20 10 2016


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.




Three Meals

16 08 2016


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


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.


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


Suoi Tien

30 07 2016


Suoi Tien is one of the highlights of – I would say – Southeast Asia. It is a vast and bizarre fantasyland of gaudy Buddhist sculptures, neon shrines and concrete oversized fruit, dancers in monkey suits, a water park with a wave machine, houses-of-horror and live crocodiles (which you can buy and take home!) and dolphins jumping through hoops of fire. It is also, inexplicably, not mentioned anywhere in the Vietnam Lonely Planet guide. Really? Someone should really get fired for that, as it is hands down one of the most bizarre, mind-boggling sights on the planet and an absolute “must-do.” Read more on my previous visit here.  To get there, just hop on the number 19 bus opposite the Ben Thanh market. It takes about an hour and drops you right at the door which is marked by a gigantic frog, and therefore unmissable. When the city’s subway is up and running it will get a stop nearby so it will be even easier.


The aerial drone video below should provide some more inspiration to visit (if that could possibly be necessary) although ignore the misleading claim that the park is “abandoned”  – it was just filmed after closing time, I would say.

Mixed-up world

30 07 2016

District Three, a brief walk from the Reunification Palace, is a neighbourhood of local middle class shopping, street noodle vendors, raucous markets and a big hospital. It is also here, away from the gaze of tourists, that a small local hipster scene is starting to blossom. As well as as an ‘Analog cafe’ and some vintage stores set up in peoples’ living rooms, a small alley hosts one of the city’s prime hipster hangouts, Liem Barbershop.

Modelled after Chicano gangsters, in a craze itself imported from Thailand, the barbers here represent Saigon’s globalised counter culture spirit  – and the place is consistently packed out. Its the kind of place I didn’t know existed in Saigon and perhaps an interesting peek at where the city is heading?

Museum of History

30 07 2016


The National Vietnamese History museum sits in a 1920s Orientalist fantasy at the entrance to Botanical Gardens. Ceiling fans whir above the high-faulted chambers and breezes blow through the corridors and courtyards, and birds coo outside in the branches of huge rainforest trees. The rather dusty collection contains agricultural tools, dioramas of Vietnamese military victories over the Chinese and the Mongols and the Mummy of District Five, the preserved body of an aristocratic woman who died in 1868 and was unearthed in the city in 1994, as well as memorabilia of the vanished Vietnamese royal houses.

726e3a68-a207-42af-a8be-ca4f2fcdb7ef_zpsm6vludtz 92630081-c0ae-462a-b734-fa996c14397c_zpstdigtzi3

The highlight is probably the sensuous collection of Khmer and Champa stone scupture, but my favourite piece was this hauntingly elongated and androgynous two-metre figure of Buddha. Carved out of weathered wood and starting some two metres tall, the faceless figure stands serenely, looking for all the world like a member of some benevolent alien race, about to bestow his or her wisdom on our benighted planet – if only we would listen.


Love on the …brain?

11 06 2016


Above, Juan Sebastián Peláez’s Ewaipanoma (Rihanna) on show in Berlin, apparently inspired by pre-colonial Colombian myth and a paparazzi shot of the bathing “goddess”, and below – the singer in action.

The otherworldly island

4 05 2016

I recently read about Ascension Island, a remote British outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean. Today it is home to a tiny population, much of it servicing the island’s secretive satellite spy base, and governed by an Orwellian figure in London referred to only as The Administrator.

The island’s history has been bizarre from the outset.

When first discovered in the sixteenth century it was uninhabited by humans, as well as any land animals larger than a crab.

It was also dry, a desolate rocky island in the South Atlantic which rose, parched and empty, to a craggy volcanic peak.

It was here that Dutch sailor Leendert Hascenbosch was left marooned by his passing ship in 1725 – condemned to a lifetime of thirst and solitude in punishment for his crime: homosexuality.

British sailors visiting some years later found his tent and diary – which made references to drinking the blood of sea turtles  but not, sadly, of the freshwater spring in the centre of the island. Of Leendert himself there was no sign and the investigators concluded he had died, if not from thirst then from suicide.

The British also kickstarted the next strange chapter in the island’s history. Under scientific advice they planted seedlings on the island’s mountain top, hoping to grow a cloud forest which would trap condensation and change the whole climate of the island. Then they could grow food, gather wood for repairs and use the island as a useful staging post.

The extravagant plan worked. Today the island is lushly forested and green with introduced plants – perhaps the nearest man has yet come to “terraforming” his environment and perhaps a precursor to our further adventures in the stars.