Saturday, October 31, 2020


An author, of Vietnamese ancestry, living in the United States, posted: "I want Donald Trump gone so that a deeply divided Vietnamese American community can go back to arguing over the things that really matter, like whether northern or southern phở is better."
And: "The answer: southern."

Well, okay. Opinionated he is.

So of course several other Vietnamese Americans chose to comment. Keen partisans of phở Bắc or phở Nam. We whitey-white Americans have been mostly exposed to phở Nam, of course, and tend to eat phở with rau. It's almost as essential as fish sauce or Sriracha.
We seldom use tương đen. We're heretics that way.

Personally, I have an immense fondness for phở gà.

In any case, dawdling over coffee afterwards is essential. Followed by illegal cigarettes smuggled in from Canada, Singapore, or China.

Wisely I refrained from expressing any opinion, however. Phở is a memory device. Once it's locked in place, logic no longer has a bearing. It's like pizza to a New Yorker, pork chow mein to a Midwesterner, or herring to a Dutchman.

Of course I'd much rather have herring than pizza or pork chow mein -- as would any sane person, really -- but I shan't tell them that. No need to start a war over something so trivial as mediocre cheese pie or tasteless limp greasy noodles.

There were over four hundred comments.

I mean pizza, fer chrise sakes!

Y'all weird.

PS.: Dinner tonight was bittermelon and bacon with chilipaste and fish sauce.
It was very white food, trust me. Everything had a name in English.

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Friday, October 30, 2020


Yesterday's little jaunt to drop something off at UPS, then pick up my refills at the Chinese Hospital Pharmacy, and shop for necessities in Chinatown, leads me inevitably to some conclusions about my fellow human beings.

Number ONE
The word "queue" (排隊 'paai deui') does not exist in Chinese. In the form I show here it's sort of imperative -- line up! -- and occurs on two signs at the pharmacy. Queue (排隊 'paai deui') here to drop off your prescription, and queue (排隊 'paai deui') there to pick up prescriptions.
It does not register, and is used only for form's sake. One old lady ignored the signs entirely, some folks disregarded lines irrespective of what they were there for, two people happily had a social life while others waited for the window -- she was going to go back to work, he was glad that her family was okay -- and one gentleman, though aware of who was next, stood so far out of the line that for all practical purposes he could've been in the next county.
The same happens at bus stops, unfortunately.
It's the last chopper out of Saigon.
排隊 'paai deui'.

Number TWO
The phrase "cocktail hour" has no meaning in the United States. Folks on Polk Street were already getting drunk while picking up their "lunches" at a nearby bar which claims to serve food. So I walked to UPS with my parcel on the other side of the street, avoiding the crowd of vectors. To me, the cocktail hour does not start until the day is done, or one has had one's afternoon tea. So after five. It ends at seven. Unless you're having tapas.
It does NOT start at two o'clock in the afternoon.
How on earth did we win the war?
Bunch of dipsos.

Number THREE
Many San Franciscans have difficulty with masks, and social distancing. They can't read their cellphones with a mask on, and have no concept of personal space. This is why I carry a cane with me when outside nowadays; I don't need it for my leg, but to threaten people with.
Get away from me or I will clop you good.
And your little dog too.

I'll happily tolerate the Cantonese habits. I like anarchists.
Self-indulging white people, not so much.
Zij kunnen de pot op.


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Thursday, October 29, 2020


Having confirmed with the pharmacy that my refills are ready, the biggest decision today is "what pipe do I twiddle with while picking up my medications to achieve optimum reaction?" Because the ladies at the pharmacy endearingly insist on hollering that I should quit smoking, which isn't going to happen. A handsome old piece is required. Which will then be filled and lit while wandering around shopping for veggies.
Jackson Street at Stockton, downhill from the pharmacy at CHSF

Yeah, I'll pop my mask back on when anywhere near people.

So smoking while anywhere near the shops is out of the question. Too many folks on Stockton Street, and on side streets nearby, who, like me, will assume that Caucasians are in the main dumbasses who spread infection, because we've seen the blighters dining outdoors, drinking alcohol, jogging, or walking their pets without masking. Small herds of them in close proximity. And we've read the news about Florida and Georgia.
Frat boys, gun nuts, and Republicans.


Honestly, I'd rather not be around white people right now. As a group, we've been particularly stupid during this pandemic. Except for the Canadians. If you look at the infection maps, you'll see that the red ends at the border. Testimony to common sense and sound policy.

