Tag Archives: New York Times

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.


“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.



Real Chinese food hidden in “secret menus”

Growing up, my dad would joke about how gwai lo (a somewhat derogatory Cantonese term for foreigners that translates roughly to “foreign devils”)  usually love to order dishes like Chop Suey when they go to Chinese restaurants.  Chop Suey, my dad explained, translates roughly to “random bits and pieces” in Cantonese or a hodgepodge dish of leftovers.

Real Chinese food isn’t always found on the menus. Rather, it’s in an insider’s menu, mutually understood by Chinese patrons, and sometimes scrawled in Chinese characters and stuck on the walls at Chinese restaurants. Still, some non-Chinese admittedly long for access to this “secret menu”, as I read recently on NY Times’ Freakonomics Blog.  The bloggers write:

Jason Kuznicky at Positive Liberty offers some hypotheses as to why Chinese restaurants have “secret menus” that only Chinese people seem to know about. His top theory: American are used to Americanized Chinese food and wouldn’t like the real stuff, so Chinese restaurants continue serving the authentic food only to their Chinese customers.

I would have to agree with Kuznicky’s theory, but after watching Chef Chris Chung introduce Anthony Bourdain to the secret menu on No Reservations, I got to thinking.  Maybe Chinese restaurateurs should open up their secret menus–who knows, perhaps the westerners want the real stuff too?


(Thanks bwong for the link!)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!