the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: photography

Writing to Remember

by MDY

We are sitting in a lobster pot down Soho way when she asks what I think of food photography.

“I don’t think it’s good or bad,” I say, “more just a remediation of how we’ve always sought to both capture and share the ephemeral. I guess food is just a prime target for that human urge to remember: it’s beautiful, it evokes new feelings in our senses, and it is by definition perishable, unable to retain its corporeal presence in the manner of clothes or jewels. Food makes us think and feel better, and I think it’s instinctual to want to try and hold onto that by passing it on as best we can.”

I’m writing this because I, too, want to hold onto something fleeting. I want to remember the way she brushed a stray sprig of lavender across one leg as we grazed on leaves in take-away trays. I want to remember the easy way we could laugh as we meandered through Studio K, and the raucous direction-giving and insinuations about our relationship from the trio of her compatriots who we glanced into at one station of many. I want to trace back everything we said about the perks of being a food blogger, the impossibility of befriending dumb people, the intricacies of love and friendship and loneliness and sacrifice that we spooled out along the train tracks and cobblestones in our wake, like breadcrumbs leading us towards our better selves. I want to write down everything we said about writing, and what the words mean to us.

“It all comes down to social proofing,” she says sometime on, as I splinter open a lobster claw. “Have you seen that comic where the guy tweets about a druggie in the toilet, and as he sits waiting for the RTs to come in he’s in exactly the same posture as his erstwhile subject? But what happens when that social validation becomes what we define ourselves by, not by the experiences we document but the metrics they generate?”

Only later, now, do I remember traces of a lecture long past: the act of inscription is the act of definition. We didn’t say the things I wrote we did. At one point in the lobster pot, I float the idea that I prefer writing because I’m no good with talk, my thoughts trip over each other like tourist-herds stampeding down sooty high-streets, whereas on paper or screen I can order things the way I wish they could be.

Which is, of course, exactly what I’m doing now. I’m editing as I go, summarising lengthy discourses, eliding tangents, connecting logical spaces. So my words, as a transcript of our day, are not perfect – more like the opposite – yet to anyone apart from us they would seem to be, like a photograph of a macaron tower that falls the second after the flash.

“The idea is that words have power,” I tell her, about a work in progress, “so what if we could really create things with our words? Like, if we sang a poem about Xanadu, it would rear up in front of us with stately decree?”

“How do you come up with ideas like that?” she asks when I’m done. “Where do those linkages, those syntheses come from? You say there’s nothing new under the sun, but then why do we always crave the next story? And why is it that the feeling of originality can still exist?”

The thing is, I don’t feel original. I feel like for everything I say to her, there’s so much more I can’t put into words. Like I’m brushing up against the limits of common vocabulary and the only thing to do is venture into the uncommon, the juxtapositions and patois and absurd images that I can only draw on paper, outside the far-too-fast-for-me stream of everyday life. To say “I care about you”, I make a basilisk await a human child’s return for all eternity. Instead of “it’s lonely without you” I conjure up dementia and robotic swans. Everything I write is both a memory of how I’ve felt, and a wish that I could say it better. Perhaps one day, I’ll know how to speak words as crisp and clean as a photograph, saying everything I want to tell her at the moment I need to. Until then, I’ll struggle to catch up on paper, filling in the blanks that each day leaves behind.

 

Mark Yeow

London

9 June 2014

Awaiting Surprise

by MDY

I’m sitting next to Tim Flannery in a dusty airport lounge, both of us waiting for the clock to strike 11. There’s a dull murmur from the passengers around me, punctuated by words like “aftershock” and “meltdown” and “radioactive” which  rise from the usual talk of family and sports with alien menace. I have no idea what you’re meant to say to a former Australian of the Year, so I ask him if he’s been to Japan before.

“Never,” he says, looking just a little anxious. “Have you?”

“You’ll love it,” I tell him,  “But it’ll be nothing like you expect. This place is full of surprises.”

