From ‘Buddha statue in wrong place’, 5 Oct 2013, ST Life!
(Danny Cheong): I refer to the story Chinese Goes Chic (SundayLife!, Sept 29).
In Buddhism, devotees become vegetarian in order to refrain from killing livestock. It is improper and discourteous of Le Restaurant of Paradise Group to place a huge Buddha statue in its meateating outlet.
Even if it is a piece of art, it is certainly in the wrong place
Le Restaurant is the brainchild of former Entrepreneur of the Year Eldwin Chua, and has been described as a ‘bar featuring Nordic-style wooden latticed ceiling, sexy pink lighting, and a DJ spinning soulful house music’(Chinese goes chic, 29 Sept 2013, Sunday Lifestyle). It also serves ‘Asian tapas’, which sounds to me like swanky fusion dim sum with toothpicks, where you can pass off mantou as ‘sliders’. Not a place to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday I suppose.
A Buddha statue in Le Restaurant or plush ‘Asian bistros’ like Tao in New York seems ‘right’ for the concept, since the idea of Buddha and Buddhism has come to represent everything ‘hip’ and ‘mystical’ about the Orient, but wrong to those who revere the image as how one prostrates before the same statue at an altar. Other than sprucing up the place, a Buddha statue can even double up as a feng shui talisman for prosperity and luck. Westerners may find such themes appealing in a ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ kinda way but to me it’s just tacky decor, like a stuffed antelope in a BBQ diner, or a wax figure of Sly Stallone as Rambo in Planet Hollywood.
The liberal use of religious artifacts as a restaurant/bar/lounge theme isn’t new. The Buddha Bar was the pioneer of modern ‘buddhist chic’ back in 1996, with its own range of exotic new age CDs to bring the ‘neo-spiritual’ vibe of the establishment right into your living room. Nevermind if the tracklisting contains titles like ‘Egyptian Disco’ or ‘Salaam‘, which makes you wonder if the French who came up with the idea thought Buddha resided in the ancient Pyramids or traversed vast Deserts on the back of a magical camel.
In 2010, Indonesian Buddhists in Jakarta protested against Buddha Bar for insulting their faith and tarnishing the ‘good name of Buddha’, not because of the meat they served, but that it came across as a debauched hangout for drunkard party-goers and prostitutes. Here, the Buddha Bar owners already decided in 2000 to change the ‘controversial’ name of their UE Square branch to ‘Siam Supperclub’ (Buddha at the Bar has gone off the Siam, 26 May 2000, ST), where not only can you gawk at Buddha statues but order a lychee martini called ‘Laughing Buddha’. If turning your restaurant/club into a temple alone isn’t New Age enough, why not name an alcoholic beverage after a deity too? Some practitioners believe the Buddha himself would turn a blind eye to the glamorous exploitation of his image. Not sure if you could pull off the same gimmick with Jesus on a crucifix; your menu would have to be restricted to wafers and red wine.
Cocktails aside, there’s even a meat broth named after Buddha, containing sharks’ fin, ham, abalone and scallop. An origin story behind this renown dish describes how monks would leap over temple walls just to have a whiff of this fragrant concoction. Why, it’s the famous ‘BUDDHA jumps over the wall’ of course, a delicacy that I’m sure some Buddhists do enjoy nonetheless without complaining that it’s not vegetarian. Not sure if Le Restaurant has its own version though. Maybe it’s called ‘Bouddha saute par-dessus le mur’ and comes in shot glasses with tiny umbrellas in it.