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A hole big enough for America April 29, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Economics, Health Insurance, Obama, Politics.
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If you haven’t seen this, you should. If you still don’t realize how big a hole the U.S. has dug for itself, watch the show and you’ll have some idea.

http://www.wimp.com/budgetcuts/

You think the problem is bad and yes it actually is. For 2010, that is!

But you should not lose the fact that this is just one year’s spending under the first black president. And the portion to the right of the blue line will get bigger and bigger by the day. It will be a lot worse when Obama and Democrat’s health reform bill kicks in in three years.

Hmm, we will need China to help pay for this for a long time. Maybe that’s why Obama bowed to China’s premier at DC because he was afraid that Chinese premier may ask him to pay back China’s money after their meeting. Did any one hear Obama saying that he needs China’s help?

Democrats want big government and they achieved that with the help of the most liberal president in American’s history. Democrats want big taxes and they got their wish with the new medicare taxes. And they are working on getting more of our money through more regulation and laws such as cap and trade bill. Democrats like big spending and they got their foot into the health care business.

What I do not understand is why American people vote Democrats knowing that they are actually digging a  hole that’s big and deep enough for themselves and for their children and grandchildren too.

Do the American people not see the danger in front of them?

Do the American people not know this debt has to be paid back some day in the future?

Yet, the American people kept voting Democrats back to the Congress and elected a black guy who had no experience what so ever as American’s president.

This has left me puzzled. I wonder:

Is it because that everyone wants a piece of the pie that’s free?

Or is it because people are afraid of losing their free benefits if they vote Republican?

Or is it because the Americans are so short-sighted that they do not know how bad the situation is? All they want is something free from the government.

Or is it because the federal government is simply a reflection of how American people as a whole live their lives and how they run their own family budgets: multiple credit cards, pile of debt, free spending on things they want, lavish vacations, fancy cars whether they can afford it or not and, to top it off, very little savings?

Obama wanted to cut $100 million from the the portion to the right of the blue line as if it could some how solve the deficit problem. Instead, he ran up the biggest spending program ever for the American people and pat himself on the back for doing so.

What he should have done was to make the government smaller. He should have over years cut the federal government budget across the board by 10% and lay off 10% of the federal government work force to make the portion to the right of the blue line significantly smaller. Every year, the bottom 5% of the federal government employees should be laid off to make the government more efficient. Private companies do this all the time. It is about time the federal government does the same thing too.

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China buying into Syncrude April 28, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Economics, Energy, Global Affair, Politics.
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In case that haven’t heard of this, ConocoPhillips has just sold its 9.03% interest in the massive Syncrude oil sands project in Alberta, Canada to China’s Sinopec for $4.65 billion.

China in the past several years has been spending billions of its foreign currency reserves to purchase oil fields in foreign countries because China desperately needs foreign energy sources to fuel its staggering economy growth. Their past attempts to buy American oil and gas properties have met stiff resistance from the Congress. This time they struck gold and Canadian government has been willing to grant its approval to deals with China in the past. Some resistances do exist though. Including this purchase, China’s direct investment in Canadian heavy oil and oil sand projects has reached $10 billion.

Syncrude uses surface mining techniques to dig up the Athabasca oil sands, applies steam and hot water to separates the extremely heavy crude called bitumen from sand, and upgrades the bitumen into synthetic crude so that it can be transported through pipelines and refined to gasoline by conventional refineries in Canada and the United States. It currently produces up to 350,000 bbls/day of synthetic crude oil in northern Alberta.

The growth of China’s domestic oil production is limited and, to increase its production, Sinopec and other Chinese national oil companies have to look overseas for opportunities. China’s search has just begun and Canada will be a battle ground between the United States and China for years to come.

Currently Canada is the largest oil exporter to the United States at roughly 2.6 million barrels every day. Mexico is second with 1.1 million barrels per day.

BTW, at current crude oil price of $83.3/bbl, the United States is spending $260 billion every year to buy crude oil from other countries such as Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iraq. Of course, the higher the crude oil price, the more you and I have to spend to keep our cars running, our PCs and iPhones working and our A/Cs operating in the Summer.

$260 billion on oil imports every year.

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 3 3/27/2010 April 28, 2010

Posted by hslu in Travel.
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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 3

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our tour today was Monument Rome which started at 8:30 AM at the Vastours office. We got up early to have some breakfast at the hotel and waited at the lobby for the tour company to pick us up. Just about when we were ready to leave our room to wait for the bus, Bao told me that our Canon Sureshot was gone. We looked but couldn’t find it in the room. She then said that it was most likely lost at the souvenir shop at Basilica St. Paul. She probably placed the camera on the counter as she paid for the chocolate we bought. Well, we’d have to make another trip to Basilica St. Paul after our tour early afternoon.

Around 8 AM, a guy showed up at hotel lobby and took us to a van parked nearby. After a couple more stops at other hotels, we arrived at the tour company at 8:20 or so. Tour bus started at 8:50 because some people had problems with their remote controls and earphones. Today we had about 40 tourists and our tour guide divided us into a Spanish speaking group and an English speaking group of about 20 people each.

The three-hour Monument Rome tour included visits of Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and finally St. Peter’s Basilica.

The bus took us through Via Veneto which was made famous by movie “La Dolce Vita.” Since there wasn’t much to see from the bus, I had to come back later to check it out. After driving by Piazza della Repubblica and Najadi’s Fountain, our bus dropped us off at an underpass and our tour finally started on foot. The first stop was the famous Trevi Fountain which was at the junction of three streets or tri vie in Italian. Before we arrived at the fountain, our lovely guide got us together and gave us a brief history of the fountain because it would be impractical to gather us together once we got there.

A close up view of statues above the Trevi Fountain

Our tour guide told us that the fountain was the terminal point of one of many ancient Roman aqueducts which supplied clean water to ancient Rome. The concept of the fountain was originally sketched by the famous artist, sculptor and architect Bernini (widely regarded as the Successor of Michelangelo) in the late 17th century. However, his project was scrapped because the Pope who commissioned the design and construction of the fountain died. The construction of the fountain was revived in 1930 by Pope Clement XII and finally completed in 1762. It was last restored in 1998 completed with a big pump. When we got there, which was a mere 5 minute walk from where we were dropped off, there were already a lot of people gathered around the fountain. We were told to take 10 minutes to take pictures and to throw coins, one or 2 but not 3 unless you want to divorce your spouse, into the fountain. We managed to make our way to the edge of the fountain, took some pictures and threw one euro penny into the fountain which, according to our guide, meant that we’d come back to Rome one day.

The fountain was without question the most beautiful Western fountain that we’ve ever seen. Nearby, there were many restaurants and shops along the three streets leading to the fountain. Many of them had set up tables on the sidewalk. Since it was still early, the restaurants have opened for businesses yet. I could image that the restaurants would be crowded by tourists at lunch and dinner times. I also thought about coming back to here and enjoyed a night out and a nice dinner here.  Since we didn’t have time to waste, we quickly went to a gelato shop right by the fountain and had some gelato before walking to our next stop, Piazza Colonna and the Column of Marcus Aurelius. I wasn’t too sure what the tall column was for other than that it was constructed to pay tribute to Marcus Aurelius who was a Roman Emperor about 2000 years ago. It was so remarkable that the column has been standing here, its original location, for almost 2,000 years. A closer look showed the detailed art work of the raised relief of 2,200 figures on the column. In the interest of time, we didn’t stay here long because we still have a few more stops to go to.

