Friday, January 7, 2022

Monday, April 16, 2018


(HKCC lower left)

The Hong Kong Cultural Centre sits on the harbour at Kowloon in an absolutely prime position. In the above snap, the Peninsula Hotel is the bi-columnar building behind the green scaffolding screen in the lower centre, and lower left is the pale beige HKCC presenting a bold cold facade to the harbour. (The Kowloon wharf is just off photo lower left.)

It looks to me from this perspective to be begging for something to be projected onto it. Something like what's going on inside, even. There's quite a lot of projecting onto buildings happening around both sides of the harbour.

The finish is tiles, tiles, tiles.

Street side there are two arms embracing the entrance. None the less, it's not to me a building that calls you in. Not all the 'people' in the photo below are real; if you look closely, there is a sculptured queue.

(main entrance, with sculptured queue)

Inside, the tiles continue, and the feeling is of generous and open spaces. It was strangely one of the few places in the city we had visited that didn't feel crowded. And what's more, it was the one place that I wished for it. There was no buzz, or bustle, or sense of collective anticipation, as we headed into the Concert Hall.

Come the end of the performance, and the night, things looked more interesting, or at least photogenic, as we wandered about slowly making our way back to the Kowloon wharf.


                                                                    (kowloon to island)

It would be at least forty years since I was in Hong Kong, and one of my remaining memories was of the excitement of getting the Star Ferry. It was misty and drizzly, and the harbour was awash with crafts, and just after we left the Kowloon wharf the ferry suddenly shuddered into reverse as something else loomed out of the fog just in front of us, an every day occurrence if the ennui of the locals was anything to go on. I was enthralled and excited by the seeming risk of it all. Ferries plied endlessly day and night back and forth to the island, criss crossed by boats of all shapes and sizes moving up and down the harbour.

Things are a lot calmer these days, at least on the water. Well, only on the water, now with tunnels and trains servicing the mainland and the island traffic, though the ferries still run a regular service from Wan Chai, where we are staying, to Kowloon. 

Big cruise ships sail in every other day or so. Working rigs are about, but anchored mainly. A few junks parade about in the night. There's always some movement, but not the crazy I remember, or thought I did.

                                                                (wan chai wharf)

                                                     (convention centre looking to kowloon)

                                                                             (star ferries passing)

(junk behind ferry)

(night ferry to the island)

On land, it another matter entirely. The streets, the shopping plazas, the pedestrian foot bridges, the stations, the railways, the trains, the buses, and trams, are all chock-a-block. It's an ant's nest.

                                                             (electric double decker trams)

Saturday, April 14, 2018


We're in Hong Kong.

It was a remarkably easy flight, a scheduled nine and a half hours. Before we even took off, the captain said the expected flight time was eight and a half. I'd brought three books, and had a few movies I was keen to catch up on. But still.

By the time I'd found The Death of Stalin, and then we'd synched our viewing (we spend forever stopping and starting till we are on the same frame), we were well into lunch and then the next thing I knew I was waking up to the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. It'd be better on a big screen anyway, the movie I mean.

The head sets (Cathay) were terrific, and the noise reduction technology brilliant. I drifted away into the music as the 777, a noisy beast if you're near the wings with one huge engine each side, each alone able to get the thing home on its own regardless, droned on in some remote other world.

Shirley Jackson's "We Always Lived In The Castle" came with a genius recommendation from George Monbiot. I've got a thing for Mr Monbiot, but no-one knows that, except the internet now. I like his style. He just had prostate cancer surgery, which is a pretty big challenge to body and mind, and his attitude is as admirable as it gets.

Already, it's a book I don't want to put down but I don't want to stop. So there's that delicious conundrum. Early on, the protagonist, who loathes the villagers with a vengeance, wonders why such ugly and unwanted creatures were even created. It's a great question.

And in between pages, and more nodding off, there was more Berlioz, and before you knew it the late afternoon sun was glinting orange through the starboard windows, the shades now all up ready for landing, and everyone upright and fastened. I wondered if anyone was using safe words; if people before a disaster had any premonitions. The plane skipped down through the low clouds. The pilot came on air again. He had a softened Kiwi accent, and was rather friendly. I wondered what he looked like. Did he use safe words?

The craggy green peaks and wandering coast line came closer. The air looked heavy and humid. And the landing was perfect.


(rushcutters' bay)

All I saw were the hind legs and tail disappear over the wall. 

In an unexpected display of fearlessness, she'd jumped the wall and dropped a good three metres into the harbour. I thought she knew about water, but what would I know.

