My Love Affair and Infidelity with Sriracha

So perhaps that was a bit suggestive of a title, a title that's not suitable for audiences accustomed to only the Disney Channel and, at the most, fleeting glimpses of Miley Cyrus at the Nickelodeon Award (Pole) Show, but I digress.Add Image
Rooster Sauce aka "Cock Sauce" aka Sriracha is a staple of my diet and in many Asian cuisines.

Whether you love this all over your pho or as a simple steak marinade, Rooster Sauce is a favorite among many of my friends and there's probably a bottle in your refrigerator. If not, I suspect you might find some in your next door neighbor's fridge.

The above picture is what I call a snapshot of heaven. I ran into this at a late night WinCo shopping expedition for Arizona Iced Tea, but to my amazement came upon a glowing shelf of Sriracha Sauce. I could use the age old simile, "It's like I died and went to heaven," but I can sense your eyes are already glazing over.

Anyway, if you don't know me already, one thing you should know is that I am passionate about the following things:
  1. Hello Kitty
  2. Colin Farrell and Gerard Butler
  3. Sriracha Sauce
In my kitchen, I have 2 huge bottles safely stocked up for any food related emergencies (e.g. bland food, last minute BBQs). I easily add Sriracha to soups, sauces and a range of dishes from fried rice to Italian marinara pasta. In an instant, I can add a brilliant, spicy concoction that, without fail, boosts the happiness level of my taste buds to new levels of mouthwatering gourmand bliss.

If you can't already tell, I really love Sriracha.

But, alas, my love affair with the iconic rooster-emblazoned sauce tragically ended on a recent trip to Guangzhou.

That's where I cheated on Rooster Sauce...with another sauce.

On a sunny day in Guangzhou, I casually walked the streets of Beijing Road (北京路). My mom, aunts and I dropped by a small noodle shop for a quick bowl of soup noodles.

There, I fell madly in love with this:

With a mental predisposition that nothing can beat Sriracha, trying a new sauce is like replacing your favorite pair of jeans with a pair your grandma got you for Christmas. Or even worse, a pair of jeans given to you by a grandma who hasn't seen you in 20 years.

But on the whim of an adventurous aunt, I daringly picked up the bottle of this unknown sauce and squirted it into my noodles.

Love, as they say, comes when you least expect it.

What came next as I began to eat my wonton beef brisket soup noodles (馄饨 牛腩汤面) can only be described as a standing ovation given by a packed house of ecstatic, Ecstasy-infused ravers who all just won the lottery and received the news that they would be given a free trip to Ibiza. In a five star hotel. With Armin van Buuren as their personal DJ. That, in a nutshell, was how my mouth felt.

In a hunt to find this sauce which we all referred to as the "Big Tree brand hot sauce," we set out on a mission to bring back a bottle to the United States. We were all madly in love with Sriracha's new found rival.

Sad to say that we had a tough time finding this in the supermarkets in Guangzhou. To make matters worse, I found this hot sauce on the last leg of our trip with only a few days before we would start heading back home.

Time was ticking.

After several attempts at larger grocery chains and even smaller grocery stores all around Beijing Road (which was where our hotel was situated), I failed to find my new love affair.

There's a saying that goes something along the lines of this: "absence makes the heart grow stronger." It's been almost three months since I've been back from my trip and every time I guiltily reach for my Rooster Sauce, I think of the brief encounter I had with the Big Tree brand hot sauce and fondly reminisce.

Although Sriracha still has its own spot in my refrigerator, I still long for the spicy sweet sensation of the hot sauce I can only seem to find a half a world away.

For now and until I can locate this beloved bottle, my search for the Big Tree brand hot sauce continues.


Geese in the Trunk

It's not often when you have two live geese squawking in the back of the trunk. But that was the case yesterday, along with two live hens stuffed in a box.

The main two reasons why we're in Taishan (台山) is to pay respects to my great grandparents and to see where my parents and grandparents used to live. Taishan is a smaller city about an hour-and-a-half from Guangzhou (广州). Both cities are in Southern China with semi-tropical weather with humid heat and lots of sun. If you didn't know, humidity almost always guarantees mosquitos and other nasty critters.

Yesterday's escapade included traveling to a Eastbound city an hour-and-a-half away from Taishan. My aunt's friend's relatives lived in the town and they wanted to drop off some red envelopes and other goods. The town they lived in was small, crumbling and situated on a dusty dirt road. The family lived in a small, gray-brick cottage with acres of farm land for rice. Two dogs, ridden with fleas, barked alongside them.

