“Everything is political!”

I first encountered that remark in a video by Extra Credit, a Youtube channel partially dedicated to video games.

At first, I found it off-putting. I thought it was pretentious and sanctimonious. I thought they were trying too hard to sound socially-conscious. I remember that people in the comment section also shared my discontent.

But then, years later, I changed my mind. Admittedly, as off-putting as it sounds, that remark has some truths. But, I prefer to phrase it differently: everything -literally everything – is affected by politics.

What kinds of entertainment we consume and enjoy are affected by politics. The governments set rules about which works are allowed and prohibited, which require age restrictions, which require “alteration”; in some cases, there may be endorsement of certain works and/or styles.

And yes, even the foods we eat are affected by politics. The openness and closeness of trades affect the variety. Political stances, especially of the ruling classes, may also affect what styles of foods considered acceptable to eat; cultural cringe compels people to look down on their ancestral/local cuisines while pride compels them to be proud of the ancestral/local ones.

In more extreme cases, ultra-nationalists want everyone to eat ONLY ancestral/local foods and some revolutionaries (e.g. Italian Futurists) want everyone to break up with the past by stop eating ancestral foods.

My problem with that Extra Credit quote is the phrasing. It sounds like we have to make be political every second of our lives! I don’t think so and I would be disappointed if that was what they meant.

We have the choice to be tactful and tactless about our political opinions. We have the choice to take heed or be dismissive of politics. But, we don’t have the choice to be free from politics because it is very much interested in you (I am sure some of you have heard of this before).

One can also the same thing about cultures, religions and the economies. On one way or another, our lives are affected by all of them and they are unavoidable.

This is a reminder that humans don’t live in vacuums. We live in a world where everything is inevitably interconnected. In fact, I can also argue not only politics influences entertainment and foods, it can also be the other way around!

But, I am not going there now. I am not into the mood of plunging myself into the rabbit hole.

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Cooking them yourself shouldn’t be a big deal

Recently, I have been hooked on the Trash Taste podcast, hosted by Youtubers Gigguk, CdawgVA and the Anime Man. Maybe it is my limited experiences with podcasts in general. But, TT is one of the few which truly intrigues me. I am interested to hear them talking about literally anything.

Their food episode is the most provocative for me (as the time of writing), as I have rebuttals or responses for every opinion expressed in it. But, one opinion in particular bugs me.

Connor -CdawgVA’s real first name- said he did not enjoy restaurants which made us cook the foods ourselves. For him, not only it was too expensive, it was anxiety-inducing as he had to share the grill with others and he worried about overcooking the food.

While I am annoyed by the opinion, it does not infuriate me; I have encountered opinions which I find more infuriating than this. The annoyance actually came from the comment section.

The commenters were overwhelmingly in support of Connor, agreeing with his every single point. That irked me because an opinion which I consider ignorant freely echoes in a chamber, drowning any reasonable rebuttals.

Seriously, I wonder if any of those dumb motherfuckers ever fucking cook before.

They seem to think cooking is all about putting shits onto heated cookware and stir and flipping them, not realising ingredient preparation is as crucial…. and it is certainly no fun.

Despite their appearances, some vegs and meat can be quite tough to chop if your knives are not sharp enough. Peeling certain ingredients like shallots can be a bitch. If you are not careful, you can cut yourself. I find preparing ingredients more laborious than stirring and flipping them.

Because I know how it feels to cook from scratch, it makes perfect sense why such restaurants -which tend to be the all you can eat type, mind you- are expensive to dine in.

Oh, and cooking yourselves shouldn’t be a big deal. Literally all you have to do is flip or dip! It is literally as easy as frying or boiling an egg!

It is a basic survival skill, arguably more important than literacy. If it makes you anxious, I am genuinely worried for you.

About social anxiety disorder, I am not diagnosed with it, thankfully. So, if you suffer from it, I cannot judge you if this kind of eating experience overwhelms you.

But, I am socially awkward myself and I occasionally can get so nervous about meeting people, to the point where I sometimes either cancel or delay appointments… and yet, sharing foods never stresses me out. My fellow diners, even the annoying and judgemental ones, are too busy cooking and eating.

Unless you suffer from an actual anxiety disorder, I don’t see any good reasons for you to be a nervous wreck.

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And the world slurps… Indonesian noodles

That one bloody brand

As an Indonesian, I am very much aware of how ‘invisible’ my country is. But, it took me some time to be fully conscious of our instant noodles’ global appeal.

When I say instant noodles, I mean Indomie. Not only it is sold in many countries, many Youtubers have made many videos about it and they include Josh Carrott and Ollie Kendal, who seem ecstatic every time they eat Indomie Goreng.

Obviously, if you are used to with how under-the-radar your country is, foreigners liking anything from your country feels weird. With the Indomie hype specifically, I am weirded out… and annoyed.

Don’t get me wrong: Indomie is indeed tasty. But, for God’s sake, other brands exist! Sarimi, Supermi (both share the same parent company with Indomie), ABC, Gaga and Mie Sedap, the last is arguably Indomie’s strongest rival. Their products can be just as tasty, if not more.

