October 28, 2015

colour study: orange x cobalt blue


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October 25, 2015

Scenes from my week

image8{View from Hohenzollern Castle}

I’m flying back to New York today, but I’ve had such a wonderful time in Europe that I can’t wait for the next time I can come back! Here are some scenes from Amsterdam and southwest Germany:

image5{The Jesuit Church in Heidelberg}


image2{A 17thc. Dutch world map}

image1{An extremely important document that I got to see at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This is the only surviving letter of safe conduct issued by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1609, which gave Holland the right to enter Japan and trade there. It reads: “When Dutch ships dock in Japan, no objections may be raised, regardless of the port. This order must be obeyed, and all persons are to be allowed to come and go without exception. Thus, it is written here. August 24th, 1609.” The lacquer box that contained this letter also survives and shows the shogun’s crest of three encircled clover leaves.}

image12{Leaf-peeping near the Black Forest}

image1{Munich’s historic town hall}


image9{Heidelberg Castle}image6{View from Hohenzollern Castle, the ancestral seat of the Prussian kings}

image7{Inside Hohenzollern Castle}

image10{St. Michael’s Chapel}


{Me at Hohenzollern}


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October 19, 2015

Jelly/Jam Regulations in Germany


As I am writing this I’m on the way to southwest Germany, where I hope to get my fill of Baroque architecture and scrumptious desserts. So, in anticipation of the gastronomic delights that I fully expect to encounter, here is an interesting piece of remote German food trivia that I came across during my German culinary ‘research.’

In Germany, jellied spreads are subject to certain regulations that define exactly what those spreads should be called based on a 1982 EU council directive called the German Konfitürenverordnung (Jam/Jelly Regulation). This, along with its later amendments, set standards for condiments relating to jams, jellies, marmalades, and chestnut purées.

To expound, jams in Germany largely fall into two categories: Marmalade* (commonly translated as ‘jam/jelly’) and Konfitüre. The difference is that a spread must contain at least 20% citrus fruit in order for it to be considered ‘Marmalade.’ Everything else must be called a ‘Konfitüre,’ which must contain a minimum of 35% non-citrus fruit. However, if the non-citrus fruit content exceeds 45% of the spread, then it must be called ‘Konfitüre extra.’

And yet there are even more rules than that. In the case of certain fruits, there are limitations on how much fruit can comprise the content of the spread. Quince or currant Konfitüren, for example, must contain no more than 35% and 25% fruit, respectively. I wonder what dire consequences of adding more fruit the EU council had in mind when they set that restriction.

The funny thing is that even though ‘Marmalade’ may seem like the more foreign word in German to English speakers because it exists in English, whereas ‘Konfitüre’ does not, ‘Marmalade’ is arguably the more ‘German’ word, having existed in German for about 200 years longer than ‘Konfitüre.’ Indeed, prior to 1982, ‘Marmalade’ was much more prevalently used than it is now as it was taken to mean any jam with whole or large pieces of fruit suspended in jelly. After the regulation was introduced, however, ‘Konfitüre,’ the French-adopted word, took over in prevalence.

Essentially, this regulation changed the meaning of the German ‘Marmalade’ to suit the meaning of the British ‘marmalade,’ of which the inclusion of citrus fruit comprises an integral part. However, it is not uncommon to find Marmalade containing non-citrus fruit in German grocery stores— especially in farmer’s markets and organic food sections. This is because the Konfitürenverordnung only applies to large manufacturers. Everyone else is free to produce as much non-citrus fruit Marmalade as they please.

I wonder if the definitions of ‘jam’ and ‘jelly’ in English ever received such scrutiny from government organizations…


*Note: all nouns are capitalized in German.


