Tag Archive: funny


DNA- The Empire State of Mind


Ten pointers to get you started on your quest to tame the concrete jungle and become a New Yorker

Concrete Jungle

 Being a New Yorker is a full-time profession. It requires an extensive knowledge of every alleyway and shortcut nestled in the city, an insatiable appetite for culture, and the uncanny ability to draw upon huge reserves of energy like a metropolitan Hercules. Every profession, though, has its perks and being a local in New York grants membership to an evolving, vibrant and colourful city with an urban life force surging through its streets to the top of the skyscrapers.

So without further delay, here are the club rules for being a New Yorker:

–          The only time you go to Times Square is to laugh at the tourists as they gawp like badly-dressed moths at the flashing lights.

Times Square

–          You nurture a burning and irrational hatred for people from the neighbouring state, New Jersey. In fact, any mention of a New Jerseyite at a bar is more effective than a fire alarm for clearing people out.

–          You have worn spandex at least once while cycling/running in Central Park. A true New Yorker knows that appearances count for nothing when planning an efficient work out.

Spandex patrol, Central Park

–          You have mastered the ability to drink coffee, text on your Blackberry, scan the daily newspaper and update your diary. All while being crushed to near-death on the Subway.

–          The oven and washing machine in your flat are as unused as media baron Rupert Murdoch’s voicemail service. Take-aways and tailors thank you very much.

–          You are willing to pay more than $4 for a bottle of vitamin water because its label boasts more for your well-being than the Garden of Eden.

–          Your watering hole of choice is located in the most avant-garde stretches of Brooklyn, anything without a live band and/or a converted roof simply won’t do.

Radegast Biergarten, Brooklyn

–          You have eaten more raw fish than a grizzly bear. In the city’s many sushi bars, that is.

–          You go for massages in Chinatown. They may be in the living room of a basement apartment that smells of tuna salad but who can argue with the $20 discount?

–          You’ve never travelled up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, after all your friend’s rooftop garden a few blocks down doesn’t have a thirty minute queue.

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DNA- Wax On, Wax Off


As an Englishman I have always held a paternal affection for the wiry hairs protruding from my chest. Their presence represents a rite of passage from pock-faced adolescent to cultured gent. After all, would Sean Connery’s James Bond have been able to charm the pants off female acquaintances without his sizeable chest barnet? I think not.

Yet having seen male actors such as Hrithik Roshan swagger around B-town, brandishing torsos as smooth and shiny as a freshly-waxed Rolls Royce I concluded the hair fest on my breast had to go. And so it was on an ominous Thursday afternoon that I found myself outside one of Mumbai’s finest waxing establishments, in the vain pursuit of Bollywood glamour.

“He needs to be waxed” declared my partner-in-crime to the owner, who then assessed me with suspicious displeasure, as if I’d just asked to date his mother. I was then cautiously led downstairs to an underground room, which had the metallic gadgets and surgical lights to make it the ideal set for the horror film Saw. “Nice and cozy”, I commented.

After awkwardly removing my shirt, I lay down on my back and a hot, golden substance was spread over my chest hairs. It appeared to be honey, but that would be wrong. The only time hot honey should be applied to one’s naked chest is in the privacy of the bedroom by a marital partner, not by a mustached forty-year-old in a dimly-lit underground basement.

With the wax applied, white strips were then rubbed vigorously into the hair-affected areas. This relative calm was shattered when they were viciously yanked away with the triumph of a wizard pulling a rabbit out of his hat. What remained was a barren patch of skin that had taken on an angry, red glow.

I didn’t blame its anger. The tearing off of strips was a painful affair. You knew the pain was coming so it was just a case of grimacing and awaiting the fateful and crunching rip. I wanted to keep up appearances so my face was contorted into an anguished smile, all to the delight of my torturer. He ripped the strips off joyfully as if Christmas had come early and he was tearing open his presents. No wonder Salman Khan prefers using a razor.

After desperately searching for any straggling hairs on my wretched chest as if each one were worth a small fortune, he relented. I was left with a ghostly white torso which resembled a freshly-skinned chicken with a bad case of rashes. My verdict? I may have a chest smooth enough to waltz down the catwalk, but I would happily accept the body hair of King Kong rather than endure that miniature hell every month.


The glamorous side of paintballing

Heroic, gallant, virile. Students who pledge their thumbs to the digital deity Call of Duty are none of these and less. Because to waste such god-given militancy prancing round a pixelated wonderland, knifing the odd dissident, is a sin answerable to Ares alone. As any self-respecting war monger will tell you, true glory can only be won in the smoke and heat of the battlefield. Or in the case of an intrepid band of Durhamites, on the paint-spattered grounds of a Geordie forest that, come nightfall, boasts the North’s highest dogging rate. And that’s saying something.

The paintballing was an impulse buy. Besides a wave of regret that I hadn’t gone to Bristol, paintball tickets were the only thing I had picked up from the Fresher’s Fair. Students who’ve had Durham’s cultural zeal sufficiently caned into them need not concern themselves with paintballing and other soiled distractions of the ‘broleteriat’. True people of Durham wipe their arses with such degenerate filth, before it morphs gratefully into sheet music or a provocative play script on bi-curious terrorists.

Unfortunately I’ve still got some lashes to go and the paintballing base camp was a glorious two-fingered salute to the culture vultures, nested around Durham. Urine-soaked excitement hung in the air, courtesy of marauding bands of adolescents, while the more experienced participants menacingly stroked helmets, or any other SAS equipment they had brought from home.

As chance, or the vindictiveness of the organizers, would have it we were pitted against a crack squad of locals more than twice our number. Their sheer aggression and enthusiasm suggested they were on the back of a monstrous winning streak, including stints in Libya and Charlie Sheen’s pool house, and had been airdropped in for the occasion.

With a bamboo shoot for a family tree, the sorry-looking gaggle of yokels that made up the rest of our team looked more adept at holding a barn dance than a gun. Their leader was a man of deceptive size who looked like Bryan May and took to guarding our extreme rear. He was a paintballer who would not go down in history but, thanks to a gangly ponytail and a moustache that would put Ron Jeremy to shame, he would go down on your sister.

It would be a massacre.

The opening rounds proved true to speculation. Our natural survival instincts took over and led us galloping aimlessly through the foliage like twisted genetic experiments that had gone wrong and been released into the wild for the warped amusement of a Japanese game show. It was not long before we were hunted and felled without mercy by the well-oiled Geordie machine.  Based on that evidence, in Prehistoric times we would have been assigned the foraging duties.

From his entrenched defensive position Bryan May attempted a guerrilla resurgence but soon fell ingloriously in a shower of paint. With his greased locks he may have been the ‘Che Guevara’ in the cut-throat world of dry weather crop-harvesting but he was a 40-something playing paintball and I just couldn’t trust him.

I won’t bore you with the heroic tale of our comeback. For services in the field one of our rank earned the much-coveted ‘Top Gun’ award, which came with its own shiny certificate. Although later reports suggest that he had offered the Warden sexual favours for the prize and, failing that, his packed lunch.

All I will say is we may have been approached by Channel 5 and other mediocre broadcasting stations to televise the account and victory was achieved mainly through the use of paint grenades. Yes you read correctly, GRENADES THAT EXPLODE WITH PAINT!

Now if that doesn’t fire up the loins then we may as well just be done with it and drown ourselves, chained to our games consoles, in a sea of spirits, pederasty and Tesco’s 99p Curry. Or failing that, dress up as pirates and head to Klute. They’re equally degrading.


 

As the debate on Durham’s nightlife rages on allow me to wade in, clad appropriately in Hunter Wellies that are the ubiquitous calling card to this fair city of ours. If, like me, you would rather see Lady Gaga in a Burmese prison than on the charts its difficult in Durham to find any music that ventures outside the top 40. Our headline act last term was Tim Westwood. The DSU, meanwhile, is attempting to resurrect their Saturday nights with a new offering called ‘Bad Habit’, but as the saying goes, ‘you can’t polish a turd’.

