Archive for February, 2011

February 28th, 2011

Cold Days in 2005

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

I’ve been looking through my old photos lately and discovered many that have never seen the light of Flickr. These were all taken on cold days in January and February 2005. There’s something about the crisp blue skies that makes me yearn for the sharp, dry chill of winter air, but only for about five minutes.

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February 25th, 2011

Strange Graffiti in King’s Park

Posted in Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

I’m a big fan of street art for all sorts of reasons: it is a sign of dynamic urban life, it is a jab in the face of authority, it makes my walks through the city more interesting. But street art, like all forms of art, can get stuck in a rut. When it takes itself too seriously I begin to lose interest.

That is why I am so fascinated by what might be termed outsider street art. This is the work creates by people who don’t see themselves as artists and who don’t necessarily conceive of what they’re doing as art. Their work is a means to an end, but because that end is often opaque, the message is seductively ambiguous. Two prime examples of this are the King of Kowloon and the Plumber King.

Last weekend, I came across another example while walking through King’s Park, a hilly green area not far from my apartment. On the side of a quiet road leading up to an underground reservoir, somebody had scrawled dozens of words, phrases and names on a white retaining wall. Some referred to history, others to literature, still others to common sayings. What they had to do with one another wasn’t clear.

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February 24th, 2011

The Death of a Village

It was bound to happen. 26 months after Tsoi Yuen Village received its death sentence, 100 police officers burst into the remaining villagers’ houses and told them to leave.

The villagers were incredulous. “I was negotiating with the government peacefully only a few days ago,” one man, Cheung Sun-yau, told the South China Morning Post. Tuesday morning, after workers cut through his front gate, police pushed him into his house and searched him, before telling him that it was his last chance to leave before a new high-speed railway is built through the village.

Tsoi Yuen’s residents have been protesting their village’s impending demolition for more than two years. Despite an evacuation order last year, 60 villagers have chosen to remain as they continue to negotiate with the government for compensation. Yesterday, apparently, the government decided it had had enough.

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February 24th, 2011

Shenzhen from Above

Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a collection of farming towns and fishing villages home to not much more than 300,000 people. It is now a sprawling metropolis of several million, with around 3.5 million in the city centre and another five or six million in the suburbs and industrial towns that stretch for miles beyond.

The story of Shenzhen’s growth has been told many times, in many places, but it is still hard to understand exactly how quickly the city has grown until you see it from above. 1,200 feet above ground, in the observation deck of Shun Hing Square, the city’s tallest building, the ad hoc nature of Shenzhen’s development becomes obvious.

It might only be thirty years old, but Shenzhen has been built and rebuilt so many times, it has the urban layers of a city four times its age. Country fields developed into worker-unit housing blocks in the 1980s were redeveloped into low-rise private housing in the 1990s and then into high-rises in the 2000s. None of these generations fully subsume the other — there are always traces left of the past — and the city is littered with discarded planning initiatives, like attempts to build tree-line boulevards that were abandoned after just a few blocks.

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February 20th, 2011

Lockhart Road’s Neon Signs

Strip clubs often have fabulously kitschy neon signs. In Hong Kong, all of those signs are conveniently located in one place: Lockhart Road, scene of the city’s most debauched nightlife. Strip clubs, hooker bars and other places of ill repute have existed here since World War II, when American soldiers landed at the nearby Wan Chai docks for rest, relaxation and possibly venereal disease. This is the part of town that inspired that paragon of Far East film clichés, The World of Suzie Wong.

Lockhart Road is as salacious as it ever was, though Suzie Wong has given way to women of Filipino and Thai origin. Clubs advertise cheap drinks in the hope of luring men who are then expected to spend lavishly on the women inside.

As the patronage of these bars skews white, male and anglophone, this is one of the few parts of Hong Kong where most neon signs are in English rather than Chinese. Though they blink frenetically and feature amusing names (Crazy Horse, Show Biz and so on), they aren’t quite as outlandish as you would expect, given the nature of the neighbourhood. (This is not Montreal after all; animated neon lap dances probably wouldn’t fly here. Hong Kong is permissive, but in a don’t ask, don’t tell kind of way.)

