Friday, July 30, 2010

Finally a solution to Jakarta's heinous traffic?

The Wall Street Journal features this story about the long overdue plans to build a subway system in Jakarta. The Indonesian capital, which has a population sometimes estimated as high as 15 million, has got to have the worst traffic in all of Asia, hands down. I can attest that KL is bad, but it's nothing in comparison, and even the permanently gridlocked Bangkok now has a faster average traffic speed. I once got into a taxi in morning peak hour Jakarta and the first 2 kilometres took me a whopping 40 minutes.

Of course, Indonesia being Indonesia, they will probably screw up this project somehow. Or it will be successfully built only to be devastated by flooding, a terrorist attack or something like that. I hope for a miracle though.

See also:

Ah, the insanity of driving in Malaysia

Jakarta travel notes, 1 and 2.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Attack on Indian man leads to Victoria's first race-hate charges

The state of Victoria has had in place racial vilification laws in place for almost a decade now, but only now will we see them in action. Three men have faced court in Frankston after allegedly physically assaulting and verbally abusing an Indian student.

22-year-old Graphics student Rajan Kumar Katkam was travelling on a bus from Frankston to Rye on February 6th this year when he was subjected to a 45 minute ordeal of punching, kicking and racial taunts by the young men.

He said that no one on the bus did anything about it, except for one old lady who tried to intervene, but was then herself threatened by the men.

Interestingly, the article at the Herald-Sun about this incident has a considerable number of comments that seem to blame the Indian student for the crime of being brown and riding a bus. They display hostility to the concept of a racial vilification law, which also spills over into hostility towards Indians and non-white people in general. Observe a selection:

Mark of Knox Posted at 10:11 AM July 28, 2010
OK,so you name the nationality of the Indians,lets be fair and name the nationality of the accused.Quiet often these offences are done by other ethnic groups as i have witnessed in this city on numerous occasions
Comment 2 of 52

Sid of Geelong Posted at 10:12 AM July 28, 2010
What about all the racial taunts issued by Indians against Australians in our own country. What goes around comes around.
Comment 3 of 52

JIMMY PO of South Melbourne Posted at 10:28 AM July 28, 2010
Comment 8 of 52

brian wood of sunbury Posted at 10:47 AM July 28, 2010
Comment 12 of 52

Nathan of Melb Posted at 12:06 PM July 28, 2010
Why are we bending over backwards and creating new laws for immigrants . You can't even read shop signs in some areas now as they are all in other languages. Australia takes more care of immigrants and listens more to them than people who have lived here all their lives. White Australians will soon be the most disadvantaged in our society.
Comment 25 of 52

NJS of Melb Posted at 12:11 PM July 28, 2010
I bet if the victim was white this wouldn't be going to court.
Comment 26 of 52

James Stuart of Melbourne Posted at 12:52 PM July 28, 2010
Why is expressing an opinion that you want your country to remain white a crime? Sure they allegedly assaulted him, and should be brought to account, however, the scary thing is they are ALSO being dragged into court for expressing a political, racial and deeply held opinion. Now THATS the scary thing.. Victoria..Welcome to the Gulag state. Where voicing a dissenting opinion is now a CRIMINAL offence!! Imaging YOU being arrested for being a Liberal voter when a Labour government was in power. Or vice versa. Holding an opinion NO MATTER HOW REPREHENSIBLE is NOT and must NEVER be a crime!!! Lets hope the courts throw those charges out as being unconstitutional and a breach of International Human rights laws. On the assault charges, lets hope they receive a fair and impartial trial and are NOT held to account simply because of their political beliefs!!!
Comment 33 of 52

And so on. "Mark of Knox" wants to know the ethnicity of the attackers and seems to think white Aussies couldn't have done this; although given the location of the attack, its unlikely to be anyone else other than a white Aussie. (Edit: it has been later revealed the three attackers are all in their mid-20s and named Jason Ritchie, Adam Baxter and David Potter.) "Brian Wood of Sunbury" seems to think the real victims of vilification are the upstanding young men who attacked Rajan Kumar Katkam and are now having their good names sullied by the accusation of racism. It's such an outrage that it makes him dislike Indians, as well as making him write all in capitals. Go figure. Meanwhile "James Stuart of Melbourne" seems to think these three violent offenders are political prisoners, heroes for the right to free speech. Hmmm...
Now, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for questioning the need for a racial vilification law; for example, you could argue that any harmful act would probably be covered under our penal code, and thus not require another charge on top of that. But the anger of those commenters is sorely misplaced in this case. They should direct it toward the actual villains, a trio of thugs who drunkenly assault people for looking foreign. Given the constant crowing by Herald-Sun readers for tougher sentencing, they should remember that a charge of racial hate may mean the offenders actually do some meaningful time behind bars.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is English threatening the future of the Indonesian language?

The ubiquity of the English language in an increasingly globalised world has served to create connections between countless disparate people, yet it can also threaten to overwhelm local languages and in time may render some obsolete. On this note, the NY Times has an interesting article up at the moment about an unusual phenomenon in Indonesia - a growing segment of the native-born population who speak English but don't really speak Indonesian. I'm a little sceptical about whether this is as common as the article seems to imply, but it is intriguing nonetheless.

Apparently, the emerging upper-middle class is displaying a marked preference for sending their kids to private schools that teach mostly in English. Which means that there are more and more Indonesian children for whom English becomes their first language, and who speak barely enough Bahasa Indonesia to get by. This even leads to problems communicating with their parents, who presumably speak Indonesian far better than they do English. English-speaking also confers a higher status and a way of tapping into the broader international community and popular culture trends. Clearly some are worried about the implications of this.

The most obvious example recently was the victory of Karenina Sunny Halim as Miss Indonesia 2009. Halim, who was home-schooled in Jakarta in English by her American mother, was barely able to understand the judges' questions in the beauty pageant and had to have someone interpret for her. Something of a joke, really, although Ms Halim's sheer hotness is not in question.

I can personally attest to seeing this phenomenon play out to a small degree. I have nieces in Jakarta whose English ability doesn't just far outstrip that of their parents, but would put most Australian or American kids of their age to shame. However, they are still effectively bilingual, and their ability to speak Indonesian is similar or slightly better than their English.

One thing the article doesn't mention is that Bahasa Indonesia is essentially a lingua franca - that is, a language used for communication between native speakers of other languages. The first language of most Indonesians is their local tongue - be it Balinese, Javanese, Sundanese, and so on. It is really only in Jakarta that the majority of people speak Indonesian as a mother tongue. Throughout the rest of the archipelago, Indonesian already has millions of people who speak Indonesian relatively poorly, because they don't necessarily need to use it day to day.

That being the case, is the Indonesian language's position precarious enough for it to fade in importance if English were to rival its position as a regional lingua franca? It is unlikely. In a country with 300 ethnolinguistic groups, successive governments have prioritised national unity above all else. With Bahasa Indonesia undoubtedly one of the key elements in holding the nation together, the powers-that-be are unlikely to let it fade too far in importance.

But the NY Times article focuses only on one particular demographic; the wealthier and educated urban elites. These form a very small segment of a country in which half the population earns less than US$2 a day. The man in the street or the kampung is a long, long way off from sending his kids to an English-speaking private school. Because fluency in English is so tied to wealth and social class, and because the wealth gap from top to bottom is so enormous, it is hard to imagine that the phenomenon the Times observes in the upscale malls of Jakarta will trickle its way down to the average Indonesian any time soon.

Japanese TV weirdness of the week: "Troop of the 100"

Lol, rofl, lmao and all that.