Perhaps the problem lies in our perceptions of a good night out. The main asset of living under the hallowed roof of St. Johns College is not the smugness of capping off a prolonged and fruitful visit to the college privy by greeting your unfortunate successor with, “if you’re going in there, may God be with you!” No, the highlight has to be the privilege of hearing every drunken chant that wafts up like room-clearing bouts of flatulence from the college socials on the Bailey beneath my window. It has been a downright honor.

After spending the early evening engaged in hardcore pre-lash, and no doubt cemented to their college corridor as if they were on leashes, these groups descend upon the Bailey with the manufactured rowdiness of a middle-class football firm. Their objective; to down each college’s specialty cocktail, which are often over-priced and some, like the ‘Skittles’, have the florescent color and texture of Mr. Blobby’s piss. Then, with new levels of liquid confidence, they charge down the hill crying God for England, Getting Lairy and St. Whatever-the-hell college they’re in. (Unless, of course, it is Josephine Butler, which sounds like a municipal leisure centre.)

Don’t let the knuckle-dragging exterior fool you mind, our uni compatriots in the Dirty South couldn’t hold a candle to these demonstrations of sheer ladestry. In fact, I would be prepared to personally sponsor a pub golf tour around South London as some missionary work for our unenlightened brethren. Just make sure to catch it all on camera, as the police may want the evidence from the ensuing bloodbath. You could at least sell the footage to Bravo.

Durham certainly holds a place in its heart for the chant, which I hold no aversion to. Neither do I have a problem with the fairer sex belting out the occasional rib-tickler. After all, there’s nothing like a lady with the mouth of a sailor to warm the cockles of the soul (and light a fire in one’s loins). However, this intoxicated enthusiasm was conspicuous for its absence when Durham was called upon by students across the country to demonstrate against the rise in tuition fees. Here, in true Durham fashion, the protest was not led by baton-wielding maniacs, armed to the teeth with knuckle-dusters and civil disobedience, but rather a jazz band called ‘Kinky Jeff and the Swingers’.

In order to truly gauge Durham’s rowdiness, you have to appreciate the socials in their natural habitat. This being locked in homo-erotic acts on the d-floor of one of Durham’s many night-time establishments. Fuelled by Tesco’s value trebles and equipped with a genidar (genital radar), they are led innately to one another’s private parts. If I wanted to do shots of lighter fuel and whatnot from betwixt my goalkeeper’s arse cheeks, I would have followed David James to the World Cup.

Also, unlike most rugger buggers, I’m not sporting a John Thomas that’s big enough to attack a city. So perhaps understandably, I’m not a fan of getting it out, willy-nilly. Don’t get me wrong, mine could probably damage a few suburban retail outlets but, as a rule of thumb, I keep Jabba in his hut… especially in the queue for Subway.

So if you’re not a born chanter, you leave stripping to the professionals and think fancy dress constitutes more than ripping a t-shirt and wearing a headband, what does Durham hold on a night out?

Newcastle anyone?


As Facebook takes its place at the table of business high rollers, users will have to ask how their personal information is treated.


On the back of a successful 2010, including a silver screen debut, the social media goliath welcomed in the new year by accepting a $375 million investment offer from Goldman Sachs. Like sending the two Milliband brothers on a team building exercise in Cumbria, nothing good can come of this.

For one the deal estimates Facebook’s worth at a giddying $50 billion, a potentially inflated sum when you look at the company’s reported revenue of just $1.2 billion over the first three quarters of 2010. But enough with this monetary dandyism, what of the unwashed masses who use the thing? Well, the noticeably gaping numerical chasm between revenue and worth suggests that financial value is being uncovered elsewhere on Facebook. A bounty is slowly collating above the heads of its 600 million usership and more importantly, the keg loads of information Facebook has on them.

Addresses, birthdays, phone numbers. What’s to stop Facebook auctioning its users’ information and details to the highest bidder, flimsy privacy agreements? Goldman Sachs and co. has seen worse. After all, the parents of royal fiancée Kate Middleton were known to derive a sizeable chunk of revenue for their business, ‘Party Pieces’, by selling their clients’ contact details to relevant companies. With more extensive information at their digital fingertips, Facebook could do one better.

After seven years of loyal service; nursing our hangovers, publishing our ethereal musings and inviting us to join groups detailing the post-mortem of a phone lost to the supernatural clutches of a festival bog. Is Facebook preparing to throw us to the corporate lions? Are our witty wall posts destined to be salivated over by a wispy cheeked researcher, hell bent on proving the neo-Nazi tendencies of Generation Y? Not on my watch.

At this crucial juncture I acknowledge this may sound like the ramblings of an apocalyptic prophet, touring the country and living out of a caravan and stockpiles of tinned food. Or even Morpheus incarnate, offering the ‘blue pill’ of online salvation. Unfortunately for any leather suppliers, I am neither. I’m just not keen on the idea of my postcode being bootlegged across the web to any Tom, Dick and Hameed. So when China gets their teeth into global advertising and start sending Viagra discounts to my new address in the Shire, I’ll be Chairman LMAOing.

As a further measure, next time I see a status update saying “just off to the South of France in daddy’s yacht”, I will not be ‘liking’ it. Instead while they are enjoying the sun, I will round up a posse and march on the offender’s home address (conveniently located in the ‘contact information’ section), kick down the door and kidnap the new puppy they put photos up of last week. It’s for the best.

The socially transparent era of tweeting your bowel movements is over, long live privacy!

Pimp My Movie Theatre


Makeshift inventor Christian Seiersen unveils four innovative ideas to help Hong Kong cinemas do justice to their plethora of cinematic talent.

The year is 2010, Hong Kong is a gleaming palisade of skyscrapers, sophistication billows from the sidewalks and jazz wafts through the alleyways. The city is ruled by businessmen, but oozing through their fists is the seductive taste of culture, a creative alliance of the East and West. As French actress Jeanne Moreau once mused, “cinema is the mirror of the world”. In the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, movie theatres will need to adapt accordingly.

Pump It Up

The first issue requiring attention can be best described as post-Kung Fu syndrome, or the ‘red mist’ as it’s known on the cinema attendants’ grapevine. It stems from the fact that no human of healthy mind can watch a martial arts flick without feeling the burning desire to re-enact the film’s most intense fight scenes in the cinema foyer afterwards. Be it a hurricane of hits or a half-hearted ‘chicken’ kick, no advertisement cut-out is safe.

Boasting an illustrious cinematic relationship with the Kung Fu genre, Hong Kong is at particular risk from the aforementioned condition. Resident movie-maker Stephen Chow is cultivating a reputation as something of a genre-bender by adding a mischievous dab of comedy to his action films- see Shaolin soccer and Kung Fu Hustle -while fellow countryman Bruce Lee is credited as the father of modern martial arts. It has no mother, it was conceived asexually when Lee windmill kicked himself in the spine. In such fertile fighting grounds, Hong Kong cinemas are in need of a fool-proof plan lest they become slapped by a weighty tome of law suits, cataloguing the destructive misdemeanours of the red mist.  

What I propose, wait for it, is an army of Blow Up Dolls, and not the type found in Hong Kong’s red light district (cue comedy drum roll). No they have a loftier purpose, to dampen the flames of the red mist and soak up the possessed audiences’ flurry of fist blows. As if their buoyant impishness wasn’t enough of an incentive, the dolls will be masqueraded as some of life’s most loathsome characters; a man-sized mosquito, Kim Jong-Il and the human embodiment of rain. Then, aside from comic book hero Superman’s next gang of nemeses, you have a brigade of bash absorbers and a child-friendly antidote to post-Kung Fu syndrome. The Beat Up Doll, coming to a cinema near you.

