The Money Launderers

A Lunar New Year Vignette in Three Acts

Act 1
My dad (to me): I’m writing you a check for grandkids hong bao (luck envelopes)

[Vonnie deposits the check and goes to bank to get crispy cash bills for the hong bao.]

Act 2
Us on New Years: Happy New Years! Kung Hei Fat Choy! Hey kids, here are lucky red envelopes from the family!

Grandkids: Xie xie. Thank you, thank you!

Act 3
[The next day.]

Grandkids: Uh, can I give you the cash so that you can, uh, venmo it to me?

Raging Beard

My daughter said, “This week’s Ted Lasso was weird.”

Back in high school, my best friend, Vincent Guzman, and I would nerd out on movies.

One movie that stood out was Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, a dark comedy set in night-time New York. It is an out of the frying pan into the fire story where one shitty thing after another befalls corporate hack Paul Hackett (marvelously played by Griffin Dunne), in a series of misadventures. It is hilarious in a “How can his night get more absurd?” type of way.

From Esquire

After Hours was a highly entertaining movie that I saw in the theater and I rented once or twice from the video store. Remember those things?

In the end, there is a happy ending, or at least a not a horrible ending. Dawn arrives and no one is the wiser for the life threatening, awakening escapade Hackett experienced in the underbelly of Gotham.

I liked it because no one else knew about the movie and I could be “cool” thinking that it was cool because no one else thought it was cool. It was by Martin “Raging Bull” Scorsese, but it wasn’t just a gangster movie. I think that Scorsese likes to make a comedy just to prove that his worldview isn’t solely about New York or the mob.

I haven’t thought about After Hours in years until my daughter forewarned us about the episode.

At least not until watching this week’s Ted Lasso episode.

It’s cool that she doesn’t think it’s cool. I loved it.

Additional Reading:

On Seeing

Ten days ago, I lost almost all vision in my right eye.

What started as a dark spot in the center of my vision, grew outwards until I functionally could not see.

If I stood in front of a car on the sidewalk, I would not be able to see the car.

It was scary and disorienting.

When I visited the ophthalmologist, he said “You have a detached retina.”

They take detached retinas very seriously. My retina, he explained while holding a cross section model of an eyeball, is like wall paper on the inside of a spherical room. The edge of the retina had a small tear leading to fluid flowing in behind the retina and detaching it from the back of the eye.

A black and white portrait of a Chinese man. He has a metal eye patch on his right eye. He wears a hoodie.
After surgery, with my eye patch.

“I’d like to get you into surgery today.”

Within two hours, I was hanging out in a surgery room ready for a vitrectomony.

The surgery went well.

In a vitrectomony, they replace the liquid in your eye with a gas bubble. The gas pressure pushes the retina back to where it belongs.

The bubble slowly gets absorbed over a period of weeks.

“It’s like a sling for your retina,” the doctor helpfully said.

Post-operation, it means two things, when I look out of my right eye, it’s like I’m wearing googles that have filled up with water.

Because of where the tear is in my eye, I have to be lying down on my left side for 23 hours every day.

(Fun fact: did you know that the image on your retina is backwards and upside down? So the tear that I see on the bottom left of my eye is actually on the top right of retina.)

I’m lucky.

My prognosis is good for restoration of most of my vision. I have great healthcare through my employer. My team at work has encouraged me to take time off to heal. I have paid medical leave. I have a spouse who cares for me. I have children that are self-sufficient.

Still, it sucks and I’m worried about my vision long term.

I never realized how much ones senses are interconnected. A loss of vision means a loss of depth perception. It means vertigo and occasional bouts of nausea.

I’m simultaneously grateful and grieving, which is not an unusual set of feelings that many have been experiencing lately.

Oh if you ever find yourself needing surgery in Oakland Kaiser, ask for the Snow White and Lightning McQueen room.

Wide angle photo of hospital room. There is a bed, IV and tv screen in the foreground and posters of animated characters on the walls.
Pre-operation surgery prep room

How to Host a Zoom Memorial Service

“When you treat people nice, people will treat you twice as nice.”