While Indonesia did used to have even greater variety of instant noodles, it is still not an excuse to divert our attention to a single brand.

If I were a more dilligent fan of food Youtubers, I would have definitely send them Indonesian instant noodles of various brands. If the Youtubers have made Indomie videos before, I would exclude the brand from my packages and force them to acknowledge other brands as well.

A genuine source of national pride

In another blog post, I mentioned how Indonesia’s lack of international culinary success can be blamed on our lack of pride. This may also explain Indomie’s success.

Obviously, I have to credit the company’s marketing team. But, I also think our sincere pride contributes to the brand’s popularity. The sincerity makes the hype sounds more convincing. Unless our target audiences are gullible, believing in our own words is crucial.

We do import foreign brands. Nissin, Nongshim, Ichiban and even the (in)famous Samyang. In fact, the global popularity of Samyang’s fire noodles compels Indonesian manufacturers to create their own versions.

Considering how Indonesian cuisines are way hotter than the Korean one, it is odd that Koreans made super spicy flavours before we did. Somehow, for many years, we weren’t interested in having our mouths and digestive tracts burned by instant noodles.

But, despite the popularity of Korean brands, we still prefer our own. Apart from the significantly higher prices of the imported products, we also think ours are more flavourful.

And I rarely agree with my fellow countrymen on anything.

‘Weird’ taste buds 

In the year 2000, my eight-year-old self was excited. There was a new kid in town: Mie & Me!

It offered flavours that were considered ‘unusual’ at that time: pizza, burger and spaghetti; can’t remember if there were other flavours. I don’t know if it was the first brand to do so. But, it did make me realise instant noodle flavours should not be limited to what we consider ‘normal’.

Not long after Mie & Me was launched, I remember Indomie launching Chatz, which also offered ‘weird’ flavours like chicken lemon and BBQ sausage… literally the only ones I remember (and the latter tasted like shit). Basically, Mie & Me almost started a new trend.

Yes, almost.

In my memories, I didn’t know anyone other than myself who ate those ‘weird’ products. It seems they were not that popular. Unsurprisingly, they were short-lived, much to my dismay.

A handful of people do still remember the brands. But, they are so obscure, it is hard to find their visual evidences online. With Chatz, I only found just one photo. With Mie & Me, no photos at all!

I don’t know why they were commercial failures. I assume it has something to do with us seeing instant noodles as proper meals… and associating pizza, burger and spaghetti flavours with children’s snacks.

But then, it just an assumption.

‘Traditional’ taste buds

Traditional dishes flavours are not exactly innovative; brands have been selling soto flavour since forever. But, I don’t know they didn’t think of having more varieties from early on.

Nowadays, major brands do produce those flavours with Indomie being the most prolific among them (unsurprisingly). Interestingly, I notice they were first released around the same time as the rise of Batik’s popularity among the masses.

I don’t think Indonesia has experienced a renaissance akin to the Hawaiian one. But, there has been a slow rise of interests in traditional cultures among us. Apart from the aforementioned Batik’s popularity, eating traditional Indonesian dishes is now considered cool once again.

And Indomie aggressively follows the trend. In fact, thanks to this, I would have never heard of a dish called Mie Celor. To this day, I have to yet to try the real thing.

Going glocal

Indomie has (or had, don’t bother to check) Taste of Asia flavours: Singaporean laksa, Korean bulgogi and Thai Tom Yum. Mie Sedap has at least two spicy ‘Korean-style’ flavours. Gaga has jalapeno flavour.

I cannot be certain if they can impress foreigners or not (probably not). But, the variety of flavours being offered is intriguing: it reminds me of the glocal (global and local) nature of Indonesia’s instant noodles lovers.

Unlike with our heritages, we don’t love our instant noodles simply for the sake of loving anything Indonesian. As mentioned before, we are wholeheartedly proud of them. Our pride compels us to promote the noodles to foreigners, consequently taking us out of our cultural bubbles.

But, at the same time, we are not snobby about it… not to my knowledge, at least. There is no shame in enjoying the foreign ones.

Usually, we are either too xenophobic or too xenophiliac. But, in this case, appreciation of both local and foreign things is well-balanced.

 

Eating like an Indonesian 1: feeling (in)validated

There is no such thing as Indonesian cuisine. There are Indonesian cuisines. Plural.

This country, an archipelago sandwiched by two continents, literally has hundreds of ethnic groups. The government officially recognise six religions and there are more unrecognised ones. Our traditions are also laced with Arab, Indian, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Diversity means there are lots of cultures and lots of cultures means lots of ways of cooking.

Javanese and Sundanese cuisines are mostly indigenous in style with minimal foreign influences, even though Javanese and Sundanese arts are heavy with Indian influences. The former is (in)famous for its sweetness due to the heavy use of palm sugar and sweet soy sauce. The latter is known for its earthy taste due to the heavy presence of raw vegetables.

