Monday, November 30, 2015

Evil and Karma

At the recently concluded Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), the man was curious about Fuminori Nakamura and picked up two of his books that had been translated to English. His stories have been termed as 'Tokyo noir'.

Fuminori Nakamura is a new-to-me author. I read his 'The Thief' in English and wanted to fling it into the pond. Dug up a Japanese copy, which made it better in terms of phrasing. But it was so short that I finished it in 20 minutes! The story ended on such an annoying note that I knew (and the writer confirmed it as much when he spoke at the SWF panel) that there would be a sequel. Perhaps a whole series even. Nishimura, the protagonist career pickpocket is too undeveloped a character to be killed at that stage. ARRRGHH. Started on his other book in an English edition of 'Evil and The Mask'. Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, the language is straightforward, making for an easy read.

There's no mystery in the sense of solving of crimes, etc. It feels more of a telling of a story. It's an interesting story for sure. What followed was a story strung together to tell of human machinations behind domestic and international terrorist attacks; in this context, masterminded by Japanese corporations with wealthy patriarchs who held masochistic inclinations to father a last son in their twilight years and raise him to be a 'cancer' to the world. It throws far-ranging world situations of civil wars, World War II, domestic sarin gas attacks, and link them back to Japanese evil-doers. That alone, might reach the realm of fantasy. It's like how we're intensely debating the entire existence of Daesh and the civil war in Syria, versus Turkey's pivotal role.

Readers wonder what protagonist Fumihiro Kuki's story is, and how he as a 'cancer' will live his life. Many people got killed in the most unimaginative way with no gory details. Not that exciting. It's a little introspective even. Fumihiro underwent plastic surgery, bought someone else's identity, became Koichi Shintani, and tried to live another life while solving the mystery of his old life. He traced the steps of childhood sweetheart, his sister, not by blood, but by adoption, Kaori Kuki. He got mixed up in his family's crime lineage, killed two persons or so, among other stuff. It wasn't boring, but it wasn't the most exciting. The plot became predictable at a few turns. The book explains it all and ties it up too neatly at the end. It ended on a hopeful note of a new life. I was rather amused.

"I saw you once, at the estate." 
We walked past a row of waiting taxis. I noticed for the first time that he was a little taller than me. I looked straight back at him to show that I understood the significance of his words. 
"You were about six or seven. I visited the house in Nagoya to report the results of an investigation to Shozo, and I saw you in the corridor, really skinny, with some toy blocks in your hand. I'm sure you don't remember it, but at that moment our eyes met. Your eyes looked like they were starved of love, like you were longing for some warmth, some affection, from the bottom of your heart. The same eyes I had when I was a child." 
I watched his weary face for a few seconds. It was deeply lined but it was resolute. Several people walked past us on the way to the terminal. I stuck out my right hand and he shook it. 
"Thanks for everything." I said. 
"Let's go for a drink together sometime, nothing to do with work."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Fog Rolled In

The crazy bunch of us went out to Green Lake Park for a picnic in the cold. It was 6°C and the sun was out. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies. Made an impromptu run to the shops to do take-outs. Literally seizing the sunlight hours.

Lovely to be outdoors seeing the waters, the golden yellow of the trees and enjoy the company. Might as well take the opportunity to get outdoors before the rains come in heavy. Anyway we were bundled up, had blankets and wouldn't stay out for more than an hour in the cold. The wind wasn't strong. We had many tubs of Thermos. It was pretty cool sipping coffee, hot mushroom soups and piping hot pasta.

An hour or so before sunset (currently at about 4.20pm), we packed up and got ready to leave. It began to turn really chilly. Then the fog rolled in. Like tendrils, it reached out. A freezing fog that's thick and dense, obscuring visibility, holding up flights at the airport and slowing traffic on the roads. Apparently Seattle's fog could sometimes stink like the sewers or rotting fish when it settles. Not this one! Whew.

I stiffled grins. Luckily not haze ah! Aiyoh. So many months of seeing Singapore's blurred skyline has made me bloody appreciative of brilliant blue skies, and mist or fog that doesn't smell charred. Fog came in real fast and temperatures dipped to 1°C. We drove super slowly to made sure everyone got home safe. It would be a good time to stay home and keep warm.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rain Shadow Meats

Woke up late. Lazed about and before we knew it, the stomachs were growling. It was time for brunch. Heh. Had to be prudent because we were meeting friends for lunch in two hours. No more stomach for huge meals. Sandwiches it was for munchies at Rain Shadow Meats. Turned up at 11am when the shop opened.

We went to the outlet at Pioneer Square. That's more of a sit-down sandwich eatery. The one on the Hill at Melrose Avenue is more of a full-service butchery, good when you want to pick up quality cuts of meat or grab stuff to-go. It's not a place for a sit-down meal. Although both outlets are sited a few doors down from a Taylor Shellfish oyster bar. Heh. Perfect for an after-meal snack.

