AlaTurka Restaurant

November 26, 2005

My main course was called Kuzupirzola. Intrigued by its interesting name, I ordered this dish to have a taste of how lamb usually served in Turkish cuisine. Though only three small slices of lamb were given, what made the dish simply memorable was the savoury sauce which had a subtle hint of herbs and spices! What was truly surprising was the discovery of green herbs embedded at the core of the rice mount in the dish! Accompanying the rich spiciness of the Lamb sauce, the vegetables were soaked in a lighter version of the sauce, having the same tinge of herbs and spices. Sigh. Wish I had more.

Called Et Sote (pronounced Et-So-TEH?), I think this was the best turkish dish I have eaten so far! Looking mysteriously like lasagne, the dish was literally bubbling as it was served at our table! You can actually see the steam coming out of the food as it continued to bubble and bubble! Perched delicately on fire, a thin veneer of cheese covers the tasty juicy cubes of meat, chopped onions and tomatoes, all stewed in a delightfully savoury sauce. I had to give a few groans of orgasmic pleasure after each bite. Even Fatma joined in!This is most definitely a spoon licker for sure!

Turkish Apple Tea! Upon drinking, you may think that this fragrant Apple Tea has a very light taste of apple. But after it enters your mouth, the full blow of the apple juices soon hits your tastebuds, producing a taste quite unlike most apple teas! As compared to Sofra‘s Turkish Apple tea, I would think that AlaTurka’s version is much better!

One of the most sinful pleasures on the face of this earth! Called Spangile (Like Span-Gi-ler?), this dessert sees the infamous chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, delicious rasberry sauce and grinded pistachios. Each mouthful is simply a taste of heaven! The thick jelly-like texture of the chocolate mousse harmonises the lightness of the whipped cream, whereas the strong bite of the pistachios provides an interesting partner to the sweetness of the rasberry sauce. A truly orgasmic end to my meal!

This was the dessert ordered by Fatma. Called Seftalilidondurma (Don’t even ask what the word means! I just take it as it comes.), this colourful ice cream dessert is not to be missed! With a slice of peach at the centre, this hard-to-pronounce dessert has all three essential ice cream flavours at the sides, topped with rasberry sauce and grinded pistachios! Its melting!

Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant
16 Bussorah Street Singapore 199437
Tel/Fax: 62940304 C.R. 200503257N

[Postscript: Just realised that many others had reviewed this delicious Turkish restaurant! Read caleb’s excellent advice on why Samar should be avoided at all costs and Natsuumi’s varied responses on AlaTurka and one other eating establishment in the same area, Ambrosia, which was the place I initially wanted to go to. I really wanted to go and try Ambrosia’s food, based on a recommendation by Manja Magazine, but according to my friend, its permenantly closed, or at least not open when even though it was about one when I reached there, the place which stated that its opening hours were from 11am, was closed. Any other delicious Turkish place I can go to besides Sofra, AlaTurka, Anatolia?]


A troubling trend.

November 24, 2005

Husband quits job while she’s jailed for maid abuse
Lee Ching Wern

The 29-year-old woman accused of a staggering 79 charges of abusing her Indonesian maid was sentenced to 10 months’ jail yesterday.

Clad in a red T-shirt with her hair tied up in a ponytail, former production manager Sazarina Madzin wept in the dock when her sentence was read out.

The mother of three was convicted after pleading guilty to six charges of abuse last month. Another 73 charges and one of criminal intimidation were taken into consideration for her sentencing. She could have been jailed up to 18 months or fined up to $1,000.

Over a period of 10 months between May last year and March this year, Sazarina slapped, punched and kicked 22-year-old Wiwik Setyowati for not doing her household chores properly.

The court also heard that she would hit the maid with anything she could get her hands on, including a sauce bottle and a chopping board.

Calling the jail term a huge blow to the family, Sazarina’s husband Mr Nor Azlan Sulaiman, 34, told Today he has resigned from his job as an operations manager at a mosque so that he could take care of their two sons and one daughter who are 7, 9 and 12 years old respectively.

He hopes to get another job that allows him to work the night shift.