So I guess the pipe should be a Canadian shape briar.
It would fit my off-kilter sense of humour, as well as being appropriate. The tobacco will be foreign too, because good pipe tobacco is almost entirely from outside the country. Not an English product, though. They're heading into another set of lockdowns (probably far too American in their behaviours), but likely Danish, flying under a German flag.

Pharmacy, food shops, hardware store, UPS, and PGE.
After that, relax with a cup of tea.
Dinner, and sleep.
Three days at work ahead. Time enough to deal with people so white they glow in the dark.
I'll just pretend I'm from outer space.


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In what surely comes as no surprise to anyone who has visited this blogsite before, this coming Tuesday I will vote the solid Demographic Party ticket. So I'm voting for the Christian and the Woman, instead of the small-handed adulterer and the puritanical dick-head.
And by doing so I will be sending a solid "F-U" to the Republicans, the Fundies, NRA members and other John Birchers, and both lawyer Bob and Robert the long-haul trucker.
And damned well anybody else that comes to mind.

This is the moral and proper thing to do.

If I could, I'd also go down to Southern California to piss on Ronald Reagan's grave.

It's on my bucket list.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020


No, I am not going to mention the names. Suffice to say that I know all three restaurants that the search brought up, and have eaten at none of them. And, oh horrors, one reviewer mentioned in extreme indignation that the pork chow mein was greasy!
I don't think I've ever had pork chow mein.
Must be a wasp delicacy.

Possibly my apartment mate has, having eaten with more of us than I have. Largely I eat alone.

[And I'm not going to ask, because I do not want a long rant about white people and their horrible tastes from a Chinese American woman who eats more fried chicken than I do. When last we talked about food, she was reading aloud from a list of healthy-good-for-you-breads, and all I could think of is that they sounded precisely like the kind of stuff that makes white people poo. Which seems to be what health-conscious people in San Francisco aim for. Primarily.]

Sharing food can be great fun, and is regarded by some cultures as almost sacramental, but given that I hate nasty surprises and generally refuse to do stupid things repeatedly -- unlike regularly posting on this blog, which has been a daily thing for several years now -- other than breaking bread with close friends occasionally and work related snarfing, the dining out event with other people social thing is something I rarely do.

Among the worst things to order at a Chinese Restaurant are Crab Rangoon (otherwise known as "Crab Raccoon", depends on spelling peculiarities), Egg Rolls, and General Tso's Chicken. This per several medical advisors and dieticians. Orange Beef and Sweet 'n Sour Chicken are also in the running, as is anything labelled "concubine's" whatever.

Surprisingly, Pork Chow Mein isn't even mentioned.

Possibly the reason I have never eaten it is because growing up in Holland I was already exposed to Bami Goreng, some versions of which are inedible. Fried noodles, meat scraps, soy sauce and scallion, and peppers, with an egg on top. What the Cantonese would call 'lap sap min' (垃圾麵 "garbage noodles") and prepare as a quickie at home so that they can hunker down in front of the teevee to watch their favourite soap opera in their pajamas.

In it's Chinese American interpretation it would probably be insta-noodles augmented with bokchoy, Spam™, and a fried egg. Which actually sounds really good right now.

I've got noodles and tinned meat. And there's a bottle of oyster sauce on the premises. Per a commercial that played in all the C'town theatres between movies, that is the essential addition to both noodles and eggs, without which life is incomplete.
And of course I have chilipaste.

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The rains will come soon, probably within a month. Which, while it's still not ice-cold, remind me of Northern Europe. When it turns frigid, I remember and regret the bad choices I have made, of course, and bellyache ferociously. One particularly bad choice was wading through thigh-deep water on the way to work, because the intersection that could not be avoided was flooded. Crossing couldn't be avoided; doing so would have put me in freeway traffic.

On the other hand, a deep overhang and a thick coat with a pipe after lunch and milk-tea are not so bad. That's a little slice of all right. There are at least three of those in C'town not far from both the hospital and either a welcoming bakery or a chachanteng.
The fourth one has been boarded over to keep the bums out.

Don't worry, they're all defunct businesses. I would not wish to haunt a shopkeeper's daytime dreams, or piss off their clientele. So none are on Grant Avenue or Stockton street.
In my own neighborhood such deep overhangs are a little rarer, but I'll probably be discovering them as time progresses. And the problem lies in maintaining safe social distance from the diseased throngs during the pandemic, naturally, as well as obvious cases of influenza, typhoid, and cholera.

Normal people do not need to lurk in porticos.
The normals can rush home all splitterdy-splatterdy, or seek shelter in a warm bakery and have a flaky pastry and a hot beverage while happily listening to Toishanese conversation all around them, and feeling profoundly superior to all those crusty smokers braving the elements in front of that abandoned store front around the corner ......

Well, that ended over seven months ago. I'll be keen to see what C'town is like this winter, with fewer people on the street, no warm bakeries or restaurants, and all the old geezers avoiding even the entryways to their own dwellings.
It should be hauntingly beautiful.
Even without milk tea.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020


At the end of Beckett, on Pacific Avenue, there are two eateries which I miss, and one place where they do very nice congee. So obviously it's one of my favourite alleyways in Chinatown, and one which has acquired layers of fond memories, from heading to good food and toddling off afterwards content, lighting up my pipe, and enjoying the afterglow.
Milk tea, something with rice, hot sauce, and comforting noise.
Not necessarily a social event, but being social.
While happily not required to.
Porkchops, mainly. At the regent those are often on one of the set lunches, with a bowl of soup and a thick slice of garlic bread. At the New Hollywood, pan-grilled chop with tomato over rice, soup, and a warm roll. In both cases a cup of Hong Kong Milk Tea is part of the programme. While observing the other patrons, and half-listening in on what's going on around me.

To the right in the painting above is the Ping Yuen Housing Estate, to the left the backends of buildings on Grant Avenue. The business with the orange awning at the end is New Hollywood (荷里活茶餐廳 'ho lei wut chaa chanteng'), which also has lovely baked goods, as well as a full chachanteng menu. To the right of that, not visible, Yin Du wonton Noodle (銀都雲吞麵 'ngaan do wan tan min'), and next to that, which you cannot see, New Regent Cafe (新麗晶西餐廳 'san lei jing sai chanteng'). Invisible entirely is a transdimensional portal in the brick wall to the left, which leads you to Eight Legs Cafe.

Which I only know about because they allow pipe smoking.

For reasons which are obvious only to me, I associate the three pipes below with that place.

At the moment I am enjoying a cup of hot strong milk tea. Long after lunch, and past tea-time. My days are rather unstructured these days, I do not have to get to a chanteng before two for the lunch set, and dinner has kind of faded. In any case it's no longer outside the house.

Just came back from a stroll at dusk. With a pipe.

It is quiet in the apartment now, my apartment mate has not returned yet from her office. There is a lovely fragrance of garlic wafting in from the air well. I wonder what I should have as a snack. There are no more cookies, we ate them all. It's been a long time since I had a warm egg tart (蛋撻 'daan taat') or an old wife cake (老婆餠 'lo po bing').

Tomorrow I'll check to see if some of my haunts still exist.
And whether they are doing any kind of business.
I hope they come through this.


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When I left with a pipe for a walk and a smoke, the stuffed creatures were arguing over whether "spanking" should be purely consensual, or in some cases remonstrative. Obviously that was NOT a conversation I wished to participate in, being neither in a relationship nor a parent. And I'm rather surprised that Ms. Bruin broke gravitas to express an opinion. As senior Teddy Bear on my apartment mate's side she might have wanted to maintain a facade of stern disapproval of the discussion entirely. The oldest animal on my side (a small pinkish bear with short arms and "issues") was dreamily mumbling "spanking, mmm, spanking" to himself.
All the felines were, naturally, up in arms.

It had become too noisy for the phlegmatic thoughtful man.
So he left for a while.

Our newest Supreme Court Justice undoubtedly has strong opinions about the matter, and probably believes that women, Jews, minorities, and poor people, need to be spanked fiercely on a daily basis. That's why the Republicans were so keen to ram her through.

Republicans, as you probably agree, should not be spanked, but hunted down and clubbed to death like baby harp seals.

We're heading into uncertain times. I do not trust the Trumpites, and believe that interference with the vote count as well as acts of violence from their side will stain this election.
Many of them are unstable, as well as cognitively impaired.

Of course that goes double for the Christians.

In general, I am against spanking.

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Monday, October 26, 2020


It's rather strange looking at hams. This from the apartment mate, while leafing through a food catalogue. Which tells me that the holidays are coming up, because nothing says "Christmas Spirit" better than giving piles of dead meat to people.

This is the same person who voices for the more murderous and demented stuffed creatures, some of whom are quite disturbing. Such as the turkey vulture, who wishes to eat little girl hamsters. Or Louise, a small Holstein cow, who believes herself a temptress.