I peered down, as she scraped on the scaley stained sandstone blocks, exposed by the extra low tide. Our eyes met. She was way beyond arm's length. My mind was racing - the depth, the extent of the wall, the nearest wharf at least a hundred metres away, what clothes do you shed before jumping in, well shoes at least, ...

I heard him before I saw him, heard him say 'I'll get him" as he pulled off his shirt. Mid-teens, fit as a fiddle, and beaming an uncertain smile. I don't think he knew exactly what to do either, but he wanted to do whatever it was.

"Thank you. Thank you very much. What if you get over and I hold your arm and then you might be able to reach her with your other arm. And he's a her. She not two yet."

We tried that, but were a long way short.

"I'm going in" he said stripping down to his shorts, and then he was beside her, reaching out to her, and took her in his arms. "I don't want a bull shark to get her" he called up. I don't want a bull shark to get you, I thought.

He carried her carefully down to the wharf, his father and his brother now looking on. His father seemed mighty proud. "I don't want a bull shark to get her" he repeated, more than once.

"I don't know how I can ever thank you" I said to his father after the rescue was done, and he'd gone off down to the boasted to clean himself up. "Whatever can I do. Is there anything he'd like, or needs?"

"Some shoes" said his father, visiting from Melbourne, their yellow hire bikes lying on the grass. "Some shoes". 

(his father took the photo)


(from King's Park)

We've been to Perth, both for the first time, but just for a couple of nights.

Fremantlle, where we stayed, had a touristy charm about it, though it was alarmingly quiet on a Sunday evening, teetering on abandoned.

Cottesloe's famous beach facing the great Indian Ocean was greyed under sullen skies but the heady pulse of hot summer days was palpable just below the surface. We couldn't resist fish and chips on the verandah of the grand old hotel, aka the Cott.

Before flying home, we idled a morning away in King's park. It is huge reserve of all but virgin bush with more manicured gardens around the restaurant and function areas, boasting a tempting preview of the west's justly famous eucalypts and flowers. The city is splayed along the river, clearly a mining town with any significant building's naming rights in the hands mining companies.

We went for a funeral. The cemetery is a vast and beautiful place of handsome gums and gardens with a random wildness that adds to the stillness. It seems more bush than mannered burial ground, and more welcoming for it. We walked about twenty minutes behind the hearse in a light warm summer drizzle to a plot reserved fifty years ago next to my sister's first little infant son who died at nine months and now no longer lies alone, but with his father.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


(warm summer's evening)

When Anne Sofie von Otter's husband died suddenly in Sydney days before her scheduled appearances with the SSO, it was especially shocking. We had cancelled going down to Adelaide for her recital there at the last minute anticipating the imminent death of close family here in Sydney, which did overtake us, and in this grief we felt even the more for her, so tragically robbed of her marriage, a state we ourselves were closely approaching.

In lieu, Stuart Skelton graciously and generously flew across from Perth, and back again, then back and back again, and the programme changed to German songs for voice and piano.

In the Uber on the way in for this, on a warm summer Friday evening, news came of another death, my brother in law in Darwin, a welcome but grossly disturbing relief from the terror of premature vascular dementia. We now faced two funerals, and headed into the house in sombre mood.

That Donald Runnicles spoke at some length about the Mahler 10 that was to follow after interval before Skelton entered the concert platform was slightly disconcerting, as if Mr Skelton was stuck in a cab in Macquarie Street. It was however more to do with balancing the two concert halves I gather. Finally onto an empty stage save the piano and Runnicles, he took his place, and in a remarkable and sombre piece of theatre, the likes of which I don't think I've ever seen before, the hall plunged into complete darkness, with each man lit by a single spot, which merged into a skewed eight shape.

We were sitting, unusually for us, in a side box, looking down and across, where perhaps the impact of this was arguably even more dramatic. The air was cold and still, and silent.

I thought he sang magnificently, across a range extending to both extremes of tenor highs and lows, and maybe as high and certainly as low as I think I've heard him, with beautiful colouring, wonderful pianos, and sublime phrasing of which his huge Wagnerian voice, reigned in yet crystal clear and penetrating, is a master. This was the first I'd heard him in recital, as it was for those around us. 

Hugo Wolf
Verborgenheit (Seclusion)

Richard Strauss
Ruhe, meine Seele! (Rest, my soul)

Franz Liszt
Wanderers Nachtlied (Wanderer's Night Song)

Richard Strauss
Morgen! (Tomorrow!)