Category Archives: food

Melaka, Asia’s “Gullet”

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 552-76, 592-600:

The fleeing rulers of Temasek found a new home in Melaka, almost exactly as far from today’s Singapore as Albany is from Manhattan (127 miles). The name Melaka proved highly appropriate, deriving as it does from the Arabic meaning “meeting place” or “rendezvous.” Its origins are hazy like those of its predecessors Temasek or Singapura being the stuff of legend, but early in the fifteenth century a Hindu kingdom emerged there, soon to become a Muslim sultanate, the faith brought in by itinerant merchants traveling from the west.

Melaka was not a new kind of settlement but was in the pattern of other Southeast Asian cosmopolitan maritime entrepôts, a place for trading. Here on the straits a tiny fishing community evolved into a hangout for those wanting a center to conduct commerce or to exploit a strategic position to exact fees from passing ships, and, more crudely, we might say a place to fence stolen goods.

Unlike most Southeast Asian trading towns, which placed themselves defensively upriver to discourage maritime marauders, Melaka sat boldly at the mouth of a muddy stream where moored vessels rolled gently in the current or rode offshore in a sheltered spot on an easily navigable approach where ships could find safe anchorage.

The city that arose there depended almost totally on trade even, with the exception of fish, needing to import its basic foods to fill the rice bowl as well as to provide most other sustenance. Its land, hacked out of dense jungle, was ill-suited to growing grain although fruit orchards flourished at hand. Fruit does not travel well, especially in a hot climate. If you wanted to eat it, you had to grow it. Melaka, with its back to untamed jungle, lacked continental hinterland and we have no indication that anyone was interested in clearing and farming land beyond the outskirts of town.

Without an easily accessible hinterland, trade furnished Melaka’s life stream. Although not situated at the straits’ narrowest point, the city could control a navigable passage through which much oceanic traffic passed. It lay on the direct route between the Maluku islands (the Moluccas), the heart of Indonesian spice growing, and Alexandria, the Egyptian feeder port for Venice, the European distributor. Melaka would become the metropolis of the straits for more than a century, a flourishing maritime state presumably never as populous as Venice, but comparable to London at the time. Like other trading cities in the region, it was largely independent of any bigger territorial authority. Saltwater space formed its true sphere, “the axis of the realm.”

At the peak of its power in the fifteenth century, Melaka made itself master of both sides of the straits and the islands within, but its empire was less a matter of territory than situation, its purpose being to protect trade streams and sources of manpower and foodstuffs.

The cast of characters in Melaka at its peak illustrates the multiethnic, multicultural character of maritime life. Giving it color and pulse were Chinese, Javanese, Tagalogs, Persians, Tamils from South India, Gulf Arabs, Gujerati Indians from the far northwest of the subcontinent, and even a few of the great cosmopolitan traders, Armenians and Jews. In short, people from the whole of the Asian maritime littoral and beyond crowded the streets and bazaars of the city, all intent on doing business.

An early European visitor would call the straits, a place of cultural and commercial convergence, Asia’s “gullet,” and, mindful of its wide-ranging significance in the spice trade, declared “Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice,” the center for distributing spices to consumers throughout Europe. If Venice were the “hinge of Europe,” so Melaka might have been described as the hinge of Eurasia.

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Rise and Fall of Temasek

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 507-27, 532-40:

Archaeologists give us a sense of Temasek’s physical features: a terraced hill overlooking the Singapore River with a palace, market, defenses, earthen rampart, and moat. The earthen wall represented a commitment to permanence. Not even royal palaces commanded permanent building materials. But we do have some baked brick and stone remnants from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries suggesting Buddhist temples. Unfortunately, during the early British colonial era, much was destroyed in the rush for development. And therefore the legend could arise, and long lingered in the standard histories, that nothing had existed in Singapore until the British arrived in 1819.

Being a religious center as well as a commercial one, Temasek seems to fit into a pattern of the Malay port city, its wall being an exception. Religion reflected Indic impulses, not Chinese. The hilltop held cosmological significance, representing Mount Meru, known in both Indian Buddhist and Hindu tradition as a divine abode and metaphysical center of the universe. For creating this sacred place, the builders, because they lacked labor, used a natural landscape, not a constructed one such as at the great Angkor. They then carefully allotted the downward spaces, using walls and water to define them. Divinities commanded the top; artisans lived at a respectful distance on a lower level of the hill where they fashioned such objects as pottery, glassware, and fine jewelry.

