Sunday, March 01, 2009

Love and lust

Sunday evening found me enjoying dinner at the home of Anne, Bob and their daughter Pauline.

"Delicious food, as always," I said, as I finished the first course.

"The soup," explained Anne, "is sayur asam. The cook makes it with beef broth, tamarind juice, candlenuts, shallots, garlic, chillies and shrimp paste. And various fruits and vegetables such as long beans and sweet corn."

"And the beef we’re about to eat?" I inquired.

"Beef empal," said Anne. "It’s spicy fried beef cooked with bay leaf and coriander and it’s usually served this way with rice and fresh raw vegetables. Imported Australian vegetables, washed by me."

"Your beef and chicken are always good," I said.

"I don’t buy the supermarket chicken," said Anne, looking pleased. "Sometimes their refrigeration doesn’t work and the meat’s rotten."

"Why do you think their fridges don’t work?" asked Pauline, with a naughty grin. "Has someone stolen the money for the repairs, or are the repair people incompetent, or do the managers just not care?"

"All three," responded Anne. "They say a few bad germs are good for you but think of all the kids who die of dysentery and typhoid. Hygiene saves lives."

"At least we can afford antibiotics," said Bob, "unlike some of the kampung people."

"You have to be careful with certain locally made medicines," said Anne. "One pill might contain five milligrams of the antibiotic and the next pill none."

"Goodness," I said. I was learning a bit more about the Developing World.

"Where have you been on your travels this weekend?" asked Bob, looking in my direction.

"Bogor. I love the fact it’s alive with people." I supposed Chong was still alive.

"I know what you mean," said Anne. "Bob and I like places like Tunis and Fes. Full of life."

"Fes is nice," I commented.

"Andre Gide, or his character Michel, speaks of the North Africans living their art," said Anne. "I suppose he meant their art is not so much in their paintings but more in their markets and colourful houses and everyday life."

"Bogor’s a bit like that," I said. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that Anne was a well-read lady.

As Bob poured some more Australian Chardonnay into our glasses, I glanced at a pile of school books on a side table. Anne noticed the direction of my gaze.

"Pauline, what is it you’ve been reading for your latest project?" asked Anne.

"Plato," she said, looking bright eyed. "Plato writing about Socrates. It’s for Religious studies."

"Socrates is interesting," said Anne.

"Interesting?" asked Pauline, looking cynical.

"Socrates," said Anne, "argued that a lover likes his loved one to be poor. That gives the lover more control."

"Lots of male expatriates," said Bob, with a hint of a smile, "find it convenient that some of the local girls are short of money."

"But I thought," said Pauline, "that there was a difference between love and lust. A decent lover would not want his loved one to be short of anything."

"How many lovers are decent?" asked Anne, rhetorically. "Not too many."

Pudding arrived and conversation was suspended as we tucked into something creamy and meringuey. I wondered what Min and White-Eye and Chong were getting for supper.


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