Archive for January, 2008
With several competing bus companies and a metro system that is constantly being expanded, Hong Kong is in many ways a public transit user’s paradise. That can be seen in the regularity with which the company that runs its metro system, the MTR, advertises its services. Unlike many North American transit agencies, the MTR doesn’t take its riders for granted: every year sees new advertising campaigns geared at reminding Hong Kongers that taking transit is the right way to go.
Those ads are, in many ways, a reflection of Hong Kong. Take the one above for example. Set on an apartment building roof, it portrays the classic child’s game of “traffic lights,” which involves a cast of people who try to sneak up on a man who isn’t looking. When he turns around, they must freeze or else they’re out of the game. Before yelling “stop,” the man gives them a warning sound — “Doot doot doot! Doot doot doot!” — which is, of course, the sound the MTR’s doors make before closing. The message of the advertisement? Stand clear of the train’s doors when they close.
It’s an odd mix of passive promotion (the MTR doesn’t even sell us on its services, it just reminds us that they exist), local culture (all of the people in the ad are Hong Kong stereotypes, from the old man holding bird cages to the see lai housewife) and public service announcement (a love of which Hong Kong seems to have inherited from the British). I don’t think you would ever see an ad like this anywhere else.
If Chinatown’s Jewish heritage isn’t obvious, it’s probably because it has been erased by time and redevelopment, swept away like Chenneville St. and its quietly imposing synagogue.
Makom: Seeking Sacred Space, an ongoing exhibition at Hampstead’s Dorshei Emet synagogue, examines the historical traces of Montreal’s Jewish community with photos of former synagogues near the Main.
“The exhibition raises some really interesting questions about the way that spaces that are claimed by one group of people or one community are also claimed, in their own way, by other communities,” said Leanore Lieblein, a retired McGill English professor who helped organize the exhibition. Even in a synagogue that has been renovated and used for something else, she added, “you can feel the presence of past lives in that building.”
Chenneville’s synagogue was a case in point. Located on a small street (now shortened and written as Cheneville) between St. Urbain and Jeanne Mance Sts., below Dorchester (now René Lévesque) Blvd. and above Craig (now St. Antoine) St., it was built in 1838 by Montreal’s oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel.
In 1887, when Shearith Israel moved to a much larger home on Stanley St. – following the westward migration of Montreal’s older generations of Canadian-born, anglicized Jews – the synagogue was rented by Beth David, a congregation of Romanian immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century, part of a huge wave of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. Over the next three decades, the area around present-day Chinatown – with Bleury St. to the west, Sanguinet St. to the east, Craig to the south and Ontario St. to the north – became the heart of Jewish Montreal, a haven for Yiddish-speaking immigrants who established businesses, synagogues and many of the Jewish institutions that still exist.
Israel Medresh, a journalist for the Kanader Adler, a Yiddish-language daily newspaper, sketched a portrait of the neighbourhood in his 1947 book Montreal Foun Nekhtn, translated into English in 2000 as Montreal of Yesterday.
“The corner of St. Urbain and Dorchester was the very heart of the Jewish neighbourhood,” he wrote. “Nearby was Dufferin Park, then a ‘Jewish park’ where Jewish immigrants went to breathe the fresh air, meet their landslayt (compatriots), hear the latest news, look for work and read the newspapers.”
These two videos show a guerilla ad campaign for Delay No Mall, a trendy lifestyle store that opened in Hong Kong last month. It’s an offshoot of G.O.D., a fashion company with products inspired by Hong Kong’s local culture, including some that have gotten it into trouble with the local authorities. (“Delay No Mall” is a reference to G.O.D.’s slogan, Delay No More, which is a homynym of something far more impolite.)
Check out the guy in the black helmet at the end of the second video. I went to high school with him in Vancouver!
Photo by Karen Spencer
“What drew me to the Turcot originally was the size of it,” recalls Ken McLaughlin. The Verdun artist maintains Walking Turcot Yards, a blog dedicated to the area around the giant interchange at the junction of highways 15 and 20, built in 1966 in a feat of Modernist ambition. “It’s pretty incredible to look up there and see it all. It’s very sculptural, all the lines and shapes, very smooth,” he says.
Next year, though, the area around the Turcot Yards will be dramatically reshaped by a $1.5-billion reconstruction project. The grandiose swoop and curves of the city’s most iconic interchange will make way for an entirely new structure, its layers of flyovers and elevated highways replaced by a new structure that hugs the ground, surrounded by berms and embankments. Construction is expected to last from 2009 to 2015.
Quebec’s transport minister promises that the new interchange will be safer for motorists and quieter for nearby residents. But people in both NDG and St-Henri are worried that the impact on their neighbourhoods will be severe.
