Uphill battle

Top model … the 1969 Monaro GTS. Photo: National Archives of Australia A1200, L81537 Holden Royale … Queen Elizabeth II at the Holden plant in 1963. Photo: GM Holden Ltd
Shanghai night field

It’s moving. You know it’s meant to, but the line in the general assembly area at General Motors Holden in Elizabeth, South Australia, still looks faintly disorienting. Today’s “takt time” – the period it takes a car body length to pass a set point – is 57 seconds. You wonder how anyone could keep up, but they do.

The machinery provides the initial spectacle, such as the IP robot that slips bulky dashboard assemblies through windscreen spaces with the sleight of a sinuous arm. But it’s the people who are transfixing – their concentration, dexterity and agility, physical and mental. General assembly puts together no fewer than 45 different models, and no two consecutive vehicles on the production line are alike. As each gleaming shell looms the operator must identify it – yellow Cruze notchback, red Commodore VF sedan, black Calais, white wagon, blue ute, long wheelbase, short wheelbase, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive – and have the requisite bits of metal, plastic, wiring or harness ready for installation inside a minute.

Watch a while and it becomes exciting. Will they get it done? They never fail. It’s even beautiful, in the physical precision and kinaesthetic awareness on display. “On production you learn skills you never thought you had,” says Lucinda Gregory, a petite 33-year-old mother of two with 15 years at Holden, of her intricate choreography. “Using two hands at once; doing this while you’re doing something else over here … Each job has a flow. You start one job, and you flow to the next. There’s no point zig-zagging all over the car, so you have to get a nice flow going.”

“You can go into a blind spot underneath the dash and put a nut on a stud just by feel,” says quality checker Tony Poole. “Your arm automatically goes there. It’s just … incredible.” He still gets a thrill from observing skilled colleagues. “I was watching an operator putting in side-rail airbags and he wasn’t even looking!” he says. “Y’know, in – click-click-click.” He laughs gustily: “Lad’s been doing that job for a while!” Poole, a father of three, has been at Holden 26 years; he would like, he says, to stay another 26.

Until 2039? For the automotive industry’s detractors, Poole, Gregory and more than 2000 others at Holden’s remaining vehicle assembly plant in Australia cannot be gone quickly enough. To them, the industry, despite still employing almost 50,000 people and turning over almost $50 billion, embodies an old Australia and has become a luxury that a country with a small population can no longer afford.

Locally produced passenger motor vehicles now represent a fraction of a market they dominated before the phased reduction of tariffs began in the 1980s. To continue, American-owned Holden and Ford, and Japan’s Toyota, have needed billions of dollars of state support, through a $5.4 billion Automotive Transformation Scheme from 2008 to 2020, plus a range of project-specific grants – what critics call “handouts” and defenders call “co-investment”.

The car makers argue that for that outlay, they create many times as much economic activity: sales, wages, taxes, expenditure on materials, research and development. Nonetheless, when Ford in May foreshadowed closure three years hence, it reopened a debate about an industry through which money can appear to flow like water through a bucket with a big hole. Pressured to respond, Julia Gillard, the prime minister at that time, was hesitant. “I think supporting the car industry is important for our nation’s future,” said Gillard, the “I think” diluting it from confident assertion to bland opinion. It was hardly a resounding riposte to shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s lambasting of the “waste of taxpayers’ money” involved in industry assistance.

Strangely, nobody seems bothered by the stupendous subsidies our giant mining companies, domestic banking oligopoly and private healthcare industry enjoy; nor by the fact that high levels of state support for local car industries are often uncontroversial overseas.

Not long ago, ironically, the industry was regarded as a shining light. While imports’ share of the market grew from 15 per cent in 1985 to 60 per cent in 2000 as tariffs were wound back, vehicle and component exports grew tenfold in the same period. Optimism abounded. Greg Combet, then secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, gushed in the Canberra Times that the car industry “should rightly be regarded as Australia’s biggest manufacturing success story”. Quite. Forced to compete, Australian cars have never been of higher quality. The problem has been quantity.

In the first half of the noughties, local vehicle production surged. In 2005, when Holden was employing 5600 people in Elizabeth and making 900 cars a day across three shifts, it exported more than 60,000 sedans, utes and coupes in right- or left-hand-drive configurations to five continents. But despite growing local car sales, Australian production began trending in the opposite direction. Last year, Holden, Toyota and Ford sold just 224,000 vehicles, and only 139,000 domestically – 12.6 per cent of the total number of vehicles sold in Australia. They have survived this downturn with the help of government support and by self-administered austerities. Holden at Elizabeth, down to a single shift in general assembly and now making only 400 cars a day, is in the process of finalising 400 voluntary redundancies, and next month will ask workers to vote to cut their own wages.

What happened? Traditionally, the Australian vehicle market has been dominated by powerful, rear-wheel-drive “family cars”, particularly the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, the type of vehicle that offers slightly better profit margins and longer production runs.

Over the last decade, however, the market has not so much shifted as fissured, moving in several directions simultaneously, with the growth markets being smaller cars with lower fuel consumption, luxury European marques, and sports utility vehicles. Australian consumers are demanding cars that are bigger, smaller, fancier, simpler, thirstier and more abstemious than local manufacturers provide. Why? Because they can. The lowering of tariffs has, as prophesised, been a boon for buyers, especially since the managed plunges of the greenback and yen slashed prices.

As a result, Australians now buy as many cars imported from South Korea as they do cars made here; they buy twice as many from Thailand, four times as many from Japan. More than 60 car brands and 360 models are on sale here – more than in Japan and China; more, even, than in the US, a market nearly 15 times the size of Australia’s.

What this means is that nobody sells much of anything: no SUV sold more than 20,000 last year, while 2012’s highest-selling car enjoyed half the sales of 2002’s highest-selling car. Those numbers are fine for importers, but local manufacturers have been stretched every which way, producing ever more varieties in ever diminishing volumes at ever falling prices. Worse, the strength of the Australian dollar has largely excluded them from the export markets they cultivated: Holden sold just 14,100 cars abroad last year, and Elizabeth has felt the pinch.

It might now be fraying at the edges, but Elizabeth was Australia’s first “new town”, built in the 1950s with implicit support from the state government to perpetuate South Australia’s lower living costs and provide the state with an industrial bedrock. Finding that the residents of Adelaide were reluctant to travel 30 kilometres north to work in Elizabeth, premier Thomas Playford laid out a welcome mat for Holden, offering cheap land and infrastructure support in the town’s south.