Whose line is it anyway?

Not many can deny the enchanting mysticism of the movie subtitles that have been translated from Chinese. A rich metaphorical tapestry weaved around the rigid tablet of Chinese grammar. Take recent directing duo the Pang brothers offering Storm Warriors, and the fight talk of its villain, Nameless.  “Today, I will use my immortal body armour to break the myth of your sword skill.” This sounds more like the strained foreplay of a historically-themed porno.

Then you have the risk of buying one  of Hong Kong’s numerous fake foreign language DVDs. The over-zealous middle man. Tasked with writing the subtitles for the pirated films and inspired by six weeks of English lessons in the basement of a brothel, they take it upon themselves to add their own ideas to the lines. An Oscar-worthy script is soon transformed into a rabbit hole of strained similes and misplaced commas. Now Russell Crowe’s heartfelt gladiator speech to Emperor Commodus- “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next…” -becomes a tad shrewder. “I am able to get you, back right now or, maybe after I die…”

With this abundance of writing talent floundering in the sewers of their movie industry, what better way for Hong Kong to offer the hand of salvation than commission more than one set of subtitles for their films?  Consequently, foreign audiences will be able to vote on what Hong Kong’s movie stars should be saying with a choice of subtitle options. When approaching a gang of hoodlums, will karate king Jackie Chan excrete a cheeky quip or impart some words of wisdom? The outcome is decided, but the possibilities are endless. A sexually-confused Chow-Yun Fat? Bruce Lee the scientologist? You decide.

Let there be light

Housing some of the genre’s finest directional talents, Hong Kong is no stranger to the fields of romance.  One such exponent, Wong Kar Wai, revels in the poetic aspect of cinematography, furnishing his works with characteristically unconventional camera angles and pixelated close-ups. With its walls awash with amour and the scent of passion lingering in the air, movie theatres- as the experienced partisan will tell you- are fertile ground for ‘the sneaky stretch’.   

A worldwide phenomenon, the sneaky stretch is when a male` courter greases the potentially awkward act of putting his arm around a female companion by combining it with a yawn, or an innocuous point. Techniques differ across the lands, a current American sensation is a two-armed device which allows the advocate to keep an arm around his wife while the real one grazes on a food supply the equivalent of Uganda’s agricultural output. Yet still one aspect remains, the stretch dances best to the tune of love.

In the Mood For Love

Imagine, if you will, a screening of Wong’s Palm D’Or nominee, In the Mood for Love, an ultimately tragic story of two star-crossed lovers, their romance thwarted by the fickle nature of chance. As the film unfolds, as if sparked to life by a distant mother ship, male arms will slide cautiously across the chasm of cinema chairs before pouncing at the appropriately amorous on-screen cue. Because of its enticing prospect of a rejection, the audience deserves to be a part of this spectacle. I’m thinking spotlights.

Operated by only the finest talents in lightmanship, many of whom have sharpened their skills in circuses, their job would be to scour the audience and bathe anyone attempting the reach around in cold, piercing light. Good luck explaining that at the job interview. The stakes now raised, the sneaky stretch is catapulted from a nonchalant manoeuvre to a token of affection hotter than Dante’s Inferno. Move over wedding proposals at baseball games, there’s a new sheriff in town.

A game of two halves

Superbowl Half-time show, 2010

Faced with the bludgeoning cinematography and barrage of blasts that constitutes today’s action films, Australian cinemas have struck gold. In order to prevent their audiences’ brains imploding from boundless activity, they have introduced a half-way interlude for a film. During which, the audience can regroup and remind themselves they are not in a Vietnamese POW camp. All to the soundtrack of a tinkling piano. This is a start, but we need to think big here in order to rival the American Superbowl’s legendary half-time shows.

With a vibrant expat population, Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures meaning that anything, from robot duels to saxophone recitals, is plausible. Much raucous has been made in the West of various talent shows, such as Britain’s Got Talent, which enable the average Joe to show off their hidden talent in spoon-bending to a panel of judges. So why not tap into this abundance of free entertainment and unleash them onto movie theatres. Hell, make a day of it! It can be Hong Kong’s answer to a Roman family outing at the coliseum, but without the Christian slaves.


Foreign filmmakers you should be on the lookout for

When you need a film with ex-plo-sions, who you gonna call? Well, before producers would have Transformer-toting Michael Mann on speed-dial, but nowadays he’s throwing magnesium into Boy Scout’s camp fires to quench his insatiable thirst for destruction. Plus, the audience prefers being made to think while being hoisted onto the edge of their seats.
Enter Brit/American director Christopher Nolan, the mind behind Batman remake The Dark Knight and Freudian thriller Inception. In a Hollywood genre wrought with mindless car crashes and leggy blondes, Nolan succeeded in bringing a touch of class to proceedings, like introducing English gents to wrestle in WWF. Nowadays Nolan has a third Batman film on his radar. As we speak, he is decked in oversized headphones, tracking a flashing red dot that is the caped crusader.

With a CV including the likes of cult sci-fi movie The Fifth Element and Léon , Frenchman Luc Besson is no newcomer to film. I think hitman Leon’s signature phrase, “No women, no children” should replace the chocolate bar Yorkie’s marketing slogan, ‘It’s not for girls,’ merely to enforce Yorkie’s brute masculinity.

However, it is in the role of writer and producer that Besson has found success in recent offerings District 13 and District 13: Ultimatum. The films catapult parkour, the French-originated discipline of street-running, from a YouTube sensation to the big screen. Set in a future where a crime-riddled district of Paris is walled-off from society, Besson strikes a political chord, as Parisian ghettos are often ostracised by the French media for their abundance of drugs and high-levels of unrest. Look out for Besson’s signature stunt sequences, which are untainted by CGI and gift the films a raw edge, exhibited in Besson-written thriller Taken.

The Pang Brothers

As films such as Hero prove, East-Asian cinema is never short of imagination and in Hong-Kong born directing-duo the Pang brothers, the genre has found a rising talent. Comprising Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun, which sounds like a chemically enhanced dish served to Chinese Olympic athletes, the pair’s recent martial arts epic Storm Warriors broke Hong Kong box office records on first day.
With cult-horror flick The Eye and Hollywood flop Bangkok Dangerous under their belts, the brothers explored elemental magic such as wind and fire to craft Storm Warriors as a homage to traditional Chinese folklore. With help from special effects and imaginative costumes, it is a truly unique spectacle. Asian legend has it the only way to replicate such levels of creativity is to give the entire Jedi council from Star Wars LSD and lock them in a room full of bendy mirrors.


Into the fray

Our plan was to hone our biking skills in the Mekong Delta before embarking on the 1150 km ride up to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. The delta is a vast stretch of sparsely populated grassland south of Ho Chi Minh, flayed by rivers surging to the Eastern Vietnamese coast. Its most prestigious inhabitant, the Mekong river, is the largest in South-East Asia and is responsible for the livelihood of millions through industries such as agriculture and fishing.

The Minsk can be best described as an enigmatic bike. I had put the difficulties we had faced in Ho Chi Minh down to teething problems but, as we stuttered into the innocuous town of Tan An on our last vapour of patience, I realised our bikes’ mechanical problems were more deep-rooted. We had only managed 30km and the journey had been disrupted by a host of engine problems, over the next week we would visit repair shops as frequently as we would restaurants.

We commenced this tradition of repair shop visits with a grand opening ceremony, involving the rousing of a portly mechanic from his hammock in a flourish of hand gestures, directed at the motorised underbelly of our bikes. That evening, in the musky sanctitude of a local shack, we deliberated over a steaming bowl of the local cuisine Pho noodle soup, a bubbling broth which can contain anything from lemongrass to chicken’s feet, before deciding on the riverside town of Ben Tre as our next port of call.