Chinese people, perhaps the first Overseas Chinese community in Southeast Asia, lived there alongside local peoples instead of in their own separate neighborhood, illustrating the diversity of this maritime town, serving as useful intermediaries in the China trade, so important in the economy. Of Temasek they reported “the soil is poor and grain scarce.”

The need to survive thus demanded trade. Coins show sophistication, and unearthed pieces of fine porcelain would indicate that people wanted high-quality ceramics not ones locally produced. Temasek thus took its place in the “ceramic route,” a southern Eurasian maritime equivalent to the continental Silk Road. Heavy and delicate porcelain could travel in volume only by sea. In return for such prized Chinese goods, the town could feed the overseas market with a luxury item, hornbill casques, so-called yellow jade, a precious bird ivory that had the advantage of being something that the Chinese highly prized and was easier to carve than other ivories.

Two poles of power, Siam and Java-Sumatra, met in the straits where these Malay city-state ports like Temasek or Palembang on Sumatra enjoyed an autonomy deriving from the ability of their rulers to generate wealth through commerce, as does today’s Singapore. Like today, the broader Asian economy largely determined what happened on Singapore Island. Local people were players in a game heavily determined by outsiders, principally Chinese and Indians, the two Eurasian super economies.

Caught between the Thai (Siamese) and the Javanese, the ruler of Temasek fled and the population followed. It had lasted only a century, yielding to the nearby port of Melaka, which benefited from cultivating a close relationship with the Chinese court. Temasek/Singapura declined as a trading state or as a political nerve center and ultimately the site was virtually abandoned. That was how the British would find it when they came early in the nineteenth century. But it continued to be important in Malayan history, figuring heavily in its mythology and remembered as the founding home of the dynasty that would flourish elsewhere in the region: successively in Melaka, Johor, and the nearby Riau Archipelago.

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Japan Occupation Priorities, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4800-4812, 4856-78:

The Eighth Army had many occupation jobs, but its first and most urgent one was the succoring and speedy release of Allied war prisoners in Japanese stockades. We arrived prepared for the task. Back on Okinawa “mercy teams” had been organized. They came in with our advance airborne echelons. As a result, American planes swooped over prison camps that very same day to drop food and supplies. Some of our teams rushed inland immediately to seize, before they could be destroyed, the records of the more notorious camps. This was to provide evidence for the future war-crimes trials.

Day after day. Allied prisoners poured into Yokohama on special trains that we had commandeered for rescue missions. They were sick, emaciated, verminous; their clothing was in tatters. We were ready for them with band music, baths, facilities for medical examination, vitamin injections, hot food, and hospital beds. Some would go home by plane; others by hospital ship when strong enough to travel. Perhaps the stolid Japanese themselves had their first lesson in democracy in the Yokohama railroad station. The Japanese have only contempt for a prisoner of war. They stared in amazement when we greeted our wasted comrades in arms with cheers and embraces.

The Eighth Army’s teams covered the whole of Japan on these missions of liberation. Allied prisoners of all nationalities were released and processed for evacuation at a rate of a thousand a day. By clearing the camps on the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku in eighteen days, we far outraced our own most optimistic time schedule. In all, the Eighth Army liberated and evacuated 23,985 persons.

Looking back, I am now impressed by the magnitude of the mission we undertook when American troops landed in Japan. Here, summarized, are some of the things Eighth Army was called upon to do:

1. Establish vast numbers of American soldiers in Japan without provoking combat.

2. Provide housing, clothing, recreation for them.

3. Construct many airfields and thousands of houses for our dependents.

4. Supervise operation of all railroads and ports.

5. Follow through and assure the complete demobilization of the Japanese Army.

6. Crush Japan’s war potential by the destruction of ten thousand airplanes, three thousand tanks, ninety thousand fieldpieces, three million items of small arms, and one million tons of explosives.

These things we did, and there were many more. We took charge of the unloading, warehousing, and proper distribution of relief food sent from the United States to succor the starving. We supervised the repatriation of six million Japanese who arrived at home ports from the Emperors now lost overseas empire. Under our direction, a million displaced Koreans, Ryukyuans, and Chinese, who had served as slave labor, were sent home. And then there were the never-ending and multitudinous duties and responsibilities of our Military Government units, which I shall discuss more fully later.

The Americans found a nation which was on its economic death-bed. Bare chimneys showed where commercial plants had once operated. Not only was a very large percentage of Japan’s industry destroyed, but surrender came at a time when the country was entirely geared for war. As a consequence, a Japanese plant which had escaped serious damage still was not prepared for peacetime operation. The vital textile industry was in collapse. Most of the merchant marine was under the sea, and there was almost no food. Gone with the lost colonies were the oil of Sakhalin, the rice of Korea, the sugar of Formosa.

