Nine short stories, all somehow related to the Japanese rice seasonings called furikake.
The location for most of these stories is Singapore. A five-star Amazon review appears after the excerpts.
an excerpt from Yumoto near Clementi
The couple across the room speak harsh Japanese,constantly repeating the word “Singapore”. I reluctantly translate their grumblings. Another flask arrives with a pair of grilled onigiri rice balls. The couple’s words fade away and they leave.
You tell a low stress story from your office, I tell a low stress story from mine. So and so broke up with so and so. I mention my blog and you tell me about the gym. Pleasant bla bla bla.
“What do you want to do tomorrow? “
Ideas float across the table.
“We could see a movie.” A perfect answer, one requiring no immediate serious thought or action. Steam swirls over my tea.
I tap a small cloud towards you. “Yes we could. I’ll get a paper in the morning.”
Your cloud floats back. The fluorescent light reflects in my tea like a small sun on a pale green sea.
“Or we could finally check out the reservoir? Maybe Labrador Park and then the Korean place? It won’t be crowded on a Sunday…” These are also good ideas: everything is near and no tickets need to be bought, no phone calls need to be made. We can decide tomorrow and easily drift through the day.
“Or if it rains, we could just stay in. I brought a book.”
Your face is neutral, beautiful, seductive, innocent, absentminded and focused all at once. You move the chopsticks away from your lips and pull your hair back, revealing part of your neck. “I guess we’ll just see what happens.”
I repeat your words slowly: “Yeah, I guess we’ll just see what happens.”
I walk over and pay the bill, which is neatly itemized in English. I show it to you. You smile and smile again at the waitress, who beams and bows. On the bill is a cute sketch of the two of us. Above us it says ‘thank you.’ Below us it says ‘Come again’.
We step outside of Yumoto, reaching for each other’s hands beneath the red paper lantern.
A dusty clump of inkstick bamboo is just in front of the parking lot. “Ah… something else that is uniquely Singaporean”. I gently tug you towards the plants and point to the red and green stalks, vibrant even beneath the dust.
“Another thing? What’s the other? We had Japanese food.”
“You. You are unique, you are Singaporean. But you’re certainly not a thing. I wish I could think of something clever to say, to better describe how magical you are.’
You put a finger to my lips to stop the flow of my terribly clumsy words. We kiss quickly for a long time.
...the rest of Yumoto near Clementi and other stories are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Furikake-stephen-black-ebook/dp/B002PAQAXE
an excerpt from Writing Furikake
The eight letters and four syllables of furikake hint at ambition, but ultimately the word is uncomfortable in the spotlight. Furikake, is after all, a seasoning for rice, not a main course.
To be fair, in Japanese the word works beautifully. Furikake is derived from furikakeru, meaning to sprinkle over. The sounds match the action; onomatopoeia, something the Japanese language does wonderfully. But, in English the word just doesn’t work; the double hardness of the ‘k’ sounds at the end cancel the dreamy furi part in the beginning.
As promised: the solution. Easy. The solution is substitution. As you read, substitute another word or phrase whenever you see ‘furikake’. Below are some examples.
As she was leaving for the airport, we stood on the cold empty platform, awkward, unhappy and silent.
Far away a tiny light appeared on the parallel tracks; the train that would take her away. I broke the silence.
“They have furikake at the supermarket in Jurong East.”
This could have been a code. She had always bought the furikake, from a store by her office near City Hall, the kind of store that expats like. If it had been a code, it would have meant that I was no longer expecting her to share evenings of wine and rice with furikake.
But it wasn’t a code; I was just stating a fact. We didn’t need codes. If we were to stop seeing each other, we wouldn’t say it with furikake, as though we were cryptic characters in a black and white French movie.
Substitution example 1
As she was leaving for the airport, we stood on the cold empty platform; awkward, unhappy and silent. Far away a tiny light appeared on the parallel tracks; the train that would take her away. I broke the silence. “They have organic goat butter at the supermarket in Jurong East.”
This could have been a code. She had had always bought the organic goat butter, from a store by heroffice near City Hall, the kind of store that expats like. If it had been a code, it would have meant that I was no longer expecting her to share evenings of wine and rice with organic goat butter.
