Thursday, June 29, 2006

Top Ten Foods Tag

My my. I've been tagged.

The delightful Sume wishes to know what my top ten foods are - now I'll never shut up... until my mouth is full!

Counting backwards (but I can't quite say that this is the true order...) -

10. A good meaty hamburger after a day-long bushwalk, the burger must be covered in barbecue sauce, loads of fresh vegies and accompanied by crispy (hopefully beer battered) chips. Not to be eaten delicately - only to be ravished.

9. Haloumi. Grilled, laid on a bed of lettuce, with a wedge of lemon and a slice of red onion. For breakfast. With sleepy partner and fresh bread.

8. Hunk of spicy Hungarian salami, slab of strong cheddar, a load of gherkins and a handful of olives. Plus sour-dough bread. Tear everything with your teeth - no knives allowed. I ain't no plough-man (for obvious reasons) but I sure do love the ploughman's lunch - when he finds out I've been stealing it all these years, I'm going to get one big smack.

7. Pho. Do I have to explain more or will that do?

6. Tofu - the silken kind. All those tofu haters out there: come to my house. Eat my tofu. You will grovel and beg forgiveness for your erstwhile ignorance. I have converted many an anti-tofu'er and I will convert many more.

5. Slowly oven roasted garlic, still in its papery skin. I just love squeezing out the sweet mush and smearing over sourdough bread. If doing a roast, throw plenty of garlic in and - ta da - the best garlic butter in the whole wide world. Yes, no hyperbole.

4. Goi cuon - transparent rice wraps with my mother's special sauce (hoi sin, plus loads of garlic and plenty of lemongrass). You can do this with all kinds of ingredients - the only mainstays are the rice paper itself, vermicelli and fresh herbs such as mint, coriander and chives. And it is loads of fun as easy dinner party food.

3. Moroccan tajines: wonderful winter food, aromatic spices, chunks of meat or root vegetables (pumpkin and sweet potato being the best), must have okra or eggplant and be eaten with mountains of perfect cous-cous and crusty bread.

2. My mum's caramelised prawns. Dark soy, loads of sugar, partially peeled prawns (head and tail intact of course). She's cooks this one just for me. Yep, I'm the favourite and the baby.

1. My dad's stir fried crab in ginger and shallots - cua xao. Mum is not allowed to make this dish. Only Ba. When I was a vegetarian, this was the only meat dish I continued to eat, with some lame excuse about it being a family tradition: Ba would tell Um to phone us kids, who'd then phone just one of us and make that one phone the rest of us. We'd all descend from our respective parts of Brisbane, partner and kids (if any) in tow, and the house would flow with laughter and the sound of chopsticks clacking on dishes.

And you know, the list does not end. I love food. I love cooking for people.

Y'all want to come to my place for dinner? (I'll ask Ba to buy some crabs...)

If you had a boring sandwich for lunch today, you're tagged. Tell me what would you rather be eating ...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Gangster we are all Looking for

A Novel By Le Thi Diem Thuy

This wonderful novel opens with a little lesson into the Viet language – one of the things I also love about Vietnamese:-

“In Vietnamese, the word for water and the word for a nation, a country and a homeland are one and the same: nu'o'c.”

Especially for me, and my family, water is a particularly apt description of our country of origin. The place where all my siblings and I was born is surrounded by water – and then the families of the area create more water with which to thrive: dams and canals, huge vases containing drinking water and smaller ponds containing good luck fish.

But water is also an accurate depiction of how we, and the family in the novel, are carried to a new home country. My family traveled by boat to Malaysia, and then by plane to Australia. The young girl narrator of the novel – whose name we do not discover until near the very end – is carried by water with her Ba and four uncles to the shores of the United States of America. There, we learn that water separates her Ba and herself from wife and Ma; and that water has claimed her brother, who ghosts beside her as she navigates the sadnesses and struggles of her parents in a place far from family and familiarity. We also learn that water is the tie that binds her to her uncles, whose fate in the United States the novel loses track of, much the same way as a child forgets the people who are no longer part of her everyday life. Water recurs in her descriptions of her experiences in life.

The novel tracks back and forth in time but is written in the present tense. This gives Gangster a sense of a child's memories and perceptions. It starts with the home in the US that she shares with her parents, then reverts in the very next paragraph to how she, her Ba and her uncles “float across the sea” to Singapore, then California. In one paragraph, the author condenses the actual migration from the beaches of Viet Nam to the shores of USA. At the same time, she manages to capture the sense of how difficult this journey was, its incomprehensibility and evasion of time, and a blinking arrival in a completely new, completely unknown and unexpected place. Her mother's eventual reunion with husband and child is unremarked: one chapter, her mother is a figure on a faraway beach and the next, a real person in the child's life. How father and daughter are separated from mother is narrated later still, as if the child only then recalls it, having been otherwise pre-occupied with learning English, wearing itchily starched dresses and discovering a new home. What must have been a short time spent obsessed by a butterfly trapped in amber takes an entire chapter to relay. And she ends, grown up but relating to her parents in the same way as a childhood night-time trip to the beach.

