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A few things I’ve heard September 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
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A few things I’ve heard

  • In recent years, many Korean Supermarkets have opened in the metro area. Apparently, existing Korean Supermarkets have been selling units to private investors at $200,000 a pop. The funds were then used to open new supermarkets as soon as space becomes available. Now that the metro area has more than our shares of Korean Supermarkets, competition becomes fierce and their profit margins are certainly being squeezed.
  • The most recent addition was Lotte in Chantilly about three months ago occupying the space of a former Heganger hardware store. This market is bigger and better than all other supermarkets in the area. It has five spaces set aside for a food-court type of setting. Each is about 30’ wide by 40’ deep and the market rent I heard is $7,500 a month. There are about 180 seats in the common area. According to my head chef, their businesses are not as good as expected. The rent is $75/sq ft per year. Pretty stiff.

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  • There is a Korean restaurant, a Korean-Chinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and a Pho place which opened about 2 weeks ago. If a Chinese restaurant wants in, Lotte asks for $75,000 installation fee.
  • A former kitchen staff of our restaurant has stayed at home without a job for a couple of months now. With Chinese restaurants losing business, the employment opportunity is hard to come by. He wanted to get back in but we do not have opening for him just yet.
  • He recently found a job at a vegetarian restaurant near Lotte where he works with the owner “老板 lao3 ban3” in the kitchen while the 老板娘”lao3 ban3 niang2” or the boss’s wife takes care of the dinning. He said that the business was so bad that he only had 12 tickets the other day. He said that he’ll usually does everything from doing the side jobs, to wash dishes, to mop the floor and to cook these dishes. He said that the restaurant couldn’t keep any Latinos to work in the kitchen because the restaurant does not sell meat. As far as I know that most Latinos are not vegetarians.
  • The same is true for waitress jobs in Chinese restaurants. They are hard to come by. A former employee of ours has been home without a job for three months now. She came for a 4-hour shift because our full-time employee was taking her yearly vacation on a cruise in Caribbean.
  • A fairly new Korean supermarket at the intersection of Gallows and Route 50 was burned down maybe 9 months ago. It remained closed as of now. I’ve head that the business was so bad that they had to burn it down in order to claim insurance money to recoup their initial investment. The insurance is fighting the claim in court.
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SAGD September 28, 2009

Posted by hslu in Energy.
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SAGD

Ever since I left Mobil, I have continued to subscribe to two petroleum publications: Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ) and World Oil. I was hoping that one of these days I’ll be able to go back to the profession I loved and perhaps work as a consultant or professor in China. On a recent issue of OGJ I saw something that warmed my heart: I saw SAGD being applied at many fields in Alberta, Canada.

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SAGD stands for Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage process which relies on two parallel horizontal wells 15 to 20’ apart to recover oil from heavy oil reservoirs. Steam is injected into the top horizontal well. It enters the formation and rises to the top of the formation. The mobilized oil and condensed water flow into the bottom horizontal well and are produced to the surface. An enhanced version of SAGD is SW SAGD, or Single Well Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage process, in which a single horizontal well is used instead of two. A tubing is inserted into the horizontal wellbore for steam injection purpose. Oil and condensed water are produced from the annulus to the surface. SW SAGD was particularly important because without such a process, many of these thin heavy oil formations are not economical viable with vertical wells even at current price level.

SAGD was first field tested with funds from the government of Alberta. Many companies participated in the project which was pilot tested in a shallow oil sand formation in Athabasca area of Alberta, Canada. It was practically an oil mining project using steam instead of mining machines. The horizontal well pairs were drilled from a large underground shaft which was drilled from the surface to the oil formation. After several years of testing, the project was deemed a technical success because WTI (West Texas Intermediate) was selling at mid teens while heavy oil was selling below $10 a barrel.

