Monday, July 30, 2007

Disturbing song lyrics

I work in an agency that helps survivors of sexual abuse, so perhaps I am extra-sensitive to this stuff...

"Girl I want to make you sweat/
Sweat til you can't sweat no more/
And if you cry out/
I'm gonna push it some more"
- Inner Circle, "Sweat (A La La La La Long)"

Hmm, Is that a pick up line, or is he threatening to commit some form of sexual assault? And what the hell does A La La La La Long mean anyway?

But as far as I know, the members of Inner Circle have not been accused of any such offenses, which is more than I can say for the singers of the following:

"It's the Pied Piper of R&B, y'all"
- R Kelly, "Step in the Name of Love"

Yes, for some reason, R Kelly recently started using the nickname "The Pied Piper of R&B" for himself. If we think back to the fairytale, the Pied Piper made music so entrancing that the children of Hamelin followed him from the town, never to be seen again. So perhaps R Kelly chose the monicker because he deems his music so enchanting. The irony is, of course, that this is the same R Kelly who has faced criminal charges for making sex-tapes with underage girls. All you need to know about this can be learned from this piss-take (hah!) from Chappelle's Show.

"Just beat it/Beat it/Beat it/Beat it"
- Michael Jackson, "Beat it"

I wonder if that was playing in the background while Michael allegedly masturbated while fondling a 13 year old boy...
But if you thought that was bad, consider another of Michael's great works:

"Your butt is mine...
I'm giving you til the count of three/
To show your stuff or let it be"

- Michael Jackson, "Bad"


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Asian Cup: Why the Socceroos are Crap (oh, and Arrogant...)

Watching Australia's national football team being beaten by Japan on penalties and knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, I wanted to tear my hair out before realising that I had none to tear. A lot of excuses were made for why the Australians under-performed in Asia - extreme humidity, disarray within the team, bad refereeing and cheating by opponents - but these are minor in contrast to the glaring flaws that afflict the Socceroos.

Right: Vince Grella - his comments exemplify the problematic attitude Australian football has toward Asia.

Arrogance has been noted as a big part of the team's downfall, and it was a big problem. Having reached the final 16 at the World Cup, Australia's players and supporters suddenly acquired the belief that they were among the best 16 teams in the world, and "deserved" to be there, rather than considering the possibility that they were fortunate to be there. The loss to Italy was perceived as us being "robbed" by bad refereeing and cheating diving Italians, rather than remembering that it was bad refereeing that saw Italy reduced to 10 men through a red card in the first place.
So on approaching the Asian Cup, littered with relative minnows such as Thailand and Oman, Australia just assumed that it was its right to dominate this competition and reach the final, despite it being only our first time. Hopefully the draw with Oman and defeat by Iraq will have dispelled such an attitude. But from Vince Grella's recent outbursts, clearly arrogance is still there in abundance. Below are some of Grella's comments (courtesy of the Sunday Age, 29/7):

"We respected all our opponents but they had no respect for us. There were guys rolling around all over the place every time we played and all our opponents went out of their way to goad us. They all had a bad attitude towards us. I've written the names of Oman, Iraq, Thailand and Japan down and I'll be tying that note to my little finger, so it will be payback time when we meet again.

"I don't know what they all had against Australia but it was a joke. When Iraq scored against us they were jumping around like kangaroos — that's taking the piss. Oman scored a goal, then they go and celebrate in front of the green and gold army — that's taking the piss.

"Then Japan called us a bunch of wrestlers before the game. They were winding us up and as an honourable nation, their people should be ashamed of the conduct of their team. It was totally unacceptable and disgraceful. What have we ever done to them except beat them at the World Cup?

"They drove me insane with their remarks. I (wanted to) kill them before the game even starts. The way they acted wasn't in the spirit of football. We have players in the best leagues in the world and I don't even know the names of half their team. But I wouldn't have come out and said they were a bunch of nobodies."

"The referees should have cracked down on all the diving and rolling around. It's a men's game not always played by men. There were guys who looked like they were dying, and then suddenly, they'd jump back up again. That's not the way we play. If we get hit, we get back up and play the game.

"Our governing body needs to make sure they get the respect they show others because the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) treated us like s--- and that's not good enough."

The funny thing is, that after all these comments, Grella also added:

"The Asians saw us as arrogant. But our organisation is humble and just wants to follow the rules of the sport."

