Tag Archives: food

Touching Johor Bahru 1

I've plenty of notes about this place, as well the nights I've spent with the present owner at the 123 Cafe... http://johorkaki.blogspot.com/2012/01/indian-curry-puffs-salahuddin-bakery-in.html?m=1 https://m.facebook.com/pages/Salahuddin-Bakery-Jalan-Dhoby/151382781582630 https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g298278-d7139589-Reviews-Salahuddin_Bakery-Johor_Bahru_Johor_Bahru_District_Johor.html

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh glutinous rice packing

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh

Deepavali at Galicier (the first of a two part excerpt from i ate tiong bahru)

i ate tiong bahru is a self-published book by artist/writer Stephen Black. Despite having received almost no support from governmental or media institutions, it has become a national bestseller and preparations are now underway for a second edition. The success of  i ate tiong bahru has been due to word of mouth and I am very grateful to those who have enjoyed iatb and told others. I apologize that the format of this post does not follow that of the book....

Dewali in Galicier

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks.

“Yes.”

The back room of Galicier, the pastry shop on Tiong Bahru Road. Rain taps the tin roof as Pricilia and I stand near the shiny, tube-like contraption.

“Ready?”

“Let’s do it!”

I lower my head slowly; I could be scalded. Pricilia quickly lifts the lid. Flavored steam rushes at me. My open mouth, my nose, my chin, my eyelids, even my forehead; all suddenly become one happy tastebud. I gulp the delicate, narcotic vapor. Immediately I become an angel in a heavenly cloud of butterscotch. I become a warm knife gliding over soft pancake butter and maple syrup. A streetlight in a tropical mist of caramel, a kite in a windy molasses sky. I am steamed gula melakka.

Pricilia smiles. “That is why I like making fuat kueh.”

Gula melakka thrills me. It’s organic – yes! Produced in the countryside, it allows people to develop their own businesses without moving to cities – yes! It’s full of vitamins – yes! It tastes great – double yes! Gula melakka is a traditional “medicinal sugar” in the Ayurvedic tradition and one of the world’s first spices. Long produced throughout Southeast Asia, gula melakka is known by many names, including jaggery, gur and palm sugar. The word ‘sugar’ is derived from the Sanskrit equivalent of gula melakka.

Strictly speaking, gula melakka is made only from the Palmyra palm. However, gula melakka is often made by small independent producers, each likely having a different production method. Some producers, for example, include refined sugar or add sap from other types of palm trees. Interestingly, the pure, fresh sap from the palmyra palm tree is also the basis for the alcoholic drink known as toddy.

The owner of Galicier, Mr. Y.S. Tan, grew up in a kampung where gula melakka was made. He often saw men quickly shimmy up trees to then slice and smash flowering buds with mallets. The men would then affix a “Mongolian pouch” or clay pot to the wounded buds and climb back down. The next morning the sap was collected, boiled and poured into bamboo tubes or glass molds. After the water vapor evaporated, the hard pieces of gula melakka were wrapped in paper and sold.

When Jenny was a child, gula melakka came wrapped in coconut leaves. Over eighty years ago, her grandfather, utilizing the skills he’d learned “from the Europeans,” set up a bakery named Ton Lok Wee. After he returned to Hainan, Jenny’s father took over the bakery. Mr. Tan began working for Jenny’s father in 1969, when he was eleven. Eventually, Tan Lok Wee closed, mainly because of the expansion of Orchard Road. When Mr. Tan decided to set up his own bakery, he had a partner: Jenny. The two were married thirty-three years ago.

Half of the people in Galicier gathered around me, trying to explain its Chinese name. To write something like ‘Ga-li- cier’ in Chinese, three characters are used: ka li jiaKa means something like ‘invitation to an event with the feeling of a wedding or family get-together’. Li could mean ‘power’ or ‘profit’ and jia means ‘family’ or ‘good’. Something like that. Mr. Tan also told me that Galicier is a city in Brazil.

On the wall behind the cash register, are two photos of Ton Lok Wee. The largest, a black and white street scene of Orchard Road, was taken in 1975. Behind the bakery is a wallsized advertisement for the “natural living color” of Setron TV. Also in the photo is the famous parking lot that, at night, became filled with food stalls, strings of lights and people eating and drinking, all surrounded by colonial architecture.

Jenny moves her finger over the photo, remembering the Cold Storage, the bottom of Emerald Hill Road, Centre- point and her father’s bakery. Taped onto the photograph’s white sky is a faded color photograph of Ton Lok Wee. In front of the bakery a young girl smiles at the camera. Her name is Soh Kee Soon and she’s Jenny’s eldest sister.

