Archive for August, 2016

Heart

A rose juts out of my chest, pierced through it seems, my heart. Except it is flesh, an inner organ made external. It has texture and blood veins like my heart.

I am in Iran because friendship is important to me. Someone had needed my company so I got on a plane. But it was a really brief visit and I didn’t really see anything. Now I gotta make my way home. 

I am outside some apartments, the sun isn’t up yet. I call an Uber, even though I dislike them there is no Grab in Tehran. I walk out past the guardhouse. A car with a youth driving pulls up. He is grinning. Points at my phone and himself. I assume he’s my Uber to the airport. 

He takes several back roads. Stops at a quiet area where there are shops arranged around U-shaped bends. Shrugs off driving to the airport. I suddenly realise he’s not an Uber driver, just some punk, but I don’t let on my thoughts. I make enough gestures and jabs at my phone he understands I’m headed to an airport. I get dropped off at a big building, he follows me down. It’s a shopping mall, but there’s a check-in counter somewhere. I eventually find it on the top floor but onto after going through a whole bunch of areas, all the while realising I’ve done no sight seeing in the country, and that I’m increasingly late for my flight and hoping for generous gestures that wouldn’t tap into my RM300 in the account or the extra RM2700 from my tenant’s deposit, which isn’t my money. How else will I get back? I lose the guy in some place where he orders a drink. I was tempted too but I go though the arched doors, run along the old red carpets, until I find this information counter. The girl is wearing green and staring uncomprehendingly at me even though I know she understands my query. She looks condescending. Before she says something sarcastic, I shush her by grabbing the air in front of her face with my fingers. I turn to her colleague, also in green jacket. I can check in here, hurrah! 30 mins late? The woman’s face grows pale. I plead. It’s been a tough day! I was conned by a Non-uber driver, brought here, had to look for this one desk in a huge mall! She signs me in but I still have to get to the plane if I can. 

She brings me to the streets outside the mall. There is a sky tram (she points to it) but it only moves when there are four people inside and I don’t have the luxury of time for that. She hails down an occupied cab and explains the situation. It’s just down a straight road, I can take up the fourth seat in the cab. Cabbie doesn’t know I’m the one getting in, he’s still gesturing at the other two girls in green to ask who is the passenger when I squeeze in. Belatedly in the cab I realise I can text Cheryl and Javad, who are in Tehran. 

I arrive at the airport. I’m so late. I’m hoping for the best, that I can get on my original flight. Oh no, where is my ticket? I have mixed it in with all my other stuff while checking in at the mall just now! I dig through all my things in a backpack. I have so many tickets and ticket stubs and small fiddly pieces of papers probably promoting theatre. I find it after a long while and resume heading towards plane area. I’m already hoping if I have to take the next flight it’s not like 10, 20 days away. That would cost a lot. Hopefully it’s in the next hour to replace my ticket, although a part of me wishes I could see the city better. 

Injured again

Man, no one told me chiropractors would play such a big role in my life as I get older. 

In your twenties, money is like, meh, nice if you have it. You only need it to cover the essentials. 

In your thirties, it’s like “Fuck! I have no money!”

I think I need to stop drinking Coke Light. I eat fairly healthy (bar some KFC binges) and move around a lot, until my recent spate of injuries in 2015 that still linger in effect in 2016. It’s making me unhappy and frustrated. It makes me fee like I need a real job otherwise I won’t be able to afford my own medical care. 

Titus Andronicus

I watched Titus Andronicus recently with my colleagues, Lynn and Nora. I don’t hang out with Nora much, so it was interesting to talk to her. Unlike some of my colleagues, Nora actually is interested in the arts and will make her own initiative to attend shows. It’s how we met Nora anyway — through a public call for submissions by the sister organisation of the people I work for. This was her winning entry.

This would be Nora’s first ever Theatrethreesixty play. Lynn and I both have projects we’ve run with T360, been for quite a few of their shows, and know some of the people in the production. In fact, since Lynn got the tickets, I may have been watching the show on comps (complimentary tix). It’s difficult to say because we also sometimes purchase tix on behalf of each other, although she’s the only one with access to comps.

The three of us had dinner nearby, then dropped into DPAC for the show, 150 mins long.

