A Sweltering Australian Christmas

This Christmas, temperatures have reached 40.6C in Adelaide! Phew, that’s hot alright.

In Australia, it’s common for massive bushfires to break out around the country during Christmas which occurs during the beginning of summer.

What is amazing is the saving spirit of volunteer bush fire fighters who travel from all over Australia to help save people and property affected by these fires.

Pretty symbolic during the season that celebrates the saving grace of the birth of Jesus Christ!

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

Introducing Mungo Man, the oldest human in [Australia]

Lake Mungo is where the remains of the oldest human thought to be living in Australia, were found. His remains help us to understand how long the Aborigines, Australia’s indigenous people, have lived on the continent for.

At present, 3% of Australia’s population identify themselves as being Aboriginal.

The name “aborigine” derives from the Latin, meaning “original inhabitants.”


In February 1974, Geologist Jim Bowler found a set of bones at Lake Mungo that proved how the Aborigines have been living on the continent for an unbelievably long time. Although the Aborigines had claimed to know this for a long while, scientists had their own beliefs supported by research, rather than word of mouth, that Aboriginals had arrived in Australia from Asia around 20,000 years ago.

Much to the surprise of the scientists, Bowler’s discovery of Mungo Man pushed the date of the Aboriginals’ arrival to Australia to at least another 20,000 years back.

Mungo Man’s ritualistic burial also shed light on how a sophisticated culture had emerged on the far side of the Indian Ocean from Africa much earlier than anyone could ever have imagined.

Yes, all of us, except for the Aborigines of course.


Prison origin of the Land Down Under [Australia]

Is it simply coincidence that this week, my student e-mailed me about her visit to Australia, her favourite place being Port Arthur, a former prison colony in Tasmania?

Also, after making up our minds to travel to Australia at (Art)iculate Culture, I had stopped by the Central City library to find a timely book called “Australian Literature, An Anthology of Writing from the Land Down Under” edited by Phyllis Fahrie Adelson.

“Perfect! Just what I had need!”I had exclaimed, grabbing that book along with many other books of my interest. Then, I balanced the stack of books to the corner of the library where my suitcase was sitting. Why had I brought a suitcase to the library? I had carried the suitcase along with me with the intention of clearing my office table as my full-time job, along with the year, draws to an end.

Eventually, I realised that I had to visit my office another day due to my stubborn will of forcing all the library books into the suitcase.

The Land Down Under

Now, let’s take a trip past the equator and below to look at Australia. Taking a trip back to the 1770 when English Explorer Captain James Cook had visited the east coast of Australia in the ship Endeavour, it is of great literary concern to find out that most of the settlers who followed him there arrived in chains. With Australia’s prison origin, we are left to wonder what it means for a nation to know that it begun as a society of convicts and guards?

Before the last penal colony was closed in 1877, more than 160,000 men, women, and children, sentenced for crimes ranging from attendance at a politically suspect meeting to murder, were sent to Australia.

‘The Unknown Industrial Prisoner’ by John Ireland

This Miles-Franklin award-winning novel should be worth a read. It portrays contemporary industrial Australia as one huge prison, showing the worker as a convict and a slave to a dehumanising system of work and international business.


Featured image: Fremantle Prison by Rob

41 Years Ago Today — Mitch Teemley [Vietnam]

Leaving Vietnam with this significant post by Mitch Teemly.

“In honor of those who gave their lives.

And those whose lives were changed forever.”

By the time the war ended, 58,220 American soldiers had died in Vietnam. And, in a strange irony, 50,000 of the people they’d gone to save had been evacuated to the United States. It was the largest airlift in U.S. history. I remember when the refugees arrived at the Marine Corps Air Station in Orange […]

via 41 Years Ago Today — Mitch Teemley

Feature Image: Sunrise on Eastern Sea, Vietnam by Loi Nguyen Duc.

Saigon falls, Pho popularises. [Vietnam]

Enough about the war. Let’s dig into Vietnam’s national dish of Beef Noodles Broth- Pho.

Born in the North of the country, Pho originated in the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Symbolic 1954

It was in 1954 when the French Colonial period drew to an end and the Geneva Accords divided the country into North and South. When Saigon (South) fell, many Northerners migrated southwards, annuoncing the arrival of Northern-style Pho to the South.

The Southerners were actually familiar with Pho by 1950 but the Northerners claimed that Pho did not really popularise until they brought the dish over to other regions from the time of the country’s division.