More Japanese TV here, here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Adam Liaw wins Masterchef

As many expected, Adelaide-born lawyer Adam Liaw became the winner of Masterchef, defeating Callum Hann in the final. While he has lived in Tokyo with his Japanese girlfriend for the past 6 years, Liaw flew in to take part in the competition. It is hard to argue with his victory; while he was not necessarily the clear standout throughout the competition, he was consistently amongst the best, and cooked food that looked and apparently tasted great, but also demonstrated a clear vision and an artistic approach to food. The former child prodigy also came across as a damn nice chap to boot.

In its second season, Masterchef remained extremely popular and proved that the impact the first season had on public consciousness in Australia was no fluke. But it also was the second time we have seen an Australian of Malaysian-Chinese heritage in the final, after Poh-Ling Yeow came runner-up last year. Indeed, another Malaysian-Chinese Aussie, Alvin Quah, made it to the final six this time as well.

(Adam also has a bit of French and Indonesian in there as well, apparently. No, he's not Japanese, despite his samurai-esque hairstyle; he just loves Japanese stuff.)

Should we be surprised that Malaysians are doing so well in this competition? Not really. There are plenty of them in Australia, and Malaysians are among the most passionate foodies of any nationality.

There was a strong Asian element in the top 6 this year, which also included Jimmy Seervai, of Parsi Indian heritage, while blonde Courtney Roulston also revealed an impressive affinity with Chinese cuisine (which clearly astounded guest judge Kylie Kwong).

I wonder if this sort of thing will do anything to combat the subtle prejudice that is so often held in Western nations about Asian cooking. There remains a mentality that no matter how tasty it is, no Asian cuisine is really as good as "proper" European culinary traditions like Italian and French. I remember reading a comment somewhere about Poh's near-victory last year that kinda sums it up for me - "Why do we need another noodle and dumpling bar?"

Elsewhere you can read this article about how Masterchef's contestants say a great deal about the diverse nature of Australia today; pointing out that not only were there Asian contestants, but 2 of the final 6 (Courtney and Alvin) were same-sex-attracted as well. One thing about talent-search reality television is that by (hopefully) allowing talent to take centre stage, it beams a diverse range of people into the prime-time ratings period, which otherwise does not normally see such diversity. Remember that the very first winner of Australian Idol was another person of Malaysian descent, Guy Sebastian.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From around the interwebs...

Various shizzle that I've been reading this week...

Yay to Non-White faces on MasterChef; but is duck egg yolk custard bad, or just different?
Asian-Australian blogger Monica Tan ponders how the MasterChef judges' "Western palates" can adequately and objectively judge the dishes made by the contestants of Asian origin. And how do we judge one cuisine against another?

India's myth of fair-skinned beauty
Lakshmi Menon (pictured left) is widely regarded as India's first supermodel, but she struggled to make an impression in her home country, where she was considered too dark according to local beauty standards. (Look at the picture and take a moment to let that sink in!) You can also see obviously intelligent Bangalore-born Menon interviewed about the issue here.

10 facts you may not know about Asian-American history
Courtesy of the Race in America website.

Exclusive: Bangladeshi updates Facebook status to "Lower Socio-Economic"
As two Australians are sent to Dhaka to teach slum dwellers how to blog, satirical writer Joe Hildebrand questions if more bloggers is the answer to Bangladesh's crippling problems.

Bilingual children more likely to become tolerant citizens
New Zealand journalist Tahu Potiki argues for bilingualism as a way of encouraging diversity of thought; meaning that "bilingual kids have a range of solutions for the one problem."

More on Chinglish and "Engnese"
A Taiwanese-American returns to Taiwan and gains a new perspective on speaking like a FOB.

Your 2010 Name of the Year
This site's annual awards are always good for a chuckle, even if this year's selection (AFL footballer Steele Sidebottom) is a little underwhelming. I preferred Nohjay Nimpson and Selathius Bobo, personally.

As accents change, so do a nursery's plants
This NY Times article looks at a neighbourhood nursery reflects the changing demographics of a suburb, from the fig trees of the older Italian residents, to the scotch bonnet peppers and callaloo of the newer West Indian immigrants.

Lame Self Defence

In the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa come these guys...

I am easily amused. Thank you again, Youtube.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"You are NOT Eurasian" - the weirdest email I've ever received

Occasionally I get negative comments or email regarding my what I write, or what I choose to write about. Sometimes these criticisms are valid. Other times it appears that some people have a preconceived notion of what this blog should be, and how I should think, and they are disappointed when this blog fails to meet their expectations.

In the latter category, this is perhaps the oddest of the lot, sent to me today by someone named Kiera (I won't mention her surname). I assume she is from the US and fancies herself as some kind of spokesperson for all Eurasians, and thus seeks to expose me as some kind of fraud and liar.

You are NOT Eurasian

I came across your blog while looking for websites geared towards Hapa/Eurasian people. I don't know why you're trying to pass yourself off as a Hapa/Eurasian person. It is very evident by your physical appearance and by the topics you discuss that you are part Black (African), and not Indonesian/European as you are purporting to be. Eurasian/Hapa is a term for people like myself who are of European and Asian descent. Just because you are a half Black (African)/half European, who is perhaps now living is Asia, doesn't mean you are Hapa/Eurasian.

I can see that you pepper your blog with Asian topics, so as to appear that you are part Asian and interested in "your" background. But it's clear that most of your blogging is geared towards topics about Blacks, and one of their favorite pastimes: racism. That is typical of someone that is Black (African) or part Black (African), as most of you have serious complexes.

Hapas/Eurasians deal with many different issues than you have. You will never understand what we go through. Please stop trying to pass yourself off as one of us. To do so shows that you have serious issues, or an underlying agenda: to create animosity between people of Asian descent, and their European/White side. That's warped! If that's what you're doing, you've got serious issues!

No sh!t, someone did actually take the time to send that to me. Apparently the idea of me writing what I write on this blog is so mind-blowing that she had to conjure up some kind of bizarre conspiracy theory just so it would make sense to her. You can scan my blog and make up your own mind about whether my blogging is mostly "geared to topics about blacks"; and whether there would be anything wrong with that even if it were true.

So just to summarise her complaints as I understand them:

* I don't look stereotypically Asian enough, therefore I must not be an actual Eurasian.

* Apparently I am black now! Yet I so loathe my "blackness" that I must pretend to be Eurasian.

* No one would possibly be interested in issues affecting black people, unless they were black themselves.

* Only black people are interested in studying racism, perhaps because no other race is affected by it.

* Most black people have serious complexes.

* By frequently talking about white racism, I possibly have a hidden agenda to make Asians and Eurasians hate white people.

* When I do mention things about Asia on this blog (which is most of the time), it is actually a "ruse" to perpetuate the misconception that I have an Asian background.

* Because I am "black", I do not understand what it is like to be Eurasian.

This is how I replied:


My first thought when reading your ridiculous email was "WTF?!?" and I had the instinct to reply with an abusive email calling you all kinds of things. But after 30 seconds I calmed down, and so I'll refrain from being rude and will stick to the facts.

Why would I feel the need to pretend to be Eurasian if I wasn't one? To make it extremely clear: I am Indonesian on my mother's side, and white Australian on my father's side. I'm no mathematical genius, but that equates to being half Asian and half European, or Eurasian.

I am not, and have never been, black or African or anything like that. If you think I look like a black person, that is just coincidence. I would also contend that you have a very limited perspective on what an Asian or Eurasian should look like. If you've ever met Indonesians, you'll know that they are darker-skinned than most other Asians, and don't always have the same features that people from Northeast Asia have.

You can even see a picture of my mother and other relatives at this post:

If you wonder why I sometimes cover issues affecting black people as well, it's because I believe that non-white people in Western countries have a commonality of experience. If black people are affected by racism, for example, then doesn't that also have repercussions for Asians as well? Aside from that, I happen to have an interest in African diasporic culture. Why should that offend you?

I do not set out to write a blog "geared towards Hapa/Eurasian people". Nor do I ever claim to speak for all Eurasians. Ultimately I am a Eurasian person who writes what is interesting to me. If you wish to only read about things that pertain to Hapas/Eurasians, I'm sure you will be able to find it somewhere else.

Your claim that my focus on racism is some sign that I must be a black person is one of the strangest things anyone has ever said to me. Your sentence "That is typical of someone that is Black (African) or part Black (African), as most of you have serious complexes" indicates that is you who have the "serious issues", Kiera. One might even call it racism.

So again, I find it extremely odd that someone who has never met me has the gall to not only tell me what ethnicity I am NOT, but to claim to speak for all Eurasians when you say "Hapas/Eurasians deal with many different issues than you have. You will never understand what we go through."

I clearly do not understand what YOU go through Kiera, because you are clearly a fairly confused individual.

But thank you for sharing with me your extremely narrow pigeon-holed view of what a Eurasian person should think, look like, write about and be interested in.

Have a nice day.

Btw, I am well aware that I don't look particularly Asian (in a sterotypical sense), and there have been numerous people who have asked me if I am Brazilian or South African, for example. But really, if anyone has an issue with the way I look, they should take it up with God. It's not something I can really help.

Weird religion in Malaysia

Two stories about Islam in Malaysia caught my eye this week; one an example of how religion can remain stuck in the past, another an example of how religion can also "get with the times" perhaps a little too much.

Muslims told not to wear 'devilish' Manchester United jersey
KUALA LUMPUR - Muslims have been told by religious leaders in Malaysia to stop wearing Manchester United football shirts because the image of the famed red devil in its crest is forbidden in Islam.
The Johor Religious Council adviser and the Mufti of Perak both state that images of crosses, liquor brands and devils on football shirts are forbidden by Islam and should not be worn by Muslims.
Other football shirts deemed unacceptable by the religious leaders include those of Brazil, Portugal, Serbia, Barcelona and Norway because their crests all carry images of a cross.
"There is no excuse for wearing such garments because it means, as a Muslim, you are idolising the symbol of another religion," Datuk Nooh Gadot, the Mufti of Johor, said.
"On this matter there is absolutely no compromise in the name of entertainment, fashion or even sports."
The Mufti of Perak, Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, said that Muslims wearing such football shirts "leads to a path of sin" because displaying the symbol of another faith means the wearer is prioritising that faith over Islam.
"Yes of course in Islam we don't allow people to wear this sort of thing," he said. "Devils are our enemies, why would you put their picture on you and wear it? You are only promoting the devil."

Now chilling out in a mamak and watching an EPL game is one of the quintessential Malaysian pastimes, and probably 9 out of 10 Malaysians who like football are fans of Manchester United. So did these religious leaders only just realise that a huge proportion of their countrymen follow a team called the "Red Devils"? Hopefully Malaysian Muslim footy fans have not been lured too far down the "path of sin" by those sneaky cross-bearing Brazilians, either.
Mind you, as a passionate Arsenal fan myself, I've always suspected Man U were thoroughly evil, and now it's clear.
In other religious news from Malaysia, the latest talent quest to take TV by storm is not Malaysian Idol, or Malaysian Masterchef or anything like that. It's Imam Muda (Young Imam).

I've actually seen this idea before, on the Australian Muslim show Salam Cafe, who had a segment called "Australian Imam". Except the Salam Cafe people were taking the piss, Imam Muda is completely serious.

What do you think? Does a TV talent-quest format cheapen religion, or is it merely taking it into the 21st century?

Chinese donuts on a Yogya roadside - the best breakfast ever

Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Indonesia's cuisine bears the influences of China and India, to varying degrees. Chinese-derived ingredients are everywhere - noodles, soy sauce, bean curd - but Indonesians always find ways to put their own spin on them.

Arriving in Yogyakarta by train at 6 in the morning, with nowhere to stay and desperate for breakfast, one of the only places open near the station was this stall selling "Medan Cakue" - or cakue, Medan-style. (Medan is a city in North Sumatra). The Indonesian word cakue is an adaption of the Chinese yau char kway, often referred to as youtiao or Chinese donut. The standard version is a puffy stick of fried dough which is eaten as a snack or frequently as an accompaniment to rice porridge.

Indonesia has its own ways of serving cakue, including with chili sauce. The stall we stumbled across had the standard long sticks, but much more interesting were the other varieties, round ones with the wonderfully descriptive name bolang-baling.

The wijen (sesame) bolang-baling were sweet and triangular in shape and coated in sesame seeds; I never noticed what a delicious difference sesame seeds can make to a dish. The bolang-baling durian were not quite as funky as I had feared, and quite tolerable for a someone like me who has a somewhat edgy relationship with durian. Another particularly Indonesian version was the keju (cheese) flavoured bolang-baling. Indonesian cheese is bland and nondescript, yet these qualities mean that it combines well with sweet flavours. These doughballs were slightly sugary with a subtle cheese flavour, with a small knob of cheese in the centre. Fabulous, even if there was a hint of durian about it (durian has a way of pervading other foods prepared near it). 

There are other flavours as well that we didn't try - chocolate, as well as abon sapi (beef floss).

One thing with cakue though - if you really want to enjoy them at their most delectable, you need to try them freshly fried. After too long sitting around they become a little stiffer, and their intrinsic oiliness is more noticeable when cold. We got there early enough to watch the Chinese-Indonesian stall owners preparing the cakue; the very friendly woman rolling out and slicing the dough and tossing them into an oil-filled wok stirred by her husband. Which of course meant that we ate the dough balls at their freshest. I'd never been overly enamoured of Chinese fried dough snacks before, but now having tasted them still warm from the wok, it's like I've found a new friend.

When we asked if there was any places to get coffee anywhere nearby, Cakue Lady informed us that unfortunately it was still too early and everything would be closed. Disappointed, we took a seat on a nearby step to enjoy our breakfast and scan Lonely Planet for places to stay. At which Cakue Lady suddenly appeared with a plastic cup full of sweet black coffee which she had miraculously acquired from somewhere and gave us for free. Which all in all, made it a lovely welcome to Yogya and, given how ravenously hungry we were, possibly the best breakfast I've ever had.

Fang Fang Cakue Medan, on Jln Gandekan Lor, Yogyakarta (near Jln Malioboro, in between Jln Sostrowijayan and Jln Dagen).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Melbourne thugs face court for Indian-bashing

Two groups of young men have been in court these last few weeks over unrelated incidents of assault on Indian students last year in the Western suburbs Melbourne.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Three young men drove around searching for an Indian to rob before setting on a student in a phone booth and bashing him unconscious, a court has heard.

The Victorian County Court heard Aleksander Trifunovic drove his friends Shayne Comensoli and Lennon Metaxas around Melbourne's west, looking for an Indian person to rob on the night of October 15, 2009.
Comensoli and Metaxas, who had been drinking at a local hotel, spotted Indian student Lucky Singh, 23, in a phone booth in Sunshine.
The 20-year-olds got out of the car and attacked him about 1.30am.
Prosecutor Amelia Macknay said the pair believed a person of Indian ethnicity was most likely to have cash on them.
During the assault, Metaxas punched Mr Singh in the face so hard he fell to the ground.
Comensoli held him while Metaxas punched him repeatedly as Mr Singh screamed in pain and fear.
Comensoli repeatedly said, "Shut up, you Indian mother******," and then said, "Now it's my turn".
He swapped places with Metaxas and delivered more blows.
Mr Singh was hit up to 20 times to his head and face and curled up on the ground covering his head with his arms.
But the pair picked him up, dumped him on a park bench and continued the attack.
Mr Singh was left bleeding and unconscious on the footpath, suffering bone fractures, severe swelling and bruising.
The pair stole $80 in cash from his wallet and split it between them, then called for Trifunovic, 20, to collect them.
Mr Singh, who had been living in Victoria for eight months, said in his victim statement the attack had shattered his confidence and he suffered flashbacks. "I'm too scared to walk at night," he said. "My life has completely changed. I feel scared to go outside."
Mr Singh said he had thought Australians were welcoming and friendly but had changed his mind.
Police arrested the trio soon after the assault.
Trifunovic told police the pair had offered him $10 for his role but he refused the money. He said the trio had driven around Sunshine looking for an Indian for "10 minutes, tops".
Comensoli pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury and robbery, while Trifunovic pleaded guilty to aiding a robbery.
Defence barrister Ron Tait denied there was a racial aspect to Trifunovic's crimes.
He said the crime was shocking but his client was still young with a clean record, and asked that he be spared jail.
The crown called for jail terms for Comensoli and Trifunovic. County Court Judge Meryl Sexton said she would need to consider what part racism played in the attack. Comensoli's pre-sentencing hearing was adjourned pending a psychology and youth justice report. Metaxas was sentenced in March to three years in a youth justice centre, after pleading guilty to intentionally causing serious injury and robbery.

