The lodgings were known as the Albert Park, in a suburb that consisted of buildings that looked like visibly ancient. Stacked together in long rows, each place was an iteration of the last. Except with minor differences that made them idiosyncratic. Some had bars on the windows, and others did not. One had a metal door. Another, security cameras. One place had the bright-red workings of a fire suppression system, the tangled pipes taking decent space of the front landing. There was the garbage that was cleaned out during a threat of eviction, but never collected by sanitation. The Cherry-Red Piaggio scooter parked just off the street. Boxes of recyclables labelled in different languages. The curtains, made from old patterned sheets. The plastic sheet hanging over the electric meter in case of rain. The abandoned bed clothes, an entire set of pillows, sheets and duvet left to rot in the mid-winter cold. The signs. “Attention Pizza Delivery Drivers and Post Contractors. Please do not leave any parcels for HOOSAUD at the front door. They will be picked up at the rear gate.” Then there was a mobile number. “This building is under extensive repairs and builders will be present during business hours.”
Philé and I still had some time to kill between now and the restaurant, so we decided to go to the Quay. I have only visited Leviathan a handful of times in my life. I like to think of this as a good thing, because while right now I can stare at the tall dominating skyscrapers and towers like a slack-jawed tourist, I know that I would become to hate this place if I lived here. I knew this from my last holiday back in the Old Town and I spent a couple of nights at a friend’s in nearby Boom City. The traffic was a nightmare, and the humidity, even in the middle of autumn, was choking.
We had lunch in the Quay, at a bar called the Orient, which served pretty descent grub. We spent the afternoon wandering to other nearby joints, the Argyle with a massive bathroom that looked taken out of the Matrix and a DJ Booth, set in glass that was suspended by cables above us. (Not in the bathroom though, in the main bar area.) The entire Argyle was built inside what appeared to be a colonial era brick building that I’m sure was either used to house convicts or sheep. Not sure.
We then went to the Lowenbrau (or did the Argyle come last?), a photo of the Pope holding the house beer still adorned the windows of the entrance. It had only been a week since World Youth Day, and Papal-fever remained in a few Caths. Inside it looked subterranean, like it was straight out of a Tolkien novel. Long wooden tables, warm amber lighting, and the strains of appropriate ethnic music played in the background. Large porcelain steins filled an ornate cabinet, though I’m sure they were not for sale.
Then came the Lord Nelson, a stately English bar eponymously named after a famous Admiral. Philé knew they brewed their own beer, but I didn’t have any. Behind us a Hen’s Night, or at least one third of a Hen’s Night was under way. Soon two members of the party walked over to us and asked a few questions. The challenge of each team for the Bridal shower was a scavenger hunt of sorts and they asked us two questions. One had to do with a pickup line. Philé, ever the gentleman, suggested his: “When you approach the young lady, ask her if she would enjoy returning to your domicile and partake in a pizza and a fuck. When the young lass would react shocked and mortified, simply and naïvely ask, ‘What? You don’t like pizza?’” The second question related to the sexiest Antipodean women we could think of, and why. Philé named a famous pole vaulter (get name later), notably because “she was hot and could handle poles” I named Sara Murdoch. Only because she seemed the most level-headed blonde around. (Though on reflection I should have mentioned the girl from Killing Heidi. She was cute)
With that the Hen’s Night partiers were gone and soon so were we. I felt a headache coming on. We eventually returned to the Hotel and I passed out on my bed. A short while later, I woke, realising I was about twenty minutes late for the restaurant. Philé had already called twice on my phone. Then there was a knock on my door. It was Philé and we sped out of the hotel. I was still weirded by the passing out. Everything was hazy, with the sense of dread more intense. We walked to the restaurant. All I could do was to try to keep up with my partner in crime. But, boy, did he move fast. Homes and closed stores whirred by. We passed one called Mao and More, having giant red lanterns. Further we walked. By scornful warped faces of the lost sitting outside the bar, watching the world leave them. By young couples headed out for a night on the town. Another shop, its only name I can guess as the “Smiling Sparrow” judging by the picture on the sign. It was some kind of boutique, featuring red lamps and dresses. The restaurant was still further. Philé drove on, he liked this restaurant and soon I knew why.