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October 17, 2015

Scenes from my week

Cafe in Amsterdam{A street in Amsterdam}

Hello from a rainy (but still beautiful) Amsterdam! For the past week or so I’ve been enjoying my trip through Europe, and the fact that it’s for work makes me feel even more blessed about it. It’s been quite a while since I last spent time in this part of the world, and now I’m remembering, day by day, how charming and pleasant many European cities are, enhanced by the recent Fall foliage! Here are some scenes from my week:

London{Beautiful London architecture}

V&A{The V&A}

liberty{Liberty of London}

Fabric of India show, V&A{One of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen}

Doing research{Me, conducting research in the British Museum’s storage}

Sketch bathroom{Futuristic bathroom cubicles at Sketch}

Amsterdam{Amsterdam’s incredible scenery}

Cafe in Amsterdam{At Lavinia, a cute cafe in Amsterdam}

Cafe in Amsterdam {Lavinia}

Cosy meal in Amsterdam{Just what I wanted for lunch on a cold, rainy day}

Fall foliage in Amsterdam{Fall foliage in Amsterdam}


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October 15, 2015

play/movie review: Macbeth

Marta SpendowskaMarta Spendowska. Abstract Lands: Rivers.

A very well-read friend of mine, who lives in London, went with me the other day to see the new Macbeth movie in a charming little Everyman Cinema on Baker Street (incidentally where Sherlock Holmes was supposed to live). It was a short, powerful movie on the whole, with beautiful cinematography, costumes, settings, and a score. I also enjoyed the acting, although I think it could have done with slightly less strained whispering.

The movie made me think about certain ideas that hadn’t occurred to me when I last read the play in high school. Two, in particular, stand out:

  • Differing attitudes towards the concept of masculinity

While I had studied Lady Macbeth’s purposeful rejection of conventional femininity and her belief that it breeds weakness, I hadn’t yet thought about attitudes toward masculine gender roles. Not only does Lady Macbeth pressure her husband to kill King Duncan by questioning his manhood (“When you durst do it, then you were a man. /And to be more than what you were, you would/ Be so much more than the man.”), but she also wishes for the abandonment of her own womanhood in her quest for power (“Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top full/ Of direst cruelty…”). She goes so far as to say that she would even kill her own child, against any innate maternal instincts, if it means the procurement of a more masculine and therefore powerful position because, to her, masculinity and capability are one and the same. Both husband and wife desperately cling to each other while drowning in a sea of their insecurities before, finally, Lady Macbeth’s suicide and Macbeth’s death at the hands of Macduff highlight the ultimate Shakespearean triumph of ‘true’ morality and masculinity. This is because Macduff, by contrast, is self-assured in the full knowledge of himself and his limits. When told to take the brutal murder of his wife and son “like a man,” Macduff replies, “I shall do so, / But I must also feel it as a man.” In stating this, he asserts that sensitivity of feeling is not necessarily linked to weakness of character. Even though he feels deeply, these emotions do not undermine his ability as a successful warrior and mentally strong hero of the play. If anything, they strengthen his resolve.

  • Was Macbeth suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

Never before had it occurred to me that Macbeth might have been especially impressionable at the beginning of the play because he was psychologically unsound at the time when his wife pressured him to kill King Duncan—the first murder that snowballed toward others and, eventually, Macbeth’s own undoing. In fact, the reason why he is so easily able to assassinate Duncan in the first place is because Duncan has come to personally thank Macbeth for his bravery in the recent battle, which was fought on Duncan’s behalf. Still freshly traumatized from all the carnage, Macbeth exhibits a mentally unstable disposition throughout the play, even at times when he should be theoretically at ease without murder actively preying on his mind by dint of urgency. The banquet hall scene following his coronation is one such example. Although he has just been given worrying news that Fleance, Banquo’s young son, has managed to escape while Banquo was being killed, Macbeth’s ensuing frenzy of fervour in front of all his guests can hardly be seen as a normal reaction. After all, the last thing a king would want to do is show his subjects how unhinged and unfit to rule he is. Lady Macbeth, in response, tries to quell the situation by explaining to their guests that her husband usually has these fits and that this is completely typical of him: “Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus…Feed, and regard him not.”

