Walking up the waterfall

12 10 2014

I have mentioned before on the blog the surprisingly impressive waterfall, hidden away virtually unnoticed behind a freeway in Aberdeen. This week, as a sunny Autumn blossomed over the city, I noticed that the construction at its base seems to be over and the pathway has now been clearly to a narrow flight of stairs and a pathway leading up by the waterfall, leading…where? All the way to the Peak? I can’t wait to find out this week.

The abyss

13 09 2014

The Lai Tak Tsuen housing estate overlooking Tai Hang, dating from the early 1970s, was one of the earliest such schemes and is utterly unique for its architecture – each of the three towers is built around a yawning, twenty-storey-high circular void. Looking down from a balcony on an upper floor you just see ring upon ring upon ring. Looking up, you see the sky. I wonder what its like when it rains?

The estate is showing its age. Although at the time it was much sought after (each apartment has its own toilet, then a much-lauded feature) the building today seems saggy and a touch squalid. Many apartments, which are un-air conditioned, have their door open behind a grill door or a plastic curtain to catch the breeze and inside many of the doorways you can glimpse elderly men in boxer shorts watching TV in their cramped rooms or listening to Cantonese music.

But outside – there is this. I was absolutely drawn to it – the site of an almost endless spiral. Like the Sydney Opera House, no matter how many photos I had taken, I just wanted more.

But of course, there is also something slightly sinister about this irresistable chasm. How many people have jumped to their deaths here? I’m sure there have been a few.

The estate was also, interestingly, chosen as the setting for Fruit Chan’s cult horror film “Dumplings”about a cannibal bakery.

Hong Kong’s 26 most underrated sights

10 09 2014

A totally subjective list of some of Hong Kong’s greatest urban thrills:

Grimly dystopian housing projects. I always shudder when I pass  the massive grey hulk facing the bay at North Point (above), and the suburban housing estate images by German photographer Michael Wolf are truly terrifying. And then there is the Escher’s concrete wishing well of the Lai Tak Tsuen housing estate in Tai Hang.

The “life sized” replica of Noah’s Ark under a bridge built by a local Christian fundamentalist group, featuring pairs of rubber animals.

This overpass in Sai Ying Pun which soars down through the rooftops, winding from a clifftop escarpment to the ground-level streets by the sea.

The Shoe Beaters of Causeway Bay, elderly voodoo women who sit under a traffic overpass doling out vengeance to their clients’ most hated, courtesy of the White Tiger Spirit, for 60 HKD a pop.

The favela-like maze of  Pok Fu Lam Village, one of the last real traditional communities left on Hong Kong island. The village is daubed with images of dragons and home to an 18th century “fairy tower” and a real, six-metre-long straw dragon which dances through the streets amid twirling, burning torches every Mid Autumn Festival, resting the rest of the year in its community workshop “stable”.

West Island Necropolis, a vast, silent and beautiful hillside of tombs looking out over the supertankers passing through the straits to Lamma at the Western edge of the island.

The little-known and as-yet unopened Goddess of Tai Po, a huge milky white Kwan Yin figure which towers above a monastery at the base of the Eight Fairy Hills.

The infamous “ghetto at the centre of the world,” Chungking Mansions, home to Indian and African traders and hub of Third World petty commerce, adjoined by a back alley transcontinental drugs bazaar and the airier and more stately (but similar)  Mirador Mansions, with its breezy outdoor balconies and local sweatshops. This is where China meets (and does business with) the rest of the developing world.

The reptile shops of Mongkok

Urban waterfalls here and here

The world’s longest public escalator in Midelevels is not really “underrated” since it is thronged with tourists day and night. It was even celebrated in the classic Hong Kong arthouse film, Chungking Express. Still, the escalator packs in some surprises as it glides over “Rat Alley”, one of the city’s last outdoor street markets for cooked food, a famous local snake restaurant, right by the blacked-out windows of a popular gay sauna and over the soon-to-disappear Gage Street market with its fish mongers and fruit sellers, the last true street market in Central.

The Cat Prince, HK’s most popular pet ,who sits in a shrine-like convenience store surrounded by devotees and merchandise in Hung Hom (not far from a boat-shaped supermarket).

Bizarre animal remains housed in Tin Hau temples. These include the long ribbon fish caught off Lamma and now housed in the island’s Tin Hau temple and the skin of the last tiger killed in Hong Kong (in 1946!!!) in the Tin Hau temple at Stanley.

The 76 bus – Hong Kong’s Peak is a famous (and crowded) beauty spot but the city’s 76 route public bus is a hassle-free way to see some of its best views as it crests over the montains and plunges down towards Aberdeen from Causeway Bay.

Nothing is more romantic in Hong Kong that speeding along the raised freeway over the harbour late at night and watching as the hundred storeys of the ICC tower light up in a beautiful and ever-changing moving LED animation.

This comic book building in Wong Chuk Hang

Shrouded buildings under construction or repair.

The white lily wreathes and framed ‘idol’ portraits of the annual April 1st vigil for beloved local singer Leslie Cheung. It is held outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, from which the troubled bisexual singer jumped to his death twenty years ago.

Hong Kong Treasure,  a bizarre and otherwordly Gothic costume-vintage store, obscurely located in the thick of a Thai and Chiu Chow immigrant neighbourhood in Kowloon.

The futuristic funk of the Lippo Building with its interlocking koala motif.

Art deco elegance at the Quarry Bay Funeral Home, often surrounded by vendors of white lilies and paper effigies for the dead. White cloaked mourners can be seen marching to bonfires at the nearby harbourfront to burn paper houses, money or even servants for their loved ones to take with them into the next life.

The truly stunning beaches of Sai Kung, accessible only by hike or boat and their eerie abandoned villages.

The Captain Bear Club, a post-neutron bomb Alice-in-Wonderland on a deserted tropical island accessible only by private boat.

A troop of real live urban monkeys on the city’s The Monkey Hill.

The late-Autumn hike across golden fields of  Lantau’s Tai Tung Shan mountain

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.



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