Review: Din Tai Fung, Little Bao and Cô Thành in Hong Kong…(or carbs carbs and more carbs…)

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1st Course

So let’s begin of first course of our journey through H.K…did we wanna eat at Chungking Mansions? With its fragrant vats of (somewhat questionable) curries…and even an intimating Dosa giving a salute as we sped past the suit sellers?      

To be honest, a well made Dosa is great, but in the thriving heat, sans hangover a Dosa is an intimidating thing. I’ve only had Dosa, a Sri Lankan fried specialty at Devs in Bristol, but the memories there: the pattern of accents and a chaotic kitchen…wow this kind of stuff you can’t even review..despite being in the middle of nowhere…they turn out exotic Chicken Lollipops and its BYOB…Awesome. 

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http://www.devskeralabristol.com/

I’m with my dad in H.K at this moment, this is not going to be a cool meal, but given it’s his first time in Honkers, he gets to choose I guess…the foodie in me sees us eating those triangles they mislabel as sandwiches in 7/11, but the poor old geezer has Lonely Planet…

So where did he want to go?

It was a Michelin dumpling shop.

Above a mall.

It was Din Tai Fung: 

You don’t need a huge picture to read about the legend of a damn dumpling shop…

The Din Tai Fung, has a very traditional atmosphere, a restaurant with a story….a little stuffy with a lot of people on lunch breaks. Okay, they give you ginger and you don’t have to brazenly ask in broken Chinese for vinegar, an essential ingredient here, but if you are going to charge us around 70 HKD for pork chop…I expect to even want to try it.

 My dad chowed down with his knackered tastebuds and I  chowed down on these slightly samey prawn and pork dumplings, personally, the best type of dumplings are har gow, plain prawn parcels, originating from Guangdong, with lots of soy, spice and vinegar…or a few streetside local shops…in-fact: the last time I had dumplings that were truly memorable were in Sichuan, oily, spicy, with the spice making it so overeating wasn’t as possible. Perfection.’

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*heavy breathing*

I’m trying not to judge, I’m trying to repeat the Lonely Planet mantra, but Din Tai Fung as one TripAdvisor  member CristiKant put it: 

‘…This restaurant seems to be a dim-sum institution, and claims a 1 Michelin star. Now… dim sums were not bad at all, but I would definitively classify them as average. Service was a bit slow, we were served some tea we did not ask for and did not touch… and had to pay for it!.

It was okay, everything has its limit, but as a starter in HK, Din Tai Fung is okay for a tourist originating from a place where dumplings don’t exist, which to me is probably a version of hell. 

How to make dumplings:

  1. Get dressed…

2.  Find a local shop that has one of those big metal boilers, BEER and SAUCE

3.  Order anything and either enjoy or leave with an average impression. 

 

2nd Course

So it’s time to mention something equally as comforting, something round and fluffy we are taking about Little Bao, Central…Bloody hell!!! We have a history me and this wonderful H.K institution.

 

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An innocent teenage boy with a bao?

Name a restaurant that’s  ever been more cool than a place that magics up a fairly difficult hamburger, that is unlike bread, yet totally unlike dumpling?. I once had a dish in New York, Chinatown called a ‘Moon Roll’ that frantic googling has made into a myth. The bao comes so close…god its Freudian. 

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The pork bao, is a thing of beauty and to be honest, everything down to the Brussels sprouts is a thing worthy of your attention. This time around, we had the drunken clams, maybe a sly Family Guy reference? Bao is fun! May Chow rocks!

But clams in booze?  Oh shit…with puréed potato, yes!!!, this is a taste sensation, the wine coming through just as heady as me mam’s red wine gravy, practically getting the shakes just even withdrawing from the whole thing. 

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Also a shoutout to the Italian bar next door, my dad is… not always say, co-ordinated, but free Espresso martinis are the shit here at Central. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of it…*hic*

 

Third Course

(Dessert in Asia? Hell Naw!!!) 

Quick beer in a temple, reflecting if you’ll survive the journey of food and booze traveling demands? Well there’s a place that Anthony Bourdain allegedly recommended and that’s Cô Thành.

