The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: money

[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.

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.

 

Understanding the Chinese consumer culture

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Photo credits to South China Morning Post

Ikea bends over backwards to accommodate Chinese keener on sleeping than shopping, but sees unprecedented growth

Shoppers sleeping on display beds; couples taking “selfies” in the showrooms; thermos flasks of drinks and plastic bags containing food sit on the display kitchen tables, with shoppers actually eating and drinking off of them — these sorts of behaviour would be unthinkable anywhere else, but in China, they seem to be the norm.

And it is not as if the store actively encouraged it. In the article, store staff Jason Zhang says that every day, he wakes up about a hundred of them.

Ikea was certainly not expecting such behaviour, and has certainly bent over backwards to accommodate these shoppers in hopes of chasing their yuan, and it has certainly worked — their turnover in 2012 exceed 6 billion yuan.

Understanding why they behave that way requires the understanding of two conflicting ideals: Being insensitive to criticism and the needs of others (having a thick skin), while being sensitive to scrutiny at the same time.

There is a certain lack of awareness of others among the Chinese; if the Japanese are overly-conscious about the considerations of everyone around them, then the Chinese would be the antithesis. Only by having a skin thick enough to brush off admonishments from their inconsiderate acts could they even behave they do in the first place. If the customers at China’s Ikea considered about other customers using the products in the future, they would be more careful with it. If they cared enough about not appearing to be uncouth, then they would not spit in public or be disruptive. If they cared enough about the people trying to get out of the trains, they would not be rushing headfirst as the train doors open.

As such, you have people doing whatever pleases them, oblivious to the disapproval of those around them.

According to Tom Doctoroff, an expert on Chinese consumer psychology and author of What Chinese Want, … going to Ikea may not be too dissimilar to visiting a theme park. Generally, Doctoroff explains, Chinese people tend to take a more recreational approach to consumption. “Shopping in China is far more about the experience itself than it is in the West,” he says.

Blindly charging ahead, in pursuit of their ‘experience.’

Doctoroff also says:

For Chinese consumers, products for domestic consumption are secondary to the more visible status offered by Western brands such as cars, watches or even Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Starbucks coffee.

This is a rather salient point about Chinese consumer culture: buying things is very much less for its utility than the perceived status it affords. Therefore, a brilliant sofa from Crate and Barrel would be inferior to a Gucci handbag, and people would rather tote around a Starbucks cup containing average coffee than a cup of fair-trade organic coffee.

What this means is that just as they brush off criticisms of their actions, they are at the same time sensitive to how people perceive their prestige, and the easiest way to obtain that is through acquisition of material goods. They are eager to be seen wearing their expensive clothing and bags, and eating, drinking and socialising at establishments that boast of an affluent lifestyle.

This obsession with flaunting status is not something new: traditionally, in restaurants, a Chinese host would often order more dishes than anyone at the table could finish, resulting in incredible wastage. This is so that the host can display his generosity and capability of affording such lavishness.

The Chinese equate goods that are expensive, and easily-recognised brands with social standing. One needs only to go to premium outlet malls such as Woodbury to witness the whimsy with which they buy bags and purses from Coach, or Prada, or Gucci. Of course, to afford these goods, they have to have a certain amount of wealth in the first place, and indeed the ones causing the most antagonism worldwide in their squabbling ways are those who can afford to leave the country to tour, travel, work and vacation.

For example: A teenager was caught defacing a 3,500 year old Egyptian temple, Thai message boards were abuzz with complaints of Chinese tourists being a nuisance in public and spitting, a French boutique hotel announcing that they would bar Chinese visitors — the burgeoning affluence of China has opened the doors to the world to its newly-rich, and the rest of the world feels it.

“That China is a lawless, poorly educated society with a lot of money is going to take its toll on the whole world,” said Hung Huang, a popular blogger and magazine publisher in Beijing.