Gone were the fisheries of the Okhotsk Sea, the soybean and iron ore of Manchuria. There was a shortage of all raw materials. But the most critical shortage was coal. Coal production was held up by lack of equipment and skilled man-power, and lack of food for the miners. Increased food production depended on more fertilizer. Fertilizer, in turn, depended on more coal. Only four hundred and fifty thousand tons monthly were being mined in late 1945. The goal for 1950 is forty million tons, or over three million tons monthly. We’ve made progress there.

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German East Africa Import Substitutions

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 3843-3870:

The British blockade of German East Africa—challenged briefly by Königsberg before she hightailed it up the Rufiji—was nearly a complete success. Shortages of basic necessities made themselves painfully felt everywhere. The colonists soon lacked adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste, candles, fuel, beer, booze, rubber, cloth, chocolate, castor oil, and, most important, quinine, without which life in the tropics became impossible for Europeans. One or two blockade runners reached the Swahili Coast after many ha[r]dships—notably the Krönborg-Rubens and the Marie von Stettin—but these were heroic exceptions. The aim of any blockade—complete starvation of the enemy—seemed within reach of the British Royal Navy for the first few months of 1915.

Then, with the begrudging help of Governor Schnee, still stewing away at Morogoro, von Lettow organized the colony to produce some of the most needed items. German East Africa, rich in natural resources, mostly lacked the necessary infrastructure—factories, refineries, laboratories, warehouses—to turn these resources into commercial goods. But presently, the colonists took it upon themselves to manufacture a variety of products for both civilians and Schutztruppe—now reaching its peak popularity as patriotic enthusiasm, fueled by the victory at Tanga, swept the colony.

Planters’ wives revived the neglected art of spinning using native cotton; African women, given scratch-built looms, wove bolts of cloth. Between them, they more than made up for the lack of imported fabric. Leather torn from the backs of native buffalo herds and tanned using chemicals extracted from the colony’s plentiful mangrove trees got cobbled into the boots so critical for the Schutztruppe—soon to march unimaginable distances over rough landscapes, much of which could not be traversed barefoot. Candles materialized from tallow; rubber from tapped trees: carefully dripped along rope, the raw, milky stuff was then hand-kneaded into tires for GEA’s few automobiles, including von Lettow’s staff car. A kind of primitive, homemade gasoline called trebol powered these vehicles—it was a by-product of distillates of copra, which also yielded benzene and paraffin. Soap came from a combination of animal fat and coconut oil. Planters and small businessmen eventually produced 10,000 pounds of chocolate and cocoa and 3,000 bottles of castor oil. Meanwhile, new factories sprang up in Dar es Salaam to make nails and other metal goods, including some ammunition. Rope woven from pineapple fiber proved both durable and less susceptible to rot than hempen rope from Germany; cigars and cigarettes rolled from native-grown tobacco made their way into every soldier’s kit. At Morogoro and elsewhere, home brewers distilled schnapps and moonshine. The latter, at 98 proof and optimistically labeled “whiskey,” was issued to the troops as part of their basic rations.

All this ingenuity, however, would be rendered useless without quinine. Before the war, the colony had gotten its supply from distributors in the Dutch East Indies, now cut off by the blockade. Dwindling supplies meant European populations of the colony would have no defense against their greatest enemy—not the British or rebellious natives but the malaria-bearing anopheles mosquito. At von Lettow’s urging, the famous biological research center at Amani turned its chemists to developing a quinine substitute in their laboratories. The chemists researched furiously, tried formulations of this and that, and at last came up with an effective type of liquid quinine distilled from cinchona bark. Called “von Lettow schnapps” by his men, this foul-tasting, much-reviled elixir nevertheless met most of the army’s needs for the next year or so.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Atrocities

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Mr. Higa got the job as U.S. pavilion bartender, or “lounge captain” thru an employment agency and a friend he had in it who thought this might be a possible part-time job until the organic chemistry prof. began teaching at RYUUKYUU University next year. Mixology was more than likely the foundation stone of the chemical sciences anyway, and goes back a long, long way in history. Having studied abroad at Ohio State and the University of Hawaii for some eight dedicated years, he is now in his mid-thirties, and so has rather vivid childhood memories of the dreadful, bloody, blitzkrieg invasion of Okinawa that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a majority of which were Okinawan civilians, over a few short months.

