Blistered Peas and Poppy Seeds

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There’s this food blog that I’ve been following for a while. It’s special, because despite all the alluring and well-taken photos, I have never once followed any recipes posted, simply because I have a hunch they won’t taste good.

But still, I follow her. Not religiously, not bookmarked and sitting on my to-read-list, but occasionally, when handsome food and beautiful writing come to mind, I fill the address bar with its name.

If words could be eaten and food could be read, this blog would make one hell of a restaurant serving it’s writing. There’s just a particularly something about the writing (the easiness?) that makes it so relatable. It turns every dish into a story and every story into a well executed dish.

It marries both of my favourite things in life—food and words—and maintains a romantic, jealousy-inducing relationship. It makes me excited about writing and ready to cook. It makes blistered peas topped with poppy seeds look, feel, taste and read like a dream.


P.S: It is so liberating to write in long, never-ending sentences that don’t have to make sense as long as they sound like they do. Writing full-time does things to your creativity and makes you lose your sense of wonder. I’m not complaining, but I’m glad to have some place where mediocre writing can be left to live it’s mundane, mediocre life. 🙂

Love Like Hot Chocolate

I must be the luckiest intern in the world because the hot chocolate that happens to be a staple in the office pantry tastes like a vacation in Europe (not that I would know since I’ve never been there). It dispenses from a futuristic coffee machine that sits beside the sink, with possibly a hundred different buttons and a million variations of coffee to suit the needs of the fickle. It’s a pretty noisy machine, because when you finally find the right button to press (the one that says “Hot Chocolate”), it makes a horrific rumble and terrifying roar before a deep dark liquid pours out below.

It’s a very intense thing. Drinking hot chocolate. It smells like heaven and it looks like heaven…but it’s burning like hell. You can’t resist it though, because although you know it’ll scald your tongue and make you blister, you cannot resist a taste. Just a small sip. But the moment it touches your tongue, there’s no going back.

What does it taste like? A million different pralines melted and mixed with only the milkiest milk in the world (Milkiest milk…like sweetest sweets and saltiest salt). It’s bloody hot, but at that moment, you don’t even care. All you want is to taste the creamy sweet taste on your tongue and the smooth silk down your throat. There’s nothing like it really. Quality hot chocolate is like a pool of warmth, happiness and joy—it’s divine.

But wait a minute. After the third, or maybe the fourth gulp, you realize that the fifth tastes a little different from the rest. Perhaps the chocolate has cooled too quick in the stale office air. Perhaps it’s been tainted. Oxidised? There’s something a little off about this mouth and you cannot really tell why. You risk another sip, eager to know if it’ll taste the same. There’s a little too much chocolate at the end, you can see it clinging to the cup and marring the taste. You look at the cup in scorn and in disdain. There’s no way you’re drinking this last mouth, so you tip the cup and empty its contents into the pantry sink, the dark brown liquid staining everything in it’s way.

There’s no love like hot chocolate. Love me like hot chocolate?

Do Rabbits Dream?

Despite not being pet lovers, my family has had it’s fair share when it comes to the variety of creatures that have had the fate of crossing our paths. When the lohan fish with its big forehead and promises of prosperity rose to popularity years back, my eldest brother brought home one. An odd creature it was. Not particularly engaging, and not a crowd pleaser considering how it was neither cuddly nor furry.

When the fish grew tired (or when we grew tired of the fish), someone did something to get rid of it. I cannot remember if we gifted him to a particularly superstitious relative who believed it would bring good look, or if we let him go in a condominium fish pond. Either way, the fish left—it was meant to—one way or another.

The second animal that entered our family doors came in on two feet. It was infinite times furrier than its predecessor and received endless showers of love while it was a baby. Well, babies. We had four chicks. Two female and two male. But as they grew from tumbling yellow balls huddling under a book lamp for warmth into fully developed roosters and hen that cocked and laid eggs everyday, fate had it that they would, too leave us. It wasn’t just the complains from neighbours (who by the way, took our eggs) when the chickens roamed freely in our backyards during the day. Neither was it because one time, a female fell sick and the helper had to feed it human medication (diluted paracetamol). It was just that someone did something to get rid of them—I cannot remember who and I cannot remember how. I only know that one morning, the roosting stopped and so did the eggs.