Ms. Hung, the blogger, blames the Communist Party’s tumultuous rule for China’s uncivilized behavior abroad. “There’s an entire generation who learned you don’t pay attention to grooming or manners because that’s considered bourgeois,” she said. While Chinese are more open to Western ideas now, that has not necessarily sunk in when actually interacting with the outside world. “They think, ‘The hell with etiquette. As long as I have money, foreigners will bow to my cash.’ ”

Despite the bad rep, countries are still bending over backwards to accommodate the Chinese, for they represent revenue to be made. As reported in the New York Times, 83 million mainland Chinese spent $102 billion abroad — overtaking Americans and Germans — making them the world’s biggest tourism spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Wedding companies in South Korea are trying to lure Chinese couples with bling-heavy ceremonies inspired by the viral music video “Gangnam Style.” A coastal county outside Sydney, Australia, is building a $450 million Chinese theme park centered on a full-size replica of the gates to the Forbidden City and a nine-story Buddhist temple. France, one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists already — 1.4 million visited in 2012 — is working to further bolster its appeal.

Parisian officials recently published a manual for the service industry that offers transliterated Mandarin phrases and cultural tips for better understanding Chinese desires, including this tidbit: “They are very picky about gastronomy and wine.”

Such pandering, however, encourages the poor behaviour of these Chinese tourists. Be it countries abroad, or Ikea in China, letting revenue permit the lack of social grace is as myopic as the Chinese who spit and litter wantonly on the streets: focusing on whatever is pleasing now and not having to worry about consequences or how it might affect others.

Perhaps shops should enforce orderliness, and firmly rebuke those who are disruptive, even if it might cost them some business. Perhaps greater social education should be emphasised upon in schools. Change will not happen overnight, and in fact, given the vastness of the country, China may not even see a betterment of its ungraceful problem for many generations, but leaving this wildfire rampant and unchecked is not a solution either.

When even banks flee from college loans

From CNBC:

The largest bank in the United States will stop making student loans in a few weeks.

Even banks, who have been known to fish around troubled waters for revenue, such as with mortgage-backed securities during the subprime mortgage crisis, are pulling out of providing further loans to college students who want to take out a loan.

Why? Because college tuition is mounting, and as college students take out more loans to be able to afford that, only to graduate into joblessness or low-paying jobs that are insufficient for them to service their repayments, many default on their loans, causing banks losses.

I bet the student loan sector is so dismal that even the most creative of banks cannot re-package it into a lucrative derivative product. Unless the investors are really that daft.

With over $1 trillion in outstanding loans, the second highest in the country, over $8 billion in default, and about 13% of payers defaulting within  three years of servicing their loan, no wonder JP Morgan Chase wants out of this rapidly-collapsing market.

And of course, loans from JP Mogan Chase are a variable prime rate subject to market forces, unlike federal loans, and should interest rates go up, more students are likely to default and less students will be willing to take these loans out.

It is not so much that the jobs students are taking are less capable of living a standard life than they were decades ago; job wage increment has been slight but at least still barely keeping with inflation (2-3% wage increase vs 2-3% inflation) in the past two years. Compare that with tuition increase in the past two years, which has increased by 4-5%, plus state funding for colleges have fallen 15% in the past six years.

The problem is most definitely with the free-wheeling increase of tuition costs with no seeming checks. I have written about this previously and how if we are to maintain the momentum of development and progress in the country, something must be done to the incendiary college side of rapidly rising tuition costs, rather than just working on the palliative side of the solution of providing more government aid.

Making the progress of the country affordable

From the New York Times:

Obama to Offer Plans to Ease Burden of Paying for College

It is about time the wildly sky-rocketing prices of a college education be addressed. While not actually depressing or stemming the increase in tuition, offering more aid is just as good a solution as any.

It must be, and I believe it is, recognised that a college education is ultimately how a country can begin progress. Oh don’t get me wrong, a college education is not necessary for an individual to be successful and happy in life — a person who has never been to college, through innovation, hard work and the right mixture of conditions can live the life he or she wants to. I’m talking about advancement and success at a national level.

