New and changing traditions – skillet apple pie

Mrs. Adamu and I are in Connecticut for Thanksgiving this year. It’s the first time we have been back at this time of the season for several years and I must say it’s been refreshing. New England is cold at this time of year but the air is crisp and the night sky very clear. I do not remember seeing this many stars for a very long time.

I’ve been listening to a lot of NPR on this trip and was inspired by hearing this story on Morning Edition about popular Thanksgiving dishes that have come and gone. So inspired, in fact, that I tried to make one of the dishes, skillet apple pie. I highly recommend listening to the whole story as it gives you an interesting feel for how different Thanksgiving must have been in generations past. Anyway here is what the dish is supposed to do:

Apple pie is an essential dish for Thanksgiving, yet it’s perhaps the hardest dessert to master: making two layers of pie crust; getting flavor into the apples; making the filling sliceable but tasty; making the bottom crust crispy instead of soggy. Here’s our quick and easy answer to the Apple Pie Problem.

While this wasn’t a vintage dish (it was an invention of the person interviewed for the story), it sounded pretty damned good. I’ve never had apple pie with apple cider and maple syrup before. My own variation on the dish did nothing to solve the “apple pie problem” however. I transported the sauteed apples back into a traditional pie plate and used a top and bottom crust. I haven’t tried it yet so we shall see if it works out. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Interesting perspective…

From a half-Japanese consultant based in Kyrgyzstan:


I often hear, “The Kyrgyz and Japanese were once the same people, but those who liked fish went east and those who liked meat went west.”

Who wants a Ferrari for only ¥72,800?

The Japan subsidiary of Acer, a Taiwanese computer manufacturer, has become the first computer manufacturer licensed to produce a laptop incorporated the Ferrari design.

acer ferrari

It goes on sale on November 27th, and comes with a 340gb HD, 4gb of RAM, and an 11.6 inch widescreen, among other standard features. On startup, it launches into the Ferrari engine roar.

Mad cow protests in Taiwan get crazy

About two weeks ago I talked about how the protests in Taiwan over the importation of American beef are more about anxiety over a loss of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of  China than about any serious concerns over possible mad cow disease. Well, this has only become more obvious as the debates and protests continue. For example, DPP caucus whip Pan Meng-an says “The [lifting of restrictions] on US beef became effective spontaneously, without legislative approval, as did the financial MOU with China. Will [the government’s plan to sign an economic cooperative and framework agreement] be next?” And whether or not allegations that DPP Chairperson Tsai Ying-wen secretly met with American Institute in Taiwan (the unofficial embassy) director William Stanton to promise that the protests were purely an election ploy to discredit the ruling KMT and not a sign of anti-Americanism turn out to be true, that is also clearly a major impetus for the protests.

But what is a mass political protest without a little crazy? Well, some was provided by Chu Cheng-chi (朱政騏), a PhD student at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Sociology, who posted a video of himself eating a “burger” made out of actual cow-shit to youtube as a symbol of…something I guess.

Chu Cheng-chi (朱政騏), a graduate student at NTU’s Graduate Institute of Sociology, lay down outside the legislature’s front gate and covered himself with a straw mat — a gesture Chu said symbolized how the poor cover the body of a deceased person.

He said he would continue his hunger strike to protest a proposal by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus to amend the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).

Chu was referring to a proposal the KMT put forward last Tuesday to authorize the government to “draw up measures to inspect beef products from areas where the risk of mad cow disease has been under control,” instead of two other prosoals for a ban on “risky” beef products from the US.

Chu began a “lie in” protest in a coffin in front of the legislature on Saturday and vowed to stage a hunger strike until today, but police fined him and forcibly removed the coffin on Sunday night, saying Chu had violated the Road Traffic Management and Punishment Act (道路交通管理處罰條例).

Huang Tai-shan (黃泰山), a doctoral student from National Tsing Hua University, who also covered himself with a grass mat next to Chu, said five more doctoral students would join the protest should police forcibly remove Chu and Huang.

But of course, you really want to see the video itself. Enjoy.

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After the opening vignette of him tasting a cow patty is the opening title of:

I eat cow dung, I protest!

My rough translation of his monologue is as follows:

I have in front of me some delicious edible beef.
After the Ma adminstration opens the door to American Beef, it will turn into beef that one could fear is poisonous.
I am just an ordinary youth who decided to protest against the government.
I have no power to change things, I am only able to make my own body suffer.
This is the most serious kind of protest!
I am now going to take Taiwanese cow dung and prepare it.
Consuming American beef will absolutely be scarier than eating the dung of a Taiwanese cow!

