Monday, December 26, 2011

Random Thailand thoughts

I write this from an internet cafe in Chiang Mai, while next to me a young Buddhist monk in orange robes is busily updating his Facebook status.

That to me says a lot about the kind of place Thailand is.

Thais are such an easy-going and friendly people that it's hard to imagine how country has been riven with violent political protests of late, or how police corruption is such an enormous problem. But that peaceful nature is clearly a must when dealing with Bangkok's notorious traffic. Apparently it's no longer the worst in SE Asia - Jakarta has claimed first prize there - but that says more about what's wrong with Jakarta rather than Bangkok getting any better. Jakarta's public transport system is still barely a notch above dysfunctional, and Bangkok's is outstanding as developing countries go.

I ducked into a pharmacy in Bangkok's mammoth Mah Boon Krong (MBK) shopping centre the other day as I needed to buy some moisturizing cream. (I like my skin to be baby smooth, okay? Don't judge me.) However, it was almost impossible to find any product that didn't trumpet it's "whitening" property as it's greatest asset. I'm quite white enough already, thank you. It's sad that this sort of thing is endemic throughout Asia. The beauty of Thai women is well-known around the world, and despite what most Thais probably think, I'm guessing that having a slightly tanned complexion is part of the reason.

I've written before about Thai names and how they just happen to sound very rude or funny when written down and read by English speakers. I won't add too much to what I've said before, but I'll just mention a few random place names: Gaysorn Plaza, Chong Nonsi, On Nut, and Udom Suk. Oh and let's not forget Anusarn Market.

One thing you may not know is that Bangkok has one of the largest Sikh communities in the world - they make up the vast majority of the 105,000 Indians resident in this city, and most have dual Thai-Indian citizenship. It was this community that brought me to Thailand to celebrate the 4-day wedding of Punjabi friends (he's from Bangkok, she's from Kuala Lumpur). Ending the celebrations by driving off in a "Just married" tuk-tuk was a brilliant touch.

I'm quite conflicted about the multitude of white guy - Thai girl couples that I see everywhere in Bangkok. On one hand, I try not to judge people too much since I don't know them - if I had a SE Asian girlfriend and we went to Thailand together, I'm sure people would look at us in a certain way, and I don't want to leap to conclusions. On the other hand, something about it just creeps me out. On the other hand (I have a lot of hands), if both parties are getting some mutual benefit out of it, then maybe that's a good thing. Then again, there are a helluva lot of victims of many Western men's view of Bangkok as a place to come and satisfy their less saintly urges, and many don't really have a say in their fate.

What bars (both cool and creepy) are to Bangkok, coffee shops are to Chiang Mai. They are everywhere, all with espresso machines and free wi-fi. While this could imply that northern Thais are a bunch of latte-sipping, facebook status-updating yuppies, it's probably more likely that it reflects the different breed of tourist that arrives in Chiang Mai as opposed to Bangkok. Most of them wear fisherman pants.

Speaking of coffee, order a cappuccino in Chiang Mai and odds are it will be dusted not with chocolate but with cinnamon. Which is actually an improvement, to my tastes. But the real coffee to try is kopi boran, meaning "ancient coffee". It's not that ancient really, but appears to be what Thais call any coffee that's neither espresso-machine-based nor Nescafe instant. Kopi boran is usually filtered through what looks like a large sock, and will probably be served with condensed milk unless you ask otherwise. I really like the muddy brew, but then again I tend to like condensed milk in things.

The Dome hotel in Chiang Mai has a ginger cat that rides the elevators like it ain't no thang. That's not necessarily a reason to stay there, but I just thought it was awesome. Like most cats, it has a major sense of entitlement.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Insert innuendo here

This is a popular product in Jamaica, apparently. Courtesy of my friend Roderick Grant.
I couldn't decide between the multitude of double-entendres I wished to caption this photo with, so I'll leave it up to you, the readers. Please leave a comment with your best.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The lure of black music (@ Peril Magazine)

My latest post for the Asian-Australian online arts & culture mag Peril is up and it's about how much culture and ethnicity may influence into liking certain kinds of music, including my own personal journey in musical taste. Check it here.

If you are a wannabe anthropologist like me you can start to speculate about these sorts of things. Why, for instance, do Pacific Islanders have such a love of reggae and soul music? I’d guess that a large factor is that those genres are deeply rooted in the church’s traditions of harmony singing, which is a huge part of Islander culture. In addition, there is clearly something in the meaning and feel of music from black America that resonates with the culture and experiences of the people of the Pacific. Likewise, it’s not hard to see why so many young Sudanese-Australians are so strongly drawn to hip-hop, which shows black people taking pride in themselves. Some things are a bit harder to work out… for instance, what is it with the whole of East Asia and cheesy ballads? That one is still a mystery.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My favourite thing in the world, this week

Seen this yet? If not, enjoy! It's one of the most brilliant ads I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Every scene in it is an absolute winner.

Unfortunately the butt of the joke here, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, apparently did not appreciate it to the same degree. Neither did Mugabe supporters, some of whom made threats to Nando's employees in Zimbabwe, which eventually resulted in the ad being canned. Shame. Still, Nando's, a South Africa-based chain responsible for a great many ads noteworthy for their humorous social commentary, refused to apologise, and good for them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What are the actual benefits of ethnic diversity?

A commenter asked an interesting question on a recent post. I started to write a reply in comment form, but as it started to get lengthy I figured it would be better as a post of its own.

Eurasian sez:
It’s frequently been said that despite the way many Australians laud the benefits of multiculturalism, this embrace of other cultures often doesn’t go any further than our eating habits.

Bay Area Guy sez:
I'd say the same thing applies in the United States. This has been pointed out both by white nationalists and liberals such as Christian Lander (author of the hilarious, and in my opinion very insightful "Stuff White People Like")
When white yuppie/SWPL types say they like "diversity", it usually boils down to one thing: Good "ethnic" food. That, and other things such as music.
In all of my life, I have NEVER heard anyone successfully argue in favor of the notion that racial diversity is a strength (maybe you'll be the first =D).
When they do, it usually revolves around specific items such as food and music. They'll enjoy the food and music, but would prefer to avoid large numbers of the people of that race.
(I don't like using the term "culture" too much, because at least in my experience, PC types use it as a code word for race)

Note: Bay Area Guy is apparently some kind of White Nationalist (I'm familiar with his comments on another blog), but he comes across as open-minded enough for reasonable and respectful discussions, so I guess he's welcome here.

I'll say a few things.

I don't think diversity is all smiles and sunshine. It has both bad and good aspects to it. The problem is, how does one quantify the benefits or drawbacks? To say that a society is improved by diversity is entirely subjective, and I don't think there is any definitive formula that can prove that cultural diversity is awesome. The justifications for diversity can sound perfectly reasonable to many, while to some it may sound just like feel-good hippy nonsense that doesn't have any actual tangible benefits.

I'll also add that I'm not a blind adherent of multiculturalism. I love living in an ethnically diverse society, but for such a society to function it has to be developed and managed correctly. There needs to be the right balance between the expression of diversity on one hand, and integration into the established cultural norms on the other, and I don't think we always get that right. I don't even know if it is possible to get that balance right. So there will always be examples of what is wrong with diversity, if you wish to find them. But I would question whether such an example is due to diversity itself, or the way diversity is managed.

