(Published 28th July 2014 in the Dumaguete MetroPost. I have since received free macaroons and calamansi juice for it!)
The Rollin’ Pin
One of the reasons why I haven’t been able to write for this column for some weeks now is the arrival of a new dessert place here in Dumaguete.
The Rollin’ Pin, located just a stone’s throw away from Silliman University, is perhaps Dumaguete’s first French patisserie. The place has been serving as a distraction for me and fellow creative writing majors for the past month. And if there’s anything you should know about writers, it’s that while we love writing, we love food more.
Having just opened this tenth of June (that’s just over a month), The Rollin Pin is a newcomer in Dumaguete’s pastry scene (dominated admittedly for decades by Sans Rival), but already, it’s proving to be a presence.
Behind the patisserie is French pâtissier Antoine Timothee Rolin. Antoine is as young as his pastry shop (no, not a month, he’s in his 20s), and he has all the restless creativity of that youth. Only The Rollin Pin can thus claim to serve French pastries baked by French hands. And what works of imagination they are!
It seems that the process of making pastries for Antoine begins in his daily walks to the Dumaguete Market. He not only goes there for supplies, but for inspiration. A fruit he’s never tried to use, a local ingredient not usually used for sweets, whatever catches his eye can give him ideas as to his next creation. From there he will begin baking his new idea, and it will be part of the day’s display at the Rollin Pin.
That The Rollin Pin’s selection of pastries relies entirely on Antoine’s unpredictable imagination makes the pastry shop a place full of gourmet surprises. You really do not know what will be on display each day, or even if there will be anything new later during the same day. No other pastry shop – no restaurant I daresay – changes its serving as much as The Rollin Pin does.
If you find yourself frequenting the place, you’re bound to meet Armegyn Maglenti, Antoine’s girlfriend. She serves as the place’s manager, and chatting with her will add a new dimension to appreciating the pastries. But even she cannot predict what the patissier will come up with next.
Antoine and Armegyn were originally from Cebu (ultimately not Antoine of course, he’s from France). Having cooked for various restaurants in China and France, Antoine found himself working in Cebu for a French themed restaurant there. But he decided to quit and, with Armegyn, started Chez Ton Ton, a French restaurant in Oslob that catered to its whale shark drawn tourists.
But Antoine’s restlessness drove the two to seek new places, and they found themselves in Dumaguete. Leaving the management of Chez Ton Ton to a relative, they set off to start The Rollin’ Pin.
The plan to start The Rollin’ Pin was a very personal one for them. The name itself, an obvious pun on the patissier’s surname, shows that.
When I first came to the place I noticed how irregularly shaped some of the pastries may be. I was with one of the early converts to the place, the young poet Arkay Timonera, and you’ll hand it to a poet to explain why eloquently: a uniformly shaped set of pastries would only show that they’re machine made, irregularities in the pastries hint their handmade origins. You know that the patissier personally rolls every croissant, personally fills every tart, personally spreads every roll with icing.
The decision to start The Rollin Pin was thus not simply a money making venture – the place is far too personalized, far too creative for that. It was to start a relationship with the people of Dumaguete that’s unique between artisan and appreciator.
And I’m not saying platitudes here: they really do respond to customers’ reactions. One of The Rollin Pin’s signature pastries, the macaroon, can be a bit expensive for student budgets. At forty pesos each it’s a luxury. One customer suggested they bake smaller ones so students can try, and a few days later Antoine came up with macaroons at half the price.
Perhaps one of the things that may turn people off about The Rollin’ Pin is that, the price. In cheap Dumaguete where only the pedicab drivers are overpriced, the pastries can be quite heavy. Its location near Silliman can also highlight that, as the pastries are far from student budget. But it’s really only expensive for Dumaguete standards – as someone from the city I know how cheap their pastries really are already. A macaroon will fetch you seventy to a hundred pesos each in Davao, but at forty pesos The Rollin Pin is attractively affordable.
Which isn’t to say Antoine and Armegyn are staying in their pedestals. They’re coming up with ways to let students with tight budgets try some of the pastries. There are the smaller shots at forty pesos for shots that usually range from sixty to ninety. There are the petit fours versions of the desserts at just fifteen pesos. Just recently they even served tiny croissants at five pesos each. And a discount system, by which a student can get ten percent off with a valid student ID, is in the works. All of a sudden Silliman’s ID policy starts making sense!
