Open House

11 08 2017

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The Open House bookstore is Bangkok’s newest buzzy retail concept. Atop the city’s most high-end retail space, the Central Embassy mall, it is a fittingly chic combination of bookstore, lounge and food court designed by the same architects who fitted Tokyo’s exquisite T-Site bookstore. At Open House, the concept is an interesting one. Beautiful art books (and an exhibition space) pull in the punters and the various food outlets scattered among the shelves ring the tills. It is beautifully executed, with comfy sofas and floor-to-ceiling windows giving dramatic views over the Ploenchit skyscrapers, almost like a tropical Fifth Avenue. The whole thing really speaks to Bangkok’s new confidence as a glamorous style destination.

I bought an interesting Japanese novella, The Transparent Labyrinth by Keiichiro Hirano, and had my eye on a cool inflatable bonsai for my new place only to be told it was for display only, not sale.

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Hong Kong’s coolest corner

24 02 2013

A while back I shared on the blog of a very cool little corner of Causeway Bay known as ‘Caroline Hill‘.  Located on a single block of aging tenement buildings and one way streets, it is a peaceful oasis of old-style Hong Kong with the added bonus of a small run of some of the city’s coolest stores tucked away in dim arcades and odd corners. I went back this week to show a friend and he was just as impressed as I had been.


Just inside one of the dingy arcades is a closet-sized space called “In Between” with a perfectly curated stock of dried sea anenome doorhandles and lamps made out of driftwood, colourful Top Shop socks, beautiful jewellery, leather camera straps, antique bird prints, viny records and 1970s Polish film posters like the one below for – of all things – Jodorowsky’s “Sacred Mountain”.

As a bonus, the staff were super friendly and the store was hosting a one-wall exhibition of queer photography by a local artist, Donald Lung.

After this we checked out a cluster of other funky stores in the retro arcades.

There is a classic mens tailor (with a hipster twist) Hola, Gasset Liberal for homewares and Luddite, another menswear store, specialising in battered canvas bags and old medals incribed with Russian and Arabic.

But the other standout store for me was Bunkaya Zakkaten, a store located in the bowels of one of the old buildings, behind a buzzing green neon sign. Inside, and even outside, it brims full of cheap and cheerful Japanese accessories and homewares that veer between chic and cheesy. Think novelty sunglasses, rings in the shape of cats’ heads and sofa cushions shaped like babies, gaudy jewellery, cute printed pencil cases and vintage mens and womens clothing.

Afterwards we headed over to Wonderdog  for one of its delicious kimchi-dogs, only to find that the menu has changed. Oh no! We got wasabi-dogs instead and admired the orange painted pop art wall mural.

Apparently there are plenty of other little places to explore to that I missed out on this time – see this article from Timeout HK a while ago.





Causeway Bay coral reef

17 11 2012

Amazing window of an aquarium shop in my new favourite neighbourhood

 





More Manila Cool

9 07 2012

 

Cubao X, short for Cubao Expo, is the stretch of bars I had intended to hit after “Vincent Van Gogh is Bipolar”. That did not happen but luckily I made it anyway, because I had to go back to Cubao to catch my bus for the airport (as this was a Sunday the traffic gods were merciful, and it only took forty minutes).

Cubao itself is not very appealing, full of even more garishly painted jeepneys in honking jeepney-jams, bare concrete and a dingy “Isetann” department store, with girls in tight dresses dancing to Pitbull outside (just like the real Isetan, NOT!)

But it has one gem. The Cubao Expo is Manila’s unlikeliest hipster hangout. It is a short U-shaped street forming a quiet compound in a former shoe trade centre. Today some of the shoe shops live on, mixed with the city’s most alternative minded bars (one named after the Brit band, Mogwai) and a selection of Western-style hipster thrift stores selling odd combinations of old vinyl, Filipino mountain woodcarving, gay coffee table books and vintage clothing. The place is said to be most happening at night, although I found it charming in the afternoon in a dozy, just-woken-up kind of way. It reminded me of Melbourne’s Fitzroy, or the coolest bits of Ari in Bangkok: in other words, it was funkier than I thought Manila would be, (and much cooler than anywhere in Hong Kong). Next time I’ll definitely drop by after dark (and head back to  Vincent van Gogh… while I am at it).

  

Much closer to Makati but with a similar sensibility is the new artspace “DAGC” or “Department of Avant Garde Cliches”. It sits in the back  of  a strip mall down an utterly unremarkable street of offices near Magellanes subway station. But inside there are prints by local artists and a selection of art books imported from Berlin. The friendly currator told me I had just missed a show on Australian artists. Definitely a place to keep an eye on.





There is a dinosaur in the window

31 05 2012

At Harvey Nichols, Pacific Place. And it is made out of coathangers.





Look what I found

29 04 2012

 





A North Point walk

27 02 2012

North Point is the bustling residential neighborhood between Fortress Hill and Quarry Bay. It fills a narrow strip of land between the hillside and the sea just a few blocks wide. The neighbourhood follows Kings Road, with its trams and crowds, and also takes in a ferry terminal, a few local shopping centres and some interesting little sidestreets with crowded footpath markets. Its one of the few areas of Hong Kong Island that has not yet been gentrified. Although annoyingly crowded at times, it still has a gritty “for-the-people” vibe quite unlike the rarified (and boring) streets of Central.

It also has a few little spots of particular interest.

The walk from Quarry Bay to Causeway bay (the way I usually walk) hits North Point right outside at the blue and white art deco Hong Kong Funeral Home. This building – one of the most elegant  in Hong Kong, in my opinion – stands amid its  clutch of  florists specialising in white lily wreathes.

 

Soon after appears the Sunbeam theatre, not far from the ferry stop. This is the last place on Hong Kong island to see Cantonese traditional opera. Its 70s style  globe-lamp-lit foyer is always crowded with pensioners on their way to the matinee, huge garlands of flowers and garish cardboard cutouts of the actors on show. The theatre hit the headlines this week with its impending closure – the Opera company could no longer pay the rent and it seemed as if the landmark was destined to close. Hong Kong was going to lose another little bit of its soul, which has so steadily been chipped away bit by bit. But on the very day it was supposed to close, in a cinematic last minute gasp a donor came through with the cash. The future of the theatre, though shaky, was granted a reprieve.

 

Further along down Kings Road on the corner is this bizarre hulk of a building – a former theatre or market perhaps? What is the purpose of the concrete spans over its roof? I had been past in a tram a few times and tried to figure out what it was, to no avail. This time I ventured in on foot. The outside of the building, complete with eroded grimy frieze over the door, was covered in bamboo scaffolding. Inside a rabbits warren of dim corridors revealed shuttered shops and then odd businesses – a brothel and an elderly persons’ home. Is the building being demolished? And what was it?

After this puzzle I was stopped in my tracks by a discovery even more exciting. In a little sidestreet near Fortress Hill subway station, underneath a dingy freeway flyover is a branch of one of my favourite old Tokyo shops. I had no idea “Village Vanguard” had a branch in Hong Kong! Yet venturing down the stairs I found a large store full of the cute novelty items, funky books and homewares that make the store so popular in Kichijioji, Shimokitazawa and Jiyugaoka. I walked out with a faux-snow leopard rug, a VIP members card and this hilariously awful coin wallet:

 

I will be back soon (and often!).