Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Cook and The House Hunter

Been back home in Malaysia since December. Surprisingly I don't miss France as much as I thought I would. One thing I do miss though, is cooking. I cooked a lot in France, and don't at all in Malaysia. I literally only helped in the kitchen once for the entire duration I have been back, and that was only because my mom bought home darnes of salmon and asked me specifically how to properly cook them on a skillet.

Back in France I would try out all kinds of recipes, from homemade chicken burger to the fattiest potato-free moussaka known to man. I also loved making fusion franco-thai cuisine. Granted, it was only "fusion" because half the ingredients in Thai food were hard to come by or too expensive, so I had to make lots of recipe-tweaking and concessions. After all, lemongrass and lemon juice do taste alike, ginger looks like galangal's estranged twin brother so they serve the same purpose, coconut milk is just milk from a fruit so it is totally possible to substitute it with full-cream milk, and kaffir lime leaves and bay leaves are basically the same thing...... right? 

Ok maybe not. But my fusion dishes didn't taste half bad. In fact they were pretty good. Except for that time when my tom yam goong tasted like sewage water (who adds milk into tom yam?), or that one time when my sambal tasted like dessert because I was going through a period of time where my mantra was "if it tastes funny, add sugar until the taste improves." Or even that one time when I used an old lemongrass in my bolognaise and it tasted bitter (otherwise lemongrass is a god-sent for bolognaise). Lesson learnt: if your lemongrass is 3 months old and has the texture of a twig, don't use it because it tastes like shit and I'm pretty sure it gives you cancer. You're probably thinking Why didn't you just go buy fresh lemongrass? Oh look at Bill Gates over here going around telling people to go buy fresh stuff like a true 1%-er. I bet you're also a vegan who snacks on macadamias and celery dipped in hummus, who throws away his yoghurt 4 days prior to the actual expiry date. I'll have you know that I once ate yoghurt three weeks after the so-called expiry date and it tasted fine, albeit with a funny tinge of tartness but I guess that's pretty normal for a mango yoghurt. And yes, I got severe diarrhea the next day but that was totally unrelated...

Anyway...

I'm currently looking for my own place and a big part of that is because I want to be able to cook my own meals. I love Malaysian food but I have come to a point where the sight of rice and noodles makes me want to strangle a newt.

So if you know a great condo with a balcony overlooking the city centre, preferably with an island kitchen and 3 bedrooms, and costs less than RM300k, then please call me.... so I can call you out on your blatant lie because these days even a shithole in Sungai Buloh costs you a liver.

And that's only the deposit.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hey are you from [list all the Asian countries]?

I was getting a haircut at my usual place. It was peculiarly busy for a working Wednesday at 3 p.m., so I had a bit of a wait to do.

In came this dude who took up the place next to me on the waiting bench. He looked at me intently, so I just whipped out my phone and started reading my e-mails just so he could see I was engrossed in something and wouldn't bother talking to me. Plan executed, plan failed.

"Hey, may I ask you something?" he said. "Um, yeah sure," I replied in the most uninterested tone I could muster, complete with the "...and make it quick" 0.2 second-glance to the dude before looking back at my phone. Some people should really acquire basic common sense.

"Where do you come from? Well, let me guess...." Oh here we go, I told myself. This is literally the least fun game in the world, because it only involves the other person listing down 15 prominent Asian countries and me saying "nope" every damn time. Seriously, I've been living and travelling in Europe for almost 8 years and the number of people who guessed my nationality right has been around 3, tops.   

"Japan?"

Nope.

"China?" Nope.

"Korea?" Nope.

"Taiwan?" Nope, and I already said no to China.

"Thailand?" Nope.

"The Philippines?" Nope.

"Vietnam? Cambodia? Mongolia?" Nope, nope, nope.

I was about to say "Let me just tell you where I come from and save the both of us 10 precious minutes" when he finally gave up and said,  "Okay so where do you come from?" Phew.

"Malaysia," I said. He retorted with, "Ahh, I wasn't that far. I was getting there anyway." Yeah, of course. The amount of countries in the world is finite, so of course you would get there eventually. I just didn't have the whole day for this stupid game.


In all honesty, I'm not offended when people do that. I'm just a bit annoyed by the fact that most of the time they don't even bother making educated guesses rather than just jumbling together multiple Asian countries hoping to strike gold.

The thing is, it's either you get it within the first 3 guesses, or you'll never get it. Simple as that. Those who guessed it right, it's because they actually took the time and energy to analyze my appearance, rather than just blurting out random Asian countries.

