A Journal of the Plague Year Day 97

Wednesday 24th June 2020

Mum rang this morning. We talked about her furloughing, and the likelihood they will be making her redundant, then about family and the past. Laughed, cried. We’re gonna look at this positively, despite her ongoing imprisonment for the foreseeable.

Did actually go out with some friends from work who I’ve not seen in ages, making use of the 30C sunshine. The grounds on the estate were already packed by morning, every available spot sequestered by sunbathing residents, some on deckchairs or reading on benches, or lolling like dead bodies in the heat, from morning till night.

One of the workmates, A, told me she’d had the lergy, the first person I know who’s been diagnosed -she’d gotten sick back in March and was told by the 111 hotline it was unlikely despite losing her smell and taste. That was back then, when they thought so little of the pandemic, and a sign of how they were sweeping the problem under the carpet, which to this day is still the national pasttime. She only just told her parents 3 months later, and her mum, so distant in Italy, cried.

Meanwhile C turned up as a beautiful stranger, whose lockdown has made him tanned and svelte from the jogging round in his spare time, with perfect locks and Italian shades. He’s been trapped with over-excitable housemates and is now looking to move, while also juggling work politics, such as getting the go-ahead for a trip back home then having it rescinded. We are to reopen soon, with the government okaying museums from the 4th of July.

Drank a wee bit much, about 5 pints plus some wacky in the Subtropical gardens of Battersea National Park. It was populated by the usual crowd peacocking their bikini lines and six-packs, plus another workmate we happened to plant our picnic blankets next to; small world. She’d just graduated from Goldsmiths, but the end of year exhibition -vital in making your name -had been canceled for an online-only showing. Class of 2020 eh. Every generation has a tragedy to stain their prospects -WWI, the Wall Street Crash, WWII, the Cold War, 911. And the Millenials got not just that but the 2008 Recession and now Covid 19 on top, a triple whammy wherein they’re unlikely to get steady work or ever own a property. They have time and time again been paying for the sins of their fathers, with Global warming still to look forward to. No wonder they’re protesting.

But was great to catch up and get immersed again in all the gossip, swapping stories into the night -whodja fancy? Who’s a twat? What’s Grindr like? What’s your star sign? Felt much like a teenager again and in a good way, the kind of night where life still lay ahead.

A joined later, then it was a midnight walk back through town, through baking streets and that dark, lurid blue in the night skies. There’s a lot to be said about how rested and enjoyable it has been recently, while things play out beyond our grasp, blinkered as we are by the immediate. The deaths from C-19 are now down to only 15 a day, but we all worry for the second wave, as the US is on trend to experience right now. It has to end some time, this lockdown, and we come crashing back to reality.

Weeeerk. Two weeeeks.

Oh, and made more maps, my form of travel recently:

 

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

 

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

 

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

 

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 96

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

 

btybtybtybty

 

Away from my little wanderings in the immediate locale, I came across some map porn via my daily armchair travels, showing the true size of places you see on the map, but that you don’t compare or get willfully distorted by political projection.

For example, Peru

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Japan

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Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

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Indonesia

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Chile

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Thus started making my own:

OK, I’ll use Germany. Handy as arguably the most important most central country in Europe, and deceptively large or small dependent on how you look at it.

First off, Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

 

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

 

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Mawr:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned before, Russia’s population is 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Thankyou, thankyou (bow, bow).

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 95

Monday 22nd June 2020

 

Cut my nails. It was amazing.

Cancelled a park meet up.

Went out to sunbathe in the grounds.

Made some maps for Reddit, for which I have a new obsession (something about the globalisation of our pandemic has imbedded in my mind). It will likely last a few days:

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^India 1.38 billion, Pakistan 218m (in that catchment), Bangladesh 165m, Nepal 29m + Sri Lanka 22m = 1.814 billion

China – 1.2 billion in that catchment, Japan 125 million (in that catchment), Koreas 78m + Taiwan 24m, + Vladiviostok metro 1m = 1.428 billion.

