Friday, July 31, 2009

Awesome Asian Ads - Japan

This first ad is great. It seems relatively straightforward at first then gets progressively more kooky as it portrays a child-beating caterpillar dad and a caterpillar baby with apparent mind-control powers.

Ok, I may be stretching the definition of "awesome" with this one, but this ad does inhabit that grey area between incredibly stupid and brilliantly weird. This clip has 3 ads in 1, which is possibly more than you'll ever need of this. Yet like repetitive techno music, there's something strangely compelling about this.

While this one is quintessentially Japanese; see if you can guess why.

Guess who's Asian? (Part 5)

More Asian-ness where you may not expect it...
There aren't many prominent blasians in Australia, but at least one is on TV every week - Faustina Agolley (aka "Fuzzy"), host of Video Hits and a former model. She was born in London to Chinese and Ghanaian parents. Never would have picked the Chinese part, but once you know it's not hard to notice.
Jamie Cullum is the UK's highest-selling jazz artist of all time, although I suspect that's a fairly loose definition of "jazz". I do have a soft spot for his track Mind Tric though. The man dubbed "Sinatra in sneakers" has Burmese blood on his mother's side.

He certainly doesn't look Asian enough to play the King of Siam, but turns out there is a little Asian in Yul Brynner somewhere. The acting legend (1920 - 1985) was born in Vladivostok to a Russian mother and a Swiss father with Mongolian heritage. It is claimed Brynner played up his Mongol ancestry to add to his mystique (he also claimed to be of Romany ancestry), so I can't totally confirm this one. In any case, a brilliant actor, and on the occasions I've been told I look like him, can't say I'm unhappy about that.

Also bearing a striking resemblance to me (physique-wise, anyway) is professional wrestler Dave Batista, a 5-time world heavyweight champion. His father and mother have Filipino and Greek backgrounds respectively.
Down the other end of the size scale is Herve Villechaize (1943-1993), best known as Tattoo on the Fantasy Island series, and as the evil henchman Nick Nack in the Bond flick The Man with the Golden Gun. While raised in France by his English mother and French stepfather, he is part Filipino on his father's side.

Want more on this topic? Try "Guess who's Asian?" part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.


On Malaysia’s northeast coast lies the state of Terengganu, renowned for its beautiful beaches and classical Malay culture. Malays make up 94% of the population here (compared to 60% of the national population), the rest being mostly Chinese and the occasional Indian.

Culturally very similar to the neighbouring state of Kelantan and the Malay-majority states of southern Thailand, Terengganu is a conservative Islamic state where the Middle-Eastern influences are more pronounced than in the south. The first indication of this is the writing on many signs around town (below):

The script is Jawi, a 700-year old writing system designed to represent the Malay language using Arab script. Now that the Malay language uses Roman script, Jawi is used mostly for religious purposes; Northeast Malaysia and Southern Thailand are the only places where it is still in common everyday use.

Women in Terengganu almost universally wear the tudung (Islamic head covering); any women you see without it tend to be tourists or local Chinese. The prevalence of the tudung is exemplified by this sign signifying a women's toilet, which you won't see in Malaysia's south:

If mosques are your thang, Kuala Terengganu is the place for you. There is the Zainal Abidin Mosque (below),

the "Floating Mosque" (below), which looks wonderful in photos yet is somewhat less so when you are there. It's meant to be quite amazing at sunset though.

And then there's the Crystal Mosque, recently built and designed by an Australian, apparently. If you are still obsessively interested in Islamic culture, nearby is the Islamic Civilisation Park, which celebrates Islamic architecture with replicas of 21 famous buildings throughout the Muslim world. I was a bit mosqued-out to be honest, but it was okay if you're into that sort of thing.

The dominance of Islamic conservatism in Terengganu had me worried that the locals might be less than welcoming of foreigners. Fortunately my prejudices were unfounded - the people, generally speaking, are very friendly and polite, infinitely more so than the stand-offish folks form Kuala Lumpur. Like the lovely guy who sold us durians and mangosteens by the roadside.

Or the Indonesian women we met in Dungun at a roadside restaurant. Driving around hungry and picking a random place based only because it had more customers than its neighbours, the staff there treated us like celebrities, wanting to take their photo with us. On finding out that my mother was Indonesian, I think it made their day. As we bid them goodbye one called out "Give our regards to your mother."

Terengganu's cuisine reflects its various cultural influences and has many distinctive local specialties, mostly based on fish or rice. Check out my earlier post on food in the region here.


Terengganu is known for its natural beauty. It's crystalline waters are a popular destination for diving, but this time we headed inland instead to Tasik Kenyir (tasik is Malay for lake). On the western edge of Terengganu and backing onto Taman Negara (Malaysia's National Park), Kenyir is the largest man-made lake in the country. It was created as part of a hydroelectricity project, but has also been promoted as an eco-tourism destination.

Since we only had a few hours to spare, we were unable to take in the full scope of the lake's beauty. There are a number of waterfalls, such as this one below, and plenty of wildlife to spot. Accessible by boat is the Herbs Garden, which is fascinating for anyone interested in natural healing, gardening, food or botany. Many of the herbs and spices used in Malaysian cooking and traditional medicine are found growing here, such as this clove plant (below).The other plant which seems to be grown here in copious quanities is tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia). A traditional Malaysian herbal cure for a variety of ailments from worms to ulcers to lumbago; but it is best-known for enhancing male sexual potency. (There is also a equivalent plant for females growing here called kacip fatima.) Coffee with tongkat ali is a readily available drink throughout the country. In a small hut in the garden there is even a jug of water infused with tongkat ali for visitors to try, so I had the chance to sample a small glass of this bitter and extremely unappealing brew.
Did it work? I'm not sure. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that I didn't notice any marked improvements in my "performance" after trying it. (Which leaves me wondering, how do they actually scientifically test that?)
Another plant growing here is sekentut, which literally means "a fart" in Malay. Rub some between your fingers and the reason for its name quickly becomes clear. Ironically, it is actually used as a treatment for flatulence; although I hope it doesn't remove butt smells only to make your breath smell like farts.
Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any plants that repelled mosquitoes, because the air in the herbs garden is thick with them. Repellant spray is a must if you don't want to be eaten alive. That's one variety of local wildlife I was not so interested to see.

