#2111 | Mocha Mondays: No Bad Brunches – Hardware Societe Cafe Melbourne

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Hardware Societe Cafe, Melbourne
All pictures taken on the Nikon D750 with a 35f1.8mm lens

Day three of melbourne and I am convinced there are no bad brunches in Melbourne. Such a thing cannot exist – or if it does, I suppose it it ferreted away like a secret, away from the critical eye of this city of foodies. Yesterday was such a prime example of this that I now want to go into the cafe business – in an alternate universe where I actually can cook, of course.

Xiaoqi and I found ourselves at Hardware Societe Cafe because multiple people had recommended the baked eggs to us, and I cant lie, I love eggs. I honestly think eggs are the perfect survival food, and if one were stuck on a desert island with only one thing to eat for the rest of their lives, the best thing one could do is ask for an everlasting supply of eggs because they can be cooked like fifty different ways and they are an excellent source of protein and they are also SUPER YUMMY. And that was essentially what lured me in and had me commit to a twenty minute wait for a table, because from what I understand, Hardware ALWAYS has a queue.

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The queue when we reached

We put our names down and had a gander down the adjacent road, then came back just when our names were called, so the wait was actually alright for us. I dont think most people realised they could just put their names down and walk around (we asked), but in any case, you heard it here first!

Anyway, we finally got seated at the alfresco area cos there were only two of us, and we (totally over)ordered what was soon to reveal itself as the best brunch of our lives with the super friendly staff. There is no way to do this elegantly so I am just going to describe what we had:

We started off ordering drinks and a Cruffin. A Cruffin is basically a hybrid of a croissant and a muffin, and this is the second cruffin i have ever had, ever. The first I had was in a cafe in Bangkok, and I wasnt very impressed with it. However Xiaoqi spotted the cruffin in the window of the Hardware Societe counter and went straight for it and thank goodness she did because it was HEAVENLY.

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Matcha and Strawberry cruffin

This is the strawberry matcha cruffin which was the perfect mix of fluffy, crisp, and NOT TOO SWEET. The not too sweet part is important, i do feel that too often people make pastries way too cloying, and that ruins it for me because i dont have much of a sweet tooth. But this was really good – the server later said it was the best thing on the dessert menu.

Will I ever have a cruffin again in my life? Can anything ever live up to this experience? Look at that crisp fluff, that amazing dollop of matcha and strawberry.

Two mains: we ordered the famous chorizo baked eggs, and the salmon millefeuille.

First, the baked eggs. They come in two variants, scallop, and chorizo. We got the chorizo cos we were already ordering salmon for another dish, and we thought we should get one seafood and one non seafood dish. The chorizo variant comprised chorizo sausage, potato, piquillo peppers, queso mahon (a type of white cheese), toasted almonds, and aioli, which is essentially atas mayonnaise.

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Eggs r life

The baked eggs were pretty ace, but the bread it came with was what really impressed us – it’s the right amount of crisp without being dry, and complements the wet of the eggs perfectly. I particularly liked the almonds in the eggs because it added texture to the dish, and I could objectively recognise that this was delicious – but i just didn’t see how baked eggs with chorizo could differ that much from a standard taste. We suspect the scallop variant might have been better, but limited by money and stomach space, we regretfully did not try it. Perhaps a half and half next time? Still, it was a great dish that raised our eyebrows upon first bite. And we thought, jeez, melbourne. Is there any dish you can’t do?

That was until the Salmon millefeuille came, and we totally freaked.

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LOOK. AT. THIS.

Millefeuille, in addition to being a word i cannot pronounce, is a type of french puff pastry, which typically has vanilla custard or some kind of sweet paste in it. The combination of that light pastry structure with salmon tartar instead of a sweet layer was a stroke of genius. I am a huge fan of salmon, but I always hesitate to order it while dining out because it’s too easy to screw up and too often I’ve sat, disappointed, in front of an overpriced, dry piece of baked salmon. But this dish came with two forms of salmon and both were perfectly done, and when we ate it it was like everything was right in the world.

