Cutting the cord: Making the switch to Internet-Only

Cutting the Cord

This past summer my roommate and I made the switch from over-priced cable (in this case it was RCN) to Over-the-Air (OTA) television and Apple TV. Our major concerns were related to a potential lack of programming, specifically live sports and show-specific channels like AMC. You might be thinking: How did you survive without a DVR service and ESPN!?! Well, we figured we’d try out this simpler way of entertaining ourselves in the evening hours by cutting the cord and trusting our ingenuity. And you know what…? We realized that this experiment was totally worth it. Continue reading Cutting the cord: Making the switch to Internet-Only

Ben Returns to Asia (for a quick visit)

2015 is the year I returned to Asia for a brief visit. After leaving China in 2013, and getting myself fairly settled in the Boston area, I felt the need to reconnect with my Asian roots! Although I’ve loved being home and getting re-acclimated, a piece of my previous life was missing… the unexpected adventures, the quirky misunderstandings, and the unbelievable cuisine that you find anywhere in East Asia. So, from April 8-22 I ventured back into the wild – this time it was Japan.

My cousin Jake and I have always talked about backpacking and cycling parts of Japan and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Today I start a series of posts about this trip through Japan from the foot of Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. (I’ll get to how badass this place is soon). We’ve taken wrong turns (and very right turns!) across this majestic land, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the friendliness and generosity of the Japanese people. They are without a doubt the masters of hospitality.

In the following posts I’ll take you on a journey across this mysterious and majestic archipelago – where the sun rises first every morning and the stars sparkle brightly every night. We started in Tokyo where the neon lights, funky costumes, and glorious Edo past is still visible. Then we’ll walk among the artifacts of previous realms in Kyoto and dance with deer in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara. After that, we’ll visit Japan’s oldest surviving castle in Himeji where the “white heron” was finished being renovated only 2 weeks before we got there! We’ll sip on fine whiskies at the Yamazaki distillery before taking the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Hiroshima. We’ll step upon ground once too radiated by an atomic bomb for anyone to visit and see the horror of those times through the Peace museum. Not far from there we voyage to Miyajima to visit the most frequently photographed landmark – the great floating Torri. And that’s just the first half of our trip!

Please subscribe to and see Japan through the eyes of two American explorers in Asia.

Cousins trek across Japan 2015
Cousins trek across Japan 2015

My favorite bits from The Interview

One word: Hilarious.
One word: Hilarious.

The Interview gets 5 stars from me. Here are some bits I’ll never forget and neither should you:

  • Hilarious! By far the funniest take on US-North Korean, geopolitical affairs I’ve ever seen.
  • Unkorean – So much Hollywood /slash/ American culture, with a speckling of Korean bits.
  • James Franco – Looks like my cousin! “They hate us cuz they ain’t us!”
  • Suuk – When did Eun Jae start her acting career?! (@MiahCouhie, @KimEunJae)
  • Manja manja! – That’s what people want, “Give us some shit!” So, true, people want the shit…
  • 50 KM west of DanDong – “Did you just say China? And did you just say Dong?” Awesome hat tip to China’s DongBei region with a Jay Chow (周杰伦) soundtrack.
  • Sleeper car – Such an awesome sleeper car shot with a mixed group of Chinese. The smoke-wherever-you-want thing is spot on!

Continue reading My favorite bits from The Interview

Through a Repat’s Lens: First World Problems in America

first world problem
First world problems…

Readers of AL.ME know that I recently repatriated from a long visit to China (8 years or so:). And coming back to your home country after being away for so long is a lot like getting over an ex. You were with that boyfriend or girlfriend for 5+ years, but now that it’s over you are dreading the recovery period… In my case, I’m getting over a country and a way of living. What is that unscientific equation? I think it’s…getting over him/her = total time together / 2. (So I’ve got another 4 years to go!)

But fresh off that separation anxiety you realize how much different your life becomes. Your eatin’, sleepin’, socializin’, shoppin’ are all very different but you just have to get used to it. This is the vaguely familiar, new normal for Repats. Now that you’re back you realize how food is more expensive but less healthy (unless you get the salad at a restaurant); everyday shopping is more expensive and there’s very little negotiating; socializing is a whole bunch of going Dutch events in which nobody owes anyone else anything; and health care feels like a scam every time you use it.

Now, to be fair, these frustrations are not as horrible as they first seem. Yes, American food is probably the result of immigrants neglecting their traditional food culture over generations, but there are still authentic restaurants I could go to. With a little strategic planning and flexible standards, shopping doesn’t have to be an exercise in getting screwed so often. Going out with friends, family, and coworkers could be a lot more enjoyable if I just concentrated on the now rather than the future. And going to a clinic or hospital… well, I don’t think I can rewire my brain to think that it’s acceptable the way it is…

What I’ve found is that my “problems” here not really problems – they’re first world problems. They are annoyances that, when combined with a lack of awareness, blow up into much bigger issues if I let them. And a big part of repatriating is finding a way to get through these sometimes difficult situations. Life still goes on. The sun still rises in the morning.

