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Islam, Iran and Middle East Regional Conflict February 28, 2010

Posted by hslu in Global Affair, Politics, Religion.
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Anyone who is interested in knowing a little more about Islam, Iran and the regional conflict in Middle East should read this Op-Ed piece in New York Times by Efraim Karsh.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28karsh.html

I was surprised to read such a honest discussion about the clashes among Muslims and realized that there is little hope to achieve peace in the Middle East as long as Israel remains a country there.

No government officials in the public will call this a religious war but the fact of the matter is that it has been and will continue to be a religious war whether we like it or not.

Iraq is gradually becoming a democratic state thanks to President G.W. Bush’s military intervention. If Iraqis can learn how to govern their divided country and stay the course of democracy, 50 years from now, Iraqis will mark U.S. and allies invasion as the most important turning point of their new country’s recent history. By that time, planting the seed of democracy in the Middle East will be President G. W. Bush’s lasting achievement in the history.

The U.S. may also win over another friend who has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

Is a war with Iran next? Will America be forced into a war before Iran is capable of deploying nuclear weapons?

It won’t happen if Democrats, such as BHO, Pelosi and Reid, are in power. Israel may wait until a Republican president is elected in 3 years.

Xiaobao’s 8 坪 Apartment in Taipei February 27, 2010

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The going rate for an apartment like this was 18,000 NT. Xiaobao paid 13,000 NT for being a friend of his high school class mate.:

The see-through bathroom is at the left. There are many cabinets to the right. The door is at the end of the room.

The size of the room is 8 坪 or about 288 square feet. Xiaobao’s room is one of four rooms in the apartment which probably has a market value of at least 30,000,000 NT or nearly one million U. S. dollars.

It comes down to nearly $815/sq ft, about four times as expensive as houses here in Northern Virginia. It is ridicules.

忠孝复兴 is one of the busiest spots in Taipei.

台湾游記 Dec. 6 – Dec. 16, 2009, Day 3, Part II February 27, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Chinese, Chinese Food, Food, Restaurants, Taiwan, Travel.
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台湾游記 Dec. 6 – Dec. 16, 2009, Day 3, Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Taipei, Part II

The restaurant was called 食養山坊 “shi1 yang3 shan1 fang3” or Food for Nourishment Mountain House. It was previously located in 陽明山 “yang2 ming2 shan1,” or Yang2 Ming1 Mountain, a very popular place to spend a weekend with your family and friends hiking and picnicking just north of the city of Taipei.

About a month before our visit, the restaurant was moved to this private location closed to 內湖五指山 “nei4 hu2 wu2 zhi3 shan1” on 汐萬路 “xi4 wan4 le4,” section 3. It was about half way to the Air Force Cemetery in a neighborhood with no other house or resident. There was no sign at the small alley to indicate that there was a restaurant in the alley except a small wooden sign on a wooden post which said “350巷 “xiang4” or Alley 350.

Our taxi followed two other cars down a steep slope and after a couple of turns arrived at a non-paved parking lot. At that time, about 6 or 8 cars have already arrived. After we got out of the taxi, a couple of young ladies guided us through a walkway filled with pebble rocks, cross a bamboo bridge over a small creek, a 40-step meandering trail paved with slabs of flat stones under trees of various heights, climbed a small hill and then finally reached to the foot of a large wooden building. As we got closer to the building, I heard faint sound of flowing water in the distance. Because the restaurant had just moved to here, I was assuming that the landscape and lighting had not completely finished yet. I could see through the flash light of my camera that some trees may have been recently planted along the pathway. In the distance, there was a small man-made island with tall banana trees. There were many landscape lights under trees and shrubs in the garden. The shadow of trees under the dark sky, the lazy glow of lights, light breeze on my face, faint sound of flowing water, the clouds in the distance sky and a shade of crimson red from the sunset made this a wonderful and relaxing place to have a good meal.

食養山莊 front door

I couldn’t wait. I was ready to be pampered.

At the side entrance of the wooden building, we were instructed to take off our shoes and put them in a box. A young lady took us through an alley between dinning rooms where incenses were burning in a big clay pot. Our room was about 12’ wide and about 24’ long decorated with a couple of white Chinese lanterns hung from the ceiling. On one side, there were several panels of ceiling to floor windows. On the other side, a wall divided our room from the room on the other side. In the middle of our room, there were two see-through curtain made from 1/8” round, 3’ long bamboo skewer rods strung together to form a 6’ wide divider. Our hostess told us that we have to be careful not to bump into the windows because their customers frequently forgot that there was a window between the room and the deck on the outside. She showed us a sliding door which could take us to the deck. She also showed us where the bathroom was and reminded us not to forget to use the slippers provided at the other side of another sliding door not too far from our room. The floor of the room was covered with 榻榻米 “ta1 ta mi3” which was very comfortable to walk on without shoes. In the middle of our room, there was a simple wooden table which could seat six and a couple of benches on each side. Near the window, there was a pot of water being heated on a small clay pot. The room was lit using several Chinese lanterns supplemented with a few spot lights and some candles on a dark-colored cabinet on the floor. On top of the cabinet were several paintings of 山水畫”shan1 shui3 hua4” or Chinese landscape paints of trees, clouds, creek, stones and mountains. Everything was simple with mostly black and white colors. In fact, the setup of the room, and for that matter the whole building, was very easy on your eyes and mind. It was apparent that the owner wanted to nourish our body with his food and nourish our minds with a relax ambiance.

