Erica and Matt Chua: How to Make Gyoza

The Chinese may get credit for the invention of this little dumpling, but our Tokyo host Takeshi gets credit for teaching me how to make them. The gyoza, known more commonly in the U.S. as “potstickers”, was not introduced to Japan until the 1940′s most likely adapted after the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930′s. Since then the Gyoza has become so popularized that there are Gyoza restaurants and even a Gyoza Stadium located in Osaka, Japan. The Gyoza Stadium has a museum complete with history and explanations of the many varieties of this adopted dish, while we didn’t visit I am sure it was fascinating…

This recipe includes a dipping sauce and instructions on how to assemble and cook “potstickers” as taught to me by Takeshi, so the amounts are rough estimates- you might have to play with them a little.

Yields about 48 potstickers.

Ingredients:

  • Dumpling wrappers (these can be bought at Asian specialty stores)

Filling:

  • 8 ounces Napa cabbage
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, with tops
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Dash white pepper

Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • hot pepper flakes or use a chili oil instead of sesame oil

Other:

  • 2 – 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Chicken stock

Preparation:

Cut the cabbage across into thin strips and then mince into tiny pieces. Mix with 2 teaspoons salt and set aside for a few minutes. Squeeze out the excess moisture so that your dumplings aren’t too wet while you assemble them.

In a large bowl, mix the cabbage, pork and green onions with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and the white pepper.

Putting the pork and cabbage mixture in the dumplings.  Getting the right amount (about 1 tablespoon-full) of mixture makes sealing the dumplings easier.

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Erica and Matt Chua: How to Make Gyoza

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Home

jyb_musingsSadly, leaving for home.

Loved Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

We get back home in about 14 1/2 hours. 
Which is approximately 375 kilometergramhours –using the metric system. Or something like that. Mostly, I think that calculation just means I’m a thick-headed American. 

Guten Tag! Which I hope means “Thank You!” But I think may mean “Hello” and I know, in the states, means something that you should try to avoid in your diet. But it’s the best I can do. And reinforces my thick-headed American status.

Thanks ya’ll!! We had a really great ol’ time. Even though we could tell we got on your nerves sometimes and you thought we were too loud and messy. We get that a lot. So you probably are right about that. Sorry. And thanks for everything!

And glad to see that whole thing with East Berlin and that big wall you knocked down is working out so well. It just made sense. If we have learned anything from our travels it’s that people are about the same everywhere. They just talk different, and like I said before, get irritated by us because we are too loud and messy.

Again, Guten Toten! Or something like that. We sure had a good tine and hope we get to come back!

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So glad to be home after our trip abroad. 

“Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in after you get your luggage, go through security, clear customs, re-check your luggage domestically, clear security again and make your connecting flight in Jersey.” 

–Robert Frost (with my paraphrasing)

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We have yet to take a family trip that we could fully afford.

Or one that didn’t leave us more personally enriched. 

Travel is like that.

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Waiting to merge into the morning traffic…Is when you know that your vacation is officially over.

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Sometimes… on a night like tonight, if you’ve ever had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam, you miss not being in Amsterdam and wish you could hop in your car and head back to Amsterdam and arrive there in about 15 minutes, provided traffic isn’t bad.

On other nights, I can’t really say what you feel like.

This is my first night home after visiting Amsterdam. And this is the only feeling I am having and it’s pretty unequivocal and strong. Heck, there may not even be another kind of reaction. Except wishing you’d stayed in Berlin so you don’t miss Amsterdam so much.


 

Greg Harris: Hillary Clinton and New Organizing Principles

Greg HarrisHillary Clinton raised eyebrows recently with her apparent dig at President Obama: “Don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.” Because she is a Clinton, it should be assumed this was not a slip. And because she is Hillary Clinton, it should not be forgotten that she voted in support of the 2002 resolution to go to war against Iraq.

The war in Iraq was a colossal tragedy for many reasons: the staggering loss of Iraqi civilian life; the mental and physical casualties ensured by American soldiers whose needs to this day go under-addressed; Post-911 mission creep when the American desire to strike back against terrorism was manipulated and misdirected by a President and his neo-con handlers.

This essay is not an attempt to re-litigate the Iraq war. That verdict has already been rendered. But the aftermath of this messy post-Iraq geo-political realignment has led me to begrudgingly veer towards Clinton’s assertion that a new set of organizing principles is needed to navigate this complicated world. There is a glaring need for muscular global strategy on which America must lead.