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A cool knowingly hipster Vietnamese restaurant in Central HK? Hmmm, hold the papers!  A unique story? Not so much, but this is the face of food in Kongers right now, despite all the fish balls…fusion food…Impossible food! Bars like Mrs.Pound that do cocktails served in little boxes and have the audacity to charge over 50 HKD for an average one…

I personally opted out of the noodles to have chicken wings, some cold noodle, maybe a mistake on my part, leading to their signature french sandwich known in Vietnam as bahn mi. Ironically, I know a lady who lives for wings, which to a Brit is like…what you eat when drunk out of your mind…Chicken wings haven’t quite taken off as much in Britain as say….jellied eels and Brexit.

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But after hearing so much about the bahn’ and reading about it in Kong’: 

It had to be done…

But I have to attest, I wanted more than this, pate sandwiches? Maybe it has inspired me to cut my cucumbers more down the road than across the street, still…all this for a sandwich? Cucumber is best in gin, but not at 88 HKD…

Maybe the novelty is a key ingredient here, but then I’m sure if given a choice between Vietnamese rice rolls and a baguette, the rolls will always win…..

Anthony Bourdain? I’m are my hero and your opinion and expert guide on why this was that awesome will be missed. It was okay, I wish I’d order noodles, but again…it was too hot!!! 

I had a better and more entertaining time eating traditional hotpots in Nanluoguxiang, Beijing but maybe that’s the company I kept. Clotted duck and random meat pots, with the right cynical attitude, the novelty there is better, more authentic and the people are less…less…uh…hipster and more Mao!

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While we are on the subject of asian centric dishes…

As a snob, the most recent fun I’ve had genuinely in a restaurant outside of Kongers…is an excellent experience ripping rabbit tongue from the skull of spicy head, an experience that even horrified the Chinese guy I was dining with…below lets end on some top things, other than chew and reminisce on food in H.K:

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  1. Graffiti around Central, Man Mo temple…a hundred times yes.
  2. Drink drink drank drank all the spirits and good wine
  3. Repulse Bay, if you can ignore the plastic bags in the water.
  4. The Wanch, looks cool, though empty all day, looks very British pub inside.
  5. HK light show at 8:30pm each night. Beautiful from the Kowloon Harbour.
  6. Get lost and buy pointless key rings in PMQ.
  7. Kowloon has some bars and I believe some good temples. Though I find it a bit samey sometimes.
  8. Ride a ‘Ding Ding’ Tram.
  9. Club 71 for mixed crowd in overly Caucasian Central. 
  10. Get locked out of your Airbnb.

 

再见!

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6 Awesome things to Du’ in Chengdu.

Chengdu, lazily you could describe it as a hotpot of ancient and modern culture; with modern culture prettying up the ancient temples and making damn sure the tourists get their bobbleheads of the face changers or Biàn Liǎn as they are known.

Maybe even the locals would agree with this summation: after all, Chengdu people are laid back, proud of their heritage and real foodies: hence all the pandas, deadly hot pots and spicy rabbit heads that are overflowing across the city.

Before I came to China to work as a lăoshī, I’d worked for two weeks as a photographer in Lijiang, Yunnan. Not since then, had I met such friendly local people in a Chinese city until I came to Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China.

Literally, from the moment  I arrived at the station in Chunxi Rd, the selfie sticks were out, but more profoundly: people everywhere were genuinely kind and it makes you question what makes a city truly great:

Is it the fancy attractions, cool bars or is it determined ultimately by the people. For me, you can keep the Louvre  I’d rather something less enigmatic and more genuine than Mona Lisa.

So with that in mind,here’s a quick guide on 6 awesome things to do in Chengdu: for people without as much time as I had:  I even met a girl in a hostel who was bored after a single day…a tragedy in a diverse and cultural city with a unique pulse.

1) Wenshu Temple

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No. 66 Wenshu Yuan Street, Chengu, Sichuan Province

Wenshu district, a small hint of modern and ancient cultures: on my first day, I met a man from Chonqing who had stayed at Wenshu, but decied to leave upon understanding he couldn’t quite unlock the mystery of the Buddha.

Regardless, temples such as Wenshu are worth visiting, as unlike some areas in China…They are active sights, full of deeply spiritual people. Nearby there are tea houses that also do a mean snow beer…

2) Rabbit head restaurant  

22 No.Fu1 Jinsi Street. 

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Rabbit heads…it’s never too early for Rabbit heads! To be honest, for the effort of looking into a very distressed rabbits decapitated head and ripping the shit out of it: the flavor is not exactly mind blowing, but at the same time: it was only like chicken, don’t worry la! Just eat the rabbit heads…If you are a veggie, there are also local vegetarian buddhist places to eat traditional takes on Sichuan food.

