Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why singing makes you feel great

With it being Easter and all that, this week is promising to be very musical.

Since I am in a church choir we’ll be singing Thursday, Friday and Saturday (I also have a singing lesson, a uni choir singing lesson and then a rehearsal on Wednesday) but I don’t mind this as I love singing and it is such an important part of my life. It always will be.

Ever since I was a kid I have sung in choirs but it wasn’t until I moved to Australia that it became a constant part of my life during the good times and the tough.

I remember being 16 and feeling totally dejected but something told me to join a choir. So I ended up joining an adult choir that was part of the University of WA and it ended up being perfect. 

Since I look younger than I actually am (I must have looked about 12 at the time) you should have seen the looks they gave me as I turned up to rehearsals in my school uniform. But it was a life saver as well as a rock during the angst and dramas of my teenage years.

I’ve been singing in the choir (except for a few years in my late twenties) ever since and my Wednesdays wouldn’t the same without it.  
As you can see music is an important part of my life. It brings me joy, opportunities and friendships as well as many memories. But it is also so much more than that. There is something about it that makes all the drama of everyday life seem to fade away for a few hours.

When I sing I find that there is so much to think about that I can’t actually think about anything else. I have to focus on the notes and pitching them right as well as rhythm and using the correct singing technique.

That’s why I love my St Pats choir as it is so small that I have there is nowhere to hide and I have to try and get everything right. I love how we get to cover so much great music. It maybe Catholic but it doesn’t matter as it is all about the music and the posse who happen to be great in so many ways.
Singing is well known for its psycho-social and physical benefits.

For example, it is said to release endorphins and have a positive impact on your mood while reducing muscle tension. Singing is also known for bring people together and this is so true. When I think of my Fremantle choir I am always struck about how diverse the small group is and how we come together to make music.

It is no coincidence that singing and music generally is a universal activity that is seen in every culture around the world. It is successful in supporting people who are homeless or suffering from mental health problems.    

So if you want to do something different that makes you feel great while making your brain work and gives you a chance to meet some new people, try joining a choir. There is one for everyone.   

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A perfect night out at Perth’s Night Noodle Market

Last night was so cool. Why?

My friends and I went out to the Night Noodle Markets in Perth’s Cultural Centre.  

The Night Noodle Markets was part of the Good Food Month here in the West. It was such a good idea and a great way to enjoy the autumn warm weather before the mild Perth winter sets in with its wild wind and rain.

Knowing that the markets would get busy when the clocks ticked over to night time,

we decided to go at about four. This was a good idea as were able to check out the stalls without competing with 1000s more and, not to mention, the opportunity to get a table.

We managed to score a table of sorts where we shared our meals while we chatted away which was cool, as we could try so much more than if we went solo.

There was every kind food: Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and so much more and since it was outside meant that it was super accessible. The fact that there was something for everyone meant that so many people were able to enjoy the food in a relaxed atmosphere.

There were families with young children enjoying time with their grandparents while mum and dad didn’t have to worry about the kids sitting still and making a mess.

There was also a whole range of people else just enjoying the food in the sunshine with friends which is a perfect way of spending a Sunday afternoon.

It is a shame that Perth’s Night Noodle markets are over now but there are plenty in the suburbs and I would totally recommend them as a  relaxed way of spending time with friends.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fatty two legs no more: how the 5:2 diet changed the shape of my body in a good way

Until now I’ve always been that little bit fat; always that little bit chubby and squishy around the edges. I always though my two fat legs were like pillars of the Parthenon.

Maybe it was because of my love of cheese, chocolate and bread (the joys of having a Swiss Mother) or how I would always choose to read a book over going to the gym that made me like this. Whatever the reason, seeing the Living Lighter adverts on TV convinced me that it was unhealthy to be so close to the upper end of my recommended weight range.   

The problem was that I never really understood how to shift the fat. I went to the gym and I walked everywhere but still I wasn’t size that I was happy with.

I went on like this until my Mum started the 5:2 diet and successfully 10 kilos in about a year. She inspired me to give it a go and see what would happen.

The 5:2 diet is based around the idea that you eat ¼ of the number of calories than you would normally for 2 days per week (500 calories for women and 600 for a man) and then the normal amount for the 5 days. Although I have started being more aware of what I eat on the 5 days so it isn’t exactly the same as before I started.

