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Gung The Palace review

By on Nov 15, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

I used to fret whether searching for “authentic” cuisine in non-native countries was a pretentious thing to do. Now, I’ve reconciled to the fact that people who try out a fake version of a foreign cuisine and gush about it are far more pretentious, and hence I have my own right to be more smug than them. IT HELPS ME SLEEP AT NIGHT, OKAY. Anyway. I’m back in Delhi while I’m waiting for my visa to be sorted out. During this time, I’ve gone around meeting friends and I’ve quite often been disappointed with what is passed off as foreign cuisine in Delhi. The other day I went to Boombox Cafe, much-beloved among the Delhi crowd for its variety of cuisine as evidenced by online reviews. I haven’t eaten Mexican food for ages now, so I ordered a chicken quesedilla…and got a random mix of diced chicken inside a paratha. Another day, at Cafe Morrison, I ordered nachos with cheese only to get a hardened, dried nachos with “cheese” that was yellow-coloured running water. Such is the state of eating out in Delhi, with many popular restaurants trying to serve dishes from multiple cuisines to customers who wouldn’t know better, as long as they have an illusion of choice. It was in this context that, you must realise, when one of my friends suggested a place in Green Park that served “really authentic Korean food” I wanted to reserve my judgement until I saw it with my own eyes. Tucked away in a side road from Green Park Main Market is Gung The Palace. The lobby that greets you when you walk in is littered with Korean pamphlets and memorabilia, with private rooms where you sit down on the floor in front of low tables for your dining experience. My friend (Karmanya) and I walked in today asked for a table for two, and the hostess who greeted us at the door asked us if we had a reservation. We didn’t. She gave a look as if that never happened in this establishment. I was almost about to blurt out “Look here lady, I don’t know how they do it in False Korea, but in True Korea we would have been greeted warmly” when we were ushered upstairs to a standard seating area with normal dining tables and chairs. The decor in this section of the restaurant was somewhat incongruous. There was a TV, much like in a dhaba, playing a Korean TV channel showing a Korean version of Takeshi’s Castle where competitors were running around over giant inflatable pools and eating noodles. (I presume on their breaks from running on top of giant inflatable pools.) In another corner was a disco ball on the ceiling for…I don’t know. Impromptu karaoke parties? We got served cold tea right away – I assume it was barley tea, or hell may rain wrath upon them – along with a selection of appetisers such as soft, sweet peanuts (my favourite), kimchi, fried chicken pieces (kinda similar to Japanese chicken karaage), brussels sprouts, spinach, et al while we perused the menu. The menu is cute in how words in the story of the restaurant are randomly missing spaces to make breathlessrunonwordsthatmakenosense. Helpful pictures guide first-timers to Korean cuisine on what the dishes look like, and it took us a while to decide on dishes because there are around 70-80 items on the menu. (Options available for vegetarians too, asthemenubreathlesslyinformsyou.) I was salivating at pictures of prime sirloin and prime jowls already. Perhaps the only item that looked out-of-place were the California rolls. Ultimately, I ordered marinated chicken – dak bulgogi – with glass noodles (it’s been a while since I’ve eaten glass noodles) while Karmanya ordered sour pork with rice. Part of hesitation with the menu came from the eye-watering prices (by Delhi standards) with most dishes in the range of Rs 700-1800. We also ordered sweet plum soju, which came in a teapot for multiple servings. We’d seriously underestimated the quantity of food we’d get. Unlike other expensive places, Gung doesn’t skimp on portions at all! My noodles were served hotpot-style with a burner on the table a huge plate with a generous serving of bulgogi with noodles. In fact, to anyone who goes there I’d recommend being restrained with how many dishes to order since each can easily feed 2-3 people. (It was the same with the portions Karmanya got.) The bulgogi was done just right – with deliciously tender pieces of chicken. A superb meal in all! The total for two people came to Rs 3000 – exactly as predicted on Zomato – and neither of us wanted dessert because the only option was ice shavings with red bean. I’m not a big fan of desserts with beans in them. To me, that’s the antithesis of what dessert should be – sweet! Especially when paired with something cold like ice, the resulting taste is bland. Overall, I’d say Gung The Palace is an excellent place to go for a meal. It’s pricey, but totally worth the money if you’re looking for authentic Korean food, and the portions are huge. The decor’s nice too, as long as you don’t get shunted into the ghetto dining area on tables on the first floor. Would definitely recommend. Rating: 7.5 / 10 *** One thing I noticed at Gung was that all the waitresses were Nepalese...