Food and music are mentioned as the usual reasons thrown out for diversity being positive. Let me dwell on music for a moment, with the United States as an example. How that country came to acquire its particular kind of racial diversity -through slavery and oppression - is hardly something to be proud of. Yet the intermingling of European and African cultures has changed global culture immeasurably. Virtually none of the popular music we listen to today would be possible without a mixed-race America, and that includes most genres of music that we tend to think of as "white", such as metal. White folks wouldn't have done it on their own, and neither would Africans.

Is music a triviality? Perhaps, perhaps not. More broadly, it is an aspect of culture, and culture is what tends to change once the ethnic makeup of a country starts to shift. And it's important to note that when we speak of the benefits of diversity, we are speaking primarily in cultural terms rather than economic ones. This is why answering a question like "what are the actual benefits of racial diversity?" is not necessarily easy.

Ethnic diversity also adds new dimensions to other cultural expressions such as sport. While there is a lot of consternation these days about basketball and its increasingly "ghetto" image, it's worth reflecting that the sport could never have become the world-conquering juggernaut that it did in the 80s and 90s without African-Americans. That's a huge worldwide sporting and merchandising industry based around the athletic and aesthetic qualities that guys like Jordan, Magic and Shaq brought to the game. You couldn't build such an industry on the more subtle qualities of a Larry Bird.
Living in a monoculture isn't so bad, but it is nonetheless limiting in the sorts of experiences and ideas that can be generated. And in that sense, ethnic diversity encourages broadmindedness. Sure, there will always be ignorant and close-minded people around, but my hunch is that negotiating a multicultural society actually forces one's mind to think outside the square. There's a reason why country people and small-town people, bless 'em, are stereotyped as being more fixed in their way of thinking and stuck in the past; they are more likely to live in a bubble which mostly includes only people who are like them.

Why do I personally like living in a diverse society? For me, it like travelling without actually having to spend the money to travel. Due to the constraints of time and money, I don't think I'll ever go to Afghanistan, Zimbabwe or El Salvador; yet I've had the fortune to meet many people from those countries. When I do go overseas, I'm not one to lie around on beaches all day; I'm in markets, eating at roadside stalls and trying to get a feel for what the people are all about. I'm someone with a curious mind, and I like to understand the vastness of the human experience, and what the similarities and differences can teach me about myself and those around me.
So I don't know if that answers Bay Area Guy's question at all. But I actually think that a diverse society has made me into a better and more well-rounded human being, if that's worth anything.

Our perceptions of cultural diversity are often based on our own ideals and prejudices. Some of us see a rose-tinted view of a diverse society, in which everyone lives happily ever after and no one has any medieval attitudes which cause angst and disharmony. At the other extreme, some people only see the negative. Neither are right, I think. Yet even the people who condemn diversity are probably unconsciously living a life that would not be possible without it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Asian Food and Australia's Changing Palate (@ Peril Magazine)

Here's another post I have up at Peril (Asian-Australian arts and culture mag): Asian Food and Australia's Changing Palate. The title pretty much says it all.

It’s frequently been said that despite the way many Australians laud the benefits of multiculturalism, this embrace of other cultures often doesn’t go any further than our eating habits. While someone may love the way a diverse society gives them a ready supply of felafels, fried rice and pho, they don’t necessarily interface at any deeper level with the cultures those foods came from. And while I agree that this is largely true, it is nonetheless a good start. Surely the broadening of the Australian palate has had some kind of positive effect on the broadening of our national psyche. I’m not sure how you would measure such a thing, but surely the bogan douchebags who yell out “curry muncher” at passing Indians would be less likely to do so if they could only spend more time munching curry themselves. It’s harder to keep seeing Afghanistan simply as a barbarous wasteland once you’ve discovered the frankly amazing things Afghanis can do with rice and kebabs. So perhaps the dudes slaving away in their shops making shawarma, som tum and futomaki are the ones who are really at the vanguard of combating racism in this country.
Check the full post here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

RIP Howard Tate, 1939-2011

60s R&B singer Howard Tate passed away this week aged 72. Tate was another sadly unappreciated soul giant who is revered amongst crate diggers for his blues- and gospel-tinged recordings, primarily from 1964 and 1968.

Probably the quintessential Howard Tate track is the majestic Get It While You Can. This is perhaps better known as a Janis Joplin song, but it's hard not to argue that Joplin's later version pales beside Tate's original.

Another favourite of mine is Ain't Nobody Home, also better known for being covered by BB King.

The composer of both songs, the great Jerry Ragovoy, also sadly passed away in July this year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jay Smooth on how to talk about racism

And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day. We don’t assume that I’m a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth. And when someone suggests to us that we’ve got something stuck in our teeth, we don’t say “Wh-what do you mean? I have something stuck in my teeth? I’m a clean person! Why would you--”

Gold. That's a bit from this really interesting TEDx talk from Jay Smooth, who is a DJ, blogger and all-round interesting and intelligent dude. I know listening to some guy give a talk for 12 minutes is a little too much like school for some of you people (myself included), but check it out, it's consistently interesting and may just change the way you think about the issue of racism and racist comments.

One more bit I think needs repeating:

We deal with race and prejudice with this all or nothing, good person/bad person binary in which either you are racist or you are not racist. As if everyone is either batting a thousand or striking out every at bat. And this puts us in a situation where we’re striving to meet an impossible standard. It means any suggestion that you’ve made a mistake, any suggestion that you’ve been less than perfect, is a suggestion that you’re a bad person.

So we become averse to any suggestion that we should consider our thoughts and actions, and this makes it harder for us to work on our imperfections. When you believe that you must be perfect in order to be good, it makes you averse to recognizing your own inevitable imperfections and that lets them stagnate and grow.

The belief that you must be perfect in order to be good is an obstacle to being as good as you can be.

Check Jay's full post on it here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I learned to stop worrying and love karaoke (@ Peril Magazine)

If you haven't read it already, I have another post up at Peril (an online Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine). It's about my journey toward becoming a karaoke enthusiast.

And a weird world it was, where my preconceived notions about what music males were meant to like were to be severely challenged. One time I was invited by a Chinese friend, who also brought along a posse of guys who I knew from the basketball court; they were Vietnamese dudes from Springvale, they had fringes that hung dangerously low over their eyes, and I was nervous around them because I figured they must have been in some kind of gang. But as soon as they arrived at karaoke and started selecting only songs by Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, I realised they clearly weren’t as scary as I had first thought.

Full post here.

"Warriors of Goja"

All of a sudden, The X Factor and Australia's Got Talent seem even more boring than before. Might need more Punjabi contestants.

Friday, November 25, 2011

White people tell black people how they should react to racism in football

Racism in football is not new, and not as bad as it used to be, but it still manages to find ways to raise its ugly head. With Chelsea captain John Terry under scrutiny for apparently calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand something that rhymes with "plucking whack stunt", and Liverpool's Luis Suarez recently in hot water for repeatedly calling Man U's Patrice Evra "negrito" during a game, racism is a hot topic right now. And that's not to mention the regular incidents of crowd racism that plague the game, particularly in continental Europe. In but two such incidents this year, Djibril Cisse, a French striker plying his trade in Greece, was subjected to monkey chants and then attacked by opposing fans in a February derby match; while legendary Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos repeatedly had bananas thrown at him on the pitch in the Russian league.

