Hello Again

Wow!  It has been over 6 years since I last wrote on this blog.  Only a few things have changed since then… I moved to Shanghai, I got married, I moved to Beijing, I moved back to Shanghai, all working with the same company, travelling some in between and growing a lot as a professional and person.  Thanks be to God.

Now it is time to start writing again, thanks to the push from my life coach.  Yes, that is a great help!  So, really, thanks!  I hope to come up with some good content for this site, and possibly transfer over to something I have even more control over, in terms of design, and ease of editing.

For the time being, it is good to be back!  I hope I can catch the blogging bug again.

Nostalgic for the Present

You know how you always say how much you wish you could go back to a certain time in your life, or the good ole days.  Well, you might not know it, but I have proven to myself, and want to prove to you, that the good ole days are always today!  Whether in boom or bust, you will always look back on a time and think it was the best in your life.  Yes, this even applies to difficult times.  What is known as our greatest generation went through the Great Depression and World War II.  Pain and suffering are good things.  They bring about growth and strength, something often illustrated in the Bible.

Departing Beijing, I travelled back to Bangkok to meet my parents and show them around Thailand.  I arrived December 8, and they arrived December 11.  This trip made me realize how awesome my time in Thailand was.  I certainly did not take my time for granted, as I enjoyed every minute of it, but I realized how unique and once in a lifetime the experience was.  Who lives in their own room of a resort, with a balcony facing the ocean, and works in the villages located in one of the world’s greatest natural paradises?  I was so lucky.

We often realize how great something is only after it is over.  My return to Thailand with my parents gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect on my time there, and in China.  My advice to you is to recognize you are living at the best time of your life, and start living in a way that reflects that idea.

Two Thanksgivings

My final two weeks in Beijing were full of special moments and goodbyes.  I continued to work in the restaurants and on different projects, but took off extra time to meet with friends and attend special events.

The day I arrived back in Beijing from Shanghai was Thanksgiving Day!  I went over to Alan’s house for his annual Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by his best friend Asher, who is assisted by other friends.  Having been to a “fake thanksgiving” in the summer of 2008 I knew I was in for a treat.  This meal includes everything you can think of, from green bean casserole to honey baked ham.  And, of course, too much turkey with stuffing, gravy, and cranberry to go around.  What a delicious meal and reminder of home.  The company was also wonderful!

And, as if I did not have enough, I got to experience the same kind of great meal again, this time at Rodney and Cindy Young’s house!  They invited me over for a special Thanksgiving meal on Saturday night with their close friends, who had all assembled from throughout the city.  What a wonderful experience.  Cindy had dated my father in high school, and other than that fact, I knew little of the Youngs.  What a blessing to meet them and really become good friends.  I later invited them to Hatsune and we shared another great meal and conversation.

One great thing about the staff in Beijing is the time they spend together outside of work.  They hang out with each other, take care of each other, and are like family to each other.  I was able to attend several unofficial staff parties and restaurants and karaoke bars.  Also, I would go with staff occasionally to have char (barbecued meats skewered on stick and cooked over coal) and beer.  We had one place in particular that we frequented called si mao, or four hairs.

I enjoyed going to the karaoke bar as well.  These places were very upscale and usually had many private rooms.  The rooms, usually lined up hall style, were composed of leather couches, TVs, sound systems, and came with your own personal attendant, who would take care of drink and food orders and help to clean up after you.  Some of these karaoke experiences would go into the wee hours of the morning.  An especially memorable one was held during Wendy’s birthday.  She is a manager at Hatsune, and has become a very close friend.  As she has been a long time employee, many other long time employees attended the party, which is always a neat experience.  I envision them all starting out together and then branching out as the restaurants grew.  These small reunions, at karaoke and weddings, are a lot of fun.

These last few weeks were full of goodbyes for me.  Another group of friends I have really enjoyed hanging out with was Vita and Ana.  These two lovely ladies are from Indonesia and I met them one night in the restaurant.  I ended hanging out with them a lot and look forward to meeting up again, whether it is in Jakarta, Beijing, or Fayetteville!

I was also able to say my goodbyes to William and Gary, over two separate farewell dinners.  I was not able to say goodbye to Wade at the end, but enjoyed all the time I spent with him, including staying the night at his dorm and going to church.  Can’t wait to see him again and I always know that technology bridges today’s gaps.

A few final things I must include are the grand time I had with some staff playing basketball and pool and the wonderful last supper I shared with Alan, Hannah, and Kristen.  We met at Kagen Teppanyaki and had the best wine and food during my time in China.  Afterward we went out for a drink at Xiu, the Park Hyatt’s new bar in Beijing.  What an excellent ending to the beginning of many more adventures to come.

Uncle Will and Shanghai

After Brunei I planned to visit Shanghai for one week or less to check out the operations going on down there.  I had met Vincent, Alan’s partner in Shanghai, briefly during my time as an intern in the summer of 2008.  I called him up ahead of departing for Hong Kong and asked if I could visit.  He would arrange for me to stay at his house while I visited and I would help out in the restaurant like I did in Beijing, teach English, and identify ways in which I thought the business could be improved.  Planning to go for one week at most, I ended up staying one month!

I had a wonderful time staying in Vincent’s house, getting to know his family and neighbors, and working at the three restaurants in Shanghai, getting to know the staff.  I became Uncle Will to Vincent’s children, Samuel, Ethan, and Faith, and the children next door, two cute girls, whose names escape me at the moment, Rachel and Rebecca!?!?  These two families of friends literally tore down the walls that divided them, and shared a basement floor that connected the two houses together.  At work, I was able to help out a lot and learn a lot about running a restaurant.  I also stayed long enough to help MC Haiku’s third anniversary cocktail party.  We had free flowing cocktails, a band of two great musicians, a percussionist and guitarist/singer, canapés, and professional dancers.  Humbly speaking, I realized this evening how great I am at entertaining a group of people.  J

It is during this time that Vincent and I talked about my future work plans.  I began to talk about working in China and Vincent gave me a job offer to help with the opening and operation of Haiku’s World Expo 2010 venue, located on the fair grounds.  I am very excited about my time in Shanghai this coming year.

A few other things I enjoyed in Shanghai included karaoke, going to church, being offered another job from another restaurant, and celebrating Vincent’s and my own birthday, only one day apart.

I showed up to Haiku on Tai Jong Lu, having traveled across town from Sushi Inc. one evening.  It was my birthday and had do not think I had told anyone but a few of the staff.  To my surprise they had ordered a birthday cake and prepared a surprise birthday party for me.  They then presented me with a gift I will cherish for the rest of my life, a Haiku Sushi Samurai jersey with the number one on it.  I was very moved by the thoughtfulness and kindness of all the employees and the fact that they cared enough for me to put such an effort into celebrating my birthday with me.  This was very special.  I also spent a special dinner with Vincent and his family that night.  We went to a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed great food and great company.  The following night I met up with Vincent and his wife, Amanda, at a Jazz and Blues club to enjoy a Blues band and celebrate Vincent’s birthday with a nice bottle of wine.

I am young and crazy

I am young and crazy

I wrote this and only this in my notes as a topic of a post that I wanted to do.  I must have been feeling young and crazy, and felt happy enough about that to want to write a post on it.  I have talked to countless people who say they wish they had the freedom to do what I am doing.  Somehow, like many other fellow college graduates, I managed to get through university with no strings attached.  Part of that was my own choosing and part of it was the choice of others.  When I really get down to it, I had no responsibility for anything other than myself in college, and the same seems to continue today, as I graduated without any debt or significant relationship.  Of course I care very much for my great friends and family, but have decided not to live my life focused solely around them.  I care for them and will always listen and be there for them, but feel the need to go after what I love to do.

