Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Twirling At Tea

Glad that schedules managed to be swopped and I found an hour for tea with Y at the start of Lil'Missy's school holidays. It signified the end of her kindergarten years. The next time I see the little girl, she would be in Primary One. They grow up so quickly. It wasn't terribly crowded at Intercontinental Hotel's lobby lounge on a weekday afternoon. Had a nice big sofa and a corner to ourselves where we could kinda play peek-a-boo and talk a little too loudly without annoying anyone else. Heh.

Y and I have learnt to converse in short spurts about topics not involving Lil'Missy. The little girl must be included in conversations. While Y and I discussed about shipping prices via DHL, UPS and FedEx, we also paid attention to the little girl who was telling us about her books, pens and cards.

The little girl pulled me up the stairs to twirl. Okay little ballerina, you're moving on to Grade One soon. Time to work on extending those fingers, curving the elbows and turning out the feet. We must go dancing before Aunty Imp gets too old for pirouettes and arabesque jumps.

Lil'Missy wore 'Marmalade Morning Cheongsam'
from her parents' indie label, Missy Messy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spiste Gravlaks!

Thawed out my last precious piece of cured salmon from Oslo's Maschmanns Matmarked. Didn't think it should be kept till Christmas. :P Nibbled on it for dinner to refresh our memories of how cured and smoked salmon taste like in Oslo and Seattle.

The sealed pack was chockful of dill. Smelt delicious. Stared at the words on the packaging. When I bought it along with a trolley of other items, I only saw one sentence- "gravlaks økologisk", which just meant organic cured salmon. Now, I noticed "hveteøl stykke", which confused me because clearly, while I read it to be 'a piece of beer', wheat beer to be precise, the 'style' threw me off. You know 'øl' is beer. Aiyoh. Need to get used to Norsk phrasing. I assumed it meant the salmon was cured in wheat beer. Later on, N helped me out with the phrasing and confirmed it to be so.

There was perfectly toasted rye bread. Skipped the mustard. A drizzle of lemon juice, pepper and onions would do nicely. Could have picked a lighter beer. But it had been a long day at work, and the tastebuds wanted something stronger. The salmon tasted so good with Nøgne Ø's Imperial Stout.

Keeping A Distance

This incident has bugged me for months and I really need to get it off my chest by writing about it. Am I too petty? As time passes, instead of forgetting it, it serves as a niggly little reminder how I can know some people for quite a while and still keep them at arm's length.

Sitting down to a meal with someone I'm already wary of, it doesn't mean that it will shift my opinion of said person. Sharing a meal doesn't automatically mean I'd like to continue with further dates. None of my friends should presume anything else until they ask me in private after. No one else has the audacity to set dates with an odd social composition until I okayed it, especially if my participation is required and not just an invitation I can decline. It's social graces isn't it?

At a meal with a person I've told you that I'm wary of and would only do this one dinner to fulfill whatever obscure courtesies normally done, you took the liberty to offer to hold a party at my home without checking with me prior. You seem to think it's okay to offer up my flat without asking me first. I was really stunned when the suggestion popped out of your mouth. Thought I misheard. But later on, when you texted to confirm that if I would be there at eventual finalized venue, I realized you had no clue that you breached etiquette. Even if the idea has been couched casually, within my social circles, this is not done. No one shoots off and issues an invitation like that, disregarding another's privacy. It's something none of those whom I call friends would ever do. 

It might mean you're the nicer, bigger person; you're quite the optimist. But you should not have overstepped the perimeters. If you're okay with something, it doesn't mean I'm all right with it too. Unsurprisingly, our social circles don't mesh. Beyond a previously shared interest, I doubt we have much in common, not even conversation topics. You've known me for a while. But you don't know what kind of person I really am. I'm not kidding about being fairly anti-social or unenthusiastic about human interaction. There's a reason my circle of intimates is so small. It's not like I bear a grudge or anything. This post is written; I feel less bothered. It's truly comforting that I've chosen to keep a distance right from the start.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Original Horror Stories

Grinned when I saw an email link to the e-book. Only this girl would know and dare to get a book for the man and I. We love books as presents. However, few people could buy books for us because there's an 80% chance that between our shelves, one could be giving a duplicate copy that would eventually go into an upcycling bin or another home.

Of course I wouldn't miss reading 'The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition', originally put together by the Grimm brothers Jacob and Wilhelm of course, now translated and edited by Jack Zipes and illustrated by Andrea Dezsö. It's published by the Princeton University Press. Finally, a much-awaited translation of the original macabre and grim with all its blood and horror. I've read scattered bits here and there, but never in its entirety put together. Those Norwegian fairy-tales aren't gentle either. (Reviews here, here, here, here and here.) 