Soh Kee Soon is now seventy years old and sitting next to me. She is methodically cutting blocks of gula melakka; shaving and crumbling it. The shop uses as much as three kilos a day. The radio plays Madonna and Eighties dance music, but the rhythm of Galicier is the tapping of Soh Kee Soon’s knife against the cutting board.

(i ate tiong bahru on Amazon)

What would Tony do? (International Coffee Day)

Today is International Coffee Day... Cheers! I had first thought that I would dig out some old photos of Tony's coffee chop, Hua   Bee. Orange melamine saucers, thick porcelain cream-colored cups and the old, white-haired coffee maker in his singlet, pouring out  a stream of black liquid from his silver coffee maker. Pale blue walls,  kaya toast on at least one of the tables, softboiled eggs somewhere... Something nostalgic, with a bit of a postmodern touch as a nod to Michael Lee, artist and curator, with whom I ate countless bowls of mee pok... But then I thought..."What would Tony do"? And I thought Tony would look upon today as a chance to make money! So, no nostalgic photos today! Instead I, channeling the spirit of Tony, ask you to consider getting one of the few remaining  print copies of i ate tiong bahru or an iatb ebook, or an iatb T-shirt, or one of the glass iatb cups that, very soon, will be featured in a crowdfunding campaign on Zingohub. artreview-asia-review-of-iatb Although there is one short story in iatb exclusively about coffee, something entitled Blued Coffee, the following is an extract from the story called Fa Fa Away. Cheers....and just leave your money on the table. Tony likes it when you leave coins... sb .......................................

Mr. Tang is not at Tony’s.

Tony’s is not yet busy.

Tony’s wearing one of the pale yellow Izod-like shirts he always wears. He moves back and forth from the cooler in the back to the tables on the sidewalk. He takes someone’s order and brings out somebody’s kaya toast. He does little things by the cash register. He ignores me, like he always does. I don’t mind. It’s a compliment, I guess. An inexplicable one.

Finally, he whizzes by. I barely hear him.

“Kopi C kosong?”

I give him the slightest nod possible.

“KOPI C KOSONG,” Tony blares out.

In the back, by the stove, the potbellied and nearly bald magician shuffles up to his stage. Wearing a white cotton T-shirt, shorts and sandals, he begins to make magic with brown powder, water, a long-nozzled silver pot, a well-used cloth strainer and a blue ring of fire.

Tony! He leaves my coffee and slides away his coins. Instantly he’s taking another order, talking with someone.

Good coffee in a thick, white ceramic cup, the faded orange poster from the Seventies explaining the ‘new’ money of Singapore, the simple pattern of the blue tiles on the floor, the ambience of fifty years ago... Not even a radio... Just the sounds of conversations.

I enjoy this, but I’m neither naive nor nostalgic.

This area used to be cluttered with trash of all kinds. Pigs were raised everywhere. Trucks filled with gangsters armed with big knives and steel bars used to roll by, almost daily. The kampungs were so dangerous that the police only entered in pairs, guns drawn. The newspapers were full of crime stories: acid attacks, suicides by hanging, rapes, extortion, stabbings, “intent to traffic heroin,” and all kinds of counterfeiters and thieves. Arrests were made because someone had “waylaid a compatriot,” or “committed an affray by fighting in public.” There was once a “strangling with a black negligee.” In 1986, one of Malaysia’s most wanted criminals was in his sister’s flat in Block 78. The police surrounded the place. He took a hostage. He, the hostage and his accomplice made their way to Kim Pong and Tiong Bahru Road. They boarded a bus. Shots were fired, the last being that of the fugitive ending his own life.

iatb-tshirt-and-porridge-vertical

A message from our sponsor... The iatb Tshirt...Tony would say, "Buy lah!".

 

Crime was not the only danger. For decades newspapers and the government had warned that the kampungs were fire hazards. In 1961, it happened – again. The Bukit Ho Swee fire, Singapore’s biggest, destroyed 60 acres and left 16,000 homeless. Over 8,000 people took shelter at the Kim Seng Road School. The kampungs were completely erased; photos show pigs roaming amidst piles of tin roofs and little more. Within nine months the HDB built five public housing flats, the start of the Bukit Ho Swee estate.

I’ve ordered mee pok and no matter where the auntie sets it on my table, it will be picture-perfect. Yellow noodles and fishballs in an orange bowl, two well-used wooden chopsticks on top. Next to this a tiny bowl of cut chillies soaking in a mixture of soy, sugar and spices.

