I finally had some time to gather together the images from the workshop I did several weeks back. It’s nice to see them properly categorized and truly see the different perceptions of one cloud. Here is an example:
Annyeong, everyone! I’m starting another project.
During my first three weeks in Seoul, beyond the palaces, the museums, and other beautiful attractions the city has to offer, I learned to fall in love with their street food. I have started some drawing projects over the years, and so I came up with The Movable Feast: A Street Food Project, an interpretative illustration project that celebrates the joys and oddities of street food around the world.
Street food is arguably the most socially inclusive, yet sometimes unnoticed or taken for granted, of all cuisines. There is neither dress code nor reservation required. Everyone has to wait their turn. Street food is among the best things to eat when one is rushing to work, taking a break in between classes, or being too lazy to cook. It is cheap, easily available, and delicious.
The menu of street food can be simple (such as coconut juice and watermelon slices) or more complex and hard-to-find (such as escargot on the go, lobster sandwiches, and grilled tamales) This system includes a range of members—from the ambling taho vendor (Philippines), the seasonal bocadillo stall (Spain), to scheduled and franchised food trucks (United States). It is a mobile and complex system that consists of the producers of raw materials, the makers of the actual dishes, the transportation and infrastructure that bring them to the venues in which they are served, the governing bodies that allow their selling, and the vendors and consumers themselves.
Globalization and diaspora
In many ways, I have discovered that street food is a symbol of globalization and diaspora. Many of them hail from other countries, but with local flavor. Consider goroke, the Korean version of the French croquette. Or hotdogs in Iceland. Or shawarma in Canada. It is also a symbol of urbanization—as the population who move from rural to urban areas increase, so does the need for alternative sources and ways of distributing food.
Street food as identity
I believe that street food is a vital part of the culture and identity of a city. It is indicative of the sustenance immediately afforded by its geography. But more than that, it is a symbol of a people’s resourcefulness, creativity, and survival. They tell us stories about ourselves.
Eating and perception
Eating street food fires up all the senses, which are the center of my larger body of work. Street food conjures up memories of childhood and gives strangers a shared experience of a meal. These drawings themselves are interpretative; more than documenting what they are, I also draw how they’ve made me feel, and write the memory I have about them.
Follow the project’s Tumblr here.
P.S. Drawings up every Monday!
P.P.S. As I am based in Seoul, many of these posts will be about Korean street food, though I will draw all the other street foods I’ve eaten in other countries, past and future. But if you wish, you can submit photos of street food from your country and I can try it out and draw it. Or submit your own drawings, following the format I’ve started. The link to submit is here.
The Movable Feast, where eating means research. Thank you for checking it out.
For reasons I will write about later, I have decided to learn the Korean language and culture. More specifically, I have decided to pack as much useful Korean phrases as possible into my head (and know how to say them in context) in the next few weeks.
I didn’t think that open source courseware from universities was the way to go. I love using online resources such as Khan Academy, Udemy, and Coursera, but they don’t really specialize in languages and cultures. In addition, with the timeframe I was giving myself, I didn’t want to feel like I was taking a class.
To my surprise, it wasn’t easy to find good online courses that teach Korean, perhaps because a lot of Korean people already speak English. Still, I believe that learning a people’s language is one of the best ways to understand them. When I lived in Barcelona, it was only when I started learning Spanish and Catalan that the locals started opening up to me. (Not that they weren’t nice to me before, but you get the idea.)
Learning a new language and culture always gives me what I refer to as a “brain massage”—I can feel my cerebral cortex almost groaning under all that cognitive load. Incorporating language classes into a busy schedule isn’t easy, and it was important to find learning material that were easily packaged into digestible pieces that are easy to recall.
Looking at the relatively small landscape of Korean culture and language videos, here are the two that are keeping me up at night (both from Youtube):
1. Professor Oh and Friends (SweetAndTasty on Youtube)
I’ve never come across better styled and more entertaining language and culture videos than those of Professor Oh’s. Her first video caught my eye, and I remembered her because her mnemonic for Korean consonants was to sing them to the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This was something that we used to do in high school, but to remember all the Chinese dynasties. (It’s quite a versatile song, yes?) It’s also really helpful that she points out common mistakes in pronunciation. She’s come quite a long way from that endearingly shy first video, and now she’s morphed into several characters. As someone with many alter egos as well, I totally relate to her. Keep going!
