Sitting down to write this, the resulting headache and the sugar sweats from two concurrent bubbles teas has me wanting to trade in my laptop for a dark room and midday siesta….
Embarking on the cultural adventure of the very strange bubble tea, I decided to find a couple of locations to sample, and sit in, soaking up the atmosphere of a bubble tea house.
In the interest of acknowledging my subjectivity, I took two of my friends from Sydney’s northern beaches (the epicentre of Australian monoculture) on this expositional adventure.
Bubbleberry and Societea are the two Wollongong bubble tea houses I decided on. The attendant at Societea opened my eyes to the huge variation popularity of the many options. She chose me a juicy mango. Beside the strange tactile experience of jellied balls in cold tea, the layout and exotic atmosphere of these establishments took me by surprise. Saturated in bright colours and poppy asian dance music, the tables laden with with games and colouring in pencils, the whole idea of bubble tea seems to be directed towards a younger audience; one of my first thoughts looked to a frozen yoghurt cafe as a western comparison.
Funnily enough, Bubblebery was a mixture of both. My Asian friend Charisse made the point that bubble tea venues are increasingly attempting to gear to western customers – how perfect to combine it with it’s western counterpart?
There is still so much I do not know, and further research and experience is required, but the exposure to bubble tea houses has definitely given me an insight into what Asian youth culture might look like. One thing’s for sure; whilst the flavours and sounds are different, this kind of place would have greatly appealed to me as a young teenager. With many publications such The Australian (1) promoting Australia’s fantastic reputation for diversity, with particularly good Asian cuisine, I can only see more exotic food and drinks like bubble tea growing from novelty, to a mark of Australia’s increasing cultural diversity.
Furthermore, according to Franchise Business (2,) many businesses and individuals perceive bubble tea (paired the iced tea franchise, valued internationally at $4 billion) as an Australian growth market, ripe for cultural expansion.
Whilst I confess to having found swallowing balls of jelly amongst sips of sickly sweet iced tea a little strange, I’m sure that my relationship with this exotic drink can only build from here.
- Liaw A (2013.) Australia: ‘Best Asian Food in the World,’ The Wall Street Journal. Oct 30, 2013.
- Franchise Business (2016.) ‘Why bubble tea is not just a trend,’ Franchise Council of Australia, Dec 15, 2016.
In section two of Ellis’ paper, he describes the process of an individual collecting information for an autoethnography as ‘studying a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture (1.)’ How am I to embark on exploring a sect of foreign culture, with practises that speak not only to the activity, but also the people and the culture from it was created?
‘Bubble Tea, or boba tea, contain tea of some kind, flavors or milk, as well as sugar (optional). Toppings, such as chewy tapioca balls (also known as pearls, or boba), popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, agar jelly, and puddings are often added. (2)’
A sect of Asian culture that has often eluded, confused and intrigued me has been the various Bubble Tea houses, with locations all over Sydney, and one or two in Wollongong. I have not once in my nice, whitewashed life ever tasted, let alone set foot in one of these houses. Whilst much of Asian cuisine has made their way into western culture and become normalised, including many variants of herbal green tea, it seems to me that various fast foods and snacks, mostly consumed by the young Asian population of Australia has not been as widely received as traditional cuisine.
I went, as I’m sure any self respecting young auto ethnographer would, to the cultural gem that is Buzzfeed Australia (3,) to try and gain an impression of the standard Australian opinion of Bubble tea. With your standard assortment of dull gifs and memes, the article explains just how wide the variation of Taiwanese bubble teas can be, using a combination of jellies, tapioca pods, powdered creamer and mousse to flavour their drinks. It’s also gluten free.
The article however, did not mention ‘why’ it wasn’t as popular as other modern Asian cuisines. Whether this is due to the cultural barriers, or simply due to it being plain ‘weird’ in the eyes of Australia, bubble tea houses seem an interesting sect of Asian culture to explore, and experience, from a set of totally fresh eyes. I plan to go to two or three different bubble tea houses, armed with pen, paper and camera and soak up the atmosphere, whilst consuming one of these seemingly exotic drinks.
Through this process I hope that I can discover not only the taste of jellied tea, but also how contemporary Asian food culture has made a life for itself in Australia; and possibly why it is not as widely accepted by myself and my Australian peers. It is relevant however, as our Asian population (and influence) grows and brings with it many seemingly strange and exotic forms of culture.
(DISCLAIMER: there’s a big chance I am guilty myself of painting bubble tea as oriental, and myself contributing to the dialogue of othering. But I believe one has to start with what they know, and acknowledge it. Depending on the success of this autoethnography, I could have a very profound epiphany about Asian youth culture; but we will have to see.)
- Ellis C, Adams T E, Bochner A P (2010.) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview.’ Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1
- Wikapedia (2018.) ‘Bubble Tea,’ Wikapedia.org/en
- Cooke E (2016.) ’19 Things You Need To Know About Bubble Tea’ Buzzfeed, Oct 15, 2016.
