Saturday, May 31, 2014


Creepiest phone phrase ever: "Are you alone right now?" Which interrupted my bus journey from Marin to civilization (San Francisco). Chap behind me. On his cell-phone.
I was trying to crawl inside my own brain, when he dialed someone.
It probably doesn't surprise you that I do not like cell-phones, and in fact do not own one.

Years ago I had a beeper. I acquired it the week I left Jasmine Tech, so that people could keep in contact. By the time I stopped the service, cellular devices had caused the disappearance of pay phones.

What do you do when your beeper goes off? You call the message number to find out who it was. Which, if you don't have a cell-phone, means that either you put fifty cents into the nearest pay phone, OR you wait till you get to a regular phone.
Either office, or home.

The net result is that you cannot be reached, nor will you actually want to be reachable, unless you are near a land line.
Otherwise you'd have a cell-phone.

Here are numbers at which you can call me.
If I'm there.

"Going home surrounded by ugly people...."

Yeah man, thank you for using that thing on public transit. Those of us who weren't on our own phones now know that you lament how facially unappealing you think we are.
The public safety message that plays every block or so on the buses operated by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency advises you to keep your eyes up and your cell-phones down.

"Keep your eyes up, and your phone down!"

Nominally that's so no one will opportunistically yank it out of your hand and take off running. The cover story is crime prevention, and a measure of harmony among the public.

But it's really for the benefit of your fellow passengers.
Who don't want to hear about your fabulous life.
And hate the sound of your voice.
As well as your egomaniac self-absorption.
Now kindly shut up.

No, we won't steal your cell-phone.

But we may permanently embed it in you.

You would never be able to switch plans again.

And there might be an insistent ringing in your ears.

You know that you're never alone on the bus, don't you? There is no privacy, there are other people around. Some of whom would rather not hear you being a creep on the trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you really need to be on that phone, for what is obviously NOT an emergency, nor something that cannot wait because otherwise your boss will have a panic-attack, kindly ring the bell and get off BEFORE you dial.

Perhaps you're not the big tough psycho you sound like.

Some of us don't need a phone for that.

I am not a nice person.

Just remember that in a way, we are all New York. If you get educated by a rabid Dutchman on public transit, everyone else will all of a sudden become absorbed in their own cell-phone life. Which is fascinating!
They can't notice a thing, they aren't witnesses, and they won't actually intervene in any way.
No one wants to get in between you and the maniac.
There's no telling what will happen if they do.
Trust me. You really are alone.

Ring, ring.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Among the habitués of Portsmouth Square in Chinatown are a number of non-Chinese individuals. Unlike the Cantonese-speakers around them, who are usually engaged in chess, or card games for nickel stakes, the non-Chinese seem best at being only tenuously connected to reality.
It's a very San Francisco thing.

But precisely like clostridium difficile, which is kept in check by all the other bacteria in the gut, these space cadets are becalmed by the sheer number of elderly people who would look askance at too much weirdness.

The idiot young Filippino getting in touch with his nun-chucky side was given a very wide birth, though many observed him with avid interest.

My, he's getting quite good at not clobbering himself with those things!

He was there for several weeks, months ago.
I haven't seen him in quite a while.
Maybe he's medicated now.

Irrespective of where I enjoy my tea, I will often end up on the edge of the park, where smoking is still legal, enjoying a pipe-full. Except for the people who know me, I remain invisible in Chinatown. Especially near the motherlode of loony tunes which is Portsmouth Square.
Rule number one: never catch the white man's eyes.
Rule number two: do not get too close.
Remember, they all look alike.
And act equally nuts.

It's a survival strategy. You never know what one of those crazy buggers is gonna do.

One of us crazy buggers.


Even though I am clean, calm, neatly dressed, and casually fading into the background, I am still white, and hence tainted by my melanin-deprived similarity to the clear and obvious o-paths. It also doesn't help that all the tourists -- who are possibly not insane, what with being financially able to swarm far away from their own assigned places in the universe -- act incomprehensibly odd, and dress like either labourers or hippies. You know and I know that there's something about travelling that brings out the slob in many people, but they sure don't look like the folks a civilized person would want to take home to meet the family.

I too find it very hard to distinguish between Europeans and whackjobs.
As well as Midwesterners, Canadians, and Suburbanites.

To quote my ex, they talk funny, smell bad, and eat too much.

Our small universe is the centre of the world.

Because it's freezing here.

Don't touch!

Whenever I see people studying a map, I go over and ask if they need any help. That map more than anything else advertises that they aren't dangerous crazy people, and usually they merely need directions to somewhere close to here. Everything in the area bounded by Van Ness Avenue, Market Street, North Point, and the Embarcadero, is near everywhere else, though there might be a hill in the way.
We've all been a stranger in a strange land.
Some of us are just a little less so.

They won't leave till they get to where they're going.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Thursday, May 29, 2014


Aural dyslexia: "what if the car is surrounded by fog?" Which meant that she had a vision of small green amphibians surrounding the vehicle.
This would be problematic.
Can't move.

Now, I thought it was a charming idea. What a wonderful place where frogs would be in sufficiently multitudinous number to sit all around the car, just staring at it, with wide-eyed hopefullness.

"But what if we can't get out?"

Open the door carefully, then suddenly point into the distance and exclaim with happy surprise "look, insects!"

What if they say "no thanks, we already ate"?

"Look, whisky! There!"

We don't drink.


Ick poo.

I had to think for a minute.

"Look! Hot girlie frog hoochies! It's a chorus line!"

She conceded that many of them would happily hop off into the distance where my superior eye-sight and altitudinal vantage point had spied the shapely green honies, but surely some of them would say "errm, we're not into ladies..." and remain in place, blocking exit from the vehicle.

We live in San Francisco. So it is a valid concern.

A congregating of homosexual amphibians.

Tell them to follow the other males.

Fabulous green machismo.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014


There are times when it feels that I am surrounded by Joe the Plumber. Or his spiritual acolytes. Largely this happens when I am in the company of cigar smokers. And there's the division: cigar smokers are mostly blinkered and thoughtless rightwing creeps, whereas many pipesmokers (such as myself) are thoughtful and nuanced liberal humanists.
Cigarette smokers are rather like gerbils.
It's all that nervous energy.

