Sunday 5 July 2015

My beef: Free barbecue? Bo jio!

A barbecue is like sex.

The idea of it is enticing, but the reality is messy and not always as satisfying as you thought it would be.

And both involve a lot of raw flesh.

Even as Americans celebrated their Independence Day yesterday with a barbecue, a barbecue in Singapore served up some controversy last week.

Actually, it was 50 barbecues held in 22 locations around the island last Sunday organised by the Australian High Commission to celebrate 50 years of bilateral ties.

Ten thousand beef and lamb steaks were promised, but a number of people also had a beef of their own with the event.

It was supposed to be open to the public, but I found out about it only when I read online complaints that the People’s Association (PA) was hogging the free tickets.

It was a major case of “bo jio”.

“Bo jio” is Hokkien for “Why you so selfish? You didn’t invite me!”

Hokkien is such an amazing dialect that it can pack all that into just two words.

The event was my chance to sample authentic Down Under cuisine besides the Aussie fries at Outback Steakhouse (which is really an American restaurant with an Australian theme, I know) and I missed it.

On the day of the 50 BBQs, the Australian High Commission posted on Facebook: “Many locations are ticketed by the People’s Association to ensure there’s enough food for all. But we’ve been told some spare coupons are set aside for those who just show up.”

This is IT. Tonight's the night of our long awaited '50 BBQs'!Sorry we haven't been able to answer all your private...
Posted by Australia in Singapore on Saturday, June 27, 2015

Still, some visitors were reportedly turned away. A Straits Times reader said that many “were left disappointed and confused”.

Following the complaints, the PA explained: “We issued tickets to manage the crowd, and to assure (sic) ticket holders that they would be able to enjoy the food. In total, 4,800 tickets were available and given to residents on a first-come-first-served basis.”

Were they afraid that people would sell the free tickets on Carousell like NDP tickets?

Despite the good intentions, in terms of public relations, the event was a bigger disaster than Crocodile Dundee 3. (Yes, there was a Crocodile Dundee 3.)

As someone who lives for free food, I should be more upset by this. But then I’m not a big fan of barbecues. I even avoid Korean barbecue restaurants because, hey, if I wanted to cook my own food, I would have stayed at home.

My distaste for barbecues probably started in secondary school. I remember my classmates would talk about going for a barbecue at East Coast during the weekend like it was the funnest thing in the world.

Sure, the anticipation was fun. So was shopping for ingredients and other stuff for the barbecue.

But then what usually happened was that it would take longer than expected to get the fire started.

So people would get hungry and cranky. You had to make a choice: Should you wait for the barbecue and starve or go to McDonald’s, which would defeat the entire purpose of having a barbecue?

Maybe just some “pre-food” like potato chips to tide you over.

When the fire finally got going, it still took a while to cook the food.

At first, you would be fighting over every morsel that came off the grill until you discovered that the insides of those morsels were still uncooked after biting into them.

Pwee! Who asked you to be so impatient?

Eventually, the food would come at a constant flow until you couldn’t eat any more. Just the sight of the leftover grilled chicken wings and satay made you ill.

But the food kept coming.

Maybe you shouldn’t have “pre-eaten” the potato chips.

Or gone to McDonald’s.

And I don’t know about you, but every barbecue inevitably ended with me getting diarrhoea.

The only time I ever really enjoyed a barbecue was on a beach on Tioman Island during my national service in the navy at the end of a multinational military exercise called Starfish.

With the navies of five countries taking part, it was a massive cookout. Size matters. I had never seen a whole animal carcass roasting on a spit over an open fire before or since.

I believe it was contributed by the Australian navy, even though it wasn’t a kangaroo carcass.

Since then, if I don’t see an animal carcass roasting over an open fire at your barbecue, your barbecue is not happening.

Even though last Sunday’s 50 BBQs were organised by the Australians, I’m guessing there was no animal carcass roasting over an open fire. I would be very sad if I had missed that.

The diarrhoea would have been worth it.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 July 2015