For more on Malaysia, try:

The Guide to Ordering Food in Malaysia

Penang, Street Food Capital of Asia.

What dishes truly define Malaysian cuisine?

The Malaysian-Indian Food Experience

Ah, the insanity of driving in Malaysia

Addicted to Kuih

Salam from Malaysia

Cooking up a storm in Malaysia

Cebu prisoners' tribute to Michael Jackson

Those zany hardened criminals from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines are at it again, under the direction of the world's most theatrical prison screw, Byron F Garcia. This time it's a tribute to the late great Michael Jackson. You'll recall that MJ's "Thriller" was the backdrop to the dance routine that made them a youtube phenomenon - you can read more about that here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Green tea is intent on world domination

As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, if you are looking for a food item that symbolises the times we live in, look no further. Representing our current obsession with antioxidants and superfoods, as well as the increased influence of East Asian tastes on Western culture, green tea is surely the ingredient of the new century.

Green tea is so ubiquitous that you can now purchase an ointment containing green tea extract which is apparently an excellent treatment for genital warts. Of course, if you can't find this ointment, you can try dunking your junk in a cup of green tea and see what happens - let it cool first, obviously - while musing over the expression "teabag". I'm not actually recommending this, by the way, although if you do it and it works, I will obviously rush to take credit.

Of course throughout Asia, particularly in Japan, folks have been fixated on green tea for centuries. The North Africans got in on the action some time back as well - mixed with fresh mint and sugar, it is drunk daily in Morocco and neighbouring countries. But step back in time 20 years in the West and green tea was merely something you might drink if you went to a Japanese restaurant. That was about it. You could buy it in some supermarkets and Asian groceries, but not many people did. Yet, not unlike Chancellor Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels, green tea has gradually insinuated itself through our consciousness until it now dominates everyday life.

The first sign of things to come was green tea ice cream, which I still think is one of the best ice-cream flavours ever. That was weird in concept, but we got used to it. From then, other foods such as green tea flavoured soba noodles and cakes were not so strange to the palate, and manufacturers started adding matcha (green tea powder) to everything. A green tea chiffon cake I tried from an Asian bakery in Melbourne was magnificent. In Jakarta I had a green tea-glazed donut which was pretty damn good, and who can resist green tea Pocky (below)?

Then sh*t starts to get weirder and weirder. Not only did more and more people gain a taste for green tea, but it began to be known as a buzzword for good health. There are claims that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and is beneficial for bone density, cognitive function, dental cavities, and kidney stones. Damn, if they announced that it can make peace between the Arabs and Israelis, increase your penis size, deter child molesters and stop your wife from nagging you, I wouldn't be surprised one iota.

So soon you start to find green tea popping up in more and more unlikely places:

Why drink plain green tea when you can have green tea vodka or green tea coke? (Coca-cola I mean, not cocaine, although I'm sure some health-conscious Colombian drug syndicate is busily working on that idea.)
Green tea vodka is perhaps not that surprising - ever tried Chivas Regal mixed with ice and green tea? Quite a pleasant way to get hammered, I must say. And now you can have it mixed with green tea coke. Which is fabulous when you think about it, combining all the health benefits of green tea with all the health-destroying effects of alcohol and coca cola.

But why restrict green tea to purely culinary purposes? With beauty products now containing the fragrance of green tea, you can smell like it too. Which is presumably a good thing, since everyone who smells you will think you are healthy and full of antioxidants.

And of course, why should your nails miss out?

Has this gotten to the point of being ridiculous yet?

A Japanese green tea spa? Yes people, I think we've reached that point.

"Curry-bashing" ringleader jailed for murder

From The Age today:

JOHN Caratozzolo wanted a replacement mobile phone, and thought he would go ‘hustle’’ a ‘‘curry’’ to get it. Indian students, he told his friends, had better phones because they studied hard, had better jobs and more money. Caratozzolo got his phone, but he killed a man in the process and assaulted another. Yesterday, he was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years, with 10 years to be served before being eligible for parole.

The Department of Public Prosecutions is considering an appeal against the unusually low duration of the sentence.

Caratazzolo, now 20, was the ringleader of a gang of six responsible for two brutal attacks in Footscray in Melbourne's West in January 2008. It is because of this gang that the term "curry-bashing" entered the public lexicon. His first victim, respected academic Zhonjun Cao was attacked, picked up and dropped on his head. He may have already been dying by this point, but the final touch was Caratazzolo kicking him in the head so hard that he hurt his foot. Caratazzolo then walked off laughing. Mr Cao was Chinese and not Indian; it's not clear whether they mistook him for an Indian, or simply that these thugs weren't too fussy about who they set upon.
Their other victim that night was Mauritian man Binesh Mosaheb; he was bashed and robbed and consequently suffers from a twisted spinal cord.

There remains a code among most Australian males, even young guys for whom fighting is a normal activity, that to kick someone while their down is "a dog act". I've noticed what seems to be a marked increase recently in incidents involving people being kicked in the head while on the ground. Add that to the increase in stabbings and you get the picture that many who walk among us have no compunction about taking a life. Clearly, as in many other incidents, robbing the victim was not enough for Caratazzolo and his friends - it was the thrill of exerting power over another human being.