There was no time limit. Meal started at 6 PM and usually last three or four hours. Every guest got the same dishes and we were told that the guests had no idea what they’d get for any given night because it wasn’t finalized until morning of that day after a trip to the local markets. The price was fixed: 1,000 NT per person plus 10% tips. There was no wine served at this restaurant.

We opened the sliding door, walked onto the deck, looked around the outside, took a few pictures and admired the beautiful and calm night scene. As we walked back to our room, a group of six was taken to the other side of the same room we were in. As we sat at our table waiting for our meal, we heard a loud bang and then realized that people did actually walk into the window like our hostess had warned us.

Around 6:15, our dinner started with the first course: 草梅百香果汁 ”cao3 mei2 bai3 xiang1 guo3” – Marinated Plum and Passion Fruit Juice.

If you have tried 百香果 before, you knew that it has a special taste and aroma that’s unique to the fruit. The smoothie-like juice was properly chilled with sour and mild sweet taste in your mouth with a strong passion fruit flavor. It was meant to refresh your taste buds and open your appetite for more exciting dishes to come. The presentation of the first course was beautiful too: four small pottery cups fitted perfectly on a light colored rectangle tray, the color of the juice matched nicely with the color of the cup, a few pieces of passion fruit seeds allowed you to chew on them while you drank the juice. The whole thing was garnished with a simple white mum. I guessed the chef wanted to project a peaceful image to sooth our mind from the beginning. I liked the first course very much. The only thing I’d do differently was to fill each cup with the same amount of juice like the third cup from the left. With the same amount of juice in each cup, the whole thing would be balanced by itself.  I’d also chilled the cups and tray too. Minor details!

The second dish was an appetizer: chilled deep-fried egg plants garnished with stalks of celery and a few slices of dried fish; a piece of silky tofu on peanut sauce topped with soy sauce, wasabi and something I didn’t recognize; and salmon eggs on top of roasted ells.

Again, it was an artfully composed starter: multiple colors, three different textures and three distinctly different food groups not to mention multiple tastes from the egg plants, dried fish, crispy celery stalks, roasted eels, salmon eggs and wasabi. Great!

The third dish consisted of several things: large prawns, pumping wedges, inarizushi (stuffed deep-fried bean curd sushi pockets) with some kind of fish and sushi rice, pineapple juice and 石花凍 “shi2 hua1 dong4”. 石花凍 literally means stone flower jelly which was made from juice extracted from seaweeds.

This was a sushi dish which we enjoyed very much. Our waitress told us that everything in this dish was lightly seasoned so that we could enjoy their original tastes. The only trouble I had was I couldn’t decide what to eat first. I liked inarizushi more than prawn because of the salty yet sweet taste of the deep-fried bean curd pocket itself. I liked pumpkin more than inarizushi because of its sweetness. Seaweed jelly was something I never had before. Well, after only a brief hesitation, I grabbed a prawn and started to suck the juice out of its head. Inarizushi was good except that I liked to have a little more rice with the fish. Seaweed jelly had a very mild taste similar to that of kelp which didn’t surprise me. The pineapple juice provided a good ending to this dish and served to cleanse our palates for our next dish.

After the empty plates were cleaned from the table, our young waitress bought us a teapot and some 西湖龍井茶”xi1 hu2 long2 jing3 cha2.” She said that we can fill the teapot with hot water ourselves and left. Before our next dish arrived, I noticed that our young waitresses usually didn’t stay very long after they took away empty plates, put down new sets of utensils or told us what we were getting. I then realized that they purposely wanted to leave their customers alone so that they’d be more comfortable with their friends and family members to enjoy the food. The fact that a pot of hot water was left on the clay stove in the room also suggested that the owner wanted us to enjoy ourselves without the watchful eyes of the wait staff.

The next dish was a hot dish: steamed egg custard with scallops. The key of this simple yet elegant dish was again: simplicity. Egg custard in its own juice topped with a pinch of shaved dry fish and a few small flower buds garnished with a pink flower. If I had to nitpick, I’d say the flower and the plate were a bit too large for the size of the clay bowl. I also would use a matching, smaller spoon; one about half the size of the white spoon provided by the kitchen.

The egg custard was great though: refreshing, smooth, creamy and warm, with a subtle hint of scallops. And there was no scallop in the bowl. Hmm, it was very yummy and very good for a chilly night except I could use two more bowls. A bigger bowl would also do the tricks though.

Before our next dish was served, our waitress bought in three small condiment trays: soy sauce, wasabi and a sauce made from fish sauce. While we were waiting for our next dish, Xiaobao was playing with his cell phone and his sister was watching him with great interests. We didn’t know what they were watching but it was a wonderful sight to us as if it was 20 years ago when they were playing in the living room again.

The center piece of our next dish was four small 9-hole abalones served in their unique 9-hole shells (九孔 “jiu3 kong3” or nine holes) on a bed of crushed ice. They were served with steamed broccoli flowers, white mushrooms (銀耳 “yin2 er3” or literally silver ear, a fungi mushroom grown on dead trees) and 石蓮花 “shi2 lian2 hua1”(literally rock lily flower.) In the middle of the plate was a small bamboo basket which contained slabs of corns and two kinds of sashimi: tuna on squid and some kind of white fish with nori.

Wasabi and soy sauce of course were for the sashimi. The fish sauce was for 石蓮花 which came from a low growing plant call houseleek or live-forever.