After lots of greetings and good wishes, the family came to the car with two live geese in a bag and three hens stuffed in a box. Unfortunately, pictures are on my mom's camera. I'll upload them as soon as possible.

Although geese are pretty cute, they smell horrible, squawk constantly and almost flew out of the bag. Sitting in the back was in no way fun, especially on an hour-and-a-half long trip. The geese squawked so loud and flapped their wings constantly. My mom, aunt and I ducked for cover on several occasions.

Re-enactment of the car trip back to Taishan:
Everyone: Silence.
Goose: "SQUAWK!!!" *Violently flaps wings.
Me, Aunt, Mom: "AH!" *Screamed, ducked & covered head with hands.

Sad to say, the geese are no more as of lunchtime today.

As a smaller town, there isn't much to do in Taishan. Although it's far more developed than it used to be, it's an older town known for its rich history. Many Chinese immigrants living in the U.S. are from the Taishan region. Many people here speak Cantonese (广东话), but most speak a local dialect called Taishan (台山话). It's more "country" sounding with more vocal speech patterns.

For example, the Mandarin (普通话) phrase for "Do you know?" is "你知道吗?" Romanized, it sounds like "Ni zhi dao ma?" In Cantonese, it's pronounced "Nay/lay jee mjee dou ah?" In Toisan (or Taishan), it's shortened to "ei m-ei tu ah?"

Anyway, we're staying in a hotel called the Taishan Phoenix Hotel (台山凤凰酒店). It's beautiful and reminiscent of the Venetian in Las Vegas with a slightly exotic feel.

The hotel also owns housing on its property. They sell for $3-600,000 a piece. They come packaged with a minimum of 3 rooms, 1 living room and 1 garage. The biggest features 6 rooms, 2 living rooms and a 2-car garage with ample yard space.

View of our hotel pool from my balcony.

Second view of the pool from our balcony.

It's a little boring in Taishan since my mom and her relatives are just seeing their old classmates. Not as much shopping as some of the bigger cities we've been to so far on this trip (e.g. Shanghai, Guangzhou).

I'll update with more pictures as soon as I get the Olympus from my mom.


Visual Update

Because it's almost 3 a.m. and I'm too tired to write about everything.

Here are a couple of pictures from Hangzhou (杭州) and Shanghai (上海).

Will update tomorrow when I get back to the hotel.


China Oddities and Facts 101

Some musings/oddities randomly taken throughout my trip.

True: China isn't allowing Mexicans into the country.
  • With all the swine flu swirling around Mexico, China decided that, for the time being, they won't let anyone from Mexico come into the country.

50% False: Chinese citizens live in dire conditions.
  • Having a toilet is a luxury. People living in China are used to "squat toilets," however many establishments feature Western-style toilets.

    The thing is, everyone's used to it. It's nothing to be sympathetic about, as this is just a way of life here.

  • Also, a dryer is an ultimate luxury. Many people choose to hang their clothes outside of their window. Although many may not be able to afford one, having a dryer isn't practical in Chinese cities. Buildings in China are built high up which means the majority of buildings aren't houses, but apartments. Apartments have limited space. Dryers take up space and use an enormous amount of electricity to operate.

  • For the most part, people go about their daily lives like any of us normally do. Generally speaking, many don't mind coming to the U.S. to earn a higher wage, but many are also very well off. We're in Hangzhou for the night, one of the richest cities in China. Huge houses with a huge eight-lane main street featuring Cartier, Valentino and other big name brands. People who live and work in Shanghai end up retiring in this city.
True: China blocks certain sites.
  • Speaking to one of our earlier tour guides in Beijing, she said that everyone knows the government blocks certain sites (e.g. YouTube), but many turn the other cheek. However, I was surprised to learn she had never heard of YouTube.

False: You can't see the sky in China because of the pollution.
  • This is true only Beijing. A common misconception is that people drive too many cars here, causing excessive amounts of pollution. Truth is, everyone rides bicycles, mopeds and busses if possible. North of Beijing are long, extremely high mountains. Pollution from cities all over China (due to lack of emissions regulations) drift north to Beijing. The mountains block rain clouds from forming in Beijing (lots of dry desert heat) and also block pollution from moving away from the city. Many of the images you see of China on TV are in Beijing, giving it an exagerrated sense of how the pollution really is.

  • While in Beijing, I blew my nose after a long day in the city. It was the first time I ever had something black in my snot.

  • Green trees, blue skies and acres and acres of trees (more than Seattle!) grow in Southern cities like Suzhou, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Rain clears out smog and rain helps trees grow. These cities are sometimes even bluer than Seattle.