Tony and the magician who makes coffee have worked hard for a long time. If they want to sell the shop, then more power to them. (I assume they own it – who knows?) It would be nice, though, if the new owners knew a bit about history, had a sense of taste and contributed to the local and global community. (Yes, I am naive. Indonesian, Australian and Japanese speculators don’t usually have this mindset. Not to mention Singaporeans and mainland Chinese.)

My table is like the other round marble topped tables, my chair like the other red plastic chairs. The man with the long moustache is here, smoking his pipe as he checks the race results. His tobacco smoke is always sweet. Maybe the woman in the blue skirt will be here.

And, perhaps it would be nice to have a big coffee chain here, one with comfy chairs and jazzy, slightly ethnic music; an edgy, cool place for hipsters and the wives of expats to chill in the hood. Perhaps not.

..............................

Hey! Thanks for reading this far! One of my other books, Bali Wave Ghost is a free download today on Amazon...

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Iron Fire Riceball Singapore Tour

"Art"... such a misused word. In the case of the thumb kways, the "art" label was easy to understand, in that the kways looked like thumbprints, which made them a form of self-portraiture, among other things. But now, these miso furikake riceballs... why do I label them as an artwork as opposed to, say, promotion for my Furikake book? Or marketing for Mom Natura? Or promotion for Tawaraya Rice? Ultimately, art is communication and self-portraiture. With the Iron Fire Furikake Miso Riceball  Tour, we went out, communicated, learned about natural food stores in Singapore and had fun. We weren't out to sell anything, just wanted to share the magic of rice and iron fire miso furikake.... We set out hoping to interact with most of the stores on this list.   First stop: 67 Aliwal Street. Two people had an iron fire furikake miso riceball experience. This image was created:misoriceball tour 003_scc riceballs Aliwal wall A haiku poet! Dave Tai who, like a Zen master, listened to me describe the riceball artworks. He then became one with the riceball.  http://www.haikufever.com/ misoriceball tour 005_haiku writer misoriceball tour 009_typewriterNext stop: Shaw Towers, where we had surprised Karen Ong and Lee Hui Lun at Oasis Organic the day  before. Another riceball experience! The shop had just received a big delivery, so we only took this shot, of a shelf where the goods had already been unpacked neatly... misoriceball tour 011_edited Oasis shop interior Then, we did something we don't do often: we ate meat. (I  know, I know...) This is the view of Shaw Towers. You can't see it, but there is a sign that says Shaw Leisure Gallery: The Art of Life. Wish we'd had time to see our dear friends at JDMIS, Asia's  center  for jewelry making classes and certification. misoriceball tour 013_edited Artof life shaw tower monks Next stop Tanglin Mall! The person we met at Brown Rice Paradice was not in the mood for a riceball experience but did seem happy to take the info we provided. Coincidentally, we ran into Chris, jewelry designer and maker of musical beats. We met in Tiong Bahru  in Tiong Bahru a few years ago and, unfortunately, have not yet had a chance to sit down and relax with cold beverages made of fermented wheat and hops and stuff like that... misoriceball tour 019_edited Chris SUPERNATURE! misoriceball tour 023_edited SuperNature shopper At Great World, we stopped by Four Seasons... misoriceball tour 034_edited four seasons organic marketSomewhere near Robertson Quay: documentation of the pamphlet from Mom Natura and the chirashii from Tawaraya misoriceball tour 037_edited Chirashii mom and tawaraya Could not resist! misoriceball tour 041_edited book cafe But, our ultimate destination on Mohamed Sultan was : The Organic Grocer. misoriceball tour 049_edited curated misoriceball tour 048_edited no time to waste Then, we dashed off to catch a glimpse of the Annie Liebovitz show before it closed. I'd worked for her for a month on a series of shoots in Tokyo a while ago and, even though I knew it was a naive idea, thought she might still be in town and I could just say hi. She was gone, of course, but the man in charge was extremely helpful.. and the recipient of one of the day's last iron fire miso furikake riceball masterpieces! Finally, a haiku by Dave Tai... Riceball haiku by Dave Tai