I had cooked 9-hole abalones before but they turned out a complete disaster. It had the texture of an eraser and as tasteless as a piece of 2-day old chewing gum. Since I had waaaay over cooked them, they were promptly discarded into the trash can. The abalone I had here was tender, moist and tasted like, well, like abalones. I wasn’t sure it was done, but it was way better than what I had offered to my guests. The sashimi was good, unique but far from excellent though. I also didn’t get the reason for serving blanched 銀耳 with the seafood dish probably because I was used to having chilled 銀耳 in thick, tangy rock-sugar syrup. Corn was a nice addition but it didn’t add any special flavor to the dish. One thing I did like was the succulent 石蓮花 in fish sauce.

石蓮花is a evergreen plant called houseleek. The Romans started consuming 石蓮花 petals in the eighth century. Mexicans planted 石蓮花 on their roofs allegedly to avoid thunders and lighting. According to Chinese medicine, 石蓮花 has various medicinal properties such as treating burns and skin diseases. It was found to be rich in dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, iron and other minerals. It has also been used to treat high blood pressure and constipation, among others.

The petals of 石蓮花 in our plate were simply blanched in boiled water and then served with fish sauce infused with sugar, onion, red pepper and wine. The petals were succulent and juicy and its tannin taste was partially removed by blanching and the remaining tannin taste was masked by the sweet and sour fish sauce.

To top this off and to serve as a transition to our next dish, black dates juice was offered to cleaning our taste buds again.

Houseleek 石蓮花

The chef again stayed with simplicity in presenting our sixth dish: cabbage blanched in chicken stock topped with mullet roe mochi or daifuku and deep-fried sweet potato. The chef again got his inspiration from simplicity using three types of food having three different textures, three different flavors and three different consistencies.

The cabbage was a down-to-earth type of food usually served to blue-collar laborers in the field. It was among the cheapest vegetables in Taiwan. The cabbage was blanched in chicken stock which still retained its crispiness and slight sweetness. The mullet roe mochi (sweet rice cake) was a pleasant surprise. The salty mullet roe was used as filling for sweet rice mochi which by itself had a neutral and bland taste. They however complemented each other nicely with a chewy outer skin and a somewhat grainy interior from the dried mullet roes. The golden brown and crispy sweet potato (yam) was cleverly done because its texture presented a stark contrast to the chewy chilled mochi and warm cabbage. However, this dish again stayed with the seafood theme of our dinner because mullet roe was an expensive delicacy prized by Taiwanese and Japanese people alike.

Our next dish was modified 油飯 “you1 fan4,” or sticky rice, topped with pepperoni sausage and garnished with shitake mushroom.

油飯 was a common dish favored by many Taiwanese people. The sticky sweet rice was first steamed and then stir-fried with sausage, pork, dried shrimp, fried shallots, Chinese mushroom, a generous amount of sesame oil and cilantro. Our chef must have strayed beyond his usual recipe and use pepperoni instead. I didn’t like this dish because I found the flavor of pepperoni somewhat overtook or in competition with the flavor of soy-sauce based sticky rice. If I were to do this, I would substitute pepperoni with lump crab meat. I would keep fired shallots and sprinkle some cilantro to soften the dark-colored dish. The mushroom wasn’t too impressive either. Overall, this was one dish that I didn’t care too much of.

The next dish was interesting: wild mushroom and chicken soup with a lily flower twist.

The lily flower was first steamed to remove the tannin taste. It was then dried under the sun. Our waitress placed the soup on our table. She then immersed the lily flower in the middle of the soup. The soup was packed with a generous amount of various kinds of mushrooms, lotus roots and a subtle taste of Chinese medicines such as 人參 “ren2 shen1” or ginseng. The savory soup was laced with such an intense mushroom flavor that it might be called a mushroom stew instead. The mushrooms were only slightly boiled in the soup before it was bought to our table. The soup was light in seasoning and almost free of any chicken grease. It was a far cry from some of the greasy and heavy soups served in many Chinese restaurants in the United States. I had to admit though that the lily flower didn’t give out too much of a scent, at least I didn’t taste any of them.

By this time, I knew our meal was close to the end because Chinese normally serve soup near the end of a meal unlike American custom which feed you soup near the beginning. After the empty soup pot and our soup bowls were removed, our waitress gave us a new set of tea cups and a teapot filled with some lily flower petals. The lily flower tea had a mild fragrance but it was enough to cleanse our taste buds because we should be getting something sweet as dessert.

Sure enough, our dessert came next:

  • A plate of fresh fruit consisted of small slices of papaya, apple and 蓮霧 ”lian2 wu4” and a small cup of mulberry juice. The fruits were great and the mulberry juice was excellent except I liked to have second or third serving, please.

  • 薏仁 “yi4 ren2” (barley) and taro roots paste in warm red bean soup with Chinese dates. It was topped with decorative and, yes, edible, thin gold foils. The texture of the paste was somewhat coarse and slimy (It was supposed to be slimy.) It had a neutral taste if not for the somewhat sweet red bean soup and red dates. The gold foil of course had no taste and was an inner metal. I had a few pieces but couldn’t even tell that I was eating them or the taro root paste. Frankly, I preferred the taro root paste a little sweeter because it would be more satisfying after a heavy meal.

While we were enjoying our dinner and finally our desserts, a couple of dogs showed up near our window. Their names were 小不點 ”xiao3 bu1 dian3” (The small thing) and 小黑 “xiao3 hee1.” There was a black cat too. All three animals were very playful and not afraid of people.

