Author: ak265

The Slow Emergence of Epiphanies

gld rush

Admittedly as I started my investigation (see previous post “A Foodie’s Attempt at Tech”) I was not quite sure of which direction it would take. Though I knew that the bulk of the research would be personal. It’s through this that I have exhibited my first epiphanies, in varying forms. My first epiphany came in my research of how the cuisine was actually introduced into Australian life with how early it was actually accepted into Australian life. While I was aware that many of the Chinese immigrants who initially moved to Australia came because of the gold rush in the mid 1800’s, I had always presumed that they had primarily held labouring roles. However, it seems that many of the immigrants did not take up these roles and instead opened what were called “cookshops”, which sold traditional foods at cheap prices. These foods were often looked at positively by many of the workers as the high carb levels in the rice and noodle dishes gave them a cheap meal which would sustain them during the day (Stacker, J., Wong, D. and Nichol, B).

 

I was also surprised when researching, particularly through Barbara Nichol PhD, about how common Chinese food had actually become in Australia by the turn of the century, especially in gold rush regions like Victoria. It was around this time that I found my first example of merging styles (which I admittedly found surprisingly exciting) when Nichol’s noted in a 2012 paper “Chinese restaurant families recall that the American servicemen ate off the normal menu of Chinese dishes modified for the Western palate such as chop sueys and chow meins” when writing of the service men based in Australia in WWII. This, to me at least, signified the true start of what I consider to be the Australian suburban Chinese food that is ubiquitous with Australian suburbs today.

My second epiphany focusses around something which, realistically, should have been obvious to me from the start. That Chinese cuisine in Australia is a mixture of multiple of the major cuisines in China. However, this is extremely important. From interviews with multiple participants both from China and with a Chinese background, I found out that the Chinese are obsessed with food. The Chinese embraced the concept of a ‘foodie’ far before modern Westerners turned it into a hipster-central, blog-making, Instagram-obsessed idea. Though while this pride surrounding food is strong and is a defining part of Chinese culture, it could also affect how migrants eat when moving to countries like Australia.

When chatting to Pinki, an Indo-Chinese woman who immigrated to Australia in the mid-1960s, it created the realisation in me about how different Chinese cuisines could be and how someone could live their whole lives in China and never try a dish that is common place in Australia. She noted how when she was taken to a Chinese restaurant upon her arrival in Australia she recognised nothing from the menu and had to let her Anglo-Australian friends order for her as they were more accustomed to the menu. At the time nearly all of Chinese food was from the Canton (Cantonese) region in the north, whereas her family was from the south. This led me to question her as to whether she’s seen any food from her region appear in Australia. The fact that, eventually, she had seen various dishes from southern China appear on menus facilitated my epiphany on this topic. Would people from China even understand the construction of many Australian/Chinese menu’s?

Even when going to traditional Chinese restaurants the diner will often find a mix of dishes from Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangdong and various other Chinese regions. This is the amalgamation of the modern Chinese/Australian population sharing their dishes, allowing the more generic term of “Chinese food” to become far more common in restaurants than restaurants housing the dishes of specific regions. This is possibly because many Chinese citizens identify as Chinese as a nationality rather than focusing on specific regions, especially as more and more people are born on Australian shores. There is also the aspect of cuisines changing to appeal more Western tastes. When speaking of the differences they’ve found with traditional Chinese and the suburban Chinese found in Australia, with all people I talk to it comes down to how the ingredients are used. It was commonly mentioned how in many Chinese dishes meat was used as a garnish to the vegetables, often the opposite in Australian Chinese food. There is also significantly less focus on meats used in China, such as pork and duck, and more focus on beef and chicken (we even use a different type of chicken FYI).

So, with the slow increase in more Australian ingredients being used and the move away from more traditional flavours, could some of the more festive Chinese dishes, such as shark fin soup and sea cucumber, be under threat of becoming an outdated novelty. While none of my participants could speculate at the future of the cuisine they did note that their children often prefer Western style Chinese over traditional much of the time. Even after further investigation I may still not have a valid answer but hopefully I will be able to make a more accurate speculation.

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A Foodie’s Attempt at Tech

duck neck

My topic for Digital Asia has been a constant spiral of self-questioning and confusion as

to whether I’m truly heading in the right direction, a case I’m sure is very common but one that’s frustrating none-the-less. One thing I really like to do is go out and find food that’s interesting and delicious. I can often be found at a food market over an hours drive from my house on the search for new spices, fruits, pastries and meats. This has led to an acceptance of foods from regions all over the world and has significantly helped me in eating everything to offer when travelling to unfamiliar countries. However there has always been one cuisine which I have had trouble trying some of the more peculiar dishes; Asian. While I have no problems with trying new textures and interesting flavours, there are some dishes such as semi-fertilised egg (Laos), bugs (Thailand) and various body parts which are normally discarded (all of Asia) that my Western sensibilities had problems accepting. So, when the opportunity came up to immerse myself in something I was not accustomed to I decided to push myself and finally go out of my way to test some of these dishes which have made me nervous in so many adventures.

However “Asian” is an extremely broad context so I decided to go with a style of cuisine which has permeated Australian cultures for decades, Chinese food. For a long time, and my friends can vouch, I have complained about how annoying it is that theirs is no traditional Chinese food near where I live. However, as much as I complained, I am aware that my knowledge of traditional Chinese cuisine is lacking. From this I decided to investigate the differences between traditional Chinese cuisine and the “Australasian” version which is located in nearly every suburb in Australia. I want to know what is different to the traditional dishes and what is the same, I want to know why Chinese food is so common in Australia and I want to know if I, someone who’s accustomed to avoiding many of the ingredients used in this cuisine, really can embrace the traditional dishes. There is one major problem daunting me though, food is not the most digital of topics to choose. So began my adventure of trying to somehow make food digital.

