Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another week in Hong Kong

Back from my 7th (I think) trip to Hong Kong. This one was relatively uneventful. Here's a photo I took of ChungKing Mansions, which I am still slightly obsessed with and scared of.

I don't know about you, but I think that the word "Mansions" got mistranslated along the way. A more accurate description might be "ChungKing Warren-like LSD hallucinations".

Hong Kong centre has had a slight make-over in the two years since I was last there. Some of the tattier-looking buildings have been painted, various road-works schemes finally finished (some have been there for so many years that I'd concluded they were permanent), and in place of the building site opposite my hotel (an unglamorous Holiday Inn which resembles something governmental out of the novel 1984), there's now a swanky shopping mall, full of advertising billboards displaying gorgeous westerners. I love being a giagantic Gweilo - a Chinese word meaning "ghost man" which is used, rather derogatorily to refer to white people. Beautiful gweilos are everywhere in Hong Kong. If they're not staring down at you from the adverts, they're walking the streets. Kowloon (the mainland part) tends to have tourists - respectable upper-middle class families who wouldn't be seen dead in tacky resorts, and are instead on some sort of Eat, Pray, Love mission.

You can always tell the new ones because they stop and reply to the ubiquitous men selling "copy watch" and "fake rolex". I am always tempted to say "Honey, there ain't nothing fake about me!" but it really is best just to carry on your conversation rather than acknowledging them in any way. I made that mistake on my first visit, and somehow a polite "no" ended up with being given a tour of someone's shop.

While Kowloon is a bit scruffy in places, Hong Kong island, which houses the alien-looking, hostile skyscrapers, is a much swankier affair. Late one night, suffering from jetlag, we ended up aimlessly wandering around the Soho district round Hollywood Street, and found a weird conglomeration of high-end bars, catering to dead-eyed banker Gweilos wearing expensive suits. I'd never seen anything like it before. They looked like they'd fallen off the advertising hoardings and onto the street. Like every aspect of people who work in the banking sector, these people had turned having a relaxing drink into an aggressive competition, and there was a scary tension in their shrieking laughter and loud proclamations as they seemed to fight to win the title of "Banker Wearing the Most Expensive Watch Having the Most Fun." There were also some ladies who were not wearing many clothes (it was quite a warm night), and the smell of cannabis wafted out onto the street. Rather than the hokey nonsense of Eat, Pray, Love, these people were Grab, Screw, Sniff.

Of course, being a product of a council estate, and working now in the Liberal Arts, my first instinct was unmitigated fury and disgust, as I realised that some of these people just earned my entire year's salary that very afternoon. They were laughing it up like the global recession never happened. I'm sure that some of them are nice when you get to know them, but they throw the "undeserving welfare cheats" of Britain into sharp perspective. Try as I could, I couldn't get their laughter out of my head for the rest of the evening.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mr Naidoo! This is the cha cha cha!"

The 1978 film Shalimar stars Rex Harrison, John Saxon and Sylvia Miles, and has a preposterous plot involving a millionairre who invites a number of master criminals to his island retreat, challenging them all to take his place if they can steal the fabulous Shalimar diamond. It's like a mixture of a Bollywood film, a heist film, an Agatha Christie murder film and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It came to my attention when I heard the opening music, a kitschy addictive number called One Two Cha Cha Cha, which mixed disco and Bollywood in equal measures.

A few years ago I obtained Shalimar on DVD, just for that opening number, but was annoyed to find that it had been completely cut from the English language version. However, someone has kindly put it on youtube, so I've finally been able to see it, after all these years. And it exceeds my expectations.

So welcome to Ferguson's dance studio, where a very motivated and bilingual teacher is going to teach us all the cha-cha-cha...

