Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Columbus: Pears And Nipples

"In 1490, virtually every educated Westerner believed that the Earth was spherical...

Columbus and the advisors to Ferdinand and Isabella did disagree, but their disagreement was about the size of the Earth, not its shape. ... Columbus argued that the Earth was even smaller than Ptolemy thought [about 18,000 miles circumference. In fact, it's about 24,900.] ... the cost of outfitting an expedition for the longer voyage and the increased risk would have been prohibitive. ...

To his death, Columbus believed that he had reached the Spice Islands to the east of India [i.e. Indonesia]. He knew that it took far longer to get to them than by sailing around Africa and he struggled to reconcile this with his own observations. He writes: "I find that the earth is not as round as it described, but it is shaped like a pear which is round everywhere except near the stalk where it projects strongly, or it is like a very round ball with something like a woman's nipple in one place, and this projecting part is highest ands nearest heaven."

The Poincaré Conjecture Donal O'Shea, Walker and Company, 2007.


Sooooooooo... As he got older Columbus thought the world had gone pear-shaped and that a woman's breast was close as you'll get to heaven.

Hey. We've all been there...



Viewer from Flushing, New York - arrived from on "Expat@Large" by searching for - "You are grilling steaks for Genghis Khan. Your little grill can broil two steaks at a time, but Genghis is hungry and wants three. That’s a problem."

Viewer from Santa Barbara, California - arrived from on "Expat@Large" by searching for "You are grilling steaks for Genghis Khan. Your little grill can broil two steaks at a time, but Genghis is hungry and wants three. That’s a problem."


Never look up your stats, it'll do your head in...


Oh, sanity returns! It's puzzle on Futility Closet that must have been on my Blogroll!

Wheew, that was a close one. Put the lithium back in the box...


Friday, January 21, 2011

Freedom Come, Freedom Go...


Several snippets that highlight the contradiction that is the beloved Little Red Dot, i.e. Singapore.


1: Singapore once again rates highly in the 2011 Heritage Foundation (and WSJ) Index of Economic Freedom. A close second behind Hong Kong, and just ahead of Australia,

[ Aside: Australia comes in 3rd presumably because the Huge Mining Coroprations of Australia recently showed the ease with which they could a) rip the guts out of the country, b) sell it to China and c) change any government that has the temerity to say, "Whoa, enough already, you greedy arseholes, what about letting the small companies have a go? Here's a tax on your obscene profits (that's money left over after all that needed to be spent has been spent) that will provide funding for a scheme that will guarantee truly fair competition for small exploration companies as opposed to the monopolies and cartels that you behemoths call capitalism."

But I came here not to praise Australia, but to bury Singapore.]

An article in Asia Times Online deconstructs the Heritage's methodology, and makes not just a few points about this so-called freedom. For a start they are talking specifically of economic freedom here.

This is not First Amendment friendly stuff. They examine how easy, for example, it is to run roughshod over worker's rights, and sometimes, when they fall out of the trailer trucks that carry them to the construction site, workers themselves. Sorry I meant to say the "flexibility" of the workforce - flexible enough to bend over backward in order to get any job and to be hired and fired on a whim. Slavery would rate highly on this sort of index - oops, did someone mention how some domestic workers are treated here in Whip-a-poor?

According to the Heritage website, "Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself."

That roughly translates as work, consume, die peoples. When I was growing up in Oz, this was not was meant by freedom.

The blinkered simplification of a word like "freedom" without qualification, almost reminds me of the times that George H Bush used to come to the Asian Tiger economies sprouting talk of how free markets and free societies run hand in hand, or was it run with wolves in sheep's clothing?... *cough* *cough* "hhhuuuurrrrrkkkk* Oops, sorry, choking on a bit of vomit there...

John Raulston Saul tore that simplistic truism of Bush Snr's a new arsehole as I remember, in The Collapse Of Globalisation, a few years back.

Then some genuine irony, I mean a conundrum - Hong Kong which ranks #1 in the Economic Freedom Index, also rates extremely highly in freedom of speech and freedom of association, to the point of near anarchy! The exact opposite of what Singapore maintains is the essential political stance for its own economic success! How come?

According to Joe Studwell's Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, it is not because of their political systems at all, but because the families that run them are slightly less corrupt and self-serving than the families that run the countries around them. (About 20 families run Asia. One family runs Singapore and takes in about 60% of its GDP.) It's a lay-down misère (in Australia that means a certain win, not a certain loss) for business where to invest in Southeast Asia or lower China. Fascism or anarchism, it doesn't make a difference if the ports are free and pay-offs are minimal.

Anyway, point of story, don't confuse your freedoms...