New British arrivals came in the tens of thousands (Elizabeth’s most famous son, Glasgow-born singer Jimmy Barnes, claims that he did not hear an Australian accent until he was 11 years old). Perhaps the biggest day in the town’s history was the 1963 visit of the Queen, who came to the Holden plant and waved to employees from a specially built verandah.

The area’s vestigial Britishness has faded; so has the industry. Today, unemployment in the City of Playford, of which Elizabeth is part, is 14 per cent, youth unemployment 44 per cent, and localities such as Davoren Park bear the blights associated with joblessness: derelict shopping marts, shuttered community facilities, drive-through bottle-ohs with security guards, and graffiti tags, of which the council removed a record 180,000 last financial year.

Yet range farther afield, for Playford spreads its 80,000 inhabitants over 346 square kilometres, and the picture changes. An affordable housing project, Playford Alive, has attractively regenerated Smithfield Plains. A Lend Lease development, Blakes Crossing, offers “stylish village living”. Far from shrinking, Playford is officially “the fastest-growing council in South Australia”, its population forecast to grow 70 per cent by 2026. Which causes you to wonder: where will these new arrivals work?

Probably not at Holden. Because it has recently been contracting rather than expanding, it has taken only eight of the 500 apprentices placed by the impressive local technical college, St Patrick’s, in the last five years. “We certainly get the sense that there’s no point engaging with Holden,” says principal Rod Thomas, “because there’s no guarantee that a young person will be able to finish an apprenticeship there.” Nonetheless, Thomas feels, the company’s leaving would devastate the city: “Holden is the glue of this community.”

That feeling envelopes new arrivals as they circle the “Holden Bulldogs roundabout” on entering town. Holden has sponsored the dearly loved Central District Bulldogs Australian rules club since 1989, and the club’s veteran chief executive Kris Grant supports them right back: “I’ve never driven anything else my whole life. I don’t think there is a better car for Australia.” He’d rather not contemplate their closure: “We have a membership of 2500, and I’d venture to say that 50 per cent work at Holden, with another high percentage in associated industries. So it all filters down, because people’s spend here is relative to how things are going there. If Holden disappeared, it would be pretty difficult for us to carry on.” Among the jokey fines the players levy among themselves is a $5 penalty for being seen in proximity to a Ford.

Above all, perhaps, Holden has traditionally defined “work” in Elizabeth. Economists like talking about Australia’s “inevitable transition to a services-based economy”. Tourism. Hospitality. Education. Health. Aged care. At his triumphalist best, Paul Keating once dismissed the employment cost of restructuring secondary industries: “People have found better jobs. I mean, did we ever hurt anybody liberating them from the car assembly line?”

But nobody here craves such “liberation”. When Holden offered redundancy packages in April, senior technical officer Steve Brecht did consider ending his 25-year career: “I went through moments of sheer clarity. ‘Yes, I’m going to go, and take control of my future.’ But five minutes later it would be, ‘Why would I want to leave this place?’ Because despite everything that’s going on, I love it. Outside of the people here, none of my friends have worked in the same place for more than 25 years. Most of them have been through multiple jobs, some of them dozens.”

Brecht wonders aloud what could ever replace his existing job satisfaction: “I read a local report about an aged-care facility saying: ‘Oh, we’d be looking to take on Holden workers.’ Really? Because I can’t see myself wiping some 90-year-old dude’s butt in the middle of the night for a job. No disrespect to him, or the person who might do that job, but I don’t want to be that person; I don’t look on that as a great way to earn a living.”

Brecht says this advisedly: his own grandfather is 96. But the thing is, his grandfather also worked at Holden, as did his father and his brother. Between them, they have invested almost 100 years in the company. And they’re not unusual. Critics who deem automotive manufacturing an “industry of the past” are in one respect correct: institutional loyalty and identification run deep.

The average Holden career lasts 16.8 years; the average Toyota career lasts 12.8. Employees commonly wear Holden shirts and jumpers casually, even after retirement, and Lucinda Gregory describes “the nod” that workers exchange at the sight of one another, which in her case is especially meaningful, as she married another general assembly worker, a so-called line chaser, who supplies operators with the components they need.

It can be tough work – confronting, wearying. “Toyota are putting people on at the moment, and they’re lasting half a day, maybe a few hours,” says Dave Smith, national secretary of the vehicles division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. “Most people think you just sit there and bolt things on. You have to understand the production systems, the quality regime. People come and either leave very quickly, or stay a long, long time. Because it’s difficult.”

But difficult is also challenging and energising, and critics, most of whom will seldom do other with their hands than scuffle keyboards, also reveal something of their metropolitan alienation from the sheer joy of planning, making and fixing stuff. Because in conversation with Holden workers, this theme recurs. “A lot of people probably look at us and think, ‘There they are walking into that same plant, every day, same thing again’, ” notes dimensional engineer Dan Hayward. “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never had a dull day.”

The joy is real; nor does it fade. Bubbly human resources manager Jody Williams recalls the general assembly job she began 31 years ago as a first glimpse of accomplishment. “We were making the Gemini at the time. There were two lines, a slower line and a faster line, making door trims, and once you got proficient at it, you went over to ‘the rocket line’. And I got there. So I was pretty proud of myself … I thought I’d be here two years while I figured out what to do with my life. Then I realised I could make it my life. I cry at ‘Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars’. Holden grabs you like that.”

So it would seem. “This industry attracts problem solvers,” says Joel Buchanese, a serious young electrician who joined Holden in 2002 by obtaining one of 10 apprenticeships from 1000 applications. “Some people prefer a cruisier job, mowing lawns or whatever. I’m in my element when I’ve got a puzzle in front of me, and this place sometimes fires them at you like a machine gun. In metals stamping, we’ve got huge machines worth hundreds of millions of dollars with complex control systems. When they stop throwing panels out the back end and you have guys standing around doing nothing, you’ve really got to switch on your A-game.”

Because what’s worst understood about Australia’s automotive industry is how exacting it has needed to become in order to meet a low-volume, high-competition market. Holden is a prime specimen of technology honed by a century of improvements: 300,000 square metres of floor space turning half a million parts a day from 650 different suppliers, worth $3 billion annually, into tens of thousands of cars in six body styles, nine variants and 45 different models. General assembly is only the culmination of a 22-hour, seven-kilometre process beginning in the stamping plant with the pressing of body sides, floor pans and roofs from steel, and ending with a complete car.