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LOOK AT THE CRISP LAYERS OF THE PUFF

Lets talk tartar. The salmon tartar (raw salmon, seasoned) was made fresh – you can always tell when it’s not because it’s slathered with sauce, and fresh raw fish should never be overwhelmed with sauce so that you can taste the freshness – with horseradish and avocado. The horseradish wasnt too strong – i think it might have been pickled actually – and it was served in very thin slices so it didn’t overpower the rest of the dish like i was afraid it might. Basically the perfect balance of this dish was essentially physics. The people behind this are scientists. I am convinced to my very bone.

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Look at that sear, look at the pink in the middle of the fillet T-T

And the confit atlantic salmon it came with??????? Was so perfectly cooked with the nice pink soft middle??????? I wanted to cry. I wanted to befriend the chef and move into her basement. Do her chores in exchange for meals. Give her a sticker that says Salmon Whisperer. Xiaoqi and I couldnt understand why the baked eggs overshadowed the salmon dish – i literally have heard no one mention the salmon millefeuille dish in any foursquare/yelp review (yes, i am the type of person to obsessively foursquare/yelp a place to figure out what best to order). This dish was the real MVP. After our meal as we walked down the alley I started hissing at random people in the queue ORDER THE SALMON. ORDER THE SALMON. I would have shouted it but i was too full and too shy. But there is no shyness on the internet, so. ORDER THE SALMON.

Finally – for drinks, we ordered the Matcha Maiden green tea latte and the signature hot chocolate mocha (aha! there you have the mocha monday in this mocha monday post) with 54% callebaut. They were individually good, but nothing mind-blowing, which kind of meant they paled in comparison to our food. The matcha is apparently the most popular drink on the menu, and it’s of the non-sweet variety which often means it’s legit matcha, so that’s good, but we didn’t finish it. The chocolate is extremely thick and comprises hot chocolate that you manually pour from a pot into a cup where a dollop of actual chocolate sits, and just based on that you can imagine how thick and rich it is. Pretty good, but again, it’s a heavy drink which doesn’t exactly complement a heavy brunch. No regrets ordering those, but we would have been ok with (free!) plain water too, methinks.

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Overall – a fantastic place. I can’t decide if I would come back because the memory of this is so perfect that I’m almost afraid that I will come back, have it again, and not have it live up to the vignette of my experience. In some ways this meal was like that bukowski poem i love – i loved it like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of. Straight up, I loved it. Poetry in my mouth, on my tongue. I recommend this so hard.

Hardware Societe Cafe
120 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000

x
Jem

#2110 | How to make your economy flight the most comfortable flight ever

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Hey guys,

According to the Chinese zodiac, I’m born in the year of the monkey. Not that that means anything superstitious or particularly symbolic, but my dad sure had a hell of a time laughing at me growing up because I was a hyperactive kid (later diagnosed with mild ADHD, aha, it all makes sense now) and couldn’t stop fidgeting and climbing up and down everywhere, and subsequently getting into trouble because of it. His nickname for me growing up – monkey.

The significance of that to this post is that over the past few years of increasingly frequent travel, I’ve found myself fidgeting in economy class and poking around at the seats more times than I can count. I’ve been privileged enough to fly business twice on work trips (ahhhh – the luxury of being able to lie flat on a long flight!), and I got upgraded to premium economy once when a Japanese counter girl couldn’t figure out how to check us in, but besides that, all my trips were taken rolling around in economy. If my dad had been with me on these trips I think he would have been equal parts embarrassed and amused, because I’ve climbed all over the seats in a bid to figure out what the best way of making myself comfortable in economy is, and anyway, here I am with a post compiling everything I have so far.

PS. If you want my workflow itinerary while I’m on a plane, here you go.

1. Aisle vs Window?

If youre flying a full service carrier, you’ll almost always have the option of choosing. Window seats mean you can lean against the wall if youre going to sleep on the flight, aisle means you can stretch your legs out more and also, you dont have to climb over two other people when youre going to pee. So it’s more like what you think will be more comfortable for you. If I’m not gonna sleep on a flight cos its a short one, I’ll usually opt for aisle. And no one in their right mind would opt for the middle I think.
If youre flying budget, get to the airport early and be super freaking nice to the counter staff. More often than not, they’ll just give you a nice seat. Also, being nice to people is a good way of being alive, so just do it.

