Bangkok werewolf

8 04 2017

The new Thai celebrity trend – pet werewolves.

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The art of Bill Traylor

15 01 2017

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Born a slave, Bill Traylor lived as an impoverished sharecropper in Alabama until he started to draw in his seventies and was “discovered,” leading to a a 1942 exhibition in  New York entitled “American Primitive: the Work of an Old Negro”.

 

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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





The fallout

19 08 2015

While the tragedy of the Erawan bombing is still unfolded, it hasn’t taken long for investigations to take on a typically Thai bizarre twist after model and soap opera star Sunny Burns, originally from Australia, was held up online as a dead ringer for the main suspect.

He responded by going in to the police to clear his name – complete with instagram post from the cop shop – and uttering the immortal alibi: “I woudn’t have worn that, I’m a fashion blogger.”

Police used CCTV footage to corroborate his claim to innocence, that at that time he was on his way to the “muscle lab” (aka, gym).





On the Thai internet

3 08 2015

Two Thai social media favourites of the minute,  both bearing a universal message for our age. Above, an adorable but cocky boyfriend warns of the dangers of smartphone addiction in a video called “So you just gonna ignore me?” and below “Street Nude, Global Warming”, a Facebook page in which artist Ronnachai Kunsiri strips off in nature to highlight the threats to Thailand’s various ecosystems from global warming.

Also, this beautifully edited and oddly moving advertisement, currently screening on the Skytrain:





The rocket festival

26 07 2015

My travels in the Thai Northeast would take me close to the provinces home to the infamous Rocket Festival. I was sadly (or luckily) out of season though for the chaos. It is worth noting that in addition to this video, there is another video on youtube where you can watch someone losing an arm to the rockets…





Justice for Joco

17 07 2015

In one of these bizarre, only-in Thailand turns of events this week, protesters converged on a Bangkok television station (ineffectually, but where else to protest?) to protest the revenge-attack eating of a dog in the country’s Northern province of Sakhon Nakorn. The attack, subject of a recent report by Channel Three, took place after a villager’s beloved husky dog, Joco, escaped and slaughtered 38 ducks in a neighbouring village.

The duck owners struck back the next night, allegedly dognapping, killing and eating the pet. I hadn’t known that Thai eat dogs, a specialty of that province.

On hearing the news, the Thai Huskies Association and “animal rights activists” led by a soap opera star sprung into action, protesting for “justice for Joco” although some online commentators were quick to point out their double standards; where was the concern for the rights of the ducks? And furthermore, given the cruelty of keeping a husky in a tropical climate, shouldn’t they be looking a bit closer to home before taking the moral high ground on animal welfare?

This was brought to home forcefully when I stumbled on to Bangkok’s (and surely the world’s first) late night gay dog cafe this week. Silom Soi 4’s former gay bar One Night Only, which used to have topless male models and a stripper pole, has now morphed into a living room-like space where patrons can sip a coffee, read quietly in the comic corner or pet the two huge Siberian huskies, three labradors or resident Afghan hound. Although the dogs certainly looked healthy, loved and well-cared for, the Afghan was passed out under a sofa desperately trying to sleep and the huskies lay for the most part with the faces pressed against one of several fans, trying to keep cool.





Asia’s sexiest….

21 06 2015

Over the weekend, with some friends, talk turned to the latest internet sensation in the Far East, Taiwan’s
sexy beancurd seller, above, who has been burning up hearts online over the last week. The hot-blue-collar-worker-plucked-from-anonymity-to-become-a-sex-symbol seems to have a particular resonance in Asia. This is just the latest case in a string that includes Sexy beancurd Seller’s compatriot Ms Fried Chicken who parlayed a video of deep frying a chicken steak into a softporn bikini-modelling career in Taipei, to Bangkok’s mototaxi-model.

There have also been hot Japanese war correspondents, dashing English teachers, a handsome Filipino KFC store manager and a suave Malaysian immigration official (apparently) who have burst out of anonymonity to become short-lived lust objects.

The most unlikely story of all, though, I had missed. It is that of ‘Brother Sharp’, dubbed China’s most handsome beggar, who was hounded by paparazzi after his movie-star-like looks were revealed to the general public, went into a mental institution and then emerged to walk in Guangzhou Fashion Week and be reunited with his family, mysteriously losing his looks along the way.

And that is to say nothing of his fellow PRC citizen, Most Fashionable Homeless Person in History.





Other worlds: The Lanfang Republic

18 05 2015

Few things are more fascinating that pondering the great historical “what if”s. What if, as in Philip K Dick’s sci fi novel “Man in the High Tower”, Japan and Germany had won the war and divided the United States between them? What if the Chinese had colonized Africa before Europeans? Or the Africans had sent a fleet to Asia?