A lot of the “better life” we talk about is made capable through invention — green energy, more effective farming methods, waste reduction technologies, communication, etc. — all these are the results of research and development, most if not all, made possible by researchers and scientists who have had to start in college. There are not many prodigies around who, without having to go to college, are capable of inventions at a scale enough to impact a nation as a whole; most innovations are from the toil of thousands of regular scientists who become proficient at what they do from having received the know-how and training from college and university. If a prodigy is the equivalent of a hundred scientists, rather than focus trying to find the wayward genius, it makes more sense to groom a hundred scientists instead.

If the very basic step of even attaining a bachelors remains out of reach to many because “college is too expensive”, and there might be countless untapped future inventors and pioneers waiting for the right academic environment to unleash their potential, a lot of talent and potential is wasted; all that is achieved is college heads having their pockets lined with more money.

Why is college the vital stepping stone, and not say, high school, to a country’s advancement? It is true to say that every step along of the path of education contributes to innovation’s path, but high schools being unaffordable is not quite a problem in this country, college is.

The government is investing in the country’s future when it decides to give students access to their own ingenuity by helping make the tools affordable; knowledge, and an environment to inspire.

My Milo is ‘kosong’ out of necessity

miloI am a huge fan of Milo, this chocolate malt drink that I have been drinking since I was a kid. Back home, the way it is usually made is to put heaping spoonfuls of the chocolate powder, add hot water and then a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Not with regular milk, not with creamer, just condensed milk.

These days, I’ve been having to drink my Milo ‘kosong’, or ’empty’ in Malay. What that means is simply a cup of Milo without any condensed milk; just Milo powder and hot water. This variant is preferred by those who like their Milo less sweet, since there is a measure of sugar in the Milo chocolate powder mix already.

Milo has been my regular substitute for slabs of chocolate, since it is rather chocolate-tasting and we all know chocolate makes people feel better about themselves. Heaven knows I need plenty of feel-goodness, to help the days pass by.

condm

I had a can of condensed milk at the start, and every cup of Milo made a spoonful of this sticky, sweet goodness would always go with it. Sometimes even two, if I felt like it. At times, I would even lick the spoon for the remnants after I put it into the drink. I have on occasion, simply taken a teaspoon of the stuff because it tastes really good (don’t judge).

But as the condensed milk fell from brim to bottom, and the spoon made a cloying scrape that signified the pending depletion of the condiment, I started to ration it. A full teaspoonful of condensed milk per cup of Milo became half a spoonful. Eventually the condensed milk ran out.

I then started using the milk for my cereal into my Milo, which is not as good, but a fair replacement. After all, I had run of cereal and was not planning on buying any cereal for a while, and I had been using whatever milk was left in cooking anyway. Making Milo is sort of cooking. It is a preparation of a beverage — the use of milk in Milo is certainly justified.

It would not even be a week before even the milk disappeared. And thus for the two weeks, my Milo has been unsweetened, unmilked, unembellished by anything. But I persist in imbibing this concoction, because even without the sweetness of excess, life and cups of Milo go on.

I might be unable to afford the sweetness that makes our life pleasurable, but that does not mean I should simply throw out my brew or stop drinking Milo altogether. We have become a culture so addicted to the sweet things in life that we forget what it feels like to live humbly. Maybe I grow to like the taste of ‘kosong’, maybe I will pull through and find a job and one day be able to afford condensed milk again. But in the meantime, let the hot chocolate warm my heart and relish in the joy of knowing at least you still have Milo to hold in your hands.

(If anyone is wondering why I can afford Milo but not condensed milk, when Milo in New York costs like $14 or something ridiculous for a 1kg can, I can’t. These cans of Milo are gifts. I will lament the day I run out of even Milo powder.)

Can I have some more gruel, please?

You know you’re falling on hard times when you start rationing even cabbage, and cutting out a 1/16 part of it for lunch.

Grocery shopping has become challenge as I start to cut out on things that were once deemed nice to have, but are now crossed out out of necessity. I have always been a frugal shopper, but lately I have had to extend how long groceries last in my fridge, thereby reducing the frequency with which I have to go grocery shopping. I now have to try to make two weeks’ worth of groceries last three.

I have resisted the temptation to live on a diet of processed food, even though they are probably cheaper. It’s depressing enough that I don’t have a lot of money, I shouldn’t have to suffer the idea of eating sub-par frozen dinners and the such. Besides, eating unhealthily might eventually lead to health complications that might end up costing me more. A friend who is similarly unemployed tells me that on certain sale days, frozen dinners can cost as little as $1 each, but having never grown up in a culture of microwaving meals as a norm, that idea did not sit well with me.

On average, I manage to rack up about $25 on Asian groceries and about $35 for Western groceries each trip. This $60 usually sufficiently provides me two meals every day, for about two weeks, making it a cost of $4.30 a meal a day, which isn’t bad at all. This $60 now has to last me three weeks.

The following chronicles how my diet has changed in this time of rationing.

Carbohydrates

noodles

The above are two of the cheapest noodles available in the Asian and Western supermarkets I go to.  The Chinese egg noodles on the left cost about 80 cents (the supermarket doesn’t tax!) and the capellini pasta costs about 88 cents before tax. While it seems like the pasta costs only a paltry eight cents more, too little to make a difference, the number of servings I can prepare before I finish each box is hugely different. These noodles are all the carbs that I buy.

I wonder why I always end up using finishing the box of pasta faster than the Asian noodles. I usually finish using the box of pasta after 4-5 meals, whereas the Asian noodles lasts me about 5-6 meals. This is odd because by weight, the pasta is a full pound while the Asian noodles are about 14 ounces. Maybe because the Asian noodles are in cakes and makes it easier to divvy up (one is usually enough, two if you’re really hungry) whereas I usually just eyeball how much pasta to use.

I have also stopped buying bread or pitas or tortillas.

Meats/Proteins

prot

I used to have protein from meat at least one meal a day, or once every two days if I felt like having less meat in my diet. Now, my source of protein comes primarily from eggs, and occasionally I’d be able to have some pork, perhaps twice a week. The one-pound round of pork butt which I made char siew out of in a previous post has been made to last me two to three weeks, by strategically cutting off what I need and freezing the rest.

I have also been substituting meat with tofu, because a pound of it is about a dollar.

Vegetables

veg

This is the above-mentioned 1/16 of a head of cabbage, which I have been painstakingly rationing, since they’re one of the hardiest vegetables to keep in the fridge. Even though a pound of carrots is $1 each, I also have a bag of frozen carrots and peas. However, I reserve the fresh carrots for making stew, and use the frozen ones in pasta and rice dishes. I have stopped buying bell peppers and fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme.

I love mushrooms, but they’re impossible to keep for extended periods without turning mushy.

Luxuries

snack

Chocolate has been struck off of the list. Today, my friend was kind enough to give me a slab because it was too bitter for her. Thanks goodness I love bitter chocolate.

However, I have been snacking on spoonfuls of peanut butter instead; peanut butter that I bought a long time ago but ran out of bread on which to spread.

I have also been drinking copious amounts of Milo because it tastes so chocolatey.

Flavorants

flav

I used to have flavour bouillons and stock pastes, but ever since I ran out, I’ve been relying on using shallots, onions, garlic and scallions as a replacement. These vegetables are rich in umami, and when burnt in a pot or pan, release a lot of flavour. Buying scallions from Chinatown has been a steal for me, since in Chinatown they’re usually two or three bunches for $1 (approximately 5-6 stalks per bunch!) whereas it might be as expensive as $1 a bunch in Western supermarkets. It’s also $1 for a rope of garlic and a dollar-something for a bag of shallots. Scallions last only about three weeks before they yellow, but onions, shallots and garlic stay good for a really long time, about a month or so.