Spent nearly six hours with the cigar smokers today.
When I got home, I really needed a drink.
So I fixed a strong 鴛鴦.
Chilled out.

[鴛鴦 'Yuen yeung': A typical Hong Kong and Chinatown mixture of forty percent coffee sixty percent strong tea, plus sweetened condensed milk to pale it up.
Drunk hot. It's the condensed milk that makes it good.]

I'm all better now. Wired. Might not get to sleep for a while, but my sanity has returned. They're lovely people, those cheroot-whackers, despite their many flaws. And signs of barking madness.

If you hear strange noises and over-excited giggling in the night, it's the stogey puffing crowd.



Yep. Gun-rights discussion today. Plus where to stick those Edge Cigars by Rocky Patel. Corojo & Maduro. And a bit about malnourished guide dogs. Whose intellectual horizons have shrunk, due to their jobs.
Guide dogs eventually get retired, often when they're old.
Horizons seldom expand for them, then.

On the positive side, they've become experts at baby-sitting humans, and have subtly assumed the rank of Alpha-male at that point.
Human person, you want to cross the street!
There's a fire hydrant over there.
And it smells fabulous!

Oh look, green light! Lets walk!

The minds of cigar smokers are easily distracted by blinky objects.
Whereas pipe-smokers stick to the subject.
It's intellectual rigour.

Two of my favourite cigar-smokers are vacationing in Cabo San Lucas this week. For both their sakes, I sincerely hope they remember to put sun-screen on their nipples.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Freedom of speech is, as usual, under assault in what may be the oldest faux-democracy in the former colonial world. Pakistan's version of popular political liberty has long consisted entirely of brutal attacks on dissenters, religious minorities, ugly people, and just about anybody the mad mullahs, corrupt judiciary, or tyrannical army overlords do not particularly like.

But they are very fond of goats.

Presently, the only independent broadcaster in that hellhole of a territory is under assault.

"Geo has been accused of unprofessional conduct by the military, blasphemy by the religious lobby and treachery by its business rivals."


It's grimly amusing that Pakistan's military should accuse anyone of unprofessional conduct; they themselves exemplify it, they are the paradigm of the concept. Pakistani army officers cannot act in a professional manner if their miserable lives depend upon it.

Likewise, given the sheer howling horrors supported by the religious lobby in that pit of a country, blasphemy is the very last thing with which the Pakistani Ulema should take issue. There is nothing redeemable in their version of Islam. Not even the paper on which their degenerate dogmas are printed.

And as for business rivals, that would be an unholy mix of people with military connections, disturbing links to the Ulema, Sindhi landlords, Karachi lawyers, and egomaniac ex-cricketer Imran Khan.
Not precisely a trustworthy source of opinion.
As vile as anything else there.
Bloodthirsty heathens.
The lot of them.

In fact, other than the lovely goats, there is little worth redeeming about Pakistan. In the sixty-plus years since independence, that garbage dump has regressed in all fields which measure civilization.
But I'll praise their goats, though.
Nice goats.


It is time to put the director general of ISI, lieutenant general Zaheer ul-Islam and members of his family on the no-fly list, and ban them from entering the United States. Perhaps more than anyone else, lieutenant general Zaheer ul-Islam embodies the loathsome scum and refuse that is the Pakistani military.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Today I went and got my hair cut. While waiting for my turn at the barber shop, which is on Clay Street just below Stockton, I had the chance to observe a young lady and her sister -- both adult woman, in case you were wondering -- getting their own hair done.
Let me just say I like mirrors and reflective surfaces.

The barber (Ah Ming) was chatting with the woman under his hands, while his assistant was blowdrying and combing the other one. Who has a lovely forehead, a cute nose, well-sculpted lips and mouth, ever so charmingly kissy cheeks, and cute little hands. All of which were fully visible in the reflective surfaces.
She has both intelligence and character in her face.
And she sounds like a very nice person.

Yes, very attractive.

No, I did not strike up a conversation. Be real. A barbershop is NOT the place for that. Doing so would rupture the unwritten agreement that a men and women's barber shop is ALWAYS neutral and safe territory.
I rather like my barber, he does good work. I now look exceptionally fine and handsome again, which given my skull shape and deep-set eyes is darned well miraculous. No way am I going to forego this on the haphazard off-chance of getting a date.
Which, I should point out, is a very SMALL off-chance.
Pretty women tend to make me act goofy.
Or auto-tie my tongue.

Let's just say that while I am on my very best behaviour I may make the all-time worst impression.

[I can do a truly dynamite imitation of a sleazoid hoodlum drooling at a good girl, something I learned from Hong Kong movies years ago. "Ah siu-jieh, ah, lei hai kam hou oi-gggggge....., ngoh seunnnnnng....., ah kei sat ngoh, ah, mmm-yiu....., yi-wai...., mou yi-si ge jet, ah, erm, lei kiu meh meng ahhhhhhhhh???"
Now, if under normal circumstances that makes women cringe from the sheer perverse skin-crawling sound of it, please imagine how much worse it can be if I really mean it. Far better to not kau nui in Cantonese, ever. I'm sure I can talk my way well enough into one heck of a pickle in English, and that's "good" enough.]

She and her sister left, and I had my haircut. Ah Ming noticed that I was a bit abstracted, and tried to make small talk. I was still thinking about the young lady I had seen, and dropped the conversational ball on my feet repeatedly. If at such moments I stutter in Dutch, I absolutely gibber in Cantonese. I may have told him that I was Anita Mui, or channeling for her today. I don't really know. We were talking about the blue-haired Canto-pop cretin on the wide-screen.
At one point he tried finding an article about Andy Lau for me to read in one of the Hong Kong gossip mags. Either it was something I said, or my vulpine profile combined with a temporary air of vulnerability.

It must be the vulnerability; very Andy Lau-esque.
It probably also transitioned into my speech.

Gibber. Gibber. Gibber.

The little tyke at the place where I had lunch recognized me, and came over to chat. For some reason he decided that the conversation would be entirely in writing. Maybe I was still stuttering. Or he simply wanted to make sure that communication was clear and precise.
He has quite the most well-developed vocabulary for a six year old.
He informed me in passing that he would rather be twenty.
Or even my age, which might be forty seven.
A grown-up, instead of a child.

