Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Japanese TV weirdness of the week: "Door runner"

Poor video and sound quality on this one, but it's hella funny anyway.

Arizona's new racial profiling laws

Arizona's tough new laws to combat illegal immigration have been widely criticised as encouraging racial profiling. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report were in particularly fine form in their coverage of the issue over the past week:

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Law & Border
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Obama's "starting a race war"?

Regular readers of this blog would have noticed that I've written a few posts on Barack Obama. And it's not because I'm totally on his jock. Well okay, I am a little bit. But primarily I focus a lot on the O Man because this is a blog about culture, diversity, race and all that sort of stuff. And the varying reactions to Obama's presidency tell you a whole lot about where the Western World is at when it comes to those things.

If his election was a sign that the US has come a long way on matters of race, the way many people have responded to it shows that there is still a long way to go. In real terms, Obama being POTUS has not radically changed things in the struggles of black people and minorities. But for many conservatives, having a swarthy foreign-sounding guy in the top job is the end of the world as we know it. Obama is a kind of lightning rod for all the insecurities and contempt that some white people have about non-whites.

To Australia now, and evidence that despite his broad appeal throughout the world, pockets of rabid anti-Obama paranoia do exist here. Herald-Sun editor and columnist Andrew Bolt has never hidden his distaste for Obama, but the title of this post is surprising in it's no-holds-barred sensationalism:

Obama plans a race war

Yes, you saw that right. The heading of this article comes not from a white supremacist website, or from some far-right paramilitary group. It is from the flagship columnist at one of Australia's major newspapers.

Barack Obama appeals to two races to help fight the males of a third:

In the video message to his supporters, Obama said his administration’s success depends on the outcome of this fall’s elections and warned that if Republicans regain control of Congress, they could “undo all that we have accomplished.”

“This year, the stakes are higher than ever,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by Democratic officials. “It will be up to each of you to make sure that young people, African Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory in 2008 stand together once again...”

How would it have played in the media had George Bush appealed to “whites to stand together once again” in the next election?

Here is the actual video message. If you can spot the bit where he talks of his planned race war, you are a smarter person than me.

Of course, when heard in context it is clear that he is talking about the many people for whom the 2008 election was their first real involvement in the voting process, inspired by the Obama campaign. And they were largely young people, women, Latinos and African Americans.

But since Bolt and his army of rabid rightist followers are terrified by anything that doesn't specifically uphold the white males dominance, that translates as "race war".

Bolt's question "How would it have played in the media had George Bush appealed to 'whites to stand together once again' in the next election?" is the kind of thing you hear time and time again in discourses dominated by white racists. The implication of course, is that a call for whites to stand together would be attacked as racist, yet Obama says something similar about blacks and Latinos (and young people and women, but that's conveniently forgotten) and gets away with it.

To ask such a question, you need to be coming from a particular mindset: that society is a level-playing field and has always been so. That it is not significant that white males have traditionally dominated American politics to the exclusion of all others. Or, if you do recognise that white males have monopolised power all this time, it must be because white males are so much more awesome than everyone else. So there is no point in changing things to encourage others to have a share in that power, because frankly, they don't deserve it.

You can read the comments posted at the article if you like to observe ignorance and racism at work.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More Awesome Asian Ads: Philippines

More Filipino ads here and here.

The British election according to "Mr Khan", community leader

(Hat tip: Pickled Politics)

The Haitian diaspora

With Haiti's recent devastating earthquakes placing it firmly in the global consciousness as a nation wracked by both man-made and natural disasters, it is timely to reflect on the many people who fled the country throughout its history in search of a better life. Like many developing countries, it has experienced a brain-drain as many of its best and brightest leave its shores, fleeing political violence and grinding poverty. Most Haitian emigration has been next door to the Dominican Republic (where there are around 800,000 Haitians), and to the USA, with approximately 600,000 located primarily in New York and Miami. Other significant diasporas exist in France and Canada.

The Haitian diaspora includes a number of people you may have heard of:


Grammy-award winning smooth soul man Maxwell, the Brooklyn-born son of a Puerto Rican father and Haitian mother. His Urban Hang Suite album is the best love-making music since the days of Barry White, and was responsible for a lot of sweet lovin' back in 1996.

Also from Brooklyn is David Jolicoeur, better known as Trugoy or Plug 2, member of hip-hop grandmasters De La Soul.

One of the greatest underground rappers going around is J-Live (born Jean-Jacques Cadet), also from NYC. J-Live's skill with worldplay is not surprising - he was a high school English teacher. Check out his track End of Story, with producer Peshay.

Actress Garcelle Beauvais is perhaps best known for her roles on NYPD Blue and The Jamie Foxx Show. Born in St Marc in Haiti, she emigrated to New York at age 17 to pursue a modelling career.
Probably the best known Haitian-born musician is Wyclef Jean, the singer, rapper and producer who has recorded songs in Haitian Creole as well as English. Wyclef's family is blessed with musical individuals; his younger brother and sister formed the RnB duo Melky Sedeck, while his cousin Jerry Duplessis is a prolific producer (notably credited with his work on The Fugees' massive album The Score.
Of course Wyclef's other cousin is Prakazrel Michel, better known as Pras, another third of The Fugees and a successful solo artist in his own right. Remember of course that the group's name is short for "refugees" and is a nod to Pras and Clef's flight from Haiti to New Jersey.

Anyone who watched the sitcom Becker would recall Alex Desert as the affable blind guy Jake. Desert also has a musical career that predates his TV appearances, as a founding member of the excellent LA-based ska band Hepcat. You can check out a Hepcat performance here.

Two other American-born rappers with Haitian roots are G-Unit members Lloyd Banks (left) and Tony Yayo (right). Banks has a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother.