Bargain shots at art food are something I’ve never encountered in Dumaguete before, because you can really consider what Antoine is doing art. While his output is mostly orthodox French pastry, he’s delightfully edging into what can only be considered Filipino-French fusion. Now that is something I have never heard of, much less imagine in pastries. So far he has used mango, a rare ingredient in French cuisine, extensively, and in his take of the traditional Riz au Lait he used sticky rice instead of the risotto variety. Most innovatively perhaps he has used kangkong in tarts. I am excited to know how far he will develop in this!
The pastries you ask? I can fill this article with recommendations, but at the top of the list is that piece of innovation up there: the creamy kangkong tart. It’s a savoury tart with a sweet dough crust, but while it’s innovative it’s also ridiculously delicious. I think it feeds my social climber needs perfectly: the delightful balance of crispy sweet dough crust and the creaminess of the sauce is fancy enough to feed my more bourgeois palate, while the tagabukid in me is fulfilled with the deliciously familiar flavour of kangkong and garlic. I also love their homemade ice cream: being a devout strawberry worshipper my favourite flavour is easy to predict. I also loved the sticky rice series – The Rollin’ Pin has given me new ways of deepening my strawberry spirituality with the strawberry sticky rice (imagine strawberry flavoured champorado!) The fruit tarts I also love with some whipped cream on top.
Oh and they don’t just serve pastries. They also have sandwiches, salads, and breakfast meals. For the sandwiches Armegyn recommends the Tuna Wasabi and Nori sandwich, while I recommend the delightful croque madame salad, a croquet madame sandwich (bacon, emental cheese, and an egg) in a bed of lettuce, tomato, and onion with pesto dressing. The patissier himself recommends his chocolate coulant, crispy chocolate shell with oozing chocolate inside, served with crème brulee and ice cream.
And what’s next for The Rollin Pin? You’ll never really know what comes into Antoine’s mind! In the works is a change in the sandwiches selection, a peach melba offering, and a lunch menu. With Silliman’s Founders coming, there’ll be rich opportunities to innovate.
And I with my decadent palate I’m praying for a strawberry flavoured cream puff to come out soon.
(For the past two weeks Philippines Graphic has been running my short story ‘Condign Restitutions’ in two parts. Being my most experimental work so far I’m still surprised that Graphic decided to publish it.
One of the two narratives interwoven into the piece, the miserable life of Ildefonso, has been brewing in my mind since I was at least five, and I had attempted to write it, unsuccessfully,when I was in early Elementary.
WordPress does not enable two columns, a feature vital to the story’s structure, so I had to resort to uploading this excerpt as an image – an attempt with which Windows 8 and its uselessly complicated Fresh Paint feature has also not been very helpful.
Want to read the rest of the story? Grab the July 7 and July 14, 2014 issues of Graphic now!)
(from my Note of Aphorisms)
‘In this world we are either called to be audacious and take the top, or to remain in prudent contentment at the bottom. But what of us condemned to be elite but do not have the strength to fulfill our destinies? What of us who do not have the strength to fulfill our destinies?’
Old person that I am, I only recently discovered the world of the utaite.
One little-known genre of what we may call otaku music is the vocaloid field. Yes, Hatsune Miku recently gained international fame with Lady Gaga making her the opening act of some concerts, but that says very little about the scene itself. Because outside the fact that vocaloids are artificially created voices, the vocaloid industry is full of a diverse array of original songs composed specially for these created singers.
And here’s where the utaite come in. A phenomenon that started in the Japanese video hosting website Nico Nico but which has since spread to YouTube, the utaite is a human, often amateur, singer who covers songs. It wouldn’t be accurate to compare the utaite to other YouTube cover hits from the West (at the top of my mind are Boyce Avenue and Justin Bieber as examples): while they too are products of the online boom, you can’t really call the cover a distinct genre in the West. But since this is superflat Japan we’re talking about, a whole industry of itself has emerged from the utaite, called utattemita (literally ‘I tried to sing,’ the Nico Nico category for videos of this nature). Many singers do cross over to mainstream Japanese pop (if there is such a thing), but the vast majority of them continue to specialize in vocaloid covers, or sing original songs by composers for vocaloids. Many of them even release multiple albums of their covers. Today the genre seems to continue growing, what with even a magazine dedicated exclusively to them.
