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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Sing a song of swine flesh…

But first, wanna buy aduck?
Patrick Guntensperger
Manado, North Sulawesi
The people of the city of Manado,one of the few cities in Indonesia where there is a significant Christian population, begin to celebrate Christmas with even greater alacrity than the most cynical North American retailer. Perhaps it is out of jealousy of the Muslims who celebrate Ramadan by feasting and partying all night and ostensibly fasting, but mostly lounging around all day, for an entire month before climaxing with a three day full bore, Islamic style party at Eid ul Fitr, or as it is more popularly known here, “Lebaran”. In any case, here in Manado, the bizarre sounds of Elvis singing I’ll beHome for Christmas and Bingo belting White Christmas start to be heard before November is half over. For those of us brought up in countries with climates like Canada’s, constantly hearing overloudspeakers, the refrain, “walkin’ in a winter wonderland…”  while walking ina sweltering equatorial outdoor fish market brings on a certain cognitive dissonance. Jack Frost nipping at your nose is a less immediate concern than  heatstroke laying you prostrate.
Not being, as one might guess fromreading other posts, a big celebrator of Christmas, much less Lebaran,  it’s hard for me even to justify celebrating ‘the holidays’ as a recognition of the upcoming winter solstice; this close to the equator, the difference between the lengthof daytime in June and December can be measured in nano-seconds. Nevertheless, when surrounded by an irresistible cultural imperative, one capitulates to some degree. That and the sheer boredom of putting in an indefinite amount of time here have sparked an interest in cooking for large family gatherings.
Neighbourhood welders

 

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Ihave a neighbor who runs a welding shop down the street, and that I’ve got him working on a sketch I came up with for a large, pig-roasting barbeque, fashioned from an oil drum. He is progressing, and today I looked at the motor and mount he proposes to turn the spit; with luck I’ll be able to gear down the torque on the motor so the pig won’t spin like the business end of a demented dremel. Maybe by mid December we’ll have a working model and I’ll be able to feed a few dozen ravenous celebrants on babi guling, Balinese style.
Babi Guling as I hope to make it
Today, though, I’m trying something else.
On a simple dome charcoal barbeque, I’m smoking a duck  brought in from Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, just west of here. It’s a honkin’ big duck, more like a goose, really, and pretty fat. So I stuffed it with some halved oranges that were getting a little ripe, some peeled, whole shallots (these are used almost exclusively as onions here) and some chopped garlic. I made a sauce of sweet soy sauce, orange syrup, chopped garlic and shallots, salt, pepper, turmeric, a clove or two, and then marinated that bad boy for a few hours.
Smoked Borneo duck with orange, garlic and shallots,
cooking as I write this
While that was going on, I started the fire. The easiest to obtain charcoal here is briquettes made from powdered coconut charcoal, so I made the base out of that; when the coals were uniformly grey, I sat some halved, soaked coconut husks over them. This works perfectly for smoking; coconut smoke has a wonderful flavour, and the coconut domes come with natural holes to form perfect little chimneys. As I type this, the smoke is wafting into the house and it’s redolent of garlic, orange and a hint of gamy duck.
I expect to keep it going at a fairly gentle roasting temperature for a few hours and then we’ll give it a try.
If this recipe is successful, I’ll incorporate it into my plans for a late December feast. What I want to do is roast a pig, a goat, a few ducks and maybe a turkey, and have Yolanda and my mother in law and some of the neighbours cook vegetables, rice and make desserts. We’ll set up a sound system and have canned music, but also Yolanda’s sister will probably sing (she did at our wedding and she’s terrific) and pretty much everybody has some musical talent and an instrument. I’ll lay in asupply of booze and we’ll have an open house for Christians and Muslims and any other true believers. There will only be one rule: no religion. No prayers, no blessings, no benedictions or salams. First proselytiser – Christian or Muslim – gets his ass tossed. Eat what you want, don’t eat what you don’t; drink, don’t drink; I don’t care why,and I don’t want to hear your reasons.
Manadonese, being what they are –lovers of food and suckers for a party – will come. I’ve already had strangers come and enquire about the duck that’s cooking, and asked them to the open house and suggested they invite friends. Can’t wait to see how a purely secular “HolySeason” party goes down in this land of sporadic religious violence and fragile sectarian peace.

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