Hiking along Kelowna’s Mission Creek, an elderly man dressed in a smart, red sweater and white shirt approached me. I was crouched down, focusing my camera on a flower. “Taking pictures, eh?” he asks, or states. Yup, it’s very pretty. “You betcha!”
One of my favorite part of walking through a forest comes at a particular moment, when, after navigating my way through the towering trees and lush foliage of the woods, I emerge into the wide open field, exposed fully to the sun and sky. It’s such a thrilling point of liberation.
This is a good kind of silence, punctuated only by bird songs, and the breeze.
Being home has afforded me the opportunity to start baking again rediscover the joy of cooking. (As I write this, I can smell my mother’s sweet strawberry jam wafting from upstairs. )
Pineapple tarts, filled with freshly pureed pineapple, topped with cloves.
Brushing with egg yolks before baking gives it a nice, browned coating.
Almond cookies, a Martha Stewart recipe. They have a touch of orange rind that adds a citrus lightness to the meringue base.
I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying my parents’ cooking. My great-grandparents were both born in Indonesia before traveling through Malaysia and finally to Singapore, where I grew up. My family is therefore Indonesian Peranakan, descendants of early Chinese immigrants to Indonesia and Malaysia. I mention this because this heritage has been a culinary blessing. Nonya (nyonya) cooking is the distinct cuisine that was born out of the intermingling of various Chinese, Malay and Indonesian culinary traditions. Or, in my opinion, the most flavorful food in the world. I’ll be posting more pictures and samples of this food as long as I’m still at home, but here’s a sample.
Otak Otak Panggang: Spicy fish grilled in banana leaves. Red snapper is beaten into a sticky paste, to which coconut milk, eggs, slices of fish, lime leaves and turmeric leaves are added. This fish mixture is spooned onto the middle of each banana leaf. After wrapping the leaf around the paste and securing the ends, the packages are grilled. Shallots, garlic, galangal, candlenuts, dried chillies, shrimp paste, turmeric, coriander, and lemon grass are ground into a fine paste; this forms the rempah. Here is it served with omelet, fresh cucumbers, fried tofu, and rice.
Yong Taufu: a noodle dish with daikon/tofu soup and fishcake stuffed in peppers, eggplant, and (fried) tofu with chili sauce and cilantro/green onions as garnishes. This is obviously an aberration of the dish, as we had to use leftover noodles (it should be the proper bee hoon).
Chicken porridge with fried poh pia (spring rolls). A simple, comforting meal.
Music: joe hisaishi – ponyo’s lullaby | ben folds five – the luckiest
I left Toronto uncertain, in a haste of goodbyes. I bid the traffic of the 401 farewell and welcomed the slower pace of driving along the mountain side toward my parents’ home. The first thing I did after landing at the airport was visit a local nursery to pick up some flowers for the front of the house.
The nursery, located across a vineyard and apple orchards.
Flowers, and more flowers.
My parents want to replicate this hanging flower basket design at the retirement home where they’ve been volunteering.
I was immediately drawn to these bursts of muted yet vibrant yellow daisy variations.
Hard to choose!
The flowers, in their new home.
My father planting a lilac plant, which was given by a family friend, at the back of the house.
My mother baked a delicious cheesecake, of perfect consistency, texture, and taste.
Suffice it to say, it’s nice to be home.
Music: justin nozuka – my heart is yours | justin nozuka – golden train
The first week of June is a bit of a blur. It was my last week in Toronto before heading out west and then overseas for over a year, and I had to wrap everything up. I was selling my place, meeting with lawyers, handling finances and papers, packing and compartmentalizing my current and future life, turning my home into a sterile, model apartment; preparing for my research proposal defense, writing grants, revising an ethics review, putting together a research visa application, clearing out my office. Not that it was necessary, but a visit to the dentist and diagnosis of my teeth grinding at night confirmed the fact that I was stressed.
More alarming, however, was the news that came a few days before my proposal defense, after a trip to the optometrist, emergency room, and corneal specialists. I was diagnosed with a stem cell disease in both eyes. Practically, this currently translates into impaired vision and no more contacts. I look through distorted corneas. The two days in and out of the hospital generated enough fear in me to last the year. Waiting for hours in rooms full of other patients invites every negative thought to fester, and suddenly paranoia becomes second nature. But amidst my worries that I was going blind, or dying, I found a certain gratitude in having the gift of vision, of being able to look through my camera and see the world, albeit through imperfect eyes, in that very moment.
Every so often I stare off into nothingness and imagine a calm beyond the chaos of the here-and-now. The pain doesn’t necessarily dissipate; it’s always there. But I think the longing itself carries with it some sort of solace, like a quiet place, a light breeze rustling the leaves of a tree, a sustained dusk, golden in the valley, that I can in some sense visit, and stay for a while.
Music: rufus wainwright – zebulon. This is the most played song on my itunes thus far this year. The story behind it is poignant, and the yearning, set to the chime of funeral chords, says more than I could in my own words.
The first week of June is a bit of a blur. It was my last week in the city before heading out west and then overseas for over a year, and I had to wrap everything up. I was selling my place, meeting with lawyers, handling finances and papers, packing and compartmentalizing my current and future life, turning my home into a sterile, model apartment; preparing for my research proposal defense, writing grants, revising an ethics review, putting together a research visa application, clearing out my office. Not that it was necessary, but a visit to the dentist and diagnosis of my teeth grinding at night confirmed the fact that I was stressed.
