Friday, November 9, 2007

Social workers not sexy, says new survey

I've just found another reason to hate my life. Speed-dating agency Fast Impressions has conducted a survey of 400 of its members, to determine which professions were the "sexiest" and "most dateable". You can read more about it here. Social workers, it turns out, are ranked somewhere near the bottom. That's right, not the top or the middle, but the bottom. F@#*.

Here I was, thinking that my profession's stereotypical qualities of compassion, striving for justice and sticking up for the powerless, were actually desirable things. But no! How wrong I have been. No wonder I never have sex. Apparently we are a bunch of namby-pamby bleeding-heart socialist wankers with no balls. Ok, maybe I'm reading too much into this, but without any explanation I'll have to draw my own conclusions.

Now perhaps I shouldn't get too shirty, since technically I'm not a social worker, but they didn't include "community development worker" as one of their listed professions, but "social worker" is clearly the closest parallel amongst those on the list. (No one knows what a community development worker is anyway, which perhaps makes my profession more mysterious and hence more attractive... but perhaps not. Anyway, I digress)

In the professions listed by females in the survey as being the sexiest, at the top are those you might guess: doctors, architects, models, firemen (it's the uniform and the long hose, apparently). Social workers are considerably lower - only 28% of women think its a sexy profession, and 61% would possibly date us. This puts social workers slightly higher than politicians, rat catchers, the terminally unemployed, parking ticket inspectors and human guinea pigs. (Ok, the last 4 professions weren't on the list, but you get the drift). Models rated highly on the sexy score (67%), yet only 56% on the dateability score.

(click on table for enlarged view)

It makes me feel better to know that social workers were not totally on the bottom - however, if you look at those professions we are rated as more dateable than, they have some pretty obvious negative points. For example, women considered social workers more dateable than plumbers (known for poking around in toilets and exposing their hairy butt-cracks), bartenders (substance addicted and may spike your drink when you're not looking), politicians (known for not being human), air hosts (quite possibly gay), dancers (gay), artists (sensitive but broke and possibly gay) and male models (quite possibly vacuous, gay and prone to doing drugs and having orgies). But that's about it.

And looking at the professions rated as more desirable than mine, it just gets more depressing. Lawyers (sure, they make lots of money and look glamorous on Boston Legal, but they also lie, cheat and snort coke), property agents (did I mention lying and cheating?), builders (can't utter a sentence without using the word f@#*) and musicians (substance-addicted, vague and unreliable - trust me, I used to be one). And accountants. ACCOUNTANTS! Apparently they are as sexy (or unsexy) as social workers, yet are considered more dateable. Sh#t, just cut off my testicles now, I clearly won't be needing them.

It may be purely a coincidence, but the top four most dateable professions listed (doctor, architect, lawyer, property agent) are also pretty much the highest earning. Hmmm... Of the males in "caring" professions listed (doctor, social worker, teacher and nurse), only doctors rate highly in the dateability stakes. Is it coincidental that they earn much more than the other three? Hmmm. If sex appeal correlates with bank balance, then the size of my annual wage means that I may as well make my vow of celibacy now so as to save on frustration later. I actually do have enough faith in womankind that I don't believe that money is as important as it seems... although in any case, we males will judge a woman based on her breast size, which is hardly any more noble than judging a man on his income.

But of course, I'm not really the kind of person to put too much stock in a survey of 400 people. Such things are always a bit flawed; after all politicians were the least sexy (14%), yet Bill Clinton was a politician and he has had more sex than anyone outside the porn industry, so surely that proves the survey is bollocks?

In a way, though, its actually a bit comforting. I always thought my lack of success on the dating front was due to me being an ugly, arrogant prick with no discernable personality and a chronic body odour problem. But now I know its just because I chose an unsexy career! It's all clear now. Where do I sign up to be a fireman?

(PS. If you clicked on the link you will have noticed that I am getting my information from a site called Don't think too much about why I am looking at such sites.)

What's rocking my stereo at the moment...

Common - "The People"
This is everything that is good about urban music. Common's usual socially insightful rapping and a smooth chorus from Dwele (my fave R&B crooner at the moment) would make any track a winner. But it is the production by Kanye West that elevates "The People" to classic status. I haven't been too enamoured with Kanye's solo work recently, with its too-obvious samples and lacklustre lyrics, but his collaborations with Common bring out the best in both of them. Here Kanye lifts a few inconsequential portions of an old Gil Scott-Heron track and flips it all into a tune that is both maddeningly catchy yet timeless and soulful. And damn if Com doesn't cut a fine figure in this video, he looks and sounds every inch the magnetic black leader. It's great stuff.