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February 16th, 2011

Hong Kong Tastes Like Honey

Posted in Asia Pacific, Environment, Food, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

I’ve always liked honey. Who doesn’t? But I never really understood it. Back in Canada, when I ventured into the supermarket and gazed at the various kinds of honey for sale, I was mystified by the clover honey and blueberry honey, which I bought and tried, only to find it had the same musty sweetness as any kind of honey.

That changed last month when I visited the Wing Wo Bee Farm in Hong Kong. To get there, my girlfriend Laine and I took the train to Shatin MTR station, trudged through the crowds heading to IKEA, and walked up the hilly paths that lead through the village of Pai Tau. After ten minutes, as houses gave way to thick woods, we found ourselves in front of a collection of wood boxes. Wind rustled through the leaves of the trees overhead. The warbly sound of a horn floated down from the monastery. I barely noticed the thousands of bees buzzing around.

We were greeted by the farm’s owner, Yip Ki-hok, a slight, ruddy-skinned man who spoke with the accent of his native Wai Yeung, a small town about 100 kilometres north of where we were standing. (Hong Kong, which is pronounced Heung Gong in standard Cantonese, came out as Hiong Gong when Yip spoke).

“These are Chinese bees — foreign bees need more space, they like big open fields, so they aren’t suitable for Hong Kong,” Yip said as he gestured towards the boxes, which each contain more than 10,000 bees. “They extract liquid from mountain trees. In the winter they go to ap geuk mok, these trees right above here. The flowers bloom after the winter solstice until mid-February.”

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February 14th, 2011

Porte ouverte vers le froid

Posted in Canada, Fiction by Daniel Corbeil

Porte ouverte vers le froid, Outremont

C’est l’hivers, dans un Montréal de vent et de glace. Les fenêtres qui craquent, les portes qui claquent.

D’un souffle brusque, les carreaux qui vascillent maladroitement, menaçant d’éclater. Et par bourrasque, cette folle poudrerie qui vient s’agglutiner sur ma terrasse, au troisième niveau d’une sombre demeure outremontoise.

On attend que le ciel termine sa colère et puis, lorsque le calme renaît, j’ouvre lentement cette vieille porte qui me protège de toi.

Je te retrouve, jouant dans la neige, comme à tes six ans. Une boule de glace et quelques branches qui fouettent le ciel, et voilà un maladroit bonhomme, qui demain se dispersera. Comme une poupée qui prend le large, dans cette barque au large mat.

Et je t’entend crier, dans cet infini destin. Bruit sourd de tes pensées lourdes, enterrées par cet hivers qui efface les rires, comme ces pas dans la neige, et ces sourires dans la nuit.

C’est ainsi que l’hivers t’a vu partir, vers un destin qu’on ne connait pas.

Le passant et la neige, Outremont

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February 13th, 2011

Selling a City, Selling a Spirit, Selling a Car

Posted in Art and Design, Society and Culture, United States, Video by Daniel Corbeil
YouTube Preview Image

“Chrysler: Born of Fire”, presented during the last Super Bowl

Am I the only one that feels the spirit of a city in this advertisement? I believe Chrysler and Eminem were able to capture the true identity of this American city. I could say that I enjoy the way they first present Detroit as an historic industrial hub while they present themselves as hard workers and creative citizens.

Are we watching a city that tries to wake up and scream to the world, telling us they want to survive, asking for help?

I am not American, neither am I a fan of cars, Eminem or Detroit itself, but I must say that I felt almost proud after watching this advertisement. I wish Montreal could at least try to do something as emotional as this.

February 12th, 2011

It’s Always Colder When the Sun’s Out

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

Ste. Catherine Street

In the middle of winter, when you wake up, look out the window and see brilliant sunshine, it can mean only one thing: it’s really, really cold outside.

Habitations Jeanne-Mance

Milton Street

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February 10th, 2011

Bees in the City

Posted in Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Environment, Food, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Photo by Nelson Chan

It’s late on a sunny morning and Michael Leung is skulking around on the roof of an old factory building, tending to the potted flowers that feed his hungry workers: an army of 30,000 bees.

