Some pictures to share of a study visit from a university in Singapore to the Swedish west coast.
Part of the narrative and evening’s conversation revolved around the historic trade relations between Sweden and China, and how Singapore en route continues till today, to be an important trade partner for Sweden.
The historical voyages of the Swedish East India Company (1731-1813) more often than not started from this very spot where we now stood in the garden. Known as Vargö Håla, water was taken on board the ships from the surrounding fresh water wells, and good sailing winds were awaited in the waters between the islands right here, that through a peculiarity of the Gulf Stream was kept ice free even in the winters.
It’s finally starting to get warmer outdoors. Spring will officially turn into summer in two weeks, so there is a lot to be done by nature in order to make that materialize in a convincing manner.
Outside of research in academia, I spend my time reading literature of various interests, these days interspersed with planting out some vegetables and flowers, that now seem grown up enough to have their feet plunked down in proper soil, from the plant nursery in which we have kept them the past few months.
With a population of about 9.7 million inhabitants spread over its vast land mass, Sweden has one of the lowest population densities on the globe.
– Have you taken the train north?
– No, actually not.
– You should. You’ll like that. But you might get sick of all the trees.
– Just trees. Sweden is a vast country. Not very friendly terrain sometimes. People are found mostly in the south.
– Just trees. You’re right. I think I’ll like that. To take a train up north.
It is one of those days with low dark clouds, heavy with water, framed against azure skies. At dockside, the rigging of the Swedish East Indiaman Götheborg III stood sturdy against the winds. The jests and laughter of the crew onboard that were working towards preparing the Ship for her European Tour 2015, sounded a contrasting more upbeat tone compared to the darkened, more sombre oak of the Ship.
She saw that I had a camera in hand, and that I didn’t dress right. I had on a laser cut wool coat in light sand, with a broad collar. “You are disturbing us with your camera!” the elderly lady voiced loudly in my direction as I walked past. She was wearing a patchwork cotton jacket in the style of a samfu, her hair that was silvered with time, was kept in a short bob that fell just to her earlobes. She had a black pin to one side of her head, keeping her hair from her face. I guessed her age to be around seventy, although she looked much younger. She was sitting by the market roadside hawker whose one specialty was in selling boiled pig offal soup. At her remark, I put down the camera and looked at her, and she waved at me to join her at her table. I said I was headed towards the central square, looking for a bookstore. “But that you can do later. Why are you rushing? I see all you young people, always rushing somewhere. Come! Sit here! Only a few minutes!”
The grounds of the Zhaojue Temple and the Manjushri Monastery are vast. In both temple grounds, one could easily make a small pilgrimage, pit stopping at the numerous separate buildings housing separate halls for different prayer or contemplation purposes.
As I walk along the street, my arms laden with books, a woman with a child in tow stop me to ask for directions, “Do you know how to get to Tianfu Square?” she said in Mandarin, without hint of any regional accent. “Yes, you go straight and then take a left up ahead. Just follow this road.” I replied. As soon as I turned my attention from her to continue walking back to the hotel, the realization hit me that I, having spent less than a week in Chengdu city, China, was giving directions to a native of the land. I smiled and hoped that Tianfu Square was really where she was headed. I might have heard wrong.
The landscape of Chengdu, China, are said to have inspired poets from as far back as the Tang dynasty.
At Swan Lake, located within the compounds of the Chengdu panda research base, visitors will find more than pandas to sit and contemplate their hours. Some very hungry koi, a couple of black swans, and ducks, send ripples through the otherwise perfectly still cane coloured water reservoir.
On my mind, the Metonic cycle or Enneadecaeteris, from the Greek astronomer Meton of Athens (5C BC), who observed that a period of 19 years is almost exactly equal to 235 synodic months and, rounded to full days, counts 6,940 days. His calculations are used in most arithmetical lunisolar calendars to calculate the year, and to track the movable feast of Easter of the Julian calendar.
“So what is it like after six o’clock in the evenings here?” Marshall asked Jim, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. He had resolved to quit smoking eighty years ago in his early thirties, but kept at it when he realized he was more alive than most others he met at the various intersections of spacetime.
The universe exists within the frequency of a heartbeat. Before the ‘big bang’, crossing point zero, after the ‘big bang’. That in that billion years heartbeat, we exist, because of what time allows, is the anomaly. Another heartbeat, another time, another existence, all different from each other, never to be repeated. The power of creativity, of creation itself, lies in this one heartbeat. That too many of humankind do not realise that they too move within this one heartbeat during this one span of time with all other things that currently are, is to miss out on this anomaly. The anomaly that is, life.