Right from the start of choosing this topic I knew I would be leaning far more towards the autoethnography side of the subject far more than the digital so I decided to embrace that. While I will be attempting to convert all my research into a digital form, much of my focus (at least initially) will be focused on truly trying to understand and immerse myself into the cuisine and really wrap my head around what the cuisine really is and what it means to particular communities. Research for this kind of topic is multi-facetted. I will need to find secondary research online, do personal research into the food itself and conduct interviews (in person or email) with people either knowledgeable on the topic or with people with a Chinese background who’ve experienced both traditional and Australasian cuisines.

When thinking of how to present my ideas multiple ideas came to mind. A website? A vlog?  A written essay? Why not all of them?

I have decided (for the moment at least) to construct my findings in a blog, in which I can continually update my experiences and findings and include written research I have done as well as videos, photos and interviews I have conducted. This way I will have a collation of all of my research and will give a more eclectic mix of sources to view, instead of a written essay which is the same source and could become tedious to read. I believe that when I am finished the blogs, read consecutively, should give the responder a good insight into my ethnographic experiences through both visual and written sources.

To start my research I decided to dive in head first. I drove up to Hurstville, Sydney, (an area heavily populated by people of Chinese heritage and rich in Chinese culture) and browsed through multiple menus to find similarities. Eventually I ended up trying two small dishes, Chinese spiced duck necks (see above image) and chilli oil pig’s ears. It took a bit of will power (and google translate) to test taste each dish but I’m proud to say I tasted them both and semi-enjoyed them. The desserts such as sago and egg tarts were much easier to enjoy, even with the peculiar textures.

I have no doubt that I will try many weird and bizarre dishes in my research and will gain a much greater appreciation of the cuisine, its heritage and how it has been adapted for a typically Anglo audience.

Unaware Autoethnographer

 

laos

When first glancing at the required reading for autoethnography by Ellis et al. I was a little bit concerned about the length of what I hoped would simply be a definition. However, my concern was unnecessary. While, admittedly, I did have to read quite a few sentences a few times it became a quite interesting read (in no small part due to the division of the text into sub-sections). Slowly but surely, I began to grasp the concept.

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” (Ellis et al., 2010). This style of research honestly excited me because it is not the standard statistical analysis or trawling through sources for data, this style of research creates a personal connection between the case and the researcher and encourages the researcher to engage themselves in the context of the study, instead of the standard forms of observation. This particularly excited me because I’ve always enjoyed immersing myself in environments I’m not accustomed to, through living in multiple other cultures or simply going to events where I wouldn’t normally go.

Reading this piece made me realise that I have been mentally doing informal ethnographic studies since my late teens, when I truly embraced backpacking. While I very rarely documented any findings, reading through old diary entries made me realise that some of the major things I commented on were different customs and my want to find out more. I often documented common traits I found in groups from particular areas and always tried to make friends with locals to try and see the true facets of their society and people. When in Romania I lived in a student loft with a girl I met joined her for New Year’s Eve in the Romanian mountains where I learnt about the problems about being gay and female in former Soviet countries. When Laos I went hiking with some local men I made friends with and stayed in their village, gaining a much more in depth understanding of the living conditions in rural South East Asia. I was, unknowingly, conducted minor ethnographic studies in many of the countries I have been.

The fondness of this style for its lack of statistical analysis, however, also adheres to Ellis’ acknowledgement of the criticisms surrounding autoethnography.  Ellis notes “autoethnography is criticized for either being too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.” The main point I retain from that criticism is that some scientists see the benefits in completing autoethnography studies and some do not. I can see why studies focusing on the experiences of an individual person can be limited in terms of data but I believe that the personal data gained would be unparalleled.

 

 

State of Play

sop-regularGrowing up I loved video games. My PlayStation didn’t have a memory card that worked very well so my brother and I became particularly skilled at completing games in one day (except Chicken Run because that shit was hard). We thought we were pretty skilled right up until the point we went to one of our family friend’s house. When we got there we lost every round of Tekken 3 and it was shocking. Take that insular, naïve point of view away and give it a broader context and you get the exact same feeling when watching State of Play. I didn’t grow up in the most technologically prominent family, my father is a tradie and my mother is an English teacher, so over the years my interactions with video games and advanced technology have been limited, though my interest in them has not been. I was an avid watcher of Good Game (RIP), an ABC television show showcasing and reviewing video games and video game related news, and know people who game competitively so before my viewing of State of Play I was aware of the intensity of gaming competitions in South Korea and of the small fortunes some of these gamers were earning. However, what I was unaware of was the extremely young ages the gamers were starting from.

At the age of 16 I was figuring out what romance was, going to parties and getting picked on for my Dumbo ears (grew into them its ok). It would have been inconceivable to me at such a young age to do something on that level and if I’m being honest, there is a high likelihood it could have broken me, in multiple ways. The amount of stress and intense pressure these young gamers are placed under would break many people and I think when it truly reaches other cultures, such as the USA or England, where composure is not valued so highly, it could do some real mental damage. The dizzying highs of this world could also make re-adapting into the real world after much more difficult, much like what happens to Olympic athletes who retire from their sport extremely young, like gymnasts. In a culture that may be less resilient than South Korea, ex professional gamers could end up feeling unfulfilled and depressed about their lifestyle but the age of their mid-twenties, an age when most people are beginning to find what they want to do in life.