“The children have been asking for their mother. They are very sad. I haven’t told the children what happened. What am I going to tell them?” he said at the family’s Yishun home.

His eldest daughter, who sat for her PSLE exams during the court case, was the most affected.

“Her friends from school and even her teachers know about this. She was very sad and she even cut out the maid’s face from all the photos we’ve taken together. Her prelim results also dropped significantly. Her PSLE results are coming out tomorrow and I pray very hard that everything will be okay,” said Mr Nor Azlan.

When asked whether Ms Wiwik had ever told him about the abuse, he recalled that she had complained to him once — about four or five months ago — that Sazarina had slapped her.

“I was angry and told my wife that she shouldn’t do that. Subsequently, there were no more complaints and I thought everything was okay.”

Sazarina, whom he described as “a very feminine and gentle woman”, had requested to replace the maid two months after she arrived. But Mr Nor Azlan persuaded her not to do so as they were facing financial problems and could not afford the cost of finding a new maid.

“It is partly my fault. If only I had listened to my wife when she complained that the maid was not good and asked for a new one, this might not have happened. But I had told her to be patient as we could not afford it,” he said.

Wow! 79 charges of Maid Abuse! Isn’t anyone at all perturbed by this troubling trend? Or are we so consumed by our utilitarian pragmatic dogma to even think about such insignificant issues?

I am somewhat numbed by any news relating to maids nowadays. Like the recent one about an employer pimping her maid for money. Yes PIMPING! (Que 5O cent’s P.I.M.P. Okay bad joke but seriously, if we cannot take this issue seriously, might as well take it with sarcasm and satire right?) What’s next? I simply had to stop myself from postulating any other possible scenarios.

I have a theory about the treatment of maids in Singapore. Underpinning the Utilitarian hypothesis by a certain ST journalist (I simply cannot remember her name), our society has not reached the stage where the treatment of human beings goes beyond purely economic or purely political justifications. Am I to subscribe to the belief that skipping stages in the developmental schema, while may be beneficial economically, is most detrimental to the development of political and societal forces within the society itself? France had their French Revolutions of 1789 and Russia had its revolutions in 1905 and 1911. Maybe we are simply not prepared to deal with the existence of maids in our socio-economic framework, completely focused on their economic use rather than their emotional well-being.

But what about the rights of workers? Don’t we have the five day week applied to all government related agencies? Aren’t Full Time National Servicemen, enlisted in service for the nation, given proper treatment reflective of the current Singaporean society, going beyond giving punishment without reason (Or maybe not!)? Why the double standards?

I personally believe that we first have to accept the fact that maids are an essential layer in our social fabric and that their roles, rather than diminishing, would be given due emphasis, looking at how Singapore is progressing. Looking beyond our utilitarian perspectives, we need to look after their welfare and emotional well being.

I shudder to think what would appear next in the news about the Maids in Singapore. Are we going to do anything about this?

Singapore History: Colonial versus Indigenous?

November 21, 2005

Hurray for discourse!

Nov 21, 2005
How to incorporate our indigenous past

MR GILLES Massot’s letter (‘S’pore history began long before Raffles’; ST, Nov 16 contains a number of inaccuracies.

First, it ignores the large body of scholarship on Temasek that existed before the 1980s, including works by such scholars as Roland Braddell, R.O. Winstedt, Gibson-Hill, Hsu Yun-Ts’iao, Paul Wheatley and Kwa Chong Guan.

Previous scholars had to be content with only the study of historical texts, as most of Singapore’s pre-colonial remains were systematically destroyed by the British within the first decade after their arrival on the island in 1819. Also, Fort Canning Hill and the civic district, where the settlement of Temasek was located, were not accessible for archaeological research for much of the last two centuries.

Associate Professor John Miksic’s seminal contributions since 1984, through systematic archaeological excavations and recovery of physical evidence pertaining to Temasek, has been to substantiate what was already known through previous historical studies.

Second, Raffles’ founding of Singapore in 1819 was not due to his knowledge of the island’s historical legacy of Temasek. In fact, he had first sailed to Karimun island to assess its feasibility as a base for the British East India Company. Failing to find a suitable anchorage, he was en route to the Johor River when his hydrographer, Daniel Ross, and William Farquhar convinced him to visit Singapore to assess its suitability. It was only after Singapore’s founding in 1819 that Raffles, and after his death, his widow Lady Sophia Raffles, attributed the founding of Singapore to his knowledge of classical Malay history and Temasek.