Donnie - "If I Were You"
Coming out as gay is career suicide for a black R&B artist. This is particularly tragic for an singer like Donnie, whose debut album "The Colored Section" is one of the few truly great soul albums of this new century, and who is the kind of singer whose pure artistry, in a more just world, could lift his genre out of the generally poor state it's currently in. I'm still not so sure about his new album "The Daily News", but this track from it is a killer. As ever, he evokes the spirit of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway in a bouncy feelgood track of glorious harmonies and sunny horns, with an inspiring message. Just makes me wanna hug someone.

The Verve - "One Day"
I have yet to find someone who agrees with me, but I have always felt that The Verve's "Urban Hymns" from 1997 is one of the 10 greatest albums ever. And putting aside its well-known big hits, it is full of amazing songs like "One Day". Richard Ashcroft's world-weary yet hopeful vocal combined with Nick McCabe's fantastic guitar work and some deeply resonant psychedelic production result in a track that everyone should be singing.

Big L - "No Endz, No Skinz"
This is the kind of song I feel bad about liking, since it covers the well-worn misogynist idea in hiphop that women are just out for yo' money. But if you are gonna do such a song, you may as well do it right, and this is how it's done: classic NY ruff beats and jazzy samples, infectious chant-along chorus and Big L's unparalleled knack for one-liners. Big L's shooting death in 1999 at the age of 24 meant that he never achieved the stardom he deserved, but the album this song came from, "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous", is regarded as a true classic by anyone who knows hiphop.

Fat Freddy's Drop - "Based on a True Story" album
It took a while to grow on me, but that's the kind of music this is. New Zealand's premier exponents of dub reggae and soul create a sound that is entirely their own, which eases its way into your consciousness until it is stuck there. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was only once the warm weather kicked in and I could cruise around with this in the car stereo that I started to appreciate how good these guys are. Pacific Islanders have an uncanny affinity with black vocal musics (gospel, soul, hiphop and reggae), and one of the pleasures of this album is Dallas Tamaira's effortless croon. Like the rest of the band he eschews aping Caribbean sounds for something more truly NZ in nature, and the result is a sly, groovy, addictive brew.

Naturally 7 - "In the Air Tonight" (live on the Paris subway)

If you haven't caught this on youtube yet, you should stay home more. There's little I can say about this accapella group, other than that they are simply amazing. Oh, and check for the one dude in the crowd who just doesn't appreciate being in the middle of an incredible experience. He's hilarious to look at.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dancing Filipino prisoners

By now there is a good chance that you have seen this clip or heard about the dancing prisoners of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. It has already attracted over 8 million hits on youtube after it was posted by Byron Garcia, the prison warden. Garcia forced the prisoners to participate in dance routines in order to encourage physical exercise and divert their energies away from violent behaviour. And apparently it works, with levels of antisocial behaviour said to have reduced dramatically and a more communal spirit seeming to take place amongst the prisoners. And aside from that, it's funny as hell.

Of course that may not be the full story; a report by ABC in America (below) implies a sinister side, in that the fearful prisoners have been forced against their will by the megalomaniacal Garcia.

So it's either a good news story of a model prison system, or a cruel and unusual punishment. The truth as usual is probably somewhere in between, but let's be optimists for a moment and assume that it is a good thing. Clearly, many of the prisoners in footage I have seen seem to be enjoying themselves.

What I have been wondering is this: obviously if this works, other countries might be tempted to try it in their prisons too. But could it actually work in any other country other than the Philippines?

There would be no chance of getting that to happen in an Australian or American jail, even at gunpoint. Most men in general, and especially prisoners, are simply too macho to engage in such an activity. Can you imagine the "Chopper" Reids of this world getting down to some choreographed calisthenics in the prison yard?