When I was transferred to Canada in 1989, Mobil Canada started to work on SW SAGD in a deeper (1,000’+) heavy oil formation. The traditional SAGD was not technically viable because horizontal well drilling technology was still in its infancy and we were not able to drill two closely spaced horizontal wells with 1,000’ displacement in a relatively thin heavy oil formation. In fact, our single horizontal well was the very first one drilled in a heavy oil field. The details of our SW SAGD process, its operating data and technical information were heavily-guarded secrets because our project was the first of such project ever. We worked long and hard in the field and in the office and our project was getting very good results. The operation was smooth with very few operating problems and oil recovery was better than our earlier calculation. After I was transferred back to the research lab in Dallas, I continued to work with my Canadian colleagues to perfect the operation guideline and to increase its profitability. As we were ready for a much needed expansion, I was informed by my friend in Canada that our project was shutting down by Mobil Canada because our pilot test was losing money because the heavy oil from our field, a lower grade oil, was selling below $10 a barrel. In fact it was so bad that our project became a drag to Heavy Oil Department’s budget.

At that time, Mobil Canada was under order from Mobil HQ to re-organize the entire Canadian division, reduce operating costs and reduce headcount. The light oil field won the budget fight and our SW SAGD project was the first on the chopping block because the short-sighted Mobil management couldn’t see the value of such a process. To save the project, I, with the backing of my manager at the research Lab, proposed to take over the pilot test and folded it into our own research project. But our proposal could not win back management’s blessing because our research Lab was also under headcount reduction and the SW SAGD project was moss-balled and eventually abandoned. While we were shutting down our projects, words were out about the success of our pilot through word of mouth from field hands and the patent we filed. Other companies picked up the process and tried it in their fields.

It was so sad that Mobil managers, many of them bean counters, were so short-sighted that they could only see one quarter at a time. They do not have the fore sight to nurture cutting edge technologies when they were in front of them which contributed to its ultimate demise with the sell of our company to Exxon in 2000.

Well, at least I felt that our SW SAGD team was vindicated with so many SAGD projects going on in Canada. A project like this often takes 8 to 10 years to mature. I was very confident that we will see our day under the sun because light oil will eventually be in short supply and we have to tap the vast amount of heavy oil in Canada one of these days. That day is now and I am happy.

New Tenant at our Shopping Center September 28, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics, misc, Politics.
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New Tenant at our Shopping Center

Tysons Pharmacy is coming to our shopping center in Falls Church. The small space (about 800 to 1,000 sq ft) was previously occupied by Citi Bank’s service center. During the financial crisis, Citi Bank shut down the store front and the space has since stayed vacant for almost two years.

Over the last several weeks, I saw some activities there and noticed that Tysons Pharmacy is renovating the small store. It appears that  the palce is about 70% finished. I guess it will soon open its door for business.

I do have some questions for the brave souls who still want to be their own bosses: how much business it will bring to the shopping center and how much foot traffic it will bring to our restaurant.

I wish it can stay in business longer than a year.

Cho’s – Fairfax, Virginia September 28, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
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Cho’s – Fairfax, Virginia

We’ve driven by this place many times on the way to my restaurant after picking up bao from work at the hospital. Since it was on the other side of the street, we never bother to stop by to sample their food.

Well, after working all afternoon staining the deck, we decided to eat out and I picked Cho’s because I couldn’t find another Korean restaurant in Fairfax.

The free-standing restaurant on Lee highway is pretty big with at least 200 seats. There were three tables in the dinning room with 12 customers when we walked in. by the time we left there after 50 minutes, the restaurant had a total of 26 customers including us. Business must not be very good these days.

We ordered a sashimi appetizer ($12.95) (menu says 7 pieces but we got 11. Not sure about the size though), dolsot bibimbab ($12.95) or mixed rice with vegetables in a stone crock, Haemul Soon dubu ($11.95) or spicy seafood tofu stew in hot steel pot and Jogi Qui ($15.95) or pan fried yellow croaker. We didn’t order sake because I am holding back my drinking.

Shortly after we placed our order, the side dishes or banchan were served. I counted 11 dishes which were more than what we usually get at other Korean restaurants. However, there was a catch: they were all vegetable dishes including three kimchi dishes. Out of the 11 served, I liked only two: lotus root sweetened in brown sugar and chilled Japchae or stirred fried cellophane noodles with some vegetables.