There are even restaurants named “Pho 54” that verify the year of 1954 being an important marker of Vietnamese history and the popularisation of Pho.


Pho’s Origins

Here’s a fairly sensible explanation of Pho’s origins that was presented in “100 Nam Pho Viet” (“100 Years of Pho”), a historical essay by Trinh Quang Dung.

“In the Hanoi area during the early 1900s, there was a lot of interaction between the Vietnamese, French, and Chinese from the neighboring Guangdong and Yunnan provinces.

The French, who officially occupied Vietnam from the 1880s to 1954,
satiated their desires for tender steaks by slaughtering cows, which the Vietnamese traditionally used as draft animals. The leftover bones and scraps were salvaged and sold by a handful of Hanoi butchers. 

Locals hadn’t yet developed a taste for beef, and the butchers had to promote it via special deals and sales. Street vendors who were already selling noodle soup recognized an opportunity to offer something new.

At that time, a noodle soup called xao trau was very popular. It was simply made, with slices of water-buffalo meat cooked in broth and rice vermicelli. Vendors began swapping beef for water buffalo and trading flat rice noodles for round rice vermicelli.”

Differences of Pho in the North and South

The Broth is a crucial component of the dish- it is the body to the dish. In the North (Hanoi) and South (Saigon) of Vietnam, there are distinguishable traits in the Broth, as well as in other elements of the dish’s preparation and serving.

Hanoi, North

  • Boiling of only beef bones to make a clearer broth.
  • More seasoning is added into the soup which makes their broth ‘salty-tasting’ to those in the South.
  • No options of noodle type when ordering Pho in the North.
  • No beansprouts and basil available.
  • You’d almost never get to see just beef bone in their Pho.

Saigon, South

  • Boiling of beef bones, and sometimes, even chicken bones or dried squid to make the broth even more flavourful
  • This broth tastes ‘too sweet’ to those in the North.
  • You get to choose a thinner variety of noodles.
  • A plate of various kinds of vegetables is served with Pho
  • You get to choose if you want the meat to be cooked rare, medium or well-done.
  • You get to choose what kind of meat you would like such as fillet, meat with bones or bone only.


For a more in depth understanding on the History of Pho, check out Andrea Nguyen’s research on the dish.


Feature image from : http://omnivorescookbook.com/pho-noodle-soup


Good Soldiers are Invaluable [Vietnam]

It took a while to find the book ‘The Sorrow of War’ by Bao Ninh in the library.

Being the only book with the call number of ‘BAO’, it shyly hid itself among the other books which surrounded it by stretching both vertically and horizontally across the massive library.

“This better be good for all the effort it took to finally have you in my hands,” were the words muttered when picking up the book written by a former soldier of the Vietnam War, one of the ten who survived among the five hundred who went to war with the brigade in 1969.

When reading the novel, I had to question myself what I wanted out of a book which I expected to be ‘good’. How amazing could the traumatising recount of war’s events get? For it to be ‘good’, it had to freeze me in my thoughts and actions.

Frozen I was, for the rest of the week.

Shockingly, it wasn’t the grissly events that left my eyes fixated into nothingness before me . Rather, it was the reality that after hell had already broken loose in the country, civilians and soldiers had to go back to living life normally again after the war.

Their suffering lay in having to carry a portion of hell, living alongside it for the rest of life. One can attempt to ignore the agonising past, but to completely bury it- would be impossible. Maybe it’ll even follow the soldiers into eternity, being the cause for their permanent damnation.

“The end of fighting was like the deflation of an entire landscape, with fields, mountains, and rivers collapsing in themselves.”

In Ninh’s raw recollection of the barbaric war, sorrow gushed forth in surrender and hopelessness lay limp in victory.

After completing half the book, I intentionally put it aside. I could not carry the painful weight of Bao’s memories as he started juxtaposing war scenes with the cherished past of himself and his first love before the war.

History of War in Vietnam

Vietnam was first a part of IndoChina from 1940 to 1945.

IndoChina consists of Cambodia, Laos and the Empire of Annam which includes Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China.

In the late 19th century, the French gradually assimilated the whole of IndoChina into its rule. The Japanese significantly entered the scene in 1938 when both the Japanese and French mobilised for War over control of the region.

