Sunday, May 31, 2009

Asians taking over Melbourne's phone book

In the latest edition of Melbourne's residential phone directory, the White Pages, Smith is still the most common surname listed; there are around 7000 of them, more than twice the nearest competitor.
But a change is brewing! In second place is that Vietnamese favourite, Nguyen, while Singh comes in at third place.

Indeed, in the inner city and northern suburbs, there are more Nguyens than Smiths. While in the more affluent beachside suburbs of the inner southeast, the Anglo names are still dominant.

While the prevalence of Nguyens says something about Melbourne's large Vietnamese community, it actually says more about the dominance of the name itself among Vietnamese. Approximately 38% of people in Vietnam are named Nguyen, with Tran the next most common at 11%.
Despite its frequency (Nguyen is the 7th most common name Australia-wide), it is funny that most people don't know how to pronounce it. "New-an" is the most commonly heard attempt, although I've heard the rather pathetic "Na-goo-yen" before too. "Ng-win" is a better approximation, but not easy for Westerners to wrap their tongues around.

The dominance of Singh also relates not just to our growing Indian population, but about the frequency of the name itself among Indians. Virtually every Sikh male is named Singh (the female equivalent is Kaur), and it is common among non-Sikhs as well.

Here is the top 20:
1 Smith
2 Nguyen
3 Singh
4 Williams
5 Brown
6 Jones
7 Wilson
8 Taylor
9 Lee
10 Anderson
11 Tran
12 Johnson
13 Thomas
14 White
15 Martin
16 Ryan
17 Thompson
18 Young
19 Walker
20 Chen

Honestly, I'm surprised that Lee only came 9th - not only is it a common Anglo surname, but very common among Chinese and ubiquitous among Koreans. Perhaps if we included its variation Li, it might move up the rankings substantially, especially if we include Lai, Lie, Ly, Le and Lay, some pronounced differently but all spelled the same in Chinese.

So while the above list says much about the makeup of our society, there are some things it doesn't say. For example, since the White Pages lists only home numbers and not mobile numbers, how much does it represent who is actually out there? Given that a person named Nguyen, Tran, Singh, Lee or Chen is more likely to live with his or her parents for a longer period than a Smith or Jones, does that effect the names' frequency? Just a thought.

Anyway, I was curious to see how my social circle matched with the White Pages' most common names. I did a quick check on my Facebook friends list - strangely, there were no Smiths! Damn, I need to hang out with more white people. No Singhs either!

I feel bad somehow.

However, there were 8 Lees, 8 Ongs, 6 Chens, 6 Wongs, 5 Nguyens, 4 Lims, 4 Trans and 3 Hos (as in the surname Ho, don't get it twisted). Yep, the Yellow Peril is definitely coming, and its started with my Facebook profile.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Barcelona win the Champions League

Barcelona triumphed yesterday 2-0 in the final of the Champions League against Manchester United, courtesy of goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. It was a deserved victory. Even though their victory in the semi-final against Chelsea was mostly due to some unbelievably bad refereeing, it is hard to argue that Barca have not been the best team in Europe this season. Not only have they laid waste to all their domestic opponents, but they have done it the "right" way, relying on their technical ability and skillful passing game rather than Chelsea's brute force. Manchester United, the team that perhaps has the best balance of skill and toughness, were good this season but not as imperious as the previous year.

Remarkable also was Barca's victory without their first choice left-back and right-back, Eric Abidal and Dani Alves, due to suspensions in the semi-final, while centre back Rafael Marquez was injured in that same tie. Midfielder Yaya Toure was forced to play at centre back, with Carles Puyol filling in at right-back.

Another subtext in the contest was between the world's two greatest players: reigning World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, and heir apparent Lionel Messi. Despite both being insanely talented, they have very contrasting games; Ronaldo, all muscular 6 feet of him, has a combination of physical size, strength, speed and technique like none before, and can blast the ball in from anywhere. Messi, whose growth was stunted due to a medical condition, looks more like a hobbit, yet can dribble past anyone, and has an ability to make others around him better. In this, he typifies the Barca approach, and his clinching goal in the final has all but guaranteed he will usurp Ronaldo's crown this year.

The big winner in all this? Thierry Henry. The Frenchman, in the autumnal stages of a career as one of the very best players of his era, finally got the one trophy that had eluded him. Having reached the final in 2006 with Arsenal but losing, ironically by Barcelona, it seemed fitting that his new team have allowed him to claim the prize they denied him back then.

Viva Barca!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random comic genius: A Tax on Pimps (from The Daily Show)

If you wanna know why I love The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, all I can say is have a look at this clip, relating to a Georgia congressman's plan to tax pimps. It's brilliant in so many ways.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Hustle and Cash Flow
Daily Show
Full Episodes
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Japan's "Herbivores", or metrosexuals

Very interesting article over at Japan Times about a social trend among Japanese young men. Known as soshokukei or "herbivores", their description seems to recall behaviours that in the West have been labelled "metrosexual". The writer estimates that up to 60% of young men fit into this category in some way.

I love me some sociological analysis of how people's behaviour at the micro level explains broader trends at the macro level. So on that score, the article has a few gems. For example, the murder rate per capita in Japan is now the lowest in the world, due to the lack of pressure to act out traditional manly stereotypes (in turn related to the long period of peacetime Japan has enjoyed).

And how condom sales have plummeted since the internet revolution in 1999, since the soshokukei are noncommital about relationships and find porn to be more convenient for their lifestyle.

Wow, porn makes people less interested in sex? Didn't see that one coming.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Australia is a racist, backward country, says Sol Trujillo

Although he is back in the USA now after finishing his 4-year tenure as Telstra CEO, Sol Trujillo has still got some parting shots for Australia. Apparently there's a lot of racism here and its like stepping back 30 years in time compared to America.

The overwhelming reaction to his comments in the Australian media has been mildly contemptuous. The implication is that having been paid $35 million over 4 years yet seemingly having done nothing useful for the telecommunications giant, Trujillo is trying to make excuses for his underwhelming performance by raising the spectre of racism.

