Ben’s Dragon Year 2012

The Chinese New Year 2012 holidays have finished but I’ve had a great time visiting friends in both Taiwanand Wuhan. (I’ve posted photos in my Photo Album on QQ.) I was told that Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong province ID holders are allowed to visit Taiwan without a tour group now. So, if you are from one of these places, take advantage of your new freedom soon!

And, by the way, Wuhan is hiding most of China’s beautiful women (and handsome men) from the rest of the country!  

 图片   图片 (Alishan, Taiwan)                                                          (Wuhan, Hubei)

Continue reading Ben’s Dragon Year 2012

Medicinal Massage in China

~Pure Relaxation~

What is the first thing you think of when someone suggests getting a massage? For those who haven’t tried a genuine massage, it probably sounds dirty, but don’t let the negative press fool you. Massage is genuinely useful and even plays a substantial role in Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques. After a long week of work on my computer or dealing with university stress, I find that a professional body massage really helps. If you play sports regularly or receive an injury, a mix of acupuncture and light massage can bring your muscles back to their healthy state much faster[*]. People with poor circulation can get blood moving again with regular medicinal massage too. My mother often reminds me of the benefit her legs received in 2008, the last time she was in China.

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Staying in China and Facing the Dip

Keep focused

What may come as a surprise for some friends, family, and students has actually been a defining moment for keeping the last 7 years of my life from gathering dust. Originally, my 5 year plan saw me coming back to New England, finding a job, and perhaps marrying a Chinese Harvard grad! But since publishing that plan I realized that none of my plans would appropriately take advantage of my valuable experience in Asia. I have made a decision based on the realization that completely moving back home would not have been the best investment of my time, business relationships, and experience. Some might be thinking, “Where did this change come from?” or “Isn’t this a little sudden?” I understand that reaction, but have a different way of  looking at it. Since it might be a bit much to swallow all at once, I’ll just describe what has been going through my mind over the past three or four weeks.

“Don’t Quit” … “Be a Jack of all Trades”  … “Diversify” Continue reading Staying in China and Facing the Dip

Coffee for Tea Drinkers

Japanese Coffee ~ Drip On!
Japanese Coffee ~ Drip On!

Back when I was living in the States as a student, I was definitely hooked on take-away coffee. It was the ultimate wake up juice, even though the sugar was probably what helped out most. But when I think about it a bit harder, it was probably that scent which pulled at me most. Drinking the coffee was nice, but smelling it was even better… Charlie Harper once said (in his infinite wisdom) that his coffee tasted “Christmasy… and anything was possible!” In my case, my coffee smells Sunrisey and anything is possible!

Fast-forward six years. I’m in the tea capital of the world, China. Tea is served for free at meals with little bits ‘n pieces swirling around in every cup. It’s enjoyed by 100s of millions in travel mugs, much like how we carry coffee. But, the benefits of green tea deliver a scientifically-based pounding on coffee. Their culture started to drink it because it was healthy first, and tasted good second.

As in any new environment, we find a way to adapt; Continue reading Coffee for Tea Drinkers

High Speed Rail Around Asia


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.


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.

Continue reading High Speed Rail Around Asia

Oh-Bama! China’s Fountain of Youth

A River in Bama County
This week I’d like to uncover a hidden gem for all Asian Living readers. It is a natural occurrence which is not 100% understood by scientists, but honestly, is science the only way to understand our world? Reality slaps us in the face at times when science has no explanation. And that is why I hope we can all keep our minds open for my latest post about Bama.

Southern Guangxi province has a secret…. For hundreds of years the sleepy county of Bama never thought much of living past 100 years old. At present there are over 70 people living into the triple-digits, post-golden years. (Platinum years, perhaps?) With a population of 250,000, you’ll stumble across one for every 3,500 or so people. But this small agricultural region of centenarians is using this natural phenomenon as a way to boost tourism and market all kinds of products; from botteled water to snake-fermented liquor.

The region, which borders Vietnam to the south, is now steadily filling with tourists looking to get a piece of the magic from the Bama Longevity Cluster. It is understood in Chinese culture that leading a healthy life includes experience with Chi Ku [吃苦], literally “eating bitterness.” These way-past-retired locals are not just sitting around all day; they keep moving and live pretty active lifestyles. In order to do some Chi Ku activities, the local farms of centenarians will let you do back-breaking harvesting work for them! Tourists can be found digging up gourds and cutting down leafy greens for lunch and dinner. (Quite a sight when you know they have come for a holiday!) Some of the mystical properties of the region are said to come from “life-prolonging soil”and “longevity” spas, although genetics is said the be the main factor in distinguishing whether or not a person will live to 100.

A Picturesque Sunset in Guangxi

A 2008 write-up on Bama can be found in the Wall Street Journal here. If you are planning a China-Vietnam trip, it’s worth a quick visit to Bama after a few days in beautiful Yangshuo (Guilin).

Here are some products from Bama, which can be purchased on Taobao.

