Saturday, 30 April 2016

Masizzim Korean Restaurant

Masizzim Korean Restaurant,
313 Orchard Road

While Korean is one of my fave Asian cuisine, it hasn't been ranked too high until now. This is because Korean is known for their BBQ restaurants. While I enjoy Korean BBQ, it's not my most favorite dishes. With the cold climate of Korean peninsula, stews should be one of the mainstay of Korean cuisine. Surprisingly, I haven't came across any Korean restaurants that specialize in stews (in 3 of the Asian food capitals of Sydney, HK or Singapore). They're as rare as hen's teeth (or at least French BBQs).

When I found out Masizzim does Korean stews, since I haven't eaten Korean stews (at least, not that I can remember), I thought it's worth checking them out.  The Groupon promotion just helped me to make up my mind quicker.

 The Place 
Located in the convenience, but busy 313 @ Somerset, Orchard Road, expect the typical cozy (ok crowded) restaurant in the city. The food was a little slow to come out, considering the stews are ready made. Although it was a usual busy weekend.

Masizzim Korean restaurant, Orchard Road, Singapore
The rocks are real !

La Bill (aka the Damage)
We paid S$35 Groupon for the S$50 food

 The Food 
Pork Rib Stew:  9 / 10.
I think this is something like the Korean dish Gomguk, or the equivalent Japanese Tonkotsu broth for the ramen soup base, which is my favourite broth with its bone marrow, fat and gelatin texture that gives this Pork Rib Stew that deep rich flavour and texture.

We asked for added udon noodles, and it has just the right el dente, and so has the cartilage that attached to the bone. It's the right amount of lovely crunchiness. The most challenging thing about a making a stew is to keep the meat from drying. The meat in this stew is tender and had sealed its juice reasonably well.

We didn't realize that the the stew comes with rice and so we ordered extra udon noodles. The rice is certainly different from the usual white rice. It's their signature rice that's popped up in various dishes in their menu.

I think one is expected to take the stews to the rice, we did the opposite. We poured the rice into the stew, and let the rice soak up the stew. Yummy! The only shame is that the broth isn't enough.

Pork Rib Stew, Masizzim Korean restaurant, Orchard Road, Singapore
Pork rib stew and their signature rice

Squid and Leek Pancake:  8.5 / 10.
This is the crunchiest Korean pancake (aka Korean pizza) I have tasted. And in all cases, the pancake itself is bland and relies on the accompanied soy sauce to spice it up. The sauce was nice enough. The paper on the bottom is a nice touch to soak up excess oil and to keep it nicely dry and crisp.

Squid and Leek Pancake, Masizzim Korean restaurant, Orchard Road, Singapore
Squid and Leek Pancake

Kimchee Side Dish: 7.5 / 10.
The cabbage has a good balance of chili, saltiness and sourness, none overpowered the other two. The Korean radish was quite crunchy, but not my cup of tea.

Shikhye Jug:  7 / 10.
Shikhye is a well known Korean rice beverage. Judging by its reddish look only, it looked like their signature rice. This rice beverage is often has additional ingredient, and in this case, a very Singaporean barley.

I found it a little sweet, but still an interesting refreshing drink that worth trying out.

Overall:  8.5 / 10. Judging from their general standard of food, I will come back to try their other dishes. Just bought another Groupon for that purpose.

Masizzim - hard to say, easy to eat.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

SDR, Alternative Currencies, China and the Collapse of the Dollar

SDR has thrust into the limelight of late because of the talk of the imminent death of U.S. dollar as a global reserve fiat currency, and importantly,  the news of the inclusion of RMB into the SDR currency basket since Nov 2015.

 CNY Inclusion into SDR 
Before we get into that, what is SDR? SDR stands for Special Drawing Rights, which sounds more like some kind of law than a name for a basket of world's major currencies.

5 major global currencies, BGP, USD, EURO, CNY, JPY
5 major global currencies

Before the inclusion of Chinese Yuan, the IMF's SDR is consisted of USD, EUR, JPY, and GBP, and their percentages of each currency are as follows,

2011 - 201541.9% 37.4% 9.4% 11.3% 0.0%
2016 - 202041.73% 30.93% 8.33% 8.09% 10.92%

Note that USD percentages have hardly changed. The other 3 currencies need to shrink to make room for CNY.