Roger Chan

Let’s be honest. You’re not prepared for this.

Who is?

Funerals have a way of entering our lives most unexpectedly.

You may find yourself having to host a funeral when it’s not possible to gather in person. Like we had to.

If you need to organize an online funeral or memorial service, here are some tips and suggestions for what we did.

Get your team of family and friends together to plan

Our "Task Force" used Whatsapp and Google docs to plan the agenda and to share information.

After you decide a date and time, send out a "Save the Date!"

People will want to know when the service is. We used evite, which has pivoted to virtual events, to invite people. Evite allows people to RSVP and will remind them when the event is about to happen. You can just send a calendar invite if you want to keep it simple.

Tip: Online events can confuse people in different timezones. Since we had family in North America and Asia, we had to pick a time that was good on both continents. Make sure that everyone knows when the event is in THEIR TIMEZONE. You cannot overcommunicate to people when exactly the event is if it is spread over more than one timezone.

Create a shared folder or album for photos and videos.

You’ll want to create a shared home for photos and videos of your loved one. We used Google photos and it was a heartwarming and heartbreaking to see new pictures pop up every day. The pictures were also the source of a slideshow tribute that we created. Invite friends and family, but don’t make it publicly shared.

Set up online public memorial site.

We used Kudoboard, but there are others like Forever Missed and GatheringUs. The memorial will be the place where you post an obituary and information about the deceased including info about memorial gifts or donations.

Tip: Minimize sharing personal identifiable information (PII) such as birthdate or date of passing in your obituary to reduce chances of identity theft. Don’t go overboard, but don’t make it easy for someone to steal your loved one’s identity.

Pick a video meeting system and make sure that key people can access and use it.

Our family used Zoom. Zoom is mostly a work and school platform and is not that familiar in Hong Kong and China. China is known to block certain online sites so always do a test with your family and friends. Google Meet and Microsoft Teams are good alternatives.

Make sure that you have the ability to share screen and record the session. Invariably, someone will ask you for the recording.

Also test, test, test that their Internet connection and computers can handle Zoom.

If they are on the program, offer family and friends the option of pre-recording tributes.

Zoom makes it easy to share recordings during the session, either as a video or audio. Doing it this way allows you to better manage the time people speak and to reduce any technology issues that might crop up.

Create a powerpoint that you can share afterwards

There will be information you’ll want to share such as where your loved one is buried, where to make donations, and other tidbits.


It’s never easy to plan a funeral, especially during a pandemic. This past year, we’ve been to an online funeral and we organized one.

If googling brought you here, rest assured, you will find a way to do it right and celebrate the life of your loved one. I wish you the best.

Uncle Roger, I miss you lots. I hope we did good.

Look a Little Closer, See a Little Clearer

Black and white closeup of a glass cutting tool.

This feels like a lazy post on my part, but two people I admire published essays that made me ruminate on the act of looking and paying attention.

From Eugene Kim

I am constantly amazed by what I’ve been seeing and learning and how ignorant I was for over four decades of things that were right in front of me

From Craig Mod

The point being: Looking closely is valuable at every scale. From looking closely at a sentence, a photograph, a building, a government. It scales and it cascades — one cognizant detail begets another and then another. Suddenly you’ve traveled very far from that first little: Huh.

I’m a photographer. Taking pictures is how I remember things.

Sometimes when I take pictures I have the picture in my mind already and I’m trying to make it real.

Other times, I take pictures of something before me that is so beautiful or magical I try to capture it with the lens.

But most of the time, taking pictures is my way of paying attention to the world.

To notice.

To remember.

To learn.

It doesn’t matter if the picture is “good” or “bad”. It doesn’t matter if I ever look at it again. Most of the time, I don’t.

Framing the photo, the scene, the subject, the moment is what holds it in the part of my mind that remembers when so often, the world can be fleeting.

The frame isn’t just for the camera.

The frame is for me.