When we left, we naturally compared notes:

  • Lainie: I hated it.
  • N: I liked it.
  • [ pause. recalibrate. look at each other. ]
  • L: …why?
  • N: Did you not like it because it was violent?
  • L: I have a lot of tolerance for anger, violence and sadism.

I was not expecting to completely disagree with Nora on our first theatre outing together. We eventually established that minimally, we agreed the blocking interrupted our viewing for extended times at some points and that the lighting fried our eyes (the promo did say “visually stunning”). I’m sure the lighting will look lovely on screen as picture or video, but sitting in that bright light bath was uncomfortable. I tried to get her to go mamak after to pick her brains (also, my PMS has triggered my hunger by then), but Lynn needed to get back to work.


I only have unmeaningful encounters with Titus — I don’t enjoy the text. I read Shakespeare when I was too young and unguided to enjoy some of the works. It didn’t help that I read Shakespeare because there was a severe limit to fiction sold in Ipoh outside of the “Classics” category. As an adult, I don’t think I would bother with classic Shakespeare productions at all if we didn’t keep staging it here. I don’t mind clever interpretations or twists, but it is the cleverness I enjoy, not the Shakespeare.

This was the first time I was seeing a show related to Titus, much less a full production. It was a long and heavy show, so my mind was a bit overwhelmed when I stepped out of the theatre.

To simplify: I found this production of Titus Andronicus way too cartoony and rough.

Here are some notes and thoughts that I hope hold up, given my delay in writing this nearly a month later. I am too lazy to describe the play, so if you didn’t watch it, here’s the event page (hope it helps!):

→ The play starts off really, really slow. Everyone walks around slowly, picking up clothes from the floor, putting on their skins and their characters I suppose. I damn near snoozed through this part, but was kept awake wondering why Meng Kheng’s white clothes were a pale baby pink, and whether this was a comment on his comfort in masculinity or whatever.

To be fair, I was crabby and tired when I arrived, in exactly the mood you don’t want critics to be in when they arrive at your show (although I was there to support the show, not as a critic).

→ I saw a giant foam sculpture of a head swept aside with a brush of the hand.
This is the moment that cemented the cartoon filter for me in this show. Giant props bouncing on stage.

→ Tamara is the…I want to say antihero…but in this production, her introduction is more a supervillain origin story. She rather reminded me of Ursula in Little Mermaid. Arched eyebrows, sensual glee at violence, not very regal. I could argue even Ursula was a more complex character given how slippery she was negotiating with Ariel.

For a queen with the ability to orchestrate the downfall of a rival nation, Tamara is…unexpectedly coarse. She acts like some scheming gangster from the world of Jagat. It is difficult to imagine she has followers, or even experience in a royal court. Certainly can’t imagine any of the Malaysian royal family layaning Tamara seriously. Was her empire a primitive one? Is she some warrior tribe’s queen? Were there only 100 people in her kingdom? Are the other 99 her offspring? 

It was a struggle to see the loudly wailing woman throwing herself at the feet of an emperor and begging for clemency as a newly captured queen, instead of a peasant.

I think if Tamara was truly a simple villain, just the offensive slight from being dethroned and captured should be adequate to start the revenge. But we are to believe this woman is spurred by the murder of her son. However, the character doesn’t steel herself for the actions she’s about to take, she’s already the villain she needs to be. I also don’t know my Shakespeare (or anything about Titus Andronicus) well enough at all to be certain, but surely there is more depth to be found in this character? A cunning and desperate queen, using her sexuality and political experience to conquer another kingdom. 

→ The fight scenes look quite legit, but has moments where it looks kinda showy and…cartoony. A neck is snapped between a pair of knees, wrists are twisted, another neck is snapped in an armlock — it’s like a scripted wrestling fight, occasionally you see moves one might hesitate to use in a real brawl unless you’re an expert/a gorilla. I kinda liked it, actually.

During the show, I found myself wishing the fight scenes had some cool swordplay. After watching Tragedi Hamlet, maybe no swords is a good thing. Much as I like Arief Hamizan in some shows, he is not suited for Laertes and looked like a twirling fairy (the mythical being, not the slur) casting a spell when he jumped and spun after Hamlet with a sword. It looked like something that belonged in Sinbad the Musical, to do Tragedi Hamlet a disservice in comparison.

→ Slick video, but I’ll let the various accents and speeches in this video clue you in on the experience overall listening to the performers live.

