At The Instagram Pier

19 03 2017

A friend was leaving town this weekend, and hosted her “adieu Hong Kong” bash at the ‘Instagram Pier’, a cargo loading bay that has become a de facto public park in cramped Hong Kong. Located along the Kennedy Town waterfront, it was known for many years as a gathering spot for Hokkien-speaking seniors to play mahjong and listen to Chinese opera ( there was some there this weekend) as well as a premium spot for thrill-seekers to watch typhoon waves during the Summer storms. Recently, it has been adopted by hipsters and those seeking the perfect Hong Kong harbour sunset pic (hence the name).

Arriving on a cold and drizzly Saturday night, we walked past vast piles of bamboo poles, ready to be hauled across town for construction projects, by the lines of bobbing tugboats in the dark sea and into the shelter afforded by a little cargo hut. People were walking dogs with neon-glowing collars, cruising past on bikes or skateboards, someone was flying a drone. A woman in a red dress was doing a photo-shoot and some girls were shooting a semi-professional-looking music video while a large group of young Japanese lay on tatami mats, having a picnic.

The highlight though was an impromptu serenade by a string quartet, playing atop a grafittied cargo crate. They popped up, played beautifully and then melted away again into the night…

 





New sensation

18 02 2017

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Thailand led the world in embracing internet-sensation-du-jour, the headbanging “trash dove” – now more sinisterly co-opted by white nationalists online.





The Essex Serpent

8 01 2017

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The “Essex Serpent” by Sarah Parry has been my holiday reading. It is based on a 1669 pamphlet entitled “Strange news out of Essex” which told the story of a dragon-like creature terrorising the swamps of the then-rural English county, now located on the outskirts of greater London. Intriguingly, Parry has picked up this real-life inspiration and re-imagined a story set two hundred years later. In the Victorian era, where Charles Darwin’s ideas are being hotly debated and British high society society has become fascinated by strange specimens streaming in from all over the empire, an upper-class London moves to Essex and hears rumblings of the serpent, said to have arisen in the Essex “Blackwater.”





Green ghosts

30 10 2016

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Shrouded in ivy and fog, abandoned houses stand on the island of Shengshan, an overnight trip from Shanghai. I had wanted to go and see the ghost villages on the island, deserted by the fishermen who once lived there and now throng to work in the cities, but with limited transport options (and Chinese) I decided against it.





Shanghai, by David Lynch.

30 10 2016





Paris, China.

30 10 2016

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Other than the West Lake, the other item on my Hangzhou hitlist was a housing estate in the city’s far suburbs, a twenty minute taxi ride from the last stop on the Northern subway line. But this was not just any housing estate, but Tianducheng, an ill-fated replica of Paris, complete with its own Eiffel Tower.

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Despite the amazing scale and spectacle of the place, it was noticeably quiet when we arrived. A gust of cold wind blew a plastic bag down the street, eerily vacant except for a couple of construction workers and maintenance crew and a bridesmaid playing with her phone on a park bench in a sparkly yellow dress, as a distant procession of brides and grooms climbed the steps to the mini-Sacre Coeur for wedding pictures. Most of the shops along the avenues were vacant or closed. We wandered around the dusty streets, ate delicious Uighur food on the Champs Elysee, and then caught a ride back to China.

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Is Jiangsu the hot new China destination?

30 10 2016

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Although most of the province is less that two hours by train from Shanghai, and it includes the supposedly beautiful “garden city” of Suzhou, I didn’t make it to Jiangsu on this trip.

The provincial capital of Nanjing, once of course China’s capital and scene of one of the grisliest massacres of World War 2 (the “Rape of Nanking”) has recently been hard at work upgrading its tourist credentials.

I was intrigued by a poster in a Shanghai train station adverising the newly-opened Usnisa Buddhist complex on Nanjing’s outskirts, a hyper-modern and lavishly-scaled temple complex perched on a mountain slope. Similarly over-the-top in design is the reconstruction, completed this year, of the city’s “Porcelain Pagoda”, a wonder destroyed some 150 years ago and now rebuilt by China’s richest man, with an an(other) Buddhist themepark attached.

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And finally there is the Sifang art complex, peeking out from the treetops in a pair of sleek architecturally-driven boxes, also just outside the city. I was reminded again of Japan in the bubble years, when these costly prestige projects came so thick and fast that no-one could keep track of them, and spectacular buildings that should have been star attractions flew completely under the radar.

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But it doesn’t take long for the old China to reassert itself. The province is also home to a safari park in nearby Yancheng that has eleven stuffed giraffes on display, placed as a reminder not to feed the animals after they choked to death on plastic bags fed to them by visitors 😦