Sunday, July 26, 2009

Barbecue: Love it or hate it

To me, barbecue has always been a slightly bizarre affair. For starters, barbecued food is neither spectacularly delicious nor healthy at all. In fact, I believe we often hear about how the potentially cancer causing barbecued food can shave a couple of years off your life expectancy. Then comes the hassle of preparing the wretched barbecue pit by stacking the logs of charcoal into little 'Inca-styled' pyramids, each housing 1 or 2 fire starters (in our case, I counted 3). By the time the brave soul is finished with this chore, his/her hands would be stubbornly stained by the charcoals as the presence of a pair of gloves is almost always unavailable. But all these could still be considered as bearable inconveniences. After all, you could always peel off the burnt portions of the barbecued food, thereby avoid eating the carcinogenic parts. The gallant 'pit crew' (pun is unintended) could always wash and vigorously scrub their hands with soap after they've completed their mini pyramids. The most unbearable thing about a barbecue, is the lingering smell of grease and smoke, which clings onto your clothes and continues to plague you as an unbearable odor when you journey home.

However, despite all these inconveniences, there is something magical about barbecue. In fact, it has evolved into a distinct way of life in America! It is almost always the most ideal activity for any gatherings and it is not entirely hard to see why that is the case. In a barbecue, everyone could have something to do. As mentioned previously, a barbecue will need a decent team of pit crew to assemble the mini charcoal pyramids and get the fire started. Failing which, the barbecue will be finished before it even begins. Then there will be at least 2 or 3 'chefs du jour' to barbecue all the food. Due to the intense heat at the pit and more importantly, to have a chance to eat, the 'chefs' will have to rotate their duties with the rest. Thus, almost everyone will get their hands dirty (quite literally) at any point during the barbecue, and strangely, enjoying the entire process.

Staying true to the volunteering tradition at All Saints Home, the welfare committee organized a barbecue at East Coast Park for the 4th anniversary of volunteering at All Saints Home. My love-hate relationship with barbecue could be aptly described by this one at East Coast Park. Already stricken by a serious bout of cold 3 days before, I went to the barbecue with a sore throat and a nasty cough, but determined not to take any of the barbecued stuffs that could potentially plunge me further into misery. Alas, when I saw that the welfare committee had catered enough food to feed a small country, I groaned inwardly. Our barbecue was lavished with rows of chicken wings, chicken chops, otaks (spicy fish paste wrapped in a banana skin), satays (cubes of meat skewered onto a stick), fishballs, chinese sausages, asparagus wrapped with a strip of bacon, sting ray, vegetable curry, a large plate of bee hoon, corns and sweet potatoes. By the time the caterer had finished with delivering all the items, my jaws had dropped to a level that is lower than my ankles.

To give credits to the welfare committee, besides arranging for the food to be catered, they had thoughtfully organized some ice-breaking games for all the volunteers. Before I could realize what had happened, I was unashamedly telling everyone 10 ridiculous facts about myself and at the same time, learnt 10 equally ridiculous facts about more than a dozen others. In the ensuing whirlwind of chaos that followed, I was running half mad with Linh and Kee Teck to persuade hapless cyclists and couples taking a stroll at the park to pose awkwardly for our cameras. Yes, the games may not make any sense if you weren't at the barbecue, but I guess it would be best not to reveal ALL the embarrassing moments during the games.

Almost immediately after the games, we set about to prepare for the barbecue. Hunger is invariably an effective taskmaster. Needless to say Kee Teck and Damien took on the unenviable task of setting up the barbecue pit, and predictably had their hands blackened hideously by the charcoal. But their sacrifice paid off as a fire was burning brilliantly shortly after they lit the small mound of starters within the charcoal pyramids. Thereafter, An, Linh, Thrang, Jessica and Shirlyn surrounded the pit and proceeded to barbecue the food. With unspeakable glee, I watched the delightful irony unfolds before me. The quintet had broken the stereotype of letting men do the barbecue, while the ladies unabashedly feast at a corner. These girls really are bold and couldn't care less. I began to love barbecue with each passing minute.

Now you see satays...

Now you don't...

To avoid worsening the condition of my throat, I had deliberately selected the 'safe' food. Bee hoon, fish balls and satays (without dipping them into the gravy). So far so good. Not the slightest tinge of irritation stirred in my throat. Then came my undoing: the chinese sausages. You must be wondering how could the innocuous-looking chinese sausage possibly assail my stricken throat? One gluttonous bite later, I screamed inwardly, "The darned thing was seasoned with chili!". Controlling the tirade of expletives that were threatening to erupt with each passing seconds, I forced down that offensive lump of sausage, thereby condemning my throat to its doom. This unfortunate event did not sour my mood for sure. At least not yet. A gentle sea breeze had blown invitingly across the entire beach front, which prompted me and a couple of volunteers to shift our spot to the beach and feasted luxuriously on the platter of fruits prepared by Benny. As dusk approaches, the rows of tankers at the horizon lit the rapidly darkening skies with the myriad of lights onboard their decks. It was a quiet, yet magnificent view of the seas off our island city.

As the barbecue was about to come to an end, the welfare committee gathered everyone to celebrate the birthdays of all the July babies. They are An, Tina, Sabrina and yours truly, me. The welfare committee works wonder don't they? Pulling off a barbecue is no easy feat. Top it off with games and a birthday cake, it qualifies as a herculean effort. The members of the welfare committee (Jiahao and Sook Ying) are the heroes who made this barbecue happened. Kudos to them. Nevertheless, all the happy moments at the barbecue thus far, were just building up for a gigantic anti-climax. As we proceeded to cut the semi-melted mango cake, we learnt that Sabrina will be leaving Singapore to further her studies. Just when my impression of barbecues changed for the better... Although Sabrina had joined us not too long ago, she's just as enthusiastic with the volunteering services at ASH as the veterans. In fact, she was game (and feisty) enough to volunteer as an emcee for the Dumpling festival, a brave feat for a new volunteer. There is no doubt everyone at ASH will miss Sabrina, and it goes without saying that we hope she will continue to volunteer at ASH when she returns from her studies. If you are reading this, on behalf of everyone from ASH: bon voyage and best wishes to the exciting lease of campus life that awaits! And one thing's for sure, you will be missed.

The July babies, (minus Sharon in the background), An, Tina, me and Sabrina.

The picture that has everybody (nearly)

After everyone had done their part to finish the huge rim of mango cake, we began to clean up the compounds of the barbecue pit and lazily packed up all the barbecue equipments. As with all barbecues, there was a large portion of unfinished food. I am pretty certain that Jiahao will be having them for his breakfast, lunch and dinner over the next couple of days, as he loaded them to the boot of his car. Heavily stuffed with food, we left East Coast Park together as the celebration of the anniversary came to an end. Needless to say, the barbecue was incredibly organized by Sook Ying and Jiahao, and I would be kidding myself if I were to say that I did not enjoy it. But that did not prevent the persistent smell of grease and smoke from clinging onto my clothes. Journeying back home on the train, I was trying my best to ignore the conscious movements of the passengers as they try to shift away from me to a spot with fresher air. I was ever more certain of my love/hate relationship with barbecue.