11 | Till death do us part.

If I had some sort of talent in putting paint on canvas or gyrating my lanky figure to music, I would have gone to the School Of The Arts, SOTA in short. Because it has such a beautiful campus. Fortunately, I had no such gifts, nor was SOTA opened when I left Primary school. Back in the days, choosing which school to go to was a much simpler feat. I had gotten very interested in some kind of chess called Go (or Weiqi), from reading this Japanese manga – Hikaru no Go. So I’d set my mind on this particular school which was famous for their Go club. My exam score barely gave me a place in this school, just as I made it into the club by pure chance. Funny how things have worked out.

Nevertheless, the establishment of SOTA was a commendable feat to encourage our people to be more accepting of ‘alternative pathways’. It is not the most ideal; students have to take the International Baccalaureate at the end, so they have to split themselves between passion and obligation. Yet it is a compromise, given the state of our culture – in which qualifications mean a great deal. I would love to witness the day when we can tell our children to be who they want to be and be honestly proud of it, although that is quite unlikely by current projections.

I had a discussion some weeks ago with a botanist mentor/friend over dinner, about how in cities we cannot expect the obsession with money and mentality of hoarding to simply go away. Not even with any form of government intervention (in a free/sort-of-free society that is). Imagine how different the conditions are in a smaller town. It isn’t difficult to find one’s purpose in being a painter, a farmer, a postman, or a baker. For instance, through his humble hands, the baker kneads bread out of flour, water and yeast for his neighbours who lie in their soft beds while he works the dough. In a city, all notions of such romance are dispelled as bakers scramble over meagre profit margins, which probably wouldn’t suffice to raise their families. Material wealth takes centre-stage; aspirations limit themselves to enterprises and financial institutions. It’s all about capital, resources, and efficiency. In the most efficient economy, the only conceivable bakeries are the factories.

Ironically, our consolation lies in our inefficiency. We can’t work like robots (at least, not yet). We fall in love, and we fall out of love; we are seduced by utterly inefficient notions such as spending an afternoon with ume-scented green tea and lovely cakes in the company of friends. (You saw that coming, didn’t you?) We need only to head over to nowhere but SOTA to be seduced by my favourite patisserie in this condemning city – Kki Sweets.

Kki Sweets started out on Ann Siang Hill, and after an 8-month-long hiatus, it re-opened in SOTA. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. At its new home, full-length glass windows and simple, wooden furnishing exudes a comfortable openness. The owner only made the welcome warmer, as before, treating everyone like neighbours. And the influence of Japanese patisseries extends beyond its hospitality; the cakes are concise and light, focussing on getting the simple things right. Some of my favourite cakes are still there, notably the onigiri, although it wasn’t available on this visit. But luck has it that I could have my fork on the N.A.O, a dainty strawberry and pistachio mousse cake, and Café Dumo, a balanced coffee entremet, for I have missed out on these two back then.

There are new offerings, but I couldn’t really be sure.  The incumbents are great, but like all food places, innovation and improvement are necessary. Prices are steep, relatively, but not unjustified, for both the chefs’ dedication to their craft and the impossible rent prices. Its tea selection is limited, but sufficient and apt for its sweets. Better coffee would retain more customers, because their palates are getting pickier with the saturation of cafés. Understandably, a standard espresso machine is a heavy investment, for cost is always an issue in a bustling city like Singapore.

On our part as consumers, we can be more discerning. If we want places like this to stay, because it is not just a business, then we have to acknowledge that our support makes a difference. Everyone will have their own favourites, and it’s always sad to see them go. Yet I hope that Kki Sweets is here to stay, for its simplicity, its charm, and its warmth is the kind of love we would want to fall into.

Kki Sweets
1 Zubir Said Drive
SOTA #02-01

https://www.facebook.com/kki.sweets

08 | It’s OK.

Coffee Brew

Onions. Mille-feuilles. Winter clothes. These are the things that come in many layers. People are much simpler things. There are our inner thoughts, and then our external representations. What’s on the outside could well be very different from what goes in our minds, but it’s the differences that make up our personalities. By saying this I don’t mean it as an absolute truth. We’ve all lived long enough to know nothing could be 100 percent. It’s just a comforting perspective.