For the tragedy of Iraq also plays out today in the emergence of ISIL – a well financed, well governed and military savvy operation that is establishing a base of operations from which to pursue a caliphate that unifies the Islamic world—albeit, a type of world that most Muslims reject.

An under-reported insight on the growing appreciation of this threat is that the Obama Administration started referring to this organization as “ISIL” instead of ISIS. This marks the Administration’s recognition that ISIL not only has ambitions beyond Iraq and Syria, but also the Levant (the “L” of ISIL), which includes Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and most alarming, Israel.

America does not have the luxury of W’s division of good versus “evil-doers.” Unfortunately, we will have to choose among worse evils, and create the kinds of coalitions needed to keep extremist elements in check.

Aside from the aforementioned tragedies of the Iraq War is the need to understand that America and her allies were probably safer when the repugnant Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq. Furthermore, we are probably safer with Assad in power in Syria. Just as in WWII we had to form unholy alliances with the likes of Stalin’s Russia—as brutal a dictator there ever was—in order to defeat the global designs of a genocidal Nazi dictator, we now must keep in check a global terrorist organization whose desire, and cruelty to match, is to purge the Middle East (and beyond) of the non-faithful.

New Organizing Principles

Under new organizing principles, our ability to halt the most dangerous global threat is to join forces with less seemly partners that are equally motivated to keep in check this threat, and that includes the likes of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

We also must reconsider American troop deployment. Today, of some 160,000 American troops deployed overseas, the good majorities are in Europe and East Asia. This geography of American deployment does not complement the geography of today’s emergent global threat. For example, we currently are downsizing our operations in Afghanistan, which likewise reduces American military capability near a nuclear Pakistan that has long been a safe haven for terrorists.

America must also unify our allies and enlist their strategic leverage over our gravest threats. We must first acknowledge the threat, and then plot global response. Publicly, at least, the effort seems haphazard, and insufficient to the cause of defeating the greatest terrorist threat to date—one that has an army, international recruits (who can travel in and out of the West), and vast real estate for a base of operations.

While the French take to the streets to protest Israel, or Russia focuses on Crimea, the larger looming danger that is ISIL takes a backseat to fragmented and parochial interests. This must change. And America must take the lead in rallying the world against an emergent terrorist state that poses a potential grave threat against our own safety and the safety of our currently unfocused allies.

Erica and Matt Chua: Luck Didn’t Get Us Here

“You’re so lucky!” is the worst phrase in the English language.  It’s something we’re told by many people when they find out we’ve traveled for two years without working.  Saying this belittles everyone’s ability to make their dreams come true, even their own, as it wasn’t luck that got us here, it was following the lesson below.  Since this is the week we make resolutions to change, here’s how you can accomplish any goal, no matter how big, as we did when we set off to travel the world.  You can use this guide not to make a resolution, but to make things happen.

Cute?  Certainly, but don’t wait for this little guy to make your dreams come true….
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LUCK, LEPRECHAUNS AND LIGHTNING

Before going any further let’s once and for all end the myth of luck.  Luck is like getting struck by lightning, it’s not random, it’s not chance.  If you stand on your roof with a metal poll in a lightning storm, getting struck isn’t “dumb luck”.Not getting struck because you were in your home isn’t luck either.  Lottery winners aren’t any more lucky, rarely has a person hit the jackpot on their first $1 ticket, rather they buy hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on tickets for years before winning.  Getting struck by lightning (or not) and winning the lottery isn’t about luck, it’s about setting yourself up for it.  The reality is luck is as real as the leprechauns who bring it.

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CHAMPIONS DON’T GET LUCKY

Michael Jordan, Michael Schumacher or Roger Federer aren’t lucky.  We just weren’t watching them as they perfected their craft for hours every day, for years, before we knew their name.  While we saw them do things in their sport that nobody had done before, we didn’t see the hours each day they worked behind-the-scenes.  Others have had the physical talents of these champions, but only those that put in the work, dedicate themselves to perfection, and overcome obstacles (personal and physical) that become household names.

The same goes for when you watch a professional anything.  What seems so effortless, so easy, is actually the result of years of practice.  Think of something you do that there are professionals, anything from soccer to cooking: don’t professionals make hard things look easy?  Their skills weren’t gained overnight or by a lightning strike, no, they’ve spent years perfecting their craft.

Ana Ivanovic didn’t become the world’s #1 women’s tennis player because she was lucky…
it was the hours on practice courts like this one.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Luck Didn’t Get Us Here

Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Will MeyerhoferIf law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just…gets under my skin.

Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit – i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? – these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because – you hadn’t heard? – that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.

Because that’s what the world so desperately needs:  Another lawyer.

Somehow or other, these automata get it into their programming that, if they actually did want to save the world, becoming a lawyer would be a sensible way to do it. They are unaware of how imbecilic their words sound to anyone not entirely befuddled by the miasma of law school propaganda.

Law schools inundate proto-lawyers with ‘lawyers save the world’ nonsense, cramming their crania with musty tales of Brown v Board of Ed. That’s because the schools are well aware of the likely effect of such indoctrination: Greasing the rails to the killing floor. If a kid can tell himself he’s going to “change the world” – as opposed to, say, “make a lot of money and feel like a big deal” – then he’ll line up that extra bit more smugly for the $160k/year that makes his eyes roll up into his head and a little string of drool form at the corner of his mouth.

It’s simple: If you can tell yourself you’re doing it for the good of humankind, you won’t feel so guilty selling out in the most soulless, stereotypical way imaginable.

 

You know the vast majority of law students will end up deeply in debt and unemployed. We all know that. But before that happens, the sorry little shlemiels honest-to-god tell themselves they’re going to save the world.

The problem is lawyers very seldom do change the world, at least for the better. The bulk of significant positive change that the world experiences at any given moment – surprise! – doesn’t derive from the actions of lawyers. It derives from the actions of non-lawyers, or, at very least, lawyers acting in non-lawyer-y ways.

Evidence? Let’s start with a quote from one of the nation’s top civil rights attorneys, Michelle Alexander, from her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

In recent years…a bit of mythology has sprung up regarding the centrality of litigation to racial justice struggles. The success of the brilliant legal crusade that led to Brown has created a widespread perception that civil rights lawyers are the most important players in racial justice advocacy…Not surprisingly…many civil rights organizations became top-heavy with lawyers. This development enhanced their ability to wage legal battles but impeded their ability to acknowledge or respond to the emergence of a new caste system. Lawyers have a tendency to identify and concentrate on problems they know how to solve – i.e., problems that can be solved through litigation. The mass incarceration of people of color is not that kind of problem.

Got that? Here’s a top-flight lawyer, at the center of a struggle to address the disaster of a nation that locks up a vast percentage of its poorest, most vulnerable citizens based largely on their race (whites don’t go to jail for minor drug possession offenses, blacks do.) What’s she saying? There are too many lawyers.

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Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Erica and Matt Chua: Himalayan Hiking Logistics

Hiking the Himalayas shouldn’t be a dream as it is easier and cheaper than most people think.  Want to cross this off your bucket list?  You can indulge yourself in scenes like this for as little as $20 a day!

A view worth the walk from the Cho-La Pass on the Three Passes Trek.

Let me start with a quick intro: if I can do it, you can too.  Traveling for almost two years has taken it’s toll on me.  I probably couldn’t complete a 5k without requiring medical attention and have extra “padding” in places that need no padding.  Prior to this my longest hikes were four days, staying in quasi-luxury New Zealand accommodations.  In summary, you don’t need a Kenyan running partner to prepare for these hikes, reasonable fitness will suffice.

Part of the Annapurna Circuit, always surprising with beautiful views and unexpected changes from desert, to mountain, to lush oasis.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Himalayan Hiking Logistics

Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Downtown Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam.  For a 20-something American the name signifies a war more than a place.  I have seen the movies, but have little understanding of the place and conflict.  I know we went due to the Domino Theory, but I never grasped how a theory became a war.  I know we fought and lost.

I headed off to Vietnam without doing any research.  It was only recently that I had learned where Vietnam was on a map.  I heard Vietnam was a fast developing country with factories producing for the West.  It sounded like many places I had gone, but on arrival it gave me some shock and awe.

When I arrived from Singapore I was surprised by how large, clean and new the airport was.  It could have been in any developed country and was nicer than most American airports.  The change was especially stark coming from Singapore’s Budget Terminal which was like the sanatorium in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The only airport hassle was picking up my Vietnam Visa on Arrival from a bureaucratic regime that was holding up 30+ people.  Luckily, my visa processed fastest of anyone on my plane and faster than most on a plane that had arrived earlier.  After gathering myself and belongings, I exited the airport expecting a crush of touts, taxi services and unsavory individuals that hound tourists in many airports.  As I exited I was surprised by the calm and order.

