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From Afar

Practicing the sense of touch.

Words / Jas Tse
Translation / Ian Tsang

Mao Hsuanhui從台灣搬到日本唸書,二十多歲的她愛好攝影,一年多前畢業以後,在淺草和藏前之間開了一家小小的咖啡店「from afar 倉庫01」。

「下班後晚上一個人在廚房做甜點的時間常常讓我想到以前在暗房洗照片的感覺。」無獨有偶,兩者似乎也是一場關於觸感的練習 —— 在黑房洗照片;在廚房造甜點。拿相紙在藥水中晃悠,靜候顯影;拿攪拌器與刮刀將雞蛋奶油麵粉攪和,最後推進焗爐,然後又是一次等待。即使同樣經過用心計算,仍是一個無法預料結果的作業。

咖啡店同時是一家小型選物店,販售她蒐集的礦石,各形各式每顆都獨一無二。另有老東西如餐桌上的器具,或大正到昭和初期的手工圖案木製雕刻印章。因此店子帶著一種古樸的氛圍,一間店便如一個人,展現出店主的美學。她習慣用文字與照片紀錄生活,曾看到她說這家店正式營業的前一天她才向友人請教如何製作芝士蛋糕,隔天奉客的便是她首個製成品,從初期歪歪斜斜的擺盤裝飾,到不斷研究改良,卻因此燃起了製作甜點的熱情。往往本來像被生活推著走的時候,卻發現自己不知不覺地被引領到另一塊地方。「聽到有夢最美之類的話也笑不出來,因為有夢很美後要面對的現實還很多。」我們這就在讀著一部在異鄉生活奮鬥史,它寫實、辛酸,卻能為想要改變但仍在躊躇的大家傳遞一點力量。

 

MAO Hsuanhui, who is originally from Taiwan, went to study in Japan. In her twenties, she loved photography, and after graduating more than a year ago, she opened a small cafe named “from afar”, which is located between Asakusa and Kuramae in Tokyo.

“After work, when I am making some dessert in the kitchen in the evening, I often recall the feeling I had when I was washing film in the darkroom.” It would seem both — washing film in the darkroom and making dessert in the kitchen — have to do with practicing the sense of touch, which makes them counterparts. Swaying the photographic paper inside the chemicals, awaiting images to form in silence; using a blender and spatula to mix eggs, butter and flour, and finally pushing it inside the oven, which is followed by another wait. Even though both processes call for careful calculation, their outcome still lies beyond the realm of expectations.

Her cafe also doubles as a little store selling a variety of ores she collected, each of them unique. There are also old objects such as cutlery for the dining table, or wooden seals with hand-engraved patterns dating back to the Taisho and early Showa period in Japan. Thus, the store carries a kind of simple and plain atmosphere harking back to the olden times. A store resembles its owner, embodying his or her aesthetics preferences. She is used to recording her life with words and photographs. At one point, she mentioned that she asked her friend to teach her how to make a cheese cake only the day before her cafe was officially open. What she served her customers the next day was her maiden creation. It went from untidy plating and decorations to continuous improvements, awakening her passion for making dessert along the way. Just as she was thinking that life, as always, was pushing her around, before she knew it she has been led to another place. “I cannot bring myself to laugh when I say such things as it is beautiful to have dreams because after dreaming there are still a lot of things you need to face in reality.” What we are reading here is a story of hardship living away from home. It is at once realistic and full of bitterness, but it can serve to transfer a bit of power to those who want change but are still held back by hesitation.

Image courtesy of from afar