→ When Anrie’s character is dragged off and raped, the two sons violating her behaved like cartoon hyenas from The Lion King. David Perico Lim gave it a spirited go throughout the show, and was entertaining. He’s Obviously Acting, but in a playful way like he’s determined to put on a solo show to give you your money’s worth. I liked his enthusiasm, and ability to maintain a few noticeably different characters. However, this also cast a glaring light on the flaws of his fellow cast mate Shaun, who frequently was onstage with him.

The only time I appreciated Shaun in this show was when he played the violin in the pantomime scene, although I do wonder if the cost of the pantomime scene was that we had to have Shaun Chen in the play. First time I’m seeing him hold such a big role, but man, squinting your eyes and mouthbreathing doesn’t count as emoting, and he couldn’t hold one character, much less a few different ones.

→ I terasa secondhand awkwardness during the 2nd act’s pantomime scene — I liked the blocking, but only because Kien Lee didn’t make his appearance behind me. He was spouting a whole bunch of crazy lines while standing behind a row of audience members (audience was seated on all four sides of the stage), and I think we all noticed how awkward it was for the people with their backs to him. I mean, I spent about as much time looking at their uncomfortable expressions as I did paying attention to Kien Lee. So. Awkward.

I wonder if it was intentional — if it was, it would fit in with a lot of moments in the play that were designed to be extremely awkward in the hopes of shocking/being seen as daring, like the rape scene, or a sex scene, or a murder. Possibly the only way it could be more awkward in its chosen setting was if audience was required to participate even further beyond watching. Like a trio of queen, Aaron and hapless audience member humping on the floor.

→ Somewhere in the first act I was struggling to stay awake. A girl sitting across the theatre from me straight up fell asleep, and at one scene in the second act I heard a soft snore escape from her. And I’m easily influenced so I got groggy too.

→ Anrie played a character whose name I cannot remember. Basically, she plays the girl-in-fridge character; sweet girl who is tragically wronged to spur on the actions of male characters. I don’t care that Shakespeare came way before DC Comics, I only care that this trope is exhausting.

For the first few minutes of the play I mistakenly thought she was romantic with her brother. Seeing their romantic escapade was like watching a cat try to love a potato. Anyway, after it has been established that she is a sweet lovely and beloved character, she is dragged off, raped and her hands and tongue cut off (worst fake hand prop ever).

It’s pretty difficult to take her tragedy seriously, because the treatment of it was so campy. She basically made UuuuuUUUuuu sounds throughout, like a child pretending to be a ghost. The production revelled in the “injured animal/tongueless fury” noises she made, and I’m pretty sure it even got incorporated into the sound design.

If the cries were suppose to leave a lingering sense of horror in the show, it didn’t work. I really do wonder if a female director would have made a similar decision to dive with so much distasteful glee at exploiting the violence against a female character. I get that violence is integral to Titus, but a lot of the violence in this show was a campy, gleeful ‘ha-ha! this will discomfort you!’ fist-pumping. It never really does land a blow. Unless you’re an actor in the show. 

→ The emperor. The casting for this show is rabak, but not in the “we did blind casting and took the best people for each role” kind of way. More like the “this is so visually interesting because the cast doesn’t fit!”

The actor, Tika, who has done some more interesting work in the past, ended up as our grand emperor who is wound around Tamara’s crafty finger. Tika struggles to portray a powerful, prideful man, shouting her way through the production in an effort to display power and authority. She doesn’t actually get commanding. She shouts a lot, takes big steps, puffs up bigger than she is — but she’s still not a king. It is difficult to imagine who would follow this king. Between Tika and Tamara, it looks more like a couple in a mental asylum playing pretend. I might have preferred it if Tika and the Tamara actor switch roles, I think Tika would have been able to add more subtlety and restraint to Tamara. It would also have been a more pleasing first encounter of Tika in a full-length show (that isn’t a series of vignettes stitched together).

→ Meng Kheng has grown as an actor. It’s not super great at this show, but it’s alright. It’s certainly better than his performance at Macbeth, and he’s lost the awkwardness he had as an ensemble member years ago in Rose Rose. That’s a good thing, and not everyone grows out of it. I think he could do with more character development, but that seems like a fairly uniform feedback for the entire cast. I can’t remember his character’s name.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 3.19.31 AM

→ The set made no sense until the last few minutes of the show. I spent a long time wondering why I was looking at this ugly white plastic rectangle, until the spectacular blood bath happened. Then I figured this must be why some of the ‘white’ clothes looked slightly pink — I watched the show near the end of its run and I guess the colour clung to the clothes.