Robbings, bashings and pub brawls are nothing new in Melbourne, but the greater lethality in these attacks is a new thing. I hate to sound like an old person deriding today's young people, but we seem to have crossed a bridge into barbarity in recent years. Many countries have people who rob and steal, or who settle disagreements with violence, but here in this land of opportunity we are breeding young men who take another man's life just for something to do.

Below: murdered academic Zhonjun Cao

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cool ingredient: Jallab syrup

While browsing amongst the shelves of my favourite local Middle-Eastern bakery/grocery (every neighbourhood should have one), I came across the bottle of luscious dark goodness that is jallab. It is a sticky syrup, Levantine in origin, made from dates (or grapes) and sugar, scented with rosewater. The combination is heavenly. I'd wager this kind of product dates back hundreds of years, since before sugar became widely available; in those days, grapes and dates were boiled down into a kind of honey substitute.

Now that many gourmands have got wise to fragrant Persian cotton candy and the tart delights of pomegranate molasses, perhaps jallab will be the next chic ingredient to cross over from the Middle-Eastern kitchen to the mainstream.

How do you use it? Traditionally it is mixed with water and served over ice, then topped with pine nuts or pistachios. Very refreshing, although the nuts seem like an odd addition to a drink.

Beyond that, just think of it as a sweet syrupy topping or a cordial. Pour over shaved ice for a Persian-style sharbat or mixed with mineral water it makes a fantastic soft drink, while its also great stirred into natural yoghurt. Or you can mix it with tahini paste and spread it on bread. Drizzle it over vanilla ice cream or poached fruit. Or mix it with vodka and soda, which is clearly not halal but delicious anyway.

Like this? You may also like these articles:

Pilaf, paella and pulao - how a rice dish conquered the world

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

RIP Yasmin Ahmad, 1958-2009

Acclaimed Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad passed away from stroke yesterday aged 51. She is best known for her groundbreaking films, 2004's Sepet (Chinese Eye) and 2006's Gubra (Anxiety), which garnered controversy by depicting a relationship between a Chinese boy and Muslim Malay girl. Despite the multicultural nature of Malaysia and the government's message of harmony and tolerance, intercultural and particularly interfaith marriages are sensitive topics.

Ahmad was also well-known for her advertisements, which espoused messages of community and acceptance with heart and humour. I blogged several weeks ago about her ads for Petronas, including the wonderful and award winning Tan Hong Ming ad.

Below is another of her commercials. It's really quite touching.

How much stupider can reality TV get?

The US reality show Dance Your Ass Off began screening this week in Australia. Hooray. The premise? A bunch of fatties use the medium of dance as a way to lose weight. Or something like that. In any case, if you like to see fat asses jiggling, then this show is probably for you. Otherwise, there are plenty of other things to watch.

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? Have we really reached these depths of stupidity where we will take whatever crap the networks feed us? I am opposed to neither dancing or weight loss - those are both fine things - but this is just the dumbest idea for a show ever.

You can even see the mental process that created this show. "Hey, The Biggest Loser is a smash hit, right? And so is So You Think You Can Dance... why don't we just combine the two? Easy. People will watch anything."

Coming soon no doubt will be Who Wants to Marry a Fatass and Midget Fear Factor.

The geniuses at Acceptable TV came up with some clever send-ups of reality TV a couple of years back which are actually not too ridiculous to imagine. Aside from My Black Friend (in which black guys compete for the dubious honour of being the token black friend of a white guy), which is so on-point that a lot of people thought it was real, they also gave us the brilliantly subversive Pedophile Gladiators, a mash-up of the real-life shows American Gladiators and To Catch a Predator.

I've watched that at least 15 times and there are so many brilliant little touches that it still hasn't got old.

So what are the stupidest reality shows in creation? Obviously I haven't seen them all, but here are a selection:

Temptation Island
- Unmarried couples stay on an island inhabited by sexy models who try to tempt them into infidelity. Aside from encouraging partners to cheat, it's even more ridiculous when you consider that the tempters are merely feigning interest. It's a concept that was revisited with a twist on:

Playing it Straight - a bunch of guys on a ranch compete for the affections of a single woman, who has to whittle them down and finally choose one. The catch? Half of them are straight and therefore "interested", whereas the other half are gay and thus just pretending to be interested. If her final choice is gay, she loses out on the prize. The show's only value (unless you consider the emotional manipulation of this poor woman to be a good thing) is in allowing viewers to test out their gaydar.

The Age of Love - hunky 30-year-old Australian tennis player Mark Philippoussis has to choose between a group of women vying for his affection. Some are "kittens" in their 20s, while some are "cougars" aged 39-48. You will no doubt be stunned to find out that not only was his final choice in her 20s, but that the relationship did not last.

Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? - Rich fella Rick Rockwell gets to pick and choose from a bevy of women desperate to marry him - clearly for his looks, brains and personality. Guess how this turned out? She dumped him on the honeymoon, it turned out that not only was Rockwell not his real name, but he wasn't technically even a millionaire, and he had failed to disclose a previous restraining order for domestic violence against his ex. Classy all round.

Flavor of Love - female contestants compete to be the girlfriend of washed-up rapper Flavor Flav. Now I'm a big fan of Public Enemy and all, but who would want that job? Just because he was part of the best rap group of all time doesn't erase the fact that he's a former jailbird and crack addict with form for assaulting his ex girlfriend. He is a bit of a looker though.