The way that my mum explained it to me was that during the cave men times they would find a mammoth to eat which would last them for a few days after which they would be hungry until they found and killed another animal.

According to the internet, intermittent fasting has the benefits such as reducing blood pressure and chance of cancer as well as increasing cell repair/turn over and fat burning.  It is also said to improve Blood Sugar Level control and cardiovascular function.
It was really hard at first and often I felt like such a stereotype, going without food so I could lose weight so I could conform to what society expected a woman to look like.

Sometimes the hunger does make me a cranky pants, like Alf in the YouTube clip below but I have got used to it and have learnt how to manage the pangs.  

Despite it being difficult I have lost almost 7 kgs since 17 April 2014 and I have dropped a dress size. Although I must admit I am not sure if I stick exactly to the 500 cal (I keep on meaning to get the book so I can follow the recipes)but I am happy with my progress and I feel like I have the tools to be in control of my weight.

Despite my success so far, what I found slightly disturbing was that once I started losing the weight, people would tell me how good (supposedly)I looked as if being skinny was the ultimate way of being.

The 5:2 diet has taught me many things. I have learnt to be conscious of what goes into my mouth and now I ask myself “am I really hungry?” and “is it the best thing to eat?” I am also better able to cope with hunger and won’t rush to eat something straight away. In the past I’d feel a pang of hunger and if I was out I’d buy a snack but now I am happy to wait until I get home for dinner.  I also feel fantastic and it is not because I am skinnier. I have more energy and feel a lot less sluggish.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sizzling hot

With the weather turning and cooling down ever so slightly, I felt like something hot and spicy. So I decided to try out one of the newer restaurants Perth’s CBD.

Palsaik Namboo has been open for a while but I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. I was really hungry and I wanted something substantial and full of flavour as well as authentic. Palsaik Namboo nailed it in every way.

The restaurant was packed when I first arrived but after a few minutes wait they opened an upstairs area which was had lots of space and nice decor.

I ordered Edamame from their Small Bites menu and since it was quite a humid day, the fresh soy beans were a perfect to introduction to the meal.

For the main course, I ordered Stir Fry Squid which came out hot and sizzling quickly. It was hot, spicy and perfectly (The squid wasn’t chewy, if you were wondering) cooked. It also looked good.

I finished feeling very satisfied and very happy with my lunch. I made a mental note that I have to come back to Palsaik Namboo with a group of friends to try the Palsaik Set as it looked amazing.

I was also really surprised with the price. I felt like I ate well and I ordered a few dishes and it came to just under $20, score!  

Palsaik Namoo on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 13, 2015

Why popular culture is not always a girl’s best friend

I don’t really know where my slight fascination with pop culture comes from. It is not as I had great exposure to it as a child and it is not even as if I see people like me represented in any positive way the mainstream.
Maybe there was an element of voyeurism where I observed the mainstream from the sidelines.

But as I grew up, the interest in voyeurism decreased as I stopped being so captivated by the media’s portrayal of what was considered ‘normal’ and my attention shifted to more specific areas of popular culture.

Perhaps it had something to do with growing up and becoming more comfortable in my own skin and I became ok with not fitting in. Maybe it was when I realised that the media’s concept of “normal” did seen a little bland, shallow and boring. Perhaps it was when I saw pop culture offering up images and “standards” that are unrealistic and understood that they should not considered universal.

I learnt that I could still have a fulfilling life if I didn’t look like the girls in the magazines or have exactly the same life as the guys and gals on Home and Away. 

Things changed though I was in my first year at university and took Introduction to Cultural Studies with a super amazing lecturer who blew my 21year old mind and from that moment I was hooked!!

I soon became aware of the nuances of popular culture and developed a fascination into what was being said and portrayed and what wasn’t. I soon began to appreciate the media’s role in perpetuating cultural paradigms and how it frames the debates in our society. I also began to understand how pop culture has influences people’s lives, including how it creates communities as well as a window on how we view ourselves and each other. 

I also started being interested in the representation of women in the media, including the internalisation of the male gaze and the objectification/representation of women.