SE Asia Thailand 70m, Myanmar 55m, Singapore 6m, Malaysia 32m, + Philippines 110 m+ Laos + Cambodia 24m + Indonesia (in that catchment) 265m + Vietnam 98m = 660m

= 3, 902m (50.0001% of World population 2020 -7.8 billion).

Or if you prefer (spot the difference)

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Worked out I could get rid of Borneo and Sulawesi entirely (42m) by substituting it for:

urban Gansu province – 25m (the pert nipple on China)

Tajikistan – 9.5m

incursion into Afghanistan to capture the Kabul region -7.5m

=42m

 

Some notes:

  • The traditional rice growing regions of the world could support 2-4 harvests, and the nature of growing it (lateral thinking, constant tweaking to fool the plant into thinking it’s constantly drowning) meant feudalism/ top down management was hard to implement = replaced by trading cities, and the planet’s densest tracts of them. Which in turn led to most of the world’s megacities and no less than 7 or 8 megalopoli.
  • Vladivostok (top right corner), long the Siberian banishment beyond the pale, is actually part of the centre of humanity. It could stand to reap in the tourism for much of the world looking for a shorter haul connection to the ‘European’ experience, especially if it dolled up/ rebuilt its historic architecture.
  • This is the ‘centre of the world’ in terms of humanity. It shows how cities like Delhi and Beijing are often more important than they’re given credit for.

The Mercator version

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Watched Godzilla, the 1998 version. Shit, not what I remembered it as.

Finished a book, Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. Great.

Had lots of soup (A is on a soup-only week, trawling through myriad exotic recipes). Ukrainian borscht.

Went to bed.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 90

Wednesday 17th June 2020

 

Cooking disaster. The kind where you have so little of a life having been kept indoors for 3 months it’s a life changing event that bleeds out tears. One in which you’ll launch on a public tirade, fists to the air and life in tatters.

Lidl. Big expensive pasta of their ‘Luxury’ range. It said put it to simmer for 8 minutes, when it actually needed 4x more to even reach Al Dente. A spent a good 45 minutes preparing the sauce and mince, only to have the dish ruined when we bit in, the inside of every giant shell dry, white and uncooked.

I envisaged writing a sternly written letter from Tunbridge Wells, calling them cvnts, or taking up witchcraft and a hex that they become weaselly (pinched nose, whiskers, small eyed) to reflect their shitty, money grasping acts. Launching on Twitter to worldwide acclaim and letters of support. Or better, youtube, filming the unbroiled results like a product unboxing to hundreds of appalled comments and a testament for years.

After zapping it for 3 x 2 minutes to no avail, had to clean each shell under the tap and dunk it back into the pan. Spilled boiling water over my foot while doing so and swearing the house down. FML. They are to blame.

In the letter I’ll big it up that I was throwing a dinner party, possibly entertaining a European prince, and a baby got splashed. And sign off as a Viscount.

Such is life right now, any small bump becomes horizon-levelling. The trip out to get the damn thing was as bleary and unconscious as any trip to the supermarket is these days -after a run of socialising almost every day this week it’s been quite a letdown, the weather. Stormy and insipid in equal measure but wet throughout. Canceled my future engagements (another haircut for a friend and a meet up in Battersea park), and have resided into doing more of the same old same old.

Slowly, surely I’ve reached my limit with news sites and forums. This a good thing, social media also now off the list. This leaves movies and reading as more productive distractions, though the phone has perked up, having been neglected for so long. It is as if you kill off one vice and another replaces it, waiting in the wings all this time.

Should just go cold turkey and stare at a wall, take up all those enlightening things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, learning something, cooking from a cookbook without fuckery. But it all seems so far-fetched and these days it’s all about the cold hand of realism. I’m thinking of skipping. Downstairs, in some hidden corner, and putting the damn rope to use for the first time in 5 years since I bought it. I wonder if I’ll look like a tit. Maybe 4am, in disguise like a mummer, or mugger.