From this story we can see a pattern that is becoming all too common. If they wanted money, they could have threatened Singh and he would have given it to them. But instead, clearly the motivation was the rush of inflicting their violence and dominance on another individual. And while not all the assaults on Indians in Melbourne have been racist in nature, only a fool (or a defence barrister) would deny the spectre of racism here. Racism, to my mind, not only motivated their choice to target Lucky Singh, but influenced their decision to severely beat him rather than just rob and scare him.

Also from Melbourne, this time the Herald-Sun:

A GANG of youths whose bashing of an Indian man blinded him in one eye have all avoided jail.

Majang Ngor, 20, the last of the gang to face court, was yesterday given an eight-month suspended jail term for the unprovoked attack on Kanan Kharbanda (pictured below). Prosecutors had wanted him jailed for four years.
But Judge Susan Cohen said this would be unjust, given the penalties imposed on gang members who were more culpable. Ngor hadn't been an instigator or a ringleader.
At least three other youths - who can't be named because of their age - were given nine-month youth supervision orders in the Children's Court. The Director of Public Prosecutions is appealing against those sentences. Ngor pleaded guilty in the County Court to recklessly causing serious injury, intentionally causing injury, robbery, and attempted robbery over the March 2008 bashing. Mr Kharbanda, an accounting student, had been walking a friend to Sunshine station. One of Ngor's group demanded a dollar before hitting Mr Kharbanda in the face. Others joined in, kicking and punching; his friend was also hit and kicked to the ground. Mr Kharbanda suffered a fractured eye socket and broken nose. He has lost the sight in his right eye.
Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said it was beyond belief that the youths had been let off "scot free". "It's disgraceful. The Indian community has the right - all citizens have the right - to be up in arms about it," he said.
Ngor told police they'd been drinking at a party and one of the group had suggested they go "hustling".
He admitted joining the pack, but denied striking either victim.
Judge Cohen said the Sudanese refugee had since worked hard to reform himself. To his credit he'd finished year 12, got a stable job, and had stopped binge-drinking. She said he hadn't caused the worst injuries, but had helped those who did. Violence at railway stations was of major public concern, but the matter was "less serious" than if weapons had been used. The judge suspended the jail term for 15 months and ordered Ngor to do 40 hours of community work, saying the greatest public benefit would come from his rehabilitation.
Shadow attorney-general Robert Clark said it was extraordinary that none would spend time behind bars and said it is weak sentencing laws that allowed the gang members to walk free.
"The victim of this crime will suffer a lifetime sentence with his injuries while the offenders are being let off with just a few hours of community service," he said.
"Imposing suspended sentences does nothing to build respect for the law, yet under John Brumby's weak sentencing laws vicious crimes like this bashing will continue to qualify for suspended sentences. In contrast, a Baillieu Government will abolish suspended sentences for all crimes so that jail will mean jail," he said.

Obviously there has been an angry reaction to this soft sentence; however it is important to remember that Ngor apparently did not take part in the actual beating, but was merely part of the group that did so. In any case, the real injustice seems to be that the other youths involved, who presumably did actively attack Kharbanda, could not be given any meaningful punishment because of their young age. Considering that Melbourne is currently experiencing an upsurge of violence by teenagers, the toothlessness of the legal system when sentencing them is no doubt a contributing factor.

Want another example? Try this one from Adelaide:

A group of international students, mostly Indians, in the Australian city of Adelaide are living in constant fear after a gang fire-bombed three of their cars Tuesday, the latest incident in a series of continuing attacks that have damaged 12 cars in three months.

The students, who live in a block of 13 South Australian Student Housing Association units in Greenacres, say the early morning fire-bomb attack has left the residents very worried. Adelaide Now quoted Yasif Multani, 28, as saying that a group of up to 15 local teenagers were believed to be responsible for the string of attacks. Two vehicles owned by Multani were torched in the early hours of Tuesday.
He said the attacks had led to more than 12 cars being damaged in the past three months, mail being stolen from letter boxes, racist graffiti being painted and garbage bins being emptied on the streets. Car windscreens have also been smashed in the complex and one night a couch on a veranda was set ablaze. Multani said a friend of his saw a teenager on a bicycle throw a petrol bomb through the windscreen of a car early Tuesday.
"These people know when we are here and when we are working. They watch us. They know everything we do. They know which cars are ours and they have not damaged the cars of non-international students parked in this area. People are scared. At night time (the offenders) are banging on the doors and running away," Multani said.

Predictably, the police are claiming there is no evidence of racism, and the Indian media are describing it as a racial attack. Whether it is racial or not, one can't help but get the feeling that the police would downplay racism every time, and the Indian media would see racism every time. In this instance I suspect the Indian media might have it right though.

Just came across this at The Australian, dated July 15:

BRISBANE's Indian community fears it could fall prey to the same outbreaks of racial violence that have gripped Sydney and Melbourne.

There have been two attacks on their students at the same suburban railway station in two months.
In the most recent assault, 23-year-old Sukdeb was stabbed in the neck and chest, and beaten with a tree branch by two young white men, who are still at large. One of the knife wounds penetrated his chest, missing his heart by just 5cm. "They attacked us straight away . . . I tried to speak to him, but he stabbed me," Sukdeb told the Nine Network yesterday. "They were totally drunk. They don't know what they were doing." Sukdeb has been recovering at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and could be released today.
Coopers Plains station, which is just 1km from Griffith University's Nathan campus, was also the scene of an attack last month, in which an Indian student was attacked and robbed.
Griffith University Indian Students Association president Parth Raval said the student was attacked from behind, his attackers banging his head against a pillar.

See also: Addressing the myths and misconceptions about violence against Indians in Australia

Friday, July 16, 2010

Make yourself whiter on Facebook

Facebook now has an application for everything, no matter how messed up. Its latest comes courtesy of Vaseline, who release their latest weapon in their race to capitalise on the collective colourist insecurities of Indian people.

The application lightens half of your profile picture, to demonstrate how much fairer (and therefore "better") you could look if you used Vaseline's new whitening product.

If you aren't all that familiar with colour prejudice within India, this might seem odd, but it's all very run-of-the-mill. Check out these ads below for skin whitening cream, both of which present dark skin as repugnant and something to be ashamed of.

Funnily enough, if you consider the Indian population as a whole, neither of the characters being ridiculed for their swarthiness is actually all that dark.

Some might point to this as Indians desiring to be more like white people. While there might be an element of truth in that, the roots of subcontinental colour prejudice are actually far more ancient.

South Asia has seen countless populations moving in and out and blending for thousands of years, so I don't wish to oversimplify its complex racial and genetic makeup. But in general, North Indians tend to be lighter-skinned and South Indians tend to be darker. A similar light-to-dark gradation is observable in the caste system, with Brahmins and other castes tending to be fairer than people from lower castes.