I have double eyelids instead of epicanthic folds, so statistically speaking there are fewer chances I come from the Far East which would rule out Japan, Korea, China and Mongolia. I'm fairly tall and bulky for an Asian person, and height and weight are very much correlated with a country's financial standing. That rules out Vietnam and Cambodia. From my observation, they are usually the shortest and thinnest of the Asian people. My skin is more olive and mildly tanned, which should hint at Southeast Asia. So Thailand and the Philippines were, in fact, pretty close. So maybe there were actually some amount of logic involved in his thought process. But the fact that they were so far down the guessing list and followed by Cambodia and Mongolia just proved that it was merely a fluke.

Maybe I'm just becoming super politically correct, but i just don't see it fit anymore to just ask people where they come from just because they look different. It might not offend me because I am in fact a foreigner in Europe, but it bothers a lot of other people of foreign origins but who were born and bred here. I still remember a conversation with a friend who had Lebanese origins a couple of years back, during the Hezbollah conflict.

"So what is really happening in Lebanon?" I asked.

"Um, I gather my knowledge on the issue from the news, so you probably know as much as I do, if not more," he said.

"Are you worried about your family?"

"Well, all of my family is in or around Cannes, where I spent most of my life. So no, I'm not worried about them for what is happening in Lebanon," he said, with a bit more sass than I would have liked.


I didn't understand his annoyance back then, but with time, it's all becoming a lot clearer to me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life lesson before 8 a.m.

It was a chilly autumn day, as it always was in the north of France. Truth is, on this side of the Hexagon, it was always autumn or winter. Summer would grace us with its presence for two weeks a year, and before you know it, you'd be grabbing your winter coat on your way out again.

I was on my daily commute to campus, half an hour away across town. The journey was mostly uneventful until I caught a glimpse of my Solid Mechanics professor getting on the increasingly crowded metro. She was fumbling with her twisted earphone cords, or what I call the less intellectual version of the Rubik's cube.

It was always a funny sight when I saw my professors outside of campus, living their mundane plebeian lives like everyone else. The sudden realisation that they were just normal people with issues of their own, like earphone cords that needed straightening, or money problems, or just the usual waking up on the wrong side of the bed, somehow lowered the pedestal they were thrust onto.

She saw me. I shot her an acknowledging smile, but she took it as an invitation to come over and intrude the peaceful fictitious sphere populated by me and my iPod. Damn you social courtesy.

"So do you always take the metro to campus?" I asked her, knowing very well that she did. In my defense, there are absolutely no good questions before 8 a.m. In fact, if I were to overhaul the code of social conduct, I would abolish all forms of communication before 8 a.m. or morning coffee, whichever comes first.

"Yes, I do. It's just more economical, what with the hike in gas price and all," she replied. I nodded in agreement. Now that the first stupid question was out of the way, I was stumped. What do we talk about next? I contemplated talking about the weather, but it'd been the same grey sky for the last 5 years, and I wasn't a big fan of stating the obvious.

"So you're a Malaysian Muslim right?" she asked, brows arched. I nodded. "Which sect of Islam do you belong to? Sunni or Shia?"

Sunni, I replied.

"I'm a Muslim, too. My family comes from a predominantly Shia region in Morocco," she said with a smile. We then proceeded to talking about the different rites and rituals of our respective cultures, with no one trying to discredit anyone's belief. It was merely a healthy discussion between two people from two diverging sects of the same religion, without judgement or persecution.

I alighted the metro having learned something about Shia and life in general. Most importantly, I was all the more convinced that people are just people. Back home, us Sunnis see Shias as heretics, with some going as far as seeing them fit to be mass murdered. It's funny how we seem to tolerate people from other faiths more than people from another sect of our own faith. And here I was, talking to a Shi'i, with the Muslim faith being the common denominator for both of us, instead of our different sects dividing us.

The world would be a much better place if people would just let people be.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bluntness is the only way to get your point across

I recently went out to dinner with friends: Italian place, right smack in downtown centre, huge portions, a bit pricey but that is to be expected at Italian restaurants. I don't have a problem loosening up my wallet strings for good food. In fact, I dedicate half of my paycheck to selecting top-tier foodstuff that is worthy of a magical journey through my intestines. This being said, if I'm paying 25 euros for a meal, I better get 25 euros worth of quality.

Sadly, it wasn't the case that night. In fact, it was the worst restaurant experience I've had in a long time, Italian or otherwise. The waitress had this default pissed-off look like someone just stole her last tampon. We even had a competition going on where we tried to be the first person to make her crack a smile (spoiler alert: I won). And the food was beyond awful. They somehow managed to overcook my pasta to the point where it became so limp, even Viagra didn't want anything to do with that shit. And the cream sauce was basically water with a hint of cream and maybe pepper. The only okay part of the meal was the salmon carpaccio I had for appetizer, but that was only because carpaccio doesn't require any actual cooking.