Yet Asian culture, and particularly southeast Asian culture, is rather more conducive to that kind of thing. I could see this happening in Indonesia or Thailand or India, for example. Asian culture, while oppressively male-dominated in its own way just like any other culture, has a different take on masculinity than the rest of the world. For an example, look at that great Asian export to the world, karaoke. The idea of average blokes getting up on stage and singing tender cheesy ballads is alien to most Western males unless they are extremely drunk. Yet karaoke is an enormously popular pastime throughout the Asian region. Likewise, in countries like Thailand, cross-dressers are accepted to a greater degree than almost any other place in the world. Even in Indian culture, which is extremely patriarchal and macho in many ways, males are passionate about dancing in a way that puts most other countries to shame. Just go to a Punjabi wedding or watch a Bollywood movie and this will be evident. Indeed, if any country could top the Philippines in a prison dance-off, my money would be on India for sure. But Western countries? Nah.

So while I don't hold out any hope for this method of rehabilitation in the West, I do long for an episode of "Oz" or "Prison Break" where all the inmates boogie down to "Fame", or Spandau Ballet's "Gold". Now that would be something.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sudanese in the Firing Line

Here's a joke for ya:

Q: What do you call a group of ethnic kids hanging around together?
A: A gang.

Q: What do you call a group of Anglo-Australian kids hanging around together?
A: A group of Anglo-Australian kids hanging around together.

Earlier this year, Pauline Hanson (the red-haired and red-necked former parliamentarian) called for government cuts to African immigration to Australia. Fast forward a few months, and our esteemed leaders in the Liberal Party have proved that when it comes to matters of race, Pauline is calling the shots yet again. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has announced that the refugee intake from Africa is to be slashed, citing a dossier detailing a raft of social problems alleged to be inflicting the Sudanese community.

Murdered TAFE student Liep Gony, and his family in mourning (below).

The bashing death of Sudanese teenager Liep Gony at Noble Park train station has highlighted the question of whether Sudanese and other African refugees are successfully settling into the local community. Which is strange; given that his accused killers are both white, why are the politicians and media not whipping up a frenzy about the violent tendencies of white people and the need to reduce the immigration of white people to Australia? After all, Port Arthur gunman Martin Bryant is white, as is convicted serial killer Ivan Milat and serial rapist Peter Dupas … can you see a pattern here?

Clearly I’m being silly here (so don’t write that angry comment just yet). But the main reason the Sudanese community have become such a target is because they look different. Being very dark of skin and typically very tall, the Sudanese are the most distinctive-looking of all the ethnic groups to have settled in Australia. They get noticed in a way that most other ethnic groups do not. If some Sudanese people were hanging around outside your shop or in your street, you’re much more likely to notice them than you would a group of Asians or Europeans. And being black, being tall and having a tendency to dress like Tupac Shakur means that Sudanese youths are perceived to look scarier than other young people.

Think on this: when an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, do the media describe that person as being of Anglo-Australian descent? No. Yet we frequently see ethnicity being painted as a relevant issue when a non-European commits a crime. Try googling the case of Taban Gany, the Dandenong man who drunkenly crashed his car into a school building and injured several students. You will struggle to find an article that doesn't refer to him as "Sudanese refugee Taban Gany".

Mr Andrews’ dossier lists a variety of social ills that apparently beset the Sudanese in Australia: fighting in clubs, drinking alcohol in parks, domestic violence, and anti-social behaviour by groups of young men. Now, I could be wrong but looking at that list, it seems to indicate that the Sudanese are integrating perfectly into the Australian way of life, because anyone with open eyes knows that those behaviours are rife in the wider Australian community. Indeed, Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon has publicly stated that the Sudanese are no more represented in crime statistics than any other group.

So if this is so, why has it become a political issue? You don't need to be a genius to figure out that it could have something to do with the looming election. The Howard government likes to portray itself as protecting middle Australia from swarthy foreign elements; this approach has won them an election in the past, why not try it again? If Andrews is not actually playing the race card, at the very least he is being irresponsible. The decision to reduce the African intake to accommodate asylum seekers from Burma and Iraq is perfectly understandable; but Andrews' use of this decision to take shots at the Sudanese is a foolish and incompetent display from a Minister for Immigration.

This is not to suggest that the Sudanese community is without its problems. Like any refugee group, there are struggles to learn a new way of life and to integrate. And some of these problems will be magnified when you consider the degree of trauma and violence some of the new arrivals have experienced. In addition, the level of schooling and exposure to modern urban living is much lower among Sudanese new arrivals than most other refugee groups. And they come from a patriarchal society where years of civil war and repression have encouraged a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and distrust of authority.