As a Sumatran city, Palembang  is unusual for the Javanese influences in its dishes and their restrained use of spices. They also heavily utilise both freshwater and saltwater fish; in major Indonesian cuisines, it is usually either or.

Minangkabau and Malay cuisines are known for their rich, cholesterol-inducing and spice-heavy coconut milk gravies. Both are heavily influenced by India and the Middle East. The latter is also influenced by China and it is related to Peranakan cuisine, a Chinese fusion cuisine also existing in Singapore and Malaysia.

While there are Peranakan dishes in Indonesia, non-spicy Chinese-influenced dishes are more popular here. They share more resemblances to the ‘original’ Chinese ones.

Batak cuisine is notable for its use of the tongue-numbing andaliman, a relative of Sichuan pepper, and there is one dish that use cow’s cud as an ingredient. Christian Batak people -well, some of them- are also infamous for their consumption of dog meat.

Minahasan cuisine is more infamous because, apart from being one of the spiciest cuisines in the country, it uses way more ‘exotic’ meat from animals like bats, jungle rats, snakes, macaques and yes, even dogs.

Betawi cuisine is the most fusional of them all. It is heavily influenced not only by other regional cultures, but also foreign ones. Remember the foreign cultures I listed earlier? Betawi covers all of them! Due to the high eclecticism, I still don’t know what makes Betawi dishes uniquely Betawi. For some reason, I associate them with the smell of lemongrass, even though not all of them use it.

I have tried only a handful of Indonesian dishes. Yet, my limited experience already reveals how diverse Indonesian cuisines are and how I have only scratched the surface. Heck, I am sure people who haven’t eaten a single Indonesian dish in their lives would acknowledge the diversity just by reading online sources that get the basic facts right.

The variety means one crucial thing: Indonesia could have catered to a wide range of taste buds. Regarding popularity, our foods could have beaten the ones from Japan and South Korea, two highly homogenous countries. We could have been a global culinary powerhouse!

Sadly, reality says otherwise.

Popularity is achieved through confident self-promotion. The promotion must be consistently done and the promoters must believe their own words. Even I know that and I am awkward as fuck!

Our self-promotion is pathetically lethargic. We are lazy and we even don’t believe our own words. We are ashamed of our own cultural existence. We only feel validated when foreigners openly commend our cultures.

There is a reason why you can find lots of foreign Youtubers who make videos eating Indonesian foods.*

I do know Indonesians who are proud of their foods. But, more of than not, they can only enjoy Indonesian foods; in some cases, they can only enjoy ones from their ethnic homelands.

Basically, they are bubble dwellers who have yet to live a truly cosmopolitan life.

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*I make it sound like the presence of foreign Youtubers (many of whom are Koreans, for some reasons) who make a living eating Indonesian foods is an inherently bad thing.

I don’t think it is. In fact, I genuinely adore some of them. I just want to make a point that Indonesians still crave outside validation like insecure teenagers.

While we are it, there is a concern about foreigners exploiting our insecurity. I personally believe the concern is legitimate. But, just because it is legitimate, that does NOT mean all of them are guilty!

If you want to publicly accuse them, make sure you are backed with solid evidences. And no, your feeling is not a fucking evidence!

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Being Indonesian

 

I was born in Indonesia. The first language I learned was Indonesian. Both of my parents are Indonesian citizens and my mom is a Sundanese speaker. Before university, I only attended one international school; even then, I was still surrounded by other Indonesian citizens and some classes still used Indonesian as a medium of instruction. In high school, I was surrounded by students who spoke with various regional accents. I started to form relationships with foreigners when I became active in social media, when I was eighteen.

But, somehow, my Indonesian-ness started emerging when I was an adult.

I grew up preferring foreign foods and looked  down on Indonesian ones which I dismissed as ‘traditional medicine but in food forms’. I preferred to appreciate western-influenced arts over ones with distinctively Indonesian characteristics. I also hoped to leave Indonesia for good. I felt like a westerner.

Of course, I have changed.

I am now able to eat Indonesian dishes and watch traditional art performances with sincerity. My desire to leave and my western inclination have also diminished.

I still don’t know why my old self was like that.

Maybe it has something to do with my childhood which lacks exposure to anything Indonesian. Maybe it is my mom who inexplicably did not teach her children a regional language. Maybe it is me constantly eating foreign foods.

But, after I thought about it, what I just said were also experienced by others; from my knowledge, they never feel alien in their home country. Their identity has always been Indonesian.

Of course, my horizon widens as I get older. I undoubtedly get exposed to more things western. But, at the same time, I am also exposed to more things Indonesian.

The more I taste different types of European cheese and bread, the more I taste different types of gulai and Indonesian ‘salads’ like gado-gado and urap. The more I listen to western music, the more I listen to Indonesian folk songs and works of musicians like Guruh Soekarno Putra and Kua Etnika. The more I listen to cases of sectarianism in western countries, the more I realise how our inter-ethnic relations are relatively peaceful and harmonious according to international standard.

I am finally able to compare Indonesia with the western world  more meticulously and the comparison shows how Indonesian-ness is a very unique and complex which is impossible to be summarised.

