Jumping Jack Flash

8 10 2016

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Interesting article here on atlasobscura about the urban myth of Spring Heel Jack, a leaping assailant who once terrorised the streets of Victorian London. It also reminded me of this blast from the mid-90s past:





A weekend of surprises.

2 10 2016

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There wasn’t really a plan for this weekend, but as sometimes happens, that made it all the more interesting. My boyfriend was late for a swimming date which was commuted to dinner on Friday night so I ended up waiting in the re-opened People’s Recreation Community, a little upstairs bookshop in the hubhub of Times Square, specialising in Chinese language books banned on the mainland. These consisted of tomes on the ever-fascinating topics of (in order of popularity) feng shui, sex and politics. I was pleased to see the place open, its owner having only recently returned from his politically-motivated abduction and arrest on the mainland, and bought a book in solidarity, a Shigeru Mizuki comic. They actually have a small but quite interesting English selection, as well as (uncensored!) internet booths and a modest two-table cafe serving comfort food.

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From here we set off to eat, and to celebrate – I hadn’t realised that the next day was a public holiday! Scouring the backstreets of Causeway Bay without much of a plan we ended up in a twenty storey-high office block into which I had never ventured but which turned out to be piled high with restaurants and thronged with customers. There were Japanese oyster bars, a vegetarian Sichian restaurant, a 1980s Guangdong-style BBQ place with luridly painted mural walls and a manequin of a girl in a leather miniskirt, and finally a rowdy Korean joint. Here, students snacked on fried chicken and squid’s legs wrapped in cheese and graffitied the bare concrete walls, while knocking back bottles of cider held upside down into large glasses of melon soda. It felt like a little slice of Seoul, totally unexpected, and it was called “Mr Korea Chicken”.

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The next day, again unplanned, we got up early to head out for a hike and picked the Twin Peaks trail, which sets off from the Parkview housing estate and heads Southwest across the island to Stanley.

As we climbed up into the forested slopes along muddy paths, our voices echoed through the valleys and billowing white cloud wrapped around us. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities! Truly amazing. We passed the Tai Tam reservoir and vistas of rolling hills covered with trees and then began the grueling 1000-step staircase of the first of the two forested mountains, before tackling the final peak and descending to Stanley below us. Beautiful.

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As we got down to Stanley, the cloud lifted and the sun came out. After a lunch soundtracked by Ella Fitzgerald at an idiosyncratic little cafe in a corner of Stanley Market called Lucy’s Kitchen, we headed down to a sunny, secretive little beach. We had seen this from above as we descended. It was near where a war cemetery sits on a well-manicured lawn and bright laundry flapped on the balconies of the correctional services staff apartments for the families of those staffing the nearby prison.  Via streets of hundred-million-dollar mansions and thick green foliage we arrived at St Stephen’s beach and splashed about contentedly as the sun shone down, a few children played and the clear, warm water washed our tired bodies. Floating on the sea, we could look up and see the path on the hillside which we had so recently descended.

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The final surprise of the day came back in Causeway Bay. After a cheap but hearty vegetarian meal and a massage in a little Thai place located semi-legally in a residential block, it was time to head home. But it was only then that my partner realised he had lost his housekey somewhere and we had to wait for him to pick up his spare from his mum, before we could finally pile into bed, worn-out after an action-packed and adventurous day, thankful for the incredible variety of scenery Hong Kong island packs into such a compact package.





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.





Bangkok round-up: Dancing Under the Death star

7 03 2016

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Thailand’s Khao Sod newspaper reported this week on a deathly grip tightening around Thailand as Uranus, considered by Thai astrologers to be a harbinger of ill portent, neared the end of its long, elliptical journey around the sun.

When this last took place (one orbit takes 84 years,) it coincided with (or caused?) the revolt that overthrew the absolute monarchy…although looking at it another way, it oversaw the birth of democracy in Thailand – such as it is…😉

Temples around the country held special prayer meetings to combat the dark influence of the planet known in Thai as Dao maruet ta yoo, “the star of death”.

It was not all doom and gloom though: revellers danced the night away at a swing and jazz dance festival in the shadow of the famous temple of nearby Nakhon Pathom, as captured in a charming photo essay by Coconuts Bangkok.

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And finally, BK magazine reports on another interesting museum to add to the list of Bangkok sights (together with the new “Museum of Thai Corruption“). This one is a museum collated by sex workers to document their lives and struggles, poignantly titled “This is Us.” The museum was put together by the Empower Foundation, a pro-sex work group dedicated to campaigning for better rights and conditions, and societal acceptance, of sex work. Interestingly, the article points out the price of sex in Thailand – a sum equivalent to ten bags of rice – has not increased in four hundred years!





Death becomes her

7 03 2016

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The bejewelled bodies of Catacomb saints from photographer Paul Koudounaris’s book “Heavenly Bodies.”

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Hanoi’s turtle trouble..

25 01 2016

Australia’s ABC reports:

A giant turtle considered sacred in Vietnam and venerated as a symbol of the country’s independence struggle has died, according to state media.

The turtle’s death prompted an outpouring of grief and stoked fears it boded ill for an upcoming Communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered Swinhoe’s softshell turtle occupies a key mythological role in Vietnam, and in the past the turtle generally surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Full story here

 





Meet the “fake Muji”

16 01 2016

 

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Japanese people surprised to find that “popular Japanese store” Meiso doesn’t exist in Japan