But seriously, as if. Another day, hey.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 89

Tuesday 16th June 2020

One thing I miss most is eating out. My friends agree we are reaching the stage where it’s fuck the pandemic, fuck the police, let’s go out to get irradiated in the name of a kebab, a shag and skag, preferably all three. For me my vice is currently in the form of Singapore fried noodles (vermicelli), from the Tai Tip Mein palace in Woolwich. TTM is a small local chain that specialises in the cheap and cheerful. As with ‘Chinese’ food the world over it caters to local tastes, notably tweaked for a multiethnic South London population.

WARNING**** FOOD PORN ****

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The outlet in Elephant & Castle is notorious for looking like the dodgiest, skankiest eating establishment ever by dint, a little unfairly, of its architecture. The one in Woolwich, marginally better, and the one in Greenwich possibly palatial insofar as you even pay after your food rather than before. Woolwich is a gem because they cater to the large African community, notably the Nigerian customers who form a solid clientele. This is a winning formula. Elsewhere round the world the ‘Chinese’ food ups the sugar and salt content for Western tastes, creating gloopy, jam-like sauces more reminiscent of a jar of chutney poured over a changing roster of meats.

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Not so for Woolwich. Nigerian food reminds me of Malay -spicy, beefy, earthy with the chilli to boost, and little demand for the saccharine. Spiced rice like jollof and nasi goreng could be cousins, as could be the roast meats whether it’s beef suya with peanut coating, or satay sticks and peanut sauce. So hey presto! We now have Singapore fried noodles -not the limp, watery variety you get elsewhere, pale and inoffensive, but now the highly spiced version swimming in chilli oil and smoky flavours. It’s not the lovely lurid yellow variety that screams turmeric content, but a fuzzy warm hint of brown thrown in that shows the greater variety of spices. It’s also double a portion you’d expect and studded with the greatest hits -tender chicken, BBQ duck and two types of roast pork (one sweet, the other salty). I always add extra chilli as I’m one of those people. You can only get this version in this branch, winningly so, but do avoid their garlic sauce dishes, a flavour clash if ever there was one.

Nigerian:

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Malaysian:

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It’s often a surprise when people actually go to China and find the food tasting unrecognisable to their takeaways back home -and the variety on offer too. There are 15 distinct cuisines, of which 8 are official stand-outs, and a ninth is being added on.

Up in Northern style it’s salty, hearty fare for the colder climes, where the main staple is bread rather than rice, and influenced by the Steppe peoples, such as the Mongols. They gave rise to the wonders of open fire cooking -BBQ and roasting, normally deemed uncivilised by the rest, Beijing roast duck one famous example. Plus lots of warming soups and a surprisingly light and fresh touch by the coast, with a sideline in caramelising things in honey.

Local variations range from the wild Manchurian tribes foraging off the steppe and forest (bear paws anyone?) to the intricate haute cuisine of Imperial cooking, after the Manchus got used to the high end of 300 years in power.

Rou jia mo -‘Chinese hamburgers’, a 2,000 year old streetfood of smoky, spiced pork belly with coriander.

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Beijing Roast Duck is sourced from a local breed, and cooked in a special oven over peach/ pear wood. The sweet, crackly skin should be served separately, and the meat parcelled into plum sauced pancakes. The remainder a rich broth.

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Imperial menus employed delicate food carving

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For the Southern style, Cantonese cooking forms the backbone of most of the Chinese diaspora round the world, and thus what many have been exposed to. However it’s not really authentic what we get here as the Cantonese rely on super fresh produce for natural flavour (all ingredients hours from the fields), imparted by the quality of produce and specific upbringing of plant or animal. Done well and it’s an unctuous, subtle play of layers of natural flavour (think steamed dim sum), done badly and it’s a bit plain. Overall, it can be likened to a subtropical version of Japanese, a cuisine of such simplicity yet finesse it has 700 varieties of salt. Rice as a staple. Although joked within China as the people who’ll eat everything with legs other than the chair and table (a famine cuisine), it’s traditionally regarded as the school of cooking par excellence. They may put something like snake or frog in it, but you’ll instead be tasting melt in the mouth chicken. The dog (now banned) will be a specially farmed variety that tastes sweet, the cane rat (a large rodent about a foot long from the rice fields, also farmed) a more expensive substitute for lamb.

