Welcome 2012 & Saroja Review

01/09/2012 at 11:59 AM (Culture, Drama, Historical, Movies) (, , , , )

So 2011 has said its goodbye. It was a pretty eventful year with two part-time jobs gone and a full-time job gained. So with the arrival of 2012, I’ve got that job in publishing I wanted – it’s a paid one too this time.

I kept my promise of delivering a blog post each week last year (sometimes there were even more than one in a week). Hooray for a non broken New Year resolution from last year! I’m not so sure if I’ll have time to read as much, watch movies as much or go take photos in 2012 as much given the new responsibilities I have but I’ll try.

So I have joined my company’s book club. Unlike me who reads at least one book per week, they read a book per month. So my book reviews will still remain even if my post count might drop and I’ll keep watching movies!

So now we come to the end of the formalities and I’ve even included a review of a little known film from the country I was born in.

Saroja

Saroja - Sinhala movie

Saroja is a film about the conflict that existed between the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the terrorist group known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This created a lot of problems for the peaceful Tamil people not wanting to be involved in the situation but were sometimes forced into terrorism in order to survive.

Note: This civil war started in the early 80s and only ended quite recently after countless broken cease fires and two president assassination attempts – one successful, one not. My school never allowed us to go on an excursion because of the risk and we were learning what to do in case a bomb hit the school – crawl under a desk with a pencil placed in your mouth – from the time we were nine years old. My school included Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers and we all got along. It’s always the grown ups that cause the problems, huh?

Back to the film. Saroja (Nithyavani Kandasami) is a little Tamil girl who hides in the jungle with him after her father is wounded during the war and their house is burned down. When she is searching for food, she meets Varuni (Pramudi Karunarathne), a Sinhalese girl. They both become close friends and the interaction between them is absolutely touching and endearing. Varuni’s family takes in Saroja and her Tamil Tiger father despite the risk involved if they were to be discovered. Of course, the truth comes out when their neighbours pry. The Sinhalese couple harbouring the fugitives points out that Tamil people are also human in their defence with Varuni’s teacher father being the voice of reason and rationality.

While the film has a touching message at its heart, it’s not very original content but at least it wasn’t a Bollywood remake dubbed in Sinhalese like most local teledramas. Nevertheless it was a story that needed to be told and that was done quite effectively by director Somaratne Dissanayake. It comes to a sad conclusion but keeps an element of hope surviving at the finale.

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Fortune Cookie

06/25/2011 at 3:44 AM (Adventure, Australian Literature, Books, Classics, Culture, Educational, Romance) (, , , )

After I read Fishing for Stars (you can read more about it in my previous posts), I had Bryce Courtenay cravings. Books can affect me this way just like cookies and cream flavoured ice cream. So I found myself Fortune Cookie. I was quite lucky because I looked it up on the library catalogue and while it said that it was on the Adult Fiction shelf, I could not find it. So I asked about it from the librarian, who told me it had only arrived a few minutes ago and handed it to me. They had not yet got to replace the returned books.

Basically Fortune Cookie is the story of a fourth-generation Australian born Chinese called Simon Koo who works in advertising but really wants to be an artist. Not a typical Asian stereotype, hmm? In any case his work gets him a promotion so he can try to manage on his own but it’s located in Singapore. Initially he’s not keen as his mum is always on the lookout for matrimonial prospects and that also was where she was born. But everything changes for the better when he meets Mercy B Lord, an orphan Chinese/Japanese girl who was raised by Catholic nuns and who works for an agency called Beatrice Fong. Her name came about when the nuns discovered heron the doorstep and said “Mercy Be, Lord!”

Fortune Cookie Book Cover

He soon falls in love with her and she seems receptive despite his peasant appearance and brick-like build, which can’t be described as handsome in the least. In addition, he has kept the fact that he is wealthy a secret in Singapore to keep his distance from gold-diggers. So he is thrilled when Mercy B Lord accepts and returns his love for her but she keeps disappearing every Thursday. She refuses to talk about it and says if he does bring it up, she will leave him. Unfortunately when his employers threaten him about his liaison with her, he brings up the forbidden subject. Then she packs up and leaves making him finally realise that her regular Thursday assignation is one of a dangerous sort.

To make up for her absence, he makes a painting of her and submits it to a Hong Kong art gallery competition. He captures the very moment that he realised he was in love with her in the painting and adds a symbol particular to a dream had by his ancestors to her gown’s collar. When the painting wins first prize, all is in uproar because Mercy B Lord has lost her anonymity. But Simon manages to see her in secret and she ensures that he doesn’t lose face by her being absent at a gala dinner honouring his painting.

