Best Movies of 2014

  1. Selma
  2. Edge of Tomorrow
  3. Birdman
  4. Fury
  5. Nightcrawler
  6. American Sniper
  7. Predestination
  8. Chef
  9. The Drop
  10. A Walk Among the Tombstones
  11. Interstellar
  12. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  13. St. Vincent

My Own North Korea Experience

The Movie “The Interview” reminded me of my own trip to North Korea several years ago.

The day we went to the DMZ ( I wore a T-shirt with Garfield on it. We had a tour inside one of the conference rooms on the border, and then our translator started asking me about my T-shirt. He pointed to Garfield and asked me what is that, and I told him the cat on my T-shirt named Garfield, from a comic book, he hates Monday and loves lasagna and donuts. Then he asked if Garfield is Chinese, I said, no he’s American but the comics were translated into Chinese a long time ago, I grew up with them, and in short, I love Garfield. He then asked if other Chinese kids also like Garfield, I said I can’t speak for every Chinese kid, but my friends also love Garfield. In the end, he told me he was so surprised that China had became so “Americanized”, where even the children had started reading negatively influential American comics (like Garfield hates Monday and loves food, that’s not good for a society). And I was really sad because now I knew kids grew up in NK didn’t even know about Garfield, they are missing so much fun in their childhood :(

Some of the pictures I took in North Korea:

My perfect English name

My Chinese name 赵婧仪(zhao jing yi) means elegant noble woman. It’s really feminine, and it embodies the expectations of who my parents intended me to be. So instead, I decided to adopt a masculine English name, so as shatter those expectations and reinvent myself.

When I was in the 5th grade, our English teacher asked the entire class to choose our English names. I listed my choices as follows:
1. Harry
2. Daniel
3. Lester

Harry Potter was really popular back then, when I was growing up, and was probably the most desired English name.

My 2nd choice was Daniel. When I was in the 5th grade, I was not only interested in the character “Harry Potter”, but also the actor that played him, Daniel Radcliffe. I had hopes of someday marrying him, but first I had to meet him, and thought that naming myself Daniel would be a good first step. I imagined the scenario playing out to be a chance encounter, I’d be sitting/standing next to him in some public place, and people would recognize him and call out his name, “Daniel!”. I’d respond to that, pretend to be surprised, and then casually mention to him, “oh, your name is Daniel too, nice to meet you, I’m Daniel…”

I forgot why I chose Lester as my 3rd choice.

My first choice was quickly taken by another girl, so I went with my second choice, and I became Daniel.

What I do right after I wake up every morning…

Last time I got paid, I decided to put $200 into my investment account.

Since then, I wake up every morning to check my investment account before getting out of bed — just to see if I’ve already become a billionaire, and can retire and book the next flight to Barbados to enjoy the rest of my life lying on a beach near the sea.

It didn’t happen today, still just $200 in my account.

Gotta get ready for work now.

Edge of Tomorrow, 2014 (Spoiler!!!)


I’m a huge fan of Tom Cruise. In fact, I have been a huge fan of Tom Cruise since 2001, I first saw him in Vanilla Sky at the age of 10, and decided he is my favorite actor. Over the years I’ve watched most of his movies, even his debut in the 1981 film Endless Love.

Edge of Tomorrow is an excellent movie – it is creative, entertaining, fast paced, with great costume design and visual effects, and if you haven’t read the novel, it’s not easy to predict the story. In this movie, an alien specie called Mimics has invaded Europe and there is a war going on against them by the United Defense Force (UDF). The tagline of this movie is “Live, Die, Repeat”, and in the movie we follow Tom Cruise’s role Major Cage wake up and die, again and again. Unlike Minority Report or Mission Impossible series, Tom Cruise’s role didn’t try to be a hero at first: at the very beginning of this movie Cage admitted that “I’m not a soldier, I joined ROTC and studied marketing in college to avoid being in the field.” But later he was thrust onto the frontline of the battle, accidentally killed an Alpha Mimic in his first battle and trapped in a time loop, where he relive the same day again and again but kept all the previous memories, and when he was killed in a battle, he woke up to this day again. Cage chose to train with Valkyrie Rita (Emily Blunt), who had also gone through similar time loops as Cage, to devise a plan of killing Mimics through his time loops and eventually defeated the Mimics.

My friend went to see this movie with me liked it very much too, but he felt that it has a weak ending. In the movie after Cage defeated the Mimics, the time loop was reset again and this time, Cage woke up and learned that the war has already ended. During the course of his training with Rita, Cage has already developed a love interest in Rita but had to sadly watch her die as he was trying to kill the Central Mimic. In the end, Cage’s smile when seeing Rita again in the training field indicates a “guy and girl lived happily ever after” ending, and for a great war fiction like this, we sometimes feel that a tragic ending suits it better. I agreed with him at the beginning.

After I watched the movie, I was curious about the book “All You Need Is Kill” and wondered how much difference Edge of Tomorrow is from the book. However there is not much resource on the Internet about the book, so I bought it on my Kindle and finished reading it during a 13-hour flight from JFK New York to Beijing. In the original ending, Keiji (in the book, Tom Cruise’s role Cage is a Japanese new recruit named Keiji Kiriya) had to kill Rita to win the battle. He did it, and was awarded a medal for killing over 100 Mimics in a single battle (a medal UDF originally created for Rita). Keiji also became the UDF’s poster boy because they needed someone to take Rita’s empty spot for their recruiting propaganda. After reading the book’s ending, I’d much appreciate the movie’s happy ending. The book has a better ending for a great war fiction indeed, but I simply don’t want to walk out of the theater weeping.