Chinese Twitter threads that I’ve seen discussing foreigners living in their country for extended periods ask: “Why do they [Westerners] stay here when they could live a developed country?” And the answer often looks like this: They are bored of Heaven and need a break from it!

Haha. Well, I wouldn’t call America heaven, but in the greater scheme of things life here is much better than it is for people in the developing world. And although I miss the good food, the warm friendships, the great markets, and the non-bankrupting health care options available there, I know coming back to the US was a great decision.

Euphemisms make the World go ‘Round

chinese guanxi
“Relationships?” More like leverage…

Author’s Note: I’m 100% supportive of strong family bonds and filial piety. The rest of this article is not intended as a slam against traditional expectations within a family, but it is intended to get Westerners thinking about “guanxi” differently.(Chinese readers and friends, please comment on this below.) 

When I have a chat with friends, family, or even strangers about The Chinese Way of doing things, the conversation never fails to include the word “relationships.” But using guanxi to get things done is not all it may seem on the surface. It’s not just about friends helping friends… and when you’ve truly used guanxi to get something done you will likely feel different about that friendship afterward.

Continue reading Euphemisms make the World go ‘Round

The Ultimate List of East Asian Festivals for your Bucket List

Welcome to my list of the major festivals and holidays celebrated across Northeast Asia- Japan, North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Mongolia. This will be a continuously updated list as I keep exploring new and interesting festivals that have evolved in the East Asian cultural sphere, also known as Sinosphere (including Vietnam) because they are all historically influenced by Chinese culture.*

Consider adding some of these to your bucket list and I’m sure you’ll never regret the effort to cover them all!

bucketlistAndroid Users
Bucket List app
i wish appiOS Users
iWish app

NOTE: Celebrating some of these festivals usually requires physically being in the country. If travelling that far is impossible, see if you can get to your local Chinatown or East Asian neighborhood on the date of the festival.


Chinese New Year (Spring Festival 春节, Seollal in Korea, ) is celebrated across the world by Chinese diaspora. In 2014 it will be celebrated on January 31 and the final day occurring on February 15- see the Lantern Festival below. This is the most exciting festival I’ve ever experienced. It feels like American 4th of July but more dangerous! Get a more detailed overview on this amazing festival here.

Continue reading The Ultimate List of East Asian Festivals for your Bucket List

Will Students still come to America after PISA 2012?

Chart courtesy of

After American 15-year-olds scored 36th overall on the global Reading, Math, and Science test, will parents continue to send their students to study in America? Test-obsessed parts of the globe may look at the 2012 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and determine that our K-12 education does not compare to theirs. Or parents might not care and just send their kids to America anyway. (We’ve still got the highest ranked universities in the world…)

Continue reading Will Students still come to America after PISA 2012?

“No politics on Thanksgiving”…

Who is right?…No one.

Thanksgiving is a special time when family reunite for great food and awesome desserts. But it wouldn’t be a normal family gathering without some passionate political rhetoric. And after the turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, cheddar broccoli, maple carrots, and biscuits, who wouldn’t grab at the opportunity to burn some calories by cursing your ideological foes vis-à-vis your loved ones?

Then gram gram chimes in: “No politics on Thanksgiving!” But she already knows… It’s too late to stop it, gram gram.
This crazy train has left the terminal!

But dear reader, AL.ME is not a place for hard-line party politics and I don’t intend to explain why ‘merica has become a communist, totalitarian state run by a Muslim… (no, I’ll save the “truth” for my other blog.) But honestly, listen closely, I have some shocking news to share with you… Continue reading “No politics on Thanksgiving”…

What you didn’t know about Chinese Food in America…

American or Chinese?

For years I’ve been attempting to explain (and cook) the differences between real Chinese food and American Chinese food. At first, it surprised American friends to discover that the Chinese have never heard of dishes like Crab Rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, Egg Rolls, Egg Foo Young, and Chop Suey. All were created in America for American taste buds.

Crab Rangoon was actually an American creation that has been served in San Francisco since the 1950s.

Egg Foo Young was an adaptation on a real Chinese dish and made its American debut in the 1930s.

General Tso’s Chicken [pronounced ‘TSAO’] was coined after a famous Chinese general but the people of his modern-day hometown in Xiangyin, Hunan province have never tried it before! (See Jennifer’s talk below) Continue reading What you didn’t know about Chinese Food in America…

Life for Expats in Polluted Chinese Cities

Over the past few years living in China, the air pollution conundrum (among many development issues) has been a major concern for expats and locals alike. Just last month (October 2013) an “airpocolypse” shrouded the city of Harbin in northeastern China at a level of around 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter! That’s off the charts and about “40 times the safety level recommended by the World Health Organisation” reports the Guardian newspaper.* Obviously this is (and will be) a major cause of lung cancer in the future, along with the effects of circa-1950s attitudes toward smoking.

Continue reading Life for Expats in Polluted Chinese Cities