Rude Rojak.

November 28, 2007

Everyday, a man rides in on a motorcycle to my void deck and stops in the middle. He then sounds a horn several times and before long, streams of eager aunties and the heartland like pile up around a large box mounted behind his motorcycle, waving their money at him, dying for their fix.

No, this is not some dope dealer or neighbourhood pirated DVD seller. He is, however, doing something that in the eyes of the Singapore law, is equally illegal. He is an unlicensed hawker and his food of choice is the quintessential Singapore creation – Rojak.

As far back as I can remember (and I’ve been living in this estate since I was 17, which makes it 14 years, which makes me … how old? Forget it) Mr. Illegal Rojak Man has always been peddling his stickily sweet creations under my block, managing to avoid the law for who knows how long as well.

On afternoons when I would come home from short days in school, I bought many a packet from him. I loved the whole DIY nature of his rojak. Basically, the ingredients would be would be stored compactly in the box on the back of his bike, which, when opened, formed a makeshift preparation table. On this table would be a ceramic mixing bowl in which he mixed in the sweet sauce, peanuts and everything else. And his secret ingredient would be stored in a non-descript plastic jar. It was some murky water that he mixed in with every serving of rojak. Many a customer has speculated as to the contents of this water and among the conclusions are limejuice, lemonade and even lemongrass water.

I shudder to think what it actually is.

dsc01525.jpg

Anyway, enough about his rojak. Let’s talk about the man who we shall call Mr. Rojak.

This guy is an asshole in every sense of the word.

Seriously.

I know people always talk about old people from their past and especially street hawkers that they’ve known for years and whose food they grew up on and they talk about them in affectionate and oftentimes enduring tones; for Mr. Rojak, that kind of talk is for the birds.

This dude is mean, surly and generally pissed off all of the time.

When I first met him, he barked at me when I couldn’t decide on what I wanted to add into my rojak. Subsequent visits comprised of him yelling at me because I was too specific and “difficult” with my orders, giving me grief for giving him money that was too old and sometimes, ignoring my orders with a vengeance. Now, lest you start thinking that this behaviour is exclusively reserved for me, I have seen him dish out this same crap to other customers as well, so you can be assured that it’s not me – it’s him.

dsc01527.jpg

In fact, it was with great risk that I took these pictures of him. If he ever found out about these pictures or, worse still, this blog entry about him, I have no doubt that he would run me over with his motorcycle and baste my lifeless body in sweet sauce for the birds to pick out of the concrete.

dsc01524.jpg

I believe that would put a huge smile on his craggy face. Sadist.

But then again, it’s been 14 years and everytime I’m at the void deck and he’s there, I have to buy a packet of rojak from him. Someone once told me that the higher powers that be are fair. If that’s the case, his flair for making rojak more than makes up for his being an asshole about everything else. The trappings of culinary genius? I guess so.

So next time you’re around Serangoon North Avenue 1 and you hear a motorcycle, a horn and a snarl, stop by for a while, swallow your pride and buy a bag from him. It’s sweet, it’s savoury, it’s rich, full-bodied, full-textured and Uniquely Singaporean (STB don’t sue me).

It’s Rude Rojak and I love it.

Advertisements

I’d like my coffee (Jack) black, please.

November 19, 2007

Since America dropped the bomb on the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan has increasingly been embracing them in ways that they could never have imagined.

Why do I say that? Well, I recently stumbled upon something in a Japanese supermarket that I frequent (yes, I am a big fan of cold soba noodles and the occasional green tea biscuit) which got me thinking about that. I was walking the aisles, trying to figure out the difference between the $6 and $5 bottles of Soba sauce when it struck me (the image, not the Soba sauce bottles). This is what I saw:

jackblack-coffee.gif

Jack Black Mocha Blend canned coffee.

How strange is that?!!

I must admit, it could’ve just been a coincidence of naming; I mean, it wasn’t like there was Jack Black’s mug posted all over the can – but then again, I’ve been to Tokyo – I know for a fact that if you look left and right in Shibuya – at the world’s busiest intersection – Brad Pitt can be seen peddling Softbank cellphones, Leo DiCaprio is hawking SUVs and Bruce Willis is a die hard Eneos petrol station supporter.

In fact, I’m so enamored by the Bruce Willis Eneos commercial that I’ve posted the YouTube link here for all of you to have a laugh at.

So what is it that makes American stars come to Japan to “bare/sell their commercial souls”?

I suppose it’s easy to explain when you’re a washed-out star like the character that Bill Murray plays in Lost In Translation. It’s obvious that stars like that come to Japan in search of the following two things:

a) A quick paycheck

b) Another shot at fame

Most would say it’s the first reason that’s compelling and not so much the second. I mean, let’s face it, most of the stars would rather be caught without underwear by Perez Hilton than ply the goods they’re unabashedly advertising in Japan. In fact, most of them think that the commercials are cheesy, tacky and generally in poor taste. Just look at Lost In Translation. Can you just hear Bill Murray going:

“For good times, make it Suntori time.”

Ugh.

