Oil v.s. Culture

“Truth, like oil, always rises to the top.”
Spanish Proverb

I recently went for an olive oil tasting session at Iberica, a Spanish restaurant in Marylebone – which I must say is a wonderful experience to my surprise!

However, when I told some friends in China – they are absolutely horrified! They find the thought of tasting oil revolting. I wouldn’t blame them. In Asian cuisine oil is not suppose to add too much flavour to the food (with an exception of sesame oil as dressing). We commonly use groundnut oil, vegetable oil, or even Rapeseed oil for deep frying – everything else is covered by the strong taste of salted soy source or sweet rice vinegar.

There is no best (olive) oil we were told. The best oil is supposed to be perfectly blended with the food flavour.

First of all we were asked to do blind tasting of six different types of olive oils on its own. Each is a slightly different blend, be it the colour, the smell or the taste. Some can even be quite deceiving! The last type of olive oil I tasted looked rather cloudy with a sweet and nutty aroma, but when I took a tiny sip, the creamy liquid slid down my throat with an explosion at the end – it was spicy?!

We were then moved onto tasting a variety of oils (I cannot remember the three names so I have to describe them with my own feeling instead!)

  • mild and creamy
  • medium mild with a little grassy aroma
  • very strong in terms of the colour (darker) and the taste (‘unripe’ green olive taste to me)

with a selection of dishes served including:

  • Gazpacho of red berries, beetroot & anchovies
  • Salad of Urgell cheese, pine-nuts & pear
  • Octopus gallega with potatoes and vinegar

As a Chinese growing up with East Asian cuisine, I tend to always go for the mildest taste of olive oil, which is the first option. However, as we moved on with the dishes, I have actually decided if I were to buy extra virgin olive oil, I would choose the second option – it worked superb with the seafood – octopus, vinegar and spicy paprika. The olive oil has added an extra layer and created a more balanced flavor.

The Spanish proverb goes “Truth, like oil, always rises to the top.” I wonder if it works the same way with people in different culture – you, as an unique individual, rise above the cultural stereotype. We can also mix well with different cultural environment by making an effort to find the right balance.


Where are you from?

“It’s important to know people’s roots in a city where so many are uprooted.”

An Xiao Mina – Art Village: A Year in Caochangdi

I come across this interesting article on another culture-led urban regeneration phenomenon in Beijing – Art Village: A Year in Caochangdi by An Xiao Mina

I have always felt China is an extremely complex, multifaceted nation – there is no single reality. Try to get the measure of a country that is as unique as it is varied, I often find it mission impossible. It’s hard to explain to others, or even to myself, why things always work differently in China…




Brains: The Mind as Matter

Brains like other body organs are a perfect combination of the science and arts.

The recent Wellcome Exhibition sets to explore ‘what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change’.

The exhibition itself certainly has a greater emphasis on the scientific approach over the artistic interpretation.

However, after bombarded by a number of disturbing images and films, I left the exhibition a bit dazed and confused – what exactly have we done to the brains?

It’s far beyond the beautiful face and the intellectual imagination – beneath the protective layers of skin it’s simply the similar neurons, tissues and cells in my untrained eyes. It appears to be black and white – there is no room for ‘freestyle’ of medical drawings, and yet it is full of myths at the same time – there are still so many causes of desease – the unsolved puzzles in science lie in the brains.




On Translation

Translation is inadequate, but it’s all we have if good writing is to have its life extended, spatially and temporally.

Howard Goldblatt – on Translation, Washington Post

Here is my favourite poem translated by Li Shutong (Hong Yi)

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
– William Blake


-李叔同 (弘一法师)译


Cultural Differences – Only in Humans, not in Animals

“The development of culture is one of the main differences between humans and animals. In humans, cultural differences are an essential part of what distinguishes neighbouring groups that live in similar environments.”
– Lydia Luncz – Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

Walking in Regent’s park I sometimes wonder if the mandarin ducks would speak the same ‘language’ as their Chinese counterparts? Are there cultural and language differences between the English duck and the Chinese duck? Or, for them, there is merely the race difference.

We always blame on the cultural difference when we work with people from a different country – ‘we simply don’t speak the same language!’ you hear… but perhaps it’s the unknown makes the cross-cultural collaboration exciting – getting to know one another through the misunderstandings, getting closer after numerous mistakes, and finally achieving the goal together despite of the moaning and complaining that if ever we could do it all over again, it will surely be completely different!

After all, this is what distinguishes us from the animals…




A Story of Deception

“Sometimes, to make something led to nothing, and paradoxically, sometimes to make nothing is to make something.”
– Francis Alÿs: a story of deception @ Tate Modern

Another interesting exhibition at Tate Modern makes me wonder somehow we have missed the simple ideas in life?

‘When Faith Moves Mountains’

There is an ancient Chinese myth about a foolish old man named Yu Gong who attempts to remove the mountains in front of his family home. The story has been developed into a phrase in Chinese that equals to ‘faith and persistence’. Thousands of miles away, thousands of years later, here in Lima/Peru, Francis organises five hundred labours scoop up sand, working side by side in a line that inches its way over the parches dunes. The dune moved: this wasn’t a literary fiction; it really happened. In life we are too often disappointed by failure to achieve the grand miracle… and yet we forget a small miracle is still worth celebrating.

The Shard