13th Sept: peeling prawns
by Vivien Chan
Good Morning! This mid week, we are bringing you a delight – writings of Vivien Chan from somewhere in London, somewhere in the air, and somewhere near the sea, still yearning for the sea. Enjoy!
Sinae + Kate
Vivien Chan, she/they
Vivien is a design researcher, educator and occasional maker based in the UK. She is currently finishing her PhD and researching design history and material culture in Hong Kong, and East and Southeast Asia more broadly. She is otherwise found sowing seeds and making sensations.
Hi, this is Vivien, calling from somewhere in airspace en-route to Hong Kong. In reality, it’s last week. I am right now sitting drinking Fentiman’s ginger beer, and smelling on myself the oil of the crispy skin-on chips and mayo I just shared with a colleague in my (newly but oldly) local independent cinema. I just moved here a few weeks ago, but actually I grew up in this very place. Somehow over the past five years since I finished my MA in London, it has drawn me back like a spring or an umbilical cord, and at some point I did so willingly, and then enthusiastically. I’ve maybe been thrown about all too much, and this is the place where it, and I, settle in one place before stretching my arms towards another again. As such, this week’s Gazette will be somewhat of a timewarp, moving from one place and time to the other, sometimes within one messy sentence.
But food! Oh food. Of food, I’m reminiscing, and I imagine I will be on this flight, on the past week’s worth of delects and delights, absorbed in the sounds of the sea. I just shared with my HK pals some food preferences in preparation for a rousing reunion - I said
‘I’m not a huuuuuge fan of shellfish but I am newly eating prawns and squid 🦑haha as of last week’
Said ‘last week’ (which at the time of reading, will have been a whole fortnight! What a long time to remember on my tongue) I was in Caniço, Madeira, in a fish bar eating fried black scabbardfish morsels, crunch sheets of squid, and drinking a crispy glass of Coral beer; peeling the skins of slippery prawns sauteed in garlic and parsley, downing the tiny but mighty glasses of fisherman’s poncha (rum, lemon, honey); Swaying a plate from side-to side, optimistically eating a nourishing chicken, tomato and rice and drinking a grounding can of Coca-cola on a gullet boat, watching whales (a real plate! With proper cutlery! Was very impressed with the boat staff who just casually made the rounds on with a tray of tiny glasses of porto while we dipped up and down on the waves); Overdressed in an understated little restaurant, eyeing triggerfish and deep-sea red snapper in the cool box and taking generous gulps of wine with a red snapper stew.
Needless to say, the sea refreshed my body to something a little more peachy, bouncy, full. I’ve always thought of myself as a waterbaby, but having been born in the centrefold of my coloniser’s island, it’s maybe a delusion. For God’s sake, I grew up in the Midlands. Even my ancestors were migratory farmers, nowhere near the danger and mystery of the South China Sea. I’m an average, clumsy swimmer, but the sea just strikes something different in me. My face floats at the surface looking down, down, down: Golden bream. Some sort of damselfish. Rainbow wrasses, parrotfish. A waving, ethereal torch anemone. I’m cold and warm at the same time. I’m terrified and enamoured.
I’ve recently been obsessed with this Youtube channel by a Japanese fisherman in Okinoerabu, where he catches fishes, dissects them, and cooks them. He’s cute and full of idealism, with a lop-sided smile deep-frying and stewing strange fishes and their organs, smelling and tasting along the way. ‘It smells fishy’ ‘mechamecha umaii’ ‘the meat is super fluffy’. I watched him eat a shoryu-stewed bluefin tuna eyeball and he really enjoyed himself. I wondered last night, watching another episode of him catching slipper lobsters and coming up to the surface like an Animal Crossing villager, whether he made me more open to the idea of eating shellfish by pure fact of his fascination, and in turn my own fascination, rather than because I should. Maybe I should know the feeling of ripping off its legs, wiping off the blue blood on my fingers, twisting off the head, and sucking out the tomalley.
I’ll be reunited with the sea in a few days (from the time you are reading this). I’m hoping I can maybe have a view of her from my quarantine hotel, even if it's behind two layers of glass and the blast of the air conditioner. It’s going to revive me.