Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Asian Countries celebrate Halloween

Halloween is the most popular holiday in the United States, but did you know that other countries celebrate it too? Countries around the world have ways of honoring and remembering the dead during this time of year. Even different countries in Asia like to celebrate Halloween, but not in the traditional costumes-and-pumpkins way we might think. 

Each October 31st, people across China celebrate Halloween, or Teng Chieh, by offering food and water to the dead. They also light lanterns with the belief that they will help to guide deceased loved ones as they make their visit to the "land of the living" in Halloween night. 

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The Japanese also utilize lanterns for their Halloween customs. The lanterns are traditionally colored red and are hung in every house. These red lanterns are also placed on boats and float through rivers to guide the spirits of the dead back to the homes of their families for the night. It is also traditional for Japanese families to clean the gravestones of their ancestors and prepare special dishes to honor and remember them. These customs and traditions are all referred to in Japan as the Obon Festival. 

Halloween is not big in Korea, but offerings of food and flowers are still made to their ancestors to show respect. 

Hong Kong remembers their lost loved ones through a traditional festival known as the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. During this time, pictures of fruits or money are burned with the belief that these images will reach the spirits of the dead and provide comfort. 

Although many of the Halloween traditions in Asia are different from those in the United States, certain countries are beginning to pick up many Western Halloween traditions. For example, Halloween recently arrived in Japan. Now around this time of year, decorations such as jack-o'-lanterns can be seen around town of in shop windows and every year Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan puts on extravagant Halloween shows and events. Trick-or-Treating is still not a common practice in Japan, but costume house parties aren't that uncommon. 

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Besides the traditional and culture-rich Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Hong Kong also likes to celebrate the more commercialized side of Halloween. Each year bars all across Hong Kong are decked out in Halloween decorations in an attempt to increase local interest in the holiday. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park also host a Halloween Bash each year to promote and celebrate the holiday. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sung Bong Choi in Los Angeles UPDATE [VIDEO]

For much of Sung Bong Choi's life he lived in the streets, orphaned at only three years of age. He was dropped off at an orphanage, but was often badly beaten, so he ran away to live alone in the red light district of Daejeon -- at just five years old. Many nights he would sleep in a public bathroom or cardboard box on the side of the road, selling gum and energy drinks to get by. Until he was 14, Choi did not even know his own name- fast forward eight years and he is a YouTube sensation. 

In the summer of 2011, Choi's heartbreaking story and raw talent brought him through finals on Korea's Got Talent  and got him 66 million views on YouTube. But what has happened to him since these life changing events? 

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Since gaining second on Korea's Got Talent, Choi's popularity has exploded, even being nicknamed the "Korean Susan Boyle". Only one year after his performance, Choi took America by storm, performing on stage for the first time in the United States. He took part in the international concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, a concert dedicated to promoting peace and unity. Surrounded by an ensemble of internationally acclaimed musicians, Choi performed, along with the others, "We Hear Your Voice." This ballad was written by international singer/songwriter Shani, with the goal of inspiring hope and unity. 

In response to his newfound fame and his recent performance, Choi stated, "I felt the performance went really well. I'm so grateful to make my U.S. debut here. I know that many Americans saw my video on YouTube, so I was glad when I saw them at the concert." 

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The concert at the Greek theatre was Choi's first performance in America, but certainly not his first time on stage. This past year, Choi has performed in countless concerts, including a performance at Korea's Blue House. He has also appeared on T.V. shows and participated in many lectures. He now also has an autobiography titled "Just Live Without Conditions 'Cause You Only Live Once", telling of the hardships he faced before his fame, which moved its way right to the top of Korea's bestsellers list shortly after its release this past summer. Later this year he plans to release his first album, which will finally fulfill his long-awaited dream. 

For those of you new to Sung Bong Choi's story, click here to see his inspiring performance on Korea's Got Talent- and be sure to have some tissues ready!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Japan's Shiraishi Island strives to teach Compassion

On Shiraishi Island, an island in the Inland Sea of Japan, the teaching of compassion for all living things to their children has become a priority

The campaign for compassion began when the dean was troubled by the increasing number of students leaving the island to go to the mainland on weekends and swimming in the local pools and the decreasing number of students swimming in the sea, fishing, kayaking, and just spending time playing in nature. 

To begin the movement towards teaching compassion, Amy Chavez was called in to give a speech to the third and fourth year students of Shiraishi Island Elementary School about the nature on Shiraishi Island and having a true appreciation and compassion for everything within nature. 

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She described to the students some of the unique and beautiful sites the island had to offer. She picked the seasons and had the students describe to her what came to mind when when they heard words like "autumn". The students responded with words such as bamboo, chestnuts, figs, and leaves. 

