Tuesday, March 24, 2009


As promised, videos of the wildlife from my visit to "Ocean Park" in Hong Kong.

The dolphins are housed in a place called "Dolphin University". This one just got a 2:2, but it's OK: that's what he expected to get.

In this one, the Dolphins can be heard talking, although the subject of the conversation is unclear.

A popular pastime for the members of "Dolphin University" is to roll over on their backs and let the water spray on their bellies.

I've always been fond of Rays, and this one very kindly surfaced and flapped along the shoreline while I was nearby.

Actually, they might be Seals rather than Sea Lions, but I'm not sure I can tell the difference. They seemed to like shooting along the bottom of the pool on their backs with their eyes closed.

"Lucky" has scars on his shell which suggest he was hit by a propeller. He spent several months in intensive care before joining the aquarium.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Ocean Park was the promise of Pandas. I was not disappointed. Apparently in the wild they are solitary animals, and the black-and-white coats help them avoid each other. It's no wonder breeding is such a problem for them.

These Pandas are asleep, and they don't have to justify themselves to you. The wobbling at the end of this clip is because a small child has just head-butted me in the stomach.

Jia Jia had been dozing sat up when I first got into the Panda enclosure. Then she woke up and scratched herself on a tree-trunk, to general excitement.

Friday, March 13, 2009

White Wedding (Part 1)

It's high time I finished off the posts about my visit to Hong Kong. I was up pretty early on the morning of the wedding itself, thanks to the effects of jet-lag. This did, however, give me plenty of time to go and poke about Aberdeen Harbour. From here you can get boats out to the floating seafood restaurants, but given that the food they serve is apparently pretty bad, and that they aren't actually floating, I didn't take up the opportunity.

Aberdeen Blocks

Due to my deep, deep fear of becoming trapped in some obscure part of Hong Kong and unable to make it to the wedding, I changed into my suit before heading into town to spend the morning in Central. This meant that many of the citizens of Hong Kong got to see a profusely sweating white guy walking around the mid-levels, but I'm sure they're fairly used to that.

The mid-levels were reached by taking a series of escalators suspended above street level, which is a somewhat strange way to travel, but did help reduce the effects of wearing the suit. I got off at Hollywood Road to poke about the antiques district and visit the Man Mo temple. Some of the shops did have interesting antiquities that were far out of my price range. Man Mo temple is quite strangely placed, with modern buildings having grown up all around it.

Roof of the Man Mo Temple

There were what looked like nice carvings at the ground-level of the temple too, but the slightly strange decision to preserve them by encasing them in bubble-wrap had been taken, so it was hard to see what they actually were. In the neighbouring streets I kept an eye out for any "Bank of Hell" banknotes (because who wouldn't want currency from the Bank of Hell?) which are burned as offerings in the temple, but I drew a blank.

My previous visit to Kowloon had been done using the underground system, but I wanted to make the crossing by ferry at least once, so I decided to do that now. Comparisons to the Mersey ferries are favourable: not only are the Hong Kong ferries cheaper, they don't bombard you with a recording of "Ferry Across The Mersey", either. Although I suppose it would be quite weird if they did.

My worries about missing the wedding were unfounded, as I turned up about 15 minutes early, about the same time that Tom and his family got there. Being Valentine's Day, the church was having back-to-back wedding all day. Weddings were tending to collide with each other outside, and I wouldn't be surprised if at some point that day someone found themselves in the wrong one. I was interested to note the neon haloes on the statues inside the church, although apparently that's pretty common in the Far East.

As for the service itself, my Catholic upbringing was not enough for me to instinctively remember when I should be stood up or sat down. Doing what the majority of people did was clearly the best policy, although the cases where there wasn't a clear majority were a risky.

After the service, I joined everyone else in dodging between the official photographers - who had been fearless in getting in close for their shots during the service - in order to steal a few photos.

For the reception, we were bussed as a mob to a very nice hotel - the location of which I'm still not sure of - for a meal. I'm thinking the music was Tom's department, given that the playlist began with David Bowie's last good song ("Absolute Beginners" if you're wondering). I was also amused that he did, after all, manage to sneak Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in, which prompted a discussion on my table about other unconventional songs for weddings - post yours in the comments section.

Post-reception, we decamped back to the Irish bar where the stag-night had begun. I left earlier than I would have liked, but I was mindful of the possibility that I'd be left in the middle of nowhere again, and the next day would be my last in Hong Kong. As it was, I needn't have worried - the taxi driver knew the address, and dropped me off at the door of the hotel with no fuss. Where had that guy been all the other times?