Lushlife, Indian-American rap phenomenon

For a few weeks now I've been digging this mad new joint by Philly-based MC/producer Lushlife, entitled The Kindness. It's probably my favourite hip hop track of the year in fact. Check it:

Another Word for Paradise, featuring 90s underground legends Camp Lo, is also some hot sh*t:

I was kinda surprised to find out that homeboy is of Indian extraction - his real name is Raj Haldar. He's hardly the first member of the Indian diaspora to try his hand at rap music - Canadian rapper Spek, Himanshu of Das Racist, and UK group FunDaMental spring to mind - but with respect to those artists, Lushlife sounds like real rap music should. His production has the street-level thump of classic NYC hip-hop, but combined with a shades of jazzy 60s chamber-pop which gives it a dreamy, psychedelic feel. But it's Haldar's prowess on the mic which surprises - while he's not amazing, he more than holds his own. It's not something you'd expect if you judged him on his bohemian-nerdboy image.

Given that mainstream hip-hop is as superficial a genre as it gets, Haldar has little chance of blowing up big time with his geeky look and lofty artistic visions, but he's gathering some props in the underground hip-hop world. He initially made some minor waves with his mash-up album West Sounds, which combined Kanye West raps with music from the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds (obviously inspired by Danger Mouse's Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up.). The below track, which melds Kanye's masterpiece Jesus Walks with You Still Believe In Me, is pretty fantastic.

Lushlife's first artist album Order of Operations came out in 2005, but its not easy to track down. However his new release, Cassette City, out for a month now, is getting some play around the blogs and hipper radio stations. Those tracks I mentioned earlier are on it.

You can check out Lushlife's creative process in action on the following video; its pretty cool particularly if you have an interest in music production.

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Global funk connections: Omar

From Bollywood to black America and back - the evolution of a sample

Mainstream hip-hop's Bollywood flirtations

Some Tamil rap for yo' ass - Yogi B & Natchatra

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How come there's a black chick in "Merlin"?

I've recently started watching the British series Merlin. It's not bad, not great, but a reasonable time-filler while I cook dinner. And the Arthurian legend is a cracking tale. Plus it reminds me of my younger days as a Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd. But I digress.

It is the cast selection - mostly unknowns - which I find particularly interesting. Yes, there's the always good Anthony Head (of Buffy fame) and Bradley James as Arthur looks like Radiohead's Thom Yorke except ridiculously good-looking. And Guinevere, destined to one day become Arthur's bride, is played by Angel Coulby. Who is black.

Yeah, that's right. Apparently there were black folks in medieval England. Well, at least in this version. There is no explanation for this, she just happens to be black. The producers it seems are envisioning a fantasy world in which skin colour is not an issue.

Now you can look at this in two ways. Ethnic minorities always wish they were more represented on TV. So its a good thing, right, that a black woman gets to play one of the lead characters? Remember Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves? (He was one of the only good things about that movie.)

However not many people seem to share this view. A quick browse of blogs and forums reveals many viewers who find it ridiculous. Which is understandable. It seems like a blatantly PC move which flouts any notion of historical accuracy. Well, maybe not historical accuracy per se, since Merlin is pure fantasy, but you know what I mean. You wouldn't throw random European actors into Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to play Chinese noblemen, so why do the equivalent here? Since it is apparently set it Britain circa the 5th Century AD, surely they should try and capture the feel of the era. Back then, ethnic diversity meant the Angles and the Saxons.

But then again, the show has a friggin' dragon in it. And unicorns and fairy-type creatures. And Merlin shoots people with blue fireballs. So if you can accept all those things, why is a black woman too fantastical a creature to fathom in a medieval fantasy series?


Ok you knuckleheads, I'm closing the comment thread on this one. Too much racist idiocy in the comment section, I can't be arsed having to read it anymore. I am leaving the existing comments up because it will give you a taste of how stupidly racist people are willing to get over a f*cking TV show about wizards. Wizards!

Trigger warning for those of you who don't wish to read racist abuse. Read on at your own peril.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The best ad for vibrators, ever

Came across this over at the HK Diaries blog and I absolutely love it. Kudos to the ad man who put this together. Chinese vibrator lady just looks so happy! Maybe I should go get one.

Like this? Then you'll like:

China's Sex Theme Park opens... and closes

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Are Australians really racist towards Indians?

As Resham Singh and his friend waited for the train at Dandenong Station, they were racially abused by two teenagers, who appeared to be drug-affected. "You Indians, we hate you, we will kill you." The two Indians ignored them, but soon they returned with four other men. They punched and kicked Singh, removed his turban and attempted to cut his hair - an unthinkable affront to a practising Sikh. Fortunately their attack was interrupted by the approach of police.

The racist nature of this recent attack is undeniable. But is it typical of the recent spate of attacks on Indians in Australia?

With the recent street violence against Indians in Melbourne and Sydney, and all the hysteria it generated, the spotlight has been placed on the question of race in Australia. Are we a racist country? And more specifically, are we racist against Indians?

Certainly, when the issue of “curry-bashing” began to get more publicity in the media, I was taken by surprise. While there have always been anti-immigrant sentiments among a section of society, I have never heard of any trend of virulent racism directed specifically at South Asians. Certainly, I have heard people mutter some unflattering stereotypes, but nothing that would imply violence as a next step.

The initial reaction of police was to claim the attacks were not racially motivated. Politicians’ response was also to remind us that Australia is not a racist country. While I’m sure that to an extent the police could not find conclusive evidence of racist motivations, part of it seemed to be damage control, not wanting anyone to panic. If so, this tactic didn’t work, and it wasn’t too long before Victoria’s Police Commissioner Simon Overland conceded that racism was clearly an element in some of the attacks.

There is a reason why Indian students didn’t buy into the whole “there’s no racism here” argument, and it is not, as some have argued, due to Indians’ alleged proneness to hysteria.

The reason is that if you are a non-white migrant to this country, you have a different perspective about racism than the police and politicians, one that comes from experience.

