Esoterica’s Penzance by JF Germain

About 30 years ago, Steve Richman began importing into the US, tobaccos blended by JF Germain & Son of Jersey, the British Channel Islands. These tobaccos were available for private labeling and Steve used the name Esoterica Tobacciana as his brand name. With the exception of And So To Bed, he named the blends after English coastal towns. One of the blends, named Penzance was once sold in the US way before that by Smoker’s Haven as Krumble Kake. Smoker’s Haven has long ceased business dealings with Germain for reasons nobody really seems to know. (The company has also changed hands since. Today my acquaintance Premal Chheda is the owner.)

It is said that Steve didn’t have the resources to distribute the Esoterica tobaccos very widely. A few years ago, after opening a retail shop in Oakland California (The Piedmont Tobacconist), he sold the distribution rights to Butera Pipe Company because he felt that tobacco blender and pipe maker Mike Butera could give the tobacco the attention that it needed.

Yet a few years later, Butera, I was told, sold the Esoterica series and other tobaccos to Mike Gold of Arango.

Penzance, and other Esoterica tobaccos are forever unavailable. There are many rumors and speculation as to why this is so. And their rarity has caused a hoarding frenzy for the longest time. Today, small amounts of these blends change hands at ridiculously high prices. Those kept for years are especially every much wanted as they smoke so well. Of all the blends, my favorite is Penzance. Thankfully, ever since I started to take notice of it, I have been buying tins and bulk packages of Penzance whenever I see them being sold. Despite the stash I have, I reserve this English mottled flake consisting of Latakia, Oriental/Turkish and Virginia tobaccos only for very special occasions. It is an extremely satisfying and creamy smoke that any attempt to describe it using words can never do it justice.

To commemorate a special personal milestone, I broke open a vintage tin recently.


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Tahlequah and her Baby

A pod of 75 killer whales, or orcas, roams in a huge territory that includes waters off Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria, British Columbia. Orcas are among the earth’s most socially sophisticated animals. They live in matrilineal groups that include four generations, with the “grandmothers” in charge.

J35, a 20-year-old mother whale from that pod – nicknamed Tahlequah by whale watchers – gave birth on July 25th, after 17 months of gestation. (Orcas gestate for anything from 15 to 18 months.)

The 400-pound, orange-tinted baby that wriggled out of Tahlequah that morning was the first live birth in the pod since 2015.

But the baby died 30 minutes later.

However, Tahlequah did not let her emaciated calf sink to the bottom of the Pacific, but rather balanced it on her head and pushed it along as she followed her pod.

This is an animal that was grieving for her dead baby, and she didn’t want to let it go.

The hours turned into days, and still the next day, and through the weekend, and into the next week; the grieving mother was still seen pushing her baby to the water’s surface.

She was forever picking up the body as it sank, hoisting it out of the water to take a breath, and repeating.

Tahlequah carried her dead calf through the choppy Pacific Ocean in a journey that has astonished and overwhelmed much of the world.

She finally dropped her dead calf, which she’d been pushing with her head for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, in an unprecedented show of mourning.

This tour of grief has struck an emotional chord in many of us and made us lachrymose.

The death and loss of a child is frequently called the ultimate tragedy. Nothing can be more devastating.

Tahlequah’s behavior was heart-rending. But other orcas, and similar cetaceans like dolphins – and even primates like gorillas – have been seen apparently mourning their dead, though this is by far the longest recorded example of such behavior.

People wrote poems about Tahlequah, and drew pictures. People lost sleep wondering about her. A scientist cried thinking of her. Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca, said “I am absolutely shocked and heartbroken…I am sobbing.” Tahlequah also inspired politicians and essayists – and a sense of interspecies kinship in parents who had also lost children.

People love to anthropomorphize animals, often fallaciously.