Our external representations differ when we’re with different people. Across time, space as well, and I couldn’t sound more redundant. But sometimes it’s necessary to state what’s obvious. Like telling your loved one how you feel. Because it’s necessary. In any case the differences can be upsetting, when we couldn’t be sure who we really are, who we could be, and who we should be. In the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert L. Stevenson wrote, ‘man is not truly one, but truly two.’  I think it’s a gross understatement. Man is truly… many?

It’s also a strange case how we can be obsessed with one and many at the same time. The Grand Unified Theory, the Ego, and the One. We like these singly, and we find comfort in their coherence. On the other hand, when it comes to money, time, or attention, we want many, or should I say much. It’s also strange how ‘money’ and ‘time’ are uncountable nouns, although when we count we are mostly counting time or money. To quote a bryologist I once met, ‘Man has very strange taste.’

Speaking of taste, it has been an exciting week. Blue cheese macaron, tamarind sorbet, passionfruit-thyme bonbons. Ma Sœur brought back a couple of chocolate tablets from Paris. Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin and Un dimanche à Paris. I would have been over the moon if she had one from Alain Ducasse’s La Manufacture du Chocolat, but I couldn’t be more grateful already. That said, I had to get another one of Mast Brothers’ from a local distributor. C’est américain, oui, mais c’est chocolat. Blame those eye-catchy wrappers.

And, obviously, I have completed my coffee brewing set with a Porlex hand grinder. Time to put my age-old Frenchpress to use. I got a bag of beans from Nylon Coffee Roasters to celebrate the occasion. This bag of goodness from Baroida has a wonderful layered profile. A remarkable lingering finish with molasses! It takes a deal of effort to brew coffee yourself, but nothing beats having a cup of goodness in the comforts of your home. Here’s to good coffee, good chocolate, forget the could bes and couldn’t bes, the should bes and shouldn’t bes L’chaim!

Nylon Coffee Roasters
4 Everton Park #01-40
Singapore 080004
T: 6220 2330

http://www.nyloncoffee.sg/

05 | Grass in Concrete

Made in Sg
Typesetting

In the past week, we’ve seen the release of this year’s best 50 restaurants in Asia. Much can be said about that. The Straits Times ran a half-page critique on the dubiety of certain rankings, but as usual, everything should be taken with a pinch of salt… because sodium acetate reduced the bitterness of urea more effectively than sucrose. Molecular gastronomy stuff, which has tickled the minds of chefs and gastronomes alike. But the fad in the food scene has petered out, perhaps giving way to a more mature understanding of modernist cuisine. Yet another, more down-to-earth (literally), theme is on the rise – sourcing for local produce and putting them into dishes served.

I have always felt a sense of pity living in Singapore. On this sunny tropical island, there isn’t much that grows as quickly as condominiums and the population of foreign labour. While I was on a farm-stay in Nagano, Japan for two-weeks, the idea of planting corn, basil and blueberries was just as foreign as it was intriguing. It doesn’t mean that Singaporeans don’t get the idea of ‘you reap what you sow’. Everyone knows when we plant our heads in books, we get stars and scholarships. Not a concept too difficult to grasp.

Yet, it is more than heartening that it isn’t all about stars and scholarships for many young people these days. Last weekend, a handful of craftspeople put up a collaborative exhibit to showcase what exactly can be Made In Singapore. Bespoke leather goods, home-made jams, hand-carved rubber stamps, earthy ceramics, and of course… locally-roasted coffee.

The Gentlemen’s Press was most intriguing, for I’ve always had a thing for letterpress. There wasn’t a full range of type sets or a full-size typesetting frame, but that little red letterpress machine pictured below was in itself a fascinating contraption. Like a typical Singaporean, I joined the queue and had my hands on the press to make myself a “Made in SG” card.

It was all good fun, and coffee. But craftsmanship isn’t just about fun – especially in Singapore. It demands a deal of devotion, a spirit of ‘making’, and an undaunted belief that even the greenest grass can grow anywhere in the barest concrete jungle.

Letterpress Machine
Letterpress Machine

http://www.makersofsingapore.com/market/

02 | All means necessary.