Chavez then taught the students the importance of being in nature and appreciating all it has to offer. She concluded her lesson by having the children each write down what they thought the point of the discussion was. 

Responses included things like "I didn't realize that most people don't see the sun set over the sea in the evenings" and "Shiraishi must be a beautiful place if Amy came all the way from America to live here."  

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Even after Chavez's lessons had concluded, the school is continuing their project for promoting compassion by having the kindergarten students participate in the raising of animals such as rabbits and chickens. Each grade stretching from kindergarten all the way through elementary school has a garden which the children are in charge of growing and maintaining fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meet Momofuku Ando, inventor of Ramen Noodles (Series Part 4 of 4)

Kids love them, college students live off them, they make a great on the go meal -- but do most people know the inventor behind the beloved Instant Noodles? 

Well, Taiwanese-Japanese business man and founder of Nissin Food Products Company, Momofuku Ando, can take that title. Originally Nissin was a small family-run company that produced salt in Ikeda, Osaka, Japan after the bankruptcy of his first company. 

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Ando's idea for Instant Noodles came during the post-war era when Japan was suffering from a shortage of food. Ando dedicated months of trial and error experimentation before finally on August 25, 1958 when he marketed the first package of precooked noodles, calling them Chicken Ramen. 

Originally the revolutionary instant noodles were considered a luxury item, priced around six times what the traditional noodles were at the time. Once prices began to drop, Instant noodles popularity took off at a rapid rate. 

In 1964 he became the chairman of the International Ramen Manufacturers' Association. There is even a museum (Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum) dedicated to him! 

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The efficiency and low prices of Instant Noodles and Cup Noodles created a fortune for Nissin. Ando lived to be 96 and when asked the secret to his long life he said that it was playing golf and eating Chicken Ramen nearly every day

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ramen Noodles: Discovering the Truth [Series: part 3 of 4]

Everyone is familiar with Maruchan Instant Ramen Noodles, especially college students, but not everyone knows about traditional ramen or the significance it has to Japanese culture. 

Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle dish. Consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles, it is often flavored with soy sauce in a fish flavored broth. Pork is a popular topping for the dish, but other toppings can be used as well. Almost every different area in Japan has a variation of ramen, for example Kyushu's tonkotsu, or pork bone broth

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Although ramen's significance lies in the Japanese culture, its origin is in China. Throughout the 1900s the popularity of ramen increased, but it was still a dish considered to be reserved for a special occasion. 

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Until 1958 when Momofuku Ando invented a dish dubbed the "greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century." This invention was instant ramen noodles. 

The founder and chairman of Nissin Foods invented a way to make ramen noodles by simply adding hot water. This invention is still incredibly popular today, consumed by people all over the world. A ramen museum was even been opened in Yokohama in 1994. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ramen Noodles: Knowing Your Noodle [Series Part 2 of 4]

Ramen noodles have been a popular dish for centuries, allowing the development of  endless variations throughout regions of Japan, and even other parts of Asia. Most of the noodles are made from the same four basic ingredients: wheat, flour, water, salt, and kansui (an alkaline mineral water). 

Adding the kansui to the ingredients gives the noodles their yellowish tint and firm texture. Different recipes substitute eggs for the kansui. Despite the similarities in ingredients, the noodles can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes - some may be fat or thin, straight or wrinkled, or even ribbon-like. The broth generally calls for ingredients such as niboshi (dried baby sardines), onions, beef bones, kelp, also called kombu, and katsuobushi (tuna flakes). The flavors that are then added to the soup are what creates the different variations. There are four main variations to ramen noodles. 

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The first, and most likely oldest, is Shio, salt flavored ramen. It consists of a pale, clear broth made with chicken, vegetables, fish, seaweed and then flavored with salt. Pickled plums, chicken meatballs, and kamaboko are also popular toppings for this kind of ramen. Occasionally pork bones are used, but they are never boiled to ensure the soup keeps its pale color. 

The second variation is tonkotsu, or pork bone ramen. This soup has a cloudy, white colored broth. The broth is thicker than other types of ramen. Its thick broth, due to boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen for hours over high heat, rivals milk or gravy. This ramen is served with pickled ginger (been shoga), crushed garlic, and sesame seeds. Often times, small amounts of chicken and vegetable stock are blended into the pork broth. 

Shoyu, the third variation of ramen, is soy sauce ramen. The broth of this soup is typically a clear brown. Chicken and vegetables are added, sometimes beef or fish as well. Bamboo shoots, green onions, boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and sometimes Chinese spices make up Shoyu ramen- and of course soy sauce. Plenty of soy sauce is added to give the soup its tangy, salty taste. 