Some of our traditions are clearly results of different foreign influences, we boast cultural diversity which can only be rivalled by India, Papua New Guinea and certain African countries and Indonesia is a predominantly-Muslim country which national symbols are Hindu in origin. How can you summarise that?

Indonesia is a country that can easily shine. If its citizens sincerely embrace our Indonesian identity, we would be more accomplished in generating innovative ideas and hence, making us more contributive to world developments.

Obviously, I don’t praise things simply because they are Indonesian.

Our cooking is still too dependent on palm oil and white rice, our pop culture is unsophisticated in regards to its aesthetics and originality, we are too dependent on conservative mindsets which hinder us from being reasonable. Moreover, our inter-religious and inter-racial relations are not as good as advertised.

Counterintuitively, the more I know about the ugly side of my nation, the more I embrace my Indonesian identity.

Unlike my old self, I am no longer infatuated with absolute perfection, a thing that only exists in fairy tales; presenting it as the truth is deceitful. Imperfection is never compelled to be so; as a result, the authenticity of its good side is more guaranteed.

Blind nationalism comes into being because the citizens feel their country is entirely ‘attractive’. But, from my experiences, they don’t know how the ‘attractiveness’ looks like.

Because of their black-and-white perspectives, they don’t realise how life is full of grey haze which is almost impenetrable. They are certain stereotypes are a hundred percent valid. Unless you see prejudice as a virtuous trait, you surely realise stereotypes will always mislead you and drag you to a deadly dark realm which you will have a hard time escaping from.

I do sound over-the-top. But, that’s what I have experienced myself.

I should tell you that my biography is incomplete. My old self did dislike anything Indonesian. But, at the same time, I was also a blind nationalist.

I did not care what being Indonesian entailed. I only cared about the ‘Indonesian’ label. I looked down on anything that had foreign labels stamped on them, even though I secretly preferred them and I did not want to admit it. In fact, I used to believe we were obliged to defend our country all the time, even when it was in the wrong.

Nationalistic, but did not know anything about his own country and refused to respect his ancestral heritages.

I admit that my story is confusing and unbelievable. Moreover, I don’t know how to persuade others to believe me. So, all I can do is to ask these questions:

Why do you consider yourself Indonesian? Don’t answer ‘citizenship’ and/or ‘was born and raised here’. It is too easy.

What are the things you love and hate about Indonesia? Have you experienced or observed them in person? Or are they things you only have heard and read about AKA rumours?

I consider myself Indonesian because I am already emotionally attached to the country, no matter how ugly it is. Even if I end up living overseas for good, I am sure my Indonesian-ness will never go away.

You already know what I love and hate about Indonesia and they are the things I have experienced and observed in person. Most of the feel-good stories disseminated by parents, schools and the media turn out to be balderdash; the splendour is either exaggerated or never exists in the first place.

Indeed, public figures constantly call us to collectively contemplate about our national identity. But, I don’t know if I miss the memo, I have never heard them make any calls to contemplate individually.

A group definitely consists of ‘members’ who are distinct from one another. Therefore, I find it strange if a contemplation that involves many is not implemented on an individual level.

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Not being vegan

Even if I agree that every animal-based product stands on animal sufferings (still not convinced about sheep wool), I still don’t buy the belief that veganism makes one moral.

Treating fellow human beings like shits makes you a scumbag, regardless whether you are vegan or not; no need to be a genius to grasp that. If anything, focusing solely on the products you are consuming means you are missing the bigger picture.

Not to mention that many animal-free products are also produced by the means of suffering. Unless you spent your living under a diamond-crusted, golden boulder (and many of you clearly did), you would have heard about human exploitations committed by agribusinesses. Once every vegetable and fruit farm treats its labourers like human beings, I will concede and acknowledge the moral legitimacy of veganism.

But, that’s very utopian. There is an extremely low possibility of me becoming vegan for that reason.

There are two factors that will compel me to consumer fewer animal products: health and emotional attachment. Mind the word fewer; I will not exclude them from my consumptions entirely.

I am open to the possibility that science will declare vegan diet as the healthiest one of all; it makes sense because we get our nutrients from food. But, I don’t see how using leather and wool is detrimental to our health.

I can also see myself stop consuming certain animal products because I get emotionally-attached to the animals they are derived from; I am sure I can get attached to animals like cows and goats. But, I cannot see myself attached to any seafood; I never feel guilty for eating them. I wonder if humans have ever bonded with tunas and shrimps before.

But, despite everything I just said, I am not siding with some fellow non-vegans either.

Some non-vegans like me question veganism for its scientific and moral validity, both of which have been claimed by vegans. But, some are just pure loonies.

They love meat so much, they see meat-eating as a some sort of moral duty. They feel that vegans spit on their faces with their meatless diet. They feel their right to eat meat is trampled by the mere existence of vegans. As a result, some people genuinely wanted to boycott a British bakery chain for selling vegan sausage rolls!

Basically, just like some zealous vegans, those meat eaters are extremists.