Third, Temasek did not succeed the role of Srivijaya. Instead, changes in the nature of Song China’s maritime trade, which resulted in the development of an anomalous international economic context during the 13th and 14th centuries, enabled minor port-polities in the Malacca Strait to be economically viable, while larger entrepots in the region, such as Srivijaya, went into decline.

Similarly, political considerations in Europe in the early 19th century, which led to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, were the key factor that enabled Singapore to exist and thrive in what was largely Dutch-controlled maritime South-east Asia.

Mr Massot is right to say Singaporeans should try to appreciate their indigenous past, particularly Singapore’s history before 1819. However, Singapore, throughout most of the past 700 years, was part of larger political entities. The Temasek and post-1965 periods are the only exceptions.

How Singapore should incorporate such a past, and internalise it as a relevant part of Singaporeans’ collective social memory, requires tremendous ingenuity.

This is already taking place in academic circles, an initiative currently undertaken by several scholars in the National University of Singapore department of history.

Whether this academic development will translate into a change in Singapore’s mainstream historical narrative remains to be seen. Nonetheless, as a Singaporean, I see this as an important national undertaking that will have to be addressed.

As a final shot at the success of the ‘neo-colonialist plot’ alluded to by Mr Massot, it should be noted that the Discovery Channel programme, produced by a British company, is no less credible.

However, the entire affair thus far seems to suggest that, as a nation, we are still not able to trust ourselves to reconstruct an internationally credible version of our past.

It is my hope that Singapore will one day be able to produce or recognise local scholars who can take up the mantle from eminent foreign academics like Dr Miksic, and expand the nation’s knowledge of its rich pre-modern historical heritage from our own perspective.

Dr Derek Heng
Department of History
National University of Singapore

When will this “academic development translate into a change in Singapore’s mainstream historical narrative”? Even though many Singaporeans know our our indigenous past, most cannot go beyond recounting so-called mythological tales of Sang Nila Utama’s discovery of Singapore and the mysterious lion which he saw. Even if the body of research is limited through historical texts, why aren’t such histories easily available to the masses? Why aren’t we able to present various contentions on the nature of Singapore’s pre-colonial past through the education system itself?

Nov 21, 2005
Heritage board creates awareness of early years

I REFER to the letter ‘S’pore history began long before Raffles’ by Mr Gilles Massot (ST, Nov 16). I would like to respond to his question ‘When will Singapore finally come to terms with its true Asian history?’

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has always held the view that Singapore’s history did not begin in 1819 but dates back to the 14th century. Historical evidence has shown that Singapore was the seat of an important Malay kingdom influenced by various early South-east Asian empires before the arrival of the Europeans. This is consistently asserted by the Singapore History Museum (SHM) and National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

For example, NAS staged the Singapore Before Raffles exhibition in 1986 which covered archival materials such as navigational charts and oral history interviews. SHM featured Singapore’s pre-colonial past in its exhibition Singapore 700 Years. The same message is included in SHM’s current Rivertales gallery at Riverside Point and will be reiterated in the new Temasek Gallery of the National Museum when it re-opens next year.

NHB has also published several works on the pre- colonial period. They include Associate Professor John Miksic’s archaeological research ‘Forbidden Hill’ Of Singapore: Excavations At Fort Canning, 1984 (1985) by the National Museum; Singapore: Journey Into Nationhood (1998) by NAS; and Early Singapore 1300s-1819: Evidence In Maps, Text and Artefacts (2003) by SHM.

An updated version of Singapore: Journey Into Nationhood next year will incorporate archaeological findings of early Singapore settlements at Fort Canning, and early mentions of Singapore by ancient travellers.

Besides exhibitions and publications, NHB has provided partial funding and manpower support for Dr Miksic’s archaeological excavations at various sites in Singapore.

Finally, the producer of the history of Singapore documentary, Discovery Channel, and the production company, Lion Television, had full access to our national archives. In fairness to Discovery, I urge readers to watch the documentary on Dec 4 before expressing opinions on its content and merit.

