Darlinghurst: Week 96

Polaroid of Florentijn Hofman's sculpture 'Rubber Duck' on display in Darling Harbour

As soon as the clock hit 5:15pm I was out of the office.

It was my friends’ last night in Sydney so I had all the motivation I needed for a Wednesday Night Out. From work I rushed through the fringes of Haymarket towards the trendy and vibrant neighborhood of Darlinghurst.

Our first stop was at the delightfully eclectic Govinda’s.  It was part Indian buffet (voted Best Vegetarian Restaurant 2011), part movie theater, and part meditation/chanting/cooking class center.

I ordered a lassi and piled my plate with creamy potato curries, lentil pies, cauliflower pakoras, rice, poppadums, and salad. A liberal dose of yogurt and a bowl of dhal soup rounded out the course.  Just after fulfillment but right before complete overindulgence I paid my bill- only $19.80. Because we ate dinner, the cost of a movie ticket was only another $10 dollars; practically a steal in the third most expensive city in the world.

From the second level restaurant we climbed a narrow staircase to what felt like a crow’s nest of a theater. Instead of traditional seats, Govinda’s had large red cushions covering each of the five or so terraces. It was a communal, relaxing way to watch a movie and it kind of reminded me of the DVD bangs in Korea.

I took my sandals off and fluffed a few pillows behind me before settling down. I didn’t even care what movie we were watching because I was so full, comfortable, and Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson were main characters.  If you can’t make it to Govinda’s, I would suggest creating a cozy nest on the floor of your local theater and sneaking in a Tupperware full of palak paneer. Just don’t forget to take off your shoes; that’s the most enjoyable part.

Of course no self-respecting Wednesday Night Out would be complete without cocktails. After the film we walked down a narrow alley in Darlinghurst in search of the Red Lily Cocktail Bar. It was a tiny place with the ambiance of old Saigon set to a soundtrack of retro Asian soul.

It didn’t matter that half of our group were bearded men, I felt so Sex and the City as the four of us sipped cocktails. The round of drinks we ordered had names like Cactus in Asia (tequila, muddled cucumbers and Szechuan chilies), Monkey Magic (rum, lime juice and grated nutmeg), and Sesame Street (rum, toffee, castor sugar, egg and toasted sesame).

We started with dessert-black sesame seed ice cream on fried balls of rice and sesame seeds, and finished with a savory dish- the Banh Tom- aka Auntie 5’s rice cakes.

The fried rice cakes were topped with tiger prawns, caramelized pork, shallot oil and pork floss. Yep that’s right- pork delivered with a fluffy and dry cotton candy consistency.

Indulging our curiosity, the bartender explained (in a nutshell) the process for making pork floss. It involves boiling the pork, drying it and then wok-tossing it with sugar. On its own it was a cottony and slightly sweet version of beef jerky. As a whole though, the Banh Tom was chewy, savory, salty, sweet, spicy, and delicious.

On the way home we passed Darling Harbour, which curiously enough isn’t even in Darlinghurst. It’s the kind of place that almost falls into the only for tourists realm, but somehow still manages to attract locals.

At the start of January, Darling Harbour hosted the opening celebrations for the Sydney Festival- a month-long cultural performance extravaganza. Although the opening ceremony was done and gone, an inflated sculpture by Florentijn Hofman remained.

It was a massive yellow creation appropriately called Rubber Duck. Children responded to its enormous proportions with thrills of delight, cameras flashed and thousands of pale pink jellyfish floated around the duck like limp trash bags.

Friends, Indian buffets, rubber duckies, glorious cocktails- they’re all good excuses to explore Sydney on a Wednesday night. Just don’t tell your boss why you showed up to work the next day as listless as the Darling Harbour jellyfish.

How to get to Govinda’s: 112 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

How to get to Red Lily: 60 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

About Darling Harbour

About the Sydney Festival

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New Zealand Film Festival: Week 72

On a Tuesday night in early June, Barret and I poured over the New Zealand Film Festival guide.

“Oh this film is that animated one we wanted to see in Korea about bullying. What do you think?”

“Hmm.. 9.43”

“Really,” I replied, “.43?

“Yes.”

“How about the new Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom?”

“9.71”

“Hmm. I agree.”