It is easy for Simon Overland or Kevin Rudd or Andrew Bolt to talk about how Aussies are not a racist people, and that this is only the work of a few bad apples. White men of privilege are simply not exposed to racism in the same way. But talk to someone from Asia or Africa and you will hear different stories.

Many Indian international students studying in Melbourne have heard verbal racist abuse directed towards them on the street, or at least have heard about it happening to a friend. Many Chinese students also report this. “F*** off back to your own country” and similar phrases are not unfamiliar to many Asian students.

But it is not just the new arrivals who experience this – those born and raised in Australia have their own stories to tell.

Bobby is a doctor of Sri Lankan background who grew up in Australia. He says it is not uncommon for patients to refuse to be treated by South Asian doctors. Must be difficult to be a racist medical patient, since medicine in Australia is so dominated by East and South Asians.

Shanthani is part-Indian, light-skinned and with an Australian accent – not someone who stands out as being a “foreigner”. In the course of her duties as a social worker, a 12-year old boy who came in for assistance refused to be helped by her and asked for someone else. When asked why, he told her colleague: “Because she’s a curry-muncher and a black c***.”

The question about whether or not Australia is a racist country is not one that can be answered with a yes or no answer. Think of Australia’s attitudes to ethnicity as a continuum. (For you lunkheads out there, that basically means a line that transitions from one thing to another.) At one end are Australians who happily enjoy the fruits of a cosmopolitan multiethnic society and embrace diversity. At the other end are those who are intolerant, and perhaps wish a return to "the good old days" before large-scale immigration and multiculturalism. Plenty of folks with racist attitudes come from migrant communities as well. It is a sad irony how some migrants who have faced racism themselves, will happily dish it out to other migrant groups, or to Anglo-Aussies for that matter.

When we talk about organised racist groups (skinheads, KKK, etc), there is very little of this in Australia. What we do have are many people, mostly teenagers and young adults, with generally antisocial attitudes. They have a strong dislike of anyone markedly different to them, be it due to ethnicity, sexuality or appearance. To victimise such people is a way of feeling better about oneself, and proving one's masculinity to other guys in the group.

There is an old saying about people revealing their true personality when they are angry. For a certain segment of the population, this is particularly telling; cut them off in traffic, accidentally hit them in your car, or get into some push-and-shove during a sporting match, and you will see a particularly ugly side to the Australian personality. In these situations, the racist epithets are liable to flow thick and fast.

In other words, you could argue that in many cases of bashings which included racist abuse, they were not necessarily racist in motivation. In other words, while the attackers' intent was certainly to bash and victimise, the racist words were just part of the general abuse that accompanies such incidents.

Is this the case though? Probably at least some of the time.

Right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt wrote earlier today in the Herald-Sun that "it's time to admit that there's nothing racist in the violence on our streets." Bolt contends that the attacks on Indians is merely part of the greater picture, which is the rampant thuggery in Melbourne's streets and licensed venues. And to a point, he's right.

But Bolt has an agenda. Based on all he's written previously, he is loathe to admit that white Australians might have a problem with racism. You can almost sense the triumphalism as he refers to the two shocking bashings last week in Melbourne, in which the victims were both white and the perpetrators in one case were of Pacific Islander background.

But if we are looking at the wider trend of violence on the streets and in licensed venues, we must consider one factor. Certainly many of these have been unprovoked, but many of these incidents have originated in some kind of confrontation. As an example, Luke Adams, choked and punched in a Hungry Jacks restaurant last week was going to the aid of a friend who had already become involved in a fight. This is not to blame the victim at all, but fights that happen in venues late at night tend to follow a similar pattern - someone bumps another person or looks at him the wrong way, or a drunk person is mouthing off or behaving in a way which provokes a response. These things escalate to brawls.

The attacks against Indians, on the other hand, have been almost entirely unprovoked. In some cases robbery was the motive, but often it has been nothing but sheer malice. So while these attacks and the violence around licensed venues are part of the same wider trend, they are not quite the same thing.

I think the whole “racist or not racist” debate around the attacks on Indians is a little too simplistic. I've visited lots of blogs from overseas (India and the UK) that have covered this issue, and have argued with their contention that this is somehow a reflection of Australia's savage convict origins and history of racism against our indigenous people. In some of these attacks, racism is clear. Other attacks were seemingly pure opportunism. And in many other cases, both these factors are present. I believe in many cases, the attacks would not have been specifically racist in intent, but racism contributed to their virulence and likelihood - meaning that while the thugs responsible would have possibly attacked anyone, someone they identified as "foreign" made a more appealing target.

I also wonder if the media's coverage of "curry-bashing" may have actually resulted in some of these more recent attacks. The teen thugs who attacked Resham Singh were in Dandenong, which is not the nicest neighbourhood by any means, but is in the outer Southeast of Melbourne, quite far from the West where most curry-bashing incidents have occurred. Given that their motivations seemed quite specifically to attack Singh because of his ethnicity (and producing scissors to cut his hair does seem to support this), you have to wonder if they had heard about this phenomenon of "curry-bashing", figured it was something that lots of people are doing, and thought it sounded cool.

Now, I've asked a question in the title of this post about whether Australians are really racist against Indians, and I'm not sure if I've really answered it. Because it is too complicated a question to answer. Most Australians are probably not. A sizeable section of the population are racist, but I don't think it is specifically anti-Indian racism.

But take those racist elements, add the violent culture prevalent among many of Melbourne's young males, and finally add large numbers of Indian students walking home late from train stations by themselves. Where those three factors converge, I suspect, is the genesis of the attacks on Indians.

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Your guide to the "F*** off we're full" Facebook group

"Always a good day when you can bag a sand nigger"

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vegetarian Dim Sum at Nature's Recipe Cafe, Petaling Jaya

Greater Kuala Lumpur is exceedingly well-served by vegetarian restaurants, primarily of the Chinese and South Indian varieties.