So in these delicate times, FIFA President Sepp Blatter hardly covered himself in glory when he suggested that players who are racially abused by other players on the pitch should be able to resolve it with a simple handshake after the game. Combined with the way FIFA comes down on clubs whose supporters are responsible for racist behaviour - either ignoring it completely or giving them a light slap on the wrist - it all adds up to a administrative body that is completely out of touch.

Man U's Rio Ferdinand (brother of the aforementioned Anton), who is not normally known for saying anything particularly intelligent, tweeted in response:

"I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against seems it was just on mute for a while."


"Just for clarity if a player abuses a referee, does a shake of the hand after the game wipe the slate clean??"

While Arsenal's young combative midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong tweeted the cruder but funnier:

"If Blatter Ever Come to Arsenal am Gna Frimpong Him"

Following this uproar, Blatter released a statement saying he was misunderstood, and attaching to it a photo of him hugging a black man for good measure. (The particular man is a prominent South African politician, the awesomely-named Tokyo Sexwale.) It is the photographic equivalent of the classic response to accusations of racism - telling everyone that you have black friends. Because everyone knows that if you have even one black friend, you are automatically deemed free from racial prejudice.

Meanwhile, former Uruguayan international and now coach of Brighton, Gus Poyet (below), stuck up for his under-fire countryman Suarez.
"I believe Luis Suarez, it's simple. I played football for seven years in Spain and was called everything because I was from South America. I never went out crying like a baby, like Patrice Evra, saying that someone said something to me."
Now, I don't really know what nasty names white Spanish people call white South Americans, but I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that they are probably not quite as nasty as what white people call black people. And they probably don't have quite the same historical context to them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"The Slap" and racebending, part 2

I wrote recently about the acclaimed Australian mini-series The Slap and its rewriting of the ethnicity of a major character from the Christos Tsiolkas novel it was based on. Not a huge deal, perhaps, as it was seemingly done to accommodate the availability of the wonderful black British actress Sophie Okonedo. Thus, the Indian character Aisha in the book became the Mauritian character Aisha in the series. My point in the previous post was that it was a shame that Asians, and South Asians in particular, are majorly unrepresented on Australian TV, and here was an explicitly Indian main character in a hotly anticipated series, and now she's no longer Indian.

Now, I was happy to let that go. But for all it's excellence as a series (and it is very good indeed), the more I realise the makers of The Slap need a slap themselves for the way they are treating the story's Asian characters.

Aside from the character of Aisha herself, there is the Eurasian man she ends up having a dalliance with.

To quote the book:

She had noticed him immediately. She assumed every woman at the conference had, for he was almost ridiculously handsome, Eurasian, with a delicate snub nose, a gym-trim body and the most pale-white skin she'd ever seen. At first she had thought he might be Spanish, but the surname on his name tag was unmistakably Chinese, Xing. Art Xing. It sounded like the name of one of the bands that Hector enjoyed listening to.
At the first dinner, after their shared laugh, she had asked him where he was from.
“I’m Canadian.”
“Obviously,” she snapped amiably, rolling her eyes and pointing to the red and white maple-leaf insignia at the end of his tag. “But what’s your ethnic background?”
“I used to think that was a very Canadian question. But I’m discovering you Australians are exactly like us.” He was smirking, his eyes teasing her. She found she had to force herself to look straight back at him. Her impulse was to look down at her empty plate. She felt absurd, but his beauty did make her swoon. Oh grow up, Aisha scolded herself, you’re not some teenage twit and a Beatles concert, you’re a forty-something mother of two.
“My father is third-generation Chinese from Toronto. My mother is Czech.”

So, how is this ravishingly sexy half-Chinese man represented in the TV series?

Well, for a start he's not Chinese anymore. In the series his name has been changed to Art Ramirez and he appears to a Hispanic American of some kind. His ethnicity is not mentioned.

Speaking of Asians, another Asian character from the book has been completely omitted from the series - Van the Vietnamese DVD pirate, who is the business partner of Kelly, Harry's mistress.

Am I making a big deal about nothing? Perhaps, perhaps not. The ethnicities of Aisha and Art are not essential components of the story, in comparison to the Greek and Anglo characters whose culture plays a very real part of how the story unfolds. Likewise, the presence of Van the DVD guy is not integral.

But given that the novel version of The Slap won so many plaudits for exploring the way ethnicity and culture interweave in modern Australian society, it seems extremely odd that the directors seem hell-bent on minimizing the role of Asians in the TV version. Especially given that one of the directors, Tony Ayres, is half-Chinese himself. You'd expect better from him, surely.

Representation on television is important. I don't want to watch wall-to-wall Asians, but I do expect that when I watch a story with Asian characters, they won't be modified to be anything other than Asian.
Particularly for Asian men. If Asians have little visibility on Australian television, then Asian men are harder to spot, and sexy roles for Asian men are downright invisible. So it is saddening that while the directors are happy to show a naked Asian prostitute in one episode, they think nothing of changing the sexy Asian guy to a sexy Latino guy.

So for the time being, if you want to see an Asian man on Australian TV, you'll have to be content with watching Asian tourists getting detained on Border Security.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Surely someone's singing wasn't that bad...

Bats and poles used in karaoke brawl
Baseball bats and metal poles were used in a brawl outside a karaoke bar early this morning with six men taken to hospital for treatment.
Police received reports of a large fight in front of the bar in Railway Parade North, Glen Waverley around 3am when it's believed 10 men attacked a large group of patrons leaving the premises.
Acting Sergeant Alex Goodman said the attackers fled quickly and that police were unable to determine whether the attack was gang related or what the motive might have been.
"This is a particularly disturbing and brutal attack carried out in the main street in Glen Waverley. This group were all wearing hoodies and had their faces covered at the time," acting Sergeant Goodman said.

WTF Asian people? Ok so I don't know for a fact yet that the assailants were Asian, but I'd bet a small sum of money on it. The victims were certainly Asian.

Come on people, this is messed up. How is possible that the words "karaoke" and "disturbing and brutal attack" can be used in the same article? (Well actually...)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Comparing Asian-Australians and Asian-Americans (@ Peril Magazine)

So I have another post up at Peril, this one is about the similarities and differences between Asians in Australia and the US. Byron Wong of the Asian-American blog BigWowo helped me with a few details.

Because the Asian-Australian community is on the whole a little younger than that of Asian-Americans, we arguably remain more “Asian”, since there are fewer of the older generation who were born in Australia or grew up here. In addition to this, Australia takes in proportionally far more international students than the US; our nation of 22 million has around 280,000 international students, whereas the US has 670,000 international students but in a population of 308 million. This means that Asian international students have a considerably greater cultural and numerical impact on Australia than they do in the US. Through them, Australian-raised Asians find another avenue of connecting with Asian culture, and they seem to keep us a bit more “fobby” than Asian-Americans.

Full post here.

