Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Silicon Valley

p.s. Yes, Michelle, Stanford IS beautiful! I was so awed when I was there that I thought aloud to my Hub, "Hey, if I could live my life over, I'd want to study hard enough to get into Stanford!" To my surprise, Hub said he would too, and that most people never thought of reaching higher because of fear and ignorance. That made me think of all the brilliant kids I know who ended up studying in Australia, because that's the closest place where tertiary education is reasonably good. But do you know, Australian tuition fees for foreign students are the highest among the traditional western countries such as England, Canada and the US? The average tuition fees per year for foreign sutdents in American state universities (not the Ivy League or Stanford or U Berk) are about USD9,000 and about USD35,000 for private universities, USD40,000 in top private universities. The average tuition fees for foreign students in Australian universities ranges from AUD14,000 to AUD35,000 per year, 9000 pounds and above in the UK. U Berk, the top public university in the US, only charges about USD14,000 per year! Tuition fees for undergrad studies at Stanford, among the top 5 best universities in the world, is about USD40,000 per year depending on which courses (not sure about foreign students) whereas University Of Melbourne, among the top 3 in Australia and among top 20 in the world, charges fees of about AUD35,000 for foreign students. Exchange rate is about the same, only the standards are different...When you compare living costs, it's eye-opening too. The average cost of living per month for American university students--rent, food and utilities--is about USD700 to 1000 per month. In Melbourne, just a room will cost you AUD1000 per month. What is my advice? Malaysians should shake off their colonial biasness towards traditional English and Australian universities, many of which are obscure universities (just as many American universities are too), and fear about American education and crime rates (our media hypes up everything bad). Education should not be just about grades. Innovativeness, team work, initiative, responsibility, ability to self-improve and many other qualities are just as important. The question now is whether Malaysians are good enough for good American universities, given the falling standards of education in Malaysia. More and more Singaporeans are accepted into American universities and that is telling about their standards. The Chinese, Indians and Taiwanese covet an American education and American campuses are teeming with them.

If you have it, reach for Stanford! Yale! Harvard! Princeton! Cornell! MIT! Caltech! Northwestern! Wellesley!Brown! Duke!Tufts! However, you better not just have the grades, you must have the other things they look for too because, for example, Stanford only takes in about 7000 new students each year. Think BIG.

Rodin's interpretation of life as a student in Stanford?

April 16, 2012

We were invited by K to stay a couple of days so that they can show us the Silicon Valley, the place where all the Internet, the dot-coms and the high tech industry started and are still being developed.



The freshest and juiciest oranges and tangerines for breakfast. It was such a privilege to stay with friends because we got to see and learn more than we would have on our own.

Apple Headquarters


K's hubby, FC, took us to the Apple headquarters in Cupertino but we didn't know anyone there so we weren't allowed into the offices. The Apple Company Store is open to the public though, and it is different from other Apple stores because although Apple products such as iPhones and computers are on display, they are not for sale. It is the only place where you can buy Apple T-shirts, caps and accessories so I grabbed a couple of caps and T-shirts before we left for the next Internet wonder, Google. Again, we didn't know anyone there and I stayed in the car while the rest of us walked around the grounds of the 'campus'. Google has many offices here and there but I think the headquarters is Googleplex. I would have loved to visit Google because I think I can live without Facebook but not Google.

Btw, and I don't know if it's a fact, I was told that Steve Jobs named his company 'Apple' because Santa Clara (where the Silicon Valley is) where he grew up in, was a fruit farming (apples included) area. 


Lunch was seafood and steaks but I've lost all my photos. I found the food rather greasy.

After lunch, it was Stanford University, the most awesome university I've been to. Its architecture is very Californian and I was reminded of  The University Of San Diego. Stanford is huge (3,300 ha), very well-kept (no graffiti or cigarette butts), very pleasant and has this utterly awesome (again) academic vibe. It felt more serious than U Berk, and the students were noticeably more preppy than U Berk's. The academic tension was definitely palpable and I'd like to be there to see Stanford (and Harvard) students do their 'Primal Scream' at midnight during the final exam week, howling out their dorm windows in unison to relieve their stress. My university had a couple of naked runs and once a year a naked Lady Godiva with long blonde hair rode through campus on a white horse (am not sure if this is still practiced) although I don't think it was to relieve stress.

At the entrance of Stanford, thrilled.