Who's right? Well, as is often the case in these things, there's probably some truth in both arguments.

Trujillo clearly takes issue with some of the racial stereotypes that were invoked when describing him. In particular, PM Kevin Rudd's one-word comment of "Adios" when asked about Trujillo's departure. And the common reference to Trujillo and his 2 American sidekicks, Greg Winn and Phil Burgess, as "the 3 Amigos".

Trujillo has Mexican parents, but was born in Wyoming and does not speak fluent Spanish.

Check also his characterisation in some of the cartoons that appeared in Australian newspapers:

(from the Sydney Morning Herald)

(from The Australian)

(from The Age)

Let me point out again, in case you missed it the first time. Trujillo was born in Wyoming and does not speak fluent Spanish.

Racist? Well think about it this way. Were the Telstra CEO an African-American, would it be acceptable to characterise him as, say a gangster rapper and have a cartoon greeting his departure with the phrase "Peace out, homie"? Were he Chinese-American, would it be okay to draw him in a mandarin's outfit saying "Mee so solly"?

Of course not. That would be racist right?

And in this day and age most reputable news outlets would rightly avoid that sort of thing. Yet for some reason, Mexicans are fair game. Everytime a fast-food chain decides to promote a special new Mexican burger/pizza/chicken wrap or whatever, what image to we see trotted out? A guy in a sombrero, with a pointy moustache and an accent borrowed from Speedy Gonzales. Just like in the numerous newspaper cartoons depicting Trujillo.

Not that I think that there is any real anti-Mexican racism behind all this stuff. But it is lazy stereotyping. And it doesn't do us any credit as a country when our leading papers run that stuff.

In any case, Mr Trujillo is now back home, where he can put this unpleasantness out of his mind and no doubt return to his hobbies of drinking tequila and having siestas under cactuses.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Meet Namata, Flava Flav's Cameroonian clone and world's greatest dancer

Prevailing stereotype: black people are cool and are great dancers

Case for: James Brown, Usher, Gregory Hines, Shabbadoo and pretty much every other black person.

Case against: The following video from Namata. He's a Cameroonian singer - well, "entertainer" might be a better word - based in Denmark. Swiftly becoming a Youtube sensation, he's getting attention beyond his wildest dreams, though perhaps for not all the right reasons.

So while its terribly uncool to laugh at dark-skinned people from developing countries, its still not as uncool as Namata, so its OK. He even looks like he's trying to drug the drink of the chick in this video. So enjoy as he makes himself look like a sex offender, and redefines the art of modern dance in the process.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Awesome Asian Ads - Korea

This next one is quite possibly the most bizarre ad I've ever seen.

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

Above: Just another day at the office for Mr Wang.

On May 15th, China Daily describes the opening of a new sex-themed park in Chongqing entitled "Love Land":

Naked human sculptures, giant replica genitals, a photo exhibition about sex history and sex technique workshops.

Lu Xiaoqing, park manager, said Love Land would be useful for sex education and help adults "enjoy a harmonious sex life".

It will contain an exhibition about sex, including its history and practice in other countries, anti-AIDS measures and the proper use of condoms.

"We are building the park for the good of the public," Lu said.

"Sex is a taboo subject in China but people really need to have more access to information about it."

Wow, sounds either like a place of sexual enlightenment for the notoriously-repressed mainlanders, or like a Beastie Boys concert circa 1988 (what with all those giant genitals).

Yet a mere 3 days later, the park was getting the wrecking-ball treatment, the Communist party officials demanding its closure and destruction before it had even opened.

I guess one man's sex education is another man's vulgar pornography.

But fear not, there still exists a Love Land in the Korean city of Cheju. Apparently it is a popular tourist attraction for newlyweds.

Or alternatively if you still have a Love Land jones but can't get to Asia, you can track down the 2002 album of that name by R Kelly. Although the theme park probably pales into comparison with the freaky sh*t R Kelly gets up to.

"Clare the Kings Cross Bogan"

Sydney's latest internet celebrity is Clare Werbeloff, known less flatteringly as "Clare the Bogan" or "Clare the Kings Cross Bogan". She already has a Facebook group devoted to her with over 17,000 members, as well as 1500 members of the group "People that hate Clare the Kings Cross Bogan."

For a bit of background, last week police were investigating a shooting that occurred on the street in the busy entertainment precinct of Kings Cross. Of the many young people congregating around claiming to be witnesses, the Channel 9 reporter came upon Clare, who gave the following, rather entertaining account:

I cringe every time I hear her describing "...these two wogs fighting... and the fatter wog said to the skinnier wog, 'Hey bro! You slept with my cousin, eh?'"

Of course, it has now come out that Clare never actually witnessed the shooting and made up the whole thing.

But I ask: did anyone REALLY think she was a credible witness? Her account sounds exactly like a scene from SBS's show Pizza. And does anyone think "wogs" really talk like that? I mean, maybe a little, but are they really gonna use the phrase "I'll call all my fully sick boyz?"

I'm not sure if Clare is a budding comedian or just a bogan with racist tendencies.

Her Facebook page apparently says she is "loving the attention" and "You all got Punk'd."

Yes, we are laughing Clare, but I'm not sure that it's WITH you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random comic genius: Gina Yashere on Def Jam

While I'm on the Nigerian tip, y'all really need to dig this clip from British comedienne Gina Yashere. The first Brit to ever appear on Def Comedy Jam, she absolutely nails it. One of the best performances I've seen on Def Comedy Jam, which has featured its share of duds amidst the occasional gold.

More Gina Yashere here:

Mrs Omokerede, pushy Nigerian Mum

The Nigerian diaspora: Musicians

Nigerians have got something of a bad rep in recent years, due to the internet scammming operations emanating from that country, and the involvement of some Nigerians in criminal activity in some parts of the world. Yet often overlooked is the contribution of Nigerian immigrants to Britain (with 3 million people of Nigerian descent), the US (1 million) and elsewhere. In the US, ethnic Nigerians have one of the highest rates of educational attainment of any immigrant group, and are disproportionally represented in the fields of medicine, academia and working for Fortune 500 companies.