She's realized that she works in a place with strange people, and worries that she'll become a gibbering idiot like them. I feel that worry is unjustified. Too inventive a mind.

While she talked, I finished my tea and the painting I was working on, that being a view toward the Great Star Theater on Jackson Street from the bakery near the corner.
The Great Star Theater [大明星戲院]

Years ago when it was still operational, I spent many happy hours there sucking up derring do and gangster chivalry. They still had the contract for Golden Harvest, and many of the offerings were bullet operas. Stupendously entertaining. Chow Yunfat in his prime.
Maggie Cheung, Cherie Chung, and Anita Mui.
It was glorious.
It's been a good teatime today, strong cuppa which energizes, plus stimulation. Need to walk it off with a pipe. While remembering those movies when I still lived three blocks away from the street shown above. Good tobacco stimulates the memory.
Heck, remembering how that street was too.
Jackson Street near Kearny.

The theater has been closed for years. As has the nearby coffeeshop restaurant where I read newspapers after work (Ping Yuen Bakery: 平園咖啡店 'ping yuen ga fei dim' ). The DPD (一品香 'yat pan heung') is also gone, as is the Shanghainese lunch counter with noodle soup.

The cinemas near where I live now have also been closed for years.
People don't go to see movies much anymore.

No one objected when one smoked in the backrows of the theater. Mostly ciggies, of course.
A pipe was a stealth indulgence on slow evenings.


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The spot on my arm where I got contact dermatitis from something horribly allergenic three weeks ago itches like heck, but it's almost healed. It looked like a burn for three weeks. There is something growing in this neighborhood which is exceedingly nasty, don't know what. A plant that yields a toxic dust. Naturally I'm blaming the white techo-yuppies that have infested the city in recent years, and cheering their departure, now that they can't do what they came here to enjoy. Pot, nightclubs, bars to get riotously drunk in, and chique restaurants.
There is an upside to the pandemic.

Woke up from an enjoyable dream in which I was hitting people fiercely with a rough walking stick suitable for hiking, because they were not wearing their masks. Many people.
Damned kids, get off my public transit conveyance!

Also, two phrases in my head, and the French National Anthem from the Empire. Derech eretz, minhag hamakom, and Le Chant du Départ. No, not Partant pour la Syrie (unofficial, during the Napoleonic period), which is remarkably silly, sappy even. Le Chant du Départ has vim. Vigour. Spirit. Derech eretz in the main means good manners, common courtesies, politesse.
Minhag hamakom refers to the customs of the place, accepted practise.

My dreams tend toward slightly berserk nowadays.
Courtesy of the medication I am on.
It's rather fun.

Having finished my first cup of coffee, I'm heading out soon for the first pipe of the day.
A squat bulldog by GBD

Astleys No. 109 in a lovely old piece by Ganneval, Bondier & Donninger. It's a briar I've had for decades. Very suitable for stomping through the scrub jungle of Nob Hill, where the leopards roam and muntjac forage. I shall indulge my wild side.
With civilized restraint.

It's Autumn.


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Sunday, October 25, 2020


Having spent all day hearing about cigars, lighters, sports, and Biden (an opinionated bloviant sitting outside, holding inanly forth), it was a relief to come home and hear about corpses. Fresh corpses. The fatty inner thighs of fresh juicy corpses. As fondly remembered by a very talkative juvenile turkey vulture, disappointed because I had not carved up a cadaver outside (he's convinced that our neighborhood must be just littered with them) and brought back the choicest bits for him to feast upon.

He is unclear about fit subjects for conversation while humans are eating dinner. Aortas, kidneys, livers, lungs, stomachs, pancreasses, brains. Spleens. Almost like a Scotsman repeating the recipe for a favourite dish. What I had for dinner was tofu, bacon, peppers.
Over Kwan Miao noodles. With green curry sauce. And Sriracha.
Inedible, by his standards. He ate a lot of it.

When I went out later for a tub of icecream, he had a request.

"Bring back a corpse! A tiny one is fine, that way you won't exhaust yourself, old man, but make sure it's plump!"

He's sure they're out there.
I just need to look.

Both my apartment mate and I share our food with him whenever we eat.

He had two helpings of icecream.

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Plainly put, he's a bit of a fruitcake. In the past he's lectured me on the duties of a buddhist monk astronaut brain surgeon in the marine corps. If such a man existed.
Of which he is one. It's onerous.

Somebody's got to do it.

