Friday, September 23, 2011


E@L has had enormous problems with the incompetence and insanity of taxi-drivers: To quote Mark Twain in his recently released unexpurgated diary, "All over the world there seems to be a prejudice against the cab driver." And he (E@L not Twain) has taken and given some shit to kopi vendors. You may have noted these themes over the years. So many years. Taxis. Toast. Tired.

OK, listen, E@L hasn't read Twain's Diary, or even purchased it in 3D (i.e. a real book) or electronically, he merely saw it in a bookshop and randomly opened it and the first thing he read, sorry he lies, the second things he read was that quote. IKYN. Had to laugh. Wouldn't read about it. Well, yes we know you are reading about it at the moment, but E@L mean that rhetorically. So he typed/Swyped(tm) it into his PDA (why don't we call them that anymore?) / smart-phone for your considered delectation.

For those who are now puzzling, the first thing E@L read was something about how foolhardy we humans are to believe that we are nice creatures or that we don't lie to ourselves about a host of crucial things. We are pricks of the highest order, he maintains. And there are lots of other bitter, old-man, depressing shit, wonderfully written of course, which the photo E@L took of in order to transcribe it here didn't turn out, and when you're in a bookstore you really shouldn't take photos of the pages in a book and then retake them if they don't turn out, as his didn't, because you don't want to be kicked out, right? You don't want to be recognized next time you try to go in, and get blocked by the security guard and told you are not welcome in their store, or just watched suspiciously as you browse (spooky eyes over shoulder feeling), or have to hand in your camera-phone just in case, sort of thing. So you, faithful readers, you don't get the transcript of the philosophical bit that E@L felt like copying out for you (or himself) here today/tonight.

You. The awake/observant/returning ones, you know. E@L has had enormous difficulty with staff in certain kopi shops. Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc… Follow the internal links, you lazy bastards.

You know, kopi, Malaysian archipelago stuff, the sock coffee, strained through a pair of clean (one hopes! - ho ho, made that joke up) stockings, sometimes ostentatiously poured from jug to jug over arm-stretched distances with an accuracy that doesn't really impress because you know they've been doing it for years. Or is that the tea? Teh tarik, pulled tea. Fuck.

Meanwhile back in reality-land, kopi is a deadly thick, spoon dissolving, GORD-inducing, grit-your-teeth, morning pick-me-up-and-throw-me-upwards-through-the-roof-like-I-was-Ironman caffeine boost, sweetened with both condensed milk and evaporated milk (when done properly) to a point where it nearly isn't black any more, a drink that E@L loves. Craves like heron. His favorite birds.

Think of it as very runny Vegemite, with caffeine. Not the taste of Vegemite, OK, nothing salty or necessarily horrible, although some people can't abide kopi and purchase multi-million machines to hiss out a bitter thimble full of, what, they call that coffee, in seeking to appease some status anxiety fad that, essentially, George Clooney and other Hollow-wood LA ostentatious pricks are responsible for, just as some people, such as Amanda Palmer might not like Vegemite and prefer to place stuff like "jelly" and peanut butter on their toast, but a taste like concentrated... coffee No, no, no, we refer to Vegemite in the sense of love it or hate it, not as a drink. And for once, it is not cancer on the toast we are in discussion about today. It's just that they're both black.

Now we are on about kopi and eating toast with kaya jam and butter. And a specially prepared toast it is.

The toast has to be um, not really toasted, but slowly desiccated. E@L may have blogged about this before, he remembers vaguely (everything he remembers is vague these days) reminding readers of the first short story in Beckett's "More Prick Than Kicks," something about a lobster and Dante. (Let me know if you need more information. Or a link.) The toasting process is completely different from traditional bread toasting methods (i.e. E@L's). The toast-cooking auntie (usually, but sometimes a pasty-faced student male) places two thickish slices of brown bread on the low heat griller, waits, turns them over on the low heat griller, not once but twice. Take your time. This is an art-form. Only slightly browned, with the lines from the heating element faintly outlined.

The kopi is already in the cup, on the table, but the toast will be a while.