Samuel Dalembert was born in Port-Au-Prince but emigrated to Canada at age 14. The 6'11, 250-pounder has gone on to be the starting center for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. Dalembert was given the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his contributions to the Haitian people following the 2010 earthquake.

Another basketball star with Haitian parentage is Mario Elie. The 6'5 swingman is a model of perseverance; he toiled in the minor leagues and in Portugal and Argentina for 7 seasons before landing in the NBA, where he was an integral part of the Houston Rockets' 2 championships in 1994 and 1995. He won a third championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.

One of the USA's brightest footballing talents is Josmer "Jozy" Altidore. The 20-year-old, 6'1 striker was a 7 million euro signing by Spanish club Villareal, and became the first American to score in the Spanish League. He is currently on loan at Hull City in the English Premier League. Altidore's former team-mate at New York Red Bulls, forward Jerrod Laventure, is another American of Haitian ancestry, but who plays his international football for Haiti.

Alexandre Dumas, pere (1802-1870) was a prolific playwright and author, but is best known for writing The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His son Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-1895) was also a renowned author and dramatist; while his father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806), was a famous General in the French Revolution and was born in Haiti to a French nobleman and a Creole woman. Thomas-Alexandre's bravery in battle and racial heritage saw him nicknamed "Diable Noir" (The Black Devil).

One of the cornerstones of African-American literature is The Souls of Black Folk, written by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 - 1963). Du Bois was the first African-American to graduate from Harvard, and would go on to be a professor of history and economics at Atlanta University, and for a time was head of the NAACP, which he helped found.

Described as the first black man to be a superstar in the art world, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a graffiti artist-turned-neo-expressionist. Born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, he died at 27 of a heroid overdose. A biopic about his life was made in 1996 with Jeffrey Wright in the title role.

More stuff on Haiti here and here.

Also check out:

The Nigerian diaspora: Musicians, Actors and Athletes

The Surinamese footballing diaspora

Dutch-Indonesian footballers

When is an American not an American?

West Indians now more Indian than ever

Sunday, April 25, 2010

William Shatner duets with Lin Yu Chun. Who comes up with this stuff, anyway?

Lin Yu Chun is the chubby Taiwanese kid who became a worldwide sensation when he sang I Will Always Love You on a talent show, with his distinctive girly voice. Here, he appears on Lopez Live, and for some inexplicable reason, duets with William Shatner on that old cheesy chestnut, Total Eclipse of the Heart.

This is packed with enough cheese to fill an extra large stuffed-crust pizza, with extra cheese. It's so wrong that it comes back out on the other side and becomes strangely awesome. Not that I need to watch it more than once, mind you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Movie Review: "Mother"

Mother is the latest film from Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho. The director is best known for his quirky dip into the monster genre with The Host (2006), but Mother is a return to the crime drama of his 2003 film Memories of Murder. This quite amazing work has been awarded best film, best screenwriter and best actress at the recent Asian Film Awards, and was Korea's nominee for last year's Academy Awards (it inexplicably did not make the shortlist).

The film revolves around Do-Joon (Won Bin) a young man whose slow wits leave him vulnerable to being taken advantage of, and often lead him into mischief alongside his only friend, the shifty and manipulative Jin-Tae (Jin Gu). He is watched over by his elderly mother (Kim Hye-Ja), whose life revolves around caring for her son and keeping him out of trouble.

When a schoolgirl ends up murdered, the police waste no time in arresting Do-Joon and extracting a confession out of him. But his mother rightly suspects a fit-up, and when the legal system abandons her she resolves to free him by finding the murderer herself. An old woman playing amateur detective might sound reminiscent of Murder She Wrote and is hardly a new idea, but Bong takes it in new and unexpected directions.

While it revolves around the murder case, the emphasis of the film is really the bond between mother and son, and the lengths a mother will go to to protect her young. Their relationship borders on the creepy, with her love for Do-Joon being quite obsessive in nature, and her increasing desperation to prove his innocence leads her down an increasingly dark path.

If this film has a flaw it is in Bong's rather unhurried style, and several scenes go longer than they probably need to. But he more than makes up for this with some cunning plot twists that come just as you suspect the film may be getting predictable. Kim Hye-Ja steals the show in the titular role, which was apparently written specifically for her (she is a well-known veteran of Korean soap operas). She perfectly captures the combination of obsession, emotional frailty and steely determination that defines her intriguing character.

Like the best mysteries, its conclusion is entirely unexpected, yet inevitable; once the truth is discovered, it all makes perfect and disturbing sense. Up until that point, it is merely a good film, but the climax reveals it as a great one.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Foreign accent syndrome" makes British woman sound Chinese

British woman Sarah Colwill suffered from migraines for the past ten years, but this one was different. Changes to her brain after a severe migraine several weeks ago affected her speech patterns, and she now speaks with something resembling a Chinese accent:

Ok, it doesn't sound that Chinese, but as she states, after a while it started to sound a bit more Eastern European. It is a rare affliction known as foreign accent syndrome - only around 60 cases have ever been noted, and only around 20 people living today have it.

It's fascinating to consider why we speak the way we do - is it purely an effect of one's environment, as is generally assumed, or can physical aspects play a role?

I once taught an intellectually disabled kid who I'd always assumed was an American, since he spoke with an American accent. But he wasn't, and had never been there, and he hated being called an American; it was seemingly some kind of function of his disability that he spoke that way.

Here are 2 more people with the syndrome, from the documentary My Strange Brain:

If I'm ever unlucky enough to be stricken with foreign accent syndrome, I just hope I manage to end up sounding French. That wouldn't be too bad.