More alarming, however, was the news that came a few days before my proposal defense, after a trip to the optometrist, emergency room, and corneal specialists. I was diagnosed with a stem cell disease in both eyes. Practically, this currently translates into impaired vision and no more contacts. I look through distorted corneas. The two days in and out of the hospital generated enough fear in me to last the year. Waiting for hours in rooms full of other patients invites every negative thought to fester, and suddenly paranoia becomes second nature. But amidst my worries that I was going blind, or dying, I found a certain gratitude in having the gift of vision, of being able to look through my camera and see the world, albeit through imperfect eyes, in that very moment. Hopefully the steroid treatment is working.
11:45 am: At passport office counter for new application. Passport of five years clipped, stamped, and rendered obsolete in a matter of seconds. End of an era. Start of a new (48-page) chapter. Nostalgic, yet anxious and optimistic.
1:00pm: Tea shops are like my candy stores. I want to smell and taste everything. Flashbacks to tea-tasting in China, and Darjeeling.
1:40pm: Pho and phone call with my dad. Why is the fresh coconut frozen? Eavesdropping on conversation amongst visitors from MIT. Foreign accents.
Saturday, May 8
8:00pm: Feeling warm at a friend’s housewarming.
9:50pm: It’s snowing. Why?
Tuesday, May 11
12:30pm: Wondered if I have cavities after not visiting the dentist for over 3 years. Delighted to find out I don’t, but troubled to hear that I grind my teeth (at night).
2:15pm: Why does it always seem like the world is going to end at the supermarket? Unimpresssed by Toronto, or humanity.
Wednesday, May 12
6:00am: Had a dream that my mother almost killed my brother and me by driving wrecklessly.
Thursday, May 13
1:00pm: Arrive at Aveda student hair salon at the advice of a friend.
4:00pm: Still in chair. Eye stabbed with comb. Hairstylist cut finger. Starting to think that a ruptured bladder from sitting nervously under the scissors for over 3 hours is the least of my concerns.
5:00pm: Leave, feeling abused and emaciated.
Friday, May 14
10:40pm: Overheard on my walk home, in a conversation between two men in tweed jackets: “We’re so much more interesting than the fictions we create.”
Saturday, May 15
5:52am: I feel anxious. My pillows seem hostile.
9:30am: This is not the right train. I contemplate not caring.
9:46am: I imagine the Korean girl across from me is going to piano lessons, but on further thought, I don’t think so. Not knowing is as frustrating as not remembering the name of the song stuck in your head.
3:01pm: At the jimjilbang, and 105*C never felt so good.
6:31pm: Triangularly sandwiched between a woman and her self-consciously sunburned man whose self-assurance she attempts to assuage by subtle acts of P.D.A – a smile here, a stroke there. I just don’t want them to crush my macarons.
Sunday, May 16
9:13pm: A sparkling chandelier in a stale apartment lobby brings me a sadness like trying to replace something that just won’t do.
11:33pm: I think I am losing it, but I don’t know if I ever had it. I don’t feel anything slipping away, but I feel an absence.
Tuesday, May 18
11:00pm: I feel comfortable.
1:45am: Man smashing beer bottle in the train. Skater punk in front of me, transvestite to my left. The train moves slowly.
Wednesday, May 19
10:00am: On the phone with the visa helpline; not so helpful. Not at all.
8:00pm: Hands smell like curry again.
Thursday, May 20
4:00pm: A stager has painted my Tuscan green walls a neutral bland off-white and transformed my apartment into a generic yet presentable space. Cue A House is not a Home.
Friday, May 21
6:00pm: C and I have coffee and tea on a patio in Kensington. A busker sings and plays poorly on her guitar, interspersed with sporadic propositions of marriage. The first man then takes her guitar and proceeds to show her up as he jams on jazz chords. She uses his five dollars to buy “buy a beer”. Another man complements said first man on his mad(d) skills. They talk about bands. This all seems empty to me, and my tea could be more flavourful.
8:00pm: Chicken hearts.
Monday, May 24
4:45pm: La Bamboucheis out of salted caramel macarons again, but a green tea opera cake and a piece of D’s yuzu macaron with a cup of cappuccino satisfies my sweet cravings. N has a muay thai match next month, and I wonder if I could watch my cousin (potentially) getting beat up/beating someone else up.
Wednesday, May 26
Morning: At the Indian Consulate, the South African security guard strikes up a casual conversation with an Indian man. “How about the weather, brother? Isn’t it hot?” he asks. “30s is okay,” the Indian man replies. “In India it can be 40-45 degrees. For months.”
7:30pm: N and I are contemplating life over pajeon. A Nigerian man complains that there is no seafood in his seafood dish; the Korean waiter gives him a new bowl, this time presumably with seafood.
Friday, May 28
1:30am: Receive box of shocoramochi maccha in the mail. I suddenly find myself smiling.
Before midnight: I’m out of 30 Rockepisodes to watch. Uh oh.
Saturday, May 29
11:30am: On my way to school, I see a wedding, high school tours of campus, two camels and a lemur in the park, a jazz band, tents and handicraft tables, two sets of four port-a-potties, a fleet of cyclists taking over the street, an alumni spring reunion luncheon and celebration, two young’ens talking about New York in a sushi shop, an elderly lady complaining about the heat, and the sun. Then I go into my office, turn off the lights, and eat in the dark.
7:03pm: The flies are spawning, quickly, in the office bathroom.
Monday, May 31
7:24pm: The most valuable aspect of coming to the office is the company of classmates. This is in line with Mijuskovic’s thesis of man as intrinsically alone and irredeemably lost, as continually struggling to escape the solipsistic prison of his frightening solitude – and that his entire existence is consumed by the struggle to escape his fate. Cue Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
11:01pm: Submerged in a bath. My head underwater, while the water drains. It sounds like the ocean.
Music: paul simon – everything put together falls apart | nitin sawhney – river pulse (rain mix)