Bullet Point Portrait: Casey Heng, Wine Distributor based in Singapore

CASEY HENG
CONNECTION TO STEPHEN BLACK
-I met Casey at the Tiong Bahru market and immediately we started talking about his wine and my book about Tiong Bahru. Casey grew up in Tiong Bahru and is still a very frequent visitor. Do you know the name of the first movie shown at the King's Theatre?
WHAT DOES CASEY DO?
Casey is a wine importer and distributor, representing vineyards, producers and distributors from Spain, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and France.
WHAT ARE CASEY'S CHALLENGES?
- "The Singapore wine market could expand greatly if the government would take a look at their duty system. I have a beautiful wine that comes in at $3 a bottle and I have to pay a $9 duty! The duty is based on percentage of alcohol and volume. It would be great if this could be re-assessed. We could surpass Hong Kong!"
-A Protege... Casey would like to find someone who is equally passionate about wine, regardless of background. This person would learn about and assist with the business, possibly take it over.
WHAT IS CASEY'S BACKGROUND?
Casey has extensive experience in sales and marketing. He has sold everything from bottle caps to sporting goods to shoes.
WHAT ARE CASEY'S GOALS?
-He would like to connect with winemakers and vineyards who are not sure how to enter the Singapore/Southeast Asia market.
-He would like to continue to educate consumers about the values and pleasures of well-crafted wine.
CASEY'S CONTACT
justwine2 ATMARK ymail DOT com
P.S. The first movie shown at the King's Theatre was Overland Pacific.
This post will be updated soon, with photos of Casey, photos of wines he represents and links to vineyards and other wine-related links.

Inari, Bali and Snow

  • The Author Show audio  interview with Stephen Black on the Furikake book.
  • On Saturday, April 23, Stephen Black will be reading and presenting the thumb kway artworks and a new artwork entitle Miso Furikake Riceballs. Details here.
  • On April 22, this will be added to the book entitled Furikake.
  • This is the final version of Inari, Bali and Snow, replacing other versions of this story that were posted on this blog.
INARI, BALI AND SNOW

February 21, 2016

Man, this miso stuff is serious!

Mom and I'd been talking about food as social art. Edible, nutritious art. Public sculptures of popcorn and haikus made of glutinous rice. We discussed the pigmentation of palm sugar, sesame seeds, coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt. Mom explained how roasting changes miso's color and texture. I introduced Mom to the artworks of Ferran Adria and el Bulli. I explained how and why I made kways shaped like my thumbprint. I learned that, in Japanese, “tekka” is written with two kanjis and means “iron fire”. And, in Kyushu, 'tekka' means someone with a strong, focused and energetic personality. Like Mom, who just told me that miso has anti-radiation properties and was used as medicine at Hiroshima. Man, this miso stuff is serious...

Mom has a healthy glow. Her eyes are bright and full of depth. Calm with wisdom, yet the signs of overwork show through. Mom is one of those people who are truly aware that we are all in the same tiny boat on the vast River of Time, sometimes going with the flow, sometimes lost without a paddle.

Bamboo Spirit is a center of social energy; a tie-dyed campus at the top of the Penestanan Steps. A Hindu place, a Russian place, a Japanese place...a  quietly glorious Balinese place. Next to a stream, the house-like, open structure is old and made of wood and stone.. From the second floor and the small strange cozy space on the third, one can see rice fields and the hills of Ubud. People celebrate food here. Mom sells her products here on Sundays.

Alex introduced us. Barefoot and standing on the hard ground, we were soon discussing fermentation, the laphet I brought from Myanmar and the tekka miso from her farm. Above us, a canopy of yellow cloth warmed and softened the light, giving everyone and everything a golden shadow. I gave Mom laphet and she gave me mimosa tea. I told Mom I would visit her farm as soon as I could. The farm is in Mas, just outside of Ubud, which is on the island of Bali in the country of Indonesia. In Spanish, 'mas' means 'more'.

Furikake stars:

Faint, bittersweet sands of time

swirling clouds; rice ball.

I Am a Muddy Path With No Banana Leaves

I drove to Mas in darkness.

Mom welcomed me: "Six o'clock. You are on time. Like the Japanese." She gave me her husband's boots. My first task was to water "our plants". That was on Level 1. Later in the morning, Rachel watered Level 2 and Liisa looked for okra on Level 3. There's a teepee on the edge of Level 4. Mom was everywhere. Lined up at the windows of their classroom, the children from the school yelled "Hello" and "Good morning", their cute voices and uncontrolled enthusiasm strong enough to cross the big field between us. Later, we heard them singing Balinese songs. I used a sickle on the plants surrounding the wild peanuts and discovered okra blossoms. As she walked in, as though she were laughing, Alex asked me how I was doing.