In between, I had a heart-attack hamster and a tumour hamster, both of which did not last very long. Until one year, my brother came home with a cage so huge it was fit for a dog, but with no dog inside. Instead, a grey ball of fur huddled in the corner, scared out of his wits.

My parents were never supportive of pets. We were never responsible nor attentive enough to deserve one. Most of the animals that were fortunate enough to make their way into our homes entered with lies. A “birthday present” or a “forced gift”. But true to his character, my second brother dropped the cage squarely within our porch and proceeded to announce that he had adopted this bunny, because his owner (an acquaintance) was leaving the country.

Despite her vehement protests and continual efforts in trying to get rid of him, the bunny slowly crawled his way into my mother’s heart. So today, while he stood on the vet’s table shivering from fear, I wondered what life would be like if it didn’t have him in it anymore. During the four years we’ve had him, he’s only been to the vet twice. Today was the third and suddenly he seemed much older than I know.

Do bunnies have dreams? Does he ever wonder what it’s like to run unobstructed, through miles of green fields and have hundreds of females by his side? Was he trying to head somewhere when he left home the day we forgot to shut the gates tight? Did he return because he agrees that there’s no place like home? Sometimes I wonder what goes through his tiny bunny brain when he sits in the car enduring one hump after another. It must feel like a giant earthquake for his tiny bunny body right?

We always thought love would grow and blossom after time. We’re not pet people by nature, but we’re not heartless too. I have to admit, your lack of affection and inability to withstand cuddles and pick ups didn’t help build the rapport we needed, but in the end, we still learned how to live together. There’s no great love, but there’s familiarity. There’s no inseparable pet-owner relationship, but there’s comfort in knowing that every day, after the endless work hours and the tiresome commute, we’ll come home to your big orange cage and the sound of scuffling feet when you come begging for treats.

I think what I want to say is that as children, we’re doe-eyed and hopeful. We naively believe that love will magically grow when fluffy animals are brought into the game. But when we become adults, we understand that love is not something that can be forced. Time cannot build love if it is not meant to be. The good thing is, we also have the capacity to understand responsibility and take comfort in knowing that some things are not as great as love, but they’re pretty damn great in their own way too. The amount of familiarity, routine, and heartwarming constants a tiny bunny can provide, is in it’s own way, a different kind of love that at the end of the day, make the vet trips, the surgeries and the endless poop cleaning worth it.

Soaking In Gratitude

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A knock echoed through my empty apartment one unassuming Tuesday afternoon and a raspy voice followed after. “Kuai di!” he bellowed and I tottered towards the door, expecting to receive yet another parcel — the result of cheapass China products and too efficient online shopping.

Receiving mail is one of the greatest joys in this tech-savvy era, but when you receive 20 tightly wrapped parcels in the short span of a week, it can turn into the biggest pain in the ass. This time, instead of brown cardboard boxes mummified in too much cellophane tape, it was a Styrofoam box.

Attacking it with skilled finesse — something I have mastered over the months of opening countless parcels, it revealed bubble wrap. A layer of bubble wrap so thick it completely concealed what it meant to hold. 2 ice packs fell out. I lost my mind. What the heck did I buy?

After layers of peeling, it revealed a 1.5 feet long (think in terms of Subway sandwich lengths) pumpkin tartlet. From who? A friend I happened to meet up with while visiting Beijing. Why? Because she bought it for me once and I couldn’t stop complimenting it. It sat there, in that huge Styrofoam box, smothered in bubble wrap and ice packs, still cool to the touch. So cool it burned a fiery hole in my heart.

I haven’t met many people after moving to Shanghai. I’m a firm believer that socialising takes too much effort and I’m not the kind to build relationships I don’t see lasting the dissuasion of time. Exchange students? Not my type. The locals however, surprise me. Generous, companionable and down to earth, they have found an incomprehensible way of wriggling into the depths of my heart. They are the kind that grow on you. The kind you never expect to root in the depths of your soul and flourish into something larger than love itself.

Depressed My Ass

The study table I never use is in a seemingly irreconcilable mess and my laptop is bruised and battered from the constant road trips I bring it out on. In fact I cannot remember the last time I left my house without it weighing down on my shoulders and I think I might never get used to the lightened load if I ever decide to leave it at home.

