Jun 30, 2008

Hong Kong’s Commuter Escalator Is Also A Cultural Tour

How would you like to commute to work on an outdoor escalator carved into a mountain? Thousands do every day in Hong Kong.

The Midlevels escalator is actually a series of covered escalators and moving sidewalks about a half-mile long. It is the longest outdoor escalator in the world.

The escalator starts at Midlevels, an upscale residential area popular with expats, and ends in Central, which is home to the city’s financial district. The ride from top to bottom is about 20 minutes long.

During rush hour it runs down hill full of business people heading to work. At about 10:30 a.m. it reverses and transports people up the mountain for the rest of the day. It shuts down around midnight.

For residents there are small shops along the way to stop off and pick up a few things at the end of a long work day before heading home. Restaurants, watering holes, coffee shops and a health club to fit in a workout also line the way.

For visitors to Hong Kong riding the Midlevels escalator is like taking a cultural tour. You’ll see the iconic hanging laundry in tenement windows so close at some points you can almost reach out and touch it.

Wet markets bustle with activity below in Sheung Wan, a traditional part of the city. A separate post on this neighborhood will follow.

Starting at the top of the escalator you’ll pass by Mosque Street, named for the Jamia Mosque. The gate to the walled mosque is typically open making it possible to peek inside.

Further down is Hollywood Road, which is full of curios and antique shops as well as chic home d├ęcor stores. If you get off at Hollywood Road to browse and shop walk east (away from the escalator) for about five minutes to admire the Man Mo Temple.

Ride the escalator further down and you’ll hit Soho, short for South of Hollywood Road. This area on Shelley, Staunton and Elgin Streets is popular for its restaurants, night life and art galleries and is a good place to make a pit stop to refuel. Or continue into Central to carry on exploring the city’s sights.

Jun 27, 2008

Eccentric New Yorkers

Would you like to meet some of New York City’s eccentrics? A list of the city’s top 50 has been compiled by Gawker. Here are some of the people listed I come across a few times a year:

Thoth-I went to a birthday party once where Thoth was the featured entertainment. He speaks a made up language, which perhaps only the creators of Cirque du Soleil would understand. I’ll let his act speak for itself, which you can catch on this youtube video. In Central Park he typically performs near Bethesda Terrace.

I’ve written about Oscar Gomez, who is pictured.

Elegant Elliot Offen-I’ve seen him in my neighborhood several times. He is usually sporting fishnets as he jogs up Second Avenue. Here he is documented on youtube.

New York and other big cities certainly do not have a monopoly on eccentrics. Most small villages and towns around the world have their fair share. Do you have eccentrics where you live?

Jun 25, 2008

City Icons: Tokyo Japan

Perhaps you were expecting Tokyo’s pop culture, architecture or throngs of work hard play hard businessmen in grey and blue suits on the metro during rush hour. All are iconic but what stood out most to me was utilitarian, but with a uniquely Japanese flare for gizmos and design.

You’ll find them in every neighborhood and even under the city on metro platforms. According to some statistics there are approximately 6 million vending machines in Japan. Tokyo is home to about 2.4 million. Most sell energy and soft drinks, hot tea and coffee, beer, saki and cigarettes. You can also purchase anything from umbrellas to razors. In Tokyo vending machines cater to the lifestyle of city dwellers that are constantly on the go and live in small spaces. For these urbanites buying in bulk is not a practical option.

Convenience isn’t overly pricey. A soft drink will set you back about 120 yen, which is about $1.10. The machines do not fall victim to vandalism, graffiti or theft, which would be unheard of in other major cities.

Previous City Icons:
Dubai
Antigua, Guatemala
Casablanca, Morocco
Mexico City

Jun 23, 2008

Street Scenes: Barber Varanasi India

In the old city of Varanasi and particularly along the ghats (steps) at the edge of the Ganges River life and death are out in the open. The ordinary and extraordinary take place side by side.

This man was getting a shave the good old-fashioned way. He was only a short walk away from where people were mourning loved ones at Manikarnika ghat, the main cremation ghat in Varanasi and one of the most sacred.

Colorful sadhus (holy men) wander while tourists check them out trying to gather the courage to take a photograph. Cows lumber up and down steep steps and crowds of people part to make way for them.

This scene was taken the same morning I can across the sadhus and young boy. I revisit that morning often in my mind as I’m wandering in my own city aware only of what is necessary to get from point A to B as fast as I can.

Previous Posts In This Series:
Coal Vendor Beijing
French Concession Shanghai
Shoe Shiner Mexico City

Jun 18, 2008

Strange Souvenirs: Autopsy Cell Phone Straps

Cell phone adornment is a big deal in Japan. Extremely popular are cell phone straps or keitai straps (keitai is Japanese for cell phone). Like a key chain they have trinkets attached. Ketai straps aren’t just objects of desire for trendy youth. You’ll see them dangling from the phones of people of all ages and both sexes.

The range of straps is enormous. Many feature characters such as the ubiquitous Hello Kitty and anime (Japanese animation) characters. While designer straps exist, most don’t cost more than the equivalent of a few dollars.

