The inspiring bit
The power of writing a journal
I’ve just emerged from the cinema, my cheeks and Ian’s damp from tears. At one point most of the audience could be heard choking back sobs, squeaking gently in their attempt to stay quiet. The film was Ramen Shop. It was in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, English and Singlish (that’s what they call the way Singaporeans speak English – and yes, the Singaporeans call it that too) and told the story of a Japanese-Singapore Chinese Cross-Cultural young man called Masato who, at the start, was helping out in his widowed father’s ramen shop in Japan. It was not long before we understood the reason his very talented father continued to make the same broth and the same soup every day was because it was his way of keeping the memory of his wife, Mei Lan, alive. Masato travels to Singapore, where he was born and where he lived for the first ten years of his life, in search of the memory of his mother who had passed away not long after the family moved to Japan. As he moved from one unpretentious street-side family-run soup joint to another he found the tastes of his childhood wherein lay the essence of his beloved mother. Food had led him home. His uncle taught him how to make bak kut teh, the pork rib soup of his childhood, and the act of creating it was infused with intense spices and emotions. The more he learned, the more he cooked, the more his heart was infused with love and loss. There were moments in the film when no words were spoken but we could see in the way Masato held his chopsticks or gazed into his spoon that his heart was both full and breaking at the same time. As his eyes locked onto his grandmother’s and tears rolled down his face, they rolled down ours too. It was some of the most intense cinema I have ever seen.
I shan’t spoil the film and urge you to see it for yourself but there are two reasons why I feel so compelled to share this with you. Mei Lan had kept a journal, written to her son for the first years of his life in her native Mandarin, which was unfamiliar to her son. In it she had shared her deepest most private feelings, pressed petals from Japanese cherry blossom, sketches and, importantly, recipes. Recipes that were filled with culture, tradition, family values, heritage and nutrition. We watched enthralled as Miki, a Singapore-based Japanese food blogger who Masato had befriended online, turned the pages of the journal and translated it for him. Now Masato could connect with his mother again. Masato’s mother had preserved precious truths in those pages. She wrote about her life so that her son could find the places where she had lived, worked and had fun and could walk in her shoes. He could learn about what mattered to her, deep inside. Though his mother had passed away when he was only ten, he was at last able to keep his relationship with her alive. Mei Lan knew the value of keeping her stories and her truth, sacred not secret. This is why I created my Life Story Jar programme, so that people like Masato can get to meet beloved relatives who have passed, and through those pages, written with such love and feeling, they can stay connected.
Food transcends cultures and generation. At its core it is filled with nutrition and culture but, when made with love, that love is a powerful thing. I urge you to write to your own families and as you do so relive the intense emotions that were present at the time of your defining moments and be sure to include the recipes that matter.
Ian and I left the cinema that day and made a beeline for an Asian supermarket so we could buy soup noodles, Chinese cabbage and pork ribs. The broth bubbled on the stove for five hours just as it had for Masato and his father.
It was such an inspiring film. Go and see it if you can and please make sure you start writing a diary so that your family can come to know who you really are.
The connecting bit
Getting a book published can be an expensive process. Having helped 200 new authors to write, edit, design and publish their books over the last 17 years I know what it can cost. Many authors decide to go for crowdfunding in order to raise the cash required. So, last month I was delighted to hear about a company called Unbound. As publishers they consider a book for publication and then, if they like it, they help you to crowdfund to pay for it. As a result, they have raised over £7 million to fund 470 projects since they began. They are British and based in London. It’s a cool idea, right?
While we’re on the subject of soup, did you know I’d written a novel called Sunshine Soup? Yeah, right, marketing isn’t my strong suit. It had been my lifelong dream to write and publish a novel and so in 2011 I did just that and it was easily the hardest thing I have ever written. It was very loosely based on some of my experiences in Dubai and tells the story of mum Maya, in her 40’s, married to Rich, a pilot and expat for the first time. Blind-sided by a stamp in her passport that said she was not able to work Maya had to be creative to come up with something that would give her life meaning. It’s a parable of sorts and includes some of the stuff I put in my book, A Career in Your Suitcase.
What I'm working on
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer