上写真：1889年建築。かつて第二次大戦後ロシア大使館として使われた建物。今は THE HOUSE ON SATHORNというレストランになっています。
“The House on Sathorn”
Built in 1889 along a klong (canal), many similar homes used to line what is now Sathorn Road in the business district near Chong Nonsi, Bangkok. Used after WWII as the Soviet Embassy, the pictured colonial structure is now surrounded by high-rise buildings including the recently completed building seen behind. This newly renovated structure is now home to upscale eateries and a bar. Modern, sun-reflecting glass windows have replaced traditional wood, louvered screens.
Kachori is a deep-fried snack food made throughout India. A soft dough made from all-purpose flour and a little baking powder is filled with coarsely chopped green beans or lentils typically, then deep fried.
Those pictured were filled with urad dal soaked in water and pounded into a coarse paste, then mixed with spices and pan fried until dry. This particular version is from Uttar Pradesh, so the kachori are flattened disks (one shown in the photo was shaped into a small ball by my son as is done in Gujarat). In Uttar Pradesh, kachori are usually served with a thin potato curry, seasoned only with spices, that is, without onion or garlic. We used fresh coriander leaves, ginger, chopped fresh green chili, red chili powder, asafetida, cumin seeds, turmeric, garam masala, and amchur (powdered dried green mango, added for sourness). The filling was seasoned with many of the same spices as listed above, but to which was added crushed fennel seeds.
The thin curry and kachori go well together, a filling, healthy snack.
For a long time, I have thought about printing fabric I use in my clothes with woodblocks.
While in Bangkok now, I spent two days recently with my friend and woodblock print artist Ralph Kiggell. I love Ralph’s work, own a few of his prints myself, and learned much from him during a private two-day workshop at his studio. During our time together, Ralph taught me the basics of woodblock cutting, which he studied in Japan, and we made some trial ink prints in his studio. Next, I will try “resist printing” where we are staying in Bangkok, and will continue to experiment after I return to Nagano in a couple weeks.
Of course, we all made prints and cut woodblocks while at school, but we did so with constraints, perhaps necessary in a classroom environment, but which nonetheless did not allow us to experience the wide range of techniques and styles available. The process is different from, for example, the one used in India traditionally to print from woodblocks on fabric.
It was fascinating to watch Ralph work. He designed several different leaf patterns for me, first sketching lightly with pencil on the wood surface, expressing the essence of each leaf with a few simple stokes, then carved the wood almost effortlessly it seemed, all this the result of the artist’s years of experience. Ralph carved several blocks for me, which I will use in Japan to print on fabric. We had talked about such a collaboration for years, and finally were able to do something together.
Below are photos from a reference book about natural dyeing and printing on fabric in Bangladesh. One quickly sees how complicated the process can be. Recipes for dyes and mordants are given, some of which I will try back in Japan. In India today, by contrast, one sees a lot of chemical dyes used, which are bad for the environment, for the health of the dyers and printers, and ultimately for wearers of clothing made from this fabric. Traditionally, of course, plant dyes were used exclusively, and “resist dyeing” in Japan was accomplished by using natural materials as well, such as glutinous rice, rice bran, salt, lime, . . .
I want to try many different ways to print with woodblocks on fabric, after I return to Japan, and look forward to sharing the results with you.
We will remain in Nagano this summer: I want to build a storage room adjoining our house for fabric I have to better protect it from insects, especially those which eat the cellulose in linen.
I will start soon to dye clothes with indigo I was finally able to source from Okinawa. I waited quite a while to buy this indigo, as growers there had to deal with drought and salt in the growing fields left by passing typhoons.
As noted in a previous post, this year I am introducing a second line of clothing under my “indochina” label. I have been working under my present label for six years, and wanted to broaden my collection with a second line of clothing made from hand-spun, hand-woven, and hand-dyed fabric that I would source from India and Southeast Asia. I am busy now designing clothes for this new label and hope to offer a few items this spring at my shows or through my online shop. The photo in today’s blog entry shows one sample blouse I have made.
The decorations for Christmas and the New Year in Penang had barely been taken down in a nearby shopping center, before decorations for Chinese New Year (celebrated on February 19th in 2015) were taking their place, as there is no time to lose in the drive to relieve shoppers of their money. There are so many red lanterns (too many?) hung everywhere that they are no longer special and one hardly notices them. If there is a lantern everywhere one looks, the point of decoration, to give something special to look at, is lost. I thought about our time in Hoi An, Vietnam, during Tet four years ago. I have posted here some of that which caught my eye of the decorations for Vietnamese New Year and of the multiply colored lanterns there on display and for sale. The old city seemed to retain many of the traditions of this holiday. I wonder how things have changed in four years, though, and how different they are in nearby Danang, say, which is a more built-up city.
