Friday

Sorry for being MIA; my so-called social life took over Wednesday and Thursday nights. Great to see you back, YC. Life in Taiwan sounds less maddening than it is in NYC…

Wednesday night – pouring rain. But, I saw “Little Women” the musical – pretty good. Sutton Foster, the star, playing Jo March, the stand-in for the original author of the novel, Louisa May Alcott; Maureen McGovern, playing the mother Mrs. “Marmee” March. They played up the role of Prof. Baher, the German professor who falls for Jo (and vice versa). It should have played more on the ensemble aspect of the March sisters (it was very Jo-oriented, which wasn’t really the book), and took off on the whole “Jo in NYC working on her writing career and she has a vivid imagination” that I didn’t think the book really focused on that much (but it’s been years since I read it, so who am I say?). But, pretty good (and on bargain tickets, sure is great!).

Thursday night was a nice reception held by the Alma Mater Asian alumni group; Klong, in East Village, a Thai restaurant. Good pad thai; excellent soft shell crab. Hmm. Intimate space (if a little dimly lit). Highly recommended.

Novelist Gish Jen writes for Slate.com about the “Have You Eaten Yet?” exhibit at NYC’s Museum of Chinese in the Americas. I had seen the exhibit – fascinating stuff on the history of Chinese restaurants in the diaspora.

But, then there’s “Dim Sum Under Assault, and Devotees Say ‘Hands Off'” in the NY Times. Keith Bradsher reports:

A report by the Hong Kong government suggesting that eating many kinds of dim sum regularly may be bad for your health is threatening to overshadow whatever else might be worrying the people of this city.

Practically every Chinese-language newspaper here has run a banner headline about it across its front page. Scrolling electronic displays in subway cars have flashed the news, and the report has become a topic of breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations at Chinese restaurants across the city.

Longtime dim sum lovers are indignant.

“The government is putting its thumb on every part of citizens’ lives, and it shouldn’t be telling anyone how dim sum should be served,” said Wong Yuen, a retired mechanic and truck driver who says he has eaten dim sum every morning for the last two decades. “People can make their own decisions. If it’s unhealthy, they can eat less. They don’t need the government to tell them.”

[….]

But based on laboratory analyses of 750 dim sum samples, Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department found high fat and salt and low calcium and fiber in everything from fried dumplings to marinated jellyfish. The report suggested that local residents eat these kinds of dim sum in moderation, and choose more dim sum like steamed buns and steamed rice rolls.

Regular dim sum diners should order plates of boiled vegetables to go with their meals, the report said, and should beware of some steamed dim sum for which the ingredients are fried, like bean curd sheets.

The report came as a shock here because dim sum is a part of the culture of Hong Kong in a way that few foods unite Americans. [….]

Dr. Ho Yuk-yin, the community medicine specialist who oversaw the government report, said no one wanted to stop such meals, but older people in particular need to be aware of the risks of relying too much on dim sum.

Edmund T. S. Li, a nutritionist at Hong Kong University who was not involved in preparing the government report, said the findings were consistent with academic research on the nutritional content of dim sum and were especially important given recent studies on how people from this region absorb fat. Genetic tendencies toward long trunks and shorter legs mean that many people of southeast Asian descent may carry a higher proportion of fat relative to their height and weight than people of the same height and weight from northern China or Europe, he said.

There are some hints that even without the government warning a new health consciousness is starting to spread here. In the more expensive restaurants, working women and taitais alike can sometimes be seen dabbing their dim sum with tissues to soak up some of the grease and daintily pulling away the fried exteriors of some dumplings with their chopsticks before popping them into their mouths.

Some women – few men – even pour a little hot water, provided to dilute tea, into a small bowl and dip the dim sum in it to remove oil.

Perhaps proving the cynical adage that it is more expensive to eat healthy foods, the restaurants that are trying to reduce the fat and the salt in their dim sum are often not cheap. One of them is the Man Wah Restaurant at the top of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with magnificent views of Hong Kong harbor and I. M. Pei’s Bank of China tower.

The restaurant stopped using monosodium glutamate, or MSG, 15 years ago, and switched from lard to vegetable shortening five years ago. But Henry Ho, the restaurant’s Chinese culinary adviser, said the renunciation of lard had cost the restaurant valuable points in the city’s fiercely contested dim sum competitions.

“A high fat content adds to the flavor,” said Kong Churk Tong, the chief dim sum chef.

Personally, I’m of the view of common sense – eating dim sum everyday is obviously not good for you; moderation is smart; fat tastes great, but don’t be stupid about it; and do you really need some government agency to tell people this? Eh.

Weird story in the NY Times. Carol Vogel reports:

Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corporation, an electronics company based outside of Nagoya, Japan, could not decide whether Christie’s or Sotheby’s should sell the company’s art collection, which is worth more than $20 million, at next week’s auctions in New York. […. H]e resorted to an ancient method of decision-making that has been time-tested on playgrounds around the world: rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper smothers rock.

In Japan, resorting to such games of chance is not unusual. “I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision,” Mr. Hashiyama said in a telephone interview. “As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock, paper, scissors.”

Officials from the Tokyo offices of the two auction houses were informed of Mr. Hashiyama’s request on a Thursday afternoon in late January.

They were told they had until a meeting on Monday to choose a weapon. The right choice could mean several million dollars in profits from the fees the auction house charges buyers (usually 20 percent for the first $200,000 of the final price and 12 percent above that).

“The client was very serious about this,” said Jonathan Rendell, a deputy chairman of Christie’s in America who was involved with the transaction. “So we were very serious about it, too.”

Kanae Ishibashi, the president of Christie’s in Japan, declined to discuss her preparations for the meeting. But her colleagues in New York said she spent the weekend researching the psychology of the game online and talking to friends, including Nicholas Maclean, the international director of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department.

Mr. Maclean’s 11-year-old twins, Flora and Alice, turned out to be the experts Ms. Ishibashi was looking for. They play the game at school, Alice said, “practically every day.”

“Everybody knows you always start with scissors,” she added. “Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper.” Flora piped in. “Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest,” she said, adding that if the other side were also to choose scissors and another round was required, the correct play would be to stick to scissors – because, as Alice explained, “Everybody expects you to choose rock.”

Sotheby’s took a different tack. “There was some discussion,” said Blake Koh, an expert in Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles who was involved in the negotiations with Maspro. “But this is a game of chance, so we didn’t really give it that much thought. We had no strategy in mind.”

As Ms. Ishibashi wrote in an e-mail message to a colleague in New York, to prepare herself for the meeting she prayed, sprinkled salt – a traditional Japanese ritual for good luck – and carried lucky charm beads.

Two experts from each of the rival auction houses arrived at Maspro’s Tokyo offices, where they were shown to a conference room with a very long table and asked to sit facing one another, Mr. Rendell said. Each side’s experts had an accountant from Maspro sitting with them.

Instead of the usual method of playing the game with the hands, the teams were given a form explaining the rules. They were then asked to write one word in Japanese – rock, paper or scissors – on the paper.

After each house had entered its decision, a Maspro manager looked at the choices. Christie’s was the winner: scissors beat paper.

Bizarro World indeed!

Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is now a movie, and it opens today! Pretty good reviews; I have to see the movie. “Don’t Panic!” and, of course, Marvin the Chronically Depressed Robot. Hehehe….

Oh, and tomorrow – “Enterprise” Mirror Universe Part 2…

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