Lim Siok Peng (Mrs)
Chief Executive Officer
National Heritage Board

No, Malays are not entirely part of the mainstream

November 19, 2005

Thanks to my Mum, I came across this article by Mr Zakir Hussain in the weekly Insight column which highlights people and politics in Singapore. In the article dated 4 November 2005, the column featured an interview with Dr Yaacob Ibrahim about “being a Muslim in a secular world, community problems and environmental issues”. I’m going to deal mostly with his thoughts on the state of the Malay community, especially his perception that “Yes, Malays are part of the mainstream”.

First, when I saw the headline, it occured to me how faithful each racialised article in the Straits Times has been in keeping the racial harmony mantra, to deny any discourse on the undesirable or the unthinkable, to the extent sometimes it becomes blatantly apparent how the whole article is a paradox in itself. Why is there a need to emphasize that Malays are part of the mainstream, if not to deny the accepted prevailing view that most Malays are not, that we are continously under scrutiny, if not for drugs, then for dysfunctional families, teen pregancies etc? It seems to me that the more we try to convince ourselves that we are part of the mainstream, the more hollow each claim seems to be, with another article, also written by Mr Zakir yesterday about the error in dogmatic religious proclamations in dealing with the problem of dysfunctionaly families and teen pregnancies among the Malay community.

To him, Malays are very much part of the mainstream of Singapore society. After all, they contributed to early nation-building efforts. As the only Muslim minister in the Cabinet, he contributes to the best of his ability. “We must see our part in the larger Singaporean story.”

What does he mean by the term “mainstream”? Is it the idealised model of success, imposed by the government based on its overly exuberant pragmatism, overzealous meritocracy and the semblance of equality? Or by his “nation-building” justification, being an intrinsic part of the Singapore society, responsible for building Singapore into a modern city state through political participation, economic development and social integration? Following what Mr Zakir says in following paragraphs, I seriously don’t think so.

Fresh from having successfully improved educational achievements and brought down drug addiction rates, the Malay community now has another complex issue to tackle: “dysfunctional” families with multiple problems such as teen pregnancies and delinquencies. Malays are over-represented among such families.

So are we part of the Singapore mainstream which comprises of “dysfunctional” families with a high percentage of young pregnant teenagers, single mothers inter alia? How are we to say that we are part of the “mainstream” when “Malays are over-represented among such families”?

I’m not advocating the fact that we are a marginalised community at the finges of the Singapore society, ravaged by the worst of society’s ills. But to proudly proclaim that we are part of the mainstream only serves to justify ironically that we aren’t.

Some statistics from Mr Zakir’s article entitled “Help youth at risk with sympathy, not sermons” dated 18 November 2005: Malays make up one in five teens aged 19 and under being married while Malay girls are responsible for one in two teen births and one in three abortions among teens. One in two teens who end up with a sexually transmitted disease is a Malay. These are alarming figures!

We must go beyond such misleading rhetoric of “being part of the mainstream” in order to realise there’s so much more to be done.

Book Review by Alfian Saat on The Singapore Dilemma by Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim

November 19, 2005

The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community
Lily Zubaidah Rahim
Oxford University Press

One of the most revealing, and perhaps even shocking passages in The Singapore Dilemma is one which was not written by the author, but excavated from the pages of the Singapore Constitution. Identified as ‘Section 152’, it reads as follows: “It shall be a deliberate and conscious policy of the Government of Singapore at all times to recognize the special position of the Malays who are the indigenous people of the island and who are most in need of assistance and accordingly, it shall be the responsibility of the Government of Singapore to protect, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests, and the Malay language.”

At first glance, such a provision would seem to challenge Singapore’s much-trumpeted rhetoric on meritocracy and multiracialism. Why should a certain ethnic community be granted special privileges over others? And considering how the genesis of Singapore as a nation was founded on principles of equal opportunity regardless of race, would not any programmes advocating affirmative action run counter to such ideals?

