Friday, December 28, 2007

Off to L.A.!

We're in L.A. for the next few days to attend my cousin's wedding.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Phoenix falls flat on list of fun cities (Phoenix Business Journal)

A new survey done by Bizjournals ranks the Phoenix metro area 42nd among the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S.

The Dec. 21 issue of the Phoenix Business Journal reviews the results in an article titled, "Phoenix falls flat on list of fun cities".


The study ranked the cities in fourteen fields from the following seven categories:
  • Shopping -- Retail trade establishments
  • Food and drink -- Full-service restaurants; drinking places
  • Culture -- Museums and historical sites; performing arts
  • Popular entertainment -- Motion picture and video exhibition establishments; spectator sports establishments; amusement parks and arcades
  • Gambling -- Gambling industries
  • High-impact sports -- Fitness and recreational sports centers; skiing facilities
  • Low-impact sports -- Golf courses and country clubs; marinas; bowling centers
The article cites three main challenges facing the area:
  • suburban sprawl
  • lack of a dynamic central core
  • limited public transportation
Here is the top 13:
1. New York City
2. Boston
3. Chicago
4. Los Angeles
5. Seattle
6. San Francisco/Oakland
7. Minneapolis/St. Paul
8. Pittsburgh
9. Philadelphia
10. Providence (PHX got crushed by Providence???)
11. Miami
12. New Orleans
13. Las Vegas

Here's how Phoenix fared in each of the categories: (including the top and bottom ranked cities)

Shopping: 46 (1 - Boston; 50 - Riverside/San Bernardino)
Food and drink: 36 (1 - NYC; 50 - Memphis)
Culture: 45 (1 - NYC; 50 - Detroit)
Popular entertainment: 30 (1 - LA; 50 - Jacksonville)
Gambling: 20 (1 - Las Vegas; 46 (tie) - Orlando, Salt Lake City, Columbus, Birmingham, Memphis)
High-impact sports: 40 (1 - Boston; 50 - Memphis)
Low-impact sports: 17 (1 - NYC; 50 - Salt Lake City)

Overall pitiful results for the 5th largest metro area in the U.S.

I love this section from the article:

"Phillips said he is stunned that metro Phoenix would be ranked so low in the survey. He pointed to the numerous cultural attractions, including art galleries, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, luxury shopping and the Parada Del Sol."

(Mike) Phillips is a spokesman for the City of Scottsdale. Noted, most of the people interviewed for the article are biased (i.e. Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman)...but stunned??? This guy is in serious denial! That, or he needs to do a bit of traveling to other cities.

We need to get out of here soon...

12/28 update:
I found the full rankings:
America's Fun Cities: Rankings for 50 markets (

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mexican (Mariscos Playa Hermosa), Vietnamese (Pho Avina), and Italian (Andrea Bocelli)

Back to some food!

Two Friday ago, I had a bit of a cultural world tour.

For lunch, I met up w/ Jay at Mariscos Playa Hermosa. I ordered a breaded fish platter and Jay got camarones culichi (shrimp in a green tomatillo sauce).

Before our dishes arrived, our server brought us each a complimentary appetizer (in addition to a basket of tortilla chips). The appetizer was a salmon ceviche on top of a large tortilla chip. It was very tasty - here's a pic:
Mariscos Playa Hermosa - complimentary salmon ceviche
My fish platter was awesome. (I think I've ordered this on my two previous visits to MPH.) It consisted of a large breaded fillet of fish, rice, beans, and warm tortillas. Here's a somewhat dark picture:
Mariscos Playa Hermosa - fried fish platter
I also tried a bit of Jay dish. It was also very good...
Mariscos Playa Hermosa - camarones culichi
For dinner, Patty and I went to one of our favorites, Pho Avina. We had bun rieu (crabmeat stew) and rice vermicelli w/ salad (w/ grilled pork and eggroll). As usual, everything was excellent. Here are the pics:

Pho Avina - Rice vermicelli w/ salad w/ grilled pork and eggroll
Pho Avina - bun rieu
After dinner, we went to the Andrea Bocelli concert at the arena. Even though I had ordered tickets the first day they went sale, our seats were in the second row...from the top! (in the cheapest price level available - $75) BTW, I hate Ticketmaster! Here's a breakdown of the ticket fees:

Face value of tickets: $75 x 2 = $150.00
Facility charge: 10.30
Convenience charge: 22.00
Order processing: 4.05
Total: $186.35

24% of the ticket prices in additional fees!!!