There are also a great many folks of Nigerian origin in the music industry, including some who you may not have thought of...

Seriously, how sexy is Sade Adu? Not only is she thoroughly hot, but she's got the breathy pure tones, sexy grooves backing her, and a sexy name to boot. Her full name is Helen Folasade Adu, but I can't imagine a band named "Helen" making quite the same impact with lovers everywhere. Born in Nigeria, her father was a Yoruba lecturer and mother an English nurse. With her band (also named Sade, obviously), she scored worldwide hits like "Smooth Operator" and the Grammy-winning "No Ordinary Love". If I ever get married, expect "Kiss of Life", below, to play some role in the wedding ceremony. Sexy.

His full name is Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, but most know him just as Seal. While his music has kinda gone downhill since his stunning 1991 self-titled debut album and single "Crazy", you gotta respect the guy. Not only does he have a wonderful voice, but he proves that you can have a skin condition that causes severe facial scarring and hair loss, yet still get it on with a string of supermodels.

There are few female voices more distinctive than that of Shirley Bassey. The Welsh-Nigerian singer has carved out a 50-year career in the biz, but is still best known for her title themes of the James Bond films "Goldfinger", Diamonds are Forever" and "Moonraker". Personally I can't go past her 1997 collab with the Propellerheads, "History Repeating."

As the lead singer of soul-pop duo Lighthouse Family, Tunde Baiyewu scored a global hit in 1997 with the kinda cheesy but very pleasant "High", and is now pursuing a solo career. Interestingly, his mother is married to the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

You might recognise Nigerian-born American Tunde Adebimpe from acting turns in recent film Rachel's Getting Married, or 2001 indie flick Jump Tomorrow. But he is perhaps better known as lead singer of so-hot-right-now Brooklyn art-rockers TV On The Radio.

Stereotypes being what they are, you probably wouldn't expect someone who looks like Kele Okereke to be the frontman of an indie rock band, but life's funny like that. The singer/guitarist of indie darlings Bloc Party was born in Liverpool to Ibgo parents.

As much as the world loves Idol and other talent quest shows, how often do they actually produce a decent artist? Lemar (surname Obika) placed only third on Britain's Fame Academy in 2002, yet parlayed that into a successful solo career that kicked off with the great single "Dance (With U)".

Remember "It Must Be Love", massive hit for Madness in the 80s? It was a cover of a song by Labi Siffre, a British singer, musician and poet born of a Nigerian father and a British mother with Barbadian and Belgian ancestry. Siffre's other most notable work is "I Got The", the breakdown of which forms a key sample in two hip-hop classics: Eminem's "My Name Is..." and Wu-Tang Clan's "Can It All Be So Simple". Interesting fact: When Dr Dre requested sample clearance for "My Name Is", which he was producing for not-yet-a-star Eminem, Siffre initially refused to allow its use. He only assented after Eminem agreed to rewrite homophobic lyrics that the openly gay Siffre objected to. The song was released, funky sample intact, and a star was born. Is there irony in the fact that Eminem, frequently criticised for homophobia, owes his breakthrough to the music of a gay man?

London-born Ben Chijioke is better known as rapper Ty. His second album "Upwards" scored a Mercury Prize nomination in 2004, and features the futuristically cool "Groovement", as well as "The Willing", which taps his Nigerian roots in collaboration with Afrobeat's master drummer Tony Allen. Will post that up sometime. By the way, whoever has borrowed my copy of Upwards, give it back now you bastard.

Born to Yoruba parents in Washington DC (a city not known for producing MCs), hipster rapper Wale is making a bit of a splash these days, with his solo releases and guest spots for artists like The Roots and Mark Ronson. His real name is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin.

Can't say I've really dug much that Jamiroquai have done since the early 90s, but can't deny that Jay Kay has himself a smokin' tight band. One of those members is Sola Akingbola, a British/Nigerian percussionist who also is the lead singer of his own band. That's him on the congas in this clip.

Coming up very soon: Nigerian diaspora actors

Disgraceful attacks on Indians continue in Melbourne

Dammit. I can't understand what the hell is going on in this town.

Another attack on a young Indian man, minding his own business on his way home on the train from work. Again, it occurred in the Western suburbs. 21-year-old Sourabh Sharma beaten by a gang of youths - not an "ethnic gang" as some commentators may try to spin it, just a group of kids of mixed ethnicity, united in thuggery.

It was caught on video - you can catch it below (you may have to sit through a 30-second ad first).

Cowardly is the first word that comes to mind to describe the attack.

There's an impassioned article about this issue in the Age by Nazeem Hussein, a Sri Lankan/Australian comedian, youth worker and director of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

Racism has always been around in Australia, but this epidemic of racist attacks is not something we tend to see often, until now. To the Victorian Government, the police, the public transport operator Connex - this has reached crisis point. Do something now.

Dan Choi and "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

In news from the States this week, Korean-American Dan Choi, a veteran of the Iraq conflict and an Arabic speaker (for which there is a clear demand), was discharged from the army after revealing himself as gay in a television interview.

As far as we know, Choi is a well-respected soldier, and his sexuality is not an issue with how he does his job. It's not like he's Carson from Queer Eye or anything.

Here is some footage of an interview with Choi.

If you want a different perspective, check here - doesn't strike me as a particularly convincing argument though.

But the best rebuttal comes from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Can't say it any better than they do.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Dan Choi Is Gay
Daily Show
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Hat tip: Angry Asian Man

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Global funk connections: MC Solaar

Did I ever mention I have a serious thing for French hip-hop? I mean, when its done right, it sounds fantastic, since there are few accents in the world that sound sexier. My fave in the genre is Menelik and No Se's discofied "Quelle Aventure", but overall, you can't talk about French rap without mentioning MC Solaar.

