Food Diary: The Governor’s Table, Sydney

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

We had a very pleasant early meal here, ahead of the Vivid opening party at the Studio in the Opera House. It’s good to have another option for eating in this area. I’ve refused to go to the strip of touristy restaurants along Circular Quay leading up to the Opera House, and though the fast food at the Opera Bar is tasty, it can be a bit manic if it’s too crowded.

I’d never noticed this place when it was the MoS (Museum of Sydney) Cafe. Here they seem to be trying for broader appeal, a modern Australian take on colonial food. Or something like that.

The host was a lovely woman from Versailles and we were served by a friendly Canadian. I liked my salt cod croquettes with lemon crème fraiche and caviar. My better half’s BBQ lamb ribs with quince and goji sauce were probably the night’s highlight, all juicy fat married with sweet fruit. He found his main, an orrechiette with crab and guanciale too salty, my Kurobata pork belly with baked potato puree was tasty.

The food was good, but didn’t stand out for me. But polished off with a bottle of rosé named Jose (seriously), and with an entertainment guide coupon that gave us a free main course, it was A-OK, and we’ll try it again.



The Governors Table on Urbanspoon

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Concert review: Sufjan Stevens, Sydney Opera House

Photo by Jules Minnis via (He was looking older and sadder than this…)

Monday night, 25 May 2015, we caught one of Sufjan’s shows at the Opera House as part of the Vivid Festival. Pretty amazing, he did four shows, I think all of them sold out.

I’ve been to at least three other of his concerts here in Sydney. The first time I went just because he sounded cool. I didn’t know his music. It was so long ago that he was cool, and somehow, strangely, a decade later, there are articles being written about he is now considered uncool.

In any case, I loved his music: haunting, simple, beautiful melodies. Even when ramped up into bigger production numbers, there was also a tunefulness that I liked, as well as his soft voice, sliding in and out of falsetto. He also is a supremo musician, and so quirky: his songs sometimes have crazy-long titles, and can be slightly impenetrable as a whole, yet with line after line that is simple and touching. He also doesn’t shy away from the big issues, while painting an intimate image of being held or the colour of the day, within questions about life and death and god and human nature.

Previous shows had him bouncing around the stage with back-up musicians and singers, I think they were dressed as cheerleaders once, a full brass ensemble and even he joined in with some crazy costumes on his Age of Adz tour.

But this was different. The album Carrie and Lowell is based on the death of his mother, who had all sorts of mental illness and who was an intermittent presence in his life. An interview with him said that he went off the rails after she died, indulging in substances and sex, and falling into grief and depression. So, this show was quiet, with vertical stripes of light behind the stage with projections of his mother and his childhood and the landscape of his youth. I think he played the whole album and nearly every song mentions loss, death and a mother figure, or his mother.

He spoke not a word to the audience until fairly late in the set, when he started talking about the way he’s been thinking of the different meanings of ‘occupation’ lately, how it has come to mean so many things, occupation as a job, occupying time and space, and yet its original meaning is to take something by force. Grief occupies you after the loss of someone, he said, and then spoke of the word ‘reside’ and how those gone reside in us: we are the way people carry on, we hold communities within us. I’ve certainly heard this idea before, but I liked his spin, and that he is honestly thinking this through, and that he shared it with us honestly and openly.

I also was struck by his voice. It’s as if he’s created his own instrument out of it. He doesn’t bother to sing full voice, but mainly whispers, mostly in tune, but sometimes slightly in between notes, speaking, murmuring, never straining: I found it kind of fascinating and with a timbre that is haunting. On his album, he sometimes doubles his voice to get it more strength; here, there was a crazy echo effect which I found sometimes too much, to be frank.

(As a side note, the Opera House is now allowing people to bring wine into the theatre in plastic cups, all through the evening, particularly noticeable during the quiet songs, the sounds of these stupid cups falling over and being accidentally kicked down a row. Crazy-making)

I also like that in some of his songs, he just simply trails off, where he’s said enough, or where words are inadequate to say anymore, so the song either stops, is silent, or moves into music without words. One of his early songs was quite extraordinary starting as a sad, gentle folk song, and quite late it suddenly became loud and happy, the same melody and lyrics but suddenly completely transformed. Near the end of the show, a wordless song grew and grew with a light show also taking off and I felt a bit like the Radiohead concert I went to a few years ago: it was an intense, multisensory experience.

The audience stood and cheered at the false end, and the encore featured some of his more well-known songs from early years, but I think all of us felt a bit of his raw grief and felt privileged for him to be open and share it with us. When I think of the word ‘artist’, I think about that kind of vulnerability.

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Thor and Freyja Playing

Because there are not enough kittens on the internet:

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Food Diary: Doraji, Waterloo, Sydney

Doraji - 1

I’ve been dying to try this place out since a Korean acquaintance said it was his favourite Korean restaurant in Sydney. He said that the selection of appetizers (that come free with your meal) was unusual, and I’d agree with that: the coleslaw, salad, seaweed and fish with potato salad were all a bit different than what I’ve had before. It wasn’t outstanding in terms of flavour though.

Doraji - 2I ordered too much. Three main dishes between the two of us, all of them about $15 (corkage was $3 each, though I think beer would have been a better match for the fried chicken).

Korean food still sometimes feels foreign to me, sticky, sweet and earthy flavours, quite rich with sometimes a bit of a gummy texture. Still, the pork belly and squid dish, was quite good, and interesting.

The beef bulgogi, a standard Korean dish was less interesting, but I do like the mix of textures between the noodles (yam noodles I think) and the beef.

Doraji - 3

Of course, the chicken was going to be the standout and it was tasty and crisp and we forced ourselves to split the half-portion between us, a lot of chicken, as it would not be nearly as nice for leftovers. They didn’t seem to offer the half-portion of the chicken with various spicy sauces, and I would have liked to try those. This was tasty but a bit bland.Doraji - 4 Doraji - 5

Doraji is tucked at the back of a row of Asian restaurants and a grocery store. Mostly Korean. We did love sitting in a completely enclosed booth, with a ringer to call the waiter, and jaunty K-Pop music playing.

I think I’d have to recommend going to this restaurant with more than two people, to try more of the curious-sounding and looking dishes.

Not expensive and if you’re in the area, why not? I think I’ve had slightly better Korean food in Chinatown though.

Doraji Korean Fusion Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Food Diary: Besser, Surry Hills, Sydney

From what I can tell, Besser is making quite a buzz. I can see why: it’s got a ton of style and character, from the friendly Guido-esque waiters, most in fedoras, to a mix of high and low (metal plates and linoleum tabletops that look like an old-fashioned kitchen with fantastic designer water glasses with the tops cut at a canny slant), to the name and theme itself: besser blocks, a concrete block apparently popular with Italian-Australians for constructing their family home.

Besser - 1We showed up super-early on a Friday, right at 6pm, since I’d mistakenly read that the risotto of the day orders are taken then. Nope, they’re taken at 6:30pm. And by then, the restaurant was certainly filled up.

Besser - 2I loved the deep-fried sardines, as well as the meat croquette things. The osso bucco was delicious flavour though not as tender as we’d expected. I love that they have numerous Italian wines on tap that you can order by the glass, carafe or litre. The crowning glory was the risotto of the day: zucchini flower with scallops. The risotto was al dente, the liquid delicious and green, as you can see, and it was a very pleasant early meal, all in all.

Besser on Urbanspoon

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Book Review: Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition

Notes from an ExhibitionNotes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel about the death of an artist that allows an exploration of her family, with key themes of manic depression, the Quaker religion, artistic inspiration, and the effects of living with a difficult parent and family member.

I’d never read any Patrick Gale and was recommended to, and to start with this book. I was completely drawn into it and engaged, by the characters and by the landscape. The writing is beautiful but not showy. He writes with a huge amount of emotional intelligence.

Still, I’m not sure of the magic of why I liked it so much. I’ve fallen a little into the scourage of relatability (…) lately, talking about books that I like less, and that it’s often because I can’t find a character to cling onto, like, relate to.

But there’s no particular reason to relate to the characters in this family, but I really found them interesting and the writing engaging. The way the story unfolded was particularly skillful though, allowing perspectives of different characters, moving backwards and forwards in time but in a way that I couldn’t predict, that didn’t seem as formulaic as other books of the type with multiple narrators and time periods.

I always find it a bonus to read a novel and learn something new also, and for a religion, Quakers sound awfully nice folks… and while I’ve met a few manic-depressives and read about it, Gale’s exploration in this novel gave me further insight. It makes me interested to read more of Gale’s work, a high mark of success to me of a good book.

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Relief for Nepal? Debt cancellation!

(My friend Sunil is circulating this article in response to Nepal’s crisis, and the second major earthquake to hit. I think it’s worth sharing around.)

External debt is a cancer to Nepal: Cancel it now!