Followed by another title reading:

Eating American beef is scarier than eating Taiwanese cow dung!

They then drive out to Qingtiangang (擎天崗), a ranch area created during Japanese occupation, now part of Yangmingshan National Park to collect the fresh cow dung as cloying music plays in the background. You finally see him sit in front of the presidential building, prepare the burger, and eat some of it while reciting more nonsense about how he can “absolutely guarantee that it is still safer than American beef” and that “the Ma Yingjiu administration is opening up to American beef and not protecting the safety, well-being, and health of the people.” He then pukes in the bushes.

Enjoy the e-coli, chu. E-coli, for those who forget, is a bacteria found mainly in the digestive tracts and feces of animals, which generally poisons humans when it is transmitted by accidental contamination of meat by feces from the same animal when it is slaughtered.  According to the CDC, e-coli poisoning kills at least 60 Americans and sickens 2000 every year. For comparison, take a look at the CDC’s own stats on mad cow disease-showing only 3 confirmed cases in the US to date. And note that these are the numbers of cases in COWS, to date there have been exactly zero cases of humans contracting the disease from cows raised in the US.

How to get out of jury duty, Japanese-style

It’s been six months since the official kickoff of Japan’s lay judge system (roughly equivalent to a US jury), and about 4 months since the first trial began. Already, 84 people have helped adjudicate 14 criminal trials.

So far there have been hundreds of thousands more – 290,000 to be precise – who have received notices telling them they may have to serve (presumably this includes both people who were excused and those still in the selection process). Asahi Shimbun has a feature article (in the Nov 17 print edition) on the ups and downs of the selection process. According to a provided flowchart, the process typically goes something like this:

  1. People are randomly selected from the roster of eligible voters and must fill out a questionnaire about their eligibility, which they can then deliver in person or mail in. Many can get out of showing up for an interview at court for a variety of reasons – those 70 or older, those who have not completed middle school, people with “critical matters” to attend to, and those who have been sentenced to imprisonment are among those who do not have to serve.
  2. Of the 40 or so who are asked to come to the courthouse, about five stragglers will fail to appear and face a fine.
  3. Then it’s interview time. The head judge, the prosecutor, and the defense will hold a speak privately with each candidate. The judge will excuse around three people for the above legally permitted reasons mandated by law. The prosecutors and defense can then excuse up to seven people each without giving any reason. The judge can also suggest to either side that they let someone go. The article quotes a defense attorney explaining that he tends to excuse old people and women because they tend to throw the book at violent offenders. Another defender tries to pick mothers with children the same age as the defendant. A prosecutor let a woman go for keeping quiet and looking at the floor all the time. One judge asked a defender to let a woman go who looked too weak to fully participate (the defender agreed).
  4. After the initial selection process, the remaining candidates are decided by lottery. Six people are selected as lay judges, with two others chosen as backups. Those who are not chosen do not know whether they lose the lottery or if the lawyers in the case wanted them out.

Basically, it sounds like otherwise eligible people can get out of lay judge duty by acting unenthusiastic or fatigued because the lawyers want people who will be engaged and interested.

One complaint voiced a man who was excused: if you show up at the courthouse and are chosen as a lay judge, you’re immediately sequestered for about four days. That forces everyone to plan on being away for a few days even though most will be able to go home. The man suggested scheduling the trial a week after the interview day so the lay judges can make arrangements for an extended time away from home. That’s basically how it works in the US, if I recall correctly.

A woman who cares for her ailing mother full time wrote in her questionnaire that she would like to be excused, but the court called and told her she should come anyway. She had to pay for a home helper out of pocket to show up at court. She ended up not being selected, but since there was no way to plan she ended up having to pay for an extra day of care that she didn’t use.

Sadly this story was relegated to the back pages of the Asahi. This scheduling issue is a careless oversight that threatens to undermine the already shaky public support for this new system. Once chosen, almost everyone seems to feel the process was worth it, according to a survey. The next step is lessening the hassle for those who don’t get chosen.

US infrastructure is pathetic

As a simple reminder, look at the plans for the rail line being built to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport (former Chiang Kai Shek Airport).

Travelers leaving from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport will be able to check their luggage in at Taipei Railway Station before boarding the Airport Rail, the Bureau of High Speed Rail said yesterday.

“When the Airport Rail is launched in 2014, passengers can check in and get their boarding passes in the city first,” Bureau Director-General Chu Shu (朱旭) said. “The Taoyuan airport will be the fourth system in the world to offer in-town check-in service, following airports in Kuala Lumpar, Hong Kong and Bangkok.”