Automotive is the industry that trailblazed techniques of “lean production”, in which inventory is anathema, supply lines are taut and mutual dependence acute. In adjacent Edinburgh Park, connected to Elizabeth by a private bridge, are 10 key components suppliers, such as Futuris, which manufactures seats and door trims, and Tenneco, provider of exhausts. A few others are located elsewhere in Elizabeth, like Exide, maker of batteries, and Hirotec, stamper of doors, bonnets and boot lids. “Trucks leave here every 21 minutes,” says Hirotec’s assistant manager, Brett Heaven – note, not “every 20 minutes or so”.

Some components are sourced from as far away as Mexico and South Korea; the bulk from Victoria. For example, three semi-trailer loads of 50 different parts arrive daily from a former sauce-bottling factory in Reservoir, Melbourne, owned by Diver Consolidated Industries, a third-generation, family-owned metal fabricator with 100 employees. Founded in 1937, DCI still has on display its original hand-operated metal stamp. Having provided components for the first Holden in 1948, it now exports to Holden’s parent company, General Motors, in China, Thailand and Brazil.

Jim Griffin, the Holden alumnus who runs DCI, is a manufacturing man through and through. “We can’t all be baristas on the Gold Coast,” he says sardonically. Examining one of his beams, his expression grows almost beatific, like that of a new father overlooking a cradle.

It’s marching in step with Holden that entrepreneur Andrew Downs says has helped him build a $70 million business in Adelaide’s Melrose Park. Downs founded SAGE Automation in his mother’s backyard 20 years ago. His breakthrough was obtaining a contract to supply Holden, he says, because their demands were so relentless: SAGE control boxes with touch screens now festoon Holden’s general assembly and body shop areas.

“If a water plant stops, usually they’ve got some backup, and it’s pretty slow to move,” says Downs. “When automotive lines stop, every man and his dog is affected: that’s irrecoverable costs of many thousands of dollars a minute. I’ve witnessed it, unfortunately. As the minutes go by, the number of suits pouring out of the offices grows exponentially. I’m telling you, it is the worst feeling.”

While economists conduct angels-on-a-pinhead debates about the degree of innovation “spillover” that the automotive industry offers the wider economy, DCI and SAGE are the phenomenon’s living embodiments. DCI has applied its fabrication expertise to heat shields for fire engines, foldaway steps for trucks, and the popular Triton Work Bench. SAGE cites a host of intellectual properties originated at Holden: a fault-alert system for a Beringer Vineyards bottling line; a smart control network connecting pump stations and tank sites for SA Water; a railcar-dumping system adopted for ore in Perth.

Interestingly, each shows the slipperiness of industrial definitions. Data collectors might deem them, respectively, investments in food and beverages, utilities and mining. But, observes SAGE’s CEO Adrian Fahey, they’re all manufacturing processes. “If you’ve got a 12-kilometre train of trucks and want to dump from them in a hurry, you must have processes that are best-in-class, high-speed, super-reliable – which we can achieve because of the knowledge we’ve gained from automotive about stripping out cycle time.”

Manufacturing is usually presented in Australia as a discrete sector – one which, in fact, we can comfortably dispense with, on grounds that labour will almost invariably be cheaper elsewhere. Yet the manufacturing that has endured here with little encouragement, in often adverse market conditions and with few natural advantages, is often extremely good. And business knows it. The bosses of Australia’s top two resources giants, BHP Billiton’s Jac Nasser and Rio Tinto’s Sam Walsh, are veterans of which industry? Automotive. Why? Because after a decade of effortless growth, mining is suddenly about cost.

Rio Tinto’s revolutionary iron-ore operations centre at Perth Airport is inspired, Walsh says, by the model of a “vehicle assembly plant”, as he saw first at Holden, later at Nissan. “In the car industry, you measure things in cents,” he explains. “That cost focus, that cash focus, is awfully important. That’s what I brought over to mining, a focus on every part of the business – productivity improvement, efficiency – the things the car industry has had to focus on to survive …

“The mining industry obviously focuses on its exploration and finding world-class deposits, on mine planning, mine design and plant design. Once you’ve got those in place, you’re probably 80 per cent of the journey. But the last 20 per cent is where the car industry excels.”

At mention of Elizabeth, Walsh lights up with his own memories. “You would have seen an enormous amount of effort going into ensuring that the right component is there at the right time, in the right cycle, in the right quality and with the right skills. There are jobs there I swear you could never do in the time cycle those people have. People putting a roof lining in a car inside a minute? There’s no way you could do it! But streamline, streamline, streamline, train the operators, and they do.”

Though Ford was their company’s perennial rival, nobody at Holden took pleasure at the demise of its Australian manufacturing operation. It hurt in the aftermath, moreover, to see the whole industry dismissed as a kind of corporate dole bludger. “Those things are extremely difficult to swallow,” says engineer Nick Baloglou, another 25-year veteran. “We’ve got a very nice factory, very nice, with a well-trained, engaged workforce which you’re probably getting a sense of. We are not ‘unproductive’. We are not ‘inefficient’. ” He sighs. “How do we demonstrate to people what we do here, without bringing every single Australian through one by one, so that they can go, ‘Holy moly, look at these guys!’?”

Solace has been drawn since from the release of the VF Commodore, probably the best car Holden has ever produced. “Every time you see one on the grass here, you just want to smile,” says engineer Paul Sakowits. “We’ve done it: what a great car.”

Morale, as a result, fluctuates. “To be honest, we’re on a fine edge, and it could go either way,” says Anthony Roder, who runs general assembly. “We’re obviously going through a restructure. That brings uncertainty. It’s a topic of conversation, as you can imagine. But now people can see the VF, there’s excitement around it.” Andrew Shaw, Roder’s maintenance chief, still buzzes with the memory of the seamless changeover. “That was my job – to make sure it dropped on the line,” he recalls. “The last VE, then the first VF after a 10-car gap. It was a big day. Our maintenance crew pulled it off. It was an unbelievable experience. I will sell this car until I’m blue in the face.”

So, thanks to an additional $40 million assigned to the marketing budget, will Holden. In February, the VF was unveiled in its American alias as the Chevrolet SS when it won its debut NASCAR race, the Daytona 500. Next year it will become the first passenger car Holden has exported to the US since its parent unexpectedly terminated the Pontiac G8, based on Holden’s Monaro, after the global financial crisis hit. To Elizabeth personnel, that will feel good. “There is a lot of pride at seeing things you’ve been involved with in the manufacturing process,” says Nick Baloglou. “I’ve been able to travel extensively with Holden, and when I see our cars on the road in America and Korea and China, I think: ‘Yes! We made that!’ ”

The VF affords quiet satisfaction to Elizabethans generally. Not withstanding negatives about the entwinement of the City of Playford and an industry in regular turmoil, mayor Glenn Docherty wouldn’t change it. “Elizabeth has gained a lot from having a focal point,” he says. “There’s nothing better, I think, than looking at cars in the port of Adelaide waiting to be shipped abroad, knowing that families somewhere will be taking their kids to school or driving to a sporting event in a car we made here.”