In western St-Henri, residents of the Village des Tanneries, who live right next to the interchange, fear nothing less than the complete disruption of their lives. Jody Negley, leader of the Citizens’ Committee of the Village des Tanneries, worries about having to live with six years of constant construction.
“Years of community effort on the part of residents and non-profit groups to improve quality of life in the area will be for naught,” she says. “Nobody will want to spend any time outside as the noise levels will be deafening, the air quality will be toxic, the newly built community gardens will be covered in grime [and] it will be unsafe for children to play outside, given the traffic and pollution.”
Elegant wood-panelled New York subway car with wicker seats from the turn of the twentieth century.
The New York Transit Museum is a paradise for public transportation obsessives. The museum has a chronological collection of turnstiles and subway tokens on display, with detailed descriptions of the minutest changes over the years. This may be a bit much for the average visitor, but everyone gets a kick out of wandering through the old subway trains downstairs, which contain period ads and the original transit maps.
A streamlined subway car from the 1950s…
… and the subways on the tracks today.
There must be at least dozen synagogues within a five minute walk of St. Viateur and Hutchison, a busy corner at the heart of Montreal’s Hasidic Jewish neighbourhood. They exist in the midst of an equally large number of former synagogues, abandoned by more liberal Jewish congregations as they moved west in the 1950s.
Two examples can be seen above: the first is a newish building on St. Viateur, used by a Hasidic congregation, while the second is a much older synagogue that has been converted into a private residence. Look closely you can see two Stars of David and Hebrew inscriptions etched into its marble entranceway.
Q called me back. I heard the phone buzz from the bed, crumpled, and stumbled to it, against myself.
“Yeah, hey, we’re going out tonight.”
“Somewhere—meet near your apartment? We’re tired of Lan Kwai…”
I pressed my hands to my forehead, dry and clammy, dirty feeling, wanting a shower. Cotton mouthed. I tossed the phone onto my mattress and went to freshen up.
I arrived at to the corner of Nathan Road and Argyle at about nine, where I waited for the Koreans to show by a row of ATMS, street glowing with white light, clogged with kids arguing in front of K-joints—a girl leaning, arms folded, against a sharp-angled concrete wall, scrum of make-up over bad skin. They appeared from across Nathan, three overdressed young men, hair barely pulled together and spiked. One white face trailed after. Unusual. Q asked where I wanted to go.
“There’s a bar I heard was good right around here.”
Q nodded, his glasses catching the ATM lights, and we bundled forward, the night sticking to us. We pushed across the intersection, crowds coursing in every direction. I felt like I was coming apart, cracking and reforming beneath blazes of light. Deeply and totally drugged up and out. I saw the bar sign, Mango, from the corner of Argyle and Yim Po Fang, and pointed.
“Are you sure?”
In the pantheon of public transit, Central-Mid-Levels Escalator is unique. Known in Cantonese as din tai, “or electric ladder, ” it was built in the early 1990s to facilitate travel between Hong Kong’s business district and the fashionable Mid-Levels residential area located above it. The esclator (which is actually a series of several different escalators, connected by various platforms and overpasses) works its way up, for nearly a kilometre, through a procession of steep, narrow streets.
Along the way, it passes through a half-abandoned market, past laneways and courtyards, a mosque shrouded in greenery, and a trendy restaurant and bar district now known as Soho, named because it is located south of Hollywood Road but no doubt meant to steal some glamour from better-known quarters in London and New York.
The best thing about the escalator is that it combines the freedom of the pedestrian experience with the fluid movement of motorized transport. There’s a certain kind of voyeurism that comes with riding the escalator, which puts you eye-level with balconies and apartments as you travel up the hill. “The Mid-Levels Escalator is the one place in town where it’s cool to be batgwa, unabashedly nosy,” wrote Daisann McLane (also responsible for the excellent Learning Cantonese blog) in the New York Times, ten years after the escalator opened.
“Riding the escalator every day, I feel as if I have a personal relationship with the occupants of several apartments along the route, the ones whose second- or third-story windows are so close to the escalator you can practically reach out and touch their flowerpots. As the stairs glide me up the hill, I stare into interiors lighted by the glow of red ancestral altars. On my morning commute, I mull over why the people on Shelley Street have hung fish in their windows to dry and lament the unfortunate sofa cushion pattern chosen by the occupants of the corner apartment by Caine Road.”
Alleyway near Esplanade and St. Joseph, Mile End
John Allison’s 1983 photos of Montreal’s Old Port reveal a neighbourhood essentially unchanged since Leonard Cohen wrote his 1966 song “Suzanne.” Looking at the half-abandoned streets, flanked by greystone warehouses still bearing the imprint of their past occupants, sidewalks claimed by cracks and weeds, it’s hard not to recall the lyrics from that song.
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover