The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Musings

Always returning home to Asia

By the way, I have started on my job as an editorial fellow at Jing Daily, a publication about China’s luxury business. While not exactly at the top of the list of things I dreamed I’d be writing about, it is a start for my journalism career, I suppose.

There, I write things like:

Sotheby’s World-Record Jadeite Necklace Primed For Top Chinese Bidders

and

Luxury Pushes Hong Kong’s Sky-High Retail Rent To Top Global Spot

It seems that I often write about very Asian-related thing; on this blog a lot about Japan, and now at work, exclusively about China. At one of my previous internships, it was also at Asia Society, which I enjoyed enough, writing about Asian current affairs to an American public.

For a person that took such pains to leave Asia, it seems it has come full circle to bite me in the back by having me write so much about Asian issues. As much as I don’t wish to sell myself as the “That Asian guy writing about Asian news,” that’s what I seem to have been doing lately.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. I mean, is it a bad thing that I have access to Asian news and understanding, having actually hailed from thence? Maybe one day I’ll get to graduate from writing about Asian news.

The covenant between a reporter and an interviewee

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

The Story

An article on the Wall Street Journal today on Bitcoins, Shutdown of Mt. Gox Rattles Bitcoin Market, jointly written by Robin Sidel, Michael Casey, and Eleanor Warnock, talked about the closure of Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, and the lack of regulation of the virtual currency.

In a nutshell, it talked about Mt. Gox stopped all transactions on Tuesday, and that it has been experiencing technical difficulties for months, including a hacking attempt two weeks ago and an alleged loss of almost 750,000 Bitcoins, about 6% of the Bitcoins in existence and valued at $400 million. Overall, it cast a pretty grim outlook on the future of Bitcoins as a reliable trading currency due to its volatility and lack of regulation.

One of the subjects interviewed for this story was Erik Voorhees, a Panama City-based investor of Bitcoin startups, whose mention in the story was:

Erik Voorhees, another investor in bitcoin startups, said he has given up on a stash of more than 550 bitcoins that he has at Mt. Gox. At current prices, they are valued at about $300,000.

“That’s gone now,” said Mr. Voorhees, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.”

No one knows how many investors face possible losses or how much money is at stake. Mt. Gox has been losing trading volume in recent months to rival exchanges. Efforts to reach Mt. Gox officials were unsuccessful.

Voorhees (whom the author misspelled as “Veerhoos” originally) felt that his quote was heavily misrepresented, and his interest in the matter completely warped. He posted an open letter to the reporter, Casey, on Reddit:

Hello Mr. Casey,

I read your WSJ article today. I feel deceived by you.

You requested to speak with me, so I took time out of my day to do so. We talked for 20 minutes, during which time I conveyed to you my sentiments about the Bitcoin ecosystem and the matter of MtGox’s collapse. My message was unambiguously a positive one. I didn’t focus whatsoever on the personal funds I lost at Gox. Indeed, the impetus for your call was my heartfelt post on Reddit.

Yet, you ignored everything I said. The only quote that you published from me in the Journal’s cover story was “”That’s gone now,” said Mr. Veerhoos, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.””

Is that really the takeaway you had from our call and from my letter? Is that your idea of journalism? Did I come across with the sentiment of a despairing investor whose confidence has been rattled? It seems you were happy to completely ignore my sentiments, preferring instead to cherry pick the one fact that is least important, in order to paint a narrative that Bitcoin’s biggest problem is that it’s not “regulated.” I didn’t expect you to quote everything I said, but should you not have maintained at least a modicum of fidelity to my message?

I have dedicated my life to building and supporting the Bitcoin project. I don’t give a damn about the money I lost at Gox. That’s not important. What is important is that Bitcoin is resilient and enduring, and will continue to grow and change the world for the better. It is a story of human progress through technology. It is a story of the good seeping into the cracks of a corrupted financial system. It is a story of passionate people struggling against all odds to remedy the calamities brought down upon society from the most potently misguided people and institutions on Earth.

Next time you spend your efforts casting a pall over this cause, please don’t ask me to contribute mine.

-Erik Voorhees

PS – I will be posting this letter openly on Reddit. I will post your reply if you’d like. And if I do, I won’t cherry pick the most misleading points of it, and I will spell your name correctly.