2. In completely unrelated news about freedom (of speech and association), the leader of the Singapore's main opposition party, The Singapore Democrats, Dr Chee Soon Juan, appeal has failed and has been fined $20,000 and given a 20 week jail term (again).

His crime?

Speaking to people.

Talking to people.

Out loud.

In Singapore.

Where you need a licence to talk (or write on a blog, See point #5, below).

Dr Chee is the guy who, in a previous period of incarceration (he's in jail more than he's out of it) was sprayed with cold water and made to stand in front of an air-conditioner. It's not water-boarding but it's not 100% pleasant either, even in Singapore's constantly hot, muggy weather.

Of course that fact that this blatantly political result has gone through in a period leading up to what the ruling family party, the PAP, laughingly call an election, does not reveal anything about the judiciary in Singapore. Not one bit.


3: Singaporeans are disappearing race(s). In a town that complains of too many foreigners (like me), the locals are not doing enough fucking to breed more locals. The birth rate of 1.16 is way below what is required to replace the population let alone grow it. At this rate Singapore will invert into its own belly button in 20-25 minutes, which is about the time it takes for a Singaporean to find his dick and put on a condom. According to the authorities, it is the Singaporean's fault for not having babies. Too lazy to fuck.

Izzy, who camped at E@LGHQ for fortnight over New Years, put me onto a great quote from blogger Menwongth.

One of my friends, a born-and-bred white-collar Singaporean in her early thirties, married with no children and no intention of having them, commented that some species just don't breed in captivity.

That's not a hundred miles from the truth Gerald Giam (linked above) of the Worker's Party, says; the falling birth is due to "too busy at work, cost of living too high, education system too stressful for children (and their parents), cannot find a place of their own to stay." (My emphasis.)

It's not increased competition from "foreign talent" (like me) but from cheap, unskilled workers for the service industry out of mainland China or skilled(ish) builders from the sub-continent who can be hired for up to a 1/3 lower salaries. The Singaporeans have to work longer, faster, cheaper in order to compete.

Too busy. No place for privacy, no time for sex, lah.


4: Domestic workers are overpaid. When the wages of slavery rise to the point that Singaporeans rebel, does this mean they are threatening to match the conditions of Hong Kong, where maids can earn more than double, up to about $S1,000 per month and, horror of horrors, they get a day off each week!

Not quite, but an easy solution strikes me. Maybe those Singaporeans who have been squeezed out of work by the foreign talent can drop their extortionate domestic helpers, and utilize the free time given by their own unemployment to wash their own dishes, do their own ironing, fall out their own windows and wipe the arses of their own incontinent aged parents (who themselves lost their employment as Kopitiam cleaning aunties due to foreign talent).

And the ladies might also find the opportunity to squeeze out more babies and rescue the country from irrelevance.


5. The website where I read most of these stories , The Online Citizen (via Facebook actually) has been gazetted, whatever the fuck that means, to register as a political association, despite being merely a conduit for political news from a variety of sources.

This means, even though it is a loosely (dis)organized community blog, not an organisation, it has to conform to rules that apply to political parties, such a transparency in its leaders and funding and the banning of foreign sources.

The immensely wise and amusing Singapore blogger mr brown, himself once silenced by the Singapore media authorities, takes this latest news to ad ridiculum lengths by suggesting that even taxi-drivers should be gazetted.

[Singabloodypore, run by a former "foregn talent" from Scotland, is also on still top things in Singapore as well.]


Enough for the moment. Bangkok work is quiet, hence the lengthy blogging. Time to go for a blowjob massage.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Finally, Some Good News!

Philippe Djian has finally had another novel translated in English!

Djian considered the English version of the novel he called "37.2 de Matin" ("37.2 Degrees in the Morning" - a pregnant womans' body temperature) and which we know as "Betty Blue", a failure of the translator's art. He claimed that was already a making enough money with his literary best-sellers in France, and he was so unhappy with the Beat 'style' his prose had been given by the translator, that he would rather not publish in English again.

Basically, fuck USA, fuck England, fuck E@L. What the heck? Hey, I really loved the way he, err, "wrote" Betty Blue. Me wanted more!

Not doubt you know the successful 'raunchy' 'shockwave' inducing 1986 movie more than you do the book, but Djian hated that as well.

“It’s very disagreeable, that my work is only known in English by the movie, because the aesthetics of Jean Jacques Beineix’s film is completely different, maybe the opposite. It’s difficult because in the movie you have two characters – in the book I was not sure that I was speaking of two characters. Somewhere in my mind there was only one character who was part male and part female – it wasn’t so brutal. If you are a film maker, you have to be very light, you have to be delicate. If there is a scene of love in the movie you are not obliged to use music. In this movie and in most movies it’s like they’re made for children. For example, in Betty Blue I said at the beginning of the book the man has a yellow car and that’s all I said. But in the movie from beginning to end you have the yellow car and the yellow car and the yellow car and you have the sunset, and you have the music – so it’s too much, it’s like pastries – they can be too rich! Each kind of pastry can be good on its own : cream, chocolate, and so on… but if you put them all together, it’s horrible!”