2. Bring an empty bottle of water and fill it before the flight after security check.

This is because flights are very dehydrating, and also theres a huge convenience to having water at arm’s reach rather than asking an attendant for water every hour. From experience, most people get embarrassed and so dont ask for water half the time, and anyway, the attendants usually give out water in these dinky little cups that are about two mouthfuls so just bring your own.

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drink twice the amount of water if you’ve got a coffee habit like me and have to have a cuppa before a flight..

3. Take off your shoes.

My friend Edwin taught me this when we were flying to Osaka two years ago and it totally changed my life. I liken it to taking your bra off after a long day at work. It’s SO COMFORTABLE. Your feet expand when youre in the air, so your shoes will always feel tight and uncomfortable on the flight. Taking them off feels so liberating omg. But be a courteous passenger and wear socks, so you dont stink up the place.

4. Bring hotel slippers.

If you have them, bring those disposable hotel room slippers so you can walk up and down the aisle without having to put on and take off your shoes again and again. This is very very useful because youre bound to have to go pee, and you dont wanna do that in your bare feet or socks, ugh. And also, because on long flights youre probably gonna wanna walk up and down a couple of times during the flight to stretch. Anyway. Hotel slippers are great. Bring them.

5. Get your skincare done once the plane takes off.

I do this the minute I’m seated, actually, before the plane even begins to taxi. I have a little ziplock of the skincare I need, so I first do a wipe to get rid of all dirt, then I apply a layer of sunscreen, a light serum, and then the Laneige water sleeping mask. I actually have a whole post on inflight skincare here if you havent already read it. People always stare at me on the planes when I do this but they can stare all they want because I refuse to become a raisin!!!!!!! Flight air is RIDICULOUSLY dehydrating ok, so even a 3 hour flight can dry you out. Do skincare for ALL flights. It also calms your skin and mind down and you tend to feel more relaxed after skincare.

6. Sleeping in economy – tips

This is going to sound very extravagant but I dont care because it has given me the best sleeps of my life when flying economy. I always try to have a Megrhythm eye mask in my bag when I fly (they come in a box of five but in the box they’re individually packaged so you can just bring one or two), which is this Japanese disposable eye mask that heats to 40 degrees once opened for like ten minutes. This is insanely comfortable for your eyes and lulls you to sleep almost immediately. I plug myself in to the in-flight entertainment system’s classical music channel or tune in to my own spotify jazz playlist, I apply a bit of essential oils (they come in roll on bottles for flights) to my hands and temples, and then I put on the mask and let it do its magic. I also brought a fleece blanket on my flight from SFO-SG (a gift from Pixar) and it was so comfortable I knocked out immediately and for 12 hours straight on the flight. WHO SAID ECONOMY CANNOT BE LIKE GOING TO THE SPA. Same same but different. Laugh all you want, but when I roll of a 16 hour flight fresh as a daisy with no dark eye circles guess who gonna be laughing?

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The Megrhythm eye masks are mega comfy – roz is knocked out already!

7. Neck pillow?

Not all neck pillows are created equal – they have those made of memory foam, those made of beans, those inflatable ones, etcetera.. I would say it doesn’t matter as much what its made of, only that it comes with a loop or clip so you can snap it to your carry on bag and not have to lug it around. The point of a neck pillow is really to give you support – it’s a bit like leaning on the shoulder of a friend – but with or without it I dont really see a huge difference because I find that I can turn my whole body on the side in the seat and still have decent neck support. Some flights also come with a headrest that you can pull out and bend to the side so you can lean on those, which is pretty good too.

8. Pillow positioning

All flights come with a mini pillow – or at least, they should, and one of the things I see a lot is people putting this pillow behind their heads to sleep on. Don’t! I think the most uncomfortable part of plane rides is the sleeping while seated, or being seated upright for so many hours, and this really takes a toll on your back. What I like to do is put the pillow behind my lower back, because that gives your back additional support when youre seated, and also, when you lean back to sleep, it also acts to pivot your body so your back is in a better position for your spine.