The Ethics

This invites the the question of the integrity of journalists — constrained by word space and the angle they have to push, how much liberty can journalists take with regards to the quotes they get from their interviewees? Any reasonable reading of the article will find not a shred of a positive light regarding Bitcoins, what with lines like:

But the unregulated currency isn’t backed by a central bank, raising alarms about which bodies can intervene when crises arise.

Or:

The Mt. Gox mess hasn’t changed the enthusiasm of Overstock.com, which began accepting bitcoin for payment in January.

It is clear that the authors were trying to push the angle of the unreliability of Bitcoins. However, interviewee Voorhees’ given interview was that of a positive one with regards to Bitcoin usage and its future, according to his post on Reddit. The reporter Casey then seems to have misrepresented Voorhees’ interest by cherry-picking quotes and placing them out of context.

From an ethical point of view, that seems dastardly. I understand that writers have to pick a strong, consistent angle to sell the story, and Casey picked the one about the unreliability of Bitcoins, and had to ensure that the theme is consistent throughout the article. But when the trust in journalists to protect the integrity of given interviews is lost by the interviewees, who will be left to give any more interviews in the future? While not on the same level as Judith Miller refusing to disclose her sources, there is an expectation from interviewees that the journalists whom they have agreed to grant an interview to will no misrepresent them. This is a covenant between the reporter and the interviewee that should never be broken.

One then would also have to wonder about the blame of the editor, who is responsible for making sure the story is as sell-able as possible. In this case, we have not heard back from Casey regarding the decision to cherry-pick Voorhees’ quotes, whether was it his editor that pushed for that decision or was it purely Casey’s. While it is the reporter’s job to do the legwork of collecting the facts and quotes, the editor, who puts things together and rearranges them, is as much a part of the journalistic process as is the journalist.

Interestingly, Chris Lamprecht, known as the first person in the world to be banned from the internet, commented on Voorhees’ predicament.

Erik,

A long time ago, in 1995, I was the first person banned from the Internet, and my case was in the news. An honest journalist once told me something very important that I never forgot. I was asking him if he could include certain things in his article. He said:

“Chris, you have to understand that journalists are not your PR agency. Journalists have their own agenda. They are going to write whatever story they want to, or whatever story their editor told them to write.”

Any honest journalist will tell you something similar. Unfortunately, not enough journalists care about writing an accurate story.

Thanks for being a good voice for Bitcoin.

Truer words never spoken, and an unfortunate but accurate description for what journalists were and still are today. Why do we tolerate such shoddy standards though? It is not as if journalism has to be that way.

The Answer?

Journalism has always been a reader-led effort — not only what the readers want to read, but how they want to read it, journalism has always answered and provided. If readers want salacious content, then salacious content becomes “journalism.” If readers want their content speedy, where the first medium to produce the article is the most efficient, then hasty journalism becomes journalism as well.

And then we proceed to complain about why journalism these days is so poor in content, and poorly fact-checked.

We have to realise that journalism is what we want to read, and until we decide that we want accurate, fair, and balanced journalism, we will always have shoddy, subpar works that obfuscates as much as it tries to tell a story.

Would you like an Obama bun?

As I was writing about chopstick innovation and learnt how a design company, Nendo, attempted to innovate the chopstick while keeping with the traditions of lacquerware-making from the Wakasa province, a historic province that is today part of the Fukui prefecture, and I learnt a lot about the lacquerware type unique to Wakasa called Wakasa-nuri 若狭塗り.

The Wakasa province is renowned for its exquisite lacquerware, including its signature chopsticks, and the ancient capital of the Wakasa province is a town called Obama 小浜市.

Yes this lacquerware hub of ancient Japan shares its name with the current U.S. President Obama.

“Obama,” which means “little beach” in Japanese, has many of the temples during the Yamato dynasty. Needless to say, when President was first senator and ran for presidency, the city gained worldwide attention.

From Wikipedia:

The city of Obama has received much publicity because it shares its name with U.S. President Barack Obama. It began when Obama as a Senator gave a 2006 interview to Japanese television network TBS where he noted that, when passing through customs in Narita Airport, the official who inspected his visa said that he was from Obama. The Obama City Hall heard about the interview and the mayor, Toshio Murakami, sent Senator Obama a set of the city’s famous lacquer chopsticks, a DVD about the city and a letter wishing him the best. As Senator Obama’s presidential campaign progressed, more local businesses began to organize primary parties and put up “Go Obama!” posters, sell “I love Obama” T-shirts, and produce manjū (a type of Japanese confectionery) with Senator Obama’s face on them. A hula group began in the town in honour of Senator Obama’s home state of Hawaii. The troupe visited Honolulu in June to perform at the Pan Pacific Festival.