Even in cities that have a half-way decent rail system, most airports in the US don’t even have a rail connection. NYC’s JFK Airport has the so-called Airtrain, but after trying it once I suspect it might be faster to walk. There is also some talk of extending the PATH 2 miles so that it connects Manhattan directly to Newark Airport, with 24 hour access, which would be a huge improvement. But I can’t even imagine any place in the US putting together a baggage check-in service on the other side of an express airport rail. America was once the world leader in infrastructure, and now look at the list of cities in that article that have not just better airports, but better airports AND better airport rails! Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to see the rest of the world catch up, but I’m disgusted that 21st America is making so little investment in similar upgrades. China’s insane empty city aside, they are also pumping $200 billion into high speed rail infrastructure. The United States has only about 10% of that figure promised.

Dual nationality and Zainichi Koreans

Via the Marmot’s Hole, it appears that South Korea is currently drafting a law that would finally allow for dual citizenship of adults. The dual citizenship law in Korea is currently more or less the same as Japan, i.e. that it is only permitted for minors who are theoretically forced to choose upon reaching the age of majority. In Japan that age is 20 and in Korea is 22, but the principal is the same.

Those who obtain foreign citizenship by birth will be allowed to maintain it if they submit a written oath by the age of 22 not to exercise the rights and privileges of foreigners in Korea by using their second passport.

After the age of 22, men will be allowed to maintain multiple citizenship only if they complete their military service here. Under the current law, dual citizenship holders must choose one nationality by the age of 22 and submit a written pledge to give up their foreign citizenship if they choose their Korean nationality. The revision is aimed at blocking a drain on military manpower.

Those caught using their foreign passports to enter international schools or invest in Korea as foreigners will be ordered to choose a single nationality and automatically lose their Korean nationality if they fail to give up their foreign citizenship within a specified period.

The regulations also apply for other groups such as foreigners who have immigrated through marriage with Koreans; highly skilled foreigners; senior citizens living overseas; those who have regained Korean citizenship after being adopted by foreign families; and Chinese nationals who were born and have lived here for more than 20 years.

Under the current law, foreigners have to give up their foreign citizenship within six months after they obtain Korean nationality.

There are a couple of complications that I’m curious about, however. First, I assume that military service has a maximum age as well, and if so, are older men allowed to acquire dual-citizenship without doing it? The second case is more complicated though-the so-called Zainichi Koreans. Republic of Korea citizens who are permanent residents of Japan, particularly those who came during the pre-WW2 colonial period and their descendants. Will they also allowed to become dual nationals? And if so, what about military service?

Well, as it currently stands Zainichi Koreans, as well as Korean permanent residents in other countries, are exempt from the draft. However, should they “return” to Korea with the intention of becoming a permanent resident there, they lose this exemption.

大韓民国 兵役法
第2項 ・・・・・・・・・・・国外で家族と共に永住権を得た者(条件付き永住権を得た者を除く。以下同じ)又は永住権制度がない国で無期限滞留資格を得た者の場合には、兵役免除の処分をすることができる。
第4項 ・・・・・・・・・・・兵役の免除を受けた者が国内で永住する目的で帰国するなど大統領令が定める事由に該当するときは、その処分を取り消して兵役義務を賦課することができる。

But will overseas Koreans, such as the Zainichi, even be allowed to acquire dual citizenship? There would probably be no significant issues in a country like the United States, which tolerated dual citizenship-even with countries that require military service, as long as they are a military ally like Israel. But what about Japan? I really can’t say. Although later-arriving Korean immigrants are also technically lumped in with Zainichi, the term is mainly concerned with those who, as I mentioned above, came over as colonial subjects, and their descendants, who were granted an unusual “Special Permanent Residents” status as a diplomatic compromise between Japan and Korea. (Note that the population of Zainichi who “came over during the colonial period and their descendants” is actually larger than the number of Special Permanent Residents, as some thousands returned or moved to Korea when it became independent, but later decided return to Japan, where they had spent most or all of their lives. Those who left Japan and returned were legally counted as new immigrants, and did not qualify for Special Permanent Residency.)

Many have wondered why neither country has ever allowed dual citizenship in the past, particularly for this minority. In fact, when Japan and South Korea were originally discussing the legal status of the Zainichi Koreans, the idea of allowing dual citizenship was floated, but was allegedly vetoed by the US government. As domestic politics in both countries, as well as their relations, have changed a lot over the decades, (and the US probably doesn’t care, or have the power to set policy anymore) a similar conclusion would not necessarily be foregone today, but I still can’t see Japan tolerating South Korea to unilaterally change their citizenship policy in a way that potentially hundreds of thousands of Japan residents. Zainichi Koreans (a group which actually consists of both South Korean citizens and quasi-stateless/quasi-North Korean citizens) have no problem naturalizing as Japanese citizens (they used to), but (at least anecdotally) are also forced to give up their Korean citizenship more strictly than westerners. I can’t see this changing until Japan also changes their own law to allow for adult dual citizenship, and I have yet to see any sign that they plan to do so.

