PLUNGE! #1 Roots

As a Malaysian of Chinese descent, I grew up speaking Mandarin with my parents, along with English and Malay. I sometimes feel like I have a mixed identity, as I am not indigenously Malay. It is kind of like the ABCs (American Born Chinese) but we receive way less recognition than that.

Although I speak fluent Chinese, I know little about China and Chinese culture. I decided to visit China for my first time for this project. More specifically, I chose to first visit the Fujian province, which is my origin where my ancestors come from almost 150 years ago. And of course I need a visa to visit China as well.

I wondered what version of me will I be living, if my ancestors did not come to Malaysia back then. I would’ve been smarter, thanks to the harsh Chinese education system. I would be living either in Fuzhou, attending a local University or Shanghai or Peking, if I was lucky enough to enter a prestigious one. I wonder if I would also be interested in fashion.

As the only foreigner in the flight, I landed in Gulou, Fuzhou around 5pm local time after 2 bus rides. The accents were strong and it took a few tries of adjusting to make me understood.

I went to San Fang Qi Xiang, the place where old buildings were preserved. I liked how frank the people are in China. Unlike the strong hierarchical culture in Japan. Although it may sound crude to some people with the loud volume, I perceive it as a form of culture, a way they use to show friendliness, or anger at times. I managed to switch to my Chinese mode in a matter of days of exposure to such culture, and was fully enjoying it. Although I still can’t stand people using their phone’s speakers instead of earphones when playing music. I guess it is a Chinese thing to do as I noticed it even in Japan and anywhere I go.

The rest few days in Fuzhou was spent by visiting parks, random towns and areas and eating random street food. Fully exploiting the cheap price of food, I had more than what I could take and spent my last day being a sick-man in my hotel.

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PLUNGE! #2 Shiny Shanghai

I boarded a high speed train (Gaotie) from Fuzhou to Shanghai on 5th January, as it started to get boring in Fuzhou. Arriving in Hong Qiao train station in Shanghai approximately 6hours after due to delay in departure time. It was late already so I did not bother going out. Spent the whole night doing research about the city in my hostel. Oh, and the toilets and shower rooms were shared and the level of cleanliness was terrible, which resulted in me switching to another nearby hotel. I am not really a group life kind of person since young, that place reminded me about a training camp I went during junior high school.

Went to the famous Waitan, and some local shopping streets (VERY Chinesey!) such as Yu-yuan.

Of course, being a fashion addict I cannot leave without visiting every fashionista’s heaven: Xin Tian Di area. There is this fashion mall called “Style” (Yeah such an unstylish name I know), where designer pieces of reputable designers gather. Collections consists of 70% local designers and the rest being imports. What I found interesting with posh areas like this in China is that the high contrast between the posh streets and the streets beside it. You’ll find designer pieces going on 6000RMB but on the other side of the street you’ll find the everything-for-150RMB store.

Tian Zi Fang was another local shopping alley I went to. It has a very interesting concept where most shops are run by local craftsmen specializing in something. For example there were leather goods crafts shop, perfumery, scent, art materials, Chinese artwork like Shuimohua(水墨画), engraving, food, bags, clothing, jewelry and much more. I bought a leather travel note and had my to-be-official hanko carved by a very skillful craftsman and also got a few carved for my friends as Omiyage (souvenir). It was a great spot to experience Chinese craftsmanship.

PLUNGE! #3 Getting Artsy in Shanghai

The artsy part of Shanghai is another different side of the city compared to the bustling shopping streets and Chinese looking buildings. Mostly located in secluded areas, only the real art-loving tourist or the locals who care enough to take a taxi from the nearest station 25minutes away will come.

First stop, Hongfang Creative Industrial Zone. Housed in a cluster of renovated factory buildings, the zone was an iron and steel factory back in the days. It turned into a place to exhibit local artists’ work since 2015, where the government starts to increase investments towards the development of the local creative industry. Yves Saint Lauren was having a road show for their new line of lipstick when I was there. Not being a fan of cross dressing, I skipped the crowed and went right inside the area filled with countless galleries and exhibitions. With most of them closed as it was a Sunday. (I know it doesn’t make sense right). But later in the day I found out that most of those were art and design offices instead of galleries. Anyway I managed to sneak into a sculpture gallery and this is how it looked like.