Necessary ProvisionsIt was just a day like any other. Roads are paved and re-paved. Buildings climb without rest. Yet it also marks a step into a new year, ushering in a new beginning of renewed expectations and rekindled resolutions. Parents studiously pack their children’s schoolbags and iron their uniforms, once more pinning their hopes for the future in the generation they have brought forth to nurture.

It’s the time of the year again, journalists, bloggers, and just about everyone else become strangely obsessed with making lists. I have found it perplexing how we readily accept and find comfort in such lists.

“5 things you’ll learn being a waiter,”

“10 ways to change your life for the better,”

“100 best places to find The One.”

I can’t say I’m the least interested to glance through such articles, but it intrigues me how rarely do we question their provenance, and by association, their credibility. Perhaps it isn’t necessary, especially when we find ourselves in satisfying agreement with some, if not all, of the points expressed. I’m not pointing to particular websites like Thought Catalog; besides, if responsibility was to be sought, readers shouldn’t be taking any less blame than writers, for it’s simply an issue of supply and demand.

This market of encouragement, borderline self-delusion, and eager persuasion is a testament of our taste for injecting meaning into the most mundane things, not excluding ‘special’ days like yesterday. While I can’t bring myself to enjoy such comfort with full conviction, I am no less guilty of following the fad by associating life as a pursuit of dreams.

Dreams, they can be such powerful symbols of our persistence, yet they can feel so hollow at the same time. After all, they are mere figments of thought, perhaps wishful-thinking. Embracing them is an implicit recognition that the future is ‘less’ pre-determined than the past (because our present actions are capable of driving us to our intended destinations), or that there is meaning in any form of pursuit, regardless of the actual destination. The former reason calls for pure faith, believing that what we do now will get us there some day. The latter demands more, because it means for us to accept that hollow as the very nature of dreams and strive endlessly into the future.

Whatever the reason is, we will continue our tireless march towards our ideals; it’s the only way forward. And along this grand arrow of time, there is little harm in finding sanctuary, ascribing meanings to the tiniest details in those brief yet special moments. The turqoise cups atop the Spirit Duette, the aptly imperfect tulip on my latte, and the expressive sour tinges of the blood-orange yoghurt cake. The setting of Necessary Provisions inspires the idea of a transient breathe in a dying gasp peace in the relentless chaos, with its lengthy glass windows overlooking the quiet neighbourhood and a vintage fixie-bike surviving the passing of time. Hospitable service, nutty bread, and untamed mustard made my beef pastrami sandwich ever more delicious. Add a chance encounter with a formal colleague, and you have the recipe to concoct a work-free day without complains. What a great way to start a new year!

Hojicha Karigane Cold Brew
Hojicha Karigane Cold Brew

Necessary Provisions
21 Eng Kong Terrace
Singapore 598993
T: 9231 7920

http://necessaryprovisions.com/

#10 Grim

The past week has been rather ‘mortifying.’ It started off with the Boston bombing, followed by the Texas explosion. Earthquakes terrorized Iran, then Sichuan, China. The threat of H7N9 lingers on, as well as the ricin letters. It was an easy week to give up faith for the future.

I am not trying to downplay the sufferings of all these victims, but it is usually the bad news that are reported, and the good news shrugged off. In part due to my current employment status (waiting for school), I have followed the news quite habitually. I would have my breakfast over the morning news – only to have my appetite dampened.

It is grim, but I’ll have to start with this upsetting article. The dark side of Dubai. This came from way back, but it recently re-surfaced on my facebook feed. It reminded me to think beyond what can be seen, sometimes to see the ugly truths.

On a lighter note about news, this graphic artist, LOGHIFICIO, renders intriguing illustrations from headlines.

A Sad Tale Of A Missing Stormtrooper.

Another photo series, somewhat bittersweet. In a few elaborate photos, Matej Peljhan sketched an Imaginary Adventure of Luka, a boy who suffers from muscular dystrophy.

In ending, a flip-through of a collection of photographs by Petri Artturi Asikainen. He photographed one man and one woman from age 0 to 100. There is such a long journey ahead.

100 YEARS IN TOKYO, flip through from Petri Artturi Asikainen on Vimeo.