Sashimi came before hot dishes. They were fresh and properly chilled but nothing too extraordinary. The bibimbab and Soon dubu were like what we had at any other Korean restaurant but the waitress did offer us a bowl of rice. The Bibimbab came to us without a burned toasty crust which was disappointing. The Soon Dubu wasn’t as good as it at The Light House Tofu Restaurant. Jogi Qui came last but it was a little small and lacked the signature grilled marks. It was tasty, hot and not very fishy. We quickly finished one side but when I turned it over I found the other side burned.

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The ambiance of the restaurant was kind of strange: we were eating Japanese Sushi, picking out unburned meat from a burned Jogi Qui, watching Korean TV programs (with sound turned off) on a Korean LG LCD TV behind the cash register right by the front entrance and listening to oldies from the 50 and 60’s such as “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Blueberry Hill”. Hmmm, I didn’t like the combination at all!

The total came to $58. I gave the waitress $6 for bad food and lack of service.

Well, this is one restaurant I will not go back to. I suggest that you can skip this one too.

HR3200 on Public Health Insurance Option September 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Health Insurance.
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HR3200 on Public Health Insurance Option

Here is a direct quote on public health insurance option from HR3200: “One of the many choices of health insurance within the health insurance Exchange is a public health insurance option. It will be a new choice in many areas of our country dominated by just one or two private insurers today. The public option will operate on a level playing field. It will be subject to the same market reforms and consumer protections as other private plans in the Exchange and it will be self‐sustaining – financed only by its premiums.”

Is self-sustaining even possible for a government-run agency??

Have you seen how post office run its business lately? The USPS is projecting a $7 billion loss for FY 2009. Although I still think 44 cent gets my mail across the US is still a great bargain, the USPS is still a federal government agency. They are not competitive and inefficient. The only way then can pay for themselves is to increase the postage or cutting service.

The public option will be the same: they will either raise the premuim or they have to reduce patien care and services by limiting type of procedures you can have or drugs you can take. Essentially, we will all be covered by medicare. And it is in more serious trouble than other federal government back entitlement program,.i.e., social security.

You Must See This September 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Health Insurance.
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If you haven’t seen this, you must.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9GMKK_fWKg

Many people praise the health care system in Canada and Great Britain. This is what they will get if Democrats have their ways.
John Stossel’s report on ABC gives an image you won’t see from the president and Congress. It awaits me and you younger folks a few years down the road. The current proposal, no matter what the final bill will be, will be a stepping stone to an one-payer health care system. The Republicans are too weak and leaderless to fight it effectively. The Democrats, especially the ultra liberal ones, are determined to bring about a public option into the $2.4 trillion industry in order to solidify their power and to create an even bigger government. If not now. It will eventually be one.

In the process, they will kill the US drug and device companies by eliminate financial incentives from developing drugs and medical instruments that save lives.

You might say that we have NIH which requested $30 billion dollars for FY 2010 from the Congress. The NIH, with its world class organization, 50,000 grants to more than 325,000 researchers at over 3,000 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world and its HQ facilities in Maryland, can easily take over the responsibility from the drug companies. Or can’t it? Well, according to John, NIH is responsible for 4% of the drugs on the market. Am I surprised? No. What can you expect from a government-run organization? I can tell you unequivocally; mediocrity.  Nothing more. Nothing less.

This report shows vividly why the administration’s health care reform plan is not be good for America, young or old. The younger generation voted for change when they elected the black president into office. They are getting it whether they like it or not. They will eventually wait for months for an MRI or heart scan because they don’t like Republican which prefers entrepreneurship over socialism. The helped elect one of the most liberal president in US’s history, they are eating their own medicine and they are paying for it now. Whether they like it or not.

Republicans want to enhance everyone’s life. But you have to work hard, educate yourself and earn it the old fashion way. You do not sit around and have your hands out like the social program promoted by the Democrats over the past several decades. What you end up with is a class of people who sits on its collective assess because it got so used to take something from the government for several decades.

The health care reform is aimed for them who do not work nor do they want to work. The Democrats need this kind of people to solidify their bases so that they can continue to hold on to their power.

The Democrats are wealth re-distributors. The Republicans are wealth creators.

Well, being one of three Democrats media company, ABC delayed the show after Henry Waxman’s House committee voted on HR3200 which promotes a public insurance option, among other things.

As a side note, John Stossel has since left ABC and is now with Fox. I wondered why? Was John’s reporting touched the nerves of some powerful liberal Jews in the media business?