“Darling, I’m so glad I got you over the phone! Are you in between airports now? No matter. Listen, I just got off meeting with the realtor and putting down some last signatures. I’ve bought our new apartment now in the city! I’m so excited! It’s a high-floor unit as you mentioned you liked to have it, in fact, it’s the 50th storey. It’s centrally located, all amenities are nearby and it’s just 100m to the waterfront, the poolside is fantastic! They have two tennis courts, a gym, a jacuzzi and a zen garden… And it’s got plenty of eateries nearby, there’s French, Italian, Japanese and even an Irish pub and restaurant round the corner! You could go completely local too, as you prefer! On the inside, it’s got floor to ceiling windows darling – just as you like it! Here, I’m sending you a picture over the phone now, so you can see the view from our living room!”
In a rise of blood pressure that set off alarm bells as if heard from the outside-in of her head, the mother, seated in the living room, rushed over to the daughter, seated near the door of the child’s bedroom. Reaching the child, the mother quickly grabbed the box of matches from the pair of chubby hands that tried, so curiously, to first access one matchstick and then light it against the side of the matchbox. A miracle of a fire, from a piece of stick that occupied the mind of the child no end.
2015. History was not a subject of particular interest to her. But the thick book, bound in green, fell into her hands, with its pages opening to the chapter entitled The Coming of the Europeans. This was his book. She sat and proceeded to read. She smiled when she encountered a paragraph that described the city in which she was raised, Singapore, in the 1500s, compared to the great emporium of Malacca, Java and the Spice Islands, as known for ‘nothing much’. Malacca in the Far East was the flourishing main trading port where every year, between eighteen to twenty ships were laden with numerally Sumatran pepper bound for China.
In conversation, a Master Yogi (MY) and his Student (S)
S: Master, I have come to you today in query of an Enlightenment Pathology.
MY: You are troubled, Student? Perhaps it is that you cannot cessate your Mind?
S: I have to admit, I have no control whatsoever over my Mind. Do I attribute that you my Teacher?
MY: The Students who come to me as Sheep. Do I ever enquire after the Great Zen why it is that my Students are all Sheep and what unfortunate luck I have? What is your pathology query?
I was seated in a tutorial session of a module in Philosophy 101. I had not a clue what the tutor was trying to explain about the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, where it came to that one should practice not thinking anything as part of the ten grounds towards Enlightenment. I remember asking, how it is that one could think nothing? At age 9, I asked my parents what Time was. At age 10, they branded me “little Margaret Thatcher”. Would the very act of thinking not nullify nothingness? And according to what was discussed in tutorial, it is through thinking nothing that one comes into the essence of knowing. Every evening for the entire module on Buddhism, I went home and tried to practice not thinking anything. Every evening, I failed.
Most forms of meaning-making grounded in empirical endeavors have yet to place postmodernism in their perspective. Truths based on empiricism in whatever of its hundred guises remain not only context-dependent, but intersubjective, constructive and aperspectival . With this comes the grounding realisation that what is seen remains, what was seen.
With chin resting on his open palm, and elbow resting on the dining table, he sat and contemplated his options. Suddenly, he bounced right off his chair, and headed straight for the household refrigerator. He tip-toed to reach the freezer handle, grabbed it, gave it a decided pull and brought out a tray of ice-cubes. Freeing one ice-cube, he then placed it carefully on top of the buttered toast served warm to him for breakfast just a few minutes before.
To the child that was born to least suspect
For everything promised it and all itself expects
The unfunnification of life begins with a tint of misgiving
A twinge of a tint of a misplaced shilling
To be shown all candy to be told they are there
Confirmed for its having without any care
The unfunnification of life begins with the realization
That these are just things in phantomisation
And when the child steps into this phantom world seeing
That everything it once thought it knew believing
Was not to be seen nor touched nor found askew
It will know. The unfunnification of life is just so.
A phantom of expectations that come and go.
To the child that was born that now suspects
The unfunnification of life was its founding aspect
Clarissa sat at the table with five other persons, to a Japanese lunch. She noted the interest of a friend to the family, a suitor, in the family daughter. The suitor had for some years ago, gone on a parent approved date (in Asian tradition of chaperoning) with the daughter. It had been some years in-between, but the suitor felt as if nothing had changed between he and the daughter of the family. So time was of no barrier. He felt they could carry on the conversation from where they had left off some more than a decade ago. He was about to leave the bright city lights of his home country for a new one. The new country being nothing short of a paradise island located in the crystal blue oceans of the Caribbean. He was to be there for at least a year, and most everything of his essentials were contracted to be looked after by the company that was sending him on this expatriate assignment.