3) People’s Park

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By the people, for the people: People’s Park is a great blend of teahouses, busking and well…more opportunities to get your ears cleaned. I sat and had a few shots of green tea and some sugary snacks…trying to decipher the advertising, who is doing the selling and the whole moral issues of the nearby marriage market is an experience in itself… after so many sterile parks with nowhere to sit and chillax…People’s Park is the one place I’d wished I’d returned to.

4) The Temple House: Jing bar

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The Temple House, a sleek hotel in the style of a Mandarin Oriental that’s ideal for a quick sharpener: they do a mean green tea, gin-based cocktail in an outside space that is chic, without feeling overly fussy.

Their martini also looked good, but hey there’s always next time…have one for me?  This area has many modern western shops…if you actually like buying stuff instead of just collecting weird trinkets…I’m building a small collection of Mao stuff on each visit to H.K…anyway its a great place when you get bored of snow beer and the spicy air.

5) Jinli Snack Street

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Where would I eat in Chengdu? Where wouldn’t I eat might be an easier question…personally I think for the first timer in Chengdu, Jinli Snack Street is a great glimpse into the tourist industry in China, while also offering you the chance to try at least a few Sichuan dishes.

I love Sichuan food…fresh, numbing and much like a lot of Chinese food: a real bonding experience. On JInli I managed to scarf down some spicy dumplings with Dan Dan Noodles: along with a memorable meal with a vegetarian friend who is missing out on all the 鱼香肉丝.

Just look at the blurry lanterns: I don’t want to spoil the surprise of walking through it for the first time.

 

6) Sichuan Facechanging

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All day, every day: Jinli’s local teahouse on Yanxi Avenue has regular performances of traditional dancing, drama and kind of messed up ways to pour tea. For 40 RMB its a steal and a must do in Chengdu. Apart from the weird interval, where they try and sell you calligraphy, its a hassle free experience that is not to be missed.

So see for yourself, stay in Chengdu and hit me up sometime! Next stop Hong Kong for more eats, I particularly want to get back into restaurant reviewing and playing that sweet ass guitar…Lets go!

Game of the week:  Phonic Hairdressing: a fun version of phonics snowball, basically: you blindfold a kid and pretend to cut their hair using plastic scissors: while doing so: throw the paper ‘hair’ all over the room. Then play phonics snowball as usual. 

 

 

Teambuilding: 5 ways to make it more #squadgoals

Teambuilding: it’s a tricky one, what on paper seems like a fun day out, could turn into a disaster that leave the introverted vowing to never attend another event with the team and the extroverted finding new friends somewhere else, I’ve witnessed one particular train wreck a few years ago, while volunteering with an NGO in Nigeria.

While staying in Lagos, we could have sunned ourselves while listening to pumping Naija’ music. We could have sought out the nearest chain supermarket and bought our own weight in cheese.

But no: we went to the Zoo:  There’s truly nothing sadder than a cage containing an emaciated lion, adjacent to a cage featuring such exotic animals as the common wood pigeon. What was worse is that instead of merely damning the zoo, it turned into an issue about zoos in general and everyone left feeling a bit sheepish:

Are zoos by their nature terrible? or are they providing a haven for say; animals such as Pandas who maybe haven’t got much an instinct to survive in a sensible manner?…I mean: look at a Panda: They get flown all around the world: yet they still won’t do the decent thing (Netflix and Chill) they simply eat toxic bamboo and loll around…

Anyway, Zoo meanderings aside: what we are really here to talk about is how to build a good team and how to maintain that team making sure everyone leaves with gurning photos hashtagged: #squadgoals. Below, I’ve compiled a brief run through from asking around my workplacee and my own experiences:

 1) Put up an Appreciation Wall 

People like to be reminded they did a good job and sometimes, saying it in person is a little forced; like you are praising them the same way you would a student. All you need for this is a wall in the office staff room, post-its and a pen. So that next time someone does something that you like, you can share it with the group, rather than a casual ‘Good job’ in the hallway.  (Thank you Taylor for this idea!)

th-3 When you are too busy in work to even photograph your own wall…

2) Make an effort after work.