Profile of the (surprisingly lucrative) university co-op business in Japan

When I did a year-long exchange at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, one of the more interesting entities on campus was the co-op that ran cafeterias and a general merchandise store. Prices were reasonable, the food was excellent, and service was comparatively decent. The store even had an entertaining message board where students could ask the staff questions on any random topic, similar to the Japanese blog “Shiraishi of the Campus Co-op.” Like me, many foreign students probably leave Japan with fond memories of their university cafeteria and the friendly middle-aged ladies who served them.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the co-op system, but the always informative Shukan Toyo Keizai’s profile of the university co-op system taught me a thing or two.

Here are some key facts:

  • University co-ops are non-profit institutions operated and funded by student members. Around 30% of Japan’s 762 four-year universities (around 230 228 to be exact) have a co-op on campus, which will likely run at least one cafeteria, merchandise shop, and bookstore each. 40% of all university students (1.3 million) are members. At universities that have co-ops, membership is around 95%. Students pay between Y10,000-30,000 to join when they enter university, which is returned without interest once they graduate or drop out.
  • All such co-ops are organized under the umbrella of the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations in Japan, formed in 1958. While the first university co-op was formed in Kyoto’s Doshisha University in 1898, they didn’t really start to take off until after World War II, as universities set up co-ops to help ensure steady food supplies as Japan’s economy got back on its feet, similar to neighborhood co-ops (they are regulated by the same law). The federation’s website notes that co-ops offer a wide range of goods and services, among them “food, clothing, housing, books, stationery and PCs…arranging and subcontracting for tourism, Student Mutual Benefit [a type of insurance plan], language training programs, courses for applicants for public employee and computer training programs.”
  • Co-ops are a serious business – in 2008 the federation counted revenue of Y207.5 billion. Considering there are only co-ops on 230 228 campuses, it’s nothing short of amazing their revenue compares with convenience store chain am/pm (Y195.5 billion in FY08, 1,129 stores) and Tokyu department stores (232.3 billion in FY08, scattered stores in major cities). The article explains the universities benefit from a captive customer base of students on campus and virtually no other on-campus competitors (though that has changed slightly following some deregulation in 2004).
  • About a quarter of all sales are recorded in March and April ahead of the start of the academic year. However, in those two months the co-ops typically sell around 60,000 PCs. Sales in 2008 break down as follows: 15% from cafeterias, 19.9% from bookstores, and 65.1% from merchandise stores (in the merchandise category, 18.6% comes from hardware & software vs. 11.5% from food).
  • Gross margin (revenue minus cost of goods sold as a percent of total revenue) is roughly 20% overall and 50-55% in the cafeteria segment. That basically means that for every 100 yen in sales, 20 yen is profit before labor/administration, financing, and tax costs.
  • One benefit of being a student association is the university charges virtually no rent. This allows them to keep cafeteria prices low and charge the same for electronics as big-box retailers. The co-ops also have considerable bargaining power as procurement is all done through the national federation. That’s how the cafeterias can charge an average of Y380 per meal.
  • Another advantage of the co-ops is service. One student interviewed from the article bought a PC at the co-op because he liked getting advice from a fellow student.
  • One disadvantage of having your business limited to college campuses is the limited number of business days. Vacations slash the total number of business days to around 250-300, and students only show up for class on about 150-170 days a year.
  • In 2004, Japan’s national universities were stripped of their status as arms of the government and reorganized as corporate entities. This meant they gained a freer hand to get creative in running their campuses, and one such initiative has been to open convenience stores on campus in direct competition with the co-ops. Already, 40 co-ops are reported to be competing with on-campus kombini.
  • Co-ops have responded to this competition with initiatives of their own, for example opening chain stores inside cafeteria areas and selling pre-paid meal plans to students (something typical at US universities).
  • The population of 18-year-olds in Japan (an indicator of the size of the co-ops’ target demographic) expected to hold steady at 12 million in 2009 but then fall steadily into the foreseeable future. With this declining customer base, the author speculates there will be closer cooperation with universities and co-ops in the future. Already there are examples of a co-op collaborating with Yamanashi University to offer Yamanashi wine on campus.