Friday, 29 February 2008

See Them Flounder

Carol Chew, the National Front's candidate for Seputeh was hobnobbing with patrons of the OUG night market. She looks much shorter in person... . At least they wised up this time around. They twice pitted a male Confucian-esque chauvinist against this modern-day woman of steel; each ended up like diced shallots. How would this fight shape up, I wonder?

Another thing tonight was the roadworks at the stretch parallel to OUG Plaza. Wasn't that bit paved over a few months ago? And was still okay this morning?

Of course. It's election season. Spread the tarmac. Which only works on unsophisticated hillbillies in the boondocks of Far Far Away. With their abysmal pre-poll performance they're really pulling out all the stops.

For me, it's like watching an enemy drown in quicksand.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Parliament Idol XII

Or Parlimen Fantasia XII, whichever rocks the biggest possible boat.

Tough call, really. Five more years of old guard neo-feudalism, or five rough-and-tumble years under a new crew with no experience in steering the ship?

Makes no difference to me. I'll be stuck with the same people that picked Daniel Lee.

Lots has been said about the infamous son-in-law, most of it bad. I feel the same way about him. For me, it's his smug goateed mug. Something about it just compels me to dislike him. His race, religion and affiliations are completely irrelevant. In fact, those aspects cease to exist every time he wears one of his photo-op expressions. Only the repeated whispers of a sibilant voice remain:

Must • Hate • His • Face...

I don't understand it myself. It defies logic or reason. And I do have other pressing matters to attend to. How do I put it? I feel that he's like Mawi, only with more hair - or Sanjaya, only with less hair.

There's always one in each season of a talent show.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Frittering Away at Silverfish Books

"Im sorry I missed the launch at the Annexe," I said.

"Oh, it's OK," Amir Muhammad assured me, adding that the crowd was so huge that day (about two hundred strong) it spilled out into the surrounding area. That made me sorrier to have missed it. Must've been quite a spectacle.

It didn't seem fair to miss an event I pimped, so I made up for it by attending the reading of New Malaysian Essays 1 at Silverfish Books by Amir and the other contributors. I also thought I would even help out a little by getting more than just one copy.

I'd arrived late and hungry, pausing briefly to take in the eclectic range of materiel on the shelves. Treasures, each and every one. Upon seeing me the lady manning the counter directed me to the tiny reading room at the end of the bookstore. Brian Yap was wrapping up his performance.

Instead of grabbing a seat, I made a beeline for the table where all the snacks were and nicked a banana fritter from a plate. Ah, sweet, sour crunchy succour.

Was it just me, or had I just committed a huge social faux pas? Raman's look certainly said so. There were disapproving glances from a few members of the small audience, who had to make do with a basket of various chips.

Screw politeness. I'm hungry.

I reached for another. These were damn good for bananas that aren't sweet. Aminuddin Mahmud began reading his contribution, a well-researched and entertaining academic paper on the power of branding around the mamak franchise.

Then Amir rose from his place and took a fritter and a cup of tea. That made me feel better. But I was already going for fritter #4. These were damn good. They haven't even gotten soggy yet.

It was Saharil Hasrin Sanin's turn. According to Amir, he is famous for his short stories (each about half a page long) that still manage to speak volumes. He'd asked for something for this book, and ended up with a 52-page contribution titled Teroris Bahasa, a brilliant and funny memoir-slash-monologue-slash-debate against the policing of language. References to "pert English knockers" raised titters among the crowd, which included a couple of Caucasian women.

'Tis a day for faux pas, it seems, I mused, munching on my fifth fritter.

There were also choice words about another contributor, Burhan Baki who is currently at Aberdeen. "But he has a brilliant piece in this book," Amir concluded. "Real genius. And he's at Aberdeen." Something about that last bit made the crowd chuckle.

Did he just make Aberdeen sound naughty?

I got three copies of the book, which coincidentally read EN-EM-EE 1 when abbreviated - which is how the mainstream (read: government-regulated) publishing scene sees Amir nowadays. I can tell you that it is money well-spent - with or without the autographs.