President Obama has since thanked the town for their gifts and support, saying “I look forward to a future marked by the continued friendship of our two great nations and a shared commitment to a better, freer world”.

Check out these Obama buns

Of interesting note, the card says: Obama Manjuu, Oba-man, using the typical Japanese practice of making portmanteaus

Also, unsurprisingly, Obama, Fukui’s Wikipedia page has been vandalised. Under “Demographics,” someone wrote, “The population of Obama consists of Japanese aboriginal groups mixed with Indonesians, mulatos, Texans and Koreans.

van

Chopsticks innovation

Chopsticks are such simple tools that rethinking, redesigning, and improving them seems like an impossible task. But, if something as simple as the umbrella can be redesigned, so too can a pair of chopsticks.

Oki Sato from Japanese design company Nendo was asked to redesign the chopstick, and looking at the kind of problems that people run into when using chopsticks (square chopsticks are too pointy, round chopsticks too slippery, chopsticks are messy to store, etc.) Take a look below at the concepts he came up with for re-imagining chopsticks and how they can be made better.

hanataba 花束 (bouquet)

“Round chopsticks are slippery to use, but overly square-cornered ones aren’t as comfortable to hold. We explored ways of increasing the surface area of chopsticks in the hand, as a way of improving holding comfort, and discovered the natural form of the pleated cross-section. When viewed as a cross-section, the chopsticks look like flowers, so a bunch of chopsticks kept together into a cup turns into a ‘bouquet’.”

jikaoki 直置き (direct placement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. The firm’s expert artisans carefully carved away the chopsticks’ tips to fine points, so that they float above the tabletop when the chopsticks are laid down for cleanliness, even without chopstick rests.”

sukima 隙間 (gap)

“The world is full of patterned chopsticks, so we wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to create pattern in the space between the chopsticks. We came up with four patterns: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The two chopsticks are carved into different shapes for all patterns but the diamonds, but it’s possible to use one of the diamond chopsticks as the top chopstick with a spade, or the bottom chopstick with a heart, for a total of four different patterns from the four different chopstick pairs. The carving made the chopsticks so thin that they weren’t strong enough with wood alone, so we embedded a carved aluminium core in the wood to solve the problem.”

kamiai 噛合い (engagement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today.We put a gap on one of the four sides of the square shaped chopstick, and embedded a magnet, so that the two would snap together in one piece when they are flipped and fitted to each other.
We placed the magnets towards the outside of each chopstick, so that the chopsticks don’t come together accidentally while someone is using them to eat.”

udukuri 浮造り

“We used the udukuri process, in which the wood surface is carved away with a metal brush, leaving only the hard wood grain, then lacquered the chopsticks and polished them again to bring out the wood grain as pattern. The traditional technique, in which materials clamshells, eggshells and gold leaf are applied with the lacquer then polished away to reveal a pattern is known as ‘togidashi’ (literally ‘to polish and show’), and is particular to Wakasa-nuri. Unlike patterns drawn by hand, this combination of processes allows patterns from nature to appear organically.”

rasen 螺旋 (helix)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. Chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs, but the rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They’re separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use. We used the artisans’ hand skills and a multi-axis CNC miller to create these unusual chopsticks.”

All photos by Akihiro Yoshida

Learn to separate the GMO hate from anti-corporatism

Greggor Ilagan, county council who initially sought to ban GMO in Hawaii, rethinks his position after deciding to learn about GMO himself through scientists, rather than self-styled “experts.” Image credit New York Times

There has been so much GMO food (genetically-modified organisms) hate going round the internet for as long as GMO has been around. Scary pictures depict GMO as a sort of “Frankenfood” that will ultimately give us all cancers and destabilise society. In fact, the New York Times just reported on how Hawaii passed a bill for vote to ban all GMOs on Hawaii, with much support from policy-makers and the voting crowd. Unsurprisingly, the ones most worried about the passing of such a ban are the papaya growers of the island, and county council member Greggor Ilagan, who undertook an effort to actually learn about what GMOs are, found many of the misconceptions he had about genetically-modified food debunked.