→ I liked the pie scene (a mother unknowingly eats her children!) and I wish they had played more with the scene. But I suppose too much comedy would have been at odds with the general tone of the show. I would have welcomed it though. Although by the second half, I would definitely have enjoyed any distraction.

→ I had no appreciation for the costumes, and I don’t like military figures being played by bare-footed actors. You’re wearing modern soldier clothes, put on some boots dammit.

→ Aaron. What to say about Aaron. He cuts a fine and intimidating figure onstage. But I can’t tell if he has a lisp, or if he’s just not comfortable with English. Either way, makes it quite difficult to play the character he does when there is so much struggle with the text. He can cut a menacing figure, being one of the bulkier cast members (maybe even the bulkiest?), but his speech impedes the performance. Also quite a cartoony villain. Worst onstage sex scene with Tamara, almost as bad as the hand prop or Anrie’s tongueless wailing.

→ There was a strange choice for lighting design — it definitely got in the way of the production, with actors ducking to avoid banging their heads against them (and in one case, actually swatting the lights out of the way), and awkwardly manoeuvring props brought onstage to avoid collision.

→ Kien Lee played the title character, Titus Andronicus. I’m not sure what to say. He’s not my favourite Shakespeare actor, but he keeps appearing in Shakespeare shows, and probably will keep doing so.

Credit given when due: He does waste away quite splendidly throughout the show. By the time we got to intermission, Titus looks so worn out and haggard, he resembled the end product of an extended hunger strike. It was a most magnificent wasting away (if not very General Titus-like), it looked like he was shrinking as the play went on. Maybe he was losing all that weight in water, because goddamn, he is a sweaty person.

He practically left puddles of sweat everywhere he walked, and there was so very much saliva coming out of him it was like a fountain show all by itself. He sprayed saliva with every major line or emotion, which the theatre lights caught very well. I cringed as I watched a huge glob of spit slowly fall onto Anrie’s face when he cradled her and wept. I almost want to give the spit its own place in the programme book.

For someone who appears in so many Shakespeare productions, Kien Lee’s pronunciation and enunciation are both questionable and erratic. You never know when he’ll let an extra double vowel fly, or find a fun new way to pronounce a word. Will he say “bosom” or “boo-som”? It’s anyone’s guess. In this regard, he is a most versatile man.

I don’t think it helps that I’m not a fan of local Shakespeare productions, whereas he seems quite dedicated to being a huge part of the local Shakespeare scene. And this is the year of #Shakespeare400, so if this isn’t his year to shine, I don’t know when that would be.

→ I think the rest of the cast (a guy and a girl) weren’t in roles that suited them.

I was very excited by Theatrethreesixty when it was first formed, and they do a lot of interesting projects — but the big productions are the ones that I can’t connect with. I much prefer the smaller shows they do. Titus Andronicus? Definitely not my cup of tea.


Deric of Daily Seni enjoyed and approved of the show, much more than I did. You can read his review here.

#Riuh2016

Recently a reporter from The Star publicly complained that he was denied access to most Malaysian athletes in Rio Olympics — the coaches had decided our athletes are not to be distracted before their competitions, and so there would be one collective press conference beforehand, and further interviews would have to wait until after they had competed.

Seems fair enough, I leave it to coaches to decide what is required to draw the best out of their athletes. I don’t want our national athletes stressed out with the high expectations and making promises while going head to head against top athletes from the world.

I was surprised the editor of the sports desk at The Star found this whine worth publishing. It largely seemed to be “I have arrived, you owe me”.

I’ll share a few examples from the article:

“Coach John Beasley told the journalists at a press conference on Monday they could ask as many questions as they wanted to because after that Azizul and Fatehah would be banned from talking to the press.

Like the cyclists, the divers took the same route. No interviews until their events are over.

Luckily, the shuttlers are not banned from opening their gob. If not there would be no stories coming out from Rio de Janeiro.”

So you had a press conference, why didn’t you get the questions out on the spot? There was your opportunity. Once before the competition, and many more after.