(Also check our her other alter ago as Ramona Champion.)
Because desperate times call for desperate measures, my Korean language notebook has frantically wriitten notes in the five languages I know, to highlight similarities and make me learn faster. Some Korean consonants were very similar to Mandarin, for example. It’s also funny that some words were the same in lots of languages. Banana is, well, pretty much banana in several countries.
2. Eat Your Kimchi with Simon and Martina
It’s impossible not to talk about Korean culture blogging without writing about Eat Your Kimchi. Canadians Simon and Martina Stawski came to South Korea in 2008 to teach English and started doing video blogs about their experiences as expats. They blog about the K-pop industry, but it’s their videos on culture that’s helping me. Now hugely popular, they have more than 260,000 subscribers on their Youtube channel. They even surpassed their Indiegogo goal to register EYK as an actual business.
From what I’ve learned from both Professor Oh and Eat Your Kimchi is this—having that human connection where the speaker is looking at you is a plus. Having well-defined characters or personalities allow for more contextualization, and when I remember the words and phrases, I hear the characters speaking them in my head together with their idiosyncracies. It also helps that they seem to be genuinely nice people with normal lives. Thoughtfully written scripts also work well in helping me remember. I switch back and forth from these channels because it’s great to have both Korean and non-Korean perspectives.
These people all feel familiar to me, and I might instinctively give them high fives if I ever see them. Seriously, thank you, for making this process wonderfully entertaining and useful.
Blessed are hard drives, for they shall reveal files gathering digital dust.
I did this digital illustration years back, for an exhibit called “Des de Fora” (From the Outside) in Sants, Barcelona. It was a time when I was getting over the hump of learning Adobe Illustrator. I completely forgot about this drawing! But I suppose this influenced my doodling habit later on.
The theme reflects on being a foreigner in Barcelona; I wanted to portray the increasingly multicultural nature of one of my favorite cities in the world. Futbol, Feast of St. George, Bicing, Gaudi architecture, etc. are all things I will remember Barcelona for.
It was also the year that it snowed in Catalunya for the first time in years:
It was also a time when I saw double AND triple rainbows on the day my friends and I were eating calçots and writing poetry:
I t was also the time I was first part of the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona, which was probably one of the most influential times of my life from a creative standpoint and made me look at science from the point of view of poetry:
I accidentally unearthed that cheongsam / qi pao the other day and was quite amazed by the wear and tear it had to withstand amidst all those poetry readings and performances.
I’ve been in Manila for five months now, and it’s been a time of looking at the city I grew up in from the outside. Despite living in multiple countries for so long, cities never fail to surprise me.
Perhaps, like cities, poetry whores, and the weather, humans, too, can pause and look at ourselves from the outside.
It’s just one of those days.
Returning to a city after many years is both pleasurable and vexing.
You are both resident and stranger. The shapes, sounds, and smells have both changed and remained the same.
My three major “homes” so far—Manila, New York, and Barcelona—are all port cities. In both historic and modern times, they have been the site of international trade, cultural intermixing, and political upheavals. Their faces dissolve and stabilize with the ebb and flow of both tide and time.
Cities of You is a project that envisions people as imaginary places. It was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Each artwork represents a person and also a relationship. Brian writes:
“I travel through each city and describe their special properties—how the buildings are built, how the people live, its history, culture, and reputation. As the project progresses, I revisit some cities, describing how they evolve over time or enter unexplored parts of the cities. The intended result is to be able to imagine relationships as dynamic spaces in which one can visit, walk through, and explore.”
I enthusiastically backed his Kickstarter project, which surpassed his initial goal of $2,000 and raised $11,000. The project is the publication of the first 41 cities he designed. His book is a gorgeous labor of love, alive with drawings, paintings, and prose. An overwhelming response from his supporters also led him to upgrade all the rewards, including a lifetime of gifts. (Yes, you read that right. I and 140 other backers are looking forward to receiving annual presents for the rest of our lives.)