I should've asked him why.

He's totally adorable right now.
I'm sure women love him.
He spells well.

Why forty seven? Last time he guessed fifty four. It has to be the effect of the hair cut. Ah Ming does a darned fine job. Did I already mention that he made me seem exceptionally fine and handsome again?
I look the very epitome of mature masculinity.
As I now mumble quietly to myself.
For lack of better words.

哦,小姐,啊,你咁可愛嘅,嗯..,我...,冇意思嘅嗻...,唔要...,意為..., 我唔...,你...,你咖咖叫乜乜乜名呀?

Yes. So not happening.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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If nothing else, the British misadventure in India taught us about masala tea and chicken curry. We probably would have found out about these things eventually, but both of those have become the standards for living an English life out in the wilds of Borneo or Kansas. Almost nothing else spurs the impulsive purchase of lovely bottle-chutneys, Patak's Pickles, chili, poppadums, and whole spices in the distant corners of the world.
Kansas, for craps sake! It might as well be Vladivostok!
Expect a troupe of ugly dancing girls any moment!
Or colourful native religious rituals.
Swaths of blue and white.

"Confederated at first for defense against pro-slavery outrages, but ultimately falling more or less completely into the vocation of robbers and assassins, they have received the name --- whatever its origin may be -- of jayhawkers"


Brigands, highway men, and other recalcitrant types!

Keep the dacoits at bay by serving good food and hot tea.
If it doesn't scare them, they may melt.

Where the hell is Kansas anyhow, Dorothy?


Per cup:
One TBS black tea leaves.
Half dozen green cardamom pods.
A thin slice of ginger.
Pinch cinnamon.
Half Tsp. fennel seeds.
Sugar as desired.
One cup water.
Hefty jigger of milk.

Crack open the green cardamom pods so that the seeds are exposed. Bring water to a boil, add the cardamom and other spices, and simmer five minutes to release the flavour into the water. Add the tea leaves, simmer just below boiling for a couple minutes ere adding the milk. Simmer a few seconds longer after that, but do not allow it to roil.

Decant into a porcelain cup and have a kaju biscuit on the side.

Drink while waiting for the train.


One pound of chicken, chunk-cut on bone.
Two onions, chopped.
One dozen Roma tomatoes, peeled seeded chopped.
One cup cashews.
Half a cup heavy cream.
Quarter cup yoghurt.
Two TBS. garam masala.
Half TBS. cayenne.
Thumblength ginger.
Five or six cloves garlic.
Pinches of salt and pepper.

One teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted till quite dark, then ground fine.

Mince and smash the garlic and ginger to a paste, mix it with the yoghurt and the pinches of salt and pepper. Marinate the chicken in this for an hour.

Pour boiling water (enough to cover) over the cashews and let them soften for that time.

Take the chicken pieces out of the marinade, and colour them well in hot oil. Remove to a plate, add the onions to the pan with a little more oil. Saute till coloured, add the tomatoes and spices, and cook soft, which will be about five minutes.

Dump the cashews and their soaking water into a blender, add the contents of the pan, and osterize smooth. Return this to the pan and reduce till velvety, then put in the chicken pieces. Bring back to a boil, turn heat low, and simmer a few minutes. Stir the cream into the dish, and let it heat, but do not bring it to a boil.

Dust the dark-roasted cumin powder over the top before serving.
Decorate with the merest sprinkle of sliced green chili.

Have it with chappatis, rice, and flaky onion kulcha, OR cornbread, hickory barbecue, macaroni salad, and hot sauce on the side.
Bahot lazeez, yaar.

What the heck do I know from Kansas?

There's a restaurant called "Korma Sutra" in Kansas City. It appears to be run by Punjabis. Apparently their garlic naan is very good.

Whenever it's too early for a gin pahit, it's time for tea.

Please note: Bottle chutneys represent the hope, sometimes forlorn, that whatever that ingredient is, it can be made edible by the addition of vinegar, sugar, and cayenne. Sometimes good things come out of a bottle. Sometimes not. In some cases, what was a brilliant idea has been ruined by the use of malt vinegar, brown sugar, and wholesome additions of a macrobiotic or sustainably farmed nature, along with turmeric.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
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Monday, May 26, 2014


A reader recently wondered whether polecats would have the same problem eating piggy buns that everyone else has with charsiu buns. Namely, the sticky bottoms.

Anonymous wrote:
"The trouble with pork buns is that the paper always sticks to the bottom. I can't imagine polecats like them very much, as, like people, they also don't eat paper."

Ah, but that is NOT what piggy buns are! The misconception lies in the name. Charsiu buns (叉燒包 'chaa siu baau') are also commonly called pork buns in English, and it would be a natural error to assume that 'piggy bun' is just another name for a familiar item.

Well, yes. And no.

It's familiar. But not what you think.

The charsiu bun is filled with charsiu pork (叉燒).

You could do the same to the piggy bun. But you would have to cut it open first. Then add slices of charsiu, and perhaps some cilantro and sandwich vegetables. And a smear of soft butter.


The name literally means pig-child bun, in which the character for child (仔 'chai') is both a typical Cantonese term, usually applied to boy children, as well as a diminutive. Chü chai (猪仔) means 'piglet'. The comestible is so named because of its appearance, that being an oval or bolus shape, roughly hand-sized. It's a spongy-crusty bread similar in texture to fresh baguette or a sandwich roll, perfect for toasting for a Cubano, a variation on bánh mì, or just slicing it in half and toasting it, then smearing on the soft butter, sticking it briefly under the broiler, to melt the butter in and gild it, finished with drizzles of sweetened condensed milk.

Easy. Cheap. Delicious.


Polecats (black-footed ferrets) would have no problem.

Why are people so fond of them? Simple. Because you ALWAYS have them with a nice hot beverage.

Either Hong Kong style milk-tea (港式奶茶 'gong sik naai chaa'), or mixed tea and coffee with condensed milk (鴛鴦 'yuen yeung'). It's a welcome break. A pause to regain your composure and recover from the hullabaloo of the day. The interval between getting out of the madhouse, and going right back into the fray.
Even in a loud boisterous overcrowded bakery, it's quiet time.
Your time.