In the meanwhile, while Vietnam was being tossed between these two countries, a communist uprising was brewing in the North, led by Ho Ch Minh. Eventually, America would intervene in its attempt to step down upon Communism.

We would then be led into the First IndoChina War (1946-1954), followed by the Second IndoChina War (1955-1975), commonly known as Vietnam’s resistance war against America.

In Vietnam’s resistance war against America, North Vietnam was fighting against South Vietnam’s government. Many other countries had entered the scenes such as South Korea, Australia and Thailand who supported the South of Vietnam and resisted Communism as well as the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union and other countries who lent military aid to the North. 

Check out the page ‘I Love Vietnam’ on youtube. It has a thirty two part series on Vietnam History for Foreigners that we found to be quite comprehensive and easy to understand.


Feature Image: North Vietnamese soldiers by manhhai, Flickr.

Burning the Indians to honour the Redeemer? [Dominican Republic]

This picture shows a genocide of the Indian population as how Friar Bartolome Las Casa described in his work, “A Brief Report on the Destruction of the Indes”:

”They made a gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground, and by thirteens, in honour and reverence of our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles, they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive.”

Friar Bartolome Las Casa was a humanitarian who fought for the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

When he first arrived in Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1502, Bartolome de Las Casa wanted to make it big. Unexpectedly, he surprised himself by making the decision to become a friar.

After ending his studies in 1526, he followed the instructions of his superiors and went to the Northern coast of Hispaniola to build a monastery. It was in the monastery where he began one of his greatest works, Historia general de las Indias, that took up about 35 years of his life, to give his perspective of how the Native Americans were being terribly treated.


More from “A Brief Report on the Destruction of the Indes”:

“The Christians, with their horses and swords and lances,began to slaughter and practise strange cruelty among them.  They penetrated into the country and spared neither children nor the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labour, all of whom they ran through the body and lacerated, as though they were assaulting so many lambs herded in their sheepfold.

They made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow: or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mothers’ breast by the feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. Others, they seized by the shoulders and threw into the rivers, laughing and joking, and when they fell into the water they exclaimed: “boil body of so and so!”…..

They wrapped the bodies of others entirely in dry straw, binding them in it and setting fire to it; and so they burned them. They cut off the hands of all they wished to take alive, made them carry them fastened on to them, and said: “Go and carry letters”: that is; take the news to those who have fled to the mountains.

They generally killed the lords and nobles in the following way. They made wooden gridirons of stakes, bound them upon them, and made a slow fire beneath: thus the victims gave up the spirit by degrees, emitting cries of despair in their torture.

I once saw that they had four or five of the chief lords stretched on the gridirons to burn them, and I think also there were two or three pairs of gridirons, where they were burning others; and because they cried aloud and annoyed the captain or prevented him sleeping, he commanded that they should strangle them: the officer who was burning them was worse than a hangman and did not wish to suffocate them, but with his own hands he gagged them, so that they should not make themselves heard, and he stirred up the fire, until they roasted slowly, according to his pleasure. I know his name, and knew also his relations in Seville. I saw all the above things and numberless others.”


Featured Image from:  http://beyondforeignness.org/1034

Mangú: Slave Breakfast? [Dominican Republic]

We don’t know if it was co-incidence that Dad bought home plantains the same week we decided to travel to Dominican Republic.


Taken from: http://thatgirlcookshealthy.com
Taken from: http://thatgirlcookshealthy.com

Mangú is the official breakfast of Dominican Republic. Back here in Singapore, people commonly head out for a cup of kopi or teh (local coffee and tea) at a coffeeshop in the morning. They can choose to have their caffeine with something savoury or sweet. Whatever the case, warm and crispy toast with kaya (coconut jam) and slabs of cold butter is traditional in our Home country. Let’s just say that our tongues are accustomed to a sweet breakfast.

After procrastinating for a long time as to when we would make Mangú, other responsibilities in life got in the way and the green plantains are still lying in the refrigerator on a Sunday. Tomorrow, we have to pack up our bags and move to another country.

Mango is a simple dish of boiled plantains is made with butter or olive oil. It can be consumed by itself or with hearty and savoury side dishes like salami, fried cheese or even topped with pickle, red onions. During Spanish colonial times, West African slaves had brought this dish to the island.

Slavery in Dominican Republic

Slavery was not new to the country with the arrival of the Europeans. Beforehand, when Christopher Columbus had discovered Hispaniola (1492), the Spanish settlers had already attempted to enslave the indigenous Tainos who were part of the Arawak cultural group.