These have been given as examples for excluding them from migrating here, the reasoning being their background and culture makes it too difficult to settle here. But it just means that as a society we need to work harder to welcome the Sudanese and help them to make the adjustment - our integration services are not working well enough. Because the alternative is letting them starve in squalid refugee camps in Kenya and Egypt, and as a society we can do better than that.

I hope that Mr Andrew's statements do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most Sudanese young people I have dealt with are acutely conscious of the sting of racism and persecution, and they have good reason to be. With the government whipping up more hatred and suspicion, Andrews is only making it more likely that young Sudanese will lash out against a system that treats them as outsiders.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dainty Sichuan

26 Corrs Lane, Melbourne

Co-diners: Joo-Hyung, Sonja, Hung, Sang-Ghi, Carissa, Ava & Lux.
I had been waiting a long time to investigate the ridiculously named Dainty Sichuan, which is something of a Melbourne institution - I've heard it described as having the hottest food of any restaurant in town. And given that one such report came from an Indonesian, I was reluctant to question him. In any case it is one of the few places here that specialises in authentic Sichuan-style cooking.

It's hardly a fancy place, and looks similar to most of the other eateries that lurk in the alleys of Chinatown. Despite being booked out this Saturday night, we managed to convince them to give us a table; they just took the "reserved" sign off our table and figured they would sort it out later when the group who made the reservation arrived. It struck me as quintessentially Chinese, finding some way to accommodate more paying customers.

One of the first things to do after ordering your food is to prepare the right drinks for the occasion. We found the chilled jasmine milk tea (pictured) to be the perfect beverage for countering the spiciness of the food here.

The dishes we ordered included the poetically-titled "Ants Climbing Trees", which is actually cellophane noodles with minced pork; the famous Sichuan dish Ma-Po Dofu; some kind of beef stew with a mass Sichuan peppercorns floating on top; and the signature dish, Chongqing Chilli Chicken, which consists of a plate piled high with fried dried chillies with a few small chunks of chicken scattered throughout it.

The vegetarian selection isn't huge, but does contain a mild stir-fry of bean curd strips with Chinese chives, and an outstanding dish of eggplant with garlic and chili oil, which drips and zings with flavour.

After the meal, we sat in a food-induced stupor, feeling satisfied by great food yet somewhat unsettled by the sheer spiciness. Unlike, say, Indian food, the heat of the food is more than just the sharp kick of chilli; it's the numbing sensation imparted by the Sichuan pepper that sneaks up on you which is the real killer - in a nice way. I actually love the feeling, and was happily picking away at leftover peppercorns at the amazement of some of my fellow diners. In hindsight I think it was one of those displays of machismo us guys are so fond of.

Dainty is a must-try experience for daring diners. I give it 3 and a half Sichuan peppercorns out of 5.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Facebook is worse than crack

I recently heard on the radio that the networking website Facebook is costing Australian employers $5 billion in lost productivity. I can't remember much more of what was said in the news story, because at the time I was at work, on Facebook, engaged in a game of online scrabble.

I'm not sure how it got to be this way; back in April when a friend invited me to join up so I could look at her travel photos, my response was a begrudging "oh, all right then, I guess so, why not." Fast forward to the present and I'm checking it once or twice or nine times a day. The other day I was crazy busy and out all day and 24 hours expired without me checking my page - I felt like a smoker hanging out for that next ciggie.

Like a pusher, I've been advocating for my friends to join it so vigorously that it's probably scared them off, and if they finally do join they will likely avoid being my online friend for that very reason.

Being able now to see the links between friends I thought to be previously unconnected, my use of the phrase "it's a small world, huh?" has become so frequent now that it's beginning to annoy me and so I'm declaring a moratorium on it. Starting now, anyway.

I must say though, that as addictive as some of the games and applications are, such as scrabulous and traveller IQ, the vast majority of them are pointless and annoying. I could rant at this point about the zombie/ninja/aquarium applications and how stupid they are, but that would mean I'm wasting time talking about them and that would annoy me even more.

That's enough now, I've got to go get another hit. As Rick James said, cocaine's a hell of a drug, but at least most of us wouldn't do lines at work. And you can't do that with a long lost friend who's on the other side of the globe, who it turns out knows the girl you met at that party last week. It's a small world, huh?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's rocking my stereo at the moment...

