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Tysons Buffet, Rockville, Maryland December 29, 2010

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Cooking, Restaurants.
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Took Mom to the doctor’s to day after we had lunch at Tysons’ buffet in Rockville, Maryland.

We had to wait for 10 minutes before getting a seat. The place was packed to capacity and the line at 1 PM was almost 20 deep.

The line continued until about 1:30 PM and the entire restaurant was busy with guests young and old; men and women; Chinese, Latinos and others.

Chinese buffet restaurants, especially Tysons Buffet in Rockville,  are like black holes on the landscape of Chinese restaurants. They suck in customers from other Chinese near by restaurants. They also suck in precious revenues from them making these restaurants very difficult to operate. They rob the margins away from  near by Chinese restaurants because of ridiculously low prices and varieties of selections offered by these buffet restaurants.

In the case of Tysons Buffet, it probably takes away $650,000 from the coffers of near by Chinese restaurants every month. These buffet restaurant as a group also force other Chinese restaurants big and small to operate at paper thin margins because no one dare to raise its prices.

The mediocrity of buffet food lowers the standard of Chinese cuisine in the eyes of general public which also hurts business of Chinese restaurant every where.

People come to traditional Chinese restaurants expecting a good meal, huge quality, good value, mediocre service, broken English from wait staff, noise atmosphere and rock bottom prices. They no longer expect authentic Chinese food because some of them know that many cooks in the kitchen behind the wall are no longer 科班出身的厨师 “ke1 ban1 chu1 shen1 de1 chu2 shi1″  (Chefs with professional training” but 半路出家的二手货 “ban4lu4 chu1 jia1 de1 er4 shou3 huo4” (someone with minimum skill in Chinese cooking.) Even worse, some of them are even Latinos with only a few years of experience working in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.

It will not be easy to reverse this trend.

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Afghan War, the Press, Gays in military December 29, 2010

Posted by hslu in Global Affair, Islam, Military, Obama, Politics.
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Obama’s war in Afghanistan has disappeared from the headline news as main street media such as CNN, NBC and ABC, stopped their coverages  on their evening shows.

Unlike what they did during Bush’s Iraq war, these liberal news organizations stopped publishing names of the dead and number of casualties from the Afghan war. There was no discussion on the purpose of the Afghan war. There was no examination of the cost of the Afghan war. There was no debate of the administration’s exit strategy.

Why?

Because the Afghan war is Obama’s war.

Because the Afghan war is liberal’s war.

Because the Afghan war is Democrats’ war.

These liberal news media organizations are not against war. They are against Republicans’ war.

So what do they talk about on their evening news and Sunday shows?

Gays in military.

#&^*%!

Amtrak, High Speed Rail, 30 years December 27, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Economics, Global Affair, jobs, Taiwan.
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As I rode on 磁浮 “ci2 fu2” (maglev train, top speed 350 mph) from Pudong airport to the transfer station in Pudong, I couldn’t help but thought about the announcement by Amtrak on its planned high speed rail (HSR) for the East Coast in the United State.

Here is the scoop on Amtrak’s grand vision:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dr-gridlock/2010/09/amtrak_unveils_high-speed_rail.html

  • About 450 mile high speed rail from DC to Boston.
  • $117 billion high-speed rail on the East Coast
  • 30-year vision with a completion date set at 2040.
  • No funding source yet. All we have now is 纸上谈兵 “zhi1 shang4 tan2 bing1” or all talks or planning with no action.
  • Travel time from DC to NY: from 162 minutes to 96 minutes.
  • Travel time from NY to Boston: from 215 minutes to 84 minutes.

“We are talking about state of the art.” So said by Amtrak’s vice president for high speed rail, Mr. Al Engel.

Since Mr. Al Engel knew better, he added: ” 220 mph is not a big deal in the world,” and added that China just tested a train that reaches speeds of 300+ mph.

China decided to build high speed rails about 15 years ago. In a series of improvements, China has managed to increase the speed of its HSR from 132 mph in 1997 using a electric locomotive to 302 mph using the so-called Electric Multiple Unit about four weeks ago.