After pushing the rest of my pasta around the plate (I could only bring myself to eat half of it eventhough I was hungry as fock) trying my best not to look pissed and spoil the ambiance, I decided I was going to give the tamponless waitress a piece of my mind. The waitress, sensing this, just walked frivolously in our general direction as if she was daring me to piss her off with my impending commentary. Come at me, biyatch, I uttered under my breath.



"Any dessert order?" she asked us with one arched brow upon realizing no one was eating anymore.

"Is the dessert as good as the pasta?" I asked her. She nodded, beaming with pride, but somehow still not smiling.

"In that case, I'm not going to have any because my pasta was easily the worst I've ever tasted in my whole life, and I wish I was exaggerating," I said without missing a beat. That was when she cracked a nervous smile and I won the aforementioned competition. "Sir, if the pasta was not up to your expectations, you should have not eaten it," she replied, notwithstanding my obviously unfinished plate. "I ate half of the plate because I was super hungry, and even if I return the meal it's not like you're going to comp it," I said, raising my voice just a tad.

Cue audible gasps all around. Yes, the French can be so dramatic sometimes. I just shot them a look that said "Calm your gonads, people. It's not like I just bombed Hiroshima. All I did was complain about my food". And you can only dream of having a meal comped in France even if there was a giant dung beetle sticking out of it.

The waitress just shrugged and left with our plates.

"Um... You know.. We don't really do that in France. Usually if we dislike the meal or the service at a restaurant, we just don't come back," said a friend. It was cute, because he thought I was a Chinaman fresh off the boat who was unaware of the local customs.

"I appreciate the French Culture 101 lesson, but I've been here long enough to know the do's and the don'ts, thank you very much. Truth be told, I've never even done such a thing in my life. It's just that the food was so bad, I just had to let it be known," I explained. 

On further analysis, I think I should have let it slide and not said anything. For some reason I let my alpha side prevail, and that's not a good side of me.

One of the hardest things I've always had to do is not speaking out my mind. Oftentimes I'm convinced I have Asperger's by the way I'm completely oblivious about how my verbalized opinions might affect people's well-being. It's not all bad though, since I like the fact that I'm the go-to person for a lot of people around me to get advice because they know they can count on my "no sugarcoating, no beating about the bush" nature.

Some people find my bluntness rude, but these same people appreciate it more when I compliment them because they know I give out compliments as often as the Malaysian government fulfills its promises.

I've learned to control what I call my 'honest impulses' where I get a sudden urge to speak my mind, usually negatively, about something. I've learned to let little things slide. I've even learned to lie through my teeth about how pleasant something is, even when it's clearly not.

But if my lying about something is going to perpetuate mediocrity, then it's safe to say I'd prefer letting my honest impulses run wild.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Life As A Dog

Sometimes I wish I could be a dog for a day. Not because they're cute and cuddly as hell (why would I care what I looked like if I were a dog?)

I just would love to know how it is to just love everybody equally and unconditionally.

I was walking home from work today, tired and hungry, when a Yorkshire terrier came to me and demanded - no, insisted - that I pet her. What a beauty she was. Her walker who was trailing behind smiled at me and said, "She loves everybody."

How is that even possible? I can hate someone just because they laugh weird or wear a big-ass watch with stupid tachymeter or nautical shit, complete with four different time zones, a chronometer and a compass too. Who do they think they are? Jean-Jacques Coustaud?

Dogs won't hate someone for their watch. Or for anything. They just love. I envy them. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Great Arguments Are Made of These

We were chilling on the Garonne riverbank enjoying the gorgeous sunset when a lady approached us and said, "Hi guys, I'm kinda bored. May I join you?"

Of course, we said. The more the merrier. She was Korean-American, married to a French, but as her French was pretty dismal we had to switch to English. As the only person in the group who spoke decent English, I had the de facto duty of engaging her in conversation.

All was going well until she uttered, "I live in California, but I hate America. They have absolutely no culture." Naturally she was expecting me to concur, as if it was a sentiment shared the world over. As if, by virtue of not being American, I was supposed to agree that anything American is bad, that the Americans had no culture. The hatred towards Uncle Sam is supposed to be a universal thing, is it not?

Well, tough. Contrary to popular opinion, I, for one, find that the American culture is very present and not just in America, but all across the globe. How can I not, when I'm sporting a pair of jeans and T-shirt, when all I listen to is American music and its declensions, when half of my favourite films are American, when I even adopt American mannerisms when speaking English although my education was largely British.

"That's unfair and a bit hypocritical, don't you think?" I asked, looking her straight in the eye. She reacted accordingly with wide, judgemental eyes.

"What do you mean, unfair?" she queried.

