A nice way to round out 2015: a VH 潮州米粉, and with chicken this time!
Christmas day late afternoon 潮州米粉, back to pork instead of chicken. Merry Christmas.
Friday the 13th, nice big pieces of kidney, three shrimps instead of the usual two, and chicken! So good.
Here’s another bowl for the VH trophy case. Decided to go with the thin yellow egg noodles this time, reminiscent of ramen. Compared with other bowls in the case, it looks like the noodles sank so that most of the accompaniments are in the soup rather than on top. Inconsequential however because it was still good!
Here’s a photo of Franklin Street in Oakland Chinatown which I took after the meal. Just for fun:
Here’s another bowl for my VH trophy case. This is the first photo here of the “standard” Chow Jew noodle, with chicken breast. When I was eating VH regularly it was usually more chicken than pork, which is why the former is standard to me. I wonder how they decide on which one to use?
Looking at the photo now, I want to eat it again. So delicious! ?
With no income, it comes as no surprise that we’re now trying (yes, trying) to live our lives with a degree of frugality. One of the best ways to save money is to eat in. Not only does eating in have the benefit of being far cheaper than eating out, it is also a healthier option. Vegetables are the cheapest, and a couple of U.S. dollars worth of vegetables can last for days. We find ourselves buying a lot of Chinese melon and squash type vegetables (such as winter melon and Chinese marrow), as well as lots and lots of tomatoes. Along with a tiny amount of meat for flavor, these items make some great soups and stews and can be quite appetizing. That said, a look at my HK Food Prices page will reveal that we still eat our fair share of meat and junk food. It’s something that we enjoy and are willing to reduce, but not completely eliminate from our diets.
Eating Out – Quantity vs. Quality
As with meat and junk food, we know we can’t completely eliminate eating out from our lives. Still, my attitude on eating out has definitely changed. Whereas previously I was less discriminating about where I ate, I now only spend my money at establishments that I know will meet my expectations. There have been times when I’ve ignored my gut feelings about a place and fallen for clever advertising or social media hype or had unrealistic expectations (i.e. expecting Vietnamese restaurants in Hong Kong to be as good as those in the Bay Area) and regretted it. My slogan for these types of places now is “never again!“.
— Jonathan Young (@joyojc) May 18, 2013
Of course, when eating out becomes more of an occasion than a routine, value becomes even more important. I don’t mind paying more for a meal if the experience ends up being more pleasurable and satisfactory. At the same time, I know that paying more doesn’t necessarily increase pleasure and satisfaction. One of the benchmarks I’ve started using to determine how much value I can derive from a place is “love”. You can always tell if the staff of a place puts love into their product. There is a sense of pride that you can feel as well as observe. The cost of the meal has nothing to do with it. Is the wait staff well-trained, attentive, and engaged, or are they aloof and act like they don’t want to be there? Is the food presented with care or haphazardly? Do the ingredients come together harmoniously or are they just thrown together because that’s the latest trend?*
*Because some vendors know that trend-followers tend to be sheep who will do (and pay) anything just to be “cool”
An example of a place that puts love into its product is Vien Huong in Oakland Chinatown. Even though the place looks kind of rundown and dirty from the outside, once you’re inside it’s a different story. You can see it: customers preparing their sauces in anticipation before the meal, happily slurping away their noodles during, and empty bowls, expressions of satisfaction, and guys holding their bellies at the end. Though some may say that the staff seems unfriendly, having been a customer for a few years, I sense that they do care quite a bit about your overall experience. There is a palpable standard level of quality and service there.
In Hong Kong, a couple of examples include Pizza Hut (yes, believe it or not!) and Pokka Grill Specialist (Sha Tin branch). Despite these being chain establishments, I have experienced a consistent level of service and food quality at these places. The staff actually seem like they want to be there, and the food is put together well. At these “loving restaurants” (for lack of a better term), I can be reassured that there’s a good chance I won’t waste one of the few occasions that I’ve decided to eat out.
At this point in our culinary lives, most things that can be had out can be had in. Why would I waste my time and money with a mediocre joint when I can do it better myself and be in the comfort of my own home watching Iron Chef? No, we eat only at places that are truly worth it.
My Mentality on Frugality
There was once a time for me when eating out was more of an occasion than a routine, when being frugal was a regular thing. It was up until about 5 years ago, before I leased my first car. Even after paying for the drive-off, my mentality was that I now had to save even more money, since I had just incurred such a large outlay. But then, a couple of weeks later on a morning which I remember vividly, it occurred to me when I was brushing my teeth (what is it with me and brushing my teeth?!) that I could buy every single item on my Amazon.com wishlist, and do so comfortably. I finished up, went to my computer, logged on, and browsed to my wishlist. I went through each item and clicked “Add to Cart”. Click-click-click-click-click. Scroll. Click-click-click-click-click. Checkout. Disbelief. Excitement. Wow, what a feeling.
Prior to the spree, I hadn’t used Amazon.com for 4 months. I ended up spending a few grand on a bunch of stuff for myself and my family. Afterwards, it was as if the floodgates had opened. In 2009, I averaged an Amazon order every 3 days, and since then, I’ve been pretty comfortable opening my wallet for things without thinking too much about it. So, what happened?
As part of my upbringing, I considered frugality a virtue. As I’ve mentioned before, my father was incredibly frugal. Even now, I have well-off relatives who deny themselves the majority of life’s luxuries. As with many things that we are told to do growing up, we’re often not told why we should do those things. We’re not taught why so that we can think for ourselves whether to do them, we’re just told to do them. A lot of times, fear is used as motivation. I couldn’t tell you then why I had to be frugal, but I was afraid that something terrible might happen if I wasn’t.