The seating in the arena is terrible. Both Patty and I are pretty small (I'm 5'7" and she's 5'5"), but we both had no forward legroom. Without stretching our legs at all, our toes touched the seats in the forward row. I'm guessing when they designed the place, they tried to maximize profits by squeezing in as many seats as possible. Looking around the arena, I noticed that the spacing is consistent throughout the arena. It was very uncomfortable!!!

On to the concert...roughly a third of the selections were operatic (the remaining quarter consisted of Bocelli's more "poppy/crossover" stuff that I prefer). It was still a great concert though. It would have been even better if our program hadn't "mysteriously" disappeared. During the intermission, I left our program in between our seats. When we returned, it was gone! I noticed that our neighbors now had two a coincidence?!? I waited and waited to see if they would return our program...but no luck. I was very tempted to ask them if I could "borrow" one of their programs. Whoever you were sitting in Section 218, Row G, Seats 6 and 7...

Places mentioned:
Mariscos Playa Hermosa
1605 E. Garfield St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Pho Avina
4920 W. Thunderbird Rd, Suite 110
Glendale, AZ 85306

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

San Diego median housing prices

Found this graphic on another blog (
San Diego County monthly median housing prices
(from the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The accompanying article is here.

Debt Management

I found this funny SNL skit about debt management on another blog (

It's so easy, yet so difficult for many people to understand - DON'T BUY STUFF YOU CANNOT AFFORD! The big problem is that many people don't have a clue about their own finances. Greed and denial are probably factors as well...

FYI - if you do need help, my former college roommate is on a "crusade" to help people with their debt. His website is full of great information, including many tools you can use to help yourself. Check out his website:

Monday, December 17, 2007

The price we are all paying for China's focus on economic growth.

The New York Times has published an eight part series titled, "Choking on Growth", about China's pollution crisis.

I just finished the last episode titled "In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters". The article and video are pretty alarming.

Here are some highlights:

"China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country."

"More than half of the rivers in China are too polluted to serve as a source of drinking water."

"The nearby Dongzhang Reservoir, a water source for agriculture and more than 700,000 people, was recently rated level 5, near the bottom of the government scale, unfit for fish farming, swimming or even contact with the human body."

"This is one of the solutions to the water crisis in China: to seek out virgin territory and essentially start the cycle all over again. And that worries scientists, who say aquaculture in China is not just a victim of water pollution but a culprit with a severe environmental legacy."

Still want to eat that shrimp, catfish, unagi (eel), or tilapia?!?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Santa, holiday lights, and Little Saigon

Forgot to post this picture earlier...
driving behind Santa
We were driving behind Santa and his sleigh (or carriage) last weekend!

Yesterday night we went to Little Saigon for dinner. On our way there, we made a few stops to check out some holiday light displays.

Here are a few pics from an impressive display (@ 5309 W. Barbara Ave., Glendale, AZ):
holiday lights @ 5309 W. Barbara Ave., Glendale, AZholiday lights @ 5309 W. Barbara Ave., Glendale, AZholiday lights @ 5309 W. Barbara Ave., Glendale, AZholiday lights @ 5309 W. Barbara Ave., Glendale, AZ
It's quite a setup. There are lights galore (some even timed to the music) and a bunch of animated objects.

BTW, has a great guide (w/ handy printable maps) to holiday lights around the Valley. Find it here.

On to Little Saigon...
This was our third visit there. We ordered a Banh Xeo and Pho Tai.