Column of Marcus Aurelius

Pantheon was about another 5 minute walk from Piazza Colonna. It was a circular building of enormous size with more columns on the outside. In ancient Rome time, Pantheon was constructed to serve as the temple of all gods. Pantheon was later converted into a church called Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Unfortunately the exterior of the building was being refurbished when we got there but the sheer size of the building left me astonished of Roman’s engineering capability 2,000 years ago. Our tour guide told us that Pantheon has the second largest dorm in Rome, second to the dome at Basilica of St. Peters. What made the dome of Pantheon different from the others in Rome is that Pantheon’s dome has a big hole in the middle. Since the dome has no window, The Romans left a big hole in the center of the dome to allow the sunshine in.  As such, the floor and the building were equipped with a drainage system to drain the rain away on raining days. Our tour guide pointed out the holes to us and said that the original system is still being used to this date. Wow! 2,000 years and still counting! Amazing!

Drain holes on Pantheon floor from ancient Roman

A view of the inside of Pantheon

Piazza Navona, our next stop, was another 5 minute walk away. Piazza Navona was lively, charming and filled with artists of many kinds. The elongated public square within four walls of tall buildings had three fountains and a beautiful church. The Four Rivers Fountain was designed by Bernini in the mid-17th century, was under renovation. We still could see the amazing detailed art work of the sculptures through the Plexiglas windows on a fence surrounding the fountain. The four sculptures were four gods representing four major rivers of the known world at the time of Ancient Rome. There were two more fountains in the square, one each at the north and south ends of the square. There were many artists displaying their art work in the square and numerous restaurants lining both sides of the piazza. We took some pictures but didn’t have too much time admiring the art work because we were heading to our last stop of the tour, Basilica of St. Peters and the Vatican.

Piazza Navona, Egyptian obelisk and the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone

Piazza Navona

One of four gods of the Four Rivers Fountain

After a 10 minute pee stop at a souvenir shop near the St. Peter’s piazza, we headed to St. Peter’s Piazza. Well, before we could get in the basilica, we had to wait in line like everyone else: a line of about 300 to 400 people.

A marble statue for sale at a souvenir shop near St. Peter’s Piazza

The line in front of Basilica St. Peter's

It took us about 50 minutes to get in the church after passing through a metal detector. Before we got in the church, our tour guide told us that we’d gather around La Pietà by Michelan­gelo as a group and she’d tell us the story of the famous statue. From there, we’d go our own ways and anyone who wished to go back to the hotel should meet her in 25 minutes. We decided to say goodbye to our tour guide and stayed at the church for a little longer.

La Pietà by Michelangelo

Inside the Basilica St. Peter's

La Pietà, created about 500 years ago, was placed behind a bullet proved glass panel to prevent it from damage by visitors. In 1972, the statue suffered its greatest damage in the hands of a mentally unstable geologist with his hammer. The statue shows a young and beautiful Mary holding the body of Jesus after crucifixion. The statue was elegant and was truly a masterpiece by the famous artist. We stayed inside the church for about 45 minutes and Bao decided to go to the top of the dome but I was tired from all the standing and walking the entire morning. Since there was a long line to the dome and it was kind of cold inside the church, I decided to wait for her outside. After almost an hour she reappeared from the church and told me that it was truly worth the wait and the cost of about €10.

The dome of Basilica St. Peter's

A close-up view of the dome of Basilica St. Peter's

A view of Piazza St. Peter's and Rome

At Piazza of St. Peter's

We then walked around the main street of Vatican in order to find a place to eat but couldn’t find a good restaurant. We avoided a serve-serve cafeteria because it was too busy. We finally settled on a restaurant called Nova Café with six or seven tables outside on the sidewalk. The place was really a tourist spot because the menu had six languages including English, Japanese, Russian, Germany, French and Italian. Since there were few restaurants here, their prices were cheap either. Well, maybe there food was good, I said to myself. We ordered a pizza and pasta with prosciutto. The tourists at the table next to ours were a middle-aged American couple who came from Michigan. They ordered a bottle of white wine, shared a pizza, salad and a cup of soup. The pasta was good but there wasn’t much prosciutto to speak of. The thin-crusted pizza looked awful and tasted like cardboard. Our neighbors also agreed but we just had to make the best of what we have and enjoyed the pasta and made fun of the pizza with our neighbors. I called this 隨緣 “sui2 yuan2.” The worst of the whole thing was that we have to pay 15% service fee which was listed at the bottom of the menu. Because of our bad experience with Nova Cafe, let me forewarn you that you should avoid this restaurant by all means possible.

Well, we need to go to Basilica St. Paul to retrieve our camera. We took a taxi to there and got our camera. We also bought some more chocolate for ourselves because they were so good. We then took metro to Termini and stopped by the Internet point to check emails and review XB’s online Chinese resume. We then went back to the hotel for a nap after on our feet for the past 6 six hours.

By the time we got up, it was almost 8 PM. We walked across the street to a pizzeria called Pastarito for dinner. To me, this was just a run-of-the-mill type of Italian restaurant and I wasn’t expecting anything special from a restaurant such as this one. But it was very busy though. Maybe it was a Saturday.

I ordered a bottle of 2008 Sangiovese di Romagna from a winery called Poderi dal Nespoli. I have always loved Sangiovese “sahn-joh-veh-zeh” which is the primary grape for Chianti from Tuscany. Romagna is a region in northern Italy between Tuscany to the south and Piedmont to the  north. You may not have heard of Romagna but you must have heard of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati which are manufactured in this region. Wine wise, this region is known for Lambrusco which is well known worldwide but is not my favorite. Our Sangiovese di Romagna was a dark red wine with a lovely and complex taste and floral and earthy scents on the nose. I was very impressed by a wine that sold for €12.50. We also ordered the following to go with our lovely wine: Cesar salad for €7.00, Bread with Pancetta with smoked Provola cheese €2.00, peppered Mussels in white wine sauce €7.90 and Milanese Risotto with saffron €7.90.

A few slices of bread came in a basket. They were a little dry. A bad sign; I told myself. It got started on a wrong note. Cesare Salad at Pastarito was different from what we had in the U.S. It was a mixed green salad with red radicchio, cherry tomato, thinly sliced, juniper-flavored ham from Austria, croutons, and shaved parmesan cheese. There was no dressing because it was supposed to be an oil and balsamic vinegar dressing that we’d add ourselves. Hmm, this was an unusual combination but it was unusually good. Fresh greens and very sweet cherry tomatoes were mixed with this special flavored ham that I’ve never had before.

Bread with pancetta and smoked cheese was very good but, for the sake of lower cholesterol, I preferred the pancetta a little leaner and crispier. Perhaps, it could be stir-fried in a sauté pan before going into the salamander.