Coincidentally I was looking through the French section of Kinokuniya just last Saturday, checking what Djian was up to (he is supposed to be writing an novel in French every year [I may have blogged about this before, when I was in Paris]) and wondering if I should revive my high-school French to read him (and Celine) in the original! There were several of his there, but nothing except Betty Blue in the English section.

Well, his new novel Unforgivable HAS been translated in English and it is one the way to E@L from Amazon Barone Books (remaindered at $0.99).

Check out the back-cover at Click If You Want To Look Inside for the reviews of the French edition. Very positive!

But I hope the translation is as bad as last time, because I really loved Betty Blue!


Drama At E@LGHQ!

Maybe, despite the previous post, I SHOULD move. That's my place on the bottom right hand corner at the very start of this video of a pile of foundation stones toppling onto a roadway.

It was just on the street where I live, ta dah di dah, actually about 150m from my bedroom window, if not less. It happened about 8:30 on Sunday morning (i.e. yesterday as I type this). Of course, having gone to bed at 4am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, I slept right through it. I heard the bells from the church and I heard the people in the flat above shagging - both like clockwork at 10am every Sunday - but I didn't hear this. I only found out about it just as I was heading to the church airport after lunch.

You see all those cars on the car-park also on the right at the start? that's the church. Lots of people running away, but no-one was injured,so they say.

Notice also the white car at the top. He's waiting and watching but after the blocks collapse, he's like, "WTF, I'm outta here!" and turns up to the left... Responsible Singapore citizen there, always prepared to help out and be a witness.

The heavy rain over the past weeks is probably to blame, that or shoddy work.


Thankfully it's not quite as dramatic as what happened in China in 2009. In that case it was due to heavy rain, or shoddy work.

[Before you play this second video (stills actually) please turn your speakers way down. Music is horrible, even by my inexacting standards. And please ignore the corny political comments about communism.]


E@L, reporting to you safely from Khon Kaen, Thailand, where buildings doon't fall over, only governments.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Moving office, post-company takeover (again), to the seventh ring of hell (near Changi Airport) in April. What a bunch of fools.

We don't even know the new structure of the company yet...

Don't start me!


I am seriously thinking that the Spinellis coffee shop near my apartment could be my home-office from that time on. But as I am travelling about 75% of time, I doubt this would be the thorn in their paw I am hoping it could be.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


"I may be ignorant but at least I have an opinion." E@L 2011.


Where DOES this guy get these gems?

Creative Commons license waived, i.e. you may use it, but don't tell anyone where you got it.


Burn Your Name



Shot in Chiang Mai.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Fishbowl

So there we were. Smashed in Bangkok. Again. Bruce narrowed an eye even further, if that were possible, and said, "Let's go for a massage. I know a place that gives a great soapie."

"Oh Jesus, Bruce, not Annie's again. Anyway, I'm hammered. It's late. It's what - 4am? Everything will shut. I am so way past all this. I'm going back to the hotel," said Stuart.

"One more, one more," said the grimy faced urchin (who claimed she was twelve) to Stuart as she restocked the trays with pink and yellow disks. "I beat you, I beat you good mistah. You not so smart, but I like you!" Stuart, having been out-thunked six consecutive times, knew that he had met someone more than his intellectual match and that at this point, going back to the hotel and throwing up the toilet was the better part of valor. And that Connect-4 was way too complicated for him and that he was going to sell his chess textbooks the minute he got back to Hong Kong. He picked up his plastic cup and drained the last of his sour gin-tonic. He patted the disappointed girl on her head and said goodbye with a 50baht note.

That left Bruce and E@L. Again. Stuart was always crashing early (well, relatively early).

But it was hardly a minute, or hardly another futile move in Connect-4 against the determined-to-win street savant, before a revived Stuart was back. He was escorting a large green dress which contained a goodly proportion of, but certainly not all, the body of a hair-braided freelancer from Africa. Stuart could barely contain his glee. The street kid stared at Stuart like he was yet another inconstant lover.

We invited her to sit down at the small tables on one of the remaining fold-up chairs. Her face was a soft, shiny velvet-black. She was very pretty, thick-lipped, not so broad a nose and her forehead sloped back roundly into the back-cut braid, but her tits were enormous and overflowing in the too tight dress, her belly bulged out (not that we are slim, eh E@L?) and her butt ballooned out the back.