Okay, so that’s about it. Another tip I have for a happy flight is not to accept the in flight meal service unless youre hungry, or unless you already know that airline serves good food. Many airlines serve terrible food and all that does is make you sad or grumpy. And honestly, half the time youre just eating it cos they gave it to you. I’ve made it a habit to either bring my own Onigiri on a flight if its a long one, or just have a filling meal before boarding. As a general guide, most asian airlines serve great food – I had the best airplane meal ever on Vietnam Air which served this incredible beef noodles dish. ANA, Korean Air, Eva Air, Singapore Air all serve pretty good food. Even budget flights from asia are pretty good – I had a pre-ordered meal on both Jetstar and Air Asia before and they were super freaking legit chicken rice and brown chicken stew rice, almost as good as what you might get on the ground. But beyond that, I dont think I’ve ever had really satisfactory meals on any other flight carrier. Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad are ok, but not as good as the asian carriers, and American carriers serve honestly dismal food. So yeah. Figure out your meal before the flight.

Okay guys! Hope this was helpful for y’all, especially if youre prepping for an upcoming trip. Happy travels!

x
Jem

#2109 | I’m with you in Rockland – City Lights Bookstore San Francisco

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San Francisco, California

I make it a point to visit at least one bookstore in each new city I go to, but with City Lights Bookstore, it was more of a pilgrimage. I don’t even know how to describe City Lights in a way that would remotely do it justice, but lets start with this: it was the place that published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and subsequently got embroiled in an obscenity trial as a result, which was eventually dismissed under the First Amendment protection in American court because it had “the slightest redeeming social importance”. This paved the way for previously banned books to be published in America again and now its a designated world heritage site. WILD OR WHAT.

Anyway. Today was my last day in San Francisco, an insane four-day trip on agenda for Disney Pixar. I have so much to say about that, but that’s a post for another day. My girlfriend Kate flew down from New York to meet me in San Fran, but she left after lunch today to meet her cousins a town over, and so I found myself with a block of free alone time in the bay. I pottered down to the bookstore (an adventure in itself, figuring out public transport in SF city, because they DONT LABEL THEIR BUSSTOPS) and eventually a bus 30 got me somewhere near and I walked the rest of the way.

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The view while walking over

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I DIE. SO EXCITED.

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If I’m not wrong the founder of City Lights is BFFs with George Whitman, owner of Shakespeare and Company in Paris

The bookstore physically reminds me of Three Lives and Company in New York – one of my favourite bookstores in the world. It is not an architectural showpiece like Los Angeles’s The Last Bookstore, which I visited last year end and loved as well – it’s more cozy and grungy. There are hand-drawn signs everywhere with slogans like EDUCATE YOURSELF, READ 14 HOURS A DAY and FREE SPEECH ZONE which I suppose reflects the bookstore’s iconic status as a proponent of free speech back in the fifties. It also has a very intimate feel, and everyone there moves with an air of reverence, almost.

As well as being a bookstore, it’s also a publishing house, and that was what gave it its cult status back in the fifties because it published what was considered the most alternative literature back then. Ginsberg’s Howl is one, but Jack Kerouac’s poetry books were all published by them, and he also spent a lot of time there writing his novels. Most people will know Kerouac by the super common ON THE ROAD BY JACK KEROUAC penguin book passport cover which Penguin has mass produced for the hipster demographic, but he’s also one of the key figures for the Beat generation back then.*

*The Beat generation is an american post-war literary movement that explored culture and politics, and that often gets described as bohemian or hippie culture hahahahaha cos they’re all about SPONTANEOUS LIVING and NON CONFORMITY

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A shelf of their latest published works. I bought a Bukowski book from this shelf

It sounds terribly academic when I phrase it that way, but the effect of the above was that for the first time ever, literature became a popular movement in the US. I think the only time, lol, cos after that period everyone just went back to watching TV. But anyway the point is that City Lights’s role in creating beatnik culture is super iconic in American literature ok. And till today, people are welcome to just show up at the bookstore and sit and read anywhere they want in their three floors. Whether there’s space is a different story lah cos it’s still a bit of a squeeze, but the result is that the entire atmosphere is humming with an adoration for the printed word.

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Level three is the most spacious of the three floors, and sells only poetry, much of which is published by City Lights.

They host events, readings, and book launches up here too. I wish I’d been in town when an event was happening, but chances are I wouldnt have been able to get in anyway given how tiny the space is. I think forty people in this room, max?

