Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Kitchen Hijinks And WFH

Not long after returning from my Chinese New Year break, the old fridge gave up the ghost. Every perishable inside had gone bad or was on the way there.

I've had a new fridge since then but getting back to cooking or making simple meals took a while. Even after the new fridge came in, I had waited for about 36 hours before switching it on instead of the six to eight hours for the refrigerant in the unit to settle down after transit.

Part of me feels like the fridge isn't merely a thing that keeps food fresh, but a kitchen helper. Was I trying to get acquainted with it before trying out things in the kitchen like I used to with the old fridge?

Anthropomorphising household objects might sound strange but it's how I feel about stuff I use and depend on regularly to make my life easier, especially things that have been around for a long time.

Like the old backpack I had to abandon when I found holes at the bottom. I tend to carry stuff in it - medicines, groceries and other things, and waiting for the bottom to give way while hauling stuff wouldn't do. The backpack was almost as old as the fridge, almost two decades, so having to get rid of two things that had been part of the household for so long felt poignant.

The deliverymen took care of the old fridge after bringing in the new one, while I disposed of the old backpack, my frequent travelling companion of almost twenty years. I wouldn't allow it the final indignity of going out as a trash bag, so I emptied it and laid it on the contents of a dumpster.

...No, I don't talk to the fridge or the backpack. That's silly.

At least I've started getting back to messing about in the kitchen like it was before the pandemic. With the arrival of a new powerful blender, a Phillips ProBlend 6 3D, the banana-oat-nut-and-seed smoothie made a return. This yummy meal replacement used to be a regular thing until my immersion blender blew out.

Though the new machine produces a smoother concoction, cleaning and drying it is bothersome, so I won't be using it more than once a day. I might need another immersion blender - maybe one with a food processor attachment - as the ProBlend 6 is too much of a monster for stuff like sauces, soups and pesto.

I miss the latter though, to the point where I pulled a jar of ready-made pesto off a shelf for home-made pasta. Crowds are still keeping me out of malls and store-bought is convenient. I get my bourgeois goods from a nearby corner shop, like a mini Hock Choon, though it hasn't stocked basil leaves for a long time since it first opened.

I also whipped up a prototype mun fan (Chinese braised rice) with roast pork and mixed frozen vegetables. Few things are comforting as a dish of rice drenched in the sauce from braising miscellaneous ingredients.

Some frying was involved to reduce a bit of onion to almost nothing. The post-meal clean-up was quite the chore as I had also neglected having a cooker hood installed while renovating the place. Will be quite a while before the next attempt.

Wraps have also arrived in the kitchen. Assorted fresh greens, some protein and a sauce rolled up in what is essentially a flatbread makes a satisfying meal. So simple, I wondered why I took so long to try it out. Roast pork, tuna mayo, garlic sausage, scrambled eggs, even tinned beef curry...

Ah, the possibilities. What's next? Coleslaw? Burger ingredients? A chicken rice burrito? The mind is still boggling. Unless I'm lazy or in a hurry, I won't be getting another tuna wrap from Subway.

A shame that I came to realise this a bit late. With restrictions easing all over, I expect my days of working from home to end, along with the cooking. Prepping for a home-cooked meal and cleaning up afterwards take up a fair chunk of time and switching gear back to work after that can be a pain.

Being a creature of habit, I confine certain routines to their places and hate it when things change halfway. Work is work, home is home. So when restrictions were lifted for the first MCO, going back to work felt liberating. Taking out food meant not having to prep ingredients and clean up the kitchen.

But working from home beats having to deal with the time- and soul-consuming commute to and from work, no thanks in part to the antics of Malaysian road users. Didn't miss that at all.

Nor shall I miss having to scramble for limited parking bays at work, or having my parked car blocked by trucks as they are being loaded or unloaded when I want to drive out for lunchtime takeaways.

One is often in a calmer state of mind without striving to beat the clock daily. When there's no work, chores can be done. A home always has something that needs tending to.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Looking Back At A Long-Gone Life

Lately, like many in my current pandemic-addled state of mind, I've been tuning to VTubers at the end of each day to wind down. Some of them have other talents than being entertaining on screen while streaming, and quite a few can sing well enough to put out singles and even whole albums.

One of these talents is the "rapping reaper", Calliope Mori. She's produced quite a few songs, some of which feature a mix of English and Japanese lyrics, and the apparent ease with which she comes up with them speak of many, many hours, if not years, of practice.