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The attention to detail is typical for every region -the meatballs they make in Shantou need to be pounded for 30 minutes nonstop with steel batons (different designs for different textures) that create bodybuilders; the local beef hotpot (meat served up and cooked in a broth at your table) has to be plated within 4 hrs from when the animal was mooing about and takes a year of training to carve up, some slices only 1mm thick. The fermented tofu mooncakes take a 25 step process and are designed to degrade so they can’t be transported beyond the city. Eating here’s pretty much a science, every stage exacted to break down certain types of fat, release different protein strands and get the right balance of texture that is so important for the Chinese palate -foods designed for the shape of the bolus, consistency and feel in the mouth.

Steamed dim sum

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Steamed fish

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Numerous offshoots include Hainanese -tropical but historically influenced by Western food thanks to its island trade -no heavy sauces or strong flavours, simple, direct cooking styles. Another one is Teochow/ Chiu Chow, a seafood-savvy cuisine that uses even less oil and is even more delicate, incorporating steaming, but not averse to flavour punches via its sacha sauce (salty with a hint of spice). It also has that rarity in China – a dessert menu. Macanese another one, combining the flavours of old Portugal, Africa and Cantonese cooking, for example African chicken (spiced up and peanutty), or baked, cheesy seafood, spaghetti instead of noodles followed with their version of pastel de nata (custard tarts).

Hainanese chicken rice (simple steamed chicken fed on rice and peanuts, with fragrant stock rice and dips)

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African Chicken

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http://www.omnivorescookbook.com

Due East and it’s now more reminiscent of Western takeaways due to the increase in sugar content (Suzhou more so, Shanghai less); lots of noodles and a penchant for seafood. It was historically looked down on by the rest of China for being sugary and unsubtle -but has recently seen a renaissance (thankyou Shanghai), that’s now featuring as the country’s most popular choice of restaurant when eating out. It’s come in leaps and bounds rediscovering its roots as well as reinventing the styles, from the strict regimen of the Anhui branch to the fresh flavours of Jiangsu, the smooth, ungreasy fragrance of Zhejiang to the high quality ingredients of Fujian. But beware, this is where you’ll find the ‘red style’ of cooking similar to takeout, but done much better. Though just as volcanic – you can’t do two in a row.

Squirrel-shaped fish makes use of an explosive frying technique, literally a sugar bomb.

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Dongpo pork in ‘red style’.

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Zhejiang’s Longjing prawns can only be eaten between April -when the Longjing tea (finest in China) is budding its best -and early summer as the local prawns are harvested. The unusual dish created accidentally when an emperor spilt his cuppa.

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In central China the heat starts –Sichuan uses its native peppercorn (really a local type of flower bud) to create a different kind of spiciness, one in which the burn of the tongue is replaced by a numbing, tingling sensation in the lips and mouth, known as málà. It still liberally adds chilli on top, and may often call on an entire bottle of chilli oil (yes a whole bottle) as part of a dish, eg boiled fish soup. It relies on dual flavour combinations of spicy, sour, sweet, bitter and salty (eg hot and sour), but which can produce over 40 types of taste sensations depending on the mix.

Boiled fish + pint of chilli:

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Don’t worry, not all the pepper in a standard dish has to be eaten

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There are two types of cuisine -one in which the natural flavours come to the fore (eg Cantonese, Japanese, Greek), or the type where a world of flavour is added to compliment or possibly mask the natural ones (eg Indian, Thai, Turkish). Sichuan is decidedly the latter, everything looking geothermal -but it steadfastly maintains the Chinese tradition despite of having super-fresh ingredients, obsessively sourced.

Sichuan hotpot is a shared meal divided between spicy (outside of the constantly bubbling tureen) and not spicy (inside), where you dip your ingredients to cook. As the meal progresses the soup flavour intensifies.

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Next door is Hunan, once considered an offshoot but more coming into its own. Instead of using peppercorn’s mala, it just throws in voluminous amounts of fresh chilli, purported to be the world’s hottest cuisine and what killed Chairman Mao off with stomach cancer. But so worth it. It is a fresh and aromatic counterpoint to Sichuan, with added onus on smoked and cured goods. Although one of China’s ‘furnaces’ in summer, the chilli is meant to open up the pores and help you cool, in the format of cold appetisers. Yeah, right.

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Salad, Hunan style:

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Other cuisines are the minority foods. Xinjiang, deemed quite accessible for Western tastes due to the preponderance of bread and dairy, such as cheese, but beware the nose to tail eating, such as sheep’s head. Lots of roast kebabs, spiced beef and lamb, with noodley Chinese influence and Middle Eastern piquancy via the Silk Road. Hui is another Islamic cuisine, but more sinicised with street food wonders beyond meat-on-a-stick, taking the best from both worlds in roast meat patties, date and rice cakes, crumbled bread n’ beef soups (THE definition on unctuous) and chilli lamb noodles.

Xinjiang kebabs

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Hui date, red bean syrup and rice sticks

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Tibetan and Mongolian are considered beyond the pale to many. Tibetans are partial to the wind dried variety of cooking (invariably yak jerky), surprisingly spicy as everything comes doused in chilli similar to Korean gochujang and washed down with butter tea. Tibet is a high altitude desert, aka the Third Pole, as if the summit of Mont Blanc was spread out to cover Western Europe – so little veg. Doable though a bit one noted.

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Their bready dumplings though are a big hit, notably having taken over India as a moreish snack.

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Mongolian is about as out there as you can imagine. If you like meat this is for you, but don’t expect veg or spices or marinades -simply boiled, perhaps served in a plastic bucket. And every part is eaten, from eyeballs to tail tips to hooves. This be warrior food Stage 10.

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There is a version of Mongolian BBQ – a range of meats, veg and sauces fired up teppanyaki style in different combos as spectacle to awaiting diners, said to be sourced from the way the invading Mongols would cook up their feasts on shields, accompanied by broth in upturned helmets (Mongolian hotpot, almost identical to Sichuan’s). However, it appears these formats were a Taiwanese invention, who changed the politically sensitive ‘Beijing BBQ’ to a more palatable Mongolian moniker. The dishes are popular now all over the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, but not in Mongolia itself.

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The ninth cuisine people wanna add to the greats is Yunnan. The tropical, minority-happy eating of the steamy southwest. Once derided as poverty food (a jungle has less available protein than a desert), unvarnished presentation and tendency to catch any little thing trying to scurry or crawl away (river larva, snails, insects) it’s now elevated into a healthy eating bonanza, full of fresh salads, flowers, raw ingredients, open fire cooking and banana-leaf or sugar-cane steaming, all to organic sourcing. Very trendy right now, similar to Vietnamese.

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Thus ends a brief rundown on the Chinese cuisines, whether divided into 4, or 8, or 15, or 40, or 400 dependent on where you split hairs. That it’s hard to find genuine Chinese food outside the country, where freshness is king and you don’t have to rely on pre-packed ingredients nor cater to local tastes.

And to cut a very, very shaggy dog story down to size, I fucking want one.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 83

Wednesday 10th May 2020

The small vagaries of life in a domestic existence start off ephemeral, but soon grow especially once they recur.

There is a strange animal outside making a noise every morning and often through the day. Often at dawn. Starts off as a squawking, progresses into dying seagull, and whining into oblivion. Occasionally screams. Enough to have gotten me up at 5am searching in slippers for some injured bird. During the afternoon you’ll hear a hoiking noise like a fat bloke clearing his throat, which degenerates into a yapping cough. I looked all of these up, and it’s a fox, which J, brought up on a farm, regards as vermin but I think magical, but then again I think pigeons are magical. The grunting cough it does is called ‘gekking’ (onomatopeic – the word sounds like what it means), one of a large retinue of noises the animal can make, most infamous of which is the death scream, pealing into the night when it’s supposedly mating, or just bored imo:

 

 

Deer also scream, not to mention make pinball noises

It is with this extra time on one’s hands, chained to a screen for hours, and having exhausted every favourite site that you begin to explore. I went for a random meander down the problems of cursive writing in the Russian script.

