Tag Archives: Instagram

A Month Away from Social Media

After reading an article about social media addiction, I decided to retreat into a virtual cave in September – just to see what it would feel like. And in light of the role played by social media in recent atrocities, being an online hermit doesn’t seem altogether crazy. But first, let me tell you about my September experiment.

It started with this article in Psychology Today. The article contains 6 questions. I answered ‘No’ to all of them, which put me firmly in the ‘Not Addicted to Social Media’ category. Nonetheless I thought abstention could be instructive.

It was.

The first thing that surprised me was how hard it was staying away. So, a word of warning for those who believe they’re not addicted to posting updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Tumblr: you may be more hooked than you think.

I’d initially planned for my social media avoidance to commence on September 1 for one month. Then, the American senator John McCain passed away. This happened during the last week of August, and as I watched his daughter Meghan McCain deliver her eulogy at the memorial service held to celebrate his life, my first impulse was to post a tweet. I reached forward, before realising that it was Saturday, September 1. I was not supposed to be posting anything. I found myself debating what to do, can you imagine? I actually spent time contemplating whether to hold strong or to succumb. In the end I gave in, reasoning that I could postpone social media abstention until the next day.

This is how we get sucked in. Social media platforms have been very adept at training us in supposed ‘spontaneity’. No sooner does something happen than we reach for the nearest device in order to ‘share’. For the first few days I had to fight the urge.

And then Twitter noticed. This was by far the most interesting part of the experiment. Those of us who’re on social media – and that’s most people I know – are already accustomed to the emails routinely sent by various platforms to tell us what we’ve missed during our absence.

Twitter stood out for the intensity of its deluge. Once Twitter realised that I had not logged on for a while, it started sending me three reminders every single day. It only stopped when I resumed tweeting in October.

Think about this. Imagine how you’d feel if your mobile/cell operator were to send you 3 messages each day to remind you to use your phone. That’s the equivalent of what Twitter was doing.

Here’s the difference: your mobile/cell operator doesn’t need to remind you to use your phone. Sure, it may encourage you to use your phone more by advertising cheap minutes and ubiquitous data. At the end of the day, though, we use our phones because they’re pretty much indispensable to modern life. Social media isn’t at that stage (and on current evidence, may never get there). It’s amazing how we forget this.

What I learned during my month of not posting and sharing and reacting to every event as soon as it happened was that after a few days, I stopped missing social media. This is the greatest fear of social media platforms. That’s why they work so hard to keep us on.

Because once we start experimenting with social media detoxification, where will it all end? Heck, we may even find other ways of expressing ourselves and leave these platforms altogether. That’s the nightmare of social media owners and operators. If enough moderate people leave their platforms, then much of the venting which passes as conversation would end up in the hands of the implacably aggrieved.

Even though I’ve never been as big a fan of social media as some of my friends, I’m convinced that a month of voluntary detoxification has had an effect. My mind is less cluttered as a result. Honest.

If you’re reading this and wondering whether I’m being over the top, I’d recommend getting off social media for a week. Just try it. You may be surprised by how therapeutic the experience is.

On a slightly different note, let’s contrast Twitter’s robust response when I ceased activity with how the platform responded to a death threat reported to it. Twitter told political analyst Rochelle Ritchie that the threat she received from the now arrested pipe bomber broke none of its rules!

Twitter Ignored Death Threat

Such a response should be enough to focus anyone’s mind. If a death threat doesn’t break Twitter’s rules, what would?

And yes, I do intend to share this blog-post via social media. It’s a twist of post-modern irony.

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Ruminations On Food 3: An Ode to Petai…

I hope you’re all enjoying the festive season. To celebrate, I bought a copy of the National Geographic Food magazine and was browsing through it when the words ‘butterfly pea’ caught my eye. This distinctively blue flower is used in Southeast Asian cuisine, but it isn’t exactly a household staple. What was butterfly pea doing in the National Geographic?

Colouring tea, it seems. Butterfly pea tea? You bet, and in bags too!

Butterfly Pea Tea in National Geographic Food

#bluetea is apparently gaining in popularity. To date, the hashtag has garnered 9,211 posts on Instagram. National Geographic Food helpfully tells us that adding lemon to the blue-coloured tea turns it pink. If only they had shown a cup of pink tea!

The butterfly pea flower is mentioned in my novel, The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, where the protagonist, who is a chef, uses it to colour one of her cakes. Here’s an interesting fact: the butterfly pea has a scientific name, which alas is clitoria ternatea. You can see why I don’t say this in my book! National Geographic doesn’t mention it, either. Instead, the magazine highlights the butterfly pea’s antioxidant properties.

Which begs an intriguing question: if a plant as innocuous as the butterfly (or blue) pea can have useful health properties, what future might there be in world cuisine for Malaysia’s more potent plants and vegetables?

And there is an incredible variety of these, starting with my favourite legume, called petai in Malay, stinking bean in Chinese. This vegetable looks harmless, though its effects are anything but. Here’s a link to an image of petai uncooked, but do not be deceived. This is not just another broad bean; it’s a natural chemical weapon, transforming those who consume it into human stink bombs.

Unlike strong-smelling cheeses (reblochon being an example), petai doesn’t smell in its raw state (when inside the pod). It’s only after it’s cooked that the bean starts to become interesting. And then, when petai has been eaten and properly digested, its full force is unleashed. What goes in must come out, and petai re-emerges as a unique aroma oozing out of your every pore and orifice. For the next few days, people around you will smell petai on your skin and on your breath and elsewhere too. I describe this in The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds:

Normally stir-fried in a sambal paste, petai is best known for the pungent aroma it leaves in the room – and in latrines afterwards.”

Below is what a dish of petai in a sambal looks like. If you’re not familiar with sambal, this is a delicious spicy sauce, and it’s beloved in Southeast Asia (here’s the Wikipedia entry).

Petai in Sambal

A plant as powerful as petai must surely have significant nutritional value. Searching on Google led me to the plant’s scientific name – parkia speciosa – and a flood of speculation. Petai is apparently high in antioxidants, potassium, carbohydrates and fibre and is said to be helpful for depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, anaemia, blood pressure, brain power, hangovers and loads more besides. Really? Could any single food possibly cure so many ills? Universal panaceas make me nervous, even though my intuition tells me that petai probably does have much unharnessed nutritional value.

The actual smell of petai is difficult to describe. I don’t think of it as pleasant or unpleasant, but it is peculiar. If you come across a distinctive smell that you can’t place and it’s like nothing you’ve ever smelled before, it may be petai!

Last week someone at a book talk I gave asked whether I had any food cravings, and I’d forgotten about petai. This is truly the only Malaysian food I suffer cravings for. Every few weeks I need a fix. For obvious reasons I must time my intake carefully, and this has led me to make a few rules.

  1. Don’t eat petai unless you’re going home afterwards (or to a Malaysian house).
  2. Never eat petai before flying.
  3. Abstain fully during a PR campaign!

The one person who has to put up with my petai obsession is my long-suffering partner. Once, I stir-fried petai in a garlic and sambal sauce without warning her beforehand. I thought it would be enough if I took extra care by closing the kitchen doors while I cooked and giving the kitchen a good airing afterwards. Alas, where Malaysia’s most potent foods is concerned, such efforts are for nought. As soon as my partner stepped inside the house she gave me an odd look, muttered ‘Oh my God, it’s petai’ and flew around opening every window!

Despite such perils, I know of 3 Malaysian restaurants in London that serve petai. For hard core aficionados, the C&R Café in Soho would be the place. There, they serve the petai beans whole (instead of halving them) in a cuttlefish sambal. If you eat petai here, everyone will know what you’ve been up to – this is the Real McCoy. Don’t expect much service, though; you come here for food. I also like Satay House in Paddington – the oldest Malaysian restaurant in London and still going strong. However, the portions here are smaller: there’s a lot less petai for your pound, and the beans are smaller too. But it’s worth a visit just for the smiles. When I’m really desperate, I end up at Rasa Sayang in Soho. Here you don’t get much petai, and the beans are halved and as small as those in Satay House. If you want to try petai this may be a good choice: for some reason the petai here is less smelly. Perhaps they soak them in water beforehand.

If you asked why I like petai so much, I couldn’t really tell you. My craving has something to do with the bean’s texture, its pungency and its utterly inimitable taste. There must be an emotional aspect, too, in the way the taste reminds me of my Malaysian childhood.

Gotta Have ‘Em Juicy Petai!

What’s clear is that when I haven’t eaten petai for a while – as is the case at this very moment – I start to miss it. At the risk of sounding like a crazed addict, I will confess that I can already feel myself approaching a tipping point, after which I’m bound to go a little cranky. As I write this I’m in Florida, where there’s no petai to be found. So I know exactly what I’ll be eating when I land in London! With that delightful prospect in mind, here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year! And please do share your food cravings with me!

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Filed under Cultural Identity, Malaysia