I gave a speech a long time ago based off of the advice of a neighbor of mine, Mr. Lecka.  He said the three most important things in order are God, wife, and job.  I feel I can always chase after God wherever I am, and find a wonderful wife wherever I am, but may need to get out and explore for the job that I love.  Who knows, I may need to eventually get out from the job I love and explore for God or a wife again, but I feel these things will come to me.  One thing I was most afraid of when leaving Chapel Hill was I would never find friends of the same caliber.  I have later found that you can find wonderful people anywhere you go (even if they are still Carolina alumni).  🙂

Do I love being so unattached?  I am not sure yet, but really am glad to have been able to pursue opportunities that I may not have otherwise been able to pursue had I been attached to North Carolina.  Opportunity is a strange thing, and definition of success is quite another.  I have come to realize that opportunity can come at random (meeting someone in the subway, saving).  You see it in the movies all the time, but I really do believe that being in the right place at the right time (luck) matters.  Luck matters, but so does how one reacts to that luck.  I think people can create luck based on how they react to the luck that is introduced to them.  An opportunity may present itself to a person, but that person may not have the initiative or understanding of how to take advantage of it.

Where does this initiative and know how come from?  I think it comes from many things, but two of the most important are education and how the person is raised by family, friends, and institutions.  I love the lectures given by Professor Gerald Unks in his class on education in America (EDUC 441) and the ideas published by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.

At the beginning of this post, I originally attributed being young and crazy to the cool things I am doing, but I really think it is my personality and mentality brought about by education, family and friends that has allowed me to take advantage of the opportunities that I have now.

The Heart of Borneo


I originally intended to visit my father’s good friend, Barry Mortimer, in Hong Kong.  He works on the high court there, previously for the British government and now for the Chinese government.  He takes about two months out of his year to travel down to Brunei Darussalam and try cases in the Supreme Court for the Sultan of Brunei.  Unfortunately, I arrived to Hong Kong as he departed to Brunei.  As I finished up my time in Hong Kong, I was determined to meet up with Mr. Mortimer, and had the opportunity to see a new country.  Mr. Mortimer would arrange a place for me to stay, either at his hotel, or with some of his friends in Brunei.

Rather than fly high class on Royal Brunei Airlines straight to Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, I set off on a day long journey via Kuala Lumpur to save money.  See my post Time and Energy vs. Money to see my thought process.  I will take the slightly more expensive route next time.  I did like the unique experience of traveling on a shoestring, and that I can easily do it while I am young, but will definitely enjoy traveling in style next time.

I arrived to the small international airport and met the charming Mr. Mortimer.  This British citizen was clad in a white suit and stood out like nothing else amid the crowd of hijabi women and shorter darker complexions.  We jumped into his government owned Mercedes and drove off to dinner where I later met my hosts for the weekend, Mr. Paul Hirschfield and Mrs. Jini Veerasamy.

Paul and Jini were such great hosts.  They took me into their wonderful home and introduced me to their wonderful family, dogs Gino and Humpy, and maid Anna.  I was given my own bedroom and bathroom and two of the best tour guides in the city.  Paul and Jini showed me the entire country, and got me in touch with other friends who did so as well.  I also enjoyed relaxing with Paul in their home, watching movies and listening to music.

In a country where anyone who knows anything about the place knows there is nothing to do, I had a great time.   I was able to see and enjoy the Royal Regalia, the water village community, the famous proboscis monkey, the rainforest, beautiful mosques, great markets, delicious restaurants, extravagant palaces, and beautiful weather.  Take a look at these pictures!

Great thanks to Barry for taking care of me and making sure my visit to see him and Brunei was fantastic!