Our bill as expected came to $4,400 NT. I considered it a steal for that price. Although not every dish was top notch and, to me, too much seafood was served, it nonetheless provided a very satisfying experience and memorable evening. The service was casual and not intrusive which gave me a comfortable and cozy feeling. The ambiance of the restaurant was inviting. The tall trees, small hill, big boulders, running water in the woods, various shrubs, banana trees, narrow pathway among flowers and a calming atmosphere certainly made me wanted to go back here again, perhaps during the day. Our waitresses were warm and purposely left us alone. It made us feel very comfortable as if we were at home enjoying ourselves. All in all, I liked it very much and I will go back there again with Bao next time when we are in Taiwan again.

Our ride back to 忠孝復興 “zhong1 xiao4 fu4 xing1” was quick because the streets were quiet even though it was only a little before 10 PM. I was also impressed with our driver who was professional and courteous at all times. He told us that he was a victim of 9-21 earthquake 10 years ago and his house was totally damaged. He had since received only 20,000 NT from the government and till that day, his house was not repaired or rebuilt. He was understandably very bitter about the government. Three years ago, his office job with a big company was eliminated because the company moved its operation to China. Taiwan in his view could not compete with China and the government hasn’t done enough to reverse the situation. Without a job, he turned to driving a taxi because it was easy job to get in. He said that unfortunately many out of work white collar workers turn to taxi driving which hurt everyone in the business. Many taxi companies gave 30% discounts if you call the dispatcher for a taxi. 捷運 jie2 yun4 gave every person in Taipei a good reason not to call taxi for long distance travel in the city. Very few people called taxi to airport anymore with airport shuttles so convenient for everybody. He said that people liked him had no other option but to stay in the business. This was because office jobs were scarce and more companies considered moving their operations to China because that’s where the businesses and opportunities were. Before we said goodbye, he gave me his card and asked me to call him directly if we wanted to go somewhere next time when we were in the city. For the seven-hour service since 2:30 PM, I gave him 3,000 NT for safely drove us to and back from the cemetery and dinner.

At the end, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. No wonder the taxi drivers were all very nice to us because of fierce competition for a smaller pie. Just a short ten years ago, taxi drivers would stop briefly to find out where we wanted to go. They might speed away without saying a word because they didn’t like us for whatever reason: 外省人 “wai4 sheng3 ren2” or short hop in the city. It was interesting to me what a shrinking economy would do to various businesses. My memory of rude taxi drivers, who didn’t give a damn about our feelings last time when I was here, faded away quickly. I was amazed what capitalism could do to taxi drivers’ attitude whereas years of public education couldn’t make a difference.

Well, it has been a long day yet it was very interesting too. Tomorrow’s Wednesday and we’ll have another fun-filled day in Taipei.

台湾游記 Dec. 6 – Dec. 16, 2009, Day 3, Part I February 24, 2010

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Food, Life, Death and Yuanfen, Restaurants, Taiwan, Travel.
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台湾游記 Day 3, Part I

Taipei, Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two things were planned for today:

Visit my father-in-law’s cemetery in the afternoon and have a dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend of mine.

We stayed in bed when Xiaobao went to his Chinese class in the morning. We told him that we’d see him when he got out of the class.

When Xiaobao got out of his class at around 12:10 PM, we were waiting for him near the building already. Since he was talking to his friends, we just waited for him at a coffee stand near by. He then introduced his friends to us. I suggested that we’d have lunch at 鼎泰豐 which was only a short walk from 師大. Two of his friends were going to join us but one couldn’t make it.

Xiaobao with his friends

On the way there, I saw a few interesting signs like these two:

懶得買書書坊 and 度小月擔擔麵.

I wondered what kind of bookstore 懶得買書書坊 “lan3 de2 mai3 shu1 shu1 fang3” was and I wouldn’t mind to stay there for two or three hours just to check out their books. I was also pleased to see 度小月 “du4 xiao3 yue4” sign near by because the signs and pictures in front of the restaurant bought back memories from my college days in Tainan, Taiwan. there was also a LCD TV broadcasting a recorded TV show hosted by Burt Wolf on the restaurant in Tainan, Taiwan.

Too Lazy to Buy Books Bookstore

"du4 xiao3 yue"

Burt Wolf TV Show on 度小月 "du4 xiao3 yue4"

永康街’s “yong3 kan1 jie1” 鼎泰豐 “ding3 tai4 feng1” was a busy place with about 20 people waiting at the front door when we arrived there at about 12:30 PM. There were 2 or 3 young girls at the front door taking names and checking people in the three-story restaurant. A book store next door provided some relief while waiting for our turn.

Customers waiting for their turns at 鼎泰豐 “ding3 tai4 feng1”

We waited for 15 to 20 minutes and a hostess asked us to go to the third floor where a four top was ready for us. We quickly placed our order with a young girl who was quick, courteous and professional. Our food came equally quick but not all at once. This was because they were meant to be shared with people at the table. Of the dishes we ordered:

  • 紅油抄手 (140 NT) “hong2 you2 chao1 shou3” was a level below what we could get at A & J’s (半畝園 “ban4 mu3 yuan1”) in Northern Virginia. The filling was a little hard and the sauce was rather bland and uninspiring. I didn’t like and Jingjing didn’t like it either.

  • 八寶飯 (60 NT) “ba1 bao3 fang4” had a hard crust on top of the sweet rice. It was disappointing but the inside of the八寶飯 was creamy and sweet. However, it wasn’t as good as mine version though.