Winner, Winner, Fried Chicken Sandwich Dinner

Three fried chicken sandwiches on a cutting board.
Southside Station, Barbarian, El Pollo Picante

tldr; Fried chicken sandwiches are so delicious, but are an occasional splurge. I reviewed sandwiches from three Berkeley restaurants. The verdict? They all provide yummy sandwiches worth eating, but El Pollo Picante was my fav.

Table of Contents

The reason

Since shelter-in-place, we eat take-out Friday evenings. By Friday, we’re too exhausted to cook and have run out of food ideas. Eating out supports local restaurants and provides a family meal without having to cook.

I’ve been craving fried chicken sandwich for a while. Last week, we ordered Popeye’s and I was underwhelmed, but that’s another story.

V and I got the idea of doing a fried chicken sandwich taste test walking around downtown Berkeley. 

Why you should trust me

I have been eating fried chicken sandwiches since I was in elementary school. Over the years, I graduated from the McChicken and the BK Chicken sandwich to more sophisticated fare such as Bette’s Bakesale. 

In short, if there is fried chicken sandwich on the menu, I know what I’m ordering.

Who is this for

I’m writing this for a Berkeley or East Bay reader who is a fan of local restaurants and fried chicken sandwiches. This piece is not exhaustive of all Berkeley spots nor of fried chicken places, but, hopefully, these are some new restaurants that you otherwise wouldn’t think of trying.

How we picked

There is a surprising number of restaurants that offer some form of fried chicken sandwich. We couldn’t try them all so here is how we picked.

  1. Berkeley-based: We didn’t want to drive too far for to-go. All locations are within a mile of each other off the downtown Shattuck corridor.
  2. No chains or franchises: Growing up, I loved me a McChicken and Chick-fil-a is actually my favorite fast-food fried chicken sandwich. It’s a damned shame, I can’t eat at Chick-fil-a any more. For the test, though, we really wanted to patronize and taste test unique sandwiches from local spots. 
  3. Locally owned, under the radar: We live in Berkeley and do our best to support Berkeley restaurants. Related, we wanted to spotlight restaurants aren’t as well-known as others, like Bakesale Betty’s.
  4. The chicken sandwich is a highlight: For each of these restaurants, the sandwich isn’t the only thing on their menu, but it isn’t an afterthought. The fried chicken sandwich are proudly advertised by these restaurants.

The research

What makes a great fried chicken sandwich

This is necessarily subjective…

  • Bun: Not too tall, not too hard. The bun is never the star of the sandwich, yet it is the container for all the goodness and has a tough job to do. Not all buns (hee, hee) stack up.
  • Cutlet: I’m looking for chicken that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. The breading and the meat are a tight fit. Well seasoned with a balance of grease and flavor. In the end, I am eating fried chicken after all.
  • Toppings and Sauce: There are many variations of toppings. One is the minimalist “Chick-fil-a” pickles and sauce. And there is the slaw and salad type of greens popularized by Bakesale Betty’s. The toppings need to complement and compliment the chicken cutlet. Toppings are the vehicle to balance out the chicken with brightness through acidity or clean crunch via greens.

Now, come with me on a fried chicken sandwich journey. 

The candidates

Southside Station

Their menu description: “Thai fried chicken, Brioche bun with pickled papaya and creamy Sriracha sauce”

Price: $13

Weight: 430 grams

Southside Station fried chicken sandwich
Southside Station fried chicken sandwich

Opened during the pandemic, Southside Station is run by a super-friendly Thai mom and pop team. The husband is an alumnus of the Cheeseboard Collective which is why they also have pizza on their menu. Their Thai fried chicken wings are amazing so I had high hopes for their sandwich.

The Southside Station sandwich is a beautiful and hearty sandwich, sitting on a browned brioche-bun. They lovingly put two fried boneless chicken thighs over a Thai-inspired papaya cole slaw and sriracha mayo sauce. 

Southside Station fried chicken sandwich cutaway
Southside Station fried chicken sandwich cutaway

Oh boy, was this delicious but there was too much going on here. 

