The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: interesting

Adding South-east Asian pizzazz to pizzas

SEAsianpizza2When you think about pizzas, there are really three essential components to every pizza: the crunch (the crust), the goop (the saucy base), and the bite (toppings). If one is able to recreate these three mouthfeels, one would get a decent pizza.

By distilling the essence of pizzas down to these components, I started thinking, “Does pizza always have to have cheese or tomato sauce as a base? What if I have something else that’s also goopy, would that then make for a good pizza?”

And then I started thinking, “Has anyone ever tried to make a south-east Asian pizza that isn’t simply dumping south-east Asian ingredients on top of what is still essentially an Italian pizza, with cheese et al?” I know that people have experimented with all sorts of toppings, but invariably the goopy base always boils down to tomato sauce or cheese.

So perhaps, if I could make goop from south-east Asian cuisine, I could substitute cheese and tomato sauce for the base and make a pizza that is actually truthful to the original taste of the dish!

So on my train commute to work, I sat down and went through all the Singaporean/Malaysian dishes I knew of, and started thinking about their textures. I eventually came up with a first round of dishes a few months ago that I thought could viably be transformed to recreate the three mouthfeels that go into a pizza.

SEAsian Pizzas Round 1

southeast asian pizzasThe first round of pizzas I made for my friends were: (from left to right) Mee Rebus, Char Siew, Baingan Bharta, and Daging Rendang. These pizzas had an additional tweak in that they represented all the major ethnic groups in Singapore, but also covered all the major proteins including a vegetarian option. I’m going to list each pizza and their components.

Mee Rebus Pizza

A dish which in Malay simply means “boiled noodles.” Very unassuming sounding, but is a sweet and spicy curry that’s thickened with mashed potatoes and topped with a hard-boiled egg. I discovered that by increasing the amount of mashed potatoes in the curry gravy, one could achieve the consistency of cheese. I used the gravy as a base. There are, funnily enough, no noodles of course in this pizza, so maybe it should really be called Tak Mee Rebus Pizza, but then that just means “No boiled noodles pizza.”

I don’t really speak Malay.

I topped it with hard-boiled eggs, but also fritters. A recipe I found suggested cucur udang bawang (prawn and chive fritters) but I had a friend at the pizza dinner who is allergic to shellfish so I replaced it with chicken, making it cucur ayam bawang.

Char Siew Pizza

A Chinese barbecued pork dish, glazed with honey, maltose, garlic, and spices. I learnt to make char siew from scratch, and I discovered that the sauce is already kind of thick, perfect for setting as the base for the pizza. This one was a no-brainer, and not much alteration was necessary to make char siew into pizza. Garnished with garlic and cilantro.

Baigan Bharta Pizza

A spicy Punjab dish made from eggplants. Granted, Singapore major Indian ethnic group is Tamil, but I found baingan bharta the easiest to work with. By mashing up the eggplants, they became very goopy, which I used for the base. I then topped it with mushrooms and tomatoes, because why not? This dish is vegetarian.

Rendang Daging Pizza

A Malay dish of spicy caramelised coconut beef, where the beef is original stewed in broth and left to slow cook until the broth evaporates and is absorbed by the beef. The cooking process then turns from stewing to stir-frying.

I took a portion of the stew and thickened it, and used it as the base. I topped it with rendang, and garnished it with chilli and cilantro.

The crust for the pizza, because I’m not really an accomplished Italian chef, was some simple pizza crust recipe I took from the internet using olive oil, flour, and salt.

Since a lot of south-east Asian pizzas are usually eaten with a staple, such as rice or noodles, it made sense to replace the staples with the crust, successfully blending what is traditionally a rice or noodle dish into something completely new, while preserving all of its original flavours (sans the flavours of the rice and noodles themselves).

After the success I had for the first round of pizzas, I proceeded to make more a couple months later (which was a few days ago).

SEAsian Pizzas Round 2

SEAsianpizza2From top left clockwise: Thosai Aloo Masala, Otak-otak, Lor Mee, Singapore Chilli Crab

I decided to go further this time, and represent Singapore’s ethnicities better, while keeping the custom of varying the proteins. I also had the sense to take pictures of the making process this time. Once again, I’ll describe the pizzas.

Thosai Aloo Masala with coconut chutney

In Singapore, the food most people think of when Indian food comes to mind is immediately roti prata or thosai. I decided to go with thosai, because I’m an abysmal prata maker (I’ve tried).