With an arsenal of hard facts, resources dredged from years of social field-work, as well as a certain degree of polemical fire, Lily Zubaidah systematically investigates the ideological assumptions that belie such questions. One of the most overlooked statements in Section 152 is perhaps the one which states, quite blankly, that the Malays ‘are the indigenous people of the island’.

It is a fact that is often ignored or downplayed, with history books constructing the starting points for Singapore’s economic and political history as 1819 (the time of Raffles’ landing) and 1965 (the separation from Malaya) respectively. The insemination of such ideologies into the Singaporean psyche shows up a certain defect in our multicultural project: in attempting to homogenise ancestral experiences in order to create an illusion of ‘equality’, the voice of the native becomes an unfortunate casualty. In fact, the tongue of the indigene is severed to allow him to hum along with the rest in a peaceful, yet artificial chorus of harmony.

Native myths are not the only ones demolished in this book. Also held up for scrutiny are the way Singaporeans (even Malay-Singaporeans) have internalised cultural deficit theories (where the ‘backwardness’ of a certain ethnic group is blamed on their culture, or even on genetic inheritance, the latter a view held by many who believe in the state’s eugenic and elitist agendas), the obfuscation of class differences (as a factor which enforces marginality) by obsessively focusing on racial ones, and finally certain programmes, like the housing quota system, which serve to erode electoral clout.

Among the wealth of well-researched and rigorous arguments, a noticeable absence is observed: a discussion on the viability of programmes which advocate an actively interventionist, rather than a minimalist, approach to Malay marginality. Lily Zubaidah, while doggedly pursuing a line which calls for more pro-active strategies, does not devote much to elaborating on alternatives such as for example, Malaysia’s Bumiputra policy, and whether they create other kinds of social inequalities.

In essence, the Singapore Dilemma is about a game of power. Indigenous narratives possess the power to impinge on the sense of identity of immigrants, and might even upset attempts to construct a ‘national heritage’. While this is a valid concern, there has to be cause for alarm when attempts to privilege one history over another results in the oppression of minority voices. An African proverb states that, ‘Until the lions have their histories, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”. The publication of this book, the storm it is creating in the Malaysian press, and AMP’s recent call for Malay leaders to be apolitical agents, all add up to a collective statement: who says there are no lions left in the Lion City?

Anyone who actually does a book review on this book must deserve a pat on the back. Its extremely long and technical! But I’m happy I got through the whole book, being able to associate myself to many ideas being discussed in the book.

Andee, here’s what I mean about the our constitutional right being entirely forgotten in the state apparatus. I’m not promoting a Malaysian Bumiputera policy. But I would not want our history to be convoluted into a colonial propagandising tool of power and so called “unity and equality”.

I don’t think the main aim of her book was to find solutions. It was much more an exposition of the true essence of the Malay dilemma faced by the Malays living in Singapore.

Malays: A Minority at Risk?

November 13, 2005

I found this study by the University of Maryland which actually identifies the Malay community as a “Minority at Risk”! This university-based research project monitors and analyzes the status and conflicts of politically-active communal groups in all countries with a current population of at least 500,000. The project is designed to provide information in a standardized format that aids comparative research and contributes to the understanding of conflicts involving relevant groups.

Read more about the Malays being a Minority at Risk here. According to the study, the Malays have two of the four factors that increase the chances of future protest: significant political and cultural restrictions and the transitional nature of Singapore’s political system. What do they mean by “political and cultural restrictions”? And how does the “transitional nature of Singapore’s political system” cause Malays to be more prone towards rebellion and protest?

I personally feel that the word “transitional” itself is a stupid word because its so specifically vague that you never know whether you have even started the transition or whether you are at the end of it. Sorites Paradox (I learnt this in GP!) underlines such paradoxical arguments which arise as a result of the indeterminacy surrounding limits of application of the predicates involved (how many rice grains does it take to make a heap?).

But I digress. According to the study:

“The Malays face restrictions on the practice of their religion and the celebration of group holidays. They also remain disadvantaged in the economic arena in comparison to Singapore’s other ethnic groups. Group members are disproportionately represented as urban laborers and low-level service workers and they are the least likely to achieve higher education. Compounding these problems are significant drug usage by community members and their involvement in criminal activity. Public policies to further the Malays economic status have achieved some success. In the mid-1990s, it was reported that 38% of Malay families earned $3000 or more monthly in comparison to 23% in 1990. There are few Malays in high-level political or civil service positions and they are underrepresented in the armed forces. This political discrimination is the result of social exclusion by the politically and economically dominant Chinese.”