Next on was peppered Mussels in white wine sauce. Mussels have always occupied a special corner in our minds even though we don’t eat them often. It was way back in the summer of 1989 when our family was living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We packed our new camping gears, took our two kids, ages 7 and 4, and drove our car to Victoria Island of British Columbia for a four night camping adventure. We camped at a camping ground about 10 miles north of Nanaimo. On the fourth day, we left our camp ground in the morning and drove to the city of Victoria with the intention to return to our camp for the night. After a nice lunch and a tour of the city in the afternoon, we started to drive back to Nanaimo after 7 PM. I had planned to find a restaurant on the way back and have some fast food before returned to our camp. It was getting dark and the highway on the island wasn’t the easiest to drive. Around 8:30, it began to rain and we couldn’t find any restaurant anywhere because many have already closed for the day. Finally as we drove around a corner, we found a small roadside cafe with their lights on. We were so glad that we finally could have something to eat because we and the kids were very hungry. We settled down to our table and realized that the narrow dining room had no more than 10 tables and all of them had white table cloth and fancy silverwares. We also found out that there was a violist who was entertaining the guests of the restaurant. Needless to say, this wasn’t a family restaurant and we were kind of out of place here.

I didn’t remember what we have ordered that night but one dish we could not forget was their mussels with 髮菜 “fa3 cai4” in a white wine broth. I have had 髮菜 at Cantonese restaurant before but didn’t particularly like it. 髮菜 literally means hair vegetables because it, after soaking it in water, looks like human hair. It is a vegetable which can only be found in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. The Cantonese like it a lot because it sounds like 發財 “fa1 cai2” of 恭喜發財. The mussels were so tender and good, we ate them all. The broth was so delicious and flavorful that we soaked every piece of the bread with the broth and fed them to our kids. After dinner, rain continued and by the time we got to the camp ground, it was too wet for us to stay there. We ended up staying in a hotel instead. When we came back to Calgary and later back to the United States, I’ve tried to make that dish a few times at home. But to this date, my version didn’t even come close to what we had that particular night. Whenever we had a chance ordering mussels at restaurants big or small, we inevitably would compare it to that dish we had at a road side café on a rainy night somewhere between Victoria and Nanaimo.

To our surprise, we found that dish tonight at Pastarito in Rome. The mussels looked fresh and tasted a little sweet to me. None of them was over cooked and they were perfect. The broth looked so appetizing and we couldn’t stop drinking it straight from the bowl. The bread now tasted so delicious just like the bread on that rainy night more than 20 years ago. We were happy and satisfied.

Risotto was good and filling but it would be excellent if it had a little more butter and saffron too. We then ordered some coffee but skipped desserts. The check was to €43. What a deal!

Since it was still early and we had already taken a nap earlier, we went to Roma Termini for a walk. Later, we went to a bar called Twins across street from Roma Termini for a drink. The bar was crowded with young people and there were more guys than girls. It was very loud and we couldn’t even hear each other. Well, I guessed we really didn’t belong here.

Inside Roma Termini

Inside the bar Twins across the street from Roma Termini

Shortly after midnight, we left the bar and walked back to our hotel. Tomorrow was Sunday and our Rome Illuminated tour began at 8:30 in the evening. We’d have plenty of time on our own tomorrow.

A big win for Democrat Party April 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in Economics, Health Insurance, Obama, Politics, Taxes.
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Although I do not agree with any of Obama’s policy, I have to give him, along with Pelosi and Reid, credit for doing every tricks on the book to pass the health reform bill. Democrats should be proud of one of the most liberal presidents in American history.

The three lied about the costs to American people. They hid the details of the bill to Republicans and us. They used our tax money to trade favors with politicians to win their votes. Some of them or their wives will have important posts in the government. Some will likely become ambassadors. The trio used their power to threaten congressmen and congresswomen to comply. They told them that this was the beginning of a long process and things that they didn’t like, such as public funded abortion, in this bill could be amended later. They told the representatives that they have to sacrifice for the greater goods of the Democrat Party and Obama’s legacy.

To me, the most amazing aspect of this whole thing was that they had the audacity to push through this unpopular bill in the midst of rising unemployment rate and deteriorating economy. For the Democrat party and their legacy, they put aside everything else, gambled and won. And they won big. No doubt about it! They were shrewd and  tough. Hey, what else did you expect from the first black liberal president of the United states? He takes care of his base and he did it well. To hell with the Republicans! They lost the election and they lost the majority. They were totally marginalized.

The America that I knew was forever gone with the pass of this bill and I am very sad for my children even though they may not think like I do. They will be the ones who pay for this over the next 40 to 60 years. Their living standard will suffer and their taxes at every level will have to go up to support this bill.

The trio have told the American people that they will target the wealthy people because it is only fair for them to pay more. But they failed to tell the two-income earners, especially the ones who lived in the North-East and California, that they will also shoulder some of the burdens too. People who live in Northern Virginia, NY, NJ, Boston and California make more because living standards there are much higher than that at other parts of the country. As such, they push themselves into a higher tax bracket and will have to pay more taxes and take fewer deductions.

Some doctors will leave this field to do something less regulated and more profitable. Some new doctors will not know the difference because they will be under government control when they get out of the medical school. They may not have too much problem with government treatment standards because they don’t know what was done before. But I bet that they will for sure notice that money wasn’t as good as before because the big brother is having the final say.

Slowly, smart people will have less incentives to get in this field and, in 20 or 30 years, the United States may have to import doctors from foreign countries because everyone will take advantages of this free service but few doctors will be available. We’ll also need more nurses too if we want to maintain the level of the medical services. But my bet is that level of the medical service will drop over time and American people will have to do with less whether we like it or not.

And the evil insurance companies demonized by the trio will for sure making even more money because there are more people paying insurance premiums to them. They will use the new Medicare regulation as their basis to pay out benefits and limit patients’ services. If all these still fail to achieve their minimum profitability, they will just layoff some people and carry out their business as usual until the government takes over the insurance business too.

More immigrants will come in from Central and South Americas because the service will be free to them even though the law now says differently. You’ll insist that this is not the case. Need I remind you the upcoming Immigration Reform bill? Some illegal immigrants will be granted legal status simply because the Republicans have no means to stop this in the Congress. Already the largest minority in U.S., the Democrats need their votes in November and in the foreseeable future to remain in power. Some Republicans will probably do the same and the immigrant organizations will do everything they can to see this bill through. In the end, more immigrants will cross the border, they will have more kids in the United States and will get their relatives over here too. Who do not like something that’s free? Free education, free lunch at school and free medicines now; why not?

I am also sad and worried for my parents who will need more medical cares in the coming years. Medicare benefits will be cut by $500+ billion over the next ten years and they will face the blunt of the cut back for sure. What if the doctor tell me that this drug is not covered by Medicare and they have to use a less effective and cheaper drug? What if the doctor say that this procedure is not covered by Medicare and they have to go with an alternative? What if their supplemental insurance refuses to cover the difference?

Of course, I am sad and worried for me and Bao who will need more medical care over the next several decades. By then, the new health insurance policy will be in force. Medicare will provide less benefits for sure. But what will ExxonMobil do in light of this change?

I am also worried about our business and our staff. What’s going to happen with operating margin which is already small as is. What will government say and do in three or four years? I am sure that there will be a lot regulation to follow, papers to sign, fees to pay and fines to pay. I guess the 2,000 new IRS agents will spread out of the country and writing citations to individuals and businesses like traffic cops writing tickets to speeders. How can a once free and growing country end up like this? I wonder whether they have a daily minimum like some cities to supplement United States Treasury?