I've had Chinese vegetarian food many times in Australia, and while I generally like it, I've never visited a place that truly reached its full potential. Perhaps it is the aversion Chinese buddhists have towards vegetables of the allium family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks) which are said to encourage passionate behaviour. Personally I'm a big fan of passionate behaviour, but apparently it's no good for attaining a state of nirvana. I'm also a big fan of the allium family, which despite being hindrances to getting someone to kiss you, are essential for most tasty dishes. I'm Indonesian, man, and the idea of food without garlic and shallots is incomprehensible to us. (Clearly they do make you passionate, since there are over 237 million Indonesians - get my meaning?)

But Nature's Recipe Cafe (12 Jalan 8/1E, 46050 Petaling Jaya) is one of two Malaysian vegetarian joints that gave me hope for the potential of Chinese vegetarian cuisine to reach its own state of nirvana. (The other was Yishensu at 1 Utama.) The food is impressively presented and very tasty, even without a trace of the garlic I so dearly love.

A big plus for Nature's Recipe is that it specialises in Dim Sum. I have longed to partake in the delights of dim sum (or yum cha as it is better known in Australia) with my Chinese homies for many years, but am constantly thwarted by everything being filled with pork or prawns. So stuffing my face with these little works of art was personally very satisfying.

All kinds of standard Chinese vegetable dishes are on offer here, but the mock-meat ones are the best. I know people have all kinds of varying opinions on the concept of vegetarians eating pretend meat, but hey, it tastes good even to a meat eater. The teochew dumplings (above) and siu mai (below) were full of meaty and prawny flavour respectively, only with less, um, death, than the real thing.

Fried glutinous balls (above) sound weird enough but were tasty with a winningly chewy texture, while the jade dumplings (below) were at the more delicate end of the spectrum.
In a departure from the dim sum theme, we tried the lamb curry, which actually is made at its sister restaurant just up the road. This was one of the best fake-meat dishes I've ever tried. I couldn't tell if it contained onion and garlic or not, but it was certainly bursting with the flavour of lemon grass, curry leaves and other Thai-Malaysian-type spices I couldn't identify. Its robust gravy had the one thing that many Chinese vegetarian dishes lack - balls, for lack of a better word. Not to say it actually had balls in it, since that wouldn't be vegetarian, but you know what I mean.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Global funk connections: United Future Organization

Founded in Shibuya in 1990, United Future Organization was a collaboration between two Japanese DJ/producers, Tadashi Yabe and Toshio Matsuura, with French DJ/producer Raphael Sebbag. While they fit fairly snugly into the "acid jazz" scene that was big at the time, UFO were on a slightly different tip, quite ahead of the game at that stage. With their fusing of jazz with various elements of dance music, hip-hop and Latin, they were forerunners of the nu-jazz sound that arose in the late 90s with acts like Jazzanova. It's amazing how many fantastic producers come out of Japan specialising in your better class of hip-hop, jazz-funk and dance.

UFO released 5 albums between 1993 and 2002. "Loud Minority" is still my favourite. It shows how much life you can squeeze into a track that is based on programmed drums and samples.

Likewise with "United Future Airlines". The original track is nice but the remix below by Palmskin Productions is an absolute monster.

Both tracks appear on different editions of the popular "Rebirth of Cool" series of compilation CDs.

Award-winning Japanese condom ad

Nice ad for Sagami Condoms, entitled "Love Distance" which won Gold at Cannes Lions International Advertising. For all of us out there in long-distance relationships who still find ways to get it on.

Julie wins Masterchef

The Australian version of Masterchef is over, with NSW mum Julie Goodwin winning the final against Adelaide artist Poh Ling Yeow. It is the climax of a remarkable series that has been the ratings hit of the year.

I have to say its not a series that I have followed religiously in the way that some have. Partly because I was over in Malaysia for a couple of weeks, partly because I tend to watch SBS news around that timeslot, and mainly because I have an aversion to reality TV and all that involves. Yet as it came down to the last few days of the competition, it somehow wormed its way into my consciousness to the point where it became essential viewing.

It helped for me that Poh was still in the competition, since I am a die-hard devotee of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine. And also because I find her to be, if you'll pardon the pun, a bit of a dish. I also liked that she had the guts to use ingredients like pandan essence and century eggs in her cooking, which totally befuddled some on the show and plenty of the viewing audience no doubt. The reaction to some of these things showed how "real" Asian food is still a mystery to the vast majority of Australians. Century eggs are actually commonplace in Chinese cuisine, yet two of the judges had no idea what they were. Personally I can't stand them, although I'm possibly willing to reevaluate them after watching Poh make dumplings out of them.

I'll say this for Julie, our winner: clearly lacking the polish in the kitchen as some of the other contestants, her victory was primarily about the taste of the food, as opposed to Poh's knack for attractive plating. Which is comforting to me actually, since top-end restaurants often spend so much time on the superficialities of their food that the all-important flavour is somehow forgotten.

Much has been made of the overwhelming niceness of the show as a key to its success. And you've got to give it credit for that - judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston were constantly full of empathy and encouragement. Perhaps the producers sensed that audiences had reached a tipping point with the nastiness of most reality shows that are designed to bring out the bitch in their participants. And instead of giving fame to the usual suspects of dubious talent, Masterchef rewarded expertise, hard work and dedication. It's important to remember though that the winner is not necessarily the best chef; merely the one who manages to scrape through the series of challenges best, with the luck not to slip up at the wrong time.