Known in New York as dosa, and thosai in Singapore, it’s a vegetarian Tamil rice-and-lentil crepe dish, topped with any variety of things, from eggs to potatoes to magic. The batter is thinly poured over a flat tawa, just as crepes are. I’m very proud to say I made my own batter, fermenting idli and dal, but there was a necessity to make my own batter.

thosai

Regular thosai/dosa is too thin to turn into pizza, and I had to thicken it somehow. Simply pouring more on the tawa isn’t sufficient, because it’s quite liquidy and wouldn’t stay in place. Thus, I had to alter the proportions of rice to lentils, to achieve the consistency I needed to make a sturdy enough crust to hold the toppings, while still retaining the taste of the thosai.

aloosabzi coconutchutney

I made coconut chutney, and thickened it by reducing the water in it. That formed the base. It’s also one of my favourite chutneys to use for thosai. I topped it with aloo sabzi, a potato filling with curry leaves and turmeric. I had a baking tray that I greased, put it in the oven until it got really hot, and thickly but evenly poured the batter over it, and put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes. I then took it back out when it is lightly cooked, poured the chutney and topped it with the potato masala, and put it back in the oven. It came out as a flatbread sorta pizza, and I was pleasantly surprised how well it turned out.

Otak-otak Pizza

Otak-otak is a Peranakan dish, making it the first time I’m representing this ethnic group in Singapore with pizzas. It’s a spicy fish custard with coconut and eggs. Unfortunately, my otak-otak had the right smell and taste, but wrong consistency, as it failed to custardise properly. I think in my zeal, I put in too much coconut milk, causing there to be too much liquid for the custard to form. I’ll need to try again.

otak sataysauce

But anyway, I still had the fish soaked in the otak custard dip, and at least the flavours stayed. I used a satay peanut sauce as the base, and topped it with the fish

Lor Mee Pizza

A Chinese braised pork noodle dish, usually topped with a braised hard-boiled egg and a variety of other toppings, in a soy-vinegar broth thickened with starch and egg. Once again, lor mee means “braised noodles,” and the lack of noodles in this pizza (replaced instead with a pizza crust) should really name this dish “Lor Ang Mor Peng,” or braised Caucasian pastry, which doesn’t make it sound any more appetising.

lor mee sm

(I forgot to take pictures of the lor bak, lor neng (egg), and lor tsap (sauce), but I did make lor mee the night before so here it is a picture of it)

I lor’d (braised) the lor bak (braised meat) for two days, the egg for one day, and extra thickened the braising sauce with starch, flour, and egg, to form the base. The pizza was then topped with the pork and egg, and garnished with cilantro and fried shallots.

Singapore Chilli Crab

I learnt that whole live crab is cheaper to buy than fish fillets in New York. Maybe it’s because I’m paying for all that shell and whatnot.

Did you know that if you buy live crabs and put them in the fridge, they’re still alive 12 hours later? I put them in the sink to wash them, and they came back to life, like daisies!

So, I guess the Singapore Chilli Crab is a Chinese spicy crab dish, with tomato puree and egg and a bunch of other stuff that unequivocally makes it Singapore’s signature dish. Just google “Singapore signature dish,” and chilli crab usually comes up tops.

And because I wasn’t going put a whole crab onto the pizzas, I had extract all the crab meat manually. I also didn’t have a shell cracker tool. All I had were knives, chopsticks, and a pair of needle-nose pliers.

crabThis small unassuming bowl, containing over a pound of mud crab meat, took TWO HOURS and many an injured finger.

I then prepared the sauce and stirred the crab meat into the sauce, making a thick chilli crab goopy thing which was perfect as a base, no topping needed. I guess ideally I would have preferred the meat to be more in chunks and as shredded as they turned out to be, but hey try removing crab meat manually with chopsticks and needle-nose pliers and we’ll see if you can do it without destroying the meat.

But it turned out well enough and tasted great, so that’s that.

I altered some of the ingredients in the pizzas to account for allergies within my testing group. I took out the belecan (shrimp paste) from the otak, because someone was allergic to shellfish, but kept it in the chilli crab because he wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway. The good thing about south-east Asian dishes as pizzas is that, not only is it novel, they’re all lactose-free, because we don’t use milk very often in our cooking. So my lact-arded friends get to eat what passes as pizza, I suppose.

Makes me wonder why I’m not pursuing culinary as a profession sometimes.

