Inspired by the giant duck, an avian tribute….
Inspired by the giant duck, an avian tribute….
Mongkok is Hong Kong’s most crowded hub – but one which I have little cause to visit, being on the “dark side” of the Kowloon Harbour. It has been a while since I ‘did’ the neighbourhood with its maddening crowds and tatty minimalls so I was overdue for a return visit. When we were there, the sky was dark, and a cold and thrilling wind was blowing. The neon lights were coming on under the ominous sky and the acrid smell of spicy tofu hung in the air with the scent of rain.
My favourite part is the specialist streets: shop upon show dedicated to garden plants, or sneakers or in one particular case, goldfish and other pets. The ‘goldfish market’ includes a strip of stores selling all kinds of tropical fish as well as cats and dogs, and upstairs in the dingy commercial buildings, a multitude of stores with names like “Reptile Zoo” or “Reptile Trendyland” where snakes and lizards await in humid, stinky aquaria and – in one place at least – blind baby mice and cockroaches squirm in dishes ready for dinnertime – with those hapless creatures in the role of ‘dinner’.
Daisuke and I did some shopping in Taipei too. One of the most amazing things we found, above, was in the upscale Eslite lifestyle mall (one of my new favourite shopping spots in the world.) It is a pair of “neurotech” headphones attched to fluffy fake cats ears. Censors monitor the tension of muscles in the scalp and adjust the position of the ears up or down in relation to your mood – when your face is tightly drawn into a stressed-out grimace the anime-ears go up, and as you relax they hang down. Amazing technology, and a useful mood indicator to those around you, I thought.
The most intriguing shopping district I passed through at night in a taxi. As we drove past on Minquan East Road Section 5, I glanced out the window to the amazing site of a street lined with fluoro-lit aquariums. In them, swam all kinds of incredible exotic beasts – Amazonian fish, sting rays, and in one store, half-metre sharks. This is Taipei’s “Aquarium Street”. I’d love to go back in daylight and explore (the photos below were all scavenged from the web)
In addition we shopped for snacks – the best known souvenirs of Taiwan being pineapple cakes (more like little tarts really), dried meat, and – bizarrely – Mister Donuts doughnuts, for Hong Kongers at least. HK’s Mister Donuts franchise had folded in the 90s but it was common knowledge in the city-state that the brand lived on in Taiwan, so Hong Kong visitors were often pressed by coworkers and acquaintances into bringing packs back home.
My favourite souvenir though is this – hot pink, playful (yet thrifty), modern, fun, but still in touch with its historical roots. This pop-art inspired plastic Buddha piggy bank, now in my kitchen, reminds me of Taiwan each time I look at it and makes me smile.
Taipei is a green city. The streets are wide and straight with views of the sky and the surrounding green hills and mountains with their splashing hot springs. In the city centre turtles swim through ponds and squirrels scurry through park treetops.
The backstreets of Wanchai between Johnson Road and Queens Road East are some of the more atmospheric on Hong Kong Island, with poky little traditional businesses, including a high concentration of pet stores.
The rare discovery of a new monkey species in the Congo caught the world media’s attention this week, not least for this adorable picture which showed the creatures with a pensive, very human-like expression (although some wags also compared it to the recent clumsy “restoration” of a Spanish church painting).
Of course the tragedy is that the creature, to be called the “lesula”, though newly revealed to science is already endangered.
The picture though reminded me of the work of another photographer Jill Greenberg, who did a masterful series of monkey and ape portraits showing our nearest relatives in a very human light.
See the full series here.
After the street art exhibition, I went to the turtle temple.
This is why I love Bangkok. Many other cities have street art exhibitions and I am sure some have turtle temples, but how many cities can so effortlessly encompass both?
The turtle temple, Wat Prayun, stands near the Chao Phraya river in the shadow of the graceful Memorial Bridge which connects Thonburi to Chinatown. I had to hop on a river boat to get there. By the time I arrived it was late afternoon and the sun was sinking.
People were sitting on benches by the river – some with ukeleles, some fishing, some with partners or children. There was a breeze blowing and a clear, end-of-day light. The whole riverfront seemed to be drowsy with peacefulness and contentment, a feeling you get in many of Bangkok’s residential corners – surprisingly - despite the craziness of the city.
At the temple there were monks on stepladders touching up murals,a few stray dogs and a drinks stall but alas, no turtles. The famous rock garden where the sacred turtles live was being renovated and signs sternly forbade anyone but the workmen from going in. I saw some of the turtles in protective cages from behind the fence.
Still, I didn’t mind. I grabbed a drink from the drinks stall and went for a stroll up the river, past the charming Santa Cruz church in what was once the city’s Portuguese quarter where home bakeries still bake Iberian influenced egg-custard tarts. I walked through little alleyways, past tiny corner stores, chirping finches in elegantly carved cages and Chinese shrines (and one junkie inhaling paint thinner from a plastic bag) and along the sunny riverfront to another nearby temple, Wat Kalayanmit. This is also a turtle temple, but of a different kind. Rather than keeping the turtles in a pond, it is a famous place to buy live turtles from the vendors outsid. These are then released into the river as a merit-making act to earn good kharma. But at this hour of the evening the turtle sellers had all packed up and gone home.
Contended, I walked back slowly and watched the sun set. When I got back to Chinatown, the flower market at Pak Khlong Talad had just started for the night (it reaches its crescendo in the early hours) and I walked through the bags of yellow garlands, purple orchids and red roses, happy to have spent an aimless afternoon wandering in a city that I love.
I have never known a city with such an active birdlife as Rangoon. Partly this is because much of the city is shaded by majestic, century-old tropical trees (it must be one of the greenest cities in Asia.) But it is also cultural: at points around the city people would earn good karma by purchasing corn with which to feed the wild birds. Great flocks of pigeons would gather in these places as a result.
Craft Victoria is the spacious and stylish shop of the government-funded organisation which promotes - unsurprisingly – crafts in Victoria. It is located in a basement at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane, amid narrow period buildings bursting with commercial galleries and buzzy hip restaurants.
The shop is always worth a look. It is expensive, but one of the few places to buy quality, Melbourne-produced items that are both cool and distinctively local.
When I went the shop was also hosting a couple of exhibitions, one of them “Why I Eyes Ya”, featuring a cut and paste media collage of terrifying, camp cats. There were similarly designed cat bowls and litter trays on sale as well.
Love the ducks.
There is a story here about China’s latest animal trend – a vast improvement on the keyholders with live turtles. This one is painting pets to look like wid animals. Reminds me of Thailand’s panda craze or Banksy’s elephant in the room installation, below.
and the Elephant in the Room. Its an ironic commentary on world poverty. Obviously.
Four hundred kilograms of tiger meat have been found in an illegal exotic animal abbatoir. Slabs of freshly cut zebra and “elephant sashimi” were also recovered from the slaughterhouse in the Northeastern suburb of Khlong Sam Wa. Ewww. The clandestine bush meat butcher was only sprung when police followed home a man from a local 7-11. Their suspicions were raised because – get this – his hands were dripping with blood.
Only in Bangkok.
Several private zoos are under investigation, suspected of selling tigers to slaughter illegally to make money on the side. So far none have been charged.
In Sheung Wan
A puppie dog accomplice to the “Giant Rat Legitimacy” mentioned a few stories below, (scroll down). Both creatures – made of silicone with hairs individually injected in for added realism – are on show at the Wellington Gallery on Wyndham Street. Its next to the gay bar, Psychic Jacks.