Friday, June 15, 2012

New blog - Circus Conditioning

Sorry it's been a few drinks between posts.  I've been busy working on a new business and new blog since moving back to Perth from Macau almost 3-months to the day! 

My new blog is Circus Conditioning

The blog is also a lead-in to my new business of the same name; I blog about Health, Wellness, Exercise, Fitness, Inspiration and the Circus, amongst other things. 

A ping of sadness comes over me as I write this; the blog I started just before our journey to Macau back in June 2009.  I may blog on here from time to time when I get the urge to write something different, like this post I did for The Way of Least Resistance martial arts blog. 

A good jump-in point on the new blog for new readers might be the 7 things I learned from working in the circus

Thanks for visiting, especially if you've been back often.  Feel free to comment or PM me about anything now or whenever. 

Trevor Aung Than
June 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tribute to Macau

Today we have a guest post by my lovely wife, Natalie Aung Than.  Beautifully written hun!! xxx
Macau - the only city in the world in which we could afford to live right smack bang in the middle of a harmonious chaos of people, vehicles, jackhammers - a land where nothing grows except for hotel-casinos.

A city comprised of three portions: the northern peninsula (walking distance into mainland China) and two small southern islands: expatriate-dominated Taipa and relatively untouched Coloane. From the peninsula three narrow bridges traverse a kilometer long marine dead zone into northern Taipa. Taipa and Coloane, once separate islands, are now joined by reclaimed land in the form of a casino-strewn isthmus: the mighty Cotai strip.

Altogether these three portions form a city so tiny that a taxi ride from the northern border all the way to Coloane’s famous black sand beach takes no more than a matter of minutes. (Fortunately for us Macau’s taxi drivers possess an uncanny ability to comprehend various mumblings in Mando-Cantonese).

Macau – a city of contradictions: the view from one of our apartment’s windows looked out upon the colossal Grand Lisboa while another revealed a solitary fig tree surrounded by a rare patch of green.

The Grand Lisboa as seen from our streetfront.

Where we have had the opportunity to meet an assortment of great friends and colourful characters from all over the world: China, Portugal, Congo, Canada, USA, Thailand, Singapore, India, Taiwan, Mexico, The Philippines, Syria, Vietnam, Nepal, Australia and, of course, Macau.

Angie's best friend in Macau, Sofia.

Where I have had the opportunity to enhance my love affair of exotic, albeit all-imported, fruit and vegetables: tender, juicy custard apples, delightfully stinky jackfruit, never-before-encountered sapodillas and mangosteens, heavenly red pears, lotus roots and at least half a dozen types of mushrooms.

Our local fruit and vegetable vendors.

Our favorite local market lady took advantage of my durian addiction. Every time I attempted to nonchalantly pass by she would catch my eye and subtly motion to the spiky mounds on her table. Now, after almost a year of buying whole maces of durian, I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. I have sampled the famous dark yellow-orange pods in Singapore, and thought they were very good, but the Thailand durian I bought last year, during May and June here in Macau, was the best I have ever tasted. I will cherish my memories of those soft golden pillows of creamy goodness.

Back in the land of kiwi, apples and button mushrooms how will I feed Talia her favorites jack fruit, fresh coconut, dragon fruit and, recently, an anonymous seasonal fruit that resembles a loquat and mango in one? (If anyone knows the name of this fruit please let me know). How can we prevent Angie forgetting her impressive Cantonese and smattering of Mandarin?

What other memories will I take from the most densely populated region of the world?

Carrying Talia up endless footsteps and sweating profusely in the stroller-impossible peninsula, dodging cigarette-puffing tourists and putrid vehicles on our way to Angie’s ballet classes.

The masses of people crammed into buses, the occasional hostility towards breastfeeding, the ubiquitous use of MSG, the inability to move through Senado Square during public holidays, having to rush across dangerous pedestrian crossings, the pungent noise of endless construction. Mould.

Having to weave and squeeze past millions of others along congested arterial networks, hurrying along hazardous road edges in areas when the pathways become too congested.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but, in spite of Macau’s numerous quirks and irritations, there is something so strangely endearing about this place.

It is not the ease of public transport, revitalizing excursions to Coloane or being able to walk home at any hour of the night and never having to look over your shoulder. It’s not only the fresh food markets, a few fantastic restaurants, one great wine bar (none of these anywhere near a casino) and Macau’s close proximity to Asia’s famous holiday hot spots. And it’s not as if Macau has the same intensity, or fantastic shopping opportunities, as its cousin Hong Kong. Spend an entire day in Hong Kong and you will find yourself hankering to decipher signage in Chinese / Portuguese in relatively laid-back Macau. There is something special about this place.