Weird spammer names

I'm sure, like me, you get your share of spam entering your mailbox. One thing that I've found increasingly amusing is the names of the spammers - clearly not their real names - which appear to be randomly generated. Some of them come across as pretty regular names, while some of them are names that could possibly be real, but seem to be just too awesome for anyone to have in real life, other than the hero of a 70s blaxploitation flick. Examples:

Houston Justice
Odis Youngblood
Preston Hawk
Ulysses Paige
Wendell Sylvester

Others, again, could possibly real but seem just kinda odd:
Roosevelt Mims
Alsatia Entartre
Tonia Yazzie
Ethyl Kathyrn

My favourites are those that look like odd juxtapositions of Spanish first names and English surnames, to make combinations that seem very unusual in real life (but might be reasonable in a future Hispanicized USA). Examples are:

Salvatore Burton
Ramon Light
German Sims
Maricela McNeal
Juan Stroud

Alphonse Grady
Lucio Hargrove

Raymundo Lane
Marcos Whitman
Graciela Morrow
Refugio Stuart
Porfirio Levine
Luz Hanks
Jorge Head
Marcelo Barry
Moises McCain
Carlo Ayers

Even weirder are the ones that combine Asian first names with European surnames, such as:

Yong Ladner

Mao Evelina
Sung Graham

But my all-time favourite is one that is not just awesome, but seems to represent a future peaceful and unified Middle East. I present to you:

Muhammad Goldstein

That name is just so awesome that I was almost tempted to buy whatever cock-enlarging product he was trying to sell me.

On the topic of spammers, this clip from The Onion from a couple of years back is not only hilarious, but manages to capture the language of the spam industry perfectly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Your normal is weird (@ Peril Magazine)

I've got another post up at Peril, the Asian-Australian online magazine. It's about culture and mis-communication.

Take for example, the distinctive “head wobble” common in South Asia. It signifies that one is listening and agreeing with the person speaking to them; yet viewed through a Western lens, it may be interpreted as a sign of indecision or wishy-washiness. There does exist a stereotype in the West about South Asians being less than trustworthy, and I wonder if this most desi of gestures contributes to that. Or for another example, eye contact. It’s frequently lauded as essential for effective communication, and some sort of guarantee of truth-telling. (“Look me in the eye and say that.”) Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, looking someone directly in the eye can range from mildly inappropriate to downright confrontational, depending on the situation. Many Asian cultures, placing a high emphasis on hierarchy and proper deference to ones elders and social betters, frown on eye contact in many contexts.
So what does this mean for someone who’s absorbed this Asian value trying to make their way in the world, or at least in an Australia that holds very Western or Anglo norms of body language? How does one gain the trust of your boss, or impress a potential mate, or convince the police that you didn’t commit that crime, when your head keeps wobbling around or you don’t look them in the eye?

Check out the full post here.

Still more Awesome Asian Ads - Thailand

Thai commercials. Still better than any other country's.

More: here, here and here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


So a friend of mine and I were lunching at a cheap-but-effective Indian eatery recently. When it came time for the waitress to take our orders, she offered the standard array of spiciness options that you are frequently faced with in Indian restaurants: Would you like mild, hot or medium?

My friend plumped for “medium”, while I asked for “mild” instead. Interestingly, my dish (mild shahi paneer) turned out to be spicier than his dish (medium eggplant masala), which was not particularly spicy at all. We speculated on the reasons for this... had they just got the order wrong? Or had they decided to have mercy on a poor white guy who didn’t know what he was getting himself into? (He is white, while I am, well, 50% less white than he.)
Now I am quite partial to spicy food, yet I regard asking for anything other than the “mild” option to be fraught with risk. Because I’ve had allegedly “medium” things before that were hotter than the breath of Satan and threatened to burn a hole in my stomach; yet other restaurants serve “medium” dishes that would have any self-respecting Indian labeling it as being tasteless and asking to pass the extra chilli.

So as there is no universal measure of spiciness that every restaurant adheres to, how does one adjudge the right level to ask for?

I figure you can make an educated guess from the clientele of the restaurant. A place which mostly caters to a middle-class white crowd will probably have a completely different idea of "hot" than a place that caters to fresh-off-the-boat Indian students. So when they ask how hot you would like it, you might need to look around to decide whether "hot" means "hot for Indians" or "hot for white people", because the two things are quite different indeed.

(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mindy Kaling on "The Daily Show"

I was somewhat oblivious to Mindy Kaling until I saw this interview from last week. Now, I can officially declare that she is totes cool. Nice back-and-forth between her and Jon Stewart.

Note: You probably can't watch this if you are in Australia, due to Comedy Central's deal with the devil (the Fox corporation). I'm able to watch this from Australia, but I have magical powers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Asian Menace

Randomly encountered this, from The Chaser's War on Everything from a few years back. Amusing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

From around the interwebs...

Cool things I've read recently when I should have been studying:

Bali is Paradise Lost for middle-class white people (at The Punch)
This is a brilliant f*cking article, taking the piss out of a not-so-brilliant travel article. (See also this excellent response: It's Bali, Not Paris.)
Now it’s all sell, sell, sell as Webb so brutally discovered. It’s as if Asians – or the Balinese in this case – seem to think that they can exploit innocent western travelers by slowly and steadfastly chipping away at the integrity of white cultural traditions like bargain hunting and getting-away-from-it-all.
What was once a beautiful cultural experience for westerners has been consumed by the voracious greed of the locals who have the audacity to try and make a quick buck at the expense of package tourists. Now you can’t even enjoy a $3 cocktail in peace without some grabby little Balinese person trying to get you to help them put food on their family’s table.

Tiny martyr for Chinese freedom (at The Drum)
Analyzes the social context surrounding the infamous hit-and-run incident in Foshan where a toddler was hit twice by trucks, and drivers and onlookers did nothing to help.
The Chinese people have been forced by almost 60 years of communist rule into survival mode, trusting only themselves and their chosen circle. They have re-erected their metaphoric family compound walls against an arbitrary state and a ferociously competitive economy. With minimal security and trust, there is minimal capacity to take a leap of altruism.

“I Really Want You To Do My Vice-America President.”
Jon Huntsman claims he’s fluent in Chinese. Is he?
 (at Slate)
Interesting article about the way we tend to overstate the ability of English speakers who have learned another language, especially in comparison to non-English speakers who learn English.
Considering Huntsman’s moderate Chinese speaking ability, the better question may be why American media have been so eager to gush praise upon a skill it cannot evaluate. NPR says that Huntsman’s appearance on the Colbert Report (where he asked Colbert to “do my vice-America president”) “did win some points for fluency”; Colbert pronounced it “terrifying.” New York magazine calls the seven-second clip of Huntsman at the Faith and Freedom Conference “a brief but impressive reminder of his fluency in two languages, or two more than Sarah Palin.”

GOP Nominee For KY-GOV Slams Dem For Participating In Hindu ‘Idolatry’ (at TMG)
Democratic Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear catches heat for hanging out with Indians and not lecturing them about how Jesus is more awesome than Vishnu.
“He’s there participating with Hindu priests, participating in a religious ceremony,” Williams said. “They can say what they want to. He’s sitting down there with his legs crossed, participating in Hindu prayers with a dot on his forehead with incense burning around him. I don’t know what the man was thinking.”
Williams further told reports: “If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers. I don’t do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

"White flight" from selective schools

A "WHITE flight" from elite selective high schools is entrenching ethnic segregation in Australia's education system, according to a social researcher. In a study of student language backgrounds in schools, Dr Christina Ho, of the University of Technology Sydney, found a clear pattern of cultural polarisation, with few Anglo-Australians in high-achieving selective entry government schools. Students from migrant families — mostly from Chinese, Indian and other Asian backgrounds — dominate the enrolments of the schools.
In Melbourne, 93 per cent of students at Mac.Robertson Girls High School and 88 per cent of pupils at Melbourne High School and Nossal High School are from language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE), a category that also includes those from non-Asian backgrounds. In Sydney, nine out of the top 10 highest performing selective schools have similar high percentages of LBOTE pupils, mainly from Asian backgrounds.
People who speak an Asian language at home make up 8 per cent of Australia's population, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Dr Ho said it was understandable why so many migrant families, put off by high fees in private secondary schools, flocked to public selective schools because of their outstanding academic results.
"Anglo-Australians' shunning of public selective schools is less explicable, particularly among those families with talented children who might achieve the required standard on the selective schools [entry] test," said Dr Ho, whose findings are published in the journal Australian Review of Public Affairs.
"The 'white flight' from these schools must partly reflect an unwillingness to send children to schools dominated by migrant-background children, which simply further entrenches this domination.
"If current trends continue, we risk creating highly unbalanced school communities that, rather than reflecting the full diversity of Australian society, instead constitute unhealthy and unnatural bubbles of segregation and isolation."
Dr Ho's study examined enrolment data given by all schools and education authorities to the My School website. The LBOTE data measures cultural diversity and, unlike birthplace, identifies second and subsequent migrant generations not born overseas but who are members of a cultural minority.
The principal of Melbourne High School, Jeremy Ludowyke, rejected suggestions that the school was not culturally diverse. "We don't see a white flight expressed in the pattern of applications to the school," Mr Ludowyke said.
About 60 per cent of his pupils have a parent born overseas.
"Melbourne High and Mac.Rob have played a pivotal role in providing opportunities for newly arrived migrant communities. They're part of the success story of multiculturalism in Melbourne," he said. [Source]

This is not the first "white flight" article that the Fairfax media has run in recent years; this one in 2008 reported that white students in Sydney were flocking to the independent school system to avoid certain public schools with large Muslim populations, while rural students were doing the same thing from schools with high proportions of Aboriginal students.

The Asianization of Melbourne's selective state schools has been going on for a while - my largely Asian social circle is rife with selective school graduates. I have to say I'm a bit sceptical about whether this "white flight" is a real phenomenon. Are the parents of white students actively rejecting these schools because of their predominantly Asian population, or are they simply being out-competed by Asian students for entry places?

Another article in the same paper this week points to the culture of private tutoring amongst many Asian pupils as a potential cause, which implies that if this "white flight" is really taking place, it is perhaps less about the Asians themselves than about the stress-inducing methods increasingly deemed necessary to remain competitive in an Asian-dominated environment.

So is this a cause for concern, or not?

Yes and no. (Regular readers will know that's my standard answer for most things.)

I've written previously about the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitude towards immigrants in this country; minorities are either condemned for not performing and fitting in well enough, or feared for performing too well. It's hard to escape that feeling when reading articles such as these.

Australians tend to have a somewhat laid-back approach to life; it's a part of our national character which has contibuted to this country being a highly sought-after place to live. Undoubtedly some see the Asian approach to education as incompatible with this aspect of Australian life. Yet in a competitive global marketplace, perhaps we have a lot to learn from Asians, and it is hard to argue that cultures that place an extremely high value on education would not be a positive influence.

The question is, how far do we take that? An overwhelming focus on education at the exclusion of sporting and other leisure pursuits can have very negative side effects; in the US, suicide and depression rates amongst young Asian-American women are alarmingly high, for example.

Something else to think about: does the selective school system merely favour the hardworking, the gifted, or both? A lot of evidence shows that many naturally gifted students are wasting away in our public schools, either hiding their intelligence to avoid being ostracised and bullied, or dropping out because they quickly grow bored with the limited curriculum. For these students, the selective system would seem to be a godsend. Yet does an increasingly Asian Australia mean that diligence becomes far more important than natural ability when it comes to academic success?

And if so, is there anything wrong with that? Obviously we are not talking about a dichotomy of gifted versus hardworking students; most of our highest achievers have both qualities in spades, and a student gaining entry to a selective school would undoubtedly need to be of at least average intelligence anyway. But "Asian parenting" (a problematic stereotype, but let's accept it for now) means that Asian students who may not have great natural intelligence can still outperform many who are. As customers, employers and consumers, we expect hard work and commitment from our workforce, and probably value them more than brainiacs who lack work ethic. Is it only right that we reward hard work, rather than those vague concepts of giftedness and intelligence?

Again, the concern is that as a society we are criminally under-utilising some of our sharpest minds, those students who have great intellectual capacity but don't easily fit into a highly regimented culture that relies mostly on extreme diligence as a path to achievement.

The most obvious solution is to have more selective schools, and it's one that the Victorian government has belatedly begun to address.

But multiculturalism is a two-way street, and I think we may eventually see things working out for the best. I like to think that just as the influence of Asian students will be beneficial for the broader Australian schooling culture, Asian students will become more Australianized as well. As Amy Chua laments in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the second and third generations of migrants tend not to have the same fierce aspirational mentality. Let's hope that means a perfect study-life-balance that allows students to reach high levels without becoming stressed-out robots in the process.

Of geeks and gangsters: the "model minority"
Asian kids, Jewish education
On hardass Asian parents
Summation of Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers"

My favourite thing in the world, this week

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Suarez and Evra

In the English Premier League, matches between Liverpool and Manchester United are always testy affairs due to their long-standing rivalry. This past weekend's game had another nasty angle to it due to racism claims on the field. United's black French defender Patrice Evra reported to referee Andre Marriner that he was being repeatedly racially abused by Luis Suarez, Liverpool's Uruguayan forward. He later told French TV station CanalPlus "There are cameras, you can see him (Suarez) say a certain word to me at least 10 times." If you're not sure what that the "certain word" is, it's the one that begins with N that black people are generally not fond of, unless the person saying it is black in which case it's sort of okay. Suarez is a little brownish perhaps, but technically not black, which means he's potentially in hot water as the English FA are conducting an investigation into Evra's claims.

Liverpool, for their part, have completely backed Suarez's claims that he is a lovely person who loves everybody, and have also called for Evra to be punished for making a false allegation should the FA find no proof.

European football is riddled with racism; in some countries on the continent, large sections of the crowd routinely bring banana peels to the game solely to throw at black players (based on the logic that there is some correlation between black people and monkeys). The English league has been one of the more successful at eradicating this kind of rubbish, so the allegations will no doubt be taken seriously.

Evra and Suarez have their own individual baggage that impacts on this furore. Evra has been the alleged target of unproven racist incidents before - which makes it easy for some to dismiss him as someone who was struggling to contain Suarez on the field of play and so played the race card in retribution - although to be fair to Evra, the previous allegations were not made by him personally. For his part, Suarez was sent off in the last World Cup for the most obvious and cynical handball you'll ever see, is continually accused of diving and feigning injury to get other players in trouble, and not so long ago was suspended for biting another player on the shoulder during a game. All of which doesn't mean he's a racist prick - just a prick - but I doubt anyone would be surprised if his list of odious behaviours happened to include racist taunts.