Amy Winehouse - "Love is a Losing Game"
This is the most beautiful song I've heard in ages. I love the deliberately retro production, the subtle vibraphone and majestic string section in the background, the note of resignation and inevitability in Amy's soulful voice. It finishes almost too soon.

Aretha Franklin - "One Step Ahead"
Having heard bits of it sampled on Mos Def's "Ms Fatbooty", it was great to finally track down the original. Another song that finishes way to soon, it's a reminder not only of the pure fabulousness of 60s soul, but how Motown and the like perfected the art of a pop-soul package - melody, orchestras and brilliant vocalists all packed economically into a 3-minute song, sweet enough for mass consumption but still keepin' it real.

Lily Allen - "Smile" (Mark Ronson Remix featuring Wale)
The original version of this song is nice enough, but Ronson's reworking shows why he is one of the most interesting producers around at the moment. He flips it completely into an old soul track, borrowing liberally from James & Bobby Purify's classic "I'm Your Puppet", as if Lily always wanted it to sound like this. For more Ronson stuff, check out "Ooh Wee" and "International Affair".

The Pharcyde - "Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde" album.
Dug this CD out of the crate recently and loving it more and more. Probably the funniest rap album ever (check "Ya Mama" and "Oh Shit"), yet musically and lyrically dope. Ironically it came out in L.A. in the early 90s, in the West Coast's heyday of gangsta rap. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

John Legend - "Live at the Knitting Factory" album
Released before his first album proper, this intimate live recording takes off all the fancy production and drops it down to vocal and piano, allowing this guy's extraordinary talents to shine through. Hearing "She Don't Have to Know" on the radio for the first time was one of those jaw-dropping "Oh my God who is this guy?" moments. Yet the show is almost stolen by a pre-stardom Kanye West, rapping over Legend's piano back when no one had ever heard of either of them, and their version of "All Falls Down" reminds you what an amazing lyricist Kanye can be when he puts his mind to it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Asians accused of being bad drivers - by a senior citizen.

In case you thought Asian-Australians were safe from vilification (with Lebanese and Sudanese copping the brunt of it recently), up pops John Laws to remind us of that "old Australia" hasn't quite accepted us yet. Laws, a broadcasting veteran of 55 years and known as "Golden Tonsils", launched into a racist diatribe directed at Asian drivers.

You can listen to his rant here.

As the Courier Mail (17/8/07) reports, it all started when a Chinese-Australian woman named Helen rang his morning show, complaining that she felt unfairly fined for travel on the new electronic tollway. She had not known of the existence of tolls, as "I never travel to east".
Laws then chimed in with "Sounds like you travelled from the east," signalling the direction the call would then take. "Obviously you're Asian are you?

When Helen replied she was from China, Laws unleashed the stereotypes.

"I understand that Chinese drivers are probably the worst drivers on the face of the earth. You probably fall into that category along with the rest of them."

"I'll give you even money that sweet Helen's little, too. She's about 4ft 8. I can see it. They look out between the steering wheel and the top of the dashboard.

"Now I'm going to be screamed at for saying that I'm being racist. I'm not being racist. I'm telling you the truth."

So is it racist? Or is he simply stating what he claims is commonly known fact, that Asians are bad drivers?

Regardless of whether you think the stereotype is true, Laws' rant was ugly and racist. Had Helen spoke with an "Aussie" accent, Laws would likely have put it down to bad signage. Yet as she was identifiably Asian, Laws made a raft of assumptions about her and all Asian people; for example, his implication that Helen, and most other Asians, are 4ft 8 in height. Has he ever met one of us, I wonder?

He assumes some kind of genetic/cultural link between how Chinese in China drive and how Chinese Australians drive. And despite Helen's fairly good English indicating she has probably spent many years in Australia, Laws seems to assume she is fresh off the boat:
"And they have (toll roads) all over China, so I'm sure Helen's used to them."
To me, the assumption is clear - Asians may live in Australia, but clearly they are not Australian.

Laws has some history in labelling minorities, having referred to gays as "pillow biters" and "grubby poofs". Fortunately, he has only 3 months until his retirement, and it won't be a moment too soon.

Actually, we suck at this driving caper! But don't tell anyone, all right?

