domingo, 27 de febrero de 2011

Kowloon, the Walled City

children playing on the roof

Hak Nam, City of Darkness, the old Walled City of Kowloon was finally demolished in 1993, and to the end it retained its seedy magnificence. Rearing up abruptly in the heart of urban Hong Kong, 10, 12 and in some places as many as 14 storeys high, there was no mistaking it: an area 200 metres by 100 metres of solid building, home to some 35,000 people, not the largest, perhaps, but at one time the most densely populated area in the world. It was also, arguably, the closest thing to a truly self-regulating, self-sufficient, self-determining modern city that has ever been built.

The towers were so high and so closely packed that natural sunlight never reached the lower levels at all, the only light was fluorescent twenty-four hours a day.  One could travel one end of the city to the other through a series of ladders, ramshackle bridges and alleyways.

Aerial view of the city in 1989

The City in its final form went back barely 20 years. In origin, however, Kowloon City was much the oldest part of Hong Kong, and one of the few areas in the vicinity populated when the British first arrived in 1841 to claim Hong Kong Island and the southern-most tip of the Kowloon Peninsula for their own. 

It was a proper Chinese town, laid out with painstaking attention to eternal principles. The Chinese believed that a town should face south and overlook water with hills and mountains protecting its rear, and in these terms the City was very happily placed, with the great Lion Rock just to the north of it and Kowloon Bay immediately to the south.
A grocery store inside the Walled City.

What the geomantic sages could not control were the infringements of the barbarians. When the British sought to expand their hold on Hong Kong in 1898, with a 99-year lease covering the whole of Kowloon Peninsula and all the nearby islands, most of Kowloon City was subsumed under the new jurisdiction. 

Under the terms of the lease, however, it was agreed that the small, walled magistrates? fort to the north of the town would remain Chinese territory until the new colonial administration had been properly established and all the details of land ownership, held within the fort, had been transferred.

A Kowloon Walled City dentist.

The situation was never resolved, and for the next 90 years of British rule the City remained an anomaly: within British domain, yet outside British control. The Chinese officials left for good in 1899, but whenever the colonial authorities tried to impose their will, the remaining residents threatened to turn the attempt into a diplomatic incident. 

And so it remained until the Second World War, when the invading Japanese delivered the first body blow, tearing down the huge granite walls and using them to build Kai Tak Airport in the shallows of nearby Kowloon Bay. The former harmony was destroyed: the creation of the airport drove away the Yin spirit provided by the water and the City was abandoned.

Noodle factory
The City may have effectively ceased to exist, but the area?s status as a diplomatic black hole was not forgotten, and in the chaos of the War's aftermath it proved the perfect place of asylum for many of the hundred thousands of refugees pouring south to escape famine, civil war and political persecution as the Communists gained control in China. 

 Surrounded now only by walls of political inhibition, the City became the place where they could get their breath back; where they could live as Chinese among other Chinese, untaxed, uncounted and untormented by governments of any kind. 

And so, the Walled City became that rarest of things, a working model of an anarchist society. Inevitably, it bred all the vices. Crime flourished and the Triads made the place their stronghold, operating brothels and opium 'divans' and gambling dens. 

Undoubtedly, these few (and it always was a small proportion) kept the majority of residents in a state of fear and subjection, which is why for many years outsiders trying to penetrate were given the coldest of shoulders.

But for most, the main priority was survival and the peoples needs were no different from anyone elses: a life without interference with water, light, food and space. Of these water was the most indispensable and in the early years the only way to get it was to go down. 

And so thats what they did, sinking some 70 wells in and around the City, to a depth of some 300 feet. Electric pumps shot the water up to tanks on the rooftops from where it descended via an ad hoc forest of narrow pipes and connections to the homes of subscribers. Only in the last 20 years were Government stand-pipes installed around the City to provide safe drinking water.

man enjoying fresh air on the roof

To run the pumps and to light up the Citys many alleys required electricity and initially this challenge was tackled in a similarly robust fashion: it was stolen from the mains, often by Hongkong Electric employees who lived within the City boundaries. 

Only in the late 1970s, after a serious fire (much the most terrifying hazard in the City), were the authorities allowed in with their meters.

Thus was the substructure of urban life roughly but workably banged into shape. And out of all the chaos and apparent lack of real organization, a sort of society began to flourish. 

Soon, there were factories of every description, small shops and even schools and kindergartens, some of them run by organizations such as the Salvation Army. Medical and dental care were no problem, as many of the residents were doctors and dentists with Chinese qualifications and years of experience, but lacking the expensive licenses required to practice in the rest of the Colony.
They set up their clinics on the edges of the City and charged their patients a fraction of what they would pay elsewhere. Grandparents typically lived with their children and would watch over grandchildren as well as other kids from the area while parents worked.  

For the moments of relief from toil, there were many restaurants on the City's fringes and embedded deep in its heart were a temple and a 'yamen', relics of the City's distant past. 