Of course, according to Suarez, he's not a bad guy, just misunderstood, if this amusing statement on his Facebook page is anything to go by:
“I’m upset by the accusations of racism. I can only say that I have always respected and respect everybody. We are all the same. I go to the field with the maximum illusion of a little child who enjoys what he does, not to create conflicts.”
But Liverpool's stance on the matter - that Evra be banned if Suarez is cleared - is ridiculous in what it implies, although that hasn't stopped 'Pool fans enthusiastically embracing it. Unless video replays can conclusively prove what Suarez said, which is unlikely, or unless someone else on the field can credibly verify what Suarez said, then it comes down to one man's word against another's.

Without trying to be hyperbolic, there is a parallel with rape cases here. In an incident in which only the two people involved know what happened and which is difficult to prove, the odds are that the accused is cleared of the charge. But that doesn't mean the incident didn't happen. Obviously making false allegations is very serious, as it potentially leads to an unjust punishment and can ruin someone's reputation even if the charges are found to be baseless. But if we were to punish everyone who made an accusation which could not be proven, it would be an active discouragement for anyone to report the transgression. There is a massive difference between deliberately lying and alleging something that cannot be proven.

There even remains the possibility that neither of them are at fault. Given that English is a second language to both Evra and Suarez, I wouldn't be surprised if it stemmed from a misunderstanding; perhaps Suarez said something in Spanish, or in his Uruguayan-accented poor English, and Evra misheard it as the N-word.

Although Suarez being Suarez, I reckon he's probably guilty. Great player, but he's kind of evil.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Media-led burqa hysteria?

Amusing take from the folks at ABC's The Hamster Wheel on the Australian media's sensationalising of the burqa issue.

But this clip and the content within it represent for me the nature of problematic discussion about Islam in Australia. The Hamster Wheel guys do a good job of showing some of the ignorance that drives the prejudice against Muslims in Australia, and how the media fuel so much of it. But they also hint at the usual idea pushed by the Left that those who worry about the influence of radical Islam in Australia are probably stupid or racist or both.
Our media has essentially created a dichotomy: you are either a Muslim-hating xenophobe, or you accept anything and everything that Muslims do and assume that it'll all be okay in the end. For me, I look forward to a happy medium in which Australians (including Muslim Australians) can accept that Muslims are welcome and valued members of our society, yet acknowledge that certain practices associated with Islamic culture have no place in Australia. Of course, no two people seem to agree on exactly where that happy medium lies, so I guess we are stuck with the polarisation.

See also:

How the media manufactures a racist "controversy"

Is it Islamophobic to ban the burqa?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Slap" and race-bending

The television adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ multi-awardwinning novel The Slap has been one of the most anticipated events on Australian TV this year. Set in Melbourne’s suburbs, it explores the fallout amongst a group of friends and family after a man slaps a misbehaving child (who is not his own) at a barbecue. Tsiolkas focuses particularly on the diverse tapestry of modern suburban Australia, and how ethnicity, gender and age influence the characters’ actions and reactions to the incident.

I should state firstly that I haven’t read the novel, and so don’t have any positive or negative preconceived notions about how it should be translated to film. But it’s interesting to note that one of the notable changes in the production process has been to the ethnicity of one of the characters - Aisha, wife of Greek-Australian Hector and the organiser of the barbecue at which the titular slap takes place. In the novel, Aisha is described as Anglo-Indian, but the Aisha of the TV version is played by British actress Sophie Okonedo, who is Nigerian/Jewish by ethnicity.

According to this article:

As much as possible, the filmmakers looked to actors who matched the characters' ethnicity.
In the case of Aisha, this led to a drawn-out process after Connolly travelled to London to audition British-Indian actresses.
After meeting the ''staggeringly great actress'' Okonedo, a decision was made to change Aisha's cultural background to Mauritian. According to Connolly, Tsiolkas was very open to the changes, even writing a detailed backstory for the ethnically transformed Aisha.
While Tsiolkas's book is specifically about the experiences of Greek-Australian migrants, Aisha's Indian ancestry is explored in less detail. What mattered to Tsiolkas, Connolly says, is that Aisha regards herself as an outsider to mainstream Australia, a common bond that links her to Hector and his close-knit Greek family.
Not having read the book, I can’t yet comment on how integral Aisha’s Indian-ness is to the story, and whether her character would be essentially compromised by being Mauritian instead. Blogger Byron Wong tells me that the Indian element is important and the alteration is extremely disappointing. Tsiolkas obviously didn’t think it was a huge deal.

Now I like Sophie Okonedo, and it’s hard to dispute her ability as an actress, having been previously been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Hotel Rwanda. But it’s still a shame. Over half a million Australians have South Asian ancestry, and it’s one of the fastest growing segments of our population. South Asian Australians have a very prominent presence in fields like medicine and information technology (as well as some of the stereotypical ones like driving taxis and working at 7-11s). Yet as far as Australian TV drama goes, they may as well not exist.

Notably, this is one of the first times that a major role in a major Australian TV series was of a specifically South Asian character, yet whoever was involved in casting The Slap could seemingly not find an Australian actress of South Asian background anywhere. Now admittedly, I can’t think of any off the top of my head, as there are none with a significant profile. Yet that also says a lot about the industry’s reluctance to give such people the chance.

Even if they had gone with a British-Asian actress instead, that would still have been a positive thing to at least see a desi playing a desi in a sizable role on Australian TV. Alternatively, if someone of Indian descent was required, I hear there’s a country called India which is apparently full of them, and presumably some of them can act too.

At least I’m glad that while Aisha got “race-bended”, she didn’t get white-washed as frequently happens to non-white characters in film and television (see the Billy Sing story as an example). Melbourne has a sizeable Mauritian community and I’m happy to see them get some love, even if Okonedo is obviously not Mauritian herself. It’s good to see an “African” character on Australian TV, and it’s good to see an actress the calibre of Sophie Okonedo on Australian TV. But surely it’s not an impossible task to have a specifically South Asian character played by a South Asian actress.

UPDATE: It turns out that Aisha is not the only Asian character in The Slap who has been de-Asianized. Check it here.

See also:

The lack of Asians on Australian TV, and why it matters

Yellowface is still alive

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guess who's Middle Eastern?

I've just about exhausted my Guess Who's Asian? series for the time being, so I'm going to cast my net a bit wider to the South-West part of Asia. There are lots of famous people who are not widely known to have Middle Eastern ancestry; here are a few. I'm pretty sure none of them are terrorists, in case you are worried about that sort of thing.

Steve Jobs (left) - the late co-founder of Apple was was adopted, but his birth parents were Abdulfattah Jandali, an Arab (Syrian) immigrant to the US, and Joanne Schieble, an American of Swiss-German ancestry.
Wentworth Miller (right) - the apparently drool-inducing star of Prison Break, Wentworth Miller's family tree reads like the Human Genome Project; a father of African-American, Jewish, Cherokee, English and German ancestry, and a mother of Russian, French, Dutch, Lebanese and Syrian descent.