British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili has his own take:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Colbert Report: Black people at the Tea Party

Featuring "black conservative" P K Winsome.
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RIP Guru (1966 - 2010)

Keith Elam, better known to hip-hop fans as Guru, passed away on Monday after a long battle with cancer, no doubt exacerbated by a heart attack suffered in February. He was 43.

Guru merits a place in the hip-hop hall of fame for a stellar career spanning over 20 years. He is best known as one half of the duo Gang Starr, alongside DJ Premier (arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all time). Gang Starr were arguably the first rap group to seriously work jazz samples into their music. Despite Guru originally hailing from Boston and Premier from Houston, they defined what would become known as the New York Sound in the late 80s and early 90s, blending gritty street beats and rhymes with the elegance of long-forgotten jazz and soul.

Gang Starr released 4 or 5 solid albums, but the one that really put them on the map was 1991's Step into the Arena. It never reached higher than 121 on the Billboard chart, yet remains a much-revered work. Lovesick, taken from that album, is perhaps the song that first turned me onto hip-hop (at a time when I was really only into rock). It went Top 10 in Australia and was one of the few raps that I can still remember word for word.

Full Clip is a reminder that the duo could keep it raw and streetwise, yet without neglecting musicality.

Guru's side project, Jazzmatazz, took the hip-hop/jazz fusion idea even further, blending his own beats and raps with contributions from jazz greats like Ramsey Lewis, Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd (who plays trumpet on Loungin' below). The concept fit snugly with the UK-based "acid jazz" movement of the early 90s. Guru released 4 albums under the Jazzmatazz banner, but the first, from 1993, remains the best.

The early Jazzmatazz sessions also led to this collaboration with Brit guitarist Ronny Jordan, Season for Change, which appears only on Jordan's The Quiet Revolution album.

A loss of a true legend of the game.

"Myself lord and master/ shall bring disaster to evil factors
demonic chapters shall be captured
by kings/ Through the storms of days after
and to the earth from the sun/ through triple darkness to blast ya
with a force that cant be compared
to any fire power / for its mind power shared
the brainwave causes vessels to circulate
like constellations reflect at night off the lake
word to the father and mother earth
seeking everlasting life through this hell for what its worth
look listen and observe
and watch another sea cycle
pullin my peeps to the curb
heed the words
its like ghetto style proverbs
the righteous men sacrifice
to get what they deserve"

- from "Above the Clouds" (Gangstarr featuring Inspectah Deck)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Masterchef, Indian-style

Australia's 2nd season of Masterchef is back this week; time will tell if it captures the nation's attention as it did last year. Personally, I prefer it the way Indians do it... here's an oldie but goodie from the Goodness Gracious Me gang.

More GGM here and here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

From around the interwebs...

Some of the stuff I was reading this week when I was meant to be busy working...

Cilantro Haters, it's not your fault
Cilantro (or coriander leaves if you prefer) is beloved of many but also hated by many. This New York Times article examines the historical, cultural and chemical facets of the taste divide when it comes to this herb. Personally, I can't live without it.

For Moscow's Ethnic Minorities, A Fresh Sense Of Fear
For people hailing from the Caucasus and Central Asia, life in Moscow was already full of discrimination and xenophobia. But the conflict in Chechnya and the recent acts of terrorism have increased the incidence of violence and harassment, particularly towards Muslims.

Everybody Sing!
A look at the way karaoke has gradually become serious business in Australia. From its early days when it was frequented by an overwhelmingly Asian crowd, its appeal has infected the broader population.

The Funniest and Dirtiest Athlete Names in Sports History
From Italian-Slovenian basketballer Gregor Fucka (that's pronounced footsh-ka, btw), to Rusty Kuntz and Lucious Pusey. Worth reading to entertain your inner 14-year-old.

Still on sporting matters, I have developed a certain fascination with the website of Arsenal's Russian striker Andrey Arshavin; or more specifically the page on which his fans ask him questions. Because Arshavin fans seem to be an eccentric bunch, much like the man himself. This week's questions include "Are you afraid of bears?", "When you go to bed, do you spread your limbs to form a star?" and "my girlfriend is crazy for you and she always cuts her wrists because of you, tell me what to do or say to her."

Being vegetarian in Malaysia

I was chatting to a Malaysian girl on the plane on my last trip there, about airline food, and on how AirAsia's vegetarian nasi lemak was surprisingly tasty, compared to what I had expected. This led to a discussion on me being vegetarian, and this question I often get from Malaysians: "how on earth do you survive in Malaysia being vegetarian?"

Yes, I've been asked that question plenty of times, based on the perception of Malaysian food being principally meat-based. Which it is of course, like most cultures. When Malaysians think of the signature Malaysian dishes - char kway teow, laksa, Hainan chicken rice, prawn mee, satay, rendang, bak kut teh - all of them are fairly meaty.

But Malaysia is actually a brilliant place to be for a vegetarian, seriously. Sure, you are going to have to order more than your fair share of char kway teow or mee goreng, tanpa daging (without meat), but that's far more pleasurable than having to eat salad sandwiches everyday. In many respects, a vegetarian in Malaysia will eat far better than in most other countries, including Australia.

Of course, that statement comes with some caveats.

Firstly, while some areas (particularly Greater Kuala Lumpur) abound with vegetarian options, there are some other regions which are definitely a struggle. Of the 3 main cuisines in Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian), Malay food tends to be based more around meat and seafood, with even the vegetable dishes containing bits of dried prawn and the like. Thus, the regions that are predominantly Malay will be a struggle for the vegetarian.

That said, the vegetarian who eats seafood will find it comparatively easy. The cuisines of Malay strongholds like Terengganu and Kelantan are very strongly based around fish. And if your definition of vegetarianism is broad enough to include chicken then you'll have no problem anywhere in Malaysia. Of course I find the idea of vegetarians eating chicken and/or seafood kind of strange, but I'm not one to judge.