A couple of weeks ago, Brian drew me as a city, too. Voila, I’m City #44! It’s quite an honor. Even though we haven’t known each other for very long, I think he nailed it:
“If you walk through the city of Orynnaci, the buildings are tall, bare, and ordinary. However, if you stare at a building, look away, then look back again, the building may change. Or sometimes, a building can disappear, or merge with another one. As a tourist, you may begin to recognize past cities you have visited if you stare long enough. Some buildings lose their form entirely. Walk down Main Street and you will see most citizens standing still with their head tilted back, tracing shapes with an outstretched arm. On the face of city hall, three words are inscribed in Latin, loosely translating to ‘Imagination, Perception, Metaphor’.” —Brian Foo
Visit the project’s site here.
Due to my fascination with smell and its relationships with memory, I wrote and published a book that contains smells from Manila, New York and Barcelona—three cities I have lived in and have given me a lot of memories.
Each spread contains the memory on the left and the actual smell micro-encapsulated and printed on paper on the right.
Here’s one from Manila:
On busy streets
The site of many a revolution
You can smell the worn tires.
Here’s one from New York:
My first ever pumpkin pie was in 2007 on a martial arts retreat.
I remember not just the pie, but the knife lessons. We had a meditation room and went to a cemetery. We broke arrows with our throats.
Here’s one from Barcelona:
A birthday picnic for Harriet, up on Montjuic but closer to the museum. We wrote poems on a green Olivetti typewriter that we decorated with wildflowers.
Here are some people smelling my memories:
More photos up on Flickr.
Hello. My name is Catherine and I would like to give everyone in the world a hug.
I’m a hugger. I can’t help it. When I see someone I know, I just go for it as a greeting with barely a thought.
There are perfectly good explanations for this. I was raised in the Philippines, land of extremely happy and friendly people. I also grew up with a lot of stuffed animals. I still sleep with a pillow I’ve had with me from the crib—it’s the only material possession that has been with me forever. And dang it, it feels good. Hugging releases oxytocin, the hormone that promotes love and trust. In fact, studies have shown that a lack of human interaction, such as touching, is detrimental to growth and development. Touch ranks up there with food and water as a basic need.
But I do realize that not all people like to hug others. The idea of touching as a greeting is largely cultural, and I’ve had to adapt accordingly, depending on where I’ve lived and whom I was interacting with. In the Philippines, I hugged. In Spain, I kissed (both cheeks). Here in America, I shake hands. It is especially in the latter that I’ve felt that people respond the least positively to hugs. Many people, I’ve observed, have an invisible “wall” that illustrates their personal space. Touch may be considered as an intrusion, an interruption, or a threat. On the other hand, a hug can also be a sign of great physical intimacy that is only reserved for one’s closest family and friends.
I wanted to investigate our perception of touch. Moreover, I want this project to be a personal reminder of being physically connected to people.
Thus comes HugPrints. I designed a thermochromic (temperature-sensitive, color-changing) vest, so that it was possible to see evidence of the hug. The purple fabric temporarily turns to blue when touched. Right after each hug, photos of the front and the back of the vest are taken, showing where I was touched and how warm (literally) the person is. The patterns people intentionally and unintentionally make have been an interesting exploration of human contact.
I also record the ambient temperature of the environment. Hugging people indoors versus outdoors would give different intensities of color change.
I would love to give you (yes, you!) a hug. But hey, I would love it more if you give your loved ones and perhaps that sad-looking stranger next to you one, too! Visit the project site for more details.
A confession: I can tell my entire personal history through smells—baby powder and shampoo, my parents’ laundry detergent, the sea while growing up in Southeast Asia, tea tree oil I used to treat teenage acne, old books, lab chemicals, studio paints, and the many kitchens and apartments in the cities I have lived in. Smell can transport me to space and time, and thus, can serve as my olfactory timeline.