And naturally, its perfect for sharing with a friend.
Someone who has very similar tastes and needs.
Who doesn't mind crumbs on your whiskers.
Or smacky sounds of enjoyment.

Hot milk-tea plus a crispy buttered piggy bun

The problem is that I don't know of any place in my part of the city that even does this. The milk-tea is easy -- over two dozen possibilities or more -- but the piggy bun is hard.

Consequently it's just something I make at home.
I keep some condensed milk just for that.
All creatures love sweeties.

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This morning my apartment mate and I had a long involved conversation about female underwear. About which, as it turns out, I know way more than her boyfriend. Who had suggested that worrying about finding clean underwear was a waste of time, just go buy more at Ross.

Men can do that. There's more to it than that for women; measurements, sizes, textures, and engineering. Not just small, medium, large, lard-ass. Boxer or whatever that other thing is. Not male whatsit.
Arcs, angles, and strength of materials.
Dimensions, durability.

My apartment complains that there is so little choice for someone her size (between small and petite). Underwear manufacturers assume that small waists mean comparatively large posteriors.
Big white bitch bootie.

"Just shop in the teenage girls section"

That was the wrong thing to say. Teenage girls' underwear has gone downhill considerably since my day. It's all badly made nowadays, not meant to last, and the designs are tacky.

I am glad she thinks that in my day teenage girls' underwear was better.
Something I wouldn't know.
I'm a man.

I have never browsed in the teenage girls section.

That may have been a sad oversight. It would have been a learning experience. Educational. And very fascinating.
Dimensions, structure, engineering.
There is no app for that.
Useful knowledge.

More investigation is required.

Thank heavens for the internet. It keeps scientific-minded individuals like myself out of trouble. No chance of violence. We now can do all our investigation from the comfort and safety of our homes.
And it has expanded our horizons.
This is good.

Methods. Materials. Madness.

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It is good to wait until after dinner before going onto the internet.
Had I not done so, I wouldn't have had much of an appetite.

On the same evening that one of my facebook friends posted an article with horrific pictures on his wall, a reader left a link underneath one of my earlier blogposts ("when grown men dream of goats").


At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

More compelling reasons to serve goat.

Noor Hussain (75) is now in trial in New York for beating his wife to death because she cooked him lentils for dinner instead of goat.

Mr. Hussain wanted goat. His wife cooked lentils. He chastised her to death with a laundry stick. Apparently under the mistaken impression that doing so was normative.

"He comes from a culture where he thinks this is appropriate conduct, where he can hit his wife. He culturally believed he had the right to hit his wife and discipline his wife."

That's one hell of a nasty culture. It's rotten to the core.

Clearly mister Noor Hussain and all who think like him are not civilized or even human. Is it really "appropriate" to beat your wife to death, ever? For any reason? I'm asking, because his defense attorney thinks she can convince the court that it is, and undoubtedly there are plenty of splendid examples of Pakistanis killing their wives. For many reasons. Even something so trivial as a pot of lentil curry.

Just like there are innumerable examples of Pakistani men throwing acid in the faces of women. For what are, no doubt, "culturally appropriate" motives. As was mentioned in the article that my facebook friend posted to his wall. Which had horrific pictures.

What kind of society condones such behaviour?

I could say any number of horrid things.

About Pakistanis, and depravity.

But their acts speak.


What IS the proper response when you had a craving for goat, and she cooked Tarka Dal instead? Maybe she was tired, or had too much to do that afternoon, and the carnicería ran out of carne de cabrito early in the day. Or perhaps your good woman felt that lentils were a more suitable meal that evening. The only acceptable way to deal with the situation is to say "thank you for a lovely repast", and just suck it up. Have some yoghurt, and avoid the beer.
Eventually there will be goat. You could cook it yourself. Who says women have to do all the cooking? Going batshit crazy and beating someone to death is NEVER the appropriate way of dealing with a lentil curry.

Even if you are a Pakistani, heaven forfend.
There are worse things to be.
It's just not done.

[Not Pakistani style, more sort of generic subcontinental.]

One cup masoor dal (red lentils).
Two cups water.
One onion, chopped.
Two tomatoes.
Four garlic cloves, minced.
Equivalent amount ginger, ditto.
Four green jalapenos.
One Tsp. cumin seeds.
One Tsp. ground coriander.
Half Tsp. cayenne.
Half Tsp. turmeric.
Cilantro for garnishing.
Oil, and butter.

Rinse lentils well, remove any unidentifiable objects.

Put lentils in a pot with two cups water or slightly more. Bring to a boil, simmer till soft, about forty minutes. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Set aside.

Roast the tomatoes and jalapenos over an open flame (one of the burners on your stove), then peel &seed -- don't worry if some of the blackness remains, it adds flavour -- and chop coarsely.
Fry the cumin seeds in a little oil, then add the onion plus more oil and some butter, and saute till translucent. Put in the ginger, garlic, chilies, and the powdered spices, and when the fragrance rises add the tomato and stirfry soft.
Decant everything into the lentil pot, and bring back to simmer temperature. Cook for about ten minutes, then squeeze in some lemon or lime juice for a fresh tanginess, and add salt and black pepper as appropriate. Garnish liberally with chopped cilantro, and a sprinkle more ginger, freshly slivered.

This is splendid as is, with white rice, cucumber-yoghurt, and achar.
 I also think it's superb with chunks of roasted fatty pork.
Or high quality pork sausage, grilled.
I am not a Pakistani.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014


Onion, ginger, garlic, chilies, and shrimp paste. To you, that probably says 'bad breath'. To me, it says soup. Specifically, a meal soup made with meat and vegetables,in which tamarind features for sourness.
If you're Filippino or Indonesian, you know what I mean.

Tamarind paste is available in many Chinese and South-East Asian shops. It's called sampalok in Tagalog, Asam or Asem Djawa in both Malay and Indonesian, Sambag in Bisayano.


Half a pound each chunked chicken and pork. Or all chicken.
One onion, chopped.
One thumb of ginger, minced.
Two or three cloves of garlic, ditto.
Three or four green chilies, ditto.
Two or three tomatoes, peeled seeded chopped.
Two cups of chopped spinach.
Two cups of chopped long beans.
Two TBS. tamarind paste.
One TBS. shrimp paste.
Four cups of water.
Pinch sugar.
Pinch cinnamon.
Pinch cumin.
Minced scallion to garnish.