Does that mean he disagrees with Joe Hockey that industry grants are a “waste of taxpayers’ money”? This is a potentially awkward question for Docherty, who will be Liberal candidate for Newland in next March’s South Australian state election, but he replies without hesitation: “I do disagree with him. Yes, I do. That money has helped continue the next version of the Commodore and investment around that … That is a good thing to do. Because we have no other plan from either side of politics.”

Quite. The federal Labor government abruptly scrapped a key element of its New Car plan, the Green Car Innovation Fund, in June 2011, although it had already enabled production of the Camry Hybrid at Toyota’s Altona works as well as many of the VF’s weight-reduction and aerodynamic improvements. The Coalition, meanwhile, feigns rigour by promising a token cut to funds allocated under the existing Automotive Transformation Scheme and to refer the industry to the desiccated calculating machines of the Productivity Commission.

And yet … and yet … there remains strong support for the automotive industry, and even for its special assistance, among that curiously neglected group, the Australian public, who when polled never fail to value the proposition that their country should “make things”. It could be argued that in their buying preferences they express different views, but perhaps they also subtly sense – as their increasingly detached political, economic and media betters do not – what would be lost in the way of skilful, dignified and fulfilling work if Elizabeth’s assembly line ever stopped permanently.

Lead-in photograph: An FJ Holden outside General Motor-Holden’s Fishermans Bend plant in Melbourne in 1953. GM Holden Ltd.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 22/01/2019

Crossing over

Once ground zero for bad decisions, Tijuana is transforming, writes Ben Stubbs.
Shanghai night field

‘The Toothbrush”, or El Cepillo as he’s called in Spanish, adjusts his high-riding black underpants and climbs the corner post of the ring as AC/DC blasts from the stadium speakers. He spreads his arms and leaps on the crumpled wrestler lying on the concrete floor below the ring. Lucha libre (the Mexican term for wrestling) might be entertainment, but as we watch the Toothbrush slam a chair on his opponent’s back, I realise it’s certainly not faked.

I have crossed the border from San Diego into Tijuana with Turista Libre tours to experience the realities of life on the Mexican frontier in a city that was once, not so long ago, known mainly to the outside world as a place for drugs, murders and donkey shows.

Our guide is expat Derrik Chin, who grew up in Ohio, moved to Tijuana for love, and stayed. As we cross over, the formalities are as low-key as I’ve seen crossing from one country to another: there is a single-file turnstile and an uninterested guard on the other side, then we’re in Mexico.

Our transport for the evening is a recommissioned yellow school bus, and as our group is given activity bags with stickers and figurines, I momentarily think that this could be a socks and sandals-style tour. For his next move, though, Derrik hands out mezcal and jelly shots to the passengers and cranks up the music. Through the windows, I see Tijuana for the first time: a farmacia here, an open-air market there, and the twinkling lights of the city above us.

Our first stop is taco restaurant El Franc. It is jammed with locals sitting and standing while the chefs carve meat and dollop avocado onto plates. I hoover down three tacos for only $US4 ($4.40).

With full bellies, we head to the wrestling and get our third-row seats among the locals. We drink Micheladas (spiced beer) and watch a show that becomes more engaging the later the night gets. By the time Dr Wagner jnr, El Cepillo and El Hijo del Santo arrive, the wrestling is fast and brutal. At one stage, the audience showers the wrestlers with corn cobs and plastic cups after El Cepillo somehow manages to get a ’90s-era printer into the ring, which he promptly smashes over his opponent’s head.

The next day, Derrik and I leave the bus behind and take his car along the highway that skirts the edge of the border to Playas, where the Tijuana beach butts against the fence that separates Mexico from the US and continues into the water. We walk along the border and read the graffiti on the fence that stretches 50 metres into the choppy Pacific Ocean.

Fine cuisine is one of the prominent motifs of “new” Tijuana, so Derrik takes me to a taqueria on the edge of a main road. Inside Kokopelli, we sit at the retro bar and watch the chefs make imaginative seafood tacos for the crowd. Over glasses of hibiscus flower tea, we make requests as the chefs slice, grate and grill a selection of octopus, tuna ceviche and gourmet prawn tacos.

Our next destination is a little unusual. Derrik takes me to the Puerta Blanca Cemetery, which is next to the border fence. We walk among the tombstones and along the cobbled lanes to a crypt at the back. It is the resting place of Juan Soldado, a man who was framed for the rape and murder of a girl and shot by firing squad in 1938.

Years later, a local lady insisted Soldado was innocent and took a stone from beside his grave and asked for his help crossing the border. She succeeded, eventually returning the stone and declaring the event a miracle. I notice the inscriptions around Soldado’s crypt thanking him for his help. He has become the unofficial patron saint of border runners. I see the cobbled lane around the crypt is missing hundreds of stones that have been taken by hopeful locals.

Back in the car, we drive past the red-light district. The streets are full of ladies of the night and visitors who have crossed over to get lost. During the day it’s an urban market, and regular people walk and talk as if it is any other street in the city.

Outside Hotel Nelson, we see mariachis for hire and Hotel Caesars, where the Caesar salad was invented.

Next, Derrik drives me through the city to one of the less-reputable districts in the hills. We pull the car over and all of a sudden I’m greeted by a naked lady in the slums. Her name is La Mona and she’s 15 metres tall. Local artist Armando Munoz Garcia wanted to give a gift to the city, a statue of La Mona, and when the city wouldn’t help him with costs, he decided to build it in his front yard. Armando’s house sits behind the statue – his bedroom is inside her chest and his bathroom is, appropriately, somewhere below the belly button.

“You find out all sorts of things living in this city,” Derrik says.

Our last stop for the evening is in what seems like an industrial alley. Behind a tin facade is the Baja Craft Beers brewery. It is tapping into the San Diego craft beer boom by providing options over the border. The lights inside are converted beer kegs and the walls are lined with rocks in cages. We watch the soccer- the local team, the Xolos, who recently won the Mexican championship, play – and we sample a local Nocturna black beer and a hoppy Border Psycho.

Just like the pub, Tijuana is inconspicuous, even a little intimidating when it is viewed from the US side, though once you get up close, eat a taco or two and immerse yourself, it’s easy to see what has kept Derrik here so long.