Because it certainly helps if you are willing to turn a blind eye to certain ingredients which frequently pop up in superficially meatless dishes (shrimp paste, chicken stock, lard). Personally, I'm happy enough to do this; it's a don't ask, don't tell sort of thing. As long as I don't see actual meat in the food, I'm okay with it. And the hassle, social discomfort, and communication difficulties involved in trying to ensure there is absolutely no meat products in a dish mean that I just can't be bothered beyond a certain point. Sure, some of you might say "Well, that's not really being vegetarian then, is it?" but I need to live my life, and we all have our own individual points at which we decide to compromise. But that's just me; obviously, plenty of vegetarians aren't going to want to take the chance that there is chicken stock or dried prawny bits in their food, and that's fair enough. They will still find themselves with a broad range of options.

So what can a vegetarian eat in Malaysia? Fortunately, there is a strong trend towards vegetarianism in Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Thus there are numerous restaurants that cater specifically for these religious adherents.

The Chinese community does not have a whole lot of vegetarians. But there are a few, and many more who do not observe vegetarianism full-time, but will adopt it for certain periods in their life. For example, some Chinese abstain from meat temporarily as a way of purifying oneself and finding some kind of karmic balance. This may be related to an event such as the death of a family member or days of religious significance, or simply as a way of seeking a sense of spiritual peace.

Thus there are numerous Chinese vegetarian restaurants around Malaysia. These range from the most basic establishments, to rather more upscale restaurants. In the latter category, Nature's Vegetarian Cafe in Petaling Jaya and Yishensu at One Utama stand out as probably the best examples of Chinese vegetarian cuisine that I have sampled. Chinese vegetarian food is based largely around "mock meats", a concept that not all vegetarians are keen on, and that many non-vegetarians think is a bit of a joke. Nonetheless, if the food is tasty, which it so often is, then the other details are less important.

What about at the Chinese establishments that are not purely vegetarian? Well, it depends. There are a number of varieties of Malaysian-Chinese eatery.

Perhaps the most frequent places to encounter Chinese food is at hawker stalls. These may exist independently on the roadside, or inside an establishment like a coffee shop or hawker centre. Hawker centres will usually provide reasonable pickings, since there will be a variety of stalls, so while most of them will be fishy or porky, you'd expect at least one to have something vegetarian, even if it is only fried rice or noodles with the meat omitted.

In a restaurant, you'll probably do fine. I went to a Chinese restaurant that was best-known for seafood and had no written menu. After explaining to the waitress that we wanted some vegetarian dishes, she rattled off a variety of options which would put most Australian-Chinese restaurants to shame. Chinese restaurant chefs tend to be flexible and can produce a wide range of dishes by varying the basic ingredients and flavourings.

Also common is the "mixed-rice" or "economy-rice" eatery, in which you are given a plate of rice and allowed to select from a variety of Chinese dishes. These places are very popular because their food is usually cheap, and because it is one of the healthier eating options available in Malaysia. You will have little trouble getting at least a couple of vegetarian selections in these places. Nothing fancy here, but usually quite tasty.
Dishes to try: "Fried Carrot Cake" - not a sweet cake at all but a steamed cake of rice flour and daikon radish, which is then fried with soya sauce, egg and spring onion (and occasionally dried shrimp). Quite commonly found in hawker centres. Also known as chai tow kway or lo bak gow.
Popiah - shredded fresh and cooked vegetables with a spicy-sweet sauce, wrapped in a flour pancake, burrito-style. Sometimes contains dried shrimp or other meaty things, so best to check. A staple of hawker centres and pasar malam (night markets).

Vegetarians will always find themselves well-served by South Indian restaurants. Nowhere on earth has more vegetarians than India, and the cuisines of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, from whence most of Malaysian Indians ultimately derive, are particularly vegetarian-friendly. Purely vegetarian Indian restaurants are not too hard to find, but the average South Indian joint (often advertised as "banana leaf" or "Chettinad cuisine") will always have a decent selection. While it's hard to go wrong with the banana leaf platter (with its multitude of curries, pickles, condiments and fried tidbits served over rice), don't forget the other staples of South Indian cuisine - thosai and iddli (described below).

North Indian food is not as common in Malaysia as South Indian, and tends to be more expensive. While certain North Indian dishes, such as naan and tandoori chicken, can be found very commonly at mamaks, specialist North Indian restaurants are rarer. The best I have tried is Sagar, in Bangsar - startlingly pricy by Malaysian standards, but exceptionally good - its range of dishes featuring paneer (Indian cottage cheese) is impressive, and they also do vegetarian versions of chicken tikka and butter chicken, using mock meats. At the other end of the price scale is Chat Masala in Brickfields, a vegetarian eatery with a comparatively no-frills approach to North and South Indian food, but which nonetheless is extremely delicious. I was instantly a fan of their paneer butter masala and vegetarian version of chicken 65.

Dishes to try: the selection of dishes available at your typical South Indian eatery does vary a little, but you'll see the same sort of things in most places.

Thosai and Iddli - Common dishes for breakfast, but obtainable at any time of day, these are found at virtually every South Indian eating spot. Both are usually made from combinations of urid dal and rice, soaked and allowed to ferment slightly, then pureed to a batter. But the results are very different. The iddli is a plump, steamed white cake while the thosai (also written as dosai or dosa) is a crispy pancake. Both are typically served with coconut chutney and sambar (a tangy, soupy dal). There are myriad variations on the thosai, such as uttapam (a pancake topped with onions, tomatoes or other vegetables) and masala thosai (the thosai folded over mashed potato curry).
My favourite haunts for thosai and uttapam are Bakti Woodlands in KL (near Masjid Jamek), and Saravana Bavan in Bangsar. Iddli are commonly available but my sources tell me the best ones are in Klang.

