Codex Borturini

Yesterday while doing research on Huitlacoche (Corn Smut) I ended up trying to find the Florentine Codex (before 1519) to find any images or reference in which Corn Smut was supposedly mentioned. This reminded me that once I did get to see the Borturini Codex in Mexico City at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which has been the most amazing archaeological museum I have seen up to this point in my life.

The Codex Borturini is named after one of its first European owners, Lorenzo Borturini Benaducci (1702-1751), which seems a strange way to name a historical codex through all of antiquity, but I guess the name remains as its only reference. It is also known as “Tira de la Peregrinación” (“The Strip Showing the Travels”). It was painted sometime between 1530 and 1541 and is a pictorial depiction of the legendary migration of the Aztecs from the island of Aztlán to the Valley of Mexico. No thanks to the Spanish these old codices are an important primary sources for our present understanding of Aztec culture.

The Codex is produced on one continuous sheet of fig bark that is accordion-folded into 22 pages – but it seems to end prematurely with a rip in the middle of page 22 without an indication of whether the pictorial tale was complete or not at that point. The line drawings are not coloured in but they are still very fantastic – I had not expected such an ancient travelogue to look quite so – whimsical?

You can see a small version of all 21.5 plates on the spanish wikipedia entry for Tira de la Peregrinación, but here are some selected images I took when I saw it last year.

Field Recording: Mariachi band on autobus to Teotihuacan (2 June 2012, Mexico City)


Last year I made a madcap trip to see Teotihuacan within ONE MORNING. I kept notes on my phone on how this was done. I got up at the crack of dawn, wormed my way to the Terminal Autobuses del Norte via the metro (its on Line 5), bought an autobus ticket for 35 pesos, and looked for the one bus with another tourist boarding it (signage quite poor there and somewhat confusing, abandon hope all ye non-spanish speakers who enter here…) Got on a bus that said PIRAMIDS with a picture of a pyramid on it. I was dropped off at Teotihuacan at around 7.30am, was allowed to enter despite most public signs saying that it is only open at 9am. After a significant amount of walking and puffing and even more walking, I reached the peak of Pyramid of the Moon at 8am. This skillful time maneuvering was made possible thanks to a tip from my old schoolmate Paul (who was also coincidentally in Mexico at the same time??) who told me they would let visitors in early. This helped me avoid the tourist crowds before they start coming in massive droves of buses – and I was one of the first to scale the peak of the piramids that morning.

Here’s a recording of a live mariachi band that forced its way onto the autobus from the terminal to Teotihuacan. There was also a jelly seller, and a knives seller on board. I didn’t really care for the jellies (??) or the knives (???), but the band was quite funny and IN YOUR FACE, and in an extremely cramped bus with most of the people going on their normal lives with far too many baskets and bags. When the band started up in that cramped space, on the faces of the people around me I could see the tensing up of the teeth-clenching muscles, eventually followed by stoic resignation. Basically, everyone was trapped as their captive audience, and the band fought hard to be heard over the roar of the engine. The quality is not so great because it was obviously recorded on a very noisy bus, but I’m still uploading it in case anyone ever wondered what a bus ride to Teotihuacan would sound like…

P6025010 Oh and this is me with a random overfriendly trinket seller in Teotihuacan.

The reason why I am suddenly digging up all these because yesterday I attended the Substation Conferences and did an audio recording for them, and while I was there, I realised that the moderator for the roundtable discussion was someone whom I had seen speaking at another forum (Hello Ai Lin, if you ever see this!). I wanted to see if I could find the recording I had made of that other forum, but could not find it, because I think the audio file is trapped on a hard drive that I broke while I was in Paris and which I left in a drawer in London….

Nevertheless I did find the physical notebooks with the notes on those talks, as well as a whole bunch of other audio files and half-written descriptions and notes of trips to various museums/galleries such as Museo Nacional de Antropología (Mexico City), National Museum of Korea (Seoul), and other things in Hong Kong, etc. I’ve started pushing some of these draft entries online, and ONE DAY I WILL COMPLETE ALL THE BACKDATED DOCUMENTATION! But for now I should really get back to proper work…

See also:
Other posts from Mexico –
Retroalimentacion (Facultad del Artes Gallery, UAEM)
Don Porfirio – El Senor de la Bestias
La Pulqueria (San Fellipe Tlamimilolpan)

