It has been a week since I came back to Melbourne after spending 2 weeks in Penang and Bangkok for Chinese New Year. I had a great time but almost didn’t make it to Bangkok wondering if it will be safe to visit due to their internal political turmoil of protestors camping and blocking some of the major streets. But my 2 nights in Bangkok on my way home was nothing but peaceful and relaxing. I went shopping. I caught the hotel river boat and the sky train.
Since I came back to Melbourne, I went to see Kid Creole and The Coconut live concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre. This was the first time Kid Creole has done a gig in Melbourne! It was a privilege to recall the eighties. I was also looking forward to the biggest event of the year on the weekend – White Night Melbourne 2014! A festival of arts, lights and entertainment from dust to dawn. This was the second White Night. Melbourne hosted the first White Night last year. I counted myself among the 300,000 people who flocked to the centre of the city as lucky to experience the first White Night in Australia! It was spectacular and was the best art and cultural event I have ever experienced in my life! Naturally I was looking forward to this year which started last night Saturday 22nd Feb at 7pm until 7am this morning Sunday 23rd Feb.
This year, there was much more publicity in the press, subscription newsletters and through word of mouth. There was more awareness created by the media and people. The result – more people and more crowd. I was astonished when I reached the centre of the city of Flinders Street about 11:15pm. That was about the same time as last year when I went to see the events. It was packed. Not just packed with people, but massively overcrowded with people jammed in the main intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets. It was quite daunting and the amount of people on the flight of steps on Flinders station leading to the street were people after people. It was an unbelievable sight. Nothing I have ever seen in Melbourne. It was nothing like this last year, with a more organised crowd and a live band on the steps of the Flinders station. I quickly moved away from the main intersection fearing that at any moment if there was a sudden alarming incident, there will be an unsightly crushing of human upon human. That will be a “White Night” to remember! I was more concerned about this crowd than I was when I was in Bangkok just a week ago.
I felt more at ease once I was away from the massive crowd and walked along Swanston Street across the Princes Bridge. At the south side of the river towards the Alexandra Garden, there was the trajectory light show streaming into the almost clear and cloudy sky creating an amazing criss crossed of light beams forming an hour glass into space.
I walked towards Alexandra Garden for one reason – to find the perfect spot to see the “faces on the trees” – an artwork by Craig Walsh called “Monument“. This was the highlight for me. Having sat down on the edge on the south side of the river, it was almost surreal to gaze across the river in the dark towards the north side at the row of trees with moving images of human faces.
Next I made my way back to the north side of the river and headed towards Federation Square. The crowd hasn’t reduced in size. It got bigger. It was past midnight! There must be hundreds of thousands of people everywhere.
By that time I almost had it and thought I should head home until I saw a crowd queuing to get into The Forum theatre – a house of human curiosities!
I joined the queue which didn’t take long before I got inside the building. The artwork was curated by Ashley Crawford, “Cabinet of Curiosities“. I wasn’t sure what to expect except the main centrepiece at the entrance foyer looked a bit strange. The entry was free and R-rated. Underage not allowed. So I was in for a big surprise and shocking experience I told myself.
As I entered the main theatre hall on the ground level there was a heavy heart beat – a thumping heart beat with a projection of a human heart on the main screen. It was a heart beat of a heart beat.
On ascending to the first level of the building, I entered the next hall and was not sure if I should or should not sit down. In the end I did. It was a film of naked human with hooks pierced through their skins and hung up high swinging in circle. This was an extreme to the human body. I have seen hooks pierced into human skin especially during Thaipusam in Malaysia. But I have never seen human being hung up high with hooks on the body. I was thinking the human bodies were dead bodies until their feet were placed on the ground and realised they were real and very much alive! The second segment of the film, my stomach could not take any further and I had to leave before feeling sick in my stomach!
By 2am, I have decided it was time to call it the night. The crowd hasn’t dispersed much. It was still busy. I was lucky that I live in the city fringe with easy access to Tram to go home.