Past the entrance, there is a big church. It is beautiful inside.




Those are statues by Auguste Rodin.

Of course the computer science building has to be named after Bill Gates.

When you think of it, it's no wonder that the Silicon Valley is the leading center for high-tech innovation and development, since some of the countries' best universities, Stanford in particular, are in the state. That, plus the fact that American is quick to recognise and accept innovations and creativity. Another factor is the tremendous amount of funds they have. I've forgotten the figure but research studies in the medical department recently received funds amounting to tens of billions.

So big there's a golf course.

We spent a couple of minutes on top of a hill to check out the San Andreas Fault, which runs under the valley in between the hills in the photo below. There is a beautiful house built smack right on the faultline (not in picture). That's either true faith or blind faith.




We ended the day at the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, the fog rolled in and we couldn't get good photos. It was also the coldest night I've ever had in SF so it wasn't exactly the best time to be up in the mountains where it was windy but Hub was leaving the next day, and I wanted him to see as much of SF as possible. Dinner was at Grant Place in Chinatown. It was very yummy but I've lost all my photos.

A delicious taro cream cake that K had ordered to celebrate Yi's e.g. presentation.

Thanks, FC and K, if you are reading this, for being the best hosts ever. Our memories of SF are made even more special because of you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cantonese Zhongzi

Shanghainese zhongs. For Shanghainese zhong, see this post. Shanghainese zhongs are easier to make, requiring less ingredients. The rice doesn't need to be pre-soaked or fried but has to be marinaded for at least half an hour. The pork also doesn't need to be fried. Never leave the pork skin on for Shanghainese zhongs.

Let's take a break from my travel posts.

Last Saturday was Duanwu Jie, a day most people associate with glutinous rice dumplings called zhongzi (or zhong for short). As a kid, I was told that Duanwu Jie (meaning double five, as it always falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar) is celebrated to remember a righteous, uncorrupted advisor to a Chinese king about 2500 years ago. There are many versions of the story but no matter which version, the story is the same: righteous man was drowned/forced to drown in river and rice dumplings were thrown to the fish in the river to stop them from eating his body. For the same reason, dragon boat races evolved from villagers paddling their boats in the river and making loud noises to scare the fish away.

This is the second time that I made zhongzi (zhong for short). My first attempt was 5 years ago (how time flies!) and my son declared my zhongs not as good as my MIL's. That disappointing verdict, the awful amount of work and the fact that store-bought zhongs, at RM3.50 to RM7, are very affordable, deterred me from further attempts until last week when, after eating yet another disappointing store-bought zhong, Wey gave me the green light to make him Shanghainese zhongs. Growing up eating his Na's Shanghainese zhongs which were stuffed with big lumps of fatty pork, Wey stubbornly refuses to give any credit to zhongs not made by his Na (Shanghanese for grandma). I am more accepting and I like both Shanghainese zhongs and Cantonese zhong but if I have to choose, I'll still take Cantonese zhongs over Shanghainese, provide they are both home-made. Although Shanghainese zhongs have a wonderful aroma of soy sauce and wine, the filling is just pork whereas Cantonese zhongs have pork, nuts, beans, salted egg yolks, mushrooms and dried shrimps and a hint of 5-spice powder. My FIL defends Shanghainese zhongs and grumbles that other zhong are ''ja chi ja ba" (a jumble or mixture, in an unpleasant way).

I very nearly gave up wrapping the zhongs. I had never wrapped triangular-shaped zhongzi before and the zhong leaves were short and narrow. Rice fell out of the corners of the zhongs and the leaves tore, and I had to unwrap the zhongs again and again. I very nearly put everything in one big pan and steamed it as huge pudding but I remembered how we disliked my dad's pillow zhongs which were so big (larger than an iPad) that we had to eat it as a family and Dad would cut it and reheat it by frying, resulting in a giant plate of jumbled rice and filling. Anyway, it took me a whole day to wrap 22 triangular zhongzi, five of which leaked rice when it cooked, and 23 Shanghainese ones.

It's hard to give exact measurements because I tweaked the recipe as I worked, tasting and adding more seasoning as needed. Also, the size of the zhong can vary. I tend to make my zhongs bigger than the commercial ones. The recipe here is a guide and you should adjust it to your taste. It's never late to make zhongs. Keep them in your freezer and they can be re-boiled or steamed months later. Zhongs, like Chinese baos, are great snacks to bring on trips because you just have to unwrap them and eat them without using any utensils. At home, to keep our hands from getting oily, we use forks or spoons.