Hmm, they saw you as arrogant, Vince? It's hard to imagine why.
It's worth remembering that Australia has just been allowed to join the Asian Football Confederation - which is a great move that everyone in Australia supported - so it might be nice to show some grace and humility rather than acting like Asia owes us something. And it's hardly surprising that the other Asian teams are less than welcoming to the Aussies. First of all, it is hard to argue that Australia really fits into the Asian region, in both a cultural and geographical sense. And secondly, Australia's entrance into Asia means greater competition for all the other sides, and hurts their chances of gaining World Cup qualification.
Asian culture, from whichever part of the continent, places great value on respect and humility, and people like Grella would do well to learn this.

Technique and Tactics
The real problem, and the one which desperately needs addressing, is the players' lack of technical ability and the teams' dull-as-dishwater style of play. In the World Cup, despite Guus Hiddink's disciplined approach and new formation, the players all-too-often reverted to the lumpen style of play that Australia has traditionally espoused, and which the players will have continued to learn in England - kicking it long every time to a target man and hoping that something will come off.

Australia's players are all very fit, strong and play with great committment. Yet this is rarely enough. Soccer is also a game of skill and ingenuity, and against all their Asian opponents Australia came off second best in these departments. Perhaps it is the tropical conditions and smaller physical size of the players that has meant that Asian teams have prioritised technical skill over physical domination; in any case, Australia are far, far behind where it matters.

Right: Naohiro Takahara - his ball control for the goal was a flash of the kind of brilliance that the Australians are sadly lacking.

There are precious few players in the Australian team with the ability to dribble past opponents and create opportunities out of nothing. Harry Kewell can, but his inconsistency and susceptibility to injury have hurt himself and the team. Archie Thompson also has this ability, but he has yet to prove himself at this level; the same goes for Nicky Carle. Compare this to sides like Holland, Brazil, Portugal and France, which are packed with players of superb technical ability. Our "stars" from the English premiership and other European leagues are just not that. In the scheme of things, none are more than useful, solid players in those leagues. Kewell and Viduka are generally regarded in England as severe underachievers, who could have been something special but never fulfilled their talent. We have strong players in various positions, but not where it counts. Central defence is weak; we lack a truly top-class striker, and there are no true wingers other than Kewell. Our strongest position is attacking midfield, but this means that Marco Bresciano and Tim Cahill must either compete for one spot or play out of their preferred position. Meanwhile, Jason Culina seems to be guaranteed a starting spot in midfield, but I have yet to figure out what he actually does - at best, he is a poor man's Cahill.

Viduka is a skilled header of the ball, and Cahill is not only an outstanding header but also excellent at arriving late in the box to score. But the team does not play to these strengths. Against Japan, virtually no Australian player got beyond the defence from a wide position and made a cross into the box. Right-winger Brett Emerton in particular is culpable in this department - he is a typical Socceroo, a tireless worker but lacking a cutting edge where it counts. Contrast this with Japan, whose overlapping full-backs and wingers caused Australia continual dramas at the back, and whose passing, while not necessary leading to goals, was far more proficient than Australia's.

Finally, Australia's physical approach has come back to haunt them. Vince Grella's red card against Japan was unlucky - at most, it should have been a yellow. But Grella had it coming. A talented player, he has a thuggish side like most defensive midfielders, and he was fortunate to stay on the field in the World Cup against Brazil and Japan. His reputation precedes him - and the Japanese media made particular emphasis of this - and this undoubtedly contributed to the the referee's perception of the foul that led to him being sent off.

So without a major overhaul of Australia's soccer culture, we're destined to be a nearly-but-not-quite team. I now have no shame in declaring my new soccer allegiances, and am henceforth only supporting teams that are actually exciting to watch - go France! Go Senegal! Go Cote d'Ivoire! Go Ghana! And in the Asian Cup, I hope Iraq wins - it would be the culmination of a great story for them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bedouin Kitchen

The venue: Bedouin Kitchen (103 Grey St, St Kilda)
The co-tasters: Frankie, Sheree, Carissa, Eranga and Sammy.

There are a lot of paradoxes about this little place. A restaurant serving traditional Egyptian peasant-style dishes, catering mainly for St Kilda's trendy young crowd of yuppies and gays & lesbians with not an Arab customer in sight, run by Malaysian Chinese guy, and located on a street most notable for its working girls. But ignoring all the odd details, Bedouin Kitchen is definitely worthy of investigation. With deep red walls, dark-coloured furniture and dimly-lit lanterns, the owners have succeeded in capturing a slickly updated North African ambience. Nice place for a date.