One final thought. Matt Preston seems like a lovely guy, and I do religiously read his restaurant reviews in Tuesday's Epicure section in The Age newspaper. But after watching this bejowled character lick his lips as he ingests the tasty morsels served up to him, I think I'm going to have nightmares of him trying to eat my liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. There's just something kinda scary about him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Terengganu Cuisine

With its overwhelming Malay majority, the cuisine of Terengganu on Malaysia's northeast coast does not have as much Chinese or Indian influence as some other states. There is however a noticeable influence from nearby Thailand, and in this state strongly influenced by Islamic culture, there are discernable Arabic tinges to the food as well.

Rice and fish are the staples on which this cuisine is built, and if you don't like either of those things you'll struggle a little in Terengganu. With that in mind, I relented on my usual vegetarian regimen - to a certain extent anyway. Forgive me, poor chickens and little fishies.

Keropok Lekor – you can’t avoid this stuff, it is absolutely everywhere in Kuala Terengganu; it is made from fish and sago pounded into a paste and formed into a sausage shape. Go to the markets and you’ll see the uncooked varieties, which you may mistake for the penis of some poor creature. They don’t look particularly appetizing. When boiled and/or fried, the keropok lekor turns into a kind of chewy, fishy sausage; not bad at all, actually, if a little too greasy. Served with chili sauce on the side, this is by far and away the most popular local snack food. On one stretch of the highway leading into KT, every second shop was a kerepok lekor vendor. They can be found elsewhere in Malaysia but in Terengganu it is an obsession. The term keropok (krupuk in Indonesian) usually refers to crispy thin-sliced discs (think Chinese prawn crackers or Indian papadams for a point of reference), and you can get these here as well; they are called keropok lekor keping.

Nasi Goreng Kerabu – fried rice with a variety of herbs and vegetables stirred into it. I detected finely chopped snake bean, Kaffir lime leaves, chopped lemon grass, Chinese celery leaves and mung bean sprouts, with heat from chili sambal. Amazingly fragrant, it recalls the flavours of Thai food yet still tastes very much Malay. Mine came from Misya’s Tom Yam at the Batu Buruk Food Centre. Not to be confused with the blue-tinged nasi kerabu, another local specialty which we didn't get to try this time.

Nasi Dagang – one of the trademark dishes of Terengganu and neighbouring Kelantan. Commonly eaten for breakfast, it is the local version of nasi lemak. While it is easy to notice the Thai influence on the cuisine of the region, this dish recalls the Middle-Eastern influence on local tastes. While its basic ingredients are truly SE Asian – a mix of Thai jasmine rice and glutinous rice, with a little coconut milk added – the presence of fenugreek seeds in the rice is an unusual twist, as this spice is virtually absent from all other Malay cuisine. While fenugreek is mostly associated with Indian cuisine, locals refer to it by its Arabic name, halba (rather than the Hindi methi), which is a telling indicator of its origin in Terengganu cuisine. Also containing shallots and shreds of ginger, the rice is flavourful enough to eat on its own, but it is usually accompanied by some kind of achar (lightly pickled vegetable) and a fish curry.
Nasi dagang is primarily a breakfast dish; waking up late on our last morning in Dungun, we drove to a few eateries desperately wanting a last taste of this local specialty, only to be told (in the nicest way possibl) that it was no longer breakfast time and they had run out. This was at 10:45am, mind you. Fortunately not every vendor holds to this principle.

The nasi dagang came from this little shop (below) at the food court at Pasar Payang (Kuala Terengganu's Central Market) which was quiet at lunchtime when we visited. It was run by a nice couple; the auntie sat nearby and watched with a smile as we ate and photographed our food, visibly getting a kick out of us enjoying her cooking.

Nasi Minyak – which we ordered from that same stall the nasi dagang, I wasn’t quite so impressed with this colourful dish, which means “oil rice” - it seems to be a Malaysian take on the pilaf of the Middle-East. The oil is meant to be clarified butter (another Arab legacy), but its flavour wasn’t discernable. The chicken curry that accompanied it was absolutely delicious however. The dominant taste was the particular way that Indonesians and Malays have with shallots and garlic, pounded and fried to impart a distinctively savoury flavour. Yet its thin dark sauce, redolent with coriander, cardamom, cumin and cloves, also evoked the flavours of Yemen or the Gulf States and was aromatic rather than fiery hot.

Laksam – the local variant of laksa. It uses an interesting variety of noodle, something like a broader kway teow noodle which has been rolled up and then sliced. These swim in a gravy of coconut milk, herbs and fish stock. A dish which has potential to be nice I’m sure, but the version we tried (at Pantai Batu Buruk) was underwhelming.


For more on food in Malaysia, try:

What dishes truly define Malaysian cuisine?

The Guide to Ordering Food in Malaysia

Sister's Char Kway Teow, Penang

Penang's Famous Mung Bean Cookies

Penang, Street Food Capital of Asia.

The Malaysian-Indian Food Experience

Addicted to Kuih

Roti Canai Terbang - The Way of the Flying Roti

Breakfast at Bakti Woodlands, Kuala Lumpur

Lina's Popiah, SS3, Petaling Jaya

Vegetarian Dim Sum at Nature's Recipe Cafe, Petaling Jaya

Salam from Malaysia

Cooking up a storm in Malaysia

This guy is totally my new hero - China's elderly traffic enforcer

In a country which by all accounts can boast the worst drivers in the world, some Chinese citizens have had enough. This 70-year-old man, fed up with cars constantly running the red light and thus endanger pedestrian safety, protests by using a brick to smash the lights of as many as 30 cars. Old dude's got some serious balls on him, that's for sure.

Hat tip: Chinasmack

Friday, July 17, 2009

Terrorist bombings rock Jakarta

Earlier today, Jakartans woke to explosions in the city centre. The Marriott Hotel and the Ritz Carlton suffered what appear to be suicide bombings. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but prime suspect is the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated network whose goal is to create an Islamic caliphate throughout SE Asia.