So many times, sitting in San Francisco Park, watching my girls play with the local children, under the shade of a few decent trees, I would find myself reluctantly falling in love with this place.

San Francisco Park - the oldest park in Macau.

It’s the people of Macau: the expats, the eccentric mainland Chinese, the shy Macanese, the surprisingly sympathetic Portuguese, the Filipino helpers who helped keep me sane while living with two young, demanding children. The raucous Cantonese locals and their gorgeous, yet hopelessly spoiled, children. Everyone unquestioningly accepted and welcomed us to this city - this place so reckless it can be compared to the wild-west, so innocent I have never felt more secure, so packed one day soon there will be no more space to move.

Belle - our Filipina neighbour and friend.

Despite having lived in Macau for over two and a half years I never really became accustomed to forcing my way through crowds whilst simultaneously acknowledging friendly smiles at every turn. I always felt surprised when curious faces would stop to gaze admiringly upon the girls; shocked when people went out of their way to share their umbrellas in the rain; special when included in the morning greetings of ‘jo san’. Yes, this may be the land of concrete sanctuaries, first floor park areas, roof top gardens and crazy weather but, the patriotic people of Macau would not have life any other way.

And every night, in an attempt to make up for the fumes, the flu, the noise, the tourists and the stifling humidity, Macau summons all its glitz, glamour and excitement - the glittering lights of restaurants, shops, the Grand Lisboa and all the others – to dazzle me so completely that I can almost forgive Macau for being what it is. For what it has become.

For our last night in Macau we are staying at the Westin Hotel in Coloane. We have been generously upgraded to an ocean view room obstructed by fog. The sun has seldom been able to peek past the thick cover of cloud that has loomed thick since January. Macau Tower, lost in the smog, has been invisible for almost a week. Such is life in the Pearl River Delta region.

Our ocean view from the Westin Hotel during our last day in Macau.

With construction already encroaching on Coloane’s fringes this oasis will eventually be hacked raw and covered with concrete till it too is largely devoid of any, except human, life. I have often wondered what this small Portuguese colony of Macau was like before casinos boosted the economy and ravaged the land. Unfortunately nothing can halt the passage of time or development.

It is a shame because if it wasn’t for the perpetual haze, the concrete, the absence of greenery - Macau would be... perfect.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


As the final days of packing/smashing/tearing/ripping down what was once the ZAiA theatre march nearer I think it is appropriate to pay our final respects to what was once our work/home/space, our milieu. Post-ZAiA life certainly will be unfulfilling for some; after you work in a circus can normal life really ever be the same? So, a photo montage of sorts of the last few days at the ZAiA theatre. It doesn't get me anywhere closer to my million words but I don't think mere words can do it justice....

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tales from the banana frond

The earliest memories I have of food are the smells of gently frying onion, garlic and ginger wafting from our Grandmothers' kitchen and watching her stir the onion/garlic/ginger 'paste' which forms the basis of Burmese hin, or curry (not strictly speaking a curry, but similar). I can imagine the smell right now as I type this, the smell slightly sweet as often in her hin she used some tomato paste or fresh tomatoes. My Grandmother's (bless her soul) cooking was heavily influenced by Indian cuisine as she spent many of her formative years in India, having made the long and deadly trek from Rangoon to India during WWII. The smells from her kitchen were often tinged with curry leaves and cumin seeds, especially if she was making her famous pepperwater (rasam) soup which was one of my favorites.

Other notable dishes of hers were; her pilau rice with Duck curry; her mince fry with rice (made all the more special as she made crispy potato triangles to sprinkle over the mince rice); her kala hin (Indian-style curry) with tamarind and vegetables; her meeshay (rice noodles with chicken hin)...the list goes on! Her cooking was a pseudo Burmese-Indian hybrid cuisine which I imagine is a similar style for any Anglo-Burmese of my generation anywhere in the world. If you haven't had Burmese food before, a lot of people say it's like Thai/Chinese/Indian food - I agree to an extent, but Burmese cuisine has a taste unlike any other. The mixture of saltiness (usually from fish sauce or ngapi - fish paste), tanginess (from lime, lemon or tamarind) and spice (fresh or dried chilli) are the cornerstone of most Burmese dishes and what makes it unique. There is a paucity of Burmese restaurants in most places in the world so most non-Burmese people would either have to befriend a Burmese family or travel to Burma (Myanmar these days) in order to get a taste of real Burmese food.