The menu mostly consists of mezze (taste plates) with a few more substantial dishes served in claypots, and heavily slanted towards lamb. The mezze selection is a strong point; the tameyya are a superior version of felafel, heavily encrusted with sesame seeds, while a large mushroom cap topped with feta cheese and dill was also impressive. The roast pumpkin pieces drizzled with tahini and honey were the highlight of my previous trip here, but on this occasion they seemed a little underdone. A salad of artichoke and peas was impressive on the eye but failed to really excite.

Claypot dishes included ful medames (a stew of broad beans which is Egypt's national dish), kushery (a casserole of lentils, macaroni and rice with a tomato sauce) and the main talking point of the evening, a stew called melokhia. Quite accurately described as resembling "a pond", this ominous-looking creation is named after its main ingredient, a leafy green vegetable with the same sticky, mucilagenous qualities as okra. It resembled alien cuisine - very interesting. Unfortunately, its taste was less interesting, in fact it tasted of very little. The owner advised us to add some salt, as apparently they had toned the salt content down for modern Western tastes, in comparison to the more salty version found in Egyptian homes.

And therein lies the rub with several of the main dishes - despite the traditional, rustic style of the food, many seemed to be deliberately more bland than what Arabs would actually eat - all to cater for a perceived Western taste. I say "perceived" because it seems to be a fallacy - you wouldn't see Chinese, Thai or Malaysian restauranteurs under-salting their dishes, and Western customers lap it up. With the sprinkling of a little salt, the main dishes' flavour started to emerge, but one wonders why we had to add salt ourselves in the first place.

The desserts obviously did not suffer from lack of salt, and were all tasty, particularly the Egyptian pancake topped with pistachios and clotted cream, and the konafa, a tart of shredded pastry and rice-flour custard. Good accompaniments to the cardamom-spiked Arabic coffee and sahleb, a fragrant spiced hot milk drink.

The other little thing that rankled me here was asking for some chilli and being told that we would have to be charged for it. It was incongruous with the general quality of the service, which was friendly and welcoming. So overall, this is a restaurant with the potential to be really, really good, yet falls short of being truly satisfying; it is surprising how such a basic culinary element as salt can be neglected in such a way.

Rating: 3 salt shakers out of 5.

Kushery; artichoke and pea salad.

Ful medames.

Desserts: From top, left to right - Sahleb, Arabic coffee, Egyptian pancake, basbousa (semolina cake), konafa, Turkish delight.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Life's great questions answered

I know many of you have questions you want answered - whether about the meaning of life itself or simply what style of jacket goes best with those jeans you're wearing. Well, finally, in this post I give the definitive answers to some of those weighty questions you've always pondered.

Evolution or Creationism?
ANSWER: Evolution. We are all descended from apes - if you don't believe me, just take a look at Danny from the group New Kids on the Block (above - that's him on the right). Case closed. Do the proper research with an open mind and you have to agree. The Bible, Qur'an and Torah are fabulous books, but they are not scientific texts. And just because your great-granddaddy might have been a lemur, it doesn't make the teachings of someone like Jesus any less true or relevant, and neither does it negate the existence of God.

Who would win a fight between a lion and a tiger?
ANSWER: Due to man's destructive impact on the environment, in 20 years, there won't be any tigers left anyway. So I guess that leaves lions.

Can I be vegetarian and still eat fish?
ANSWER: Now, I'm all in favour of people reducing meat intake, so if they cut out red and white meats but still eat fish, that's great. But can they call themselves vegetarian? I'm inclined to say NO. Last time I checked Wikipedia, fish was still an animal. Meat is the flesh of an animal, and vegetarians don't eat meat. So there you are. And remember, fish stocks are so severely depleted that fish will be an expensive rarity in a few decades - consuming fish is not exactly environmentally friendly.
Then again, I'm vegetarian and have been known to eat Vietnamese food containing fish sauce in it, without a second thought. So disregard everything I just said.

Who was better: 2Pac or Notorious B.I.G.?