Next, I will introduce the infamous M50 Creative Park. 25 minutes by foot under 8 degree Celsius weather but it was all worth it. The park, where artists, photographers and galleries gather, is located at the far end of a secluded alleyway. Along the alleyway were factories, both functioning and non-functioning ones, countless dumpsites, graffiti and more graffiti. Oh and on the way there I spot a lady with her re-constructed coat from Jacquemus that I loved so much. It felt surreal seeing such a great masterpiece being worn and strutted by a dumpsite. M50 Creative Park is a small area with a very high concentration of art related galleries where you can find artworks, carvings, sculptures etc. from as cheap as 50RMB to as expensive as 40000RMB+.Talk about the nobody knows principle. I will leave the rest of the explanation to Mr. Pictures. By the way like most other artsy places this place used to be a fabric weaving factory.

Next, the Long (which means dragon in Chinese) Museum. Located 10 minutes away from Middle Long Hua Road station. The town just felt new, like a newly built house. With almost all shops still in covered in plastic. Despite being such a beautiful place, almost no one was there and traffic was minimal. I guess this is one of the ghost towns China have, overbuilt, unoccupied neighborhood seems to be a problem the country is facing right now.

The exhibition on that day was about Song and Yuan Dynasties Calligraphy and Paintings titled “Diligence and Intelligence”. It was great to be able to look at ancient scripts, artworks, pottery and china being created a thousand year ago. Anyway despite being able to read and speak Chinese, I was able to comprehend less than 1% of the ancient stuff there. To be honest I enjoyed the contemporary art exhibit more. This section featured local Chinese artists and their paintings from the 1980s.

 

 

PLUNGE! #4 Being a Dickhead for a Week

The idea came up when I was meeting my Korean friend and her mum after a year at Shinjuku for a dinner at some touristy Japanese restaurant called “Don Chin Kan”. Things were fine until we decided to head off to another place for some drinks. Not willing to give in to chain izakaya shops, we wandered quite some time and a “catch” (some promoters of izakaya roaming around the streets trying to pull customers) approached us, revealing to us some very delicious looking food and drink for what seemed like reasonable price. Being a veteran, I of course asked about prices and if there were table charges, minimum orders etc. Everything seemed fine, and we headed to the building elevator to reach for the 4th floor as depicted on the promotion broacher. This was when the “catch” insisted on bringing us to the 5th floor instead, claiming that the 4th is fully occupied.

We were greeted by a totally different menu with super pricey stuff, and were told that the table charge will be 750 yen per person. I got furious and started to yell at the waiter with whatever that came into my mind and condemned their ill strategy in getting customers. Of course we left the shop and settled down in a Korean restaurant for our drinking session. I was told by my Korean friend and her mom that I was so scary just now, with my mustache, crew cut and piercings and that I can qualify to be a gangster any day they said.

It actually felt quite good when I unleash my anger for the first time in years, with such a rude manner, especially to someone who tried to con us into paying a fortune just for a 1 hour drinking session. It felt weird but it certainly felt good that moment, and it was this feeling of satisfaction that got me thinking about trying to be a badass, gangster dickhead for one week, and make it one of my plunge diary entries.

Day 1: I started light, by not greeting people, purposefully turning my head away from the people I know and not saying thank you to the professor after class and not holding the doors open for others. Nothing went wrong and things got on as usual.

Day 2: I decided to step up the game and display anger whenever I feel even slightly irritated. So it was almost 3rd period of school and I am waiting in line for the next train at Takadanobaba station. Train arrived and people started boarding. The kind of people that irritates me the most are those who are at the front most of the waiting line, get in the train, but refuse to move into the middle of the compartment and instead standing right beside the door. Most probably they are hoping for a smooth exit at the next station. (Come on, you don’t get to board first and exit first, you don’t get the best of both worlds!) So there was this guy who did exactly this, and I just threw in 「ちょっと、入れないからもっと中に詰めてもらえる?」(which means, hey, it’s impossible to get in, can you squeeze inside a bit) in an unfriendly manner. Sure enough he obeyed and nothing went wrong. No fist fights etc.

