South Korean street food fantasy, and thank you

To relax I watch a lot of videos of South Korean street food vendors, and small specialty shops making exquisite treats. I can’t get over how spotless everything is compared to indie NZ food stores, and how much love and care and time is put into the food. And I marvel people can cover rent and food costs and OMG the labour costs, and still make money making small batches by hand.

It really only crossed my mind this weekend, when I was watching a documentary on growing household debt in South Korea, that maybe they’re not actually making money.

At 27:15 there’s a snack shop owner talking about his financial ruin, and mentions his machine for trendy ice creams cost US$9700, which he funded borrowing from third-party lenders at 28%. (The subtitles say ‘stick’ ice cream, but whoever wrote those wasn’t hooked on YouTube food porn, as these were actually Jipangyi, or ‘cane’ ice creams, popular around 2015-2017.)

Here’s the machine that makes the cones, which explains why he spent US$9700. (Well, not why, but you can see this kind of food engineering is spendy).

He says he “couldn’t use” the machine after a month and I have questions. Because cane ice cream was no longer fashionable? Because it broke down? Because his business has gone under by then? I vote it broke down, because that equipment looks like Finicky Trouble

Exactly how many ice creams was he expecting to sell, and at what price, to make enough to cover that kind of investment for a fad product, in an industrial city that might on paper have a high GDP per-capita, but that figure is generated by the world’s largest ship-building yard, the world’s largest car assembly plant, and the world’s third-largest oil refinery?

Because the vendors on the street food-porn channels I watch make the food service industry look idyllic, I want to believe they make a prosperous living for their owners and workers: enough for a happy, peaceful life. Watching the debt documentary brought home to me that’s very likely not true. That instead, the workers are underpaid and exploited the same way they are everywhere in the world, and the owners lie awake at 2am stressing about overheads and negative gearing. And although this is a weird way to get there, it makes it so happy I have a basic call-centre job that covers my living costs and makes me enough to commission a book cover now and then, and lets me write books I want to write, and I don’t have to worry about those books making any money. I have a tiny, happy, peaceful life, which is a gigantic privilege. It means so much to be able to put the stories in my head out into the world. Thank you so much to everyone who bought Home. And who pre-ordered it, even! You’re incredibly kind, and I just hope you enjoyed reading it.

My daughter used to work at a pub, and her colleague said there was a ghost in the pub, stuck there, hanging around, and immediately Ethan popped into my head, and I knew I had to write Home. Although Home will never fund the repairs to my leaking roof, it’s out there in the world, and if even one person likes it, that’s enough. And I didn’t have to borrow $9700 from loan sharks to see my vision turn into reality. Wooo!

May you all experience happy, peaceful lives this week, friends, especially those of you in the United States. Be kind to yourselves, and stay safe.

Trailer for upcoming documentary on drones

What techniques do you think we’ll develop to keep drones out of stadiums and other pricey sports events? Will there be bootleg Olympics broadcasters the way there used to be pirate radio stations? How do you run security checkpoints when you can simultaneously fly hundreds of twenty-dollar drones carrying dirty bomb material over the walls at an infinite number of weak points?

Ice cream that doesn’t melt

Ok, that’s kind of a lie. But it is much more resistant to heat than regular ice cream.

Pic by Kanazawa Ice on Instagram

“Staring at her popsicle for five minutes under the sun, a 30-year-old woman who was visiting from Chiba Prefecture, said, “No change in the appearance.  . . .When heat from a dryer was applied in an air-conditioned room, a vanilla popsicle that was purchased from a regular shop began melting around the edges almost instantly. But the Kanazawa Ice retained its original shape even after five minutes. It also tasted cool.”

The magic ingredient is polyphenol extracted from strawberries. Food scientists are my third favorite kind of scientists!

I feel like Japan is the home of the most amazing food I’m never going to get to eat.

McMansion Hell will prevail

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One of my favorite blogs is McMansion Hell. But if you follow that link today you’ll find no blog there. That’s because Zillow doesn’t like Wagner mocking its clients’ houses, and is threatening to sue McMansion Hell because Zillow doesn’t understand the nature of US copyright law i.e. 1) Zillow doesn’t own the copyright to the photos on its site and therefore has no standing to sue 2) Kate Wagner, the genius behind Mcmansion Hell,definitely did not “violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse act” in copying the images from the site, and 3) fair use is a thing.

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Wagner doesn’t only mock. She’s written some in-depth and very readable articles about domestic architecture, and is the reason I now own A Field Guide to American Houses.I wish I could link you to one. But I can’t, because Zillow, and fuck them for that. (Wagner is also the reason I look at any tiny framed print on a large wall and think “An art!” )

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So bookmark McMansion Hell, and when Zillow inevitably cower back into their burrow and the site is restored, go check it out. In the meantime you could just go and marvel at this New Zealand McMansion I actually wanted to submit to Wagner today. I’ll just have to make up my own snarky commentary.

Interestingly, fair use is not a thing in New Zealand. Hairy Mclary is a beloved canine character from a best-selling series of children’s books. The publisher just successfully demanded an art work by Kiwi street artist Milton Springsteen be pulled from a charity auction for flood victims because it breached copyright. A spokesperson for Penguin Random House said, “it was probably a simple oversight on the part of the artist,” and “the artist would appreciate the need to accept artistic copyright.”


Milton Springsteen’s Beefed Up, and Kiwi icon Rita Angus’s seminal Cass (1936).

It might be true that “New Zealand copyright law [has] no defence for appropriation art” but the law is an ass. So is Zillow.


Update: 30 June

Zillow released this statement today:

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Surprisingly, Emily Heffter emailed me a copy directly, which I guess they did to everyone who blogged about the issue. Makes me feel like my insignificant singular voice adds some tiny contribution to resisting our dystopian times.

McMansion Hell will be posting tomorrow as scheduled. Check them out.

I’m in love with the Y. & Sons aesthetic

Y. & Sons offers a 21st century flavor of traditional Japanese yukata and kimono, with, as they put it, “a provocation that [one] seems not to be able to taste when wearing only [Western] clothes.”



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They’ve just done a collab with menswear designer T-Michael, making a range of yukata from traditional wool & worsted tailoring fabrics.



I want this to become the signature global aesthetic this century. Reject the suit and tie. Tubes of fabric had their dash. Let us embrace folded cloth and draping.

Music Monday: De La Soul

Australian stationery brand Kikki K is releasing a wooden box to conspicuously put your phone in when you get home so you are forced to interact with the humans you live with.

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Seller SkullLillyDesigns offers a couples version on Etsy too. (I had to google Guy Finley to find out who the hell he is. That is one obscure person to quote.)

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God forbid we should, you know, just turn our phones off. Or maybe the idea is to gift one of these to the person who won’t meet your eyes for longer than half a second at a time, as a subtle hint. At $USD $18 for the small Kikki K box and USD$36 for the large it looks like offline really is a luxury.