I have to see this annoys me further because I dislike this Malaysian press habit of not asking questions during press conferences. Most writers for prominent local publications are guilty of this. The general assumption is that journalists will ask the questions 1-to-1 after the press conference, thus dragging out a 30 minute affair into a 2-hour event in an air-conditioned hotel function room with too much mihun.

“All these athletes are funded by the Government. The cyclists and divers train overseas and big amount of money are spend on them. Certainly the tax-paying public has the right to know what’s happening on the ground.”

I guess our government includes Maybank and Yayasan Sime Darby? Not sure who sponsors the dive team, besides Nike (I’m not sure if this extends beyond Pandelela), but I hope some good ones are lined up. And as for the part about training overseas — so what? The cycling team has been training in Australia since Josiah Ng’s days as our Olympian, suddenly now it’s a problem? Datuk Nicol David trains in Amsterdam, and anyone who suggests she’s not a Malaysian athlete deserves to grow a third eye just so it can be blackened along with the usual two.

If there is a problem with our athletes having to train elsewhere, it’s what we have to offer those who stay that we need to examine. Even China has said Datuk Lee Chong Wei could be a world champion with their facilities and resources (god knows what he meant, maybe he meant Olympic gold medallist, since LCW is definitely a world champion in badminton), and Misbun Sidek said funding was the reason our athletes have yet to achieve a gold medal.

“Personally, I think Malaysian athletes are too pampered. Officials mollycoddle them all the time. It’s time to discard the kid gloves.

And some of our athletes are super sensitive. You criticise them and they won’t talk to you.

My message to them is: Grow up.”

Personally, I think our Malaysian press is too pampered — not in terms of what they can publish, but in terms of what they expect in their line of duty. I say this as someone who’s always uncomfortable with the fawning treatment of gifts and food I get when I do attend events as press.

How sensitive is this reporter? You grow up. Can’t do live interviews? Find another goddamn story in Rio. You’re in the Olympics. Figure it out. How can the reporter sent by The Star be so goddamn blinkered? What other story angles did you miss, FFS?

I tried to imagine my former editor, Jacq Ann Surin, handling this reporter’s submitted article about ‘pampered athletes’. When I worked for her, she had some accounts of spirited attempts during her journalist days, doing what it takes and getting the story. More experienced journalists tend to have these stories. Not to assume what Jacq thinks of this issue, but I doubt this hand-wringing would be a response she would respect, or even accept as an editor. I definitely don’t think it would have been published.

Anyway, I think Juana put forth the best retort (which I have loosely paraphrased).

“I’ll like to see him cover Syria. Excuse me, I’ve flown all the way here. What is the meaning of this blockade?”

The reporter did manage to cover Rio, despite his complaints. Maybe knowing of them made me feel his coverage was quite lacklustre. You can decide for yourself here.

It gave me great pleasure to read the comment by John Beasley, coach of the cycling team, in response to The Star. I couldn’t find it on the article itself where the comment had been posted, I’m not sure if he or The Star removed it.  I don’t know why the comment didn’t show on mobile earlier, but I see it on the website now.

It’s worth reading his very valid, and in my opinion, quite restrained comment.

Good afternoon Phuah,

I am sorry you feel that way, I just read your story and it is very typical of the Malaysian press. I gave you full access to the athletes during the press conference though very few questions were asked, why? Because you guys don’t do your homework, why is it that the Malaysian press come to press conferences without doing their homework?

All the performance data is out there accessible on the net and yet still you ask us what is your records? Further more we get asked the same old questions every time we are interviewed.

I think it’s you guys that need a big kick in the back side to do some preparation before coming to interviews. I can only speak for cycling here and honestly you guys call your self professional, it’s more like a holiday as there is rarely a story worthy of reading as there is no substance in your stories. The Malaysian press are like a broken record, we are always open and available to you guys.

Let me point out one fact, you got the opportunity to speak to us when we arrived, where is that content, Oh sorry I had a moment lapse of memory, you did not ask many questions did you? if you ask me it is your fault. Yes, we train over seas, I have been well noted for pointing out the reasons why and this is only to give your athletes their best chance to perform on the big stage, We also educate them off shore also something you guys need a lot more schooling on.