Illustrator Andrea Dezsö did ink-vignettes for the book, resulting in her mesmerizing trademark creation of paper-cut figures and scenes- a brilliant play between light and shadows, darkness and illumination, of colors, artistic directions, and no doubt a nod to the socio-political voices in the fairy tales. Jack Zipes wrote an introduction to this newly published translated first edition.

Ironically, few people today are familiar with the original tales of the first edition, for the Grimms went on to publish six more editions and made immense changes in them so that the final 1857 edition has relatively little in common with the first edition, replaced them with new or different versions, added over fifty tales, withdrew the footnotes and published them in a separate volume, revised prefaces and introductions, added illustrations in a separate small edition directed more at children and families, and embellished the tales so that they became polished artistic "gems." 
All these editorial changes to the tales in the first edition of 1812/15 should not lead us to believe that the tales were crude, needed improvement and do not deserve our attention. On the contrary. I would argue that the first edition is just as important, if not more important than the final seventh edition of 1857, especially if one wants to grasp the original intentions of the Grimms and the overall significance of their accomplishments. In fact, many of the tales in the first edition are more fabulous and baffling than those refined versions in the final edition, for they retain the pungent and naïve flavor of the oral tradition. They are stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious. Moreover, the Grimms had not yet "vaccinated " or censored them with their sentimental Christianity and puritanical ideology. In fact, the Brothers endeavored to keep their hands off the tales, so to speak, and reproduce them more or less as they heard or received them. 

156 stories in this volume collated from the initial 1812 and 1815 editions. The titles already warn you not to read this to children if you aren't prepared to explain the themes to them. I love fairy-tales so much because people who read to a very young imp took the time to explain the meaning behind the stories. Both grandmothers didn't think Disney characters added any value to my childhood. Often, as they read to me, they didn't hesitate to state their opinions about it aloud. Muahahaha. More effective than any nagging from the authority figures, 'Hansel and Gretel' promptly put me off candy and desserts for the rest of my life.

For instance, tales like "How Children Played at Slaughtering" and "The Children of Famine" were omitted because they were gruesome. "Bluebeard," "Puss in Boots," and "Okerlo" were not reprinted because they stemmed from the French literary tradition. The same is true for "Simple Hans" because of its Italian origins. Some tales like "Good Bowling and Card Playing." "Herr Fix-It-Up," "Prince Swan," and "The Devil in the Green Coat" among many others were simply replaced by other stories in later editions because the Grimms found versions that they preferred or combined different versions. The changes made by the Grimms indicated their ideological and artistic preferences. For instance, in the 1812/1815 edition of "Little Snow White" and "Hansel and Gretel" the wicked stepmother is actually a biological mother, and these characters were changed to become stepmothers in 1819 clearly because the Grimms held motherhood sacred. In the first edition "Rapunzel" is a very short provocative tale in which the young girl gets pregnant. The 1819 version is longer, much more sentimental, and without a hint of pregnancy.

The magic is in reading these 'originals'. Enjoy them. So I won't type out too many excerpts from this collated volume. The stories aren't too far from the horrors we see today. Morals. Choices. Abuse. Rebellion. I remember being really tickled when an Aunt read 'Cinderella' got to this part about mutilating feet to fit into that golden slipper. I was probably nine or ten. She said women do crazy things sometimes for men, and more than that, the idea of securing that glittering future. But at what price? Grinned when I saw this part in this collection too.

"Listen," said the mother secretly. "here's a knife, and if the slipper is still too tight for you, then cut off a piece of your foot. It will hurt a bit. But what does that matter? It will soon pass, and one of you will become queen."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Farewell

Madame A's stay in Singapore has come to an end. I hope she and her husband left with fond memories, since she's been a self-professed admirer of Singapore all her life. I'm going to miss those IRL chats with her, a mentor whom I tremendously respect. Her formidable wit, dry humor and frank statements.

Her evenings were filled with farewell engagements all the way. On her way home, she would stop for a few days in the city where we first met- Bangkok. We still have strong links to Bangkok and a thousand reasons to visit. As much as I would love to, I won't be able to join her. Between our crazy schedules, we found an afternoon to meet and have a long conversation. That was the last face-to-face heartfelt chat for a long while. Emails and Skype aren't the same.