The Red Lantern is Vietnamese restaurant, built in and through an old home. It’s not very big and it’s almost surreal they way that they have managed to fit so much into something so small. All of the staff were aware of the schedule we were keeping and the fact that we were twenty minutes late, only caused tensions. However, the staff of the Red Lantern were very accommodating. In a record time they brought out our orders, roughly fifteen minutes. It was like they stepped into the kitchen, the chef’s already preordaining what we had ordered, had it cooked and prepared. All the waiter had to do was to bring it to our table. I chose a Roast Duck dish with Asian greens and plum sauce, while Philé ordered Angus Black Sirloin Beef with red rice. Each was perfect. The Duck was tender and moist, while the skin was crisp. I’ve known duck to be fatty. Cooked incorrectly, it is partly untenable and chewy. But this duck you could eat every tiny morsel. The fat was rendered away into the meat the dish so that you’d barely notice it. The Beef was delicious, cooked roughly medium, so it kept most of it natural flavour. The red rice was seasoned with something I could not place. By the end of the meal my haze had cleared, I could perceive fully once again.
Soon enough, we had to go. The concert was awaiting us. Philé was almost at his flying pace again, but with a full stomach he decided to walk a little more casually. Once again he knew where he was going and I was lost. Along the way, we joined others headed to the concert. The Pavilion loomed in the night horizon. It was a mass of building, silver and steel in colour. Security let us through without incident and we joined the throng. I think we all wanted the same thing at the same point: to see a particular Icelandic group play. Philé moved among the main floor and joined an already assembling crowd in front of the stage. After a short while, three men descending into the stage, taking up a laptop, guitar and keyboard and a set of drums. They began to hammer at the drums, press and pound keys, and spasm and contort at the instruments. This trio were Pivot. And they were an excellent opening act of fast complex rhythms, tonal ambience, crying howls, cuts, clips and bips, and rolling guitar. Personally, they were awesome, and provided enough energy to the crowd to prepare themselves for the spectacle that was and still is Sigur Ros. Imagine a full drum kit, a xylophone, three keyboards, at least eight guitars of various tunings and curves, a marching band drum, confetti poppers (extra-extra large size), several cello bows (all of which would be destroyed by the end of the evening), a marching band quartet complete with their own brass, a piccolo and one small wooden organ. All of this combined, with six giant lighted balls and the co-ordinated stage lights, provided a live show, the kind I have not seen in some time. It’s a little hard to classify Sigur Ros’ music. They are ethereal and emotionally powerful, stark and beautiful like their Iceland, of verdant green valleys and dark, imposing volcanic structures. I cannot say I am as big a fan as my friend Philé, but I do enjoy the tracks that have feature more beating of the drums. Needlessly to say their powerful concert blew me away. Philé, you can stop preaching to the converted.
After the concert, I purchased a Pivot album, and then Philé and I returned to the night. Soon afterwards we found ourselves in the Cleveland Bar taking in long island ice teas discussing our plans for the next day.
Morning came, and my belly made disturbing, restless noises. I called Philé who was on the other end of the hotel to check if he was still awake. He was and we packed the car and headed to our next destination the East Ocean Restaurant for a Yum Cha brunch. Deep in the heart of Leviathan’s China Town district, this grand restaurant is at the end of a tall staircase of red carpet. You arrive to a sign that states that none of the staff will seat you, despite your booking, until the whole of your party has arrived. We just enter the dining area and see tanks filled with massive sea creatures. Crabs as big as my torso and Abalone as big as my head. We pick a table behind four older men. Right now the whole restaurant is practically empty. The trick with Yum Cha involves several things. Traditionally, according to Philé, yum cha is to “drink tea” particularly on a Sunday. Today it’s associated with eating small servings of rich dim sums, along with drinking tea and in our case Tsingtaos, a Chinese beer. Throughout the restaurant, girls with carts manoeuvre their way around the main dining area. Some of the carts are fitted with gas bottles and elements so food prep can be performed practically in front of you. Each cart has different food. Steamed dim sums filled with prawn, crab, chives, garlic, and sharks fin. Pork buns, fried rice noodles with a peanut and hoi sin sauce, chickens feet, spring rolls, scallops, oysters, deep fried calamari, custard tarts, chicken pies, thousand year eggs crisps and the list goes on. We wait for a cart trundle by and then if we see something we like, we bogart it, the girl stamps our menu, over what we have taken and then she on her way, while we scarf down the food and then like predator fish, wait and hide in the reef for another girl with a cart to cross our open maws. In the meantime you can watch the chaos of the entire establishment unfold. We arrived at 10, as I said earlier, and the restaurant was practically empty, however, every 15 minutes, you would look around and find more tables that were occupied. The more patrons the more carts travel their various circuits and the more chaos there is. As there is no set plan, there are numerous traffic jams and cart-related clusterfucks added only to the entire nature and air of the restaurant.
Leaving the restaurant satisfied, past the tanks of gargantuan sea creatures and the line of potential patrons that extends all the way down the massive stair case. We walk by the stern and hungry faces with cheesy grins.
After wandering around some more in the markets and streets of the China Town, we return to the hotel, and then hit the road, back to the Glowing Octopus and out of here and into the sunset.