If you like delicious pie charts, enjoy these two I prepared earlier (please note that their decimal places have been rounded off). If you like chocolate, let me know, I'll make some bar charts instead.

SDR currency compositions for period 2011 - 2015
(Click to enlarge)

SDR currency composition for period 2016 - 2020

 World Currency 
While it's not officially a currency, but you can think of SDR just another currency because of its characteristics it shares with other fiat currencies. Think of it as a global or world currency. I think you agree "World Currency" sounds better, and IMF Special Drawing Rights is quite a mouthful.

Another way of thinking about SDR is this: ECB prints Euro, the Fed prints USD, BOJ prints Japanese Yen, BOE prints Bristish Pounds, and PBoC prints Chinese Yuan, and finally, IMF prints XDR (the currency code for SDR).

Because XDR is treated like another currency, it too therefore has exchange rate with other currencies. You can look it up simply on an currency exchange rate website like XE.

Click here to see the exchange rate between XDR and USD.

Just like sovereign currency where its exchange rate fluctuates with other currencies. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate between XDR and USD is as follows,

1.00 XDR = 1.4052 USD.

If you haven't heard of SDR, it's because the IMF considers SDR to have an insignificant role to play (italics are mine) in the world of trades and finance.

A couple of things had lifted the profile of SDR recently. The 1st reason is the inclusion of RMB into the SDR, making it the 5th addition to this "world currency".

Billboard ads in Bangkok Airport for Chinese Yuan as a world currency
CNY is being inserted into the World Currency

The photo of this big airport billboard has been making the rounds in the net. The billboard is erected in Bangkok airport (note the Thai script in the top right corner of the billboard). Interestingly, this billboard was seen in March 2015, some 6 months before the official announcement of RMB inclusion into SDR. Obviously, Bank of China couldn't wait.

Since CNY is now one of the top major global payment currency, its inclusion into SDR is IMF's way of recognizing its importance in the global financial sphere.

 The Death of the USD 
The 2nd reason for the attention SDR receives is the increasing talk of USD fiat currency's status as the world's most important reserve is coming to an end. Especially by such high profile name in the currency game like James Rickards.

This chart is usually shown to make that point. There were no global reserve currencies as such before 20th century. The heading should be read as "World dominant currencies since 1450"

Chart showing global reserve currencies from 15th to 20th centuries
Chart showing global reserve currencies from 15th to 20th centuries

You know what they say, we all want to live forever, but we all have to die sometimes.

I would like to argue that the USD global reserve currency was born under the Bretton Woods system in 1944, and so USD global reserve currency role has only been in existence only for some 72 years (not 94 years as indicated in this table).

So while USD isn't quite close to a century old, but it's still getting on a bit, and some believe it's time for it to retire so others can take over. At least, we should start to think about the next candidate to take over USD's role.

Aside from historical precedence like those depicted in the chart above where USD is getting close to the century's mark, many are pointing out other reasons for USD's impending doom. The most often cited example is that USD is a fiat currency backed by nothing but people's trust. It has no intrinsic value. It's worth whatever people say it's worth. When people's confidence in the currency is lost, the currency will collapse. Confidence is a fragile thing. And so recurrent propaganda becomes paramount to strengthen that confidence.

Before 1971, USD was backed by gold until Richard Nixon took the gold standard off in order to print as much money as it needed in order to finance the Vietnam War. The move was supposed to be temporary, but US government has never put the gold standard back. As a result, USD became a fiat currency that's backed by nothing. Not something tangible anyway.

While USD has lost its gold backing since 1971, but soon enough, its status was boosted by the petrodollar system that the U.S. secured with the OPEC countries. In return for that unprecedented privilege of the petrodollar, U.S. government provided Saudi Arabia a military umbrella, especially against the strong and enemy neighbor of Iran.

USD's unrivaled status was slowly being eroded on two more fronts: the gradual crumbling of the petrodollar system, and the exuberant printing of USD by the Fed.

 The 4 Alternatives to USD 

1. Cryptocurrency

The talk of the collapse of USD leads to the creation of such thing as digital currency like Bitcoin as a solution to fiat currency. The idea of such currency is created out of the concentrated power of central bank. Because the Fed is a central bank that prints the global reserve currency of USD, that makes the Fed the most powerful central bank.