True: Traffic in China is crazy.
  • So far no accidents, but if you want to go, you go. Just make sure you quadruple check blind spots because pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds, busses, taxis, huge tour buses and cars will easily cut you off without signaling, easily cross into oncoming traffic and easily pull thousands of illegal traffic violations. If you can drive in China, you can drive anywhere else. You have to be aggressive, otherwise you won't make it through driver's ed here.

  • I rode in the front seat of a taxi cab today. I counted 23 possible accidents in a 10-minute car ride.

  • I saw a Ford Mondeo as a cop car here in Huangzhou.
  • I saw a few fake Lexuses in each city.
  • The most popular car models in Beijing are VW Jettas and Audi A4s.
  • I used a squat toilet for the first time at the Great Wall.
  • The steps in the Great Wall are 2/3 the length of my calves.
  • There's a portion of the Great Wall where you can buy a lock, engrave your and your lover's initials and tie it to a chain on the wall with a red string. Many believe that this will bring longevity and good luck to your relationship.
  • SWAT is "Elite Force." They were practicing in the park in Suzhou.
  • Huangzhou people don't say "喝茶" (Pinyin: he1 cha3) or "drink tea." They "吃茶" (Pinyin: chi1 cha3) or "eat tea." They actually eat the green tea leaves that they grow here in the Tea Terraces.
  • Maybelline has a factory in Suzhou that uses silk from their famous silk farms.
Update you guys later when I have Internet access.


Worst Culinary Award Goes to Beijing

Sorry for the lack of updates, I didn't have any Internet access in Beijing.

It's 10:33 p.m. and I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning to get a move on our tour. We left Beijing today and am currently in Sozhou. This update will be short, as I need to get some rest soon.

In Beijing we went to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Imperial Garden. Lots of walking, lots of picture taking.

Beijing food sucks. Everything's either fried, spicy or extremely salty. Combined with their horrible, dry air (mountains block Beijing from receiving rain and the mountains also block the dirty air from moving north), my week long cough has made my voice sound like a hardened smoker.

Oh, and back to the food. Thank God we're in Sozhou now. This is the first meal I've had which is actually good.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the trip.

Street vendors in Wang Fu Jing in Beijing.

Wang Fu Jing plaza in Beijing.

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Hainan Airlines (worst ever for international flights). Leg room anyone?

Great Wall

Mom and I at the Imperial Garden

More updates whenever I have Internet access available.


Eighteen Hours Until Take Off

Packing for my trip to China is about 75% done. All I have left to sort out are my electronics and their chargers, lotions, glasses, beauty products I'll be using tomorrow and socks.

I'm currently waiting for my makeup brushes to dry before I pack them into the duffel bag.

Total luggage count? 2 check-ins and 3 carry-ons (1 duffel bag, 1 laptop bag and purse).

I'll try and take pics at the airport tomorrow.

P.S. How many Hello Kitty items can you spot in all of the pictures?


The Blonde Dilemma: Tresses in China

Upon eating some fantastic salty fish fried rice (咸鱼鸡粒炒饭 Pinyin: xian2 yu2 ji1 li4 chao3 fan4) from Tea Garden in Seattle (new management and the food is fantastic), I had a revelation while conversing with my mom. I've had nice, shiny blonde highlights (Highlights: 挑染 Pinyin: tiao1 ran3) since I was 13-years-old (roughly the same age I fell in love with platform heels and makeup).

Although there was a period of time where I experimented with light brown highlights, my hair has stayed roughly the same color for quite some time (plus or minus a few varying shades).

Exhibit A:

With my upcoming trip to China, this level of blonde is practically unheard of, especially since the majority of women in China stick to hair that's within a shade of black. There are, however, exceptions to the rule.

"Light" brown in China is something I consider as dark brown.

Occasionally, Japanese culture will also wedge its way into Chinese hair trends. Picture a slightly tamer Ayumi Hamasaki and you'll more often than not run into a hair style like this:

If you haven't noticed either, bangs are in.

Take a look at this Baidu album to see more hair trends in China.

As I prepare to leave this Saturday, I'm noticing that my roots are ever more noticeable. Time to call the hair dresser right?

But before I even consider dialing her number, I have a problem. I need to decide on a color and cut that won't alienate me from my three-week long trip without also sacrificing my love affair with blondeness.

So far, after looking through fifteen-something Baidu albums, I've decided on a honey blonde look like this:

So it's definitely not as blonde as what Ayumi Hamasaki has done before, but it's definitely a comprise so that my mom and aunties can haggle vendors without them knowing we're from the States.

Another makeup set back due to differing cultures? Subtlety is everything in China. No more crazy cat-winged eyeliner or extreme blush.