And so life went on. Every afternoon the alleys were alive with the throb of hidden machinery and the clacking of mahjong tiles, while up on the roof, in cages not much smaller than some of the City's homes, cooed hundreds of racing pigeons, joined there by children playing after school.

And here, in this richness and diversity, lies what was truly fascinating about the City. For all its physical shortcomings, and there were many, its residents had succeeded in creating a true community - and, ironically, one that was to flourish in the Citys final years, after the authorities had moved in to arrange the clearance and the Triads had been forced to move out. 

Photographed by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot during the City's last years, this exhibition offers a glimpse of that unique community and of the extraordinary architecture that had evolved over the years to support it.

For more information about Kowloon Walled City, look out for Greg and Ianss book, City of Darkness, available from specialist architectural bookshops or via our website at watermarkpublications. com.

There is also a 1989 German documentary on Kowloon that is worth a look.

martes, 22 de febrero de 2011

Baby baby

viernes, 18 de febrero de 2011

Royal Love hotel, Haikyo

The Hotel Royal haikyo in Kanagawa is the grand-daddy of all love hotels, streaking 7 empty stories up into the big blue sky, a giant vermillion flag on the banks of Sagamiko Lake calling out to all and sundry in a mega-watt alto- ‘Need some discreet time alone with your loved one? Come on down!’

I couldn`t find out any historical information about this haikyo, and I doubt there is anything much to be found. It probably went up in the last 10 years, came down in the last 5, and for the most part passed unremarked in the life of the area. It just seems like a bad idea, for several reasons. 

First off, it`s basically a classy love hotel, across 7 floors with around 35 rooms of varying sizes, all of them decorated in a unique manner- some of them a bit wacky, most fairly plain. 

It`s in a quiet area, on a road far from the nearest train station, overlooking a peaceful lake.
So who was the target audience?  Young people looking to sow their wild oats in private would unlikely have access to a car, so we can rule most of them out. 

Couples trying to get away from the kids would be going out of their way to come here, so why not then have a properly classy time in a ryokan, where they could still do any of the deeds a love hotel is famous for. That leaves a third class- married men and women on surreptitious affairs, looking for an out of the way place where they wouldn`t be seen conducting their illicit liaisons. And how many of them could there be? Obviously not enough.

Add to all that- the idea is just tawdry, like Las Vegas without the limbo-ish in-between location or any of the relaxed local laws.

 I went to this haikyo with my buddy Geoff- the first time for him, and now the last, since he’s going back to the USA in a week or so. Ah, what a transient place Japan is. The Love Hotels go up and come down, and friends come and go.
There are two types of haikyo really- the old ones and the new ones. The old ones may be anything abandoned for longer than 20 or so years, the new ones for less. They have very different charms- with the old ones you get the creative destruction of Nature rippling through the fabric, but not so much of the just-lived-in feel of the newer ones. But- that feel from the new ones is often not that interesting, because the people in question are only distanced from us by a short time. So, I like the old ones better.
As for this place- it could almost have been closed just a few days ago, for all the chance nature has had to get in. First off, as is my usual style, we cased the place thoroughly front and back.
Out back there were steps down to a utilities/generator room, which was filled with pipes and engines more tired and overwrought than any other part of the structure. Were they perhaps overclocking?
Back up the steps and behind the kitchen were a bunch of old arcade machines, and these tarred gloves, left to ‘dry’ on a rusted shelving unit.

This is how you choose your room in a Love Hotel- there’s a whole board of these photos of each room. You choose the one you like- then tell it to the attendant, who is in a walled-off booth with normally only their hands showing. Discreet. Of course we went to 701, though it was less impressive without the LED rings lit up.
In the corner room on each floor the bathroom was illuminated with a bright blue light.
The top floor was a big function area, maybe 2 large dining rooms with their own kitchen. Now a bunch of junk was lying around- video cassettes, books, manga, TV’s.
We couldn’t get onto the roof, the way was blocked by a solid metal door, but out the side of the top floor kitchen there was a mini balcony, and I could get this shot of one of the regal R’s:
And that was it, really. Geoff and I walked the long way to the next station in the gathering dark, having a good final chat about real and heavy stuff. There was another haikyo I wanted to see nearby- Sun Hills- but it was far too dark, and would have to wait for a second trip out.

 Info taken from Michael John Grist, check out more of his Haikyo adventures

lunes, 14 de febrero de 2011

Tristan and Isolde

Isolde, John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

  There's nothing quite like Valentines Day to give the recently besingled lady the blues.

Here is my favourite aria of all time from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. 

This version is performed by Joan Sutherland, during the final act in which Isolde describes her vision of the dead Tristan rising again to met her at last in the union of Liebstod, as she dies of a broken heart

viernes, 11 de febrero de 2011

The Fabulous Moolah

One of professional wrestling's most prized talents is the ability to 'draw heat' - that is, to incense the fans so much that they buy tickets in the hope of seeing you beaten. When it came to drawing heat, few wrestlers - male or female - could match the talents of the Fabulous Moolah.
In a career lasting more than 60 years, she dominated women's wrestling as champion for over 3 decades. Her peak was when she lost the WWF title to Wendi Richter (whose manager was rainbow-haired songstress Cyndi Lauper) in a live match hosted by the then-fledgling MTV network.
Mary Lillian Ellison was born in 1923 in Kershaw County, South Carolina, and grew up in Tookiedoo, twelve miles from Columbia. The youngest of thirteen children, Ellison was the only daughter of a part Cherokee father and an Irish mother. Her parents owned a farm, a grocery store, and a service station.