The beach town of Ensenada is 100 kilometres south of Tijuana and it’s a great place to see whale migrations, surf or relax. See ensenada上海夜生活m.


A little more than 100 kilometres from Tijuana is the Valle de Guadalupe wine region. Turista Libre runs regular weekend tours. See turistalibre上海夜生活m.


Rosarito is only 20 kilometres from Tijuana. There are numerous dining options, a golf course, bars and tours of the region. See rosarito上海夜生活.


Only 30 kilometres south of Ensenada, legend has it a whale became stuck in the rocks — the result is the La Bufadora marine geyser that shoots up to 20 metres into the air. Grey whale sightings are common during their migrations. See visitmexico上海夜生活m.


Tecate is a city 50 kilometres east of Tijuana and it is a great place to enjoy the mountains around La Rumorosa or take a Tecate brewery tour. See discoverbajacalifornia上海夜生活m.



Delta Airlines has a fare to San Diego for about $1700 low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne including taxes, see delta上海夜生活m. From San Diego, take the trolley to the San Ysidro stop, where it is easy to cross into Tijuana.


The Marriott in Tijuana has comfortable rooms with everything you would expect from a five-star hotel. There are numerous restaurants a short taxi ride away. See marriott上海夜生活m for booking details.


Turista Libre run a variety of lucha libre, wine-tasting and city tours. Derrik will also run private tours if you’d like to tailor a specific itinerary. Tours start from the San Diego side of the border. See turista-libre.blogspot上海夜生活m for booking and tour details.



The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 22/01/2019

Nature’s little secrets

Elephant trekking. Photo: Leisa TylerAndrew Bain veers off the beaten Overland Track to discover places and features regularly missed by walkers.
Shanghai night field

Tasmania’s Overland Track is the most famous bushwalk in Australia, hiked by about 8000 people every year.

Prominent sights abound along its 65-kilometre length, from the bowed figure of Cradle Mountain to the heights of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak, and the depths of Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake.

The track itself might be no secret, but it’s full of little secrets – places and features most people stroll past, barely realising they exist.


The Overland Track is bookended by well-known waterfalls. As the track climbs in the first hour from Cradle Valley towards Marion’s Lookout, it enters a pocket of rainforest split by Crater Falls. At the other end, nearing Lake St Clair, side trails descend into the Mersey Valley to viewpoints around the impressive D’Alton, Fergusson and Hartnett falls.

In between are waterfalls that tumble mostly unheard and unseen through valleys around the track.

For most walkers, the first day on the Overland Track ends at Waterfall Valley, where a public hut sits at the edge of an alpine meadow. By virtue of its name, it seems obvious there are waterfalls here, but they’re not readily visible. Unmarked trails lead east from the main track, descending beside creeks to a series of waterfalls.

The most spectacular of these is Branigan Falls, about a five-minute walk from the Overland Track, down a steep and slippery bank that requires caution. These falls spill over an overhang, creating a ledge that allows you to walk in behind the waterfall, something you can’t do at any other waterfall along the track.

Take the side trail to Lake Will and you’ll find a muddy track heads along its shores to Bluff River and Innes Falls, a few steps downstream from the lake outlet. These falls squeeze through a chute in the conglomerate escarpment, and are particularly beautiful around April, when the banks of Bluff River turn golden with autumnal deciduous beech.


While at Lake Will, it’s worth resting for a while on its shores. The lake is little more than one kilometre from the main track, across flat ground, and provides an almost coastal scene at the heart of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in Australia.

The trail arrives at the lake and straight onto a beach, but it’s worth continuing a short distance south along the shores to the next beach, which is larger and more protected. On the tiny headlands along the lake, pencil pines stand like bones, and the dolerite dome of Barn Bluff, by now one of the most familiar shapes of the Overland Track, rises from the opposite shore.

Walk on and this day typically ends at Lake Windermere, where a small platform has been created on its shores for anyone willing to brave an alpine swim. The base of Hartnett Falls and beside the track’s end in the Narcissus River are other good swimming spots.


On the side trail to Lake Will, just a few metres from the main Overland Track, you’ll step through an exposed deposit of coal, a lingering reminder that mining was partly responsible for first opening up this remote and wild area.

When the Overland Track was created in the early 1930s, it followed in part a web of existing stock routes and mining tracks. Coal was mined here, as evidenced by this seam of coal, but copper was the main resource.

Part-way along the Overland Track, Old Pelion Hut – the oldest hut near the Overland Track – was built in 1919 to house workers toiling in the nearby copper mines.

From behind the hut, an unmarked trail heads high along the bank of Douglas Creek for a few minutes to emerge at the entrance to one of the copper mines, where a tall heap of crushed rock, excavated from the mine, spills down to the edge of the creek. The mine is cut horizontally into the cliffs, and extends for about 50 metres.

Bring a torch to explore inside the mine, where the walls are stained with copper and inhabited by strange cricket-like creatures.


When you return from the copper mine to New Pelion Hut – the third night’s stop for most walkers – the Overland Track’s ultimate fossil experience beckons.

From the hut, a short walk along the banks of Douglas Creek leads to a stony beach known to many simply as Fossil Beach for reasons that become obvious quickly.

Among the stones are hundreds imprinted with Permian-era marine fossils. It’s easy to lose an hour or two turning over stones in search of fossils – the soft sandstones are the best bet – or you can simply admire the collection along the fallen tree. Along its trunk and branches, walkers have created a virtual gallery of fossils, lining up stones in an ad hoc outdoor museum.


The days of spying Tasmanian devils along the Overland Track are pretty much gone, due to the decline in the devil population, but this is still a walk that affords excellent chances to see a range of animal life.

In the alpine meadow out front of Waterfall Valley Hut, wildlife traffic gets heavy with approaching dusk. Wallabies graze the lawns alongside wombats, while Tasmanian native hens strut about on their matchstick legs.

Most appealing of all is the prospect of an appearance by quolls. One night I camped here, a pair of quolls wandered between tents just on darkness.

The next day, as the track rounds Lake Windermere, it winds between wombat burrows before rising to Lake Windermere Hut. Wander back towards the lake in the early evening and the prospects are good that you’ll find the burrows’ residents foraging through the buttongrass.


Two or three days looping around Freycinet Peninsula, seeing the famous — Wineglass Bay, the Hazards — and the often forgotten. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=2258.


A rugged 85-kilometre, camping-only challenge, beach-hopping and rising over the exposed Ironbound Range. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=2265.


The Walls of Jerusalem provide relatively easy walking around beautifully shaped peaks and tarns. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=27104.