  • 油豆腐細粉 (130 NT) “you2 dou4 fu3 xi4 fen3” or deep-fried tofu had that special green onion aroma in the clear broth. It was light and almost free of any oil which was the way I liked it. The sponge-like texture of 油豆腐 was soaked with broth which made it soft and juicy. A few pieces of the 油豆腐 was stuffed with seasoned ground pork which was a treat to me. As I picked up a piece of the stuffed 油豆腐 and put it in my mouth, the combined taste of 油豆腐’s soft interior, its slightly chewy outer skin, the ground pork and the fresh broth made it a perfect comfort food for a day liked today in Taipei. I had to be careful not to make too much slurp sound because Xiaobao’s friend was with us. I didn’t remember I have ever had this good a dish in the United States. As I picked up the clear 粉絲 “fen3 si1,” or Chinese vermicelli made from mung bean starch, it was dripping with broth as I try to put it into mu mouth. This dish was much better than紅油抄手because of its simplicity and taste.

  • 鮮肉棕子 (65 NT) “rou4 zong4” – This was a great side dish: slight salty, soft and tangy sweet rice was totally saturated with flavor of bamboo leaves and pork fat. The fatty pork was idea for this popular Taiwanese side dish because the pork fat made the rice so much better.

  • 豆沙棕子 (65 NT) “dou4 sha1 zong4 zi3” – Excellent! The texture of the read bean paste was very fine and the sweet rice was scented with bamboo leaves. Every bite of them was soft, hot, sweet and savory. And you could almost see it on the picture.

  • 炸排骨 (90 NT) “zha4 pai2 gu3” – Tender and juicy on the inside yet crispy and well-seasoned on the outside, the pork chop was great. It would be perfect if not for the fact that it didn’t come with some sweet and sour pickled vegetables. I guessed that it didn’t come with any rice probably because you have to pay extra for a bowl of rice.

  • 辣味黃瓜 (90 NT) “la4 wei4 huang2 gua1” – This dish looked hotter and spicier than it tasted. Fresh cucumber was crispy and had a refreshing sweet taste. It was ordinary and nothing too special to write to home about it.

  • 空心菜 (150 NT) “kong1 xin1 cai4” – We ate this simple dish a lot when we were small because it was plentiful and cheap. Farmers in nearby villages bought this fresh vegetable from the field to the small open market near our community. We used to have this in our vegetable garden too. This vegetable is called 空心菜 because the stalks of this green leafy vegetable are hollow. This dish was great. It was fused with garlic flavor and I liked it very much because it was not over-cooked and had very little oil.

  • 小龍包 (250 NT) “xiao3 long2 bao1” – Good flavor and fresh meaty juice inside each 小龍包 made this a wonderful dish for everyone at the table. The skin was very thin and the meat was tender and savory. With a little fresh ginger, the小龍包 was the right size to eat the whole thing in one or two bites. Make sure you use a Chinese style spoon so that you’d catch every drop of the hearty juice. Please don’t add any vinegar or soy sauce because they masked the original taste of this delicate dish.

  • 蟹粉小龍包 (350 NT) “xie4 fen3 xiao3 long2 bao1” – Pork with crab meat and crab eggs made this a specialty of 鼎泰豐.It was great because of the pork was scented with fat from the crab eggs. I liked it but I could only eat one because of the extremely high cholesterol amount.

  • 香菇素餃 (200 NT) “xiang1 gu1 su4 jiao3” – I shared a piece with Bao because we ordered this for another of Xiaobao’s friend who joined us late. She didn’t eat meat because she was a vegetarian.

After the lunch, we walked Xiaobao’s friends back to 師大. On the way there, I saw something that I haven’t seen for 30 some years. I wasn’t sure what it was called but I remembered I used to have it when I was small. The 5” long wooden mold was filled with crushed and slightly sweetened long grain rice. It was then steamed quickly and the white-color mushroom-shaped rice cake could be pushed out of the mold by pressing the hollow center of the mold against a ½” diameter metal rod. The rice cake was then topped with crushed peanuts. I also saw a star fruit tree with some star-fruits still remaining on the tree.

After Xiaobao’s friends left, we called the dispatcher and told her that we wanted to rent a taxi by hour to 內湖五指山 “nei4 hu2 wu3 zhi3 shan1” or Five-finger Mountain in 內湖for about 3 hours. The dispatcher told us that the rent was 350 NT an hour and taxi no. 747 would be there at about 5 minutes. When I heard the quote, I knew it was 50 NT less than the quote Maria’s sister got when her family came here about a year ago. Well, I wasn’t going to argue with the dispatcher on that.

We followed dispatcher’s instruction and looked for every taxi that came by so that we won’t miss it. Sure enough, taxi 747 showed up at about 5 minutes. We waved our hands and he pulled over. The taxi driver was in his early 40’s, well-dressed and very polite. He spoke clearly and had a slight Taiwanese accent. The taxi was clean and comfortable. large and

I told him that we needed to visit the Air Force cemetery in 內湖五指山. I gave him the instruction to there and he said he knew the general area but didn’t know there was a cemetery there. I told him that we’d look for the place once we got there.

內湖五指山 was pretty far from 師大 and it took us about 40 minutes to get there. Once there, the instruction we got from Maria’s sister was very helpful. We didn’t have too much problem finding my father-in-law’s grave site while the taxi drive was waiting for us. The little memory we had about the surrounding had all changed after 11 years since we came last time.

