2009 in Pictures

Why I've never thought of this idea is beyond me. Here's my 2009 in pictures! It was kind of fun going through all my albums and picking out some pictures to showcase (or not) my year!

Much better than bullet points! Here's the link if you prefer the album to the embedded slideshow.

Reviewing 2009...

I don't do new year resolutions. But I do do old year reviews. 2009, chronologically:
  • Worked case in Shanghai
  • Worked case in Hong Kong
  • Took Leave of Absence
  • Went to NYC
  • Took photography lessons
  • Learned to cook again (not heating up, cooking)
  • Visited Toronto
  • Bought laptop
  • Moved to bigger apartment
  • Took photography lessons
  • Learned a new dish
  • Visited Seattle
  • Visited Vancouver
  • Visited Boston (it's the summer... I travel when the weather is good... and when I have a case that I have to travel for)
  • Quit Bain
  • Bought engagement ring... ouch!
  • Proposal accepted at Grand Canyon... woo hoo!
  • Met in-laws at LA... woo... hoo?
  • Found wedding ceremony location
  • Found wedding reception location
  • Visited SF
  • Moved to smaller apartment
  • Took photography class x2
  • Musical
  • Attended first NFL game
  • Went to Beijing
  • Went back to Hong Kong
  • Started my own company
  • Completing my first client update (currently waiting for client to get off the phone)
Fruitful, I'd say. Looking forward to 2010.


柱记之死 (The Death of Zhu Ji)

Merry Christmas from Hong Kong. I've been back for almost 2 weeks, and my blogging has been horrible. Here's my Christmas present - and a vow to blog more.

Saw GI Joe on the plane from Chicago and also Sherlock Holmes earlier today... but today I want to talk about 柱记之死.

For those of you who don't know, 柱记 is a congee restaurant that I grew up with in the Bonham Road area. When I was young, my family rarely went out to eat breakfast. When we did, it was always 柱记, a super hole in the wall congee place that set up shop on the street side, covered by a few metal sheets (铁皮) and supported by a few pieces of iron plates on the floor. It leaked from the ceiling, and you watch your step so you don't fall onto the streets. But, man, the congee was good. Alan and I always looked forward to the day our dad went out for breakfast, cus we knew the tasty congee and the fried dough (which you dip in the congee) would be near.

Eventually, 柱记 made enough money and morphed into a shop (I found out on a random visit during high school... I had to get used to it being in a real shop space!). The staff remained. The dad and mom took orders. There was the same congee cook. On busy days, the sons and daughters would help take orders. Besides the food, there was also the impeccable way of calculating the bill. Every bowl of congee was associated with a different color/size bowl. Same with fried dough and other appetizers. A metal plate was one piece of friend dough. A small flat plate meant two pieces. A bigger flat plate was for a more expensive bread. When you were done, they wandered over, took a look at your table, and yelled out the final bill. I've never heard a complaint before.

And then there was today. The name changed. The staff was no more. Replacing 柱记 was a place that had none of the familiarity and friendliness. The waitress was semi-deaf and couldn't remember our orders. She practically slammed the congee on the table. And she took about a minute to calculate the bill. WTF. Oh, and the quality of the food is down: the congee was too watery (not enough time spent on making it) and the fried dough was too crispy (too much oil).

Ah, the death of an icon for me. RIP, 柱记. You will be remembered. (And someone ought to start a competing congee place to get all the lost customers)

I'm moving on to a congee place that's a hole in the wall in Kennedy Town.


The Scene at Hong Kong Airport

I never understood the urgency of getting off a plane. Crazy people making not-so-subtle grunts and sighs while they think another passenger is taking too much time to clear the aisle of luggage. Relax! You're here, and you'll be out in no time!

But such is the scene when every plane parks at the terminal. Everybody has their hands on the seat belt, and once "ding" happens, all jump up and rush to haul their bags onto the aisle and anxiously waits for the line to start moving. They want to say "get out of my way" but are restrained by the natural politeness of their Chineseness.

And then there's the mad dash to the immigration office. Old people and slow movers be damned, cus no one is getting in their way. Elbows fly on the conveyor belt and those who stop moving are given a stare down (from their back, but still).

Finally... which line to join. You quickly observe all eight lines. Avoid children. Avoid old people. Avoid the immigrant. You could stick another 10 traits of people who will hold up the line at immigration. Or follow this one: get the line with the most suits, cus they always know what they are doing. And another stare down from the back happens when a migrant worker slows down the line - actually, the whole line will collectively stare... maybe it's for the immigration officer.

Anyway, after all that hassle... it's 5 seconds at the immigration station, where I calmly put my finger print on a scanner and it says "Please Enter". 10 seconds got me to the baggage conveyor belt, where my overweight bags are already there. 2 minutes to load up and whisk pass customs. 30 minutes later, the airport express got me to Central station. 10 more minutes, a taxi brought me home comfortably. In less than an hour, I got from seat 34F to home.

So why all bumping and grinding at the airport? Well, because it's Hong Kong! Efficiency. Big city rudeness. At least the move from NY to HK improved one aspect of my life.


Eff you, Great Firewall...!

It's freezing in Beijing. And I can't access Blogspot and Facebook. I'm not sure which is the worst.

I never understood the Great Firewall... whereby China just blocks certain websites as it pleases. Recently, they blocked Google because of "offensive material" appearing on their searches. Uh huh. Punish the messenger.

Eff you, Great Firewall! I can still post blog entries via emails and read blogs via Google Reader. Woohoo! But I'm off Facebook for a while. Woohoo!

(And let me try to attach a picture to see what it does)



Thanks to Google Offline, I can now draft emails on a long haul plane from US to China! That means I can also draft blog entries - yes, I'm aware I can do this on Word as well, but I just don't like Microsoft that much and would much prefer doing it through email. (Um, plus the China Firewall prevents me from accessing Blogspot) The only downside is that I can't reference other pages until I get a connection.

Just finished the Freakenomics sequel SuperFreakenomics. As far as sequel goes, this performs along the same lines: something new and refreshing, but overall not as good as the first one.

The book starts out with a bang (pardon the pun) with a discussion on prostitution, leading to a broad discussion of gender inequalities and some reasons behind it. Fascinating read, and not just because of the price of different sexual tricks and the story of one entrepreneur in the industry. I love, for example, the brief discussion on the discrepancies of male and female earnings, explained mostly by difference in average hours worked (women work less) and appetite for more earnings (men are more motivated to earn money - um, yeah, it's called capitalistic greed).

The following two chapters are a downer: one was a discussion on the value of data (duh) and how it can lead to terrorists (The Wire has taught me well: Follow the money, and you open all sorts of shit cans). Another was a discussion on whether humans are inherently good or bad with a slight dig towards popular beliefs and popular media. Pretty boring.

Then came the chapters that fired up people: seat belts and global warming. Obviously, they put these chapters at the end cus they knew it was going to be controversial:
  • Seat belts should be sufficient for older children and that the more expensive car seats are merely a money making machine that prey on parent's insecurities but doesn't help save the child more than a seat belt would.
  • There may not be a global warming.  Even if there was global warming, the solution is cheap and simple and only $250 million.
My thoughts on the seat belts: listen to the economists with no stakes (other than their own children) in the trade. It's the most impartial opinion you'll get and, hey, you can keep testing it to see if their are right with the initial test results. Naysayers need to look at the data more and stop being too emotional about the authors trying to kill their kids.

My thoughts on global cooling and geo-engineering: INTERESTING. I want to know more. And I think here is where SuperFreakenomics fail a bit. A lot of "INTERESTING", but not a whole lot of discussions on those points. I wish the book were (gasp) longer on these chapters. Perhaps the simple solution was too simple and just was tht short? I find that hard to believe. Anyway, the Chinese have always been about geo-engineering (Mao says 人定勝天, people can always triumph nature), clearing the skies of Beijing for the Olympics and the national holidays. Why didn't they consult their Chinese counterparts? Surely there's data to show effects and impacts?