Yesterday I postponed my lunch until I was certain that Elvis had not only left the building but wasn't lurking in the parking lot. Nothing would have said "screw you and your burrito" worse than hearing a long rehash of the time he operated on the Shah of Iran while eating a burrito, or the time he fought off Iraqi incendiarists infiltrating the airbase armed with nothing but a burrito. Saved a damsel in distress. With his burrito.
The finest burrito he ever ate.
In great detail.

I had no wish to hear Little White Nipple Dude share his deep thoughts about burritos.

I do not fervently dislike him. But I had already heard about his red lacquer Dunhill lighter, and how it might not be the best thing for lighting his pipe because the high flame could scorch the rim and thus seriously detract from the enjoyment he should have while smoking the Rolls Royce of Tobaccos in the Rolls Royce of briars, and conversationally he goes nowhere too many ways to give him another opening.

It was a very nice burrito. Carnitas, no beans, Spanish rice, extra cheese, chipotle cream, and salsa picante. With the addition of a little salt and Sri Racha it was totally exquisite.

Hearing about the miracle of sardine and whale blubber buritos at the polar station would have cheapened the experience.

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Saturday, October 24, 2020


A few years ago I worked at a computer company on the edge of the salt flats. Which stank. We blessed the air-conditioning there daily. As well as the eucalyptus trees on the grounds of nearby educational institution. Those of us who smoked subjected ourselves to smells. But everyone there had issues. Given that it was hotter than San Francisco, and further away from sources of food, if one rejected the rotting cadavers of beasts that had strayed to far into the industrial park. On the edge of the saltflats, where the world ended.

For a while I worked at a law company down at the Embarcadero Centers. Where the San Francisco sewer system is possibly Roman. Etruscan. Marseillais, even.
Lawyers are used to working amid a stench.
They'll make one otherwise.
There is a tidal swamp not far from where I work these days. Blessed are the cigar huffing yutzes, for they disguise the smell of dead and dying fish. And crustaceans. And overweight seabirds keeling over from too many good dead things to eat.

Raptors and carrion eaters circle over the freeway nearby, looking for escaped children from stalled cars and discraded junk food containers.

The suburbs are filled with zombie walrusses gorping on fried food.

I starting to miss the salt flats of my youth.

It's a wasteland out there.

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Friday, October 23, 2020


One good reason to look forward to the end of this election season is that undoubtedly my fellow Americans will piss me off less afterwards. Not only the raving Trumpites and idiot undecided voters, but also the entire state of Texas, along with Mississippi, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, and several states in the MidWest populated largely by gun nuts and goobers. It will be very good to ignore them again.

"There are still undecided voters???? Seriously??? At this point, they just need to put their earplugs back in, their blindfolds back on, and crawl back into their basements."
-----Smart aleck retired person in South San Francisco who likes patri ni machi

And of course I agree with the person quoted above. I too like patri ni machi. It's some damned fine stuff, and is often made with pomfret, though cod, haddock, perch, pollack, and tilapia can also definitely be used. The Sanskrit derived word 'patra' means leaf, although in a textual context the word also refers to a writing surface, a page, or a cohesive block of text.

Fish covered in green chutney, wrapped in banana leaf, and cooked.

Whir about a dozen nice green chilies in the blender, throw in a handful of kotumir and half a dozen or so cloves garlic, plus salt and lemon juice, and about a teaspoon of cumin seeds. Smear this on the cleaned fish, wrap it in banana leaf (fasten it with kitchen twine or toothpicks), and either steam or put above charcoal for twenty minutes or so.

Salmon this way is good as well.

You know, it was very humane of Biden to agree to a final debate with Trump. Tolerant. And Christian. But a waste of time, because we already know what comes out of a horse's ass.

Instead of paying any attention whatsoever to the circus, I stepped out for a nice walk and a final smoke of the evening. Solani 633 flake in a Peterson.
Sam Manekshaw would have approved.
My apartment mate did not watch the debate either, but went to bed early.
There are no undecided people in this household.

As an afterthought, what I had for dinner last night was bittermelon and fried tofu with fatty pork in green curry, with a thick wedge of toasted bread from an Italian bakery.
Plus a sploodge of Sri Racha hot sauce.
It was delicious!