Well, if you don’t like what’s in store for you, you can always go to Mexico or for a new procedure or India for new drug.

Will the US pull out of Afghanistan? September 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Politics.
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Will the US pull out of Afghanistan?

Now that the Great Appeaser is becoming friend of Islamic nations in the Middle East, will US admit defeat and pull out of of Afghanistan?

I think he will use pulling the troops out of Afghanistan as a friendly gesture to his new-found Muslim friends. He’ll defend his action as a new direction of diplomacy and ask his friends to give him something so that he can justify his action.

He did the same thing to Russia by unilaterally pulling the star-war like missile shield defensive program from Eastern Europe. He was immediately praised by Russia because the missile-shield program was much hated by Putin? Or was it because he was praised by his world peace vision instead?

The Great Appeaser is at it again September 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in Energy, Politics.
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The Great Appeaser is at it again

A new era of diplomacy from the US was declared by the US president at UN after apologizing to the world on behalf of previous US presidents and every citizens of the United States. He apologized at UN that US has been a bad boy and saying that the US interests will no longer be the dominant factor when dealing with other countries. He also sided with every Arabic nation and Iran in the Middle East and put Israel on the chopping block. The great appeaser finally showed his true color after listening to Jeremiah Wright for such a long time.

The announcement was music to the ears of US’s enemies such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela among others. They praised the US President for his courage and vision. However, back home these countries will continue to use this opportunity to advance their own agenda while engaging talks with the US. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will continue to enrich uranium at home and continue to develop its second, third, fourth, etc. nuclear facility to make bomb-grade fuel which started almost two decades ago. Now the US president and other leaders of the free world called for Iran to admit IAEA inspectors. They also suggested that talk should begin in a week and another round of sanction may start in December. The US president, sounding tough, said that Iran will be held accountable for its action. He then qualified his threat with statement that Iran is entitled to “right to peaceful nuclear power.” Let me remind you that Iran has the world’s third largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserve. They do not need to develop nuclear capability to generate power. GE or Westinghouse can do that for Iran in a few years without an environmental study. They need the technology to develop nuclear bombs.

Now that US president wanted to be friend with Iran, will Iran stop its nuclear development program and sit down with US president over a cup of espresso at Starbucks to talk it over?

I am sure that before the talk is over, Iran will be a nuclear country despite the call from the US president for a world without nuclear weapon and another resolution of anti- nuclear proliferation at UN. The next scenario in my mind will be an all out attempt by Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities before Israel is wiped out from the map of the world. Israel may have to do it without help from US because the US is becoming a friend of Islamic nations in the Middle East.

In the mean time, Iran is helping Venezuela develop nuclear capability since Chávez is flushed with petrol-dollars with crude oil hovering around $70 a barrel now and after getting rid of Western oil companies such as ExxonMobil (2nd time in 35 years) last year. I bet you that, 10 years from now, we’ll have the same nuclear weapon discussion again, not with Iran but with Venezuela. The next one in line will be Nigeria and other crude rich countries in Africa and South America.

We’ve been Busy September 25, 2009

Posted by hslu in My Restaurant.
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We’ve been Busy

During the past 10 days or so, Bao and I have been busy at home and at my restaurant.

At Restaurant

My restaurant opened a little more than 9 years ago on July 6, 2000. over the years, I have painted the rails, base board and all the doors in the restaurant three times. But the heavy usage through the years has definitely and signs of wear and tear are everywhere: walls, floor, rest rooms, kitchen and just about everywhere in the restaurant.

It is time for some needed renovation for the restaurant and we have been busy to prepare for it. The renovation includes new coat of paint, new floor and wall tiles in the restrooms, new toilets, new wall-mount sinks, electric hand dryers, a 37-inch TV, a new menu board, a new A/C system and some much-needed repair work near mop sink and 3-compartment sink in the kitchen.

The 1st phase of the paint job started on Sunday night. It included the doors, rails and base board. We had to stay after work to get the place ready for painting. Everything under the front counter had to come out. The counter and Drink fridge in the dinning room have to be moved. It took us more than an hour to do it.