The question now is what’s next for the Republican Party and people who do not like this jammed down our throats. The challenges put up by many states such, as Virginia, may not hold in court. The law will be difficult to repeal even with a big win by the Republicans this November. The pendulum has swung too far to the left and the country was out of balance. Unfortunately the difference this time is that the imbalance will not be reversed.

Well, not everything is lost. The Democrats led by Obama have told us that the new health care reform will save the America billions of dollars citing the CBO March 2010 report:

“CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that enacting both pieces of legislation will produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $143 billion over the 2010-2019 period. About $124 billion of that savings stems from provisions dealing with health care and federal revenues; the other $19 billion results from the education provisions. Those figures do not include potential costs that would be funded through future appropriations (those are discussed on pages 10-11 of the cost estimate).”

Make sure you do not forget the $143 billion saving over ten years.

Make sure you also remember that the $143 billion saving came from collecting 10 years of taxes and offering 6 or 7 years of reduced medical services.

Make sure you do not forget this dirty trick Obama, Pelosi and Reid used to fool the America people.Only government can do something like this and actually get away from it.

Make sure in ten years that you come back to compare the $143 billion saving to the actual costs of this program.

And make sure that you find out at the end of 2014 what the actual losses will be when the program is evaluated on a yearly basis.

And make sure you find out who will be paying for this?

And make sure you find out who are supporting all these debts! Could it be China? Shall I add a few oil producing countries such as Russia, Saudi, Venezuela and Iraq?

However, one thing is for sure that the ones who had lied to us will not be there in ten years to take the punishment they so deserve.

I hate politicians!

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 2 April 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in Food, Restaurants, Travel.
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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 2

Friday, March 26, 2010

We had our free lunch at the hotel at a 2nd floor conference room. The guests were mostly Europeans and Americans. Bao and I were the only two Asians for the entire time we were there. The breakfast included coffee, juices, at least six kinds of pastries, cheese, salami, cereal.  Looking out, we saw dome tops of a church about 3 blocks away and a tower a little further out.

The weather was nice and we had the whole morning to ourselves. Our first of three tours, Ancient Rome, started at 3 PM and the tour company; Vastours; was about a mile away. We decided to go to the tour company and register with them first.  Along the way, we’d get some Euros, checked out the church nearby and tour the Repubblica Building.

It turned out that walking in Rome is a bit more challenging than I thought. I usually have very good sense of direction in a city. I’ll use landmarks to guide me, find the street names and figure out where I am. The entire had no tall buildings to guide me. There were narrow streets at many intersections which were like a network of maze crisscrossing at every directions. On top of that, it was not common to have street sign at each intersection. Some street didn’t have street signs and, when they had signs, the signs were on the other end of the street. We had to ask for directions and showed them the map to find out where we were and where we wanted to go to. When we finally got there, I didn’t have the right paper with me and the tour company guy told me to make sure bring the voucher back at 3 PM.

On the way we saw the church which is one of four most important churches in Rome:  Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore. However, it wasn’t open to public. We also saw Repubblica della Piazza, a semi-circular building, along with a beautiful fountain called Fountain of the Naiads. It was the first fountain we saw in Rome.

Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore

Repubblica della Piazza

To the north of the piazza is the remnant of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri; a church built inside the open pool of a former Roman Bath; Baths of Diocletian, the grandest of all Roman bathes.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

On the way back to our hotel, we walked by many restaurants and cafes but decided to stop by an alley Cafe  of the Repubblica della Piazza to have lunch. The Dagnino Café was very busy with office workers who came and grab a croissant sandwich, pizza or some packaged food for lunch. We sat outside and took our time to enjoy a light lunch. I ordered a glass of white wine. Bao had water. I had home-made lasagna. Bao had seafood salad with basil flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The seafood plate had too much squid with no very little vegetable. Lasagna tasted good and very moist inside but the portion was too small. In addition, it had very little sauce which was way different from what I used to have in the States.

Dagnino

Home made Lasagna at Dagnino

Seafood Salad at Dagnino

We went back to the hotel, got our tour vouchers and went back to the tour company. The bus started right about 3 PM with about 20 tourists. Our tour guide was an Italian and she told us that we’d visit the Capitoline Hill, the Coliseum and Basilica of St. Paul’s outside the Walls.

Our tour bus passed by Pallazzo Venezia, the formal palace for popes starting some 500 years ago and then dropped us off at the foot of Capitoline Hill, one of seven hills in Rome. . The first thing we saw was flight of steps, called “Cordonata steps,” leading up to Piazza del Campidoglio and Capitoline buildings. The original designs of the steps, the Piazza, the Capitoline buildings were conceived by Michelangelo in the sixteen century but was constructed over a period lasting 400 years. We walked up the Cordonata steps (unlike the steps we usual see, these sloping steps were designed to allow horse and donkeys to walk) to the Piazza and around the building to the other side of the Capitoline Hill.


Immediately around the corner of the Capitoline building was the Monumento Nasionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, or Vittoriano to the Italians. This magnificent building was completed in 1935 to honor the first king of a unified Italy. Our tour guide told us that many Romanians and Italians do not like this building because it looked like a wedding cake. But I liked it because of its beauty and sheer dimension.

Monumento Nasionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Vittoriano was built of pure white marble from Northern Italy, It had majestic stairways, tall, slender columns with elaborated designs of leaves and scrolls, beautiful fountains, a huge sculpture of the first King of Italy on a horse and topped with two sculptures of winged goddess, each on a chariot drawn by four horses. The entire building was 443 ft wide and 230 ft. The building was very impressive and was the grandest building I’ve ever seen.

In front of Vittoriano at the bottom of the Capitoline Hill was one of the most important archeological areas in the world: the Roman Forum. This was where the Imperial Rome Empire began more than 2000 years ago! Wow!

Ruins of Roman Forum

Skyline above the ruins of Roman Forum

We saw ruins of the Roman Senate building, government offices, monuments, temples, arches, memorials and countless statues. It was too impressive to describe it by words.

The next stop was the Constantine Arch and the Coliseum. The Constantine Arch was erected about 1,800 years ago to commemorate the victory of Constantine the Great over a western Roman emperor by the name of Maxentius. Constantine was the first Christine Roman emperor who tolerated other religions in ancient Rome.

The lower building with small windows used to be a shopping center in Roman time

The Coliseum was breath-taking in its monumental size and grandeur. Our tour guide told us that the design of the coliseum was highly efficient to allow up to 50,000 spectators around the elliptical shaped arena.  Our tour however didn’t include a tour of the inside the Coliseum so that we’d come back later if we wanted to go inside. Nonetheless, the Coliseum clearly demonstrated the superiority of Roman Engineering more than 2,000 years ago.

Our tour guide in the center of the picture

Roman Street was paved with stones of various sizes

Amphitheatrvm Flavivm

Comstaintine Carh

Our third and last stop was a visit of Basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the-walls or commonly known as St. Paul-without-the-walls; the so-called Aurelian Walls built 1800 years ago around the city of Rome by Roman Emperor Aurelian to protect the city. The basilica was founded by the Constantine the Great over the burial place of Apostle Saint Paul. This was the second of the four most important churches in Rome that we’ve visited. I was taken aback by the Façade of the basilica, the statue of St. Paul, the 20’ tall doors, the intricacy of the design, the interior of the church, the beautiful paintings of the ceiling and the dorm and the columns.