Time and Energy vs. Money

I was walking outside of a small shop in Khao Lak, Thailand with my parents (that is a future post!) and I think I had one of my best comebacks yet.  The shop keeper told me it was free to look.  And I said that time was money.  This was an easy phrase for me to say because over the past few years it has come to mean so much to me.  I have what my family calls Johnson blood.  I never met an actual Johnson in my life, but apparently these distant family relatives were known for their insistence on good deals.  So, when something breaks I try to fix it or if I know I can get something for less money, I go after it.  It does not help that I am somewhat perfectionist when it comes to getting something I use everyday right and I work methodically to get it right.  Case 1: The dishwasher broke my Senior year of college.  Jonathan, my housemate at the time, and I tried to do everything ourselves.  Rather than buy a new dishwasher at Home Depot and have a professional install it the next day, we thought it was possible to buy a used one off of craigslist and install it ourselves.  A few grueling days later, after several trips to the hardware store for parts, taking the old dishwasher to the dump, and about 10 hours each of work on the machine, we had it done.  I learned then that I had wasted my time at the expense of time I could have used doing other important things, and in the end when I added up all the costs, including what my labor was worth, we paid more than we would have with the Home Depot!  I will say that if I had to do it again, I could do it a lot faster as much of the work was a learning process, but I am not in the business of fixing technical things when I have a full workload elsewhere.  So, I pledged to myself then to let the trained professionals, who have all the tools and supplies ready at hand, do what they need to do and hope I spend my time wisely enough to pay them for their services.

I write this blog because I saved about $100 on flights to Brunei from Hong Kong by flying through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I realized afterwards I sacrificed more than I was willing to save that money.  My only justification was I am young and have the time and stress threshold to do what I did.  Rather than take a simple 3 hour direct flight, I spent an extra 12 hours flying around, checking my bags in and out of airport terminals, and travelled with low budget service!  Not only this, but I lost valuable time with friends.  I will pay the extra money next time to fly in style, with no stress, and lots of time.

I think there is a certain threshold where a person must break free from the tasks of daily living in order to be more productive.  Maybe this has something to do with specialization.  There is a person who does every task imaginable, from fixing electrical outlets to housekeeping.  I can either do everything myself or focus on the thing I like to do and rely/trust on others to do their part.  I will do the latter, but will institute some balance to keep me sane.

My Favorite City in Asia?

Hong Kong is Beautiful

I was walking through the underground system and asked a police officer, in English, which way I should go to see the Avenue of Stars, a riverfront walkway with views of Hong Kong Island.  He gave me a perfect answer with a smile and I was on my way.  From the moment I turned the corner and saw the cityscape I fell in love with this city.  From the Kowloon side looking toward Hong Kong Island, the city is built onto the side of a mountain.  The picture reminded me of SimCity, the computer game where you can build whatever city the mind can imagine.  Hong Kong is a SimCity.  The tall skyscrapers stretch from one’s periphery, blowing away anyone who walks into the vista without any preconceived expectations.  Another fun aspect of the city is its British influence, easily spotted in the form of double decker buses, pub streets, and of course the need to look right, rather than left, when crossing the street.  🙂

Hong Kong is Organized and Convenient

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent home to my parents, edited later to give more detail:

“I spent my first full day in Hong Kong today and absolutely love the city!  I did not have any problems finding the Harrison’s house and have a really nice living situation with nice bed on the floor and great bathroom.  The public transport can get me into the main part of the city in one hour.  The subway is longer and wider than any I have been in, thus more comfortable because it is a lot less crowded.  I am about the have dinner with the family now.  I walked around Kowloon today and did not even make it to Hong Kong Island yet.  There is so much to do.  I did not realize how big Hong Kong is.  Most people think of the high rises when they think of Hong Kong, but it is also composed of Kowloon, the New Territories, and the outer islands, which must be ten times the size of Hong Kong Island itself.  Also, Hong Kong Island is home areas other than the city, which include Repulse Bay and Stanley with the famous Stanley Market.  On the first day, I also spent the afternoon at the HK History museum, which was very interesting and gave me a great background to Hong Kong.  The city is so modern, and I already think it is better than Singapore.  :)”

Hong Kong has Great People

I stayed with the Harrison family, the father of which my father had met on a trip to Hong Kong and China.  They were absolutely wonderful and accepted me into their household with wonderful hospitality for one week and only after about one week’s confirmed notice.  Having a nice place to stay with a nice family was a great break from the seventeen friends with whom I lived back in Beijing.  Mike, Susie, Marie, Elizabeth, Isaac, Will, and Ginger (their shy and talented dog) were such a blessing, as well as Sai Fung, Mike’s good police officer friend and adventure running mate around the region.

