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(For one of the multitude of restaurant reviewing sites out there. E.G. Restaurantica, Eatability Food and Drink Guide, or Restaurant Rants)

I’m the kind of creature of habit who often goes to the same place for food or drink if I’ve found something good there. I’m always willing to try something new, but if all else fails I know there are certain places on the Melbourne map where signature dishes or drinks will be ready for degustation.

I am a chai fiend, a connoisseur, and a maniac for the Indian spiced tea with honey and soy milk; sorry, but I can’t drink the traditional milk because of my lactose intolerance. I began drinking chai on a daily basis long before it became popular in cafes and coffee shops. The first time I ever tasted it was at the Nimbin Mardi Grass festival where I was visiting to experience strange herbs, not spices. One morning at daybreak a monkish Hari Krishna-looking man came round to my tent calling out the fateful words, ‘Chai, chai tea, chai tea, great way to start the day!’

chai

The makings of a great chai.

Bleary-eyed for more reasons than simple lack of sleep, I paid the two dollars and tasted the cup of spicy soy milkiness. Needless to say I’ve never turned back to my old habits of Earl Grey or English Breakfast. I’ve now sampled chai all over the globe, and had an extensive range of experiences ranging from the nearly instant vomit variety to the ecstatic epiphany type.

After spending a fair amount of time sampling chais around various areas of Melbourne, I happened upon the Degraves Espresso Bar in the tiny alley called Degraves Street near Flinders Street train station. This area has a plethora of cafes, restaurants and eateries, all constructed in a European style with tables outside so people can have a chat whilst watching the many different kinds of human walk by.

I ordered a soy chai for two with honey (I wasn’t alone) and was presented with a massive teapot full of frothy goodness. It seems to be an unwritten rule amongst Degraves Espresso workers that skin must be inked if you are to work there; maybe it’s a subtle form of anti-discrimination. ‘Sorry you don’t have any tats, we don’t trust your kind here.’ My heavily tattooed waitress told me they made their own chai from scratch, a rare commodity in a city strewn with powdered chai, weak tea bags and pre-packaged mixes.

tattoo woman

Don't be surprised if your waitress at Degraves is this colourful.

(Thanks to the Alaskan Dude’s Photostream for use of this image via Creative Commons.)

The teapot, which cost $6.20, provided around eight full cups of tea, but it wasn’t the cumulative caffeine affect that made an impression on me; it was the chai. I’ve probably been back there three hundred times, and I can honestly report that the quality of the tea, in terms of flavour, texture and temperature, rarely wavers from the high water mark set on that first auspicious day.

Using a traditional honey dipper (you know, the ridged wooden ball on a stick) I drop spoonfuls of amber glory into the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and touch of aniseed black tea soymilk mixture. Having made its indelible mark on my soul, I know if fate is compassionate I will be sitting at one of these vintage, cramped hotchpotch art deco tables with blaring pop, rock, jazz or hip-hop tunes filling my ears again soon. The food’s pretty good too…

teacup

It's funny how far one can go for a cup of tea.

(Thanks to David Light Orchard’s Photostream for the use of this image via Creative Commons.)

One of the changing points in my life was twelve years ago when I met my good friend and teacher Matthew Ceeda ‘Takdeem Proceedor’ Andersen. He proceeded to teach me how to play the didgeridoo, or as the Australian indigenous creators of this mystical and spiritual instrument refer to it: the yirdaki. My good friend Ceeda passed away suddenly about two and a half years ago at the tender age of 34 years (the age I am now), but I still play the didgeridoo, and I dedicate the songs to him whenever I play.

If you know anything about didgeridoos in Australia (you probably don’t!), you would have heard the name, Djalu Gurruwiwi. Djalu is known amongst yirdaki makers and players as the true master of the trade. He was also a very renowned player in his younger years, but in old age has lost much of his ability due to a debilitating condition to his vocal chords. Djalu has said the misfortune was the result of his refusal to pay a clansman who then placed a ceremonial malediction upon him.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about this little-known legend living under the noses of an otherwise unaware Australian populace:

‘I got more power, not enough for everybody – the life of Djalu’ Gurruwiwi and yirdaki.’