Scientists say that anthropomorphism (projecting our own feelings onto animals) could even be harmful, especially when we evaluate their inner lives on our own terms. Try patting a wild lion because it looks like a cute cat that craves affection and see where that gets you. But studies have found that orcas really do possess high levels of intelligence and empathy, and emotions that may not be totally alien to our own. Science has proven that the orca brain is more elaborate than ours. The orca’s paralimbic lobe is highly developed, as is its insular cortex, both of which relates to social emotions and awareness. Like the human brain, the orca brain contains von Economo neurons: rare, specialized cells that relate to empathy, among other human-like emotions.

Often, in reality, animals are more human and humane than us.

Recently, a humpback whale and her calf were chased by five male whales swimming off the coast of Flinders Bay, on the southwest coast of Western Australia.

A pod of bottleneck dolphins showed up and surrounded the female humpback to protect mother and child.

One of the dolphins even flashed its teeth toward the male humpbacks in a sign of aggression.

Success for one of the males could have separated the mother from her baby, leading to the calf’s death.

But the dolphins intervened and both mother and child remain safe.

They are lots of lessons we can learn from nature.

But we MUST learn.

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A Veritable Feast for the Eyes

Singapore-based Taiwanese tech entrepreneur David Yu – a real gentleman and a truly loyal friend – frequents Indonesia for work. This neighboring country with more than 18,000 islands harbors many serious pipe makers and smokers. David knows quite a few of them.

When German pipe maker Peter Hemmer visited with us recently, a special viewing of a selection of Peter’s latest hand carved masterpieces was arranged exclusively for friends. Peter’s pipes are par excellence and to compliment the exceptional event, I invited David to display some pipes he has painstakingly carried over to Singapore from Indonesia:

These pipes were not only made by hand with the best material known for smoking pipes, ie, briar, but what makes them so exquisite is that the talented Indonesian pipe makers have also deployed gifts of nature unique to their country to craft some truly extraordinary pipes. Pipes with the most unusual shapes are made of palm and other rare and local wood; in addition, many incorporate special Indonesian bamboo specifically harvested for that purpose.

The conventional may find these pipes “different” or “interesting” and some may even question the bold avant-garde shapes but it’s not my place to criticize if some pipe smokers and collectors want to remain old-fashioned uncles all their lives and stick to the usual.

Enjoy the pictures below, courtesy of collector extraordinaire Bodo Falkenried:

Several other world-renowned pipe makers – whose names are sure to cause reactions – are scheduled to visit with us in the near future in a program I have put together and as always, invitations to these exclusive viewings are private events only for friends and collectors of impeccable taste. The amazing fact about friends and relatives is that while I cannot choose my relatives, I am free to choose my friends!

Ain’t life great?!

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A Pipe by Peter Hemmer

Peter Hemmer is a German pipe carver from Munich who once lived in Rome. He is a good friend who has been to Singapore three times already.

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Another JT Cooke

JT Cooke is famous for his beautiful deep, and very unique sandblasts. He has developed a technique using several separate blasting procedures to bring out and emphasize the unique characteristics of the briar.

No wonder Jim is often referred to as the “Bo Nordh of the Blast.”

He makes his own stems from liquid lucite, which he tints himself and casts into rods. Jim has also developed a special bowl coating process.

This JT Cooke shown above, my second piece, is of a special size and color and only the second one he has made.

It certainly carries significant provenance from the maker.

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Singapore Hokkien Mee

This is good old-fashioned Singapore Hokkien Mee or Hokkien Noodles started by Hokkien people. (Most of the Chinese here are Hokkiens, originally from what is now referred to as Fujian province.)

It’s not a very complicated dish – yellow noodles are fried in prawn broth and ingredients include garlic bits, egg, small thin slices of belly pork, squid, and a couple of small prawns.

A little sambal blachan on the side (lime is usually squeezed on it) and before the dish is served, it is garnished with a small amount of fried pork lard bits.

Some stalls do this very cheaply-priced dish – it costs about US$2.50 a plate – so well that long lines form every day!

Click on the picture to see an enlarged view.

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It’s Not the Chilli, Stupid!

Overheard a chef talking about his favorite food on the radio yesterday.

People assume that chefs know what is good food so it is only natural that people are curious to find out where they go to eat.

So there was this chef – I detest that word, to be honest, any cook who calls himself “chef” is either ignorant or an egomaniacal retard – telling the interviewer that his favorite dish is kway chap from a stall in some housing estate in Singapore and the reason he likes that dish so much is because of the stall’s chilli sauce.

Kway chap is basically flat noodles in soup and eaten with braised pig innards.

The “kway” refers to the noodles and the “chap” refers to a mixture of the pig innards, tofu, etc. In the photo above the “kway” is in the background.  The tiny dish contains the chilli sauce.

Singaporeans are very accustomed to dipping their food into a dipping sauce – either chilli sauce or soy sauce.

But the sauce does not a dish make!

You can have the best chilli sauce in the world but if you dip shit into it, shit remains shit. Good sauce doesn’t turn shit into gourmet cuisine.

Too many Singaporeans are too sidetracked by the sauces that accompany food.

I’m sure this is not the first time you hear of morons saying that a particular dish from a particular stall is good because “the chilli is very nice.”

It’s all wrong!

Why the need to spice up everything? Especially food that is not Indonesian, Malaysian or Thai? A friend of mine would ask the stall to add extra chilli in her noodles, to dump a huge dollop of tiny pork lard bits into the bowl as well. In the end her bowl of bak chor mee (minced pork noodle) tastes nothing like the way it is supposed to taste.

And these people call themselves chefs.

I can only shake my head.

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I thought, I thought…

Many people, when coming across an idea or a subject, mentally race ahead to conclude whatever picture they have in their minds.

Example: I said “I heard durian prices…” and before I could finish, the person to whom I was having the conversation with, interrupted rudely and interjected “Yes, durian prices this season are extremely cheap and everyone’s buying them, I myself have been eating a lot of nice cheap durians lately, some of the top-grade ones are going for like 10 bucks a kilo, have you been eating any, you should if you haven’t, if you want I can pass you my durian seller’s contact number.” He has assumed I wanted to talk about the trending topic of the day which is the low durian prices (due to overharvest).

“Actually,” I regained control of the conversation (after regaining my composure), “I was going to say that I heard durian prices are now really cheap here in Singapore, but, when I was in Hong Kong just two days ago, each durian was still selling for as much as two-hundred Singapore dollars.”

My friend responded with “Oh, I thought you were talking about the low durian prices in Singapore.”

Well, retard, you thought wrongly lah!

When you rush ahead and interrupt without giving your conversation partner the opportunity to finish saying what he has started to say, and you mentally come to a conclusion that your mind has already drawn, you basically deny yourself the chance of understanding what the other person is trying to say.

And you end up responding with “Oh I see, I thought…”

I thought this and I thought that.

It happens to a lot of people.

Honestly, it makes you come across more like the retard you already are.

(With these morons, their own minds block them from really understanding things.)

Next time, listen, digest, understand, check, then, if necessary, respond wisely. Choose your words prudently.

Don’t shoot off your mouth.

Many people need to learn how to be effective listeners!

They need to know the difference between hearing and listening.

Remember you are given two ears and one mouth.

That should give you a hint.

That should stop me from having to hear you say “Oh I see, I thought…” all the time.

It’s grating!

It drives me nuts.

It makes me want to run to Tham Luang cave and die there!

Another thing: please fact-check before asking stupid questions.

I am not Google.

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What Happened to your Apostrophe?

Bad English speakers proliferate my world.

I hear more and more people dropping the apostrophe when referring to someone or something related or belonging to a person.

I hear people saying “Daniel mother” instead of “Daniel’s mother” and “Daniel pipes” instead of “Daniel’s pipes.”

I am a Singaporean of Chinese descent.

Most of my grandparents were born in China. (Well, my maternal grandmother was born in Singapore.)

My parents were born in Singapore.

I was born here in the late 50’s.

English is not my mother tongue.

But I have written about eight books in English and I think I am qualified to comment.

Hey, you moron, I said “mother tongue” and not “mother’s tongue” and in this case, I am not wrong.

Go study.

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Another Pipe by Lee von Erck

Always a pleasure to own a pipe by Lee von Erck; here’s another masterpiece:


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