St. Paul-without-the-walls

St. Paul

A pair of angels at each side of the 20′ tall front door

Ceiling decoration

On the way to St. Paul’s Basilica, our tour guide told us that the Church’s gift shop carried the most delicious chocolate that she had ever had in Rome. After the tour, we stopped by the gift shop and bought enough chocolate for my staff at the restaurant and a few for ourselves. Sure enough, the chocolate was creamy, rich, smooth, delicious and wonderful. It was far better than Godiva or some of the imported Belgium chocolates that we’ve had before. If you are in Rome and you like chocolate, you have to stop here to get some for yourself.

Vastour Bus

Traffic Jam in Rome at 6:20 PM on a Friday evening

Our tour ended at about 6:20 PM and the tour bus took all tourists back to their hotels. We decided to get off the bus near Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore, the church that’s two to three blocks from our hotel. When we got off the bus, we saw many people congregated in front of the church and we kinds of  凑个热闹 “cou4 ge1 re4 nao4,” or joined the fun, and went there to see what’s going on.

Ha! The church door was opened and we’re told that the church has a regular mass service every Friday afternoon. We got inside the church and saw two to three hundred people there. We admired the beauty of the church and stayed there for about 10 minutes. However, but couldn’t make out any of the words being said because the service was held in Latin.

Inside of the Basilica Papale de Santa Maria Maggiore

We went back to our hotel, walked to the Internet Point, checked our emails, and checked out the progress of XB’s online Chinese resume and his personal essay. We then walked to Roma Termini to see what’s available for dinner. We liked to see what common Romanians eat when they were on their way home.

There were several restaurants, cafes, a McDonald’s and sandwich shops in the busy building. Every eating establishment was full of people waiting in line to get something to eat. We chose a self-serve diner because we liked the choices and the freshness of their food on display. After we paid for our meal, we took a seat that’s about 10’ away from a piano where a young pianist was playing for cafeteria’s guests. I took a picture of the pianist and he later took a picture of me probably because he didn’t see many Asian tourists before.

Sel-serve restaurant in Roman Termini

Dessert option #1

So many choices.

Many Italians ordered the pork

Our Dinner on a tray

A boot-wearing pianist

Evening at Roma Termini

Underground Shopping at Roma Termini

We ordered a half bottle of wine for €2.7 and a fruit Torte for €3. The Prosciutto E Melone was €5.9. The big plate of Spaghetti Alle Vongo (small clams) was €5.4. And Zuppa Ceci (Chickpea Soup with carrots, celery, and pancetta) was €3.8. We also ordered a plate of Butter Spinach for €3.90 to get some green leaf vegetables. The simple meal was great and cheap. And it came with free entertainment!

We then walked around the shops of the basement of the train station because many of the shops were still open for business. While Bao was shopping, I found out that in Rome, one needed to have changes to go to the bathroom. Roma Termini was still busy just like when we first arrived here. However, we didn’t want to venture out too far away from the train station. We then got some espresso and gelato before called it a day.

We had to get up early tomorrow because our second tour started at 8:30 AM at the tour company. We had asked the tour company to pick us up at the hotel around 7:45 AM.

Learning Chinese April 20, 2010

Posted by hslu in Chinese, Energy, Taiwan.
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Lately I have been helping XB on his Chinese and I am surprised at his progress.

Here is a short essay on OPEC he emailed to me yesterday. It’s relevant to my job at Mobil and I found it very interesting.

Here is his essay:

石油輸出國組織成立的目的是協調與統一成員國的石油政策,確保石油市場的穩定,以維持向石油消費國有效、經濟、而穩定的供應。石油輸出國組織定期舉行成員國石油部長的高峰會,以決定各成員國的產油量目標及將石油在國際市場的價格使固定。通過限制產油量,成員國可以 提高出口石油的收益,且撤除有害與不必要的石油價格波動。

由於石油輸出國組織佔世界約67%的石油儲量並提供世界介乎30%至40%之間的產油量,石油輸出國組織對國際石油市場的影響似乎非常大,但事實上,因成員國幾乎沒有多餘的產油量能力,有人猜測她們對油價的影響開始下落。但因世界經濟對石油的依賴,石油輸出國組織的決定對世界經濟仍可能造成許多問題與危機。例如,在贖罪日戰爭的同時,成員國宣佈石油禁運,造成油價上漲四倍,也引起了西方發達國家的經濟衰退。

Judging from this article, I think XB has obviously learned a lot since he went to Taiwan six or seven months ago.

But, on some sentences, XB is still going through what I struggled through when I first came to this country.

Nearly 37 years ago, I came to the United States with very little money and 很爛的英文 “hen3 lan4 de1 yin1 wen2.” I remembered when I had to express myself  in English; I’d put together a sentence in Chinese first and then translated it into English before I could say anything.

With that said, he is very good for someone who started learning Chinese  so late in his life.

Both Bao and I are happy for him.

Here is the same article with my changes:

石油輸出國組織成立的目的是協調與統一成員國的石油政策,確保石油市場的穩定,以維持向石油消費國提供有效、經濟、而穩定的供應。石油輸出國組織定期舉行成員國石油部長的高峰會議,以決定各成員國的產油量目標及穩定石油在國際市場的價格。通過產油量的限制,成員國可以提高石油出口的收益,更可以減低或免除石油價格有害與不必要的波動。

由於石油輸出國組織的石油儲量大約佔世界總儲量的67%,而且石油輸出國提供世界介乎30%至40%之間的產油量,石油輸出國組織對國際石油市場的影響非常大。但事實上,因成員國幾乎沒有多餘的產油能力,有人猜測她們對油價的影響開始下落。但因世界經濟對石油的依賴,石油輸出國組織的決定對世界經濟仍可能造成許多問題與危機。例如,在1973年贖罪日戰爭的同時,幾個石油輸出成員國宣佈石油禁運,造成油價上漲四倍,也引起了西方發達國家的經濟衰退。

By the way, OPEC had only 1 MM b/d spare capacity when oil price reached $147/b in 2008. With the financial crisis, great recession and a jobless recovery, their spare capacity has increased to roughly 4 to 5 MM b/d.

Historical norm has been around 2 to 4 MM b/d for a long time.

Sadly to say, only OPEC countries have spare capacities. Oil productions in all other major oil producing countries have been on decline. Some of them precipitously.

Uncle Julio’s, Fairfax Corner April 20, 2010

Posted by hslu in 5584, Food, Restaurants.
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On Tuesday, March 23rd, Bao had just finished her work for five days straight since Friday. She switched her schedule around and set aside eight days off in a row so that we could have our 6-day vacation to Rome starting tomorrow. I picked her up after work and took her to Fairfax Town Center for dinner. We decided to start our vacation a day early and find a place to have something good to eat. We settled on Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande.

I had a Dos XX and she ordered a Julio’s Gold Margarita. We also ordered a side of guacamole to go with the chips. For entrée, we decided to share their special Cadillac Fajita. We also ordered their Sopapillas.