‘Djalu Gurruwiwi – Abridged Biography’

This is Djalu making a didgeridoo from scratch:

Djau’s son playing one of his father’s creations:

After one minute in this video, you can see and hear the man himself blowing life through the hollow tree:

 

I went and saw the new French movie Seraphine last night about a genius artist who ends up in an insane asylum. It got me thinking; there have been so many stories of people with mental imbalances, disorders or signs of ‘craziness’ who have proved to be the most successful in their prospective fields of effort and enquiry.

The other day my partner and I were listening to some music by the late African American singer and piano player Nina Simone. We were marvelling at her musical creations, so I went to Wikipedia to find out more about her (as one does in this day and age). Nina Simone suffered bi-polar disorder.

A while back I went to see the pianist David Helfgott perform live here in Melbourne; he’s the guy the movie Shine was written about. Again we have an arguable genius matched by an acute anxiety neurosis. We have so many names for these illnesses and afflictions: Schizophrenia, Manic-Depression, Autism, Clinical Depression, Obsessive-compulsive and the list goes on reportedly ad infinitum.

Check out this PDF file that lists ‘Famous people with mental illnesses’

Here’s also a massive list of renowned people who have or did have bi-polar disorder and one for famous people with depression.

For society in general, if someone mentions they have been diagnosed with a mental issue, automatically others often make judgments and can stigmatise the individual, even if it’s in a very unconscious or subtle way. What a paradox! In one instance we laud the accomplishments of these souls who have created works of genius, yet in another light, we feel uncomfortable around them with their peculiarities and unpredictable actions.

The funny thing is, maybe we’re all a little imbalanced at times, and it is this that evokes so much fear in ourselves when we witness someone acting ‘abnormally’ or in a  ‘socially unacceptable’ manner.

Ernest Hemingway killed himself because of depression. Ludwig van Beethoven was bi-polar and self-medicated himself until he died of liver failure. Winston Churchill suffered the ‘black dog’ of depression and only survived by drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

If some of the people who’ve made the greatest impacts upon human society suffered from these painful disorders, it makes you wonder how you should judge the next person you see acting strangely, looking melancholy or anxious in the street.

Abe

'Honest Abe' Abraham Lincoln freed the African slaves in the US, but he was enslaved by great bouts of depression.

(Creative Commons image taken from scriptingnews’ photostream.)

Lennon

John Lennon taught us how to 'Give Peace a Chance; he had a rough time keeping his own mind at ease.

(Creative Commons image taken from C J Sorg’s photostream.)

It’s about time I had a post that was a little more light-hearted… I have been studying Chinese internal martial arts on and off for around fifteen years now. I’ve trained in the Yang 85 tai chi form, Hun Yuan tai chi, Wu Dao Gong kung fu, Zi Ran Men kung fu, Nam Pai Chuan kung fu (with a Japanese club!), Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi and Liu He Tanglang Praying Mantis. I’ve practiced anywhere from one day to five days per week, but it’s a lifetime journey; there are some areas I feel quite proficient in, whilst others not even close.

I’m not on my way to being a kung fu master; this kind of person dedicates their whole lives to the art; every waking moment is spent in training. I am a typical Westerner practicing in my spare time for health and self-defence purposes; around Australia, doing kung fu doesn’t often pay the bills, and so we have to work most of our days. Doing martial arts has ironically made me a more peaceful person, and it’s been great fun as well as good for my health and confidence.

I’ve been fortunate to have a few very good teachers. Here are some videos of a few people I’ve been lucky enough to train under, or of forms/styles I’ve learned:

Here’s an old video of my Zi Ran Men teacher Liu Deming on a China trip.

This is Han Yanwu doing Bagua Zhang training; he came to Melbourne from Beijing a while back to help us out.

Grandmaster Fu Zhongwen doing the Yang 85 form

My Canberra teachers Brett Wagland and Fontaine Ip doing Hun Yuan tai chi

Some of our Zi Ran Men training drills here in Melbourne, Australia

This is how we sparred in the Nam Pai Chuan school over in Wakayama City, Japan

Have you ever trained in martial arts? How has the experience been for you?