But hang on, I hear you say: might Laws actually be right? Are Asians really bad drivers? Actually, as I think plenty of Asian-Australians will admit quietly, we are hardly the best of drivers. I myself hate to admit it. Whenever I see someone driving at 60km/h in the right-hand lane of an 80 zone, or doing something else in a daft or clueless way, I take a look as I drive past and pray, "Please, don't let the stereotype be true, please don't be Asian." Unfortunately they frequently are, although that probably says something about the places I frequent (such as Glen Waverley and Springvale, aka "Chen Waverley" and "Chingvale" to some). That said, it seems to be mostly middle-aged and elderly Asians, and overseas student types, who are most guilty of this. I don't think its so noticeable amongst Asians who have grown up here and are more familiar with the cultural norms of driving here.

Now for some home truths - in some ways, my Mum fits the stereotype of the Asian driver, being short of stature, fond of driving at a leisurely pace and known to rack up a demerit point or two. But to my knowledge, she's never caused an accident in several decades of driving here. My Dad is guilty of some of this stuff too... but hang on, he ain't Asian! As for me, a half-caste, well, I like to think of myself as being a superior and safe driver, although the numerous people I've crashed into over the years may tend to disagree...

My buddy Carps (who is Vietnamese by the way) reports that he always spots middle-aged Asian women driving while picking their nose. Can't confirm or deny this one but I just thought I'd throw that in.

So how can it be racist to point out something that may actually be true? Well, my answer is that it depends on the manner in which it is done. John Laws' rant was less a discussion of a sociological phenomenon than an excuse to promote ignorant stereotypes, by someone who seems to have virtually no knowledge of Asians and seemingly little regard for them. So to you Mr Laws, I say "pok gai!"

And just to let you know that Asians aren't the only ones likely to be bad drivers, I could add the following groups: elderly people, Sudanese and other recent migrants, women wearing hijabs, young hoons in hotted up cars, Indians driving taxis, and anyone driving a sports utility vehicle. Actually, add to that young people, middle-aged people, white people, black people, brown people, male people and female people. Bottom line - when I'm on the road, I hate all of you, whoever you are, so stay the hell out of my way.

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.")

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Guess who's Asian?


Just when you thought Asians were everywhere, it turns out they're even more everywhere than you think. I'm not just talking about full-blooded Asians now, but those with a bit of Asian blood (meaning that one of their parents, grandparents or possibly the milkman, was Asian).
My mixed up Eurasian brethren are gradually taking over the world. Turn on MTV Asia and its as if you're watching some society populated exclusively by Eurasians - a portent of things to come.

Some Eurasians are easily identifiable as such - think of singer-songwriter Michelle Branch, Linkin Park rapper Mike Shinoda, musician Norah Jones, Filipino/English songstress Kate Ceberano, or Smallville actress Kristin Kreuk (pictured right - Hot Damn! Surely the greatest argument in favour of East/West relations. She's part Dutch, part Chinese-Indonesian, by the way).

But here are some folks with Asian blood you may not have thought of:

Eddie Van Halen (left) - Legendary hard rock guitarist and his drumming brother Alex are 3/4 Dutch and 1/4 Indonesian.

Nicole Scherzinger (lead singer of Pussycat Dolls) (right) - Exhibit B in the argument in favour of miscegenation. She fine! Shame about the music though. She is part Filipino and part Hawaiian/Russian.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst (left)- Star left-back for Barcelona and Dutch international footballer (and possessor of one of the greatest names in football history), he's at least half Indonesian. Fellow Dutch players Denny Landzaat and Johnny Heitinga are also Indo-Dutch.

Rob Schneider (!!!!!) - the comedic actor, whose presence in a movie is a good indicator that it is stupid, is 3/4 Jewish and 1/4 Filipino.

Kate Beckinsale - British actress is 1/8 Burmese. I accidentally stumbled across a white-supremacist website in which the members were vigorously debating whether it was ethical for them to hypothetically have sex with her, as she is "racially impure". That is some f*cked-up sh*t on just so many levels. They should stick to sex with their sisters instead.

Kirk Hammett
(right) - Metallica's lead guitarist is 1/2 Irish, 1/2 Filipino.

Karen O - lead singer of US rock band The Yeah Yeah Yeahs is 1/2 Polish and 1/2 Korean.