The problem with using fear as a primary motivator is that once the fear is overcome, so is the motivation. I bought a bunch of stuff, and the world didn’t end. Like the teenager with strict parents discovering the party scene in college for the first time, I saw what I had been denied (though admittedly in my case I was the one doing the denying) and went wild. Luckily, after the initial uptick in spending activity, I calmed down and my spending stabilized. I was still able to save a good percentage of my income each month, with my only debt being the Acura, but I no longer limited myself just for the sake of limiting myself.
And now, out of necessity, I am back to limiting myself, but these days I have a real reason and a much more balanced approach to personal finance. The question I ask myself is, to what end am I being frugal? Right now, the answer to that question is to maximize the time between now and when we absolutely must work while still having a good time. So, I can still drink Scotch and eat steak, but I can only have one bottle at a time, wait a minimum of 2 months before I can buy another bottle, and I can only buy thin-cut Australian sirloin (except special occasions, of course 😉 ). I can still make large purchases if they are worthwhile. For example, I recently bought my mother not one, but two smartphones (she lost the first one). At first glance, it may seem like a lot of money, but if my past experience is any indication, in a few years time it will be a forgotten blip. And, that’s not even considering the huge amount of benefit gleaned from my mother being able to connect with everyone.
I have found that money isn’t that important to me. To me, value and happiness is more important than money. The smartphone thing is a really good example: yes, it was tough swallowing the loss of the first phone, but my original goal was to give my mom a smartphone so that we could have a real-time platform on which to stay connected with each other now that we are thousands of miles apart. It would have been worse to swallow the loss and move on pretending like nothing ever happened. The amount of value and happiness derived from it is incredibly high and can’t simply be measured in monetary terms (how do you measure a mother’s desire to be near her children?). It’s the same with my time. My time is incredibly valuable and right now I’d much rather have full control of my time than to spend it earning money.
I think sometimes people get carried away with retirement and worrying about the future. These are the best years of our lives, the years when we are young, when we are fully active and in command of our faculties. There is no guarantee that we will make it to retirement (of course, there is a very good chance), but even if there was, there are things that our 35-year-old selves can (and would want to) do that no amount of money can help our 65-year-old selves do. There are certainly perks with every age, but as I have seen in people all around me (including myself), we all inevitably deteriorate as we get older, some faster than others. It’s not up to us. Most old people I’ve met tend to look more behind than ahead. I want full control of my time for at least some portion of my youth while it is still up to me so that when it is my turn to look behind, I’ll like what I see.
JC and I saw this animal when we visited China Camp in the summer of 2011. This JPG has been sitting on my desktop for some time, and since I’m currently cleaning my desktop, I’ll throw it up on here.
Hmm, so, besides having produced this cool pic, what else is special about that period of our lives? Well, it was basically the first vacation I’d taken in a long time, and even then it was sort of a working vacation. I remember interviewing a future coworker on one of my vacation days. In retrospect, even if I hadn’t needed to interview him, it wouldn’t have been a full vacation anyway. Work was always on my mind in one form or another, whether it be what I had to catch up on after I returned, or how I could continue to improve myself in my position. I don’t know if it was because of the nature of that position and how much I got paid, or just me. I just couldn’t let go. I always wanted to impress, wanted to feel important. Hell, I’m feeling stressed now just thinking about it.
But, back to China Camp. It wasn’t too long of a drive, and the weather was perfect. Blue skies, green grass, sparkling water. We brought our tripod and photographed ourselves in various poses. We explored the historical sights and the museum there. I think we might even have caught a glimpse of Frank Quan. Afterwards we had a late lunch at VH. Ah, memories.
My other fond memory from that vacation is playing the video game Catherine. The game had just come out, and it was waiting outside our door when we returned from the beach. Playing it was almost like watching a movie, with JC watching along with me and giving me (unsolicited) suggestions while I tried to solve the puzzles and climb the wall. I would pour myself Maker’s Mark on the rocks before each game so I could truly immerse myself into it. You’ll have to play the game yourself to find out why.
Interesting how one little JPG can bring out so much, isn’t it? I’m surprised myself. I thought I would just upload the pic and delete it from my desktop. Well, I guess that’s the cool thing about having a website. You can do whatever you want with it, whatever comes to mind.
I’ve had some pretty good meals recently and would like to share them here. First up, Vien Huong (aka VH), probably my favorite restaurant in Oakland Chinatown:
My usual standby is Chow Jew Rice Noodle, but I got the Chow Jew Ho Fun (潮州河粉) instead on this occasion. Of course, gotta have the iced coffee as well.
Next, a homemade steak dinner:
My buddy from work took me to Ruth’s Chris about a week before this, so I was starting to crave red meat again. It wasn’t Ruth’s Chris, but it was red meat, and it was satisfying.
And now, Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodle with Beef from Seoul Gomtang in Oakland:
It was so hot that day, I had to get a cold noodle. There was actually ice floating in the soup. Add some hot mustard and vinegar, and what could be cooler and tastier?
Next up, Shredded Pork and Tomato Soup Noodle at Ba Le in Oakland Chinatown:
Tried this place for the first time and it felt pretty authentic. In the middle of Chinatown, a bit rundown, a bit dirty, but delicious food. Pretty authentic indeed. Of course, my rule-of-thumb when in a Vietnamese establishment is to always try and judge them by their iced coffee, and they passed with flying colors.
Finally, some more home cookin’:
My usual routine is to wake up, wash my face, and brush my teeth. Imagine finishing your morning routine and then being greeted with breakfast from your spouse, made with love. It wasn’t dessert, but it sure was sweet.
Life is short. Eat and enjoy the food, and enjoy the company of the people eating it with you.