I think this is the last Facebook analysis I’m going to do for a while; five posts on one subject can make one feel as though they’ve left the real world and entered a world of ‘faces’. Facebook has had a huge impact on much of modern society in the Western world and there has been no shortage of News in relation to strange happenings within its ‘pages’.

For example, there was the Auschwitz Facebook site, which has subsequently closed down (just like the original ghetto – I can say this; I’m Jewish). There was the criminal who got busted after making the wrong friend request. Did you hear about the incident where car crash details including the name of a female teenager were posted on Facebook before her parents had been notified by authorities? The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, was forced to delete his Facebook account after being constantly asked to befriend people. I guess being that rich has its drawbacks…Taiwanese civil servants were told to cut down Facebook use, and it has been banned altogether at various times in China. These are but a fraction of the Facebook stories floating around the ‘Facialsphere’. Some of my Facebook opinions:

–       Some people want as many friends at they can get, but never communicate to them. I’ve seen people with hundreds, and famous people have thousands of ‘friends’.

–       Whenever someone you are connected with says anything about their lives, everyone they know has the option to add a comment or simply tick the box that says, ‘I like this.’ Everyone comments on one another’s lives without actually interacting personally.

–       There’s an online chat aspect to Facebook; here you can have short instant messenger conversations with people you haven’t seen in years. Ask them for their phone number and see what they do…

–       You can give virtual gifts to people; this takes hardly any effort at all, and usually feels like a waste of time. However, there was an instance where a friend’s husband passed away overseas and I sent her a ‘hug’ with a teddy bear praying for her. This actually did feel good, but it was much more real when I called her on the phone.

–       Some people seem to ‘talk’ to everyone they’ve ever met, worked with, or gone to school with. If someone they’ve known comments on the News wall, they’ve always got something to say about it…Are they lonely, or sociopaths?

–       There’s a multitude of whacky applications and groups to ‘join’. I have an acquaintance that is a ‘fan’ of Vicks Vapour Rub. Why does he think this is worth expressing? Is it comedy?

–       I played the Facebook application called Texas Hold em’ Poker for a while. I made it from $1,000 up to $2.6 million, and then lost it all. Some people have billions of these virtual dollars and are so proud of their achievement, although it has no intrinsic value whatsoever. Still, it did feel sad to lose all that ‘money’. It sure is weird to see ‘poor’ folks asking the ‘rich’ people for spare chips.

–       As I’m a travel bug, there’s one add-on application I like called, ‘Cities I’ve visited’ created by Trip Advisor. You get a map on your Facebook page, which shows everyone where you’ve been (including yourself!), though admittedly it can come across as being a little egotistical and ostentatious…

–       I have the Top Friends application where I’ve put my closest family members; you can ‘send drinks’ to them virtually. I don’t drink. It’s weird how society automatically thinks we want to drink alcohol with those we feel close with.

–       Did you know if you close your account on Facebook the website holds the right to keep your information even after you’re gone?

–       One friend of mine says it’s all too commercial now; another says every real-life conversation he has, Facebook comes up, and he’s sick of it.

–       My girlfriend says she doesn’t like the feeling of having to check her homepage regularly to find out when friends’ events are on. Why don’t people just call if they want her to come?

–       Now there’s Facebook for Mobile. I fear if people get too into this they will no longer focus on the world around them; I like paying attention to people and the changing landscape on my daily train rides. Staring into your phone for the entire journey is questionably equal to disassociating one’s self from the present moment surrounding you in the space-time continuum of life.

–       Now that I’ve deleted some people from my Friend’s List, my brother says he’s heard people can be deeply wounded and offended by this act. Really? I’ll just tell them I’m not into Facebook, except for keeping in touch with very close friends. If they don’t understand or no longer want to know me, I can presume it was a good decision anyway.

–       Check out these articles relating to Facebook: ‘Death of a Gatekeeper’, ‘Why you Should be Aware of Facebook‘, ‘Is it a Day to be Happy: Check the Index‘ and ‘Beware: Happiness is Contagious‘.

mask

Why have a Facebook if all faces are only masks to what truly lies behind?