It was a wedding. A cousin’s. It happened that Ava had clean forgotten to turn off the gas stove. Ava and her husband were both already in the car on their way to church, but realising this, she turned to her husband to ask him to turn the car around. It would take just a few minutes to get the task done. But Ava’s husband was not in the mood. She could register his rising irritation by the second, “How could you be so careless?” he bellowed, “It’s just like you isn’t it, Ava! Careless and forgetful!”
They walked as a pair in complete synchrony in rhythm and sway. Finding a seat in the train, they sat comfortably, next to each other. After contemplating the signs hovering above the bright coloured plastic seats of the train for all of three seconds, the older of the two decided to take the seat marked for the disabled. She was after all in the elderly range in the context where she now found herself. The pair gestured animatedly as they talked while they sat for their journey. The younger of the two had at all times in hand a mobile phone where utmost attention was paid. If there was any sort of hierarchy between the pair, it was not much noticeable except that the older seemed to speak much more than the younger. And when the younger was too engrossed with the phone, the older of the two would peer over the younger’s shoulder, inquiring in expression of what it was that made the small screen so interesting to the younger. The younger did not seem to mind this intrusion of space, a normalized behaviour that had by now become an expectation.
The granddaughter, now in her early twenties, watched her grandmother prepare the batter of a mixture of white glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of yeast etcetera, for a sweet and sticky Asian cupcake. It was humid outdoors and this was something to look forward to with light tea, in the cool of the patio on the rattan settee outdoors, overlooking the small but tidy garden.
Life is a weird fleeting moment of a very long now. You’re in a trajectory and there’s much less room for you to move than you have been led to believe. Still you’re able to influence things and some people manage to change the world in their trajectory, to get everyone onboard with them, because reality is a conjoint decision. This perspective of reality bars the perspective that Everett’s multiverse is a theoretical infinite alternative of parallel realities where everything is possible in the same instant. In this perspective (of conjoint decision reality), Everett’s multiverse is manifest as a web of infinite possibilities mapped simultaneously unto what is perceived as current reality, resulting in a highly restricted movement of any one individual in the system. Such is the quantum multiverse at work in a material world.
“The conception of nature as fundamentally semiotic is certainly not new; what is new, rather, is the nearly unanimous repression of this conception by learned society.” 
Language fills in when semethic interaction fails. But here, I would say that language tries to fill in what human cognition fails to connect and decode in nature. Because language is more often metaphor for living than living in itself, what is described is at best, approximate.
It was a long, quiet walk up from among the large barns and horse carriage sheds where the guests parking lot was located, up the gravelled carriage way. With the rain and winds of Swedish west coast autumn, the weather felt as much Tudor as what greeted us up ahead the road, the Tjolöholm Slott. Except now, the short bushes around the garden were decked in the prettiest of Christmas lights, casting a dancing play of gold shadows on the building’s facade.
Up at the manor were two entrances. A front garden entrance, and a back garden / seafront facing entrance. Guests this evening were to enter through the doors facing the seafront, and for that, you needed to go around the manor. As we rounded the left corner to make a soon right, we were greeted with the view of the back garden, and framed as backdrop, the dark hues of a dramatic silvery sea.
It’s the first week of Swedish Christmas table seatings at restaurants across the country. In Gothenburg, treating yourself to a julbord is a bit like getting to open your Christmas presents a little early. Even if the point with Christmas tables in Sweden is to offer traditional Swedish fare found year round at different junctures, it is still the manner in which the food is presented, plus the Chef de cuisine’s personality that comes through with each dish presented that provides all the fun in the dining experience.
This year marked the seventh consecutive open harvest festival held at Tjolöholm Castle, along the coast just south of Gothenburg.
Tjolöholm was the last private mansion to be built in Sweden large enough to be denominated a castle. The area around the main house that has been tilled and farmed from medieval times, continues to remain prosperous as farmland today.
In Sweden nature offers an unexpected luxury – winter apples. These are apples that are not ripe enough to be picked before the the cold winter season has come and night temperatures are down to just above freezing.
Since this is a natural produce where we can’t do anything to hurry up the process of growing or ripenig, what’s to do is to just wait and see.
In this case, ripe enough for picking is not the same as ripe enough to eat. On the contrary, these apples need to be treated carefully like eggs, and to be cold stored and individually wrapped in paper. Treated in this way they can keep the entire winter and at some point in time ripen to an unrivaled sweetness and flavour.
Stepping out of the car where I was dropped off, a few steps in through the surrounding pavement and I found myself in old Telok Ayer Market. It being early in the morning, I found it rather like an empty school canteen just after the morning school bell had rung and all students had filed neatly into their classrooms. Not one table filled with anyone at all, except me.
Thanks to generous neighbours, we once again had an abundance of apples to enjoy. Of the many recipes to choose from, cinnamon flavoured apple sauce to last throughout the winter, is a given.