A recent original, "End of a Life", took me down an emotional memory lane. Something about the soothing yet melancholic number makes you want to listen to it again and again.

While I lack the vocabulary to analyse songs, I could tell from the lyrics that on the surface, "End of a Life" seems to be about someone - perhaps Calli or anyone in the music business - who feels nostalgic about their starving artist days.

Life is a series of stages, and when people are dissatisfied with what they have to deal with now, they tend to look back towards simpler times, no matter how rough and far removed from where they are now.

There's a certain romance to the journeyman's struggle: despite the bad bosses, bad co-workers, bad environment and other occupational hazards on a road seemingly going nowhere, something comes along that makes things a little better: that one good colleague, the kind waitress at the diner, or unexpected things such as a helping hand from a stranger, an epiphany that descends while savouring a dinner or a drink, or some serendipitous event. And the occasional trip to a rooftop with a view, with or without friends, and the cathartic ranting, singing or hollering away of the day's troubles.

Times may have been tough when you were up and coming, but these things kept you going, one day at a time. Eventually, you developed a camaraderie with the community and the place where all this happened. Each day fraught with hardship that's survived is an accomplishment.

But then you catch a break, you move up and life gets cushier. A sort of torpor sets in, not the stuck-at-the-bottom type but the lonely-at-the-top or the now-what type often encountered at loftier heights. The grind is different, not as real like when you sweated buckets for what you can now do with a flick of the wrist, forgetting that it's also due to all the experience earned along the way.

That's when you look back and feel like an impostor, seeing the past with rose-tinted lens. That's when you feel guilty for leaving the old hood and all your old friends behind, the ones who came up with you but didn't get the break you did. All this messes with you and makes you feel you don't deserve what you have now.

But wasn't all this what you dreamed of when you stared into the stars from that roof, holding on to the ghost of that beer or cigarette in your mouth as you wished that horrible boss would drop dead?

Near the bottom, the struggle was real, but so were the connections you made, the gems you found. Those seem to get fewer and farther between as you get near the top, don't they?

Each stage of life has its good and bad. Before long you'd notice it too. The grind, the lulls in between, and the end-of-the-day ritual for tomorrow. The environment may be better, but it's still the same. Less real, perhaps, because you aren't suffering as much.

That's the longing for simple days that creep in when you're down, that some people attribute to Stockholm syndrome. If only they knew, huh?

It's a privilege to be able to look back at a shitty life with such fondness for the occasional bright spots, and you know it. Not everybody is as fortunate. Maybe these trips back in time are a distraction from the anxieties of the future.

Maybe what you miss is being young, being tough enough to survive whatever life throws at you. The high from making it through a tough day that makes you feel like you will life forever.

Alas, all lives must end. Just as the shitty life ended for you, so will these best years eventually join that shitty life in the recesses of your memory, only to surface at the lower points when you're older and less resilient to the emotional battering from mourning the sweet spots in your past.

Until then, from time to time, you'll revisit the old hood, old friends, and that rooftop with the view, where you held on to the taste of that beer or cigarette, laughed at your bullshit dreams of the big time, and hurled curses or sang songs alone or with your friends.

And you'll keep wondering how they're doing and if any of them made it out like you did, or disappear into the lights of the old hood, as you mentally compose thank-yous you might never get to send to them and others who in their little ways, took you through life day by day until you caught a break - and dreading what would've become of you if they hadn't shown up. Will they even be there when you drop by? Do you even want to and risk opening old wounds?

We all have such thoughts occasionally. All these and more surface each time I replay the song. To what extent Calli drew from experience when she wrote this, or whether she made it all up, I don't know. But I feel they echo strongly within content creators, like the ones we're watching. Many of them languished in similar dead ends until they became online stars.

I didn't quite set out to write an open letter of sorts to the protagonist or anyone who find themselves in the protagonist's shoes in the song, but here I am. So let me finish.

Well, you toughed it out too. All the good fortune one can receive means nothing if you didn't put in the work. You are here, and the "you" who didn't get lucky is a hypothetical, erased by the paths you did take.

Some people didn't believe in you, put you down, didn't stick around. That's fine. Do what you're doing now for those who did. If they're real homies they'd be cheering and singing along with you, proud that you're taking on the world.