Looks familiar?

As we set off with renewed optimism and the strained directions of a local fruit seller behind us, the scenery morphed into a mosaic of rice fields. The presence of farmers was betrayed by conical straw hats that bobbed rhythmically from the depths of the reeds. The government had clearly been busy, and at regular intervals communist flags billowed defiantly, even on the most rural of roads.

Under intense physiological pressure from our group, willing them onwards, our bikes survived all the pebbles and dips the rustic roads had to throw at them and we rolled into the next town like crusaders entering Jerusalem. During the triumphal entrance into the centre our cries of ecstasy soon turned to anguish as we began to recognise the buildings we had become acquainted with the day before. The paper lanterns that had greeted us so gracefully now sneered from their lofty perch.

Besides the cardinal error of not carrying a map, we had failed to account for the sizeable river blocking our path to Ben Tre. The road we had taken had skirted along the river nonchalantly before looping round and depositing us at our origin, all without a hint of rancour. When providing directions, the imperial sweep of the hand that locals would offer failed to account for small frivolities on the proposed route, such as crossing a 100-foot wide river. They saw their role more as compasses and pointed us in the general direction of our destination rather than consider the various obstacles we would inevitably encounter or the curvaceous nature of roads.

The Ferryman

The next day we found a gutsy villager who was willing to pit the rotting timbers of her fishing boat against our iron-hided Minsks and take us across the river. Using a small wooden plank we herded our bikes onto the creaking vessel and crossed our fingers as, sensing the magnitude of the situation, she yanked the starter chord with the ferocity of a leopard. Local ferries are the more popular option in these circumstances, but we didn’t trust our directional prowess to go on the search just yet.

Having negotiated our bikes onto the other side, we soon found ourselves in the tourist outpost of Ben Tre.  Besides a smattering of restaurants, it is a popular place to arrange homestays in local villages, where tourists stay in a villager’s house to experience the unique culture of rural life. Whilst slurping our celebratory noodle soup, we met a Vietnamese war veteran who filled our evening with tales of jungle warfare with the Vietcong before departing to sing karaoke with his wife.

The curse of Ben Tre

Our cruise from Ben Tre was cut short when we encountered a giant pond which had flooded the dirt road, its murky waters had been supplied by the decadence of nearby construction work. Spurred by the enthusiasm of local drivers, and a sizeable run up, the most audacious member of our group flew into this artificial marshland with the careless abandon of a toddler learning to ride a bike. Despite making good progress, the wheels soon became engulfed by the sand and by the halfway point he began sinking at an agonisingly slow rate. With the aid of every able bicep within a kilometre, we were able to hoist him out, but not before the sand had sabotaged the bike’s engine. From now on, in order to start that particular motorcycle, we would all have to push it along for ten metres for a running start, in the chaotic manner of a bobsleigh team.

This was the final crack that opened a floodgate of problems and, for the next five days, a series of seemingly implausible break downs to each motorcycle left our group stranded in one of Ben Tre’s spangled high rise hotels, wallowing in self-pity and the senility of our bikes. I took the opportunity to repaint my bike; it was now decked in bright red and bore the archaic hammer and sickle of communism. The steed of an officer, I told myself as we drove through wafts of innocent Vietnamese laughter, pressing onwards to Tra Vinh.

Tearing the chains

In order to escape the supernatural clutches of Ben Tre we knew it would require a Herculean effort, we roared our way towards the coast but knowing at some point that we would face the tempestuous waters of another river. As night descended our bikes started to concede to the constant strain of the journey and one broke down. With no mechanic in miles, one of our group elected to push the bike along with his foot, whilst still driving himself. By supporting his foot on the incapacitated bike’s exhaust pipe, and trusting its riders’ steering capabilities, he was able to push it tentatively along the motorway. With no working headlamps between us, I drove behind the duo to illuminate this eerie procession with a torch strapped around my helmet like a coal miner. Meanwhile the final member gallivanted ahead, searching for comprehensible, and frustratingly elusive, directions.

Our convoy crept through the mystical silence of the South Vietnamese night, and it was into the miniscule hours of the morning when we found a farmer showering naked besides his crop but, more importantly, in knowledge of a ferry crossing down the road. Because of the obvious language barrier we didn’t know if the crossing was still in operation or, for that matter, an actual crossing and not just his favourite fishing spot. Nevertheless, we were hardly in a position of strength and welcomed the rest, even if it was interrupted by the maniacal yapping of a posse of village dogs.

An hour into the wait, I began eyeing up the surrounding scenery for potential camping spots. I may have even hallucinated, seeing the flickering mirage of a Holiday Inn in the shadowy depths of a forest. Mercifully, an eternally optimistic member, who had been perched expectantly on the landing since we arrived, spotted the hulking leviathan of a ferry boat skulking through the blackened waters and we boarded it with the relief of soldiers who were being evacuated from the fiery recesses of hell.

Reassessing the journey

Whilst in the safety of Tra Vinh, and with our battered Minsks collapsed guiltily besides us, we were forced to re-evaluate the itinerary. In one week we had barely travelled 100km and what was meant to be a training exercise had turned into an epic journey comparable to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. Despite the obvious disappointment we wanted to go out in one last flourish, our Asian testament to the charge of the light brigade- practically suicidal but a necessity as far as preserving honour was concerned. So it was then, in the smoky backroom of a local cafe that we decided upon the beach resort of Ba Dong as our final destination. This was to the crowning moment of our Mekong foray, the holy grail.

One last hurrah

And so we embarked on our symbolic dash for the coast. The rustic air somehow tasted sweeter and the rumble of our Minsks’ had an almost melodious tone. The guidebook had been sparing in its compliments for Ba Dong but I ignored this, believing there were far greater forces at work here. Unfortunately, my divine assumptions proved incorrect. The Swedish volleyball team we had imagined playing on the beach was replaced by an old man staggering through the shallows, whilst the wafts of freshly barbequed prawns was instead the stench of faeces, radiating from the cage of a dejected-looking monkey.

Without doubt, Ba Dong was the most depressing beach I had ever been to. The so-called resort was a cluster of wooden shacks facing the sea and the only attraction was a primate who had been cruelly displayed in a cage twice its size. As the only tourists ever to have been so wholly lost, it was almost like another dimension, we were regarded by the iota of other visitors with intense curiosity. However, as soon as their engines were loud enough to convince us they could tackle the journey back to Ho Chi Minh we readied our bikes for departure. We had a 150km slug ahead of us and the thankless task of selling the bikes to someone with enough patience to even attempt to drive them. Jesus perhaps.

Clouds gathered ominously in the sky and the now serpentine road wound through paddy fields and into the horizon. I had no idea if there were enough mechanics in the world to facilitate our return journey, but this had been our salvation. The glinting hands of our Minsks had plucked our band from the tediousness of a typical holiday and placed us amongst the wispy mirages of celebrated journey makers such as Che Guevarra and Jack Kerouac.  At least that is what I would tell my parents when they asked me why I wasted $400 on a lumbering death trap which would have more chance of killing me than delivering me to a destination.


What do Guy Ritchie and raw salmon have in common? Find out when Christian Seiersen delves into his metaphorical pouch to present four film themes that are indistinguishable in likeness to Sushi, Japan’s national dish. 

Chicken Katsu- Chronicles of Narnia 

 

There is something eerily unnatural about sushi restaurants serving the fried chicken dish of Chicken Katsu, it’s like displaying the Beano comic strip at the Louvre. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken as much as the next mechanic. I just want it served in its natural habitat, resting in a bucket and presented by someone wearing a hair net. When it’s served in unfamiliar surroundings where the accompanying sauce is not made by Heinz, and to the serene twanging of the Shamisen- a traditional three-stringed instrument- you feel a cat has just rested a mauled pigeon at your feet. It could have been done so much better.   

 

I felt similarly after seeing The Chronicles of Narnia. When it comes to translating children’s literature into the ‘Twilight’ Zone of films- yes, even rugged vampires aren’t safe-it’s a case of counting the casualties. So who’s the ringleader, who’s responsible for deep-frying the metaphorical chicken? A mastermind, perhaps, propped by an empire of cartoons, loved by millions. A certain Walt Disney, a man obsessed with drawing racist mice. I digress, we’ll leave such matters to Cartoon Network. 

 

Granted, Walt himself wasn’t single-handedly responsible for the butchery of Narnia, he didn’t personally slip fake tan vouchers under the fabled Prince Caspian’s door. And, to be fair to Mickey Mouse, he straightened out when he met Minnie, but you get the idea. 

Think of classic children’s literature as No Man’s Land, venture too far and you risk a deadly salvo from entrenched film critics. Like the Somme, you may get the results on paper, but at what cost? Stick instead with films like Inspector Gadget where casualties are minimised or, in the case of strained political analogy, the Falklands War. 

Nigiri- Hugh Grant’s rom-coms  

 

With only a slab of rice and assorted topping to its name, Nigiri sushi was never the shiniest bauble on the Christmas tree. It’s more an innocuous red one, used to make up numbers. That’s not to say Nigiri doesn’t have its uses, it’s a steady winch to lower newcomers into the realms of Sushi or the reliable mule for Sushiites, whose adventurousness has been curbed by a recent bout of food poisoning. In movie terms, a Hugh Grant rom-com. Done so many times it could morph into a soap opera, even with the same name. 

 

With his inane politeness, “Oh Golly, I may have piddled on your lavatory seat” and elegant plume of floppy hair, he would be more at home on the Discovery Channel. A treacherous gibbon, perhaps, that charms the feathers off a bird before stealing their eggs. 

In fact David Attenborough should do a documentary on the untamed lion that is Hugh Grant’s acting career. Nomadic, he has roamed the Hollywood plains searching for the spectral oases of a thriller film or, dare I say, an Oscar nominee, only to plod dejectedly back to the Bridget Jones’ pride. 

Though I mock him, Hugh has been a cornerstone of the romantic comedy sector. If you will, the equivalent of a lift operator who has worked, unquestioning, for 50 years. When he bows out there will be many a thirty-something, saluting him with their Haagen-Dazs ice cream tub while watching a pimple-faced alternative. Something with Michael Cera.

  

Sashimi- Guy Ritchie gangster films 

Well ‘ard

 

On a sushi menu where flavours are often intertwined to achieve the supreme combination, the raw fish that is Sashimi holds no alliances. Like a renegade cop it doesn’t need partners; rice would slow it down, ask too many questions and seaweed would smother it. Sashimi works alone.

But such brash characterisation is not enough these days. Unlike the flickering era of black and white films, it is no longer sufficient to dress a bad guy in a blackened cape and have someone appear beforehand, wearing glasses to bolster the veneer of intelligence and saying, “trust me, this guy is well evil.” Nowadays Sashimi needs a genial cockney accent, a sharp tailor and a drinking spot in South London. It needs a part in a Guy Ritchie gangster film.

Some wonton destruction and sharp one-liners later, and Ritchie would have late night crime thrillers from Bravo queuing up to get a piece of this Sashimi, the new, raw talent from the wrong side of the tracks. Just look at what the director did for British footballer-cum-actor Vinnie Jones’ career or Hollywood hardman Jason Statham.

In the films Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie succeeds on a well-trodden path, making criminals likeable. Lock Stock saw his depiction of London’s largest marijuana dealers as a gaggle of hippies, who defend against intruders with air rifles. Now tell me Sashimi doesn’t need some Ritchie magic to accompany its stab at being professionally ‘well ‘ard’.

Maki- Shutter Island

 

Comprising raw fish wrapped in a layer of rice and then seaweed paper, Maki is a product of meticulous preparation. I like to imagine that each responsible chef is fresh from learning the trade in a Japanese training montage, packed with close-ups of their master raising his eyebrow quizzically and stroking a swan. Outlawed by the fast food nation, the band is forced to meet in abandoned houses that double as a fight club for Brad Pitt.

Although not conceived in similar circumstances, for a film constructed with equal flourishes of skill see recent blockbuster Shutter Island. The opening scene is a cinematic omen for things to come. Waves lash furiously against the island’s rocks, an atmospheric score is carved over the backdrop; we’re in thriller country and director Martin Scorsese is in his element. The Johnny Depp to Scorsese’s Tim Burton, the ever-prolific accomplice Leonardo DiCaprio is along for the ride and together they engineer a blitzkrieg of shocks, scares and anything else needed to convince you that investigating a lunatic asylum is a really poor idea.

With an increasingly raucous entourage of successful films and a respectable South African accent on his CV- accents can be the graveyard of stars, just ask John Wayne when he played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror- it would take a brave man to bet against DiCaprio not getting an Oscar soon. Especially after previous winner Adrien Brody bore the thespian torch for his compatriots by fronting the recent remake of Arnie classic Predator, hardly screen-shattering.


A Hedonist’s Guide to South East Asia

 

The infamous bucket cocktails

 Whether you’re ‘soul searching’ on a year off, cultivating a plume of dreadlocks, or an accountant-gone-wild, South-East Asia holds an endless banquet of hedonism, stuffed with marathon happy-hours and non-existent safety regulations. Here are some highlights.

Beach life. Nha Trang, Vietnam

Sailing club by day

If Shanghai is deemed the Paris of the East then surely the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang’s spangled high-rise hotels and riotous nightlife render it the Magaluf of the East? Nha Trang earned its debauched stripes during the Vietnam War where it was a stop-off for American soldiers on leave. It has since evolved and the Sailing Club, situated on the town’s prized 4km beach, is a launching pad for banana boating, paragliding and more.

By day an innocent sailing establishment, but come night the stabilizers are removed and Sailing Club becomes a popular nightspot with beach parties every Saturday. Elsewhere the backpacker hub Red Apple Bar serves up an imperial sized cocktail simply titled ‘the Bucket’, a multi-litre shrine to spirits. Pending a recovery, you can visit the nearby Vinpearl amusement park which, like Dr.Evil’s volcano lair, has its own island.

If you ever need to resurge from  the swirls of hedonism and add some culture to your diet, rent a motorcycle and head inland to experience the rugged Ho Chi Minh Highway, made famous by James ‘I wanna be forever young’ May and assorted Top Gear cronies. Alternatively, get your grill on at local hot-spot Lac Canh Restaurant which serves raw meat and fish marinated in traditional spices to be tossed onto your table-top bbq.

Hedonist rating: ***

In the tube. Vang Vieng, Laos

In the Tube

The four hour bus ride from Lao’s capital, Vientiane, to the hedonistic outpost of Vang Vieng is treacherous; the road winds tipsily through mountains while branches scrape against the bus like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Why is it then that I count myself more fortunate to have survived the tubing itself than this near-suicidal crusade?

For those not acquainted, tubing constitutes perching on an inflatable ring and offering yourself to the mercy of the river. As you float downstream clusters of flimsy wooden bars jut out, seemingly constructed by Ewoks because of the rope swings and zip-wires hanging menacingly from their skeletal rafters. Each ready to ensnare the drunken traveller.

Besides the $1 cocktail buckets and free shots of local whiskey, every bar has a unique feature, from beer pong to mud wrestling, to attract people. Sceptical? Then you can look forward to being roped in by the bartenders’ homemade lassos.

Staggeringly, this marathon bender is merely the warm up and night time sees the unveiling of bingeing establishments like the Bucket Bar. Where, with such slogans as “Get Bucked at the Fucket Bar,’ you know it’s not going to be an evening aperitif at the Grand Hyatt.