So it’s the money that drives them to do it, then. It’s reported that Japanese companies pay millions of dollars to Hollywood stars to advertise their products. MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. Yup, I guess that pretty much explains the Bruce Willis fiasco you just saw.

Well, whatever the case for or against the stars, you have to admit, advertising is, in a large part, controlled by the public; in Japan, it’s obvious that America’s hold on them is still pretty strong. Just take a stroll through the streets of Harajuku and you’ll be struck by just how many teenagers have blonde hair / dress up like Elvis Presley / are dancing like Usher. I mean, they even have a statue of Elvis there for God’s sake!

_41789064_statue_ap203.jpg

At the end of the day though, you’ll have to admit that it works. It’s the only reason why that can of Sapporo Jack Black Mocha Blend made its way off the shelf of the supermarket onto my desk right now.

I could’ve got Nescafe. I could’ve drunk Pokka. I could’ve had a Coke.

But of course, I’d like my coffee (Jack) black, please.


God, I love the movies!

November 14, 2007

I remember as a kid, going to the movies with my uncle.

It was always a thrill, like an adventure of sorts. I remember the Star Wars movies or the Stallone action flicks or the inane Crocodile Dundee movies, how the hiss-filled Dolby Stereo sound bounced off the majestic Roman walls of the huge Capitol theatre on North Bridge Road and larger-than-life characters were made even bigger by the towering screen; I felt like I was in the picture instead of just watching it.

Captitol Theatre

Back then, I always wanted to live the life that the characters were living on the screen. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker fighting the evil Empire or I wanted to be Rambo, verbally inadequate, but more than made up for by an arsenal that would put the fear of God into any army in the world. I wanted to be those characters and they lived in my mind long after we left the darkness of the movie theatre and stepped out into the bright sunlight.

Well, these days, everything seems to have changed. The theatres of old have been replaced by the cineplexes of the modern age. Popcorn has replaced Kacang Putih just as computer generated tickets have replaced china graft pencil seat markings on pastel pieces of paper.

In the face of all this technological advancement, has it really changed the way we watch movies?

The question popped into my head as I was watching a movie recently (okay, I was watching a DVD at home) called Someone Like You (it was the wife’s pick – I swear.)

Someone Like You

A standard romantic comedy with Hugh Jackman and Ashley Judd, it was quite fluffy indeed. Now halfway through the movie, as Jackman and Judd were pacing about their shared apartment in their underwear, I had what alcoholics call, a moment of clarity.

I realized that I wanted the life they were living.

I wanted to be living in a rent-control, beautifully converted New York city loft apartment with huge windows, lots of natural light and tastefully expensive décor; I wanted a roommate who looked like Ashley Judd, who would walk out of her room in the middle of the night in her underwear and do a cheerleading routine for me while some other sultry nameless woman slept in silence in my room.

This revelation got me thinking – did the movies change? Or did I?

I went from wanting to save the world from the clutches of galactic evil to a spacious, 3 bedroom apartment with wood panel flooring and a modern kitchen and bath.

Did I lose my values somewhere along the way?

Thinking about it, I came to a conclusion – it’s a wish fulfillment thing.

A movie such as Someone Like You has no inherent social message and neither is it positively life-affirming (unless you count Ashley Judd bouncing up and down in her undies – I know some people would, you know who you are) but still I sit through them, entranced sometimes.

Let’s face it – all films serve a purpose.

Boa Vs Python

(yes, even Boa Vs Python serves a purpose – it expounds the dangers of giant snakes, helpful if you ever meet one.)

Goes without saying then, that the same applies for movies like “Someone Like You”, which clue you in to a lifestyle you would like to have. Bad plots and contrived dialogue aside, they do have in them beautiful apartments with gorgeous roommates who prance around in their undergarments bending over fridges looking for day-old Chinese takeout.

So I have lost my values.

Or maybe it’s just my goals that have changed.

Well, I’d like to think of it as the “I-will-never-get-a-lightsabre-in-the-foreseeable-future-so-why-not-lounge-about-in-my-Ikea-nesting-instinct-in-the-meantime” syndrome. I mean, Ikea does exist but you don’t see Darth Vader doing his shopping there do you?

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be Luke Skywalker and Rambo (okay, maybe not Rambo) all rolled into one but that is a memory from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

So here are the things I know for sure.

I know I will never look like Hugh Jackman. I know I will never get a roommate as hot as Ashley Judd. I know that the possibility of a $90 a week rent-controlled loft in the Village is quite possibly a pipe dream. However, I also know that I will continue to be suckered into watching movies like Someone Like You simply for the possibility that someday, I might actually be, “someone like them”.

These movies feed your desires and wants.

But that’s what movies are all about right?

Suspension of disbelief is a powerful tool and yes, in the face of implausible circumstances, my disbelief is still suspended for that ninety or so minutes in the theatre. Maybe it’s my determination to milk the most out of the price of my movie tickets but I’d like to think that someday, I will have that New York loft, complete with the beautiful roommate (whom my wife doesn’t mind – just kidding, dear) who lounges around in her underwear and yes, if evil does come a-knockin’ at my lavishly wood-paneled door, I will have my trusty lightsabre ready to go at a moments notice.

God, I love the movies.