Historians generally agree that the story goes something like this: the Aryans, who moved into India several thousand years ago, hailed from the steppes of Central Asia and spoke a language of the Indo-European family (which includes modern Hindi and Punjabi, as well as Persian, English and most other languages of Europe). They brought with them a belief system that would eventually become Hinduism, and they were light-skinned. In India they discovered a darker-skinned people who mostly spoke languages of the Dravidian family (including modern Tamil and Malayalam).

The social order put in place by the Aryan peoples was to enshrine their position in society as higher than those whose lands they had conquered. This would soon become the caste system; the Sanskrit word for caste, varna, can also be interpreted as "colour" (from which the Malay world for colour, warna, is derived).

So skin colour in India has deep-seated connotations of not just beauty, but of class and status. Read Indian personal/matchmaking columns and you'll sometimes see people referred to as "wheatish"; in other words, the ideal skin colour resembles the colour of wheat. In addition, prejudices may be reinforced by the association of dark skin with working out in the sun (and hence being lower class), as occurs in most of East Asia. Later, the Persians, Portuguese and English who all had turns ruling parts of the subcontinent, would also add to the perceived link between light skin and high status.

How prevalent is this prejudice? According to this article, "In 2009, a poll of nearly 12,000 people by online dating site, revealed that skin tone was considered the most important criteria when choosing a partner in three northern Indian states."

The film industry reflects this as well. Check out this article about the most popular actresses in Tamil Nadu. Then by contrast, have a look at the faces in this picture of a street scene in Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

So while so many Westerners are desperate to risk skin cancer in order to get a good tan, many people born with that colour seem desperate to get rid of it. And of course, amongst it all are big corporations making easy money of our insecurities.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

For those of you who still aren't sick of hearing "Waving Flag"...

Now that the World Cup is over, expect to hear a lot less of Coca-Cola's "official" anthem for the tournament, K'Naan's Waving Flag. Which is probably a good thing, but personally I find it a testament to the song that I have heard it approximately 879 times in the last month-and-a-bit and I still don't hate it. Which is more than I can say for Shakira's Waka Waka, FIFA's official anthem.

Well I just discovered that Coca-Cola, ever the canny marketer, also recorded versions of it in a number of different languages, with local stars "duetting" with K'Naan on each track (although I doubt he had anything to do with these recordings at all apart from recording the original song).

So if you are at all curious to hear bits of it sung in Thai, Mandarin and Arabic, eat your heart out...

There's also Spanish, French and Portuguese versions if you somehow need more.

Of course, Coca-Cola didn't have time to record it in every language, so some enterprising folks took it upon themselves to record their own version; such as this one in Hindi.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some really unfortunate Engrish

There are some words you really need to make sure you spell correctly.

Thanks to Leeyong.

2010 World Cup Roundup

For all you readers who are not football fans, you will be happy to know that this is likely to be my last World Cup-related post. Until Brazil 2014, anyway.

Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands). Diego Forlan may have got FIFA's Golden Ball, and he was indeed brilliant, but the Dutch playmaker Sneijder was better in my estimation. Bear in mind that aside from Arjen Robben, the rest of the Dutch side was fairly workmanlike. Almost every goal the team scored was due to the involvement of Sneijder, be it through his own 5 strikes, his menacing free kicks, or his precision passing.

Joachim Loew (Germany). It took guts to build the team around the promising but untried Ozil and Mueller, and start with Podolski and Klose despite them having uninspiring domestic seasons. Completed the tranformation of the German team, started by Jurgen Klinsmann 4 years ago, into a pacy and technical young side built for devastating counterattacks.
Slovakia vs Italy (3-2). It had everything both good and bad that makes football interesting. Plenty of goals, including an outrageous chip from Fabio Quagliarella in the dying seconds, all manner of ridiculous diving and ugly spats, and high drama as the Italians launched an ultimately futile effort to keep their tournament alive.

* Wayne Rooney. It's hard to believe that only a few months ago some in England were touting him as the best player in the world. Rooney didn't merely disappoint - for 4 games, he was utterly anonymous.
* Nigeria and Cameroon. With Cote D'Ivoire stuck in the Group of Death, these were the 2 African teams which had golden chances to impress and make it out of their relatively weak pools. But they were woeful, Nigeria in particular, exemplified by Yakubu somehow missing a tap-in on the goal line with no one anywhere near him.

Kader Keita (Cote D'Ivoire) for his comedic face-clutching, rolling-around in agony routine that somehow got Kaka sent off.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay) for single-handedly redefining the phrase "deliberate handball" against Ghana. Actually, that should probably read "double-handedly".
Mark Van Bommel (Netherlands) for his sheer commitment to kicking opponents, whining to referees and generally being the nastiest c**t in professional football today.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst vs Uruguay
Maicon vs North Korea
Carlos Tevez vs Mexico
David Villa vs Honduras
Siphiwe Tshabalala vs Mexico

Joachim Loew and his assistant, Hans-Dieter Flick, dressed in their matching v-necks and black jackets, game after game.

Cameroon's veteran defender Rigobert Song, now with blond beard and dreads, looking like a homeless 60-year-old man. (He's listed as being 34.)
This Danish supporter.

Thomas Mueller & Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Gervinho (Cote D'Ivoire)
Keisuke Honda (Japan)
Eljero Elia (Netherlands)

Those in italics would be the starters, in a 4-3-3 formation.
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
David Villa (Spain)
Thomas Mueller (Germany)
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
Landon Donovan (USA)

Xavi Hernandez (Spain)
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Park Ji-Sung (Korea)

Gerard Pique (Spain)
Per Mertesacker (Germany)
Sergio Ramos (Spain)Diego Lugano (Uruguay)
Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Netherlands)
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)

Iker Casillas (Spain)
Eduardo (Portugal)
Richard Kingson (Ghana)


* The two most impressive teams in the tournament were Spain and Germany (Netherlands were good throughout the Cup but never looked like they were the best team). Perhaps the key to the fluid play of both teams is that they are based around players who regularly play domestic football together at two of Europe's top clubs. Spain revolves around a core of Barcelona players, while Germany was basic Bayern Munich with a few extras. The Dutch, by contrast, didn't mesh as well as a unit and relied excessively on their two most talented players.

* Despite two bad calls against them towards the end of the game that preceded Spain's winning goal, the Dutch are in no position to complain about Howard Webb's refereeing. They were very lucky not to receive at least one red card early in the game for Nigel De Jong's kung fu manouvre on Xabi Alonso. While Webb erred in not sending off De Jong, it was to the benefit of the game that he didn't, as the second half was a tense affair in which the Dutch made a real game of it. But it's a good thing that justice prevailed in the end due to Iniesta's late goal.

* An interesting moment came late on in the final, when Spain's Carles Puyol tried to bring down Arjen Robben as the Dutchman surged past him towards goal. Robben is not renowned for staying on his feet, and had he gone down, it may well have been a red card for Puyol (as the last defender illegally denying a clear goalscoring opportunity), thus handing the Dutch a distinct advantage. Unusually, Robben stayed on his feet; and failed to get the ball past the Spanish keeper Casillas. You can sort of understand why players do go down so easily; there is frequently no reward for managing to stay on one's feet, with refs not bothering to blow the whistle unless a player hits the turf.

See also: 2006 World Cup Roundup

Who are the hottest players at the World Cup?

I should be a professional football pundit (in which I gloat over the accuracy of my pre-tournament predictions).

Assorted World Cup 2010 Thoughts:
Post-Quarter Finals
Day 16
Day 8
Day 5

3 things Indonesia can teach Malaysia

Malaysia and Indonesia are two countries with great similarities in language and culture, yet with great differences as well. Malaysia to the north is relatively peaceful, and one of the wealthiest and most modern states in Southeast Asia; Indonesia to the south is massively overpopulated, beset by civil strife, corruption and grinding poverty. And anyone who think the KL traffic jams are bad has obviously never experienced Jakarta's.