Helen Keller, who could neither see nor hear, used smell as a portal, too:
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”
Smell is our oldest sense and is the most powerful. About 2% of our genes are devoted to olfaction; other genes that can compare to this quantity are those for the immune system, which as we know are important for our survival. Hence, scientists believe that smell is more important than we think it is.
Smell is important for memory; this sense is processed in the brain’s limbic system where emotions are also processed. Hence, smell can be a very sentimental one. Impairment of smell has been found to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and aging. In literature, Proust’s encounter with the madeleine is often referenced, where eating the biscuit unleashed memories. A similar scene in Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille involves the food critic Anton Ego being transported to his childhood while eating Remy’s ratatouille. (Note that while these episodes involve eating, it is the smell that evokes emotion; consider pinching your nose while eating a meal. You will not be able to properly taste it.)
This obsession with smell led me to conduct a blind smell experiment using smells that were printed via microencapsulation.
I asked the participants to close their eyes and to do two things: 1) Describe the smell (and if they could, guess what they are smelling), and 2) Talk about a memory that comes to mind. Their eyes were closed so that they would not be influenced by what the label on the card said. Their responses, which were usually streams of consciousness, were recorded. When appropriate, I prompted them with additional questions, such as when the episode occurred, or if they were stumped with identifying it, to focus on describing the smell (e.g. sweet, sour, etc.) or mention metaphorical associations with it (e.g. smells like a flower, a dish, etc). In between sniffing the cards, they had the option of smelling a hot cup of coffee to clear their sinuses, or to pause for a bit to take some fresh air.
The results of this experiment were quite astonishing. Here are some highlights and what I’ve learned from them:
Fresh air – Unsurprisingly, smells of what we buy do linger in our olfactory consciousness. This participant was interesting in that he could associate the smell with a product, recall a specific episodic memory, and associate the smell with a color.
“It smells like that freshening block you hang in a toilet … Not that it seems like an air freshener. I definitely get that synthetic quality to it. I thought of this house that I went to once. It was with an ex-girlfriend—I was maybe 16 or 17. It was with her and her mother and it was her friend’s house, which I’ve probably went to once in my life. It reminds me of color as well—a pale pink peach color.”
Eucalyptus – Some smells could not trigger a specific episodic memory, but concrete associations.
“It smells like a woman, some florally perfume … I guess i could smell a grandma, not mine but what I imagine … like a fat grandma with big boobs.”
“I don’t know what it smells like. But if it had a sex, it would be male, not female because for me it’s strong and a little cold.”
Strawberry – Some memories were specific to a particular event or interaction.
“It reminds me of Strawberry Shortcake, the doll. When I was in fourth grade, I had a friend… he had a younger sister who had one. We were in the playroom … Yeah, smells like strawberry, smells like neapolitan ice cream.”
Tea tree – This was striking because the smell on the card was very faint, and the participant had a minor cold. This made me think that smell can indeed be trained; the participant grew up in India, perhaps similar to my experience growing up in tropical Manila where the smells are more potent.
“It smells like winter, not in a plant way, because I’m usually sick in winter. smells like the cold balm I would use … some sort of a minty, oily smell. It’s [the balm] is strong; despite having a cold, I can still smell it. It also reminds me of a really famous clothing store in India because it uses organic dyes. Eucalyptus, tea tree oil or mint smell to it.”
Burnt rubber – This was particularly interesting because of the divergent associations these two participants had. One had a traumatic incident involving this smell while the other did not and so picked up on the sweeter notes of the smell.
“Whoa. This reminds me of something. It reminds me of going to the dentist. The smell of rubber gloves maybe? Having a hand placed in my mouth. Getting braces … in the 6th-8th grade. Teeth started to hurt smelling this.”“It reminds me of my grandfather’s old house they [grandparents] used to live in. It’s not a cooking smell, it’s not as fresh. It’s sort of a flowery smell close to parma violets. Lavender flower, I suppose. Maybe it’s something between flowers and sweets. It reminds me of a specific part of the house which is to the back of it … a cupboard that had sweet things and flowers. The memory made me smell the thing, but the smell itself didn’t remind me of these things.”
Update: The resulting project from this experiment is An Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities, a book of my smell memories.