The Taino population was destroyed by European diseases, and it took the Spanish settlers some time to notice that the Taino population had plummeted from about 400,000 people to less than 3,000 so early during their rule.

Since the Native Americans could not be used for slave trade, the settlers began to import captive Africans but this was after they obtained permission from the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand I and Isabella in 1501. Although the first captive Africans were sold as slaves in Santo Domingo in 1503, Santo Domingo did not flourish as a slave country. This was because livestock had become an important industry there and this did not require much slave labour unlike sugar plantations in the West.

Bachata, drive that bitterness away! [Dominican Republic]

Bachata is a genre of music that has its origins in the brothels and bars of Dominican Republic. It is an offspring of marginality and poverty.

Dominican musician Crispin Fernandez, places suffering in the broader context of Dominican history. “Our people have suffered plenty and can sing their bachata to pain,” he says.

The bachata dance, well-known for its closed position and sensuality, developed alongside the music and is now danced by people from all over the world. According to Bachata musicians, it was in the 1970s that the guitar-based music they played started being identified as the term bachata.

Dictator Rafael Trujillo , who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist for almost thirty years, was known to have despised bachata. He wished for all music played publicly to reflect a modern society, and bachata players, usually poor, rural or uneducated, certainly did not reflect his image of a modern regime.

Trujillo was assasinated in 1961 and by the 1970s, the bachata had already been imbued with negative connotations. It was seen as being backward, low in quality and better to be confined to ‘rural’ areas.  When a middle or upper-class person hears that music, it would be common to hear them exclaim to “Take that Bachata off!”

Listeners and Musicians of bachata were called bachatero, a derogatory term in nature.

Before the 1990s, bachata was also seen as disgraceful to the country’s music business. Only provincial or minor AM stations would play the music. Low-class bars would feature live bachata performances and bachata records could only be purchased in street stalls in working-class shopping districts. This made it hard for bachata to extend its reach beyond the country’s lower classes.

Since the 1990s though, Bachata has permeated through the socio-political boundaries and seen significant changes. Electric guitars have been introduced into the music by the bachateros themselves.

Middle and upper class musicians have intruded into the bachata domain too, redefining the status of the genre.


Feature image from risingsunartscentre.org

Cross Crafting: Duality between Christianity and Paganism [Lithuania]

Country: Lithuania

In Lithuania, the last European state to abandon paganism officially in 1387, Cross Crafting is referred to the tradition of making crosses and altars. Crosses were built in Lithuania even during Soviet ruling. With incorporation into the Orthodox Russian Empire in the 19th century, and even more so under the Soviet Regime, these crosses became the symbol of Lithuanian national and religious identity.

The crosses which are carved out of oak are linked to Catholic rituals as well as to Harvest celebrations. They represent a culture that is more than 400 years old, whose roots are rechristened and ought to be found in pagan traditions.


Lithuanian paganism reinstates the link between man and nature and sees other polytheistic traditional faiths, including Hindu, to be more acceptable than either monotheism or atheism.

Lithuanian language holds similarities to Sanskrit because both languages fall under the branch of Proto Indo-European.

Taken from http://www.lituanus.org/1982_1/82_1_01.htm
Taken from http://www.lituanus.org/1982_1/82_1_01.htm

Modern paganism is called Romuva. The Romuva are the fastest-growing religious community in Lithuania. Their membership has increased from 1270 to some 5100 between censae years 2001 and 2011. Romuva was named after a temple of tranquility that existed in the pre-medieval period, founded by the Lithuanian duke Skirmantas.

Cross Crafting

Crosses are between one and five metres high and are often adorned with a small roof and floral or geometric decorations. Once the cross has been consecrated by the priest, it takes on a unique sacred significance.

At the crosses, different offerings are sometimes made during prayer requests, including food, coloured scarves or aprons which symbolise fertility! The crosses are placed on roadsides, on entrances to the villages, near other monuments or in cemeteries.

The most famous Lithuanian cross crafter was Vincas Svirskis (1835-1916) whose crosses are now kept in national museums.


Feature image: Hill of Crosses by Guillaume Spurt, Flickr

Venclova’s Crow [Lithuania]

Country: Lithuania

In the striking words of Tomas Venclova in his poem ‘In the Lake Region’,
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us
and about history’s dirt than we do ourselves.