'Mo-anie' shrugged and spoke softly in a strong African accent when we asked some polite questions about herself (28, Sierra Leone, no kids), and then about her preferences in film (which was her favorite Harry Potter?) and politics (red shirts, yellow shirts?). Eventually she realized we were just drunk funny-guys all taking the piss, mildly enough and in good fun, but still there was no tricks to turn here. She excused herself and hustled off, rather shaken by the experience if he movement of her large bubble-butt was anything to judge by.

"Massage!" said Bruce. He called for chek bin khrup and Nit, our young waitress for these early mornings libations at the yellow trolley-bar (which would be folded up neatly into itself and wheeled away in a few hours - assembled and open 6 till 6) brought over a scribbled reckoning. Bruce paid. "It'll all work out over the weekend."

We scuttled the 12(?8,?16) year-old girl off with an initial offering of 50baht, but she pointed out that Bruce owed her another 10baht each for the five games he had insisted on gambling against her and lost. She had won at least half our Connect-4 games. She left with 100baht, probably enough to live on for three days, or for her mother to go gambling with.

Amazing kid. Sharp mind. Good at Connect-4.

"Imagine what she could have done with her life if she had ever gone to school," mused Bruce.

"Or been born in another country," E@L countered. (Frackin' social conscience, E@L's Achilles testicle.)

"Like Sierra Leone," double-whammed Stuart.


"Everything's shut, Bruce. Nothing will be open. Stuart is right," E@L said. Indeed the whole strip was much quieter than just 45 minutes before when we had first sat down at the street bar.

"We need maaaSSSSAAAAaaaaaage!" cried Bruce.

"And I know where we can get a fuck at 4;15 in this god-forsaken megalopolis!" He may have thrown a few extra "ol" and "al" syllables into that last word.

He led the charge across the legendary shifting pavers of Sukhomvit, over the legs of stacked-away stalls, of chairs at other temp bars and those of sleeping soi-dogs. We turned the all-too familiar corner where the fried locusts stall had been two hours earlier. The Nana clubs and bars were supposed to be closed by now. Even the trolley for the best hamburger in town was packed away and gone.

"I know a place," he said. "Open 24 hrs, but don't tell the police. You'll wake them." Ho ho. Bruce always had some new snippet of knowledge of the local debauchery scene to amaze us with, and a joke to follow.

Stuart, earlier adamant that he been heading for bed, was with us E@L realized, however his energy was fading fast after the fun of bringing the exotic hooker to our little table. We waved to the last of girls who called out to us from bars that were obviously shutting up shop and dodged the crotch grabs of the last of the katooeys still manning(!) the front of the Nana Hotel. After a few short blocks of the typical Bangkok shops (tailor, laundry, foot massage) stepping up and down at pavement and road, Bruce unexpectedly turned down a soi to the left. We had expected to go right, didn't know there was anything to the left.

"If this placed is closed, I'm heading straight back," complained Stuart. "Seriously, I'm fucking tired."

At the entrance to the soi, Bruce hesitated at first. "This is the one" he said, unconvincingly. "C'mon mate, nearly there." We walked slowly to the end of the soi, where it progressively became darker as we moved out of the street-lights and glowing signs on Soi 4 and moved behind the rear of the taller buildings on the left. Finally, maybe two hundred meters in, we made out the low rise block on the right side that E@L guessed Bruce was looking for. On the very last verandah a dim, solitary red light hung in front of a door and it silhouetted a row of pot-plants. "Here," said Bruce, quickening. We stepped up. It was dark but not dark enough to miss the four-foot high electric sign with a plastic sign and curly fruit-loop Thai script on it and, tellingly, the outline of a naked lady in a bath-tub. But the sign was up on the verandah behind the plants, turned off. The place looked closed up. Bruce shrugged and walked up to the door confidently. "It's always open. The locals know about it," he said.

A knock, a wait, the sound of foot-steps. A look. A female face. "You wann massagee? Welcome!"

The welcome lady, maybe a kind fifty, maybe a harsh twenty-five, hard to tell in the dim light, was wearing a light-colored evening gown with a low-cut top. She gave Bruce some directions which he hardly needed as he was already on his way up the stairs. We walked up on worn red(? - also hard to tell) carpets to the third floor, behind him. There was a bar directly in front of us as we reached the top. It was almost pitch dark in here as well, but with the blue-tint of ultraviolet lights that reflected from the mirrors behind bottles of spirit (Mekhong, SongSam, Johnny Walker Red, cheap but expensive gin and vodka) and liqueurs (two of them, both Baileys) and empty beer bottles (Heineken, Tiger, Chang). The strange light made the dandruff on our dark t-shirts light up, our teeth glow and our eyes go smokey, but didn't really help illuminate much around. We could just make out large-hewn, darkly lacquered wooden stools at the bar. As our eyes adjusted, down at the far end we made out the form of a person in a brown uniformed leaning forward on one of the seats, his peaked cap on the bar, his head on his cap and his arms outstretched around them both and a half full/empty bottle of Johnny Red. Bruce and E@L raised eyebrows at each and gave a silent high five! There WAS a sleeping policeman here!