Kelly Slater (left) - arguably the best-known surfer of all time, the Florida-born Slater has Syrian ancestry on his father's side and Irish on his mother's.

F Murray Abraham (right) - The veteran actor, best known for his Oscar for Best Actor in Amadeus, and his role in Scarface, was born to an Italian-American mother and Syrian Christian father. The F stands for Fahrid.

Casey Kasem (left) - if you are like me and grew up listening to the American Top 40, you'd know doubt remember this guy's archetypical radio DJ voice. He was born in Detroit to Lebanese Druze parents, and while his surname is a giveaway as to his Middle-Eastern heritage, he pronounced it in such an American way that it never occurred to me. His real name is actually Kamal Amin Kasem.
Paul Anka (right) - pop idol from the 50s and 60s, best known for the songs Diana and Put Your Head on My Shoulder. Anka is Canadian-born to parents of Lebanese parents.

Andre Agassi - former world number 1 Tennis player; his father, Emmanuel Agassi (originally Aghassian) was an Iranian-born Olympic boxer who was of Armenian and Syrian Assyrian descent.

Julia Sawalha (right) - the UK actress best known as the straight-laced daughter Saffron in Absolutely Fabulous. Her father is Jordanian actor Nadim Sawalha, and her mother is British.
Mitch Daniels (left) - Governor of India and formerly Republican presidential hopeful, Pennsylvania-born Daniels' paternal grandparents were Syrian Christians.

Colombian pop star Shakira (right) is usually thought of as Latin American, but her name (full name Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll) also reveals her Arabic (Lebanese) origins; Colombia actually has over 800,000 people of Lebanese descent. She also has Italian, Spanish and Macedonian ancestry.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Asians are "rape-ish"

One of the myriad things I do with my life is answering questions on Yahoo Answers, mostly questions about my areas of professional expertise (sexual assault, domestic violence, etc). Given that the interwebs are so rife with erroneous, ignorant and objectionable opinions, it's important to put some informed opinion out there, under a pseudonym of course.

Anyway, I couldn't resist answering this question today and sharing it with you. It tells you a lot about how stereotypes are created. Note the opening "I'm not racist, but..." -type line which is obligatory just before saying something racist.
And my response:

Shock and disbelief as Andrew Bolt is revealed to be racist

Australia's most popular news columnist, Andrew Bolt, found himself on the wrong end of a Federal Court decision this week. Justice Mordy Bromberg found the right-wing polemicist and his publisher the Herald-Sun guilty of a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The paper will be forced to print an apology. The court found that 2 articles Bolt penned about certain fair-skinned members of the Aboriginal community were racially offensive, humiliating and "destructive of racial tolerance".

You can read the articles for yourself (White fellas in the black, and It's so hip to be black) although for legal reasons they may not stay up on the web for too long.

Predictably, the Right in Australia have collectively tut-tutted about the threat to free speech, with the Coalition signalling it will try to amend the Act if it gets in to power. By contrast the Left in Australia, who have long viewed Bolt as some kind of racist climate-change-denying Antichrist, seem happy to see the guy cop a legal beating.

For me, there are a few aspects to consider. Will this truly be a landmark ruling ushering in a new Orwellian approach to censorship in this country, as some are saying? Time will tell. While I believe there is certainly a place for legislation dealing with racial discrimination and vilification, I'm skeptical about its use in anything that's not a clear and fairly extreme case. I don't like most of what Bolt has to say, but in the main I think he should have a right to say it, just as other people should have the right to call Bolt a bit of a douche in reaction. Rather than trying to shut Bolt up, I'd prefer the Left lift its game, since Bolt's primary drawcard is his ability to point out stupidity on the Left. (Let's be honest, both sides of the spectrum have stupidity in spades if you look for it.) But it's important to keep in mind the particular details of this case. Bolt got facts wrong, quite basic facts, about the people who subsequently brought the case against him. While Bolt denies accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of identifying as black for cynical motives, the tone of these articles and others (this has been a long-running theme on the Bolt blog) certainly casts these people in a negative light for having the nerve to call themselves indigenous.

I've never been a fan of Andrew Bolt and have had my share of things to say about him on this blog, particular his love of highlighting "ethnic crime". I do feel a tiny bit sorry for him on this occasion, however, because I happen to agree with one of his points.

I have no issue with people claiming Aboriginal identity even though they might be predominantly European in ancestry and have a corresponding appearance; I'm in no position to judge how Aboriginal their upbringing was. I also have no issue with affirmative action policies for Aboriginal Australians; given our shameful history, there needs to be at least some measures in place to give them a leg up. However, it is where these two concepts meet where a problem can occur. Positive discrimination for Aborigines occurs in order to counter the racism and disadvantaged upbringings that they so frequently experience... yet does someone who is 3/4 white and is raised in a predominantly white environment actually experience these challenges to a substantive degree?

So while I don't think it is fair to question whether a "white" Aborigine is actually an Aborigine, it does seem fair to question whether they are entitled to all the financial benefits and opportunities that come with being Aboriginal when they almost certainly do not suffer the same level of disadvantage that a "black" Aborigine does. Particularly in cases where "black" Aborigines, a great many of whom are truly needy, are actually missing out on opportunities to Aborigines who are effectively white in appearance.

So Bolt actually had a point in there somewhere. It's a shame then that it had to be made by someone whose writings have shown repeated antipathy to the Aboriginal cause, and indeed to any culture that is not North-Western European in origin. It didn't take a court decision to prove that Bolt is a racist, or at very least "racially insensitive" or "racially inflammatory"; that was pretty well known already. But a wise man can admit that once in a while, one's ideological opponents can sort of get it right on some things. And if Bolt's overall tone was not so contemptuous of non-white people, maybe people on the other side of the spectrum might actually be able to listen to him without working themselves into a rage.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When White People Cook Asian Food (@ Peril Magazine)

"...But in practice, when white chefs try to do Asian food, there is often something missing. The balance of flavours is slightly out; it’s a bit like someone’s idea of what Asian food is, rather than actually being Asian food. The punchier aspects of Asian cuisine – garlic, chilli, fish sauce, shrimp paste, lime and so on – are muted, while the sugary elements are often too strong."

One of the reasons I haven't been posting quite as much on my blog recently is that I'm doing some guest blogging at Peril, which is an Asian-Australian online magazine. My first post - When White People Cook Asian Food - is up now; you can go check it out here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This week in "Ask Andrey"

An occasional guilty pleasure of mine is the website of Andrey Arshavin, a footballer who plays for Arsenal and captains the Russian national team. A diminutive, quirky forward who has the gift of looking slightly amusing in every photo taken of him, Arshavin's form on the pitch has tailed off considerably of late; yet he still contributes awesomeness to the world in the form of the Ask Andrey page on his website. The instructions are simple: "FOR FANS: ASK QUESTION" and Andrey will answer. The internet being what it is, most of the questions asked by Arshavin's fans are somewhat on the odd side; to his credit, Arshavin answers accordingly.

andyBafc: Andrey, are you frightened of bears?
AA: On the contrary, I like bears.

peeer97: when you where 13 was you fast ?
AA: Yes, and even when I was 7. Fast as a lightning.

joey101: Hello there! , what would you say your political views are?
AA: Globally speaking I’m for world peace.

abhi1793: Do you use hair gel??? If you do what type do you use?? What's your favorite hairstyle??? I ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ your hair?
AA: I don’t have an ad contract with any hair gel producer. I use water before the game. A lot depends on water chemical composition.

