Category Archives: Personal

NYC’s latest fashion statement: coconut chic

I couldn’t help but be humored by the front page feature on today’s NY Times website about the city’s latest food fashion trend: fresh coconuts.  Move aside Gucci and Prada, looks like the fashion capital has discovered a new summer accessory… and it tastes sublime, too.

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“Like banh mi sandwiches and sriracha chili sauce, the young coconut and its juice is the latest formerly humble food to be discovered by New York City’s style set, and elevated — if not quite to the level of a status symbol — at least to that of a prized accessory.”  Reminiscent of Thai beach culture, coconuts have become the trendy thing to sip on while out walking around the city.

Growing up in Singapore, we had a coconut tree in our backyard and every other week or so my dad would bring out the ladder and butcher knife to hack open fresh coconuts for me and my brother.  Now, according to the NY Times’ Fashion & Style, fresh coconuts, sold for $2 to $4, are all the rage, “sipped tiki-style by someone young and fashionable, as they have been all summer.”  Hilarious.

Suzie

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Poking my way to Labor Day relaxation with acupuncture

So I had my first-ever acupuncture appointment today, and for someone who’s afraid of needles I have to say it was pretty cool. Randy Lam, a jolly man of 72, assured me that he’d been practicing for decades and that he would get my stiff shoulders relaxed. . . by sticking pins in my legs.

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Lying face up on the exam bed, Randy stuck three super-fine needles in each of my lower legs, at acupuncture points along the body’s meridian. I could barely feel the needles, so no biggie, right?

But then he “activates” each needle by turning it, and I feel an uncomfortable, deep pressure in at each point. Turning each needle over and over, the pressure in my legs increase to an almost unbearable intensity. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I feel extremely hot and break out in a sweat, my hands clammy and little beads of perspiration on my face. I ask Randy why I’m so hot–he says he’s activated my circulation. . . weird! I start breathing deeply as I feel a low-electric buzz in my brain–the only way I can describe it is that it feels like gentle pins-and-needles in your noggin. Laying there in “meditation,” I massage my right shoulder and, to my surprise, one of the needles in my left leg starts tingling!

After a couple more needles in my hands and feet, my session is over and I feel surprisingly relaxed, the soreness in my legs’ pressure points still lingering. My muscles feel loose. My brain feels calm. . .

Thanks, Randy–Labor Day weekend, here I come.

Suzie

Jobless in US find new life in China: An interview with my brother in Beijing

Looks like my younger brother, Duncan, isn’t the only one who found a job in China after being laid off in the US.  My dad recently forwarded me a great NY Times article about young professionals like my bro who, jobless here, have moved to China and found not just employment but an often accelerated career path.

Still, it’s not necessarily an easy journey, as my brother will attest.  To get his perspective on the experience, I interviewed him over Skype.  He gave some really great advice (and pictures!)… so read on!

Where are you right now?  How long have you been there?
I’m in Beijing.  I’m living in An Ding Men, it’s pretty central in Beijing.  I arrived June 1st, so it’s just over two months.

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What went into your decision to go to China?
I was working in the US for an engineering consulting company, ITG, as a contractor.  They were going to give me a full time position and promotion to manage the company’s relationship with Caterpillar.  Then the economy tanked.  They didn’t extend my contract.  My visa was going to end.  I did job searches, but I couldn’t find anything.  It was complicated because I needed a company to sponsor me.

So, I applied to AbroadChina, which is specifically for US newly grads.  They have summer programs, but they also have a young professionals program, and also an MBA program.  The main reason why I applied through them was because I tried searching on my own on online search sites, and got one or two replies, but for most of them my Chinese proficiency wasn’t good enough.  Abroad China has connections with companies who understand that the interns don’t have Chinese proficiency, but are willing to learn.

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How much did that cost?  Was it worth it?
It cost about US$2,600.  It was worth it, I wouldn’t have found the paid internship on my own.  They made the transition easier–they did my visa, they found an apartment for me, they set up my bank account in China.  I would have struggled doing it, but having them made the transition easier.  For the internship I got, I’m lucky, because I would pursue this industry seriously.  I’m really interested in this industry.

Did you know Mandarin when you went there?  How about now?
I had a private teacher through high school for four years, but my Chinese was pretty broke [laughs].  I took one year of Chinese in college, but when I got here, my Chinese was pretty broke.

I wanted to take Chinese classes here, too, but my work schedule is pretty busy.  But the good thing is… some of my coworkers were really enthusiastic about meeting up with me for lunch and dinner, so I really built those relationships and got conversation partners through them.  I just use Rosetta Stone now because I don’t have time for formal classes.  My Chinese is still pretty bad, but I can get around now.

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What company do you work for over there?
adSage is the company that hired me for the paid internship.

I heard you got a promotion already.  How did that happen?
I’m now working for MeshTop, another division of the parent company, SagesGroup.   Another Project Manager heard that I was from the US and spoke English well, and he wanted me to review his software, the MeshTop software.  I was reading blogs, keeping up with the industry, so along with my English revisions, I gave critiques on functionality.  The project manager was impressed with my suggestions and asked me to be their Social Media Marketing Manager and I’ll start working at his office next week.