Lithuania’s difficult past filled with suffering, certainly is not portrayed as something that is virtuous or holy. The past is described as something that attempts to inform us.

Venclcoa goes on to talk about how his Crow in the poem knows more about the people and history than the people themselves. To us, Venclova’s Crow represents Art. The deeper you venture into art forms to experience the past, more of history’s dirt and treasures are resurfaced.

Tomas Venclova was a Lithuanian poet born in 1937 who experienced firsthand the annexation and occupation of Lithuania by the USSR during and after the Second World War. He was one of the five founders of the  Lithuanian Helsinki Group whose main purpose was to ensure that the humanitarian articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, were observed and fulfilled. In their efforts of monitoring human rights, the group would use research gained through first hand testimonials and fact-finding missions to publish reports of Soviet Human Rights abuses.

The Lithuanian group also took up the cases of Latvians and Estonians as well when it became clear that Helsinki groups were not going to be formed in the other two Baltic republics. Unfortunately, seven years after its foundation, the group ceased to exist in Lithuania. In 1977, Tomas Venclova’s dissident activities on behalf of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group led to his forced exile and residency in the US, where he teaches at Yale University.


Here is the translation of Venclova’s complete poem.


In the Lake Region by Tomas Venclova
Translated by Ellen Hinsey


When you open the door, everything falls into place—
the little ferry by the wharf, fir trees and thujas.
An old woman, feeding ducks, seems as old as Leni
Riefenstahl. At the base of the hill, chestnut trees, not yet in full bloom,
are younger—but probably as old as her films.
All is wet and bright. A hedgehog or God-knows-whose-soul
is rummaging in last year’s leaves. Dead water and living water
fill the plain. The twins Celsius and Fahrenheit
are predicting spring weather—while a shadow obscures
the past (just like the present). The first serene weeks scour the bridges
in a peaceful corner of Europe between Wannsee and Potsdam—where
much has happened, but, probably, nothing more will.
For days we have been watching a ragged crow—in the garden,
sometimes on the roof. The ancients would have said her
stubbornness augurs something. Emerging from the wood’s
depths, she lights on one antenna crossbar
then another, her surface bright as mercury
in a thermometer’s glass. But these are fever marks
we are incapable of understanding. The beginning of agony?
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us
and about history’s dirt than we do ourselves.
Of what does she want to remind us? Of the black photos, the black headphones
of radio operators, black signatures under documents,
of the unarmed with their frozen pupils—of the prisoner’s boot or the trunk
of the refugee? Probably not. We will remember this anyway,
though it won’t make us any wiser. The bird signifies only stoicism
and patience. If you ask for them, your request will be granted.

Feature photo: Crows by Terry Madely, Flickr.


Baltic Spy Guide [Lithuania]

Country: Lithuania

The Lithuanians must really have had enough of the Russians.

Much of Lithuania’s history is steeped under Russia’s control. From 1795 to 1918, the Russian Empire ruled them. That’s roughly 123 years.

Just when the Lithuanians were about to pick up from their past and find a voice of their own, they were victims once again of the Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1990, forced to learn the language of their oppressors as the Russian language was mandatory.

It seems like the country is still living in fear but at least the citizens are now receiving spy training.

The Spy Guide

Lithuania published a 75-page guide in its capital for three million of its citizens in October on how to…be a spy.

Even schools and libraries will have this guide. In the manual supported with detailed images of Russian-made tanks, grenades, mines and guns, Lithuanians will be taught how to spy on their enemy and report their presence to the government hotline in case they feel suspicious of anyone being a spy.

It is the third time the Lithuanian government has distributed such a handbook since the Russian annexation of Crimea.
The last one that it published in December 2015, was entitled “Prepare to survive emergencies and war: a cheerful take on serious recommendations.”
They’ve certainly gotten more serious about their enemy.


Can Lithuania depend on NATO? 

Although Lithuania is a part of NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), it knows that Putin believes that NATO might not risk a full-scale continent wide war for a small Baltic nation such as itself.

We wonder what the Lithuanians think about NATO having its back. Despite the hope they might thrive on, the country still needs to independently step up its defence efforts, especially in this era of uncertainty.

For starters, Lithuania has announced just this year that it would restart military conscription for men aged 19-26 although it had previously abolished it in 2008.

Fair enough.


Feature Image: Spy by Alex LA, Flickr.