I’ve been thinking a lot about food and nostalgia. I always think about food, but lately I’ve been interested in the way people discuss and remember food – things we eat, things we used to eat, and the memories associated with various kinds of food. Much has been written on the subject of food and nostalgia, of course, but it seems appropriate to continue musing on the subject.
Perhaps it is part of personal writing, which invariably involves mulling a lot over events that have already happened. Perhaps it is also that this age (note this alarming propensity for making sweeping statements about the kind of world we live in), like previous ages, seems to be suffused with nostalgia – those pesky, rose-tinted feelings about How Things Were Better Back Then, or Oh I Used To Eat This When I Was A Kid, and When I Was Six, We Didn’t Have Smartphones Like Kids These Days…
This is also an era, I think, in which young people like myself are far too aware and cynical about age and ageing. But I digress. Continue reading →
Hi. Hello there. I’m back, in many senses – first I was back in KL, and now I’m back in London, and in this small plot of virtual land once again. It feels strange to be stretching these writing muscles again after a long break, deliberating over a turn of phrase or comma placement, how to put together a sentence. Languages are bleeding into each other behind my eyes. As time marches inexorably forward away from what I think of as My Time in Japan (I left at the end of August), I find that Japanese nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions – words here and there are slowly fading, perhaps scattering themselves in the dusty corners of my head. English is starting to reassert itself. Speaking Japanese is starting to feel sometimes like a too-small glove, a mask rather than my own face, and it’s a little frightening.
All the rumours about Tokyo being expensive are true, especially when it comes to entertainment. Unlike London, where museums are free (or practically so) and student discounts are as common as Burberry prints on chavs, Tokyo scores pretty poorly on affordable cultural activities. Even as a student, it’s not uncommon to shell out 1000 yen and upwards for an art exhibition. Student prices for a concert? Free entry to a jazz club? Absurd! (I rarely went, but I find myself sometimes wistfully thinking about Ronnie Scott’s free entry for uni students after 11pm.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap entertainment in Tokyo. Exploring the various districts in this metropolis alone makes for great adventures that cost you only transportation fees – assuming you’re good (unlike me) and refrain from buying food and other nonsense.
I’m also rather partial to indulging my sadistic streak from time to time, and when the opportunity arose a few weeks ago… it turns out that some of the best entertainment in this city can be had for a mere 200 yen.
Whew. Hello there. I’m alive, though it doesn’t feel like I should be. But I made it through the past three weeks (Lord help me, it’s June already?) with nary a scratch. Perhaps a slightly bruised heart, but that was an old wound I just ripped open for a little bit. I’m cool now. Both of us are, fingers crossed and the fates willing. Everyone says that time fixes everything. That, and you make some drastic changes to symbolise some kind of fresh start, so I did a Bernice and bobbed my hair. It’s short and summery, and with my usual flower hairbands it’s kind of fabulous in a kokeshi doll sort of way. I said as much to my friend, and he choked and sputtered a bit, before telling me that
“You shouldn’t say that.”
“Kokeshi has a double meaning, you know…”
“No, I don’t know.”
“It has a sexual feel, like, you know…”
“No, I don’t know!”
“The shape, it’s like, well, you know. Something women use. Electric ones.”
“Oh. …You could’ve just said.”
I don’t love cooking any less than I used to, but I’m starting to feel a little old and tired. Don’t be fooled by my youthful looks! Sometimes the world feels so big and unmanageable, and myself too small and weary to deal with it. Plus we’re almost halfway through 2013. What the fuck is up with that, man? Where did the last few months go? How is it possible that I’ll be leaving Japan in three months? That just can’t happen.
Anyway, one day at a time. One meal at a time. Nothing overly complicated – lord knows the world’s got enough of that. Just simple assemblies. More vegetables, and I’m eating far less meat than ever before. It’s weird. I used to eat so much meat – all that hong shao rou, baconin everything, grilled chicken thighs. Now it’s all avocado and cucumbers and kimchi on toast. Everything is awesome on toast.
I hate waking up early. To put this more accurately: I’d love to be a morning person, but my body has decided otherwise. My family knows all too well, since I’ve subjected them to 20-odd years of grouchiness when forcibly shaken from slumber before noon. More recently, though, I’ve become attuned to the pleasures of not sleeping in, and instead having a longer day ahead. Waking up becomes even more appealing when there’s food involved. Oh yes. In particular, I will drag myself out of my coffin and schlep across a city for a sushi breakfast. During holidays I wake up late, but in Osaka, I woke up at 7 for breakfast at Endo Sushi.
Here is a photograph of pudding from Juchheim at Meguro Station. This particular pudding – or purin, as they call it here – was of the thick, unctuous persuasion with lashings of heavy cream and eggs. Not too sweet and rather rich, there’s a layer of lightly bitter vanilla bean caramel syrup at the bottom. It wasn’t the best pudding ever – I prefer something a little lighter, with more wobble, kind of like this – but it was quite delicious, and a lovely dessert on a sunshiny afternoon.
What’s missing here?
A. Another pudding
B. A nice background
C. The packaging
D. All of the above
Because this is the age of the e-book, I couldn’t put my phone down while I was reading. This is not an exaggeration. The day I downloaded the book I walked to the bus stop, got off at the station, got on the train to Shinjuku, changed trains to get to Akasaka, crossed several streets in the process and did not get run over, and also did not look up from my phone at all. I did the same coming home, and the 20-minute walk home through nighttime suburbia was illuminated only by the glow of the screen, and I finished right before I hit my doorstep.
Coming home is a funny thing. One minute I was travelling, shouting Hey I’m Having A Blast in Kyoto across the internet, and the next morning I was back where I started, with a few postcards and a suitcase full of dirty clothes, and it’s like I’d never left Tokyo at all. It’s been a week. It was a little shocking to suddenly have all this non-travelling everyday-time on my hands. Buckets of time, really, sloshing around and spilling over into empty afternoons that I don’t quite know what to do with. And I have all these photos from Kansai. Hundreds of them filling up my hard drive, and I don’t know how to even begin to make sense of these memories.
Instead, I’ve made a few stabs at life back here. Spring-cleaning. Groceries. Dragging myself down to the lounge to socialise with the newcomers and mentally reconfirm how much I hate small talk. I’ve been inhaling words of all kinds, too – Asterix, stories about the sea, a curmudgeonly essay at which I find myself nodding, the first manga I’m tackling in Japanese, severalbeautifulwriters. Maybe if I drink in their sentences deeply enough I will be able to write beautifully, too. But the important thing I wanted to tell you is that I’ve been eating avocado toast.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was midnight in Kyoto, and I was pedaling in a nameless dark with hunger smouldering in the pit of my belly, not homeward-bound for there was no one waiting for me yet, but instead towards a place Minoru-san claimed had the best takoyaki in town. It was spring but it felt like winter, and it felt like I was both the happiest and the loneliest of them all, with the spinning of my bicycle wheels echoing through the streets of Ichijoji.