A tangent:

If I am in charge of a school or a group of schools, I would provide vegan school lunches. Unless you forget about what I just said paragraphs ago, you know I don’t care about evangelising veganism.

One thing for sure: providing vegan meals means I have to deal with waaaaay less dietary restrictions. While people can be allergic to certain plants and a handful of religious laws prohibit the consumption of certain plants, cutting animal-based ingredients altogether will reduce the hassles by a wide margin.

But, even if it is not true, wouldn’t it be beneficial for the students to familiarise themselves with the tastes of fruits and vegetables? While I doubt many end up as vegans, I am certain they would not end up as adults who can only get culinary pleasures from meat and dairy.

And I am also certain it would boost the creativity of the cooks. Their thinking organs must work harder in order to create healthy but tasty dishes with strict limitations imposed upon them.

When I said ‘cooks’, I meant people who actually cook dishes from scratch. Heating up frozen pizza and tater tots does not count as cooking.

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My own museum ideas

  • I hate how I grew up in a country where we have an extremely weak museum culture. Most of the museums I have visited are abroad.
  • As an adult, I am no longer into having shopping malls and theme parks as my sources of leisure. If there are no cultural attractions that intrigue in the slightest, I would rather stay at home and watch Youtube videos…
  • ….And browse Wikipedia in where I have spent a significant amount time searching for every article about any museums.

    Being a major time-waster that I am, I now have a few ideas for museums which are not even original. But, if I have the financial means (and the skill and will), I would definitely establish them.

    Museums of hot sauces and fermented seafood.

    That’s my Indonesian tastebud talking.

    I grew up eating dishes which use fermented seafood as ingredients and were often accompanied by chili sauces, or sambal as we call them.

    I have always loved the taste of dried and salted fish. I used to hate hot foods. But now, even though my heat tolerance is still low for Indonesian standard, I am addicted to the hot flavours.

    It would not be a problem if the museums are Indonesia-centric. As the country is gifted with biological and cultural diversity, the museums’ collections would always be huge, assuming they are well-funded and well-managed.

    I am also open to the ideas of making the museums more international either by making a section dedicated to foreign content or making the entire collection international.

    But, my goals for each version differ from one another.

    If the collection is entirely Indonesian, I would want to remind Indonesians about the biological and cultural richness of their country and how the richness should be appreciated and NOT taken for granted.

    If the collection is international, I would want to remind everyone that despite our differences, we still have many things in common and our cuisines are not that different once we take a deeper look.

    I choose foods because every human eats. We can survive without the ability to play music, to dance or to show any forms of craftsmanship. But, we can’t survive without foods. Eating is universal.

    And because I personally love to eat.

    I don’t know where I should locate the museums, though. If they are Indonesia-centric, should I locate them in Jakarta, university cities like Bandung or Jogjakarta, or places with low cultural appreciations like my hometown?

    If they are international, I would definitely locate them in various countries. But, which countries I also don’t know.

    And no, I am not going to think about “maintaining” the perishable collections.

    Museums of Hollywood propaganda

    I think the name explains it and I don’t have to elaborate on why it is needed in the first place and I am focusing on propaganda in American entertainment.

    When it comes to locations, I would definitely establish one in Los Angeles, the headquarters of the industry. Of course, as it is the lions’ den, there will be lots of backlashes. Not to mention that studio executives might have connections in the government.

    Very risky. But, worth the shot.

    But, I am not satisfied about LA is its only location. The question is where else should we locate them?

    Should we choose other major, big cities like NYC, Chicago and Houston? Should we choose the nation’s capital? Should we choose certain university towns where anti-establishment attitude are rampant? Or should we choose urban areas known for unquestioning and zealous patriotism?

    If we want to branch out to other countries, which ones should we choose? Should they be America’s closest allies like Canada and the UK? Do the international locations even matter?

    Museums of human rights violations

    I am not talking about any human rights violations. I am talking about ones that are still controversial due to the persisting historical denialism and whitewashing.

    I am talking about cases like Armenian genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, the expulsion of Palestinians from their own lands, the atrocities committed by Japan in WWII, the 1965 violent anti-Communist purge in Indonesia, history of racism in Australia and the Americas and the coups committed by the US against democratically-elected governments in Iran and Latin America which were replaced with dictatorships.

    You know, topics of light conversations.

    When it comes to locations, I have to make sure they are not in countries where such museums can get shut down by the authorities.

    But, even if censorship is not a problem, I have to make sure at least one case from the host country is included in the exhibition. I want to give the impression to visitors that there is no such thing as angelic countries.

    It is also the reason why I want the museum to be dedicated to many cases instead of just one. It is a lot harder than dedicating to a single case. But, it is worth it.

    I also have to make sure it is located in localities which have lots of foreign tourists and residents. Those localities may include cities like NYC, Sydney, London and even world-famous university towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Grenoble.

    I don’t want the learning immersion being mostly exclusive to citizens of one country. Every person, regardless of their national backgrounds, must have the opportunity to experience it.