New posts on Documentations –
Notes on the “The Cost and Value of Heritage in Singapore: The Belitung Shipwreck and Bukit Brown” (14 April 2012, Mochtar Riady Auditorium, Singapore Management University)
NUS Museum’s Prep Room

A List of All The Foreign Currency On My Table At This Very Moment


Today I sorted all my coins because I wanted to bring all my Singaporean small change to a cash deposit machine to change it into ACTUAL MONEY I CAN USE. I have always been notoriously bad with using up my small change before I leave a country. Last year during one of the times I had to go through a customs checkpoint, I hastily put all my excess foreign currency in an old sock because there were just so many coins left over, and at the customs they made me take the offending coin-filled sock out of my bag and asked me to empty it into a tray so they could examine its metallic contents closely. Sad to say they had the rare treat of sifting through hundreds and hundreds of dirty coins stuffed into a big old dirty sock. “Why did you put your coins in your socks? When filled like this, it looks like it could be used as a weapon!” They told me balefully. “I’m sorry”, I apologised, gathering up the handfuls of coins and stuffing them back into my ever-expanding sock, “but, its just that I had so many coins to take with me suddenly!”

I believe I actually left most of my excess and incredibly heavy Euro coins in the G-box in London, but the main reason why I wanted to tabulate all my coins was because I was curious as to which country all my euro coins came from. They could conceivably come from any european country that had bought into the Euro (with the exception of the UK), and I have always found it fascinating to imagine all these coins travelling within Europe in people’s pockets and dashboards, just like when one is speeding on the autobahn and sees all these EU car plates on big trucks and the cars of all the other travellers – and sees that they have come from somewhere far away in continental Europe! When I go back I plan to tabulate my big bag of Euros to see where they were originally minted. If I could, it would have been interesting if one could have done a control experiment to map the circulation and movement of Euro coins within Europe, although since the euro was actually first introduced over 10 years ago, I’ll bet its pretty scattered by now…

A couple interesting coins from Debbie’s random pile of foreign small change were: (1) a “Nuevo Peso” from Mexico; (2) a New Pence from the UK in 1971; (3) a 10 grozny coin from Poland, one of the tiniest coins in my collection; (4) and a mysterious minimalist Swiss Franc. More details on these after the table…