Breakfast, then, in Mom's bamboo house. Papaya,okra salad and rice balls, everything full of flavor. Rachel mentioned something she'd read about how the visual appearance of food influences t digestion. Another topic: the ideal state of mind for those people who prepare food. Manny talked about food, air, water and McDonald's and we all discussed furikake, laphet and mimosa tea. I wore the green shirt my mom bought for me, now faded and with a hole between my left shoulder and my heart. During the four hours I was at Mom's, I was in the center of a beautifully slow and flowing sequence of events, thoughts and exchanges. I drank no coffee. 🙂

But my muddy path task is what made the strongest impression upon me. The farm has a network of paths and the recent rain had made some sections very slippery. Mom told me to make mats from the old leaves and stalks from the banana plants. If I did that, traction and safety would be improved. You don't want someone falling with a large, sharp cutting instrument in their hands... I didn't need a plan; in such a cosmic place, everything would be naturally perfect. But, my thinking was wrong.

I should have gained information about: a) the number of banana leaves available, b) the number of trouble spots, c) the "danger rating" of trouble spots, d) "danger ratings" vs. frequency of use, e) location and f) time available to complete the task.

I should have improved the most dangerous high-traffic sections first, starting with the steps between levels. Then, I should have used my limited amount of banana tree resources to prevent new trouble spots from developing. With whatever time was left, I should have put at least one leaf on all of the remaining areas, which would have warned others of danger.

But as it is, many parts of the paths on the farm are still very slippery and one small area in Level 1 is very safe.

Gold furikake

being sprinkled on blue snow,

Hanazono dawn

During my first winter in Asia, my home was a little tatami room in Yotsuya. There, on the morning of January 28, 1985, I awoke well before dawn, bundled up and set out to wander through a snowstorm that, with a continuing, powerful grandeur, had shut down Tokyo. I was hungry; had nothing but coins in my pocket and a camera loaded with black and white film. The glass door made the rolling, shaky noise it always did when it was opened. I stepped out. Immediately my nose and lungs were stung by cold air. I trudged through a maze of snowdrifts until I reached Shinjuku-dori. Then west, past the Sun Music Building that the singer had thrown herself off of. Then Yasukuni-dori, with the thought of going right and visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I’d sat in Yasukuni's cafeteria once, with a veteran from World War II who said I looked like Gary Cooper. We drank green tea beneath a Mitsubishi Zero attached to the ceiling

But no, I wandered left, towards Shinjuku san-chome, where I stood beneath a traffic light and watched its colored lights tint the swirling snow. Eventually, Mitsukoshi and the other department stores, each big enough to occupy an entire block. Further west, across from the station, the gaudy lights, billboards and neon of Kabukicho had become soft pastels. On small side streets, I passed darkened yakitori-yas, convenience stores and round red akachochins topped with snow and ice. The quiet. The cold. The feeling of being immensely alone. And lost. Lost, lost, lost. Delightfully so.

Flower garden. A French friend and I went drinking near here one night and he told me that the Chinese characters carved in the monument now before me mean Flower Garden. Hanazono Jinja. Hundreds of years ago, the Hanazono family built this shrine dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success. Inari, the god of the arts.

I walk forward, between two dull grey buildings. At the end of the passage, a torii; waiting like a strange goal post, or a letter from an alien alphabet. Tubular, wooden and orange, the torii is a relic from a ceremony of whispers. The people of Tokyo are warm in their beds and sleeping; I am in the cold and dreaming.

The stone basin for washing one’s hands and rinsing one’s mouth; the ice within it is now covered by a lace made of wire mesh and snow. The ema, the small, thin wood plaques covered with neatly written hopes and wishes, are bunched in rows, nooses connecting them to the display stand. The temple grounds are barely lit and surrounded by modernity. And then!

The clouds part and—for an instant– the sun rushes in like a spotlight. Against the dark blue snowy sky, golden light strikes the temple’s black tortoise shell roof, the white frost on the pine trees, and the stone foxes standing guard. The fresh vermillion paint for Oshogatsu, the corridor of red toriis, the simplistic arabesques of gold trim, the precise and clean concrete stairs; the sun is behind me, throwing itself forward everywhere. The gigantic shrine vibrates like a massive, noble flame of Japanese architecture. The vividness of details, the vividness of the whole… Then–just a glimpse– the full moon. Asahi!

I stood alone in that quiet heaven of color until the threat of the freezing cold could be ignored no longer. My feet and hands were paralyzed and one leg was becoming numb.