In one pot bring the water to a boil with the tamarind paste, stirring to dissolve. Set aside.

In another pot, saute the onion and ginger, add the garlic and chilies when the onion is golden. When the garlic colours, add the shrimp paste, followed shortly thereafter by the tomato and the pinches sugar, cinnamon, and cumin. Put the meat chunks in the pot, and turn to coat and colour. Then strain the tamarind water into the pot, raise to boil, and turn low to simmer for about forty minutes. Add the spinach and long beans ten minutes before the end of cooking. Taste the broth when done, and adjust if necessary with a squeeze of lime juice. It should be tangy, but not too sour. Just tangy.
Garnish with the minced scallion, and serve as a side with dinner, or pour it over rice if it's just you.

You know, you could eat this in front of the television, wearing pajama pants and an undershirt, before your apartment mate or whoever you live with comes home.
Bob's Burgers is on the tube on Sunday.
Relax, kickback.

Variations are to make it with all shrimp or seafood, or fine young goat. Alas, the Muslim butcher shop around the corner closed years ago, and goat has consequently become harder to find. Beef is also an option, but since the American cattle industry started playing dirty pool, I have renounced their products.

Oh heck, chunks of kielbasa are also splendid.
As well as a good rookworst.

Note: tamarind paste should be dense and stiff. If you are using tamarind gloop instead, adjust accordingly.

Sop sayog asem means soup ("sop), vegetables ("sayog"), sourness ("asem"). The must useful sour is tamarind ("buwa asem"), which is called 'asem djawa' (Javanese sour) in the Netherlands.

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While reading about the United East Indies Company ("Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie") I stouted upon a sentence which quirked me:

"Een vadem is de spanwijdte van de armen van een niet te kleine volwassen man."
['A fathom is the spanwidth of the arms of a not too small adult man.']

Followed by:

"De waterdiepte werd vanouds gemeten door lood aan een touw in het water te laten zakken. Daarna werd het touw tussen de uitgestrekte armen afgepast ("opvamen")."
['The waterdepth was per old custom measured by a letting lead attached to a rope sink into the water. Afterwards the rope was gauged between the outstretched arms.']

This is fascinating! I had forgotten entirely that Dutch also used to measure in fathoms. That unit of length has faded from consciousness since the great age of colonial exploitation.

Not too small adult men are useful.

Or were, back in the day.

But I was actually more intrigued by the trail of fragrances left across the internet by the spice trade, in which for centuries the Dutch were both brutal and astute.

[The connection between the VOC (Verenigde Ooostindische Compagnie) and fathoms is 'coir', by the way. It's a stout fibre much used for rope. Arab sailors had rigging made of coir, and it's further usage in the tropics defined a way of life, along with bamboo, rattan, and resinous hardwoods used for incense.]


The attentive reader of history will remember that after conquering Ceylon from the Portuguese in 1658, Dutch trade in cinnamon and elephants expanded enormously. Elephants nowadays don't have much commercial currency, but cinnamon has remained a popular product, and is probably more in use than ever before.

There are four primary species:

Cinnamomum burmannii: Indonesian cinnamon.

Cinnamomum cassia: Chinese cinnamon.

Cinnamomum loureiroi: Vietnamese cinnamon.

Cinnamomum verum: Ceylon cinnamon.

Ceylon cinnamon is perhaps the best, based on texture (thin and multi-layered bark, that crumbles or pulvers easily), fragrance, and amounts of various aromatic chemicals, particularly cinnamaldehyde and coumarin. The first one named, cinnamaldehyde, is anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and anti-cancerous. It's level of toxicity is quite low. Coumarin, on the other hand -- present in lowest amount in Ceylon cinnamon, highest in cinnamomum cassia, is a flavour enhancer, working primarily on the olfactory level, as well as an appetite suppressant, but mildly hepatoxic (damaging to the liver). Consequently it is now not as desirable as before, when it was commonly used in perfumes, the tobacco industry, candies, and the alcoholic beverage industry. On the other hand, coumarin is also anti-HIV, anti-tumor, anti-hypertensive, anti-arrhythmic, anti-inflammatory, anti-osteoporotic, antiseptic, and analgesic.

Both cinnamaldehyde and coumarin are oil-soluble, which explains why they are used in fragrant oils (and again, note their therapeutic properties), but more importantly sheds light on how cinnamon is used in South and South-East Asian cooking: often added while tempering the onions and other bases in a hot pan with oil or ghee.


Both are also soluble in an equal volume of pure alcohol, or twice as much 70% alcohol. In pharmacology these were prescribed for, among other things, flatulence.

Many products from the Orient were first desirable as medicinal ingredients, before they were ever used culinarily or as beverages. Cinnamon, though still considered a potent tonic in the Far East, is now merely a cheap and strong flavouring agent, whose pharmacopœic properties are largely ignored.

Perhaps the strangest use is in liquor as the primary taste contributor. Previously playing a distinctly third fiddle role in gin ('Genever') and various French nasties, it is now used right up front in a strange Canadian compound popular for shots among the young.

It also kills mouth germs.

Other cinnamonic chemical components are methoxycinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, camphor, vanillin, cadinene, salicysaldehyde, borneol, terpineol, and many others so forth. You undoubtedly recognize the flavour-smell connections of those words.


The foundation of Dutch wealth in the eastern seas was based on spices: pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. To protect their fleets, the East Indies company outfitted their ships with canon, and to seize territory from the Portuguese, they armed their soldiers very well.

Their attempts to seize control over the sources of cinnamon were successful; they ruled Ceylon from 1658 till 1796. By the time the British took over, Ceylon's importance as a supplier of magic bark had faded, the island's real importance was strategic.

And by that time, the Dutch had lost their obsession with spices.

The modern Dutch market still has the products of empire, but spices have been relegated to a minor section, though the food manufacturing industries could not survive without them.
Elephants, once so prized, feature not at all.