"Well, for one, your outfit is clearly American. You speak with a distinctly American accent, and I'm pretty sure the hamburger is part of your diet. How can you deny the existence of a culture when you are immersed in it?"

"Because it's a stupid culture!" she retorted, obviously irritated.

"So you're acknowledging that it is a culture nonetheless, be it stupid or not?"

"Yes, but not a culture I'd like to adhere to."

"So now that we've established that they do have a culture, we can discuss whether or not it is stupid," I said cheekily, knowing that half the battle was already won because she had just indirectly contradicted her original stance about the nonexistence of the American culture.

"It is stupid, period," she said, probably hoping that such a flimsy argument would suffice. Well, again, tough. I'm going to need more than that, lady.

"I think you're confusing stupidity and practicality. Their culture might not be as ancient as that of the Indians, or as intricate as the French, or as elaborate as the Chinese. But the practicality of the American culture makes it prevalent in almost every developed nation. I'm proud of my beautiful Malaysian heritage and culture, but do you know that people come to Malay weddings wearing jeans and T-shirts instead of our own traditional attires? You want to know why? Because it's simple and practical. Like it or not, we've all adopted the American culture for the sake of simplicity and practicality. So much so that it's become an integral part of our culture, to the point where we deny the Americans their own culture. And that is highly hypocritical."

"If that's the case in Malaysia, then you guys are just stupid," she said, dead serious. Aha. Of course, when all else fails, go for the low hanging fruit. At this point I had nothing else to say to her because suddenly she came off as childish, on top of being pretentious and arrogant. She might have perceived my sudden silence as a sign of defeat, so she decided to go in for the kill. Or so she thought.

"How old are you?" she asked.

"25," I curtly replied.

"Ah, I see. Well, you're still young. Give it some time and you'll see," she said, and I swear I saw her grin triumphantly towards her own reflection in the Garonne river.

I just smiled. So, on top of being pretentious, arrogant and childish, she's also ageist. She is one of those dumbasses who think age equals wisdom. The mere fact that I'm almost 20 years younger than her somehow discredits all my arguments. I might not have lived as long as she has, but I consider myself very well-read and cultured, and I take pride in my maturity. Given her frail arguments and willful recalcitrance even when proven wrong, the only difference between her and me are the wrinkles around her eyes. She might be years older, but none the wiser.

You just can't win with these people.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Coincidences and Baader-Meinhof

I was ten years old when one weekend my whole family decided to go pay a visit to my elder sister in Penang, so I brought a book along to make the long journey bearable. The main character was a girl whose dreams helped solve a crime. While in the car, suddenly my parents had a discussion where Jalan Travers was mentioned and I found it funny because Travers was also the name of the main character in the book I was reading. But wait, there's more. Once we reached Penang, it so happened that most affordable hotels in Batu Feringghi were fully booked so we had to roam around looking for a reasonably priced hotel with vacancy. We finally found one in a secluded area, and the hotel's name was... Travers Hotel. That was when funny became freaky. Today, it was brought to my attention that this phenomenon goes by the name Baader-Meinhof, where you come across something unusual for the first time and later keep seeing that particular thing over and over again over a short period of time.

I love freaky coincidences, because I don't fully believe in them. As much as I'm driven by the logical aspects of things, I still have enough superstitions to know that some occurrences are just metaphysical. Science has accomplished so much, but there are still a lot of things the brain can't grasp, and when the brain fails, science follows suit. Freaky coincidences are among the places science just can't reach. The best we can do is breaking them down into probabilities and statistics, whence phrases like "You have one in thirty thousand chance of finding your doppelganger."

I'm currently reading Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. While the book is a magnificently boring piece of shit, I'm still learning a lot about Eastern mysticism, most importantly about how we shouldn't try to understand and explain the universe but instead just agree with it. I'm not even trying to understand coincidences; I just enjoy them.

Last summer I was walking around London with a friend I'd known since primary school who came for a short visit. We were just reminiscing old times when all of a sudden we saw this girl walking in our direction and she looked extremely familiar. Turns out, it was a common friend of ours from primary school who just happened to be in London at the same time. She was studying in Dublin, Ireland and was only in London for the weekend; I just arrived all the way from France that very morning, whereas my other childhood friend had driven down from Aberdeen, Scotland the night before. The fact that the three of us came in from three different countries just to bump into each other in yet another foreign country is just mind boggling. Granted, my encounter with the Aberdeen dude was planned, but the fact that we bumped into a common friend from primary school (that was 13 years back!), in a cosmopolitan city as sprawling as London, is something to ponder upon.

Humanity owes so much to coincidences and serendipity as most inventions and discoveries were unearthed this way. In a world where people are growing dismissive of divine presence, God still finds a way to gently shook us to the core and remind us who's boss. It's... beautiful.