If either of those options are not likely and you just can't wait, here is a pretty straightforward recipe based on my Mother's Amehnat, or tender/stewed beef. There are many variations of this dish (As can be seen at any one of our family gatherings) but the basics remain the same - stewed tender beef in a rich gravy. Serve with steamed jasmine rice for a nice alternative to a curry night.

Amehnat - Tender beef (Lemongrass/beef curry)

1kg Chuck Beef, cubed (doesn't have to be a good cut of meat due to the slow cook)
5 peeled cloves garlic
2 large onions or 8-10 shallots
5 cm piece fresh ginger, skin removed
3 stalks lemongrass, bruised
3 tbsp Oil - canola/sunflower
2 tbsp Paprika
2-3 tbsp Fish sauce - good quality (Squid brand/Tiparos/Tra Chang)
Splash dark soy sauce(optional)
1 cup water

(1) Pound the garlic, onion and ginger in a mortar and pestle (or food processor if you can't be bothered)
till a smooth paste.
(2) Place the garlic, onion, ginger paste plus beef, lemongrass, oil, paprika, fish sauce and water all together
in a large pot. Give it a good stir so all the ingredients are well mixed.
(3) Place the pot with lid-on on stovetop on slow-medium heat for 1-2 hours (till meat is tender). There should
be a rich, brown/red sauce remaining in the pot. If the sauce dries out before the beef is tender, add water.
If too watery, leave lid off and reduce for 10-15 mins.
(4) Optional - add a splash of dark soy sauce towards the end of cooking process. This gives the dish a nice
molasses colour and a kick of flavor.
(5) Serve hot with jasmine rice and a vegetable dish.

NB. I have done tests (as have many of my Aunts) and this style of "all in the pot" cooking produces more tender beef than frying the onion/ginger/garlic paste separately and then browning the meat.

Be brave and give it a try and let me know how it turns out! If you're keen on learning more Burmese dishes go to this excellent site.

For a more in-depth treaty on Burmese cuisine go here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Era ending

It is with great sadness I announce what we heard two days ago, that our show ZAiA at the Venetian Macau will be having its' final show on the evening of 19 February 2011. After over 1000 shows, 3.5yrs of blood, sweat and tears we will prepare to see it all finish - gone, vanish, become no more. It's been a tumultuous time for sure - we've come close to closing numerous times before, but nobody was expecting it this time around. The partner, Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS) and Cirque du Soleil had just invested millions in a show relaunch months ago, a new advertising campaign attempting to inject life into flagging ticket sales and disappointing houses. But it was all in vain.

The hardest thing for me is saying goodbye - to all the people; peers, colleagues, friends, comrades, pengyoumen, amigos, artists. All stand-up people, from 25 or so different countries around the world - all brought together for this common purpose, this show, this event that will be all but a memory in less than 2-weeks time. But I know my comrades, my friends will not let this keep them down. I think we've all come to Macau with a commonality, a trait that makes us different to the rest: we love a challenge. We came to Macau for that in the first place - an experience, something that tests the soul. This will test our souls for sure, our spirits, our very nature. But when the finale rings out, for us it marks the signal of a new beginning. A rebirth from our experience. We'll show them. We won't let them beat us down. I know you guys won't disappoint me. Love you all.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


"We're hoping to succeed; we're okay with failure. We just don't want to land in between."

David Chang
Founder of momofuku restaurant empire

If you've read my last two posts you're probably thinking - yeah, where's this screenplay, huh? Your last post was about Tony Bourdain and friggin're full of $#!t Trevor!!... Well, this may be true but I read somewhere (I know, I know..don't believe everything you read...) that after completing something that you've spent a decent amount of time on, you should take some space and lock it away in that bottom drawer for some weeks before you attempt editing/revising/reviewing it. Makes sense to me. You spend countless hours each day looking/making/creating this screenplay/novel/article/thesis for weeks on end, it becomes an extension of you; you think about it day and night. I don't think you could work on that thing honestly again without some breathing space.