While it is true that not everything is known about GMO, the fight against GMO is, if one were to look carefully at the vitriol thrown against the technology, is half-parts resisting the actual technology itself, and half-parts decrying the unscrupulous practices of the corporations such as Monsanto that control the industry. It is important to not to lump corporatism with what is perceived to be the ills of GMO foods, because they’re separate things.

But the sad thing is, the “evidence” given against the science of GMO have mostly been disproved, yet these untruths still are touted around as legit reasons to completely throw GMO out the window. For example:

  • Gilles-Éric Séralini and a group of French researchers published a peer-reviewed study that rats fed GMO corn developed giant tumours and died prematurely — This is one of the most often cited study as to why GMO will kill us all. The study has been criticised for many reasons: 1) The rats chosen for the study were of a strain extremely prone to tumours. 2) Sample size problems. Where the OECD recommends at least 50 rats for carcinogenicity studies per testing group, Séralini only used 10, making it results more likely to be error-prone. 3) Statistical cherry-picking: Séralini did not publish crucial information about the study. The journal that published Séralini’s paper has since retracted it.
  • Judy Carman, Australian researcher, claims that pigs fed GM corn and GM soybean meal showed increased incidence of stomach inflammation. This too has been debunked for the following reasons: 1) While they showed pictures of GM-fed pigs with stomach inflammation, the pigs that were fed non-GM food actually developed more inflammations than the ones fed GM-food. 2) The pigs were subject to terrible living conditions, and that 60% of pigs of both groups developed pneumonia anyway, evidence of bad husbandry. 3) Statistic-fudging: The researchers separated the groups into different bands of inflammation and ran separate statistical tests so that their P-values could limbo underneath the P < 0.05 mark to be confident in. That is, they went fishing for the right values to validate their hypothesis, which was chosen after the experiment run–stomach inflammation.
  • GMO food causes autism. A mere error of confusing correlation and causation, something that can happen.
  • GMO crops pollinate with weeds, passing on their foreign-inserted genes, causing superweeds. GMO crops do not pollinate with weeds (except in rare cases, but that’s a different story). “Superweeds” are caused by improper and excessive use of the pesticides, without rotating types of pesticides used, nor were there other forms of weed control practices used other than pesticides. This led to the weeds gaining a resistance to the pesticides. Unfortunately, because of these superweeds caused by excessive use of pesticides, farmers end up having to use more and more pesticide to kill off these resistant strands, sometimes reverting to the use of pesticides that these GM crops were supposed to phase out.
  • The foreign-introduced genes in GM-food will be passed onto humans when we ingest it, possibly leading to health complications down the road. There are no conclusive studies that have proven this. On the other hand, there have been no studies that can conclusively say that there are absolutely no risks to eating GM-food, but as far as studies can show up to this point, they have been proven safe enough to eat.

Now, we move on to the criticism of the corporatism aspects resulting from the GMO industry.

  • GM cotton has led to farmer suicides in India. Vandana Shiva, an environmental and feminist activist from India, repeated an alarming statistic: “270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market,” she said. Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, containing a Bacillus thuringiensis gene, cost five times that of local varieties. This caused scalpers to mix the Bt seeds with conventional ones to sell them at lower prices, and the sham seeds usually result in crop failures, adding on to the farmers’ financial problems. But while the total number of suicides in India grew from just under 100,000 to more than 120,000 in 2007, the number of farmer suicides remained constant at around 20,000 per yer. Yields actually grew by 24% per acre between 2002 and 2008, owing to reduced losses from pest attacks. Farmers’ profits rose by an average of 50% over the same period, owing mainly to yield gains.
  • Monsanto will sue you for growing their GMO if the pollen blows through your field and sprouts. Monsanto has shown no evidence of intentionally bringing a lawsuit against a farmer whose field was accidentally pollinated. Monsanto has filed suits against 145 farmers since 1997, for intentionally planting their patented seeds without having purchased the rights to do so. They’ve only proceeded through trial in eleven of the cases, all of which they won. The idea of “Monsanto suing for accidental cross-pollination” came from the 1999 case of the Canadian canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, who claimed that his 95% GMO-seeded field was an accident. The judge eventually found Schmeiser to have intentionally planted the seeds, but since he derived no benefit from the planting, did not have to pay any damages.
  • Corporations like Monsanto make seeds that are sterile, and force farmers to constantly have to buy seeds from them each planting. From NPR: “This idea presumably has its roots in a real genetic modification (dubbed the Terminator Gene by anti-biotech activists) that can make a plant produce sterile seeds. Monsanto owns the patent on this technique, but has promised not to use it.””Now, biotech companies — and Monsanto in particular — do seem to wish that this idea were true. They do their best to keep farmers from replanting the offspring from GMOs. But they do this because, in fact, those seeds will multiply.”However, relying on corporations for seeds isn’t new. By the time Monsanto got into the seed business, most farmers in the U.S. and Europe were already relying on seed that they bought from seed companies. This shift started with the rise of commercial seed companies, not the advent of genetic engineering. But Monsanto and GMOs certainly accelerated the trend drastically.
  • The majority of our foods are GM already. Actually, not quite so. Currently, only eight crops (alfafa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, and zucchini) are widely-grown GM, with some others at risk for contamination. Of the GM crops, corn and sugar beets have a lot of derived products made from them, such as aspartame, amino acids, high-fructose corn syrup, and xanthan gum, amongst some.

