Exotic (Disgusting) Food -- A matter of perspective?

I had dinner with a group of tourists from Switzerland last night. Many people have heard of exotic foods from China so I took this opportunity to ask my new friends about their food experience in Beijing. To my surprise I learn that they have already seen pig ears, pig stomach, duck feet's, cow heads, pig brains, jellyfish, and many other foods that will give pause to foreigners.

My new friends were understandably disgusted. Even I myself haven't tried some of the foods that they have seen. But it got me thinking. If a Chinese tourist goes to Europe or America what would he think about the food there? (here is a good summary) Perhaps a conversation like this will take place in the future between two Chinese students in Beijing.

Chinese student A: Hey dude, check out what I got from my backpacking trip.
Chinese student B:
What's that...

Chinese student A:
Goose Liver.

Chinese student B: That's cool.
Chinese student A: It's a western delicacy.
Chinese student B: I see...Hey, what's that other thing?
Chinese student A: This is deer testicle.
Chinese student B: Ahh. I didn't know you're into these things...
Chinese student A: It's a western exotic food, jackass.
Chinese student B: and what's that?
Chinese student A: Bull balls.
Chinese student B: They actually let you into the border with this stuff? (maybe I should talk to the fraternity brothers about this...)
Chinese student A: Check this out. This is called blue cheese. The Europeans like to leave it outside the fridge because it needs to be alive.
Chinese student B: Holy crap! What's that smell? Your socks?
Chinese student A: It's suppose to be alive. Alive!
Chinese student B: Get that out of the house right now. This smell is lethal!

Some Chinese tourists will be open minded, but some would not be so open minded. Tourism is one of the best ways for two countries to understand each other at a direct, human level. There will be misunderstandings during the first visit, but I'm sure if these Chinese students travel to America few more times they would understand that some of these exotic foods are just not eaten by majority of the population, and might even come to enjoy some of them.

Next year after Beijing Olympics you will hear stories about strange Chinese foods from people who just come back from the game. You will see pictures of pig ears on Flickr or watch dangerous Chinese highway driving on YouTube. It's natural to highlight what is different when visiting a new country. Just hope that it will only be the first of many visits by both sides.

Chinese Poetry and Chinese Language

My late grandmother, who was an educator in Hong Kong and China, used to write a poem for each of her new born grandchild. This is the one she wrote for me. 王观 was the original author.


Poetry can be very concise, and Chinese poetry's are especially so. For example, below is the original Chinese poem for Mulan, which Disney made into a movie.
















The beauty (or challenge, depends on who you ask) is that individual character in Chinese has limited meaning. A chinese character is similar to a letter in english. The letter "t" has limited meaning by itself. It's the combinations of characters where ideas are formed. For example, the letters "t", "e", and "a" individually aren't too useful, but the combination "tea" has a much more tangible definition. The Chinese language has more than 85,000 characters, which in theory allows it to create more combinations than the 26 letter alphabet system. This is perfect for peotry where you want to describe a concept with less words.

Here is the original Mulan poem side by side with the english translation. Notice how the english version uses many more letters than of Chinese characters. Also Chinese characters are much more complex than english letters. Something must give if you want to cram 85,000 possible combination of symbols into the same square box.

Dentist Tools

Every time when I think that my teeth is clean my dentist will clean out all the plaque I don't realize. I'm excited that now I have my own dental mirror I can be more "proactive" in my brushing.

Miniature Golf

Sometimes I wonder why even the most complicated miniature golf setup in theory all you have to do is hit a straight line. Then I realize how hard it is to hit a perfect straight line.

The Dollar and the Pound

Just as I'm preparing my trip to Britain the US Dollar fell to a 26-year low against the pound. At the same time the Bank of England reported a 3.1% inflation (1% higher than the target 2%). That means my dollar can buy less pounds, and my pounds can buy less fish and chips. Is this a gentlemanly way to treat your guest?

How much is 1.5 hours worth to you?

I was trying to buy a ticket to Boston today and I could either take the 7AM flight and arrive at 7:53PM or take the 8:25AM flight and still arrive at 7:53PM but at an extra $10 cost. This is equivalent to 85 minutes for $10 or $7.06 an hour compensation for being in the airport. How much would you need to get paid to spend an hour in the airport?

Developments in Hong Kong -- 10 Years After Reunification with China

A decade after reunification with China, perhaps now is a good time to take a look back. In the past 10 years, Hong Kong has survived the busting of a bubble, the 1997 Asia financial crisis, a US recession, SARS, and now finally on the road to recovery again (Here is a graph that shows how dramatic the flutuations were). To put it mildly, it was an eventful decade. It also highlights the adaptability of the Hong Kong people. I was in the city this month, and here are 12 visible developments in HK.