We are at the Olympic games, do you know what that means? We are racing the best of the best from all around the world, every body is a champion that has just qualified to make the games team.  Most athletes train a life time and never get to represent their country, though in Malaysia that is not good enough for you guys, our athletes you have the hide to call them failures, what is wrong with you people. Regardless of what happens here in Rio we have left no stone unturned on our journey to get here and we have provided Malaysia with some great results over our journey, now grow up and let us get on with doing our job.

Sincerely,
John Beasley
Head Coach Track Cycling.

Paragraph breaks are mine. I hope it’s okay to archive his words here.


Before I knew I had gayness, I had PJ Harvey.

No climbing

Over a late lunch, Jac tries to convince me and Yasmin to take up rock climbing, as she is inspired by beautiful caves in Vietnam with rock (stalagmite?) formations that cannot be found elsewhere on earth.

Apparently, one can easily access these unique formations with basic rock climbing skills (which I will argue means it’s not easy to access).

  • Yasmin: My philosophy with nature is I appreciate it from afar.
  • Lainie: That’s my philosophy with sports.

I don’t think Yasmin and I will be rock climbing with Jac any time soon.

Awful stuff 

The serene lady asks me to stay in bed beside her. I agree, even though i want to join the exorcists, had gone to check the door and one of the building residents had just returned with the supplies necessary. I see a mop handle sticking out from the plastic bags. There has been a poltergeist-y presence in the house. It has been flicking stuff, possessing people. One pillow down each step of the stairs, while I was talking with a friend and her mom.  

Someone from the group outside returns. The lady pats my spot beside her on the bed — it’ll be easy to climb back in. She’s wrapped up comfortably and we don’t get disturbed directly together. Maybe just stuff around us. Minimally she doesn’t get possessed. But before I do, someone is trying to climb over the banister. It is my old school friend Elaine S. She starts off friendly but at the top of the climb changes, becomes hostile. My other friend and I try to restrain her. We are pushing, pulling, struggling. Trying to move her over the railing to relative safety, ignoring her snarls. Our bodies feel so solid, our muscular flesh locked in a wrestle. 

I wake up in a hot room and switch on the air conditioning. Maybe I should have washed my feet after The Basikal at night in Hungry Ghost Festival. If it’s still HGF. 

The presence is ominous and hostile. I am being asked by a lady to remain with her in bed– she is calm, but doesn’t want to be left alone in the currently-too-haunted house. TBH it’s better than being alone, although she was making the request because I wanted to join the exorcists. Things move by invisible forces. My suspicion is one hostile poltergeist. He flicks a pillow and it flies down step by step. He wrestles a blanket with me. I am angry and shouting back. People from the building are mobilising, an old lady has gone to stock up on supplies. It possesses people. My friend Eelaine (S, from school days) — I helped her climb up a banister but she is taken over. Struggles and resists, snarls. Another friend and I are on her side each, keeping her from falling backwards, trying to push her over the railing to relative safety. She’s been taken over, I’m warned. I know! Dark evil. 

1 dream, two drafts. 

Aladdin

When I was a kid I watched (uncle) Si Howe open Dos on his family’s computer. He typed in commands and I memorised what I could — dir/w, cd.., cd/ and edit file.txt.

Had a great time when I got home. New power! New tinkering! I ended up accidentally wiping my 386 computer twice beyond my ability to repair by deleting essential files.

It’s so strange, when I read out the commands in my head my voice sounds different — I think I’m hearing my ten-year-old voice. I can hear how I said “dir-slash-w” then. I can also hear my teenager voice when I think of html codes.

My father gave me a “new” computer. I was in standard 4 then. A 486 his office wasn’t using anymore. It had Solitaire, Mine Sweeper, Free Cell. And Aladdin. But Aladdin wasn’t installed properly. I fixed it. Then it wouldn’t play, although I got it to launch. Because my computer didn’t have a soundcard. I never asked for one. I didn’t know it was something that could be added on. Maybe our family was having a shit time with money.

I edited Aladdin’s files in DOS until I got it to run without a sound card, or thinking I had one. One of those things. I didn’t actually know what to do, so I fiddled with everything I could and read every line in the files I opened. This Aladdin sim is the first time I’m hearing the game’s music and sound design.