I’m not obsessed with Facebook, but I figure if I’m going to judge something negatively I should look into the matter as deeply as possible. I think Facebook is a very impersonal way to communicate, and I’m not the only one. This whole communication via short text messages as opposed to telephone conversations or face-to-face interaction is very easy and non-committal; it also feels very shallow.

Recently my brother mentioned to me a few people he knows are shocked and feel invaded by having to answer a spontaneous voice phone call when they are not prepared for the interaction. All these SMS’s, emails, status updates, Twitters and instant messengers…could they actually be taking away from true and deep human relationships?

I was sitting in a tutorial for my Writing and Editing for Digital Media class at the University of Melbourne the other day. This is a postgraduate unit discussing blog writing, Internet journalism, as well as other social networking concepts. I looked over at a couple of my fellow students and saw they weren’t paying any attention to the lecture of which the teacher was putting a lot of effort into. What were these students focussed on? I’ll tell you; they were on their Facebook accounts. ‘Face Crack’ is addictive. Why?

There are three of ‘me’ on Facebook: Jesse Somer, Jesse Somer and Jesse Somer. Who is the real one? Can you tell which one I am? Let me give you a hint; I’m not the Asian guy in sunglasses with his shirt off and a six-pack stomach looking like a male stripper. This guy is giving ‘Jesse Somer’ a bad name.

Facebook can be useful. Whilst volunteering at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival the organisation set up a MWF Facebook page to inform everyone what was going on. Unfortunately, I obtained all the important information directly to my email, so it proved unnecessary.

However, generally I get this weird notion I’m unintentionally peeking into other people’s lives, getting a view into areas I truly have no desire to see. For instance, there’s the ‘Wall’. Each person has a ‘public’ wall where they show all their communications to all of their ‘friends’. You also have the option to send private messages, but a lot of the time people don’t bother. The result is seeing what other people are saying to one another. In the old days your Mum would box you on the ears if she found you eavesdropping; on Facebook you are forced to.

I was happier when I was the only Jesse Somer.

Jesse Somer
Is this the real Jesse Somer?
(Photo taken from Facebook public page; all rights reserved to Facebook and Jesse Somer)

The title of this post is a direct follow-up to the previous one, ‘Facebook: Why I feel the need to delete half of my so-called friends’, and the third piece in a series of five short articles questioning the pros and cons of the Facebook social networking site. Many people would like me to believe quitting Facebook or deleting my friends is a disastrous decision inevitably leading me to a life of a hermit/isolation.

Facebook is dominating recent News (in the areas of technology and human interaction) and recently I read some people believe if you don’t join Facebook when your friends ask you to, you are then classified as ’needy’ by those within their Facebook clique. By not joining you are deemed as being a person who desires more interaction than normal people these days should require. You are in essence inferring your need to be the centre of attention. I don’t believe it; this has always been the mentality of the sheep-like people who chastise the one who is different (the ‘black sheep’), or who fear the wolf, the one who could eat them.

I’ve also read a psychologist’s theory that says every new friend you get on Facebook the more happy you’ll be, because you feel more connected to society and the community. Another article entitled, ‘Friends with benefits: Do Facebook friends provide the same support as those in real life?‘ also questions this idea. I’ve read from a ‘business expert’ in an era of networking one should never delete contacts from their Facebook, mobile phone or email. The result will be lost opportunities. I’m sorry, but I’m doing it anyway.

As inferred in my previous post, I’ve now stopped being friends with those people on Facebook who I don’t really like, who never speak to me, who I’ve tried to talk to, but who ignored me, who I don’t actually know well, or who are from a past I desire to leave in the past. Note: I will also delete more of my current ‘friends’ when in future they are no longer in my immediate vicinity or everyday interactions. I’ve now dropped from eighty down to around forty friends. Admittedly some friends are still only there because they are associated with someone I know; I’m being polite, they are nice, but I’ll probably rarely communicate with them. They too might completely disappear from my list one day, and then again, maybe I’ll drop the whole Facebook idea altogether.

Rocky

I know there's a lot of good in Facebook; so why do I want to dump it at the bottom of a river?