The idea of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is born soon after 2008 when the Fed started its money printing programs to solve a problem that created by - at least partly - the Fed easy-money policy a decade before.

Bitcoin keyring

Allan Greenspan who was the Fed Chair who led to the 2008 Housing Bubble is telling us this very loose monetary policy is a bad idea.

So the BitCoin is created because it's diametrically opposite to central banks: it's a decentralized currency that can't be printed without cost of physical production of money.

If people's confidence of USD havn't begun to erode, such idea like cryptocurrency wouldn't even being entertained, let along being created. It's not only being created, but thriving, which is simply reflect people's gradual crumbling of confidence in the mighty dollar.

2. Precious Metals
We also have the good old fashion gold as an alternative to fiat currency. It's suggested that if gold standard was never taken off the USD, then we wouldn't have this easy-money policy that led to the loss of confidence.

I don't know if just having a gold standard would keep the USD reign supreme forever. I think the fall in the dominance in any currency is due to its economic decline. I don't think the fall of the British Empire, and all its Western empires that shows in the chart above were because they switched to fiat currency system.

Gold bars, gold ingots

An Chinese proverb says, "Wealth does not pass three generations" (富不过三代). I don't know how true this saying holds, and I don't know if this expression about family fortune applies to the fortunes of empires or superpowers. Looking at the chart, the 6 Western empires lasting from 85 to 110 years, or a century on the average. It seems there's a limit to how long a global power lasts (which seems to be the longevity of a human life as well). At least since 15th century in the West. So USD as a global dominant currency, and USA as a superpower still has 30 more years to run. This shouldn't come as a shock because as little as 5 years (and at most 10 years), Chinese economy is going to be the largest.

For those (Mike Malony is the most well known example) who study and believe in this historical perspectives would expect the time of the Fall of America as a Superpower, and naturally preceded by the Fall of the Dollar is near. Indeed no empire or superpower can retain its status without economic clout.

Top 10 gold producing countries bar chart
Data source: Wikipedia
(click to enlarge)

China's net gold imports from 2009 to 2015
(click to enlarge)

The 1st chart showing Chinese is the biggest producer of gold in the world, and the 2nd chart telling us that at the same time they're the big net buyer of gold. If you put these charts together, they tell us that in recent times, Chinese government bought gold like there's no tomorrow.

There's no shortage of reasons as to why Chinese government is buying so much gold.

Some say that the gold maybe needed as an unofficial condition for Chinese Yuan to be included into IMF SDR.

Jim Rickards is stating that because China holds so much American debts, gold is a good hedge because if the American government bond yields fall, gold tend to go up, and vice versa.

Some say that China is preparing to be the next global reserve currency. To many, a gold-back Yuan is far more preferably than a debt-based Dollar. That is, if the Chinese is decided to back the Yuan with gold.

Some believe that China, like the rest of us, is preparing for the collapse of the Dollar when the confidence is lost. Gold would provide a shelter from this currency shock.

Whatever the reasons may be, they're all good reasons.

Including former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, more and more are coming to the understanding that gold is sound money,  a currency that's more superior than all fiat currencies.

3.  Chinese Yuan
And then there's the speculation that CNY is going to take over the game when USD retires.

There has been a trend in recent years that crude oil is increasingly being traded in Yuan rather than the traditional Dollar. In other words, the speculation of a petroyuan system.

When U.S. was a enemy of Iran, Saudis and Yanks view Iran as a common enemy. Now that U.S. has normalized relationship with Iran, China and USA is now on an equal diplomatic footing in providing security umbrella to the Saudis. Besides, the Chinese buys more oil from the Saudis than the Yanks. In this new geopolitical dynamics, Petrodollar system won't be in the best interests for the Saudis.

President Xi Jinping and King Salman holding sabres
President Xi Jinping and King Salman

Remember there's no such thing as permanent friends, and eternal foes. There's only national interests. Think of diplomatic relationship between US and Iran, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Don't be surprise that when you wake up one day and find out that USA is now friends of Russia and DPRK, and enemies of UK and Japan. Well, remember Boston Tea Party and Hiroshima? Why wouldn't Riyadh know how to play the same game?