The lady who looked up over her reading-glasses from behind the bar where she was toting up large pile of thousand baht notes, a lip-balanced cigarette wavering in her now-smiling face, greeted Bruce as an old friend. After a soft catch-up chat in pigeon-Thai, Bruce introduced us to Mrs Samathinporn or something like that, or not like that, and ordered more gin-tonics. Stuart's face dropped. He really did not want more alcohol. But the tonic in our gins lit up, electric in the blue light and Stuart took a long sip. And then Bruce asked something that sounded like "Is the bowl still open?"

"Of course, Mistah Brut."

She smiled warmly(?) at Bruce and put out her cigarette. She made a phone call that needed only a single number and then screeched rapidly into the handset. We heard a sudden loud scurrying behind the walls, like mice playing basketball, like girls putting on high heels.

"Solly, take time, girls rest, watch TV." Practice Connect-4, thought E@L.

To the right of the bar, at the end of the room, the wall flickered into light. This wall was in fact made of two full-height glass windows that looked into into another room that was where the fluorescent globes were coming awake. There were three rows of stepped seats, up against the three walls in the room, all painted white and with cushions and stuffed toys on them. The cause of that scurrying sound became obvious as fifteen, maybe twenty, girls walked in quickly from an adjoining room and took their places in a well-understood arrangement.

"The fishbowl," said Bruce.

Mrs Somethingporn led the three of us over.

Several of the girls were looking out towards us through the glass walls. Some were waving, some adjusting their low-cut dresses even lower to their push-up bras and some smiling falsely as if they were listening to a bad joke, but some sleepy-eyed ones were quite sullen and had just plonked themselves down. E@L noted that the welcome lady was sitting there as well, unambiguously older in the harsher light. Many of them appeared stunningly beautiful, but it was well after 4am and Bruce, Stuart and E@L had been drinking since lunch (oops) dinner.

"Is OK," said the bar-lady to reassure Stuart and E@L, as we must have looked uncomfortable, "they cannot see you." E@L, even now and having been back a few times, has no idea if she was lying or not. "Take you time. You look, you look. Take two lady Mistah Brut? Very pretty tonight.

"Girl this side of room," she explained to Stuart and E@L, "are model, very beautiful, 2500baht. One and half hour massage, you very clean. Girl this side, very pretty also, special price, 1700baht. Take two for massage, only 3000baht.

"Please take a look. Very new girls. All very new."

Bruce smiled. Stuart blanched. E@L wondered where the hell they got the idea for this!


Harem, Thomas Rowlandson, 1812.

Caged Prostitutes in Japan, 1890-1900
via Flickr

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

Ecclesiastes 1, 8-10. ~250BCE.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cost of Living

A few pints with Bruce and the lads at Boomerang on Robertson Quay, some sushi (real restaurant, not a chain) near United Square, followed by a "comprehensive" massage at a CharismaCardTM friendly establishment nearby.

300 bucks. Pffft, gone.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Loners Unite!

I was very concerned to hear this morning Tuscon killer Jarod Loughner described as

a loner

by a reporter on SkyNews.

This easy epithet, this outright unsubstantiated cliche, rises all the time when there are incidents of this kind. The fact is Jarod WAS NOT

a loner.

Judging by the reports in the papers he wasn't the sort of person who was introverted and shied away from contact. In fact he was outgoing and happy to communicate in his school classes and on videos on his internet pages. The fact was he was communicating crazy stuff in his class and extremist crazy stuff in his web-pages and on-line videos indicates that while he was trying reach out to others people, he had grown into a nutter.

He was certainly not alone is his weird political and economic opinions. Looking at America from the outside, it would seem that about 50% of the population are this wacko. I believe they are called Republicans over there.

A loner

wouldn't behave that way, he wouldn't want to join these extremist groups or any group at all. He might not want to talk to groups of people around the water cooler and is definitely not the life of the party, and wouldn't draw attention to himself by screaming out non sequiturs in class. While still being pleasant enough person he would avoid crowds and he would most likely prefer to be self-sufficient. He is VERY probably artistic and creative. Writers for example are, at least while in their acts of creation, loners. Look at me (calling myself "a writer" - HA!), everyone has left the office and here I am typing away by myself when I should be out foraging with the tribe, hunting fruits and nuts for our communal dinner.