Yet Indonesia still has managed to get some important things right in a way that Malaysia seems unable to. I think most Malaysians would be loathe to admit it, but their struggling island cousins are streets ahead in certain departments. For example:


It's a pretty savage indictment on Southeast Asia in general that Indonesia is now a beacon of multi-party democracy in the region. Sure, it was effectively ruled by dictators for half a century, and is still corrupt as all hell. But since the fall of Suharto, Indonesia has had 4 democratically-elected presidents in 12 years. Which means that for all the faults inherent in Indonesian politics, the populace can and does vote out any leader who they deem not up to scratch. In how many countries in the region can that be said to be true?

Certainly not Malaysia, where Barisan Nasional, in one form or another, has enjoyed 47 years of unbroken rule, driven by racially polarising policies. The one recent politician to emerge realistic challenger to BN's dominance conveniently found himself in jail on sodomy and corruption charges; which of course the ruling party had absolutely no hand in, or so they say.

Friendly customer service

I know loads of Malaysians and so can testify that they are generally a lovely bunch of people. Except you would never guess it by observing what passes for customer service in their country.

I'm by no means a demanding customer, and have no desire to be waited on hand and foot, but there are certain things I appreciate when I go into a shop or restaurant. A smile, a greeting, a sense that they actually appreciate that I am spending my hard-earned in their establishment; these are easy things. But things that tend to be the exception in Malaysia.

I'm perhaps being a little harsh on regional Malaysia, which is generally not too bad in these respects. I have found pleasant service to be commonplace in Penang, Terengganu, Kucing and elsewhere, but most people who serve you in Kuala Lumpur seem to have zero interest in doing so. There is certainly friendly and polite customer service to be found in KL, but it stands out because of its comparative rarity.

Indonesia is a very different story - most people are quick to smile, speak politely and respectfully, and give the impression that taking your order or assisting you is not an onerous burden.

It is strange that despite being sandwiched between Indonesia and Thailand (whose people are also renowned for their politeness), so many Malaysian staff have settled on grumpy indifference as their default setting.

Moderate Islam

Yes, I know that Indonesia has been the site of numerous terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, as well as Christian-Muslim violence in Maluku and Sulawesi. And Malaysia hasn't.

But forget for a moment what happens at the extreme end of the spectrum. Indonesia seems to have figured out a much better way of integrating Islam with the modern world, and with the demands of a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society. It's unfortunate that Indonesia, despite being the world's largest Muslim nation, will forever considered a backwater by Middle-East-dominated mainstream Islam, because Indonesian Islam is a far better brand of religion than how it is practiced in, say, modern Saudi Arabia. And it's a shame that so many Muslims in both Malaysia and Indonesia look to the Arab World as role models when perhaps it should be the other way around.

Indonesia may have its share of vigilante zealots like the Islamic Defenders' Front, but lacks an official body of "morality police" in the way that Malaysia does. Malaysia is still locking up and caning Muslims who dare drink alcohol and frequent clubs; Jakarta on the other hand is at least 90% Muslim yet has a thriving bar, club and band scene. Indonesians would care little whether Christians used the word "Allah" in reference to the Christian God; in Malaysia the prospect of it led to uproar and attacks on churches (it was seen as a means of proselytising to Muslims).

One of Malaysia's key problems is the way that it has linked Malay identity so firmly with Islam; there is no concept of being Malay yet not Islamic. Thus, religious disputes automatically become ethnic disputes as well, and vice versa. In Indonesia, Muslims can convert to other religions without legal consequence, but in Malaysia this is both illegal and unthinkable; a betrayal not only of Islam but of the Malay race as well.

I should be a professional football pundit

So, here is my gratuitous "hate to say I told you so" moment from the World Cup.

At the start of the tournament I wrote this post with some of my predictions. I figured I would probably get them totally wrong and look foolish. Turns out I did pretty well and got a few predictions pretty spot-on. (I still look foolish, but that's for the usual unrelated reasons.)

What I said then:
"WINNERS: Spain. Just too good in every department. Brazil also look a worthwhile bet"
What I say now:
Ok, so I admit it doesn't take any kind of genius to tip the 2 top-ranked sides in the world for a win, but hey, a correct tip is a correct tip. Brazil flunked out at the quarter-finals to eventually runner-up Holland.

What I said then:
"TOURNAMENT TOP SCORER: David Villa. The Spanish team should, at the very least, make a deep run into the tournament, and to top the scoring charts you need to play a lot of games. Not only is Villa a cracking striker, he has a team of brilliant passers who will serve up chances on a plate for him. If not Villa, I'll plump for Brazil's Luis Fabiano."
What I say now:
Villa was the tournament's equal top-scorer with 5 goals, alongside Wesley Sneider, Diego Forlan and Thomas Mueller. So count another one for me. Again, it may have been a fairly easy choice, but I'm still happy to believe in my awesomeness for this correct pick. Fabiano scored 3.

What I said then:
"TOURNAMENT'S BEST PLAYER: I'll go really out on a limb here and say Arjen Robben (Netherlands). If his team do well, the prematurely-balding winger will be at the heart of most of their good play, should he stay fit."
What I say now:
The winner of the Golden Ball was Uruguay's Diego Forlan, although I think Sneijder should have got it. I figured picking Robben was a long shot, but I wanted to be a bit different. As it was he missed the early part of the tournament and also missed 2 clear chances to win the final for his team; but as one of 2 standout players on the team that came runner-up, I don't think I made a bad choice. I should add that virtually no one would have picked Forlan, who is a top player but hardly an obvious choice at the start of the tournament.

What I said then:
"WHICH BIG TEAM WILL DISAPPOINT?: France. Their talented team is riven by internal tensions, they are lacking midfield engine Lassana Diarra, and they have one of the world's most incompetent coaches in Raymond Domenech. They have a relatively easy group but might not make it out."
What I say now:
Admittedly, this was fairly easy to see coming. France, alongside Italy, was the biggest disappointment. And they didn't just disappoint, but disappointed spectacularly; failing to win a single game, refusing to train, and their starting striker sent home for telling the coach to go f*** himself. Now that's how to self-destruct in style.

What I said then:
"THE "DARK HORSE" TEAM (WHICH WILL MAKE AN UNEXPECTED RUN DEEP INTO THE TOURNAMENT): Uruguay could well finish first in their relatively weak group, and in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez they have two strikers with formidable scoring records in Europe. Serbia may also surprise a few."
What I say now:
Uruguay surprised everyone to finish 4th, and Forlan was joint top scorer and winner of the Golden Ball. Suarez also made a major impact on the tournament, but for the wrong reasons. My other pick, Serbia, did less well, but they still managed to beat Germany, which was a major upset considering the Germans' form throughout the tournament.

So there you are; proof, if you still need it, of how truly fabulous I am. Eat your heart out, Paul the Octopus. ESPN, if you are reading this, give me a ring and we'll talk.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

James Brown just loves Nissin Ramen

If like me you love noodles, and love The Funk, and love weird Japaneseness, then these old commercials will surely make you happy. It's the Godfather of Soul declaring his love of Miso-flavoured noodles. Who knew? I always thought JB would have been a collard-greens and chitlins kinda guy myself.

I can't tell you how many times I have watched this one.

Jay Kay from Jamiroquai is obviously nowhere as cool as The Godfather (no one is), but this next one is nice nonetheless, even if only because you get to hear him sing "oh, cup noodle" in Japanese.

In case you want to sing along, here are the words:

Hara hetta x3 (I'm hungry)

Oh, Cup Noodle
Itsutsu taberareru kai? (Can you eat 5?)
Hoka no ja iya yo x2 (Won't take nothing else)
Cup Noodle da yo (It's Cup Noodle)

See also:

Japanese blinged-up detective ads

Hard Gay Ramen

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There are Asians in the World Cup Final!