The cemetery and the grave site were in very good condition because the Air Force had kept the area very well maintained. We pulled some weeds and swept the tomb stone clean. Jingjing found some wild flowers and put them in the little flower holder in front of the grave. I led Maria and kids paid our sincere respects to him. I told him that we bought his grandkids to visit him again and apologize to him that it had been a long time since we visited him last time. We kneeled three times, bowed 9 times according to Chinese tradition and thus completed the simple ceremony.

Looking from behind the grave site toward the City of Taipei

We slowly walked back to the taxi and I told the taxi driver that we had a dinner to go to. The restaurant was near by but the dinner was still a couple of hours away. I asked the taxi driver if he was willing to take us to the dinner as well. He said that he was willing to take us to the restaurant because he had no other job to go to and he needed the money. He also said that he had talked to the dispatcher about our fare to the cemetery and our fare should be 400 NT instead of 350 NT because we went further than 內湖. I told him that I understood and agreed to pay the new rate for the entire trip at 400 NT per hour until after our dinner at about 9 PM.

In the mean time, we decided to visit Costco or 好市多  “hao3 shi4 duo1” in內湖 because Xiaobao needed a dehumidifier badly. I wanted to check its price and compared it with the ones in a 大同 ”da4 tong2” store near Xiaobao’s apartment.

Traffic around rush hour in內湖 was a mess. Our taxi driver took us there shortly before sunset. Well, 好市多 looked exactly the same as Costco in US except some big Chinese letters in the store and some Chinese products you won’t get in the US. We found the info we needed and got out in 20 minutes. Our driver then took us to the restaurant and he waited for us outside in a small parking area where about 10 cars were already there.

Hold on to you IRA and 401(k) February 21, 2010

Posted by hslu in Economics, Politics.
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Teleprompter Obama: I need your money in your IRA and 401(k) accounts.

Tax Payers: why?

Teleprompter Obama: I am running a big deficits and I can’t close the gap. China is dumping dollar and buying gold instead. No one wants our US dollar.

Tax Payers: I didn’t spend that money. You did.

Teleprompter Obama: I did it for you. I ran up the national debt all because of you.

Teleprompter Obama: I need your money to pay the Chinese, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, the Saudis, the Russians, the Germans and the Brits.

Tax Payers: How much do you want?

Teleprompter Obama: I need all of them.

Tax Payer: Why should I give it to you? I saved all my life for my retirement.

Teleprompter Obama: You don;t need that money now. It sits in an account losing value.

Tax Payers: What do I get in return?

Teleprompter Obama: I’ll give you an IOU now with the full faith backing of me. You can come to my office after your retirement and I’ll give you a check every month.

Tax Payers: How do I know you are going to pay me?

Teleprompter Obama: If you don’t believe me, go the the US Mint in DC. I have the latest presses running 24/365. You’ll get your check for sure. If it is fast enough, I’ll pay them operators over-time working on holidays too. Heck, I’ll have them working on X’mas eve if i have to.

Tax payers: How much do I get each month?

Teleprompter Obama: Hmm, it depends my good friends Pelosi, Reid, your Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators.I don’t have a plan. I only lead. They follow.

Tax payers: How many checks do I get?

Teleprompter Obama: Until you die. So, try to stay alive as long as you can.

Teleprompter Obama: Hmm, I take that back. The sooner you die the less I have to pay you.

Teleprompter Obama: Yeah, have a Big Mac everyday. Eat more chips. Don’t stop munching on cookies and candies. Buy more cokes too while you’re at it.

Tax Payers: Are you serious?

Teleprompter Obama: As soon as Pelosi and Reid can put a bill on my table. I’ll sign it.

Tax Payers: Is there anything I can do?

Tax Payers: Will my checks worth more than I have now.

Teleprompter Obama: Not if I am in control. I am still the president, am I not? On your second question, I’ll get back to you because it is not on the teleprompter.

Teleprompter Obama: Hmm, you can call Chinese government and ask them keeping buying our dollars. I’ll reduce the value of US dollar and they will lose most of the value of their foreign reserves overnight.

Teleprompter Obama, Dictator Pelosi and Useless Reid February 21, 2010

Posted by hslu in Health Insurance, Politics.
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I wonder how they are doing after Scott Brown took over Kennedy’s seat in MA?

Are they still talking to each other?

They stick their necks out for Teleprompter Obama on health care because Teleprompter Obama has no bill he can call his own. After 13 months, they got nothing to show for. Dictator Pelosi is probably safe in November but the Useless Reid is poised to lose his Senate seat in Nevada. I bet they are pointing fingers and blaming each other in private between the White House and the other two offices.

The only thing they can agree on is the timing of Kennedy’s death because his untimely death made the whole thing a big mess for everybody.

I meant Democrats in the Congress.

Obama is to blame for high US jobless rate February 21, 2010

Posted by hslu in Economics, jobs, Politics.
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One reason why the US jobless rate is hovering around 10% is because most of the stimulus money has not been spent.

The Democrats wanted to delay the deployment of stimulus money until 2010 because 2010 is an election year. The teleprompter Obama and socialism Democrats wanted to use the slush fund to generate jobs this year so that they can claim credits for economic recovery and improved labor market.

Most of the 2009 stimulus money went to states to prevent further decline of states’ economy and extended jobless benefits. All the speeches by teleprompter Obama about greening of the economy made good headlines with willing participation of the main street media. They, however, lack substance. These industries have a long lead time and take a long time to mature. They can’t generate many jobs in the short run even if they wanted to.