Hopefully next year there will be more police patrolling the streets and crowd. This year brought out more people who were into partying than enjoying the arts and culture of the exhibitions. It was a different crowd than last year. There were alcohols and marijuana in the air. A mixture of concoction spelling disaster for parents with young children and prams in the crowded streets.
Overall the event was good for Melbourne as a world class art and culture city of Australia.
It has been awhile since I have written about a restaurant and its food. I guess I haven’t been to one that tick all the boxes – the food, the service, the price and the location.
Two days ago, a couple of our new friends introduced us to a Balinese restaurant in Penang. They are food lovers and told us there is a very good balinese restaurant. They took us there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Always keep an open mind and expected the unexpected. Be surprised. I told myself that we are in good hands and our friends know and love their food. So, they better not be wrong! We arrived at the restaurant for lunch. It is located in a new seafront promenade facing the channel and mainland. The location is ideal with light sea breezes. It was a Saturday afternoon slightly after 1pm. The area was quiet and peaceful without much traffic, being a few years old. It is mostly residential with new high rise condominiums and townhouses and shop lots. Not all the shops were occupied. I felt at bliss.
Our friend parked his car just a few metres from the restaurant. The front of the restaurant was decked with potted plants, red balinese umbrellas on both side of the entrance and some red Chinese New Year’s decorative items for prosperity and good luck. That is a good sign of a welcoming restaurant. On entering Nona Bali, it was even more impressive. It is well decorated with colourful pictures on the wall and balinese fabric sliding panels above the bar/front counter. The colour scheme was charcoal black on all walls and ceiling with matching lighter beige tone wooden tables and chairs. It is the sort of place that I would see in Melbourne, but in Penang, it definitely has style and class but yet casual.
There is a lunch special between $20 rinngit to $24 ringgit. The lunch menu is a “nasi campur” which means mixed rice. It is the best way of trying out different dishes on one plate with some rice. I ordered the version with fish and partner ordered the chicken version. Our friends ordered a fish version and a fried rice version. The food came with a refreshing drink of either an iced peach drink or iced lime drink. I have to say when the food came, I was very impressed on how the dishes were plated with the cone-shaped rice in the middle.
Now for the taste. It was delicious. The pan fried mackerel fish on top of a spread of spicy sambal was delicious. I love a real kick to a hot sambal. It was spicy and I couldn’t get enough and had to ask for more sambal. The grilled mackerel fish paste wrapped around the lemongrass stick was smooth and aromatic with a nice zestic flavour. The slice of cucumber and tomato help to tone down the spiciness of the sambal. The soup was tangy with dried shrimp and dried shallots. The blanched green topped with red skin peanut sambal chilli gave a nice crunch and texture to the overall “nasi campur”. The serving size was just right and sufficient for a nice afternoon lunch. Topping up the whole experience at Nona Bali is the gracious host, Peter, who is charming and charismatic, who is passionate about his restaurant. He talks about his satay cart outside the front of the restaurant, with some seatings, which we all agree will be a nice addition to the whole character of the restaurant. I really look forward to come back to Nona Bali again. A great addition to the food and culinary scene of Penang.
Nona Bali is located at 25Grd Flr, Lebuh Sungai Pinang 5, 11600 Penang, Malaysia. Phone number 04-281 5983. Website address http://www.nonabalipenang.com
When I first read about a solo exhibition by the popular Penang street artist, a Lithuanian born Ernest Zacharevic, long time residence of Malaysia, before I left for Penang, I had to include that as a “must-see” exhibition in my calendar on my recent trip.
Zacharevic has make himself famous national in Penang and Malaysia after he started painting his wall mural on some of the old, dirty and exposed walls that nobody care to repaint in the old town of George Town, gazetted as worth preserving as a world heritage site by UNESCO. These walls have since been painted over by Zacharevic displaying some of the most famous photographed painting by the locals and visitors to Penang. Zacharevic has now attracted even a wider international interest with coverage by BBC news and other international publications. He is being compared to other world famous street artists, like Banksy whose painting can fetch a fortune.