You can imagine my excitement when I stumbled on a book called Feminism and Popular Culture by Andi Zeisler (2008) as it discussed many of these issues and reminded me that pop culture isn’t always a girl’s best friend. The aim of the book is to see how pop culture influenced feminism and also how it depicted it. It showed me that pop culture is more than entertainment but a narrative of hopes, dreams, fears and often conflicting values played out in front of us.

Below are some of aspects of Zeisler’s book that I found particularly interesting.   

The power of the male gaze

Zeisler describes liberating Pop Culture from the power of the male gaze as one of feminism’s unfinished projects.

The media seems to be universally white and male. What we see in mainstream entertainment and films seems to be contracted around white, middle-class male values. Not forgetting news reporting and current affairs; all issues and their importance (or unimportance) seems to be viewed through the lens of male values.

As this process is so common and continues to be unquestioned, women tend to internalise the male gaze and view things from a man’s perspective. We almost see ourselves in third person - judge our bodies and choices in a way a man might. As Zeisler states, ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’.             

Women on TV

Zeisler argues that TV was the first place that women saw themselves and ‘for a long time they didn’t see much besides loving wives, dutiful daughters, gossiping girlfriends, fashion plates and the occasional dowdy maid, nanny or granny’.

Women on TV have had quite an interesting progression (it would make a really interesting PhD topic) as each decade has seen them portrayed in a different way. 

The 1970s saw women as more than just housewives and going out and participating in the public sphere which included work, getting divorced and owning property. It was during this decade that the famous talk show that led to women’s issues even if they were topics and solutions were totally mainstream.

Zeisler states that the 1980s saw ‘TV characters who seemed to be striving for feminist ideals, but for the most of them – as it was for women in the real world – it was almost impossible to be feminist super women in a world that was still stubbornly unequal.’  Zeisler also describes the ‘80s where women took on more powerful roles that challenged previously held stereotypes as well as a decade where feminism was a work in progress’.

This continued into the 1990s where Zeisler feels that ‘music was a primary site in which women were challenging the roles that the industry had contracted for them’. The late ‘90s saw the birth of very popular Sex and the City which showed for different women who were economically independent and weren’t reliant on men for anything except sex. Sex became a consumable and disposable.   

Women as consumers

Zeisler argues that ‘Pop culture has always been about commerce, and feminism and pop culture will always be uneasy bed fellows in a larger culture that remains conflicted (to say the very least) about how much power, agency, and autonomy women should have’.    

While advertising and products have changed overtime, a constant has been that it has reminded women of society’s expectations of them. As Zeisler asserts, ‘a significant chunk of the advertising industry has always been devoted to reaching women, and in most cases its message have instructed women to be on guard, lest they comprise their most important quality: their looks’. There is that male gaze again; can we ever get out from under its spell?         

There was one seminal period at the beginning of WWII where for the first time it wasn’t about a new face cream but encouraging women to go out and work as part of the war effort. Unfortunately when the war was over and the boys came home, women were, once more, relegated to the domestic sphere under the spell of the male gaze.

This is a brief look at the many issues that this book looks at. It covers many important aspects of contemporary life and gives you a good historical understanding of popular culture and feminism while changing how you consume pop culture now. On a practical level, it is short, easy to get through and well worth to read.  

There are might be more important things to overcome (such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap) than the representation of women in the media but I think that the value of discussing such issues as well as pop culture as a tool for social change is under appreciated.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wow, what a festival!

The Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) has in recent years been seriously amazing and the 2015 season was no different.

This year PIAF opened with The Giants. It was organised by a French Street Theatre Company called Royal de Luxe and it apparently took a team of 70 people to move the two huge marionettes (a little girl and a diver who were 6 meters and 11 meters respectively) through the streets of Perth over 3 days telling a story about WWI while integrating elements of our Indigenous heritage.     

It was a mammoth operation that required government agencies to shut off parts of the CBD as well as ensure that there were enough buses and trains to allow people to get to the city. Transperth was quoted as saying that it was the biggest logistical operation that they’ve ever encountered. It was estimated that 1.4 million people or ¾ of the population of Perth came into the city to see The Giants.   