It was in this spirit that I was amazed to read of the existence of something I never knew had existed – the Lanfang republic, an ethnic Chinese quasi-democracy, acting in concert with the Dayak forest tribespeople, deep in Indonesia. On the island of Borneo (or today’s Kalimantan), Lanfang resisted against the Dutch for one hundred years. Paying allegiance to the Qing emperors but with a strikingly participatory model of government (an interesting riposte to the benign dictatorships of “Asian Values” advocates), the republic lasted from about the same time Australia was coming in to being to (about) the time of the Victorian Goldrush, leaving behind towns with still majority-Chinese populations today.

Imagine how differently this could have turned out – would China have stretched all the way to the Tropics today?

It put me in the mind of Palmares and the quilombos of Brazil, the lost ancient Garamantians or the mooted post-independence United States of Latin Africa.

It is such an amazing world we live in.





Bright lights, black magic: Contemporary HK Lore

10 05 2015

After a mad run in the last few weeks, Hong Kong’s stock market is bracing for a crash landing – all the moreso now that a certain TV series, widely considered to be an infallible omen for a bear market, has popped up again on repeat. In the perfect synergy of Hong Kong’s obsessions with money, celebrity and, err, feng shui, the 90s stockmarket drama “Greed of Man” is believed to herald a downturn on the city’s bourse every time it appears. Wikipedia explains:

“The Ting Hai effect, also known as the Adam Cheng effect, is a stock market phenomenon in which there is a sudden and unexplained drop in the stock market whenever a film or a television series starring Hong Kong actor Adam Cheng is released.[2] It still remains as a popular topic among stock brokers, years after the television drama The Greed of Man was broadcast in Hong Kong in late 1992. The effect is named after Ting Hai, the primary antagonist in the drama, who was portrayed by Cheng.”

Read the full article here.

It all reminded me of the hilariously tongue-in-cheek “Li Ka-Shing Forcefield”, an invisible barrier which is said to repel typhoons from the city during the working week, in order to protect billionaire kingpin Li Ka-Shing from having to issue paid time off to the city’s harried workers.

Again, wikipedia has more.





Mummified 200-year-old monk found in Mongolia in ‘very deep meditation’, Buddhist academic claims

7 02 2015

 

A tale of mystery, wonder, corpse-thievery, supernatural powers and Buddhist redemption – the full story at the Independent here.





Hundreds of cats to be crushed in building demolition

28 01 2015

Coconuts Bangkok reports on the tragic fate in store for hundreds of stray cats who have Murakami-esquely taken over an empty apartment block in Bangkok.





Controversy!

23 12 2014

Just when the media and entertainment industries should be slowing down for their Christmas break it suddenly seems like there is controversy and action breaking out everywhere – new Madonna album appears out of the blue, possible stolen. North Korea is at war with Sony. D’Angelo suddenly has an album out. And Azealia Banks is having a go at Iggy Azealia…again.

Regardless of whether you agree with her or not (I don’t) it makes for pretty damned entertaining radio.





World wide weird

17 11 2014

The Brazilian city of Belem, on the banks of the Amazon, is best known for its colourful riverside market of rainforest herbs and strange, monstrous fish, almost constant rain and more recently, a vibrant music scene that has spawned the likes of Jaloo and Gaby Amarantos. It was also here, in my early twenties, that I experienced one of the more exotic episodes in my travels, waiting out in a decaying nineteenth century brothel for an emergency credit card – my lifeline to the outside world – to arrive. Yet this week it has been in the news for a string of “whats app” murders, preceded by a mysterious text message telling people to stay off the streets..

The residents of outer-suburban Paris were terrorised by a tiger this week, sighted (and photographed, indistinctly, of course) outside a local supermarket. Despite a massive military manhunt the beast has still not been found, although after several days and some track mark analysis, the threat was downgraded to “Eurasian lynx”.

And finally, a sinkhole opened today on a busy pavement in Hong Kong’s own Causeway Bay, swallowing a passing pedestrian, who was later rescued by an ambulance. A friend told me something similar had happened in Beijing once, but there the unfortunate victim had been boiled alive by leaking hot water pipes.





Halloween Happy(land)

1 11 2014

Just in time for Halloween, the wonderful Coconouts Bangkok website has published a translation of this Thai article explaining the forgotten history of one of the city’s first theme parks, named Happy Land. This was a  place where numerous children died and, it claims, disappeared. The park has long since closed but its name lives on in the macabrely ironic name of the housing estate built in its place and in the remaining faux-medieval castle that I stumbled upon once in the Bangkok suburb of Lad Phrao, host (perhaps fittingly) to a festival of “sad music”.

Read the original article in English here.