An extended day out along a chain of glacial lakes little more than an hour’s drive from Hobart. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=3589.


The Maria Island Walk follows the coastline for four days, with the option to venture onto Mt Maria or the dolerite towers of Bishop and Clerk. See mariaislandwalk上海夜生活m.au.



Cradle Mountain, at the start of the Overland Track, is a 2½-hour drive from Launceston. The finish at Lake St Clair is 2½ hours from Launceston and Hobart. Tassielink buses service both ends of the track. See www.tassielink上海夜生活m.au.


Between October and May, permits are required from the Parks and Wildlife Service. Tasmanian Expeditions operates camping trips, while Cradle Mountain Huts has a series of private huts. See tasmanianexpeditions上海夜生活m.au; cradlehuts上海夜生活m.au.



The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 22/01/2019

Bada bing, a tribute to Jim

Holsten’s Confectionary, used as the locatoin for the last scene of the Sopranos series. Photo: The New York TimesAfter the death of Sopranos star James Gandolfini, Douglas Rogers joins a tour of the show’s familiar New Jersey landmarks.
Shanghai night field

On a crowded corner of 39th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, a roly-poly Italian-American man is selling Sopranos memorabilia to tourists from the back of a van. He has books, posters, New York number plates saying GOOMBAH and FUHGEDDABOUDIT, and signed colour photographs of scenes from the show. In one photo, Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, is standing with lieutenants Christopher and Vito outside Satriale’s Pork Store.

Then I do a double take: the man selling the merchandise is not some cut-rate midtown hustler – it’s Vito. (Or, should I say, Joseph Gannascoli, who played him.)

Carrying that day’s copy of the New York Post, I queue for a signed photo. A big mistake. When Vito sees the rag, what comes out of his mouth could have been scripted for the show: “That motha—-ing piece of —- paper!” he rants. “The —- they’re writing about James! What he ate, what he drank, how overweight he was … Makes me wanna …” He finally calms down enough to sign a photograph for me and says he hopes I enjoy the tour.

It’s 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, four days since Gandolfini’s death of a heart attack in a Rome hotel room, and I’m here for the weekly On Location Tours’ jaunt through the New Jersey sites of the acclaimed HBO television show. It’s the first tour since Gandolfini died, and the mood is sombre. The 50-seat bus is full. The four-hour trip will take us through the industrial wastelands so distinctive of the show.

Our guide is Marc Baron, an actor and singer who had small parts in 13 episodes of the series, and has led the location tour since 2001. We make our way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey, the pulsating Woke Up This Morning our soundtrack, just as it is in the show’s opening credits.

Baron clearly knows and loves the show, and he’s also an entertainer, with a wry delivery. He tells behind-the-scenes stories of the show and cast, and runs a trivia competition. “Who said of Ginny Sacrimoni, ‘She’s so fat, she goes campin’ and the bears have to hide their food’?”

“Paulie Walnuts!” a man says behind me. He turns out to be John Thompson, from Newcastle in England, who proceeds to get most of the other questions right, too.

Our first stop is a now-shuttered diner in some seedy no-man’s-land. Christopher (played by Michael Imperioli) was shot outside it in the second season, and the brilliance of the tour is that after we see the location Baron plays a clip of the relevant scene.

Like Gandolfini, the show’s creator, David Chase, is an Italian-American from New Jersey, and every Italian-American character on the show had to come from Jersey or New York. The fictitious site of Satriale’s Pork Store, though, is in the predominantly Irish town of Kearny, our second stop. The local Irish-American Association were paid to hoist an Italian flag on shoot days and the crew would put the famous pig sign up on the store the day before shooting. “Like the flag at Buckingham Palace, locals knew Tony was coming to town when the pig went up,” Baron says.

I pop into Big Stash’s sandwich shop on the main street and order a salami sandwich. The walls are decked with pictures of the owner, Mike Trivic, with Gandolfini. Trivic tells me: “He would come in here a lot. Right outside my door is where Christopher stole all the newspapers in the first episode.” The Catholic church across the street doubled as Father Phil’s place of worship.

We drive through gritty sections of Newark, Harrison and Belleville, Baron pointing out sites used for Pussy’s auto-body shop, Tony’s gambling den, and AJ’s school. Baron plays a clip and asks us if we recognise one of the extras in a high school scene with AJ. No one does. He says: “That young girl is better known today as Lady Gaga.”

In a more upscale part of Kearny, we pass the Tudor mansion Tony drives past in the opening credits, and a short while later pull up outside Holsten’s. The ice-cream parlour, which dates from 1939, became a cult destination for Sopranos fans after the final episode aired in 2007, and in the past four days it’s become the site of a remarkable pilgrimage. “I started getting all these calls and text messages,” co-owner Chris Carley says. “Then people started arriving. They haven’t stopped.”

Carley has placed a “Reserved” sign and a bouquet of flowers on the booth where Tony sat with Carmela and AJ in the final, enigmatic scene.

Holsten’s became part of the tour only after the series ended; on the other hand our final stop, the Bada Bing!, the strip club the men hung out in, has been on the itinerary since the beginning.

We pull up outside a nondescript cinder-block building on the side of the busy Route 17. A roadside billboard for Satin Dolls reads: “the original Bada Bing”, and under the main sign are the words: “Thank You Jimmy. Farewell Boss.”

It’s somewhat surreal to enter a dark strip club at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with 50 complete strangers – almost all of whom instantly recognise where they are without ever having been there. A shrine has been erected around the boss’s corner bar stool: a framed portrait of a downcast Tony, a white rose, a Sopranos baseball cap, and a “SOPRANOS” New Jersey number plate. We have been warned that the dancers will not want to be photographed, but one is gyrating on a pole on the stage behind the bar, and another, Diana Lomoro, happily poses with members of our group by the shrine. “I was in three episodes,” she says.

I introduce myself to the manager, Bill Pepe, and we talk in the kitchen, where a busboy chops potatoes with a meat cleaver. “I was at a benefit for the local police department when the news came in,” Pepe says. “Everyone stopped for a moment of silence. The police loved Jim.” He looks at the memorial by the bar and shakes his head. “It was a family atmosphere when they filmed here – and Jim was the captain.”