When his house was burned by the U.S. troops in their clean-up operation of Japanese troop hideouts, his family went in afterwards and ate all of the cooked, garlic that had been stored on the shelves for seeding the next crop. The mountains were a refuge in those days, and most of the people of his village, KATSUYAMA [勝山], spent the daylight hours hidden in their cover, slipping down to their homes at nights to dig out SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes from the fields. Sometimes they would find rice and hard crackers in the quickly deserted camps of Japanese troops who had long since fled those posts. Everyone was desperate for grub, and he can remember dirty army deserters who came to their house fully armed and demanded food at the point of a gun. Not every Japanese soldier committed suicide in the face of defeat.

One day, before the clean-up burnings, a few U.S soldiers came to the HIGA home and sat on the front porch. The family was home and they all raised their hands in surrender and waited. The soldiers offered the children candy, but the parents told the youngsters in their tongue that they were not to eat it. Seeing the fear, the squad took the candy and bit off bits of it to show the locals that it was safe. Mr. Higa and his brothers then ate the goods quickly, altho Higa-san claims that he can’t remember if “it was good or not.” The youngest brother, still quite unaware of the whole situation, tried to play with the rifle of one soldier. The man took out the ammunition cartridge and gave the child the weapon to fiddle with.

Since Mr. Higa’s father was the KUCHOU [区長] ‘village head’, their house had been chosen as the temporary living quarters of WATANABE, the commander of a camp of Japanese soldiers who were setting up tents and settling in caves in the area before the invasion. This was an honor of a sort for the HIGA family, and when the commander’s private servant didn’t cook for him, the HIGA family included him in their humble meals. The village was expected to give provisions to the small Japanese post there in the foothills, most of whose men were from the Japanese mainland.

Altho the Okinawan people had been under Japanese gov’t for long enough to feel part of “the nation,” the mainlanders treated them like inferiors at times, even in the midst of a “united” war effort.

When Mr. Higa saw the negative press coverage that Japanese news media gave the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, he said that the big headlines seem to indicate they had “forgotten their own” atrocities. He mentioned the “massacres” at KUMEJIMA [久米島], and KERAMA [慶良間] of Okinawan civilians who were shot because they tried to surrender, or were given hand grenades to carry into the enemy lines and to blow up their families with. One supposedly responsible Japanese commander by the name of AKAMATSU is reputed to be living in Kobe, Japan, today and is a businessman. Some years ago, he came back to Okinawa and the papers got wind of it and the whole devilish drama was unburied though he denied guilt or responsibility.

One thing that surprised many of the mountain refugees was how little they came in contact with the poisonous HABU [波布] viper which loves the rocky mountains. Only two cases are recalled by Mr. Higa, one being a lovely young girl who was bitten in the arm, the other being a boy a few years younger than young HIGA, who was bitten in the face. The girl’s arm festered and swole up, and was later amputated by the American medical team who treated her area. She is now living in Brazil, one of the many Japanese immigrants. The boy still has an ugly scar on his face, but survived.

When the war finally finished, and families came out of the hills, the U.S. troops relocated them in camps, the villagers of KATSUYAMA [勝山] being assigned to HANEJI [羽地] in the flatlands south of there. Some food was supplied by the Occupation forces but many of the families dug up all the SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes that they could find in their fields, and carried them on their backs to the shoreline shacks. It was there that young HIGA started school, in April, one year after the invasion began.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Birds

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Today was Thanksgiving and so the paper was full of bird stories. One Mr. Stovall opened his freezer to get ice for a drink and out flew a drake that he had shot the day before in the neck and wing before wrapping it in tinfoil and sealing it with tape to put it in the icebox. A Houdini trick if I’ve ever heard of one. The Stovalls took the bird to a man who raises ducks, impressed by his “will to live.”

Billy, a friend of mine here, was talking about the kinds of pigeons here in Okinawa. There are JUNPAKU [純白] ‘pure white’, KUROTEN [黒点] ‘black-specked (only the wings), CEMEN [セメン] ‘cement-colored’ (an interesting long-term foreign loanword), CHAIRO [茶色] ‘tea-colored’ (brown), and ZANPAN [残飯] ‘leftovers’ (from a meal, also ‘pig feed’ or ‘mixed slosh’). What Billy really said was janpan(g) or chanpan(g), which is the local Okinawan word following the rule that Z often goes to CH or J. This ZAN morpheme is a nice and handy one used in combinations like ZANZOO [残像] ‘after-image’, ZANSHOU [残照] ‘after-glow’, ZANGYOU [残業] ‘overtime (extra) work’, and ZANNEN [残念] ‘after-sense (regret)’. But his ZANPAN pigeon is the most expensive, being a mix, or cross-bred species, ‘pigfeed’ being similar in that it is a cross-breed of supper slop but different in that it is cheap.