The man otherwise known as Claude M'Barali grew up in Paris but was born to Chadian parents in Dakar, Senegal. After Youssou N'Dor and Akon, he is probably Senegal's third biggest musical export. Releasing his first single in 1990, he swiftly gained in popularity, and to this day is the only French rapper to gain any significant success with English-speaking rap audiences. His career is now 8 albums deep, and includes notable contributions with Guru, Missy Elliot and jazz bassist Ron Carter.

I never understand a single word of it of course, but that doesn't really matter. It's all about sound, and Solaar has one of the smoothest voices around. He could rap about anal warts and it would still sound fly.

The End of the Tamil Tigers?

After 26 years of vicious civil war, the Sri Lankan government has declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with the Tigers' leader Velupillai Prabhakaran being confirmed dead over the weekend.

There is a saying that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, and that is certainly true here. The struggle of Sri Lanka's Tamils is a righteous one; self-determination, and freedom from oppression by the Sinhalese-dominated government. The LTTE however can claim little moral high ground. In response to the discrimination and atrocities perpetrated by the goverment, the LTTE have cultivated a legacy of brutal and abhorrent acts. They have murdered civilians and employed child soldiers. They have been responsible for the death of two heads of state; former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. And they invented that most heinous form of terrorism, the suicide bomber, and even trained Islamic terrorist organisations in the practice.

I know of many reasonable and intelligent Tamils who have supported the Tigers; indeed, despite being banned as a terrorist organisation in most Western democracies, the LTTE have survived in part due to economic support from Tamils in those very countries. But I believe the world will be better off with the demise of the LTTE. It would be foolish to expect the Sri Lankan government to embark on an approach that will satisfy Tamils, and doubtless we will not have seen the last atrocity committed against Tamil civilians; but the LTTE helped create the political climate in which many of those atrocities occurred. There now exists a vacuum where hopefully a new, peaceful force can emerge as the voice of the Tamil people.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Communication challenges in Malaysia

One of my realisations during my recent trip to Malaysia is that it seems to be a country fraught with communication problems. I'm just not talking about my communication problems as a foreigner, that's a given. I mean Malaysians themselves having difficulty getting messages across to one another. Only the thing is, I think they are so used to it that they just take it for granted now.

The problem is this:

Most Malaysians speak 2 languages, very frequently 3, and not uncommonly 4. Which is good for communication in one sense. The problem is that typically, they only speak one of those languages well. Now this works fine most of the time. Because most day-to-day interactions are either with people of similar social position who share your first language, or if they don't speak your first language, you probably know enough of a shared language to get the basic idea across.

But "getting the basic idea across" only goes so far. To get specific and detailed information out of people can be a real challenge.

The best example of this is in a restaurant. In the vast majority of eateries, you'll have no problem ordering food. Should you ever want to know anything more specific about the food however, that's when the problems arise. So, "One ice coffee" will be understood, no problem. Asking, "Does the ice coffee use fresh milk or condensed milk?" means your chances of getting a satisfactory answer are considerably lower. "Do you have anything gluten-free?" will either get you a quizzical look, or a response of "No, nothing for free here. Must pay."

Most restaurant workers' English only goes to a certain point. If you know Malay, you can try that instead. But of course, unless they are actually Malay, their Malay will only go so far as well.

Malaysian people have totally internalised this and adapted their behaviour. For all the diversity of Malaysian food, all the Malaysians I know seem to almost always order something familiar. There are a number of different common categories of restaurants (Chinese, South Indian, mamak, kopitiam, etc), which each have a more or less standard selection food items. Thus, a local rarely spends long looking at the menu (which is usually written on the wall). Indeed, we went to one Chinese restaurant that actually had no menu; we just said what we wanted, with a few suggestions from the waitress, and it was done.

Another way that Malaysians adapt to language challenges is to instinctively judge a person's ethnic background and social status, which gives clues as to which language to address them in. This happens so often in Malaysia that I don't think anyone even thinks about it - its a split-second appraisal just before opening the exchange.

Here is a rough guide to how it works, and I'm obviously making gross generalisations here:

SOCIAL STATUS: Working class
1st LANGUAGE: Hokkien, Cantonese or other
SPEAKS MALAY: enough to get by

SOCIAL STATUS: Wealthy/middle class
1st LANGUAGE: English or Hokkien/Cantonese/etc
SPEAKS MALAY: fairly well
SPEAKS ENGLISH: probably fairly well

SOCIAL STATUS: Working class
1st LANGUAGE: Tamil
SPEAKS MALAY: fairly well
SPEAKS ENGLISH: a little if you're lucky

SOCIAL STATUS: Wealthy/middle class
1st LANGUAGE: English
SPEAKS MALAY: fairly well
SPEAKS TAMIL: probably, but not necessarily well

SOCIAL STATUS: Working class
1st LANGUAGE: Malay
SPEAKS ENGLISH: a little if you're lucky

SOCIAL STATUS: Wealthy/middle class
1st LANGUAGE: Malay
SPEAKS ENGLISH: probably fairly well

ETHNIC GROUP: Chindian (half Chinese, half Indian)
SOCIAL STATUS: Wealthy/middle class
1st LANGUAGE: English
SPEAKS MALAY: fairly well
SPEAKS TAMIL: not necessarily
SPEAKS CHINESE: not necessarily

But a lot of these suppositions are flawed too. If you are Chinese and meet a fellow Chinese, he or she will not necessarily speak the same dialect as you. Likewise, if you are Tamil and go to speak Tamil to a fellow Indian, there's a chance he may be Malayalee instead. And then, just to complicate things, there are the indigenous peoples. In Sarawak, for example, the Ibans look pretty much like Malays. But they do not necessarily speak Malay well and are likely to prefer English.

