The peaceful spread of Chinese food

Outside lands contiguous with China, emigration has never been promoted by the Chinese state. The spread of Chinese cooking around the world has therefore been colonial but not imperial, carried by peaceful migrants in self-imposed “economic exile.” At least, this is true of most recent Chinese migration, though that of the last century was genuinely imperial in another sense, as European governments shunted the conscripted labor of coolies and laundrymen around their own empires. It has produced hybrids of its own, of which the most notorious is “chop suey”–a mixture, say, of bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, water chestnuts and other vegetables with slivers of meat or chicken: an invention of pioneer Chinese restaurateurs in nineteenth-century North America.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto‘s Near A Thousand Tables: A History of Food, 147

1. 辣辣土豆絲; 2. 一盆辣辣雜菜; 3. 蒙古辣辣羊; 4. 薑葱蒸不辣鮮魚.
Prepared by j, with help from t. Sat. 19 September 2009.


7th April, 2007, Mai Po

22-02-2007 (Thu)
最近很喜歡跟一年級學生通電郵, 預備跟他們在這學期談詩, 評theories, 寫故事: 學習不只在廣大課堂, 知識不只幾篇文章藏. 不想把魚白白送給他們, 卻是引導他們手握魚竿善用資源.
有些同學跟我說不敢講英文, 怕不夠動聽. 不講怎會好? ‘Native’也好, 不’native’也好, 世界大同, 你的唇舌不比別人的短: 有信心, 讀對音, 甚麼難得到你? ‘Hong Kong English’難道不是English嗎? 外國人學也學不到!
從前爸爸每一年過新年都會說: ‘年關難過年年過’. 爸爸是百分百粗人, 可間中會說幾句精句. 一轉眼一年真的飛逝, 自己也老了. 今天早上救護車把爸爸送去醫院: 醫生說他血壓比平常人高出一倍; 我當然擔心. 兩個孖妹陪同爸爸左右, 爸爸竟問醫生可否抽一支煙! 剛剛接到爸爸電話, 他興高采烈的說我的彩票又中了三個數目字(己是第四次). 全家上下人人穩守崗位, 努力工作: 在其位, 執其政. 但偶然還是想發大財, 完旅遊讀書退休豪食夢.
07-04-2007 (Sat)
有時我幻想身處黑暗中耐心觀看雀鳥飛翔及蝴蝶糾纏於黃綠紅花間. 現實的我卻是永恆的頭埋書本, 不知天昏地暗或是雨下窗前. 誰說初起步的文人易當?
今晚夜我本可寫最感性的字句, 但心裡總是忐忑不安. 是因為突然的天氣轉變, 是被俄羅斯電影 Solaris 所感動?
期盼於四月十六日星期一午飯時間與 curious 及 intelligent 的一年級生閱讀我最喜歡的英文詩之一: Archibald MacLeish 寫的 “The End of the World” (“世界末日”). 最後的一句實在難忘: ‘Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all’. 生命真的是如斯灰暗寂寥麼? 我不全認同, 也不全反對.


This post was originally written on 23-06-2007 (Sat) 
這些是從我家窗外拍得的窗照.還記得最初搬進這位於上環荷李活道的小房子時,感覺自己像進駐了驚嚇大師希治閣的電影 Rear Window 《後窗》的片場.但這裡亦同時點綴著一點點東歐的情懷, 因為這些窗讓我記起在波蘭克拉 科夫的短暫住處.我能清楚看到對面各家的一動一靜,卻怕自己的舉動也給全然窺探.日子久了才發覺對家的四口子早己習慣這種坦然的生活方式,只是有時會不覺意的看到我在把弄電視機的開關按鈕或是在書櫃中拿出一本本陳舊的詩集.
最近窗戶對面的其中一間房子搬進了一男一女, 他們可真讓我感到不自在. 男的總愛赤膊的站在窗前假裝整理著曬在窗旁的衣服. 我可不是特意在找不對勁的事宜,只是好幾次我的男朋友看到他時,他便猛然的把頭縮下, 露出烏黑的髮頂.女的也是動不動便把頭探出窗外東張西望, 似乎在密謀些甚麼要緊事.
我住的大厦有五層, 每層有兩個住戶. 我的neighbour是一個法國男人,有個我不能發音的名字.住在一二樓的全是老人家及他們的草根家人,夏天的時候走過他們的樓層都會聞到一陣異味.老人是這樣子的了.或許他們夏天都不會使用冷氣機,只會任由汗在流, 說他們環保也可以.其中一家的婆婆常會帶孫兒在街上吃白飯.她捧著白飯的雙手滿是深深的歲月印記.我老是跟自己說要把這情境寫進詩裡.
八月當我不在香港的時候, ‘包租婆’ 會給我的天台來個大翻新.這種唐樓真的需要不時維修! 聽傳聞說這一區域可能會給政府收買重建.千萬不要! 難道香港這小城市就容不下一點點的舊港風貌麼?