ANSWER: Depends on what criteria you base it. 2Pac was the more engaging artist, who released catchier songs and captured more fans and media attention because of his looks and charisma. Biggie on the other hand was an ugly mofo with an even uglier personality, and hence never quite gained the legions of fans who worship 2Pac. HOWEVER, if we are talking simply about skillz on the mic, Biggie wins hands down. Pac is merely a very good rapper - Biggie is top 5 all-time. His Ready to Die album is head and shoulders above anything Pac has ever done.
So in summary: Tupac is a better overall artist, but Biggie is the better MC and has the better album. Personally I think they were both assholes (yeah, I said it!) but that wasn't really the question.

Who let the dogs out?
ANSWER: I dunno, I still don't understand the question.

Should I vote Labor or Liberal?
ANSWER: I know what you're saying: "Politicians are all the same." But if I asked you "would you rather be kicked in the thigh or kicked in the nuts?", well, they are both bad choices being forced upon you, but one is still a better choice than the other (if you hadn't guessed, its the thigh).
Ask yourself this: Do you think that the rich and powerful in our society should be assisted to become richer and more powerful at the expense of the poorer and less fortunate in our society? If your answer is yes, then vote Liberal. Oh, and come here so I can bitch-slap you.
I find it puzzling that many Asian people I know vote Liberal. After all, it was only 20 years ago that John Howard was saying that we have too many Asians in Australia and we should cut their immigration. He's moved on, of course (now it's asylum seekers being targeted), but I don't forget that sh*t easily. If I ever see him I'm gonna get my homies to hold him down while I fart in his face.
So in conclusion: by default, Labor is the better of two bad choices.

Are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie destined to stay together, or should he have stuck with Jennifer Aniston instead?
ANSWER: I don't care, and you shouldn't either. They don't care about your relationship, so stop obsessing about theirs. Next question.

Is today's music really worse than the old stuff, or is that just old people whinging because they're past it?
ANSWER: I'm afraid the old people are right. There's still good music coming out all the time, but the well of ideas is drying up. Generally speaking, we are in a really crap era of music right now. The greatest period in popular music was the mid 60s to early 70s; early rock, and the golden age of soul, funk and reggae. The 90s was actually a really good decade - it gave us albums like Illmatic, Ok Computer, Nevermind and Urban Hymns, and interesting electronic music like trip-hop, jungle and breaks. But today? No one can compare. It's all been done. There are no great visionary musical geniuses to save us - no Jimi Hendrix, no young Stevie Wonder, no James Brown, no Lennon & McCartney, no Bob Marley. The fact that the White Stripes are frequently held up as the greatest rock band around right now tells you what a real mess we're in.
So in conclusion, stop buying those f#@%ing Avril Lavigne and Fergie records and invest in the old Stax and Motown back catalogue, for God's sakes.

Any other questions you need answered? Look at Wikipedia. If you still can't find the answers you're looking for, leave a comment here and I'll do my best to answer it. I make no guarantees however that the answer won't be complete bollocks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hong Kong names, part 2

Back in April I posted some stuff about the bizarre English names sported by lots of Hongky people. I figured I was probably only scraping the surface, but little did I know to what extent!
Here are some names that have come to my attention recently:

One of my contacts in HK tells me about a man who's first name is Glamour. Apparently he is middle-aged and ugly. She also knows of a fellow named Spoon. Surname Poon. Yes, that's right, his name is Spoon Poon.

There is a Hong Kong female triathlete named Gorilla Chau. No f@*#ing kidding, I'm serious, you can look it up on Google!

I did once meet a splendid chap in Melbourne, a medical student named King Man Wan. Or King Man, as he introduced himself. Only recently did it click that if arranged in the proper Chinese fashion (family name first), his name becomes Wan King Man. Oh, dear.

The following names I owe to the facebook group "How do Hong Kong People Come Up With AWESOME English names?" You have to join facebook to see it, but it's worth it! I can't personally verify any of these, but why would the contributors lie? Truth is stranger than fiction, after all. Here is a brief selection.

Male names:
* Gayford
* Hamster
* Purple
* Monkey
* Susan
* Locust
* Distinction

Female names:
* Creamy
* Kinky Ho
* Fishball
* Pissy
* Flavour
* Convenient

If anyone can explain this phenomenon to me, please comment.

(Actually, I think "Flavour" is a totally wicked name, particularly if you are a rapper. For a Chinese girl though? I dunno.
And as bad as it is, I would love to go to parties and introduce myself "Hi! I'm Creamy.")