In fact, according to interviewees quoted in today's NYT, Loughner wanted to stay in school after being expelled, he wanted to join the army despite failing a drug test, and he was a nice and presumably normal as a kid according to a neighbour. The indications are therefore not that he was NOT

a loner

at all, but that he was a normally socialised person whose psychologically disturbance made it difficult for him to communicate normally as he grew older - it's not that he didn't WANT to communicate.

Also another immensely inappropriate and distracting comment made in the NYT is the following: "Another time, he sat in the men’s room for 30 minutes, leaving front-desk staff members to wonder what he was doing."

Well if I had a nickel, as they say... Having a long crap, reading a book, playing Angry Birds, and maybe choking a quick chicken hardly rates as some out-there quirk worth condemning the bloke as

a loner.

Being alone in the toilet, unless you're snorting something or screwing in the Viper Club, is petty much NORMAL behaviour. OK the fact that he came out asking what year it was, that's a bit weird.


c.f. Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto by Anelli Rufus.

More about Party of One


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Night Train

Can jazz get any more cool? Don't you just love how he plays about 1/16 behind the beat to add tension and that sense of being on total control...


The inspirational music behind Martin Amis's 1997 novel called... wait for it... Night Train.

More about Night Train


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Long Post on Toast

A friend of mine who grew up alongside a samovar has only one way to describe water proper for tea: "A mad boil." In the same forceful way she never says rolls or toast must be hot, or very hot. They must be "hot-hot-hot!"
M.F.K. Fisher. How To Boil Water, in How To Cook A Wolf, 1942.


Toast is the national dish of Australia.
David Byrne, line on the Stop Making Sense album cover, 1984.


When we were children, each year my exhausted widowed mother allowed us to give her some time to recuperate. She drove us to the gardens of Ballarat. There, under the shade of oak trees that tracked the west shore of Lake Wendouree, we waited. Imperious black swans (there were lots of them, predictably) would clamber awkwardly onto the lip of lake and waddle hilariously, so we we thought, towards the wooden green-painted benches om which we sat. They would nip at the (untoasted) bread that we were told to hold to them in our fingers, if not nip at our fingers themselves. Such of the latter incidents were not funny at all. Innocent as young children, somewhat wiser as we aged (eventually my sister refused to come), the elegant slide of the swans in the lake thrilled us. But when they responded to our bread-goading and came close, the fun turned to fright and we squealed loudly. If we got nipped, we cried loudly instead. Those flapping black wings would balloon out as they chased us for a few steps, screaming swan screams, and we'd scream along with them.

My uncle and my aunt drove down to pick us up by the lake, and there we'd enjoy a family picnic lunch well away from the lake-shore. It took two hours for them to drive us back to the former gold-mining town of Tarnagulla. We left a relieved (no pun intended) mum for her/our two week holiday (Lord knows what she did, must ask) and began our summer-stretched treat amongst the wonders of a small town with nothing in it, in the middle of a dry patch of mining-exhausted Australian bush. We'd push each other on the metal-chained swing (squeak, squeak), or we'd play "hidie" amongst the stumps, hunt kangaroos (it was not 'roo territory) or pretend to bowl and bat on the cricket pitch in the middle of the square town oval. This was approached by treading across a small wooden bridge (I think there is another word for this - anyway, I was not supposed to cross by myself, my sister or someone older had to supervise) which took us across the deep storm drain that ran past the tennis courts. We'd pull sweet pink and red peppercorns from the tree and try to burst them. Hundreds of things that could kids do to amuse themselves while their auntie drank tea and nibbled on orange cake with the neighbours, her cousin and family. We learned to play tennis in those courts with Paul McNamee, who went on to win the Wimbledon Doubles, several times I think. I went on to write this blog. I think I fell in love with the neighbour's daughter, my 2nd (3rd? 4th?) cousin. When she married and went away, I was one devastated 7 year old.

And we'd have breakfast. Being who I am, even then, I slept in late. After those arduous days of going for walks to the haberdashery to buy some pins, or finding someone else roughly my own age to play with, like the butcher's rough son one year, or crunching through the bush we were not allowed to into - because of the hidden old mining shafts - we'd be worn out. So I was tired, but still I'd try to stay up as late as possible (hey, it was a frackin' holiday) trying to start a conversation with my taciturn uncle, looking at my late father's stamp collection (he was born in this house), at my grandfather's four-pronged shoe tool/rest (he was a cobbler), anything - and so I'd sleep in late next morning. And when eventually I got to the table for breakfast, I'd begin to sulk.