I think I became really DOS literate without much internet resources at the time thanks to my determination to get Aladdin to work on my computer. Feels like I got a head start and did nothing with it. I regret not formally learning to write code. My younger cousins seem to take tech literacy for granted, but when I was younger we had computer classes. I learnt to touch-type, use Word Star, Lotus 123, played typing games (which I loved and was why I really wanted Aladdin to work on my home computer), save files, and generally figure out what was happening on the screen.

The last Windows I was comfortable with was Windows 95. When I hit Windows XP, it made switching to a Mac easy. After a brief adjustment period, I don’t think I could go back out beyond the walled garden of Apple, and the superior font rendering. But I suppose I can still learn to code. Maybe. I’m not good at learning languages, so.

Lainie’s Suanie’s Lance’s Clam Chowder

My mom’s late friend, Uncle Philip Chang*, ran a restaurant in Ipoh called Beacon Point, which we frequented regularly.

I loved the little bowls of cream veg soups Uncle Philip served in his place. One day, he told me cream of any vegetable soup is easy to make — “The secret is butter.” Come to think of it, he may have said the same about quite a few things. Uncle Philip loved butter.

Uncle Philip briefly described the basic cream soup:

Cube the veg, fry in butter, add broth/water to cover the veg, boil, blend, add some dairy, season.

I didn’t make use of it until many years later, but his advice was so basic and easy to remember, I could still follow it when I finally started cooking. It’s the standard recipe I return to every time I make a veg soup to clear out the pantry.

Recently, my friend Suanie posted up a recipe for clam chowder that looked pretty kick-ass. I love clam chowder, and there’s a lot of either crappy or expensive clam chowder out there. Also, maybe it’s time I learn beyond the one ABC soup and one generic cream veg soup recipe that I can produce.

I’m no good at following recipes, and I also bastardised Suanie’s recipe from the get-go. I didn’t want to use bacon (blasphemy! Cina fail!) or beef stock — because most of my dinner groups don’t take pork or beef. I also used frozen seafood cause canned clams are a bitch to hunt down, and I gave up.

I think I did okay for my first go, although I’ll aim to tinker with the cooking time. I belatedly realised Suanie’s clam chowder had similarities with Uncle Philip’s soup recipe, with three key differences:

  1. It uses olive oil instead of butter
  2.  1 hour of boiling away on the stove just to reduce the liquids (wine, 2 tins of evaporated milk, broth).
  3. I’m also not used to cooking milk for as long as I did here, I usually just add it in at the end. Seeing white soup boil is very alarming and strange for me.

I think for my next round I’m looking for a compromise between Suanie’s recipe and Uncle Philip’s. I think my first clue should have been when her recipe said not to bother trying it if you didn’t have a blender. The same could be said about my veg soups — I don’t have the patience to build the broth over a small flame, blending removes that need somewhat.

I’ll sweeten with additional leeks/carrots, thicken with more potatoes (and cube in an extra one at the end, before adding the milk/or boil it first before adding to it), and use more veg overall. I may add some smoked duck breast for the fat, salt and smokey flavour.I also think I’ll begin with far less liquids, add just enough seafood juices and broth to cover, and use much less dairy to top up. Maybe a dash of wine with the broth (not a whole bottle). Mostly, I have to think of how to add body to the flavour since I’m not using beef broth or bacon, and I’m not willing to increase my time in the kitchen. The less time I spend in the kitchen, the less chances I have of creating a disaster.

Anyway, my first attempt was quite pleasing. The housemate likes it too. I had the soup with buttered toast, and the butter carried the flavour quite well, which I take as a sign that in future clam chowders I should go with Uncle Philip’s recipe, and cook the veg in butter.

If you’re looking to do a clam chowder, definitely give Suanie’s recipe a try.

*Uncle Philip is technically my granduncle on the family tree somehow, but for most of my childhood, I had no idea about it. So it's Uncle Philip, friend of my parents, very dear to my mother. Rest in peace, Uncle Philip.

I told Jac the most offensively boring story of how much I like only one type of grape, out of all the grapes in the world. And now she’s eating that grape.

It’s a pretty shitty way to treat a friend who’s told me at least two epic stories, about a vampire feminist and an artist she met, but I would still love to tell Jac (and all my friends, while they’re still friends) more boring stories.

I love how flat and uninspiring and nothing it is to talk about my approval for one type of grape. I am willing to expand this to other mundane topics.