I shall ponder about this over my plate of lontong with ayam masak merah and sayur lodeh. Hehehe.

The Malay Crutch Mentality

November 12, 2005

As I went my Hari Raya visiting, talking to various relatives of different backgrounds and jobs, it dawned on me that many Malays had what can only be described as the “Malay Crutch Mentality”, which seems to resonate deep within the Malay psyche, remain utterly ingrained into their kerangka fikiran or their mindsets.

What do I mean by the “Malay Crutch Mentality” (MCM)? MCM is a mindset which accepts the blatant racism in the workplace or in any other arena where Malays are involved in to explicate the obvious socio-economic underdevelopment and relative stagnation of the Malay community. Rather than self reflection on academic achievements and personal character, a racial reason is mooted as the prime difficulty towards job promotions and opportunities in all sectors of the economy and in education. By extension, MCM also provides cultural underpinning to Dr Lily Zubaidah’s “cultural deficit thesis” which underscores a cultural explanation for our poor socio-economic performance through the relatively relaxed and unmotivated Malay culture. By this, MCM is testament to the idea that Malays will never progress if this self-fulfilling mindset is a reflection of the whole Malay culture itself.

I have heard of many instances of MCM. For example, rather than base his conclusions on experience versus academic achievements, my uncle chose to view the inability of the Malay workers in his workplace to get promoted as a reflection of the dominant Chinese brand of racism in Singapore today. Even though the older Malay workers are more experienced, the younger more educated Chinese graduates are employed and promoted easily to high positions. Even my cousin’s husband cited on a sidenote that employment would be based on colour no matter what, consciously or subconsciously. In education, my mum used to tell me how many were mortally shocked at her decision to send me to RI simply because it was simply unthinkable to see a Malay student there (or that its too expensive for a Malay or too out of reach academically for a Malay!).

Being fresh out of JC and still rather unemployed (NS is not employed! I only get allowance, not pay!), I was quite shocked to witness such a cynical view of our gracious harmonious meritocratic racist-free society be misconstrued by my “deluded” uncle. But after arguing about it with him for a while, I realised that there may be some semblance of truth but not as what he perceives it to be. Its true that its hard for Malays to get employment and to be promoted easily. Its true that most of the time, the Chinese get the higher paying jobs. But is it because of race alone? I find it hard to accept the fact that there are no other reason why the Malay community cannot progress except that the Chinese have it against us, whether consciously or subconsciously. Obviously there are other reasons, like the emphasis on knowledge and retraining in our new competitive economy which has made many Malay workers perplexed at their uncertain job prospects in the years to come.

I was also quite shocked at the level of nonchalance and utter acceptance of this phenomenon of Malays always being overtaken by the Chinese. It has been continuously inundated into their mindsets such that it becomes a normal occurance in the workplace. Rather than wanting to provoke a violent Malay backlash towards their Chinese employers, what I’m trying to point out is the fact that many seemed lost in finding ways to upgrade and improve themselves to be of the same level as every other non-Malay worker in Singapore. This nonchalance is symptomatic the true Malay dilemma of development. Rather than being culturally inferior, we simply cannot go beyond the defensive racial barrier of being Malay.

The Malay community needs to get out of the habit of having the self pitying refrain of “Melayu ape. Macam mana nak naik?” if we want to progress as a force to be reckoned with. MCM should not be the reason why we simply cannot fight our way up the economic ladder to become the future CEOs or company presidents. This is not to say that the Singapore government’s policy of meritocracy is the best policy for this to happen. Obviously its not. MCM must also not give credence to the “cultural deficit thesis” that rather than our culture is deemed less progressive and totally cynical, we must prove to them that we are beyond such misconstured ideas. Accepting this sad predicament only seeks to perpetuate this endless racist trend of the Malays being cultural inferior to the Chinese. It is imperative that we realise this and work towards removing this wall which ultimately limits our talents and abilities.