Dystopian Tokyo, DC's dark history, 'instant' pho ga, and more.
Digest #21 - January 4th, 2021
Hello dear readers,
Happy Monday and happy 2021! We made it. Sorry you haven’t heard from me for a little while. I was spending time finding joy in simple things, giving myself some mental space, and enjoying time off work over the holidays. My son Leo also turned one last month and I went into full mama mode baking him a special cake and doing a photoshoot, which I had been planning and eagerly anticipating for many months.
I am now feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to share some delightful content with you again. You’ll notice some changes are afoot. Namely, I’ve switched from Tinyletter to Substack as the client for preparing and sharing these digests. There’s new formatting, a new logo/banner and generally a refreshed look and feel. Hopefully you like it, but if you don’t, it’s sticking around anyway. The old editions (#1 - #20) are now available to read and share on Substack.
I am also resuming the book giveaway this month with a copy of Dream City, mentioned below at number two, up for grabs. You can enter here.
I hope you are all doing extremely well, given the challenges we continue to face, and I hope you find a little bit of joy in the items I share below.
Sending love from Atlanta,
This show is like nothing I’ve seen before but has a kind of brilliant familiarity at the same time. It’s a Japanese Netflix original based on a manga series, that follows a stereotypically deadbeat gamer-guy named Arisu (i.e. the ‘Alice’ in the Wonderland parallel) and his friends as they enter a strange alternate version of Tokyo. Here there are (almost) no other people but instead a series of intense, often extremely violent games, they have to play in order to survive. The show gives hints as to where the players could be, which is the main mystery that makes the show so fascinating. Are they in a virtual reality game, some kind of high-tech fantasy test scenario? Have they been transported into some other, dark dimension? It isn’t clear in the first season of this show, however the delicate balance between life and death and the way that the players need to play games to stay alive creates a visceral sense of urgency and existential panic. This existentialism and otherworldliness actually reminded me of Waiting for Godot (a classic drama nerd play that I studied in high school) if the intentionally-mundane elements of that play, were exchanged for psychological warfare and graphic violence. The parallels to Alice in Wonderland are also brilliant, and this show has a lot of literary value. I’m going to track down the manga in English… because although I actually studied Japanese for seven years, my kanji is rusty as all hell and I’d only understand the parts about food. That’s apparently where my language-retention priorities lie. You can watch the trailer here.
I was recommended this book by a colleague years ago when I was first playing with the idea of living in Washington DC. It’s our family’s plan to move to DC in maybe a decade (yes I know, I’m a hardcore long-term planner) because the city is the perfect balance of things we love in one place. It has international influence while being very much America’s city. It’s walkable has great restaurants and cafés, but very little traffic. It combines all of my favorite things about big cities we’ve lived in - like New York and London’s culture, art, food, and interesting people - with the things we love about Atlanta - nature, hikes, affordable homes, and strong Black history. Marrying that concept, the one of my idealized DC, with the reality presented in this book, was quite an arresting cognitive process. Dream City is a dynamic nonfiction read because it tells the story of a city filled with race and power issues that are barely hidden yet also hardly discussed today. I learned so much from this book about segregation, class, power, and what it means to be Black in America, through the lens of the nation’s capital. I highly recommend this book for anyone who interested in dissecting these complex issues, but especially anyone outside of America who, like me, hadn’t heard of DC’s former mayor Marion Barry before. Buckle in for a wild ride. And remember to enter this month’s giveaway if you want a copy!
I’ve had a special fondness for pho ga (chicken) ever since I first visited Vietnam in 2012. I was naively led to believe by my travel companion (an ex boyfriend) that all of Vietnam was hot and tropical during the Australian summertime. With our home Australia, being a country in the Southern Hemisphere, and Hanoi, our destination, being quite far north and on the other side of the equator… I found myself with a suitcase of summer holiday clothes in a freezing cold city that was mostly closed for Tết (Vietnamese New Year). We couldn’t buy new, warm clothes because everything was shut, so the only way we kept warm for those few days was drinking this warm, delicious broth in the streets. It’s been my number one comfort food in the years since this travel faux pas occurred. I made this dish a few weeks ago for the first time, because in spite of my deep affection for it, I believed it would be almost impossible to make myself. All of magic of pho is in the broth, and I would never claim to be able to intricately balance the flavors of the dish like those amazing women in the streets in Hanoi who literally warmed my belly and my heart. However, I was feeling brave, and I found this instant pot recipe so approachable and easy to follow. I was also empowered by my Instant Pot (my favorite being-a-mum material object) because it is such a brilliant convenience appliance, and it has so far never led me astray. This came together so beautifully and my husband Alex, my Mum and Leo all absolutely loved it. If you have an Instant Pot, or a different pressure cooker, this is so easy and so worth it. You’ll thank me once you try doing it yourself!
Alex picked this movie for us to watch on date night this weekend, and I’m so glad he did because it was amazing. It’s one of many movies that were buried because of the madness that was 2020 and didn’t get cinematic releases, so we had to rent a copy on Prime for $4.99. It’s an incredible genre mash up and mixes the best parts of romance and post apocalyptic dystopia, to create a Bildungsroman-type coming of age adventure story. The plot follows a guy, Joel, who is pining over a girl named Aimee who he loved as a teenager, before the world “ended”. He’s living in a bunker with a survivor colony because all the world’s cold-blooded animals mutated into deadly monsters after we shot weapons at a meteor heading for earth to break it up, and the chemicals rained back down on us and messed up the environment (this is explained very promptly in the exposition so I really haven’t given anything away). Joel leaves the safety of his bunker to trek 85 miles to see Aimee again. But like any good modern romance, the story isn’t too predictable and it’s not wrapped up neatly or easily. The plot is really fun, action scenes were exciting and as someone who is generally triggered by both post apocalyptic fiction and by bugs (I hate them, and this is full of giant killer ones) this wasn’t always easy to watch, I had to mute a lot of scenes, but it was amazing overall. If you want to part with a little cash to watch it, I think it’s worthwhile, otherwise I’m sure it’ll show up on a streaming service at some point.
I’ve been thinking a lot about buffets in recent weeks. This might sound strange (of course it does) but as a child I took great comfort in visiting buffets with my family and really loved being able to eat whatever I felt like, without any pressure or expectation. Those rare nights where my Mum, Nanna and I would go to Sizzler (and I’d often have to pretend to be younger than I was so Mum had a better discount - ha), were such highlights of my suburban childhood in Western Australia. So naturally I loved reading this article, shared by my friend Jihane on Twitter, because it shares a lot of thoughts I hadn’t fully explored myself but which completely resonate with me.
But I think the real core of buffet, and what makes it such a cherished and magical treat, is the way it inverts the eating experience. When you go to a restaurant you are handed a menu and asked to read and imagine what you might eat. The Buffet attacks you with visual stimuli and asks you to reach into the outer reaches of your own hunger.
Buffets show us a mirror image of ourselves - our deepest, truest desires. We see what really lies beneath the surface when we’re able to make garish choices like eating a bowl only of different types of cheese (something I’ve definitely done). A really funny and insightful read.
My most played artist of 2020 was Billie Holiday, whose voice I absolutely adore. It’s no surprise, really, as I ask Alexa to play her music whenever I’m looking for a glimmer of beauty in an otherwise dull hour. I also recently realized that I was first introduced her music to as a child in the film Clueless, which I unashamedly love and discussed in a previous digest. There’s a strong social consciousness in Holiday’s music, which makes it that much more powerful. Maybe today, or later this week when you’re in the mood to hear something particularly lovely, you might pop this on, drink the beautiful notes of her voice in deeply, and enjoy.
This wonderful, wonderful guy Lubalin, who it turns out is a great musician in his own right, brought me so much joy this week. I’ve watched these two clips he made turning random internet ridiculousness into music videos over and over because they’re hilarious, but also the music is really damn good. If you haven’t seen them yet please do it. Now. This is why we love the internet.