It was only when I saw this scene acted out that I started to wonder whether Macbeth’s madness can indeed be considered as only belonging to the same type as his wife’s—namely, the lunacy that comes from being unable to overcome vast guilt. While there is ample evidence to show how he, like his wife, cannot reconcile himself with having so much blood on his hands, I think that his madness is exacerbated by an untreated, underlying layer of trauma, which is found in the behavioural symptoms of PTSD that he exhibits  but is not found in his wife’s cold-blooded attitude towards murder. Symptoms shown by war veterans often include paranoia and irrational panic as though they are constantly in danger, as well as depressed moments in which they seek isolation. Alongside his outburst in the banquet hall, Macbeth also has times when he withdraws from everyone, thereby showing both symptoms just mentioned. For example, In Act 3, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth finds him brooding by himself and asks, “How now, my lord! Why do you keep alone[?]”

All in all, I would see the movie again and highly recommend you see it, too!


For more on the locations of Everyman Cinemas, see http://www.everymancinema.com/venues/


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October 11, 2015

A history of the colour purple

purple“Infanta Style.” Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia (1997).

Having been in the land of the well-loved British royal family for a few days now, I’ve been thinking lately about the history of the colour purple and its widely known association with royalty. Rulers ranging from Roman emperors to Queen Elizabeth I apparently passed sumptuary laws prohibiting the colour to be worn by anyone but royalty. But why was it considered so special?

The reason had much to do with its exclusivity. For centuries, the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre held its reputation for being the sole producer of “Tyrian purple” due to the locally found species of sea snail (now known as Bolinus brandaris) that was used to make the precious dye. The process for which to harvest the dye was extremely laborious: manufacturers first had to crack the snail shells open and extract a purple-pigmented mucus before exposing it to sunlight for a carefully set amount of time. To yield just one ounce of usable dye it required about 250,000 snail shells.

That’s a lot of snails. In fact, if you think about how a single standard serving of Escargots à la Bourguignonne is commonly served on a plate containing six grooves for six snails, that means that the same amount of snails needed to produce one ounce of purple dye would have also been enough to feed about 41,667 people each a restaurant-serving of escargots instead.

In the words of Plato, “The measure of a man is what he does with power,” and here, the extent of that power even affected the realm of molluscs. Imagine that.

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October 8, 2015

Colour study: sorbet shades


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October 6, 2015

Packing List: Europe in October

One of the wonderful things about my job is that sometimes I get sent to incredibly desirable destinations. Soon, I’ll be traveling through Europe (London, Amsterdam, Munich, Heidelberg) for some conferences and field research. Here are the key wardrobe items I’ll be bringing with me, sorted into 12 outfits.

I’m so excited!

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October 4, 2015

Can I have that with rice? Asian-ifying Fall Vegetables in the U.S.


For many people, a multi-coloured butternut squash and cranberry quinoa salad topped with parsley would be a sight to instantly whet their appetites. Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. While I enjoy having a full salad every now and then, at home, I largely think about the vegetables in my fridge in terms of how I can best pair them with my bowl of rice. The problem is that in my on-going attempts to eat in-season, using locally sourced vegetables from the farmer’s market as much as possible, I find myself frequently wondering what to do with certain vegetables that I didn’t grow up eating, such as kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts.

Fortunately for me, there is a search tool called the Internet, which allows me to find what other people have done to Asian-ify their autumn veggies. Today I came across a recipe for a Brussels sprouts dish, which I really liked and would make again.

Brussels sprouts with sesame, miso, and garlic (makes 2 servings)

*Original recipe in Japanese, found on www.cookpad.com/jp

  • 5-6 individual Brussels sprouts
  • 100 ml. water
  • 1 tsp. shirodashi (a type of soup stock)
  • ½ tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tbs. sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp. miso
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. grated garlic

1.) Cut the Brussels sprouts vertically into fourths. Heat the water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, then add the Brussels sprouts. Boil for two minutes over high heat, then strain.

2.) Transfer the Brussels sprouts into a bowl of cold water and let it soak for 5 minutes.

3.) Reserve a third of the sesame seeds. In a mortar and pestle, combine and grind all the rest of the ingredients. Once the mixture is ground into a fine paste, add the remaining sesame seeds and stir.