Like the last time we had it, the Banh Xeo was very good. It consisted of two large crepes filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, served with fish sauce and a plate of fresh herbs and veggies.
Little Saigon - Banh Xeo
This was the first time that we've had pho tai at Little Saigon. The broth was a bit too oily and tasted kind of flat - I couldn't taste any of the typical spices. It tasted pretty much like beef broth. Overall, it still wasn't bad. The beef was tender, the noodles had the right consistency, and the herbs were fresh.
Little Saigon - Pho Tai

My passport story

When we arrived in Taiwan last month, I almost didn't make it past immigration.

Before leaving for our trip, I knew my passport didn't expire until sometime in 2008, so I didn't think about it further (since U.S. passport holders can stay in Taiwan for up to thirty days without a visa). Patty had made it first through immigration and was waiting for me on the "other side". The immigration officer flipped though my passport and asked me if I had a visa. I replied that I didn't. He told me that he couldn't let me in the country and that I might have to return to the U.S. because my passport was expiring in less than six months. DOH! I didn't know about this rule. The officer told me to go to a visa office to try to apply for a visa. Luckily, I ended up getting a visa but it cost me 4300NT! (about $135 USD). Ouch...

Shortly after returning home, I completed my passport renewal application and mailed it on Monday, Dec. 10 (via regular first class mail). According to the State Department's website, the estimated processing was 4-6 weeks. This morning I wanted to see if it my passport had been received yet, so I checked the status via the State Department's website. I was surprised when I saw that my application had already been processed and had already been mailed out. When I went to check my mail today, it was in the mail! Very impressive - it has been less than two weeks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Straight Talk on the Mortgage Mess from an Insider (Herb Greenberg's MarketBlog /

A great read from Herb Greenberg's MarketBlog (
Straight Talk on the Mortgage Mess from an Insider

The posting includes commentary from Mark Hanson (the "insider"), VP of Mortgage Funding at Freddie Mac. He says that the Government and market are primarily blaming sub-prime loans for the mess, while in fact, sub-prime is only a small piece of the mess.

Here's a snippet:

"One final thought. How can any of this get repaired unless home values stabilize? And how will that happen? In Northern California, a household income of $90,000 per year could legitimately pay the minimum monthly payment on an Option ARM on a million home for the past several years. Most Option ARMs allowed zero to 5% down. Therefore, given the average income of the Bay Area, most families could buy that million dollar home. A home seller had a vast pool of available buyers.

Now, with all the exotic programs gone, a household income of $175,000 is needed to buy that same home, which is about 10% of the Bay Area households. And, inventories are up 500%. So, in a nutshell we have 90% fewer qualified buyers for five-times the number of homes. To get housing moving again in Northern California, either all the exotic programs must come back, everyone must get a 100% raise or home prices have to fall 50%. None, except the last sound remotely possible."

I highly recommend reading the entire post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beware of food from China!

The craziest thing happened last week while we were over at a friend's house. They were soaking dried shitake mushrooms and found three rusty 2 inch nails embedded in three of the mushrooms. I should have taken a picture of them...

Sure enough, the mushrooms were from China (as almost all dried shitake mushrooms are). We generally try to avoid food products stamped "Made in China", but for many things, it's difficult to tell (i.e. fruit, packaged foods made w/ raw ingredients from China, etc.). I'm guessing a bunch of those cereals I love may use raw materials from China.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Rescue Dawn and Enchanted

Last night we rented Rescue Dawn (I choose the movie this time since Patty choose Shrek the Third on Friday). I really liked this movie. It's a fantastic story about friendship, optimism, and survival. The acting was incredible - especially Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies. The DVD extras include a great "Making of" feature which shows the dedication of director Werner Herzog and the entire cast. I predict that the film will get nominated for at least one Oscar.

Earlier today we went to see Enchanted. The movie theater near our house only charges $4.50 per ticket for the first daily showing of each movie. The same theater also just mailed out cards good for a free large popcorn for each visit. $9 for two tickets and popcorn...NICE!!!

The movie was good. While I'm pretty certain it's not going to win any awards, it was quite entertaining...definitely better than Shrek the Third.

Whew - three movies in one weekend...I think that must be a record for us!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dim Sum at China Chan

We met up w/ some friends today for dim sum at China Chan. This was the first visit there for all of us. We arrived at 11:30 and the place was nearly empty. Not a promising initial sign...most decent dim sum places are packed by this time. Instead of the typical push cart service, you order from a list. We ordered about three-quarters of the available items.