It was totally worth the effort to make these zhongs because Wey declared them the same as his Na's (he still doesn't bother with Cantonese zhongs) and he loves them so much, he eats two a day.


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The filling ingredients for Shanghainese zhongs are not fried but the filling for Cantonese zhongs are pan-fried to deepen the flavors.

Making rectangular or 'pillow' zhongs.


Rectangular 'pillow' zhongs are the easiest to wrap. Always use weed strings or thread to tie the zhongs; do not use plastic or raffia strings.

Making triangular zhongs. Here's a video on how to wrap triangular zhongs.


Cantonese zhongs

Cantonese Zhongzi (makes about 20 or more)

dried bamboo leaves, hard tips/petiole snipped off, leaves boiled about 15 minutes until softened, soaked at least 6 hours or overnight (otherwise it will give a slight bitter taste) & then washed well
weed (boiled to soften) or strings to tie (do not use raffia)

1 kg glutinous rice, picked through & soaked 2 hours and drained for 1/2 hour before using
about 800 gm belly pork with skin on, cut into 3 cm cubes*
10 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked till soft and halved, squeeze lightly to remove half the water
20 dried chestnuts, soaked and boiled 10 minutes or 1 cup black eyed beans, soaked
1/3 cup dried shrimps, washed and soaked 10 minutes only
10 salted duck egg yolks, halved using thread or wire (cuts cleaner)
20 pieces dried scallops, soaked 15 minutes to soften
1/3 cup finely chopped garlic
1/3 cup finely chopped small red onions

seasoning for pork:  
2 T light soy sauce
1/2 T dark soy sauce
1 piece red bean curd (nam yue**), mashed + 1 T sauce
dashes of white pepper
1/4 t to 1/2 salt 
1 t sugar
1 t 5-spice powder (more if like; I prefer a subtle flavor)

* you will get some lean cubes of meat so cut small pieces (about 1.5 to 2 cm cube) of fat and add them to the leaner meat.
** this is a secret ingredient revealed to me by a lady who has been making zhongs for sale for 40 years.

Note: 2 to 3 days before wrapping the zhongs, marinade the pork with the seasoning and leave in a bowl wrapped with cling film in the fridge. Turn once a day to mix well.

1. Assemble everything in front of you. Keep zhong leaves covered with a damp cloth.
2. In a heated wok, fry the dried shrimps over low heat with 1 T oil, 1 t each of garlic and onions until fragrant and dried. You can fry the dried scallops with the shrimps too, if you like a drier and more fragrant flavor and taste, but if you prefer softer scallops, do not fry ( I don't). Remove.
3. Add 1 T oil to the same wok, then add 1 t each of the garlic and onions, and the mushrooms. Add 1 t light soy sauce, a pinch of salt and 1/2 t sugar and fry about 1 minute. Remove.
4. Add 2 T oil to the same wok, add 1 T each of garlic and onions and fry the pork over medium-low heat until pork is seared all over but not cooked inside.
5. If the wok is not covered with burnt bits, do not wash. Put 2 T oil into the wok, fry 1 T each of garlic and onions and 1/4 t (or more, if like) 5-spice powder, and then add the rice. Now add 1 T light soy sauce (and dark, if you want more color), 1 t salt, a few shakes of white pepper and--this is something nobody tells you--a few shakes of msg. Fry rice over medium heat until it looks dry but not burnt, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste one grain of rice. It should taste saltish. if not, add 1/4 to 1/2 t salt, mix well. Remove.
6. Fold two bamboo leaves into a cone, fill with 2 T rice (or 1T if using a larger spoon) and pack it firmly with the back of your spoon. Drop a piece each of mushroom, scallop, chestnut, egg yolk, pork (2 pieces if cut small) and a tsp of dried shrimps onto the rice. Top filling with 5 to 6 T rice (or half that if using large spoon), pack it again with the spoon, then wrap and tie firmly but not too tightly because the rice needs space to expand.
7. Put all the zhongs (tie them in bunches of 5 or 6 to make handling them easier) into a large pot and cover with water. Boil for 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours, longer if zhongs are very big. After an hour of boiling, taste the water. If water tastes saltish, fine. If not, add more salt to the water, wait 10 minutes, taste again. Leave the cooked zhongs in the pot, covered, for another 1/2 hour (saves cooking longer).