As a family, we have recently watched a number of films on DVD: a few classics including Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and three films by Vittoro deSica, and more recently “Lost in Translation” a 2003 film by Sophia Coppola staring Bill Murray. My son loves the part of the last-mentioned film in which an easily excitable director of a TV commercial for Suntory whiskey, an ad featuring the Bill Murray character, coaches the actor’s performance, interrupting him often with “Cut, cut, cut!” My son then decided to make from an empty cereal box a “camera” and pretended to film my husband playing the part of Bill Murray, repeating the dialog almost word for word.
There are few places here where children can play outside as we might have done at his age in Japan after school. Unlike most parents today, we do not allow our son to play video games as we regard them as so much a waste of time, and we are happy that he can amuse himself by making things and creating his own world in our apartment, at least until 70 days from now we find ourselves again on the road.
Plans are set to leave Penang on March 15, after a year-and-a-half here off and on. We have chosen Bangkok as our wintering destination for 2015-2016.
We moved to Penang to enroll our son in an international grade school here. After a couple months, it was clear the school had done a better job of selling itself, than it would ever do providing an education, so we withdrew our son and have been home-schooling him when not in Japan. We will enroll him in the local school in Nagano this coming April. These changes ask much of all three of us, but no situation is ideal, and we think what we do now is better than paying for a private education that neither educates not fosters the personal values I share with my husband. The British system of education, sold so well here in this former colony, seemed to us to foster elitism. The truth is, however, that schools in the U.K. consistently place 22nd or so among countries in the world in reading, math, and science, while Japan and many other countries in Asia, in Scandinavia, . . .excel each year, a record that did not justify in our minds the school’s administration propaganda about how good a learning environment they provided.
We were drawn also to what seemed Penang’s blend of cultures, languages, and cuisines. We found, though: cultures not terribly well integrated; English by far the dominant spoken language; and aside from the Southern Indian food so well prepared here, the local fare, uninspired. Penang is often written about as the best place in Asia for street food. After a year-and-a-half, we remain unconvinced. Almost anywhere one travels in Thailand, for example, they serve up more delicious local food and at much lower cost. Penang is a small place with small offerings: we want more. Costs are increasing here, too, a combination for us of a declining yen/ringgit, a first-time sales tax at 6% to be imposed from April 1, 2015, on everything but necessities, and inflationary pressure from outside money (especially from China and the Middle East) flooding this island’s real estate market and driving property prices and rents beyond the reach of many. I recently read that homes here (which almost always means condominiums) now cost an average 5.5x yearly salaries, which is a little frothy, and Malaysians spend about 45% of their income just to service housing and consumer debt. Everyone, especially the young, seems sold on the idea of “luxury living” available if one would just buy this or that flat, take out a hefty 35-year loan, and hope that money continues to flow in, that the market is not overbuilt, and that the boom does not turn to bust.
I wanted to work more here, but I cannot do as much as I had hoped. Also, I want to be closer to traditional hand-weaving and hand-dyeing centers in northern Thailand, in Laos, and in parts of northern Vietnam and SW China, from which I have sourced fabric for my work and want to do so again. There is little of traditional crafts of any kind in Penang, I find, and I want to learn more about traditional textile production methods, before these practices become just another part of textile history. There are villages in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam where traditional dyeing with indigo and other natural dyes and weaving is still done, though the number of such places is dwindling, as younger people are more interested in moving to the attractions of city life and all that they believe this change will offer them. There are a few women and men dedicated to the preservation and continuance of these practices, who set up small-scale design and weaving centers, where fabric can be woven on traditional looms, using yarns spun by hand and dyed with natural pigments. It is an uphill battle, though, as fewer and fewer local people either have retained these skills or are interested in learning and preserving them Compromise is routinely made in design, though, and all too often today’s taste trumps tradition, which is justified as necessary to produce items that sell. Taste evolves, of course, and clothes once designed and made to be worn by village farmworkers, for example, are deemed neither practical for nor marketable to modern urban populations. This is only half true, I find, as I have been inspired by and borrowed from the past in my own design work, from old French peasant garb in one instance to produce a blouse I redesigned and made especially for my Japanese customers. So, with some skill and a little imagination, the best of the past can be retained, can be brought forward, and need not be disregarded out of hand to pander to a wider market.
It is the same worldwide, as was the case, too, in Japan in which village life was swapped by the young for a life in the metropolis. People who lived and worked in more or less self-sufficient communities, traded their sense of communal independence for money they could earn in the cities, which could then be used to buy that which they believed would bring them pleasure, satisfaction. One can sympathize with those who feel forced to take an easier course, but this does not mean one should surrender. I believe there is much wisdom in the old Nepali saying that when one is faced with two roads in life, one should always take the more difficult one. We rarely look within enough to know if we are content or not, and the question cannot be answered, if it is not asked. We have little experience doing other than that which we have done in the same way for so long unquestioningly. It is so difficult to step outside oneself, outside one’s situation, to see clearly enough, but this is exactly that which we must do.