This room was actually slightly intimidating because the stairs creak going up, so evernote already on level three can hear you coming, and the dude sitting in the corner looked super grumpy when I walked in cos obviously I was disrupting his reading ~flow~ I mean, ok, dude. It’s a free world!

They’re also pretty famous for their pocket poetry series which sells good poetry in consumable forms, via little pocket books. I bought the Howl one for a girlfriend because it is obviously the most iconic thing in this bookstore. I mean the owners went to court for an OBSCENITY TRIAL because they dared publish it lolololol HOW TO NOT BUY? #consumerism #ironic

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If you’re more into fiction, and are too shy to talk to the staff for recommendations (strangely, many bookworms are introverts, so I think something went wrong with me somewhere cos i LOVE talking to strangers), there’s helpful little labels with staff picks and little descriptions to help you along. Many bookstores do this, and in retrospect I suppose its geared towards catering for the introvert nature of obsessive readers.

You also wont find chick lit here – this style of bookstores (as opposed to chain bookstores) are very curated, and City Lights in particular specialises in world literature, progressive politics, and the arts, so the book selection reflects that. I actually saw a book that was titled Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? by Mumia Abu-Jamal which was published by City Lights, which basically tells you everything you need to know about the bookstore. (It’s very highly rated btw, with a 4.3 on goodreads. Not that goodreads is the definitive guide to great books.. but Alice Walker also had a lot of praise for this book, which I can get behind.)

Anyway, I didn’t want to take up too much space hovering around the shelves and also, I had a flight to make, so I bought three books and left after awhile. Would have gotten more, but luggage space was an issue. At checkout, the hardest thing I had to say this whole trip was to the cashier..

“I’ve changed my mind about these (5) books.”
“You sure honey? They’re good.” (a stab to my heart.)
“I’m sure.. I have no more luggage space.”

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Still pretty pleased with my buys! It comes in this old school brown paper bag, which I had to carry around the rest of the day WITH PRIDE before getting back to my luggage storage facility and heading to the airport.

The bookstore is also right next to Jack Kerouac alley. I dont know why they called it that cos it’s just this tiny alley that leads to Chinatown, so I googled it and turns out it used to be a garbage dumping spot until the bookstore owner pitched to San Francisco Board of Supervisors to transform the alleyway, and so now it’s like another iconic place full of street art and poetry engraved into the floor I guess. I mean in theory it’s pretty nice but in real life the alleyway smells like weed and has suspicious looking people smoking joints on the floor. So.. ok. It’s not dangerous la, so its still worth walking down, it’s tiny and it’ll only take like three minutes.

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You pop out on the other end in Chinatown! Which is pretty funny because now there’s a resurgence of interest in Asian literature so its like you go into this Western literary route of passage and pop out in china hahahahahaha.

Ok after that I just walked around till I hit the pier again, then I got my luggage and went to the airport. So happy that I managed to squeeze in a bookstore visit in SF, I think the moment i passed the threshold of the bookstore was when I truly fell in love with San Francisco – prior to that we had gotten along amiably, pleasantly. But the bookstore to me represented so much more that I couldnt help adoring the city vis a vis its lens – and I suggest you all take a gander if youre in town too x

City Lights Bookstore and Publishers
261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

x
Jem

#2108 | Graphic Graphic

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Creative work: Martin Hong
Client: Kenzo Parfums
Hair: Mervyn from Hairloom

So right after my Laneige film concluded I had a job come my way to shoot a freeform ad for Kenzo, and of course I engaged Martin to conceptualise and create the piece since he’s the strangest person I know. It’s actually a GIF, but I quite like it as stills too so I’m putting it here just for the memories. The actual ad went live on instagram awhile back, and I absolutely love how old school cinema the visuals are styled by. From Kdrama romance to avant garde it seems there is nothing my friend cant do. (And yes, I am generally very proud of my friends!)

x
Jem

#2107| pachinko: airport stories

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Over the past few years I have taken so many flights alone that the airport has started to take on a strange significance to me as a breeding ground for the inexplicable. A limbo of reason, if you will. Logically I know the probability of this being true is low, but still it seems to be my truth that stories happen to me in airports, places of transit.

