Sunday, 29 August 2010

A Taste of the Pacific in Sydney's West

The Casula Powerhouse is alive with energy this afternoon.  The dance recitals taking place in the theatre created a buzz of of activity with young girls excited tearing around at speed in brightly coloured coloured costumes, while parents loaded with clothing, sipping on coffees from the cart that never seems to be quiet wait patiently for the dance rounds to finish.  An organised chaos is at work with tables for photos, merchandise and refreshment vouchers.  The smell of hairspray is overwhelming and ever present. We're getting a taste of what parenting in suburbia must be like!
All of this electricitiy seems like such a fitting tribute to the industrial origins of the venue - a sympathetically revamped building with exposed brickwork and steel beams. We're here to catch the penultimate day of the Body Pacifica exhibition. The exhibition opened with a three-day festival in June and now on its final weekend we got to view the exhibition in relative peace.
Hiding away from the craziness of dance competitions, the exhibit was a welcome relief. The space has a number of discrete display areas and we were able to take in the three main events during our visit:

  • Body Pacifica - The NRL Pacific Island Warriors Calendar project produced in conjunction with CPAC Pacific and Aboroginal Cultural Program;

  • Australian National Museum collection of Pacific artefacts;

  • Photographic Exhibit of the Reverand George Brown's missionary tour of the Pacific 1880s.
In silent reverie we wandered the halls and truly absorbed the magic of the objects and images in front of us.  At one stage I was adopted by a young lad who decided to hang out with me rather than play hide and seek with his brothers.  He told me his friend's father was continuing the art of Samoan ta'tau (tattooing) just up the road from him. I enjoyed his company as we discussed the various pieces.
A true stand out for me were the large tanoa (kava bowl) on display which was dwarfed compared to the one we had in our family that my grandfather was gifted during his travels (a treasured piece that unfortunately will only ever be passed through the male line :( ), and the body armour from Kiribati - which demonstrated incredible skill and craftsmanship and the photographs, at least of two which made me remark "they look like modern faces that time travelled".
We have enjoyed another event curated by Leo Tanoi also featuring the work of Greg Semu a couple of years and truly appreciate what these guys bring to not only the Sydney Pacific Island community but the community at large.  Latai Taumoepeau's sister is a personal friend and there is no shortage of talent in this family.  Pacific Island events are strictly regional here in Sydney and we often miss the accessibility we had in Auckland (and then again value the separation as we were both became fairly heavily involved with various ventures and initiatives).
All of this history, and history in the making made available to the public for free is the ultimate act of "community". I left truly grateful to all the agencies and individuals who made this possible.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Launch Beta and then Iterate

The following is an excerpt from a newsletter I received today from Robin Sharma (the author of The Leader who had no Title” and “The Monk who sold his Ferrari” ). I could not locate the following on his blog site so stress that this extract his entirely his own, and something I wanted to share with you because it really served as a timely reminder to me!

One of the world's best known software companies has a fascinating way of doing things: they launch a fairly good yet unperfected product (a "beta" product) and then they start the iteration/improvement process to clean up the bugs. Each new version (2.0/3.0 etc) is better than the previous one and eventually they grow closer to getting it to a place called Flawless. Fascinating way of doing things.

This approach allows the organization to be an intense hub of product releases - and to (sic) often be the first to market while their competitors quietly toil away in obscurity, hoping to reach perfection before they offer their software to the world. And it gives the company a valuable psychological advantage because they are constantly bringing value to those who keep them in business.

Yes, I completely agree with the arguments saying "but why send less than perfect products out to customers?" etc. Offering your stakeholders nothing less than your absolute best is a great way to build a "durable competitive advantage", to use Warren Buffet's words. But playing with the idea behind the approach is definitely a valuable exercise for anyone interested in leadership and exceptionalism. So, let me ask you, where do you hold back from releasing to the world because you are waiting to reach perfection versus send out beta - and then iterate (and fix the bugs)? Is it a new service that you know would help your clients? Is it that book you've always wanted to write? Is it a project that you are certain would change the game for your business?

Maybe the answer is to model Nike's old tag line and JDI: Just Do It. Just get it out. Just launch it. Just shout it out from the mountaintop. And then, start the process of making it an eventual masterpiece.

With a mixture of perfection and trepidation I find myself resisting taking risks with what I am good at because “it’s just not good enough”. The fear of rejection or actually experiencing rejection is often catastrophised to “I’m not good enough” (ever find yourself thinking that when you weren’t invited to that job interview for a role you knew you could do with your eyes closed?). Nothing ventured, nothing gained so am I am taking this on board to remind myself to take that LEAP!

You can subscribe to Robin Sharma’s newsletters here

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Monday, 23 August 2010

So that’s what they call ‘real’ vanilla?

What do to when the rest of the country is heading out to vote? Inspired by all the bake stalls that would await the punters and the added incentive of celebrating a friend’s birthday I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally try some of the lovely pure vanilla essence I bought in Port Douglas, from Vanilla Australia.

I was enjoying meeting the local merchants at the popular Sunday markets in Port Douglas (sugar cane juice, macadamia nuts abound) when I came across Russell Spanton and his bare table covered with only a few bottles of his vanilla essence left.