Currently China has established four North-South and four-East-West national high-speed rail grid system linking major cities such as Harbin, Beijing,  Shanghai, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Guangdong, Fuzhou, and other major cities. Total length has approached 7,500 miles. In addition, there are many inter-cities HSR lines which have been in operation and China also plans to build another 25,000miles of HSR system to connect the existing HSR to western China and to fill gaps in the networks of eastern and central China.

Current and planned HSR Network in China

Planned HSR Network by 2020

Amtrak’s HSR takes 30 years to plan with no funding in sight. This is American’s free market capitalism at work: if it doesn’t make money, it will not get built. Other examples are solar, wind and other forms of the so-called “green” energy that are trying to find a market for them to exist.

On the other hand, China’s form of capitalism has afforded China to use the money it earned from other countries to build a HSR network that the government deemed necessary. The massive infrastructural project is necessary because it will benefit the citizens of China in decades to come and it will also generate millions of jobs which China desperately needed.

In all honesty, I dare to predict that before Amtrak is able to complete  its grand vision of a HSR linking DC and Boston, China will build a HSR line connecting Taiwan’s Xinzhu 新竹 and China’s Fuzhou 福州. By that time, China and Taiwan will be a little more closer physically and unification will be a little more easier to become a reality.

台中逢甲夜市 December 26, 2010

Posted by hslu in Restaurants, Taiwan.
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I lived in 台中 Taizhong for 20 years before moving to Tainan for college. After college, I first served in Taiwanese Army for two years then traveled to the United States for graduate school.

For all the time I was in Taizhong, I have never been to 逢甲学院 “feng2 jia3 xue2 yuan4” or “Feng Chia College as it was known back then and later elevated to a Univeristy” or 逢甲夜市 “feng2 jia3 ye4 shi4” or “Feng Chia Night Market.” Last October was my first time. And it was Bao and Xiaobao’s first time as well. We went to Taizhong via  高铁 “gao1 tie3” or “high speed railroad” which took only a little more than 30 minutes. We then took the shuttle to a stop that was about 20 minute walk from 逢甲夜市.

逢甲夜市 is the second largest night market in Taiwan and it has probably more than 1,000 shops, restaurant and food stands/stalls along several streets near 逢甲学院. It was crowded starting from about 5 pm until well into midnight probably because of its proximity to a university.

逢甲夜市 offers a more diverse experience than the night markets around 台北市 with clever names such as:

麵麵俱到 or was it "面面俱到"

八锅联军 or "八国联军"

三顧茅廬 Restaurant or was it "三顧茅廬" in 三国演义 (The Three Kingdoms)

Crowd at Feng Jia Night Market

Entrance of the Feng Jia University

Library at Feng Jia University

Deep Fried Smelly Doufu 臭豆腐 "chou4 dou4 fu3" in two colors. I have never seen a black 臭豆腐 or 黑皮臭豆腐 before.

 

Would you like me to pack this for you? December 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in Taiwan.
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While in 统一阪急百货, I was asked by a clerk if  I like to buy this:

This 1992 云南七子饼茶 was only $250. it probably weighed less than 8 ozs.

统一阪急百货 December 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in Taiwan.
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Xiao took us to this new department store call 统一阪急百货 to experience the latest fad in Taipei’s East Side.

There were thousands of people, mostly teenagers and college students, inside the beautiful store. We were treated like a herd of cattle following a pre-determined path on the first few floors.  At the food court, people lined up 20 to 30 deep just to get a cup of  珍珠奶茶 “zhen1 zhu1 nai3 cha2” or an ice cream cone. Other food counters had even more people waiting to get something to eat.

To us, we were like 乡下佬进城 真是 大开眼界. Or was it more like 刘姥姥逛大观园 “liu2 lao3 lao3 guang4 da4 guan1 yuan2?

it was fun though.

China’s Crude oil import to 55% December 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Economics, Energy, Global Affair.
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Last year’s figure was 53%.

And in a decade or so as China’s domestic oil productions decline and as more Chinese purchasing cars for personal use, the figure will approach 70%, the amount of crude oil imported by the United States now.

The competition for reliable crude oil supply between these two countries has no end in sight.