Why? Damn! I'd mumble. The toast was cold. Sliced from a fresh loaf - fresh two days ago, perfect - it had been sitting between the curved metal prongs of the toast-rack for maybe 20 minutes. One hour? Who knew when my relatives rose?

When I buttered it, the sensation was all wrong. The toast had dried out. It was like buttering sawed timber. And mixed on the cold toast with my Uncle's own honey (not a gross euphemism, he was an apiarist) the butter went all white and scary, not at all appetizing. Toast should be crunchy, but not this HARD, I thought. The correct amount of butter, applied at the correct time to the correctly hot toast, makes the crunchiness CORRECT! I sulked and complained softly, but I ate it.

As I risked puncturing my delicate palate on the shards - an talthin lith thith or the thime (I practiced for that eventuality) - I was mildly chastised and given to consider the sin of my tendency to snuggle back down into the blankets for just a few minutes, and then falling asleep again, once the call to our breakfast table was made. No doubt it was an unspoken opinion that I was a big-city sook, a a snobby little brat, spoiled by those Catholics (my mum's family) from the Western District.

What the hell, beloved Presbyterian Auntie and Uncle! Good toast is important to me! Why can't you just not start toasting the bread UNTIL it becomes apparent that I am getting up. Why can't you just slice the loaf and toast some MORE? Why can't...

What do you mean you are not my slaves?

"Eat your toast," young man!


Some diet book I had glanced at before deciding to burn it along with several other works of "fiction" in a pyre in my HDB's void-space, offered the most stupid advice to toast eaters I have ever heard . The authors suggested waiting for the toast to get cold ON PURPOSE before spreading ones preferred fat - mono-saturated dairy product (unpreferred) or polyunsaturated oil blended with water (preferred, until they discovered trans-fats) - upon its finely crusted COLD surface. That way, as less butter/substitute would melt into the toast's interior, less fat would be required for the purpose of rendering the surface slippery and 0.743 calories would be knocked off the day's total.


These deluded dietitians must harbour some weird view of the world in which (they believe) people put butter on toast in order to scientifically deliver a regulated dose of fat for their carefully planned daily consumption.

Butter is not "a dose of fat". It's a sublime aesthetic experience (until it goes rancid - errrghh), part visual (buttercup yellow, buttercup why don't you fill me up) part aromatic (smells like teen butter) part textural (goes down like a hot knife through butter).

It is semi-mystical in the way its creamy smoothness fills the mouth with richness and feelings of home, of safety, of... churned milk... and in the way IT MELTS INTO HOT TOAST! And melt it should, somewhat randomly, somewhat predictably. Here just a sheen on the surface, there, at the ends of each butter-knife (not table-knife!) stroke, a small accumulation, one that will soon produce a burst of taste and texture from under its covering of your favorite jam, preserve (jelly? that's for trifles) or Vegemite. [Mine's either ginger marmalade or the strawberry jam I received for Christmas from The Ex's mum. Vegemite goes on the second slice of course.]

One of the unmeasurable joys of life (and joy is generally unmeasurable, except in certain circumstances, unstatable here in mixed company) is to scrape a buttery butter-knife across crunchy freshly toasted toast. Slide, crackle, slide. Ooh, aah.

This experience is what we call buttering something. Watch Peter Russell-Clarke slide a second healthy dollop onto this piece of banana bread...

This was an Australian (duh!) ad in the mid 80's. Apart from the "Butter, it's only natural", tagline here, there was another he used - and truer words were never spoken - Only Butter Butters.

Fuck dietitians, those joy-of-eating ignorati... Epic epicurean FAIL.



What happens if, when the toaster snaps and ejects your evenly-(you half-toasted it first, then turned it round and upside down for the final run)-browned sourdough into the kitchen stratosphere, you lay those hot hot hot slices down directly on a plate?

Laying newly toasted hot toast down? OMG, you heathen!

"Why, what happens?" she asks innocently.

Condensation, young lady! CON-DEN-SAYSHUN! The radiant heat from the hot toast allows for more water vapour in its immediate vicinity. When it is lain on the plate, in that small area of atmosphere there is nowhere for hot toast's vapour to go, except to the unheated surface of your Royal Doulton, where it cools and reaches the dew-point. There is a minor tropical rainforest effect, hot air meets cold air, and vapour condenses into mist (clouds) and rain. Like on the outside of a beer glass, on the warm inside of a car-window on a cold, rainy day.

Condensation. 1) Water is on the plate. 2) Toast is on the plate. 3) Toast, perforce, gets wet and soggy. 4) OMG! Did I call you a heathen before? Let's say I just called you one again.

So what are the lessons we have learned so far?

a: Cold toast = bad. Butter doesn't BUTTER.

b: Hot toast = bad if treated without due diligence. Goes soggy if laid down on plate.