The next day, I started off by heading to Ocean Park, the theme park on the south coast. Despite Aberdeen being quite near it, it seemed that the easiest way was to go to central and get the dedicated bus. Admission was £20, which is pretty reasonable. I had no intention of going on any of the rides, but was there to see the sealife - and pandas. I've got videos of this which I'll put up sometime soon, but it was well worth the visit.


I had a few other things to tick off on my list that day, which involved heading a little bit out into the suburbs. Wong Tai Sin temple was apparently miraculously saved several times from destruction by the Japanese in the Second World War, and has now given its name to the whole area.

Wong Tai Sin Temple In Context

I did go inside, although photography there was not allowed. Worship here took the form of shaking a beaker full of sticks in front of the altar - I think this causes one stick to come out, and that they have characters on which can be interpreted for meaning. Interesting to see.

Even further into the heart of suburbia was Kowloon Walled City Park, which I admit I was visiting purely because of the mentions William Gibson had given to the Walled City. Left out of the treaty which ceded Hong Kong to Britain, the Walled City had existed without a government until it was pulled down in 1992. It appears not to have been the crime-ridden hell-hole you might have imagined, either, despite apparently being run by Triad gangs. These days, the site is a really nice park, which contains some of the remains of the city, as well as a model of how it looked.

Model of Kowloon Walled City

The last things I did were purchasing some gifts for people back home - a Chinese film flyer from the shop next to the Broadway Cinematheque for my sister, some green stone elephants and a teapot for my parents from Temple Street Night Market. The latter two items involved haggling, although I'm temperamentally unsuited to the activity, and I clearly paid well over the odds. On the other hand, it was never a game I was actually going to win at.

From there it was back to central to collect my case, then out to the airport to come home. There were some things I couldn't do because of the weather, and it would have been nice to have an extra day in the city, but I had a great time out there. Perhaps one day I'll go again.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"Well They'd Already Be In There, Wouldn't They?"

I spent this weekend in London, becuase my sister had cleverly gotten tickets to the premieres of the Red Riding Trilogy at the BFI, before the first one screens on Channel 4 later this week.

As readers of the blog and people who know me in real life will know, I'm a big fan of the novels, and of Peace's writing in general. Combined with the fact that this is my very own blog, I've never had such a good opportunity to become a raging fanboi. I'm going to try and pass the opportunity up, however.

As with any attempt to transform a novel into a 90-minute film, there is an inevitable process of reduction. The plots have had to be somewhat simplified, some characters amalgamated. Gone too are the first-person perspectives and internal monologues, replaced by a more standard third-person approach.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the films, because people may well be seeing these stories for the first time later in the week. What was interesting was that, like the novels, 1980 is the gem here, and 1983 is easily the weakest. The latter compounds this by including a completely new ending which I suspect will cause David Peace to vomit with rage. 1974, the first part, makes the main protagonist far more sympathetic that he is in the novel - perilously close to a Sam Tyler-figure, in fact - but features some of the best cinematography of the three. The trilogy also features strong performances by several members of the cast - Paddy Considine, David Morrissey, Sean Bean, and Sean Harris all stand out.

All in all, did I get the competition to The Wire that I was looking for? Not quite, but then comparing a 13-hour series with three 1.5-hour films isn't really fair. What we have got, though, is some superior British crime drama, something of an antidote to the carefully edited I Love The 70s nostalgia and the tea-and-scones vision of police corruption found in Life On Mars. Watch the series, but do go and find the novels, too.

Being the BFI screening, the audience was full of members of the cast and crew, and other well-known figures. Mike Leigh was sat two rows directly in front of me, and I could totally have bounced a scrunched-up piece of paper off the back of his head. I didn't, though. I'm not sure I'd ever been around so many famous people - it's not everyday you walk past one of Alex's Droogs sharing a cigarette with Fred Flintstone.

The films were followed by a Q&A. Given that many of the people in the audience were 1) in the films and 2) full of wine the questions weren't always that interesting. Warren Clarke believed that the films had "brought the bollocks back to British TV", but he meant it in a good way. I'll always remember this portion of the evening for the following:

HOST: (searches the audience) I understand that the Yorkshire Ripper is here, minus his beard?

[Joseph Mawle waves his arm in the air. There is a scattered round of applause - whether it's for being the Yorkshire Ripper or for having shaved is unclear]