I would like express my heartfelt thanks to all the kindhearted people across the world for their generosity and solidarity in response to the horror of Nepal’s earthquake. And as Nepali people, Nepalese security forces, Nepali government and civil society along with international rescue teams  tirelessly helping the survivors  with shelter, water, food, medicine; I like call World Bank, ADB and other bi/multilaterals to stop blood-sucking the money Nepal so badly needs now in the name of ‘debt servicing’.

Nepal was already one of the world’s poorest countries and now it has become far poorer after the recent deadly earthquakes that already killed more than 8000 lives in Nepal. So it’s unacceptable that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) still intend to collect tens of millions of US$ from Nepal this year, as much or more than the total amount pledged so far to Nepal in aid.

Nepal government external debt is $3.8 billion.  A debt payment due in 2015 is $210 million.
Who debt is owed to:
$1,200 million: Non-World Bank multilateral (a lot of this will be to the Asian Development Bank)
$1,100 million: World Bank
$250 million: Other governments (likely to include India and China)
$64 million: IMF
$1 million private

Nepalese debt may appear small by global standards but trying to repay it is a crushing burden. Debt incurred by Nepal during the feudal government during the ‘Panchayat era’ hardly benefited the grassroots and poor people in Nepal, despite that debt pouring into Nepal. After 1990 democracy, corruption was on the rise, despite that, debt continued pouring into Nepal. During 12 years of the Maoist insurgency, development not only could not reach the neediest rural population, but already built infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, bridges, power stations, etc., were destroyed; despite that, debt continued pouring into Nepal. Then, in the ‘new-constitution-writing-era’, development was forgotten by the government over the past 7 years; despite that debt continued pouring into Nepal.

Now, this deadly earthquake strikes Nepal, destroying massive public and private properties and basic infrastructures in the hills and mountainous regions of Nepal which were already poor. All those years Nepal government has been borrowing in the name of development, but the results are not only insignificant but also raise the question of whether the debts to Nepal were used or abused. For a small and poor country like Nepal the debt is not just a ‘crisis’ but has become a chronic condition, like a cancer that never allows Nepal to grow. Some even say debt to “third-world countries” is a conspiracy meant mostly for the benefit of bankers.

There seem no valid economic reasons whatever for the rich world to have made Nepal drag its debt burden so far, for so long.

Debt servicing
Total external debt receipt until the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2071/72 is Rs. 12,821,919,260.33.
Payments to IMF only for 2015 is $14 million, next payments 15 May; for 2016: $18 million and for 2017: $12 million
Payments to World Bank for 2015 are $48 million (what is left of it), next payments 1 May ($5.2 million); by 15 May 2016: $67 million and for 2017: $68 million.
According to Jubilee Debt campaign’s ( statistics for Nepal 2012, Nepal paid on foreign debt is 5.9% of total revenue (US$ 210 million), Nepal’s Government foreign debt was 18 % of GDP (US$3.8 billion). That’s a lot of money! And Nepal is losing resources by having to service that debt year after year.

Reimbursement of Nepal’s debt has been a huge burden and now will lead to unimaginable human suffering. Nepali economy has been wrenched by ‘structural and/or policy adjustment’ measures dictated by the bilateral and multilateral creditors.

Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with about one-quarter of its population living below the poverty line. Nepal is heavily dependent on remittances, which amount to as much as 22-25% of GDP. Nepal has considerable scope for exploiting its potential in hydropower, with an estimated 42,000 MW of commercially feasible capacity, but these external debts are rarely used to invest in hydropower generation projects in Nepal. And while a few creditors have invested into hydropower, the unjust contracts result in the creditors taking all the benefits and Nepal is left with load-shedding and less access to energy produced.

Nepal can’t afford to pay the debt back as per the creditor’s terms (it will be interesting to know how much Nepal actually has paid of the debt: how much interest and if any of the principal has been paid). While these sums are relatively paltry–Japan, China, India, South Korea and the West don’t need the money—the burden on Nepal is enormous. So why the continuous blood-sucking?

One reason the ‘debt as cancer’ is metastasizing is that the in last few decades, Nepalese governments have never had the guts to sit face to face with creditors at a debt-negotiating table, even though these supposedly democratic governments are supposed to take up the matter of unjust debt taken by previous governments and at the same time not to add further debt with similar impossible conditions, conditions that are demonstrably against the interests and needs of the Nepali people. Political parties supposedly stand united on this front, but party interest, personal interest makes the government ministers and parties fail to raise this serious matter at all. This inability has made it even easier for creditors to isolate and browbeat the Nepalese government after government.