Day 3: It was January 18th and a huge line was in front of TenDon Tenya, the tempura restaurant near Waseda’s Bunkyan. Yes, it was the monthly Tenya-no-hi, where everyone can have a delicious TenDon for only 390 yen (サンキュー :Thank you, get it? Haha) instead of the normal 500yen + tax. Not a big deal but was looking for lunch anyway, so I joined in the line and waited to be seated. Not long after the waitress called me in to sit on a bench inside the restaurant as it was cold outside. “Yay the next one is gonna be me!” I thought to myself. And right in front of my eye the waitress guided 2 customers, who were behind me, to their seats. Normally I would understand because the two-seaters were best for the customers waiting in two, but for this project, I stood up and fired away. Eventually one of the counter seats emptied up and I got to have my 390 TenDon, and the chef gave me a service tempura for “upsetting” me at the beginning.

Day 4: To be honest, I was starting to feel mentally stressed about carrying on this project of mine, but I decided to give it one last shot. Today’s episode was in “Ootoya” Restaurant at Takadanobaba station. Exhausted after a day’s lectures, I decided to eat out that day instead of cooking. Even though it was a weekday evening, there was a queue of 3 people in front of the restaurant. The restaurant was full and busy, and I decided to lay my oversized coat and bag on the chair facing the alley in such a way that it would block the passage for the waiters. With the Japanese being Japanese, I was told nothing and the poor waiters squeezed through again and again through the narrow passage way blocked by my belongings. My order of charcoal grilled chicken and salad came and I decided to screw my waiter up midway, claiming that parts of the chicken were still uncooked, in a rude manner. “Moushiwake gozaimasen” was repeated a gazillion times and a fresh serving of the meal was served!!

There was no Day 5 because I really needed to stop doing this as I started to feel really guilty, especially when I ill-treat an innocent person hasn’t done anything wrong. I cannot deny the fact that I have received complementary services and free meals that I would not receive otherwise, but I figured out this was not the way I want to live. These experiences reminded me about how I felt when there were dickheads at my part time job, and the brilliantly made television commercial starring Takayuki Yamada, with the catch phrase “この世界は 誰かの仕事で出来ている。”(The world is made up of someone’s job)

#BONUS PLUNGE! 1: Mochi Cravings in Yanaka

The professor from the design and architecture course I am taking this semester recommended me to visit Yanaka area of Tokyo for my final essay. It was really a cool place and I was shocked by the fact that I did not know about its existence although living here in Japan for almost 4 years now. Yanaka area is lucky to be spared from the fires of the Great Kanto Earthquake, so all the buildings in this area are “genuinely” old, instead of the “made to look old” buildings that can be found in areas like Asakusa.

The Chonaikai (Town Council Association?) were having a mochi pounding session in a park that me and my friend passed by, and we got to try out mochi pounding! It was a first time experience for me and it feels great looking at how freshly cooked mochi rice turning into mochis! (Which were then grilled and served to us for free yummy!!)

Oh, and here are some of the few interesting buildings we saw in Yanaka area, one of it being an avant garde art gallery housed in a building of a 200 year old historical Sento building!

#BONUS PLUNGE! 2: Strange✖︎Wild Dinnertime

So students of POKAZEMI were panicking as the deadline for the plunge program is creeping closer. Not until when dear Pokachan announced that the deadline will now be two weeks later than the original.

Well to prevent ourselves from procrastinating, some of the students prepared to do their very first plunge right after class by heading to a restaurant called “kome to circus” in Takadanobaba. (Isn’t it amazing to have almost everything in Takadanobaba Station? It has almost everything in the Milky Way)

“Kome to Circus” is a restaurant serving rare meats for those who are bored of their daily beef, pork, mutton and fish.

I would not spoil the fun for you readers because I bet you guys are dying to to try this place out by now. Here are all the stuff we ordered, and no, although they all look like chicken (because that’s the only thing people eat and know nowadays). To enable easier grasping of images, we showed the pictures of the creature where the meat came from as well! Happy Eating!

And yes, the last one is a stock image of some tasty, normal tempura, just to bring you back to the world of edible, normal food 🙂