Even if the old hood is gone, it'll live on in the heart, still doing what it's always been doing to get you through life one day at a time. And now, you also have new people who support you. As long as one is alive, might as well cherish the good things, tough out the bad, and make the most of every opportunity.

So don't stop dreaming. We'll be here when you wake up.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Some Flavours From Home

Besides some home-made Penang Hokkien mee, relatives sent me three jars of home-made spice pastes last week. A cousin just started doing this on the side and is only making these pastes to order, so there's no big push to market.

But this was part of an unexpected but much-needed care package - that's what I'm calling it - as I've not been out to shop in two weeks while the second jab settles in, and the pastes added colour and flavour to my otherwise drab rice dishes that reminded me of mask-free days of yore.

You take it for granted that café or restaurant you found and whose dishes you like will be there forever - until they close down. I'm terrified of checking up on these. Who knows how many are still in business in the current situation?

...Ah, yes.

An aunt - said cousin's mom - offered me samples of the pastes through WhatsApp. These were supposed to be sold but she "belanja" me, she said. I took up the offer. If these are as good as the Hokkien mee, I'll be ordering more.

The noodles and pastes - two sambals and a ginger-scallion paste - arrived at the condo, Uber-ed to me by the cousin's husband. He arrived pretty late, so I could only figure out what to do with the pastes the next day.

I made a batch of rice with chicken stock, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a saucepan, then mixed it with a beaten egg. I split the rice into two portions and mixed one sambal with each. I would do this with the ginger-scallion paste days later.

The versatile and familiar Sambal Hae Bi perhaps needs no introduction. The meaty sweetness of dried shrimp in chilli paste means extra protein is optional ... though this one could be a little spicier. The texture is a bit rough but it's a given, and the occasional crunch of shrimp shell feels kind of good.

The temptation to add extra sambal is strong after the first few bites. This contains shellfish, so those with allergies are cautioned. Several relatives on my dad's side developed allergies to shrimp, a future that might be on my cards. But until then, I'll be living it up.

The Sambal Bunga Kantan - torch ginger flower sambal - was new to me, though not necessarily novel. Others, I would learn, are making this. Mellow, floral, yet zesty, it made me think of all the Nyonya dishes I've seen in cookbooks.

The flavours also brought me back to my family dining table in Penang - specifically, to Mom's sambal-stuffed mackerel. The stuffing might be the same thing, albeit another recipe.

Again, I just want to pile this on, but keep in mind not to mix other stronger flavours that tend to overpower it. Let it be the star in a rice or pasta dish, or spread on bread or croissant. I can also see this going into a mackerel or used as a marinade.

I couldn't find many uses for the ginger-scallion paste, which also has garlic. I imagine it would go well with stir-fried vegetables, atop steamed white fish, chicken or pork, or mixed into congee. I was surprised to find that it gave my base rice a Hainanese note - like chicken rice.

An ex-colleague suggested marinating some chicken with it, plus some soya sauce, then steaming it. I suppose it could also be used as a composite ingredient, like the ginger-garlic paste that YouTube chef Sanjay Thumma often uses for his curries.

Looks like raw chicken is going into my shopping list for next week.

I don't dare eat this for dinner or use too much of it because ginger really gets your blood pumping - not good if you're winding down before bedtime. Also, this paste tends to brown while thawing and exposed to the air, so it's probably best to stir it into whatever you're cooking as soon as it's out of the jar.

Wonderful stuff, though the pastes harden when refrigerated - probably because of the oil. No preservatives means a shorter shelf life - up to three to four weeks if kept in a fridge, but at the rate I'm going the jars will be empty by then. At least that's better than having to throw out what's left that's gone bad.

It would be great if this venture can grow. With so much competition out there, however, it'll be quite a slog. But in this climate, we do what we can. I wish The Night Owls success.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Cooked Rice In A Saucepan

Twice. And it turned out okay.

What led me to my stove were a couple of clips of Puerto Rican streamers reacting not too favourably to Gordon Ramsay's "pegao-cooking" segment.

A rice dish made in a saucepan. No discernible difference
between what comes out of a rice-cooker.

What Puerto Ricans call pegao is the crust of crispy, brown-in-places rice at the bottom of a pot - probably a rare treat in some homes these days with the advent of modern cooking tools and techniques.

And if the crust resulted from, say, the cooking of claypot rice, fuiyoh. Crispy, fragrant caramelised flavourtown.