So what did Billy have to do with pigeons, or HATO [鳩], which in Japanese take the place of ‘cuckoo’ in ‘pigeon clock’, HATODOKEI [鳩時計]. He had a HATOKOYA [鳩小屋] ‘pigeon hut (dovecote)’. At first pulling their feathers off starting at the wing-tip, he would do so until he got down toward the wing-pit area that had more blood and was pulpier. When he began to draw blood defeathering his doves then he stopped, any further being harmful. Letting them out of the cage at a time that they were hungry and unable to fly, he taught them stay close to home, to become homing pigeons. At first he would shove them one by one back into the cage thru a BATAN [バタン] as he called it, which is one of those doors used on fish and animal traps a lot that opens as you push your way in but shuts after you, never to let you leave by the same way. No one else that I asked knew what this BATAN was, but it’s interesting that BATAN is the ‘bang’ with which a door shuts in such expressions as BATAN TO DOA O SHIMERU [バタンとドアを閉める], or backwards literally, ‘shut the door with a bang’. I can well imagine that the spring-held door to the HATOKOYA does just that as the pigeons push thru it to get to their food, as they have been taught they could by Billy.

Billy is also a birdcatcher and birdcaller. He does a one-man turkey-shoot demonstration complete with horrified turkey-talk. One bird he likes to catch is the Zosterops japonica, Japanese white eye, which he says is a lot like a little yellow parakeet. You have to have one for bait to start with, putting it in a cage on a tree in the mountains where it will sing-a-ling until another comes down to land on the end-shaven bamboo branch which has got TORIMOCHI [鳥黐] ‘birdlime’ on it. Just like the tar-baby, he lands and is yours for the trouble of caging him. The only thing to watch for is those good-for-nothing birds that go down to the ground, or the bottom of the cage. Billy says they are worthless, stupid, and to throw them away. A MEJIRO [目白] ‘white eye’, doesn’t scavenge like a sparrow.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Robatayaki

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

About a quarter of an hour before the pavilion closed the other day, I suddenly decided to join Mike and his date, Lily “Lips” Liao, for supper, and I invited a friend myself. The restaurant is a ROBATAYAKI [炉端焼き], which Mike insists on calling the “RUBBER DUCKY,” as it is his habit to corrupt the Japanese tongue to his own irreverent idiolect. So we caught a cab from South Gate and began to order before we got there. I wanted frog legs, which were severed at the waist and served in an immodest pornographic posture, but my date would have none of that. She agreed with me on squid, bean-curd, and soup, always dished with rice and tea. As the orders grilled above the open fire, a light aperitif smoke drifted this way and that in the draft-ridden room. A man came in and sat by the door, then having ordered and received a cold bottled beer, he suddenly took off his watch, left it as collateral, and ran out the entrance as my date, Carol, laughed and said that the old fellow must have forgotten something. It was funny, because she and I had just been admiring the psychedelic face of the watch which we felt would make it hard to tell the time. Meanwhile our grub got well cooked, and was handed to us on large wooden paddles straight from the barbecue pit onto specially suited pottery plates and bowls which were then stacked neatly in front of your place as you finished off the individually priced items, the accumulation of assorted price-significant clay dishes being your final tab. Even the sake wine that I ordered was served in pottery flasks that were counted by the waitresses in tallying your bill. When Lily Liao lent me her plate so that I could try some of her delicious barbecued fish, she was careful to retrieve the glazed clay fish dish from me and stack it with her other 400¥ orders which came on the same kind.

The man with the remarkable watch came back and begin to make up for lost time, or drink his brew before it got lukewarm. I was playing the part of a Japanese husband who was having his wife or geisha pour him body-warm SAKE as he gulped it down from tiny thumb cups, making it necessary for Carol to interrupt her meal abruptly to refill my clay, white-glazed cuppet as fast as I emptied it with quick, short swallows. She modestly accepted one fill herself, but ended up not drinking half of even that little portion.

Then, quite to our surprise, the wristwatch man eased up and slipped out the door from his convenient position. The girls were busy, and no one seemed to notice but Carol, who seemed to be paying this sly fox more attention than her own dashing date. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and poured out the last of the rice-wine. In the silence that ensued, I noticed the optically illusive BASF type blue inwardly spiraling curl in the bottom of my SAKE cup. I began to daydream.

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