Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February: Valentine's Day, TPAM 2017 in Yokohama

In February, I decided to buy myself a new combination oven-microwave-fryer-steamer in place of a regular basic microwave I bought when I first moved in. I ordered from BIC Camera Online (here) and got it delivered right to my doorstep. Apparently I heard that you can actually ask them to help you remove your old appliance if you want to dispose of it, meaning you won't get any money in return. I'm not sure what the procedure is for that, but I'm pretty sure it'll be necessary if you're trying to get rid of any broken appliances.

The reason why I'm even mentioning my oven-microwave in a blog entry is because, Japanese ovens are really something else. Out-of-this-world amazing. I've never seen a single appliance that claims to be able to do so many different types of cooking.

The model I bought was the Hitachi MRO-SS7 at a fairly reasonable price, approximately ¥30k-ish. The full Japanese name reads: ヘルシーシェフ 過熱水蒸気オーブンレンジ 23L. Literal translation: Healthy Chef Superheated-Steam Oven and Microwave

By that definition alone, this appliance can supposedly heat up your food, soup and sake (microwave), bake, roast and grill (oven), steam, and air-fry.

I'm too lazy to explain and translate all the different types of food but they're essentially a whole range of basic Japanese home recipes (和食). I'm just gonna direct you to this online manual which includes recipes and instructions for using the machine.

I haven't tried any of the automatic preset functions yet, truth be told. But I have on countless occasions, switched from microwave heating to baking something and then back again after waiting for it to cool off for 5-10 minutes. I love the convenience. One of these days I'll try out the auto presets. I'm curious to try the air-frying function and maybe make some chicken karaage, since I'm deathly afraid of frying with a pot of oil (oil splatters ugh).

Since Valentine's Day was approaching, I thought I'd hop on the bandwagon and make something for my colleagues. I really didn't expect to go all out, but one thing led to another and... I go carried away and went, as my students said, full-force 女子力 (joshiryoku; girl power).

In Japan there are several categories of Valentine's Day chocolates. In respective order they are:

義理チョコ (giri-choco; obligatory chocolate)
This is the kind you'd give if you've never spoken a word to your colleague/classmate, and you know they're most likely not the kind to receive any sort of present, and the overwhelming guilt just triggers you to give something. This is also the same kind of chocolate you'd give to someone you have to see/work with often but hate them to their guts, but social customs dictate you not to be a bitch and just offer a chocolate out of courtesy. Usually you'd be able to find this category of chocolates at the convenience store, in really cheap and indiscreet wrapping - you may even find one or two that proudly declare themselves to be giri-choco.

友チョコ (tomo-choco; friendship chocolate)
This is essentially what it is - friendship chocolate. You can go all out and have fun decorating your chocolate/baked chocolate goods. The more sprinkles and colours, the better. SPRINKLES!!!!!! (I really got carried away with this one.) It's colourful, it's fun, and it's a total hit in a girls' school and I can see why they like doing this so much. I also found out I was literally the first teacher ever in this school to distribute tomo-choco to the office. Ahahaha

本命チョコ (honmei-choco; chocolates of genuine sentiment)
This is the kind of chocolate you'd reserve for someone you are really fond of, i.e. a crush, lover, husband, someone you stalk - ok I'm kidding. (Not really.) Usually, these are classier, fancier chocolates and people don't mind shelling out a lot of money for this. Some also make their own chocolates and design them in excruciating detail with hearts and declarations of love. And then when you present it to the receiver, you express your heartfelt sentiments.

Traditionally, only the girls give presents on Valentine's Day. For those who receive it, they're expected to return the gift a month later on White Day, March 14. I did get some really lovely chocolates in return.

So on the weekend before Valentine's Day I baked several batches of brownies. I had a friend over to help me but all she did was nap under my kotatsu table (YES G I'M TALKING TO YOU). This was the first time I tried decorating chocolates so I basically had no idea what I was doing and all of my brownies turned out looking like a 3-year-old made them.

Maybe my skills will turn out a lot better next year...


A few days later, I took a couple of days off work and took a 2-day trip out to Yokohama for the Performing Arts Meeting 2017, and the Asian Dramaturgs' Network conference at BankArt Studio NYK. I stayed over at a capsule hotel in the area because I live in the northern part of Tokyo and it's just too much of a hassle to make the trip back and forth. It has really been quite a while since I kept in touch with the arts circle and it was refreshing to see what's happening around in Asia, and back in Singapore. I also met up with a few other ex-colleagues and friends, caught up with them over dinenr and even met my thesis supervisor by chance. It's a small world.

I also managed to drop by the Yokohama Museum of Art, and did some exploring in the city. The last time I was here was in 2014, right smack in the middle of a typhoon and walking around Cosmoworld without really seeing much because there was too much rain, haha.

Shinoyama Kishin's exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art

One of the permanent installations in YMOA

I really love Yokohama, for many reasons including how much less crowded it is compared to Tokyo, but the winning factor is the fact that it's a harbour city. Spent a day wandering around the waterfront and inadvertently being reminded of familiar scenes from the past; I find myself missing another city by the waters.

Attending TPAM2017 made me very excited to be immersed in the arts again. Truth be told, in my current job I'm pretty far away from the field I'd like to continue exploring in the future. I appreciate the time I've spent being away from it so far, but I can't deny that I miss it very much too. So in spite of current circumstances I want to make it a personal goal to attend something cultural at least once a month, in Tokyo. Fingers crossed.

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