What to do? Don't sleep in, get up frackin' earlier, my Auntie would no doubt advise us, though perhaps with other words.

Or take her excellent example and use a TOAST RACK!


Izzy has been holidaying in E@LGHQ these last few days. She's back from Holland for the weeks of Christmas and New Year. (It's 1am now, she's just piped up with, "I feel like doing something - let's go out!" No. I am going to sleep now, this is not Hong Kong and I am not young 40 anymore. She's put on Kreutzer Sonata loudly instead.)

On Tuesday morning she gave me a Christmas present, which was a nice surprise, seeing as how we're both atheists. No, it was not what you're thinking, although it was in a box.

It was a lovely ceramic toast-rack. "You're always going on about toast," she explained. No, I'm n...

Ain't that nice.

Now, instead of letting my toast rest on the top of the stove (on left) for 20 seconds or so, I can let it stand in the toast-rack - it will be still be hot enough, crunchy but not dessicated, even after I pour my filtered coffee into a cup, when I BUTTER it.

This was why the toast-rack was invented. For wankers like


(and my Auntie Ethel, RIP.)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

THE Vietnam War Novel

In a daze, wandering into the supermarket. Spooks and shaman's, death delivering double/triple agents, assassins. The air is ice-chilled and unnaturally dry. The December monsoon's sweat instantly evaporates from my skin when I enter through tall glass doors that knew I was coming. I feel that Viet Cong are hiding at the end of each aisle, ready to pop a sniper's shot at my unmissable belly, or is it a Psy-Op, a tree of smoke?

I'm just coming from the coffee shop, where I've just finished reading a novel...


Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. Man! Reads like the night scene in Apocalypse Now, but 700 pages. At the end, everybody permanently damaged, changed, weirded-out, mythologised, and still fighting the enemy (enemies from either sides) in their heads.


The opening sequence, OMG, a soldier shoots and wounds a monkey in the jungle near his camp in the Philippines. The first living creature he has ever shot. Stung with remorse, he puts down his gun and he picks the small creature up. It is crying. It gasps its last breaths in his hands. He leaves the jungle devastated, he forgets the gun, has to go back a pick it up. The monkey's body is gone... Seriously, I cried along with the monkey.

The most perfect way to prepare for what's coming. Touching, tense, confronting, bitter, raw, beautiful, innocent and about to be altered profoundly and irredeemably... And not for the better.

Later, young Skip, a virgin in not just the usual way, is taken by more worldly-wise soldier buddies into a tiny bar in a tiny village somewhere outside Saigon. They drink a few beers, chat up the 'hostesses' and then he takes one of these Vietnamese hookers into the back room. He is amazed and reverential at her perfect body, awed at the beauty radiating from her pre-Raphaelite face. Even more amazed when she lies back on the edge of bed, her feet on the floor, spread apart, and proceeds to smoke a cigarette with her pussy.

So many scenes like this set you up and then they stun you, man they stun you hard...

Well maybe not so much those us who have done our tours of duty through the bars of Patpong and Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, but still they are strong, vicious and teetering on the insane.


And one amazing thing (I just realized this after I first posted) about a novel set in the mad world of war, where random death and destruction are inherent and expected - hey this is a war novel after all - is that almost every act of violence or death has repercussions. Like in real life of course where your actions mean things, things happen to real people who have real bodies and real emotions, and then the cops come around.

There is no (not many anyway, except, say, the generic hooker mention above) fictional 'cannon fodder' in here - every character is a person, with emotional depth and uniqueness, and there are MANY characters in this book. War And Peace comes to mind, at least in this attribute of Johnson's novel. Everyone death diminishes me, but makes for a deliciously complicated and emotionally powerful story.


What do I mean?

Imagine a scene in Star Wars in which Luke is about to shoot some Storm Trooper, but before this can happen the Storm Trooper pulls off his mask and pleads for mercy - "I have kids, I love my kids, don't kill me! I am only doing this job to pay for my wife's cancer treatment, let me live!!" sort of thing.

Also (my favorite thought along these lines), imagine some shoot-em-up movie where the main guy is out for revenge - "You killed my brother" - and blast dozens of anonymous goons to smithereens in this virtuous quest. Imagine each one of these dead goons has a brother, right? Imagine each of these goons' brothers decide to chase after the main guy, and in the process kill another bunch of goons, who naturally enough have revengeful brothers who chase after the goon who... ad infinitum.

Well, there is nothing like that...


The Vietnam War. If you want the definitive novel, here it is.

More about Tree of Smoke


p.s. I apologize, patient readers, for not blogging for so long - hopefully work and travel will settle down for a while and I get some good rumination time... Maybe even be funny again.

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