4.) Take the Brussels sprouts out of the water and pat dry. Combine it with the mixture. Because the leaves of Brussels sprouts tend to overlap one another, rub the paste in between the crevasses gently so as not to destroy the Brussels sprouts’ shape.

Served with miso soup and rice, this is my idea of a satisfying, home-cooked meal in the Fall!


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October 2, 2015

Technology-assisted dating in the 1800s and 2010s

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Recently, I read two books that address mankind’s experience when faced with finding romance through new technologies, albeit one instance in the 1800s and another today: Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet (2014) and Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance (2015).

The bulk of Ansari’s book is focused squarely on how dating in today’s digital age is markedly different from the past when one was forced to date in-person and/or through communication formats that required a more physical, personal presence. Mobile or app texting has become such an essential communication tool in dating that we have now developed two selves: a “phone self” and a “real-world self,” whereby our phone selves are defined by the perceptions that others have formed of us based on what texts we sent them.

His main critique of this medium is that “texting facilitates flakiness and rudeness and many other personality traits that would not be expressed in a phone call or an in-person interaction.” And because of this ability to communicate with very little accountability or linkage to our real-world selves, people capitalize on the fact that they can get away with bad behaviour so easily. As such, they become much more uninhibited about the way that they express themselves, which often leads to results that come off as inconsiderate or hurtful. This is especially true when paired with the fact that conciseness as a form of casualness is highly prized in texting and therefore an added pressure that encourages us to exclude explanations and present ourselves in ways that we otherwise might not, verbally or in-person, in order to preserve our self-images.

However, in light of Standage’s The Victorian Internet, that these bad behaviours are exacerbated by a protective layer of impersonality is not an entirely novel happenstance in the history of human interactions through technology. More specifically, the technology he refers to is the electric telegraph, the precursor to today’s Internet, which connected the globe and “unleashed the greatest revolution in communications since the development of the printing press.” Throughout his book, Standage explores the range of wrong-doings that accompanied the advent of the telegraph and cumulatively views them as a demonstration of society’s tendency to blame problems that are facilitated by new technologies on the technologies themselves.

His chapter entitled, “Love over the Wires,” is devoted to examples of romances that were made possible by the telegraph. These romances ranged from inconsequential flirtations between people who had never met, to long-distance dating, to marriages. As Standage writes, “Spies and criminals are invariably among the first to take advantage of new modes of communication. But lovers are never far behind.” Within the first few months of the telegraph being opened to the public, “on-line wedding[s]” took place, and strict regulations between female and male operators were enforced to keep flirtations at bay. “Romances of the Telegraph,” an article published in Western Electrician in 1891, detailed numerous examples of couples who met each other over telegraph lines and sustained their relationships that way. Predictably enough, the varied results of such unions were strikingly similar to the varied results of relationships that happen over text today. Both flaky and considerate people who dated using fast communication tools existed in the Victorian age, just as they do now.

It makes me wonder to what degree the human experience has changed with regard to courtship, irrespective of what new technologies we’ve employed to assist it. Although the world is infinitely more connected now, and there are many more options as a result, the concept of ‘The Game’ has always existed: the vacillation between expressing our true feelings and hiding them in order to uphold the self-images that we’ve created and would like others to see us as. We humans are proud. We do not like being vulnerable or losing, so we play games with each other. The only difference is that now we are able to play as many games as we want, with as many people as we want, whenever we want. This was not the case in the Victorian age. It seems that the dating process is far more exhausting today, the main reason for which can be largely attributed to the burden of immense choice.

On a more positive note, here is some pertinent advice from the Dalai Lama, whose insightful wisdom even on popular culture has impressed me ever since he remarked that Hollywood is “very bad for [his] eyes and a waste of time.” Concerning technology and our livelihoods’ dependence on it, he recommends the following: “I think technology has really increased human ability. But technology cannot produce compassion. We are the controller of the technology. If we become a slave of technology, then [that’s] not good.”

And that’s why he’s the Dalai Lama.

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