At this moment the number of casualties, which will no doubt increase, is said to be 8 deaths. Around 50 people have been injured, with perhaps 14 of them being foreigners.

Just think about that statistic for a second. Of the terrorists' victims, more than two-thirds are local Indonesians. Fellow Muslims.

If anyone reading this is naive enough to still believe that these kind of militant jihadi groups are defenders of the faith and give one iota of thought for the welfare of other Muslims, take note. It is a well-known fact that most victims of Islamic fanatacism are overwhelmingly Muslim civilians themselves. In the course of blowing up tourist nightspots in Bali, the US embassies in East Africa, or attacking US soldiers in Iraq, far more Muslims than non-Muslims are killed and maimed by Muslim extremism.

Yet the fanatics continue to have support in some circles. Go figure.

These two Western -owned companies provide much-needed jobs to Indonesians. Which is far more than Jemaah Islamiyah ever did for the country, or for Muslims for that matter.

It deeply saddens me that beautiful Indonesia has to continually be torn apart by these f***ers. Yes I'm biased, but generally speaking Indonesians are among the gentlest and loveliest people you can ever meet. We are by nature a tolerant, accepting people, who have peacefully integrated a multitude of cultures and faiths over the last two thousand years. Islam arrived here through trade and spread by example, not the sword, and the brand of Islam followed by the majority is far more laid-back and liberal than practiced almost anywhere else. Yet we are continually plagued by a tiny minority of ignorant fools who want to model Indonesia after the worst aspects of Saudi Arabia.

Don't let them win.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Penang, street food capital of Asia

Malaysia is a country obsessed with eating good food, and Penang is often regarded as the epitome of the Malaysian culinary urge. TIME magazine agreed and pronounced it home to Asia's best street food in 2004. All the country's different ethnic cooking styles are represented here, but first and foremost, Penang is about Chinese-Malaysian and Nyonya cuisine. Nyonya food, also called peranakan food, is the legacy of intermarriage between early Chinese settlers and Malays in the region - its hallmarks are the use of Malay ingredients (shrimp paste, local herbs) in dishes that are Chinese in origin.

Malaysians love the idea of authenticity in food - the idea that a certain dish is "the real thing", traditional and how it was meant to be made. So they will travel the length of the country to go eat at some shabby, roach-infested hawker centre or coffee shop, in the hope of trying the rojak or laksa which is reputedly the best and most authentic. With this in mind, we set off on our Penang expedition looking to find the culinary holy grail of perfect renditions of local specialties. And of course, most of these were found in the most "authentic" of locations.

Authenticity and tradition is in thick supply in Penang. The best regarded local foods are often run by family enterprises and are generations old. The Ghee Hiang company has been making the much-loved Tambun biscuits or tau sar piah since 1856. Sisters' Char Kway Teow has been making the same thing for 50 years.

Also kicking it for 50 years have been the two brothers who run the laksa stand at Air Itam Market. This is by far the most famous laksa joint in all of Penang - someone all the way from Melbourne recommended we go here. As far as "authentic" locations go, this one is by a dusty roadside and you sit at a table next to an open drain. In the West that would be considered a major negative, but in Malaysia, proud of its hawker tradition, its just another sign of authenticity.

While laksa is a popular Malaysia-wide dish, the Penang version, often called asam laksa, is very distinctive. It's fishy, tangy from tamarind, infused with herbs like mint and wild ginger flower, and topped off with dark prawn paste. Honestly seafood ain't my thing, but my better half loved it so much she had to ta pau an extra one so her family could try it. Given that many other Penang cooks have imitated Air Itam Laksa, it is debatable how much it stands out from the crowd - but if you want to appreciate your laksa as a Malaysian would, you need to come to the originators like these guys. We found the venerable brothers to be a lovely pair of guys at that.

Another local specialty is oh chien, or fried oyster. The oysters are fried with egg and served with chili sauce. The ones we had, reputedly the best, were from the Lorong Selamat hawker centre.

Nearby on Lorong Selamat and also famous is the char kway teow at Kafe Heng Huat, where the old auntie who makes the dish in question is renowned for her goggles and red beret-cum-chef's hat. CKT may be a cousin of Thai noodle dishes like pad see ew and pad thai, but it is a Penang dish through and through. KL people will always speak glowingly of Penang CKT.

Given that for best results, CKT should only be made in individual serves, and given that it is in high demand here, you can expect a long wait here. It's pricey by local standards as well (RM6 per serve), but its worth it. To be honest I found Sisters' version more to my taste - a little less oily and more char flavour, but this one comes with some hefty prawns. Heng Huat was also jam-packed at lunch-time when we arrived, compared with barely half-full Sisters' the day before, so perhaps the Penang crowd are voting with their feet?

You can order food from nearby street-hawkers who will bring it in to Heng Huat for you; things like rojak, popiah and lor bak. We also tried the Heng Huat's ais kacang (below) which comes with the unusual additions of ice cream on top, and a hint of sarsparilla among the other flavoured syrups. Nice way to finish off the meal.

We only had a little over 24 hours in Penang (arriving at lunchtime and leaving the after the following day's lunch), but we somehow managed to fit in around 10 meals during that time. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say.


For more on food in Malaysia, try:

The Guide to Ordering Food in Malaysia

Terengganu Cuisine

The Malaysian-Indian Food Experience

Addicted to Kuih

Roti Canai Terbang - The Way of the Flying Roti

Breakfast at Bakti Woodlands, Kuala Lumpur

Lina's Popiah, SS3, Petaling Jaya

Vegetarian Dim Sum at Nature's Recipe Cafe, Petaling Jaya

Salam from Malaysia

Cooking up a storm in Malaysia