Crisp-fried bitter gourd - I'm not the biggest fan of bitter gourd (or bitter melon as it is often called), but the way it is often prepared in banana-leaf places is delicious. Heavily spiced, pleasantly salty and fried until crispy, most of the bitterness is removed.
Moru (buttermilk) - this thin yoghurty drink, flavoured with mustard seeds, sliced shallot and green chilies, sound strange but is deliciously cooling accompaniment to be sipped alongside your meal.

The mamak-style restaurant tradition stems from Indian-Muslim and Malay cultures. In contrast to the Buddhist and Hindu culinary traditions, there is more focus on meat-based dishes. That said, it's not hard at all to get a decent vegetarian option at a mamak. Indeed, the quintessential mamak staple is roti canai served with dal. If you avoid the curry sauce it is also served with (usually made with chicken or sardine), it is purely vegetarian and purely delicious. And while roti canai is really the only bread you ever really need in Malaysia, many mamaks will serve thosai, chapati and naan as well, accompanied by dal, curry sauce and occasionally coconut chutney.

Nasi kandar denotes the mamak version of mixed-rice; a selection of curries and other preparations served over rice. The rice will either be plain white rice or delicious biryani, rich with ghee. Check whether the biryani is vegetarian though, as it is quite often prepared with chicken or mutton. Regarding the side dishes, most of them are meat-based, but there will be a few vegetarian options, none of them especially impressive on their own but very satisfying in combination. The vegetable might be spicy cabbage or beans, as well as some kind of dal, and probably sambal egg or tofu.

Dishes to try:
Roti canai - delicious in its basic form, but try some of its variations, such as roti telur bawang (roti filled with egg and onion).
Sambal egg - a simple concept - a boiled egg covered with chili sambal, usually containing lots of onions - but tasty. A very common dish. Be careful though - the sauce can frequently contain belachan (shrimp paste), so either ask first, or pretend it's not there.

Given that Malays are the dominant ethnic group in the country named after them, it might come across as a surprise that "proper" Malay restaurants are a little hard to come by in Malaysia. Yet in one sense, Malay food is everywhere, as many dishes have been absorbed by other ethnic groups, to the point where they are seen as "Malaysian" rather than specifically Malay. Many dishes thought of as Malay also bear the stamp of Chinese, Indian or Arabic influence, or are even claimed by Indonesians as their own, making the whole concept of Malay cuisine a nebulous one. You can get nasi goreng and its variations almost anywhere. Nasi lemak, the national dish of coconut rice and accompaniments, is also easy to come by, as is rojak, the fruit-and-vegetable salad smothered in a tangy sauce. But if you want to delve deeper and get a real experience of Malay cuisine, you need to go where the Malays are - either out into the regions (like Terengganu), or to suburbs like Kampung Baru in KL.
Malay food is all about spicy sambals and coconut curries, and has its share of interesting vegetable preparations like kerabu salad. But here's the catch - even the vegetable dishes tend to have some kind of meat product, usually shrimp paste. Malay cuisine may be delicious but it does not have any tradition of vegetarianism such as occurs in Chinese and Indian culture. So unless you are happy to ignore the presence of shrimp paste, seeking out a Malay vegetarian experience can have its problems.

Dishes to try:
Nasi lemak - if you can get a vegetarian version, that is. Chain restaurant Papa Rich has one, which is not amazing but not bad either. Since nasi lemak is THE quintessentially Malaysian dish, it's worth trying.
Nasi goreng - not necessarily the most exciting thing you will eat in Malaysia, but easily obtainable, tasty, and easily converted to a vegetarian dish. Has a number of variations worth trying - nasi goreng kerabu is my pick, if you can find it (I tried it in Terengganu).


I was going to include something about what vegans can eat in Malaysia, but thought it better to actually ask one, rather than assume. So I'm helped out here by Stephiepenguin, a Chinese-Malaysian-Australian who blogs at Vegan About Town and on her own social justice-focused blog here. Over to you Steph:

Overall, eating vegan in Malaysia is not that much more complicated than eating vegetarian. All the rules that apply to eating vegetarian apply to eating vegan; fortunately accidental dairy is infrequent if you're eating Chinese food, and egg is pretty easy to avoid everywhere.

In Malaysia I describe myself as a 'strict vegetarian.' Most people will interpret this as no meat (including fish) and no eggs. Some people will also take this to mean no dairy, or will at least pause to check if dairy is included. A lot of places will follow this up with a query as to whether I can take garlic and onion.

Some dishes will have hidden things in them, especially if you're frequenting the hawker stalls. Stir-fried hawker dishes such as char kuay teow may include lard. The stocks in hawker stall soups are often made of chicken or whatever is going. Even if you're ordering something fried, the vegetables may be blanched first in stock, so it's important to pay attention. It's important to specify what sort of noodles you want, otherwise you're likely to get a mouth full of egg noodles (and that's not what they're called in BM, either).

As you're probably used to, if you're hanging at the Indian stalls you need to check for ghee, though cream isn't super common.

Things you can almost certainly order vegan from a hawker stall (and that I love and eat as often as possible):

Indian: masala dosai, roti pisang (a banana roti), lots of curries.

Chinese: you tiao / yao chao guai (check what the oil is), chee cheong fun (if you can get it). Order char kuay teow if you can be sure there's no lard (as well as ordering no meat).

Malay: Is a bit harder - if you order something like a nasi goreng, make sure to specify no eggs, same with mee goreng (and order with maifun).
A lot of sweet foods are going to be okay, but it's still best to try and check. If a dish's English name is 'pancake' it might still be okay - there are many things that translate to pancake that are in fact nothing of the sort, and very egg free. There are a few things to be cautious of. As delicious as it looks and smells, vegans can't eat kaya - it's described as a coconut jam, but in reality it's coconut and egg jam. A lot of biscuits (especially Nyonya Chinese New Year biscuits) are brushed with an egg wash.