 

 

 

 

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The Rich White Neighbourhoods ride

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A lot of my long-distance rides have been around the city, and I’ve not ventured out of the city in a while. Not on a unicycle, at least. I wanted to ride to a beach on Fire Island, but that was perhaps 60 km and I was not ready for that yet. So I chickened out and chose to cross state lines instead, and head into Connecticut. This is probably the first GPS-recorded ride I’ve done in a year, with the last being my ride into Stony Brook, Long Island, last year around this time.

Here’s a picture of the route I ended up taking; click to see the larger picture. Skip to the end for ride stats.

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As always, for such trips, I went packed with supplies!

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This time round, I had: a GPS, MP3 player, 1 Milky Way bar, a box of 5 granola bars that I bought for $1, a pack of chilli lemon peanuts that also cost a $1, spare battery pack for my phone, some AA batteries, keys, Nintendo 3DS for the pedometer, 3 litres of water, and my phone.

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I started at the Pelham Bay Park station. Although I could probably have ridden from my home, which would have added an additional 20 km, I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment yet. So the Bronx it is!

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I crossed the Pelham Bridge, which was pretty, and everything proceeded to be pretty for the next 10 km or so. I rode past numerous mansion, golf courses, horse riding trails, basically affluence. I saw houses that looked like this.

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You know what’s funny? Apropos of its name, this property is on PARK LANE, which is one of the pricey dark blue properties on Monopoly! Also, I broke my max speed ever (I think) and hit 31.4 km/h on a steep downhill! In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done all the crazy downhill sprints I did because I think that burnt my legs out faster over the course of the entire ride.

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I rode into New Rochelle, where I bought some iced coffee and had my first real break. I probably tripled the Asian population by being present there, but it was pretty. Rode past Larchmont, and into Mamaroneck, which was also really pretty. Geez I could probably sum up the ride with “Everything looked rich and really pretty.

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Things were slightly less pretty when I rode too far inland (I was supposed to be hugging the coastline and following the train tracks) and I got slightly lost. Thankfully a dog in a car pointed the right way back to the coast for me and things were pretty again.”

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I made it into Connecticut! By this point my legs had already cramped up once (just prior to the dog-car meeting) and I was set to cramp up a couple times more in CT because it is so damn hilly. I expected Connecticut to be flat. Guess I should have just ridden into Iowa or Kansas or something.

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First Whole Foods sighting, though it seems to be fancier than just regular Whole Foods, and is called Whole Body instead? Whatever Greenwich, CT. I just sat around in the parking lot eating my $1 peanuts and drinking my bottled water.

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Once again we meet again, my nemesis: highways. It seems like every time I go on a long distance ride out of my comfort zones, I run into highways. I sit here wonder, “Should I enter and risk actually ending up on some highway?” or is this actually a local road? Thankfully it was merely a tricky local road that looked very highway-ish.

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Yay I made it into Stamford, CT, which was where I was supposed to be. Surprisingly the only injury was from my backpack strap chafing my shoulders.

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I got to live the true suburban life by hanging out in the mall, drinking Starbucks, and getting chased out of the mall by security. Apparently the Landmark Square Shopping Center is a bit of a grump when it comes to people holding onto a wheel and just sitting in the mall; my friend told me even people holding on to kick scooters and skateboards get kicked out. But push strollers are OK. I don’t know why.

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Stamford, and by extension many of the other towns I rode past, is pretty, but that is all there is to it. It really has no character, to its streets. And given by the treatment I experienced at the mall, which is supposedly the crux of what there is to do in Stamford, this town is soulless, glossed over by a veneer of pretty.

I don’t think I could ever live here, dazzled by pretty architecture, but dismayed by inflexible authorities and a lack of celebration of alternative culture. In some sense, it is really similar to Singapore, filled with impressive futuristic buildings, towers ceaselessly piercing the skies and reaching ever new heights, but so lacking when it comes to building life at the ground level. Life and community does not begin in the air but in the hearts at the ground level. I end this ride with this amusing picture I came across at the MacDonald’s, which redeemed Stamford somewhat for me.

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Final stats for the trip.

Total elapsed time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Total moving time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Total stopped time: 60 minutes
Maximum speed: 31.4 km/h
Total UPD’s: 1 (Early into the ride next to the horse riding track, as I was trying to set my GPS)
Number of crazy downhill sprints: 5
Number of times legs cramped: 3
Numbers of uphills walked up: 5
Steps counted by the 3DS: About 20,000
Breaks taken: 4

Ceci n’est pas un concombre

 

HikaruCho6

HikaruCho7

Japanese visual artist Hikaru Cho is known for her transformative paintings — turning things into something else through her application of paint. In this series, she turns various food items into looking like other food items, such as the banana above into a cucumber. She also did the same with turning an egg into an eggplant, and a tomato into an orange.

