Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Film: Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country

****1/2 Norway/Sweden/Denmark/UK. 84 min. Colour 2008. Directed by Anders Østergaard. @ 6:30 pm ICA Cinema 1.

Many of you know that I love documentaries. I appreciate documentary films because it has a message and it is made with love — whether the message is meant to be propaganda or not, many documentaries are made with little or no budget with maximum time and efforts. "Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country" is a documentary based on DVB's (does not stands for David Victoria Beckham here, Democratic Voice of Burma aka Burma VJ) Burma VJ's footage on the monks rebellion in 2007.

The film made me appreciate the life I have here and how important freedom is. Burma has been dictated by a military for more than 40 years. The people have been living in fear since. Foreign news crews were banned, the internet was shut down, and Burma was closed to the outside world. DVB found a way to broadcast and leak news footage to the rest of the world via internet. These VJs risk their lives and the chances of being caught in exchange for the journalistic spirit of reporting the truth to the world.

This documentary had me at the edge of my seat holding back to shout "GO MONKS!" until the monks were beaten and disappeared overnight. Hurting the innocent is one thing but violating a religious figure, the military is going straight to hell. Wait, they don't believe in hell do they? I wonder what happened if the monks only asked for the fuel prices to be dropped rather than involving politically to free Aung San Suu Kyi? Would the military stood its place or rather meet the demands little by little? And I wonder why no other countries are willing to help out? What about the UN? Can't they do something? Basically, the entire country is in hostage, most of the country has banned tourists and foreigners to enter, it's tough for business without foreign trade. The two rebellions (1962 and 2007) at least gave the Burmese a glimpse of hope that it will happen. They'll just have to stick to their guts and have their voices heard. If you wish enough, your dream will come true. One day.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cooking: Szechuan Spicy Chilli Garlic Poached Pork

Recently, Candy discovered this amazing authentic Chinese restaurant near Spitalfield Market. It's called "My Old Place" (88 Middlesex Street London E1 7EZ), a sister restaurant of infamous Gourmet San of Bethnal Green Road. One must order a couple skewers of the cumin lamb kebab and a few cumin chicken wings for starters. As for main course, I highly recommend this dished called "水煮肉", I forgot what it was called in English, will re-post when I go there again. This dish is a traditional Szechuan dish, it's usually beef, pork or fish poached by stock, then poured over Chinese miso (spicy bean paste) and veggies, also topped off with fried garlic, chilli and spices.

We've been so addicted to this restaurant, I've re-discovered my love for Chinese food and how much I miss it. It has inspired me to make my own version at home and I would love to share this recipe with you. I've used pork here but you can substitute with beef, fried tofu, firm tofu or boneless firm white fish.

Serves 1

1 Shoulder Pork Chop, slice thinly against the grain
4 Leaves of Chinese Cabbage, slice into 1" pieces
3 tbsp of Spicy/Chilli Bean Paste (available in Chinese supermarkets)
1 Small Red Chilli, sliced (if you like it spicy, leave the seeds in)
1 tsp of Chilli pepper flakes (or dried crushed chilli)
2 Cloves of Garlic, chopped (not minced)
5 Slices of Ginger
1 Spring/Green Onion, sliced thinly
1 Small bowl of stock (I made from chicken stock cube and boiling water)
5 Whole White Peppercorn (or Black)

1. Marinate the pork slices with a dash of dark soy and a sprinkle of sugar.

2. Heat 1 tbsp of Spicy Bean Paste in a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook for a minute until fragrant, add the bowl of stock. Boil it then turn down the heat to a bubbling simmer. Add peppercorn.

3. Cook the Chinese cabbage until soften. On the side, prepare a bowl and fill it with the remaining spicy bean paste. When the cabbage is cooked then fish it out and lay on top of the bean paste in the bowl.

4. Add spring onion or "salad onion" as the Brit calls them here to the stock. Use the stock then to poach the meat until fully cooked. Your stock should be a little thicker now, pour everything into the bowl

5. Heat a couple tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, add sliced ginger, cook for a bit, then add chopped garlic, chilli and the chilli flakes. Don't go too close now it'll burn your eyes! Fry everything until fragrant and garlic looks crisp, not burnt.

6. Pour this spicy mixture with the hot oil over the bowl of poached meat. Mix everything in the bowl before you eat. Served with a big bowl steamed jasmine rice.

Note: If you're a bit of a wimp when it comes to spiciness, then don't use the red chilli at all and cut down on the chilli flakes by 1/2. Of course, different brand of spicy bean paste has different level of heat, so I suggest to taste it to test the heat before you're using it by the spoonfuls.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Theatre: Samuel Beckett's "Not I"

When: Tuesday, 7 July, 2009 @ 1930
Where: The Purcell Room, South Bank Centre: 2009 London Literature Festival

I love Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot was one of the plays I’ve read in high school that I didn’t hate and I still love it to this day. I recently saw the play again at The Theatre Royal Haymarket starred Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Despite it was the most elaborate stage production of Beckett I’ve seen, it was also the best production of this play I’ve seen mainly because of the actors.

Tonight, I attended the evening of Samuel Beckett’s Not I performed by Lisa Dwan as part of the London Literature Festival at Southbank Centre. Full house. It was the most intensive nine minutes and forty-seven seconds of theatrical experience in my life! To make the Purcell Room pitch dark, black curtains was laid throughout the space, and a sole spotlight was on “the mouth” exactly eight feet from the stage. Lisa Dwan began her monologue at the speed of thought.

The play concluded with a Q&A session chaired by Michael Conevey, unfortunately due to illness, Billie Whitelaw couldn’t be present; a taped interview was shown instead. As always, Beckett had extreme specific stage direction and the length of each “.”, “..” and “…”, which was heavily guarded and monitored, by Beckett’s estate. The actresses must have “white voice” meaning — they should not “act”. “The mouth” must not move away from the light, a discipline that can only be achieved by physical restraint. Whitelaw had herself strapped; Dwan had a pair of tights, blindfolded and had her ears blocked. Whitelaw compared performing the piece to "falling backwards into hell"; Dwan says it is like driving the wrong way down a motorway without any brakes. Whitelaw being heavily coached by Beckett himself, has passed on all his and her notes to Dwan — the “Not I” legacy passes on.

Having done a bit of research about this play, I had a slight idea what I was getting into but had no idea I would be blown away by the performance. I’ve tried to read the play; it was impossible how anyone could remember word per word and dots by dots. I appreciate the performance even more after the Q&A session and the length the actresses had to go through for it. It was also an interesting concept of thoughts out-loud. A verbal stream of conscience —scattered yet alert. I’m very intrigued to read and see other Beckett plays now.

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