On the other hand, the English went to the Far East primarily for Tea and Rhubarb. The first is a stimulant, which has the added benefit of forcing one to boil water, making it drinkable, where previously the inhabitants of the British Isles had perforce swilled ale and bad wine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ending up swozzled by the time teatime rolled around.
The second is a very efficient laxative, perhaps quite a bit more important than tea, given what British food was like.

Both British and Dutch cuisine have improved considerably.

I wonder what we did with all those elephants.

They probably tasted delicious.

Note: this essay brought to you by caffeine hitting the adenosine receptors and the natural excitatory neurotransmitters in the system. For smokers, it takes only half as long for the effect to wear off than for non-smokers; so by nine-thirty slash ten o'clock, I should be normal again.
You won't. Just thought you should know.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014


Do you know what the difference is between a Chicago cop and a member of the Mafia? The Mafia dude at least has human decency.

While raiding a spa that may very well have been a front for somewhat less than wholesome activities on July 31, 2013, officer Frank Messina verbally and physically assaulted one of the people there, in which bold endeavor he was assisted by another fine upstanding member of Chicago's finest.

"The footage showed Klyzek being pulled toward a chair in the lobby and pushed down face. Klyzek was dragged onto the floor and handcuffed before she was struck in the head by an officer, identified in the suit as Frank Messina. According to the suit, Officer Gerald DiPasquale then began to scream at her, telling her she was not American and here on “borrowed time.”"

Officer DiPasquale further stated:
"You're not a f------ American, I'll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f--- you came from!"
End quote.


Now, you have to understand that in Chicago, non-whites have almost never been considered human. At least not by miserable specimens like officer DiPasquale and officer Messina. Additionally, there's a long history on that side the country of treating people of "complexion" reprehensibly, and on the whole, the Chicago Police have one of the most dubious reputations in the country.

There's a reason Al Capone thrived in Chicago: friends and clients among the blue.

Anyhow, to continue our charming tale, Klyzek asserts that she is a citizen of the United States. It's somewhat relevant, as DiPasquale had expressed doubts, based on the fact that the woman looks to be of Asian ethnicity. Many people in the United States still assume that "them Asians" cannot possibly be U.S. citizens, as the fact that the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924 have long since been repealed has completely escaped them.

"I'm a citizen, okay?"

"No, you're not! You're here on our borrowed time. So mind your f--king business before I shut this whole f--king place down. And I'll take this place and then whoever owns it will f--king kill you because they don't care about you, OK? I'll take this building. You'll be dead and your family will be dead."

[Source: Video shows 'abusive' Chicago police threatening to deport woman in a UPS box 'back to wherever the f*** she came from'. Daily Mail / Mail Online.]

Note that that is quoted from a British newspaper. The city fathers of Chicago should realize that when one of their paid thugs does something vicious and stupid, it makes all of us look bad. Folks overseas really don't see that there is a difference between folks from San Francisco, a civilized place, and Chicago, which, judging by the behaviour of its police, may be one of the armpits of the world.

[In short: San Francisco is arguably the only part of the country where civilization took hold. Between the Embarcadero and the Statue of Liberty lies a howling wasteland where inbred morons and rabid swine hold sway. Bugger it all. We need machine gun emplacements and sandbagged positions. Don't move here. Go back to f****** Iowa.]

But wait, there's more from the Daily Mail.

Another officer is heard to yell: 'Can I just Tase her? F*** it. I can Tase her 10 f***ing times.' The officer who allegedly struck Klyzek is identified in the case as Frank Messina. Besides Messina and Di Pasquale, the case names Sandra Stoppa, Daniel Sako, Michael Iglesias, Sergio Flores, D. Puhar, T. Jackson, Eugene Sledge and Kenneth Corcoran as defendant officers and alleges they attempted to frame Klyzek by claiming she's the one who assaulted them.
However, the case against Klyzek was thrown out for lack of evidence and because prosecutors dropped charges when they saw the video.
End quote.

The case against Klyzek was thrown out AFTER prosecutors saw the video. Meaning that at that point, they realized that the police version of events did not stand up to scrutiny.

Meaning that the cops lied.


Let me cite what the brave Chicago police officers said again:

"You're not a f------ American, I'll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the f--- you came from!"

"You're here on our borrowed time. So mind your f--king business before I shut this whole f--king place down. And I'll take this place and then whoever owns it will f--king kill you because they don't care about you, OK? I'll take this building. You'll be dead and your family will be dead"

"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"
"You're not a f------ American"

Officers Frank Messina, Gerald Di Pasquale, Sandra Stoppa, Daniel Sako, Michael Iglesias, Sergio Flores, D. Puhar, T. Jackson, Eugene Sledge, and Kenneth Corcoran, are all f------ Americans.

PS.1.: Less than wholesome enterprises in Chicago should henceforth hire ONLY f------ Americans. Because only f------ Americans know how to kowtow properly to the f------ Chicago cops.

PS.2.: My apologies for reprinting the locution "f------". It may seem crude, but it's a traditional Chicago turn of phrase, used by simple and uneducated types to add strength and vigour to their deep thoughts. Their vocabulary may indeed be that limited that they can't express themselves otherwise.
This is merely speculation, as I will not travel there to investigate.
Life is too short and too precious to go anywhere near.
'There' being the vicinity of Chicago cops.
Who represent their town.

File under: 'Salt of the F------ Earth'.

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Friday, May 23, 2014


Rolling sarcophagus. That proves I should watch television more often.
To quote a spokesman for America's car industry: "why walk through the valley of the shadow of death, when you can drive?"
From John Olliver's Last Week Tonight:



Clearly, you need to wear a helmet when riding in a General Motors vehicle. Because it's sleek and non-grenade-like.

Please note: No natives of Detroit were harmed during the making of this clip. Probably because the poor bastards can't afford an American car. Betcha they all drive Hyundais.



"...this wheel is on fire, rolling down the road; best notify my next of kin, this wheel shall explode!"

It's bat country. Don't stop here.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014


When I returned from the Netherlands years ago, people would praise the place as a hash heaven. Their subsequent insane hippie gibbering made clear that they were talking about something other than cuisine, unfortunately.

I rather severely disapprove of drugs. If caffeine, nicotine, and highly refined white sugar were good enough for Jesus Christ, they're good enough for damned well anybody.
Darned freaks.