Which is not to say I’m an expert on this, good heavens I’m only just starting. For more information check this informative utaite wiki.
But what I can share is what I’ve experienced so far. And in four months, I think I’ve learned a few things.
For one thing, part of the charm of these amateurs is their mystique. Only a fraction of them ever release pictures, and even fewer actually perform live or make videos of themselves. Almost all of them appear on cover videos or albums as anime-style illustrations, and for most utaite that is all the clue the fans have as to what they might look like.
A notable exception is probably the female utaite 96neko (pronounced ‘kuroneko’). While she has appeared in person on videos and has performed live, her face has mostly been obscured by hair or a face mask.
I can’t really say I know what she looks like.
And as 96neko’s name suggests, it doesn’t mean they’re amateurs they don’t have creative talent. Many utaite actually arrange their covers to sound completely different from the original, and some even animate their own videos.
My first, and favourite, utaite is undoubtedly Kradness. I’m going to risk a guess here and say he would be categorized as a bishounen singer, evocative of a good looking young man. He has a very high vocal range, and he takes advantage of it by going over the top with his notes in his covers.
I also find his voice sophisticated, and chances are his covers are the best versions of songs out there. When he covers a song by the composer niki (who mostly makes fast paced rock songs for the sultry vocaloid Lily), you get the best demonstration of Japanese sexiness. His cover of ‘Hybrid’ is arguably the sexiest song in all of utattemita.
God I love this song
Kradness is known for his collaborations with other utaite. His most common collaborator is the female uitaite Reol, with whom he often sings songs that involve dialogue and interaction – a rare chance to hear the singers’ speaking voices.
‘Shinde shimau to wa nasakenai’ by Kradness and Reol, a parody of fantasy RPGs
One particular cover with Reol, the Hatsune Miku song ‘Sweet Devil,’ recently inspired me to tweak around with the structure of a short story. The attempt was successful, and it may see print soon. At least I know this venture in utattemita is productive for me!
It’s that part where they sing different verses together that influenced me
Kradness also mixes and arranges music, not only for himself and for others. I don’t know if he also illustrates, but he often appears as a young bishounen-type character with blonde, spiky hair. He also often has a little lion that serves as his mascot of sorts for reasons beyond me.
Being the eclectic person that I am though, I don’t love everything he covers. Sometimes he overdoes the birit, and it’s grating when he sounds like some emo singer. Also, he wasn’t able to do justice to ‘Senbonzakura.’ Then again, the original didn’t either, but more on that later.
Kradness has the best version of this classic vocaloid song, ‘Wave’
But enough of Kradness. Because the world of the utaite is full of other interesting characters and songs.
For one thing, there are what you call traps. These are singers who play with their appearance and voice: they’re one gender, but sound like another. 96neko sometimes sounds like a guy.
It becomes very amusing though when the male singer sounds like a woman. The most compelling example for me is Yoshitate Kyounosuke. He looks androgynous – either a very feminine man or a boyish woman. But he sounds like an female enka singer. To contribute to this ambiguity, he often dresses as a woman.
Yoshitate Kyounosuke singing Senbonzakura with the traditional instrument ensemble Wagaku Hanadouchu. Yes, he’s a guy.
Here you see traditional Japanese tastes alive in the modern world. The Japanese fascination for gender ambiguity and artifice, dating perhaps back to the onnagata in Kabuki, has many JPop incarnations.
Speaking of traditional tastes, the flare for the folk is also very alive in the utaite scene. A complete modern song may be given a cover with traditional Japanese as well as rock instruments. Top of my list for this is Wagakki Band, with its vocalist Suzuhana Yuuko. Yuuko’s style of singing reminds me of Okinawa folk songs. She also happens to be a teacher of Shigin, traditional poetry recital.
Wagakki Band’s cover of Rokuchou to Ichiya Monogatari
I know no other culture which makes traditional adaptations of modern music. Closest I can think of is that Bollywood version of Thriller.