Along with more beauty no-nos, extreme lip color (e.g. coral, red) is something to avoid. So what is considered OK? Natural looking foundation, subtle tight-lined eyeliner, faux lashes and light blush.

With all that said and done, it's time to start packing. I'll post pictures of the pre-trip carnage later on.


Cuteification: Why Marketers Should Learn From Hello Kitty

One thing I've learned from Rob Walker's Buying In is that our "screenager" generation (a term coined by Douglas Rushkoff) is a more skeptical and hard-to-reach audience than consumers of yore. This isn't to say we're immune from marketing campaigns (宣传攻势 Pinyin: xuan1 chuan2 gong1 shi4) or corporate attempts to suck our wallets dry. What Walker is saying is that ad agencies and marketing gurus have gotten smarter at integrating campaigns into our every day digital lives.

Take Twitter for example. wrote a follow-up article regarding HubSpot, a "marketing software company that enables inbound marketing through the use of social media, blogs and search engine optimization."

And to include all things Hollywood, Horatio from CSI drives a Hummer, Charles Crews uses a can of Diet Coke to sabotage a "hitman woman" in the "Hit me Baby" episode, Pepsi is launching their own Chinese TV show and the movie Cloverfield used alternate reality games (ARG) via forums to build pre-release hype (much like Lost and Halo ARG initiatives).

If you've taken any advertising classes in college, you'll know that curiosity is one of the best selling points a marketer can use to lure in potential cash cows like you and I. Mixed with murky advertising techniques (Rob Walker uses "murketing" for short) like the aforementioned strategies, the line where advertising stops and ends has been diluted with a mess of spam Tweets and irrecognizable TV programming laden with product advertising.

As consumers evolve into a smarter and more digitally savvy group, TiVo fast-forwarding and blocking randomly generated Twitter accounts will be more common. Ultimately, we'll make our way through the murkiness.

So what's another strategy marketers can use to make sure consumers will willingly listen to what they have to say? Look to the Japanese and Koreans for answers.

I love Hello Kitty. She's cute, fun, absolutely adorable and a symbol for all things young. Rob Walker's chapter on projectability says that Hello Kitty's success is in part due to her projectability, that is her mouthless, blank expression. You can cry with Hello Kitty, you can laugh with Hello Kitty. In other words, Hello Kitty is successful because she is a blank slate in which consumers can define and/or reappropriate the meaning.

Note how many segments have adopted Hello Kitty and made her their own: kids, young Asian women, gay men (e.g. Jeffree Star), goths.

Sanrio's smart, savvy marketing team has made an array of products catering to almost all of these audience segments. There's a Hello Kitty Gloomy Bear with blood all over her face for goths (Sanrio swears it's ketchup and made her hold a ketchup bottle), there's punk Hello Kitty rocking an eye patch for emo punk kids and even products for men. Male Hello Kitty briefs, anyone?

But what's this have to do with anything? The Japanese success of Sanrio and Sanrio-X characters has since spawned similarly successful products in Korea (think Blue Bear, Pucca and Mashimaro) and their popularity hasn't faded one bit.

On a recent trip to H-Mart in Federal Way (a Korean style Ranch 99 with an awesome Korean restaurant inside called Myung Dong Restaurant), I came upon the cutest bag of mochi buns ever.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for cute things, but who can't resist this adorably designed package of mochi buns?

The "cuteification" of things (even as odd as mochi buns) is something Western marketers should try more often. In an aisle full of mochi buns and other Korean frozen goods, the packaging above was the first and only thing that caught my eye.

Recently, Canadian ad agency Leo Burnett Toronto created a unique ad campaign for Toronto's Humane Society. They feature cutely vectored animals (e.g. dogs, birds, cats, bunnies) in a simple one-color background with affectionate, heart-warming copy. The ads received not only national attention, but awards for its simple yet innovative design.

But wait.

Haven't the Japanese and Koreans been doing "cuteification" already?

So as for Western marketers and ad agencies, please know that flooding consumers with so much murky content can only reap in profits for so long. Before you start scribbling away your next brilliant marketing campaign, there's never been a better time to bust out your Domokun pens for some much needed Eastern inspiration.

After all, Hello Kitty's been around much longer than most ad agencies around the world.


Belltown Blues: Seattle Nightlife Now & Then

After the KUBE-93 DV8 days were well over and before Premier was even open, you might say that the heydays of the Seattle Asian American club scene hit a high point somewhere in the midst of 2005.