Lunch at Madame's home was ideal. She had help in the kitchen and wouldn't have to rush about and be frazzled when there were already a million things demanding her attention, in the midst of supervising packers and movers. I turned up with only a cannister of excellent Darjeeling second flush from my favorite estate of Turzum, and dark chocolates. She would need no farewell gifts except for sincere thoughts and company. We share similar food preferences. She doesn't even bother asking what I'd like to have for lunch because whatever trotted out on the table would be fine. No matter how, I would obediently eat it.

It's hard to tell when would be the next time we meet. It might be another 10 years; who knows in which city. Everything's possible as long as we're still alive, sound of mind and somewhat healthy. Till then. Keep well, dear Madame.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tying A Bow

The girlfriend insisted on handing me an early Christmas gift. Squealed when I saw the card. Last year, she gave me a print by Dana Zemack, aptly titled 'Zombie Ballerinas'. That set me on buying all her greeting cards because her illustrations are just so whimsical and quirky. This year, she continued the trend and gave me a card of the same print. Love it.

What tickled me was her wrapping. This girl doesn't bother to do gift-wrapping. But this year, she decided she's going to make everyone gift tags and ribbons and sort out the wrapping herself. She emphasized that it took her ages to wrap my box. She also proudly announced that she learnt from youtube how to tie a bow using a fork. Apparently there're hundreds of youtube tutorials on that. I never knew! I completely dissolved into uncontrollable giggles when she admitted it took her 45 minutes to learn it, and she didn't know what to do when the ribbon's width was wider than the fork.

Not undermining the girlfriend's achievements. But the sheer amount of effort taken to sort out this present is mind-boggling. HAHAHAHAHAHA. She even took photo stills of the required steps. Then she proceeded with her own creation of bows from varied widths of different-colored ribbons. Too sweet lah. My bow is in a cheerful festive dark green, as shown above with the card. Woot. Told her I'm framing it up. For posterity, this also has to be noted in a blog post. :P

Photo stolen from the girlfriend.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lobster Steamboat

Had dinner with the parentals before we flew out on separate trips. Lobster steamboat at Wah Lok! Of course I popped a pill first. Wasn't going to run the risk of getting swollen eyes or rashes. Luckily no one likes mala (麻辣) or strong soup bases. WHEWWW. The usual light superior stock would do. Probably chicken. Whatever. As long as it doesn't contain that chickenny-stink. Spices are always found in the form of chilli padi and pungent diced garlic. I could eat a ton of that.

Ordered were plenty of other dishes. Didn't care much for the meats. The others at the table could have it all. I wanted the vegetables- three types of cabbages and three types of mushrooms. And two types of sliced fish. The restaurant doesn't serve fish balls though. But they do pretty good prawn dumplings (wontons).

As if lobsters in the pot weren't enough, we ordered more- in the form of lobster noodles! It was an extremely satisfying bowl. I had been out since 6am, and it had been a really long day without lunch. Was starving by 6pm and could eat loads at dinner. That I most certainly did.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Slow Lunch

Haven't been able to catch up with as many friends as I'd have liked this holiday season. The schedule's packed too compactly. It meant that instead of a long leisurely dinner, V and I met for a quick lunch instead.

The Clifford was convenient and provided decent food to fill the tummies. But it's a packed venue popular for business lunches. So that can feel boring. Luckily we didn't go for the two or three-course lunch. Just one dish would do. The restaurant seemed sufficiently staffed but food took fairly long to arrive. Our neighboring table waited for about 20 minutes for dessert. Terrible timings for a restaurant that ought to know every table at lunch would like to finish the meal in slightly under an hour.

If we didn't ask for bread, there would be none served and when a basket finally came, our mains arrived four minutes later. There were rather pinched smiles from the wait staff, as if everyone was on the edge because of some event going on. The vibe was starkly different from my other visits. Catching the attention of the staff was oddly difficult. The staff at the lounge felt the same, droll and impatient. It took an incredible 15 minutes after being shown to my seat before someone came along to take the order of one cup of espresso. Well, I was there to catch up with V, and she wasn't in a huge rush, so I wasn't too perturbed by the delays. Otherwise I would have been very miffed.

Very nice to listen to V's exciting updates about her US trip where good weather prevailed instead of the snowstorm this week. Was thrilled to get a little snack of quail eggs in a sealed pack. Love 'em! The eggs have been cooked in a base of Higeta Honzen soy sauce and bonito. Superbly tasty snacks. She's been supplying me with these little nuggets. She always seems to be able to grab packs in transit at Narita Airport and I keep missing them shops. Heh. Anyway. V and I were mad to have picked carbs for lunch. Pasta and risotto. I hope V didn't fall asleep at her desk.