Is it true, like the NY Times article said, that working in China allowed you to “skip a rung or two on the career ladder?”
The ladder is a lot flatter in China.  I went from Intern to Search Marketing Analyst, to Social Media Marketing Manager, and now, to Public Relations and Marketing Manager.  I’m technically still an intern, but the responsibilities have exponentially increased.

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What does the job market in Beijing look like right now, from your perspective?
It seems good.  I don’t have any data to back up that statement, but my apartment mate, Alex, works for a Swiss-French law firm and told me they’ve hired one person per month.  They’ve seen exponential growth, so their partner is thinking of opening branches in Hong Kong and Shanghai.  But that’s just one law firm.

I heard Shanghai is spending a lot for the Expo, revamping the whole city.  Businesses and the government are spending money, it seems.

But it’s already gotten a lot harder for foreign expats, because there’s just so many of us now.  Being a foreigner isn’t as a big of a selling point as it used to be.  It’s still hard.

So what’s Beijing like?
It’s crazy.  People speak weird.  The “Bei Jing wer” is so weird [laughs].  It’s the slang they use.  It’s confusing.

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What’s the hardest thing to get used to?
I think the hardest thing was ordering food.  I didn’t know how to order anything all for the first month.  I felt so helpless.  I had to go to places like McDonalds. Each mealtime I was like, “Dangit, now I have to find somewhere.”  It was not a fun time.  At work it was fine because my coworkers were there.  But on weekends it was hard—I had to go to places with pictures or numbers [laughs].  And those places charge like 25 kuai (US$3.65) a meal, which isn’t a lot in US standards, but the places I could go to now, its like 10 kuai (US$1.50) a meal.  I also had some stomach problems, not sure if it was the water or what, but I’ve lost like five pounds.

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Any advice for people in the US who are unemployed and thinking of making the jump to the fobby motherland?
There are opportunities here. I think the biggest advice is to not get bubbled off into expat communities.  There’s a huge expat community.   I would have missed out on a lot of friendships with local people that are long-lasting.  The expat community is so transient, people come people go.  Maybe that’s fine for people who just come here to get their feet wet, but in my case, I’m glad I got connected to the local friends I have here.

To read more on Duncan’s experience in China, check out his blog on Social Media and SEO in Beijing.  Thanks, Dunks!

Suzie

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Today marks 44 years of independence for Singapore, the country where we three fobs–Emily, Amy, and I–grew up.  27,000 people attended the National Day celebration at Marina Bay, and at 8:22pm, people all around Singapore stood still and recited the national pledge.

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As a kid, I remember watching all those awesome/cheesy national song sing-a-longs on TV, and Emily will attest to recording each year’s National Day Parade on VHS.  Deep down, there’s only one place we really mean when we say we’re “going home.”

Majulah Singapura!

Suzie

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Indian weddings reveal sari-loving fob within

7.19.09 002I love dressing up, particularly when it involves 9-yards of gorgeous sari fabric, bindis and lots of bangles.  Last weekend I attended my friend’s cousin’s wedding, and I’m now convinced that nothing delights (or perhaps amuses) Indian people more than seeing a random Chinese girl dressed in a sari.  My love for all things Indian stems from my growing up in Singapore, where Indians make up the island’s third largest ethnic group and where the president is Indian. Either that or I was Indian in my past life…

Suzie

P.S. Check out my article on cross-cultural weddings, here!

Salty watermelon Kit Kats satisfy fob’s sweet tooth

Growing up, my parents always served watermelon with tiny dish of salt on the side.  At the time, this practice boggled me–why in the world would you want to put salt on something that was meant to be sweet?   Still, I mustered the courage to test this myself, and, to my surprise, found that a sprinkle of salt made the watermelon sweeter.

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A few skeptical friends have dismissed my “salt on watermelon” habit as just another one of my weird eating rituals.  Well, I recently came across a bag of Watermelon and Salt Kit Kats at my local Japanese market.  Looks like this trend seems to be popular enough to be incorporated into Kit Kat flavors!

While I don’t completely understand the science behind how salt makes watermelon sweeter, I’ve noticed it’s a common practice in South East Asian countries to serve salt with tropical fruits, such as sprinkling salt on pineapple, or salty/sour plum powder on guava.

Next time you eat watermelon, try the salt sweetener trick!

Amy

Bourdain hails Singapore hawker centers foodie’s heaven

“If you love food, this might be the best place on earth,” celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain says of Singapore.  Bourdain, who has traveled to Singapore seven times, is a huge fan of hawker centers, or open-air food courts, which were the training ground for my foodie palate.

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The hardest part about eating at hawker centers?  The abundance of choice.  Still, my favorite dish has to be Hokkien Mee, a delicious stir-fry of noodles, prawns, squid and pork.  And, as with everything I eat, I need a good helping of hot sauce.  Other favorites include the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice, Malaysian Nasi Lemak, spicy BBQ sambal stingray (my inquiries on where to buy stingray here in the US didn’t go over so well) and carrot cake (the Chinese pan-fried version made of white radish).  So good!

Strangely, Singaporean cuisine hasn’t generated the popularity and hype in the US that other Asian cuisines–like Japanese, Vietnamese, and even Burmese–have.  Looks to me like there’s a huge opportunity for the next hot food trend: America’s first Singaporean hawker center!

Check out this awesome clip from Bourdain’s Travel Channel show, “No Reservations,” featuring my hometown’s foodie hotspot.

Suzie