Football fans know that it will be a long, long time before an Asian nation gets a chance to play in a World Cup Final, let alone win the thing. Korea, Japan and the others are chugging along nicely but are unlikely to threaten the sport's major powers in the near future.

But in the mean-time, Asian sports fans looking for heroes can take some comfort in knowing that there is some Asian representation on both teams playing tonight.

Spain has one player with Asian heritage in its squad - tricky winger David Silva, whose mother is Asian. A lot of folks seem to think she is Korean, but as far as I understand it she is Filipino (which would make sense given the Spanish-Filipino connection).

The Netherlands, on the other hand, has at least one player with an Asian background. Not only that, but it is the team captain - left-back Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, who is of mixed Dutch and Moluccan (Indonesian) heritage. Striker Robin Van Persie and defender John Heitinga also have some Indonesian heritage apparently, although my sources might be misleading. I've heard also that defender Gregory van der Wiel and midfielder Demy de Zeeuw are of Indonesian descent, but I'm a bit sceptical about this; I suspect their non-European ancestry comes from the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean.

Van Bronckhorst, who is retiring after this tournament, also had the honour of scoring perhaps the greatest goal of this World Cup, with this long-range screamer against Uruguay:

As for me, I'm rooting for the Oranje; aside from the Indo connection, I've been a longtime admirer of the Dutch national team, as well as having numerous Dutch-Indonesian relatives myself. However I suspect the Spanish might just get there in the end; particularly as Paul the Octopus has selected the Spaniards for victory, and you can't go against the octopus.

See also:

Dutch-Indonesian footballers

The Surinamese footballing diaspora

Condom sales spike in Korea after World Cup win

From the Vault: Ice Cube - "Who Got the Camera?"

After watching this recent event in Seattle, I've been revisiting this old classic from Ice Cube, from way back in 1992, when he was still a scary dude (rather than an actor in kids' flicks) with some stuff to stay amidst all the cussin'. The song's title is an obvious allusion to the Rodney King police brutality case which ultimately led to the LA riots of 1991. Slammin' music too from producer Sir Jinx; takes about 50 seconds to properly kick in though.

Plenty of naughty words in this one, should that concern you.

"...The motherf*cker called for back up

I guess they planned to beat the mack up
He called me a silly ass thug
and pulled out his billy ass club
Tearin up my coupe lookin for the chronic
goddamn nobody got a panasonic
Found an empty can of old gold
came around and put my ass in a choke hold
F*cked around and broke my pager
then they hit a nigga with the tazer
the motherf*cking pigs were tryin to hurt me
I fell to the floor and yelled lord have mercy
Then they hit me in the face ya'll
but to them it ain't nuttin but (a friendly game of base ball)
Crowd stood around I said goddamn ya
Who got the camera..."

The irony is that in the 21st century, EVERYBODY'S got the camera (although it's called a mobile phone now). Hence the footage that you can see in the above link.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Assorted World Cup thoughts (post Quarter-finals)

* I initially tipped Spain for the title prior to the Cup starting, but I must say I'm not so sure. They are winning, but seem to lack the ability to steamroll teams in the way that Germany and previously Argentina have done. The reasons? Partially the form of Fernando Torres, a superstar who is woefully out of form following injuries this season, and needs to be dropped. Spain are too one dimensional - they can pass you to death in midfield but lack strength up front and penetration on the flanks. They seem to want to mimic Barcelona, but without Lionel Messi to provide the moments of brilliance.

* I've never been a fan of German football teams, but sign me up for this one. Never has Die Mannschaft been so entertaining for the neutral observer. Their key in this World Cup is in scoring first; it forces opponents to commit numbers forward to chase the game, leaving them vulnerable to the Germans' devastating counter attacks. The two most eye-catching players have been young starlets Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller (aged 21 and 20 respectively); it is hard to fathom that just over a year ago Muller was an unknown player in the Bayern Munich reserve team.

* Argentina is a prime example of an affliction suffered by many national teams that club teams usually do not; an imbalance of talent in position-wise. The Argentines have 5 amazing strikers, 2 of whom can barely get a game; yet they are only a little better than average in defence and midfield. Thus the strikers have to do much of the creative work on their own.

* This World Cup has seen two incidents of handball on the goal-line leading to red cards and penalties, both by opponents of Ghana. However, the outcomes were vastly different and example of the cruel nature of the football's current rules. Harry Kewell's handball in the group game was clearly not intentional, and thus the straight red and subsequent penalty seemed a little harsh; particularly as it likely cost Australia a victory. On the other hand, Luis Suarez's handball in Ghana's game against Uruguay was entirely deliberate; had he not done it, Ghana would have won without a doubt as it was in stoppage time. Instead, Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty, Uruguay survived into extra time and eventually won via penalty shootout. Kewell was unlucky to be standing in the wrong place with his hand slightly extended; Suarez deliberately cheated and sacrificed himself to keep his team in the competition. Yet the two men received the same punishment, which seems unjust. FIFA should look at an alternative approach; here is my suggestion. If a handball stops a ball that is definitely goal-bound; award the goal automatically. Then award a red or yellow card to the offender according to whether it was deemed avoidable or deliberate. Players would then be less likely to cheat in such a way (since the element of chance from a possible penalty is removed); and it would not unduly punish a player who did not deliberately cheat.

* The contender for the Golden Boot that few would have predicted from the outset? Wesley Sneijder, who is at the heart of everything good the Dutch team do. The victory by the Netherlands over Brazil was not vintage football in a purist sense, with both teams tiring markedly in the second half; yet the desperation and tension made it a great game to watch. It was precisely those qualities whose absence marked the group stages as dull and uninteresting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Asian drivers are safer. Seriously?

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

East beats West when it comes to road manners and safety
PEOPLE born in Asian countries are safer drivers than those born in Australia, according to traffic safety researchers.
Young drivers born in Asia had half the risk of being involved in a traffic crash compared with their Australian-born counterparts, a study of 20,000 P-plate drivers in NSW found.
They were also less likely to speed, tailgate and drive while distracted by things such as mobile phones and loud music, compared with drivers born here and in other countries.

Soufiane Boufous, the study leader and a senior research fellow in injury and epidemiology at the George Institute for International Health at the University of Sydney, said his team wanted to identify and help particular ethnic groups that were more at risk of accidents.
''But then we found it was the Australian-born people who had the higher risk [and] Asian drivers were the least likely to take risks,'' he said.
More than 31 per cent of drivers born in Australia, and 30 per cent of those born in regions outside Australia and Asia, admitted to risky behaviours. But only about 25 per cent of those born in Asia admitted to the same behaviours, he wrote in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.
Dr Boufous said Asian-born drivers might have been safer than others born overseas in part because the Asian people in the study tended to have lived in Australia for a shorter time.
''We found that the longer people stay here the more likely they are to change and become similar to the Australian-born people,'' he said.
A clinical psychologist, Jeroen Decates, said young people who had grown up in Australia tended to be more likely to break rules and take risks than those from many Asian countries.
Yet the stereotype that Asian drivers were not good drivers persisted.
Much of the reason for the stereotype might be that people are more likely to notice when someone from an Asian background drove badly than when someone from a different background did because it confirmed their beliefs.
''When everyone else says something we are more likely to think it must be true,'' he said. ''We always look for confirmations of our own beliefs.''

Interesting. Stereotype debunked, then?
I'm happy to have a study to quote next time someone decides to unthinkingly brand Asians as bad drivers. "Hah! How you like them apples?" I can say.
At the same time, I am a little puzzled. And some of y'all may not like me for this. Because I confess, I happen to believe the stereotype, at least to a certain extent.

Now believe me, as a person of Asian extraction I have absolutely no interest in having the Asians-as-bad-drivers stereotype proven true. I wince every time I see an Asian driver doing something stupid, and I'd love to be able to confidently claim driving as yet another thing Asians excel at.

But I have my doubts. Because I see a lot of Asians out on the roads driving in a manner fully in keeping with the negative stereotype of them.

Maybe the last line of that article is true: ''When everyone else says something we are more likely to think it must be true... We always look for confirmations of our own beliefs.''

I had never had any presupposed notion that Asians were bad drivers until my late teens, when I heard a couple of people mention it. After that, I started noticing them EVERYWHERE. So maybe that's it. A lot of people from minority groups are extra sensitive about how other members of their group behave in public; it's part of a desire that your fellow ethnics "represent" well in front of the mainstream majority.

My own take the Asians-as-bad-drivers idea has been that it's not so much an Asian thing as an immigrant thing. Meaning that people who grow up in Australia tend to learn the Australian driving culture; those who move here after learning to drive elsewhere might take some of the habits of their mother country with them, habits which might be fine there but are jarring when transplanted onto Australian roads. (The same way I struggle to drive in Malaysia because I'm not accustomed to the norms of Malaysian roads.) I figured that Asians get all the negative attention in Australia because they are more easily identified as being foreign. A European migrant might get noticed as a bad driver, but not perceived as foreign. An Asian migrant who drives badly in a 90% white country cannot hide their "foreignness".

And given that all of us do some dumb sh*t on the roads from time to time, of course you will see Asians doing some of that dumb sh*t. You'll see white folks doing it too, but you'll be less likely to see them as a "bloody white driver", because in a mostly white country, whiteness is the default and therefore mostly invisible.


The study you read above is about safe drivers. And this is the other factor to remember when considering whether one particular group is better or worse behind the wheel than any other. Is being a "safe driver" the same as being a "good driver"?

When asked "what makes a good driver?" each of us will think about different aspects of driving. For example, the ability to get a car to perform at its best under various sorts of conditions. Or it could be showing courtesy to others on the road. Or observance of all the road rules; or of all those "unwritten road rules" which just about every driver in a given country understands. Or it could be that instinctive feel for what is happening on the road around you.

Those are all important aspects of driving. However, you'd have to recognise that probably the most important aspect to being a good driver is that you don't go around crashing into things. Whether or not you are a super-courteous driver who knows all the road rules to the letter, if you keep on having accidents, you are quite possibly not a good driver.

I definitely observe plenty of Asian drivers young and old who seem to lack sufficient knowledge of road rules, in particular the unwritten rules. And plenty who drive as if they are oblivious to what others on the road are doing or trying to do. I don't know if I see Asians behaving this way more than anyone else, but my preconception about Asians being bad drivers has been based largely on these things.

But are they actually causing accidents? If the study is correct, then no, not as much as the rest of the population. And clearly that's the statistic that really matters.

I quietly consider myself a vastly superior driver to most, but the people who process my accident insurance claims might have a different point of view on that. And they don't even know about the minor scrapes I don't claim, let alone the near misses. I occasionally tease one of my Asian buddies about what I consider his granny-like approach to driving speed, but I'll also admit he's a lot more careful than I am. I'll get somewhere 20 seconds quicker than he, but he's probably less likely to have run someone over on the way.

If an Asian guy cuts in front of you without signalling, or drives at 46kmph in front of you when the speed limit is 60, that's merely annoying. But if a non-Asian guy's car ploughs into you while you are out walking your dog because he was speeding and distracted by trying to select a new track on his MP3 player... well, I know which one I'd prefer.

More like this...

Ah, the insanity of driving in Malaysia

Asians accused of being bad drivers - by a senior citizen

Eliot Chang on being asked racist questions about Asians

Another reason for racists to stay off the internet

In the age of Facebook, Myspace and their other less popular cousins (Bebo, Tagged, Friendster, etc) all kinds of information about an individual is out there in the public domain for all to see. And while some of that information might be fine for your circle of like-minded compadres, you may not necessarily  want prospective employers finding out what you REALLY think about those stinking immigrants. Likewise, when you get busted for drunkenly assaulting and abusing several non-white people and are trying to convince the judge you are not a racist, posting your hateful views on a social networking site may not be the smartest thing you have ever done, in hindsight...

TWO Hobart brothers are behind bars after admitting to a series of shocking racist attacks on strangers.
Samuel Craig Bigwood, 20, and Benjamin Nigel Bigwood, 18, both from Claremont, yesterday admitted punching and kicking two young university students in North Hobart last September 26.
Samuel also admitted bashing an African refugee on the same night after telling him he was a "black dog" and "not a human being".
The Supreme Court in Hobart was shown printouts from Samuel's MySpace page, which is full of white supremacist slogans and racist images.
The court heard the brothers got drunk at the Mustard Pot in Moonah before catching a taxi to North Hobart.
Samuel Bigwood later said he had consumed between 15 and 25 "Bundy and Cokes".
As taxi driver Fayia Isaiah Lahai drove the brothers and a third man towards the city, Samuel said to him: "You're a black dog animal and not a human being."
Mr Lahai said: "I am a human being, just like you", to which Samuel replied: "You are not."
He punched the driver twice to the face and three times to his ear.
The men then got out of the cab without paying the fare, but not before Samuel poured the contents of his beer into the car.
The three men got cash from the Commonwealth Bank ATM on the busy Elizabeth St restaurant strip in North Hobart, just as university students Ryan Brown and Andrew Farquhar were approaching.
The Bigwoods made comments to Mr Brown, whose mother is Indonesian, to the effect of: "You'd better watch yourself" and "He's just a Asian."
They also called him a "Chink".
Crown prosecutor Tony Jacobs said Mr Brown, 21, gave the thumbs-up sign and tried to walk on, but was attacked by the trio.
He was punched in the head a number of times, knocked down and repeatedly kicked.
When Mr Farquhar tried to intervene he too was punched and kicked repeatedly to the head and body.
Police were called and the three were arrested as they tried to flee.
Mr Brown suffered a fractured eye socket and still experiences reduced sight and nightmares.
Mr Jacobs condemned the attack on Mr Lahai, who he said was vulnerable as a taxi driver working at night.
The refugee from Sierra Leone had worked long hours to support his wife and four children while he finished his university studies, but had since given up the job out of fear, Mr Jacobs said.
Samuel Bigwood's lawyer Kim Baumeler argued the attacks were not racially motivated and her client had in fact enjoyed spending time with people of various races.
"He's mortified that these incidents are being portrayed as ... racist attacks," Ms Baumeler said.
That assertion was rejected after Mr Jacobs produced images from Samuel's MySpace page, which is full of racist slogans such as "100% white, 100% proud" and "f..k off we're full" on a map of Australia.
Justice Peter Evans said it was clear Samuel was "contemptuous of people of a different race" and prone to drunken violence against those he considered "his inferiors".
Benjamin Bigwood's lawyer Garth Stevens said his client was an industrious young man with an excellent future ahead of him.
"This was an aberration, as bad as it was, that won't be repeated," Mr Stevens said.
"He doesn't go out at all or very rarely since the events of this night."
The court heard the men's father Nigel Bigwood was murdered after a bar-room brawl in Zeehan in 2004 and both were terrified of running into their father's killer in prison.
Samuel pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and Benjamin pleaded guilty to two counts.
They were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on Monday. Their mother broke down in tears as they were taken into custody.

The two brothers seem like pretty troubled individuals, as you can see from this story; their father was killed while drunkenly confronting someone with an axe, which probably tells you quite a bit about their upbringing. But you could also point out that having a Myspace page with images like these (left) are pretty clear signs of a troubled persona also. I won't claim to know the minds of these two men, but perhaps it is evidence of how hatred can be an easy refuge for those who are dealt a sh*tty hand in life.