The whole thing was amazing! Just the size of these marionettes were breath taking and the effort involved in their movement was captivating. To be honest, the story was lost on me as we ended up seeing bits of them rather than walking along and following the narrative.

There was one cool moment when, by chance, the girl stopped directly in front of us and squatted to go to the toilet, at which point all the guys and girls working the ropes turned away out of respect.  

Apart from the amazing Giants I got to go to an incredible performance of the Canadian group Tafelmusick. They gave a semi staged performance of the music by JS Bach, Handel and Vivaldi while a multimedia presentation displayed images of the houses that they lived in and a narrator told us about the art works that hung on their walls, etc. The amazing thing was (apart from their superb playing) was they did the entire performance by heart. Now that’s impressive!!     

Another highlight was Perth Writers' Festival. PWF was a perfect weekend of sessions that looked at the art of belonging, optimism vs pessimism, women in power and the political environment, just to name a few; it was great to hear the likes of Geraldine Doogue and Bob Brown. Thankfully it wasn't too hot so and it turned out to be a perfect weekend.           

We got to go to other events too such as 1980s rock icon Neneh Cherry at the Chevron Festival Gardens and the Lotterywest Film Festival at the University of WA.   

Our 2015 Perth Festival journey finished with Opera in the Park and a WA Opera performance of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Emma Matthews was an incredible Rosina as too were James Clayton as Figaro and Douglas McNicol as Dr Bartolo. Local singers Fiona Campbell and Mark Alderson were also great.

Thank you so much PIAF for a great Festival. Until next time, I can’t wait!!  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nursing a Pho obsession

It is no secret that I love food especially when it is of the non Anglo-Australian variety. As long as it is packed with flavour, spicy and a little bit hot, I am as happy as.

Ever since going to Vietnam about 8 years ago (has it really been that long?) I have fallen in love with the food and have never stopped enjoying a good bowl of Pho with some spring rolls.

I have been past U&I Pho 24 a couple of times and I’ve always wanted to go in and try their Pho.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I tried the Mi Do Bien Kho along with Fresh Spring Rolls and Stuffed Chicken Wings. When they appeared I couldn’t wait to tuck in.

The Pho was great; I loved the coriander on top as well as everything underneath. It wasn’t just liquid and had the usual fish balls etc as well as also lots prawns and fresh salad. Totally lovely and very filling J

With a distinct mushroom flavour, the chicken wing was lovely and I would recommend it. The Rolls with the pulled pork (?) was perfect.  

U & I Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Gesha Coffee’s a new kid on the corner

I love trying new cafés, especially if I have been a bit of anticipation.

I’ve gone past Gesha on the bus for a few months and I couldn’t wait to try it as that side Freo is a bit low on cool places to eat and caffeinate.

While the view isn’t the prettiest but the parking out the front is a bonus.

Gesha’s décor is cool and the easy chairs were conducive to a nice catch-up with friends.

The menu was quirky and I thought the Pulled Beef Brioche was great. The size was perfect (I ate it with my tiny hands, no problems) and the beef worked well with the chutney as well as good value.

The hand cut royal blue fries were perfection and the highlight of my visit.

Gesha’s coffee wasn’t bad and they sell it by the bag for those of us who want to buy beans from our local café.

Gesha Coffee Co on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Discovering God’s Own Country

The Indian state of Kerala is one of the many places that describe itself as God’s Own Country. Kerala’s tropical climate, natural beauty and a rich culture (that includes an amazing cuisine and interesting history) no doubt puts it in the running for the number one position.  

I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Cochin which I used as an excuse for a 12 day adventure in this amazing country. I visited Kerala as a baby and I've always had a slight fascination with India which was increased when I did a journalism project two years ago.   

I didn’t really know what to expect as I touched down in Cochin (or Kochin)a few days before the wedding. I knew that India was a British Colony but I didn’t realise the extent of the Portuguese and Dutch influence. Like most countries in the South East Asian region, India played an important part in the Spice Trade dating back to the Roman times (St Thomas is said to have brought Catholicism to India) and as a result it has a fascinating eclectic history with many influences.

Cochin is actually more spread out than I thought it was going to be or maybe because travel by Auto Rickshaw in Indian traffic is slower and which distorted my perception. I loved the local churches whose architecture was so different from what I've seen before.