The Decline of the United States Continues February 21, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Economics, Energy, Global Affair, jobs, Politics, Small Business.
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The Decline of the United States Continues

Take a look of the graph of the annual rate of employment growth over the previous ten years and you’ll see the decline of the U.S. has accelerated in the past decade.

Source: NYT and US B of Labor Statistics.

During the early stage of the economic expansion after WWII, the U.S. enjoyed an unprecedented 4% annual job growth rate. After a dip into 1% or less in the 1960’s, it remained more or less at 2% for the next 5 decades until the end of last millennium.

The collapse of the dot com economy at the turn of the century began the slow deterioration of the U.S. employment picture. After the housing prices peaked in July 2005, the U.S. labor force took another beating with the burst of the housing bubble. The greedy Wall Street bankers and willing participants in U. S. Congress such as Democrat’s Barney Frank and Chris Dodd kicked off the deep recession and the latest financial crisis. The end result was that the U.S. economy failed to generate any job from July 1999 to July 2009, except a paltry 0.01%.

So what was the root cause behind the near contraction of the U.S. job market of the last decade? Was it the dot com bubble? Was it the Housing bubble? Or was it the financial crisis?

No. It was capitalism.

Capitalism is contagious and can be duplicated all over the world. All you need is amiable government policies, cheap labor, capital, natural resources and the desire to make a profit.

Japan did it in the 1980’s. But as Japan’s expansion started to threaten the U.S. economy, the United States killed its growth with the Plaza Accord. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore joined the game but their combined economy wasn’t big enough to threaten the U.S.

Until China joined the club about 25 years ago!

China opened its door in the mid-1980, trillions of capital found its way into China and capitalism flourished. Its double digit growth rate in the last decade took the world by storm and exposed America’s structural deficiency due to the weakness of capitalism. The United States has pressured China to change but China’s economy of scale and closed currency policy left the U.S. little options to reverse the course. As a result, Americans are victim of the very thing that has put U.S at the top of the world.

The purpose of capitalism is to make a profit. The unstoppable thirst to squeeze out every drop of profit from its operation caused the company to search for new ways to improve its efficiency because, without it, the company can not compete. In order to survival,

  • Companies in the United States used automation to replace blue collar workers by the millions.
  • Union members were fired because their wages and benefits could not be sustained.
  • Service jobs were transferred to foreign countries because of difference in wages.
  • Automated cash registers took jobs away from people with the lowest skill levels.
  • Many Internet and software related jobs have been out-sourced because capitalism demands lower labor costs whenever possible.
  • Oil companies slowly moved their operations to other countries because of depleting resources, tough environmental laws and demanding regulations. Besides, the executives of the American oil companies are tired of spearing in front of the unfriendly members of the Congress to explain their operations and profits to these idiots whenever oil prices are pushed up by supply and demand.
  • Tough government regulations and policies on labor forces and environment gradually pushed companies to foreign countries in search of accommodating policies.
  • High corporate taxes gave little incentives for companies to move their operations into the United States.
  • Many companies moved their plants to developing countries because workers there are willing to work for much less, they don’t take sick leaves, they are easy to manage, the land is cheap and their policies are purposely made more accommodating to foreign capitals.

In fact, capitalism is aimed to generate as much profit with as few workers as possible. The American companies have to reduce their domestic work forces in order to compete with companies in other countries who have embraced capitalism with utmost enthusiasm.

The job growth rate in the last decade may be even lower if not for the following reasons:

  • The public sector, i.e., the governments, became bigger at every level: federal, state and city. However, these jobs are not productive.
  • The health care industry has been growing because of the aging of the population and obesity.
  • Lawyers, accountants, managers and consultants have grown because companies need them to operate in a more complex world.
  • People in the field of education have grown because parents demanded smaller classes.
  • Building industry expanded due to housing expansion in the first half of the decade and government spending.
  • More workers in the restaurant business because working parents don’t have time cooking at home.

Going forward, the exodus of the manufacturing sector will continue. Job losses in these industries will not stop. U.S. auto companies will face even more competition from Korea, India and China. Boeing’s market share and profit will be reduced with the introduction of China’s commercial air planes in a few years. U.S arm sales to foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, the largest of the world, will be competing with the cheaper and equally deadly weapons from China. The leadership position in drug and medical instruments will disappear if the Democrat-controlled government has its way to socialize the industry.

In the end, the United States will become a service-oriented country and that’s the beginning of the end of the dominance of the United States on the world stage.

In the mean time, the Democrats under Obama, Pelosi and Reid are tirelessly moving the U.S. to a socialism country further reduce America’s competitiveness. They have to go if the U.S. has any chance to reverse the decline of the labor force. Government’s stimulus can not sustain economic growth in the long run. It is the private sectors which have generated the much-needed jobs. They have to embrace capitalism with the assistance of government to recapture market shares from foreign competitions. Without this, American jobs will continue to disappear. The employment growth curve in the graph above will continue to decline despite the pending recovery of the U.S. economy.

Another decade from now the growth curve may sink below the 0% line and by that time, the structural deficiency of U.S. industries and demographic make up of American population will make the reversal almost impossible to achieve.

America will slowly follow the foot steps of Spain, France and British and yield its leadership position to other countries such as China, India and then a country in Middle East such as Iran in 60 to 80 years or so.

Present, Falls Church, VA February 20, 2010

Posted by hslu in Food, Restaurants.
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Present Vietnamese Restaurant

I am not sure I like this Vietnamese restaurant as much as the food critics who wrote glaring reviews on local newspaper and magazines. It is a nice looking restaurant on the inside but their food was below par. The prices were reasonable only because the portions were small. After the dinner, I had a mild stomach cramp around midnight but I wasn’t sure what caused the discomfort.