This substance is also familiar to other cultures where rice is a staple. The Vietnamese call it cơm cháy, Iranians have tahdig, in Japan it's okoge, nurungji in Korea, and in Indonesia and perhaps Malaysia it's called kerak nasi. The Chinese have guōbā, but the Cantonese call it faan jiu.

Though most of these are a by-product of conventional rice-cooking, sometimes this scorched rice is deliberately created, as might be the case with cơm cháy, guōbā and nurungji.

But then comes this white dude with his idea of scorched rice: pressing cooked rice into a piping-hot frying pan and searing it until it's "crispy", melts butter down the sides of the pan to make it easier to come out, then taps it out onto a plate when it's done.

One of the streamers I linked noted that rather than pegao (a derivative of pegado or "stuck" in Spanish), what Ramsay had made more closely resembled arroz mamposteao. Given Ramsay's reputation, we can acknowledge that his version won't suck - far from it - but it's not what he said it was.

I can only assume that the making of bona fide pegao wasn't enough to showcase the Michelin-starred chef's moves, and he didn't get the memo about what he ended up cooking.

I guess what I'm trying to do here is burn away the shame from getting carried away by a comedian's indignant, low-brow one-note act. The guy is still harping on Jamie Oliver, recently over Thai green curry.

This time, I noticed the energy Oliver radiated in that segment, and others before. This is a bloke who has nothing left to prove, is SO DONE being judged, and is now winging it for all the joy in the world. "Not authentic"? Go elsewhere.

Doesn't look that nice now, but when mixed together...

So I cooked rice in a saucepan. Rice, almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds were followed by thawed-out mixed frozen veg and mashed tinned sardines when the rice looked half-cooked. A good thing about an electric stove is the built-in timer and off switch.

I was concerned that I'd screw up and burn the rice, as I can't remember doing this before. However, only several per cent of the rice was glued to the bottom, nicely dried but not too charred, because I turned down the heat earlier.

I had to keep an eye on the pan until it boiled. A rice cooker is not completely covered by design even if the lid is on, so that extra steam can escape, but it still doesn't prevent spills from boil-over starchy water.

Once the rice started boiling, I waited a bit before adding the rest of the ingredients. After that, I waited a bit longer before lowering the heat and letting it simmer and steam away.

The results didn't taste too different from how I normally cook rice these days: steaming it in a steel bowl propped up by a steaming rack and a bit submerged in boiling water inside a rice cooker. This was a tip from Twitter for single-portion rice cooking that emerged during the first MCO, and it has served me well since.

The next day, I repeated this with a tin of Yeo's beef curry and roughly diced carrot. The resulting "pegao" was spicy as well as savoury, albeit low in volume. In both cases, the flavour reminded me of rice crackers.

But oh, wow, getting it out of the pan was tough. I broke a spoon made of a rice husk compound - a good spoon! RIP - to extract the crust because I didn't want to scrape the bottom with a metal utensil. Considering that the pan is stainless steel, I probably shouldn't have been so delicate about it.

The aftermath of saucepanned rice #2, after the rice grains
were scraped off. Hard work, but worth it.

I have concerns over using a claypot on my glasstop ceramic stove, so for now this is a viable alternative when I'm in the mood for a one-pot meal, made in a pot.

Some would say that it won't be like how it's made in a claypot, but that's okay. With the pandemic changing our relationship with our kitchens (I love you, kitchen!) and our regard for hawker food and outside dining (OMG you're all heroes!), some things need to be re-evaluated.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Here Are Some Words

I had more to say in this post, but decided not to, lest I mention something that might be offensive or proven incorrect later. But that's just one of several fears I've borne since I began writing less.

Voltaire was believed to have said, "Perfect is the enemy of good". However, he was apparently quoting some Italian proverb and somewhere down the line it was mistranslated a bit. But its profundity has encouraged some writers to keep writing, internal - and external - editors be damned.

That has become a monumental feat for me because I had a job that demanded a certain degree of perfection in my writing and my current job compels me to demand the same in myself - still! - and in others. Vague briefs and bad writing habits of others complicate matters further. Unfair, but that's how it is.

I had been comfortable with how I wrote for a long time, and in the job where I was first called on to write, my flair and self-possessiveness were shattered. My words were not perfect. All their imperfections were pointed out to me, and in some cases I wasn't allowed to fix them the way I wanted to.

Perhaps it's why I've been subconsciously "counting my scars" now and then, while acquiring new ones.

Someone dragged me into the business of words when they entered my life, but they're gone now, leaving a gaping void I still struggle to fill today.

Words wouldn't fit. Either I haven't written enough of them or it's the compulsion to harshly judge my output. Perhaps due to the nature of their departure, I've come to associate the whole business of writing with this person and have come to loathe it, to be as far away from it as possible.

Regardless, all this led me to distrust my words, and the ever-growing, ever-thickening pandemic fog is not helping.

The lockdowns have kept me away from my old haunts, stripping me of havens where the words can flow a little and depriving me of what little respite I have from my daily troubles.

Some of these factors are beyond my control. What I can do, however, is write. Even on days when I'm not called on to write, when the words don't flow or aren't right, or when I just feel like a pound of fried chicken skin slathered with cheese sauce, a bucket of mashed potatoes and a pile of coleslaw, the mind swarms with words, however chaotic or terrible they sound when put together.

So here I am, and here are some words.

Perfect may be the enemy of good, but I've been told a few times that what I've written is good. My scribbles have been published in newspapers in print and online, so they have to be of a certain standard.

Still, when I pound the keyboard, the desk, and ocassionally the wall in frustration when the words don't fit, all that seems insignificant.

Who the hell am I still trying to please?

What is shattered can never be put back perfectly together - some pieces shall remain missing, however minute. The Japanese practice of kintsugi supposedly illustrates that these gaps can be beautiful when filled with the right things. You probably can't eat out of that bowl again but damn, it looks good and broke the ice with your guests.

So here I am, and here are more words.

My ability to write doesn't have to win a prize or generate social media buzz. It just has to be good enough. Though time and heartache have distorted my Good Enough™ sense, pulling it back into shape shouldn't be too difficult.

Because every time I write, just write, I pound the keyboard, the desk, and ocassionally the wall with less and less frustration as I remember the original shape and feel of my wordsmithing. The journey back is hard but doable because the words still swarm in my head, trying to escape.

Bit by bit, I'll fill that void in me. I can't do a perfect job but hell, I'll do my best to make it interesting.

And instead of asking "Who the hell am I still trying to please?", someday I hope to ask, "Why the hell did it take me so long to figure it out?"

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Counting Scars

I can't remember the first time I heard Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam's "Scars", though its melody still haunts the fringes of my mind. But weighed down by growing recent concerns, I looked it up again on YouTube.

A closer look at the lyrics showed me how much of an education I might have missed, and that I should pay more attention to what I listen to. And considering that the song was released in 1995, "late to the party" is an understatement.

Composed and lyricised by Jonathan Li Zongsheng, the song is sung from a woman's point of view and the first part is basically, "Girlfriend, it's freaking late at night. Who's got you up counting your scars, and why do you need a light to go to bed? If you won't dish, I won't prod."

That's not the end of the story, as she goes on (pardon the gaps in my translation skills):

It's just that right now you have to admit
At times love is like a void
And the relationship itself is a letdown
So don't blame it all on yourself as a woman

Does language also determine the degree of profundity in a song's lyrics?

If you love so deeply there will be no balance
Being trapped in a relationship tortures the soul
Love what you should love, hate what you should hate
Just don't exhaust yourself

Here comes the advice:

A woman's unique, natural naivete and tenderness
Is only for the one who truly loves you
So no matter how rough the future may be
He will always see it through with you

...and the caution:

Love may be a responsibility, but give it your best
Even if at times it's so beautiful, it doesn't last
Love is enchanting but it also wounds vSo if you're brave enough to love, be brave enough to part

There's nothing to unpack here, as the words speak for themselves, and so eloquently. Good advice for those in a relationship, regardless of gender.

Since revisiting this song though, the melody and the words trail me like ghosts. Have I been counting scars on some nights when I can't sleep?

The Nineties were another time, and I'd like to believe we're all braver and more open about our troubles. Nevertheless, some of us are sleeping less than we should these days and may not be up to the job of being a listening ear or a sturdy shoulder.

So take some time off to find and do what recharges you for what lie ahead, and avoid what causes you heartache and fury, like the news or social media right now.

Love what you should love, hate what you should hate
Just don't exhaust yourself

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Sayonara, Chairman

On 1 July, Hololive virtual YouTuber Kiryu Coco graduated, i.e., retired. Fans and her fellow Hololive VTubers mourned. Tributes to her flooded cyberspace. More than 491,000 viewers watched her last "live" appearance on YouTube, perhaps the most ever so far for a Hololive virtual YouTuber in the platform's history.

"All this fuss over a cartoon girl?" Yes, if you've been living under a rock since the pandemic started.

So many VTubers, so little headroom
Virtual YouTubers - or VTubers - aren't a new concept. The idea of an animated avatar stand-in as entertainment goes way back to the days of Max Headroom. With many countries locked down by COVID, more and more sought an escape through online video-streaming platforms.

This was perhaps the time many first encountered a world of online virtual entertainers.

Typically, a real person is behind each virtual avatar, manipulating it through motion tracking technology, like e-wayang kulit. Some movements can be programmed with software, like in videos where the VTuber dances. VTubers also entertain audiences with activities such as playing games, singing, and drawing, and even movie watch-alongs and chats with viewers.

Some virtual talents are independent, while some are part of agencies, with Hololive being the most well-known. Interactions such as collabs among talents within and outside their agencies can and do happen, subject to conditions. Being under an agency helps a great deal in terms of VTuber tech, sponsorships and branding, in lieu of a basic salary.

Income from VTubing generally comes from viewer donations, usually integrated into the streaming service. YouTube, for instance, introduced the superchat, where viewers pay to keep certain comments on screen longer than usual. Some VTubers show their appreciation by reading the names of superchatters after each segment.

Each avatar has its lore or background, which is revealed during their debut and expands over time. Eventually, boundaries between the avatar and the actor blur as their backgrounds meld and incorporates bits of the actor's daily life: family, school, work, and off-screen interactions with other VTubers, and the struggles faced in their VTubing careers.

All this creates a vibrant melting pot of inspiration as artists, musicians, video editors, and the like get in on the lore train with the fans, enriching it. The amount of VTuber-inspired output is growing, and in Japan the avatars are also featured on snacks, drinks, and on special occasions, billboard ads.

Well, this preamble went on longer than it should.

But what I'm saying here that VTubing has sort of bloomed as a form of entertainment, a career, and a PR strategy. You want facts and figures, go somewhere else. However, that brands such as Netflix and even Air Asia is riding the Vtubing surge, debuting their own VTubers as their corporate spokespeople, should be enough to shout that this trend won't be going away soon. Saturated, yes, but not going away. Is anyone aware that Malaysia has its own VTuber agency?

And among the figures driving this boom is a certain orange-haired half-dragon cartoon girl.

A virtual star was born...
Kiryu Coco debuted as a Hololive VTuber around December 2019 along with four other genmates, but she dropped into my YouTube recommendations near the end of the first MCO in Malaysia. She stood out even among her fellow VTubers, not just for her height and cup size. Who was this sassy bilingual lady with a distinctly American Southern drawl who uses "motherf—er" in her catchphrase?

At some point, however, she grew on viewers. With scores of clippers - people who subtitle and post segments of archived VTuber livestreams - that she and her fellow Hololivers spoke mainly Japanese was no barrier to getting to know her.

Coco's voice actress was born and raised American, which explains her accent. She apparently taught herself Japanese after playing a game from Sega's Yakuza series and has been living in Japan for some time after her family moved there for work.

Behind her raunchy, at times foul-mouthed on-screen persona, Coco is smart, forward-thinking, creative, sensitive, compassionate, and pretty selfless. She's helped several Hololivers through personal crises, provided tech support, and mulled the creation of a dorm-cum-office that's more conducive for Hololivers to stream and live in. All this, the lengths she goes to for each stream, and more contributed to her meteoric rise in popularity.

And it shows. Just check out these stats. This website, Playboard, only started tracking these figures early last year, but grossing nearly RM12.3 million in super chats from her debut up to her graduation is no mean feat. Coco's is currently listed as the most superchatted YouTube channel worldwide.

Even assuming that YouTube takes 30 per cent and Hololive, say, 40 per cent, her net earnings are still damn serious for someone who plays an exaggerated version of herself online. Small wonder millions are hopping onto this bandwagon. Well, I thought it was a big deal until I looked up some income tax rates.

Coco is also cited as the main reason Hololive English came about. Its members' popular YouTube channels reached the million-subscriber milestone less than a year after their debuts, and sitting at the top is shark girl Gawr Gura, with more than three million subscribers, beating that of the standard bearer of Japanese VTubing, Kizuna Ai.

She shows more of her caring, introspective side in her "Bar Coco" segments, where she plays the accomodating hostess of a virtual bar helping her guests (the audience) wind down after a long day, dispensing advice and telling jokes. She's done more, but repeating all that here is pointless.

Not for nothing Coco's epithet among fans and colleagues was kaichou or Chairman, a nod to her being a Yakuza fangirl and reflective of her growing influence within the global VTubing sphere.

But there were hard times. Because YouTube is Hololive's primary streaming platform, VTubers who cross the line become demonitised - no superchat or ad revenue - or even banned from streaming temporarily. Coco and several other Hololivers have been hit. And after she broadcasted YouTube stats that showed Taiwan as a country, Chinese nationalist fanatics coordinated a months-long harrassment campaign, spamming her chat window and those of other Hololivers in collaborative streams, to get the company to fire her.

Nevertheless, she persisted, so when she announced in June that she was graduating from Hololive, about one and a half years after her debut and at the peak of her career, everyone was shook. After all she had endured, after all the time and effort she invested, it had come to this?

...but went supernova
The harrassment was one factor, but as the date approached she revealed that she'd found herself descending an unhappy spiral over her streaming activities. Having some of her ideas for streaming and such shot down by management no doubt contributed to her slump. Her fans are understandably furious about the harrassment and the antis are a convenient sandbag. But Hololive appears to be an archetypal Japanese talent agency after all, and Coco's Western ways were never going to be welcome there. She's likely to have haters among Japanese viewers too, for not meeting expectations.

She has already influenced some Hololivers to swear in English and pick up the language to communicate with the wider Anglophone audience, affectionately referred to as "overseas bros". She played a role in getting Hololivers from various branches - Japan, Indonesia and the English-speaking group - to bond. Her presence was inducing changes to the company and probably the industry as a whole, which the conservative segment of Hololive's management probably could not adapt to, in less than two years!

But before management could decide, Coco apparently decided to graduate on her own, announcing the decision first to her colleagues, then to the world maybe several months later, after laying out a roadmap for her exit. Collabs, an original song, a group single with her fellow genmates, and a graduation stream were arranged. She even managed to interview Tanigo Motoaki, a.k.a. YAGOO, the CEO of Cover Corp, Hololive's parent company.

Towards the end, she gave it her all in her last livestreams, often exuding the strongest "whatcha gonna do, fire me?" vibes any outgoing employee has ever displayed.

A bunch of fans including music mixers and artists helped her put together a music video for her cover of "Fansa" ("Fanservice") in time for her graduation - and didn't bill her a yen. Elsewhere, fan tributes poured in: posts, tweets, videos, songs and art. Before and shortly after her exit, during collabs and streams, some Hololivers couldn't hold back tears at the thought of her departure.

Even after her graduation, unlike most idols, her name was not verboten. Coco is still referred to and brought up during livestream conversations by other Hololivers. Several of them even sang her apparently fan-made(!) original song online. Her Twitter account and YouTube channel remain, along with all the other clips of her made by clippers.

It's still cold comfort for fans, especially those who had just discovered her, only to learn that her time with us would be cut short. Many of us who needed an escape from the COVID-riddled reality tumbled into the VTuber rabbit hole, and Coco was among those who first pulled us in. And just when we needed her even more, she left us.

Towards a new sky
I broke down at one point after watching one too many tributes to her online. Tears shed not solely for a star that braved hardship and the ire of petty people only to be unjustly deprived of her chance to shine even brighter, but from everything else that led us to seek solace in her antics and those of other VTubers. The scene just isn't the same without Hololive's naga lucu.

Some have wondered if she would have been more at home with a Western Vtuber agency like, say, VShojo, whose talents tend to be as forward as she is. I don't think so. In VShojo, she would have been just "one of the girls". In Hololive? A more restrained, more wholesome and family-friendly arena? She glowed like a supernova, albeit too brightly and too hot in the end.

It's likely that despite her distinctive voice, as well as her identifying character and verbal tics (which have helped the curious discover her other online identity), Coco insisted on being herself in an alien sky because she knew how bright she'd shine there.

So we can perhaps be comforted by the fact that she'll find another sky to shine in, and that we haven't seen the last of her, assuming she managed to save whatever remained of her love of streaming and cheering up audiences.

Live strong, Chairman, wherever you may be.