There’s nothing worse than being the one that always goes home, while your co-workers go out for a nice meal or a casual pint among other expats. I’ve known teachers who instead of appearing ‘unprofessional’ in-front of their peers; would rather go home and watch Netflix each and every night. Sure, we don’t all drink: but there is a plethora of things you can do that don’t have an ABV rating. For instance, last night: we visited the local Japanese Izakaya to try chicken hearts, which tasted exactly like steak…it was a revelation!

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Wonderful, Oily…Hearts…

3) Share food

Sharing is caring, food brings people together. ‘There’s no love more sincere than a love of food’ as they say: in this case: I’d say that chocolate is always a good food, everybody likes chocolate: so this Easter: I had my mum send out a heap of Easter chocolate which kept the team going.  Look at the culture of China: nobody is left out and nobody is really allowed to keep all that stinky tofu to themselves: I can’t wait to visit Chengdu for a hotpot and fight the people I meet over a bowl of numbing hotpot for the last piece of meat.

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Delicious…stock images…

 

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Easter…Pass the Sichuan rabbit head…

4) Don’t gossip

We are all different, we may not speak the same language, you might walk around on all fours and sleep in a capsule for all I know…but what you need to survive in a foreign country is to understand that you may have difficulty with your workmates: but taking it personally is not the way forward. Some people are like the super SUPER numbing hotpot and some people are a more mild fish stew…to use a long-winded…rambling…analogy…We all have different strengths and weaknesses…let’s celebrate them! rather than point them out.

5)Keep it simple! 

I’ve seen plenty of team buildings, which simply didn’t work because they involved too much of a commitment or threw people into uncomfortable situations, that had the opposite effect on bonding as a group.

I recall one particular NGO that tasked us with pairing up to either be on cooking or cleaning duty: something that certainly wasn’t in the on-boarding training! I make a great crocodile curry, but at the same time…have you ever tried to cook/clean for 10 people?

So what inspired this post? Well my great and supportive team at Kangwang of course…and the fact our upcoming team building is on my weekend…Lets hope it’s hot enough for the hot spring.

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Memes and a monkey picture…the Chinese says: “Forward Prawn!’

A Flaky Murder Story.

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I am: Still working on this...

I want to turn it into a musical, I've always had a desire to make a musical about pastries...with murder...feedback most welcome...

She always walked the long way around the block, sometimes with the hope that it would shrink her dinner lady body: though there wasn’t much to shrink: speaking of shrinks, she had one that she’d see every week. But today was going to be a good day, a good day she thought, where she’d finally tell him to clear off…She knew his eyes wouldn’t hold the same power over her again.


Placing her face in the hot oven, she pulled out the tray of pasties with a smile on her face. Outside, the newspaper headlines in the agents’ kept changing, but in here; the order of things was always the same: the bags brushed with grease as each roll slid inside.

Except the last thing to leave in a bag that day was something altogether heavier and soon, her smile would vanish: as she felt the dull metal of the oven and a gloved hand squeezing her, squeezing her into oblivion. He couldn’t help think of an eclair, bursting with cream as kept squeezing her. It was almost as if he didn’t really enjoy it. but he kept on squeezing and then he ran away.

‘Service has fallen out of step!’ a customer complained, a crowd built and then when she was found, laid down beside an overturned tray of hot cross buns; it was too late. She was declared dead at the scene.

If the ambulance parked just a street away, its middle-class and student citizens would have just assumed another resident of the old folks home had popped it: but this is where they got their bread: so after the body was taken out, the headline that evening, outside of the local newsagents proved a problem for Inspector Malsworth:

Custard Sliced: Terror descends on small crescent

A friendly face, a purveyor of baked good and a local icon: these are just some of the things, said about local icon Patti Stewart, 50 of Hedgeware Crescent. Patti was found brutally murdered at the scene of Brett’s Bakery,  police have failed to issue a warning, which local residents is desperately needed…

You knew you were somewhere with no news, when a local rag has the audacity to call out the police force and feature a recipe for an ‘in-memoriam’ custard slice on the same day.  Malsworth puffed on another cigarette and waited, waited until he was simply calm enough to examine the scene that lay inside.

Forensics had taken away (presumably for examination and not consumption) most of the baked goods inside, but what lay inside was now just crumbs and a dark stain slicked the oven, almost like cooked, burnt, bread. That’s what it likely was thought Malsworth, these forensic lads were very particular, still…he clicked his fingers three times as force of habit and bent down: to find what looked like a small piece of plastic, which Malsworth quickly recognized as a tooth. Aha…Jigsaw…

It must take a real sicko to have the feeling, he kept thinking, to grab at this woman’s curly long hair and get a real thrill of pushing her head deep onto the hot metal of a oven, blood mixing pointlessly, fruitlessly with sugar to make a whole load of shit for family, friends and the community….

Malsworth was drunk again, for five years, he had come home from every murder case, every suicide and a whole family sized tin of Roses worth of tragic stories and poured himself an almost mandatory Gin and Tonic. Glugging it down so quickly, while still ruminating on the day he’d had.

This he realized,was an unhealthy way to deal with his problems, but at the same time; there was something rather dramatic about it for himself.  Something quite pleasing in realizing that there was a way out that wasn’t a rom-com with the wife…or anything featuring that annoying twat Adam Sandler.

He burst into song…

Wandering, Meandering Thoughts.

What is it about wandering the streets that makes it so appealing? How can we pickle its appeal?  Let it ferment and grow. Nourish it and nurture it?

The answer is of-course naturally to begin spying on people; for some kind of agency dedicated not to a government or to a god: but to the spirit of the people; I believe everyone is capable of having an Anthony Bourdain-style trip in any given country; Finding where to locals go is easy enough,  but capturing it is so much more difficult as an outsider.

I have tried to be the outsider. Even in my own nation, I was the Welshman who drank lemonade in the local pub, just to try and get some essence of the local people and try to craft out a narrative; carve out a beginning…

Its not just painting with light, for me it documents my own journey into finding a purpose; a reason to do things; things that wouldn’t be immediately understood or even appreciated. Below are some of the things: from early work to China now…

Some of it is taken on a smartphone, which I don’t always approve of and will try to move away from…I’m walking in the past and to be honest, I don’t really have much to say; I just want to make more images.

Next stop Chengdu, Sichuan on the 19th of this month, I plan to see more; capture it; See things in a different way, simply by waiting around long enough; I don’t wanna just go home with Instagram memories…

 

Down and Out in H.K

 

IMG_3822The thundering of trains is a great sound, each thunder clap sounding like another stamp on your passport: there you are; standing on H.K harbour…

Boat journeys make you feel seasick: excited for another time: a time of pirates and…uh…UK Governor Fat Patten…Hong Kong is a melting pot of a city: that’s the laziest way to describe it,  It’s got all the melting pot credit of big cities like New York and if you stay too long it could perhaps burn you out.

It’s gone from powdered wigs to being the inspiration behind the landscape of cartoons like Ghost in the Shell: its a Xiao Long Bao, with layers upon layers or a Xianggang Long Bao. An island of difficult transitions, that can’t find its true place in the gullet of the world.

I visited a rough Karaoke bar; where a sad buffet and an even sadder selection of clients sat in garish; red light disco style surroundings; ironic given that the amount of crime going on among the ‘singing’ was probably high…their songbook tells me that they had Tom Jones and David Bowie tracks on their obviously pirated karaoke machine.

Time is a jet plane in these kind of places: hours seemed to pass so quickly or sometimes it seems that they never get off the runway; there was a few knowing looks, it was either pay HKD and get laid or leave: What happened next was not exactly the easiest part of the trip.

Time for bed… …At 2am I was faced with a metal door…Wiggle it a few times… It’s shut shit…

I was greeted with a metal door, with nowhere to stay; I tried to hustle people in the street who thought I was crazy; I visited countless hotels…no luck for under a few thousand HKD…I walked until I could walk no more, I tried to find shelter in McDonalds: no luck; Central was surprisingly lacking the usual drunks…I should have buried myself in KTV and never left its neon confines until the sun came up…

So instead of an Airbnb, I laid down beside St. John’s Cathedral, my possessions in a rucksack; now acting as a pillow; on the lookout for  drunks; keen on the cheap thrill of stealing a passport or worse: I was shaken by a security guard and waiting for the sky to brighten up; eventually: I remember what felt like 10 seconds, but was likely 10 minutes of sunrise over my concrete, admittedly beery hell:

I thought of Oscar Wilde, shivering in a cell; babbling to himself; ‘What an ending!’ as recalled in De Profundis…though this was just a sickening fever of pretentiousness left over from the arts fair…It was really a glimpse, albeit superficially into the life of the poor of Hong Kong .

