High Speed Rail Around Asia

KTX-Korea

High Speed Rail (HSR) is not new to Asia, although the biggest network is now being constructed in China. HSR has been in Asia for decades and is getting upgraded all the time. As you experience various countries across North Asia, it is important to get familiar with these amazing trains and be sure to work them into your trip! The thrill of legally speeding at 340 km/h (210 mph) on the ground is an awesome feeling.

Shinkansen-Japan

I was lucky enough to experience the early HSR in South Korea (called KTX), which opened just as I arrived there in 2004. It speeds across the country in just under 3 hours. Of course Korea is pretty small, but the KTX beats the 5+ hours car trip plus $60 tolls.

THSR-Taiwan
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Two Kinds of Chee

“Chee” is one of those concepts that floats around in the English-speaking world, but is rarely understood outside of its cultural context. I’ve written about this before in Ginseng and Ginger posts. There are loads of potential benefits to your health if you consider Qi in your daily life. But, first we need to get an understanding of the meaning of the word “Qi” and then we can drape more layers of meaning on top of that.  After all, language defines culture and allows it to breath, which is not too far away from the literal meaning of Qi.

气 [qì]

氣 (traditional character)

Qi Gong Pose

Meanings: Air, gas, breath, mood, smell, manner, anger, etc.

The more familiar of the two Qis (mmmm, cheese…) is something called “Qi Gong”  气功 – literally “air” + “results/success”,and known as “a system of deep breathing exercises,”[*] it is a form of meditation and has been used by martial artists and common people for hundreds of years. The image to the right shows the flow of Qi through the body, with the 3 “elixir fields.” These are basically places where energy is stored. The arrows show how energy flows point-to-point through the body, although it is not always in this direction.

Dantian Energy Flow

Trivia time! Where is the center of the human body? When I was first asked this question I pointed to my naval/waist area. Where did you point? In fact, according to Qi Gong, the center of your body is at your upper lip. Yep, its in your face! This comes from the idea that energy is draped over your body from the top.

Combining body movements and breathing exercises are key to this practice and can have great health benefits, similar to Tai Ji or “Tie Chee”. Due to better blood circulation, relaxed breathing, and reduced stress, these exercises are used for health maintenance by millions of people around the world. As you can imagine, the field of Qi Gong is extremely deep and could take a lifetime to understand fully.

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The Oily Chinese Food Debate: Healthy or Not?

Oily Dumplings

As the world turns its eyes on China, and all parts of developing Asia, increasing numbers of Westerners are traveling here and getting a taste of it for themselves, literally. As tasty as the dishes may be, foreign guests have started deciding for themselves that Chinese food might just be “a little too oily to be healthy.” I’m personally biased and in favor of Asian food traditions, but I do think the argument deserves a fair bout!

Round 1, Ding!

When friends visit China their #1 concern about the food is sanitation, but also the oiliness. The picture to the right is one rather oily example. To satisfy their curiosity, and mine, I decided to ask some Chinese friends what their take is on this matter. I’ve listed their responses to common concerns that are voiced by Westerners (American friends, specifically):

1. There is simply too much oil in the food. How can this be healthy? The initial response to this question is:  Yes, there is oil on the food, but we don’t eat it. It just sits in the dish. Its not like a soup you drink or a gravy that you might put on potatoes.

2. How do you avoid eating much of the oil? People here use chopsticks for food that is sitting in broth or oil. We just let most of the oil drip off of the food first. The portion of rice you eat is important too. The combination of  roughly 30% staple and 50% main dish and 20% liquid (soup or water) are important to note here.

3. Doesn’t the oil get on your rice too? The oil can sometimes drip on the rice, but that is not how rice is consumed here. Normally people take pure, white, cooked rice with their food. This soaks up oil or other strong flavors from the food and protects your stomach. Fried rice is not a substitute for white rice either; and spooning the sauce of any dish into your rice is never done.

A case of misunderstanding: I remember making green beans with sausage bits and a simple cabbage dish for my family last Christmas. I also made white rice to go with it, of course. The salty/oily sauce that went in the green beans dish was irresistible to my grandmother, who is an amazing cook of Mediterranean food. But when I explained that “the rice soaks up the sauce”, she immediately tested my claim; she took a spoon and proceeded to pour the sauce over her rice… moments later… “Mmmm, it is sure does!” she said.

Chinese Green Beans

4. My friend went to China and gained weight. Why? The major reason Westerners gain weight in China is because of mixing food habits. We all try to assimilate to the local food culture at first, but we soon begin missing the dishes from home. Some people go back to convenient eating habits, like sandwiches for lunch. Others miss cheese and butter and other processed foods, so they might visit the foreign food store every few weeks or so. These actions have inescapable consequences.

Ben’s Opinion: Food culture is special and synergistic: more than the some of its parts. Using our own (American) nutritional logic to understand how on earth the Chinese (Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.) could be so healthy would be a mistake. We shouldn’t use a microscope to look at how a system works. We should be looking at the big picture here. From that perspective, I would say, whatever these food cultures are doing… they are doing it right!

Please add your thoughts, comments, and rebuttals below. Thanks!

Asian Food Markets

Click here to find your nearest Asian Market

Most cities with at least 50,000 people in America are bound to have some kind of Asian market. It might be Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, or any other Asian nationality. That shouldn’t be a problem because all Asian food is awesome!

The map to the right will help you find your closest Asian food market. Just keep clicking in the area of your city or town to eventually find it! If you are good with Google, you could substitute “usa” with “[your town]” to search faster.

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Stir-Fried Udon Noodles

Pronounced “Wu Dong Mian” in Chinese, this stir-fried version of U-Don Noodle soup is awesome. The vegetables can be substituted by any other vege that’s in the house. The dish is about 40% noodles, 15% meat, and 45% vegetables. I don’t really use measurements in cooking, so please don’t worry about being specific.

Stir Fry U-Don Preparation
Stir-Fried Udon Ingredients

Here is a picture of all the ingredients basically prepared. You’ll need to do some shopping at the asian market for 1 or 2 things. (All of the Cooking recipes on Asian Living require a trip to the Asian Market.)

* Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, Shitake Mushrooms (See the bag  of dried 香菇, let them sit in water first), Chicken Broth (granulated is fine), a pinch of sugar, and bag of prepared Udon noodles (乌冬面, usually its a Japanese food); VEGES: Broccoli (cut up), Scallions (cut in 1 inch segments, not too short), garlic (1 or 2 cloves), green pepper (sliced), and an egg (for good measure). MEAT: Choose any meat you want, but don’t cut up a huge steak or anything… I sliced up some pork, as you can see.

1~ Boil U-Don noodles for a few minutes and set them aside.

2~ Put Sesame oil, or vegetable/peanut oil, in a wok. Heat it up and start cooking the meat, garlic, and scallions. (I like going rogue.)

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