Lou Diamond Phillips - I always thought of the La Bamba actor as Native American, but it turns out his heritage also includes Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hawaiian and Chinese.

Blasian, as you might guess, means half-black, half-Asian. Otherwise known as Afro-Asian. And damn, there's more of them than you think.
The best known Blasian is Tiger Woods. Regularly touted as the first black golf star, he's actually more Thai than black - in fact he's coined the term "Cablinasian" to describe his mix of Caucasian, black and Asian.
But the entertainment industry is jam-packed with Blasians - some of them you can pick, some of them are a surprise. Interestingly, many of those listed below have Caribbean ancestry, a legacy of Indian and Chinese immigration to the region.

Tyson Beckford (left)- supermodel and the face of Ralph Lauren, he is 1/4 Chinese, and the rest Jamaican with a bit of Panamanian in there somewhere.

Naomi Campbell (right)- 3/4 black West Indian, 1/4 Chinese.

Marcus Chong (right) and Rae Dawn Chong - American actors and half-siblings, their father is Eurasian comedian Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame), while their respective mothers are both black.


Diana King (right)- Jamaican R&B/reggae singer, her mother is Jamaican of Indian background.

Sean Paul - Jamaican dancehall star has - let me see if I've got this right - a Dad of Jewish-Portuguese ancestry, and a Chinese/Afro-Jamaican mother.

Apl de Ap - the Blackeyed Peas rapper (born Allan Pineda Lindo) is an Afro-Filipino.

Ashanti - R&B singer's father is half African-American and half Chinese and her mother is 3/4 Dominican and 1/4 African-American.

Amerie (right)- sexy R&B songstress is 1/2 Korean & 1/2 black.

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (left)- TLC singer's father is Indian from Guyana, moms is African American.

Debelah Morgan (right)- yet another R&B singer, she had a smash hit with "Dance With Me" - her father is black, mother is Indian. And Debelah speaks Hindi!

Foxy Brown (left)- NYC rapper is half black and half Trinidadian Indian.

Charles Mingus - legendary jazz double-bassist (1922-79) was 1/4 black, 1/4 Chinese, 1/4 English and 1/4 Swedish.

Joe Bataan - Afro-Filipino singer was born in NYC's Spanish Harlem and became a star of 70s Latin funk, singing mostly in Spanish. His daughter Asia Nitollano is a Pussycat Doll.

Ne-Yo (left)- I think the R&B star is 1/4 Chinese, 1/2 African American and 1/2 Puerto Rican.

Omar (right)- One of Britain's great soul singers, Omar Lye-Fook is some kind of blend of Chinese-Jamaican and Indian-Jamaican.

Have I missed anyone? Post a comment and let me know!

So to all my Asian brothers with brewing resentment of guys with "yellow fever" stealing all "your" women, look on the bright side - most of the people listed above are HOT (don't know how it went wrong for me though). So a beautiful world is being created and our children's generation will enjoy the benefits of it.

So go forth and cross-breed, my people! Just make sure it's consensual. And a bit of cross-breeding with yours truly wouldn't hurt either, ladies.

Asian or not?
Now here are some dudes who probably have no Asian blood, but we'll try and claim them for one reason or another.

Tana Umaga (left)- All-Blacks captain is of Samoan background, but look at the dude's eyes - there's gotta be some Asian in there somewhere. Apparently Chinese New Zealanders are big fans of him for precisely this reason.

Deco (right)- again, its all in the eyes. The Brazilian-born Portuguese football superstar looks at least part-Asian to me - which wouldn't be surprising as Brazil is full of Japanese.

Pharrell Williams (left)- the eyes, I tell you, the eyes! The R&B star, sex-symbol and uber-producer has never disclosed this, but rumours are he is Afro-Filipino.

Redman - I've heard the rapper is part Korean. However the only evidence of this I could find is that he raps a few lines in Korean on one of his albums. Which is like saying Kim Jong-Il is part English because he knows a few words of English.

Barack Obama - okay, okay, we all know his daddy is Kenyan and his moms is white American. But after they split, his mother remarried an Indonesian and moved there from Hawaii. Young Barack even spent a few years at the same Jakarta school as my nephew, before moving to the states. So if he can become US President, we Indonesians will rush to claim him.