Both the English word 'hash' and the Dutch word 'hachee' (pr.: hah-shay) derive from French 'hacher', meaning to chop the meat.
The American version of hash is usually diced meat cooked soft with bacon fat and vegetable matter, served as a side dish to breakfast.
The Netherlandish interpretation is more of a robust stew.


One pound of stew meat, chunk cut.
Two onions, chopped.
One cup brown ale.
Half a cup meat stock.
Two or three bay leaves.
Two or three cloves.
One or two star anise.
Pinches of nutmeg and dry ginger.
Two TBS flour.
One or two TBS sugar.
A hefty jigger of malt vinegar.
Salt and pepper.
Fresh herbs to finish.
Olive oil.

Salt and pepper the meat. Heat olive oil in a pan, add the meat, and brown it. Put the onion in and cook till golden. Sprinkle the flour over and stir to incorporate and colour. Add the liquids, sugar, and spices, once it bubbles turn the heat low and simmer for an hour or so.
Stir to prevent burning.
Throw some chopped parsley and chervil or chive on top.

Serve with plainly dressed vegetables and potatoes or steamed rice.

If you're from Louisiana, use brown roux instead of strewing the flour into the pan.
Traditionally, people would use one or two slices of peperkoek (a swemi-sweet rye cake) or stale brown bread to make the sauce thicker instead of flour. You can do that, but why?

Wherever you are from, have chilipaste ("sambal") on the side.

Variations are endless; from incorporating sharp mustard and ground coriander into the stew, to the addition of rice wine, soysauce, and dark pear or apple molasses ("stroop") in lieu of sugar.
Garlic and ginger are fine to put in also, and instead of beer I use a BIG splash of dry sherry to flame it.
Oh, and I always float a few whole green chilies in it while it cooks, which will render fragrance but not heat.
Unless they burst.

Note that in essence this was how Semor originated. In Indonesia they used dark sweet soy sauce ('ketjap mainis') to make the sauce savoury, tomatoes, lime, or tamarind paste to acidify, and three or four roasted candlenuts ("kemiri") for thickness. Potatoes or lobak could be put in also, like an Irish stew, and crispy fried shallot slivers strewn over.

[OR, you could have chin choi-tau kwai (煎彩頭塊) on the side. Take a pound of lobak, peel and shred it, seethe it with a little oil for five minutes or so. Meanwhile mix two cups of plain rice flour (米粉) and cornstarch (栗粉) or tapioca flour (木薯澱粉) (slightly more rice flour than either of the other two), and pinches of salt and sugar with water or chicken stock to a smooth batter. There should be more lobak than there is batter. Add the cooked lobak to this, mix well, put in a greased cake pan, and steam for twenty minutes plus. Let it cool down, and slice it into long chunks. Saute some ginger, garlic, fatty meat, chilipaste, and chopped celery till fragrant in a skillet, put the lobak fingers in, and fry golden. Add a jigger of fish sauce ("petis") or soy and even more chilipaste, and slide onto a plate. Squeeze lime juice over, and garnish with minced scallion. Note that the same mixture of lobak and batter, if augmented with a cooked mixture of lapcheung (臘腸), black mushrooms (香菇), and dried shrimp (蝦米), can be used to make lobak gou (蘿蔔糕), which is a popular dimsum, and an absolute must have at Chinese New Year.]

The sambal on the table is axiomatic.

Always have SAMBAL.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Years ago the story went that translation software turned "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" into Russian and then back into English as "the vodka is acceptable however the meat is rotten". Your mother wears army boots became a description of an old lady carrying footwear for the military.

Out of sight, out of mind?
Invisibly insane.

Nowadays, everybody relies on translation software.
But is it any wiser to do so than it was then?

My experiments with European languages have yielded gigglesome moments more often than not.

Let's see how it works for Chinese.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
Translates back exactly as "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak".

Oh crap.

It's been sabotaged. What I see is "your spirit is willing, however your physique is never-the-less flabby". Which is probably close enough.
Nei mun (you plural) sam-ling (heart, spiritual) gu-yin (admittedly) yuen-yi (wants to, wishes, accords with), corporeal body (flesh unit) kuek (still, yet) yuen yeuk (pliable fragile). What happened here was that Google Translate quickly scanned the net for known equivalencies, and chose the ones with the most use. This sentence comes from the New Testament, and is not very often used outside of a scriptural context.

Do it again.

The entire text above, from "it's been sabotaged" to "a scriptural context", comes out as:
巾幗不讓鬚眉門(你複數)SAM玲(精神,心臟,精神的)區賢(誠然)袁毅(想,願望,符合),肉體的身體(肉體單元)kuek(依然,但)袁躍(柔軟脆弱)。 這裡發生的事情是,谷歌翻譯快速掃描淨已知的換算公式,並選擇了一個最使用。這句話來自於新約聖經,並且不經常一個聖經的上下文之外使用。
Google translation: "It is destroyed. I read the "Your spirit is willing, but your body is never slack." This may be close enough.
Nei door (you plural) SAM-ling (spirit, heart, spirit) region Yin (admittedly) Yuan Yi (want, desire, in line), the flesh of the body (physical unit) kuek (still, but) Yuan Yue (soft and fragile).
What happened here is that Google translate quickly scan the net known conversion formula, and choose one of the most used. This phrase comes from the New Testament, and the outside is not often use a biblical context."

Given that Google's willingness to tackle this text was sabotaged by my Cantonese phoneticizations of Chinese characters, it's not surprising that part of the retranslation is impenetrable. What's remarkable, however, is the transparency of the final English sentence. Which, in Chinese, is still quite utterly goofy.

One problem is that translation programs cannot read between the lines, analyze and deduce, or grasp context.


Let's try some obscure poetry:

The Charge of the Light Brigade, first stanza:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“支出槍!” 他說:
Half a league, half a league,
Forward one mile and a half,
All in the valley of death
Rode six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Expenditures gun," he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode six hundred.

Looks relatively close, but that's deceptive. 聯賽 (luen choi) is NOT a measure of distance, but a league or union, as in sports. The sentence 前進一英里半 ('chin chuen yat ying lei pun') literally means "forward progress one English mile half". Then comes 所有在死亡之谷 (so yau joi sei mong ji guk), for which the words read "all have at dead perish's valley".
騎著六百 ('kei juek lok bak'): "astride manifesting six hundred".
And so forth.