If I'm looking for a place to eat and I'm not sure where I can get something totally vegan, I'll frequent the vegetarian restaurants attached to buddhist temples. There I can get a good, cheap noodle soup that's totally vegan.

Otherwise, stick to the vegetarian restaurants. And don't eat anything labelled 'telur.' It's a trap.

Some of my favourite places to go to get a good vegan feed (restricted to Penang, because that's where I hang):

Evergreen Vegetarian (on Jalan Cantonment)

Luk Yea Yan (Jalan Macalister)

Lily's Vegetarian Kitchen

So there you have it. If you have any of your own tips about certain foods or restaurants, suggest away!

Related posts:

Being vegetarian in Indonesia
The Malaysian-Indian food experience
What dishes truly define Malaysian cuisine?
Penang, street food capital of Asia
The guide to ordering food in Malaysia
Addicted to kuih
A Malaysian Tamil "31st Day" funeral ceremony

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Doesn't the "Obama = monkey" thing ever get tired?

A young Australian found himself in the media spotlight this week for twitter comments comparing Barack Obama to a monkey. The President was being interviewed by Kerry O'Brien for the 7:30 Report and Nick Sowden, issued these tweets:

"I'm not sure why they paid kerry to fly to america, if they wanted an interview with a monkey surely a Ferry to Taronga would have sufficed."

"If I wanted to see a monkey on TV id watch Wildlife Rescue."

Below is an interview with Sowden from The 7pm Project in which he discusses the controversy that arose. The guy has that special something that makes me want to slap him around the face several times.

If you spotted the obligatory "I'm not racist, I'm down with coloured people" statement, 10 points for you.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure why this made the news. If I was conservative and a conspiracy theorist I would suspect the media were using it to have a dig at the Federal Opposition, since Sowden at the time was a member of the Queensland Young Liberal National Party. But whether or not he is aligned with any major party, Sowden appears to be a nobody who likes to say controversial things to get attention. And the media duly gave it to him (as I am now - don't worry, the irony is not lost on me).

Is he actually racist? Who knows. Perhaps he is exercising a kind of "hipster racism"; using racist stereotypes in a detached and ironic way to mock them. If that is so, the problem still remains that not everyone is necessarily in on the joke. If you're going to be perpetrating these kinds of racist ideas, you better make damn sure that you lay the irony on thick enough for all to see. Otherwise you're just part of the problem.

The story was reported in The Age, where you can also read the comments that accompany it. As usual, it includes a bunch of people saying things like "How come it's not racist to call a white person a monkey, but it is when it's a black man? What a double standard."
Read a f***ing book, I say to them, and hopefully they might eventually grasp the idea of historical context.

Joe Wong: not funny in China

When I first showed one of my Chinese-Australian friends a clip of Joe Wong's breakout standup comedy routine on Letterman, he was incredulous. He couldn't believe that someone fresh from mainland China could have that kind of sense of humour, let alone develop a standup career out of it. Well apparently there is something in that, because according to a new article in the Wall Street Journal, Wong has been met with little enthusiasm in his land of birth. While proud of his achievements, they just don't get his jokes. Standup does not have a long tradition in China, and apparently those few that are successful often use "footnotes" - telling a joke, then subsequently pointing out to the audience why it is funny.

I guess it's not surprising that Wong's particular brand of humour would fall flat in China. His best material draws from looking at well-known aspects of Western culture from the slightly skewed perspective of a newcomer forced to learn the things we take for granted.

In any case, Wong's career in his adopted country seems to be going from strength to strength; he recently performed in front of Joe Biden at the annual Radio & Television Correspondents' Dinner, which you can watch here:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama bows again. Conservatives are angry. Sensible people couldn't care less.

It's funny what certain people get upset about.

Millions of poor Americans have no health coverage? Boring.
The CIA props up murderous militias and dictatorships in the developing world? Zzzz.
Barack Obama briefly gives a slight bow of the head to a foreign leader? Gadzooks, the sky is falling!

This time it was to Chinese leader Hu Jintao, at the Nuclear Security Summit.

The right whingers, predictably, are up in arms.

"He just can't help himself. What a disgrace" writes Gateway Pundit.

"Obama Bows Again to Communist China, America Hangs Head in Shame" writes Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs. He "kisses the asses of the world's worst despots. Here he bows to communist monsters of China... America's first morally bankrupt President ......more empirical evidence."

Here is the bow in all its glory. See if you can see the bit where the President's lips actually come in contact with the butt cheek of Mr Hu.

Oh, wait, that's it? That blink-and-you'll-miss-it gesture symbolizes Obama's disgraceful moral bankrupcy?

You may remember when Obama bowed to Saudi King Abdullah, many on the Right saw it as confirmation that the President was secretly a Muslim, as they had suspected all along. His bow to a Chinese leader now clearly confirms that as we all knew, Obama is a total communist. Either that or he is secretly Chinese, I'm not sure.

Yes, bowing is a big deal to our American friends. Well, some of them anyway. See, bowing is generally a sign of showing humility to someone you respect. And humility and respect for other countries are not qualities held in high esteem by the American right wing.

For context, perhaps this sentence by Richard A. Grenell (former spokesman to four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations) can tell you something about the traditional US philosophy about its place in the world, and thus about how it deals with other nations:

In a White House that craves for the U.S. to be the most popular country in the world and is willing to unilaterally give up much of the leverage we have to become well liked and accepted by others, this bowing thing is the tip of the iceberg for understanding how far President Barack Obama will go to make us just another country among many others...
Obama has already made clear that he doesn’t believe the United States is exceptional compared with other nations, so he believes bowing is a polite gesture to an equal. (via Politico)
See? Can't let any other country think they might be equal to the mighty US of A. Gotta remind them how much more awesome you are at all times.
There's a Lewis Black routine from a couple of years back which nicely dissects this kind of attitude.