And of course there are foreign workers. Malaysia is full of them - Filipinos, Indonesians, Burmese, Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Indians - and all can be easily confused some kind of Malaysian national. The guy serving you in a mamak joint, for example, is quite likely to be fresh off the boat from Chennai and will speak little or no Malay and little better English.

It is no wonder that in this crowded linguistic environment, Manglish was born. Manglish (short for Malaysian English, though it could equally mean mangled English) is basically a creole language, English reduced to its simplest form for use across cultures. It's a language where you can say things like, "Hey where got? No, dowan lah... hey why like that? Can or cannot?" and it makes perfect sense. Grammar and all the other things that make standard English such a difficult language to learn, become unimportant and insignificant details that can be dispensed with easily. Indeed, its syntax frequently resembles Malay or Cantonese more than English.

Manglish is not used in any official capacity, and never really written down. Some Malaysians might speak a bit of Manglish but be no good at standard English, whereas Malaysians who speak good standard English will often slip in and out of Manglish depending on the situation and who they are talking to.

Manglish (like the almost identical Singlish, or Singaporean English) contains a large number of words and phrases that would make little sense to speakers of standard English. Many of these are borrowed from Chinese dialects, Malay, and to a lesser extent Tamil. There are too many to list here, but here are some of the favourites I have picked up:

fong fei kei: to bail on a plan, to not show up when agreed. (“Why you always fong fei kei, man?”). Sometimes abbreviated to FFK.

ta pao: to get take away. (“You going out for mee goreng? Ta pao some for me.”

talking cock: talking crap. (“What you do last night? We just hang out at the kopitiam, talking cock.” Not as rude as it sounds, it comes from the phrase “cock and bull story”.

shiok: awesome, outstanding. (“That movie is damn shiok, lah.”)

shiok sendiri: full of oneself. (“You so shiok sendiri!”) Sendiri means “self” in Malay, so this phrase literally refers to someone who thinks they are pretty shiok.

Awesome Asian Ads - India

The end of errant male urination: the Angel Lap Pillow

Our cleanliness-focused and industrious friends the Japanese have come up with a product that is designed to remove the pervasive societal problem of misdirected urination. It's called the Angel Lap Pillow, and basically its a small padded bench, or pair of benches, for men to kneel upon while peeing. Scientists (and yes, apparently there are scientists that study urination splashes) have determined that urination from a standing height creates lots of incidental splash droplets, so the logic goes that by positioning the male member at a height closer to the rim of the toilet the pillow minimises splash droplets.

Sure, it's extremely emasculating for men. But hey, I think its a great idea. I am constantly amazed by the phenomenal capacity for blokes to put puddles of urine anywhere other than the bowl. You'd think that if you had to do one task several times a day, every day, for your whole life, you'd be pretty good at it. Nuh-uh! One would be forgiven for thinking that men are subconsciously marking their territory by spraying it everywhere.

So anything that tackles this epidemic that afflicts our world, and makes public toilets everywhere stink, is a winner in my book.

Not that I'm gonna be rushing out to buy one. I'm quite proud of my ability to keep it within the bowl. Sure, my aim has strayed a number of times in my life - usually in the morning or when I've been engaging in saucy activities - but fortunately toilets come with toilet paper so it can be swiftly mopped up and no one will ever know.

My other concern is that using the Angel Lap Pillow seems to put one's thighs and pants in too close proximity to the bowl's rim, a porcelain surface that is frequently flecked with urine and probably rife with bacteria. Can't speak for anyone else, but my Love Gun is not so ginormous (damn Asian genes) that I'd be able to do the kneeling pee without my pants touching the rim.

The Angel Lap Pillow sells for the equivalent of around $USD60, which is a fair whack when you consider that aiming better costs nothing. In fact, many Japanese men have taken this idea to its logical conclusion - not wanting any of those unsavoury droplets, around half of adult men are now peeing sitting down. That's quite astonishing, and its a recent trend. For more on the fascinating world of Japanese toilet behaviour, check here.

Random comic genius - Akmal Saleh

One of my favourite Australian comedians, the Egyptian-born Saleh does the ethnic schtick well but is not restricted by it. This is by no means his best work, and some of his funniest stuff is off-the-cuff, but it's still worth a few good laughs.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Movie Review: Ong Bak 2

Back in 2003, a martial arts flick out of Thailand appeared in mainstream cinemas around the world and made a big splash with the intense physicality of its action sequences, and its distinctive Thai flavour that set it apart from the more familiar Chinese kung fu films. That movie was Ong Bak and it introduced the world to a new action star in Tony Jaa.

Following that film’s success, Jaa followed it up with the lackluster Tom Yum Goong (also known as The Protector). While the plot of Ong Bak was not particularly brilliant, at least it made sense, but TYG was the action equivalent of a porn movie; a silly threadbare plot serving as only as an excuse to fill the space between its (admittedly impressive) fight scenes.

Jaa is back again starring in and directing Ong Bak 2, but bizarrely, it has absolutely no relationship to the original Ong Bak. Rather than modern-day Bangkok, Ong Bak 2 is set in the year 1471 in a Thailand riven by upheaval and the warring Ayuthaya and Sukhothai kingdoms. Jaa plays Tian, the son of a general slain by the would-be ruler. Tian escapes as a young boy and is raised by bandits who instruct him in the fighting arts. But as you can guess, he’s inevitably going to seek revenge against the man who killed his family.

That’s about all I could work out from the plot of Ong Bak 2. Because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m willing to concede that perhaps the dodgy pirated DVD that I watched the movie on had some inconclusive subtitling, which may have contributed to my not really understanding what was going on. I don’t mean the storyline is complicated in a Being John Malkovich kind of way, more in a “let’s not worry too much about plot details” kind of way. I found myself asking too many questions. Why are they fighting these guys? Who’s this guy? Are Tony Jaa’s teeth really that bad or is it just his character? And so on.