I’d been out for a full day; taking selfies with artworks at Art Central and taking pictures of great food which cost around $78 HKD per dish: we must not forget; that while we live fairly materialistic lives; plastering our pleasures all over our social media: there are people who live in much harsher conditions; it sometimes feels like we should be doing more to help. Raising awareness and being a little more proactive in how we help those people.

 

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I’ve read about the ‘insults to human dignity’ that many Hong Kong people go through in ‘coffin homes’ and now I’d spent the night lying on the dark side of the property boom: Where there’s no cheap hotel  or as for the locals; no cheap property to get a decent night’s sleep in a stressful, frenetic and hungry city.

 

It seems I’ll have to read this out loud next week…Here’s the flyer: 

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What to do on a Sunday ? (when you don’t have Yorkshire pudding)

 

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The idea started with an ice-cream as many good ideas do, this wasn’t a particularly good ice-cream; it was more like a ‘I have 70p on me and I’m up a mountain’ Ice-Cream. Think of it as the milk-based equivalent to a Soho peep show, a little unsatisfying compared to a hazelnut Magnum or Cornetto: I was on this mountain and I started to wonder:

What kind of person am I?

How do I want to be remembered?

Do I really want to be remembered as someone who merely spends a day off…on a mountain; eliminating the exercise with cheap, sugary goodness or do I want to look in the mirror and be able to say something like:

I’m the kind of man who wears white socks…

Wait hang on…

I mean I’m the kind of man who wears white socks while Bungee Jumping…

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Sadly looking back; I resemble a baby in one of those bouncy seats; all bandy legs; although I screamed my head off like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet at the time…

Baiyun Mountain which resembles more of a hill has Bungee Jumping…because this is China and having a bench to sit on would be too mild: through the clearing: I could hear the latest dance music and assumed I may stumble upon a party and maybe a sympathy shot of Tequila for coming up a mountain with about a quid to my name…Instead…I discovered a bungee jumping range; a gaggle of selfie hunters and my ragged self…What choice did I have?

The instructors looked scary…

The drop looked scary…

So…I had an Ice-Cream…

 It took me longer to decide to do it than it did to do it; I’ve slept on the streets of Hong Kong, I’ve shot guns in Vietnam and I’ve done things that I can’t even mention in print for fear of reprisal; But show me a sheer drop and I get seasick; If anyone is going to end up with the cord snapping; dying in some unintentionally hilarious bungee mishap; it’s probably me.

 But up the platform I eventually went, had my blood pressure taking; while the instructor smoked a fag with his broken tombstone teeth: fortunately up on the platform; beyond the other dodgy instructor you get a real view of the city and a brief few minutes to exchange some knowing glances with fellow divers: the drop down lasts a second; but, as they say glory is forever; while Ice-Cream just melts…

 This week: 

I…visited… Baiyun Mountain itself was also cool; it resembles more of a hill and Nengren Temple feels like a glimpse of old China: I was unfortunately out of charge for a lot of this adventure and in fact ended up on a bus that seemed to head out of Guangzhou and into some pretty scary; unfamiliar places; shout out to the paper businessmen who rescued me by getting me to a metro station.

 Ate out…a little bored of a bowl of decidedly ill-advised wonton; the Sunday I went for eggs benedict at Dimcube…Please note; do NOT go for eggs benedict at Dimcube; the eggs were cold; but still…it beat wonton…mildly…though we did have some good sushi over a rip roaring night trying some craft beer.

 Became slightly obsessed with… the return of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and ‘Wild Wild Country’ which is the story of the Rajneeshpuram cult: It’s always fascinating how people are drawn into a community; whether it be an acting troupe or an esoteric cult that wear all red.

Also...Street Photography is in and polaroids are currently out! just kidding; I think this is the most evocative photo I’ve produced lately; but it’s all just done digitally with a phone;

 

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What are we living for?                   What are we waiting for? (2018)