I vaguely recognized the steps at the back of the shrine, thought they’d be a shortcut to the Dunkin Donuts on Shinjuku-dori. At the top of the stairs, however, I saw that I was overlooking the two-story wooden shacks and alleys of Golden Gai. Somewhere in there was Shunchan’s. Like a wounded cowboy I limped down the stairs into that little white Japanese ghost town. Golden Gai: one of those places that teen aged Western boys imagine they will one day find themselves in. Prostitution, gambling, rendezvous spots, cheap drinking places, yakitori shops, bars specializing in all kinds of music; all connected by very narrow walkways lit by red paper lanterns and old cheap plastic Suntory signs. I was sure Shunchan wouldn’t be there. I was wrong.

Irrrashai!” He said it not with the loud bellowing mechanical style of most shop owners, but as though he were quietly sharing an inside joke. It was 7AM, in a frozen and snowbound Tokyo, but Shunchan smiled at me like it was late on a crowded Friday night after payday. Both serene and slightly nervous, Shunchan is the perfect host. He carefully stabbed the chunk of ice in his hand with a pick while I thought about my order.

Was Shunchan a great friend of mine? No–but he was an anchor, a touchstone.I was a regular; he and his little bar provided a sense of normality in a city full of extremes of all kinds. Always an interesting crowd, packed in around Shunchan and his bar. Whether they were Japanese, Russian or Australian, Shunchan made the hostesses feel relaxed. He treated the English teachers and backpackers like locals. Celebrities, artists and musicians brought in great mixtapes, his drinks weren’t that expensive and Shunchan laughed a lot. He was good friends with the young woman in the bright orange dress.

I sat where I always did, under the old, big posters of bent-over Japanese girls in bikinis on beaches holding mugs full of beer. Even when Shunchan’s was half-full, you had to stand behind the people seated at the bar and couldn’t help but sometimes touch them. Shunchan put down the ice pick and adjusted the kerosene heater at his feet. My hands treasured my glass of hot water and whiskey as my frozen pants started melting.

Then, like the sudden appearance of a deer in a forest, a naked and attractive young Japanese woman tiptoed down the stairs. With her finger, she moved her hair behind her ear. She politely smiled at me, then leaned forward and watched Shunchan make her tea. I immediately became fascinated with the smoke-stained chirashis promoting last year's offerings of underground movies, independent music, butoh and avante-garde theatre. She was a pixie, flush with the color and smell of sex. She was steamy. She went back upstairs. Shunchan said nothing, I said nothing. A moment later, a young naked Japanese man came down, got a drink and went back up. Then another. Shunchan, smiled at me and began to look for his ice pick. My unforgettable morning was, for him, just another day at work.

So... Tokyo, for quite a few years, New York for a year, then The Handover in Hong Kong, then Tokyo for the millennium, then the excitement of crashing the dot-com boom party. Singapore then, to create Second Life, but before Second Life; and to lay the foundation for something like Youtube, but before Youtube. My indefinably star-like daughter, all the while shining... Scholarly friends, friends who needed a bath like me, friends who drove around in new cars and threw cigarette butts out the window. Supernova relationships with boundless vigor. Roommates with holes in their socks and roommates who blessed me with hearty breakfasts and made me feel like family. Roommates who cheated me. A three-legged cat and driving away from a lover's home in Paris; the sun rising and the taxi driver playing a ney all the way from the Port of Clouds to Orly. Medicinal mushrooms. The Bioneers, just after 9/11. Sitting in a Clementi coffeeshop, a cheap mobile phone to my ear as I learned how they took a long blood vessel from his leg and put it in his chest to repair his heart. Chemo and radiation treatments. I'm working another shift on Mom's farm and thinking of all of these things, especially the chemo and radiation. I'm planting black beans and watching the sunrise. Chemo and radiation, chemo and radiation.

The clumps of clay and the big mud stains on my blue jeans give me a Sense of Accomplishment. Komang, myself and the WWOOF volunteers, are having another wonderful meal in the bamboo house. We sip amazake and Sayuri listens to us tell stories. Mom and I discover that we'd been neighbors. We'd very likely waited for trains at Higashi-Nakano station at the same time. There, we could have stood together, maybe almost touching, as we looked inside the ninja school across from the station. We'd both definitely eaten in the Mongolian tent behind the KFC, and both of us remembered the books the owner had made: one about a circus and one about his autistic daughter. Sitting on the tatami at Mom's, I remembered the life I had lived thirty years before; all of the chaotic, energetic activities with chaotic, energetic people. Mom and Shunchan had been great friends. She'd shared a bed with him--in a nonsexual way-- and once pretended to be his fiancee so Shunchan's mother would stop yelling at him to get married. I'd heard bits and pieces of these stories. Maybe Mom had sat next to me at Shunchan's and I'd thought of very lustful things.