*Back in week three, I viewed Akira both in class and at home. I was so thrilled at the ending, I decided then and there at 1am, to write down my thoughts (1.) This piece is an extension, and development, of those thoughts.*
Akira left a particularly strong impression on me. A self confessed film buff, I am yet to properly delve into the world of Anime, and could not have asked for a better introduction. With an deeply symbolic plot, beautiful musical score and rich animation (years ahead of it’s time,) unpacking it’s many layers could constitute an entire book in itself. But personally for me, the autoethnographic process saw me perceiving and analysing this, both due to my background in film, and as a product of a privileged Western upbringing,
Coming from my background, a viewpoint rooted in Western cinema, Akira is somewhat of an enigma, not only stylistically but also structurally.
Budget wise, when 8 number figures are tossed around, films backed by large amounts of money are usually marketed to the common denominator – Take Marvel Studios for example; and their tendency toward big budget transmedia production, mass marketed to successfully reach deep into the pockets of the world’s teenage boys (2.)
As a result, It is quite unusual that a high budget film takes stylistic and conceptual risks, grappling with themes of the human condition, nuclear devastation and imperialism (usually left for the low budget and the indie) but when coupled with the ability to afford beautiful artists, animators and musicians, sophisticated ideas are given the presentation they deserve – and identify with the viewer, right down to their core.
Maybe it’s my tendency to dabble in film snobbery, but I often find myself shaking my head at the amounts of money thrown at your standard cookie cutter, high action blockbuster, and (what I feel is) it’s it’s incredible wastage. It is wonderful to experience a film of incredibly high artistic quality, with not only money, but thoughtful art direction behind it.
But financial management and creative competency aside, it the the film’s dark tone, coupled with vivid scenes of violence and destruction that truly drew me to Akira. Japan’s wartime history obviously lends itself to exploring themes of nuclear violence, not only in the political sphere, but also the visual; a morbid fascination with the imagery of destruction. One only needs to look as far as 1988 film ‘Barefoot Gen’, and it’s famous scene, shot from the perspective of the ground, in Hiroshima on the 6th of August (3.)
I talked of this in my previous piece, but as a young white man, safe in his Australian bubble, I am not often exposed to the true horrors of human nature – and to immerse into scenes of mass destruction is an experience seldom felt by myself or my peers.
Jed Smith (4,) a favourite journalist of mine, has written extensively on the idea of lived experience. “Without a lived-experience, we are unable to understand or truly empathise. So what’s important is to find some way those sensitivities can be acquired.”
Akira was an especially earnest and powerful experience as it allowed me, lucky enough to have lived a life predominantly free of suffering, a window into the experience of someone literally watching their world fall down around their ears.
As a medium to convey lived experience, Akira hit the nerve for me in two key ways.
Firstly, I watched the tortured character of Tetsuo descend further into madness and anger, before being enveloped by his power, begging for the help of those closest to him. Followed the final scenes of Neo Tokyo, bathed in light before it’s end spoke to me on a level further then imagery, themes or metaphor… For the first time in my life, I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination, at just how devastating mass destruction can be, both on a large and individual scale.
(1) Isaksson N (2018.) ‘Week 3 – Akira.’ Digital Asia, August 10, 2018.
Accessible at: https://digitalasia.blog/2018/08/10/week-3-akira/
(2) Admin (2018.) ‘Avengers: Infinity War and the Marvel Marketing Machine,’ Flickering Myth, March 12, 2018.
Accessible at: https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2018/03/avengers-infinity-war-marvel-marketing-machine/
(3) Kuroihitsuji (2017.) ‘Hadashi No Gen – Release the Bomb,’ Youtube, Feburary 14, 2017.
Accessible at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D22kzf_bDvg&t=1s
(4) Smith J (2018.) ‘An Idiot’s Guide to the Australian Class System,’ Monster Children, March 7, 2018.
Accessible at: https://www.monsterchildren.com/71836/idiots-guide-australian-class-system/
Not often does one find a film that well and truly blows your mind. To use an appropriately Aussie euphemism; Akira well and truly knocked me for six…
I was raised by a technophobe of a father with a love for old film – and as a result have a robust respect for immersing one’s self totally in a film. Whilst I myself am of course guilty of absentmindedly reaching for my phone amidst a movie – Thursday’s class was quite a difference experience.
Sitting in on a screening of Gojira, soundscape from around the room was a rather curious one; it is said that the sounds of the monster were made by scraping a leather glove, covered in resin along the strings of a double bass. Even more curious was the complementary sound of twenty five keyboards tapping away around the room – the cogs and gears of the class, each individual trying to think up an even funnier meme then the last one.
With a task as mentally stimulating as this it was admittedly difficult to concentrate on the film – making the watching more like a passive viewing party. The first thought I had was how this activity rang true to our generation; the multitasking millennials in full swing.
The year is 2018. To see someone talking on the phone whilst checking their emails with the news rambling in the background is not an uncommon sight. One can definitely argue that live tweeting definitely has a place – along a ticker tape at the bottom of programmes like Q&A and Insight. The feed provides an important, realtime commentary on current affairs. Because of today’s comparatively larger population, live tweeting does indeed provide a technological alternative to a society’s traditional public forum.
It was interesting to be a part of a live tweeting session – and watching the realtime reactions to the film play out – even if those reactions involved making memes and poking fun at a 1950’s thriller complete with an underlying moral message about the implications of nuclear technology – a film ripe with humor…
But it also harks to a period of technological change – now the act of watching a movie requires not only a screen and popcorn, but also your email inbox and Instagram feed close at hand. But enough of my old man ranting and shaking my fist at the sky – the movie was good.