Hedonist rating: *****

Rambo Returns. Phonm Penh, Cambodia

Menus have a funny knack of legitimising things. In Cambodia’s capital, Phonm Penh, when you are confronted by a laminated sheet of paper in a cafe, offering opium tea, magic mushroom milkshakes and marijuana pizzas you feel like Pablo Escobar quantifying amounts for a drug run. Similarly, the nearby Air Borne shooting range has a menu wrought with guns ranging from Ak47s ($40 for 30 bullets) to the bone-shaking RPG Rocket Launcher($200 for 1 RPG), all available to shoot. Suddenly you become Rambo, equipping yourself for a solo mission to depose a sinister Asian dictator.

 A claustrophobic half-hour tuk-tuk drive from the city centre, the firing range is owned by the Cambodian military, meaning your gratuitous pumping of a 12-gauge shotgun is occasionally interrupted by camouflaged regiments marching past. Although you shoot at paper targets, off-menu requests can see the targets being replaced by livestock such as geese($10), cows($100) and even alligators. Well, it is one alternative to the zoo.

Back in the city, you can drown such memories in Sharky’s Bar, the expat den of decadence has a long-standing drinking challenge to sink your teeth into. To finish three hollowed-out mortar rounds, each containing 12 separate shots, in one night. Side-effects may vary.

Hedonist rating: ****

 

Lunar gathering .Koh Phangan, Thailand

Worshipped by witches, a friend of the werewolves and, in the case of Koh Phangan, the full moon is an excuse to get biblically drunk. Its imminent arrival heralds the trafficking of face-pounding sound systems and an exodus of 20,000 intrepid travellers to the small Thai island. With local hotels capacity touching 5,000 book months ahead for accommodation, the ever-fashionable Cocohut is a good starting bet. Otherwise be prepared for a night on the sand, where the morning aftermath is the stuff of Omaha Landing, Dunkirk.

On the hallowed ground of Haad Rin beach, professional partiers gather around the paint stations to get kitted out before entering the melee, money strapped to their chests like grenades. Besides the mandatory team of international DJs, you can expect some blazing entertainment in the form of professional fire-twirlers, jugglers and a barrage from an old acquaintance, the cheap cocktail bucket.  Anyone looking to dabble in the realm of narcotics be wary, all is not as it seems and the ‘happy pill’ you’re taking could be bovine steroids or, even worse, the red pill from the Matrix- then you’d be in all kinds of shit.

Hedonist rating: ****


Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam’s industrial capital 

On the road

  Every day hordes of motorcycles migrate across the concrete plains of Ho Chi Minh city, writhing in a demonic waltz with regal plumes of exhaust  and carrying anything from extended families to scores of live geese.       

The glittering legions

  Thanks, in part, to its  simplistic design cues, Honda enjoys a decisive monopoly over the motorcycle  industry, if such a term as industry can be gifted to the underground warren of wheeler-dealing that constitutes  buying a motorcycle. In the midst of such unadulterated chaos, our group would have some difficulty tracking down a band of suitably iconic bikes to serve on our proposed motorcycle trip around Vietnam, let alone ones whose exhaust pipes were not attached with blu-tack.       

The fallout from the Vietnamese war had birthed a litter of seedy bars which had been reared in grubby clumps across the city, the most prestigious of which is the aptly named Apocalypse Now, the seemingly ideal starting ground for the search.       

Between the practiced gaze of the resident working staff, I spotted a wizened veteran occupying a corner table with the pseudo-magnitude of a failed sea-captain. Having heard our predicament, he took a dramatic sip of his umbrella-enamoured cocktail before uttering a name whose very mention sent local motorcycle dealers scurrying to the road-side noodle bars from whence they came. Kevin, something of a spectre in the city’s motorcycle industry but undoubtedly the Mcdaddy and someone who would resurface later in our travels .      

With no direct access into the bowels of Kevin’s operation, we instead met a sprightly American duo who were willing to sell and had returned from leading a group of seven Minsk motorcycles up the fabled Ho Chi Minh Highway, a popular war-time route running up the spine of the country and one made famous in an episode of Top Gear. One of the duo’s carefully sculpted pony tail and ample girth were a nostalgic nod to his home country’s iconic cartoon character, the Comic Book Guy. 

A king amongst men

However, whilst such apparel would have condemned him to a nomadic life of certain ridicule back in the states, his exodus to Vietnam had bore fresh pastures. Now, rather than been viewed as an accessory for an unemployed addict of Warcraft, his hair was the garb of Greek mythology and he posed confidently on the street before us, a champion, a king amongst men.   

We assembled in a small cafe to do business and, as the duo’s Vietnamese attaché paced outside like an attack dog, I considered our options. Fortunately mandatory insurance for vehicles was a concept as unfamiliar to the Vietnamese as multi-party elections, but what we were doing was undoubtedly illegal and the fact none of our group had ever set foot on a motorcycle’s gear lever rendered our inevitable task of evading policemen an arduous one. What’s more, a recent visit to Vietnamese A&E and some painful stitches from a scooter accident had taught me that Vietnamese drivers are a ruthless bunch, Vietnam clocks four motorcycle fatalities a day, and riding through a city is not as easy as the video game Grand Theft Auto would have you believe.  

But none of this mattered now, there were four Minsks slumbering in the cavernous dark of a subterranean parking lot, waiting for us. 

Sleeping beauties

For those not acquainted with such testosterone-fuelled biking jargon as ‘Minsk,’ (essentially our position five minutes before purchasing the aforementioned vehicles) the Minsk is a bulky throwback to the glory days of communist Russia, when commissars roamed the countryside on them, herding peasants.  Years later, a wall collapsed, a Macdonald’s opened in Moscow and the Minsks found themselves exiled to the sculpted hills of Northern Vietnam where they were adopted by the communist-resilient North Vietnamese as a sentimental reminder of the ideology they had fought so bitterly for… and to carry grain. 

The sculpted hills of Sapa, North Vietnam

 When we were introduced, I noticed our bikes had been stripped to near skeletal remains, no doubt by the frugal innovation of some of Ho Chi Minh’s most dedicated mechanics, and crucial parts like wing mirrors and headlamps had been whored out to Honda Wave motorcycles across the city. My bike had been further castrated by a smothering of sickly pink paint and now lay shivering next to the phallic shrines of motorcycles that crowned the garage. 

It took a further four days and endless crusades across the city in search of mechanics before our bikes all started at the same time. Without functioning mufflers the occasion was a sonic recreation of the eruption of Krakota, the engines’ roars spewed across the road, easily drowning out the insectile drone of passing traffic. With our worldly possessions strapped hastily to the back like refugees, we fastened our $5, and undoubtedly polystyrene, helmets and readjusted our goggles. 

 

  The open road stretched before us. Well, that and the glittering legions of Vietnamese motorcyclists, polishing their headlights in anticipation having scented fresh meat on the early morning haze.


With the world at their feet, what do the globe’s richest splash their cash on?


Elvis once bought a ranch and then horses, saddles, leather chaps and hats for himself and all his entourage just so that he could play at being a cowboy for a bit, while the bar stools on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht were covered in whale foreskin. Yup, life on planet fame can lead to some pretty peculiar purchases. So what of the latest generation and their most outlandish acts of ostentation? Read on.

Sheikh this! (Sultan of Brunei)

What kind of man pays RMB12.6 million to his badminton coach? The Sultan of Brunei, of course, he of a 1,788 room mansion, RMB137 billion Boeing 747 replete with gold plated furniture and a fleet of 5,000 luxury cars, including 500 Rolls-Royces (during the 1990s, his family accounted for half of all Rolls-Royce purchases) and a racing car driven by every Formula 1 World Drivers Champion since the 1980 Formula One season. With the riches of a 600-year-old Muslim dynasty behind him, his notorious spending sprees dwarf those of anybody else on Earth – he once blew RMB20 billion in a month. And all this from the ruler of an area smaller than the municipality of Shanghai.