Zacharevic launched his first solo exhibition in George Town called “Art is Rubbish is Art” at a disused bus depot, Hin Bus Depot, an ideal location for such an exhibition. The venue is interesting itself with a sheltered main building leading to an exposed open space in the back with broken walls and overlooking the back of a row of old brick terraces.
I went there with my partner and a couple of new friends whom we came to know and met in Penang. I came to love street arts after living in Melbourne, one of the street art capital in the world. Penang street art painted by Zakarevic has a different feel to the street arts in Melbourne. Zakarevic’s painting of his local social experience and children happily playing and laughing are the sort of scenes that the locals will accept. There is nothing controversial about his artwork. However, there was a recent work that he did in Johor Bahru of a snatched thief that didn’t go down well with the authority.
His recent solo exhibition; however, I believed is a bit more moody with interesting subjects. It will be interesting to see what he does next.
Posted in Art, Culture, Entertainment, Penang, Travel
Tagged Art, Ernest Zaharevic, Exhibition, Painting, Penang, Street Art, Travel
Back in Penang again. This time for the Chinese New Year, visiting my family and relatives. Not many places in the world, even in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan practices the Chinese New Year traditions in the way the Chinese in Penang does. One such event is the 6th day in the Chinese Lunar Calendar – Choo Soo Kong’s birthday.
The Chinese folklore was that there was a Buddhist monk by the name of Qingshui, also known as Chor Soo Kong, who has gained supernatural powers through this skill in speaking the dharma and mediation. It was told that he was able to heal people and have said the town of Anxi during a period of drought, bringing rain as he went from place to place.
Worshipping of Chor Soo Kong is extremely popular in Penang and Taiwan. During the 6th day of the lunar festival, the main temple – The Snake Temple – celebrates his birthday with staged street performances, street food, stalls with Chor Soo Kong’s figurine from separate temple branches and the flame watching ceremony. Chor Soo Kong’s devotees, mostly Chinese with Hokkien background, as far as Singapore and Taiwan will flock to Penang to celebrate this event.
I was fortunate to be back in Penang during this time and the 6th day of the lunar calendar was on the 4th February 2014. This was the first time I have ever been to this event. It was busy but enough room to move around without pushing and shuffling other people. Most people came to worship or to enjoy the street performances – lion dance, snake dance, drummers, Chinese opera, martial arts and the flame watching ceremony, which I was told is to predict the future of Penang’s state wellbeing for the horse year. The choices for street food were plenty. Between my partner and I we had the must have Penang street food – the Char Koay Tow, Asam Laksa and Jiu Hu Eng Chai (blanched cuttlefish with “kang kong” or water convolvulus).
Posted in Asian Food, Culture, Entertainment, Food, Hawker Food, Penang, Travel
Tagged Chinese New Year, Chor Soo Kong, Culture, Penang, Snake Temple, Street Food, Street Performance
It was only 3 weeks ago that we celebrated the end of 2013 and ushered the beginning of 2014. Not long from now, 12 days to be exact on the 31st January 2014, marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. This is also celebrated by the Vietnamese around the world, known as Tet.
In Melbourne, the festival kicked off this weekend in Richmond, the first suburb to traditionally start the festival. The other suburbs – Box Hill, Springvale and Footscray will host the festival in the coming weekends. Melbourne CBD Chinatown and Crown Promenade are the ultimate venues for the biggest show of all – with a street parade of lion and dragon dances in the CBD, and stage performances and fireworks at the Crown Promenade.
This is my third year in Melbourne for the Chinese New Year festivals, and my third time to the Victoria Street Lunar New Year in Richmond, predominantly a Vietnamese suburb. The number of food stalls have increased in numbers from the previous two years – there were a few new ones – including a non-Asian stall selling American Buffalo Wings and the usual Vietnamese street foods like the grilled beef with betel leaves, vietnamese spring rolls, grilled calamari, grilled meat on skewers, pan fried radish cakes, fresh sugarcane juice and coconut juice.
The highlight for me at the Victoria Street Lunar festival was the acrobatic lion dance performance and people watching. This year lion dance routine was different from last year and it didn’t disappoint the crowd, with a finale of exploding firecrackers strung from 3 very high poles.