More about Obama's previous bows here and here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scary dog man

An excerpt from a story about dangerous dogs on A Current Affair. Or perhaps an out-take from horror flick 28 Days Later. Not sure if this fellow is slightly senile/trippin'/"special" or is just a bit of a character.

And like all good viral Youtube sensations in the making, someone has done a remix. Yes this is lowbrow but I confess it made me cry with laughter.

The next big civil rights struggle - "open carrier" discrimination

The perennially awesome Wyatt Cenac at The Daily Show looks at the plight of those oppressed guys who just want walk around in public carrying loaded weapons. How ever can any of us feel manly if we're not armed to the teeth?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Open Carrier Discrimination
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

See also:

White People Problems

The Catherine Tate Show - Ginger Refuge

Why you shouldn't believe everything you see on TV

If you are at all interested in the shifty way the news media tries to manipulate you, I implore you to check out this story. We've often heard people claiming their remarks or actions were "taken out of context", and often it is a lame excuse; but here is an example of it clear as day, caught on camera:

You can also watch it over at the Media Watch website, which has a transcript as well.

From The Age:

A CHANNEL Nine cameraman has been stood down for calling the father of an Oakleigh riot suspect a ''f---ing terrorist''.
Simon Fuller was filming Omar Amr, 19, and his father after the teenager was bailed in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on April 1. Mr Fuller, along with other camera crews, followed the pair from the court and filmed them.
A heated exchange began when Mr Fuller said what sounded like ''f--- off'' to the pair. Amr's father Gad in turn called him a ''bloody idiot''. Mr Fuller then called Mr Amr a terrorist.
But Fuller's slur aimed at Mr Amr is hardly the biggest outrage in this story. That's bad, but what is most disturbing is how Channel 7 (and apparently 10 as well) ran selectively edited footage of the event, which makes Mr Amr look like the aggressor. Channel 9, to their credit (not that they deserve any, since it was their cameraman who started it all), at least chose not to show any of their footage.

Given that the 3 major networks love to one-up each other at every opportunity, you'd think that Channels 7 and 10 would relish a chance to point out the disgraceful behaviour of a rival station. But no - that is secondary to a story which seems to show an angry Muslim getting aggressive towards innocent media crew.

Of course, they don't show Fuller's in-your-face harassment of the father and son, ignoring Gad Amr's 25 (!) repeated requests to leave them in peace. They don't show Fuller telling son Omar Amr to "F*** off" and calling his father a terrorist. All they show is a bearded Middle Eastern man abusing a cameraman for no apparent reason.

Viewing the whole footage, Gad Amr is revealed as showing great self-restraint, imploring Fuller politely to leave him alone, and trying to settle his son down. Even his son Omar comes across as a somewhat reasonable person in comparison to the cameraman; and remember, this is the same Omar who was there at court facing charges for riotous violent behaviour.

There are elements in Australia's Islamic community who vociferously complain that they are victims of a conspiracy to smear Muslims. In many cases this seems paranoid, but when you see stories like this, it's hard not to see where it comes from.

(Consider also my earlier post about the Herald-Sun's attempts to generate outrage over the halal status of Vegemite.)

Bring back the good old days of apartheid, when those darkies knew their place

Things I learned about South Africa today:

* Before 1994, it was a magical place where peace and democracy reigned and everyone was happy and productive.

* Nelson Mandela was a nasty fellow who was a terrorist, just like Osama bin Laden is. He also hung out Marxists, and since Mao and Stalin were Marxists, that makes him as bad as them.

* The horrific levels of violent crime in present day South Africa have nothing at all to do with the legacy of inequality and oppression in the apartheid era. (Because the apartheid era was wonderful.) It is solely because black people are crazy and primitive.

* Those "bleeding hearts" and leftists in the international community, who opposed white rule in South Africa (and Zimbabwe) and championed the rights of the black majority, clearly backed the wrong horse.

This is what I have learned from the commenters at Australia's "most-read political blog", on posts about the rising tide of violence in SA, particularly targeting white farmers.

Click here and here to read this garbage.

It is not news that South Africa post-apartheid is a violent, dangerous place - it's incidence of rape is reportedly the highest in the world. But to yearn for the old days of prosperity and stability is to completely ignore one of the most evilly unjust societies the world has seen in living memory. And to wonder why South Africa is going to sh*t without considering the inequalities and grievances left behind by white rule, is just ignorant.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Awesome Asian Ads: Thailand

Also you can see some awesome Malaysian ads here and here.

Awesome Indonesian ads here and here.

Awesome Korean ads here and here.

Awesome Japanese ads here, here, here and here.

Awesome Indian ads here and here, and awesome Chinese ads here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Malaysian "carrot cake"... not quite what you'd expect

If you are a foreigner in Malaysia or Singapore and see hawker stalls advertising "Carrot Cake", don't be misled. The Malaysian dish (also called chai tow kway) bearing that monicker is a world away from the sweet Western-style carrot cake, which would seem like an unusual thing to find amidst the noodles and roast pork dishes of a hawker centre.

Malaysians seem to like playing fast and loose with naming their vegetables. Thus the terms "taro" and "yam" are used interchangeably, while "turnip" refers not to the Western definition of turnip, but to two different vegetables which are vaguely turnipy - the daikon or white radish, and the bangkwang or jicama. The white radish, with its long pointy shape, looks something like a large white carrot, which is how we get the name of this dish.
If you have ever been at yum cha and encountered something called "turnip cake" (lo bak gow), you will have an idea of the origins of this dish. Grated radish is mixed with rice flour and water to make a steamed savoury cake, often served on its own accompanied by spring onion and dried prawns, or with bits of ham cooked into it. It is a common dish all over the Chinese-speaking world.