Anyway, too short on things that matter, too much on topics that are more "hey, look at me!". Nonetheless, it was a refreshing read on the plane and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.


Last Hurrah

Well, if there was any doubt what I like most in life, my last few weeks in the US seems to have confirmed it.

Food: Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Cafe, pho from Nha Trang, bo lah lut from Thai Son, sushi from Yasuda, pastrami sandwich from Katz, pie from Artichoke, burger and shake from Shake Shack, brunch from Clinton Street, steak from Del Frisco's, sloppy joe from Millburn Deli, oreo ice cream sandwich from Bandera, deep dish pizza from Borcino's, and my own cooking of 沙茶牛肉, 腐乳通菜, 糖醋排骨

Photography: all the food above, walking on the Brooklyn Bridge, hike in Harriman

Entertainment: In the Height (musical), MET, Knicks game, Jets game, Patriots game, This is It, 2012, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Book of Basketball, SuperFreakenomics, work out, Heroes, Flashforward, and other TV series

Work: slides on how to buy diamonds, slides on the online travel industry in China, and thoughts on marketing a country overseas

That about sums it up through empirical data, whereby I am pressed for time and I can only do the things I like most. Food, photography, and outdoors first, then sports and various senses stimulating entertainment (to different degrees)


Sushi Yasuda

I just had one of the most satisfying meals I had in New York, courtesy of Sushi Yasuda. Thanks to a great recommendation from Rambling and Gambling after I complained of a not-so-perfect omakase meal from Sushi Yasuda (Website) couple months back, TF and I made a reservation at Yasuda's station to get the best. Hey, it's my last day in New York, I'm going all out.

The sushi, real quick:
  • The absolute best: Yasuda calls it the Custard Sushi, which is made of egg and yam. I have never heard of or had a sushi like this one. While it harbored many tastes and textures, it had a hint of sweetness that was the perfect followup to all the fish sushi. Yasuda explained that the Custard Sushi was rarely made in the US and that the ingredients all came from Japan (I think, it was loud). And that it had something to do with the year 1934. My god it was good. Next time I have it, I will write down what he said.
  • Maybe the best I've had: Uni, Tamago, Ebi
  • Great: Tako, Unagi, Otoro, Oyster
  • Good: Toro, Salmon
The station, however, was what amazed me.

Our seats were on the side of the sushi station so we had a good view of all the stations down the bar. Watching Yasuda work his magic is fascinating. He's the only chef with a bucket of seafood in front of him (all the other sushi chefs had their seafood in the bar window). He peers into the box, puts his hand in, picks and chooses, and takes a cut of fish out. With perfect precision and utmost concentration, he slices the fish and examines it for a split second. He puts the fish back into the bucket and starts handling the rice. He grabs a small bit of rice, and massages it into a sushi with both hands deliberately, and then quickly puts the fish on top, applies a small about of sauce, and then places it on your plate with a twist of his wrists.

You have to be there to appreciate it. His hands are lightning quick. They are always on the move, doing something to create the next best piece of sushi. Serving six customers continuously, he remembers every single piece he made. If you ask him a question, he will answer it with great detail on where the fish is from, how it was prepared, and what other ingredient is used.

In fact, he will tell you how to eat it: immediately, within 15 seconds of being served, with no sauce, so as to "have the perfect temperature for the fish and the rice to taste just right". Hence no pictures of food - I do apologize. The man seemed like a semi-sushi-Nazi about everything happening at his station. He wanted our experience to be perfect. I don't want to be yelled at. Can you blame him?

TF told me that in her last visit, Yasuda told her not to eat her sushi fish-side-down and that "nobody eats their pizza upside down". I looked it up and every where I go it says fish-side-down. I, however, did not have the guts to challenge the grand master, placing my sushi fish-side-up like a good little boy.

And "how do/should you eat your sushi?" is now the biggest question in my life. Do you go with popular wisdom with "fish-side-down" or with Yasuda's "rice-side-down"?