Outside I met a Finnish man who was being hassled by a taxi tout, in hushed tones only good English speakers could comprehend we surmised that we were heading to the same area.  I told him I wanted to take the bus and he agreed.  The taxi tout told us the last bus had left as service ceased at 6pm.  It was 5:55pm.  We haggled to an agreeable price and the tout told us to wait in the parking lot.  Realizing he may not be allowed to fetch passengers at the door, we obliged and waited.  Minutes passed and the tout was nowhere to be seen.  Then the bus arrived.  With no taxi in sight we boarded the bus which was 94% cheaper than the taxi would have been.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Routeburn Track

This was our second Great Walk in New Zealand.  Click here to read about the Milford Track, New Zealand’s most famous hike.

Inscribed on almost every “World’s Best” hikes list is the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.  All too often the reality fails to meet the hyped expectations, but Routeburn does not disappoint.  From start to finish the trail wow’s you so much that the work of hiking is forgotten.

The sun rising outside the Routeburn Falls Hut, a fine start to our final day on the track.  This is a view hikers traveling in the traditional, Queenstown to Te Anau, direction are given on their first day.

Having completed the Milford Track just days earlier we chose to hike in the opposite direction of most, starting from Te Anau and hiking towards the comforts of Queenstown, the de facto capital of New Zealand tourism.  We had been discouraged by the weather report in the Department of Conservation office: freezing temperatures and snow at the level of the campsites.

Traveling with $25 warm-weather sleeping bags and yet to rent a tent, news of snow was unwelcome.  Given our experiences with rental tents we made the expensive decision to change from camping to staying in hut dormitories.  Even though the huts were listed as booked we learned that there are a couple extra beds always available for a difference of $36 NZD ($28 USD) per person ($54 NZD for huts versus $18 NZD to camp in high season).  Being budget travelers as we are, we lamented the cost, but decided that if greeted by rain, snow and freezing temperatures, this was the right move.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Routeburn Track

Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Milford Track

What makes a “Great Walk”?  This question haunted me after reserving our spots on the Milford Track.  Reputedly one of the world’s best hikes, reservations are required months in advice at the cost of almost $250 USD per person for the four day, three night, hike.  What kind of public park hike requires you to carry all your stuff, cook your own food,and costs over $50 a day?  After a year of traveling on less, paying that much to hike uphill seemed absurd.  That said, having made the payment, we’d soon find out how great this Great Walk is.

After a beautiful boat ride to the trailhead the first day is lovably short hike through moss-covered forests.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Milford Track

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Japanese Fashion

When you hear “Japanese fashion”, what do you think?  Middle-age men wearing Disney World hats, Las Vegas t-shirts and enormous cameras?  Or do you think the Harajuku women, dressed up like dolls, anime characters, and the occasional horse head?  Are their fashion choices representing craziness or self-expression in a repressive society?  Read our takes then have your say in the comments below.

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HE SAID…

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Fashion in Japan is interesting.  “Interesting” used in a Minnesota-nice sort of way, as in, “it’s not my thing, I’m not sure about it, actually it makes me a little uncomfortable, but I can’t say that because…well I’m a Minnesotan.”  I’ve been told that in other parts of the country people would say something like, “God bless their heart, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that!”  I think many of the fashions are absolutely crazy, the pedophile soliciting schoolgirl outfits, the dancing Elvises, the anime characters!?!  I don’t get it.

I don’t understand why people want to walk down the street and have people gawking at them.  I don’t get why people want to become a tourist attraction.  I really can’t comprehend why some of them get annoyed that tourists take photos of them, after all, they are the ones drawing the attention to themselves with their choices of clothing.  More over, how long does it take these people to get all done up like this?  Caking on the layers of makeup, doing up their hair, buying all the clothes, putting themselves together the way you would a Barbie Doll.  The time, effort, cost and ogling makes the whole production seem unrewarding.

Are those shoes comfortable?  Whatever you used to make your face look like that…is it toxic?  What if it doesn’t go back to “normal”?  Do you even care?  What do you want to be?  What feeling does it give you to do yourself up like this?  Why, why, why?  Maybe I have too many question, maybe I’m too cerebral for fashion, maybe it’s me that’s crazy, not them, but I’m pretty certain it’s them.

There is one thing I do like in Japanese and in broader Asian fashion: super short mini skirts.  If wacky english worded slogans on shirts, strange makeup combinations, or odd styles are what we have to accept to get super short shorts on a daily basis then I could be converted…

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Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Japanese Fashion

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