There was no sixth fritter. I had plans to dine at Sri Nirwana Maju after the event. Unfortunately, I was feeling full before I could polish off the last bit of rice. Maybe I should have stopped at three.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

A Visual Feast

A hazard of reviewing a book you bought yourself and actually liked is that the review will never be published, not do the book justice, or both. Thank goodness I liked this one enough to keep it.

More or less of the same
Anthony Bourdain certainly has a way with words, as well as with food. Of course, being the bold soul that he is, there’s always another medium he wants to experiment with

first published in The Star, 02 February 2008

When I managed to get my hands on an unwrapped copy, I eagerly went through the pages. Why were they so thick, I wondered. Then, as I encountered page after page after page of pictures, I understood. It didn't help my disappointment, though.

Why, Tony, why? I mean, you used to ... write! You know, making words with a pen or word processor? What's with this glossy Technicolor travel scrapbook? You don't even cook anymore! What went wrong?

To the uninitiated, "Tony" is Anthony Bourdain, that acerbic, trash-talking chef who made a splash in the entertainment biz with his book Kitchen Confidential.

He's currently the host of the travel/food show No Reservations, who has traded his sauté pan for a word processor, occasionally writing articles for food-related publications in between his travels and appearances on other food-related shows.

His latest book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, is a collection of snapshots from the series of the same name.

Many of the pictures have appeared on the show's web site; the article on his Beirut show (rudely interrupted by the Hizbollah-triggered Israeli invasion of Lebanon) was published earlier on It is a departure from his previous works, which he acknowledges and apologises for.

Sorry, Tony. It'll be a while before I can forgive you.

We are introduced to the members of the filming crew, before being taken on a whirlwind tour of the best and worst places of the series. There's even a list of addresses, which includes "The Place Under The Big Tree" (a steamed fish head eatery in Sungai Besi).

Rounding up all that is a travel tip section, food pictures, and a list of essentials for the typical travel show host.

Even though light on words, the commentary still retains its edge. The placement of some pictures also hint at the darker side of his personality.

In one photo he's holding a piglet with a strange smile on his face and a gleam in his eye. On the opposite page is a breakfast platter with eggs, sausage and bacon. "No piglets were harmed in this production." Yeah, right.

Another example of his wit is a helpful tip on finding the absolutely best place for your favourite food: start a flame war in a food forum.

Local fans would be pleased to know Bourdain has nothing but nice words for Malaysia (in addition to neighbouring Indonesia and Singapore).

The Malaysian episode of No Reservations, he enthuses, was among the nicest in the series. He also has nothing but praise for the durian. Who could hate a gwailo like that?

That being said, he is neither shy nor evasive about the things and places he doesn't like. Uzbekistan wasn't particularly pleasant while Iceland was boring. Then there was this one nasty meal he had in Namibia. Graphic examples of hazards encountered while filming (mosquito bites and mysterious welts) have a section of their own, as well as a small sample of bathrooms he and his crew have visited.

For those who appreciate the kind of writing Anthony Bourdain does, this book is a disappointment – at first, anyway. The pictures are nice, as are the captions, commentaries and whatever writing is available.

But, somehow, it still feels ...incomplete. He has voiced his doubts (in another book) about his ability to translate the beauty and sensory wonders he's experienced into words.

No Reservations (the book and the series) feels more like a personal project than a profit-making venture. For all his bluster, sarcasm and profligate use of the f-word, Bourdain's a pretty honest, friendly and sentimental guy.

And, of course, he loves food, and the people who make it. He may have left the kitchen, but his heart's still there.

Never mind that half the material has already been published. If anything, it gives a much clearer picture of Bourdain and his new life’s mission.

So clear in fact, a friend of mine actually felt inspired to follow in his footsteps. Looking at a picture of Bourdain, smiling beatifically with the ruins of Machu Picchu behind him, I couldn't blame her. He looks like he's having the time of his life.

No Reservations
Around the World on an Empty Stomach

Anthony Bourdain
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9412-3