The emphasis of the list are things that are observable by everyday local Hong Kong residents. This list is not ordered in any particular way. There're 12 items here because that's how many I found. So what you're seeing is completely raw and without any filtering on my part. You will see from the smallest streetside developments to broader social change. So without further delay:

  1. Octopus Card

    Launched in 1997, the Octopus Card is a rechargeable contactless smart card that is accepted at all major transportations, convience stores, vending machines, and fastfood chains. It is used by 95% of the local population. You can even link your bank account to your Octopus Card for automatic recharge. This essentially make Hong Kong the closest cashless society in the world today. It is entirely possible to live off your Octopus Card.

    Based on my highly non-scientific oberservation, the average Octopus Card maintains a balance of rougly 70-80HKD (10USD). I also estimate that the Octopus Card has speedup lines in bus stops by 2x.

  2. Environmental Awareness
  3. It is well known that pollution in Hong Kong has gotten worse (if you're reading the presentation, pages 18, 35, and 47 are particularly chilling). The good news is that there has been increase in environment and conservation awareness. Hong Kong has also converted all taxis and many mini-buses to liquefied petroleum gas (propane).

  4. Herbal Tea
  5. I first discovered these in Japan, and realized the potential of this product. In fact, Hong Kong has even more veriety of tea than in Japan. There're all kinds of tea that is mixed with different traditional Chinese herbs.

    The last picture is from Macao. It shows that this product is already expanding.

  6. HKID
  7. The new Hong Kong Identity Card is state of the art. The most impressive aspect is that it allows quicker entry to Macao and mainland China. You insert the HKID card into a machine at the terminal, and a gate would open to let you enter. The whole process is completely self-served and takes about 10 seconds.

  8. MTR
  9. MTR is a partly government owned, pulic subway company in Hong Kong (which also has over 50% ownership of the company that operates Octopus Card). Other than more lines were added to MTR in the past 10 years, two visible changes are 1) safety glass that separates the track from the platform, and 2) TV screens with advertisements on the track replacing bill-boards.

  10. Buses
  11. All buses are now air conditioned with TV screens (advertisements included).

  12. International Finance Centre
  13. IFC is the latest tallest building in Hong Kong, but like many things in Hong Kong this is just temperary. The new Union Square will be the next tallest in 2010.

  14. Moving Street Markets Off the Street
  15. The government has also moved a lot of street markets and food cart vendors off the streets into real shops. People still refer to them as "Street Markets" though.

  16. Mobile Phones
  17. Hong Kong is a place with more mobile phones than people. Reason is that a lot of people have more than one cellphone, either to get the latest model or one for going to mainland China. You can also send SMS in Chinese, which is actually not too hard to do.

  18. Eletronic Coupon Machines
  19. I found these coupon machines in a grocery store. You can swipe your club card and it will print out today's coupons for you.

  20. Street Light Machines
  21. All street lights are converted into touch based machines instead of the old mechanical button.

  22. Integration with Mainland China
  23. Hong Kong now regularly broadcast TV programs in mandarin. Everyday hundreds of people from mainland China come to Hong Kong either on tour or on business. Likewise, many people in Hong Kong travel to China each day. There's also regular ferry going between Hong Kong and many other cities in southern China. It's clear that integration is happening at many levels.


Japan -- A travel guide for the common people.

I was in Japan for the first time ever over New Year. Now I don't speak Japanese. I've also heard stories about how expensive Japan is. So if you're in a similar situation here are somethings that might be useful to you.
  • The good news is that although people in Japan don't speak English they can read English fairly well. There was this one time we were in a restaurant and we wanted to order beef. I first tried drawing (with no luck), then writing the word 'beef' (with some success). They finally understand us when I wrote the word 'cow'. Unfortunately, after going through all that they told us that they don't serve beef... The lesson is that English words are okay, but no pictionary. (Note: You can also try writing in Chinese.)
  • A lot of restaurants have plastic food displays outside. Another strategy that I discovered is to take a picture before going inside, and then point at the dish on my camera's LCD screen when ordering food. Basically I can make my own picture menu.

  • Even if the above two strategies don't work, there's still one way. In Japan there's vending machine in almost every block of every street. You can find a lot of them in Tokyo, and also sometimes in the middle of nowhere. The vending machines sell everything. I saw vending machines that sell hot coffee, beer, cigarettes, and even ramen.

  • As for saving money, get a JR Pass. You get unlimited rides on the JR with this pass. I believe you can order one before you land in Japan.

  • The second good news is that Japan isn't that expensive anymore. Due to long period of deflation the prices in Japan has come down to within range of other major international cities. That is not to say that you can't spend a lot of money in Tokyo because you can still do that. (Click on the picture to find out how much this noodle costs me.)

Here are some things that you can do on a low budget,

My Japan Pictures:

Picture album from Linus (not only is he much better at taking pictures than me, he also speaks some Japanese and brought a phrase book with him, which saved us many times):

Tony Chang blogs about his Japan experience:
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