Many choices of sandwiches at Rain Shadow Meats Pioneer Square. The man took the 'rain shadow press' which comprised house-made roast beef and mortadella, fra 'mani salami soprasatta, provolone, mama lil's, red bell pepper, cucumber, arugula, on ciabatta. Now this is what I call a sandwich. A proper one. None of that puny wimpy stuff with sad vegetables and brainless cuts of meat. The pickles were really tart. Eeeks. Not particularly welcoming even if they're meant to cut across the meat.

I chose a 'lambwich'. It was absolutely satisfying. It came with a warning though- for undercooked lamb. Okaaaay. Harissa lamb leg, cucumber, pickled fennel, basil pesto, on sourdough. It as very tasty! The pickled fennel was surprisingly edible. Loved it. The harissa and pesto totally complemented one another. Had to abandon one side of the bread. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to politely have lunch with the friends!

The 'lambwich'.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 :: Seattle

Most of the friends and Aunts avoid having turkey on the festive table simply because they hated how dry the damn bird inevitably turns out, even if it has been brined.

They rather stuff a turducken, which makes it so much better. Yup. I suppose decades of eating it make them experts. They always opt for goose or duck. LOL. I'm sometimes okay with duck, but more often than not, I skip poultry altogether.

There're pies, and there's PIECAKEN. Yup. Have you eaten it? *shudder* I'll pass. Sticking to regular pies. Although again, I'm reminded of how differently 'pies' are defined here. Okay. A traditional pecan pie. It's a must at Thanksgiving and many occasions, along with apple or pumpkin pies. You could also put them altogether in a pie too. Homemade chocolate-pecan pies are the best. Low on sugar too.

As we gave thanks to all that is good in the world, the first line from Chapter 20 of Proverbs threw us into fits of laughter. "Wine is a luxurious thing, and drunkenness riotous: whosoever is delighted therewith shall not be wise." Well, this table didn't lack any sort of alcohol!

We're cognizant to the events that followed after the supposed first feast in 1621 where there might have been other birds on the table besides turkey. We were reminded of how centuries have shifted the officially decreed Thanksgiving holiday to a different tone after 1939.

1 As the divisions of waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever he will he shall turn it. 
2 Every way of a man seemeth right to himself: but the Lord weigheth the hearts. 
3 To do mercy and judgment, pleaseth the Lord more than victims. 
4 Haughtiness of the eyes is the enlarging of the heart: the lamp of the wicked is sin. 
5 The thoughts of the industrious always bring forth abundance: but every sluggard is always in want. 
~ Proverbs 21, Douay-Rheims

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cheers Seattle!

Figured that I would have too many photos of beers; they shouldn't all be posted. Hehehe. I'm really less of an alcoholic than what everyone thinks. Although, it is very difficult for me to say no to a beer in the Pacific Northwest. Too many good choices around. Popped into a neighborhood bar on a rainy Seattle night.

Ordering flights is always a great idea to taste different types of beers, or for a table to share the profiles. They aren't that tiny. A good volume. We could always start with a few flights, then narrow it down to what we want to nurse for the night. I generally end with a porter or an oatmeal stout of sorts. Love that rich brew. It's my kind of dessert.

This was right before Thanksgiving. At least at this bar, everyone seemed jolly enough. Dunno how most people feel about it. It could be either a drag or a joy; pretty much how we feel prior to attending huge family dinners, see humans we haven't seen for a while and be forced to be on more or less civilized behavior in close proximity for two days or a whole weekend. Obligations. I rarely do those anymore. The family I choose to see, is the family I choose to have. Ugh. Luckily for me, my friends are family, proven steadfast and awesome.

Thankfully, in the coming days, the people I've asked to meet with are those whose company I love and opinions I respect. Luckily they said yes and didn't mind my last-minute check-ins about coffee/beer/lunch/gigs/whatever. Or I haven't heard them grouch at me yet. Much love, Seattle.

A selection themed 'Northwest'. 
From left: Georgetown Rogers Pilsner, Elysian Men's Room Ale,
Leavenworth Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen, and Diamond Knot Industrial IPA.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hello Hello Kitty Plane

Eager to avoid the extra steps of taking a domestic flight at SFO or LAX. Both are crazy during this season, and I'm never keen to miss connecting flights because of prior delays. Didn't fancy clearing through security checkpoints four times either or having to drag my luggage out at either airport and send it to the domestic belt. Decided to fly EVA Air for the very first time. SIN-TPE-SEA. It's a way shorter route. Very sensible. One transit in Taipei and it's another 9hr 45min direct into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Hurrah.

And as luck would have it, the first leg to Taipei was on a Hello Kitty plane. Zzzzzz. The long-haul to Seattle, thankfully, is free of Hello Kitty. Yayyy. BUT, if I wind up heading to EMP Museum, it has a Hello Kitty exhibition awaiting. The BFF and I should trade cities. She's the Hello Kitty fan on a work trip next door in a city that doesn't seem that big on the cat-with-no-mouth although it hosts loads of comic conventions big and small. If she really likes it so much, she get on one to Paris, or if she has something to do there- Houston. I think the planes change their destinations every now and then. So if you really want to sit in a Hello Kitty plane, stalk its website.

