A lot went into the Momo Crawl of 2013. Budded from 2012’s humble beginnings, 2013 had everything much tighter and resolute. The rainy weather gave us a challenge, but otherwise it was 98%. Participants had fun and became exposed to the neighborhood, vendors made money and introduced themselves to new customers, and I sold some artwork. Process was important for this event, so here is a look into how it all came together…
I want to see businesses I work with get immediate results. If you’ve worked with me before, you’ll know that I’m stubborn to collect fees from businesses or to even offer anything at a discount for the sake of promotion. I posit that prices in Queens have never been an impasse for entry, the issue is communication. On another plane, I may actually start collecting fees for some events just so the cogs have some skin in the game. Putting money up will inspire them to take it more seriously because they are invested in it (there’s been a few no-shows at Viva la Comida, which a $50 fee might have rectified (maybe a deposit)).
In 2012, we organized in groups of 8 so each group would get one order of momos at each location. We barely coordinated with businesses beforehand and it mostly worked but there was some waiting time lag and confusion when a group of eight came in and only wanted one order of momos. It actually turned into a war of logistics for the eaters, as the “winner” became the group who managed to come up with the best schedule to order and eat them all in the allotted time-frame.
In 2013, $1 momos sold individually made everything simpler; One momo is the perfect serving size for a crawl, One dollar would be a quick monetary transfer. Plus, the businesses would net more money (8x$1=$8 for 8 momos as opposed to the conventional $5 for an order of 8).
$1 momos actually had the most resistance from the business owners themselves. They thought it was crazy that people would actually pay more than their standard price per momo. I told them not to worry and just make money. Through possibly guilt or glee, some of the restaurants went above and beyond by showing participants complete experiences of the restaurants when they came in – some showed off other dishes and gave butter tea for free, one even gave away the momos without charge. I was conflicted because I thought this might influence the vote.
For my side, it’s good to have people make some sort of a purchase so they treat the event with respect. People should see that although casual, it’s not a random meet-up. It’s important for people to know that they are getting a fun, unique experience with work put into it. They should expect it because they have entered into this transaction.
Every event I do has to be price-accessible to everyone; it has to be an awesome event that I would definitely be willing to pay for if I were attending. I try to keep the costs so low that when people ask for press passes, it’s totally laughable because a) You can probably afford it and b) there’s no room for anyone that isn’t invested.
Just about every event is a dream-come-true for me, and pricing is usually something I like to play with. One pricing experiment was at Trick or Eat, where I charged $10 for any group of people (no limit to group size). At the Flushing Mall Grazing Experience, everyone had to order one dish and bring it to the main table to share – no monetary charge for entry. Even at Woks and Lox, we had tiered pricing so people could get involved no matter what their wallet or schedule.
For this event, the price was 2 bills of any denomination for one map of the momo crawl. Everyone had to get a map if they wanted to vote for a winner or know where the locations were. The 2 bills price would allow the amount to range from $2 to $200, depending on what the guest wanted to pay. Most people understood it quite well, some asked for change which I tried to relay to them that this was not comprehendable because how am I supposed to split a paper bill into two? It was great because I didn’t spend any time giving anyone change. It was interesting because I saw some people angling for ways to spend as least as possible to get in, perturbed if they did not have two $1 bills. Some were evaluating how much was appropriate so as not to look too thrifty or others feeling good about giving what they thought it was worth. I tried not to pay attention to what people were giving me, thanking everyone equally. It was a fun experiment, and I would definitely use this price structure again.
THE MANDALA MAP
Last year, I had a few meetings at the Rubin Museum to help with tours and some of their programming. Afterwards, I always took the opportunity to walk around the museum and learn about these cultures whose foods I had been exploring so much. Mandalas struck me the deepest.
A mandala is something visual created with geometric patterns. There are many meanings, depending on who you ask, but overall it seems to be about a wholeness with the world. Further, a thangka may contain a mandala or a large deity, but it would usually have visualizations telling a story or teach about Buddha’s life or another being. The typical one about Buddha showed important scenes of his life, and all the different episodes he was involved in. The thangkas are beautiful, intricate communicators with so many stories and lessons portrayed.
As I explored the Himalayan cultures and thought more about what the Momo Crawl could be, I realized that a thangka/mandala would be the map.
This became the largest piece of the process and an important one for my own understanding. I did research about meanings, and took many trips to area Himalayan stores for inspiration. I was in constant communication with my Himalayan ambassadors to be sure I wasn’t offending anyone by centering these traditional art forms on something so common as the momo.
As a wide analysis of analyses I realized that there is no one truth to a mandala’s essential aim. Most explanations of meanings are simply centered on an interpretation of a small set of drawings. Looking at various mandalas and reading their descriptions, you’ll see that meanings change according to who is the artist. It is my conclusion that there is no grand collusion of the monks. At first, I studied so many metaphors that were in use, but then I realized it was totally subjective. I realized that I should just be using the basic model of the mandala, but I should be free to come up with my own symbolism. If I were to follow someone else, I would not be aiming as true as I should be.
As I looked at the locations of momos in the area, I thought about how the neighborhood is mostly on a grid with Broadway cutting diagonally across it, this symmetry would just about align with what a mandala could be. So I started drawing.
For the roads, I evolved to take liberties with longitudes and latitudes in order to make the map more symmetrical than actual geography has intended. That being said, the center of the map being Roosevelt and 74th street, with no locations more than 2 blocks north, 2 south, 2 east, or 2 west was nearly divine. It was meant to be that one of the largest train stations in NYC is right underneath us, where everyone traveling here would enter the mission directly from the center of the map. It seemed perfect that the neighborhood was layed out this way. With some reductions and alignment, it continued to evolve…
People use the center of the mandala to anchor of the piece, to be a point of focus or representation of an idol. It ties everything together, and for me, as you may know if you hear me talk about the momo, the momo unites the neighborhood and possibly the earth (soon). It is so important as an ambassador to these cultures, it has an extremely bright future in the world and the possibilities are extreme. And that’s why it was so obvious to put a little momo in the center.
This momo was the only thing I had to actually draw; my penmanship is terrible, so this worked out well.
I knew it had to be black and white to cut costs, but just drawing black lines was getting boring to me. I figured I would use shading or patterns for contrasting areas on the map. How could I do this? Walking around the neighborhood, there are so many different forms of text all around you. Looking at some of the newspapers, when you see complete blocks of text, at a wide perspective it becomes like a pattern rather than a language. I thought this was cool. I would use newspapers from every language in the neighborhood to make this mandala. This map would unify Jackson Heights.
As I thought about it more and more, the symbolisms started to reveal themselves. One common symbolism I borrowed was of the outer ring being of fire. All the circles were objects borrowed from my apartment, and my bicycle gear as a ring of fire was perfect! This outer ring commonly represented a hurdle in the story. With the ongoing strife between China and the Tibetan culture, a reason why many Tibetans come to the United States, it was perfect that the outer ring of fire would be made out of the Chinese newspaper sourced from Pacific Supermarket.
In a traditional Thangka, there are characters all around the piece representing the crew to the main character. I needed a way to represent all of the momo locations in the neighborhood, so I figured they would all be crew members of the central figure (the momo). Around the map would be an “altar” and address for the locations of each momo place in some sort of order – and that blank altar space would later be filled in…
In essence, this was creating a shrine for each momo maker in the neighborhood. Part of me wondered if this was sacrilegious, but another part of me thougth that they deserved it!
WE NEEDED A VOTING PROCEDURE
I read somewhere about how monks create these intricate mandalas out of sand which take an incredible amount of hours – then when it was done, they let it go into the water or destroyed it in another fashion. I have always like this principle of attaining something through tremendous effort and letting it go. I wanted the crawlers to experience it too.
I figured we would have stamps at each location. Each person’s map would be stamped as proof that they went to each location, and each location would have a different color ink.
For the stamps I wanted corks because they were the perfect size for the map, also I liked the non-uniformity of the impression that they would make (thanks to my friends at Table Wine for their supply). I couldn’t just give people plain corks for the crawl, so I thought about these little canisters which I had always admired at Butala Emporium that contained Kumkuma (a red powder which is used as body markings for religious or social events). Whatever that was, I loved the design on the canister. I was a little down because I was using a religious object for my purposes, but, again, people didn’t seem to think it was too sacred a thing to use for my own purpose. I emptied out a pack of Kumkuma canisters and that would be the holder for cork stamps.
In a session with my father’s machine shop, he helped me cut the corks to size so they could fit in the caps.
At the time of the event, I instructed everyone that in order to vote for a winner of the Momo Crawl, attendees had to tear off the winning stamp from their map, and deposit it into our voting jar. This would mean that they were essentially, willfully destroying their maps.
Some were outraged that they had to destroy their beautiful accomplishment, but that was part of the process. I did this for a few reasons: first, each location had a different stamp color, so that was easy to do the final count. Also, it was the aspect of the monks destroying their art which they put so much effort into. The people had to be satisfied with their experience and then let it go. I did get a little upset that some people actually chose not to vote in favor of keeping their map intact, but that’s just the way things go.
My religious views have never been realized, but I’ve always felt that there is a way. I don’t expect to follow any religion in the future, but the views I have learned from this process have strengthened my views of the world.
THE MOMO TROPHY
I’d been getting into trophies ever since our Halalathon the prior winter. As an adult, it’s just such a lost experience, receiving a trophy. Why do pre-teens and teenagers get all the fun?? With the success of the Halalathon hinging on it having a trophy, I was inspired to continue this track and make an even better one for this event. I totally would have bought a commercial trophy, like the lamb trophy for the Halalathon, but it’s a damned fact that no one makes one with a dumpling on top of it. S0 I had to. And it had to be one giant, golden momo.
For many of my projects, I am lucky to have a father who is an extremely skilled machinist. I can usually come to him with an idea, and he can help me actualize these things and fill in the blanks. Just like when I won every single pine-box derby competition in cub scouts because I wanted a car that could ‘go fast’ or when I ‘made’ a coin-operated gum-ball machine in middle school shop class.
He fashioned an old wax tin as the base:
Consulting with Frankie, I used Super Sculpey clay to make the form. It was a new experience to me, and I learned a lot – learned even more after it was already finished on how to use the stuff – but after rolling it out and forming it a few times, my father and I eventually baked the thing into a huge momo. I’ve learned much more since we made it, such as using water to smooth it out, or using aluminum foil instead of a light bulb (see above) as the inner frame, but we did it.
It came out pretty well! But the beige skin wasn’t the dream. It had to be gold. I enlisted my friend Alyssa D’Anna to help me with this. Alyssa is an amazing artist. She makes these large paintings with such vibrancy and playfulness. I went to her studio in LIC to work on the momo. We ended up painting it Aztec Gold, which really sparkles because of the gold chips in the paint. For the bottom, Alyssa brained up the black and white striping. I gave her full creative control on this, with the only stipulation that the momo be gold. It was a cool thing.
And that’s what went into constructing the Mandala Map and the Momo Trophy.
To see the Momo Trophy in person, go to the Momo Crawl 2013 winner, Phayul, located at 74-06 37th Rd, Jackson Heights, NY
Special thanks to my Nepali Ambassadors, Sahadev Poudel, Tshering Gurung and Tshering Gurung (owners of Himalayan Couture). Thanks to Himalayan Connection where I continually go for advice and inspiration, and where I found this amazing book: Goddesses of the Celestial Gallery
I prefer not to talk publicly about plans, but I think if we were to do this the exact same way again, it would be a tremendous hit with over 250 people attending – not just because of the 2013 success but because of the general rise in interest for the momo. Therefore, the simple Momo Crawl is a back-up plan to a much larger event. Any more talk would be getting ahead of myself.
*If you would like a copy of the Mandala Map, email me jeffsayyes -at- gmail , and I will give you the info to send 2 bills of any denomination in exchange for a map.*