["Half a union, half a union, forward progress one English mile half. All have at dead perish's valley, astride manifesting six hundred. "Forward progress, riders military brigade!" "Pay out guns!" He spoke. Enter death's valley, astride manifesting six hundred."]

What is happening is that the re-translation naturally mimics the original, but the Chinese version might make sense only to an English speaker. Who would be fooled into thinking that something intelligible was conveyed by the Chinese result.


Let's try this with one of my favourite passages from the classics, the part where Mencius is asked about the killing of kings, and sly hints that doing so is justified, because if they truly acted like kings, there would be no cause; their violent removal succeeds when heaven no longer approves of their conduct.

齊宣王問曰:“湯放桀,武王伐紂,有諸” 孟子對曰:“於傳有之。” 曰:“臣弒其君可乎?” 曰:“賊仁者謂之賊,賊義者謂之殘,殘賊之人,謂之一夫。聞誅一夫紂矣,未聞弒君”。
Source: 孟子/梁惠王.
['Chai Suen Wong man yuet: "Tong fong Git, Mou fat Jau, yau chü?" Mong-Ji deui yuet: "wu chuen yau ji." Yuet: "san si kei kwan ho fu?" Yuet: "chaak yan je wai ji chaak, chaak sin je wai ji chaan, chaan chaak ji yan, wai ji yat fu. Man chü yat fu Jau yi, mei man si-kwan."]

My translation: King Hsuan of Chi asked "Tang overthrew Chieh, King Wu cut down the tyrant Chao, is that true?" Mencius replied "the records have it thus". (Then King Hsuan ) asked "ministers killed their prince, how was that possible?" (Mencius) replied "one who steals benevolently remains a thief, one who steals because of righteousness is still called a robber. Robbers and thieves are only people, and merely commonplace. I've heard of a commonplace person (named) Chao, but NOT heard of the killing of a prince".

Google translation: King Xuan asked: "Tom put Jie, King Wu, have all?" Mencius said: "At the transfer there." Said: "I can almost killed his lord?" Said: "Thieves benevolent that the thief, thief that of the righteous remnant, residual thief person, that one of her husband. Kazuo Zhou Wen punish men, and did not hear regicide.

A random internet translation: Qi Xuan Wang question says: "I'm happy to put Jie, King Wu 紂, 諸? "Yeah Mencius said:" 傳 has it. "The master said," Chen Shi the leader? "The master said," 賊 賊 of benevolent 謂, 謂 the 賊 義 殘, 殘 賊 man, one of the 謂. Articles 誅 紂, not articles Shi King.

An even more random translation: When a problem Qi Xuan Wang said: Mencius said: "I am very pleased to be able to make clean, Zhou, Zhu, Wang Wu": "Chen true leader," "transfer of it, said:" The owner, the owner said, "That Zeizei kindness, righteousness residual thief, thief disabled, the terms of this penalty does not apply to the shipping tycoon.


That's staggeringly awesome.

Let us now put that back into Chinese.

['Dong yat go mantai hin kei siu wong suet: "Mong Ji suet: ngoh han gou-hing nang-gau sai ching-git, jau, chü, wong mou". "Chan chan ling-jau: taa dik chuen yi, suet: "chü-yan, chu yan suet, "naa chaak chaak dik sin-leung, jeng-yi chaan chaak, chaak bei gam-yung, je go dim kau dik tiu fun bing-bat sik-yung wo suen wong.']

Which I must translate as "Undertaking one question, wide and steep, the little king spoke: Mencius said: "I'm awfully happy to be able to clarify, weekly, cinnabar, and the martial King": Chan truly is the leader": his transformation, speaks: "proprietor, proprietor said, "that traitor's treacherous kindheartedness and righteousness opresses traitors, traitors yield a prohibition, this penalty kick's clauses are not at all applicable to the master of the vessel."

That is so perfect it's darned well political speech. I can only imagine the contextual narrative, but it looks like it might make for some fabulously surreal reading.

The spirit is okay, but the corporeal entity resembles a geung si.

It is to their credit that the Chinese can understand us.

Much of what we tell them is pure Inglenese.

We are inscrutable Occidentals.

And we talk funny.

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This blogger lives in San Francisco on the backside of Nob Hill, near Polk Street. While I was not paying much attention, Polk Street changed into a lively stretch of eateries, night spots, vile Pakistani dabbas, craft beer joints, pizza, sushi, and hang-outs with Wifi for hipsters.
Younger people moved into the neighborhood.
Some of whom stay up all night long.
Berserkly happy neighbors.
Dance, baby, wee.

For some reason, I cannot stop watching this video.
It seems very Polk-Streetish.



Sheer genius.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I finally found the ultimate in foodie teevee shows. This, surely, will beat Emiral Lagassee, Andrew Zimmerman, and all those other cuisine hipster shows out of the ring.




I'm stoked.

I may take up cooking.

Somewhere, I have a fry pan.

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Yesterday evening I researched mustelids on the internet. Mustelids are ferrets, weasels, otters, badgers, and similar creatures. They are often lovable, wrigglesome, and bloodthirsty. Much like sexy people.

While asleep I dreamed of a polecat eating a hot buttered piggy bun. Not very many of my dreams involve teatime. At least that I can remember.

[Hot buttered piggy bun: 一個奶油猪仔包 (yat go naai yau chyu chai bau). Which is a delicious cha chanteng snack; no pigs are actually compromised.]


"Yes, we would LOVE a nice bit of piggy bun! Thank you SO much for asking! Delicious! And some tea."


The American Polecat lives in deserts of the South West, and is infamous for decimating the prairie dog population. They are not known for eating piggy buns.

As far as I know, there is no great literary tradition picturing polecats as fine upstanding furballs, breaking for refreshment and a snackipoo in mid-afternoon. Or any tales about polecats at all.

I can't tell from the photo above whether those are jills or hobs.
But they look stunningly charming and personable.
I would invite them all over at teatime.
If I had their e-mails.

The problem is that they are nocturnal and solitary.
So I don't think they would write.
Or answer back.

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Sometimes, out of the corner of your ear, you hear something that tingles. While we were eating she mentioned that she admired crows because...