SMR453: Andrey, was Windows 7 your idea?
AA: Unfortunately, no.

jehanm: Hey Andrey .... This is Jehan here from India. I want to ask you what is the best way to meet you personally in London ??
AA: What’s the purpose of your question?

More photos here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I do loves me some Onion.

On being tried while black. Sort of.

As brilliant as The Onion is, sometimes the funniest thing about them is the Youtube comments from people who think these stories are real news. This is why canned laughter was invented for TV comedy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to mess up your kid. Correlation or causation?

(Reuters) - Children whose mothers smoked while pregnant were more likely to end up on medications such as antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction, according to a study from Finland that hints at smoking's affect on a baby's developing brain.

While the findings don't prove that cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes changes in children's brains or behavior, they offer one more piece of evidence that should encourage women not to smoke while pregnant, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

One in 11 children was prescribed a psychiatric medication at some point during that period, including anti-anxiety drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction.

Of children and teens whose mothers didn't smoke during pregnancy, 8 percent were on at least one of those drugs during the study period. That compared to 11 percent of those whose mothers smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes per day, and close to 14 percent whose mothers had lit up more than 10 times a day.

This is pretty obvious, the only surprise is that it wasn't higher.

But it raises an interesting question for me. Does it actually prove that smoking while pregnant is the cause of the higher rate of medication?

Not really. I'm passionately anti-smoking and certainly believe that smoking while pregnant is a repugnant thing to do. But I wonder how much of this issue is actually correlative rather than causative.

Here's the thing: if you are the kind of person who smokes while pregnant, you are more likely than average to be a stupid, shitty parent. If you smoke more than 10 times a day while pregnant, you are even more likely to be so. Someone who is has a poor grasp of decent parenting, whether they smoke or not, is far more likely to raise a child with depression, anxiety and addiction problems.

I certainly think smoking while pregnant is physically damaging to the unborn child. But studies like this don't necessarily indicate it. It could just be that smoking is not the cause of dysfunction, but rather a reflection of it. So if you are smoking while you are pregnant, the chances are definitely higher that you will raise a problem child, but it may well be you, rather than the ciggies that did it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Housemate hunting - highs, lows, and finding The One.

You may notice that I haven't been posting much recently. I've been preoccupied with several things, one of which has been looking for a housemate. It's a difficult process, and one that bears an odd similarity to the dating game. You're searching for a potential long-term companion, and then jump into a committed relationship that sometimes goes sour but is not always easy to extricate oneself from. In other ways, it's completely different - having a housemate makes financial sense, while being a romantic relationship definitely does not, although it does have some associated fringe benefits that a housemate usually doesn't.

In the end, I think I may just have found The One. But more on that later.

My ex - well, the previous guy who lived in my house, anyway - was just a disaster, but the humanist in me held out some deluded hope that I could maybe change him. My view of human nature is clearly far too optimistic. You can only change someone if they want to change, and this guy had no interest in it. So battered and bruised, I had to admit defeat, and once that whole messy affair was over and I got him the f*ck out of my house, it was time to find someone new.

Advertising on flatmate-locating websites is hit and miss. I stuck my profile out there, to show the world what I had to offer, while trying to get the attention of certain other searchers who seem really appealing. Most of the time they just ignored me. I did get some attention and inquiries, but it was all for naught. They weren't really serious, and just led me on; or alternatively, they wanted something I just couldn't offer.

The first serious candidate arrived in the form of a pretty Mauritian girl who seemed a little ditzy, but was basically friendly and genuine. She liked my place, we got along, and it seemed all good. One of the first questions she asked was "Is it okay if my boyfriend stays over?" and I said of course, it would be fine. Then a couple of days later, still undecided, she asked if the boyfriend could come check it out also. No problem, I said. Her boyfriend was Indian, and the last Indian guy who came to check out my place was really cool and chilled out (he ended up moving in with his sister instead), so my mental image was of "the friendly nice Indian guy". However when they turned up, over an hour after they were meant to come, it was clear that I should have factored in the all-too-real possibility that he would be "the controlling, surly, patriarchal meat-head Indian guy". The contrast between the bubbly friendly girl and the boyfriend-doing-his-best-Terminator-impression was stark. (Nice girl dates jerk; it's a timeless combination. When Joe Jackson sang the lyric "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street", he neatly summed up the incredulous frustration of nice blokes everywhere.)

My hunch was that what seemed like a promising arrangement was now dead in the water, and this hunch was confirmed later that night when she messaged me. It was just as I had suspected: she thought the place perfect, but her boyfriend vetoed it. "He's very possessive", she texted, in what I could only assume was embarrassed resignation. I had thought that when I mentioned earlier that I already had a girlfriend who stayed with me part of the time, that would allay his fears that I would somehow seduce his woman. But the fact that my girlfriend is Indian probably just made it worse - he probably figured I was one of those guys who has a thing for brown girls. Which, to be fair, is not a million miles off.

I was going to give her a bit of relationship advice - working as I do in the domestic violence sector I deal with controlling asshole guys all the time - but after some wise counsel from my girlfriend I decided against it. I believe her words were "I like you better without your face punched in", which is hard to argue with really.

Anyway, it was probably a blessing for a number of reasons. Firstly, had she moved in I would have had to deal with Controlling Boyfriend's attitude on a regular basis, and I can think of better ways to spend my time. Secondly, as much as I don't like to admit it, perhaps he was kinda on to something. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to have a good-looking girl move in. It's not like I'm going to be messing around - I'm in a very committed relationship and am pretty confident I can control myself - but it's probably not wise to tempt fate either. With that in mind, I've developed a Litmus Test For Potential Housemates. I ask myself "If I was single and she was interested, would I bone her?" and if the answer is yes, she can't stay.

And the other reason it was a blessing is... that I've found someone. It happened a few days later. I was feeling a bit down, in large part because I'd already started planning how I was going to spend the rental income I almost had. And then suddenly he appeared. A mysterious stranger who entered my life with a flatmate inquiry containing the words "Awesome! Still available?" Dude, you had me at "Awesome". I checked out his profile... vegetarian! Loves cats! Into gardening! Plays music! Non-smoker!

Be still, my beating heart. I relayed these details to my girlfriend, who happened to be on Skype with me at the time, and she laughed at how totally gay I had become within the space of 45 seconds. But screw it. I replied to him confirming the room was still available, and wanted to add that we had a lot of stuff in common and was looking forward to meeting him. But I had to restrain myself. Can't seem too desperate, you know... it's a turn-off.

Well to cut to the chase, it turns out he's moving in within the week. Seems like a really nice dude too. And he passes my Litmus Test For Potential Housemates in that I felt no great urge to bone him (and probably won't in the future either). So things are looking up, particularly for my bank balance. And let's be realistic, there's still the possibility that he could somehow turn out to be an utter c**t, or be in a cult, or have some weird habit like shitting on the floor or torturing puppies. He'd still be a step up from my previous housemate though.