“Right now this roof is just used for smoking, but eventually we want to cover at least half of it with beehives,” he says, gathering dead plants that he was too busy to water while participating in the Detour art and design festival last December.

The hives are housed in three wooden boxes, each with a small entrance giving bees access inside. As hundreds bees pour out of the boxes, new bees arrive with bundles of pollen tucked under their appendages.

“Look,” says Leung. “Some of the pollen is yellow, some is orange.” He looked around at the surrounding walls and rooftops. His withered plants were the only green things in sight. “I’m not sure where they’re getting it. Maybe it’s one of the parks nearby.”

Leung, a 27-year-old product designer, is an unlikely beekeeper. For one thing, he didn’t know anything about bees more than a year ago. “I used to be really scared of them,” he says. Now he is the brain behind HK Honey, a new project that aims to promote local food and urban agriculture by uniting Hong Kong beekeepers and designers.

“It’s unclear where our food actually comes from,” says Leung. “The goal is to introduce local food through a creative medium.”

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February 8th, 2011

La violencia del silencio

Posted in Art and Design, Europe, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

Madrid, 2010

La pauvreté et l’exclusion, lorsqu’elles habitent le silence, deviennent une menace pour l’humanité.

Pourtant, il y quelque chose comme une larme que le capitalisme n’a pas su comprendre.

La cité que nous habitons, refuge de nos émotions, parle tout bas de nos espérances.

Et j’ose espérer que demain, des gens plus sages nous dirigerons.

February 6th, 2011

Arcaded Sidewalks

Posted in Architecture, Asia Pacific, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

Arcaded sidewalks in Kuala Lumpur

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February 5th, 2011

Night at the Typhoon Shelter

On a pleasantly warm evening last November, my thoughts wandered over to the nighttime activity at the Sai Wan pier and I wondered if the same sort of thing happened at the nearest bit of waterfront to my apartment, the New Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter. I grabbed my camera, stepped out of the door, and twenty-five minutes later — after walking through the crowded streets of Mongkok, over a series of footbridges and past the gigantic housing estates near Olympic MTR station — I reached the water.

A couple of dozen people milled about. There were teenagers sitting by the water’s edge, legs dangling off the concrete seawall. Middle-aged couples strolled hand-in-hand down the waterfront promenade. A few elderly people swung their arms, walking backwards, doing strange old-people exercises. Next to the water’s edge were a few small boats, their engines running, operators sitting onboard, killing time. Every so often, one of the boats would leave the typhoon shelter and return with a single passenger.

The New Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter seems a poor heir to the sensational legacy of its predecessor. First opened in 1916, the Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter was designed to protect Kowloon’s fishing boats from heavy summer waves, but it also sheltered a thriving community of Tanka people, who had made their livings in the coastal seas of South China for generations. They had their own language, their own food and their own wedding rituals, all of which, naturally enough, were centred around the sea. For centuries, they were considered non-Chinese barbarians by land-dwellers, and it wasn’t until 1731 that the Chinese emperor emancipated them from this status. But they still suffered discrimination whenever they set foot on land, so they continued to live most of their lives at sea.

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February 1st, 2011

“There is Nothing Here”

Then-and-now impresario Lee Chi-man uploaded this compilation the other day. It depicts Shin Wong Street as seen from Hollywood Road, in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district, in 1969 and 2011. Lee accompanied the image with a short, poignant inscription, in Chinese, which Laine Tam took the liberty of translating:

When I was taking this picture, people passing by kept giving me weird looks. They peeked at me and then looked at where I was pointing my lens.

It’s true, this road is empty, a charmless building on the side. There are no worthy reasons to press the shutter at this spot, yet I’m here crouching. Passers-by are probably thinking, “What is this man photographing?”

What I really want to show them is the scenery from 1969, to let them know that the scene really was worth capturing then, not only for photography, but for sketching, or as a background of a movie, an art film…

But today, there is nothing here. I’m crouching on the sidewalk, framing my shot. I knew everyone thought I was a low taste long yau. I… understand.

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