Literature & the Wind Up Bird Cafe: The World Goes Round

1651679_Dreams_by_whisperfallWhen I returned to university last year, studying creative writing under the tutelage of a great professor of mine, ultimately inspiring my journey in writing and experiencing all that the Espresso Love novel project has to offer now, it had always been the same thing: one little step at a time, without much of an idea of where it would take me. It was the case with Secondhand Memories and cell phone novels; it was the case with Youtube and most of my passions. Things are dropped into my arms, one after another. I am passionate about the arts, like a stubborn fire that won’t go out – but where would such fire go? It would depend on the wind, the fuel, many other factors. Such factors are beyond my control.

Saturday night, I had the privilege to visit the Wind Up Bird Cafe – no doubt Murakami-inspired – with a few friends. On that same night, I’ve come to yet another realization that out there in the cosmos, something greater than I can imagine is happening. It has always been the case, but the scale of its motion seems to be increasing, like a churning and widening gyre. Out there the massive colossal gears of the universe are turning, interlocking with one another, and I am here, merely a speck, a part of its collective, trying to catch a glimpse of the rhyhms of the universe. And at the Wind Up Bird Cafe, I heard many things that have shown me that the current is strong and unrelenting – I am just being taken along for the journey.

I had such a reaction firstly because of how much influence Haruki Murakami has on me, my philosophies, my writing and my life in general – perhaps everyone knows this by now, it’s not news. So hearing from my friend that there was such a cafe sent me out of my seat. I went on to email Sang Kim, the owner of the cafe, a brilliant entreprenur and writer himself, and planned to visit – though I couldn’t until now.

The cafe, located downtown Toronto at College and Bathurst, is a peculiar place. Not at all strange looking – though Murakami fans will immediately recognize the name and its Wind Up logo – but because it is the kind of place I’ve envisioned for many years. It’s like seeing a recurring dream in reality. Wind Up Bird hosts many literary events: local poets, authors, publishers congregate there. There are readings, workshops, presentations, culinary experiences and onward – a revolutionary and creative environment. However, despite the activity that goes on, it was an entirely homely down-to-earth experience.


At the time, the sun hadn’t set yet, and a warm and humid evening carried on its casual lethargic grace, like a lazy cat winding down its day. A nice breeze seemed to permeate through the cafe too. The kind that would be there, somewhere, but at the same time, it wasn’t something you could feel, as though it were deliberately ignoring you. There was a patio facing the street, and sizeable open-air doors that reminded me of some place in Europe or perhaps the Mediterranean. Pleasant neutrals, yellows and greens. It settled comfortably in the depths of my soul, like bossa nova. Outside, the sound of passing cars was distant and hushed. There had been a few tinkles of utensils and fragmented murmurs of conversations throughout the evening. Nice music too, some jazz here and there, though I can’t quite remember what some of the tunes were. A bar had greeted us at the front and mismatched paintings, wood textures, dim candles, typography and porcelain sat around quite entirely snug where they were. It’s precisely that it didn’t seem too methodologically and rigidly sculpted and designed that allowed for such practical creativity to linger throughout the air.


The international cuisine of Wind Up is prepared by the talented Japanese chef, Yumiko Kobayashi. (Indeed karaage and sushi is included as well) Our selection for the evening consisted mainly of seafood, by coincidence. It was exquisite in its homemade feel in both taste and presentation. A delightfully personal experience, just like cozying up with a Murakami novel. There was that kind of ambiguous ambience in both the air and the food itself. The cajun rainbow trout and salmon was tenderly grilled to perfection, yet still held a bearing of casualness and comfort. The oysters were exceptionally fresh – I hadn’t had oysters in so long. I can taste the sea, one of us had said. A pot of a mixed Candied Almond and English Breakfast tea concoction also. But perhaps I would need more visits to truly savour all of Wind Up’s menu, as I was quite occupied with the literary gears clicking in my head.


imageNow I had met all three of my friends through university, two of them attended Japanese literature class, two were in my creative writing course, two are Murakami readers (no, the math is quite right). So right off the bat, our curious group is by no means haphazardly arranged at all. There was something that connected us, and connected us to the cafe – literature.

Literature is a powerful thing. It surpasses the physical plane of mundane life, and reaches up vertically into the Spiritus Mundi, the collective of all human wisdom and humanity. Literature is sort of a dimension, a realm in itself that reaches far back into history, from the Ancient Greek plays, the Bible, up through Shakespeare, Milton and Dante and onwards to Charles Dicken, James Joyce, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot. Not withstanding, it is the language of the mind and the intellect, the language that can contain and reflect all of humanity whether it be as social criticism, arts movements, war, history, politics, economics, philosophies, psychology, musical influences – whatever makes up human civilization. Everything is interconnected as I always say. All works are inspired and in conversation with one another through the ages. We dwell and soak in the pool of something that transcends the everyday. And in reaching towards literature, we are connected on that metaphysical level, through the intellect, through the heart and soul. Right away, this is like walking towards that something greater, albeit in an inconspicuous environment.


I had the chance to speak to Mr. Sang, who was expecting us. Sang Kim is an award-winning fiction writer (“When John Lennon Died“, short story, 2013 Gloria Vanderbilt Prize), playwright (“Ballad of a Karaoke Cowboy“, “A Dream Called Laundry“) with articles, reviews and new restaurant literary memoir coming out called “Wooden Allen Ate My Kimchi“. He runs Yakitori Bar, Seoul Food Co. and Wind Up Bird Cafe as well as hosting many culinary classes and events, such as the Sushi Making For The Soul series, community work with children and of course, literary events at Wind Up. He imageimmediately struck me as a very thoughtful and intelligent man, with perhaps the observant and somewhat stern aura that Haruki Murakami himself might possess. It isn’t a surprise that he always seems to be generating new ideas, thinking of new approaches – for example, a five course meal interpreted and designed based on Murakami’s new novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”. I definitely admire his creative work, his cultural background and experience, and entrepreneurial spirit. I aspire to be the same way, someone who can draw people together, become a catalyst for innovation between similarly talented people and spark new approaches to life and business.

Meeting people for the first time, whom you know a little about is always quite the experience. It is like connecting two worlds together – the online world, the paperwork and the text, with physical reality, flesh and bone, spoken language and personality. The knowledge and the heart. This has been happening more often lately, which contributes to the sense that the gears of the universe are turning and turning.

At Wind Up, we did discuss cell phone novels, and while I was thinking of suggesting to work on some events together, Mr. Sang was a step ahead and already had ideas about how to make it happen with real-time hands-on engagement of cell phone technology, the writing experience, and even capturing the concept of very intimate personal and private expression.

imageCell phone novels have always been an online phenomenon, and though I’ve pioneered it for so many years, it’s remained some kind of exclusive niche environment. A lot of young writers internationally have been inspired and have built one another up, growing with deep bonds as kindred creative spirits and as people exploring their experiences in life, but there is something different about anchoring it all to reality. Indeed I have done a few workshops at schools, as well as spoken in a few interviews, but perhaps they had always been something like special occasions. However, my experiences with Wattpad, their staff team and organizing the first Toronto Writer’s Meet Up were some of the more permanent bridges to this reality more recently.

Now this is where things become both bizarre and miraculous – to keep a long story short, it’s through Wattpad that I discover the first connection that night at Wind Up: Mr. Sang is already on Wattpad and acquainted with a staff member. No doubt, this is quite interesting, as something magical could definitely come from connecting literary events at Wind Up Bird with Wattpad. On the other hand, last year, I also had the chance to meet a student who was doing his thesis on cell phone novels and Japanese culture. We had a chat over coffee at the time before I had visited the new Wattpad office. Normally, these separate instances may be limited to one place, one time, but once again, it didn’t turn out that way in this case: he was also a student of Japanese literature and introduced me to one of the courses I will be taking this year. Of course, as fate has it, I find out that Sang and my friends are all mutually acquainted with the same teacher. Lastly, an acquaintance of mine who had discovered my work online a long time ago, works at a Japanese literary group or magazine of sorts, promoting Japanese culture and literature (of course Murakami is included). And no doubt, it appears that this literary magazine is another coincidental connection we had in common.

imageDetails aside, all that being put into perspective Saturday night, was like seeing a circle complete its course. Separate occurrences, things I’ve been doing, people I’ve met, that somehow have fallen together suddenly at Wind Up. As if someone had taken a mighty pen and began drawing lines between the dots. Things begin to make sense in hindsight. It isn’t the first time I had seen or experienced networking miracles. There have been a share of miraculous encounters, for example, during my trip to Japan and Hong Kong and through my experiences in the local music industry there. Things connect together like puzzle pieces tossed at whim, but somehow they find their place on their own. However, at Wind Up, being a location close to home, in quite an unassuming environment, sitting down over a few cups of tea and with a few books on the table, I sat there humbled and awed by what was going on, without me realizing, without lifting a finger.

There is a tremendous current through the universe and the world, as long as you reach out a little and grasp a hold of it. I find that many may be satisfied with a nine to five, corporate benefits and vacation days. Many might choose to maintain a tight circle of friends and routine activities. But there is such a greater picture to life. A greater adventure. imageAnd at Wind Up, it lives up to its Murakami-inspired name, where ordinary people can be swept into a magical world, where magical-realism does take place, and the ends of the seams in the universe converge and tie in together.

It was only a glimpse of the momentum and the motion at work, the kind of power that has always been at work. Moreover, I am perhaps going to be a part of it and this new age of literature. While it sounds like something grand, it also feels like a small world out there. Where passionate creative people meet, possibilities emerge and take the form of many little miracles. These miracles are like sparks, here and there until a bonfire begins. The stars in the night sky from close up may appear as separate entities, infinitesimal and weak, a huge distance apart, yet, when viewed as a whole picture, they form great sprawling galaxies, revolving at inconceivable, unfathomable speeds.


I am looking forward to what is to come this year and onwards from here. I am honoured to be a part of something beyond me. But for now, I’m also looking forward to the next time I can visit Wind Up for its delicious cuisine, a drink or two, and its book-loving community.



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