Among all the Mexican entrees I particularly liked fajita because it comes sizzling hot to my table and because there are so many components to this dish: the caramelized onion, the slightly-burned green and red bell peppers, marinated beef and chicken, shredded lettuce, re-fried beans, pico di  gallo And tortilla. The Cadillac Fajita kicked the ordinary fajita to another level with a roasted lobster.

Cadillac Fajita

The lobster was succulent, juicy, tender and excellent with or without the melted butter. Beef was tender and nice but the chicken was a little dry. Because we had a lot of chips, I only ate just a little rice and beans.

For dessert, we ordered Sopaipillas which was hot, deep-fried puffed Mexican pastries sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar and drizzled with honey and melted chocolate. It was so good that you just have to try it yourselves! We have tried several versions of this wonderful Mexican desserts but this was by far the best we could find in NV.

Sopaipillas

But, it still couldn’t compete with what we had 30 some year ago.

We both liked Sopaipillas and our fond memory went way back to our Laramie days. When we lived in Laramie as a poor graduate student and a new nurse at the only hospital in town, we drove to Denver a few times a year for Chinese food and to purchase Chinese groceries. Laramie was so small that the two or Chinese restaurants in town served old style Cantonese food that was unpleasant to our eyes and awful to our taste buds. There was no Chinese grocery store either. A few times back then, Bao and I went to this Mexican restaurant in Denver for some Mexican food. I do not remember its name or its location but knew it was a huge restaurant with some kind of underground cavern like setting. The Mexican food was okay (still a lot better than what we got at Laramie though) and it gave me the feeling of being served at a cafeteria because of its long lines and fast services. But the one thing that we couldn’t erase from our memory was its Sopaipillas: no more than four or five triangle-shaped pastries, very puffy and light, crispy and hot on the outside, not a bit oily, powder sugar all over the plate, hot honey kept dripping to the plate from the pastry. To poor students like us, that was something that would remember for a looooong time.

Well, we’ll keep searching and one of these days, we may go back to Denver and look for that place again. Who knows, we may get lucky.

Nuclear Iran April 20, 2010

Posted by hslu in Global Affair, Obama, Politics, Religion.
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Iran is about a year away from having enough Uranium to make an atomic bomb. It is 3 to 5 years away to have a missile which is capable to deliver to the US.

Once Iran has nuclear bombs, several countries in the Middle East will also want to have their own nuclear arms: Saudi, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria and two other states along the Persian Gulf, to name a few. As of now, we’ll have North Korea aiming their nuclear arms on South Korea; Pakistan on India and China and Russia on US and vice-versa. In less than 10 years, we’ll have six or seven countries in Middle East aiming their nuclear arms to each other. The likelihood of a regional nuclear war suddenly increases exponentially.

I am not sure what plans Obama and Clinton have in dealing with this eventuality: what are their plan A and Plan B. What if both Plans A and B fail, is there a plan C? The situation is very grim and the consequence will serious.

The way the US has put Israel in a corner for the last year and half  in order to please the Arabic countries suggests to me that America is distancing itself from any action Israel will take unilaterally against Iran.

I am not sure it will please the and Al-Qaeda or, for that matter, the Muslims in the world. America is still the wealthiest country in the world whether Obama likes it or not. It is still the primary target of violence from Al-Qaeda whether Obama likes it or not. He has turned his cheek to American’s enemies and try to be friends with the Muslims.

He should evaluate this useless strategy and re-evaluate the approach to Muslims and Iran again.

Besides, once Iran has enough Uranium, what stops it from giving some to Al-Qaeda? They share a common enemy, don’t they?

Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 1 April 18, 2010

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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31

Air France sent us a promotional email in early March, 2010. The vacation package for Rome from Air France Holidays included round-trip air fare from IAD, six nights in a 2-star hotel and free breakfasts for less than $900. Sounded like a great deal to us and Bao and I jumped on the opportunity and started checking out details.

The 2-star hotel was recently renovated but it was too far away from city center in a not too good part of Rome. Traveling back and forth would be too time consuming. Upgrade to a nicer hotel was imperative. We chose a 4-star hotel three blocks from Roma Termini; its central train/metro station which was a very smart move. We also signed up for three tours: Ancient Rome, Monument Rome and Illuminated Rome plus a candlelight dinner with entertainment. We also had to pay airport security charges and taxes too.

Our Air France flight from IAD to Paris was completely full because several airlines combined their flights together to increase ridership which improved airlines bottom lines. Our dinner wasn’t too bad. The rice was very good with the sauce the breakfast sandwich was just okay. After a two-hour stop-over at Paris, we boarded an Air Italia flight to Rome. Again it was crowded and we had only drinks and crackers to enjoy.

Dinner on Air france flight from IAD to Paris

Paris Airport

€5 or $7 for a sandwich in Paris Airport

A beautiful ad in Paris Airport
Orange juice on Air Italia – Blood Orange

We arrived at Rome Airport in mid-afternoon, got out of Immigration very quickly and were greeted by yummy gelatos, mouth-watering cookies and delicious chocolates right by the gate. We couldn’t resist but to try their mango gelato which was very creamy with intensive flavor.

Gelatos in Rome Airport

After getting our luggage, the custom officer waved his hand and let us out without even asking a question. We then followed the sigh to the train station which was about 5 minutes away in a separate building. The train ride to Roma Termini cost €12 and took about 40 minutes to reach downtown Rome. Along the way we saw part of Rome that wasn’t very desirable. The walls and bridges were dirty and covered with graffiti wherever there was an open space. The streets were crowded and covered with paper, leaves and trash. The apartments along the railroad tracks were at most 10 stories high and they looked small and old.

Roma Termini was huge and it was filled with travelers and local commuters alike. In a word, it looked like a zoo. Many people lug their luggage behind them and looked for the right platform to go to. There were 29 platforms, many shops, restaurants, cafes, drug stores and souvenir shops spreading out over two floors. We got out of Roma Termini and didn’t know where we were because we could find the street signs. We started walking based on my memory of where the hotel was relative to Roma Termini but I got the direction wrong. We ended up on a block of street with some Chinese shops and a few restaurants. One restaurant was called 望鄉樓 “wang4 xiang1 lou2” which has this interesting display:

望鄉笑迎天下客 “wang4 xiang1 xiao4 ying2 tian1 xia4 ke4” Saw at a Chinese Restaurant in Rome

望鄉笑迎天下客 “wang4 xiang1 xiao4 ying2 tian1 xia4 ke4.”

Hmm, what would be a good 下聯 “xia4 lkian2” for this?

We finally found the street signs and were able to follow them to our hotel. It turned out that there were no street sign posts in downtown Rome. Sometimes, there was no street sing at an intersection at all. At other intersections, we might find just one, sometimes 2, street signs which were carved on the wall somewhere between the second and the ground floors. If you weren’t at the right place, you wouldn’t see the sign at all. We spent about 5 minutes just to find the street where the hotel was on.

We finally found our hotel and it was small with about 50 rooms. The lobby was clean and the gentleman was friendly and nice. I showed him my reservation and he checked his computer and told me that I wasn’t in his system. Hmm, what a bomber!