British Museum

This post was originally written on 6th March, 2010.
One good thing living in London is that you can just take fancy and go to any number of museums, galleries, theatres whenever you want. Last Sunday, we went to the British Museum with two friends visiting from Canada. There’s so much to see in the museum (our last visit was for this exhibition) and we really needed to choose which sections to go to, especially since we had other things to do that day.
I’d like to share with you some of my favourite items from the visit:
This is the “Younger Memnon” statue of Ramesses II which is said to have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous sonnet “Ozymandias”. I remember studying this powerful poem for an exam and was very moved by it.
Look at these beautiful Egyptian inscriptions. I took a high resolution picture and if we are short of a cover image for Cha in the future, I’m definitely using this.
Some of you may have learnt that we are following A History of the World in 100 Objects. We looked for some of them when we were in the museum. Pictured above is Object No. 16, Flood Tablet. It tells part of the story of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is supposed to be the world’s oldest piece of literature.
We were also taken by the following tablet, which shows a list of synonyms:
The description says: “Scribes sometimes encountered rare or otherwise difficult words. This list explains such words using synonyms, with each set of words paired up in parallel columns. In many cases the numeral ‘two’ (written with two vertical strokes) is used to express ‘ditto’.”
While the list of synonyms is arguably my favourite, Jeff’s choice is the following item and it gets an obligatory mention:
Description: “At least six graves in the Royal Cementery contained a wooden game board inlaid with shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli for the game now known as the Royal Game of Ur. This is an early example of a game that was played all over the ancient Near East for about 3000 years. Early Dynastic III, 2600-2300 BC From Grave PG 513, Ur.
The above is another favourite of mine. It depicts “A lioness devouring a man in a thicket of stylised lotus and papyrus plants.” Why do I like it? It just looks so sexy, don’t you think?

Now, do you know who this beauty is? She’s Cleopatra! A Cleopatra, not the Cleopatra, though. Look at this larger picture, she has a mole on her lips, just like me! Although Reid suggested that this particular Cleopatra is a bit ‘pudgy’ and that the ‘beauty spot’ may have been the result of the painbrush dripping, I am having none of that and am still happy to see that spot there! (We even drafted a literary dialogue about this.)
This is an odd mummy. Look at that adorable mummy of a fish in a wooden coffin! It’s from the Ptolemaic or the Egyptian Romantic period, after 305 BC. We also saw mummies of cats (of course), eels, falcons, seahorses and young bulls.
This Easter Island statue, Hoa Hakanania‘a, is also an object from the A History of the World programme. I have seen these statues on TV before and it was quite an experience seeing it with my own eyes, even though it was not on Easter Island. How he pouts!
One controversial theory most famously postulated by Jared Diamond suggests that the competitive construction of these statues by local leaders resulted in the deforestation of the Island, which led to the society’s eventual collapse. If this is true, it is a warning about modern consumption. (You can read Diamond’s article “Easter Island’s End” here.)
Our highlight of the visit, however, was Lindow Man. He is very low-key, being placed in a lowly-lit box away from the main attractions. Unless you are actively looking for him or happen to walk into his particular corner, you will likely miss the display. Lindow Man was found in a peat-bog at Lindow Moss. He was killed between 2 BC – 119 AD. The bog preserved his body so well that you can still see his features, including his beard and manicured fingernails. I found this naturally preserved Briton far more interesting than the Egyptian mummies.

Scientists discovered many facts about Lindow Man. Naked except for a fox-fur armband, he was 1.73m tall and weighed 64kg. He was around 25 years old when he died. He was well groomed, with trimmed beard and filed fingernails. Just before he died he ate a flat, unleavened griddle caked baked over an open fire. Several grains of mistletoe pollen were also found in his stomach. It is not certain whether he swallowed these deliberately or accidentally.

Lindow Man, you didn’t know you would be resting in the British Museum and visited by me, did you? [See a larger and clearer picture.]
One Response “British Museum” →
March 6, 2010
The Egyptian Hall is definitely my favourite! You’re so lucky to live in London!

