HONG KONG – “Pink elephants on our street” – Jason Y. Ng

JASON Y. NG is a freelance writer who raves and rants about HONG KONG and the quirky, endearing people with whom he shares the tiny island.  Born in the city, he spends much of his time there, but regularly visits TORONTO.  His father lives here.  Jason writes a biweekly column “As I See It” at http://www.jasonyng.blogspot.com/ and you can find his newest blog – “The Real Deal” at http://www.realdealhk.blogspot.com

From Jason’s book “Hong Kong State of Mind: a city that doesn’t blink” http://www.blacksmithbooks.com . . .
“On any given day at any given time, close your eyes and all you will hear are the roaring diesel engines of our double-decker buses.  Hong Kong joins Britain, Russia, Singapore and Sri Lanka in the exclusive club of insane countries that still let these urban dinosaurs roam their streets.”

“During the steamy summer months from May through September, these old clunkers become heaters-on-wheels.  Trapped by traffic lights, they form a wall of metal that blocks air flow and raises the outdoor temperature by several degrees.  And because the massive vehicles need extra muscles to climb those hilly routes, they are fitted with much more powerful – and thus much noisier – engines than their European manufacturers have intended.”

“Traffic accidents are a daily occurence in Hong Kong, but those involving a double-decker are almost guaranteed to be sensational: a two-storey bus flipping over a sharp turn like a fish lying on its side, riders being thrown out of the upper deck like human cannonballs, or the entire roof of the vehicle ripped off by a building protrusian like a convertible going to the beach.  “Pink elephants are stampeding down our streets but no one is saying a word.”

Soho House, a private club for the ‘radically creative’, comes to TORONTO

Bishop’s Block, now being reconstructed behind the Shangri-la Hotel/condo complex on Adelaide Street at Simcoe, is about to become SOHO HOUSE, an international club for the uber-creative.  There are established branches in Berlin, West Hollywood, Miami and London among others; upcoming –  Mumbai, Chicago, Istanbul and TORONTO.  Members must have a legit affiliation with each city’s arts community; executives of companies that use creatives need not apply.


“Rainbow Culvert” – Don Valley Parkway’s famous access tunnel

Thousands of northbound TORONTO motorists see its rainbow colours every day.  Constructed in 1962, painted by an unsung artist, the Rainbow Tunnel is probably the most-viewed culvert in the world.  In 2008, it even made the cover of a Tate Britain publication.

Artist PETER DOIG was born in Edinburgh, lived in Montreal in the mid-1980’s, and is especially known for abstract landscape paintings.  Our rainbow culvert apparently caught his eye, and in 2001 he painted it.  “Country Rock” was part of an exhibition – “Spectral Landscapes” – at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen Street West, organized by the National Gallery of Canada.  The culvert itself was recently repainted.

CBC radio’s traffic reporter, JIM CURRAN, retires after 40 years on the air

After 4 decades of reporting on TORONTO’s traffic chaos, JIM CURRAN is retiring at the end of March.  He’s the ‘king of split shifts’ – doing both the early morning drive-in (5:30 am) and the afternoon (3:30 pm) drive-out broadcasts.  A Ryerson University alumnus, Jim is a man who loves radio broadcasting and the CBC.  His reassuring voice will be missed.

<JIM CURRAN making stained glass, 2011>

“The Toronto Subway Song” – Ozzie Williams Band/1950

Unlike Paris, New York or Kalamazoo, songs about our city are few and far between.  But we’ll always have ‘The Toronto Subway Song‘, written 62 years ago and recorded on the London label.  This little tune celebrates the grand opening of the Yonge Street Line, Canada’s first subway.  Composer: Mel Hamill; sung by Betty Carr & Charles Baldour, with the Ozzie Williams Band; recorded 01/01/1950.

Now have you heard what’s going on in Toronto?
They’re digging deeper, deeper, deeper every day.
Though proprietors are raving while they’re tearing up the paving,
The racket is nerve-wracking, so they say.
And though the noise may be distressing, so construction is progressing,
And we can’t afford a further delay
So with the help of you and me and the blessed T.T.C.
We’ll soon have a real subway.

Yes, we’re gonna have a subway in Toronto.
We gotta get the working man home pronto.
So bear the noise with a smile and in a little while
We’ll be riding in a new subway.

Now it’s generally conceded that a subway here is needed
For the people have to get to work each day.
We have men in Deseronto, girls who live in North Toronto
And to all of them we have just this to say:
Modern history’s in the making with this hallowed undertaking
And Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You may find it’s aggravating, but be sure it’s worth the waiting
For we’ll soon have a real subway.

Now with modern engineering dear old Yonge Street’s disappearing
By the truckload they are hauling it away (INTERJECTION: Stay away!)
Excavation so extensive will doubtless be expensive
But who cares about expenses anyway? (INTERJECTION: anyway)
Though we may have open Sundays there are plenty of blue Mondays
When the pile drivers start every day
The workmen do the swearing while the public do the staring
And we’ll soon have a real subway. (INTERJECTION: Yes, sir!)

Repeat CHORUS, then:
Don’t take the streetcar,
Riding in a new subway!

<PAINTING OPPOSITE – Lily Furedi – “Subway”, 1934, Smithsonian American Art Museum>

MANCHESTER – a ‘tamed and gentrified’ industrial giant & a fun place to visit

MANCHESTER’s boom was brought on by textile manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution.  It earned the nickname ‘Cottonopolis’ and became the world’s first industrialized city, and the Empire’s principal factory town.  In the city centre, Victorian-era office buildings still dominate many streets.

MANCHESTER2MANCHESTER4Laurence S. Lowry painted the industrial districts of Manchester and Lancashire.  A gallery and theatre in the Salford Quays area celebrates his urban landscape paintings, inhabited by “matchstick men” in smoking environments.

MANCHESTER6Salford was a principal dockyard of the Manchester Ship Canal (which is just as important as it sounds).  A major factory town and inland port, the City of Salford is now part of Greater Manchester.  The Quays have been redeveloped with bridges, the northern branch of the Imperial War Museum, BBC Sport Headquarters, the Lowry Theatre and Gallery Complex, and condominium apartment buildings.  Salford Quays is reachable by electric tram from Central Manchester

MANCHESTER is probably best-known in Canada for the television series ‘Coronation Street’.  It’s been on the air for multiple decades and is still going strong to this day.  <PICTURED ABOVE – Ena Sharples, Martha Longhurst & Minnie Caldwell at the Rover’s Return Pub>

RETRO ONTARIO – a new website celebrates Ontario’s popular culture

ED CONROY, a collector of fun ephemera, has opened a website celebrating Ontario’s televisual past – television, radio, posters, photography, personalities and ephemera of all kinds.  It’s well worth a look at http://www.retrontario.com, and if you can add to the online collection, way to go!  <PHOTO BELOW – BLINKY, the talking police car, now retired; and TVOntario’s POLKAROO>