But it wasn’t a code; I was just stating a fact. We didn’t need codes. If we were to stop seeing each other, we wouldn’t say it with organic goat butter, as though we were cryptic characters in a black and white French movie.
Substitution example 2
As she was leaving for the airport, we stood on the cold empty platform; awkward, unhappy and silent. Far away a tiny light appeared on the parallel tracks; the train that would take her away would soon arrive.I broke the silence.
“They have hairless Chihuahuas at the supermarket in Jurong East.”
This could have been a code.
...the rest of Writing Furikake and other stories are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Furikake-stephen-black-ebook/dp/B002PAQAXE
excerpt from Variety is the Spice of Life
Voice 1 (from recorded source)
But where is F Ryu Hontoni, the Master Chef and leader of the Church of Furikake?
R. Ryu Hontoni
Lady I’m here, here in a hotel room somewhere in Bangkok with Rod Driver, man of mystery! What do you want Rod? You can tell me. Help with your career? You wanna be a movie star? You said you were from Dayton, just like me. We can talk. You went to Notre Dame all boys’ school. Me too. What a coincidence. What year did you graduate? We’ve got a lot in common. We’re average guys...
AITT ( 6.9 seconds)
Her diet is not properly planned. She is certain to have problems with reality until her diet is properly planned.
R. Ryu Hontoni
Or, maybe Rod, you want to save the world through Furikaki? I can make you a Gohan Level 10 -the first
one ever. No, better-you become Master Chef and I become Mentor Master Chef! That’s it! Rod Driver, I do hereby state to the universal raw ingredients that you, Rod Driver, have influenced the leaders of the world with your commitment to furikake. Not only your words, but your actions have provided nourishment to over 1 billion starving other bodies on this, the Vegetable Planet. In recognition of these facts, I now declare you to be the Master Chef of the Church of Furikake.
R. Ryu Hontoni
I’ll give you a holy relic. Where’s an ashtray?
...the rest of Variety is the Spice of Life and other stories are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Furikake-stephen-black-ebook/dp/B002PAQAXE
an excerpt from Furikake and Rojak
The Guinness is nice and I eat happily. Writing becomes unimportant except for two quick notes to myself: 1. ‘rojak’ is the Malay word for mixture and 2. Indian rojak is very different from the fruity Singapore style.
I think of rice with furikake and its relationship with rojak. They share no ingredients except sesame and maybe shrimp. One is subtle, the other dances and slaps the tongue. They both involve the action of sprinkling. Rice with furikake is zen, rojak is rojak.
Both are healthy foods, loaded with vitamins and nutrition. What if they interacted? Rojak with seaweed, rojak with dried bonito? Fresh warm rice covered with a thin layer of rojak sprinkled with a dash of furikake? I am sure an inspired chef could make a hybrid of the two…Furirojak? Doesn’t sound too good. Rojikake?
Hmm… maybe. The important thing is an open mind… and perhaps the best way to open one’s mind is to first open one’s mouth.
...the rest of Furikake and Rojak and other stories are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Furikake-stephen-black-ebook/dp/B002PAQAXE
"Tourists don't know where they've been, travellers don't know where they're going"
Furikake is a book inspired by a mixture of spices, a dry Japanese condiment meant to be sprinkled on top of rice. Nine tales set in the Far East, mainly Singapore, linked by a different declination of furikake, like a recipe book full of savoury ingredients.
Apart from some blank pages every now and then, due to the file conversion into a Kindle format, this is a truly enjoyable reading, between a memoir and a travel diary in which one can easily recognize fragments of oneself.
There's a recurring theme, the literary device of a story within a story; excerpts in form of well-thumbed photocopies of Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania offer a refreshing, creative view on the narrator's fictional life. Perspective and lack of perspective become key elements, the past is constantly reinterpreted in order to form an ever changing frame.
The tales compose a very intense narrative, sometimes humorous (Writing Furikake, Furikake on Facebook), others nostalgic (Puccini liked it on ham, Who will bite my head) or euphoric (Variety is the spice of life); in any case a human comedy that won't leave you indifferent.
To better understand Furikake's unattractive cover, see page 11 here