I’m sure I’ve missed out on some of the criticisms, but these are the usual suspects raised against GMO.

I’m certainly uneasy with the monopoly these major corporations have over our food production methods, when only one or two major companies supply the majority of seeds sold to farmers. I can certainly understand the companies’ desires to patent their seeds, since they’ve spent time and money into researching them, but not all GM work like Monsanto. Looking at Hawaii’s GM “Rainbow” papayas, it was developed primarily by scientists at academic institutions, has no patent protecting it, and it was a model for how the technology could benefit small farmers. This GM almost single-handedly saved Hawaii’s papayas from an outbreak of the ringspot virus in the mid-90s.

But just because we’re uneasy with the corporation, doesn’t mean the science of GMO is bad. What we should work towards is better regulation of standards and rigorous testing of GM food, and creating a framework of ethical standards that straddles a balance between profit for the corporations as well as understanding that such technology is ultimately created for the benefit of mankind and ending food shortages, not a mere means to a pretty penny. The fear-mongering of sensationalised untruths against GMO is only going to hurt not only the farmers, but ultimately the people as well.

How cheating has made me grow as a person and a gamer

Everyone deplores cheaters. The word ‘Gameshark’ is always muttered under dark breaths. The idea of getting something without having to work for it irks people.

OMG HAX

However, I’m here to sing a different tune. As a kid, when I discovered the joys of the clunky plug-in Gameshark device for the Playstation 1 as a kid, I was thrilled by the countless possibilities. Oh I can finally get that KOTR materia without all that nasty chocobo inbreeding now. Oh 1337 stats and infinite items? Yes please!

And thus began my cruise onto the internets to source for hundreds and hundreds of hexadecimal codes, all those 8001117D etc. which I copied dutifully by hand onto paper and then manually inserted into the device. Yes, through using the Gameshark device, I learnt what the hexadecimal system was in fifth grade, and learnt about the basics of programming, and how tweaking numbers can change values in a game. I learnt that things in a game, such as stats and items, correspond

But strangely, even as I infinite-HP’d my way through Monster Rancher, I didn’t get the satisfaction I thought I would. Oh sure, being able to plough through the games without the fear of dying was thrilling. As Winston Churchill once said, “There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as being shot at and missed” and indeed this exhilaration gripped me initially. I was practically omnipotent, with infinite resources at my disposal.

Yet, after a while, I opted for max HP/MP cheats instead of infinite HP/MP, because the games got too easy. I would look for codes that maxed my life that could be depleted instead of an infinite one. Slowly, I rescinded on the codes I used. Instead of a max all stats cheat, I would perhaps only max just one aspect. Soon after, I stopped using stat altering cheats and went for unlocking exclusive feats (unlockables, hard-to-obtain items etc).

Till today, I don’t really regret that I used a Gameshark to get a Mew in Monster Rancher 2 simply because I didn’t have a ‘Madonna the Immaculate Collection’ CD to spawn it.

This….

…spawns this. True story. Why? I dunno.