    Yadda yadda yadda

    It is obvious that my ideas are not only unoriginal, they are also fantastical. I will never create a small museum, let alone a few big ones.

    But, I just can’t help churning my own ideas, even in fields where I don’t have any expertise in. Basically, every field in existence.

    It is fun to write down my fantastical ideas.

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    Exploring cultures, Anthony Bourdain style

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    I will only discuss three of his TV shows and none of the books as I haven’t read a single one. So, it takes a lot of cockiness to write about a person without full immersion in his works. Anyway…

    I have been loving him since his A Cook’s Tour years. When I was younger, I watched him simply because of the food. A show was good enough if it involved lots of food, I believed.

    Then, many years later, after watching his subsequent shows, this one seems juvenile and sterile in comparison. For me, it feels like it is less about the cultural experience and more about Tony being a cynical and cocky douche. It certainly did not and does not make me feel intrigued by other cultures. But, younger me said, ‘hey, food!’.

    No Reservations is not an immediate stylistic departure. The earlier episodes are not that different from ones from A Cook’s Tour. But, they are indeed less rushed, more mature and more compelling. As the show progresses, it has become more profound.

    He becomes more keen to point out the darker side of reality. Politics, discrimination, natural disasters, you name it. The Hokkaido episode, which mentions discrimination of the Ainus, is the first time I pay attention to the show’s depth. Before No Reservations, I had never encountered a single travelling show like this (that I know of)!

    Not only it increases its thematic profundity, it also amplifies the visual artistry which, again, is a novelty to a show of such genre (again, that I know of). Watching the later seasons feels like watching a beautifully crafted yet underappreciated TV show. It also helps some episodes are tributes to certain films which Tony and/or the crew was/were (a) big fan(s) of. And then, came The Layover

    …Which I skipped over and, to this day, I haven’t watched a single episode. I wasn’t aware of its existence until his fourth and unfortunately last show was announced. To this day, I am still uninterested about the premise. But, I will probably change my mind. Probably.

    Parts Unknown exceeded my expectation. It seems unsatisfied with its predecessor’s artistry and believes radical enhancement is needed for itself. And radical it is.

    In No Reservations, the audio and visuals are utilised to emphasise and accompany what is being portrayed on the screen. Some episodes of Parts Unknown were also crafted in a similar manner. Some.

    In other episodes, they are utilised to encourage the audience to start seeing the world through a philosophical lens instead of just focusing on its physicality; combined with the lyrical narration, the show’s audiovisual ethereality really reminds me of magical realism, something that I never expected from unscripted motion picture works!

    I know, I know. I sound like a pretentious prick who reads too much into things. But, I am a sucker for magical realism and any similar styles of arts. Considering how metaphysical some episodes feel, you cannot blame me for having such feeling. They do feel magical.

    Oh, yeah. The cultures…

    I used to depend on media personalities for cultural knowledge. I still do, but not entirely. Nowadays, I try to accept the possibility of them unintentionally spewing stereotypes and misinformation. Even Anthony Bourdain could not escape such criticisms.

    I seriously cannot blame him and his peers for making that mistake. They cannot fully escape the cultural outlooks they grew up with and they are dependent on their local contacts who probably possess very narrow frames of mind regarding their homelands. This is what I still can tolerate to some extent.

    What I cannot tolerate is phoniness. I hate it when TV hosts pretend to be curious about the ‘exotic’. Sometimes, you can see their oily faces sticking to the masks, revealing their true appearances. As flawed as he could be, Anthony Bourdain was still very honest with what he liked and disliked. Oh, and the way he approached cultural exploration also made him stand out from his contemporaries.

    Besides local cultures experts, who may or may not have academic backgrounds, he also had chefs, sailors, farmers and hunters as guests. Of course, having guests of relevant expertise is not unusual. Andrew Zimmern also has people of similar occupations as guests. Rick Steves often has fellow travel guides as guests. But, Tony wanted more than just interacting with ‘food’ and ‘culture’ people.

    He also had fellow media personalities, writers (especially crime fiction ones), musicians (especially Rock ones), politicians and members of (relatively) fringe groups in his shows. I don’t think I need to explain why it made sense to invite media personalities, considering he was one.

    I am not surprised about him inviting writers as he was a one who also had published both non-fiction and crime fiction books; he would not have a hard time bonding with them and scooping their perspectives on the local cultures.

    I am also not surprised he invited politicians. Like it or not, politics can affect every single aspect of our lives, whether directly or not, and that includes foods. Of course, this is purely my thought. Tony invited politicians probably because he was interested in politics in general (he really, really hated Henry Kissinger, by the way).

    I am not sure about the musicians, though. While he did have high appreciation of music, particularly Rock, I am still unsure of why he invited them. He probably wanted to know more about the local cultures. Or he probably just wanted to hang out with them. Even though I can’t say for sure, the former is something that I would do if I were him.

