While I stepped back

Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev | unsplash.com
Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev | unsplash.com

It has been quite the month. I have spent three weeks of the past four being sick, rushing to Emergency, having surgery, and convalescing at home. I am about to go back to work tomorrow. 

Time felt different when I was sick. If I’m on holidays, the texture of the days are carefree and focused on doing fun, unscheduled things. When I was sick, it was an effort to get through a day, and the earlier weeks were full of medications and anxieties. Worrying about work and the fact that I was taking unplanned time away from it (especially when a new year’s semester is kicking off properly) didn’t help with taking things easy and resting up. 

All that said, things happened while I was MIA. I was grateful for them. These projects were already rolling along beforehand, and were brought to fruition by wonderful colleagues. Seeing them out and about made me feel less like I was doing nothing and falling behind…even though I was doing nothing and falling behind. Continue reading “While I stepped back”

Top 3 reasons why I liked 2020

Still from The Fall (2013-2016) | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fall_(TV_series)
One of my lockdown habits | Gillian Anderson in a still from The Fall (2013-2016) | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fall_(TV_series)

The pandemic rages on around the world and, here in Australia, we are lucky to have an almost-normal existence. 2020 undoubtedly sucked in many ways. Undoubtedly. I have written about its suckitude through the year – in blogposts, emails, and on Twitter.

That said, there were elements to it that I found really positive and I want to talk about the Top 3 of these in this post. Yes, I remain a sucker for listicles. I should preface all that follows with the caveat that I am (for the moment) in a continuing academic job and cushioned from many of the financial ramifications of living in lockdown and not being able to travel. Continue reading “Top 3 reasons why I liked 2020”

A January post

Photo from ‘Crossing Lines’ exhibition, Jan 2020. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/keith-haring-jean-michel-basquiat

I’m getting in early this year with a post to set the tone, if not the pace.

Realistically, with running two other blogs that publish weekly (and have much more invested in their regular schedule), this blog will not get more love in 2020. I published five posts here last year. If I can match that this year, I’d be OK with it. Tseen’s life lessson: low expectations = frequent happiness.

I’m using this first post of 2020 to report back on my “Recharge wishlist” from our  last post for 2019 at Research Whisperer. In that post, Jonathan and I talked about how we were going to exhale and recharge over the holiday break. Continue reading “A January post”

Placeholder Post

No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Best intentions and all. Life’s totally overtaken my blogging schedule.

I started a new job at a new institution recently, and my new commute is 3 hours a day. While I thought this would mean OMG so much writing time, it has not come to pass. On a swaying bus, the best ‘work’ I can do is checking emails + tweeting from my various accounts (AASRN and Research Whisperer, mostly).

I’m keeping this here as a placeholder until things settle down. I’ve started dozens of posts, but never saw them through. Poised over the keyboard, thinking I needed to write something insightful and worthwhile shunting out into the world, I usually balk.

So, if you’re looking at this blog because you’ve found me via one of the hats I wear, here are some shortcuts for finding the kind of stuff you might be interested in:

Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for about five years, I need to start shedding some roles…


Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Bit of a break in service on the blog here.

There’s a few half-started posts in the queue – I can’t even call them half-finished.

I want to blog quite a few reviews that are AWW2013-relevant. I was so proud of myself for being on-task with the challenge, but good intentions were waylaid by a bunch of things. I guess they all make up that thing called life.

My mother’s hip surgery and ensuing hospital stay. Sick family pet that we had to have put to sleep. All this with backdrop of general domestic frenzy, and higher load at work because of a particular development program.

Every time I sat down to work on blogposts, I’d end up skimming Twitter and Facebook. And write barely 50 words.

One of the posts that’s started is a report from an event that was held back in mid-July. It’s starting to get a bit stale. I’m wondering whether I should bother finishing it. Weirdly enough, I was there the entire time but it did feel odd to be there. Am ambivalent about my participation and I think that comes through with the difficulty I’ve had writing it up. So, it’s not just laziness + being distracted by shiny things. Not all the time.

Most recently, we started watching the Scando cop series, The Bridge. Recommended to us by my sis and @sommystar, it’s a series we’re very much enjoying but, of course, it’s in a blend of Danish and Swedish. This means I can’t be blogging away or editing things because I have to read the subtitles (the dialogue is great – even though I think we’re losing out big time on in-jokes and cultural nuance with the translation [not sure if there are different versions of the show’s subtitles, but the series we have been watching has slightly dodgy titles at times]).