It is toast-dried to a crunchiness that when sliced horizontally, i.e. though the middle of the toast, through the thinnest dimension, they slice it horizontally with toast flat on the bench, they lean on it with a slight pressure to hold it still and with a long flat, round ended knife split it in two, quite clever really, that it is so crisp you would think it is almost ready to fall apart. Almost, but not quite. Because there is a hint of softness yet in the middle. A simmering warmth. A large dollop of sweet Kaya jam (basically sugar held together with some green colored coconut and egg(!)) picked up on the bread knife is spread across the inside of the halved slice with a single sweep that creates a uniform thickness. Three pats of frozen butter, with one positioned centrally so that when the slices are placed together ready to be cut transversely the knife goes through the middle of the butter in order to reveal its full cream (it's often Western Star butter, E@L notes, from the district of Victoria, Australia, not Hong Kong, where he was born - you can run but you can't fucking hide) yellow richness. Both of the pieces of toast are sliced at the same time - one crust snipped off first at some places - and placed on a rectangular plate that they carry out to your table and take away your brown block with a number on it, but leave the used plates and cups from the previous person or persons at the table.

By the time you have the toast in front of you, the kopi is almost gone. You can't get up to order another cup, as when you get back the toast on the table will be cold. You want the toast to still have some calorific memory of its toasting, the butter just starting to melt. Warm still, the crunchy toast brittle snapping between your teeth, the kaya sweet and the butter both warm and melting, yet cold and firm in the middle as well, oh my god. To solve this issue, you order an upsize cup, 30c extra and nearly double the amount. There'll still be plenty left - fuck it's hot, you've got to let it cool down - when the toast arrives.

Or you could get it all to take away if you still worked in the office upstairs, but you don't, you are stuck in fucking Tampines, but do not place the brown paper bag inside a plastic bag as the toast will sweat and become sad and soggy.

So anyway, E@L was in Harbourfront Center today to open a bank account for Super Maid Joyce (who is now signed under his name) and set up a gyro to pay her levy, and he visited his old local, the BF Wang's on level 1. It has been nearly six months since the Great Tampines Disruption. Even so, the lad behind the cash register, the same lad who took his order when he was in Singapore, when he was at the office and when he had missed breakfast, each morning looked at E@L with a smile and said, "Welcome back, sir!" and called, "Kopi upsize, kaya butter toast," and clicked it all into the register before E@L could smile back and offer him a $5 note, something different from the fistfuls of coins he used to fob off on them in an effort to return the three thousand dollars in 5c pieces blocking the doorway to his spare room to general circulation. (If E@L came home with fewer coins than he went out with, he'd punch the air! These small victories, as someone said recently. Was it Obama?)

The skinny girl is still there, the one with the hair that falls over her face. She has got a new style, bobbed, but it still falls over her face because she leans over each milk-prepared cup as she pours in the kopi and a splash of hot water, and she stirs with such an earnest ferocity, such professional velocity, that she has developed a kyphosis. She's a shoo-in for a Gold Medal in the Kopi Stirring at the KL Olympics, coming soon, watch this space. She's there at Wang's for life, and happy with the prospect. Doubt that her health plan will cover the spinal surgery she'll required later in life (cervical spondylosis, you can almost watch it evolve in real time). E@L always wanted to tell her to straighten up - good posture, my young lady, good posture!

She doesn't look up at E@L. He didn't get to catch her eye, but she recognizes him all right. He could tell by the way she ignores him. She still hates E@L from the time he asked for a small(!) cup, and not an upsize and she looked at him because she had already poured the upsize, which is Not What He Ordered, but he was in one of his weird moods (before he had his foot pain more or less sorted with thousands of dollars of drugs, perhaps) and he was pissed that she got the order wrong and then he insisted on a small cup, so she had to pour the large one into a small cup and throw the rest out, and, seriously, why the fuck didn't he just take the fucking upsize one, what a fucking dickhead he can be, Christ he hates himself sometimes, which makes two. Twain was right, we are all shitful people. Sometimes.

But the register guy recognized him. And he smiled. And that nice man brightened E@L's day.

The taxi-driver home, man, he was a total cunt.


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