But Hikaru Cho does really amazing (and creepy) work with transformative painting on humans. Here are some of her best works:

Her site’s definitely worth checking out!

[Reblog] Dropped – The story of how the world’s greatest juggler fell off the face of the world

Image credit: Grantland

Image credit: Grantland

Dropped

Why did Anthony Gatto, the greatest juggler alive — and perhaps of all time — back away from his art to open a construction business?

BY JASON FAGONE ON MARCH 18, 2014

The greatest juggler alive, maybe of all time, is a 40-year-old Floridian named Anthony Gatto. He holds 11 world records, has starred for years in Cirque du Soleil, and has appeared as a child onThe Tonight Show, performing in a polo shirt and shorts, juggling five rings while balancing a five-foot pole on his forehead.

His records are for keeping certain numbers of objects aloft for longer than anyone else. Eleven rings, 10 rings, nine rings, eight rings, and seven rings. Nine balls, eight balls, and seven balls. Eight clubs, seven clubs, and six clubs. To break this down a little: There’s one person in the world who can juggle eight clubs for 16 catches,1and that’s Gatto. As for seven clubs, maybe a hundred people can get a stable pattern going — for a couple of seconds. It’s difficult to evenhold seven clubs without dropping them; your hands aren’t big enough. Gatto can juggle seven clubs for more than four minutes. “That’s insane,” says David Cain, a professional juggler and juggling historian. “There’s no competition.” …Read the rest of the story here.


This fairly long article speaks to me a lot about what it means to be a performer and what my craft means to me. Anthony Gatto, whom the jugglers I grew up amongst raved about all the time, fell off of the face of the performing world, after having received so many accolades. Were there to be a “king of juggling,” even today I believe jugglers in the know would not hesitate to crown Gatto still.

Fangone, the writer, did not manage to actually score an interview with Gatto, which is disappointing, but supplements his article with thoughts and analyses to try to explain why Gatto stopped performing to go into construction. Fangone wrote about, or quoted some of Gatto’s words that struck me as circus folk:

By now, though, Gatto’s relationship with the juggling community had shifted. He no longer regularly attended conventions or entered competitions. Gatto didn’t want to impress other jugglers. “Nobody cares about good jugglers in the performance world,” he later wrote in an Internet forum. “They care about entertainers.”

and this

Gatto’s frustration with young, Internet-native jugglers boiled over in 2008, when he got into a sort of arms race with Galchenko, the YouTube phenom. It began when Galchenko appeared on an NBC show called Celebrity Circus. He was there to set a record for doing as many five-club, five-up 360s as he could in one minute. He ended up doing the trick 21 straight times without dropping, breaking the previous record. After the show aired, Gatto posted a video of himself doing 24 five-ups in a minute, breaking the record Galchenko had just broken. Galchenko then posted footage of himself doing the trick 29 times in a minute. It went on like that for several more rounds.

A reporter for the Boston Globe called Gatto at the time and asked why Galchenko’s TV appearance had bothered him. Gatto praised Vova as a “great juggler,” but he also said of younger jugglers, “Until those kids grow a personality, they’re not going to wow anybody. The audience doesn’t care if you juggle 20 rings.” The reporter added, “Gatto now says he regrets getting involved in the 360s competition — though he says he can still go higher — because it sent the wrong message. The only way to judge a juggler, he says, is to watch him onstage, under the bright lights, over the course of a career.”

And finally.

(Gatto) gave in. He grew to accept the necessity of kissing the ball and lobbing it gently into the crowd with a grin. He also learned to make hard tricks look hard, to pantomime the exertion and self-doubt of a man working at the edge of his ability even though his ability stretched on and on. He learned to entertain, because for some reason, even though we exist in a physical universe defined by the relative attractive powers of massive objects, the mere demonstration of a lush and lovely control of gravity is not enough. He labored to please an audience that could never appreciate his greatness. Then he got older and watched a new wave of jugglers abandon the stage for the flicker of computer screens, sneering at the bright-light mastery he’d worked so hard to gain.

It’s at times when reading things like these that makes a practitioner of a performing craft wonder: What am I, and what do I want to be? What do I want to achieve what I want with my craft?