I think this clip might have taken over from the opening sequence of Jaan Pehechaan Ho as my favourite old Bollywood dance sequence of all time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We Welcome you to the Chyrmorvah Hotel

About 15 years ago, at a conference in Dublin, me, my partner and a couple of other colleagues stayed at a small B+B, run by a ferocious old lady called Mrs Casey. There was a Catholic kitsch shrine on the landing, and if you wanted to take a bath you had to ask Mrs Casey for the plug, which she kept on her person at all times. We had booked two rooms, and Mrs Casey was horrified at the prospect that the two colleagues I was with (a man and a woman) intended to sleep in the same room, as they were clearly not married. She grudgingly gave them the room with two single beds, while me and my partner were given the double bed. How we all laughed, thinking that she would have been even more horrified that she was unwittingly faciliating homosexual activity under her own roof.

While the trip provided us with endless amusement (my husband still makes me laugh with his comedy impersonation of her - for some reason when he impersonates her, she's always complaining about Sinead O'Connor "Shave her head! She has NITS! Get out the Gentian Violet!"), it kind of put us off staying in little B+Bs, which is why when we go on holiday we tend to go for large impersonal hotels who don't care about who sleeps with who, as long as your money is good.

Which brings me back (again) to the Chyrmorvah hotel, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. On that posting, one of my commenters advised me to look at the reviews of the Chyrmorvah, so I went over to TripAdvisor - which is something of a guilty pleasure for me anyway. I love reading negative reviews of hotels for a number of reasons. First, there is the rather uncharitable sense of schadenfreude I experience when someone has an unpleasant stay in a hotel. If someone else isn't enjoying themselves (even on holiday), then I experience a sense of relief that it didn't happen to me. Second, I suspect that people who bother to write negative hotel reviews actually enjoy writing them, and derive pleasure from complaining. So I take pleasure in their delicious vitriol. Third, I love it when people who have obviously too-high expectations start ranting in a clearly unreasonable way. It says so much more about them, than the hotel they've stayed in. For these people, nothing is ever right. They must be a nightmare to know. Imagine being stuck with them for two weeks in a holiday resort. "There was no brown bread for the toast!", "The towels were the wrong colour" etc. The ability of people to find fault, when they should be relaxing, never ceases to amaze me. They certainly didn't have parents like my mother, who would instantly quash my complaining with "Think yourself lucky. People are starving in Africa." Compared to the starving of Africa, my mother felt that everyone in the UK should be dancing around with a permanent grin on their faces, as if they're starring in a Hollywood musical. We've all hit life's jackpot. Ding ding ding! So shut up and think yourselves lucky!

Many of the reviews of the Chymorvah are positive, even gushing. Pamperpam raves about the "lovely cream tea, in beautiful surroundings" whereas ajgadd says that "the owners are always hospitable and friendly. We will certainly be back." But ajgadd is from Grimsby, so is maybe starting from a low baseline. Let's move on to the nasty reviews, as they are much more fun.

"Go somewhere else!" screams Lasasson, who elaborates: "As there were many plants on the outside wall, the room let spiders in, small and .. a very big one, which more or less ruined the following morning." Now Peter and Hazelmary Bull are not my favourite people, but I do think that if you're the sort of person who lets a big spider "more or less" ruin your morning, then you probably would be better suited to a padded room in a large Victorian building where you are kept permanently sedated and your occasional panic attacks are distracted with a heavy program of basket weaving.

I am more sympathetic to Brit_married2Lucian who had a bit of a problem with what seems to be an attempt by the owners to brainwash their poor guests into a cult of extreme Christianity: "Ghastly! Run by Religious Fanatics... I suppose I should have realised from the website that stated that as they were committed Christians, they wouldn't allow anyone not married to share a bed. As I was on my own this didn't matter, but the place is full of religious texts, bibles all over the place - very freaky and uncomfortable." The word "ghastly" is very under-used these days, so I appreciate Brit_married2Lucian's attempt at a revival.


Heather5515 has also noticed that "The hotel in general is very tired, chintzy and has lots of religous texts and notices in the public areas. I felt it was a bit over the top especially when I noticed the mosaic on the reception desk which had the word Christ repeated across the top." Perhaps they unfairly say that "Staff were very uncommunicative and we got the feeling that if we offered an opinion it would not have been well recieved." This complaint would have come across better if they actually had offered an opinion. heather5515, I think we can do better than hypothetical complaints.