Then Beatrice Fong dies and things start to fall apart again. Simon discovers the habitually drunk American ad man who is his partner and his illiterate Asian housemaid wife are not quite what they appear to be on the surface. His suspicions about his employers are confirmed to be true and he realizes that Mercy B Lord is involved with the drug trafficking trade in Thailand, Burma and also in Singapore, where handling these things were a hanging offence. But together with his friend Danvers and some high-powered people pulling strings, the two lovers are reunited to leave their doubts at rest once the mysteries are uncovered.

You might be wondering why the book is called Fortune Cookie? The story has nothing at all to do with ” a small, delicious cheap round wish cake“. Simon’s name is Kee Koo. He played rugby for his school and one of the school dad’s bet on his team. He won the game when the school had hardly ever won rugby before and the dad made a lot of winnings on the bet. So the winning dad asked Simon “what was his name?”   He said Koo. Then the father asked for his other name and Simon responded with “Kee”. Then the lucky dad said to Simon “You have won me a fortune, Koo Kee”.

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Fishing For Stars

06/19/2011 at 10:54 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Culture, Educational, Inspired, Politics, Romance, War) (, , , , , )

It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.

So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.

Penguin Fishing for Stars Book Cover

Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.

The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.

Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.

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Tribute to Sinhala and Tamil New Year: Kokis Recipe

04/13/2011 at 2:10 PM (Culture, Festivals, Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Sri Lankan New Year, Tradition) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Sinhalese and Tamil New Year is an annual cultural celebration I partake in because of my Sri Lankan heritage. It is a time we prepare traditional meals and sweetmeats and exchange gifts. For my Theravadha Buddhist family, a season with the spirit of Christmas falls during this week of April. There are New Year customs to adhere, New Year prince and princess pageants and some traditional games. These include feats such as the ones below:

Lissana Gaha (Slippery Pole)

Kotta Pora (Pillow Fight)


Kana Mutti (Blindman’s Pots)

Households that celebrate the Sinhala & Tamil New Year follow various types of traditions and rituals from the past. A fire is lit and milk is boiled according to an auspicious time predicted by an astrologer. Bananas along with traditional food items such as kiribath (milk rice), kavum (an oil fried flour cake) and kokis (crunchy rice flour wheel) are prepared and served out by most households since families visit relatives and friends at this time.

My mum and I prepared Kokis this weekend. You’ll find the recipe below.

1. First of all, you need a kokis mould. It should look like the thing circled in red:

It is hard to find an image of a kokis mould!

2. It is also better to have a fry pan with a curved round bottom. Basically we used a pan akin to a mini wok but you can use a larger one. It could be similar to this:

3. You might also need a wooden scraping stick shaped like a bamboo skewer. I think a wooden toothpick would work just as well.

Tip: Have some oil absorbent paper handy to drain excess oil from the kokis once prepared.

Now the equipment issues are out of the way, here are the ingredients:

  • 500g Rice Flour
  • 2 Eggs (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1 litre of Vegetable Oil
  • 2 teacups of Coconut Milk
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt

If you have access to all those, here is how to make it:

Step 1: Beat the egg yolk.

Step 2: Mix the rice flour, egg yolk and 1 teacup of coconut milk. You can also use coconut cream but you might have to add some water to get the desired batter consistency. Add the turmeric for the deep yellow shade and then the salt and rest of the coconut milk.The batter should be thick as pancake batter.

Step 3: Pour the oil into the wok pan and heat it until it begins to boil.

Step 4: When the oil starts to show bubbles, dip the kokis mould into the batter but without dipping it in completely (if you do, it will be hard to remove once it hardens).

Step 5: Remove the mould from the batter and dip it into the hot oil. Then the batter will detach from the mould but will keep its shape while it is deep-fried. If it sticks to the mould without separating, use the skewer/toothpick to ease it out.

Step 6: As they turn brown and harden, remove the kokis using a spoon. We used a large sieve spoon as it stopped us from scooping up excess oil. Put into a bowl lined with oil absorbent paper.

Step 7: Repeat 4-6 until you finish your batter.

Your finished product should taste crunchy and look like:

Copyright: Krishan Kumar

Post Preparation Tip: If the crunchiness fades after a day or so, heat them up in the oven.

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