I, however, think the United States has an disadvantage here:

Although many oil rich nations, such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, like American dollars, they hate America and Americans.

The Chinese pay them in US dollars too. In a few years, these countries may demand payment in Euros rather than in US dollars.

Who knows, they may even take Renminbi instead of US dollars in ten to 15 years.

TD vs C December 25, 2010

Posted by hslu in China, Cold War, Economics, Energy, Global Affair, jobs, Politics, stocks.
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The Canadians I knew in general detested Americans based on my personal experience from working with them in Calgary for a year and half in the late 1980’s and after that  till 2000 when I left the oil company I worked for 20 years.

For instance, my salary was roughly the same as that of my Canadian colleagues with similar qualifications. But, my purchasing power in Canada was almost twice as much as my Canadian friends because I was paid in US dollars, not to mention that I paid considerable less taxes than they did.

They were proud of their health care system but they didn’t tell me that they had to wait three to nine months for an MRI.

Yet many of them at the same time have this unspoken jealous sentiment about the United States as well.

Well, time has changed and I bet most Canadians are watching the malaise in the United States with a smirk.

And they couldn’t help but say: “The US did it to themselves and they  deserved every bit of it.”

I don’t blame them at all.

Well, Canadian dollar is now on par with the US dollar if not more valuable. Canada didn’t have sub-prime mortgage and they played according to the rules. As a result, they escaped the world wide financial crisis almost totally unscathed. Canadian’s natural resources, especially its heavy oil and oil sand resources, are the target of acquisitions from China and other countries, e.g., Japan.

And in case you don not know, the United States relies on Canada for almost 2.5 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products every day.

That’s $225 million every day and $82 billion a year at current prices of $90/barrel.

Many Alberta and Saskatchewan residents have a reliable job and enjoy a handsome salary thanks to millions of US drivers who can’t go a day without his or her car.

This figure will only increase in the coming decades as Canadian engineers find more ways to produce this vast amount of resources in the next 50 to 100 years.

The United States needs this oil because it comes from a country that’s friendly to the US.

That increase may come much sooner if a proposed 2,000 mile Trans Canada and America pipeline, the $7 billion Keystone XL project, gets government approvals which will link Alberta’s oil sand productions to the refineries in the Gulf Coast.

We’ll see how this project goes in the next few months. The kicker for the American consumers is that if the United States doesn’t want it for purely environmental concerns, the Chinese oil companies will gladly pick it up even if the price is higher than it should be.

Do you not see the Cold War between the US and China now?

I also noticed that the Canadian TD Bank has taken over the Commerce Bank (There is one on on Elden Street.) I guess that Canada, with a strong Canadian dollar, can afford to buy it at bargain basement price because many American banks are on such shaky grounds.

And the following figure of last five year’s stock prices of TD Bank (blue) and the Citi Group (green) tells it all:

Stock price comparison: TD vs C

 

Well, don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you that:

“The Canadians are coming!”

“The Canadians are coming!”

 

 

Fairfax County isn’t much better December 23, 2010

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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Fairfax County government has been just as wasteful as the Federal Government  because our taxes have gone up much more than the inflation did.

Here are some numbers you may not know:

 

Fairfax County Employee Raises

2001 to 2009     22% over inflation

Private sector increase  7% over inflation

Fairfax County Employee Benefits

2000           $379 million

2011           $1 billion (proposed)

Annual increase of 10%; several times higher than inflation

Fairfax County Employee Health Insurance

County government pays the following for full time employees

  • 85% of premium for individual
  • 75% of premium for two-party (gays etc.) or family coverage
  • Full time employees are those work > 30 hours/week

Fairfax County Property by Typical Tax Payers

2000              $2,400 Real Estate Taxes

2007              $4,800 Real Estate Taxes

2010                $8,500 (by me)

Solutions

  1. Cut Fairfax County employees’ health benefit, pension benefits and  their salary by 20%.
  2. Reduce number of Fairfax County employees by 20%.

台北国父纪念馆 December 23, 2010

Posted by hslu in Taiwan, Travel.
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台北国父纪念馆 Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

 

 

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