Russell is quite the character and we struck up a conversation about his business and he educated me on vanillin extraction. There is something wonderfully satisfying to talk listen to a person speak with passion about their produce. Russell and his wife from Glasgow, Mary, have dedicated the last nine years to growing organic and biodynamic vanilla.   Image courtesy of The Cairns Post

The beans were fine, dark and told of the riches of the vanilla beans that were being grown in the region. Russell discussed his encounters with the CSIRO and the reaction of local growers to their assessment of their vanilla:

 The CSIRO have said our product contains about four times the amount of vanilla than anyone else worldwide

Judging by the reaction of the pushy middle-aged Melbourne woman who shoved me aside to grab a couple of bottles while Russell and I were deep in chat, I figured it must be good. She didn’t bat an eye or slow for small talk (she may have also forgotten she wasn’t in Melbourne at the time!).

My brownie recipe calls for a generous helping of vanilla essence and if anything would test the quality of the vanilla this would. With such fine chocolate and quality butter included in this batch, a syrupy artificially sweetened essence would not be welcome. 

When you open the bottle the scent is immediately ‘clean’ by that I mean instead of the intense sugary smell you get from ordinary dark vanilla essence.  It is also much lighter in colour (no colouring) and you can see tiny black flecks confirming its real seedpod source.

I was told there were no stockists of Vanilla Australia’s essence in New South Wales and frankly given how delicious the brownies turned out I hope local stockists will investigate what a great product this would be on their shelves. Feel like grabbing some for yourself?


Vanilla Australia
+61 7 4099 3380
+61 438 764 103 (mobile)
Captain Cook Highway
Port Douglas
Nth Queensland, Australia

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Navigating troubled teenage waters...the black dog

Closing off the last week posed some personal challenges for me and then as the Universe does, my father sent me a link to this clip. He wasn't privy to the conversation that I had with my mother the day before but somehow knew I needed to see this and acquaint myself with this exceptional human being, Nick Vujicic.

For obvious reasons Nick is remarkable, but for me this week not more so than for his ability to connect with teenagers - in a completely, open, non-judgemental, loving way that guides them to realise there is way out from the darkness they're trapped in.

This resonated with me because I learned that a family friend, 15 years old, attempted his life a couple of weeks ago... again. The news left me feeling winded and deeply saddened. those of you following my tweet stream may have caught this post ( Such a beautiful boy - kind, thoughtful, generous and the makings of a superb young man. His darkness stems from a period of bullying and parents ill prepared to deal with the emotional and mental toll of it. School counselling was not enough to address the fact that the black dog had paid a visit and was not planning on leaving any time soon.

I found myself realising that I shared his darkness at that age, and never ever took into account the impact of my feelings had on those beyond my immediate family. The aching I feel for this child today serves as a cruel reminder that had my own actions been borne out back then how many people beyond my world view (as narrow as it was) would have hurt as well. I couldn't appreciate or fathom that anyone would or could care. So I totally get what pushed this boy over the edge.

The tears on my cheeks are for this boy who doesn't appreciate how much he matters. The tears on my cheeks are for all of those who can't see how much they matter because this darkness is blinding, choking and all pervading. We still live in a society that ill prepares us to assist those that need us to care.

And in spite of all this - my deepest gratitude to Nick Vujicic for daring to care and demonstrating that the limits that we face are truly our own. Thank you for sharing so many lessons with me this week.

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Cassava - the Pan Pacific Food of Champions!

Last Sunday after collecting Mr T and old friend Waips (Waipuna) from the airport I convinced Mr T to join me on a visit to the South Sydney Industrial Markets to check out what was on offer.

The market is still in its infancy and that is probably what makes it more enjoyable - being able to stop and talk to sellers without the constant assault on your senses that a lot of the other Sydney markets suffer from.

One of my little jaunts at the stalls we met Rosa (Rosalind Boey) or "Rasa Rosa" as her business is known.  This cherubic lady of Malaysian origin defies her accounting origins and joyfully attracts passersby to come and sample the lovely Malaysian sweets she has on offer. 

One that definitely caught my eye was the humble cassava cake Kuih Bingka Ubi Kayu.  I say "humble" because the cassava (manioc) is one of the root vegetables found Pan Pacific that has fed many no matter how poor and yet conjures up such wonderful nostalgia.  Fiji also has a cassava cake known as vakalolo and my aunt here in Sydney having discovered the mostly Pinoy (Filipino) grocers near her discovered the conveniently grated cassava and makes vakalolo for me whenever I come to visit (one of my favourites!). Indo-Fijians have embraced the delicacies of their adopted homeland and it partners well with Indian sweets.


Visit Rosa's stand and you will get to sample her baked and steamed cassava cake varieties.  I had to buy both so that I could enjoy them with a nice cup of tea in the afternoon. They were delicious.  The consistency of her cakes are heavenly, they are lightly sweetened (traditionally a caramelly sugar like brown or palm is nice but condensed milk is great too!), slightly buttery, not too gooey (cassava is very starchy and like tapioca gets really sticky) and had just the right balance of shredded coconut to cassava.

Of course I am now motivated to try the asian-style cassava cake recipes (Filipino/Malaysian ones that get the egg custard consistency) and the Fijian vakalolo (no eggs). So will be off to prepare cassava cake today and maybe a lime and coconut cake (with palm sugar syrup)!  And if I give up I'll just pop back into the markets!

The visit to the markets by the way was also accompanied with a loaf of bread (and noms) from Brasserie Bread, and milk and cheese from Country Valley. Great little trip!

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