2013 Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix

By on Oct 28, 2013 in Personal | 0 comments

Starting grid. Our seats were in the main grandstand upper tier, one of the best seats in the house! The grid girls all looked like clones of the same woman. The pit crew for Sahara Force India team reminded me of Stormtroopers. Sebastian Vettel pulls of theatrics at the end, spinning his car around on the racetrack. Podium finish with random Rajasthani dancers on the top floor. I felt bad for them since they (and the grid girls) don’t seem to have any ear protection. Didn’t wait around for the champagne finish to beat traffic I went with Aditya – his dad had “procured” tickets – to watch the 2013 India Grand Prix yesterday. His dad had good contacts with the organiser’s company, and our seats in the main grandstand right in front of the podium were possibly one of the best seats in the house. Aditya wasn’t particularly interested in attending in person even though he’s a Kimi Raikkonen fan, but was convinced by his dad to go along and see it in real life. This was my third Formula 1 race; the first two I attended were the Singapore and Malaysian Grand Prix. So I was somewhat aware what the experience is like, except it felt different this time because I was sitting in the grandstand. On both occasions earlier I had been in free seating grass areas or had walkabout passes. Viewing it from comfortable seats, with the starting grid right at the front, felt more sanitised but I actually got to see much more of the race than merely cars whizzing past obscured by some tall guy’s head – my default view on previous occasions. The impression that I got at the circuit was that most people who were in attendance had come with comped tickets. Perhaps the fact that Formula 1 as a sport doesn’t have much of a following in India, coupled with how far away the circuit is from Delhi – it took us approximately two hours to drive to Buddh International Circuit – makes it a tough sell. The overwhelming sentiment is “This is my first time here, and I only came for the experience…and I won’t pay to come here again.” Doesn’t sound like this race venue will survive for long, which is a shame because the race venue looks...

Depression, Zen, and barber shops

By on Dec 28, 2012 in Personal | 11 comments

The last time I had a haircut was back in February. Since then I have cycled through various iterations of dyed hair: ginger, blonde, grey, blackish-blonde, reddish-black. I simply love the attention that I get from dyeing my hair after each episode – and from the general perception that people who know me get from it that I do “crazy, spontaneous things”. The truth is that it helps my self-image a lot to be perceived as outré. I have a weird relationship with my self-image. I meticulously cultivate a persona that ensures that I get attention from others. I do genuinely like having a different taste in culture, although I do wonder whether at some point this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I like different things because I like being different?) I go through intense phases of self-loathing despite outwardly denying this ever happens. There are times when I feel intense hatred towards my parents for what I feel was a lackadaisical attitude in parenting in my childhood, sometimes I feel indifferent towards them, and yet other times I feel a needy yearning for their approval. My relationship with my parents is another one of those things I am incredibly uncomfortable with because I don’t know myself where I stand. When I said in my last post that I could not decide whether to fly to India or not, this was partly the reason: I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to face my internal demons on where I really stand with respect to my parents. (I took the decision to solider on.) Thus far I have shied away from ever mentioning this publicly, but you know what, fuck it: I suffer from depression. It’s become a fact-of-life that I have struggled with for years, along with associated problems such as behavioural and eating disorders. I consider cognitive behavioural therapy to be “for losers”, even though I rely on it – and medication – massively as a crutch to remain a functioning individual. I loathe how being on medication appears to make my emotions ‘flatline’ while generally keeping my mood stable in a way that I cannot without their help. Most of all, I hate the side effects that come with taking antidepressants – which have been various depending on the specific antidepressant that I’m on at any given time. What has been hardest is that I’ve never let on that I suffer from depression, except to a handful of friends; although of late I’ve let more and more friends in on this ‘secret’. Acknowledging what I see as a ‘defect’ in myself simply did not sit well with my curated ‘public’ persona. My biggest worry with telling anyone about this has been that I don’t want to be pitied and, well, when I do tell friends what are they going to do about it anyway? Depression is, ultimately, a problem that I need to deal with myself. Still, I’m grateful for friends who over the years have lent an ear to me in my darkest hours. The past few months have been incredibly harsh as I went through a major depressive episode. What really freaked me out is during this time I had thoughts of self-harm – and I usually haven’t been that ‘bad’ to have thoughts of harming myself or others. This was driven less by self-loathing and more by a lack of any kind of feeling during this phase, to the extent that I wanted to hurt myself just to experience ‘something’. One of the reasons why I started letting more friends know what I was going through is because I was incredibly scared of losing grip and actually doing something stupid. I put on a brave face regardless because I didn’t want my friends worrying about me, but it was nice to know that there were people who went out of their way to simply meet up with me and chat about what I was going through (and what was going on in their life). Part of this self-image cultivation is my online identity. It crept up in a way that I didn’t even notice. I was timing posts on Twitter or Facebook so that I knew they got maximum exposure: craving for retweets, likes, and shares consumed me and I when I got them, I genuinely got a kick out of it (no matter how much I denied it). That’s what I was on about when I wanted to disconnect during my trip to Turkey. Thus the cycle continues. I feel smug about how self-aware I am, feel smug about recognising my own feeling-smugness-of-my-self-awareness and so on as I take one step forward two steps backward on what I keep thinking is a path towards self-actualisation and personal epiphany. For all the noise that I make about changing as a person, I don’t know how much of it is just that – noise – and how much I’ve really changed. My takeaway from being more open about what I’m going through has taught me one thing: that a lot more people than you think suffer from mental illnesses, from personal experiences that I found out when I told my own experiences. Am I wrong to feel somewhat comforted by this fact? I don’t know. What I do know is that mental illnesses are still an awkward topic, and there are people who look at you weirdly...