The point is, when everything was so easily available through cheating, I began to appreciate the value of effort more. Through being able to easily obtain Arceus and Darkrai on Pokemon Diamond/Pearl made me realize that their availability made them no more precious than a regular Bidoof or Zubat. Thus, to make my Pokemon experience special, I discovered EV training (I wasn’t a very good competitive trainer but going on that journey was interesting) and the Pikachu with the Volt Tackle that I got from the (crappy) Wii Game ‘Pokemon Battle Revolution’ as the first Pokemon I ever EV trained (and Ditto-raped for nature). I still kept all the rare Pokemon I cheated with for collection purposes, as I realize I would probably never be in Japan when promotions reel around, but within this game, residing side-by-side with the ill-gotten Pokemon, were Pokemon I put so much effort and time with. My Diamond cartridge truly felt like a culmination of experience, of learning through the disappointment I got through cheating, the determination I gained about the value of effort and so forth.

Many gamers decry the methods of cheaters, but in the writings of John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’, through a ‘free marketplace of ideas’ where both the good and the bad opinions are allowed to be aired, the good shines in comparison through conflict with the erred and to deprive truth and good that opportunity would be to do people a disservice. Cheaters have the potential to learn the value of effort and hard work through cheating too.

I suppose in real-world situations, it’s not as if the actions of an individual gamer has no social implications, especially in today’s gaming situations, with MMOs on the rise, cheating and bots do impinge on the gaming experience of other people and that’s when things go bad. Nobody wants to play a game with a person who has gold farmed from a bot or a gold farmer and upsets the meta-economy. My cheating history was a mostly cloistered one, since I wasn’t rich enough to play MMOs. Battling online on Pokemon though, can be where the “do no harm” principle flounders sadly like a Magikarp — one does see outrageously hacked “hackmons” while battling, and the ones without a cheating device is usually left disadvantaged.

It seems that the concept of cheating has gained more consequences with the rise of socially-integrating games then. The motif of the Mills ‘Harm principle’ where “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins” becomes challenged more and more as games develop, but it also brought into the discussion some merits of cheating that would have otherwise been overlooked.

Originally written on 27th December 2010 on 1up.com, edited for content and clarity.

An order of Chinese puns, stuffed with conspiracies

It’s an interesting day when the president of China eating lunch sparks off a wave of conspiracy theories.

Chinese President Xi Jinping got in the queue with the lunch crowd and bought six steamed buns filled with pork and spring onions, a bowl of stir-fried liver, and a plate of vegetables, for a cost of 21 yuan.

On Weibo, some were marvelling at how the President himself was getting in the line, paid for the food himself, carried the trays himself, and obtained the food himself. Others wondered if his public obtaining of food had any symbolic meaning.

The New York Times reports:

While photos of the presidential lunch fill pages of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media site, users are trying to “crack the code” of the three simple food items for signals regarding the president’s anti-corruption campaign.

According to one theory, the name of the steamed bun shop, “Qingfeng,” which means “celebrating the harvest” but sounds like the Chinese words for “clear wind” and evokes an honest government official who never takes bribes, suggests the qualities Mr. Xi wants all government officials to uphold as a standard.

Another says the stir-fried pig liver means that any government officials who demonstrate pig-like greed will be “fried,” which can mean to be fired in Chinese.

The green vegetables Mr. Xi ordered, called “jiecai,” sound like the Chinese phrase “beware of wealth” — a possible warning to all officials to resist the temptation of financial gain.

The translucent filling of fatty pork and spring onion signifies transparency. And it is no coincidence, says one theory, that the meal cost 21 renminbi, the sum of three times seven. This is because the Chinese saying “It doesn’t matter if three times seven is 21” means that whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

“President Xi is saying government officials must stay clean and transparent, otherwise they will all get fired!” concludes this theory.

“If you are a corrupt official, the president will finish you like he did his lunch!” said another Weibo user.

So basically, the essence of Chinese conspiracy theories lie in… puns? Wow.

Which is not that surprising, given that the language is full of homophones.

Synchro-nice

I’m sure many are aware of the Japanese group World Order, known for their elaborate, synchronised pop-and-lock music videos. But, do you know the creative unit behind their works? Meet Hidali, a choreography unit headed by Ryo Noguchi and Takeatsu Nashimoto.

The icon the use to represent the company, 左, means “left” in Japanese.

Formed on March 2013, Hidali has since worked with not only World Order, but other artists both local and international, such as Japanese electronic artist Haisuinonasa and American recording artist will.i.am.