Hotel Champagne Palace

Entrance of the hotel

I told him about Air France Holidays and he said that he couldn’t find me. I told him that I’ve already paid for the room and he said he’d check. He called around and still could find my record. He finally said that it was apparently that I’ve already paid for the room and he said that we could check in and he’d check again and everything should be okay, he promised.

Our 3rd floor corner room was very small: a queen bed, two night stands, a chair, a credenza which doubled as a dresser, table and TV stand, a 19” CRT TV, a 19” LCD TV on the wall that’s not working,  a sofa, a small bathroom equipped with shower/tub combo, a bidet and a toilet. There was very little walk space in the room except near the door. We had two windows and air conditioning which we didn’t need because the weather was quite nice. According to the website, the hotel had Internet services but I found out that it was not available.

We quickly put our stuff down and went to the front desk again. I asked the gentleman about the Internet and he said that it was cheaper to find Internet access at many Internet Points near the hotel which offered Internet services and oversea phone calls for a small fee. We also asked him for a recommendation for dinner and he told us that there was a nice Italian restaurant about 2 blocks away. He made a reservation for us at 7 PM and off we went to see what Rome was like near our hotel.

Sure enough, there were many Internet Points which charged about €1 for an hour of usage. Many of them were operated by Indians and each store usually had 10 to 15 PCs plus three and three to five phone booths. I registered with one of them and used it to check emails and search for tour information if we needed. Another business we saw a lot was the currency exchange shops. The rates were decided by the company according to the official exchange rate and their profit margins. Do not hesitate to ask around in order to get the best rate. Make sure you pay attention ot each company’s service charges because they could be a lot if you are not carefully.

One of the Internet Points near our hotel

Since it was getting darker, we didn’t want to venture out too far away from our hotel for fear of not being able to find our way back. The first impression I had was that there were too many restaurants: ristorante, trattoria, osteria, pizzeria and café. A large number of them have tables outside for side-walk dinning, completed with umbrellas, table cloth, napkin and wine glasses. A few have propane heaters to keep you warm if it was needed. Waiters in uniform cheerfully greeted us as we walked by them. Daily specials were displayed on a black board and menu was opened displayed near the front door for everyone to see. Then there were many gelato shops which also carried espresso or latte. We also saw many small boutique shops selling Italian sausages, cheeses, candies and groceries. too . Internet Points were everywhere probably because it was not convenient or cost effective to get Internet service at home. I do see many and Middle Easterners and Africans there using telephone to call home. Not very many people used the Internet service though.

We had our dinner at Nuova Stella about two blocks away from our hotel. The restaurant first opened in 1963 and it offered a multi-lingual menu; English, German, French and Spanish, all in one giant book. Hmm, a tourist spots for sure.

Nuova Stella

We ordered a bottle of Chardonnay from Casale del Giglio for €20. It was fruity and little on the dry side. Bread was €3 including bread sticks came in plastic wraps. Italian mix appetizer was €8 which included egg plant, prosciutto, vegetable Frittata, Tuscany salame (with pork fat cubes,) deep-fried zucchini and a few olives. Our waiter let us alone and we took our time enjoying this simple starter. We both liked prosciutto and salame because they were perfect with our wine.

€3 bread

Cheese tortellini in broth was €6 and it wasn’t that good. We also ordered a mushroom and cheese piazza with prosciutto, olive and egg cost €7. The crust was very thin and, unlike American pizza, there was very little sauce. The pizza was surprisingly good even without the sauce: the cheese, the mushroom and prosciutto made the pizza so much better than the tomato sauce we usually have in the United States. The 2 hour meal came to €48 including €4 service charge.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant because we wanted to have gelato at the corner shop across the street from our hotel. Although it was still early we decided to check back with the hotel about our reservation. When we walked into the lobby, the same gentleman greeted us and said that everything was okay and we could have breakfast tomorrow morning before 9:30.

Tomorrow was the first full day of our Rome vacation. Our first tour was in the afternoon but we need to confirm our reservation with the company. We’d first have breakfast at the hotel. We’d then visit one of four very important churches in Rome on the way to the tour company which was less than a mile away. Lunch; we’d deal with that when we’re hungry. Dinner: we still had plenty of time to choose a place to eat.

台湾游记 Dec 7 – Dec 17 2009 Day 7, Taipei April 16, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Chinese Food, Food, Restaurants, Taiwan, Travel.
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台湾游记  Dec 7 –  Dec 17 2009

Day 7, Taipei, Saturday, December 12, 2009

After some bread and coffee in the morning, we went to the conservatory for the black-faced spoonbill; 黑面琵鷺 “he1 mian4 pi2 lu4,” with my professor friend’s two students. One student just came back from an oversea trip in Europe attending a technical conference. He was my professor’s first PhD student. The other student came from China under an exchange student program. They have been close friends for a year or so. 黑面琵鷺 is an endangered bird migrating between Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. A few have been seen as far south as Philippine and Vietnam too.

Black Faced Spoonbill, 黑面琵鷺

The conservatory is located in a small coastal town called 七股 “qi4 gu3” about 40 minutes away from the city of Tainan. It was staffed with volunteers and we were able to watch the birds from about 1,000’ away with the aid of high power binoculars. According to the volunteers, there were roughly 2,000 birds in the world. According to display on site, the black-faced spoonbills only breed on some small rocky islands in the West Korea Sea and many of them (may be 1/4 of the total population) migrate to 七股 “qi4 gu3” during the winter. Some were spotted at sites as far south as Vietnam and Philippine.

When we were there, I counted about 20 visitors coming and going from the site. They all came in their own cars because there was no bus service to this remote place. Most people, including us, stayed for 15 to 20 minutes.

The next order of business was lunch and it had to be quick because we were scheduled to take the 3 PM 高鐵 back to Taipei.

After a 10 minutes drive, we arrived at an intersection of two country roads where there were four or five shacks on each side of a narrow country road. A couple of them stocked live seafood for sale including crabs, clams, shrimp, fish and lobsters. Another shack housed a make-shift kitchen and the covered shed to the right was the dining room. We picked out some shrimp, fish and crab from the seafood vendor and bought them to the restaurant next door. The restaurant owner gladly cooked them for us, stir-fried some cabbage with garlic and gave us a pot of rice. The long claws of the crabs were very easy to break up and they were surprisingly meaty. The crab meat was fresh, soft and sweet. Shrimp was juicy, plump and slightly salty but I dared to eat no more than two. Fish was good with ginger and green onion in a tangy wine sauce. The cabbage was crispy and slightly sweet in my mouth. I wasn’t sure how much the meal cost because it was paid for by professor’s student who had promised to buy him a dinner since he had found a teaching job in 基隆 “ji1 long2” in northern Taiwan.

Live Turtles

Fresh Clams

We bought seafood here

.

Road Side Restaurant

After lunch, we parted company with the students and my friend took us to 高鐵. We caught the 3 PM train to Taipei and finished our short trip to Tainan. We had agreed to come back in two years when we will have our 40-year class reunion.