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Thursday, October 22, 2020


The day has well and truly started. When I left the house, John from downstairs was having a cigarette in the airwell, the workers next door were already making machine noises, and Oyster Boy trotted past on his way to Bob's Donuts for a delicious breakfast. I would say I scowled at every one of them, but in all honesty I've been so conditioned to smile when greeting people that I didn't.
In fact, I couldn't. Can't do it.
I am a defective grumpus.
Never-the-less, I fondly think of myself as rabid and dangerous. Bugger the truth. Even cute little hamsters can be terrifying, as they scurry about with their fearsome claws and teeth, worse are the larger animals like chipmunks and horses. How much more so the most dangerous animals of them all: man.

Oh wait, that's not hamsters I'm thinking of. Perhaps poodles.

Doesn't detract intrinsically from my point.

It was a human being that invented 'Hello Kitty', please remember that. Quod erat demonstrandum. The world has been more impersonal and terrifying since then.
Every man has it in him to be a complete blister of a person just after dawn. Even if we don't habitually eat breakfast, there is a hunger. We yearn, for we are empty.
Werewolves, filled with a lack of sensitivity.

That probably accounts for the popularity of breakfast cereals and donuts. Can you even think of more mindless and savage foods?

One of the minor side effects of the medications I'm taking is stomach pain upon rising. I've gotten used to it, but it does rather detract from my sunny disposition. It fades by the second cup of coffee, and within a couple of hours after rising it's gone entirely. Fortunately it does not effect my taste buds -- coffee is always delicious! -- and that first pipe of the day is just purely wonderful, especially when the fog is still swirling around the intersection of Hyde and Jackson, whisping underneath the braches, or up near the top of the hill on Clay Street between Leavenworth and Jones, where there are gingkos exultant in their splendour.
There is a greenness on the cusp of change.

A man can be by himself up there. Him, his briar, and the trees.
It's not cold yet. But cooler than last week.
Fall will be very nice.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Years ago, before I moved out of North Beach, I acquired the nickname 豆沙餅 ('dau saa bing'), after a comestible I often had at the counter with my hot beverage. It was of course easier to call me that than my real name (multiple consonants, where they should not be), or after the sunday breakfast I would often have there: pile of rice, sausage and fried egg, hash browns, and lots of hot sauce. Washed down with a bucket of Java.
They still had lunch counters in Chinatown then, but those have all disappeared. Dau saa bing are still around -- sweet bean paste biscuits -- as well as coffee crunch cake, lotus seed paste pastries, apple turnovers, and various baau. So not much has changed.

And I wish to clarify that "Sunday Breakfast" means sometime after two o'clock, when the lunch crowd had died down. Eight hours after having coffee and a nice smoke. Dawdling afterwards to devour the Sunday Chronicle, still worth reading in those days, and delaying a post-meal pipe because the two little kids there kept telling me "no smoke!".
Litte children are often either fascinated by briars, or consider them the instruments of evil, and these two were, as taught by their parents, convinced that I would go to hell in a short period of time if I persisted. Either an old-folks home or a cancer ward. Despite being younger than their father. Who did not smoke. Which I considered a failing on his part.

Delightful kids. But sometimes too disapproving.


Yeah, one can't really pop outside for a quick pipe, despite there being an alley nearby, because in pipe-smoking terms a short smoke (half a bowlful) will take thirty minutes. 
And you'll return reeking sootily of Latakia and Turkish leaf, with a silly grin on your face.

I haven't had rice-sausage-egg-hash browns-hot sauce in several years.
And I no longer swill coffee like it was mothers milk.
But I still have that pipe.


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The key part of waking up, as you would expect, is having that first cup of strong hot coffee, recommended by all good doctors as the appropriate swill for washing down the necessary pills in the morning. And while I like coffee, I do not obsess over the brewing method, and avoid Starbucks with every fibre of my being.
I prefer the next step: a walk with a pipe.

Unlike my apartment mate, I am not a morning person. She erupts from her bedroom bubbling over with piss and vinegar, along with the turkey vulture which I gave her for her birthday last December, and both of them require sustenance and conversation, caffeine not so much.

[The necessary pills are blood pressure meds. I am an excitable person.]

The ideal walk would terminate at a place with books, where hot tea and perhaps a crumpet for the peckish would await. And indeed, there used to be such a place within strolling distance on the wilds of Russian Hill around the mid levels. It was also open till the late hours, as a refuge for the world-weary, seeking stimulation from a world of cheap gold plating, designer handbags, and the dross of consumerite culture inflicting its harsh vulgarity upon the soul.
Of course that was years ago, when you could still puff indoors. Since then both the pipes and the books have disappeared, in vavour of wifi, hazelnut-mango ventis, and soft yet hip mood music. All of which smell better.