    I am also not sure about the culturally fringe individuals (again, relatively fringe), like the residents of Christiania in Copenhagen and Molokai in Hawaii state. Maybe, as a former dweller of Provincetown, he felt he would not have much trouble bonding with them. Maybe he believed understanding a mainstream society would feel inadequate and too sugary without the alternative perspectives, a sentiment that I happen to possess.

    Whatever the reasons, whether he did it on purpose or not, I have to give Anthony Bourdain credit for giving me new perspectives on how to explore cultures, whether they are ‘foreign’ or my own. Our understanding of a society will be more well-rounded once we utilise different and distinct paradigms.

    Of course, as an Indonesian, I have to talk about his Indonesian episodes.

    I hate the one from No Reservations. It uses the same ‘Indonesia-is-all-about-Jakarta-and-Bali’ cliche. It does cover West Java, a territory that many foreigners haven’t heard and don’t care about. But, it has to compete for attention with the more internationally-known ones. That’s like making a US episode in which lesser known places like Savannah or Austin have to compete for attention with New York City and Los Angeles.

    The only thing I love about the episode is the scene where cameraman Todd Liebler accidentally crashed the piling plates of foods in a Padang restaurant (there is a reason why those areas are off-limit to customers, for God’s sake). The farce is the only reason why I still keep re-watching it.

    Even though I think Andrew Zimmern is an inferior host in comparison with his sometimes cringeworthy behaviours and conventional style of communication, his short-lived and little-known show Bizarre World does a better job in portraying Indonesia.

    It dedicates two episodes on my country, each focusing on one specific region: Bali and Sulawesi. While No Reservations gives the impression that Jakarta, West Java and Bali are all the country about, Bizarre World sternly communicates the audience how everything depicted on the screen, including the elaborate Torajan funeral ceremony (which I always want to attend once in my life), is confined to certain localities and does not fully represent the entire country! For me, that’s how one should do a foreign travelling piece!

    The Indonesian episode of Parts Unknown exceeds my expectation… in spite of the Jakarta-Bali cliche!

    The beginning of the episode features having a sumptuous Minangkabau lunch with Desi Anwar, a CNN Indonesia host, and a Dalang (wayang puppeteer). Desi asserted that tasting every Indonesian dish will take us forty years to achieve!

    Obviously, such claim is conjectural. But, I cannot blame every individual who knows Indonesia really well for believing that. The country is indeed really diverse and it is often something I bring up when discussing multiculturalism and Indonesian stereotypes with foreigners. The acknowledgement of its diversity really kicks the No Reservations episode in the nut!

    Desi also claimed that Indonesians enjoy dishes from other ethnicities, even ones they have grudges against. I am so fucking happy she said that! For years, I have been noticing how we love eating foods of the people we constantly demonise! In the US, it is mostly the Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans. In Indonesia, it is mostly the Chinese-Indonesians.

    Not only it exposes more about the insufferableness of humanity, it also exposes human prejudice’s inability to dictate what our taste buds should like or dislike. It sheds light on the deep-rooted universality of food! It probably has something to do with food being one of our basic human needs and our survival instinct compels us to have a taste palate as wide-ranging as possible. But, that’s just my conjecture as someone who never attended a single proper science in his lifetime. Anyway, back to the show.

    I am also happy the episode features a historian with whom Anthony briefly talks the 1960’s anti-communist massacre. It is treated by nationalistic Indonesians just like how the crusades being treated by Christian fundamentalists: glorifyingly!

    I am not a communist and the idea of living under the rule of communism is as terrifying as living under fascism. But, even if the Indonesian communist party (or PKI as popularly known) was indeed involved in the September 30 movement (or G30S as popularly known), I still cannot find any moral justification for the mass killings!

    For one, how do you know every single human casualty involves actual communists? How do you know they were not targeted simply for their Chinese ancestry, their religious beliefs or lack thereof? How do you know the murderers were not purely motivated by bloodlust or the desire to play fucking ‘superheroes’?

    Even if every single victim was indeed a commie, how do you know the entire PKI was involved in G30S? In 1965, the party had over three million members. :iterally millions of them! You cannot expect reasonable minds to believe every single one was directly responsible for the violence! But, most importantly, what makes you think you are the ones with higher moral grounds? What makes you believe you, the apologists of the murders, are the good guys here?

    Why do I act like I can reason with those people? Years after the fall of the Order Baru regime, Indonesians are still willingly getting deep-throated by its propaganda and we love wearing intellectual dishonesty as a fucking badge of honour! Okay, I need to stop with the historical revisionism tangent.

    This is the second reason why I am so happy with the episode. Even though the historical ‘event’ was only being alluded to, the sense of inhumanity is strongly conveyed. I hope this has an effect on the viewers.

    A handful of foreigners among them will probably be intrigued by and start researching about it; they will probably realise how supportive western governments and how apathetic most of the eastern bloc ones about the massacre. The Indonesian viewers, the ones with bloodlust at least, will realise how their beloved foreign idol viewed the historical ‘event’ as an example of humanity at one of its worst , NOT one of its best.