Yes Yuko Suzuhana is hot, and Kradness has a sexy voice (and if you don’t know he’s a guy, Kyounosuke sounds like a cute girl), but utaite are not all about bijin. Sometimes an utaite’s charm is his or her humour. This is the case with Glutamine. The male utaite is known for his high energy covers, often interjected with overzealous screaming, and his mumbling when he forgets the lyrics to a song. Which is not to say he has a bad voice: he can sound very ikemen-ish.
In this cover of MikotoP’s Yi Er Fanclub, he begins with a chant of the names of Chinese food
He is not alone in this field. Perhaps more outrageous is the male utaite Gero. His name itself, the Japanese onomatopoeia for a frog’s sound.
A cover of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s hit song ‘Ponponpon’ by Gero. Goodness this is crazy
Then the songs sung by utaite are also fascinating. As mentioned most utaite specialize in vocaloid songs, though as the ‘Ponponpon’ cover shows, they may cover more mainstream songs. They also sometimes go on singing original songs. Kradness’ covers of niki songs gained so much fandom that in his first album Krad Vortex, Kradness sings an original song by niki, ‘TRICK.’
It went on to become my Singapore soundtrack
But there are three vocaloid songs that are rather fascinating.
One of them is ‘Yi Er Fanclub’. A narrative song apparently about someone in Taiwan learning Chinese, the song has specific references to Wang Leehom and Jay Chou Most intriguingly, part of the lyrics go: ‘This is all so I can say good night to Leslie Cheung in heaven.‘ Learning to speak Chinese to bid Leslie Cheung goodbye: it’s a quiet tribute by one artist to another.
In light of recent China-Japan tensions, the Japanese song’s Sinophile tone makes it somehow relevant today.
Of course, the best version is by Kradness
Then there’s the hit ‘Senbonzakura.’ Literally ‘a thousand cherry blossoms,’ the song was written by producer KurousaP originally for Hatsune Miku. It has gone on to be one of the most covered songs in utattemita.
Senbonzakura, covered by male utaite Amatsuki
That mellow piano version up there haunted me and made me think about the lyrics. As the original song’s video indicate, the song deals heavily with the legacy of militaristic Japan (what with the mention of words ‘ICBM,’ ‘revolution,’ and the heavy nationalistic tone of it). Just before the chorus we have the words ‘shounen shoujo, sengoku musou, ukiyo no manima ni’: boys and girls in this (time) of war must be unrivaled, as they should be in this floating world.’ It’s a Buddhist castigation of militarism and its emphasis on excellence as attachment to the impermanent.
This crescendos to the evocative chorus, which goes thus:
‘Senbonzakura yoru no magire, kimi no koe mo todokanai yo
Koko wa utage, hagane no ori, sono dantoudai de miroshite
Sanzensekai tokoyo no yami, nageki no uta kikoenai yo…’
‘Thousands of cherry trees dissolve into the night. Not even your voice will reach.
This is a banquet inside a steel jail cell. Look down on us from your guillotine.
The whole world is shrouded in hellish darkness. Not even a lamenting song is audible.‘
At the end of the song the chorus ends:
‘Senbonzakura yoru ni magire, kimi ga utai boku wa odoru
koko wa utage, hagane no ori, saa kousenjuu o uchimagure’
‘Thousands of cherry trees dissolve into the night. You will sing, and I will dance.
This is a banquet inside a steel jail cell, so shoot randomly and ceaselessly with your raygun‘
What follows the ironic condemnation of war is the image of cherry blossoms scattered aimlessly in the night. Cherry blossoms, as flowers, are associated in Buddhist thought with impermanence. And of course, the night is dark – we get here beings of impermanence gloriously lost in ignorance, a recurring motif in Buddhist thought.
The Buddhist castigation of ignorance continues with the last lines of ‘so shoot randomly and aimlessly’. In the second verse we also get:
‘zenjoumon o kugurinukete anraku-joudo yakubarai
kitto saigo wa daidan’en hakushu no aima ni‘
‘To pass through the gate to dhyāna, and achieve nirvana with cleansing,
the closing act must be a happy finale, accompanied by applause from the audience.’