Chocolate bars in post liberalisation India, and nouveau cirque in Singapore

By on Jul 4, 2011 in Reviews | 6 comments

I remember the first time I went to a circus performance; I was 5-6 years old. ‘Remember’, perhaps, is a strong word as I don’t recollect anything about the circus show except that it was in a tent. I might have fallen asleep during the show. What I do remember is that before we entered the show tent, my parents bought me a bar of chocolate. This was still India in its early phases of liberalisation. You know what that means: there were only three brands of chocolate in the market – Cadbury, Nestle, and Amul. That’s right. Back in my day, Amul manufactured chocolate bars. (Are they still around?) They tasted like what I would describe now as ‘communist chocolate’ rations might have been in Soviet Russia. (“In Soviet Russia, the chocolate tastes you!”) Amul also sponsored an immensely popular / horrible show on DD Metro – the name of the show escapes me – where people sent in answers to stupid contests on ‘competition post-cards’ – which were exactly like normal post-cards but 5x more expensive and blue in colour. Young man, don’t insinuate that I didn’t have audience voting in my day. We did; it just took two weeks to find out the results. I was young and foolish, I preferred Nestle’s milky chocolate over Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Bitter chocolate was hard to come by unless you could emotionally blackmail a relative “going to foreign”. (I bury my suaku origins in a very deep pit indeed.) Can you imagine that at one time in India, Ferrero Rocher chocolates were acceptably exotic souvenirs, instead of being found in every road-side convenience store? Hearty laugh! All I remember about this circus show I attended as a kid is the chocolate bar, and that I chose not to eat it straight away. And that when I reached back home, the bar had been reduced to horrible melted goo. I never made the same mistake in my life ever again. When my parents came to Singapore in February and left a couple of Cadbury Bourneville bars, I (roped in my roommate too) finished all of them off on the same day. Fuck calorie counting. What was I supposed to do – just let them melt and become horrible goo? *** I mourn the loss of ‘old-school’ circuses in the name of animal rights activism. I may never get to see a real-life Dumbo! Do you know why I can say with confidence India is a fast-growing economy? Because you no longer find circuses in India* – or in Malaysia / Singapore, for that matter – while you do still find them in many other South/South-East Asian countries. Urban Indians have moved swiftly to sweep their suaku origins under a plush thick carpet, much like I have. *Unless you’re part of two-thirds of India’s population that still lives in rural areas, in which case you can attend fapfests where impoverished Ukrainian immigrants  (“Gorgeous Russian ladies!” on promotional posters) gyrate sadly to circus muzak. And when do I think India will ‘get there’, speaking of its economy? When it gets to level of Singapore and has a renaissance in theatre-going culture where the bourgeois can watch nouveau cirque performances at a posh venue, say, like the opulent Marina Bay Sands resort. Which is exactly what I was up to last weekend, thanks to a Groupon Singapore deal that gave half-off pricing for Canadian circus troupe Cirque Éloize‘s last show of iD in Singapore. This was such a uniquely different performance from any concept of ‘circus’ I have been used to, as a) it’s performed on a theatre stage (there are elements that break the fourth wall, though) b) it’s more like…a play. There are characters. There is a story. The circus acrobatics – if I may call them so – are so intricately a part of the plot. Unlike a play though, there are no spoken lines: it’s like a fusion of mime with hip-hop dancing with acrobatics with parkour. Interactive displays are used to create incredibly vivid and varying backdrops as the plot progresses too; so vivid that it’s hard to believe they are displays or projections at all. That moment when you see a girl contorting herself into unbelievable positions and scuttering like a spider on the stage floor (and you flinch thinking of how much it would hurt if you tried the same), that moment when a guy riding a bicycle prances around on one wheel around a terrified member of the audience quite possibly praying that his nuts don’t get squashed, that moment when the projections on the trampoline-wall give an illusion of falling apart, that bass-heavy hip-hop track the performance is set to…are all hard to describe in written words. All I can say is that the standing ovation the Cirque Éloize artists got was very well-deserved. Yes, they are artists, and not ‘circus performers’ – it was that good. Cirque Éloize iD promotional video Sixteen artists on stage, thirteen circus disciplines, and the discovery of a world which is new to us, that of urban dances such as breakdance and hip-hop. I imagined this show at the heart of a futuristic city, where the omnipresence of image causes us to lose our reference points. I sought to create an aesthetic at the crossroads of comic books, science-fiction movies and the rich universe of graffiti. The decidedly...