food markers

Food can be multi sensorial markers for a journey, tangible physical tabs that help one chronicle the meandering and navigating along the way. Here are my food markers for this trip, a somewhat odd blend of agony and joy, despair and exhilaration all rolled into one jumbled mass.

After arriving at my place of abode, already down with some kind of nasty infection, feverish and in a brain fog, I set about trying to find some nourishment for my weary body. I didn’t manage to get far, due to the sorry state I was in, and settled for a hot dog and an orange juice from the pie and hot dog stand across the road, by the wharf. A sunny day, there were the usual seagulls and pigeons stalking all and any humans sitting at the benches eating. One man brought his little French Bulldog for some sunshine. It was difficult chewing down on the hotdog, my jaw slightly swollen and stiff, but I was quite determined to achieve the feat. The orange juice tasted like soap and plastic though, pretty vile, hence that was abandoned after a few swigs. I so hate to waste.

Feeling unwell and very exhausted, I went to sleep without dinner that night: the ordeal of throwing up began almost as soon as I tried to close my eyes, and I spent the entire night shuttling in an undignified manner between the loo and the couch.

Things were a tad better the next day, and I dragged myself off to make contact with the festival office, a brief chat with the director, and some hot soup with a friend. Then zipped into the supermarket for much needed rations. I bought a roast chicken from the deli, and had a much appreciated cup of hot instant soup. Mushroom, I think? Or chicken? My brother-in-law, a professional chef, calls this “fake food”.

The day after, feeling even yet better, I cooked congee for lunch, and had it with some shredded chicken from the previous day. The mini mandarins tasted good too – for Vitamin C?

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Feeling peckish in the late afternoon, I sallied forth in search of something ‘stronger’ and found this place called The Smashed Burger two doors away. I ordered a pork crackling burger and yes, it was delicious!

Things were looking up, I had hoped. The ability to eat, for me, has always been a sign that things were not as bad as they seemed, and a driving force for determined survival. Foodie Bunny.

It is a strange ‘distancing from Self’ sensation, when my sense of taste and smell are dampened. The ‘low’ notes are easier to detect, though they still come across as cloying and heavy, but the ‘higher’ tonalities are soggy and the ‘mid’ range is a blur of indeterminate jumble.

That night, everything turned bizarrely pear-shaped for me. I was caught inside the swirling, thumping, pounding vortex of The Grand Party going on next door. Sensory meltdown became anxiety attack. More throwing up, and then an abysmal relapse into the deep, dark, trenches of misery. Friday night revelry for the average neurotypical can be deliberate and directed hell for the autistic with hyper senses. This time, it was my utter undoing.

The next day, groggy, feverish, nauseated, dizzy and coughing like my guts were wanting to spurt out, I struggled valiantly with sardines, spinach and rice for lunch. My brain told me I had to eat the stuff, I needed nutrition, but there was a rock sitting in my diaphragm making everything a monumental effort. Thankfully, with my taste buds and sense of smell seriously muted, the stinky fishiness didn’t offend as much.

Weekend was upon me, and most thankfully, my friend Rick came armed with medicines and more nosh. Not that I could eat much other than toast and continuous cups of instant “fake food” soup. There was also ham, and some Bega cheese. Funny how I usually dislike cheddar, but now the sharp, salty biting taste seemed to hit the right spots in the wounded landscape. I spent the weekend in the couch, curled up and woebegone, but thankful to have good friends that help keep me alive.

By Tuesday, I could drag myself to begin work at the site for my installation. It was arduous. My body felt like sweaty, skinny lead sticks bound together loosely with duct tape. Heavy, jangling and tacky. Ugh. It took a fierce effort too will to stay upright and get the job done. Again, I am grateful to have been assigned someone to help me set up – she did such a brilliant job. Infectious smile, buoyant mood without being annoyingly rah-rah, and I didn’t need to explain much to her, I felt so relieved that she just ‘got it’ by watching and observing. Thank you, Nicky, for sensory empathy!

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Next to the Customs House is a neat food court with quite a good selection of food from different parts of the world. I discovered it a bit late, after having eaten a soggy unattractive burger from Hungry Jacks, but was determined to make the most of it anyway. I ordered myself a treat of steaming hot Shanghainese pork dumplings, 小龍包 “little dragon dumplings”. Very effective – I felt a wee bit more energised, and returned to attack the rest of the afternoon’s work with renewed gung-ho, albeit rather weighed down under that chunky blanket of malaise.

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The night’s dinner was a delicious combination of home cooked white rice with takeaway ‘drunken chicken’ from the food court. In the midst of the chaotic madness of trying to recover from illness, frantically working to set up everything before opening, preparing mentally and physically for the opening event itself (the autistic mind can literally go into a state of colic over this kind of thing), and juggling other emotional and mental flotsam and jetsam, the anticipation of being sated, the sensation of taste, smell, and texture, and having food inside the body can have an equilibrating effect.

Sometimes, the right food can help me feel happier to be alive at all. Never scoff at the power of food, Bunny! And don’t be ashamed to document it! Each photograph I take of my food is a mark of gratitude, that I am able to even partake of such real and concrete blessing at all.

I spent my birthday alone (which is ok, though being apart from Lucy made it not ok). I bought myself a red velvet cake, and hummed to myself a wordless wish… Happy Birthday, Bunny. My wish is simple: that I can give Lucy a better life than she had before. I watched a Cantonese video on my MacBook Pro, and fell asleep on the Ikea couch.

In between the grand food takeaway splurges, I cooked for myself, trying as ever to be innovative and self-placating, as much as possible.

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Oh, and there was that memorable and awkwardly chaotic meal with my friend Rick at the food court before he left for his musical tour in the USA, where I valiantly tried to down the food between bouts of vigorous coughing (garnering alarmed looks from people around).

Mustn’t forget my favourite Paddo eating spots, of course, my little Clement Spaces wherein I spent a lot of quality time with Lucy and good friends, Not Just Coffee and Arthouse Kitchen. I miss them very much.

I brought with me the last slice of my birthday cake and had it as a pre-flight meal, along with a little cheeseburger and some Cocobella. In the plane, I was pleasantly surprised with a slice of chocolate cheesecake in recognition of my birthday – thank you Qantas!

One physical, markedly palpable thread that ran through this adventure was the incessant involuntary action of coughing, and more coughing, and even more – it flowed over and lasted for two more months, even after I had returned home to my beloved Lucy.

Art is important to me. Research is important to me. And food is also important to me. Food is sustenance, and sensory delight. And this Autistic Foodie Bunny needs a lot of that to survive!

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