On the way to Taipei, I couldn’t help but bring myself back to the small city where I spent four years there more than forty years ago. Gone were the happy days when we spent countless hours in billiard shops, skipped classes on a regular basis, danced in the morning and early afternoon, played mahjong to make a few bucks, hosted dance parties to make spending money, and drank and ate in midnight in the dormitory. There weren’t any competitions among class mates; at least not from me. My ranking in the class came out faster if I started from the bottom. We used the lobby of our department building as dance floor to learn tango steps. We rode bicycles to and from everywhere including ferrying female student from 台南家專 “tai2 nan2 jia1 zhuan1,” a girls only vocational schools nearby, to our dance parties in order to attract boys to come. We also invited female student from our university waited for them at 女生宿舍 “nv3 sheng1 su4 she4” but many of they refuse to come probably because we were too cheap. I also began my slow and difficult process of learning to speak Taiwanese when I was there. I started by asking a couple of my classmates to teach me common words and phrases. I also listened to Taiwanese songs and learned to sing a few such as 望春風 ”wang4 chun1 feng1,” 安平追想曲 “an1 ping2 zhui1 xiang3 qv3” and a few others.

Of all the Taiwanese songs I learned, I like 安平追想曲 “an1 ping2 zhui1 xiang3 qv3” the most. The song described the touching and sad stories of a woman and her daughter from 安平”an1 ping2,” a small coastal fishing town less than 10 miles from Tainan. The girl was born out of wedlock of a Dutch doctor of a foreign freight ship and a local woman from a wealthy family about 100 year ago. She was also called a 私生兒 “si1 shen1 er2” in the song. 私 means private or hidden from public knowledge. Despite the love affair, the doctor left her and had never returned again. She later gave birth to a girl who had light-colored hair, light-colored skin and the appearance of a foreign baby. The family kept a low profile and the baby seldom came out to the public. However, the love story and the baby girl were widely known among people in the city of 安平 and Tainan.

In this song, which was written in 1951, the author called the girl 金小姐 “jin1 xiao3 jie3” because of her light-colored hair (金髮 “jin1 fa3.”)  金小姐 knew of her father from her mother but never saw him for 20 years. She felt sorry for her mother because she had suffered all these years with loneliness, despair and disappointment. She missed him but couldn’t help but to resent her father’s disappearance because she, unlike her friends, was never cared for or loved by her father.

The story then turned to the beautiful 20 year old 金小姐 who had fallen in love with none other but a sailor. The sailor had gone away with his ship and left 金小姐 alone waiting for him at 安平. The poor 金小姐 didn’t know where the ship was and hadn’t heard from him ever since. With her long red dress, 金小姐 stood at the entrance of the 安平港 (港 gang3 which means harbor,) thought of her first lover and wondered when he’d return to her. Wind blew through her long, light-colored hair. 金小姐 missed her lover but couldn’t tell anyone. She could only hope that the wind would carry her love to him. Even though the wind might laugh at her, she hoped that he’d return to her soon because she was standing at 安平港 and waiting to hear the sound of gong signaling his return.

安平追想曲

曲:许石        词:陈达儒

身穿花紅長洋裝,風吹金髮思情郎,想郎船何往,音信全無通,伊是行船堵風浪?放阮情難忘,心情無地講,相思寄著海邊風,海風無情笑阮憨,啊~不知初戀心茫茫。

想起情郎想自己,不知爹親二十年,思念想欲見,只有金十字,給阮母親做遺記,放阮私生兒,聽母初講起,愈想不幸愈哀悲,到底現在生亦死,啊~伊是荷蘭的船醫。

想起母子的運命,心肝想爹也怨爹,別人有爹疼,阮是母親晟,今日青春孤單影,全望多情兄,望兄的船隻,早日回歸安平城,安平純情金小姐,啊~等你入港銅鑼聲。

余天 ~ 闽南语 “yu2 tian1 – min3 nan2 yu3”

江蕙- 闽南语 – “jiang1 hui4 – min2 nan2 yu3”

http://v.youku.com/v_playlist/f1919708o1p0.html

Please note that 余天 is a male singer and 江蕙 is a female singer, both from Taiwan. 闽南语 is Taiwanese.

There was another story about 安平追想曲 which I remembered well. Before I got married, Bao and her sister came to Laramie to visit me. I took them on a 4,000 mile tour to Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Cortez and Denver. Along the way, I sang the song to them including all the music between the words and explained to them what the story was about. Although I wasn’t sure whether it helped me convince her to finally move to Wyoming a year later, one thing was very clear: they didn’t know any Taiwanese. 我的破台语把她们两个罩的一愣一愣的。Well, thirty four years later, every time I hear or sing this song, I remember these memorable days when we were young.

Our mini-reunion dinner with my classmates in Taipei was held at 上海湯包館 “shang3 hai3 tang1 bao1 guan3” located in 微風廣場 “wei2 feng1 guang3 chang3,” an up-scale shopping center on 復興路 “fu4 xing1 lu4” about 10 minutes from XB’s apartment.

上海汤包馆

Nine classmates showed up after work. I have seen them all last time when we were in Taiwan more than 10 years ago except one who I haven’t seen for almost 40 years. Several of them have already retired from government jobs. One was in metal import/export business and he has done well in recent years with sky-rocketing commodity prices. Another one was the chief engineer for Taipei 捷運. A few still worked for private companies in and around Taipei and 桃園 “tao2 yuan2.” We talked about our time at school, billiard games, Taiwan politics, Taipei 捷運 and Taiwan’s economy. I told them about the much improved civility among taxi drivers, banks and government office. The cleanness of 捷運 and 高鐵 also surprised us. They complained about Taiwan’s sagging economy, its heavy dependence on mainland China and current government’s inability to accomplish its agenda. The fragile democracy was held hostage by elections, culture differences, languages and ethnic divides. In fact, one classmate was invited but refused to come because his strong pro-independent political stand.

The meal was great: a private room with dedicated waitresses and servers; elegant decoration of black wood, dark-colored curtains and soft over-head lighting; nice utensils; white table cloth; superb service; plenty of food of various tastes; and some 紹興酒 ”shao4 xing1 jiu3” to wash down our worries. There were six cold dishes; two kinds of 小龍包 ”xiao3 long2 bao1,” steamed red-bean paste buns, 東坡肉 “dong1 po1 rou4,” 海參 “hai3 shen1,” 清蒸魚 “qing1 zhen1 yu2” and a few others I couldn’t remember. Dinner finished at 9:30 PM and we all went our own separate ways and won’t see each other for two years.

After a brief stay at XB’s apartment, XB and I decided to go out because the evening was still young. We walked to 誠品 “cheng2 pin3” which was a huge multi-level book store on 敦化南路 ”dun1 hua4 nan3 lu4” about 15 minutes away. At a little before 11 PM, I was surprised to see as many as hundred customers, mostly students, still crowded the bookstore. I bought a couple of books on world economy and financial bubble at less than $8 each. Many students also gathered at the front door and there were several 地灘 ”di4 tan1” selling clothes, caps, belts, shoes and etc. It was fun to watch them under the dim street lights.

We then stopped by a late night food stand close to XB’s apartment; had some food and vegetables and called it a night.

Tomorrow was Sunday. We had an appointment with a friend at SOGO in the afternoon. Evening was reserved for XB’s friend. There was nothing else planned. Jingjing had to leave for NY on Monday. Our flight back to DC was on Tuesday. Our vacation was almost over but we still had many places to see and many dishes to try.

Well, we have to come back later then.

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