Lishish – (you will deprive) Лишишьs

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And the traditional solution to the problem:

 

I have also been following travellers as they visit London the first time:

 

 

 

And lightshows in China:

 

The largest of which comes from Wuhan, a city you might have heard of recently. It covers 900 buildings:

 

Peeps trying Marmite the first time:

08:35

07:37

14:02

 

And Surströmming

 

Which naturally segues into vertigo vids:

Until 2007 this climb was done entirely without safety harnesses for millions of pilgrims, many who’d do the plank walk. A favourite suicide spot in recent years it’s now frequently closed as they launch investigations.

 

Welcome to the rabbit hole that is lockdown life by this stage.

So need a life right now. I’m sure Bezos sells one on Amazon.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 11

Sunday 24th May 2020

Wake scroll eat repeat.

Another grey day, another wasted one. Has everyone reached the stage of lying in bed all day yet? That thing we swore not to do at the start of lockdown is now requisite. Not bothering to change, curling up with a screen for hours.

I’m entering the dragon, where even the phone’s getting neglected. I don’t care for social media anymore, what anyone ever is doing out there, the few messages increasingly unanswered and increasingly infrequent. The TV too, with Netflix just blaring out a side of Amerika that’s not timely right now, too full of bullshit and pizzazz that disgusts you rather than sucks you in. I’m not watching films, I’m not reading. While that one worry, whatever it is becomes like a rock sentinel in some desert, the only thing on the horizon you try and work around or blot out. But no matter how vast the plain is, how distant that monolith, it’s always fucking visible.

I have to chase up a refund, Cockhands Carlton Leisure, a company to always avoid if ever there was one, who’ve been promising it for a month now. UUURG. J is still absent, the silver clock in the living room ticks infernally so I’ve hidden it in the corner, where it can annoy the pillows.

There’s just so little to say.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 10

Sunday 17th May 2020

Battersea, the coming dusk at 8pm.

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The crowds headed home but for the animals reclaiming.

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Mandarin ducks are so called as a pair are traditionally given to newlyweds in China as they mate for life.  -No, we do not subsequently eat them.

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The place has become overgrown, as it was always meant to be, making new dells.

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Dying of the light

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This year this pen laid her eggs quite openly, and close to the path. An old lady waylaid anyone taking a look and entrapped them in convo. She was worried the foxes might nab the eggs, but as someone always says when you see a swan, they can break your leg. Pub Quiz fact, they, along with the Great Bustard, are the heaviest flying birds.

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Once home, it’s back to domesticity. I’ve noticed a thing, a health thing. My legs get tired and achey every morning. Also after every meal it’s straight to snooze time, the gradual dying of the fight. Just so cannot be arsed. A says it’s sugar sensitivity, J that it’s lying down too much. Everything I eat is packaged and carby and salty, I am apparently in need of salad forever. Life over.

Literally cannot list more than 5 veg that I will actually, actively like. Onions, potatoes, rocket. Er think that’s it. Is garlic a veg?

If it is some kind of congealing of blood, the fatigue makes me lie down more, and get cosy with a screen. Life becomes reaching distance. Not so much a vicious circle but a snug, blanketed one.

The hair’s grown out. Like it with a hat and the blonde poking out.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 47

Monday 4th May 2020

Took a walk, a first for me on my own. A part of me can’t be bothered to entertain myself, as if, well, what’s the flipping point? I tend towards the home, the computer, the indoors and domestic, living vicariously through a screen due to a crippling lifelong condition called Laziness. The time I do want to experience things trekking about and getting canoodley with life is abroad. As they say, joy is doubled when you share it with someone; I just don’t think it, feel it otherwise.

I’m built to spend time on my own, but not to experience happiness that way.

The streets are as to be expected -the place quiet but nowhere completely empty or like a ghost town. There’s a steady stream of odd cars, and a handful of people on each thoroughfare, with often a queue outside whichever shop that’s open, even the small family-run ones.

Many stores are shut, some looking permanently with newspapers over their glass, or hand drawn signs of desperately discounted pricing, one place wallpapered with A4s of £2. I had no idea what it once sold, the name itself giving no clues. Other places as if momentarily left. The ones still surviving were very much like the old fashioned stores before supermakets took over -bespoke service, specialised produce and community based chit-chat.

Others had added little touches, from antique points of sale and off props, to signs of human misjudgement, not just banal marketing campaigns and identikitted salon design.

Then from the streets to the parks, also slightly unkempt, but beautifully so.

Battersea Park has an odd expanse which looks a lot like a retro exhibition gardens. I couldn’t place it as to whether it was 1950s or 70s, though it was refurbed in 1994 according to the sign. They were fountainless, the flowerbeds starting to overgrow, the squared off trees untrimmed to lose their cubism. A landscape to myself.

There was a sense of an elegant decay, almost spookily so. No animals, just the rustling of leaves and water becoming a momento mori.

Gardeners had obviously been laid off or furloughed, with pavilions starting to muddy up and peel, the flower beds dying or getting invaded with weeds and grass. Some cages round the back were populated only by signs touting that the animals would be back soon -metal keeps also profuse and jungled. Hopefully whatever once dwelled there will appreciate the new foliage on return, if still alive.

The rest of the park was gloriously overgrown, nature returning. Fun police were nowhere, but weren’t really needed, with nary a soul for stretches. It was a Monday, everything was just getting on with it. Was good to get out, I see that now.

There’s something to be said about what you notice, about the conversations one has with themselves on a privated walk. Notably the fact you see, feel and experience more than what’s there.

I hope we’re all okay, that we go in peace.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 34

Monday 20th April 2020

I sent the book off today to two agents, feeling myself dandy for doing so too. Then had another long trek, this time into Clapham via the Common. In terms of rating London’s green spaces there’s not a lot to say about it, it would maybe score 2 or 3 out of 10. It’s first and foremost a common, delineating itself from parkland by being relatively open ground and unplanted. No acres of flowerbeds, no landscaping a hill to the right or left, though there are two pretty ponds, and a windswept one. Everything is left as nature intended, kind of, with a few statues here and there and a playground/ outdoor gym/ skatepark. The scraggly collection of woods on one side is pretty scant in terms of biodiversity, being mostly grass and small, young bushes, studded with condoms. It is of course a favoured dogging site, almost legendary, though these days populated by the kind who cannot pull online or via an app (read: old, unsexy and unkempt, possibly murderous).

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The rest of the park is plain – large empty spaces of green or gravel, popular for sports aficionados and event staging. It is dare I say it, boring. The Attenborough equivalent of an Asda carpark. Inside the ponds we saw a dead and rotting fish ( a fat, white carp), studiously being ignored by a heron, and two potatoes, possibly jettisoned by fleeing BBQers. The fun police were out in force, cruising ominously along the running paths and stop-searching drivers for evidence of commuting or shopping.

I did spot an interesting tree, as pique among dross. Very Easter. J said it may have been diseased (apt). I may come out and start worshipping it.

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Then it was Clapham Old Town, a nondescript part of London tarted up into prettiness. Although every building is not that old it’s been done up as if they are, even the 20th Century additions, complete with flowerboxes and fabric awnings, scrubbed brick and pistachio paint. This is what all of London could look like with a spirited makeover, given this end was also traditionally poor throughout the centuries. Mostly residential but gracing a tiny corner of shops and businesses, almost all closed but for the delis, organic cafes, bakeries and ultra-expensive grocers each with a queue (how very Clapham). Sainsbury’s had a very long line outside, Tesco directly opposite nary a soul, not even a guard. UK has a curious hierarchy of supermarkets/ grocers not always evident abroad, from the department store emporia at one end who deliver in 1920s horse-driven cabs, to the panic buying, zombie-baiting megamalls at the other:

Fortnum & Mason

Harrods (formerly top spot but they lost their royal charter ever since Dodi, son of arms dealer Fayed, got into the car with Diana. It’s now owned by the Qatari royals)

Harvey Nicks (do they even do food?)