Earlier, when I was working in Level 3, Komang gave me okra pods that were like striped, brittle antelope horns. Three seeds in a hole. I planted as carefully as I could but then the light was fading and I sped up. Not good to leave something undone. Komang may have seen me rushing, maybe not. He came over and helped. "We always plant with love," is all he said.

It should be obvious that I consider furikake to be a magnificent concept. A plain riceball is a canvas; furikake makes it an artwork. A composition of furikake, created by culture, geography, science and chance-- is placed into the mouth. The brutal critics—the glands, teeth and tongue, decide if the work is something to be savored or spit out like poison.

During many of the days described in this story I wore ragged boxer shorts, shreds of white Japanese cotton shreds patterned with torn, red goldfish. The soft rags that covered my loins were more painful than a hairshirt. The gentle white cotton bit me harder than any cilice. Those boxer shorts were bought for me on the morning of the day we watched the harvest moon rise over the Pacific Ocean. That magical day was one of many moments we shared in that little coastal village that had the best seafood and the richest sake. Silently, we often observed the changing seasons while soaking in the hot spring of our ryokan, located just a couple of train stops from Fukushima.

     

Designers I Have Worked With… (part 3)

Part 1 of this post is here. So yeah...I should clarify that by the word "designers" I mean graphic and layout designers, the masters of what used to be a paper kingdom. Designers gave paper as much glory as painters gave canvas. I once made a documentary on Kenzo, but that is a different story. Anyhoo... Peter Dean again made magic.. . the 3how CD cover was created during a discussion at Amith's place that concluded with a selection of photos and fonts. Mr. Dean worked his magic and...  here we have the first studio recording of 3how...The Riverwalk Session. 3how album cover ..which just happens to be available here... Back to kways, thumb kways to be exact. VotreX Tan helped me to create one of the most personal artworks I've ever made. He managed to use my thumbprint as the basis for a mold which is used to make ang ku kueh. You can read about the thumb kways elsewhere, but for now I want to thank Vortex Tan. Find him at PRODD! PRODD! PRODD!
Cultural identity

Edible sculptures by Stephen Black. Traditional Chinese ang ku kueh shaped like a thumbprint

George Parel... I hope George can help me out here. We did a fun little project for The French Stall here in Singapore. Made a game, had characters, made it easy for the customers to see the great food offered. George...send some photos or a link , please! Shaz! Man, when you are starting down the road it is dirty and uphill and lonely and you really get a sense of who is with you. When I decided to create books I hadn't had a stockpile of dinero to get me through the rough spots. Shaz not just did a great job with design and catching my mistakes, she, in her own unique way, gave me Hope. I cannot thank her enough. We created this, the first publication I did about Tiong Bahru. Shaz is now helping the homeless who have budget for rental and down payments for homes. Finally... another very fortunate situation... Debbie Ding had the time to create a book cover! Now, she is wow! She was wow! then too, but was able to make time to create the cover for Contact With Shadow, for which I am most thankful. At this moment I cannot find the original jpeg! The cover here is a fraction of what she did. AAArgh..the hard drive with the full cover is not with me now! AAArgh But the cover used on the ungluing site is also very nice. UNGLUING? What is he talking about? This. I think the list of designers I have worked with is now complete, though I am not 100% certain. If I have forgotten anyone, I apologize in advance and will do my best to correct the situation  asap. If you are a designer that I have listed, please feel free to add a comment below with your current projects... and THANK YOU.   In conclusion, let me say that maybe I am a little unusual and some of the designers are a little unusual and it is a little unusual to try to give a form to an idea. Design is undoubtedly an art. It also pushes the mind into different areas. I leave you to ponder the following extract from an email of Debbie Ding, used without her permission(but I am asking her). It made perfect sense at the time... anyway, here is the excerpt:

but what about... CEILINGWAX!

to encourage people to lick their ceilings, rather than their floors?