We troop out into the sunlight and head back to New York, a song plays in my head, Don’t Stop … Telegraph, London

The Sopranos Sites Tour leaves on Saturdays at 10am from the corner of 39th Street and 7th Avenue: $US46. To book, contact On Location Tours, phone +1 212 683 2027; see onlocationtours上海夜生活m.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 22/01/2019

Double identity

Michael Gebicki finds doppelgangers all around in an Italian city of distinctly Austrian flavour.
Shanghai night field

‘Are we still in Italy?” The man on the platform at the station in Bolzano is perplexed, and I know what he means. So convincingly does Bolzano mirror the architecture, the language, the manners and the mores of Austria’s nearby Tyrol region that it’s all I can do to stop myself from answering “Ja!”

Located in Italy’s most northerly province, Bolzano is the capital of South Tyrol, which the Italians know as the Alto Adige, the High Adige, after the river that gallops through its heart.

Until the end of the First World War this was Austrian territory, and Bolzano still prefers to think of itself as something other than true red, white and green Italian. German is the lingua franca, “Guten tag” the standard greeting.

Pasticcerie are konditorei here, and men in knickerbockers with alpenstocks and Tyrolean hats with feathers tucked into the band can sometimes be seen strolling through Bolzano’s Piazza Erbe – Obstmarkt to the locals.

Even the name “Bolzano” has a doppelganger. To the German-speaking population, this is not Bolzano at all, but Bozen. And though you might find me in Waltherplatz enjoying a kaffee mit torte, to me this is lovely and lyrical “Bolzano”, never “Bozen”.

It’s the towering peaks of the Dolomites surrounding the city that give the game away. Bolzano is the base for hiking, biking, skiing and mountaineering trips in some of Europe’s most sensational alpine country. Most travellers who pass through Bolzano are looking for adventure, but it’s well worth pausing here just to catch your breath and take in the sights.

Much of Bolzano’s charm comes from its age. In the city centre, nothing much has been built since the late 19th century, and the cityscape is dominated by bell towers and church spires, the most impressive being the cathedral that sits under a decorative tiled roof at the city’s mediaeval heart. The daily produce market brings life to the cobblestones of Piazza delle Erbe, where open-fronted stalls sell everything from strawberries to wines, speck and kaminwurzen, the local smoked sausage. Cafes spill across the cobblestones of Waltherplatz, and along Mustergasse is a series of baroque facades that were once the homes of the city’s wealthiest merchants and bankers.

Poised photogenically on a sharp crag overlooking Bolzano is the 10th-century castle Sigmundskron, part of the Messner Mountain Museum created by local lad Reinhold Messner, one of the greatest mountaineers. In contrast to the stone walls of the thousand-year-old castle, the museum is a surprisingly modernist steel-and-glass construction furnished with symbolic objects, quotes and memorabilia from various mountaineering expeditions that explore the almost mystical relationship between mountains and the people who live there. If the museum proves inspirational, you can easily follow Messner’s footsteps in modest fashion by taking the cable cars that hoist you from Bolzano to outstandingly luscious mountainsides.

The Colle Cable Car is the world’s oldest funicular, built by a hotelier to haul guests up to his mountain lodge. The Renon Cable Car connects Bolzano with Soprabolzano, from where a historic narrow-gauge scenic railway completes the trip to the glorious Renon Plateau, through flowery meadows set against spiky peaks. At the top is a restaurant that plays jolly accordion music reminiscent of lederhosen and thigh-slapping dances.

No right-minded visitor would want to miss Otzi the Iceman. Housed in Bolzano’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Otzi is the mummified corpse of a Stone Age man who lived in this region a little more than 5000 years ago. When he died from blood loss caused by an arrow wound his body was covered by snow and ice, which kept it in a remarkable state of preservation. The discovery of his body by two German hikers in 1991, in a rock gully filled with glacier melt, changed how we thought about Stone Age life.

From his copper-bladed axe to his first-aid kit, backpack, goat-hair leggings, shoes and bearskin cap, this was a man well adapted to living in the hostile environment in which his body was found, at an altitude of 3200 metres in the Otztal Alps.

The museum is mostly a reconstruction of Otzi’s life and times. His corpse lies in a sealed, darkened room and can only be glimpsed through a tiny window.

It seems absolutely true to Bolzano’s character that as I exit the museum I am almost taken out by a girl on a bike, dirndl skirt flying, with braided blonde hair, who looks as if she’s just stepped off the set of The Sound of Music.



Singapore Airlines has a fare to Milan for about $1820 low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne, including taxes. Fly to Singapore (about 8hr) and then to Milan (13hr 15min); see singaporeair上海夜生活m; phone 13 10 11. There are frequent train services to Bolzano taking about three hours with a change in Verona.


The Hotel Greif is the city’s best, stylish and in a premium location with 33 sculpted rooms accented with original artworks. Doubles from €158 ($222). See greif.it.

Gasthof Kohlern sits above Bolzano among pine forests and meadows. The world’s oldest cable car links the guesthouse to Bolzano. From €130 for two a night. See kohlern上海夜生活m.

Drei Birken is a small and wonderful guesthouse situated in the tiny village of Oberbozen. Cheapest rooms are small, so pay a modest premium for something larger. From €74 for two a night. See dreibirken.it.


A hire car is essential for anyone who wants to make the most of the region’s adventure opportunities.



The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 22/01/2019

Jumbo-sized mission

Elephant trekking. Photo: Leisa TylerLeisa Tyler follows the campaign to give Thailand’s dwindling elephant population a future.
Shanghai night field

The Thai jungle meets African safari for dinner at the Anantara Golden Triangle. Perched high above the resort’s baby-elephant camp, a pavilion and two-seat dinner table have been embellished with zebra-print chairs, a giraffe-print tablecloth and bunches of foliage strapped to the poles. Cicadas trill and a centipede races across the table while two baby elephants, trunks locked, compete in a tug of war below.

My husband and I watch the antics of the show-off calves before feeding them a bucketful of sugar cane and sitting down to a few

up-country culinary treats of our own served by waiters in safari suits. There is larb moo – minced pork with juicy strips of fatty skin mixed with ground-roasted rice, fresh herbs and a liberal dash of lime and chilli; jungle curry, a feisty sour-and-spicy soup made with freshwater fish and laden with leaves from the forest; and luscious pork sausages that have been wrapped in bamboo before being deep-fried and served with a spirited plaa daek (fermented fish sauce).

While two young elephants might not be your average dinner guests, this meal is about more than just extreme dining situations; the proceeds of our dinner are going to help the very few Thai elephants left in the wild to stay wild.

In 2006 the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the Asian elephant on the verge of extinction. In Thailand, elephant numbers have fallen from about 400,000 at the turn of the 20th century to 5000 today, with only half of these living in the wild. (Vietnam’s wild elephant population, in comparison, is about 100.)