This saturation point occured when places like Bada Lounge (now Umi, an awesome sushi joint on 1st Ave), Medusa (now Venom on Western Ave), Belltown Billiards (some restaurant now on Blanchard) and Ohana's (also on 1st) were packed to the rim with Petron guzzling patrons. Not only were these hot spots sitting within a block of each other, but club promotion teams (i.e. my nvrMT boys, Ting's crew, the short-lived d.i.p. family) essentially nabbed the same network of Asian Americans.

These were the days when you could grab a couple of cheap drinks at Ohana's, spend an hour or two at Medusa, leave and walk (or stumble) up a block and pop into Bada to meet up with another set of friends. And if Medusa didn't suit you that night, you could always head to Belltown Billiards.

Four years later with so many different clubs and lounges scattered in every corner of Seattle, an alcohol infused night is no longer confined to just Belltown, nor are they confined by cultures.

Notice the color in the clubs? You don't need to get your eyes checked. Cultural networks are steadily merging and promoters are scrambling to nab all cultural networks, not just the Asian American community they once solely focused on. Ultimately, this is a good thing.

But where do all the Asian Americans go now?

Below's a current list of clubs and lounges typically frequented by networks I belong to, as well as places we'll drop by once in a while.

This isn't to say that all Asian Americans unconsciously mob over to these venues when looking for a place to dance (跳舞 Pinyin: tiao4 wu3) and drink their liver away. If anything, a mixture of cultures exist in the list below. I love ClubVibes and Seaspot as much as the next girl, but no list exists to break down what's currently popular in a matter-of-fact fashion.

No matter what cultural circle(s) you belong to, feel free to help expand upon it by posting venues you frequent via comments.

Seattle Asian American Nightlife List: Current as of March 27th, 2009
Add your spots (Asian American or not) to diversify the list.


(+) are frequent venues
(*) are occasional venues
(-) are irregular venues

Cowgirl's Inc.
Trinity (-)
Venom (-) only for their once a month DList party

Ibiza (+)
Venom (+)
War Room (*)
Parlor (+)
Amber (*)
Twilight (-)

War Room (+)
Parlor (+)
Ohana's (*)
Trinity (*) usually for birthday parties
Del Ray's

So now the question is where do you like to get your drink on?


The Morning After

The morning after any brutal night about town usually starts off with a round of sloppy, semi-drunk phone calls muffled by a layer of blankets.

If summoning enough courage to scroll through the cellular phone book seems daunting, figuring out a common consensus to the universal question proves even more challenging: "Where do you wanna eat?"

The entire deliberation process may take up to a half-an-hour, but the cuisine is pre-selected even before the question's asked. Among many Asian Americans, the cure to a heavy night of alcohol is universally defined, yet naturally unspoken. The answer? Pho.

Pho (越南粉 Pinyin: Yue4 nan2 fen3), a hot, beefy Vietnamese noodle soup, is a fix it all for hangovers and countless nights of drunken debauchery. Since I can remember, it's been the go to choice for a morning after meal. Warm broth eases away any inkling of nausea and carb-filled vermicelli noodles soak up any ounce of Crown left over from the night before. For around $6 a bowl (the best spot in Renton is the 108 Restaurant next to Great Wall), pho does a mighty fine job of keeping the Porcelain God a mile away.

But a funny question occured to me while out grabbing pho with a friend. What do Americans eat after throwing up their intestines?

For the answer to this question, I sought the guidance of my I'm-Filipino-but-I-grew-up-on-the-Eastside boyfriend. I have a lot of love for Eastside cities like Issaquah and Bellevue, but having been born and raised in Renton, I admit a difference in these cultures do exist. Nonetheless, the boyfriend, who had the opportunity to live in both cultural worlds, simply and assuredly replied, "Well, we ate at Denny's."

Denny's? Greasy fried bacon strips and oil-soaked eggs will ease the vomit factory brewing inside of me?

After nearly 9 years of comfortably staying within my Asian American cultural circle, I was surprised to remember that another world exists where pho isn't the only option for a post-alcohol meal. Naive? Perhaps. Ignorant? Maybe.

...Which brings me to the reason why I posted this blog in the first place. This is a place where I'll visit cultural differences and merge them into anecdotal musings and posts. Part experimental, part historical, it's a place where similarities and differences can be cataloged and re-examined.

And, like the additional book light offer with the purchase of a Snuggie, you'll also get these with every post:
  • A Chinese word/phrase
  • Local restaurants you should also dig
Back to the story.

To the age old question of where to get an edible hangover cure, maybe you prefer Denny's, or maybe you'd rather grab a bowl of pho. Either way, there's something I'd like to know: what do you eat the morning after?