    I never expected that I would discuss such topic in an article about a TV chef. The fact that I can do so emphasises what I said earlier about his political consciousness. But still, I haven’t got to the best part of the episode: the conversations about death.

    Since I was young, I have been told by some fellow Indonesians that ‘death is just the beginning’, which is also how the narrator (who speaks with a ‘sophisticated’ Indonesian accent) puts it. I really doubt it is an exclusively Indonesian belief. But, I like the off-centre approach to cultural exploration.

    Instead of focusing on earthly entities, this episode prefer to zoom in on a metaphysical realm which existence is not believed by every earthly being (this goes back to what I said earlier). The theme is fitting as there are scenes depicting Ngaben, the elaborate Balinese funeral ceremony (which I also have the desire to attend). Typically, documentaries include the thematic conversation to compliment the rituals being depicted. But, in this episode, the roles are reversed!

    The death conversations take around half of the episode’s duration and the Ngaben scenes appear later on. The thematics is the main dish and its tangible representation is the optional condiment. This role reversal strongly argues how cultural heritage goes beyond its tangibility. We strive to protect it for the sake of its souls, NOT merely for its physicality.

    In the light of Anthony’s death, which happened before the post-production process was finalised, this episode may feel eerie for some people. For others like me, it feels deeply poignant. This makes me wonder if he had been thinking about his own death for some times and the conversations was meant to help him contemplating about it.

    Okay, I know I am crossing the boundary here. But, I have to be frank about it: that’s what I am feeling and I am confident some people are feeling the same! The fact that the last season of Parts Unknown is considered ‘unfinished’ intensifies the poignancy.

    After his death, the Indonesian episode is the only ‘unfinished’ one that I have currently watched. As an Indonesian who has been interacting with foreigners regularly for years, I felt obligated to watch and critique every piece about Indonesia that foreigners assemble. Emotionally, I don’t have the gut to watch the other episodes.

    The Indonesian episode is already hard to watch. Never mind the emotionally-fitting theme. The absence of his witty and poetic voice-over asserts there will be no more Anthony Bourdain to tell us stories.

    Watching the other ‘unfinished’ pieces means I will have to listen to the harrowing truth over and over again.

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    What? 2

    I don’t know why. But, I don’t always enjoy shopping for groceries, even though I love to eat. Not to mention that my mind used to be plagued unnerving thoughts while shopping.

    At the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetable sections (In urban Indonesia, fresh produce is not bountiful), I often looked at certain vegetables and thought, ‘there are people who use these as sex toys!’. I don’t know why I had that thought in the first place, considering food sex is not a kink of mine and I hate wasting food.

    At the fruit, vegetable and frozen meat sections, I often looked at the produces and thought, ‘I could people with these. I could use them to beat people to death with this!’. This violent thought lingered a lot longer.

    One hour and forty-five minutes later.

    My mind loves to go everywhere. Instead of thinking about continuing the previous paragraph properly, I prefer to focus on the music I am listening right now (John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine) and to smell the food someone is cooking right now (flour-coated deep fried shrimps and stir-fried broccoli and carrot).

    God, now I am distracted again because I am listening to the orchestral rendition of a musical composition written by a Brazilian.

    Three days later.

    I love to let myself distracted by everything. Foods, music, Youtube videos, life in general. Maybe it’s ADD, maybe it’s Maybelline. I try my best to not be distracted…… and that’s why I am playing an MP4 video right now on my computer instead of typing. Slow claps for me.

    I have to pause it now. The video is an almost two-hour-long PBS documentary about Darwin’s evolution theory. It talked about how even Darwin himself didn’t know how evolution happened. But, he knew it happened based on his observations about the physical world, which in this case were the finches on Easter islands.

    I hate how people use the word ‘theory’. A theory is not a guess. A theory is something that we come up after the research, not before. A theory is something that can be supported by further researches. When people think about theory, they actually think about hypothesis. Wait, no. Even a hypothesis should be followed by research. It sets off the research; it is not the ending. So, when people think about theory, they actually think about mindless guessing.

    As annoying as it is, this ain’t surprising. People love to think scientists are professional guessers because they are projecting. They love to make mindless guesses in their daily lives. To justify that flaw of theirs, they accuse scientists, the so-called educated people, of doing the same. They want to feel good about their horrendeously imperfect selves.

    I hate it when people romanticise each other. When certain public figures become more famous because of their good deeds, we love to make Gods out of them. It is unthinkable that they can commit any sins. In fact, we will guilt trip anyone who don’t follow those celebrities’ footsteps, anyone who refuse to admire them. This is reflected in our pop culture.

    More of than not, you will encounter lots of highly-moral protagonists, so moral that they are unrealistic. The more critical-minded among us will be repulsed by such unnaturally perfect beings. The villains and anti-heros are more real. Apart from their flaws, they also possess positive traits that can be useful for the good guys.

    Traits like the ability to see the shades of grey in life. The villains and anti-heros often have more nuanced outlooks. Not only they are more real, they are more competent! Like it or not, that is why those dark characters can still have large fandoms, sometimes bigger than the ones for the good guys.