Malaysians and Singaporeans have taken the turnip cake / carrot cake idea to another level (although I have read that this may instead be a Teochew innovation from China). It is treated somewhat like a noodle, and is fried up with garlic, bean sprouts, chili, dark soy sauce and scrambled egg, resulting in something resembling char kway teow.

Other variations can include spring onions, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and chopped Chinese sausage.

We spotted this fellow at the Thursday pasar malam (night market) at Jalan SS2/10, Petaling Jaya (near Kayu Nasi Kandar). And his wares were delicious.

See also:

The guide to ordering food in Malaysia

Roti chanai terbang - The Way of the Flying Roti

Addicted to kuih

The Malaysian-Indian food experience

Lina's Popiah, SS3 Petaling Jaya

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hip-hop's Ethiopian flirtations

If you've never heard, or even imagined, the jazz and funk music of Ethiopia, I heartily suggest you to check it out. It is quite unlike the better-known forms of African popular music, and reflects the distinctive culture that developed in the Horn of Africa. The best-known master of the genre is Mulatu Astatqe (or Astatke), whose brilliant instrumental tunes sound like American jazzmen getting drugged out and lost in some shady bar in Addis. But there are a host of other names - Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gesesse and Alemayehu Esheta are a few - who are responsible for a rich body of beautiful music.

When French record label Buda Music released the Ethiopiques series compiling Ethio-pop, funk and jazz from the 60s and 70s, it generated significant interest from fans in the West. In recent years, hip-hop producers hungry for new and interesting beats have taken to sampling Ethiopian artists.

The one track that hip-hop producers can't seem to get enough of is Mulatu Astatqe's Yegelle Tezeta, and with its spiky horns and solid beat it's easy to see why. I have heard it sampled in at least 3 different songs, each focusing on different riffs.

As We Enter, from Nas and Damian Marley's new Distant Cousins album, features Marley's ragga chat riding the groove particularly well and nicely trading verses with Queensbridge's finest. I do find the overall track a bit messy at times, however.

But ABCs, from Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan is a little more effective in utilising the Mulatu sample. I first heard this in a shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur, of all places, and recognised the distinctive horn line.

However the first track to sample Ethiopian funk that I ever heard was On My Way Home by Earl Zinger (former frontman of British acid jazz outfit Galliano). Don't fancy the vocals so much on this one, but like how it emphasises the mysterious burbling organ of Mulatu's song.

Another Ethiopian sample appears on Common's The Game (on his chart-topping Finding Forever album). Production is by Kanye West and scratches by DJ Premier.

It's based around a snatch from Tezeta by Seyfou Yohannes. There's a lot to dislike about Kanye West, but credit where it's due - he has some good taste in music and a real ear for a sample. To listen to the opening few seconds of Tezeta and decide it could be the foundation of a slammin' hip-hop joint takes some real nous.

I mentioned K'Naan earlier, and the guy clearly has a thing for Ethiopian music, as his album is stacked with samples of the stuff. Given the cultural ties between Ethiopia and his homeland of Somalia, it's hardly surprising. Check out Dreamer:

And neither is it surprising that he would sample Alemayehu Esheta's track Tey Gedyeleshem; it is an absolutely butt-kicking funk track from the early 70s. It is quite fascinating how an artist like Alemayehu or Mulatu can absorb black American grooves and then transform them into something thoroughly their own.

More K'Naan, this time from my favourite track of his, the anthemic Somalia.

Somalia is based around this song from the legendary late Ethiopian vocalist Tilahun Gesesse. This version of Yene Mastawesha is actually a recent remake featuring synthesisers, and is not as moving as the original from 1963, which is the version K'Naan samples. But it's still quite awesome nonetheless.

Hip-hop beatmaker Oh No (brother of fellow hip-hop luminary Madlib) has taken his love of Ethiopian music ever further, releasing a whole instrumental album based on obscure samples of old Ethi grooves. He doesn't do a whole lot with them to be honest - mostly just doing some subtle editing and fattening up the beats to make it sound more contemporary. But that's a good thing, since the originals are pretty phat as they are, and don't need much alteration. Check out The Funk:

Seattle-based Ethiopian-American rapper Gabriel Teodros obviously figured he was the logical person to add rhymes to Oh No's grooves, which resulted in his Jitter Generation Mixtape. You can check that out here and download free tracks.

Finally, something that's not technically Ethiopian, yet belongs in this post nonetheless. Jay-Z's track Roc Boyz (and the Winner is...), from the American Gangster soundtrack, was named Rolling Stone's best track of 2007. It is entirely based around a sample of the Menahan Street Band's Make the Road by Walking. The Menahan Street Band may be a bunch of NYC hipsters (made up primarily of guys from The Dap Kings), but their debut album is basically a love letter to Mulatu Astatqe. Their entire modus operandi consists of adding a bit more American-style funk to Mulatu's distinctive arrangements - which of course, were modelled on American funk to begin with.

Here's a live version of Make the road by walking. It's quite a majestic track, and the horn arrangements are magic.

I have no doubt there is other contemporary music out there that samples Ethiopian funk, so if you know of some, let me know! I will post some more about Mulatu soon, because I absolutely love the guy's artistry. Also gonna look at rappers from the Ethiopian diaspora as well.

See also:

Mainstream hip-hop's Bollywood flirtations

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

Sitar grooves - US3's "You Can't Hold Me Down"

"That's not The Bump"