Do I want to push the boundaries of technical circus? My own skill have been stagnating for a while — even though I’ve over 10 years of unicycling, poi/flag spinning/etc. under my belt, my skills have not leapt beyond those “Youtube whizzes” who pick up the sport mere months ago and are coming up with insanely technical and difficult Youtube videos on their progress. I picked up the pirouette on the unicycle maybe six years ago, and the pirouette is very flashy and crowd-pleasing, but I haven’t picked up much else since then. It was only recently, as of a year or two ago that I started to push myself to go beyond, and learn something that would please less the audience and more those in the know; circus folk.

But very often I wonder if it’s worth it, as Gatto might have, when the fancifulness of its difficulty is lost on the audience. I’m not sure Gatto ever fully achieved that stage, where he could reconcile his integrity as a practitioner of juggling and perform to the extent of his ability, with what the audience can see and understand.

Reblog: See the Inner Anatomy of Barbie, Mario and Mickey Mouse — Bones, Guts and All

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From the Smithsonian:

Oftentimes, when parents first see Jason Freeny‘s sculptures that reveal the inner anatomy of cherished childhood toys, they get a little worried that their children will be disturbed. Most kids, though, have a rather different reaction.

“Kids aren’t scared by them. They’re fascinated,” says Freeny, the New York-based artist who’s hand-sculpted hundreds of these inner anatomies, built into commercially-available toys, over the last seven years. “I believe that being frightened by inner anatomy is a learned thing. It’s something that’s taught to kids by society, rather than something that’s innate.”

Freeny himself responds to supposedly morbid anatomical features—like, say, a Lego’s intestines, or Mario’s lungs—the same way kids generally do. “I love anatomy,” he says. “As an artist, I’ve always been a big fan of drawing organic shapes, because of their complex detail.”

Freeny, who now creates the sculptures and other art full-time, documenting their creation on his Facebook page, began working on the project in 2007 on the side, while he still worked his day job as a designer at a tech startup. It began when, while digitally illustrating a balloon animal, he decided to try his hand at drawing its inner anatomy. “I started by drawing its skeleton system, and I was just fascinated by the completely grotesque skeletal system that its shape was dictating to me,” he says.

After illustrating the innards of several other characters (including a gummy bear), his startup closed, and he was laid off. Eventually, he moved from his 600-square-foot Manhattan apartment to Long Island—where he had enough space in the garage to do some sculpting—and embarked on his first 3D anatomy project. “I started cutting into a little Dunny toy, and decided to give it a clay skeleton anatomy,” Freeny says. “That’s when it all really took off.”

In the years since, Freeny has anatomically-supplemented dozens of different characters from video games, movies and even brand advertisements. For each sculpture, he begins by buying a high-quality toy (“If it’s a crappy toy to begin with, the sculpture is going to end up looking crappy too,” he says), then cuts away a portion of it. Using clay, he sculpts the character’s bones and a few internal organs, then paints them what he imagines to be realistic colors. Working on several pieces at a time, he completes about four or five per month, and sells the hand-built sculptures on his website along with his other artworks.

Hypothesizing the proportion of each character’s innards is the trickiest part. “It’s like a reverse forensics project,” Freeny says. “The exterior shape dictates what the skeleton looks like.”

He generally uses scientific illustrations to make the sculptures as accurate as possible. However, because the characters themselves are fictional, that’s sometimes impossible. “Mickey Mouse, for example, is a mouse, but he walks upright, like a person,” he says. “So his body, like many characters, ends up being more of a version of a human skeleton, distorted to fit inside the character. It’s a balancing act.”

One of Freeny’s current projects—Sid, the sloth from Ice Age—has proven to be particularly difficult. “His body’s just very extreme, and cartoony,” he says. “At first, I was approaching him as a human, and it just wasn’t working, so I used some sloth anatomy proportions. Almost the entire length of their bodies are ribcage, which solved a lot of anatomical problems for me.”

Initially, Freeny was unsure what reactions his unconventional work would garner, but they’ve been overwhelmingly positive. In some cases, he’s even gotten praise from the creators and manufacturers of the characters (although he’s also had a couple of corporate legal teams tell him to stop making the sculptures, alleging intellectual property infringement).

Although he recognizes the value of his sculptures as tools for scientific education—and has seen his own kids learn from the dozens of pieces lying around his workshop—his original intention was never to teach anyone anatomy. “I just love exploring these characters, and seeing what they look like inside,” Freeny says. “I want to see the grotesque, weird anatomies that these toys dictate.”

Reblog: This suave chap is apparently a girl! Don’t believe us? We don’t believe our eyes either

I swooned

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

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.