Then thinking about the meal just enjoyed during my recent visit to Singapore, in the hands of the Valtulina family of Ristorante Da Valentino, where Perla Valtulina of Perla’s Pastry Boutique served up a most delicious apple tart as dolci, I decided to try my own hands at making an apple cake. Not that I can ever dream of matching hers, but lacking the possibility of having her gorgeous desserts in Singapore, this will have to do when back in Sweden.
From saving Middle Ages monks from starving too much during the long period of Easter Lent, and in 1522, being prescribed as a remedy for cholera, to later being seen as disgusting to eat because they were thought to be scavenger creatures that fed particularly on human corpses, the humble crayfish has seen its ups and downs in terms of reputation:
So autonomous are the archipelago islanders that closest neighbours, living in the same summer house, agreed to visit the harbour festival each at their own time and convenience, coming back to discuss, “So, what did you think about the harbour festival? Did you like it?”
Most noticeable this year was the lack of an urgent and pushy crowd, witnessed only a few years ago at this annual hamnfest. The change in general behaviour could perhaps be attributed to several factors, though two that come across as most likely are, that the festival this year seemed catered much more to children’s summer activities with a mini-Libseberg of sorts going on, and the other being the establishing of online communities of trade that the islanders had initiated, rendering trading in goods and services between themselves an everyday affair where the harbour festival provided a bolstering physical meeting point.
“Wow, this is fantastic! What was it you said that goes into making this blueberry sauce?”
“Pieces of chess – chessmen – as how you lay them on a chessboard. It is not one ingredient or another, but a combination of factors that includes time, over two decades.”
It was blueberry cheesecake topped with a luscious, syrupy blueberry filling, softly oozing down the sides of the cake as it was placed in front of me at a café in Singapore, that had me at hello darling – what are you, and where have you been my entire life? I was fourteen. It was the first time I was having a baked cheesecake topped with blueberry filling. It looked good.
But even then I realised that I needed to take that blueberry filling home with me somehow. By ‘home’ it was meant, anywhere in the world that I was. If there were blueberries to be found, then there was this to become swiftly of them. I knew at first sight, I needed the recipe to this mouthful of creamy deep blue-purple heaven that wasn’t one bit infused with any sort of chocolate. Yes, what insight into my own culinary visions.
“It seems like the more I read, the less I understand of things and how they work.” was the exasperated comment.
He looked up from the daily broadsheet, his expression curious and silent.
“For example, if people knew about Gravesian theory, would they then choose to not intervene without first understanding the larger circumstance of society, how it worked in that context, and with that, the consequences to follow, following certain actions? Would they not know? They should know, no?”
He smiled then and nodded, “Things, go in waves. So I’m a little more optimistic than you are in that sense.”
The landscape of the Swedish west coast noticeably lacks sandy beaches. In place of sandy beaches are granite rocks, shaped by thousands of years of mostly cold winds and rains. These rocks have been around for quite awhile and have been smoothened round by the moving glacial ice sheets of the last ice age to render soft looking mounds, set against the horizon of the North sea. But appearances can be deceiving as the granite composites are anything but soft; comfortable only in as much as you can make on them yourself with brought cushions and fluffy beach towels.
For the first time in more than a decade, I stayed home during the summer, as in, remaining in Sweden during the warmest part of the year.
These evenings, we are often greeted by the monotonous rumble of high powered pleasure crafts going up and down the western archipelago, of people seeking yet another hip place to spend the night (where there seems to be as many rock festivals lined up along the Swedish west coast as you can anchor), alternatively, an absolutely silent and secluded natural harbour, where you will be lulled to sleep by the soft evening breeze to wake up to the curious pecking of some sea fowls finishing off your evening meal carelessly forgotten out in the open.
Sweden is a large and not very densely populated country. Summers are as made for long drives and long conversations following the sun to see it touch the horizon before rising again.
Where increasingly, time is considered a personal luxury, Swedish summer months seemingly uninterrupted by nights are when you can truly feel the endless stretch of time ahead of you. Today we decided that we’d go barrel hunting. And for that, we headed towards the northern west coast archipelago of Tjörn and Orust, driving across Tjörnbron.
The modern bridge replaces the original Almöbron, built in 1960. In 1980, the bulk carrier MS Star Clipper hampered by heavy fog during the night, collided with the span of Almöbron. That night, several vehicles plunged into the sea before they were able to close the bridge. The foundations of Almöbron, can still be seen sitting directly under Tjörnbron. These foundations now seem to provide the perfect angling spot and in the nearby park, an Erik Nordström’s memorial was built to acknowledge his initiative for building Almöbron.