Leaving Okinawa I nearly lost my temper at a tiny man who smiled at me while telling me he could not help me. It is a story I don’t want to elaborate on, it is boring and dull as stories of petty authority often are. I knocked out on the hour long flight to Taipei, so consumed by my annoyance that it had exhausted me completely. It occurred to me that I had a vast amount of work to be done once I touched down in singapore, the reality of which I had unwittingly escaped for the past seven days of shoot in OKA thanks to my shitty internet connection. It gave me a bit of a migraine. Also, my iPhone was acting up – it had been ever since the announcement of the iX earlier in the week, and this ever strengthened my resolve to jump ship to android. Shaking my metaphorical fist at the international money men, as it were. Whatever. I know one is the same as the other but it felt necessary. Anyway. This meant that I was struggling throughout my two hour transit in Taipei, trying to fix my phone, trying to set up and liaise meetings for homeground. I settled early at my gate, trying to fix my phone despite being totally unqualified to do so.

A girl’s voice chimed: Jemma. I looked up to a totally unfamiliar face and prepared myself to attempt to recognize this girl I had never seen before in my life, cursing my hopeless facial recognition skills. But it was unnecessary. The girl continued: I follow your Instagram. I can see your – she gestured vaguely at my skirt – underwear. Then she looked away and stopped talking to me.

My skirt had ridden up without me noticing it. I rearranged myself and nodded my thanks to her but she’d looked away already. Later on, I boarded the flight and spent three hours devouring 531 pages of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which I had bought in another airport’s bookstore because it had a gorgeous cover and also because on that gorgeous cover Junot Diaz had testified that the book was ‘luminous and powerful’. It was both these things. I thought to myself, one day perhaps I will be friends with Junot Diaz and tell him I bought a book because his recommendation was on the cover. I truly believed this for a moment.

It was doubly annoying to me, then, that through these few hours of what seemed to me as great personal growth (all reading blocks seem to me that way, the entrance and exit into another world), the handsome German boy sitting next to me had taken off his shoes to reveal hideous pepsi cola socks, and was intermittently scratching his balls. I had seen the trio of German boys earlier in the Taipei airport while transiting, and had noticed them because they were ridiculously good looking. I identified them as German because I heard them speaking in the familiar inflection reminiscent of my seven months of student life there, and has felt a strange compulsion to walk up to them and make conversation and prove that I could speak mediocre German. Kommst du aus Deutschland? I used to do this, after my student exchange there – randomly strike up conversation with Germans I ran into despite my incredibly bad grasp of the language. I must have been so insufferable. I feel like I had possibly been the reverse figure of that white person who goes Ni Hao to every vaguely Asian looking person. Anyway, I no longer do this because I don’t know why, but I’m thankful that I don’t, because in retrospect it seems like a stupid thing to have done. Back to the point – I had noticed the trio earlier and thought they were handsome, and thought the same thing again when they sat down next to me in the airplane, and then I felt so annoyed when they took off their shoes and started scratching themselves in strange places that it took me a moment to process my irritation. Perhaps it was the fact that Pachinko was a book about the quiet grace of Koreans living in Japan, a literary cubby that I had been so immersed in, that to see these Germans behave like the airplane was their home assumed a certain entitled confidence that chaffed at the conservativeness I had momentarily adopted from the book. Perhaps it was also that no German I had encountered in my seven months living in Stuttgart would have behaved like this, leading me to question the authenticity of my life there, my life here, these people beside me in the plane. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that I could not reconcile their good looks with their behavior. Why would you scratch your balls while sitting in an aisle seat? Anyone can see you. There was no attempt to at least hide under a blanket or something. I had to blink my irritation away, and I felt old, and stuffy.

I didn’t see the girl from the Taipei airport again although I knew she must have boarded the same flight. As I disembarked, I wondered why I hadnt told the boy to please stop scratching himself next to me. I wondered how I lacked the courage to make that simple statement when a total stranger could tell someone she followed on Instagram that her underwear was showing. I thought to myself, wow, that girl, with something like admiration. I lacked the information to feel anything past that. And then I collected my bags and was back in my home ground and life stopped being a story and started being real again, and I thought I had better write this all down before I forget, and so I did.

X
Jem