⟨ Misc ⟩

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SCALE LIES A PIECE OF HANDMADE SOAP

NIGHT NIGHT GALLERY

Words & Photography / MINICHERRYB
Translation / Fanny Chan

「洗手、洗手、再洗手」自農曆年開始,不,是自沙士開始「洗手」已經成為咒語,為人們帶來一點安心。我用右手手背按壓一下洗手液,洗手液精準地落入左手掌心,我仔細地搓洗雙手每一寸皮膚,過程中腦袋完全放空,當清水從水龍頭流出,經過雙手,沖出很多很多泡泡,意識才回到當下,滿意,洗手是一種宣告身體健康的儀式。

既然是儀式,那是不是可以進行得更完美?我想雙手能擁抱一塊自己造的肥皂,午後決定去拜訪在台南安平晚安小藝廊的Oscar。

Hand washing, hand washing, and more hand washing. Since the Chinese Lunar New Year, no, actually since the outbreak of SARS, “hand washing” has become synonymous with providing people peace of mind. Pressing down the soap bottle with the back of my right hand, the hand soap dropped precisely into the palm of my left hand. Carefully, I scrubbed every inch of my hands with my mind completely spaced out. Water flowing from the faucet ran through my hands, creating so many bubbles, also bringing my consciousness back to the present moment. I felt satisfied. Handwashing has become a ritual declaration of good health.

If hand washing is such a ritual, shall we do it with perfection? I wanted to incorporate into this ritual with a piece of handmade soap created with my own hands, and that is what led me to Oscar of the Night Night Gallery in Anping, Tainan.

 

【我們應該寵愛自己】

「在這百年老宅我最用心改造的是浴室。」Oscar說。

這單棟的樓房擁有一層高的尖頂建築,以及荷蘭統治時代建成的牆身,這裡就是晚安小藝廊,也是Oscar跟先生一起生活的家。面積才三百餘呎,客廳竟然成了紙品藝術及手工皂的藝廊工作室,唯一隱密的地方就是睡房及浴室。

「在浴室,可以泡澡、可以剪指甲、可以淋浴,可以做著一切寵愛自己的事;而工作室卻是流動多變的。你想一下,浴室是我們最私密的地方。」Oscar一邊手沖咖啡給我喝,一邊平淡地說,她為何珍重浴室。

「所以你開始做手工肥皂?就是為了寵愛自己?」我直覺這就是對自己好的方法之一。

「 或者是,我想用手工皂清潔身體,就像享受平凡的生活,我能知道它的成份及來源,讓我更能覺察身體、皮膚的狀況。」Oscar也曾經是全職的上班族。

「所以你有專屬手工皂的配方?」我覺得她一定有甚麼女巫魔法似的。

「我沒有自己的配方,舒壓也是寵愛自己的方法,就是不用思考,我照著前人不會失敗的方式去做手工皂,我討厭失敗,因為失敗會造成浪費,既然有成功的程式,幹嘛要嘗試失敗?何況不用自己去思考呢。」Oscar的回答有點出乎我意料,但平凡或者就是這個意思。

[We Should Pamper Ourselves]

“Among everything in this century-old house, I paid the most attention to reforming the bathroom,” said Oscar.

Her one-story house has a steep roof, and its walls were built during the colonial rule by the Dutch Republic; this is where the Night Night Gallery resides, and where Oscar and her husband call home. With an area of ​​no more than 300 square feet, the living room is turned into an art gallery and a work studio, of paper art and handmade soaps; the bedroom and bathroom are the rare secluded spots in the house.  

“In the bathroom, we can take a bath, trim our nails, take a shower, we can do anything to pamper ourselves; while in the studio, everything is fluid and ever-changing. Just think about it, the bathroom is our most private spot.” Oscar gently explained why she cherishes the bathroom while hand-brewing a coffee for me. 

“When you first started making soap, was it because you wanted to pamper yourself?” My intuition told me that it is a way of pampering. 

“Or I should say, I wanted to cleanse my body with a handmade soap, as in, to simply enjoy an ordinary life with a simple soap. Being able to know the ingredients and their sources allows me to be better aware of my own body and skin condition.” Oscar was once a full-time office worker.

“So you have an exclusive soap recipe for yourself?” I think she must have some sort of witchcraft power.

“I don’t have my own recipe. Not stressing yourself out is also a way of pampering; that is, not having to think and figure things out, just follow others’ successful soap-making recipes. I hate the idea of trying to unnecessarily innovate because with soap making it generates waste. If there is a proven formula for a successful soap, why should I bother to fail? Besides, adopting a proven formula means I don’t have to figure things out by myself.” Oscar’s answer was a bit out of my expectation, but maybe this is what being ordinary actually means.