The World Bank, ADB and other institutions that can cancel this debt are under the influence of rich countries like USA, Japan, UK, EU, South Korea, Australia, China, and India. Hence I like to call our friends from develop countries as well as other countries to push pressures to their governments and these institutions.

The Ministry of Finance (The Debt Management Unit – DMU – in the Foreign Aid and Coordination Division) should calculate up-to-date debt figures for Nepal from different countries, World Bank, ADB and other institutions. The government should propose paying for earthquake relief, rebuilding and rehabilitation, poverty reduction by the fund that will be available after cancellation of ‘the debts’. The debt cancellation to Nepal will lift a huge burden from Nepal’s ability to recover and rebuild.

I believe this is something that the World Bank, ADB and other bi/multilateral donors also want to see happen to Nepal now. Saving population from this recent earthquake-caused hunger, poverty, diseases and destruction of livelihood by cancelling Nepal’s unjust debt from the past is ‘Just and Human Rights’ now more than ever.

Sunil B Pant
Former Member of Parliament (2008-12) of Nepal.
Founder of Blue Diamond Society

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Book Review: Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love StorySuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My real rating for this book would be one star, but I think that’s unfair of me because I didn’t finish it. I used to always finish books. What’s happened to me?

What is interesting and impressive about the book is the way he caught a global zeitgeist that seems to have come true in the four years since the book was published. The ‘äppäräts’ that people wear around their necks, to rate other people, find out information about them, and I assume communicate with each other, seems like a combination of an iWatch, google glasses and smart phones.

The world of the book, hyper-technological, sarcastic and harsh, seems not far off from where we are today.

Michiko Kakutani gave this book and its ‘antic, supercaffeinated prose’ a rave review in the New York Times, but it was this same prose that I finally just couldn’t read anymore of: I just had a lack of feeling, emotion and development. The schlubby unattractive and Eunice-obsessed character Lenny was unpleasant and uninteresting. Pretty young Eunice speaks in annoying late-teens talk, and seems a mess herself.

As an Asian-Canadian, I felt uncomfortable with Eunice’s Mom speaking in shrill Ching-lish, with the way Eunice is eroticized, and the way she bounces between unattractive Lenny and an age-enhanced 70-year-old; it’s sign-posted early that she has too low self-esteem to date handsome and successful boys her own age.

The prose reminded me of exuberant, self-conscious young American male writers, a little Franzen, a little Eggers perhaps, but I just couldn’t lock in. Two unpleasant characters living in an ugly world that’s falling apart. I feel faintly pleased to see I’m not alone, a surprising number of other Goodreads reviewers seem to not have been able to finish the book either!

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Food Diary: Chinta Kechil, Double Bay, Sydney

IMG_3172Many years ago, I took my folks, visiting Sydney, to Chinta Ria in Darling Harbour. Even though we’d eaten a LOT of Asian food, Malaysian food wasn’t really familiar to us. It’s been a pleasure living in Sydney getting to know it better.

I read a review that Chinta Ria was moving to Double Bay, with the name Chinta Kechil, serving ‘Modern Malaysian Street Food’. Sounds good to me.

I happened to be in the ‘hood (to go to Dan Murphy’s: did you know a bottle of Campari there is $35 instead of $40 at Vintage Cellars?) and stopped in for a quick casual lunch. I should have peaked in the back of the restaurant; the front really does feel like sitting outside a hawker stall in KL, and that’s not a bad thing.

So, I had a simple Nasi Lemak with chicken curry and it was pretty much perfect. Nasi Lemak confused me the first times I had it. It’s so simple. So, it’s about the perfect combination of fried and dried anchovies, peanuts, a half a boiled egg, cucumber, a traditional chili paste, and in this case, a melting off the bone chicken curry. Considered Malaysia’s national dish, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with it, I think, but when it’s great, like this one, the combination of crunch, spice, oil and starch, is pretty good. Fourteen bucks. There you have it.


CHINTA KECHIL: Open 7 days

Lunch 11:30 – 3 Dinner 5:30 – 10, Sunday Dinner 5:30 – 9

Chinta Kechil on Urbanspoon

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Jump if you want to

Our new children are Thor and Freyja, though only Freyja is caught on camera here. They’re Russian Blues, and Freyja is about 5 months in this video. They are endless entertainment.

While pipe cleaners and crumpled up pieces of paper are favoured, this, ‘the bird’, is the favourite hands-down. They never tire of it (unlike the expensive rotating laser toy that we bought that only provides a minor interest for a minute or so).

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