At first I found myself trying to read every book on 'How to write a Screenplay' I could get my hands on but in the end I realized; if you want to attempt to get good at something, just do it. A good analogy I could draw would be the ability to do a chin-up: you can do lat pulldowns and rows as much as you like but when it comes to the crunch, just do chin-ups! Sure, you may need to do negative reps and other variations to get your chin up over the bar the first time, but just do it! So I just started writing. Routine is hard to establish at first. They say you should try to write a set goal, say 500 words or 1000 words per day; set periods of the day that you should write whether it be AM or PM. I found it easier to write in the morning, just being that my work schedule tends to be the PM hours; it was (1) when I had the time and (2) I just found it worked better for me than the wee hours of the morning.

Here are some notes taken from my notepad early November 2011:

4 Oct – 4 Nov 2011 – completed 80 pages of ____________

Finding writing outside of the house is much less distracting; coffee shops are good, just put in the headphones and write away. I don’t use wifi when I’m out and writing so I don’t get distracted, at home it’s too easy to do non-productive things like check email, Facebook and Gmail. If there’s anything I need to research for my script I write it down and look it up later. Good albums I’m listening to right now are; Common – Be; and various Erykah Badu – the beats are conducive to quiet writing and thinking. I’m certainly not prolific by any means but the slow grind is the way to get things done; I try to write a little every day. If I miss a day I try not to beat myself up too much and just start again the next day. Well, writing this is fun but I should get back to my real writing….

So I'm not super strict with my schedule; I try to write when I can and at a few pages at a time. My rewrite is looking daunting, my story has more holes than a block of swiss. But I guess that's part of the fun. Following Seth Godin's blog I came across David Chang who is the owner and founder of the momofuku Korean restaurant chain which he started in New York and has now expanded across to Sydney. His ideas on business I find interesting; and I like the name momofuku which also happens to be the name of the guy that invented instant noodles, Momofuku Ando. One day maybe I can actually eat at a momofuku somewhere. I think the quote at the beginning of today's blog sums it up nicely - give it a shot. Why not? I also like this gem which I came across initially on Ross Enamait's site, but from the mouth of motivational guru Zig Ziglar

"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great"

Go on, get started!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


"Just because you like Jimi Hendrix doesn't mean you can play like Jimi Hendrix"
Anthony Bourdain

“I don't have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”
Anthony Bourdain

I discovered Anthony Bourdain quite late; I've watched most episodes of No Reservations but am only now reading (and loving) Kitchen Confidential, released in 2000, which made Anthony Bourdain the rockstar of the culinary world. My brother sent me the Youtube link for the HK episode of his new show, The Layover, a few weeks back but it seemed to me just an origami'ed version of No Reservations. Sure I love more Tony but it didn't really do it for me. I did like the fact that he visited Lamma Island in HK (we were just there a couple months back) so it was nice to see places I recognized; and I have to definitely get a new cleaver from the shop he visits in The Layover - Chan Chi Kee cutlery in Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon.

Their cleavers are the real deal - highly prized around the world for being economical in both usage and price. After a bit of research I found a whole sub-culture of cleaver fanatics; people that buy these CCK cleavers and then add custom handles to them. I love my cleaver (sharp blades in general) but this cleaver-love was a bit over the top even for me! Sugimoto cleavers - the Rolls Royce of the cutting world - go for around $400 USD a pop. To see what damage one man can do with a cleaver, watch the video below of Martin Yan (of Yan can Cook!) - jump to 1:40 for the action..

But I digress...

Tony Bourdain came to popularity interestingly around the same time as UK chef Gordon Ramsay; another no-holds barred, F-bomb dropping chain smoking culinary auteur. What impresses me is the fact that Bourdain's shows are not scripted and he can be so grandiosely eloquent while funny. Bourdain can effortlessly spout off about anything and everything. Tony to me is what I need to have more of - the ability to say what I want, when I want. To literally have no reservations in life, to be able to act and speak without thinking too much. Life like that must be sweet; unexpected and spontaneous. Sure, you might get the $#!t kicked out of you from time to time but... c'mon! Live a little.

In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain talks of his love of home cooking vs high cuisine; the shenanigans that go on behind the counters of your favorite restaurant; of trying anything remotely edible at least once. From seal eyeballs to warthog rectum, Bourdain has tried it. Guess the most adventurous I've been is eating skewered balut (chicken fetus) in Xian, China. Can't say I went for seconds... But trying anything once in life is a good motto to have - we are only of this mortal vice for a finite period of time; maybe better to have lived and eaten eyeball/rectum/balut than not?