Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

TAP: The Sweets

I must confess that I have never liked traditional Chinese desserts.  Where is the chocolate?

While americanized chinese restaurants usually distribute oranges and fortune cookies (a US invention) at the end of your greasy meal, the traditional chinese desserts are in the form of a hot pudding or hot sweet soup.  I tend to think of them in two categories.

1) Hot Puddings.  These are made from one core ingredient, e.g. black sesame, red beans, mung beans, walnut, almonds…  and lots of sugar.  The ingredients are grounded then brewed for hours until they dissolve into a thick paste – the result is a condensed flavored hot sweet pudding.  My favorite of this list is the walnut pudding although it’s really difficult to find in the US.  Next favorite is the mung bean (green bean) one.  

BlacksesameSoup.jpg   Redbeansoupdessert.jpg

2) Hot Soups.  These generally have a clear base, with multiple ingredients (herbs, flowers, fruits, fungus and what not) that will either help generate great skin, or provide strength, or prevent aging.  Or a combination of the above.  The taste is generally quite mild and it is somewhat soothing to consume at the end of a big meal.  My favorite is papaya with clear fungus.  It is quite tasty.  I try to avoid anything with either bird’s saliva or frogs ovaries or anything else I do not normally consume… 


 Where to get in NYC:  This is not easy to find.  Sweet and Tart used to carry it, although they closed down their Mott Street location a few years back.  Maybe can try checking out their Flushing location.  Otherwise, the best bet is probably XO Kitchen and Bar (Hester street).


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I came across this post by Michael Pettis on his analysis on why he thinks Chinese saves much more than the US.   There are multiple reasons listed, most of which relates to policies and how Chinese do not have a safety net, how the credit system is not in place yet. 

I think the real question is: why are Americans saving so little, and the Chinese saving so much? 

In my mind, there’s one simple answer.  Americans have formed the habit of spending their future projected earnings, and the Chinese have formed the habit of insuring their future with current and past earnings.   

Digging a layer deeper, Americans are confident that good and better days, will come while the Chinese worry that good days will not last.   

I agree with Pettis that the reason is not purely “cultural” but largely sociological.

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Running in circles

The Amazing Race is my favorite reality TV show.  The previous couple of seasons weren’t as interesting… esp. when they did the US special and the family special, but this season is coming back in full force.  I love watching the contestants scramble to perform ridiculous tasks in foreign countries! 

Yesterday’s espisode was based on Beijing.  I wish they had better tasks then eating scorpians and painting Beijing opera faces…  how about trying to get on the subway during rush hours? 

During one part of the race, the contestants needed to find a clue box in a nearby location.  They have the name of the place in pinyin, but no directions.  So they all asked the locals for help, which seemed to be a logical idea (and their only option actually).  What happens next is typical in China – people start pointing them in all sorts of directions and they ended up running in circles. 

What I can’t quite figure out is: how can people have such different answers to one seemingly straightforward question?  Did they not know the answer to start with?  Or, they think they know but they are wrong?  Or, perhaps the question was not clear?

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Regional superiorities

I recently discovered Jenny Zhu’s blog which I find very interesting.  Jenny is the face/voice of Chinesepod, the language 2.0 company.  I was reading her post on “Language Snobs and Regional Superiority” and thought it brought up a few interesting observations.

Beijing and Shanghai are two of the proudest cities in China.  It is not unlike other major cities like New York or Hong Kong where being a native is considered a privilege.  While the official language in China is Putongua, native Chinese can tell where someone is from based on their accents.  The implications of this is huge – it is much harder for someone from an “inferior” province to make it in Beijing/Shanghai since they’re generally looked down upon.  In addition, Jenny pointed out a practical reason for discrimating against non-locals in business dealings – it is more difficult to trust someone who does not have local ties.   In other words, it is easier to fraud a stranger than a friend.

There is an excellent film, “Beijing Bicycle“, which touches on how a migrant teenage boy struggles to make it in Beijing.  It does a great job depicting the challenges he faces as an outsider.

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What would you do with a Billion USD in China?   I suppose it is not much different from what one does with a Billion dollar in the US – making the next 10 Billions I suppose…

There are many things fascinating about China today, one of which is the incredible speed in which individuals accumulate wealth.  To date, there are 100+ known billionaires in China, just behind the US; almost all of whom got instanteously rich through IPOs of their family businesses.  When you combine the economic opportunities of an emerging country with a 21st century financial system, you have one explosive wealth creation machine. 

Here is the list of the richest known billionaires in China.  The stories behind this new wealth is equally fascinating.  Here’s one example of one of these transformational stories. 

#3 Xu Rongmao (许荣茂)

“Xu grew up in Fujian Province, the oldest of the eight children. After graduating from high school during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, he was sent to the countryside to work as a barefoot doctor. In the 1970s, he emigrated to Hong Kong and worked as a textile worker.

In 1988, he claimed to invest RMB$1.2 million in a knitting factory in his hometown, but he intended to build a hotel instead, although investments in private hotels were forbidden at that time. However, as soon as the construction was completed, the government policy was changed to allow private owners to have their hotels. Then Xu became the owner of the first private three-star hotel in China. He then started to invest into developing residential complexes and resorts in Fujian.

In the 1990s, he pushed his real estate business into Beijing and Shanghai just before housing prices rose up.

In the 2000s, he expanded his business by acquiring listed companies and changing their names. They are Shimao Holdings (listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange) and Shimao International (previously listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange), while the latter was privatized by him in 2007. [2]His third company, Shimao Property, was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2006.”

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My impression of Beijing changes every time I visit.   Compared to my last trip in Sept 08 (right after the Olympics), I noticed the following changes, both big and small.  Of course, the entire world has also shifted quite a bit over the past 6 months or so.

  • Traffic is a bit worse than during the Olympic period.  Apparently they have moved from a “driving every other day”  system to a “driving 4 out of 5 days” system.  All traffic controls will be off in April, so perhaps back to normal.
  • Beijing looks more weathly across the board.  6 months ago, I noticed young people being particularly wealthy (or at least in their display of wealth).  This time around, I would say that an average Beijinger does not look much different than someone from any other major cities.
  • Beijingers look more content, for people up to say, 50 or 60 years old.  I used to be able to see the worries off people’s faces from everyday toll.  Not so much this time around.
  • Cab drivers have become less talkative; minding their own business
  • Lastly, at least among the educated elite there, there seem to be an acceptance that some form of social or political unrest will come over the next decade or so.

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I am half-way through Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, a new book by Leslie Chang.  Leslie was a Beijing correspondent for the WSJ.   It came recommended by a colleague who told me that this book made him view China differently than before – not only in regards to factory workers, but also our Chinese business partners.

It is difficult for me to evaluate a book like this.  On one hand, it does describe vividly the thinking of these young factory girls.  It also gives us a sense of how rough and harsh it is to surive and prosper in an ultra-competitive environment.  Yet, at the same time, there is a sense of hope – everything is achievable if you work hard enough.  Leslie provides a lot of interesting tidbits, thought-provoking stories.  It is a glimpse into the lives of Chinese migrant female workers – and they do live interesting lives.

My reservations is that this book is based on a very small number of anecdotal information.  The author traces the lives of several girls in Dongguan, and relies on voluntary information provided by those girls.  The book, thus should not be read as a sociological study of the greater Chinese population.

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