I fear that many of the people in this neighborhood also avoid gluten, meat, and dairy, and prefer to nibble on something wholesome, rustic, and kale-laden.
While fantasizing about hobbits.

Some of us still dream of places perfumed with Bell's Three Nuns (an excellent Virginia and Perique compound), or Dunhill 965 (the standard for Latakia mixtures), plus the slightly musky odour of books (printed text on paper, collected in stacks with covers, with the faintest sourish whiff of Lumbeck glue applied to the back edge beneath the spine still adhering).

[Thinking of repairing a copy of 正草隶篆四体字典 ('jeng chou dai suen sei tai ji-din', from the Shanghai Bookstore Press). This is a dictionary that lists various forms of Chinese characters, including the greater and lesser seal-script versions (篆書 'suen syu'). It's gotten a lot of use over the years, and is rather beaten up. Much like a few other reference books. Hence the Lumbeck reference.
It's been a long time since I rebound a book.]

I have yet to try a raspberry-syrup frappiato.
Kale is okay, with bacon and noodles.
Provided you add hot sauce.
And peanuts.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Almost everyone has heard of "Mister Vampire", an iconic semi-camp classic of the Hong Kong spooky comedy genre. Which came out in the mid-eighties, featuring Lam Ching-ying and Ricky Hui. The production values were not very high, but that wasn't the point. If anything, it was sort of understated 'tongue in the third cheek'. 殭屍先生 ('keung si sin sang').
Which I saw for the first time at the 華聲戲院 (China Sound Theatre) on Jackson Street.
Now, sadly, an emporium where you can purchase bank of hell notes and paper mock-ups for your dearly departed. Not quite the same attraction for a wandering kwailo.

It was no longer a first run movie house when I went there, and mostly during its final years it showed Japanese soft-focus titty flicks. An interesting category in its own right, but not very instructional. Even dubbed in Mandarin.

[And probably the reason my Mandarin abilities are crappy.]

The vampire (殭屍 'keung si') in the title is a hopping corpse. Master Kau (九叔 'kau suk) has been tasked with transporting someone's deceased relative which has turned into an undead vitality-consuming entity to a final resting place in his ancestral village. He has two incompetent helpers, and hilarity ensues. Taoist magic, kungfu, hopping and flying cadavers, romance.

The ingénue (Moon Lee 李賽鳳 'lei choi fung') has a face capable of looking pouty, but one remembers her best from subsequent flicks in which she's one tough cookie. She's been described as "cute as a bug", and has many fans primarily because of that. Well, ingénue is perhaps the wrong term; in Mr. Vampire she's a bit drippy.

I had to look her up on the internet, because I couldn't remember her. Ricky Hui (許冠英 'huei kun ying') and Lam Ching-ying (林正英) were stuck in my head. Yes, I've seen her in other films; but she wasn't as memorable as, for instance, Cherie Chung (鍾楚紅 'jung cho hong') in 'An Autumn's Tale (秋天的童話 ' chau tin dik tung waa').

The small food counter next door (茗香糕粉小食 'ming heung gou fan siu sik') has excellent potstickers and dumplings if you go at the right time. Delicious dim sum. I've been there more often than the theatre. Siu mai with a touch of chili oil; mmmmmmm.

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Sad to say, Auntie With The Pistachio Ice Cream Coloured Hat is no more. No, she hasn't died, she's changed her hat. Similar design, but a far different hue. Auntie With The Light Tan Or Off White Coloured Hat doesn't sound so good.
It's harder to roll off the tongue.


Interestingly, light tan, pale grey, sepia, and dull white are the same colour: palm tree (棕) and coarse wool (褐). Sort of essence of 'preppie'.

She still looks dashing. In a short elderly forest creature way.

['gwong jong-hot sik waak paak sik ge mou ah-yi']

I should have expected changes, I guess. When I first noticed her she would tromp up and down the block for about ten minutes as exercise, only going halfway down before reversing, mid-March. By the end of April she went three quarters down. July 1st. she got to the end of the block, and proceeded across the intersection. She now ventures much further afield regularly, and I expect that pretty soon she'll head up the opposite slope toward the park at the top of that hill. Courage, determination, and stronger legs.
I'm starting to envy her.