I imagine the alien specie and fighting scenes must look even more fantastic in 3D, however my friend and I arrived very late at the theater so we only had time to watch the last normal screening.

The best thing of this movie is unarguably Tom Cruise, he did a fantastic job playing the role of a civilian turned warrior, like a Chinese proverb that says heroism is not about some specific traits but simple acts of courage under crucial events. His sometimes funny, sometimes frightened and sometimes determined character keeps you entertained and definitely makes the 113 minutes an enjoyable experience.

This is a 5 star restaurant!

I’ve written more than 130 restaurant reviews, and received many votes on my reviews. Sometimes my friends ask me, why this restaurant is a 4 star and that one is a 5 star? So I want to answer the question here. I tried to stay consistent with my ratings and here is my rating standard for restaurants on Yelp:


5 Star

Great authentic food. Authenticity is the most important thing when it comes to the difference between a 4 star restaurant and a 5 star restaurant. Serving regional cuisine is a plus, for a restaurant, instead of Mexican food, serves traditional Mexican food from Chiapas and Oaxaca; or a Chinese restaurant serves food that I’ve had millions of times cooked by my dad and mom at home in Changchun, China. For restaurants other than Chinese, Japanese and Mexican, I usually have some people from that region to determine its authenticity: I would rate an Indian restaurant 5 star only after several Indian friends said so, or a soul food restaurant 5 star when my African American friend said, “this is so good, I’ll take my parents here next time.”

4 Star

Everything is great – food, atmosphere, service and price, but lacks authenticity. A Chinese restaurant with 4 star is still a great Chinese restaurant, and most people who are not from China probably give it 5 stars, but to me, there is always something missing. For example, a Lanzhou restaurant may have a Cantonese chef making hand pulled noodles – and it serves really great noodles, but with braised beef slices and beef broth, where all the Lanzhou hand pulled noodles I had in China were served in clear noodle soup with diced beef.

3 Star

A OK – decent food and service, but nothing stands out.

2 Star

Food was below average, and I’ve had much better ones else where.

1 Star

Something about this place is seriously wrong, sloppy food, dirty plates, very long waiting time, rude staff, or even put additional charges on my credit card. These places are disasters, avoid at all cost!

Mexican Restaurant rankings – Capital Region, NY

I’ve been to most Mexican restaurants in the Capital Region, and I want to rank them based on their food, authenticity and atmosphere.

1. El Mexicano (Saratoga Springs, NY)

El Mexicano is by far the best Mexican restaurant in the Capital Region, offering many selections, free complementary appetizer and dessert. Servers are very friendly and there is Mexican music playing in the background.

2. La Fiesta (Clifton Park , NY), Pancho’s (Troy, NY), La Fiesta (Albany, NY), and Casa Real Mexican Restaurant (Rotterdam, NY)

These four restaurants are tie for 2nd place. They all have the similar menu and serve similar food. The food is more Tex-Mex and Mexican inspired, instead of real Mexican food.

6. El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant II (Albany, NY)

El Mariachi could be as good as La Fiesta, Pancho’s or Casa Real, especially with the Aztec sun wall decoration inside the restaurant. I’ve been there once and had Mole con Pollo, and found two problems with it:

    1. The mole is way too sweet for me. Most mole I’ve had has a a little bitter and spicy taste, and I like the kind of mole I had at my Mexican friend’s home. But at El Mariachi II, the mole is just pure sweet…
    2. They serve black beans by default, instead of pinto beans. I like black beans, but for Mexican food, it has to be pinto beans!

7. Salsa Latina (Albany, NY)

Very Americanized. I’ve only been there once and had Arroz con Pollo, it was tasteless and disappointing. I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone as a Mexican restaurant. They do have a full bar, if you want some Margaritas.

8. Cantina (Saratoga Springs, NY)

Wannabe contemporary Mexican food. This place is trendy, servers are nice too, but unfortunately they don’t serve Mexican food. (My Mexican friend call this “white people’s Mexican food,” meaning that is what people never had Mexican food thought Mexican food is like.)

9. Jose Malones (Troy, NY)

Jose Malones is not a Mexican restaurant, even though it says it is, and has a “Mexican” category on Yelp. Jose Malones is a bar that serves nachos. That’s it.

The Lunchbox, 2014


Everyone should go see this movie, especially if you love Indian food (like me)!

I like the open ending of this movie, so it can have a different ending for everyone, and we don’t have to see Ila divorced her husband, and left with Saajan to Bhutan, or they met but eventually Ila decided to stay with her husband because of her kid, or anything that could happen.

My grandfather is a huge fan of Indian movies, and I watched every movie by Raj Kapoor with my grandpa when I was little. I’ll buy this DVD when it’s available in China and watch it with my grandpa again :)

Just in case you crave some masala chai after the movie, here is a lovely video on how to make authentic masala chai:

I also want to have the round eggplant dish Ila made, so I asked my Indian friend and he told me the name of it, so I found a recipe on how to make Peanut & Poppy Seeds Stuffed Eggplants. (I don’t know how to cook so I’ll just pick an Indian restaurant, you are welcome to try this recipe :)

Divergent, 2014


Every year my friend and I would pick a “Worst Movie of the Year”, and after Divergent, I think we have a winner for 2014.

Divergent is a not-so-smart copy of Hunger Games, and an even worse copy of Harry Potter. They should have find more people to proofread the script, because most dialogues are disconnected and made no sense.

I decided to see this movie only because I saw Maggie Q in the trailer, but it disappointed me – Maggie Q only had less than 5 minutes in total. The music should have been great, considering the main composer is Hans Zimmer (composer of The Last Samurai, Mission Impossible II and The Lion King), but it failed to meet my expectation.

I should have go see The Lunch Box instead.