On the plus side, the film frequently looks fabulous, despite some occasionally clumsy editing. In contrast to the highly ordered world of ancient China that we are more familiar with from kung fu movies, the film’s vision of a mystical medieval Thailand is intriguing, and its costume and village set designs immaculate. Its action scenes are impressive, with numerous battles involving both unarmed combat and a multitude of weapons.

Unfortunately it falls into the same trap as Tom Yum Goong by staging fight scenes that make no real sense and serve no purpose other the production team thinking it would be a cool idea. In particular, there is a scene where an elephant inexplicably wanders into the midst of battle and just stands there, so Tian and his opponents fight atop, around and underneath the elephant. It may have sounded like an interesting idea in pre-production, but its just silly.

One of his opponents in that particular battle is the “crow ghost”, some freaky black-cloaked guy who appears out of nowhere to kick some ass with some crazy crow style. Which is kinda cool, but of course, it made me wonder: why does this freaky black-cloaked guy appear out of nowhere to kick some ass with some crazy crow style?

The films also ends on a particularly odd and unsatisfying note, but considering the preceding 115 minutes made little sense anyway, perhaps that is unsurprising.
But hey, it’s a movie that is primarily about people pummeling and slicing up each other, and on that score, its pretty good. Am I asking for too much to want a convincing storyline to go with it?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's been rocking my stereo lately:

"Mayer Hawthorne - I Wish It Would Rain"
Damn, I got a major thing for this new blue-eyed soul artist. If his brilliant first single "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" was some almighty foreplay, then "I Wish It Would Rain" is a helluva climax. (Sorry about the sexual analogies, it's been a while.) Hawthorne is almost unique these days; in an age when the overt machismo of hip-hop has infiltrated R&B to its detriment, no one wants to make this kind of grown-up, tender soul where vulnerability is expressed through falsetto singing. Whereas back in the day, cats like Eddie Kendricks, the Delfonics and the Temprees had some major success with this kind of music. So in that sense, Mayer Hawthorne is doing absolutely nothing that the aforementioned artists haven't done 35 years ago, but that's not the point. This is some beautifully crafted music, and that's really all that matters. A lot of ignorant heads would dismiss this song as kinda wussy, but I figure it takes a real man to sing something this honest and delicate.

50 Cent & Mobb Deep - "Outta Control (Dr Dre Remix)"
Did I say something about macho hip-hop? This is the kind of thing I should really not like. I've always been a bit meh about Fiddy Cent, and Mobb Deep haven't done much worth hearing since last century. Yet with Dr Dre behind the boards, there is a certain synergy in this remix, which is a world away from the original version. I still think Dre is overrated, but from time to time he finds a groove that really hits the spot. It's all about the piano riff for me, its simple enough but when it finally kicks in it takes the track to the next level. This song is a couple of years old now, but hey, I'm not normally checkin' for the latest G-Unit stuff so I only heard it recently.

Dwele - "Vain"
I bang on quite a bit about Dwele in these posts, despite his latest album being not all that amazing really. But of the handful of good songs, this is everything I love about the guy's music. Smooth like butter, jazzy vocal delivery, and an immaculate arrangement.

Black Ivory - You and I
One from the vault - 1972 to be exact. I guess I got a big hankering for falsetto soul this week. If you a fan of Q-Tip's recent bit of awesomeness, "Gettin' Up", you'll recognise the main riff from this gem. I first heard both tracks on Ennio Styles' great show on RRR when he played this first, then the Q-Tip joint, and the one-two-punch made my day. Try it.

Main Ingredient - "Everybody Plays the Fool"
Was playing this a lot in my girlfriend's car in Malaysia recently. Many of you folks will be familiar with Aaron Neville's cover version, but this OG is far superior - great arrangement, great singing, and catchy as hell. Plus this video is from Soul Train, which is always great to watch, especially with host Don Cornelius in particularly pimpin' form. Oh and pop culture buffs will be interested to know that on lead vocal duties for the Ingredient is a certain Cuba Gooding, Snr.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More funny signs

There's an enjoyable series of funny sign pictures entitled "sign language" in the UK's Telegraphat the moment. It's worth checking out, particularly if you love a bit of Engrish as I do. Here is a sample:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Awesome Asian Ads - Malaysia

British Sikh police officers getting bullet-proof turbans

James Bond, eat your heart out. It's the new religious fashion accessory that every Sikh ass-kicker simply must have. British scientists are working on designing a turban made from kevlar-type material which can withstand bullets, to be worn by Sikh police officers.

Currently, turban-wearing Sikhs cannot work as firearms or riot police, since they their religion prevents them from removing their turban to don a helmet. But thanks to modern technology, they will soon be able to wear a ballistic turban and thus will be allowed to put themselves in situations where they can get shot at. Lucky them.

Masanobu Sato successfully defends title at 9th annual Masturbate-a-thon

In "WTF?!" news this week, San Francisco (where else?) held its 9th annual Masturbate-a-thon. Seriously. It's a charity event to raise funds for the Centre for Sex and Culture, which houses the event; but essentially its an opportunity for people to get together and spank the monkey. And there are even awards for level of performance - distance (5 feet 4 inches is the current record), number of climaxes, and duration. Setting a new record this year for longest time spent cleaning the pipes was last year's champion, Masanobu Sato, who flew all the way from Japan to defend his title.

Sato, who works for the company Tenga which produces a kind of vagina-in-a-can product which he used for the session, set a new record of 9 hours and 58 minutes continuously getting a grip on himself.

His mother must be so proud.

Who knew that stroking the salami was a competitive sport? Could there be truth to the rumours that this will be trialled at the next Olympic Games? (My dreams of being a pro athlete may still have hope!) You heard it here first, y'all.

Like this? You may like:

The worlds best ad for vibrators, ever

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

Social workers not sexy, says new survey

Friday, May 8, 2009

"The Truth About Gooks and Wogs" - Hung Le and Gab Rossi

Was fortunate to catch the last show of local comedians Hung Le and Gab Rossi at the Comedy Festival this week. And it was great stuff. With a name like "The Truth About Gooks and Wogs", you pretty much know what you're gonna get, and the easily offended need not watch either of the following videos, which capture much of what the guys were doing. Glad I didn't watch these before going to the show though, since its much the same material.

