Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Could anything be more controversial than Spam, and I do mean the meat kind, not just the annoying stuff that accumulates in your inbox? Well, I thought lots could be more subject to horror and ire. I have been warned (a little unnecessarily) about the horrible additives
in the ubiquitous canned meat for which there is an actual local Hawaii cookbook--I have a copy and I know the author. I know it's not good for me, and I really consume little (although I have a sudden craving for a Spam musubi, a snack also loved by President Obama, thus proving he was born in Hawaii).

But if anything relegates the Spam cans to the disaster shelf (which now has a new meaning), it may be a story cited by one of my blog-o-pals. I flatter myself to think that my previous Defense of Spam was the reason for his posting of this article. In such a way, I actually may have helped spread information about something very ugly going on in the Spam factory. (Although I'm sceptical about the idea of Hormel pig brain slurry being shipped to Asia for use as a stir-fry thickener; the stir-fry dishes I ate in China were rarely "thickened" with anything. Not that I wouldn't put it above the Chinese...perhaps pig-brain gravy is a traditional delicacy. And apparently it is in the American South.)

It's hard to do anything without participating in some kind of hidden a can of Spam and condemn some poor illegal worker to auto-immune your car and melt the cheap coffee and ruin the rainforest...every day another mea culpa. This is the meaning of original sin.

But every day, another chance to start over.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

And I mean the "meat" kind, not the e-mail kind.

People in Hawaii have the idea that no one else in the world ever ate Spam, but I grew up with it on the East Coast. One of my favorite meals as a child, derived from a school cafeteria lunch, was green beans (probably canned), potatoes, a little onion, and cubes of Spam, cooked up as a stew. It was yummy. My druid-ish mother-in-law was known to make Spam roasts, studded with cloves and garnished with pineapple. And in Hawaii, Spam musubi is a very popular snack. I have been known to indulge.

Now there are flavors of Spam (one of the best inspired by a cargo-cultish recipe from Guam), and today I raided our "disaster shelf" (where there are cans of Spam and tuna, just in case of tsunami, hurricane or nuclear disaster) where a can of "bacon-flavored" Spam was lurking. (Bacon flavor? What a surprise.) I've been having all these lunches out with friends since I came back from China, and haven't really shopped. (Not that I ever do. The Wizard is better at grocery shopping.) Home alone today, I popped a few slices of the specialty Spam on the griddle, then a egg corralled in the browned slices, and enjoyed a kind of BLT in a flour tortilla (that's a wrap) with tomato, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and real mayo and a grinding of black pepper. Yum-me.

From the Wikipedia reference, I note that:
In China, Spam is an increasingly popular food item, and often used in sandwiches. Hormel has had a joint-venture in Shanghai for 16 years which has been highly successful in promoting Spam. In 2005, the Chinese division of Spam was one of the most profitable parts of the Hormel company. This development is due, in part, to the increasing per capita income in Shanghai, coupled with the expansion of their food diet towards more meat.
Yeah, Spam is made from what?... pig noses and toeses? But if you eat meat, and I do, what's the difference between a processed snout and a BBQ rib?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Not sure what to say about this. Just a couple days ago I streamed via Netflix Ed Harris's 2000 biopic about Jackson Pollock, who I really like, but sometimes get confused with Jasper Johns. If you just throw paint around, it can be fun, but I think you have to be conscious of what you're doing. And what is the difference between a paintbrush in the hands of an ape and a toddler? And Rembrandt or Jackson Pollock?

In the movie, the pivotal moment, quite delicious, is when Pollock notices a blob of splattered paint, off his canvas, and sees the artistic potential in the beautiful random distribution of pigment and goo. It is the sloppy birth of his unique signature style. I like those paintings. The mother of one of my adolescent friends once tried to approximate this style in painting the floor of a basement "rumpus room." She got us to help splatter the paint around. We had some fun, but I'm not sure it worked. Modern art sometimes bleeds over to interior decor in strange ways.

The contrast of this and classic Chinese painting is like yin and yang. My Chinese painting teacher once urged me to see a film about modern art, was it Picasso or some graphic artist? She sneers a little at Qi Baishi, the "Picasso of China." "He makes a lot of mistakes," she says.

So did Jackson Pollock. His whole life looks like one big mistake. But I could live with one of his big murals on my wall. I think, well, I could do that...but it would look like I just got crazy one day, throwing paint around in a fit. (The way I try to paint a peony, it takes a lot of practice.)

Maybe that's art.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I have an active appreciation for attractive Asian men, mostly confining my obsession to actors (like Zhao Wen Zhuo and Song Il-guk) and politicians (for example, the sprightly Ho Chi Minh, the dashing Zhou Enlai, and perhaps Gary Locke, our new Chinese ambassador). Not that streets and offices in Honolulu aren't overflowing with yang pulchritude.

In my defense, I note that I am not the only femme du certain age of the white persuasion who shares this predilection.

So a little escapade in a Hangzhou stationery store shouldn't be so hard to understand. I was browsing an offering of cute Chinese-style-bound notebooks (like at right) and picked a handsome red one that featured a silhouette of Zhou Enlai on the cover with a few photographs of the late Chinese statesman interspersed among the rice paper pages. I could use this for Mandarin class notes, I thought to myself.

On the next shelf was another little notebook featuring a photo of a dramatic young contemporary guy, looking like a Chinese James Dean or Marlboro Man. "Who is this, what movie is this from?" I wondered. Later I asked our guide/interpreter.

"He's not an actor," she declared. "He's a famous beggar! Everyone in China knows him." I had succumbed to the same phenomenon that millions of Chinese did, wanting to find this guy, take him home, give him a job, or at least just contemplate his visage and carriage. I imagined telling the Wizard, "Honey, I'm bringing home a beggar, he can live on the lanai, he can learn foot massage and clean the house." (Never mind that there are also an old hermit, a middle-aged shifu and a skilled young cupping therapist who I also would like to sponsor for U.S. work visas.) Unfortunately, like many of our own homeless (beggar and bum being not quite politically correct terms any longer), Brother Sharp, as he is known, is apparently mentally unbalanced and probably smells bad. He lives on scrounged cigarette butts and garbage, albeit with a lot of style and attitude. And it appears that the Takeshi Kaneshiro of the street has been rescued.

Can you name one famous homeless person in the U.S.? One with the charisma of Brother Sharp? Our guide/interpreter was puzzled by the concept of homeless (as opposed to outright beggars and street people.) "Why don't they work," she asked. It was a hard situation to explain. I think I'll leave that one to Gary Locke, who certainly understands commerce and the economy and is expected to communicate such issues well to the Chinese.

In any event, both Brother Sharp and Ambassador Locke look pretty good in leather!

Brother Sharp

Gary Locke