My partner and I, in an unrelated discussion, were talking about how readers find time-jumps disconcerting. Instead of disorienting the reader, Le Thi Diem Thuy's narration is timeless in a most evocative fashion. The novel is a series of memories, narrated from the perspective of the child at the precise point in time in which that child is experiencing those memories. On reflection, the novel grows in its descriptive beauty and sharp eloquence.

In particular, I found that how she captured and explained her growth and distance from her parents resonated with me:-

“In the fall of the year I turned sixteen, I jumped out of my bedroom window and ran away. The night's black roads wound like long stretches of river. ... The streets ribboned out in all directions. I lifted first one foot and then the other, ready to run down all of them.”

I did not run away from home, but I did move interstate when I turned seventeen. It felt then as if all the paths I could take went forever away, all unknown and me all unknowing. And I wanted to take all of them unthinkingly and indecisively. The path I eventually chose – or may have had chosen for me – was one of return. In some ways, this was a braver decision that the one to leave, and I am pleased with how it has all turned out.

As may be evident, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The dust jacket informs me that this is Le Thi Diem Thuy's first novel. It was published in 2003, and although the fact that I picked it up in one of those seconds book-stores does not bode well, I hope that she has written more and that they will float across the oceans from the US to me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On Technology & Communication

Sometimes, email is not enough. I feel like reverting to letter writing for my distant friends. Something about ink on paper and the effort of writing without the ease of erasing, cutting and pasting, and emoticons generates a more thoughtful prose.

Here we are in the electronic age, faced with all these gizmos but nevertheless not communicating enough and I become nostalgic for a time when communicating was less easy, so we thought to do it more often.

I don't email my distant friends frequently, and when I do, it is in brief and then briefer messages. It has been a long time since I have used the telephone to have a lengthy chat.

Instead, I have this blog. I keep discussing with myself why I am posting, what it all means, why I am spending my time like this. On the one hand it has been good because I am writing more often now, and I regularly write things that do not go onto any blog but languishes inside my computer. On the other hand, so much time goes into blogging and I am not certain I know what the value is yet.

It is very easy then, for blogging to be paused while the rest of my life takes over. And that is the explanation for my silence of the past few weeks:

Life has been interfering.

I have had much opportunity over the past few weeks of observing and participating in my family. We've been sending each other lengthy group emails and then calling family meetings at the Accountant's house. Well, actually I've been sending lengthy group emails. At our meetings I am so much less eloquent than I am in writing. I become surly, speak in short sharp sentences, become unwilling to proffer my opinions. Inconsequentially I will make irreverent remarks and no one will find me amusing. Eventually I flounce off announcing tiredness or a long day at work.

It is as if, in person, I revert to my role as the youngest - the least authoritative, the most petulant. Unfortunately, I am probably also the one who understands what is going on best - but I can only communicate it in crisp, business-like emails with numbered paragraphs, attachments and highlighted sections directing my siblings' attention to things "to be actioned."

It is bizarre and I don't understand it.

All this technology is warping me.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

X men (and women?)

Over the weekend I saw X-men: The Last Stand.

I am a huge fan of Hugh Jackman. Heck, I went and watched Kate & Leopold - and I am a huge anti-fan of Meg Ryan - all because of Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman has talent: he can sing and dance, and if he's directed well, he sure can act. He's chosen - or had chosen for him - some pretty awful movies (Kate & Leopold, some Dracula movie I can't remember the name of) and I've seen almost everything he's been in. I contemplated going to see "The Boy from Oz" because Hugh Jackman was in it. Lucky for me, the tickets were way too expensive. I'm sure I would lose what little coolness credibility I had ...
Other male actors whom I have weakness for
- and will watch almost any movie that said male actor is in -
David Wenham,
Daniel Day Lewis (where has he gone?)
and Brendan Fraser.
Yeah - go figure. Call me shallow if you will.
I can take it.
It was great to see, in X-men, many Asian actors playing multifarious (and nefarious) roles. I mean, if it's a movie about mutants, well, Asians qualify, right? Seriously, it was great to see the diversity of roles in the movie played by Asian actors, for whom their Asian-ness (Asianity?) was not central to their character. Just an Asian face being a reporter and another Asian face being a mutant. Ooh, and look - that's another Asian being a mutant. But that's okay because in this movie the mutants are like, way cool, man.

Now I do have a gripe:
where were all the women in the corridors and oval rooms of power?
Being the secretary and the reporter, that's where.

So, X-men producers. I see why you've named the movie (and comic and TV cartoon series) for just one gender.

You just can't win them all, can you?

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