It seems to me that the chef put more thoughts into the presentation of their dishes rather than the tastes. But I wouldn’t call a few pieces of cucumber, slices of tomato and colored-flowers made from radish a high class presentation either.

I think the restaurant was way over hyped by local food critics and I for one will not come back again.

The restaurant is located in a run-down strip shopping mall in Falls Church which you wouldn’t expect to find a restaurant receiving such high marks from local critics and rave reviews on Yelp. It was apparent that the owner had put some thoughts into the design of the interior. The combination of dark wood panels, the clever use of lattices over designer wall papers, Zen calligraphy displays on the wall and soft ceiling lights provided a nice ambiance.  I particularly liked the Vietnamese calligraphy scrolls and what they represent after I found out their meanings from the owner. However, I do not like the shallow pond with running water in the middle of the restaurant. It was kind of out of place and the color didn’t match with the rest of the interior. I was hoping I could find tranquility with the presence of the pond but instead I felt the pond looked messy instead. It was more a distraction than anything else. I understand why they want water in the restaurant but I thought it can use a different design, especially inside the pond.

It means Letting Go

The menu looked confusing when I looked at it the first time. There were soups and noodle soups. There were rice dishes, rice vermicelli and rice crepes. Do you know the differences? I bet you don’t. There was a section of main entrées and another section of recommended dishes. There were mixed vegetables and special vegan corners. The addition of Vietnamese to every dish made it annoying to me because they were distractions.

In addition, I could not make any sense out of the names of some dishes. For instance, I would have never guessed that Smokey Petal was a dish with minced baby clams. Rich Folks Golden Crepe was crepe with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and green onion. I also had trouble making connections between Being Here and Now Soup with watercress with minced pork. The restaurant has obviously gone over board on this. It does not add any value and it makes your customers wondering what they are getting. The table setting was simple and pleasant but I was not impressed with a low class paper napkin instead of a cloth napkin.

My waitress was a young lady in her mid-30’s who was pleasant and warm. Her service was adequate and she let us took our time going through our menu. She gave us some ideas which were most likely popular dishes of the restaurant. I am sure that many customers would appreciate some help with the menu because it was overwhelming especially for first time customers.

I ordered a bottle of 2009 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($36) which was refreshing with a nice fruity flavor and a medium finish. She bought over an ice bucket but I was pretty sure that there was no ice in the bucket. Hmm, the ice bucket was there for show only. Another bad impression.

I ordered two appetizers: Smokey Petal ($9.95) and Silken Shawl Imperial Autumn Roll(s) ($3.95.)

Can you tell that this is Baby Clam in a Smokey Petal?

Autumn Roll(s)

The presentations of both appetizers were good but somewhat a class below the hype I expected after reading reviews in the Post and Washingtonian. The minced clam was a little too salty and the rice cracker was a bit too oily. I am pretty sure that the rice cracker was made some time before dinner rush got started. There were too many black sesame seeds in the rice cracker too.

The autumn rolls were a little dry and probably needed a little more time in the deep fryer. There was no particular taste associated with the ingredient after i dipped it in the sweet fish sauce. To tell you the truth, I prefer the regular Vietnamese Spring roll that was crispy on the outside and hot and meaty on the inside. Our autumn rolls were lukewarm in the center and not crispy enough on the outside.

For entries, I ordered a Country Banquet Vermicelli ($8.95,) Warm Heart Piglet ($11.95) and Fish in Shallow Water ($10.95.)

Country Banquet Vermicelli

The portion of all three dishes was very small. I guessed that you are entitled to serve your customers a small portion once you are named one of the top 100 restaurants in Washington area. The vermicelli was prepared with right balance of spices and sugar. The pork in Warm Heart Piglet was too tough, too salty and way too sweet. The 10 or so small pieces of fish fillets of Fish in Shallow Water were tender but again it was way too sweet and salty at the same time. I am not too sure why the chef used so much sugar in his dishes. I suspected that he was trying to please the mostly American customers in this busy restaurant.

Warm Heart Piglet

Fish in Shallow Water

I told the owner or manager of my impression. He said that the reason that they are so salty was because the meat and sauce were meant to eat with rice. However, the pork and fish were too salty even eaten with rice. Chinese dishes were also designed to be eaten with rice but I have never tasted anything that salty like the piglet and fish here.

For desserts, I wanted to order custard but was told that they were not available. She suggested Banana Fritters with Coconut Cream. I was somewhat disappointed because the fritters were lukewarm probably because they weren’t fried long enough. I also think the sesame seeds needed to be baked a little longer to get the flavors out. The coconut cream was bland as if it came straight from a can.

Banana fritters

When we ordered coffee with our dessert, I asked for cream but our waitress said that they have milk instead. It turned out that I misunderstood her because we got sweetened milk instead. Well, I guessed that sugar was the main ingredient in almost everything they made here in Present.

Our total bill came to $123.11 including $20 tips. Funny thing was that there was only Vietnamese names of the dishes I ordered on my bill.

Bao, can you tell what I order tonight?

February 19, 2010

Posted by hslu in Life, Death and Yuanfen.
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Previously I had:

相恨是缘尽 “xiang1 hen4 shi4 yuan2 jin4”

The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like it.

Maybe it should be changed to:

相恶是缘尽 “xiang1 wu4 shi1 yuan2 jin4”