When her mother died of cancer aged forty, eight-year-old Ellison went to live with her paternal grandmother and worked on her cousin's cotton farm to make money. At age ten, Ellison was still deeply distraught over her mother’s death; to cheer her up, her father took her to the local wrestling matches. Ellison liked the matches, but it was not until she saw Women's Champion Mildred Burke wrestle that "they began to mean much more to me."

Ellison returned to the Columbia home of her father and brothers. She graduated Columbia High School,but at age fourteen married twenty-one year old Walter Carroll. They soon became parents to a daughter. A few months after the birth of her daughter, she divorced Carroll. Still only fifteen, she left her daughter with a friend and set out on a wrestling career of her own.
Lillian debuted in 1949 as 'Slave Girl Moolah', valet to 'The Elephant Boy', but her career took off when, dressed in a leopard skin leotard, she became valet to 'Nature Boy' Buddy Rogers. Buddy was a 'heel' (a bad guy) and Moolah discovered a natural talent for the kind of bad-guy fould moves and slapstick that infuriated the crowds.
The Fabulous Moolah broke up the partnership after persistent pressure from Rogers to begin a sexual relationship, and began wrestling as a heel herself. She was only 5 feet 4 inches and 118 pounds when she began wrestling as a professional, but her nasty moves wowed the crowds. 

"Flying drop kick is when you jump flat-footed from the floor up as high as the person you're looking at and kick them in the face or in the chest, wherever you want to kick them, and then you fall to the floor," she told National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program in 2005.

"And then the flying head scissors is where you jump up, put both legs around their head and throw them forward as you come down. And a flying mare is when you get a girl by the hair of the head and pull her over your shoulder, then slam her to the mat as hard you can. And I love doing that."

Her jet-black hair dyed strawberry blonde, Ellison remained active in World Wrestling Entertainment into her last years, writing commercials for it. She received a call from McMahon in late 1998 about returning to the company. 

On the September 9, 1999 episode of SmackDown!, Jeff Jarrett invited Moolah into the ring and smashed a guitar over her head. Moolah and Young then began appearing regularly in comedic roles. She was profiled in the 2004 Ruth Leitman documentary "Lipstick & Dynamite," a history of women's pro wrestling. At the age of 76, clad in a sequined jacket over a green leotard, she pinned her opponent, Ivory, in a match at Cleveland and was again proclaimed the champion.

A fantastic achievement for any woman, let alone one just shy of 80! Nevertheless, her later wrestling years were somewhat ignoble even by 'heel' standards - she often did WWE wrestling skits of dubious taste where she tagteamed with Mae Young to sexually hassle young male wrestlers in the ring.
The Fabulous Moolah passed away in november 2007. In addition to her daughter from her first marriage, she is survived by six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Her five marriages ended in divorce. She lived for many years with Katie Glass, a former midget wrestler known as Diamond Lil, who joined with her in training wrestlers.
The Fabulous Moolah said she never minded the booing inspired by her roughhouse antics.
"I loved when they got mad at me," she told The State newspaper of Columbia in 2005. "They called me all kinds of names. I said: 'Call me anything you want. You don't write my cheque.'"

jueves, 10 de febrero de 2011

The Wolfpack

martes, 8 de febrero de 2011

Izu’s abandoned Jungle theme Park #2 inside

Jungle Park, located in Japan, was easily the biggest green-house I’ve ever been in, and boy was it hot inside. H-O-T. And very humid. Within minutes I was soaked to the skin, and any time I had to climb something I was panting with the exertion. You can probably see that on the video a few times.
Wandering through its long tail-like corridor to the main jungle hub, I of course wondered where all the humidity was coming from. It’s sealed off from the outside, and has been closed for 7 years. Why isn’t everything inside baked and dead?

I guess there are two possible answers to that.
One- A security maintenance guy comes around and sprays everything/turns on the sprinklers once in a while.
Two- The place survives on what water it has already. I saw plenty of dead plants- they gave up their water to transpiration, it condensed on the glass sky, and fell as rain. In that way the place is slowly cannibalizing itself. It was odd though to see the poor shape the cactuses were in. I would expect them to be the hardiest- instead they were the ones most dead.
Perhaps I should talk a bit more about how huge it was. It was really huge.

You could buy Jungle Soft Cream and Cactus Smoothies at this snack shack.
Giants Greenhouse


Partition between sections.

Map board with the map knocked out.

Primitive village
lots of brochures on the racks

drying cacti

totem pole graveyard

jungle theme photo board

view of ceiling

fallen jungle house

"primitive" clay pots

Post from Michael John Grist, read more on his website