I have this suspicion that on their own, each part of the sandwich would be delicious. Combined, it ended up being a bit overwhelming and a tad on the greasy side. 

Order it and split with someone else.

Verdict: 4 stars 


Their menu description: “Turmeric Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, served with housemade mix salad and our signature tikka sauce.”

Price: $10.95

Weight: 489 grams

Barbarian fried chicken sandwich
Barbarian fried chicken sandwich

Barbarian–tucked away next to Comal–was the spot that started the idea for a taste test. From the outside, it is more Indian grocery store than restaurant. But “you had me at ‘tumeric’,” was what we were thinking we first saw the menu.

Barbarian fried chicken sandwich cutaway
Barbarian fried chicken sandwich cutaway

How is the sandwich? The sandwich’s special ingredient, tumeric, gives it a standout Indian-food flavor, but the house slaw moistened the bottom bun too much for my liking. The white meat cutlet were also my least favorite as it was not as crisp or craggly as the others. The bun itself was more a deli roll than the brioche-style used by the other restaurants.

Barbarian gives you a tikka masala sauce that is worth the price of admission. 

Tikka masala sauce
Tikka masala sauce

Verdict: 3 stars

PS: V was attracted to the “House Corn Salad” at the Barbarian and was slightly concerned that it didn’t contain any corn. (False rumor, it does have corn.)

Salad with greens and corn
Barbarian’s house corn salad.

El Pollo Picante

Their menu description: “Two perfectly fried chicken breast pieces stacked on a freshly toasted brioche bun. Served with our homemade spicy mayo and sliced dill pickles. Served with a side of seasoned fries, homemade coleslaw and our famous spicy chili and garlic honey.”

Price: $13.50

Weight: 384 grams

El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich
El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich

El Pollo Picante is a relatively new entrant to the Berkeley restaurant scene.

El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich cutaway
El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich cutaway

Their sandwich features two crisp chicken breast-meat cutlets with strong but not overpowering heat. The sandwich lives up to its picante moniker. Toppings are minimal: two pickle slices and spicy mayo.

Of the three sandwiches, El Pollo Picante’s chicken was by far the best especially if you can stand the spice. The cutlet crust had crags and edges and was tap-tap-tap crisp. The brioche bun was the perfect vehicle for the sandwich.

I enjoyed this sandwich the most.

Verdict: 5 stars

Their sandwich came with a side of fries which we ended up dipping in the Barbarian’s tikka masala sauce–f’ing delicious.

The competition

We got many good suggestions from friends on a facebook post. Here are some others that were considered but not included. 

  • Bakesale Betty has a well-loved, amazing fried chicken sandwich. They’re the Steph Curry of local fried chicken sandwiches. Here, I tried to highlight up and coming rookies instead. Bakesale’s pies and desserts are a must-try if you haven’t had.
  • Gregoire was recommended multiple times too.
  • Butcher’s Son is a vegan butcher shop and has sweet mustard fried chicken sandwich. Heard many good things about Butcher’s son.
  • Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen has a chicken po’boy that looks yummy.


This country loves fried chicken sandwiches and with good reason. Chicken fried sandwiches are the perfect fusion of our love for hot, crispy fried poultry that one can eat in a warm bun with cole slaw as a topping. A summer picnic in your hands, if you will.

Southside Station and Barbarian were both good, but fell short in slightly different ways. 

Barbarian probably had the weakest sandwich by execution. It didn’t live to my expectation as the breading was not as crisp and the bun getting a little soggy. Perhaps if we had ordered and ate right there, it would have been a different story.

Southside’s sandwich was too much and a bit on the greasy side. To be fair, eating three fried chicken sandwiches might have something to do with the maximum grease intake. 

My pick was El Pollo Picante. The chicken was perfectly fried, the heat was on point yet not 911 emergency levels.

In the end, though, all three restaurants and their fried chicken sandwiches are worth trying and definitely worth supporting.

Fried chicken sandwiches on a cutting board
Delicious fried chicken sandwiches waiting to be devoured.