So... why do Asians rush to claim these people as one of their own, and perhaps make a big deal of the Asian bloodlines of some of the aforementioned celebrities? And why am I so obsessed with celebrities anyway?
Well, I guess there aren't that many Asian superstar rappers, rugby players or actors out there, so we've got to cling on to whatever we can.

Besides, its not nearly as interesting as claiming, "You know my doctor/accountant/pharmacist/drycleaner/petrol station operator/dentist has Asian blood?" because, well, that just goes without saying.

"You can run now... but eventually, we're gonna hump you"
- comedian Russell Peters on the world's population eventually becoming entirely Chinese and Indian.

I could conceivably follow up this post with a "Guess who's Jewish?" article, featuring Craig David, Paula Abdul, Lenny Kravitz and Sean Paul, but I'll leave that for a Jewish person to do.

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

An analysis of the Eurasian mystique here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Budapest Restaurant and Palinka Bar

For something different to our usual Melbourne dining adventures, I organised dinner at Budapest (273 Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick), situated in Melbourne's Jewish and Eastern European heartland. (I'm tempted to make a bad pun about feeling hungry for Hungarian food, but I won't... or maybe I just did.) For a group of us (me, Sheree, Carpell, Carissa, Ching and Ava) raised on Asian cuisine, this was a new experience indeed. The first thing that stuck out here was size - the main portions are massive. The meal required a dogged determination from us to finish everything we ordered, and after cleaning our plates there was a feeling of pride for having accomplished such a feat. It's not cheap here (mains average around $23), but it would be hard to argue that its not value for money.

Calorie counters need not bother to turn up. Our appetizers consisted of crumbed mushrooms stuffed with dill and goats cheese, and crumbed and deep-fried camembert cheese. Continuing the crumbs-and-cheese theme, the Sajttal Toltott (Veal Schnitzel stuffed with Cheese - photo right) is the kind of thing you expect only Americans to eat. It came with cheese sprinkled on top, just in case you missed the fact that it was stuffed with cheese; so it was kinda like one of those cheesy-crust pizzas, only made with meat instead of dough. My fellow diners informed me it was pretty darn good. If you like cheese. Ava got another traditional Hungarian dish, a veal-stuffed cabbage roll (Toltott Kaposzta), which she also gave the thumbs up.

My Mushroom Crepes (right) were a revelation - filled with a powerfully intense mushroom ragout and topped with a creamy paprika-infused sauce, it was a very satisfying dish. A number of sides accompanied the meal - creamed spinach, braised red cabbage, lecso sauce (roasted capsicum & onion), fried potatoes with parsley and onion, and nokedli (tiny flour dumplings), garden salad - but none of them really set our mouths alight.

Desserts (right) were a mixed bag. The Gundel Palacsinta is a crepe filled with walnut and dried fruit, topped with chocolate sauce and set alight with flaming alcohol - it didn't really work for me. The Sweet Cream Cheese Dumpling was the size of a baseball, flecked with cottage cheese and topped with a cream-cheese sauce. In case we hadn't eaten enough cheese so far. Not bad, although my fellow diners found it a bit odd. The Apricot Dumplings from the specials menu were wonderful, coated in sweet breadcrumbs, stuffed with apricot and with vanilla sauce on the side.

One last word must go to the Palinka, which is a kind of Eastern European fruit brandy, of which several types appear on their interesting beverages list. Carissa ordered the Miskolci Golden Pear liqueur (44%), which was very sweet but wonderfully fragrant. I tried the Miskolci Silva plum liqueur (also 44%) which I figured would taste of plum - I was mistaken. One of those drinks that puts hairs on your chest (and I could use a few), it gave me little pleasure aside from the feeling of being tipsy after one sip.

This was one of those meals where you feel like you've eaten a lot, but not stuffed yourself too much - until you get up and try walking to the car, upon which time you start groaning ("urgh...cheese...") and realising what a pig you are.

Rating? I give it three and a half cheeses out of five.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Premier League Team of the Season: My Picks

Football (soccer, whatever you wanna call it) season is over and I love making lists, so here it is:

Goalkeeper: David James (Portsmouth)
Right Back: Pascal Chimbonda (Tottenham)
Left Back: Gareth Barry (Aston Villa)
Centre Back: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Centre Back: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)
Right Midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Left Midfield: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
Central Midfield: Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
Central Midfield: Michael Essien (Chelsea)
Striker: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Striker: Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham)