Preston hip: Disco beans

22 07 2014

With rents climbing in ever more fashionable (and fabulous) Fitzroy, the inner city hipster core of Melbourne has been expanding Northward. Its tentacles first reached to Clifton Hill and lesbian-favoured Northcote, then Thornbury (previously home to a great alt cinema, the Valhalla) and as far as the formerly working class Greek and Italian neighbourhood of Preston. Its a nice area, with the wandering Merri Creek (in which you can kayak) meandering through a sliver of pristine bushland amid quiet suburban streets. The shopping strip along High Street offers Greek cake shops, Italian delis and and more recently, organic cafes and funky retro stores. And interestingly, the local high school, which serves a large Koori population, offers the language choices of Italian and Woi Wurung, an indigenous Victorian language.

The suburb is also the surprising home of one of Melbourne’s more interesting Japanese establishments, Disco Beans. Started by Yuka, formerly singer of an Osaka noise band, the vegan cafe/art space/sometimes punk and noise band venue is a vibrant slice of cheerful DIY psychedelia in the Melbourne ‘burbs. It offers homemade decorations and tasty food to an eclectic clientele of Japanese housewives, Southern European locals, hipsters and – when I was there – the remnants of the pre-turn-of-the-century Aussie alt-pop band the Mavis’s, chowing down with various forty-somethings dressed straight from a rave in 1994.

I loved it so much I bought the T-shirt.

Melbourne style

16 07 2014

Melbourne must be the hispter capital of, to use the hackneyed and much-loved Australian phrase, “the southern hemisphere” (although Sao Paulo snorts loudly in the corner. But anyway…) The inner city suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton, daubed with street art, are thick with near-parodic moustaches, ubiquitous sleeve tattoos and that Melbourne staple – skinny jeans.

Still, I’m not a hater.  I have never really understood the degree to which some people are so averse to hipsterdom – obscure music, good food and sharp fashion are, after all, fun. Good on them for having a go. Melbourne has always had alternative-leaning tastes, with its band scene, community press and radio, institution-status arthouse movie theatres and “op shop” fashions, so its no surprise that it has embraced the anti-mainstream (or cynics would say “new mainstream”) so avidly. Many of Melbourne’s hipster hangouts are, it is true, rather derivative. Rooftop cinemas, shipping crate bars, roller derby and bushy beards were all invented elsewhere. But the city has contributed at least two new hipster institutions to the world; one is a club night called “No Lights, No lycra” for self-conscious and reluctant dancers to spaz out in near total darkness ( there is now an outpost in Hong Kong among other cities) and the other is the jafflechute, a toasted sandwich which is ordered by text message and then arrives floating down on a parachute at a designated time and place. I was eager to try, but sadly, jafflechute’s originators have now packed up to export their concept to the Big Apple.

Goodbye to the aquarium of dreams

7 07 2014

It could be the end of the line for one of Bangkok’s most fantastical attractions. After reaching the English language blogosphere about a year ago, the bizarre fish pond in the ruins of the New World Department store hit critical mass online last week. In a short time, its image popped up on several major blogs and my Facebook news feed. The appeal of the site – a ruined department store, now flooded and teaming with tropical fish, swimming endlessly in circles in the dark past dripping escalators and old cosmetics counters – is deeply intuitive, a kind of dystopian Atlantis.

It even inspired one online artist to produce the piece above.

The fish had originally been introduced to the flooded basement of the department store to control mosquitos breeding in the dark, stagnant pool but without predators, they multiplied rapidly. But now with the spotlight suddenly shining brightly on its murky waters, the pond faces a new threat. Thai authorities have stepped up the barricade around the hulk of the New World building and announced that it could be demolished – finally, after a decade in ruin – within thirty days.

Report from my own not-very-successful expedition to see the fish here.


4 01 2014

Jakarta’s love affair with malls is startling. The airconditioning provides an obvious attraction, but even so the sheer scale of the city’s shopping centres is hard to explain. They are vaaaast. My favourite mall (although apparently it is not doing well and was never overly crowded) is FX, which features an odd pair of attractions – the world’s fastest indoor slide which plummets through the central atrium at the speed of eight floors in seven seconds (which I did) and the theatre where JKT48, the Indonesian offshoot of Japan’s pop monster AKB48, perform.

The girls slavishly follow the AKB48 model – they perform daily in their own theatre to create rapport with their fans – seemingly glasses-wearing geeky-looking Indonesian boys, much like their Japanese counterparts – and release the same songs as AKB48, but in Indonesian.


Mak Erot magic

4 01 2014

Mak Erot was a Javanese faith healer who died, supposedly at the age of 130, after a long career enlarging the penises of Jakarta’s men – or so many believe. She was famous for her penis enlargement clinic, located just off the main backpacker strip (coincidentally?) of Jalan Jaksa. Here men would come to have their length, diameter or hardness increased with a mixture of massage (ahem) or magical potions. The odd thing to me is not that she existed, but that she was so accepted. There seems little shame or embarrassment among Jakartans in discussing her services which were considered wholesome medical procedures. A pparently it was quite common for parents to take their teenage boys to her.

The clinic is still going, staffed by the great lady’s great-grandson.

Birds of a feather

12 09 2013

If you thought Hong Kong’s king of cats was weird, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Kitty-craziness is nothing new in Japan, home of the famous cat-cafes, where you can pay to spend to time in the company of kittens. But a new cafe is taking the concept in a different direction.

The “owl cafe” in Tokyo’s Kiba district offers a range of owl-shaped cookies and muffins as well as owls, parrots and a small eagle plus a range of alcoholic beverages featuring birds of prey on the label.

They also have a “bird hotel” to accomodate pets while their owners go on holiday (hopefully kept separately from the eagle).

Website (in Japanese) here.

More robot restaurant: the show

19 08 2013


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