If there was a best traditional costume competition, I would have given that to the three Chinese deities “Fu Lu Shou“, signifying an abundance of good life – fortune (Fu), prosperity (Lu) and longevity (Shou). These deities are mostly placed in the family living and dining room.
Some of the women and men were wearing their traditional Vietnamese national costume, “Ao Dai“, pronounced as “au yai”. The material is usually make from silk fabric with bright colours.
…our own version of “wolverine” sideburn.
This year is the “Year of the Horse“. The prediction is that it is going to be a good and better year than the Snake Year.
I am looking forward to the other festivals in the next 2 weekends.
Watch the lion dance video here.
Posted in About, Asian Food, Culture, Entertainment, Food, Hawker Food, Melbourne, Travel
Tagged Chinese New Year, Culture, Entertainment, Food, Lion Dance, Melbourne, Richmond, Tradition
I grew up eating rice all my life. So, what if there is no more rice? What would I substitute as my daily food? I have been told; yes, been told by a dietitian years ago that I should cut down on my carb intake. That means, rice and pasta. Two of my most common food consumption each week. This it to slow down the risk of being a diabetic; having been diagnosed as a pre-diabetic patient. I have since cut down on my rice intake and substitute with basmati rice, rather than jasmine rice which has a lower carb content. And, in the past year 2013 I have even cut down on my rice intake each week. Some days I will go without having rice!
Towards end of 2013, I have discovered “Quinoa” pronounced as “kin-wa”. I have heard about it, but have never cook it until November 2013. It is an ancient food originated in South America, but became the “in fashion” for the kitchen with the health conscious consumer. It is high in protein and lack in gluten with a nutty flavour. By itself it looks boring and taste boring. It is a type of grain, not wheat, as some people would have thought.
Some of my friends have even said to me, “why, Victor? why?” “what about rice?” “how can you live without rice?” LOL! As a matter of fact, I have come to love quinoa so much that I eat at least once a week now. It is not cheap (about $10 for a packet of 500 gm compare to a 5 kg sack of basmati rice that cost $15 which can last for a few months), but then it is cheaper than having rice and to cook other dishes to go with the rice. Quinoa can be a single dish with other ingredients in it to make it taste delicious. Think about it as “making a fried rice” – mixing other ingredients to the key ingredient of the dish i.e. rice versus quinoa.
As a new year post to 2014 I am dedicating my heart and love for the simple grain with an interesting name that most people would have pronounced as “key-no-wa” like me-self. But, I was told that it is called “kin-wah”.
Quinoa is easy to cook and fast. It doesn’t take long. Each time I make it, I will make a few slight twists. Tonight I decide to finish up the 1 cup of leftover coconut milk sitting in my fridge. Ingredients:
- 1 cup of quinoa
- 1 cup of coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- A can of tuna
- 4 beans cut into small dices
- 4 shallots finely sliced
- 5 olives cut into small dices
- 1 carrot julienned
- 1 lebanese cucumber cut into small dices
- 3 kaffir lime leaves finely sliced
- Wash the quinoa a few times until the water is clear
- Place in a small saucepan with the water and coconut milk
- Add a pinch of seasalt
- Turn the heat up. Once boiling reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa for 10 – 15 minutes or until the liquid is almost evaporated. Then close with a lid and simmer for another 5 minutes before turning off the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes
- To serve, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and crunched up some Asian fried shallots. If you have other herbs in the fridge, sprinkle some fresh mint leaves and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
You will be amazed how wonderful a simple ancient grain can taste so good and fill your stomach for several hours. A great way to stay healthy and loose weight.
Another version of a quinoa that I cooked in 2013 – using chicken stock to cook the quinoa. Once cooked and cooled down, add some good extra virgin olive oil, diced up herbs, mint peas, sliced white salad onion, diced up tomatoes and cucumber, a bit of seasalt and grounded black pepper.
As this is my first post for 2014, here is wishing all of you a good, healthy and successful new year 2014 ahead!