The next morning, we went in around 9:30 AM and putting the stuff back to their original places. We worked all the way to 11 AM just in time for the opening. In the process, we threw out a lot of junk which we haven’t used for many years.

Monday night is the second phase of the paint job which involved painting dinning room and restroom walls and finishing some work left the previous day. We chose Faint Flicker from Lowe’s for the wall. It was a light bluish color with a little greenish shade. It matched very well with the grayish two-color tiles and the lower All pictures on the dinning room wall had to come down. The big ones weren’t that bad because they were that heavy. In addition, everything in my office has to come out as well.

Bao started on cleaning the windows around 9 PM. I joined her after I finished moving stuff out  of my office. Earlier we bought a water bucket that’s wide enough for the washer, back-flip and 12” wiper. A few years back, I wanted to buy the same bucket but lacked the fund to do it. Window cleaning looked easy but in reality it was hard not to leave any streak marks on the window. It was also very tiring because our window was about 12’ tall and about 40’ long. We didn’t finish the job until about 1 AM. The hard work and elbow grease paid off nicely. The window looks very clean now. We also saved about $75 or $100 too.

We went back to the restaurant Tuesday morning around 10 AM to hang the pictures and put the stuff back into my office. The new coat of paint makes the dinning room much more presentable than before. Total cost for the paint job was around $900, including $700 labor. We also stood in front of the window admiring our work. We’ll clean the windows more often from now on.

We then drove around comparing prices of Open/Closed sign, telephones, broom and dustpan, push plate and kick plates. Then it was time to stop by the Chinese Great Wall supermarket to buy grocery and meat for tonight’s dinner party. Maria had invited her Xiao Ah-yi, 表哥 “biao3 ge1”, his wife and 小舅舅 “xiao3 jiu4 jiu4” to have dinner with us at 5:30 PM. We got home around 12:30 PM. I quickly made some light lunch for us because Bao had to go to the hospital attending a committee meeting at 1:30 PM. I then washed dishes and started making dinner from scratch. Bao came back around 4:30 PM and started to clean the room. By 5:30 PM, dinner was almost done and they all came very much on-time. We started to have dinner at 5:50 and finished eating at 8:00 or so. We then had karaoke and even xiao ay-yi sang a couple of songs too like 何日君再来 “he2 ri4 jun1 zai4 lai2”. She said that she had never seen karaoke before and had only heard of it from friends. Tuesday night was her first performance. We also sung some Taiwanese songs and we all had a great time. By the time they left at 10:30 PM, I was tired and hot because I didn’t want to take off my T-shirt in front of them.

Well, the renovation is on stand-by now because I am waiting for my orders to come in. Most orders will come in the next few days and the whole thing could be done in 2 to 3 weeks. I hope.

We’ve been Busy September 25, 2009

Posted by hslu in misc.
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We’ve been Busy

During the past 10 days or so, Bao and I have been busy at home and at my restaurant.

At Home

After I fixed the deck, we went ahead to shield the deck from the weather using Home Depot’s own semi-transparent wood stains.

Two years ago, I used a spray gun to stain the deck surface and railing using the same Behr’s wood stain. But the results were disappointing. The stains were almost gone and I could see wear and tear every where. I wasn’t sure whether it was my inferior spraying technique or my rush to finish the job. This time, I decided to take my time and use brush instead.

I bought 5 gallons of wood stain which cost me $140. I got some cheap brushes from Home Depot and from $0.99 stores. We decided to do the job in two days so that we could do a better job this time. In the middle of the second day, I had to go to Home Depot to buy another gallon of stain which cost another $29.

On each day, we started around 12 noon and didn’t stop until around 6:30 to 7 PM. We did the rails and 2/3 of the deck floor on the first day. Moving stuff around took about ½ an hour. It was hard to move those four big planters because each weighs about 200 lbs. We didn’t want to slide it over the deck floor because it will damage the wood. On the second day, I worked straight for 7 hours without a break; only stopped to drink a couple of times. After we finished the deck floor, I started to work on balusters which took so much time. Initially I wasn’t going to stain the outside of those balusters but decided to do it anyway; from inside the rail. That’s was hard on my back.

Well, I am happy to report that the results were exceptional and it was a lot better than what we did last time.

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