‘Anraku-joudo’ literally means ‘peaceful bliss of the pure land,’ and the line can have two meanings: the literal one as presented in the translation, or that crossing the gate of dhyana (Zen, that state of mind which is an aim of Buddhism but which has become a Japanese holy grail) entails rejecting the calm of peace (further adding to the sense of war in the song). Of course, any Buddhist will also know that the road to enlightenment is first and foremost a personal one, it does not entail recognition from others (in fact the popular koan ‘when you see the Buddha on the road, kill him’ may even imply ‘applause’ is bad for the aim to be detached).
I have never seen Buddhist thought expressed so ironically.
The image of a banquet in a steel cage in the chorus lends a more human touch to the war-crazed people: the Japanese have always been demonized for their role during WWII. But on reading a recent article on the BBC about a D-Day POW, I realized that war mania is a form of madness, and as all forms of madness go the madman is a victim. The Japanese too were victims during the war, trapped in their glorious cage of delusion, and their defeat was their liberation.
The image of ‘looking down from your guillotine’ is intriguing. The Japanese have always been fascinated by the decaying and those that are about to fall, an aesthetic that manifests itself in the concept of mono no aware. Here is a subtle manifestation of that: while the addressees, the militarists, are trapped in their deluded madness, the pitiful nature of the predicament itself elevates them as objects of wonder. The line of course might simply be being ironic too.
I don’t usually cry because of songs, but this song moved me. The scale of the World War was overwhelming, and this song crystallizes the emotions of one dimension of it.
Another intriguing song is ‘Iroha Uta’ by Ginsaku, originally for the vocaloid Kagamine Rin. Just some background: the Iroha is a pangramic poem of Buddhist origin, which goes:
‘iroha nihoheto (iro wa niouedo)
Waka (Waga) yo tare so (dare zo)
tsure naramu (naran)
Uwi (ui) no okuyama
kefu (kyou) koete
asaki yume mishi(yumemiji)
Wehi (ei) mo sesu (sezu)’
‘colours, though fragrant,
will scatter away
who in this world is unchanging?
The deep mountains of vanity –
we shall cross them today
and we shall not see shallow dreams
nor be deluded’
(I provide the actual Japanese in parentheticals, the text does not include voicing of kana and obsolete spelling)
The poignancy of the poem is in the first line: the words ‘flower’ or ‘petals’ are not used, but the image of falling tree blossoms is clearly evoked by colour, fragrance, and the movement of scattering. This subtlety allows the poem to develop its thought on impermanence.
‘Iroha Uta’ takes the original poem’s lyrics, but uses it to mean the exact opposite.
Piano version of ‘Iroha Uta’ by the male utaite Pokota. I think this is the best version so far.
Take a look at the chorus:
‘iroha nihoheto chirinuru o
waga yo dare zo tsune naran
shiritai no motto motto fukaku made
ui no okuyama kyou koete
asaki yume miji yoi mo sezu
somarimashou anata no
iroha nihoheto chirinuru o‘
‘colours, though fragrant,
who in this world is unchanging?
I wish to know, more and more, all the way to the core.
The deep mountains of vanity – we shall cross them today,
and we shall not see shallow dreams nor be deluded.
Let me become tinged with your color,
although colours, though fragrant, will scatter away.‘
Later there are variants to the ending
‘kawarimashou, anata no tame ni’
‘shall I change for you?’
‘ochimashou anata to
iroha nihoheto doko made mo‘
‘let us fall together,
whilst fragrant, all the way to the bottom.‘
The first two lines of the poem are subverted in the chorus’ third line: the rhetorical question of ‘who is constant’ becomes that fascination for the world Buddhist thought often discourages as it promotes attachment.
Another act of subversion happens when ‘crossing the valley of vanity’ is given a new meaning: not overcoming, but entering. The lines ‘we will not experience shallow dreams nor be deluded’ thus lose their Buddhist implications and become instead phrases of love. The chorus ends with a rejection of that Buddhist dogma of impermanence over the particular love. The later variations contribute to this: ‘shall I change for you?’ even implies that the very impermanence of man does not stop love, as the change may still be for the loved one. Most fascinatingly, we see again mono no aware in ‘let us fall together whilst fragrant,’ but while the idea was originally conceived by Buddhist thinkers to remind people of impermanence, we see here that it may have the opposite effect: awareness of impermanence makes impermanence itself an object of beauty.
Yes, I’m into utaite and vocaloid because of the Buddhist themes in the lyrics!