The first time I was in Japan, I queued up to visit a Buddhist temple on the eve of the New Year. Unfortunately for me, a few thousand Tokyoites decided to follow suit. This meant the cobblestone alley leading up to Senso-ji temple – wide enough to fit at least twenty broad-shouldered men abreast – was packed tighter than rice-grains in a piece of sushi. This is a regular occurrence, though, and the Tokyo government has a tried and true system for managing these crowds in the most efficient way. They do so by interspersing uniformed police and council officials at regular intervals throughout the alley, which stretches more than 250 metres back until it bleeds out into the neon playground of the Asakusa nightlife district.

These wardens are armed – with dual-sided signs. One side says what I imagine is “Halt” in bright red Kanji (styled in the Japanese equivalent of Comic Sans) while the other seems to say “Please proceed in an orderly fashion” in a sickly fluorescent green. Both sides also sport a picture of Astro-Boy: on the “Halt” side he’s nursing a disappointed expression, while on the “Please proceed” he’s all wide smiles and joy, raised thumb outstretched above his head in his classic pose of post-war optimism. I did wonder about the copyright implications of Astro-Boy’s presence but I figured that if he was giving the thumbs-up he couldn’t be particularly worried.

The amazing thing about Japan (at least from a Westernised perspective) is that when you wield a sign saying “Halt”, they actually pay attention. Despite the knife-edged winter breeze, there was no pushing, no shoving, no drunken curses, just a few thousand jacketed people standing quietly waiting for the signs to turn. When Astro-Boy raised his thumb again, the crowd would surge forward politely towards the sharply-inclined stairs that led up to Senso-ji’s interior, and the cauldron into which they would throw loose change in exchange for an auspicious year. This sequence of events – stop, surge, stop, jump around (discreetly) to stay warm, surge – repeated every five or ten minutes until a cacophony of fireworks flooded the skies above the temple and most of Tokyo.

I managed to be one of the first to toss a coin into Senso-ji that year, only a few minutes after 2006 died and 2007 began. I remember wishing for a year full of good times and blessings, but moreover to make it to the next one. It was a pretty bad year but at least the gods listened to the final bit.

The second time I was in Japan, I was hopelessly lost in the Kita business district of Osaka when I saw a young man getting his swag on across the street from me. He was wearing a bright red track top, dark blue baseball cap, and the sort of fat-rimmed squarish glasses which are still in fashion at the moment. In amongst the demurely-clad housewives and suited businessmen strolling around him, he looked like some two-bit ruffian or a uni student interning with the Yakuza. I watched him stroll past a game arcade, then double back and pause at a big machine whose name I couldn’t see.

He scuffled around in his pockets and stuck something into the machine. “Fergalicious” immediately blared out across the quiet late-morning street and the Yakuza intern exploded into movement. His arms swung this way and that, his feet stomped at the ground with determination, and at times his entire torso gyrated like an out-of-control Furby. Other pedestrians stopped to take photos of him. So did I. He continued for all of about ten minutes, then simply stopped, brushed down his track top, and swaggered on like nothing had happened. The first and most enduring thought that I had watching him was, this guy is insanely good at Dance Dance Revolution. However, I did wonder about his choice of song for the rest of the week.

The third time, I touched down in Osaka at around 8 in the evening and within a couple of hours was out drinking with Tim Flannery and five other journos in a side-street izakaya whose staff had virtually no English vocabulary but did have a lot of Asahi beer and skewers of fried chicken.

Each time I go back I find something new in Japan. Some quirky, zany, entirely unexpected event will have me in stitches as I recount it to my friends, or it’ll get me thinking even long after I step back on home soil. For me, Japan will always be a country of surprises. Some funny, some uplifting. Some heartrending beyond belief.

On my last trip to Japan, four months after the tsunami, the newspapers were still running daily maps of radiation levels on the inside spread. One year after the earth shook, I don’t know if those maps are still being published. Apart from anniversary features in the news, most people outside of Japan will forget about what happened. But personally, I’m looking forward to the next time I’m sitting in that dusty airport lounge, waiting to be surprised.

Ed: This piece originally appeared in Poetic Justice, a UNSW LawSoc publication.