Here's the menu:
China Chan - dim sum menu
Here's a fuzzy pic of some of the food:
China Chan - various dim sum items
Overall, I thought it was pretty mediocre. The spareribs tasted sour. The daikon cakes were mushy. The fried taro was very oily. The rest was very average.

We haven't been back to China King for a long time (posting here) but next time we go for dim sum, it will probably be either there or Great Wall.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Frontera Stone Fired Pizza and Shrek the Third

We were originally planning to go out for dinner tonight, but it was raining and cold outside so we decided to stay in. For dinner, I made a Frontera Stone Fired Pizza (Barbecue Style Chicken).

I left it in the oven a bit too long so the crust got a bit too crispy. Aside from that, the chicken pieces had a strange flavor. It tasted pretty much the same as every other frozen pizza (except for the excellent American Flatbread that we had a while about it here). I won't be buying this one again.

After dinner we watched Shrek the Third. The graphics were amazing, but I can't say the same for the story. Except for a few laughs, the movie wasn't so funny. It was by far the worst of the three Shrek movies. Big thumbs down from me...

Homeowner bailout is a lousy idea (Jon Markman/MSN Money)

Great article from Jon Markman (MSN Money):
Homeowner bailout is a lousy idea

"It's as if the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury believe the best way to treat heroin addicts is through long-term, government-supplied crack. To be sure, lower interest rates and a mortgage-rate freeze might ease borrowers' pain temporarily, but they do nothing to solve causes or habits -- and without a doubt launch a new cycle of abuse and dependence."

"Postponing the undeniable anguish involved in making participants own up to debt-fueled losses is exactly why it took Japan more than a decade to shake off the bursting of its own credit bubble back in 1990. Interest rates were cut essentially to zero, but because moribund banks and real-estate tycoons were given government stipends, they drew funds and attention away from more-productive uses, and the country entered a recession that haunts Japan to this day."

I completely agree!

BTW, I do have to say that Bush is one slick character...he has very conveniently deflected the mess to the next President.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Monday dinner (@ home)

Here's what we had for dinner on Monday:
  • Orange chicken - made from frozen Orange Chicken from Costco + pineapple
  • Stir-fried eggplant - eggplant and hoisin sauce
  • "Tomato egg" - made from tomato, egg, ketchup, and brown sugar (this dish is one of our "staples" --> we have it almost every week)
  • Stir-fried baby bok choy - garlic and baby bok choy
clockwise from lower left - orange chicken, baby bok choy, tomato egg, eggplantNo, I usually don't cook four dishes per night. The eggplant and tomato dishes were leftovers from the previous night. We usually have one protein and one veggie dish each night (+ rice).

Brunch @ Wildflower

Last Saturday, Patty and I went to Wildflower for brunch.

Instead of ordering one of our usuals (Honey-cured Ham & Brie Frittata, Banana Walnut Pancakes, and Cinnamon Raisin Nut French Toast), we decided to try something different and got the Hazelnut Gingerbread Pancakes (a new seasonal item) and a Taylor Ham and Egg Sandwich.

The pancakes were just ok for me. I thought the embedded chocolate chips made them a bit too heavy. I'll stick w/ the Banana Walnut Pancakes next time. I take that back - I still haven't tried their Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, so that's probably what I'll order next time.
Wildflower - Hazelnut and Gingerbread Pancakes
The sandwich was also just ok for me. Consisting of ham, egg, and cheese on a ciabatta roll, it seemed kind of flat or plain to me. It was missing something...maybe a slice of tomato or some avocado - definitely not in the same league as LGO's super tasty Commuter. I guess I can't complain much since the Commuter is about 60% more expensive than the Ham & Egg ($4.19 vs. 6.75).
Wildflower - Taylor Ham & Egg Sandwich

Monday, December 3, 2007

A very scary graphic

Found this on another blog...

It would be interesting to see a similar graphic including the whole world. I'm sure there is a similar trend in many other countries but nowhere near the ranges of the U.S.