Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Can Have It Thai

What an odd dining experience friends and I had last night. We went to My Thai in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower. Just looking at their website, they're clearly a well-established restaurant and J suggested it because she'd been there before for work dinners and could recommend the food.

Well, the food was excellent--that which they deigned to serve us anyway.

J and I arrived earlier than our dining companions, and after negotiating a move of table from just outside the kitchen to the front of the restaurant, we ordered an entree of Goog Tod, deep-fried prawns with special sauce. They were really just so fresh and crisp. Wonderful.

While waiting for the others, J and I had studied the menu and made a selection of two of the three dishes that four of us would share. J's choice was My Thai Duck Curry, while I indulged my ongoing obsession with pork mince and chose Laab Mu, spicy pork with mint leaves. The others arrived and we added Tofu with Cashew Nuts to our order.

Again, the mains were fresh and delicious. My favourite was the Laab Mu which was juicy, spicy and refreshing, but the whole pineapple, grape, shitake mushroom and duck curry combination worked so well, I found myself snaffling the last meaty bits of pineapple coated in the sauce.

The trouble arose when we attempted to order dessert and were refused. Have you ever heard of such a thing?!

The reasoning offered was that the next sitting was due, so effectively, we had to clear out. Not content with this explanation, we tried again, and again it was explained that we had booked for the 6.30 sitting and weren't we told when we booked that there was also an 8 o'clock sitting? Well, yes, apparently we had been, but let's just stop and think about this for a moment.

Is an hour and a half sufficient time for people to sit and enjoy up to three, maybe four courses, when ordering from an extensive ala carte menu? The concept of time sittings is fine if the menu is set or you're limited in your choices, but when a kitchen has to deal with potentially 72 different dishes at any one time, and that's just the mains alone, well, the time between ordering and the dishes arriving at your table is probably going to be at least 30 minutes. Now, I think that 30 minutes is not an unreasonable amount of time to wait for good food, but when you take 30 minutes away from an hour and a half, well, you see where I'm going. And if you don't manage to make your selection from such an extensive menu within the first 5 or 10 minutes of arriving at the restaurant--whether your dining companions are running late or not--well, you see where I'm going. At least half of the alloted hour and a half is whittled away in logistics.

We ate reasonably fast, taking about 40 mins to make our way through the dishes between sips of sparkling wine and beer and conversation, so it was 8 o'clock before J decided she had a hankering for sticky black rice pudding. We only had another 45 minutes before the movie we were seeing afterwards started , so we really wouldn't have been more than another 30 minutes depending on the time it took for the dessert to arrive from the kitchen.

I think what was most shocking, aside from being refused the opportunity of ordering dessert, was the inflexibility of the sitting policy which took no account of whether there were people arriving to take our table or not. Yes, there were people arriving, but there were more than enough tables to accommodate them. Our continued presence would not have lost them any additional diners. I remain completely puzzled by the failure to assess the situation, to even attempt to problem solve, and the intransigence of the restaurant staff and presumably the ownership.

As it is, My Thai's intransigence has cost them some future diners. I won't be going back, and especially since as we stood outside the restaurant, finishing up conversations and expressions of outrage, we noticed that while our table was cleared and reset no-one, in the 25 minutes we were gathered, was seated at the table or even led in its general direction.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Good Friday Morning

It's Good Friday morning and I'm sitting back on a lounge chair with my laptop. I've had my morning coffee and instead of making a proper breakfast, which I might still do, I've eaten three chocolates from a box I bought myself at the supermarket this week. 50 cents from the sale of the chocolates will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

I've already checked Twitter and Facebook, both of which seem to be my first port of call on the Internet these days. Some might think this explains my absence from this blog for nearly a month, more really, if you consider that my last post was really just a link to another blog, but I don't know. Maybe. I think it might be more the case that Twitter and Facebook fulfill a social need for me that blogging doesn't always do. It can be quite lonely when your carefully thought out words don't inspire any comments. Here I'm not admonishing anyone for not commenting, of course there are many who do. I suppose if blogging has taught me anything it's that I have the same difficulties (if that's the right word) with relationships online as I do offline. I suppose I get a bit more of an instant response via Twitter and Facebook than I do from blogging and so I find those platforms more gratifying, at the moment.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Part of it is that there're some days when, what with everything else going on, it's all I can do to look at the LOL Cats. I know when I look at them I'll laugh and get the rush that comes with laughter. Blogging takes time and effort, not only to write, but to foster and maintain relationships. I'm still a bit shy online. Many times I think that any comment I might make on someone else's post will just be repeating a comment already made, but that's how relationships build online, through comments. No one knows you're nodding in agreement or feeling as connected as the 23rd commenter if you don't tell them.

Hmmm. I suppose there are many that would see the shift to the 140 characters of Twitter as evidence of a society-wide diminishing of attention spans. The 'Like' option on Facebook is even more damning, if that's your view. For myself my attention span is being sucked up by trying to do my thesis between some rather heavy and stressful teaching commitments.

Argh! I didn't want to write an apology for not posting here. I long since came to the conclusion that there's nothing to apologise for. It's my blog and I'll not post if I want to. (How odd it seems that now blogging has attained some gravitas one feels the need to apologise for not putting the commitment into something that was once so derided as insubstantial). That said, I'm not impervious to the couple of requests I've received to write something here.