I also met up with two friends with whom my father is connected by scholarship at the University of North Carolina, Jason Cox and Alex McMillan.  I met up with Jason after church at the YMCA on Sunday and he took me with some friends on his speed boat to Po Toi Island, which has one restaurant, Ming Kee, where we had some awesome seafood.  On the way to and from the marina club, I was able to see the famed Jumbo floating restaurant and tried to recreate a photo which my dad had taken in front of it 23 years earlier.  Jason and his friends were great, and I really enjoyed hanging out with them.  A few nights later, I met up with Alex and his wife for dinner and a drink.  I travelled over to Tai Po in the New Territories to meet up with them.  We had a wonderful dinner full of Hong Kong delights in the market building, a nice drink at a pub frequented by expats, and hung out on the rooftop of their new house in this New Territory.  Both of the these folks and their parties have such great stories, and like most long stays in Asia, they started out here during stays which they thought would be temporary.

One quick side story about how nice everyone is in Asia.  I got off the subway and had no idea how to get to the market where I was to meet Alex and his wife.  I asked one young lady, who ended up walking me to the market.  We had a great conversation and talked about what we were doing in Asia, our respective educations, our friends, and ended up departing have exchanged phone numbers and e-mail.  The girl, having graduated with a major in tourism, was now working for the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation, not World Wrestling Federation), and offered to show me or friends around Hong Kong on any return visit.  What a nice and spirited young person.  This would never happen with the same frequency in the United States, which leads me to the next question.  Why?  Is it because I am a unique stranger in a foreign land, Asians in Asia are nicer people, or a combination of these two things or many more?  I do not know, but I like it.  J  If it were because they are trying to take advantage of me, then they are in for a surprise as real friendships form.  I think it is because it is unique and fun to befriend someone different from you.  What may start as a novelty and initially for one’s own enjoyment turns into a pleasant experience for both parties involved.  Another why?  People who open up and are kind to each other right off the bat have so many interesting things to say, so many things interesting to learn about their similarities and differences, and in a world that only has six degrees of separation between people, so much in common.  How much fun!

Hong Kong has Great Things to Do

I spent many hours exploring the markets of Hong Kong, which are often organized around what they sell, with entire streets forming the aisles of a super city store.  If you want to buy fish for your aquarium, you go to the Goldfish Market.  If you are a lady looking for a good clothing deal, you go to the Ladies Market.  If you want Jade, go to the Jade Market.  I think you catch my drift.

Hong Kong puts on a laser light show every evening at 8:00 pm that incorporates many of the buildings and choreographed to music.  After that I travelled across the harbor on the famous Star Ferry, and made my way to the tram that would take me to the top of Victoria Peak, which boasts beautiful views of the city from above.  On the way I met three friends with whom I would spend the rest of the night, Ken, Mandy, and Sally.  After the peak, we visited the entertainment districts of Soho and Lan Kwai Fong.  We had a great time sipping on Sangria in one Soho bar and walked over to Lan Kwai Fong to see the Halloween Eve festivities.  It was crazy!  I cannot and do not want to imagine the place on Halloween night itself.  I heard it took three hours of waiting in line to get into the bar street, if one was lucky to even make it through police ensuring that the area did not become dangerously overcrowded.  I had a great time getting to know these three.  Our relationship sparked with a smile from Sally.  As a single traveler, you often find opportunities to talk with others and this was such an inviting smile that I started up a conversation.  The two girls were from the Chinese mainland and now worked and lived in Hong Kong.  Ken met Sally while studying abroad in Victoria, Canada.  He was actually on vacation and visiting from his home country of Thailand.  He lived and worked in Bangkok (If I end up writing a post on this, I met up with him when I returned to Thailand to meet up with my parents before returning home for Christmas.).

Other fun things I did in Hong Kong included mountain biking in the New Territories, visiting Stanley Market, hanging out with the Harrisons, and eating dim sum.  So, what was meant to be a short visa run turned into a week long getaway, and the discovery that Hong Kong is so much more than a big city, it is a country within a country.