But CNY is far from ready of being a global reserve currency. For one thing, its currency still hasn't internationalized, or fully convertible. In fact, it wasn't even fully qualified to be included into SDR because it's not an international currency. But IMF does so as a symbolic gesture in recognizing the importance of CNY. For example, in 2015, CNY has overtook JPY as the world's 4th most-used payment currency.

The CNY's ranking is expected to move up the rank quite rapidly in the near future because as recently as 2012, the Yuan ranked 12. In just 3 years, it had moved up to the 4th place. And this typically comes as the expense of the Dollar.

And so it's high time that RMB is included in this SDR basket. There's no coincidence that the top 5 global payment currencies happen to be the same 5 currencies in SDR.

Global payment currencies ranking by countries

Well, the Yuan have at least a few decades to take over the role of USD, if at all.

4.  SDR
Many speculated the idea of using SDR to replace USD when it's time for the USD to retire as the world reserve currency. To many, because of USD as a world currency and together with the Petrodollar System, the US have been having a "free ride" on the financial system for a long time.

Some believe what's most likely to replace USD fiat currency won't be something else, but another fiat currency. Or preferably a basket of currencies like SDR where no one country's currency dominates. SDR seems to fit the bill.


Of course, all these are simply possibilities that are being speculated for the expected coming of the collapse of the Dollar.

Nobody knows which of these alternatives will win out, or something completely different will emerge.

The 3 currencies can be think of not just alternatives to USD when it collapses, but rather as a hedge for any eventuality.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Bohol Highlights Tour: Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Spotting and Loboc River Cruise

After the Manila trip, we went to visit Cebu for 2 reasons. The 1st was to see the Cebu itself, which is said to be older than Manila because the oldest street in the Philippines - Colon Street - is located in Cebu. The 2nd reason was to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site Chocolate Hills where Cebu provides a good stepping stone.

We joined this day trip to Bohol that took us to several sites/sights that accumulated in Chocolate Hills.

We joined the tour from the Viator website, below is a highlights of the tour. I copy it here just in case that in the future, the tour's details maybe different, or disappeared altogether.

Viator's Bohol day trip
They mention Loboc River cruise twice in their highlights.
I only had the river cruise once. I demand another river cruise!!!
(Click to enlarge)

Map of Cebu and Bohol Island, Philippines
This map shows the relative position between Cebu and Bohol Island. Below is a detailed map of the rectangular area.
(click to enlarge)

Map showing stops of Bohol Highlights Tour: Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Spotting and Loboc River Cruise, Philippines
Blue numbered labels show itinerary stops in our day trip of Bohol Island.
(click to enlarge)

  Tagbilaran Port
Arrival: 11:15.

I don't remember exactly how long the ferry ride from Cebu to Tagbilaran Port, but it's at least half an hour longer than a feature length movie. It started with the showing of what I think the national anthem, followed by San Andreas (2015). This ran for 1 hr 45 mins. So the ferry ride must be about under 2.5 hours.

The ferry ride showed a disaster film, at least they didn't show Titanic (1997) or other sea disaster title like Poseidon (2006). That would be a disastrous choice of movie.

Ferry ticket, TagbilaranPort, Philippines

  Baclayon Church
Arrival: 11:30.

Click here to go to Baclayon Church.

Baclayon Church, Bohol, Philippines

  Tarsier Sanctuary
Arrival: 11:10.

Click here to see Tarsier Sanctuary post.

Tasier monkey, Bohol, Philippines

  Toboc River Cruise
Arrival: 12:00.

Click here to see Toboc River Lunch Cruise.

Toboc River Cruise, Bohol, Philippines

  Simply Butterflies Conservation Center
Arrival: 13:30.

Click here to go to Simply Butterflies Conservation Center.

Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Bohol, Philippines

  Chocolate Hills
Arrival:  14:10.

Click here to go to Chocolate Hills.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines

Not far away from Chocolate Hills on our way home, we drove past these 2 buildings that caught my eyes. So I shot them as we drove past.

Shiphaus, Bohol, Philippines
Shiphaus (or Ship House)

The Shiphaus is built by capt. Gaudencio Dumapias, who is a local. I think he has turned his house into a tourist attraction. There's a restaurant (sorry, captain, mess hall) if you want to fill your stomach inside the Shiphaus.

We didn't stop there because it wasn't on our itinerary.