Teenage girls are complaining about suffering from depression on their brightly colored blogs; their laments a lackluster companion to the smiling selcas and YouTube videos that relentlessly vie for attention. Depression? What do you know about depression when your life is a backdrop of cafe hopping, OOTDs and an ego that’s constantly being inflated by your army of loyal readers? If having a generic bad day that involves you lying on your back in bed for 20 minutes wondering where your life is headed and then crawling under the showers to wash away the tear tracks caused by an inexplicable sense of failure translates into depression, being psychologically healthy would be a real rare trait.

Yes I’m complaining. Because the words cannot help but bubble over from the cauldron it has been forced to marinate in. We think we have it so bad, that our lives are a mess and conveniently use our occasional sadness as a pity card, a winning marketing strategy. Truth is, that sadness you think suffocates you on the rare days you succumb to it? That’s not depression, that’s called growing up. And growing up is hard. It’s not life threatening, neither can it be clinically diagnosed and printed upon a label you wear around your wrist. But growing up can keep you awake on many nights, tossing and turning till the sheets are rumpled and your sanity a jumbled mess on the ground. Some people have it tossed in their faces and others savour it served on a silver platter. Growing up sucks, but some of us just have it easier.

So please don’t pull out the insanity card and bemoan the sadness you have in your life. Because everyone has it, and when it really sits on the brink of your lucidity, it doesn’t feel like a popcorn kernel ready to explode. It’s the slight weariness and the white space you see when your thoughts empty from your mind. It’s the sleepless nights that have no beginning, the nights that even a tiny pink pill cannot bring you the repose you so desperately crave. It’s nothing.

Thunderstorms

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I have a habit of listening to music at deafening volumes in complete darkness whenever there’s a heaviness in my heart that I can’t seem to comprehend. When I developed this habit I don’t know. I don’t even know if it makes me feel better because twenty minutes into this and I still feel suffocated by the still night air.  

Storms are supposed to make the sky look darker, like a foreshadowing of ominous thoughts or baleful wishes. Yet tonight, the night sky is unnaturally lit by what seems like an impending torrent of rain. It’s funny how when you eliminate the potential threat of deafening thunder roars, streaks of lightning actually seem easier to appreciate. They illuminate the darkness in a brilliant yet almost artificial manner and in that fraction of a second they burst into light, everything is crystal clear.

If you were here, perhaps I would have righteously proclaimed the storm as “cuddle weather”. But since you’re not, and the weight of the night has proven too much to bear alone, I’ll resign to doing what I do best — escape. When the world is bent on sending torrential downpours your way, the last thing you want to do is to fight it. When the universe is hell bent on making you break, maybe the easiest way to emerge unscathed is to hide somewhere they can’t find you. That, I can do.

The Day I Went to a Cafe

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I never liked cafes. It makes me uncomfortable in a way that I can never fully comprehend, almost like being trapped in a glass chamber under heavy observation. I think it has something to do with the rise of indie culture and how people in cafes are always dressed in an artificially laid-back manner that sets my skin on fire. Intentionally comfortable dressing that looks comfortable but actually isn’t. I don’t like the indie culture very much.

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Yet on a rainy afternoon, amongst hectic schedules and intense editorial meetings, I found myself walking into Loysel’s Toy, looking for something I wasn’t sure if I was going to find. But my shoes were wet, and my shoulders heavy. For once, the scent of fresh brew and the clinking of cutlery seemed inviting.

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What was I trying to look for? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the budding of first loves or the reconciliation of lost ones? The serenity on the faces of coffee drinkers? Or the fluster and frenzy of the servers hurriedly pulsing black liquid into the bellies of white mugs? What do you look out for when you’re sitting upon wooden chairs and eating upon wooden tables? What captures your attention and gives you a reason to stay? The food wasn’t sublime, it never is and never will be. But yet there’s a strange attraction that cafes have that keeps the seats filled and the coffee cups empty.

I don’t like cafes, but I keep going back, only to be left more confused every time.

I don’t like cafes, but I do?

