Thursday, 22 May 2014

Singapore Nightlife is Better than Bangkok's

Here's my second Palm Oil column for Coconuts which appeared here: 

ZOUK-OUT ZOMBIES ATTACK BANGKOK                                     Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi

My first night out in Bangkok saw me sucked into the maw of the original Thermae, the all-night low-life last-ditch speakeasy of Sukhumvit Road. It was the second night of three without sleep (the last spent careening into ditches and trees as my mate dozed and nodded at the wheel of our jeep on the way to the most remote beaches of Koh Phangan and our first Full Moon Party; the first, saucer eyed at a rave party in Hong Kong) and a suitably surreal haze surrounded proceedings.

I popped my Singapore nightlife cherry around the same time, perhaps even in the same year, back in the misty mid-1990s. While I have no idea where the evening began or which hotels, bars, clubs and other establishments were traversed, I distinctly remember ending up at Top Ten, atop the Four Floors of Whores, as Orchard Towers is famously known.

Two maniacal grinning brothers, bald Thai twins, were the DJs at Top Ten and they played the ubiquitous commercial pan-Asian grating disco-house of the day very loud, and very fast. Super Maniac Bros. had heavy smoke machine trigger fingers, and near white outs were common. Through this swirling laser maelstrom, a great whirring and grinding of gears would periodically announce the descent of the Top Ten mascot, a Kafka-esque red-eyed nightmare insect which would drop from its ceiling lair to twitch for a spell above the teeming dance floor.

Both places were packed with mostly young (mostly) women; office girls making rent, maids making whoopee, hardened hookers with thousand-baht stares, rogue ladyboys, and the occasional throwback to the Vietnam War era, when both establishments were born and began swinging. Each is an enduring emblem of its city's nocturnal extremes; the infrared of the nightlife spectrum, occasionally ultra-violent.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Honkers, Bangers, Singers, Gaggers and some greased palms

My new weekly column for Coconuts is called Palm Oil. It pertains to Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore - Asia's spoiled, pouty problem children - not necessarily in that order. Each column comes with a piece of Insta-Art created on my iphone. The original appeared here:


Cities are bitches. You can't live without them, and sometimes you can't live in them. In the case of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore, the bitchery begins as soon as one member of this bizarre love triangle leaves the room.

Like fickle teenage 'besties' or insta-net frenemies, the three cities most right-thinking people would consider the best in this part of the world are constantly at each others' throats.
Sometimes two gang up on the odd man out – Hong Kong and Bangkok laughing at Nanny State Singapore, with its vast unseen police force, the chewing gum fatwah that was, and a government shagging subsidy to save the population, plus bonus national holiday to celebrate “Business Time,” as Flight of the Conchords smirkingly sang in singlets and socks.

Singapore and Hong Kong whisper behind their hands about Bangkok Dangerous, a seething hotbed of bent cops and twisted robbers, defrocked monks and befrocked blokes, itinerant elephants, amputee alms-seekers and unfettered monkey business.

Bangkok and Singapore gossip over the border fence about the latest “bus uncle” to melt down or seize up in Hong Kong's unforgiving social crucible and pressure cooker, a slow chemical reduction that boils people down to their base elements, all burn out, rust and oxide pangs.

Speaking of burn-outs, welcome to Palm Oil. It is my new weekly column for Coconuts, a voice in the social media wilderness, a scream in cyberspace that no one will hear, a manifesto for the metropolitan Everyman, and an accusing finger pointed –or middle finger unfurled – at the messes, excesses and unsightly excrescences of the bodies politic of this fine trio of towns which for two decades have been my backyard.

What qualifies me to comment on such matters? Not a thing, excepting the editor's indulgence, an opinionated nature, and a decade apiece living in Hong Kong and Bangkok with frequent side trips to Singapore, mostly while committing various acts of journalism.

