18 alif ibrahim, food grammar, the extremely online novel, the mappila verses, critical aunty studies

Hello from Dubai, and the first diary I’ve been able to pay the diarist for! Since arriving I’ve been in a migrainey, jetlagged haze of deadlines and missing my partner. But there’s also a palpable relief at having escaped the fever dream of that country. The deadline for BXD is in three days. It’s all happening.

This week’s diary is from artist and writer Alif Ibrahim. The images are from these early illustrations of the nervous system.

spiky bois

Medieval pilgrims apparently tried to ward off the plague with bawdy badges. The afterlives of indenture. What can Covid-19 teach us about the mysteries of smell? A tsunami of randoms: How Trump’s COVID chaos drowned the FDA in junk science.Who’s making all these scam calls? The pandemic has erased entire categories of friendship. Covid and me: ten days on life support. Cyberpunk anticipated the high-tech attack on democracy we’re all living through. Has the pandemic transformed the office forever? Dhaka in the 70s. I lost my appetite because of Covid. This Sichuan flavour brought it back. I can survive, I can survive, I can survive. My sister was disappeared 43 years ago. Alice Wong on activism, community and writing. How I helped my Dad die.

glouglou & snackchat

Introducing ‘food grammar,’ the unspoken rules of every cuisine. Wellness foods are often seen through a Western lens. These Bay Area Asian Americans are trying to reclaim them. In praise of aunties: the ultimate home cooks. “This land is meant only for saffron. without it it means nothing.” Ka’ak and the case for the ancient Arab origins of the bagel. Feast on this guide to modern Māori cooking. Fake meat, real profits. Why don’t banana candies taste like real bananas? The great soda awakening. Can the Pizza Pusha survive pot legalisation? Canadian Club, neat. American success story, on the rocks. I am the designer of this restaurant’s outdoor seating space and this is my artist’s statement. How Wisconsin became the centre of the ‘brandy belt.’ Fuck fine dining.


Seeding the ocean: inside a Michelin-starred chef’s revolutionary quest to harvest rice from the sea. The radio station at the heart of a fishing community. The Alhambras of Latin America.The climate crisis is worse than you can imagine.Here’s what happens when you try. From Sindh to Andalusia: the life and times of sufi-flamenco star Aziz Balouch. The pearl of the Indian ocean. How the most hyped US oil merger in a decade went bust. The rising tide underfoot. Icon of defiance and hope: Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s image in Gulf history. Why Malayalam breakout film The Great Indian Kitchen is “the story of most Indian women.” The beautiful, brutal world of whaleship art. The Mappila Verses. The ocean’s mysterious vitamin deficiency.


Where surveillance cameras work, but the justice system doesn’t. Two paths for the extremely online novel. From cassette cinemas to homemade joysticks: how Poland revolutionised new media from behind the Iron Curtain. When you say one thing but mean your motherboard. Confessions of a Venmo voyeur. Goat Zooms. A vast web of vengeance. An oral history of Wikipedia. the web’s encyclopedia. Three weeks inside a pro-Trump QAnon chatroom. Huawei, 5G, and the man who conquered noise. The 100 sequences that shaped animation.

☞\( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)☞ yeehaw

Critical Aunty Studies. Have we already been visited by aliens? The true story of Jess Krug, the white professor who posed as Black for years—until it all blew up last fall. Crazy wisdom: a love story. Highway to Hell: a trip down Afghanistan’s deadliest road. The Russian dacha as a state of mind. I saw the world on cruise ships. The epic hunt for one of the world’s most wanted men. Seeking the truth behind books bound in human skin. The cheating scandal that ripped the poker world apart. The day my voice broke: what an injury taught me about the power of speech. I’m very wholesome. Just ask my shirt. 🔊Peking Noir.

culture diary: alif ibrahim


The night before, I didn’t fall asleep until four in the morning. I went to bed around two as usual but couldn’t fall asleep even after two hours of tossing and turning. By the time I woke back up for work at eight, I felt like I had barely rested. I’m not even sure if I fell into a deep sleep or if I had just passed time with my eyes closed. There was nervous energy in the air, like something was brewing, much like full moon nights with a glow that teases your eyelids.

When I woke up to start my work day, I texted my friend. 

Hey, how are you doing

All gucc

Although I did stay up until 5am last night

I couldn’t sleep 

I swear I was tossing and turning until 4am



I wonder wsup
You couldn’t sleep too?

No I was just having too much fun lol

I recently noticed that other people often have trouble sleeping on nights where I find it hard to sleep. 

It’s the first day where I didn’t have any immediate writing work due, so I took it easy. I had just submitted my last piece for a three-month long editorial position at the School of Commons the previous Friday. It felt good to have nothing planned for the evenings for once. I saw a tweet recently that said something to the effect that the best part about writing is the quiet time in between where you don’t have anything to write. This was that felt like.


A friend sent me a voice message about how her mentor advised her that she needed to make sure that her work as a web designer didn’t copy elements from others if she wanted it to submit it for awards. Right after hearing that advice, she found a website that her mentor just published looked just like the one she was submitting. 

For lunch, I had takeaway nasi Bogana from a nearby stall. It was my first time eating it, though I often find it hard to differentiate these rice dishes (nasi Langgi, nasi Bogana, nasi Krawu) once I had mixed the toppings with the rice and slathered it with even more chili paste. 

My copies of the Non-Fiction Journal from the Open City Documentary Festival finally arrived. I ordered two copies of each volume, intending to give away the excess to friends. It usually takes about a month for things I order abroad to arrive here in Jakarta. I checked my email and saw that I ordered them on 7 December. 