Transatlantic takeaway (Beyonce Knowles)

We’re all partial to a cheeky donor kebab after a night out, but judging from the lengths she took to get a takeaway, pop diva Beyonce Knowles’ curry cravings know no bounds. At a New York party in 2004 she ordered a meal from an Indian restaurant in rural Surrey, England. The meal was then flown 4,820 km by helicopter and plane, before reaching its destination. And all for the princely sum of RMB40,000.

Konvict diamonds (Akon)

In the battle of the bling that dominates the world of hip-hop, R&B crooner Akon dazzled the competition in 2007 when he bought a diamond mine in South Africa. But the purchase coincided with the release of Blood Diamond, the Oscar-nominated film portraying the diamond trade as brutal and deadly, leaving Akon in a spot of bother.

The dog house (Paris Hilton)

It’s no secret the Hilton-heiress likes slobbering on a meaty bone, but showering her canine entourage with imitation brands like ‘Chewy Vuitton’? Clearly somebody needs to be put on a leash… In 2009 she even built a RMB2.2 million, two-floor, 300 square foot property to house her nine-strong pack of pooches who, with names such as Tinkerbelle and Prince Baby Bear, get to enjoy crystal chandeliers and fully-furnished wardrobes. We all know she’s into doggy-style, but that takes the biscuit.

Rich bitch (Leona Helmsley)

While we’re on the subject of filthy rich fleabags, when billionaire real estate mogul and hotelier Leona ‘Queen of Mean’ Helmsley conked it she left two of her grandkids absolutely nothing, but her Maltese mutt, oh… US$12 million. Nine-year-old Trouble now lives in Florida with an annual fee of US$100,000 for full-time security, US$8,000 for grooming and US$1,200 for food, while her guardian gets US$60,000. World’s wealthiest dog? Nope – in 1991, a German countess left the entirety of her $80 million estate to her German Shepherd. Barking mad.

Eclipsing the rest (Roman Abramovich)

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich now has a new floating fortress. With an alleged RMB7.3 billion price tag, his 540 ft long über-yacht ‘Eclipse’ boasts two helipads, two swimming pools and a disco. It’s also armor plated and fitted with bullet-proof glass, a missile defense system and an anti-paparazzi shield in the form of lasers that sweep the surroundings and fire a bolt of light right at any camera they detect to obliterate any photograph taken of it.

Water of Life (Madonna) 

As Mel Gibson and the Hoff will gladly tell you, there’s nothing wrong with splashing some cash on a drink or 22. Questions arise, however, when the drink is bottled water and the amount splashed is RMB70,000 a month. In 2008 the world learned of pop queen Madonna’s drinking problem, where she insists on shipping crates of ‘specially-blessed’ Kabbalah water to wherever she is staying on the globe. The holy H2O is being touted as her age-defying secret; we still think it’s the bone marrow of African babies.

Ghetto Bond (Puff Daddy)

“The name’s Bond, James Bond muthaf***a!” Nope, we can’t hear it working either, but professional plonker P-Diddy thought it had a ring to it. Spurred on by his cameo role in CSI Miami, he flew out to the south of France in 2008 and spent RMB5 million making an audition tape to become the first ‘black Bond’? So much for his self-proclaimed title of ‘Bad Boy for Life.’ Can’t argue with his choice of Bond girls, mind…


 
Now peddling his trade beneath the neon lights of Shanghai,  Christian Seiersen uncovers five reasons why local cinemas may never show a Latin American film.
 
1. They Are Thirty Times Cheaper on DVD
Being a traditionally tech-savy nation, China is more than acquainted with the art of knock-off DVDs. Should a LatAm film breach Chinese screens, you can guarantee the cinema owner’s cousin is in the audience, sporting a camera and waving on the late-comers as they cling guiltily to their popcorn. This is only required if the film survives being passed around the production office like a cheap bottle of Scotch. Sometimes temptation proves too great and said film makes its way into the realms of DVD prematurely, courtesy an entrepreneurial employee.
These films can be identified by the occasional flash of writing, threatening, evidently unsuccessfully, any employee who leaks the movie with crucifixion, or whatever it is they do in China. Being able to buy such films as La Cienaga, a cutting insight into middle-class Argentinian life, for the princely sum of 60 rupees is a cheaper option than visiting one of Shanghai’s cinemas, which can cost as much as 1800 rupees. The only snag is the powers that be have recently outlawed fake DVDs, as the Shanghai World Expo approaches, forcing them underground. Nowadays, to come by such services you have to enter into hidden chambers, which are located in rebel shops and concealed behind a row of unassuming shelves like a haunted mansion. Alternatively, resembling a recession-hit businessman in 1930s America, nomadic salesmen flog their wares from leather briefcases.
2. They Are Food and Drink for the Censors

In a country where Facebook and Youtube have fallen to the axe of restriction, it would be a coup d’etat to see the likes of the sexually-explicit Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También saunter onto the screen. Due to the Chinese quota of 20 foreign films a year and a ban on any sexual content.

In my opinion, in order to strike up a cordial relationship with the local government, LatAm films should take a leaf out of recent blockbuster 2012’s book. It cast China as humanity’s last hope against a barrage of worldwide floods and even showed an American officer saying that only China could build the arks fast enough. Take that Google, and the Chinese box office—2012 broke the Chinese record for highest-grossing film.

Unfortunately, Latin America has yet to incorporate such political shrewdness into their cinematic game. It would be difficult to see a China-friendly ending to Brazilian slum movie Cidade de Deus that pictures the Triads entering the favelas through a flurry of doves, restoring political and moral order. There is the possibility of Cuban leader Fidel Castro rediscovering his international insolence and seeing China as the new phoenix of communism, having emerged from Russia’s ashes. However, this time—due to trivial matters of world security—he would not be offering Cuba’s golden beaches to store missiles, but as exotic sets for communist propaganda films. It’s cinematic guerrilla warfare!

3. The Government would be left red-faced

Having lived in China for two months, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is a land of closet communists. Where, I ask, are the ranks of villagers partaking in synchronized exercise routines, or the Stalinist propaganda posters depicting a muscular worker with a sickle? Nowhere. The political gears are remarkably lethargic; there’s the odd policeman being accosted by old women about fronting a municipal crack down on chicken theft, but beyond that, not a lot.

 Though I gloat of my immunity, I have probably made a gross misjudgment, and, as I poke fun at their country, three of the CCP’s finest menfolk are tunneling beneath my desk to burst dramatically from the floorboards the moment I make another unsubtle communist reference.

 In Shanghai, the only political incitement I have experienced first-hand is a crazed cyclist, wielding a megaphone and campaigning down side streets, hollering political slogans. Therefore, I question what reception politically-charged films such as the Argentinean Diarios de Motocicleta, an insight into the early life of communist pin-up Che Guevara, would have in China. (I can feel the floorboards shuddering.) Though it was born out of brimstone and fire, Chinese communism nowadays is more discreet, and to show the unwashed masses, all 1.3 billion of them, stirring scenes of Che cruising through the South American countryside? Well, that’s asking for a revolution.

4. They’d Threaten the Peace

Shanghai is in the enviable position of being one of the safest cities in the world. Gang members here prefer to sing Bryan Adams in one of the city’s many karaoke bars than deal with trifling matters like extortion. It is a remarkably peaceful city. Unlike in India, you would have to literally put your foot through a Chinese cab driver’s windscreen to rouse him into beeping his horn.

 So, we have this peaceful and zen setting, comparable to a rural British town. Then throw onto this a Latin American movie like, oh I don’t know, Elite Squad. This Brazilian bash-up follows a specialist police squad who are tasked with fighting crime in Rio de Janeiro’s slums. There isn’t just a spray of bullets, it’s a monsoon! Suddenly the previously-mentioned crazed cyclist will trade in his megaphone for an AK-47 and the police will have more on their hands than karaoke bar rap battles.

No, I think playing it safe with national icon Jackie Chan being thrown into side-splitting movie scenarios is a safer option. One such sortie is the The Spy Next Door, where Chan plays an ex-CIA officer who has to babysit his girlfriend’s kids. Hilarity most certainly does not ensue.

5. They’d Scare the People

Despite becoming officially atheist in 2002, China has retained a strong sense of superstition. Because the number eight is lucky, phone numbers that are well-endowed with the lucky digit sell for ten times the price of unlucky numbers. Not that anyone would, but if, as a guest, you brought the gift of a clock to a Chinese family it is deemed a catastrophic insult, as clocks are associated with death. Perhaps the popular story of Peter Pan, and its prophetic inclusion of a ticking clock for Captain Hook, had more of a profound effect than had first been imagined.

Therefore, it is difficult to see such an audience taking kindly to Mexican-directed film El Laberinto del Fauno, which is wrought with fantasy scenes of talking fawns and a creature that holds its eyeballs in its palms. Sure, the film does portray the Spanish dictator General Franco’s right-wing Nationalist government as being ruthless, nice start, but an eyeball-palmed monster? That’s going to cause a riot, or really good business for opticians.

Having said that, a LatAm film which could have success challenging Chinese culture is another Mexican offering Amores Perros, and specifically one of its stories about dog fighting in Mexico. Having possibly the most effeminate taste in pet dogs, Chinese men could benefit from the idea that dogs can be larger than a ferret and have other appeals than be dressed-up to look like Paris Hilton’s canine entourage.

For the next two months, Christian Seiersen will be MIA as he travels around South-East Asia. Catch up with his travels on www.christianseiersen.wordpress.com.

In the Land of Closet Communists



Wandering through the metropolis, you could be forgiven for mistaking Shanghai for New York, or even Tokyo. Traditional buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball of modernity, replaced by the lethal smile of George Clooney and his Nespresso compatriot. Starbucks crown the corner of any street deemed sufficiently affluent, and the well-heeled scramble through the city, in search of the next big thing. Shanghai is a city of superlatives, the tallest hotel, the busiest port and in a few decades, if economic predictions are to be believed, the richest city.

Despite a veneer of Westernisation, established Chinese traditions remain. When selecting a mobile phone number, I was confronted by a cardboard sign with lists of numbers scrawled on. The phone numbers endowed with more 8s were being auctioned at ten times the price of numbers that were not gifted with such a lucky digit. Without wishing to anger the phone spirits into a storm of promotional texts, I went for the second cheapest number.

Elsewhere, the supernatural haunts the mind of many a local. Working for That’s Shanghai magazine, I have noticed that the government are happy to let all manner of profanaties swagger through the censorship net, but venture into the realms of ghosts and the axe of restriction is wielded. Whilst this may be a minor inconvenience, I count myself fortunate not to work in the magazine office of my German flatmate. Here, writers ply their trade under the mechanical gaze of a network of security cameras installed around the office, including the bogs.

Embodying the Chinese tradition of copying, Shanghai is known for its fake markets. Here, you can trawl through laminated booklets of Lacoste trainers, Prada handbags and Mont Blanc pens. After hearing my order, the shopkeeper barked commands to his daughter- and apparently his sherpa – who then ran the gauntlet to an offshore warehouse. After a twenty minute wait in the company of the owner, populated by sporadic head-nods and nervous laughter, I saw her return, clutching the sealed bin bag as if it were the last child on earth.

Others are more ostentatious with their wares. Equipped with a generic shirt template, a sowing set and a magazine of GQ, they have amassed a collection of luxury brand shirts that would rival the polished showrooms of Regent Street. However, with the lingering shadow of the law hanging above, brands that would attract the attention of the police- such as Armani – have to be fished out of hiding in a closet at the back.

A true spectacle of the fake market is the technique adopted by its female sales assistants. Having come from India, I was expecting a seething wall of gesticulating palms lining the doorway of each shop. Instead, with bowed heads, they view you nervously until you have passed their store before offering a lethargic murmur of ‘Shirts?’

The fashion offerings have their perks but, in order to fully appreciate Chinese talent, you have to engage with the pirate DVD market. The day a film is released onto the cinema, you can guarantee there is a concealed video camera amongst the audience. Stuffed into paper wallets, newly-released DVDs can be bought for a pound, and my find of the trip was the entire ten seasons of Friends for the princely sum of two pounds. There are, of course, roadside establishments offering cheaper prices, but the bargain-hunter risks falling foul of some moderate film-tampering. Said movies are played out in some unknown and lively dialogue, whilst others are entirely different films, with only a similar genre to connect them to the original.

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They may have stapled their name onto the export market and shown America the two fingers, but China still have some ground to make on the nightlife front, if they are to stake an effective claim on world supremacy.

Having lived in China’s flagship- Shanghai -for a month, and with a wizened liver to show for it, I have familiarized myself with the etiquette displayed by Chinese locals, when thrown into the tumultuous grounds of a nightclub. Unfortunately for said clubs, they remain the bastard child of the night, and any true Shanghainese is never seen anywhere else than a KTV Lounge, where you can rent out private rooms to perform classic crooners.

In their gilded hallways, these seedy numbers have resuscitated the dying breed of karaoke from the Wednesday nights at Glaswegian pubs. All to the euphoric reception of the Asian audience.

Befitting the ceremony that Shanghai pays to karaoke, I was led to our private room by the scantily-clad hostesses, whose faces were masked with practised abandon. A Chinese Bryan Adams wafted from other rooms and, peering through the door’s window, I could make out the diamond ear-pieces that marked their wearers as underlings of the Chinese mafia, a prolific client.

In the spangled grounds of a Shanghainese night club, you don’t require the blessing of money to come by a microphone and, if you have the backing of an authentic title, the mike is yours. Parading under the pseudonym of ‘ MC Natural Disaster,’ I was afforded a half hour monologue before being unceremoniously faded out by the DJ.

My set remained, thankfully, unmolested, and I was fortunate not to come into contact with the uniformed guards lurking in the shadows of the club. On the government payroll, they inspect the dance floor from beneath their commissar cap. A quiet reminder of their bosses standing.

Even with the benefit of a microphone, you would do well to lure a number of locals from the refuge of their tables. Under the erratic gaze of the club’s lights, they roll away their time with small dice games, where- with gambling illegalised -the stakes are a reluctant sip of whisky and green tea. No distinction is made between a restaurant and a night club, and you will often see someone tucking into a slice of watermelon- inches away from their dancing companions.

Not every girl has the benefit of this sanctuary and, with the terra incognita of the dance floor out of the question, they prefer instead to perch by the bar. Owing to their cold impassiveness, they morph into an extension of the table-top and, unless you are a mobile phone game of Tetris, there is no hope.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who’ve been educated in foreign fields. Some can be identified by a trophy nose piercing and others, by their familiarity with Chinese novelist Jung Chang- an outspoken critic of Mao. One who would disagree  with the general teaching in Chinese schools that Mao was 80 percent right, but fervent supporters of the chairman can still be found.

If this is a matter of contention amongst the Shanghainese, then something which does unite them is the shared curiosity of my Danish flatmate. All of 6ft 4 and gifted with a playful crop of blonde hair, in the warren of underground bars, he has become the apple of many a local businessman’s eye.

Regarded with the lofty bewilderment of a lesser-deity, he has a spot saved for him at a local bar, nestled between the wives of small business-owners. From this position, in the haze of cheap cigarette smoke, he can engage in dice combat with his Asian adversaries whilst dispersing, when he sees fit, small witticisms to the giggled delight of his female companions.

Shanghai nightlife is what you make of it, but it is never short of boring.