In Tokyo I kept coming across these “autopsy” cell phone straps exposing the innards of various creatures and landmarks.

This is called Edible Horse.

Here you see the Inland Chicken.

Those who are squeamish might prefer Mount Fuji.

The perfect gift for the iphone owner who has everything, no?

Previous Posts In This Series:
Emirati Family Dubai
Cultural Revolution Kitsch China
Hezbollah T-Shirts Lebanon

Jun 16, 2008

Mermaid Parade Coney Island

One of my favorite parades to photograph in New York City is the Annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which takes place next Saturday. It’s eccentric, urban Americana at its best and the atmosphere is one big party.

It’s not your average marching band type of parade. Participants dress up as various mermaids, King Neptunes and sea creatures. Many of the costumes are thematic and highly stylized, art on legs. Celebrity judges select winners for the honor of best mermaid, Neptune and float to name a few.

The parade is held to celebrate the start of summer. It begins at 2 p.m. To get there take the F, D, N, or Q subway lines to Stillwell Avenue, the last stop. Head to Surf Avenue. Here is a map.

Related Posts:
Vampire Mermaid Coney Island

Jun 13, 2008

Street Scenes: Coal Vendor Beijing

I came across this man in one of Beijing’s, Hutongs (alleys).

He was hauling bricks of coal to sell to the residents of the traditional courtyards homes of these neighborhoods where families have lived for generations. Coal fired stoves provide heat for these residences and double for cooking.

As part of its attempt to deal with Beijing’s pollution in the run up to the Summer Olympics the government has been replacing coal stoves in Hutong communities with electric heaters. This photograph was taken more than two years ago. I wonder if this man is still in business.

Related Posts:
Hutongs Beijing China

Jun 11, 2008

Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology Part III

Rome’s former Jewish Ghetto features some of the city’s most mysterious offbeat archaeology. Remains of ancient roman sculpture decorate the facades of buildings. Museum worthy relics share space with drain pipes and dangling telephone wires.

This weathered quartet keep watch just over the doorway of a small shop.

Blocks of ancient inscriptions have found new life by providing architectural detail.

You can find the above and other ancient gems along the neighborhood’s main strip, Via del Portico d’Ottavia. It’s next door to Teatro Marcello and a block away from the Tiber River. Here is a map.

Previous Posts In This Series:
Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology Part II
Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology

Jun 9, 2008

Pink’s Hollywood Los Angeles California

One of Hollywood’s most popular eateries doesn’t require reservations or feature cuisine catering to the body conscious set. The dress code is much more lax than California casual. No shoes, no shirt, no service rules do not apply.


Pink’s, established in 1939, is to Los Angeles what Nathan’s Hot Dogs is to New York—an institution. On weekends the line stretches around the building. Locals and tourists wait patiently in the hot southern California sun. SUVs and limos with tinted windows pull up and double park while assistants jump out to get lunch for their employers who remain inside anonymously in air-conditioned comfort. Drive by at 2 a.m. and you’ll see the club going crowd standing on line jonesing for nourishment after a night of partying.

I must confess that I have never eaten at Pink’s. The line is always too long. But I’m told on good authority that hot dog connoisseurs won’t be disappointed. A chilidog will set you back $2.50.

Pink’s is located at 709 North La Brea Boulevard near Melrose Avenue. Here is a map. Free parking, the equivalent of gold in Los Angeles, is available.

Jun 6, 2008

Portraits: Young Boy Varanasi India

He was playing on the ghats (steps) along the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. In fact he wasn’t far from where the chatting sadhus were sitting.

His friends were flying kites but his interest was in my camera. He volunteered to pose. Clearly this young boy was not a novice subject and was comfortable in front of a lens.

Jun 4, 2008

Street Scenes: French Concession Shanghai China

It was late afternoon when I came across these two. They were hauling branches on a bicycle along one of the leafy boulevards of Shanghai’s French Concession.

I like the woman’s red socks and how she sits with ease on the edge of the cart. Her companion peddled effortlessly, as if he did not have a person and cargo to transport.

Jun 2, 2008

Teenage Tokyo: Hangry and Angry

They look like the revenge of Hello Kitty. Their names are Hangry and Angry and they have scars, eye patches and stitches.

In Tokyo pop culture and fashion go hand in hand and the city’s youth drive both in a way that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Hangry and Angry are the mascots of fashion designer and pop culture guru h. Naoto. He has several stores alone in the city’s trendy Harajuku neighborhood. The duo is featured in the designer’s clothing, are available in a wide range of stuffed animals (in Tokyo teenagers tote them around town while strutting their stuff) and on a variety of items like the alarm clock below.

Hangry and Angry are cute but morbid, which is not easy to pull off successfully. Humor is key. In The Tokyo Look Book Naoto describes his work like this: “A lot of this is about grossing people out. Being shocking but cute at the same time. That kind of balance is really in now.”

This is the first in a series on the pop culture and fashion of Tokyo’s youth I’ll be featuring in the coming weeks.