The five northernmost states of Malaysia are experiencing flooding now, and it is reported that 100,000 people have been evacuated. Penang State has received much unseasonal rain as well, but there has not been any serious flooding to date.
With just a few days left in 2014, I have been busy finalizing the pattern for a new blouse, a sample of which I have sewn and which you can see in the photo for this day’s blog entry. This blouse will be part of my Spring 2015 collection. I simply must buy a dress form, after we relocate to Thailand next winter, to use for draping clothes I design as I do when I am in Japan, and I have already located a couple suppliers in the Bangkok area. Now, I am using a fan supported by a pedestal in my bedroom, which is not ideal. My son is too small still to be of use as a model, and my husband is getting tired of me asking him: “Would you try this on?”
I tried my hand at making “laksa,” a Malaysian noodle dish, a couple times recently. I used Japanese kombu to make a broth to which I added freshly squeezed coconut milk, and finely chopped shallots, lemon grass, and galangal. Afterward, I added small shrimp, thin slices of sautéed chicken breast, mung bean sprouts, and as a garnish and for added flavor, Vietnamese mint called “duan laksa” (laksa leaf) here. Not a true mint, this herb is used throughout SE Asia, and has a heavy, peppery taste. At the table we added some sambal sauce, which I prepared from a base sauce homemade by a local grocer, basically chili and garlic blended together, which I sautéed with some brown sugar and salt. We added “naam plaa” and lime juice at the table to taste. Locally produced noodles for laksa were used. These rice noodles are thick and must be well boiled. (In true Penang laksa, tamarind juice is added during cooking, instead of lime juice, to add sourness.)
Lately, I have been making good use of an iron “tava” or “tawa” (griddle) we bought in Penang’s Little India. For breakfast, my son likes rice flour pancakes to which I add whole wheat flour. My husband intended to use the tava to make chapati, and we bought a second one and took it back to Japan for that purpose. Here, we enjoy fresh chapati excellently made in the many local and inexpensive Indian eateries in Penang. So, instead of chapati, my husband has been using the tava to make whole wheat pita, and bazlama, piadina, and other flatbreads. Since we do not have an oven in our apartment, we cannot bake our own bread here as we do in Japan.
While Penang experiences seasonal changes, located only six degrees north of the Equator, these changes are more subtle than those in more temperate climes. My husband tells me that in the US, one can buy “fresh” grapes shipped by air from Chile in the middle of the northern winter. Aside from the unwise and obvious negative environmental impact of such commerce, the market is there, and will for profit always be exploited, until people learn again to live within seasons. People used to “put up” summer fruits and vegetables and in that way enjoy them throughout the winter. This custom has long since passed for almost everyone, though. The starfruit pictured here is now in season. It has a taste somewhere between a grape and an apple, if that comparison is helpful. The flesh is not too soft, and the skin is eaten with the flesh.
Every now and then, I or my husband hears Japanese spoken in Penang, most often either by Japanese women living in Penang as they shop for groceries or by the shopkeepers themselves greeting their customers, or communicating in basic Japanese with them. Occasionally, however, one meets older local residents who learned Japanese during the war, when they were made to learn Japanese in school by the then-occupying authorities. They mention that they were made to sing the Japanese national anthem, and many can remember the lyrics still. Some say they were made to work for the Japanese doing such things as repairing submarines based, visiting, or refueling here. They express no animosity, but recall the time as a not particularly pleasant one. One finds these pockets of Japanese language throughout Asia, but not the way one usually thinks of them. They are not spatial, but rather temporal. They exist not in a given place influenced somehow by Japan or through a migration of its citizenry there, but in the minds and memories of a generation of children, now old men and women, who learned their lessons well.
I finally developed a couple rolls of film I had been carrying around with me. It is a problem these days getting them through airport security checkpoints, because I always ask for hand inspection and not every airport’s staff is as obliging as those at Narita and Haneda. I prefer using film cameras, because the intense, rich colors you see in the above photo are simply not obtainable using a digital camera absent some kind of computer enhancement. Also, the depth of field achieved in this shot is not possible with cell phone cameras and other multiple-purpose digital devices.
The above tape measure, which I bought about 10 years ago, is made by the German firm Höchstmass, which company has been in business for more than 100 years. I wear the tape measure around my neck when I work, and understandably over time some of the printed numbers have worn off. I looked for a replacement here, but can find nothing as well made.