Catholic church with Moorish architecture, Bohol, Philippines
Church with Moorish architecture

Not far from the Shiphaus is this - I'm guessing - catholic church with Moorish architecture, which is probably inspired by the architecture from places in Southern Spain like Granada.

  Sandugo Blood Compact Site
Arrival: 15:40.

If you look at the map with our itinerary stops, you would think that this would be the 1st stop, not the last. I suspect that the tour guide left this stop last because if he was running late on time, he could skip this stop altogether, and we wouldn't mind at all. This is because it's a site with a single sculpture.

A blood compact (pacto de sangre) was also quite popular in the Far East (China, Japan, and Korea) as a ritual to seal an agreement. In blood compact, the blood of 2 parties are dropped into a cup and then the bloody concoction is drunk. It should taste like tomato juice. At least, that's what my blood taste like. Maybe my blood has a high Ph level.

This Sandugo Blood Compact sculpture shows the blood compact between Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol in 1565.

Sandugo Blood Compact Sculpture, Bohol, Philippines

Sandugo Blood Compact Sculpture, Bohol, Philippines

Sandugo Blood Compact Sculpture, Bohol, Philippines

  Tagbilaran Port
Arrival:  16:10.

Motor rickshaw, Bohol, Philippines

Motor rickshaw, Bohol, Philippines
Typical public transportation in Bohol

The choice of movies that being played during the ferry ride needs more sensible guidance. If you think that showing a disaster movie during a ferry ride is a disastrous choice, wait until you see the movie they offered during the return trip.

On Our way back, they screened Law Abiding Citizen (2009). Santa Maria! Not a bad crime thriller flick with R rating. It has lots of violent and graphic scenes (like the guy being saw into several pieces and scattered on a workbench like LEGO bricks. I felt a great urge to put him back together like a jigsaw puzzle (shouldn't that be a hacksaw puzzle?). Does this arm goes over here? I wonder what this bit is?). Perhaps, there's not yet a film classification concept in Philippines (as in many other countries). There were plenty of teenager and tweenager on board. By the time they got home, it was nap time, and this was just the perfect movie to give them nightmares (like being chased by a flying head, or strangled by a dismembered hand, or your groin kicked by a disjointed leg).

A nice wholesome nap time lullaby like The Sound of Music (1965) would have been more sound, and put those kids into a better sound sleep when they got home. Sounds good, no?

Overall, a pleasant day trip of Bohol Island. 7.5 / 10.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Bohol

We visited the Butterfly Enclosure, which is basically a large net where we could view some of the butterflies in it. This is for both butterfly and flower lovers. Quite small.

Caterpillar, Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Bohol, Philippines
Come back a little while, and I grow a pair of wings.

Butterfly, Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Bohol, Philippines
Cynthia? Painted Lady?

Malabar tree-nymph, Butterfly, Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Bohol, Philippines
Malabar tree-nymph, an Indian native

Etlingera elatior, torch ginger, or rose de porcelaine, or porcelain rose
Etlingera elatior

Aka torch ginger, or rose de porcelaine, or porcelain rose, which is appropriate name for its waxy, glossy leaves. It's also known as Philippine wax flower, although it's a SE Asian plant, not restricted to the Philippines. Its flower bud is used in cooking laksa.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Baclayon Church, Bohol

Its claim to fame is being one of the oldest coral stone church in SE Asia (est. 1727). It's built by Jesuits.

Many of the churches I have seen were in a poor condition, reflecting the economic condition of the country. But it's not hard to visualise its splendour in its original state some 3 centuries ago.

I don't know if we were led into the church from the back entrance because I didn't see the best part of the church: the facade and the bell tower. Perhaps because the bell tower was severely damaged during 2013 earthquake, it was under wrapped for restoration.

The tour guide never mentioned this. Maybe they didn't want to shake us with the earthquake.

Not surprisingly, there're a number of nice historical churches in Bohol. Examples are Baclayon, Dauis and Loay Churches. Only Balayon is included in this itinerary, I think partly because its location fit nicely into the whole tour route. And perhaps partly, this is the only church that still standing after the earthquake. Some of the churches were almost completely leveled.

Interior, Baclayon Church, Bohol, Philippines

Christ child, Baclayon Church, Bohol, PhilippinesVirgin Mary, Baclayon Church, Bohol, Philippines Altar, Baclayon Church, Bohol, Philippines

Statues, Baclayon Church, Bohol, Philippines