The Lion City. City of Angels. Fragrant Harbour. A trinity, a trilogy, sometimes a tragedy. Sometimes farce. Singers, Bangers and Honkers. It sounds like a long-forgotten union for entertainers, maybe some ambulance-chasing law firm in a seedier part of town. Pay the piper, pay your dues. Better call Saul.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

And now for something completely different

As some of my friends will have noticed, my new hobby is making bite-sized chunks of Insta-Art with the amazing arsenal of iPhone photography and digital manipulation apps available. The erstwhile Philistine and untalented oaf can now buy a smartphone, drop a few dollars on some apps and annoy their friends and family on a regular basis with their new Dali or Van Gogh persona.

I used to paint badly in oils as a young man, and my thing was the most English landscapes imaginable. I would spend hours and days producing crude simulacra of Turner skies and Constable countrysides.

Of course, this was supposing I wasn't in the kitchen working on my KISS portraits. I no longer remember why KISS had to be painted in the kitchen - save for perhaps the alliterative connection, as a gift to my future writer self - while my cod Constables and crudely turned-out Turners were done in my bedroom.

( I'm not sure why KISS and dead Englishmen were my biggest artistic inspirations as a young Australian growing up in Townsville, either. A spot of reverse snobbery or some proto-cultural cringe perhaps. The Australian countryside was often parched, red and dusty, occluded by gluts of gum trees, the smooth white trunks reflecting and intensifying the fracturing crystalline light and the cruel sun that made us squint and gave us skin cancer. The sun in Australia doesn't have a proper ozone layer to keep it in check. Like some lair or lout, it is off the leash, out to lunch and on the lash. It was harsh and hot and hard enough to live in and under, let alone to want to paint. )

My iPhone stuff is a fair distance from hay wains and bruised skies of my youth. My art, like my life, now dwells in the screeching mosh pit of the subconscious, with darting runs down the rabbit holes of the fantastic and through the looking glasses and lobster telephones of the surreal.

The illuminati meeting of wacky hash tags and incantations accompanying most of my Insta-art posts on Facebook and Instagram are simply a list of the apps used and a few groups for fans of surrealism.  

I've posted some of what I think are my best Insta-art moments here for posterity and your viewing pleasure, pain, feigned interest or vehement repudiation. 

Some of the stuff is a bit dark, but it's done in a spirit of fun and discovery and to fuel my new fascination with symmetry, which is a portal into some very strange worlds once you figure out where to find them and how to look. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Boys From Bangkok

This story ran recently in the Sunday Morning Post in Hong Kong. It's the story of four gentlemen who have forgotten more than most of us know about movies and television, and a lazy Sunday afternoon spent on reminiscences, predictions and looking back, rarely in anger, at their various careers on stage, silver screen and goggle box. 

'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' was a game which captured the popular imagination for a time. The universal law that underpinned it was that you could link any celebrity back to Kevin Bacon in six moves or fewer, thus illustrating the incestuous and tangled web that connects the entertainment world, or perhaps just the ubiquity of the Footloose star.

Between the four gentlemen gathered in Bangkok's Friese-Green Club, a private cinema club in Sukumvit Soi 22, one or perhaps two moves would do the trick.

Collectively, the fellows sipping iced water and exchanging the latest showbiz banter, have done just about every conceivable job in the film, television and theatrical worlds in the course of four very different but equally colourful careers. They have mixed it with the best of Hollywood and European cinema, but choose to base themselves in Bangkok, at least when their peripatetic work schedules allow.

All are true believers that the Asian Century which is upon us marks this part of the world as the place to be for opportunities, challenges and buzz, bullish that the best is yet to come for the silver screen in the Land of Smiles. And each has a well-stocked supply of anecdotes about their lives in entertainment that would keep the most casual cinephile enthralled for hours.

Greenlight Films boss Les Nordhauser, Soho Films partner Mark Hammond, special effects wizard Kevin 'Big Nuts' Chisnall, and ace production designer, published author and self-professed 'blues shouter' Jim Newport have the easy cameraderie of men who have been in the trenches together.