Fewer joggers and dog walkers means healthier old ladies.
We greet each other whenever we meet in the early morning, when I'm taking a constitutional with a pipe and she's doing her walk. The neighborly thing. She knows I speak Cantonese, albeit badly, so any exchange is in "home town speech". Or at least I assume so, seeing as for all I know she's Toishanese, and Cantonese is just an easy lingua franca for her.
My first walk was nearly an hour ago. Now drinking my second cup of coffee, planning to head out for a stroll with another pipe after doing some work on the computer. Then to Chinatown to visit my bank and buy stuff. I'm surprised I've never run into her there, as the nearest shops with interesting vegetables and fresh fish are down on Stockton Street. Now that she's not wearing so distinctive a chapeau, I might not recognize her if I did.
These masks are problematic in that regard.

It is by distinctive feathers that people recognize each other.


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Monday, October 19, 2020


Today I contacted my brilliant cousin on the East Coast to find out how everybody is doing. Which was rewarding. My uncle and aunt in Canada, in their nineties, survived Covid earlier this year and are both doing well. Apparently they still enjoy a glass of red wine regularly, and though hampered by mobility issues due to old age, get around a bit. My uncle still quotes nineteenth century poetry at the drop of a hat.

My cousin is a grandmother now.

Which makes me a grand-relative, but I'm not sure what that would be. The "sprightly fossil record who lives in California"? The "crotchett once removed"? "Grand cousin Bongo"?
The one "unreconstructed relative who smokes"?
Uncle Stinko?

It is as yet unclear to me whose kid it is. My brilliant cousin has two offspring, both old enough to be parents, both in movies and well-regarded in their field. And the name of the kid has no clues to gender, although I assume that the 'O' ending indicates that it is male.

It looks more human than Winston Churchill.

My younger cousin's kids, who I met about four years ago, also look more human than Winston Churchill. And although we are very distantly related, none of my immediate kin resemble him.
I have a very low bar.

Uncle Stinko has had his afternoon tea. I will communicate further with my brilliant cousin tomorrow. I have no photos of people here to send.

In a few minutes I will head out to contemplatively smoke my pipe.
A written response requires careful thought.
Be interestingly informative.
But concise.

The mental processes are benefitted enormously by tobacco, especially flue-cured leaf. Considering what to say is probably a three pipe problem.


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It is cooler today, which suits individuals living in areas along the coast. Inland, of course, they are lamenting, because they can no longer run around naked at mass political rallies ..... which one imagines them doing at the drop of a hat. And it is nearly crab season. Which in the interior of this country means an infestation in the short hairs caught by attending mass political rallies with nothing but a stupid red ball cap on. Such as is distressingly common.

During cooler weather the crabs are more likely to come up on shore to enjoy a nice smoke, visiting their little hutches and lockers above the highest tides, retrieving their prized Charatan Pipes and birth-year Dunhills, and other briars, as well as stashes of Penzance Pipe Tobacco, Erinmore Flake, and that old tin of Edgeworth Extra High grade Sliced Pipe Tobacco from the old days, of which there is a little left at the bottom, rich and figgy-toasty. Earthy. Nutty.

They light up, and reverie descends.

As well as the wandering anti-smoker, who snatches up our dreamy decapodean American for Cioppino, damn them.

Even the Vegans, because tofu cioppino just doesn't taste right.

My heart bleeds for the brachurians.
Enjoying their fine smokes.
And cooler weather.

The rest of us, those who are sensible, also enjoy such things. Yesterday my feet were in pain all day, swollent inside their exoskeletons, and moving around was in a word, crablike. Not so much skittering or sideways, but gingerly with short steps. When a random person (a certifiable idiot) visiting work remarked "beautiful weather", I would have ripped his head off with my dextrous claws, if I had had those.

Lots of tea. A few bowls of Solani Virginia Flake 633, which is balanced by a very subtle inclusion of Perique, and is somewhat light, being sweet with a touch of earthy astringency. Very pleasing. An old-school pipe tobacco. Needs hardly any drying before loading, lights easily, smokes down to a few dry scraps. Allegedly has honey added, but I do not taste any, and it does not feel sticky to the touch as many such products would.

Seems to treat my Savinelli DeLuxe with the long pencil shank rather well. And vice versa. Sometime today the other Savinelli DeLuxe may be loaded with it. Haven't decided yet.
Probably also going to enjoy a bowl of Astleys 109.
Later. Much later. After tea time.
Ethereal perfume.


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Sunday, October 18, 2020


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For some reason which I cannot explain I thought about the Shanghainese girl this morning. I knew her years ago, we drifted apart, and lost ...