Selfridges (the best imo, far more choice, and surprisingly, deceptively affordable)

M&S (can be swapped with below)

Waitrose (far more choice than above, which only does it’s own brands)

Sainsbury’s (can be slightly naff, all the usual brands but pricier for no reason whatsoever)

Tesco (naff, but all the usual brands)

Morrisons (normally bottom of the pile. Wide use of the cheapest sugar, the offcuts, the sweatshops, despite rebranding)

Asda (the new low, having seen the kind of supermarket sweep and panic at the disco behaviour relevent to these climes. Part of the Wal-Mart fam)

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Once home I was face-down and asleep, as is usual nowadays whenever popping out, as if the toll of sunshine and fresh air weighs upon the shoulders, along with possible contagion. Out of it for hours. Then cut my hair, and joined a group chat with some buddies via Zoom, the place to be this season. Despite all that had a low mood, surly even. A part of me is constantly worrying, one housemate becoming a hermit, the other needing contact, and myself trying to provide both or neither.

I miss going out to have a meal, going shopping, going on holiday. The NYC trip for May is now a no-go (had that coming) as BA has finally canceled the flights; the supremely dodgy travel company wanting to charge us £150 for an admin fee still and that’s eating me up. Canceled the Airbnb – with now over £400 in vouchers to use. Also found out the museum is looking at July or even as late as October for a reopening, so I’ll likely be furloughed.

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Across the US people have been demonstrating to reopen the country, and get rid of lockdown, plus the usual barmy anti-vaxxers. There’s been a counter-demo by two fearless healthcare workers, dressed in their scrubs, standing in the street to block the traffic from joining. In the face of hooting car horns and a woman leaning out and yelling at them to go to China if they wanted communism, and that it wasn’t fair they got to work and she didn’t.

Health care workers stand in the street as a counter-protest to those demanding the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver
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Democracy is being given a bad name. This pandemic is showing the flaws in the system, when ignorance is given equal standing as information, when the leader himself goads it as a device to keep himself in power. We kinda forget Nazism was a democratic rise.

This is why we need constitutions, as we the people can’t be trusted, as history has shown. Of course we’re going to vote for ourselves, of course we’ll step over others to get to the top, of course we’re going to lie, cheat and steal to furnish our bigger piece of the pie. I do wonder why giving freedom so often means giving free rein to abject competition.

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I’ve looked at the news fora for the first time in a while today, and the comments are starting to die down, less demands for lynching, less arguing, insults and vitriol. It appears we’re getting used to the new normal. C-19 may be on the verge of getting boring.

Another 823 died last night in UK hospitals. Deaths in general have doubled -a 20 year high, added to by unconfirmed virus fatalities and a great deal of people avoiding hospital treatment for fear of cross-contamination, or thinking they’re overloaded (the reality is that beds are now at record vacancies due to this). They’re hoping the worst is over despite the high tallies. The city remains silent to the core.

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News of vaccine trials to start next week are encouraging, though we’re still a good year off from being able to medicate it should it succeed. The orders for more tests and PPE are being stymied by bureaucracy, the govt promising new supplies from Turkey for the following day, then realising they’d forgotten to formally request it even. At times like this paperwork fuckups can kill, on a huge scale.

The night’s film was Fantasy Island. I wouldn’t call it run-of-the-mill despite using the usual jump scares and idiot decision-making (let’s split up! Let’s stage an argument now!) from the dwindling arsenal of Hollywood storytelling. The film’s premise is each vacationer gets to live out a fantasy, but of course one that turns sour and increasingly deadly. There’s a refreshing lack of gore and overt sadism, and an interesting landscape of a storyline (SPOILER) in which one finds the disparate scenarios for each guest are related. Large plotholes withstanding it was an interesting enough watch, and a big part of my life for 2 hrs, becoming the highlight of my day.

I need to get out more. Maybe all this was just some numpter wanting a bit of me-time.

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