Inari, Bali and Snow (1)

DO NOT READ THIS! THE FINAL VERSION IS HERE! THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. I WILL BE WORKING ON THIS THROUGHOUT THE DAY and WILL SOON BE ADDING IT TO MY FURIKAKE BOOK. For now, I hope that the following draft provides enough finished passages for you to enjoy and that the unfinished passages provide a sense of how important the story is to me. Inari, Bali and Snow During my first winter in Asia my home was a little tatami room in Yotsuya. There, on the morning of January 28, 1985, I awoke well before dawn, bundled up and set out to wander through the continuing grandeur of a snowstorm that had shut down Tokyo. I was hungry; had nothing but coins in my pocket and a camera loaded with black and white film. I slid open the door and began marching through the snowdrifts. Cold air stung my nose and lungs. After the white maze of my neighborhood,  I reached Shijnuku-dori. Then west, past the Sun Music Building that the singer threw herself off of. Then Yasukuni-dori, with the thought of going right and visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I'd sat in its cafeteria once, with a veteran from World War II who said I looked like Gary Cooper. We drank green tea beneath a Mitsubishi Zero attached to the ceiling

But no, I wandered left, towards Shinjuku san-chome, where I stood beneath a traffic light and watched its colored lights tint the swirling snow. Eventually I reached Mitsukoshi and the other department stores, each big enough to occupy an entire block. Further west, across from the station, the gaudy lights, billboards and neon of Kabukicho had become soft pastels. On small side streets, I passed darkened yakitori-yas, convenience stores and round red akachochins topped with snow and ice. The quiet. The cold. The feeling of being immensely alone. And lost. Lost, lost, lost. Delightfully so.

Flower garden. A French friend and I went drinking near here one night and he told me that the Chinese characters carved in the monument now before me mean Flower Garden. Hanazono Jinja. Hundreds of years ago, the Hanazono family built this shrine , one dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success. Inari, the god of the arts.

I walk forward, between two dull grey buildings. At the end of the passage, a torii; waiting like a strange goal post, or a letter from an alien alphabet. Tubular, wooden and orange, the torii is a relic from a ceremony of whispers. The people of Tokyo are warm in their beds and sleeping; I am in the cold and dreaming.

There is a stone basin for washing one's hands and rinsing one's mouth; the ice within it protected by lace made of wire mesh and snow. The ema, the small, thin wood plaques covered with neatly written hopes and wishes are bunched in rows, nooses connecting them to the display stand. The temple grounds are barely lit and surrounded by modernity.Then! The clouds part and—for an instant-- the sun rushes in like a spotlight. Below the dark blue snowy sky, golden light strikes the temple's black tortoise shell roof, the white frost on the pine trees, and the stone foxes standing guard. The fresh vermillion paint for Oshogatsu, the corridor of red toriis, the simplistic arabesques of gold trim, the precise and clean concrete stairs; the sun is behind me, throwing itself forward everywhere. The gigantic shrine vibrates like a massive, noble flame of Japanese architecture. The vividness of details, the vividness of the whole... Then--just a glimpse-- the full moon. Asahi! I stood alone in that quiet heaven of color until the threat of the freezing cold be ignored no longer. My feet and hands were paralyzed. I vaguely recognized the steps at the back of the shrine, thought they'd be a shortcut to the Dunkin Donuts on Shinjuku-dori. At the top of the stairs, however, I saw that I was overlooking the two-story wooden shacks and alleys of Golden Gai. Somewhere in there was Shunchan's. Like a wounded cowboy I limped down the stairs into that little white Japanese ghost town.   Golden Gai: one of those places that teen aged Western boys imagine they will one day find themselves in. Prostitution, gambling, rendezvous spots, cheap drinking places, yakitori shops, bars specializing in all kinds of music; all connected by very narrow walkways lit by red paper lanterns and old cheap plastic Suntory signs. I was sure Shunchan wouldn't be there. I was wrong.

Irrrashai!” He said it not with the loud bellowing mechanical style of most shop owners, but as though he were sharing an inside joke. It was 7AM, in a frozen and snowbound Tokyo, but Shunchan smiled at me like it was late on a Friday night after payday. Both serene and slightly nervous, Shunchan is the perfect host.  He stabbed the chunk of ice in his hand with an ice pick while I thought about my order.

Was Shunchan a great friend of mine? No--but he was an anchor, a touchstone. Regular. I was a regular in Shunchan's bar; he and his little bar provided a regularity in a city full of extremes of many kinds. There was always always an interesting crowd. Whether they were Japanese, Russian or Australian, Shunchan made the hostesses feel relaxed. He treated the English teachers and backpackers like locals. Celebrities, artists and musicians brought in great mixtapes, his drinks weren't that expensive and Shunchan laughed a lot. He was good friends with the young woman in the bright orange dress.

The next section is here.