Guess Who's Asian? (Part 4)

Asianness is everywhere, in places you might not expect...

First up: Vanessa Hudgens, actress and singer, best known for starring in the movie High School Musical. Her father is of Native American and Irish heritage. Her Mum: Filipino, Chinese and Spanish.

Super Cat
is one of the giants of dancehall reggae - those not into the ragga stuff might know him from collabs with Sugar Ray, Puff Daddy or Method Man. Without having a good look at him, I always just assumed this guy was Afro-Caribbean, yet he is Jamaican of Indian background; his real name is William Maragh.

Remember Phoebe Cates? The 80s teen actor (left), best known for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, has Chinese Filipino descent via her maternal grandmother.

Speaking of 80s stars, Meg Tilly (left) starred in The Big Chill and won a Golden Globe for her title role in Agnes of God. Born Margaret Chan, her father is Chinese American.

Her sister Jennifer Tilly (below left) is known as an actress in many roles (most of which seemingly involve shots of her cleavage - not complaining, just saying...) and also as a professional poker player.

You may recognise British actress Mona Hammond (below); she's been in Eastenders, White Teeth, and 10,000 BC among other works. She was born in Jamaica to a black mother and Cantonese father.

Actress Lindsay Price is known for her roles on Lipstick Jungle, The Bold and the Beautiful and lots of other chicky stuff. She's got a Korean mother and German-Irish descent on her Dad's side.

US athlete Bryan Clay is the current Olympic champion in decathlon. Texan-born but raised in the melting pot that is Hawaii, he has an African-American father and Japanese mother.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Smoke one for the people, Chinese civil servants ordered

This week, civil servants in China's Gongan county were ordered to smoke cigarettes. Not just one or two. A target of 230,000 cigarettes was set for all those on local government payroll to smoke in a year. If this target is not reached, they face a fine. But they can only smoke local Hubei cigarettes though - smoke the more popular brand from Hunan, and you get fined also.

You may wonder if this is China's newest plan to tackle its overpopulation problem by getting lots of people to die from lung cancer. But it was all a plan to boost tax revenues; the government can impose taxes on locally-produced cigarettes but not on those from other districts. And given that taxes make up around 40% of the price of a packet of cigarettes, you can see what a lucrative little earner it would have been.

Fortunately, the order was revoked after an uproar, as news of it spread around China and the world. So Gongan's officials can breathe easier.

Well, maybe a little easier, anyway - 56% of adult males in China smoke regularly, and the nation's 350 million addicts puff their way through 2 trillion cigarettes each year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Indonesia's anti-corruption chief arrested for murder

Only in Indonesia would this happen.

It is widely known that Indonesia is still one of the world's most corrupt countries. How corrupt, you ask? Well try this: the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission, Antasari Azhar, has been arrested on suspicion of murder of a prominent state company official.

The drive-by shooting of businessman Nasrudin Zulkarnaen was reportedly due to a love triangle involving the two men and a 22-year old golf caddy.

Azhar claims innocence, implying it is a frame-up, orchestrated by one of the many enemies he has made while fighting corruption. Which is not hard to believe either.

The government may need to form a Corruption Eradication Commission for the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Global funk connections: Los Amigos Invisibles

On the intro track to Los Amigos Invisibles' second album, a breathy Spanish-accented female voice intones, "Welcome to the New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera; a fusion of Latin dance and sex culture."

That tells you most of what you need to know about this ultra-hip quintet (whose name in English means "The Invisible Friends", if you hadn't guessed) from Caracas, Venezuela. Serving up a saucy slice of discofied funk with a little Latin influence on the side, they came to prominence on that second album from 1998, when they were signed to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label. You don't have to speak Spanish to know that these guys have a more than healthy libido - their songs have titles like "Groupie", "Sexy", "Superf*cker" and um... "El Disco Anal". I really wish I understood Spanish, because I've always wondered what the hell an anal disco is. Possibly not the kind of place I'd hang out at though.

Their third album, released in 2000, was titled "Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey into Space". Arepa refers to the cornmeal bread which is virtually Venezuela's national dish, and the spaceship seen in the very cool video for Cuchi Cuchi (below) looks just like an arepa.

Superf*cker is off their 2008 album "En una noche tan linda como ésta". 17 years after the bands inception and they are obviously still caliente (horny).

Melbourne a measly 18th most liveable city

Human resource consultancy firm Mercer has released its latest rankings of which cities in the world have the best quality of life. And Melbourne, my beloved Melbourne, staggers in at a lowly 18th in the world. Normally I wouldn't be all that bothered about it - 18th in the world at anything is not so bad when you think about it - except for the fact that we were beaten by Sydney (10th) and 2 New Zealand cities - Auckland (equal 4th) and Wellington (12th).

F*** off. I mean, I've never been to New Zealand, but how good could it be? If the place is so bloody unbelievably outstanding, how come half the country has migrated to Australia?

And Sydney? Come on. I mean, Sydney is flashy and superficially impressive, but that's just it. It's like a hot chick with little depth of personality; you'd go there, but why would you want to have a lifelong relationship with the place?

Whereas Melbourne has it all:

Great public transport - trains now only 8 minutes late during peak hour!
Excitement - roam around the city centre on Saturday night and see how many fights you can get into. (But don't forget to bring your gang of drunken yobs!)
Infrastructure - our new super-efficient integrated road network will get you wherever you want to go in no time. Or at least it will in 2026, when they finally finish roadworks on the Monash freeway.

In case you're wondering which cities made top of the list, Vienna is number 1 with a bullet, Zurich drops down to number 2, Geneva is at three and Vancouver is equal 4th. Surprisingly Mogadishu, Pyongyang and Harare appear to have just missed the cut this time around.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Japanese Lucky Golden Poo

Here it is, the really sh*t gift (sorry, couldn't help myself) for the person who has everything. Apparently it's based on the similarity of the words "lucky" and "poo" in kanji script. A great conversation starter, and possibly ender.