One Imperative in Tokyo

One Imperative is on display in Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. The station is the world’s busiest in terms of people.

Three of my poems appear in this displayed issue of One Imperative. You can view/read the issue — themed “Play” — on their website

Krapp’s Last Tape

The inimitable Gambon plays Krapp
It is my birthday tomorrow and therefore it is perhaps fitting that we went to watch Krapp’s Last Tape, a work which portrays an ageing writer’s birthday. (Also read my brief review of Waiting for Godot.)

The one-act minimalistic play, written by Samuel Beckett, whose Waiting for Godot we saw in June last year and hugely enjoyed (Ian McKellen as Estragon and Patrick Stewart as Vladimir), is about the eponymous character’s birthday ritual of recording a tape summarising his past year. Michael Gambon, one of my favourite actors (have you watched The Singing Detective?), plays Krapp and we could not think of a better person to fill the role. (As a side note, Harold Pinter was one of Gambon’s predecessors.) 

The play opens with Krapp resting, motionless, on a desk, almost as if dead. At the start of the play, a moth, whether intentionally released or whether making a fortunate appearance, flew into the lone light above Krapp’s head. The moth’s suicidal flight towards the light added to the sense that we were looking at a corpse. Slowly, Krapp begins to move: his movements are awkward, stiff, effortful and convincingly present an image of a pathetic old man losing control of his body. For the first ten minutes of the play, Krapp undertakes a wordless and depressing series of movements around his desk – one minute he drags his fingers along the edge of the desk, another he loudly opens and closes its drawers. The motivation of these often contorted and intense movements is not always clear but they prove powerful, especially when the sounds they generate punctuate an otherwise silent stage. But as always, with Beckett, there are clownish touches, particularly a scene in which Krapp rummages for several bananas in his desk and proceeds to eat them. In one case, he accidentally throws the fruit onto the floor instead of its skin. Later, he plays with the newly peeled banana, as if it is his penis.

After this series of wordless actions – one is tempted to interpret this as a piece of beautiful performance art – Krapp settles down, more or less, to listen to a tape he had recorded on his 39th birthday. Slowly, we learn that this particular tape contains an important episode of his life; yet the details do not unfold immediately. After listening to the tape’s introductory passages, we get to the most important part of the younger Krapp’s reminiscences. This section is repeated and expanded upon several times within the play, the meaning changing each time. The first time we hear it, the narration appears to be a description of post coital bliss in a punt:

We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.

This is powerful poetry: ‘move’ is repeated three times, each with a different meaning. The characters who ‘lay there without moving’ are contrasted with the rest of the world that ‘moved’, a suggestion of lovers lying in rest. Yet when the same lines are played again, we see that our interpretation of this as a description of dreamy romantic situation is entirely wrong – Krapp is in fact describing the end of his relationship:

I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on, and she agreed, without opening her eyes. (Pause.) I asked her to look at me and after a few moments–(pause)–after a few moments she did, but the eyes just slits, because of the glare. I bent over her to get them in the shadow and they opened. (Pause. Low.) Let me in. (Pause.) We drifted in among the flags and stuck. The way they went down, sighing, before the stem! (Pause.) I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.

We never learn why the younger Krapp decided to terminate the romance but it is obvious that this decision still haunts the older man. As he listens to the recording the second time, we see him break down and sob.
At this point, the older Krapp attempts to record this year’s birthday entry (he turns 69). However, his life has become so narrow and empty that he has nothing substantial to say. Instead, he is filled with rage against his younger self and what his life has become. Angrily, he abandons the recording and eventually returns to the older tape. Listening to the same description again, we see that it has taken on yet another meaning. Lines such as ‘Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.’ and ‘I thought it was hopeless and no good going on’ now seem to reflect Krapp’s current loneliness and suggest he is about to give up on life. The moment highlights the ambiguity of the title: does the ‘last’ in Krapp’s Last Tape mean ‘most recent’ or ‘final’? Is Krapp’s tape about to run out?
Indeed, his tape does run out, as Krapp lets his 39th birthday message play to its end. The younger Krapp arrogantly states that

Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.

While this plays, however, the older Krapp (the excellent Gambon) looks at the reels with incredulity and utter sadness. And we understand that he can hardly believe that he was ever so young and pompous. It is clear that he would like to rewind his life to have his ‘best years’ back. We know he can’t.

A shorter version of this review appears here

The full text of Krapp’s Last Tape is available here. Opens until Saturday 20th Nov 2010, Duchess Theatre.