Zhongs are eaten hot or warm, never cold. Serve some Chinese tea, sit down and enjoy the rewarding sight of your family devouring your hard work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


April15, 2012

This was taken at some point on the 17 Mile Drive.

We drove on to Carmel-by-the-sea, a very quaint town that totally captivated me the first time I went there, in 1988.  My friend CY was living there then.





The sand on the beach is very white but not as fine as the sand on our tropical beaches.




When I saw this house on my first trip to Carmel, I thought it was so English and that London would be just like that.

Carmel is one of the most quaintest towns you'll ever visit, anywhere, and it is worth a day's stay at least. From Carmel, you can drive south to Big Sur (beautiful coastal scenery, you see it in movies) and to a  San Luis Abispo, a town we enjoyed ourselves in on our previous trip.

Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel in the 80s and Hog's Breath Inn was his pub/restaurant.

We were in Carmel for only about 2 hours and the shops were closing by the time we got there. I found Carmel rather too tidy and perfect this time (my third time) but the shops are really worth a visit because most of them are stuffed with cute and unusual trinkets and bric-a-brac. I bought a pair of artichoke salad hands and I wish I bought the chess set where the pieces were cats versus dogs, different breeds of dogs. You should've seen their serious faces.

We had to rush back to Saratoga to have dinner with FC and K's boys and their DIL-to-be. Dinner was at Fu Lam Mun in Mt View. The food was great but I've lost all the photos.


K's older boys work in Facebook (one's a post grad from Harvard and the other from Stanford) so after dinner, we were invited for a tour of FB's new building and headquarters. This was taken at the entrance to the 'campus'. I call it campus because the buildings reminded me of college. I can't post any photos here and we were not allowed to take photos inside except for the vending machines. It was a thrill and privilege to see for ourselves how the office of the most powerful social tool is like and I can tell you that FB's office is awesome. There were vending machines everywhere with all kinds of drinks and snacks, from beef jerky to chips to energy  bars, all free. There were also vending machines for computer parts and other stuff that my kids use such as headphones and other cool stuff. There were machines for computer games, there were kitchens and restaurants which serve excellent food, from western to Japanese. Tables and chairs were set in the garden between the rows of buildings and there was a large bbq area and I'm told they often have parties there. The walls were written or painted with slogans (have to ask my daughter; can't remember some of the famous quotes) and the vibe was youthful, energetic, innovative, liberal, collegiate and--what's the word for that right now kind of feel? Ah yes, happening. It felt very happening, like the whole world is at its mercy feet  thumb and I couldn't help but be aware that I was in a place that has a powerful influence on the world (think Arab Spring). Which one of you who owns an FB account doesn't check FB at least twice a day?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

17 Mile Drive, Monterey Peninsula

April 15, 2012


From Monterey, we took the 17 Mile Drive, a very scenic drive along the coast of the Monterey Peninsula in California. From that point, the road leads to Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Carmel and the whole region is a gated community for the rich.

Rugged coasts.


The trees in the whole area are protected and can't be cut. This one is in the middle of the road! Buildings can't be higher than 2 storeys.

Sea lions on the rock...

...same as the last time I was here.


Guess who, nearly the same spot 15 years ago.

The Lone Cypress Tree is the symbol for the whole region. It is 250 years old and images of this tree are protected so that if you use a photo of it for commercial purposes, you will be breaking the law and can be prosecuted.


On the grounds of the Pebble Beach Golf Links where we FC treated us to a scrumptious lunch. Beautiful isn't it? Pebble Beach Golf Links is the most famous golf course in the US and one of the top in the world. The view from the 18th hole is said to be the best. I don't golf so I'll never see that view. 
From this point on, all my photos will be K's or my hub's because the photos I took were mistakenly erased. I'm still bummed about that.

We shared two platters of seafood.

K's fish--can't remember what fish.

Hub's fish.

FC's burger.

Yi's fish which I tasted, and it was very good.

I was very happy with my crab salad. It was fresh, delicious and didn't leave me feeling too stuffed with greasy food. I think Nephew had the greasy fish and chips, not shown here.

We never got to visit Pacific Grove the town, just like the previous time we were in the area. I didn't even know Pacific Grove is a town/city until I googled it when writing this post.

(next, Carmel-by-the-sea)

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