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The fourth type of ramen, Miso, is a relatively new recipe. This Miso is unique because it is the only type of ramen out of the four that is strictly Japanese. This soup features a broth that combines chicken broth with miso. The addition of lard to the list of ingredients makes the soup very hearty and thick. Spicy bean paste, bean sprouts, onions, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic are all added to give Miso its tangy flavor. The noodles are most often thick and chewy. 

Ramen Soup: Tasty Variations by Region [SERIES Part 1 of 4]

Standard variations of ramen have been perfected over its centuries of popularity, but since the Taisho era regional variations have been popping up throughout Japan. Five of these regional variations have established national prominence.

The first of the five is Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, has become very famous for ramen. They are most well known for the variation of Miso ramen, which was also where it was invented. Sapporo miso ramen differs from other miso ramen with its additions of local seafood such as squid and scallop, as well as sweetcorn, butter, finely chopped pork, garlic, and bean sprouts. Other cities in Hokkaido are known for ramen as well, such as Hakodate - famous for their salt ramen- and Asahikawa, who prefers soy sauce flavored ramen dishes. 

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Kitakata of northern Honshu is known more for their unique noodles rather than their flavors. In Kitakata, you'll most likely be served ramen with thick, flat noodles in a pork-niboshi broth. Ramen is so prominent in this area that it has become the highest per-capita in ramen establishments. They even refer to ramen as soba, rather than actual soba- which they refer to as "Japanese soba". 

Tokyo's ramen differs in choice of noodle as well as broth. If you were to eat ramen "Tokyo style" you would be served a dish with thin, curly noodles in a chicken broth with a hint of soy. Their broth is unique due to the addition of a splash of dashi. Toppings can include chopped scallion, sliced pork, egg, nori, spinach, and menma. The three main areas of Tokyo famous for their ramen are Ogikubo, Ebisu, and Ikebukuro

In Yokohama, it is tradition for customers to call the shots. During preparation customers are given the choice of the softness of the noodles, the amount of oil they want to have put in, and the richness of the broth. Their ramen specialty is referred to as le-kei. Similar to tonkotsu, le-kei consists of thick, straight noodles in soy flavored pork broth. Toppings include pork, spinach, shredded onion, and a soft or hard boiled egg. 

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Rich, milky, pork-bone broth and thin, straight noodles make up Hakata ramen of the Hakata district of Fukuoka City located in Kyushu. A unique feature of Hakata ramen is that the toppings are often left on the table for the customers to pick and choose. Customers are left a variety of toppings to choose from such as pickled ginger, crushed garlic, sesame seeds, and pickled mustard greens. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Bhutan Happiness is the Measure of Success

Most countries' primary focus is increasing their national wealth and Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, but Bhutan is a different story. The Kingdom of Bhutan, a landlocked state in South Asia tucked neatly between the Himalayas, the Republic of India, and the People's Republic of China, prides itself not on their GDP, but on something else- a term they dubbed GNH. 

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GNH is a term coined in 1972 by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth Dragon King. It stands for "Gross National Happiness". The term, GNH, serves to show Bhutan's dedication to building an economy based on Buddhist spiritual values

The leaders of Bhutan wished to prevent the loss of culture that seemed to occur with a country's increase in economic status. To prove their seriousness about this new development, Karma Ura developed a survey instrument designed to measure the population's general level of well-being.

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The "Four Pillars" of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance

The government in Bhutan believes spiritual and psychological well being and happiness are far more important to a nation than wealth based on materials and economic status alone. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Takazawa Restaurant gives love to Japan with local Flavor

One of Tokyo's best kept secrets is also one of its most delicious, Takazawa Restaurant. With only three tables and a maximum of ten people served at a time, Takazawa is much more talked about than actually visited. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa works virtually solo to whip up each customer some of Japan's most delicious dishes. 

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Chef Takazawa's wife Akiko works by his side warmly greeting and serving each customer. Akiko's fluent English makes the restaurant very tourist friendly. Recent changes have been made, but Takazawa's precision still remains the same. Changes include more use of local ceramics and chopsticks rather than knives and forks. Akiko explains these changes saying, "We wanted to give our love to Japan, to focus more on Japanese ingredients, flavors, and techniques." 

A night at Takazawa means eleven breath-taking courses, all specially prepared by the owner himself. The first dish of the night is a dish named "Sea", which includes a selection of percebes barnacles from northern Kyoto, a tiny pink crab, and honmirugai clam cooked in fish sauce, and strands of crunchy Okinawan umi-budo seaweed. 

The second course offers another selection of seafood, including soft white crab meat and green and red seaweed.

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Typically the next course would be the finale- but not at Takazawa, there are still eight courses left! Other dishes served during the meal include turtle soup, batter-fried sweetish, and sansai-mountain vegetables. The last course is dessert of tea, chocolates, and lime infused cheesecake

With ingredients changing seasonally, the Takazawa always has fresh, new dishes to liven up your night.