I'm not quite up to Mark's request to blog about cooking Asian food. When Zoe gets back online she's promised to write about the demystification of Asian ingredients talk she gave in Canberra, including posting some recipes. Otherwise Tseen and Oanh have the skinny on Chinese and Viet food (and fancy cakes!) respectively, as do some of the folks on their blog rolls. Myself, I haven't really cooked anything of particular interest lately. If anything I've not long become aware of how much my recent cooking has been drawing from the food my parents prepared for our family when I was a child, which was fairly standard Anglo-Australian fare. I've been mulling over posting something on that, because I've been slightly taken aback by the realisation and I want to reflect on what it all means. I'll probably give that one to Progressive Dinner Party but, of course, if you're not a regular reader of PDP, which you should be, I'll post a link here to take you over that way when I get it together.

The other request I had from someone to post something here was from a friend who was visiting from New Zealand, but formerly of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. My excuse to him was that I felt my blogging had regressed to whiney 'poor me, everyone is mean to me' posts. Well, actually, it may always have been about that, but since I'm taking my advice from Robert McCallister these days, I'm trying to realise that I'm an adult and I should 'get a filter'. It's a lot tougher than I thought.

One solution that has presented itself to help with my dilemma has arisen through what I call the 'serious' reading group. It's not necessarily serious because Polish beer has made an appearance during at least one meeting, but it's true that we're making our way through The Norton Anthology of World Literature. We're just moving onto the section 'Poetry and Thought in Early China'. The first reading is excerpts from Classic of Poetry aka Book of Songs. I was reading the introduction to the Classic of Poetry and learned that:

The power of the Classic of Poetry to 'stir people' probably refers to their frequent use in conversation and diplomacy. Citation of one of the poems was often used to clinch a point in an argument or, more subtly, to express an opinion that one would rather not say openly (Owen 812).
With this in mind, I decided I might've been better off post 'Boat of Cypress' to express my thoughts about my relationships with my brother and others:

XXVI. Boat of Cypress

That boat of cypress drifts along,
it drifts upon the stream.
Restless am I, I cannot sleep,
as though in torment and troubled.
Nor am I lacking wine
to ease my mind and let me roam.

This heart of mine is no mirror,
it cannot take in all.
Yes, I do have brothers,
but brothers will not be my stay.
I went and told them of my grief
and met only with their rage.

This heart of mine is no stone;
you cannot turn it where you will.
This heart of mine is no mat;
I cannot roll it up within.
I have behaved with dignity,
in this no man can fault me.

My heart is uneasy and restless,
I am reproached by little men.
Many are the woes I've met,
and taken slights more than a few.
I think on it in the quiet,
and waking pound my breast.

Oh Sun! and you Moon!
Why do you each grow dim in turn?
These troubles of the heart are like unwashed clothes.
I think on it in the quiet,
I cannot spread wings to fly away.

I haven't decided if it would be even more annoying for other people to have me sending or quoting poetry to them in order to make my point in a subtle way--some might call it passive aggressive. It might have worked in Early China, but contemporary Australian society is not so fond of people quoting book learning. More than half of me would expect to be dismissed as someone who couldn't come up with an argument for themselves and so had to resort to pretentious poetry. Still I like the efficiency of presenting a poem that could express the nuances of an argument while avoiding offence, simply because it's part of an acknowedged body of thought and diplomacy rather than entirely personal.

The other solution that has presented itself to me in response to the angst of my most recent posts, in particular the one on my feelings about the dismissal of social networking sites as an 'authentic' mode of social interaction, is that I'm now teaching in two subjects that are about new media and Web 2.0 applications. In retrospect I feel a bit silly that I was so readily drawn into the argument about whether online interaction was 'authentic' or not. In my defense I guess I had not yet theorised my experience of online environments to the extent that I could make a point about their value in an effective, less hostile, way. When I look at the body of academic work on digital communities, it's suddenly a no-brainer: new media is pervasive and becoming more so; if you ignore it, you do so at your own peril, because it has changed and continues to change the nature of human interaction at all levels of society from the social to the professional, through to the political process.

But I suppose even if I couldn't articulate it, then I knew it in an unreflective way. Here I want to say that I might have known it the way that Plato reports Socrates view of poets' wisdom:

Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case, and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. (Plato 784)
This quote probably undermines my hope that the Classic of Poetry might be the solution to any of my troubles, but I do think that by having the opportunity, through teaching, to further examine my lived experience, I have been able to reach a greater understanding of my rather emotional response to the dismissal of the worth of social networking sites and other digitally mediated experiences, including Wii (aka the 'fancy butt warmer' pictured above).

More than the recognition that Web 2.0 and social media just aren't going to go away, however, I think the Eureka! moment on this issue came for me during Ien Ang's public lecture which I posted about over at Sarsaparilla Lite. The key word used by Ang was that of 'empathy', specifically she noted a lack of empathy in those 'elite commentators' who dismissed the television programme Dallas because of its popularity. For herself she was interested in Dallas precisely because she wanted to understand why so many people enjoyed it. Rather than setting herself above the programme and dismissing its viewers as 'others', she sought to find the common ground between them, searching for the substance of the connections in this instance that otherwise serve more broadly to sustain human society. Here, I don't want to suggest that anyone who takes a position against digital and social media, and can't or won't imagine the pleasure that others derive from it, is uniformly lacking empathy across all aspects of their interactions with people, but I do want to suggest that any evidence of a critical mass around a given cultural object or experience might be better understood as the opportunity to explore the sociality between fellow human beings rather than an occasion for othering fellow human beings all for want of understanding and empathy.

And now it's Good Friday afternoon. Happy Easter.