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 😦





Unexpected

20 10 2016

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While browsing at Kubrick’s, this blog’s favourite Hong Kong cafe and art book hipster hangout, I stumbled across this strange object earlier in the week and I immediately felt a keen pang of homesickness and nostalgia. It is, in case you are wondering, an essential oil fragrance diffuser, carved out of the case of the Australian banksia bush nut. Such a quintessentially Australian sight, beautiful and yet weirdly alien to the Eurocentric gaze, appearing in a totally unexpected context. I bought it immediately, and I love it. It reminds me of the “banksia men,” villains in the 1918 childrens’ book “The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie,” which I had once derided as the height of tacky, cringeworthy Australiana kitsch, until I had seen the classic illustrations featured in a shirt by ubercool designer Eley Kishimoto in Tokyo’s So-En magazine: another re-evaluation of something I had once not appreciated.

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Three Meals

16 08 2016

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Expensive but elegant Vietnamese cuisine at Garcon Saigon, off Star Street.

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A disappointing meal at Yunnan People restaurant. The rice noodles with tofu were tasty, but I had come all the way to the dreary industrial suburb of San Po Kong for the restaurant’s menu of imported-from-Yunnan bugs: fried crickets, grubs and beetles, none of which were available on the rainy day I visited. Oh well.

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And finally, new Kennedy Town favourite Orchid Veggie, with its sea grapes, tasty fried eggplant, mushroom platter (below) and durian cupcakes.

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