【單是記錄和統計便可了解自己】

既然沒有女巫秘方,我們就腳踏實地跟著前人的腳步走,使用冷製技法,並沒有想像中困難。最難捱的是等待吧,酸鹼度、凝固成形,熟成期大約是一個月,這一個月是為了讓「皂化反應」自然產生出「甘油」,在熱製手工皂中甘油會被破壞,而又因為甘油是保濕最佳物質,所以市面上售賣的肥皂很多時也沒有甘油成份。

「都被抽走製作保濕化妝品。」Oscar把幾瓶不同的油、氫氧化鈉、水混在一起。

「它會自然產生保濕精華,的確很吸引。」油跟水看似誓不兩立,但經過時間的攪拌,它們混成一體,變得濃稠,甚至有點像蜜糖。

Oscar 看到我笑了說:「近來我在統計自己的情緒。」

「啊?」

「生氣時,不安時,把情緒記錄,我想知道跟月亮有沒有關係。造手工皂成功的程式也是統計而來的。我好喜歡英國,喜歡他們利用統計數據得到科學的結論,而覺察自己的情緒,應該也可以使用統計吧。」那一刻比起女巫,Oscar更像一位科學家。是的,如果我們理智地記錄感性的事,或者就能更了解自己。

[Understand Yourself Simply from Records and Statistics]

Since there is no such thing as a secret witchcraft soap-making recipe, we might as well be practical and humbly follow in our predecessors’ footsteps. The cold process soap-making method is not as difficult as expected. The hardest part is probably the “wait”; the wait to attain the best pH balance, the wait for the soap to cure. The curing process usually takes a month, and during this period, saponification takes place and glycerin is produced naturally. Glycerin is considered to be a robust moisturizing ingredient; however, it could be removed during the making of hot process soap, which is why many soaps on the market often do not contain glycerin.

“They are all being extracted to make moisturizers,” said Oscar while mixing up bottles of oils, sodium hydroxide, and water.

“These will turn into moisturizer naturally, and it is indeed amazing.” Oil and water seem to be mutually exclusive, but with constant stirring, they are mixed together and thickened, somehow the mixture looks like creamy, viscous honey.

Oscar smiled and said to me, “I’ve been collecting statistics of my emotions recently.”

“What?”

“Whenever I feel angry and upset, I keep a record of such emotions; I want to know whether it has anything to do with the moon. Similarly, the formula for making soap successfully is also derived from statistics. I like the UK so much; I like how they use statistical data to draw scientific conclusions. I suppose statistics can also help us understand our emotions.” At that very moment, Oscar seems more like a scientist than a witch. Indeed, if we can record anything emotional in a rational manner, maybe we can understand ourselves better.

【原來我們一直尋找刺激的平衡】

我又好奇既然手工皂對皮膚及環境都好,那人們為甚麼還是選擇沐浴乳?

「是因為香氣,手工皂沒有添加化學香料,就像吃東西,大家也知道油炸的不健康,但就是喜歡吃油炸的,貪其夠香口。」氣定神閒的Oscar說中了我的品味,我也喜歡台灣炸雞排,害我心虛了一下。

「啊,我想到了!是關於平衡,人生就像天秤,我們坐在一邊,另一邊就是我們選的生活。壓力愈大的我們就愈沉重,所以另一邊必需是重口味的東西,才可以平衡心靈。」我喜歡跟Oscar討論彼此對生活的概念。

「可能是呀,人就是喜歡刺激,如果沒有太大壓力,需要平衡的力道也變得溫和。我從前在公司上班做設計,也很需要放縱來平衡,但是現在搬來台南安平,自己接案後好像沒有太多感官刺激的需要。」Oscar平淡地說著,好像每個人都有天會得到領悟,追求自己想要的生活。

喜歡吃炸雞排的我,會記錄情緒的她,我們二人也喜歡手工皂;我可以接受失敗,但同樣不喜歡浪費,我們總有一天慢慢地找到那個不用極重的刺激才能平衡的方法。因為一下子極重,反彈也會是極重,難怪我們會記得手工皂的觸感,卻輕易忘記沐浴乳那化學香精的味道。

[Afterall We Are All Looking for that Perfect Balance of Life and Excitement]

I am curious why people still opt for shower cream if handmade soaps are so good for the skin and also the environment.

“It’s all because of the aroma. There is no added artificial fragrance in handmade soaps. It’s like eating; everybody knows that deep-fried food is unhealthy, but we like it for its delicious taste.” Oscar read my mind with such ease: I like Taiwanese chicken cutlet. I felt a sense of guilt with what she had just said.

“Ah, I get it now! It’s about balance. Life is like a scale; we sit on one side, and the other side is the way of life that we ​​choose to live. The more stressful our lives are, the heavier on the scale it gets, and this is when we need some strong tasting food to soothe our mind, release the stress, and strike a balance.” I am enjoying this discussion regarding our views on life.

“Maybe. People love excitement. If there is not that much pressure, the urge to strike a balance weakens. I used to work at a company as a designer, and always felt the need to indulge myself in an attempt at finding a balanced life. Now that I’ve moved to Anping, Tainan, and become a freelancer, the yearning for sensory stimulation is no longer that strong.” Oscar explained in a way as if everyone would eventually reach enlightenment to pursue the life they want.

I like chicken cutlets, and she records emotions, yet both of us share a love for handmade soaps. I can handle failures, but also dislike generating waste. Slowly but surely, we will find that perfect balance of life and excitement without having to indulge ourselves with weighty stimulants. After all, a heavy jump on one side would result in an overwhelming rebound on the other. No wonder we can summon the memory and texture of handmade soap, but easily forget the smell of chemicals in the shower cream.