On their youtube channel, they’ve released a couple of interesting videos in their signature style, including a summer greeting, a “Respect for the Aged Day” one, and one for Christmas. All of their music are done by Yu Imai, also part of Hidali.

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!

shakshouka

I made shakshouka, but this post isn’t about the shakshouka. In fact, it’s about the pita in the background, which I made.

Did you know how cheap it is to make your own pita? Had I known how cheap it was, I’d never have bought those commercial pita. Plus, home-made ones are so much fluffier! Seriously, the initial crunch and then the yield of the white, soft fluffy interior is so luxurious, I could sleep in it.

Let me break down the cost it takes to make pita:

  • 1 lb all-purpose flour costs maybe $1 – 1.50. A 1lb bag yields about 7 cups of flour. The recipe I used to make the pita uses 3.5 cups of flour to make 12 pita, so 24 pitas for $1 – 1.50.
  • 3 packets of active dry yeast for $1, and it’s 1 packet for 12 pita, so 60 cents for 24 pita.
  • Salt, sugar, and olive oil, which are hard to calculate.

So it’s approximately $1.60 – $2.10 to make 24 pita, when most commercial pita sells for, I don’t know, $1 – 2 for 8? This makes it a cost of $3 – 6 for 24, nearly triple the price. Plus most commercial pita are quite tough and flat.

This is the recipe I used, from allrecipes.com.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  1. Sprinkle yeast over warm water in a mixing bowl and allow to stand until the yeast forms a creamy foam, about 5 minutes. Mix in 2 cups of flour, salt, and shortening; beat for 2 minutes with a fork. Stir in as much of the remaining 1 1/2 cup flour as needed.
  2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, kneading in more flour if dough is sticky. Form into a ball, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest in a warm area for 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C).
  4. Divide dough into 12 equal portions; flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball. Cover dough balls with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Flatten the balls into rounds on a floured surface, cover with kitchen towel, and let rest 10 more minutes. Gently roll each dough ball into a circle about 6 inches in diameter on a floured surface. Place pita breads in a single layer on ungreased baking sheets.
  5. Bake in preheated oven until the pita breads puff up, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip breads over with a spatula, return to oven, and bake 2 more minutes. Let cool on wire racks before cutting pita breads in half and gently separating tops and bottoms to form pockets for filling.

I didn’t have shortening, so I altered the recipe and used somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of olive oil instead. I ended up using all 3.5 cups of flour. The trick to fluffy pita is to really just give them time to rise. Total time taken is about 1 hour 20 – 30 minutes.

Of course I understand that not everybody has the luxury of time to splurge on making pita, when the convenience of just buying them from the store appeals so much more to the time-pressed. But I assure, that oh-so-soft fluffiness of home-made pita is worth it, the lack of preservatives in it makes it healthier too.

So I made a batch of 12, I’m not going to be able to finish all of it in one sitting. I figure it’ll keep fairly well in the fridge in a ziploc bag until when I need it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some fluffy pitas to roll around in.

 

Wrap up, Start Over

The year of 2013 was momentous: I wrapped up a milestone in my life where I graduated from university, and was thus to embark on my next, into working life.

Instead, I boarded a ride into an extended period of self-doubt and uncertainty, as I failed to get a full-time paying job.

I learnt to challenge the notion of success and succeeding, and what it takes to succeed. I came to the conclusion that it is not so dependent on how skilled a person is, as it is knowing people and finding channels in which to succeed.

I lost the will to write for a while.

I found a reason to write again.

My year was peppered with moments of anxiety and helplessness, and as moments becomes days, and days turn to weeks, I was cast afloat. Perseverance struggled against despair, attrition reared its ugly face and slowly wore down the smiles, leaving behind a numb sombreness.

When one is steeped for so long in the cesspool of the unpleasant, one learn to be inured to its sting. But in learning to deaden the nerves that feel the unpleasant, so do the nerves that feel the pleasant and joy die out too, for they are the same thing. I have had not a reason to smile, but so did I not grimace as well, as I meandered the course, hoping, no that word is too strong, waiting for the happenstance that something better comes along for me to latch on to, to break this autopilot.

Because it is very tiring not to feel anything. The wilful denial of reacting to anything is exhausting — I’ve held my hand up to keep emotions at bay, and now my arms begin to tire.

Dare I even hope for hope this coming year?

Happy new year, everyone.