Cochin is also where I feel in love with Indian dress. I don't normally spend much time thinking about clothes but here I fell in love with the colourful outfits and could help looking at what the ladies were wearing and wondering where they got them from so I could get the same. I did go on a couple of sprees and as a result I could only just shut my suitcase but I could have gotten so much more. 

I stayed in the newer part of town called Ernakulam which seemed more functional than historical. My hostel was off a highway that had car yard/auto accessory shops and cement factories down either side. Not far was LuLu Mall which is the swankiest shopping centre that I have seen for a long time and seemed out of place in the poverty and chaos.

The area that seemed to be the most interesting was Fort Cochin as this was where the historical sites where. The most famous of these were the Chinese Fishing Nets which were donated to the locals as a Thank You present and are about 400 years out and are still being used today.

Another Thank you present was from the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Dutch palace was originally made by the Portuguese but later was done up by the Dutch in the 17 century. It has a beautifully carved ceiling and gives an interesting history of the area but it does get busy with tourists so go early. Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis church are both well worth visiting.

Not far from Port Cochin is Mattancherry which is home to “Jew Town” and its famous Paradesi Synagogue.  This Synagogue was built in 1576 (it’s the last of 7 Synagogues in the area) and established for a Spanish and Portuguese community that were given asylum after fleeing persecution. It is a pretty amazing buildings that are home to many beautiful objects including dozens of floor that are all handmade and slightly different.   

Unfortunately, the last day in Cochin I got really sick so I didn’t get to see as much as I had hoped for and plus there was a strike on which meant that a lot of places were closed.

My tips   
  • There is so much to see in Fort Cochin that it is probably better to use it as a base as that is where most of the action is;
  • Visit the Backwaters as they supposed to be amazing;    
  • Try as much food as possible;
  • I know that you expect to get sick when you go on holiday but when booking accommodation, choose somewhere that you wouldn’t mind getting sick in. When I got sick I was so glad that I hadn’t booked the cheapest place with no aircon or on suite as it made such a difference;    
  • If you want to buy Indian clothes go to the Boardway area.
  • Try and see some of the local dance, it is very cool.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

India’s Pink City is so much more than the Jaipur Literature Festival

I first heard about the Jaipur and its famous Literature Festival while volunteering on a Projects Abroad Magazine in Madurai in 2012 and as a lover of books and all things written it has been on my bucket list ever since.

But since arriving in the city that has been dubbed the “Pink City” I knew that there was much to it than it’s free Literature Festival even though it did seem to overtake the city for five days.

With the sessions at the festival starting at 10.30, I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and a little bit of shopping. These were my highlights:

The City Palace
As its name suggests, the City Palace takes pride of place in the middle of the old city and as with many historical buildings it has been added on and transformed over the centuries.

With its striking Rajesthani/Mughal architecture, I loved the intricate stone and paint work that was often breath taking. The detail and effort involved in creating such buildings blew my mind.

Jantar Mantar
This is just opposite the City Palace and you’re into pre-modern machines. Jantar Mantar is a big garden with dozens of what Lonely Planet describe as sculptures but I think they are more like useful sculptures as they allowed people to measure the passage of time, etc.

To be honest, this isn’t my thing so I kind of sped around it but if is your thing you can get a guide that can tell you more about the exhibits.            

Amber Fort
This is quite a way out of town but is worth the trek. The fort is at the top of a steep hill and offers great view of the surrounding area and includes defensive walls that are quite similar to the Great Wall of China.

While it costs to go inside the palace section, it is free to wonder around the outside to admire the view. 

You can also ride elephants here.

Hawa Mahal
I only had time to admire the Hawa Mahal but this is the jewel in Jaipur’s crown.

This ornate sandstone palace was built in 1799 to allow the ladies of the Royal Court to watch life go past without being seen. It has five storeys and offers (so I am told) of the city. 

It has a small museum that highlight’s the Jaipur’s regal past but note it is closed on Fridays and shuts at 4.30.   

I defiantly will have visit Hawa Mahal next time I am in Jaipur, which will be soon I hope.      

There is so much to see in Jaipur so make sure to include it in your next Indian Trip 
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