Several things that these waves of distraction have taught me: the consistency of my online blogging time really does drive the quality of my posts here and on Research Whisperer; my mother does so much for us within our domestic routines; and I do have fluctuating thresholds for social media (and this threshold was reached several times when I was feeling preoccupied and stressed).

Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.


Crowded kitchens

Mum's sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Mum’s sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I take my family’s kitchen skills for granted.

I forget how much food and cooking knowledge I’ve gained purely through osmosis, and watching others do their thing.

Like many Malaysian Chinese families (or Asian families more generally?), we’ve always been big on feasting and special occasion meals. Wisely, my siblings and I also snagged partners who were similarly appreciative of sharing food and making meals meaningful.

My mum and dad have always been keen cooks, and my mum has taken formal cooking classes in a broad range of cuisines. She takes on the lion’s share of the household’s dinners, and we have a family dinner every Sunday night. Her collection of cookbooks is formidable, and it includes a lot of bilingual 1960s/70s books from Malaysia. Once upon a time, we used to have regular dinners for 40 or more people at our Brisbane house in Chapel Hill. It wasn’t that large a house, and the 1970s kitchen from which she and my dad produced massive feasts was tiny + very badly designed.

My brother is a chef; he’s been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. He has worked at a whole range of restaurants, bistros, and cafes – in Brisbane, Melbourne, and around the UK. He’s currently in his cheffing dream job, one that allows him to get home in the afternoon so he can focus on gardening and having a life outside the industry. That said, he’s an obsessive breadmaker (and loves experimenting with sourdough and ciabatta), and loves crossing the back fence to bring us samples. This is a practice we encourage. Greatly.

My SIL is a qualified chef. Of course. She introduced us to the seductions of whole cauliflower mornay and excellent coleslaw. She joins my brother in culinary adventures, not to mention the incredible food hampers we are privileged to get every Christmas. C. also writes a food blog and has overall mad kitchen skills.

My husband is a great cook, he’s the obsessive genius behind our family’s novelty cake series. He’s the kind of person who can turn his hand to anything and, with vague instructions from the internet, make it a success. His Christmas puddings have all been excellent (traditional plum pudding, as well as chocolate), and I remember very fondly the meals he cooked for me when we were dating. They were fab, and – strangely enough – seemed inspired by 1970s Women’s Weekly cookbooks (e.g. beef stroganoff, prawn cocktails).

Why am I telling you all this?


Flavour’s in the fat

A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
A hoard of bittergourd (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

So, I got some stick for declaring that I liked sweet and sour pork some posts ago, when I wrote about being a “Bad Asian“.

It made me feel like writing this post that you’re reading now – a post that is a paean to all the ‘bad’ food that I like. Because I’m appropriately exotic and relatively well-travelled, people want to assume that I’m culinarily sophisticated. I’m afraid not.

While I do draw the line at Chiko Rolls (I’ve only ever eaten half of one in my entire life – I couldn’t finish it), I have a simple palate. Just as I constantly disappoint people who expect someone with a PhD in English to be au fait with all the ‘classics’, my affection for things like sweet and sour pork, and char siu bao, is viewed with some regret.

I wouldn’t be the one leading the way to food adventures, Andrew Zimmern-style.

Something that our family – and many other Chinese Malaysian families – specialise in is lots of ways to eat pork-belly. Before various blood pressure and gall-stone scares, you can guarantee that there would always be a slab of pork-belly in our freezer. Always.


Genealogy of cake

Cakeworld hardware (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Regular readers of this blog – and people who know me IRL – will know that my family’s obsessed with food in general, and cake decoration in particular.

I’ve previously posted photos of (mostly) my partner’s work in the novelty cake department (see HERE and HERE).

What I haven’t talked about is my mother’s devotion to sugar-art and cake-decorating for a couple of decades when we were younger. And she was younger, and her hands steadier.

Her toolkit of icing implements is still here, fully tricked out with all the nozzle sizes and shapes for piping that you could desire – all metal, and to be screwed into old-school icing bags. She’s still got the coloured twine and wires that were for the miniature icing flowers she’d make by hand. There are even beaded stalks that are meant be flower styles or stamens.

For most of the 1980s and part of the 1990s, my mother was the go-to person in our clan for engagement, 21st and special birthday cakes. I think she may have done a wedding cake here or there as well.


Cake update – 2008-2010

It has been quite a few years since I wrote this post in 2008 and presented a round-up of the novelty cakes that our family had done. Four and a half years later, the tradition is still going strong.

I’m updating the cake pics, and these ones take us through the tail end of 2008 to 2010, and I’m only including those that have novelty aspects and were made by S.

Click on the cut for the rest of the pic-heavy post!