The New Zealand Film Festival was opening in a few weeks and the tickets had just been released for sale. There were so many interesting films in the guide that Barret and I came up with a system to rate them. I assigned a preliminary star to which Barret gave a numerical score. I didn’t quite understand his scale, but it made him feel like he actually had a say.

The last film festival we attended, the Busan International Film Festival, took place in South Korea. It was the northeast Asian version of Sundance and extremely hard to get passes for- especially the star-studded opening. The tickets had gone on sale while I rode the bus to work and by the time I logged in at work almost every film was sold out.

So on that Tuesday night, knowing the NZFF tickets had been on sale since morning, Barret and I prepared a list of 15 films we wanted to see. One of our top choices, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was the official opening night film. Although I was certain the tickets were already sold out, I decided to try my luck anyways.

Barret, there’s still tickets! For everything!

I was excited because I hadn’t attended a film festival opening before and I also had not been to the Embassy. I had been mooning over the art deco design of the Roxy theater without realizing that this landmark building from the 20s was a gem in itself. The walls of the lobby were decorated with beautiful tile work that delicately curved up the stairwells all the way up to the second level. While there might not have been any red carpets or limousines like there was the night The Return of the King premiered, it was easy to imagine a celebrity sipping a glass of wine by the glass terrace before being ushered to their seats.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was screening inside the main theater, which was so large it had two spiral staircases leading down to the front row seating. It almost made neck-craning seem desirable and refined. Almost. The festival organizer gave a short speech in which he sounded both satisfied and completely exhausted, the audience gave a polite clap and then the opening credits began to roll.

It might not have been the most special special-screening and yes the theater was very crowded, but I could see why premiers are so popular. You just can’t capture the element of excitement and anticipation you feel from sitting amongst 1,000 other movie goers on Blu-Ray.

How to get to the Embassy: Kent Terrace  Mount Victoria, Wellington 6011, New Zealand

About: New Zealand Film Festival

The Roxy: Week 71

There is something quite special about movie theaters in New Zealand. From the smallest towns to the capitol, people visit cinemas not only for movies but also for boutique restaurants and cafés. There is not a bendy straw or coin-gobbling video arcade in sight and if you asked for a child’s combo pack, well, there would certainly be a bit on confusion.

Barret’s favorite place to catch a movie is the Roxy. It originally opened in 1928 as a silent theater in the suburb of Miramar and operated until the mid 60s, when it was converted to a shopping court. After the business closed, it sat idle for a while until a group of cinemaphiles (including the Weta founders) bought the old building with plans of renovation.

It has been open for over a year now and on that rainy Sunday night, the illuminated entrance cast a bright welcoming glow. After purchasing our tickets we walked across the marble foyer towards the café. The counter was made from dark wood and cut clean bold lines. At the end of it, on shiny silver stands, were sugar-dusted muffins and brownies iced with rich chocolate cream. The espresso machine was steaming and the peaceful clatter of forks and knives could be heard from the restaurant’s tables.

Would you like the beverage list?” The bartender asked.

Yes, please.”

After browsing the selection we decided on a half bottle of red wine, which the bartender poured into a delicate glass carafe. Then he handed us two large wine glasses that had the kind of squeaky-clean surface you only see on dishwasher commercials. There was a fifteen minute wait before the movie began, so we made our way to the lounge upstairs. It was Barret’s favorite part of the cinema because the robotic ceiling mural (designed by a Weta artist) cleverly incorporated utilitarian elements like smoke alarms and vents into the image.

When the theater doors opened we found our seats and sat the bottle of wine on a little semicircular table at the end of the armrest. The lights dimmed and an Expedia commercial about Las Vegas began. Barret and I had seen it before so we knew when to expect our friend, Danielle Kelly, on the big screen. Right as her cameo began we glanced over at each other and gave a small toast for friends, for home, and for Wellington. And you know what- not one glass broke in the theater. How classy.

How to get to The Roxy: 5 Park Road, Miramar, Wellington

Silver Cinema & Seoul Lantern Festival: Week 36

Hovering over a busy intersection is a large white nondescript building. Every time I have visited Insadong, its’ location over a steady flow of traffic has always struck me as peculiar. Like seeing an enormous flamingo perched in the middle of a city, you want to ask it why it is there. You will never get a decent answer but it is understood that it insists upon staying; inexplicably crouched instead of at rest like any other building around.