The theme of the religous texts continues with another bad review by Dowager: "The welcome was hardly warm and that set the tone for the time we were there. Decoration is tired and well out of date in the public rooms as well as in the bedroom and ensuite. Grout needed renewing in the shower and as for pictures of the Andrex puppy - that was weird! And I have never before seen a nailbrush with a hotel name sticker on it! I appreciate that the owners obviously have firm religious views but I think religious tracts and prayers left in the ensuite is taking it a bit far."

Dirty grout! Andrex Puppies! Labelled nailbrushes! Who are these people?

Snaiseybelle88, who appears to be an assertive, sassy sort of character (I would like to have her as my new best friend) begins by alluding to the recent controversy: "The proprietors, who we have recently discovered have been in trouble with the police for their treatment of guests (the way that place is generally run is certainly tantamount to a crime) were incredibly rude and tried to move us from our room halfway through our stay as someone had requested it."

Things go from bad to worse for poor Snaiseybelle88. The service is "Appalling. I don't know what the hell was wrong with that woman but she alone is the reason I will never set foot in that place again. I didn't really notice her the first time we stayed as it was the husband who we saw most but she has no concept of customer service at all. Very rude, surly and demanding. Unwilling to help and was rude about the mess in our room. Excuse me, but when I am living out of a suitcase for a week I am not going to worry about how it looks!" Good for you Snaisybelle88 - know your rights. You deserve a holiday and if you want to leave your knickers on the floor then it's your business.

"Pick up your knickers you WHORE!"

My hunger for criticism is not sated, so I find another review wesbite,, which has some corkers. Anna M signifies her disgust at having to share a table with... strangers... "The restaurant staff made little effort and asked us to sit with some strangers for breakfast so as not to dirty an empty table. The cooked breakfast was unedible, cold and disgusting, I suspect it was dangerous to eat it and made us feel nauseaus just looking at it."

ChristopherC returns to the crime of the moudly bathroom: "the room smelled of mildew and there was mould around the tub and tiles in the bathroom. The decor was a bit shabby; wallpaper was splitting and such". I hope you love it as much as me when people write "and such".

The best bad review of all is from J Clark whose review is so perfect that I am going to quote the whole thing in full... It should be used as a "teaching text" on how to write negative reviews.

"Si, Si Mr Faulty. We arrived to be told "yes you are a tad early", not "We're sorry the room is not ready until 2pm". No reception desk either - just a table. We BOTH then had to complete separate registration cards, apparently the law! But collecting much more personal information than needed, we assume to market pensioner holidays to us or sell details on. We then found out this was a holiday firm hotel (aqnd the old reps were nice enough) but hotel is not geared up to independent travellers. At breakfast, a forceful “Sybil” told us where to sit, i.e. large communal tables only with groups of 8 pensioners all sat around who are all on walking or painting holidays. Breakfast with strangers, just what you want on your birthday. Breakfast very good though but to cap it all – no TV in the room (is this the 21st century) and the extractor fan in the cupboard/ shower that screamed like a banshee. This is our first ever negative hotel room as you tend to get what you pay for, so we do not moan but this is all true, our advice is pay more and stay elsewhere."

This review contains all of my favourite elements of a negative review - caps-lock, excitable metaphors, stakes being raised due to someone's birthday... I love the bit about how there is "no reception desk - just a table" - how did they COPE? And then the riff about being marketed pensioner holidays (again, conjecture). As with Anna M, this reviewer seems to have a dislike of other people and resents being made to "Breakfast with strangers." Suddenly my own antisocial sentiments are thrown firmly into perspective - there are people out there who are much worse than me. Hurrah!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Byebye Pussycat

Tura Santana, who played my favourite pussycat Varla in Russ Meyer's kitschy morality-tale Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has died aged 72.

I could go on about how Santana was a postmodern feminist icon, how she challenged traditional notions of femininity, how she combined iconography from The Adams Family, burlesqe and S/M, but instead I'll just say that she was great and it will be impossible to ever parody this film or better it.

Tura, I hope that wherever you are, you're breaking the speed limit and beating up All-American he-men. If you think that you can tame her, well just you try-y.