rent increased to $4,000 in November and December because of increased traffic during the holidays. Of course my estimate for the NY food stand was way off.

After reading the Slate article, I immediately noticed that the rent for 2008 was $227,701 less than what Pasang paid in 2009. That’s $18,975 a month! The reason why Pasang, a rookie, was kicked out of the hot dog business was because he way over-paid for the right to operate the hot dog stands. His rents were 55% higher. If my landlord raised my rent 55%, I am not sure I can make it either.

I then did a quick calculation on Pasang Sherpa’s failed business with information in the Slate’s article. I also made assumptions about selling hot dogs based on what I know about running a Chinese restaurant.

The assumptions are:

o        Sale price of a hot dog – $2.95

o        Sale price of a drink – $1.65

o        Percent of people who purchase drink with their hot dog – 25%

o        Cost bases:

o       Hot dog – $0.35

o       Buns – $0.12

o       Ketchup, hot mustard, hot dog tray and napkins – $0.08

o       Misc. expenses – $25/day such as ice for the drinks and propane gas to keep hot dog warm, etc.

o        Cost base for the drink – $0.45 assuming he gets them himself

o        No sales tax paid to NY City, NY City makes money by auctioning out the right.

o        No quarterly income tax withholding for the federal government. It is cash business.

o        No Social security tax paid for his employees.

o        Labor cost is calculated based on $10/hr for an 8-hr day, 7 days a week. No health insurance benefit. No 401(k) matching funds. No dental benefits either.

Using these assumptions, the cost base for a hot dog is $0.68 or 23% of the sales price of $2.95 each. This seems reasonable to me.

I then assume number of hot dogs sold every day and calculate the operating profit or losses after rent, cost of hot dogs, drinks and misc. expenses. Of course, sales during summer and holidays are higher but I use the average number to simplify the calculation.

Here is what I found out:

To breakeven, Pasang has to sell 726 hot dogs everyday between his two stands. At an average of 726 hot dogs everyday, his business looks like this:

Number of hot dog sold            726/day

264.990/year

Number of drinks sold  182/day

66,248/year

Daily Sales                               $2,441/day

$891,029/yr

Cost of Goods                          $599/day

$218,467

Net profit (loss)                        $741

If he can sell 1,000 hot dogs day in and day out, 365 days a year, he can make $258,017 a year or $21,501 a month. That’s not bad at all! If he is not greedy, he can make a six figure annual income if he sells 835 hot dogs a day or 1.74 hot dogs a minute between his two stands. Take a look of the graph I made and he’ll have a very good idea of what the potentials of hot dog business at MMoA are. Pasang is way over his head by bidding 55% higher in 2009. He has no one else to blame but himself. Next year, he better use my spreadsheet first before making bids.

Profit or Loss of MMoA Hot Dog Stands Aug 2009

In 2008, the guy before Pasang could breakeven by selling just 483 hot dog every day. That’s a lot easier than 726 a day!

Concord Grapes in my Back Yard August 25, 2009

Posted by hslu in Wine.
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Grapes in My Back Yard

IMG_2604_edited

I need to figure out what to do with all these grapes in my back yard.

This is the second year we had grapes. We didn’t use any fertilizer or pesticide and it started to look like a real grape plant now. Although most grapes already had dark and purple skins I need to wait for a week or two to let them produce more sugar. These grapes are still too small to me. Maria cut off some and the grapes are still too sour but my dad likes them.

The concord grapes I saw were much bigger; about twice the size of ours. Maybe next year’s crop will be even better.

I think I will make some sweet wine using these grapes. I’ll also keep some on the plant and see if i can make some ice wine later.

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