No hope not getting Hello Kitty themed toilet paper...... Even the Harnn toiletries have been customized (quite tastefully lah) with the prints. The nice big pillow had Sanrio characters grinning at me. Like Little Twin Stars and My Melody. I was never into them as a kid, and am certainly not into them now. It was a tad horrific.

Flying one sector less meant saving myself TSA angst. After realizing people stuff marijuana rolls into chunky peanut butter jars, I now understand why my luggage full of bottles of sambal-something and kaya look suspicious. Packed no bottles of anything in the suitcases on this trip. I've also dispensed with the portable locks. (Never use the locks affixed on the suitcases.) The friends kept telling me to simply not bother with locking suitcases. I can't get past the psychological hurdle leh. So I used cable ties. Those did well. All the suitcases got in fine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ed the Bear Goes On a Staycation

Squeezed in a quick lunch with Y and Missy. I don't often see Missy during the year-end holidays as I'm always away these months. Importantly, I've got to send a bear to Missy for his staycation.

This is Ed the Bear who sits in the car with three other bears. Since Missy was a wee one, she has somehow taken a shine to this particular bear. Each time she gets into the car, she asks to hug him. She's super fond of him! On many occasions, she asks to take Ed out with us to the park or to tea. The bear smugly sits on the table and gets carried around by little girl.

Last year, Missy thought that Ed the Bear would be a fun playmate during school holidays. So Ed went to stay with her and got thoroughly pampered. A few weeks back, she reminded the man and I that the long school holidays were coming up, and asked if Ed could go stay with her and her bears. All right!

Along with Ed, I packed cookies and color pens into the tote bag for the staycation. The man was immensely enthusiastic. We bought a little notebook for the little girl who loves to draw. He even wrote a little message to Missy in the name 'ED THE BEAR'. All in caps. Ahahaha. Missy was even more tickled and pointed out Ed doesn't have fingers and won't be able to grasp a pen that well. Oh whatever. He can use two paws and write in caps. Heh.

Ed the Bear will hang out with Missy for the school holidays. Told the bear to behave himself. No idea what they will be up to. Think they're gonna have loads of fun! I'll collect him in January. Hurhurhur.

Monday, November 23, 2015



Chanced upon a series at the library. Six books. Couldn't resist them. Of the Yangtze river and ghosts. Written by Xu Yunfeng, the series is titled 'Yangtze Ghost'. Totally self-explanatory, it contains everything fun and fluffy. Borrowed all six books. The library is fantastic that way. The calendar was packed, and there were many books to be read first, but time was found to inhale them within ten days.

The stories are sited in Yichang (宜昌位于湖北省西部地区) in Hubei province, the stories swirl around the river since the Three Gorges Dam is within its district of Yiling (夷陵區). Although in the ancient times, the entire Yichang was known as 'Yiling'. Cue 'Battle of Yiling' as recorded in the Three Kingdoms. (三国时代夷陵之戰,又称猇亭之战,清代時避諱改稱彝陵之战。是三国时期蜀漢君主劉備對東吳發動的戰役。)

Since schooldays, the protagonist (or rather the author in this case since he used his own name), Xu Yun Feng (徐雲風) and his old friend and classmate Wang Kun Peng (王鲲鵬) are into folklore, supernatural happenings and history. They've kept in touch over the years and re-connect over a series of strange happenings. Xu is an unambitious young man who seems to have a natural ability to see ghosts and be drawn into the netherworld, but he isn't at all keen to become a medium or priest. Readers are told that Xu, while not brilliant in his studies or career, has a life that isn't easily extinguished by erm...voodoo, ghosts or the supernatural. Wang is an accidental lawyer who is more serious about his hobby of dabbling as a priest, shaman, medium or whatever it's termed.

The six books spanned roughly four years, detailing their experiences with the supernatural, the crucial acquaintanceship of secretive sects and its leaders, Master Zhao Yi Er (趙一二,又趙建國), Master Jin Xuan Zi (金鏇子), and student Jin Zhong (金仲). We read about Wang's eventual move to becoming a full-fledged medium under Master Zhao's tutelege, then to work for Old Yan (老嚴) who heads a mysterious national board not unlike S.H.I.E.L.D or probably ATCU. We also learnt of Xu's later acceptance of his psychic abilities and how circumstances forced him to learn the trade. Plenty of ghosts to subdue and all that. The stories traced the murder and death of Master Zhao, changes in Wang and Xu's friendship, their disagreements over how to handle matters of revenge and old and new feuds, etc. The innocence lost, and how reality and fate hit them squarely. And how everything went back on the pre-destined path, and how Wang reluctantly became a medium who embraced his full psychic abilities to transcend the world of the living and the netherworld.

I was enthralled. Was totally caught up in their worlds. Actually declined a lunch and a session of whisky to catch up on the books. No regrets! I didn't bother to analyze the mentions of classic literary novels and its various theories of supernatural incidences, Taoist chants or whatever. Unnecessary. I don't want to know. The series is awesome, if you're into this genre.