I was looking forward to reading Shireen Seno’s piece and went straight to her article. There isn’t really a reason to read journals chronologically, is there? I first encountered Seno’s work at a screening of her curatorial project Kalampag Tracking Agency at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Boston a few years ago. The project was a collection of little-seen moving image works from the Philippines and its diaspora that represents a “bang” (or kalampag in Tagalog). It was a memorable screening. I remember scribbling notes on the edges of the one-page programme in the dark for a review that I was about to write on the screening. The notes were ultimately illegible, but I remember writing it with such fervour so as not to forget my thoughts. 

Seno writes about a new feature-length film that she’s developing on the migration of birds in the Philippines. “The problem is, I have been long afraid of birds. I don’t know if it’s one thing in particular, but the combination of feathers, beak, and webbed or textured feet just gives me the creeps,” she writes. The image of birds flying over the ocean in migration reminded me of my friend’s affinity for the ocean and how she told me that she’s had to make ocean-like conditions all her life.


Mum returned from out of town, bringing a family friend. She walked in just as my brother and I ordered bakmi. We knew when she walked in that there would be a surplus of food, because no one comes home empty handed from out of town. She brought two servings of soto padang, which she said she made herself. “With some help,” she says. To which I replied: “They helped you cook it and you helped them buy it huh.”

It was a particularly busy day at work, so I spent most of it in the room. But eventually, time for maghrib came and after we prayed together in the living room so we could fit all of us. I ate the soto padang for dinner. 

Our family friend asked to play a game of chess, and I just couldn’t turn that down. We played four games without time constraints. I felt that time constraints limited my learning of the game, especially when I’m this inexperienced. I was too greedy in the first game and lost a winning position. We ended up with two wins each. 

I went to bed early for the first time in weeks.


Mum left early back to Bandung, after subuh. The lull between projects ended today with some comments from my editors. I’m currently working on a longform piece about a Facebook group in Singapore. To me, the first edits are always the scariest. What if the draft was too different from the pitch you sent? What if you didn’t meet their expectations? Did I interview enough sources?

The editors were slammed with other commitments, so it took a few months for their comments to come in. I read their notes on my phone and saw them pointing out the same old habits that I had. 

Maybe the theme for this week was receiving all the overdue mail I was supposed to get. I received a copy of Hato Press Zine from my friend, sent about a month before, that came with a handwritten letter from her. It was written on brown ribbed paper with white ink. I thought it was funny that her handwriting was hard to read, because she is known for being a horrible speller when texting. Warmth filled my heart. “For now, my love, happy new year,” she signs off. I felt loved.


After a busy morning of back-to-back design check ins, I went for Friday prayers. The prayer times have been getting later and later recently, I note. 

A few months ago, I got into the habit of making wedang jahe as a way to relax and give myself a little treat on a slow afternoon. I eventually stopped after my schedule got packed, but I decided to make some today. I appreciate its versatility. If I wanted to feel energised, I would brew green tea with the ginger-lemongrass-cinnamon mix. And if I felt that I had been good to myself, I would use it to brew coffee with some brown sugar. Today was one of those days.

I wrote up a piece for a design blog in the evening. I had to write about a few websites that focused on simulating the Earth. One of them was an old website from almost a decade ago that has sped-up footage of a satellite orbiting the Earth behind a player that goes through random, unnamed YouTube videos. This might be one of my favourite websites. 

Against the algorithmic race to the top, these unnamed videos are not meant to be found. They’re titled “IMG 4966” or “MOV 0006” and usually under five seconds long. I thought about why these videos were uploaded. I found it interesting that these were the moments that people decided to archive.


I woke up and cleaned the house. It’s been a while since it was cleaned. I put away the plates, watered the plants, wiped the kitchen counter and put away the ironed clothes that have been sitting in a neat pile since Thursday.

Seeing that I had a free afternoon, I decided to get a haircut right at a place right around the corner from my apartment as recommended by my mum. The hairdresser, mas Mario, had his brown-tinted hair in a neat bun and referred to himself in third person. He talked about how the staff were only being booked one day a week at this point. He told me how he started picking up odd jobs like disinfecting government offices to stay positive and to fill his time. I had my hair cut with my mask on. 

That night I decided to take my brother out of the house since we’ve both been inside all week. We drove and got sushi a few kilometers from our house, complete with a coffee jelly for dessert. I watched sea shanty Tiktoks then went to sleep.


That morning I finally got the breakfast that I’ve been craving all week: bubur ayam (chicken congee). My pale green bowl overflowed with shrimp crackers, peanuts and fried dough.

My friend, the same one I texted about not being able to fall asleep, told me that her books have finally been printed. She recently found a printing shop that is willing to print your PDFs for cheap and she printed five books in one go. I had asked her to print out The Affect Theory Reader by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, a 400-page volume with fourteen texts including one by Sara Ahmed. I wasn’t sure what the quality of the book would be like, but I would have been happy with sheets of printer paper in a ring binder. Good books are hard to find here in Indonesia and if you do find it, they’re often too expensive. The joy of browsing in a bookshop felt like another life. The book arrived and I was surprised by its quality. The covers were matte and the paper stock they used for the pages made it feel like a proper book.

I read a thread on Twitter from Ali A Olomi on the eschatological tribes of Yajuj and Majuj to end the week as I ate dinner. I took a motorcycle taxi and bought sate padang from a hole in the wall vendor right next to my friend’s house. I nibbled on the skewered meat and the rice cakes as I read the thread. 

It’s almost time to begin a new week. I enjoy the quiet Sunday evening before turning in.

featured creature: strawberry squid

Have you ever seen a cephalopod more enchanting—!

Behold the strawberry squid

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