If you really want to buy this (and honestly I can't imagine why), it's available at ThinkGeek.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Awesome Asian Ads - Indonesia

Just to add context to this first one, the word susu has the double meaning of both "milk" and "breast".

While its surprising to see ads like these in a Muslim country, I know a great many Indonesian men who love a bit of bawdy humour, so I guess it's not too surprising. The Eurasian hottie in this one is model/actress Asmirandah Zantman.

This last one's not a funny one, but I like it. Given that smoking is virtually the Indonesian national pastime, its nice to see a clever anti-smoking ad out there, even though its impact would probably be akin to shouting into a hurricane. The ad references the traditional prayers done at Muslim funerals.

The Bankwest Malaysian sunflower ad

I'm not sure whose idea it was to get a Malaysian (or is it Singaporean?) woman to voice this ad, but it was a stroke of genius. I love it.

Foods that make you stink - Fenugreek

I’ve heard a number of people claiming that Indian people have particularly bad BO. I can’t say I can really agree with this – certainly there are some funky-smelling desi folks out there, but are they really stinkier than anyone else? Besides, having dated a number of girls from the subcontinent, I can’t say any of them smelled especially objectionable.

But, if there is any truth to this stereotype, one of the key factors would surely be fenugreek. This small tan-coloured seed, which adds its distinctively warm, bittersweet aroma to curries and other dishes, also adds this same aroma to your sweat and urine after consumption. Its potency is considerable – a teaspoon cooked into your food can have you reeking of it for a couple of days. Mind you, if you look at it objectively, smelling like curry is not really such a bad thing. It’s better than smelling of tobacco or faeces. Nonetheless, smelling like curry is not really gonna win you popularity points, except among cannibals.

Most commonly used is the seed, which is ground and added to dishes, but when planted, the leaves are a useful crop. Frequently found in Indian grocers, the leaves can be cooked just as you would spinach and are delicious. The dried leaves are indispensible for North Indian cuisine; a pinch stirred into a curry at the end of the cooking process makes a huge difference.

Fenugreek also known as halba in Arabic and methi in Hindi, features sporadically in the cuisines of Northern Africa, the Middle East. In the Caucasus, Armenians make a sauce of fenugreek, garlic and paprika to accompany meats, while its dried leaves are a common seasoning in the fascinating cuisine of Georgia. It is common in the Horn of Africa; you can find it in the Ethiopian spice paste berbere, while Sudanese even use it to flavour a sweet custard. In the Gulf States it also turns up in a sweet milky drink, while it is used extensively in Yemeni stews and sauces.

But it is in South Asia that fenugreek turns up everywhere, although usually in small quantities. I’ve been into Indian restaurants (and homes, post-cooking) where the smell of fenugreek leaves hangs heavily in the air, overpowering all other smells, and potentially attaching itself to your clothes and hair.

Without fenugreek, Indian food would be a mere shadow of itself, for when cooked properly it adds wonderful flavour notes to the food. Just be conscious of how much you consume if you are planning on having a special someone examining your body up close. I once made a pot of aloo methi – a North Indian dish of stewed potatoes and fenugreek leaves – that was so tasty I ate if for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again. Which was great but lets just say I smelled like I’d been dipped in curry sauce.

The world's first Sikh male supermodel?

San Franciscan entrepreneur Sonny Caberwal has shot into the public eye recently, appearing in German fashion mag GQ, and as a part of a diversity-themed campaign by shoe designer Kenneth Cole. Having signed up with modelling agency Boss and with a number of other magazines keen for his image, he has seemingly become the world's first professional Sikh model. Caberwal had no intention of a modelling career, but when Kenneth Cole was looking unsuccessfully for a turban-wearing model, a friend suggested he send in a photo. And the rest is history.

Random comic genius: "Down the Line" on Immigration

The BBC's Radio 4 features comedy show "Down the Line", which recently devoted a talkback session on the thorny issue of immigration. It's clever and funny stuff.

Global funk connections: Drunken Tiger

Korean hip-hop, as a concept, would not have struck me as an especially good idea. No offense to Koreans, its just that rapping doesn't necessarily work with every language and accent. And a well-traveled friend of mine, who spent considerable time in Korea, spoke none-too-kindly about Korean rap. So that kinda prejudiced me from the get go.

But if you hang out in Korean karaoke bars as I sometimes do (Melbourne has a number of them), you can stumble upon something unexpected and awesome. So I'm prepared to be corrected.

Don't know a whole lot about Drunken Tiger, some Korean-American guys who decamped to the motherland to blow up the emergent local hip-hop scene. But I'm totally feeling this track, "Good Life"; it has a slammin' beat that borrows from the classic Xzibit joint "Paparazzi", and the guys have a strong flow. Of course, I have absolutely no idea what they are saying, apart from the bit where they yell out "Come on!" But that's OK.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Roti canai terbang - The Way of the Flying Roti

As blogged about previously, one of my great passions in life is Malaysia's iconic flat bread, roti canai. I appreciate it doubly since it is not easy to make at home, so I take any opportunity to get fresh roti made the proper way.

But the pleasure of roti is not solely in the eating. Just watching the mamak guy work the dough is an experience; it is flipped and slapped numerous times until it reaches the desired thinness. A dinner and show, all for about RM1, that's a good deal.

Of course, the theatricality of roti-making can be taken to even higher aesthetic heights, as the below videos illustrate. Terbang in Malay means to fly, and these artistes do some amazing things with it. The fact that the end product is delicious is a minor detail.

If you watched that first one and thought, "That's not that special," you are clearly a hard person to please. But check out the next few videos, which progressively up the ante.

And bear in mind that roti dough is paper thin, sticky to touch and tears all too easily. If you've ever tried to make it at home, you appreciate how hard these tricks are to do.