It Takes Two to Tuangou

Well, honestly speaking, it takes at least a few more than that to really Tuangou! Tuangou (团购) sites have been around for several years now, stemming from chaotic “mob shopping” and then civilizing into “group buying.” The phenomenon has taken off around the world, with thousands of sites opening in China alone in 2010.

Any time I want to go see a movie for $4 or get a hot pot for $10 or get a massage for $8, I can always trust one of the many tuangou sites online to have a bargain waiting for me. My girlfriend is all about these sites now and we usually check Meituan or Lashou before making any plans.

Here is a monster list of sites based in the US, with increasing sites located in other countries. Following this list is a recent listing (June 2011)of current Chinese tuangou sites.

And here are loads more that exist in China… most have closed by now I’m sure…

40 is Good… and 60 is better

60 Years Young

Of all the concepts that differ between Western and Eastern culture, I’ve found that age represents one of the deepest divides. When China celebrated its 60th year of founding their nation in 2009, I quickly discovered that it was more than just a multiple-of-10 anniversary; China had become a fully matured adult. The phrase for turning sixty is “年过花甲”, which is a cycle of 60 years; or literally becoming a flower. 花 is flower in Chinese, but in this case it represents the white hair of a 60 year-old.

There is a respect for elders here (in China and greater Asia) which I’ve never experienced before my arrival in 2004. Back home turning 40 means going “over the hill” which is a concept that doesn’t exist here. The jokes about “getting old” are supposed to be playful, but actually linger in our subconscious… Wouldn’t it be nice if getting older was a sign of wisdom and experience, rather than a reason to be pitied?

Times are changing. Its true that Asian people don’t enjoy getting old either. They also wish to stay young forever… and they certainly try! After about 20 years of life it seems both Western and Eastern cultures start getting nervous about age. Perhaps they should get married soon… have a child before 30… own a house by some other pre-set age…  Parents out here are mostly at fault for causing the age-anxiety in their children. As for me, I’m just lucky to have very supportive parents who don’t set arbitrary expectations on their children. I’m taking my time and enjoying the ride. So, thanks for the freedom mom and dad; you won’t regret it!

Asian Secret #2: Geo Arbitrage

If you are American, have you ever bought medicine in Canada because it was cheaper than back home? During the housing crash, which kicked off the great recession of 2008-2009, did you buy property at bargain basement prices? The goal in these scenarios is to take advantage of disparities between markets (in different geographical locations), which is the meaning of arbitrage. This strategy is used in financial markets everyday and can be expanded into more aspects of our lives.

Companies have been taking advantage of lower labor costs in developing countries for many years and it is becoming more common for individuals to do it too. Health and Medical Tourism is a booming industry, growing particularly fast in India. According to a report from McKinsey and Co, medical tourism in India will grow to USD 2 billion by 2012. [*] And in 2007, over 750,000 Americans spent $2.1 billion on cheaper medical treatments overseas. Medical travel is estimated to be growing at an annual rate of 20%-25%. By 2017, close to 23 million Americans will travel overseas for medical treatment. [*]

Although medical tourism is becoming more and more common, its not the only way to take advantage of price differentials around the world. Increasingly, you can improve your life by getting other people to do tasks that are not worth your time. Some great reading on how to do this can be found in Tim FerrisFour Hour Work Week and A.J. Jacob’s My Life as an Experiment, in which the authors organize clever ways to outsource as many parts of their lives as possible, including “…e-mails, phone calls, shopping, arguments with [his] wife and reading bedtime stories to [his]son.

How do you shovel tasks off your plate in order to free up time?

Please let us know in a comment below.

Outsource Asian Cooking with Craigslist

Indian Dishes

Too busy to cook? Don’t like to cook? Don’t really know how to cook?! Well, kiss those days of pop-tart breakfasts and hot-pocket dinners good bye! You are going to get a crash course on how to organize properly prepared meals for yourself and family that are healthy and very reasonably priced. Don’t fret, no one will be stepping foot inside your kitchen. If this sounds good, read on…

A leader in personal outsourcing (or at least collecting these good ideas), Tim Ferris, quoted a reader of his who successfully setup a $5 per meal system. After simply posting his requirements on Craigslist, he could enjoy Indian/Asian vegetarian meals every day! Imagine the time savings involved. No grocery shopping, no setup, no excess clean up. And no one steps foot in his kitchen.

Still not buying it? To understand how costly it might be; simply calculate what you spend on “real meals” everyday (not sandwiches or garden salads). Figure out how much you spend at the grocery store for these meals and divide by the number of real meals you make. Then, decide whether having delicious meals prepared by others is the right choice – from my experience, it always is! The only effort required will be going to your new chef’s home and picking up your meals. Freezing meals for later use is also a great idea.

Simple cooking for myself is never as good as real authentic cooking. But the above method can be used for any variety: Japanese, Korean, Thai, Italian, Spanish, etc. Have fun!

Give it a try and let us know how your experience went!