On Friday, October 23rd I went with an awesome group of nine others to have dinner at Hatsune and go see Beyonce in concert. Alan bought a VIP box suite in Wukesong stadium to watch the concert.  He had eight tickets and wanted to invite to guests from one of his restaurants to join him and his friends for the fun.  We found some awesome contestants for a raffle drawing who were able to answer some trivia questions about the restaurant.  We decided to let four customers come along and Kristen and I would go on two other tickets and be let up to the box by a friend who was the event organizer.  What a great time.  Following a delicious meal at Hatsune we travelled first by cars, then by subway to bypass traffic to the stadium.  It was absolutely packed outside and excitement was in the air.  The concert was first class and the box suite was out of this world.  Altogether the ten of us finished 9 bottles of champagne, after passing two to the box next door to us.

After Beyonce we went to Bling for the after-party and had more champagne and dancing.  It was a great time and I really enjoyed getting to know the winners of the contest, especially Regina Honorable, whom I had spoken with personally in the restaurant about the chance of winning Beyonce tickets.

I love this picture!  You can see Beyonce in the background.

At Bling.

Jin laoshi

Let me talk a little more about the superwoman that is Jin laoshi.  Why do I say superwoman?  She is super-excited about life, super curious, super nice, a super person that brings people together, a super conversationalist, and loves to do super things.


Jin is of Mongolian ethnicity from an area in China that is very near Mongolia itself.  She must have grown up with those around her thinking she was a genius.  She told me later that she thinks she let a lot of people down by just becoming a teacher.  She could not pass the tests to get into medical school, so went to school to become a teacher.  She is extremely intelligent and deep thinking.  At one point I met up with Jin laoshi, in a small coffee shop to discuss the possibility of making some English recordings to sell to companies who need instruction dialogues for their employees.  We talked about so many things, one of which was “the incident” in 1989.  She actually took part in the whole thing, and got very emotional talking about it!  Because of her ability to speak both Mandarin and Mongolian she was a key link in the communication between student movement leaders.


The third time I met up with Jin laoshi I was met by one of her students, Mika, who led me to laoshi’s apartment.  We talked, made a few recordings, and went out to this awesome Mongolian restaurant smack dab in the middle of tall apartment buildings. Mongolian yurts had been built to cater to small parties of Chinese diners.  Jin ordered some great dished for us and we had a feast! This is all before I went to a Chinese wedding later that night to eat more!!  After dinner, Jin helped me find a good wedding present, two dogs sitting under a tree with a small frame for a picture hanging from the branch.

In the Yurt with Jin laoshi and her student Mika


The fourth time I met up with Jin laoshi, it was to visit 798 art district.  At one point in the coffee shop she mentioned art in China and how she had a student many years ago who fell in love with an artist and she never found out whether they made it or not.  At the time they were living in one room that was cluttered and acted as the guy’s studio as well.  I explained that China actually has a pretty big art scene and many artists have made it big.  I would take her to 798.   Over the course of the week leading up to 798, I assembled quite an eclectic group to visit the galleries together!  We had Jin laoshi and her student, Echo, Annie and her croud of Stephen, Clara, and Jason, Cody and Alice, two friends of Kristen Lum, Vita and Ana from Indonesia, two girls I have met in the restaurant and hung out with in Beijing, and Brian, a guy I met the night before at the soft opening of a new bar, a friend of a friend of Kristen Lum.  798 is a really cool part of Beijing where an old factory, #798, has been turned into art studios and exhibits.  It is quite popular in Beijing now and has been expanded into surrounding factories.  I think everyone had a great time exploring the art and getting to know each other.

Dinner with the group after 798 minus Cody and Alice


That night I went over to Annie’s side of town to spend the night and go to church the next day.  I have attached one of my favorite pictures of Annie, Vita, Ana, and myself eating some street food.


The fifth time I met up with Jin laoshi, a guy she would have English conversation with met me at the metro and this time I showed him the way to her apartment, and we met Mika and Jin there.  We hung out some and made dumplings together, or jiao zi.  We started from scratch and made everything by hand!

Making the jiao zi