There is Potential for Love

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Sitting in a corner of Coffee Bean shivering to my icy death on a painfully uninspiring Thursday evening, a text from a long-time friend makes me realise that the elusive love we spend our entire lives looking for are actually seeds sown in the ground and waiting to bloom.

There is potential for love everywhere. A slight liking towards a new friend, a flush that blossoms on your cheeks when he calls out your name to say good morning along the hallway, the slight touch of an attractive stranger when he shuffles restlessly in his seat. Perhaps we’re all too blind from the lists we have subconsciously constructed from the people we would like to have in our lives to notice the ones that actually are.

While we’re constantly searching for the coifs of perfectly gelled hair and rolled jeans that leave a perfect amount of his ankles exposed, we miss out on the things we wanted in the first place altogether. We push away inklings of love, the could haves and the would haves, in search of what reality tells us to be the perfect relationship. The healthy one.

And while we put on veils, masks and a wonderfully set up disguise, we miss out on the ones who love us for we who are underneath. We miss the ones who internally acknowledge the relentless efforts we put into making ourselves perfect yet love us blemished, crumbled and crushed anyway.

A Little Alcohol is the Best

I am intoxicated. Mildly, but surely.

I don’t evangelise drinking. I am not the devil that sits comfortably on the right side of your shoulder and coaxes you into letting down your defences into welcoming a spiked drink. I’m not.

But no one can deny how a drink (or two) can set your inhibitions loose and let you feel a little more relaxed than you initially intended to be. No one can deny how every emotion you feel is amplified, turned positive and coloured in rainbows highlighted with streaks of neon when you choose to take a sip out of the cocktail glass. I’m not saying a bit of alcohol always makes you feel better. I’m just saying that the odds are in your favour when you do.

I realise it’s always easier to write when your senses are dulled and when your fingers run on something other than sobriety and common sense. That when you learn to let instinct take a turn at churning out words and forming sentences, not only do you get a good laugh in the morning, you also realise a little bit more about yourself than you knew yesterday.

I’m not drunk. Nowhere near vomiting. But intoxicated? Surely. And whether or not I’ll realise I wrote this tomorrow remains an unknown mystery. Whether I’ll regret it or not? I already know for sure right now.

I’m a bag of happiness right now. Of magnified happiness, comfort and half-witted contentment. But who is to deny a fool of his joy and a dimwit of his comfort? No one. This happiness is mine, however short lived, however immoral. It is mine and I welcome it with unmatched, childish delight.

Ideas are Bulletproof

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School makes you appreciate the lesser things in life — like showering at absurd times of the day and seeking refuge from the scorching sun beneath the comfort of your blankets and artificially chilled air.

I just spent the afternoon curled up in the fetal position on fresh bedsheets when I should have been halfway across the island, stiffly sat upon a lecture chair fighting sleep. I tell myself sacrifices have to be made in order to retain whatever’s left of my sanity on a stuffy Monday morning and guiltlessly enjoyed my midday nap. A 10 hour work day is way too intense for the second week of school.

While waiting for the train in the sweltering heat and mindlessly scrolling through my Tumblr feed, I realised we fall in love with the idea of things like a moth helplessly attracted to a burning flame. We repost images we see online of people we’ve never met and rolls of cigarettes we’ve never really tasted. We fall in love with the simplicity of an image and the endless possibilities of perfection it brings. Flowers that never have to wither, balloons that rise without limit and love that’s captured infinitely in the summer.

I once asked why he never bought me flowers, insisting that I was being denied the one thing I truly loved and brought me immeasurable happiness. (Peonies particularly. Others not so.) In return, I was told what I loved was the idea of receiving and not the actual act. That I fell in love with the images of bouquets with the pastel hues against the flushed skin, the smiles and joyous laughter I was conditioned to expect when I held a stalk between my hands. In reality, I wouldn’t know what to do with them the moment the excitement faded. I would trouble with where and how to dispose of them, I would fret when they gradually lost their elegant disposition.

We fall in love with the idea of things because we can’t help it. Because things are always so covetable, so beautiful, so flawless when we only see them in a two dimensional world. We replay scenarios in our heads, convinced that we’re irrevocably smittened, until one day ideas become reality and we begin to grasp the unfathomable knowledge of why and how ideas are and will always be better kept in fantasy.