No. Value Type Origin Year Where Did Debbie Pick It Up?
1 1.00 Euro Germany 2003 Paris, France
2 1.00 Euro Italy 2002 Paris, France
3 0.50 Euro France 2001 Paris, France
4 2.00 Euro Netherlands 2000 Paris, France
5 0.20 Euro Germany 2002 Paris, France
6 0.02 Euro Spain 2007 Paris, France
7 0.10 Euro Germany 2002 Paris, France
8 5.00 Groszy Poland 1993 Krakow, Poland
9 2.00 Groszy Poland 2008 Krakow, Poland
10 1.00 Groszy Poland 2007 Krakow, Poland
11 10.00 Groszy Poland 2008 Krakow, Poland
12 5.00 Rappen Switzerland 1983 Unknown. Perhaps from Lukas?
13 5.00 Yen Japan 1975 Unknown. No leads.
14 500.00 Rupiah Indonesia 2008 Jakarta, Indonesia
15 200.00 Rupiah Indonesia 2008 Jakarta, Indonesia
16 100.00 Rupiah Indonesia 1999 Jakarta, Indonesia
17 5.00 HKD Hong Kong 1998 Hong Kong
18 5.00 HKD Hong Kong 1998 Hong Kong
19 5.00 HKD Hong Kong 1993 Hong Kong
20 2.00 HKD Hong Kong 1993 Hong Kong
21 0.50 HKD Hong Kong 1997 Hong Kong
22 0.50 HKD Hong Kong 1998 Hong Kong
23 0.20 HKD Hong Kong 1998 Hong Kong
24 0.20 HKD Hong Kong 1997 Hong Kong
25 0.20 HKD Hong Kong 1997 Hong Kong
26 0.10 USD USA 2012 Chicago, USA
27 0.01 USD USA 2000 Chicago, USA
28 0.01 USD USA 1983 Chicago, USA
29 0.01 USD USA 1994 Chicago, USA
30 0.01 USD USA 1992 Chicago, USA
31 0.01 USD USA 1994 Chicago, USA
32 0.05 USD USA 1998 Chicago, USA
33 0.20 Ringgit Malaysia 2007 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
34 0.10 Ringgit Malaysia 2012 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
35 0.10 Ringgit Malaysia 2002 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
36 0.10 Ringgit Malaysia 2004 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
37 0.01 Ringgit Malaysia 1991 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
38 0.01 Ringgit Malaysia 2005 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
39 0.01 Ringgit Malaysia 2004 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
40 5.00 Peso Mexico 2003 Mexico
41 1.00 Peso Mexico 1992 Mexico
42 1.00 Peso Mexico 1997 Mexico
43 1.00 Peso Mexico 2004 Mexico
44 1.00 Peso Mexico 2008 Mexico
45 1.00 Peso Mexico 2011 Mexico
46 0.50 Peso Mexico 1993 Mexico
47 0.50 Peso Mexico 2007 Mexico
48 500.00 Won South Korea 1994 Seoul, South Korea
49 500.00 Won South Korea 1984 Seoul, South Korea
50 500.00 Won South Korea 1984 Seoul, South Korea
51 500.00 Won South Korea 2011 Seoul, South Korea
52 100.00 Won South Korea 2011 Seoul, South Korea
53 100.00 Won South Korea 2007 Seoul, South Korea
54 100.00 Won South Korea 2004 Seoul, South Korea
55 100.00 Won South Korea 1996 Seoul, South Korea
56 100.00 Won South Korea 2010 Seoul, South Korea
57 100.00 Won South Korea 2008 Seoul, South Korea
58 100.00 Won South Korea 2002 Seoul, South Korea
59 100.00 Won South Korea 1998 Seoul, South Korea
60 100.00 Won South Korea 2006 Seoul, South Korea
61 100.00 Won South Korea 2008 Seoul, South Korea
62 100.00 Won South Korea 2007 Seoul, South Korea
63 100.00 Won South Korea 2010 Seoul, South Korea
64 100.00 Won South Korea 2010 Seoul, South Korea
65 100.00 Won South Korea 2002 Seoul, South Korea
66 100.00 Won South Korea 1996 Seoul, South Korea
67 100.00 Won South Korea 2006 Seoul, South Korea
68 100.00 Won South Korea 2001 Seoul, South Korea
69 10.00 Won South Korea 1991 Seoul, South Korea
70 10.00 Won South Korea 2007 Seoul, South Korea
71 50.00 Won South Korea 1997 Seoul, South Korea
72 1.00 Pound UK 2005 London, UK
73 1.00 Pound UK 2006 London, UK
74 0.50 Pound UK 2003 London, UK
75 0.20 Pound UK 1982 London, UK
76 0.20 Pound UK 2007 London, UK
77 0.20 Pound UK 1988 London, UK
78 0.20 Pound UK 1982 London, UK
79 0.20 Pound UK 1989 London, UK
80 0.20 Pound UK 1983 London, UK
81 0.20 Pound UK 2001 London, UK
82 0.20 Pound UK 2009 London, UK
83 0.20 Pound UK 2010 London, UK
84 0.20 Pound UK 2008 London, UK
85 0.20 Pound UK 2009 London, UK
86 0.05 Pound UK 1992 London, UK
87 0.10 Pound UK 1992 London, UK
88 0.02 Pound UK 1971 London, UK
89 0.02 Pound UK 1996 London, UK
90 0.02 Pound UK 2005 London, UK
91 0.02 Pound UK 1998 London, UK
92 0.01 Pound UK 2007 London, UK
93 0.01 Pound UK 2008 London, UK
94 0.01 Pound UK 2000 London, UK
95 0.01 Pound UK 2001 London, UK
96 0.01 Pound UK 2000 London, UK
97 0.01 Pound UK 2006 London, UK
98 0.01 Pound UK 2012 London, UK


Mexico’s “Nuevo Peso” – amongst all my 1 peso coins, one coin from 1992 had a N in front of it. Apparently the Nuevo Peso was mainly created during a period of hyperinflation in 1993 when the Mexican Peso had to be stripped of 3 zeros from its value. The internet indicates the period of use was 1993-1996, after which they made the rest of the non-Nuevo pesos that were minted after that date look more or less the same, so as not to confuse anyone. Interesting that despite the fact that I only spent a short time in Mexico (of about 3 weeks), one of the coins that I came into contact with was a Nuevo Peso coin, which has led now to me reading up about Mexico’s hyperinflation and also the other uses of the coin in the other countries. It was apparently briefly legal tender in 19th century Siam, where it was flooded with foreign traders and was thus exchanged at the rate of 3 pesos to 1 thai baht. Unsurprisingly, it also had some history of being used in the US. I am more surprised about the asian connection because I was convinced that most of Asia did not accept Mexican pesos as legal tender – to the point that it was impossible for me to find any money changers in Singapore to change my *ahem* large accumulations of Mexican Pesos back into a currency I could actually use outside of Mexico. The same was experienced by friends in Indonesia…


UK’s “NEW PENCE” – When I first picked this up to look at it, I couldn’t believe it. How could I have not noticed the circulation of a “NEW PENCE” coin all this while! But apparently in February 1971, when 2p coins were first introduced, they were labeled NEW in order to prevent confusion and to alert everyone to the fact that they were, well, NEW! However, after over ten years of issuing “NEW” pences willynilly, this changed after 1982 (1983 onwards) and they were stamped TWO PENCE instead. The internet understandably is agog with people like me having NEVER ever realising there was a NEW PENCE despite probably having handled a fair amount of pences in my time – but there’s no need to run all the way to the Antiques Roadshow over most of these NEW PENCE coins; they will be worth just facevalue (ie: 2p) unless they’re one of the rare misprints which date back to 1983 in specific, when a batch of 2p coins were still mistakenly stamped as NEW pences.


Poland’s “GROZNY” – The grozny is a subdivision of the złoty, a currency whose name I still cannot adequately pronounce to this day. On a holiday to Krakow some years ago, I was horrified to be unable to adequately pronounce it to any polish people or shopowners I met. I would say it repeatedly and no one would have a clue what I was saying, or that I was even talking about money, or trying to ask them “EKCUZ ME, HOW MANY ZLOTY?”. Anyway, this 10 grozny is a tenth of a złoty, and is probably one of the smallest and thinnest coin in the collection. I find it interesting that for some currencies, sometimes coins of this denomination are usually smaller in size than coins of smaller value than itself. For example, an American dime is smaller than a 5 cents coin. Another thing is that although Poland was supposed to slowly adopt the Euro, I quickly found out that although it was accepted in some shops, only “high-end” shops wanted to accept the Euro on credit cards, but everything else, like your affordable hole-in-the-wall cabbage and chicken soup places and sleepy small shops would only take złoty.


Switzerland’s RAPPEN – I don’t know why I have it. I have the vaguest impression that perhaps it had been given to me by a Swiss-german friend, but the intricacies of German-german, austrian-german, swiss-german are things that I still don’t fully understand to this day. It is truly, a very minimal Swiss Franc though, and quite mysterious with as few words as possible, just a big beautiful number 5 on one side. Mysterious….

Retroalimentacion (Facultad del Artes Gallery, UAEM)

Here are some images from our show “Retroalimentacion” at the Facultad del Artes Gallery, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.


From the Wall Text: “Retroalimentacion is a series of workshops and a sampling of digital art works by artists located in S.E. Asia sponsored by the Facultad de Artes de la Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, in Mexico. It is hoped that these events, including workshops conducted in Mexico by four artists/designers located in Southeast Asia, will be the beginning of a cross-cultural dialogue about approaches to the digital medium between Latin America and Southeast Asia. The retro in the title recalls a return to a focus on digital art, a medium of expression that first bloomed at the dawn of the Information Age in the late 1990’s. Although not as novel as when wide-spread computer and the Internet usage first sprung up in many parts of the world, the digital medium is being energetically explored by a newer generation of artists geographically located in regions of Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines who approach the medium with fresh insights, as well as by other creators located in the region with longer histories of international practice.

The theme of the workshops and exhibit is loosely related to the theme of feedback, feedback in games, feedback in audio-visual remixing, and in other interactive works such as hacked Kinect games, as well as through mediated social feedback. The alimentation in this event’s title also hints of a desire to feed, to consume, an addiction to mediated reflections and immediate responses to actions. We are easily drawn into expecting continuous feedback, whether provided by human agents, such as comments in socially mediated software like Facebook, or taking the form of artificially programmed audio-visual responses. Feedback satisfies our sense that our actions have consequences, and this addiction is being harnessed for developing commercial design products and games.

But feedback can also be distorted creatively into noise. Audio and visual effects ripple out from electronic sources. Players intuitively follow paths through digital artifacts based on negative and positive responses to their actions. Feedback then becomes both a guide and a lure, noise and art effect.”

Participating Artists:

Andreas Siagian []
Anne-Marie Schleiner []
Brian O’Reilly
Debbie Ding []
Kenneth Feinstein
Luis Hernandez Galvan []
Tengal Nolasnem
Vladimir Todorovic


Janitzio Alatriste


Opening Speech


The Director gave a short speech to the crowd outside before everyone burst inside. It was a small gallery with many projections and “interaction zones” so as a result the first half hour of the exhibition was quite chaotic and I mostly only have pictures of people’s heads, arms and shadows…


Luis Hernandez Galvan




Luis showed a number of works projected on the far end of the wall and on a temporary wall in the centre of the gallery. One of them was an exact model of the HDB flat they had been living in Singapore.

As it was hard to take good photos of projections in the gallery, you should also visit Luis’ website at to see more of his work.


Anne-Marie Schleiner




Anne-Marie showed two games, one more abstract video game involving rearranging cut-up bits of music made in different places, and another game about bees that she had worked on during the workshop with input from students.

As it was hard to take good photos of projections in the gallery so for more, do also take a look at more of Anne-Marie’s work at


Andreas Siagian






Andreas spent days working on building an installation that amplified the sound of water being filtered through a series of boxes with the power of gravity, entirely from local materials found in Toluca. Even the PCBs were printed in Toluca, thanks to Relder’s help!


Debbie Ding

Sun Cycle (see also previous post for more information):



The Singapore River as a Psychogeographical Faultline:





I showed two kinect-based works at the gallery. People seemed to enjoy it, especially the seeming “unpredictability” of the Sun Cycle (that eventually reveals itself to be quite simple).

Other Artists


A cluster of iMacs were in the gallery to show the video works from the other artists. This was one of them.

PS: If anyone else has other photos of the exhibition, please let me know at 04.48am @ gmail and i will add them or link them to this page as well! Thanks!

The Sun Cycle (Documentation of New Work)




By Debbie Ding

In the rear-view mirror appeared Tezcatlipoca, demiurge of the “smoking-mirror.” “All those guide books are of no use, “said Tezcatlipoca. “You must travel at random, like the first Mayans; you risk getting lost in the thickets, but that is the only way to make art.”
Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan” (1969)

In 1973, the land artist Robert Smithson was in a plane overseeing the site of his new work Amarillo Ramp in Texas when his pilot collided into a mountain, killing them instantly. It was a tragically prophetic death for a man who once said that the physical and the mind are in a “constant collision course”. For in the process of making of his work, he had inadvertently ended the physical possibility of himself making the work. And for those of us who are deeply interested in land and spaces, and in places, the physical impossibility of being in more than one place has always been a quandrary.

For me, the most striking realization of traveling from Mexico to Singapore is the physical distance from Singapore. I marvel at being able to sit in a plane that flies across continents and oceans, according to the map on your inflight screen, and finally lands on the opposite side of the globe… And then to pick up and to hold in my hand a seemingly inconsequential rock on the ground in Mexico… These rocks, stones, soil, and dirt have been a silent but constant audience to man’s numerous movements and interventions around the globe.

I saw numerous artefacts at the Museo de Antropología e História de Toluca, at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City, and in a small bookstore here I also saw miniature replicas of some of these ancient sculptures – from the iconic coiled feathered serpent of Quetzalcoatl to the Aztec Sun Stone, which is also frequently simply labelled as “Mayan Calendar” in small shops. As an artefact, the “Mayan Calendar” is visually arresting with its detailed glyphs and symbols. The calendar round itself is made up of 3 interlocking cycles made up of 365 days, 20 names, and 13 numbers, and the names of the dates are designated according to the alignment of the three cycles. 52 years will pass before the three cycles will align in the same way again. The origins of these calculations also came from the way in which the earth aligned with the sun and the other stars and planets. Although we think of time as a fluid abstraction, it is marked by observable changes in the position of physical matter – the very physicality of the land and earth that we are on.

Automatic translation with Google Translate:


Por Debbie Ding

En el espejo retrovisor apareció Tezcatlipoca, demiurgo del “hábito de fumar-espejo”. “Todas esas guías no sirven de nada”, dijo Tezcatlipoca. “Usted debe viajar al azar, como los primeros mayas, corre el riesgo de perderse en la espesura, pero esa es la única manera de hacer arte.”

– Robert Smithson, “los incidentes de espejo de Viajes en la península de Yucatán” (1969)

En 1973, la tierra artista Robert Smithson estaba en un avión que supervisa el sitio de su nuevo trabajo Amarillo Ramp en Texas cuando su piloto chocó contra una montaña, matándolos al instante. Fue una muerte trágicamente profético para un hombre que dijo una vez que el físico y la mente están en un “curso de colisión constante”. Porque en el proceso de elaboración de su obra, sin darse cuenta que había terminado la posibilidad física de sí mismo haciendo el trabajo.

Para mí, la realización más notable de viajar desde México a Singapur es la distancia física de Singapur. Me maravillo de poder sentarse en un avión que vuela a través de continentes y océanos, de acuerdo con el mapa en la pantalla durante el vuelo, y finalmente aterriza en el lado opuesto del mundo … Y luego para recoger y sostener en la mano una apariencia roca intrascendente sobre el terreno en México … Estas rocas, piedras, tierra y suciedad han sido un público silencioso pero constante de numerosos movimientos del hombre y las intervenciones en todo el mundo.

Vi numerosos artefactos mayas y aztecas en el Museo de Antropología e Historia de Toluca, y en una pequeña librería aquí también vi réplicas en miniatura de algunas de estas esculturas antiguas, desde la serpiente enrollada icónica emplumada de Quetzalcóatl a la Piedra del Sol Azteca, que También es frecuente, simplemente etiquetados como “Calendario Maya” en las tiendas pequeñas. Como un artefacto, el “Calendario Maya” es visualmente con sus glifos y símbolos detallados. La ronda del calendario en sí se compone de 3 ciclos entrelazados compuestos por 365 días, los nombres y los números 20, 13, y los nombres de las fechas se designan de acuerdo a la alineación de los tres ciclos. 52 años pasarán antes de los tres ciclos se alineará de la misma manera otra vez. Los orígenes de estos cálculos también vino de la forma en que la Tierra alineada con el sol y las estrellas y los planetas. A pesar de que pensar en el tiempo como una abstracción de líquidos, que se caracteriza por cambios observables en la posición de la materia física: la corporalidad misma de la tierra y la tierra que nos encontramos.


The Actual Sun Stone which I went to see at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City…

Don Porfirio – El Senor de la Bestias

On our first day in Toluca, I noticed this face on a wall. And then it just kept reappearing…





IMG_5656 IMG_5646 IMG_6088

IMG_5634 IMG_5633 IMG_6104

IMG_6236 IMG_6240 IMG_6208

We were told that the artist of the faces was a homeless man in Toluca known as the Don Porfirio / Lord of the Beasts (El Senor de la Bestia) and he had been drawing these faces around Toluca along with a rambling political text for some time. He was frequently seen with his many dogs following him, hence the beasts, and I wish I knew how to speak spanish because we eventually met the man himself on the street in front of Los Portales… He asked me where I was from. I said Singapore, but then he asked me to list some other cities and went off on a tangent about the China and eventually Vietnam War. Due to my poor (ie: nonexistent) Spanish I did not know what he was going on about…





To be honest when I was first told that the place where we had been standing at was “Los Portales”, I thought of “lost portals” like these were gateways to mysterious places elsewhere. I also wondered why he asked me to name some other random cities near Singapore. Perhaps it was all the same to him, whatever country I might be from did not really matter. Or perhaps it is all the same to him, all the countries have evil people in them that need fighting against, that there will always be stories to be told and drawn in the countries. Or perhaps there is no complex story, this is just the mad ravings of an artistically inclined homeless man in Toluca. Who knows? Its amazing to find his drawings in small corners, on walls, everywhere in Toluca…

Another mystery is the stereotypical asian features of the characters. Although I could not seem to find out from him why they looked asian, and some others told me he was not drawing asians but the stereotypical small mexican person, this one in particular seems to suggest that he is infact consciously drawing a chinese character because he writes “Chinese Monk” on top of this one drawing:


La Pulqueria (San Fellipe Tlamimilolpan)

“Pulque, or octli, is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant, and is a traditional native beverage of central Mexico. The drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was limited to certain classes of people. After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose. The consumption of pulque reached its peak in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants.” (From Wikpedia)

The other evening, Luis flagged a taxi for us and asked to find a pulqueria. The very kind taxi driver took us on a ride away from the city conurbation and into the more “country” parts. Surprisingly after not more than half an hour of driving out, we were no longer in a city.



Soon we were on unpaved roads. Asking around also revealed that there were supposed to be very few if not no more pulquerias around the place and we were in a corn field. It looked a bit sketchy…


Corn fields in San Fellipe Tlamimilolpan

… until we stopped finally in a place where they said they did pulque. At first they were suspicious of us, but later one of them invited us in. And so we came in to their house, and they gave us pulque in a clay earthernware. It was cold and delicious. They said they were preparing it for a big soccer game in a field nearby, when they would sell this pulque.


Our taxi driver with the owner of the house. You would never have a taxi driver in Singapore agree to randomly take a few hours detour and a long stopover at some random stranger’s house for a few hours to have some fermented cactus juice. It was very nice of him to accompany us and indulge us on our adventure… They seemed to have a good conversation together as well to the extent that for some periods of time I forgot he was our taxi driver whom we had simply flagged down on the street.


On the wall, there hung an old drawing of jesus, which looked almost like a chinese wayang character to me because it was so ornately decorated. There was a bit of a rain outside and there was a cat hiding in the house with the dirt floor. It was making a meow sound every few minutes.


Another customer came in. He was a “regular customer”. He claimed to have been drinking for 6 days in a row, and we could almost believe it since he kept lapsing into self-doubting and hand-wringing phases of “I don’t mean any disrespecting!” inbetween taking a shine to me (becoming almost slightly creepy and repeating “I… LIKE…. YOU” in espanol to me, while pointing to me and pointing to himself and repeating this). He said he would drink for one more day, and then stop after the 7th day of drinking. In his strangely white trainers and bright modern printed shirt, it was hard to imagine where he had really come from, or what he had been doing, or what was going on with him or why he kept talking about respect and not wanting to disrespect others.



Clay pottery keeps the cold stuff cold, and the hot stuff hot. Its great. Plastic and metal sucks. I went to the Museo the other day and the clay pottery was all intact whereas the metal artefacts were corroded badly. Now that we are in the era of plastic, nothing will last like that clay that we started off with.


On the way home there was a bit of rain, and subsequently it flooded for a while. When we returned to the centro everything was silent and closed at night. People go to sleep early here I reckon… I am going to do the same and wake up early instead. I can still hear the distant strains of a mariachi somewhere… probably at the Portales…

Vamos a la Mexico

In a sudden twist of fates, I have come to the undiscovered country of Mexico, to teach a workshop at the Facultad Artes, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (Toluca, Mexico) along with a few other Singaporean/South-east Asian based artists/educators. Much thanks must go to Luis and Anne-Marie for putting the amazing trip together, and I’ve also been learning lots from them and Andreas who taught a workshop about Pure Data, which I am very excited about now.

Mexico is brilliant, it resembles a mix between the clamor and chaos of Indonesia (visible signs of poverty and high income inequality) and a bizarrely European style (colonial buildings and Spanish speaking population) and European weather. The weather is hot in the sun during the mornings (22 degrees and more) but as the sun ebbs away the weather can fall suddenly (to 10 degrees or lower). You can put your milk carton outside your window. And leave a pack of crisps on the table and find it still amazingly crunchy on the day after.

We are currently in Toluca, the capital of Mexico State, and the UAEM (our host) is a public university, meaning that students aren’t paying private fees for all the facilities in this art school. And a fully-fledged art school it is! Smelling of paint, with a great computer lab for both mac and pc (the only problem is the spotty internet), a large traditional printmaking studio, outdoor sculpture areas, sound recording studio, film studio with professional lights, rigging, rails, etc. Impressive for a public school to have amassed so much!

One of the important criteron for whether I would seriously learn a foreign language would be whether the language itself already has a large body of literature, and in that respect Spanish is a language I would love to learn. A visit to the bibloteca and the bookstores here in Centro Toluca show no paucity of literature and poems to be entertained by. I have made some puerile attempts to learn spanish along the way, enough to hire a taxi to places and back or ask for food, and found some poetry books by Toluca’s poets. Maybe eventually I will be able to read them!

Here is what it looks like to me:













See all images in my Flickr Set: Mexico

Soon I will post more on: Following the trail of the El Senor de la Bestias, our trip to a surreal Pulqueria in a small village called San Fellipe Tlamimilolpan, Mayan Calendars and the Aztec Barcode, and Pedro Infante….