Barret and I were in the neighborhood in search of the Silver Cinema. After retracing our steps a few times, we finally realized that by default it was inside that hovering white arcade over the street. Up we went to the 4th floor terrace and into the courtyard. As the building is famous for musical instrument stores, there was a small stage and a music studio across from the ticket booth. Even inside the small, dated theater lobby the floors vibrated from a neighboring musical production Sachoom.

As we waited, the empty lobby suddenly swarmed with a geriatric populace. I turned to Barret with a worried look.

“Barret, do you think this is the senior-citizen-only cinema? I read about one online.”

“No. Why would they have sold us tickets?”

“I don’t know, but this says something about being 55.” I responded while indicating the cinema’s flyer.

“Well,” Baret replied, “we bought the tickets, we might as well try to go in. If they change their mind, they change their mind.”

We approached the counter like minors sneaking into an R-rated film and luckily our mature guise worked. Feeling confident of my new found antiquity, I decided to push my luck further when I saw the retro projection room. Enormous reels hung from the walls and although the equipment was old, it was maintained with such care that it gleamed. The projection operator spoke no English, but he allowed me inside and guided me to the best angles. He reviewed my photos with a zeal that I hadn’t seen since my college art classes. “No,” he seemed to say, “you have completely missed the essence of these machines. Try it again.” After several rounds of disapproval he finally approved and I thanked him as I left to take my seat.

Despite my feigned scorn of the French, I have always secretly harbored a daydream of being in Paris on a rainy day. In this scenario I decide to spend the afternoon alone in a theater watching pretentiously artsy foreign films and feeling generally quite pleased with life and myself. I have not made it to France yet, but watching Mogambo (a classic Hollywood film shot in Africa) in Korea comes very close to that benchmark. I enjoyed every minute of the ridiculous love quadrangle as well as the juxtaposition between movie stars and the jungles of Africa. It was just as titillating and ridiculous as it must have been 60+ years ago.

Nearby the cinema was a restored urban stream called Cheonggyecheon. It is a fresh breath of greenery and nature in the middle of a dense city. After picking up a hot latte to warm our hands, Barret and I descended down from the street to see the last night of the Seoul Lantern Festival. From metal platforms in the middle of the stream, the giant lanterns illuminated the gurgling water and cast a false warmth onto the surrounding stone embankment.

Despite the chill winds rushing down the channel, we viewed the entire display which ranged from traditional Korean folklore to contemporary animated characters. While our romantic stroll ended with runny noses and numb limbs, it was a beautiful winter evening in the heart of a city that never sleeps.

How to get there:

Silver Cinema: Lines 2,3, & 5 Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit #5. The movie theater is on the 4th floor of the Nakwon Arcade ahead.

Cheonggyecheon: The stream starts at Line 5 Gwanghwamun Station, exit #5.

Arthouse Momo: Week 33

At the heart of Ehwa Women’s University, surrounded by an autumnal forest, was an enormous trench carved right through the middle of the hillside. The entire walkway was lined with glass windows and had a staircase fit for a giant on the opposing end. Once the sun set, the opaque panels faded away and the interior of the hill emerged like a giant ant farm.

Inside the hive of activity were studying students, cafes, shops, and an independent movie theater called Arthouse Momo. It was definitely one of the most exciting and cool theater locations I have ever visited. Barret, my friend and I all bought tickets for a film called Biutiful. However, we soon discovered that it contained every other language but English. As the only one who knows any Spanish, I granted myself permission to break the cardinal rule of silence.

“Um, he is dying of cancer,” I whispered to my left and right.

“Yeah, I could tell. He looks like shit and he’s at the doctor. What did his wife say?”

“Well,” I paused, “She’s… mad?”

“I swear this movie preview was in English the last time I came,” my friend apologized.

“Who is that guy?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you?” Barret shot back at me.

“Never mind. Guess what!” I confidently breathed with stale curry breath, “I know that Korean verb! He asked if someone had called.”

I really need to catch this movie again at a DVD bang, for Barret’s sake of course.

How to get to Arthouse Momo: Line 2, Ewha Women’s University Station, Exit 4. Walk straight until you see the campus entrance on your left. Arthouse Momo is through door 3 of the hillside passageway.

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