Thailand has a strong connection to pachyderms. Revered for their brawn and loyalty, historically they were not only essential for transport and industry such as logging, but signified the king’s divine right to rule and the spiritual figure Erawan. A decline in natural habitat and an increase in ivory trading are some of the factors that have led to the animal’s demise.

Thailand-based hospitality company Minor International, which owns the Anantara Golden Triangle and nearby Four Seasons Tented Camp, is hoping tourism can be a catalyst for raising awareness of the Asian elephants’ fate and for assisting their survival.

Founded in 2001, the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament has been the lynchpin of Minor International’s conservation efforts. Held in the seaside resort town of Hua Hin, three hours south of Bangkok, the game is conducted along the same lines as regular polo but with elephants, who run significantly slower than horses and aren’t always as willing to do as they are told. Money is raised through corporate sponsorship and a glitzy auction, where everything from hotel accommodation to artwork goes under the hammer.

It’s at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort and the Four Seasons Tented Camp, both near the Mekong River town of Chiang Saen in northern Thailand, where visitors can get up close and personal with the elephants.

Spearheaded by British conservationist John Roberts in 2003, the Anantara resort raises funds through a three-day mahout training program. Initially, these funds were used to take sick and distressed elephants and their human handlers off the streets of Thailand’s tourist cities, Bangkok and Pattaya, where they are used to collect tips. Elephant begging earns good money; on average mahouts can earn about 5000 baht ($175) a night, slightly less than an unskilled labourer in Thailand makes in a month. But it is a difficult life for a young elephant, which is often taken from the wild in Laos or Myanmar, smuggled into Thailand and made to live in adverse conditions in the city. Street elephants frequently suffer from malnutrition and disease.

In the past 10 years Roberts and his team have rescued and relocated 32 elephants to Anantara’s 65-hectare estate. With no more space available, they now concentrate their efforts on protecting wild elephants and assisting in the “human-animal conflicts that often lead to clashes”, Roberts says. Among their endeavours are planting trees for elephant habitat, building electric or beehive fencing to keep the elephants away from crops, and educating kids on the status of the wild elephant and the effects of ivory trade.

I have followed Minor International’s elephant projects for many years but never experienced the mahout training course, which I quickly discover is far from a leisurely ride in the comfort of a cane basket along sun-dappled forest paths. Instead, guests learn to command the elephants while sitting saddleless behind their floppy ears.

Purlarp is my ride for the day. She is a cheeky three-tonne 26-year-old with a penchant for swimming like a bucking bronco and grazing on fresh bamboo stalks – preferably while she is supposed to be trekking.

We are briefly introduced by her mahout, Chen, at Anantara’s elephant camp, a scruffy clutch of thatch and wood buildings at the bottom of a forested gully, before Chen tells me to jump on her prickly big back and hold her ears tight as she lurches her knobby head forward and scrambles to her feet. It’s terrifying.

The mahouts spend two very short minutes explaining how to get on and off and turn right and left before we hit the trail. I’m not entirely convinced of their safety procedures with novice riders, even less so when we arrive at a water dam and Purlarp wastes no time in snorting a wrinkly grey trunk full of water into the air before submerging herself. Diving deep into the water she waggles her great head from side to side, occasionally coming up for a gulp of air before diving back down. I am barely able to hold on to her, but fear more getting clubbed by her enormous grey foot if I fall. So I hang on for dear life, gripping her ears tightly, my legs clenched around her neck. Up and down she goes before finally I can’t hold on any longer and I get thrown into the murky brown water. Purlarp screeches and snorts more water. Game over.

It’s amazing to be on top of the elephants – which is less daunting by the minute – but the next day I can barely walk from clutching so hard the day before. Luckily, I discover that enjoying their company and contributing to their welfare doesn’t always mean having to be on top of them.

At the nearby Four Seasons Tented Camp, guests can participate in on-ground activities such as the behavioural research overseen by scientist Joshua Plotnik from Think Elephants International and the University of Cambridge. Plotnik and his team are documenting the cognitive skills of the elephants, which in turn they hope will help to better protect them in the wild.

The program uses games, tasks and rewards to determine how important smell is for elephant cognition. Using a thatched shed at the elephant camp, our experiment involves a table on rollers, a curtain, two buckets in which we randomly place sunflower seeds and an elephant who gets to smell both buckets before having to remember which has the seeds. The elephant can’t be tricked and wins the seeds every time.

That night at the Four Seasons Tented Camp I join a group of elephants and their mahouts at the top of a nearby hill for cocktails. The views are unsurpassed, soaring over three countries; to the left a patchwork of small farms scattered over roller-coaster hills is the forbidden Shan state of Myanmar; to the right the giant swath of the Mekong marks the border with northern Laos and its Chinese-owned casinos; behind us the creamy blue outline of Doi Tung mountain marks the far western edge of northern Thailand.

It is estimated that the Asian elephant’s habitat has shrunk by 70 per cent in the past 30 years. Looking out over these three nations, it’s not hard to imagine a time when they roamed here freely.

“Of course it would be lovely if all elephants lived in the wild,” Roberts says. “But the truth is there is no wild left. Where are you going to put them?”

The writer stayed as a guest of the Four Seasons Tented Camp and Anantara Golden Triangle.


Thai Airways has a fare to Chiang Rai for about $1060 low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne, including taxes. Fly to Bangkok (about 9 hours) and then to Chiang Rai (1hr 20min); see thaiairways上海夜生活m. Chiang Saen is a 1½-hour drive from Chiang Rai airport.


With views over Burma, Laos and the Mekong, the Anantara Golden Triangle is an incredible location for a resort. There is a spa, a cooking school and 77 rooms. The resort is comfortable but in need of renovation. Double rooms cost from 41,195 baht ($1455), including taxes, transfers from Chiang Rai and mahout training. See goldentriangle.anantara上海夜生活m.

The Four Seasons Tented Camp has 15 canvas tents, each with hand-beaten copper bath tubs, outdoor showers and decks overlooking a bamboo grove. The service is excellent and the food is a highlight. Bring strong mosquito repellent. Minimum two-night stays are from 183,675 baht twin share, including a half-day mahout training program and a massage each. Participating in the research project costs an extra 11,000 baht for two people. See fourseasons上海夜生活m.




The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 21/12/2018

Six of the best: City B&Bs

Simpsons of Potts Point.TARA GUEST HOUSE
Shanghai night field


Breakfast can stretch beyond two hours as guests chat over shared platters of frittatas, prosciutto and sweet corn fritters while hosts Brom and Julian Rapley rustle up coffees. The wonderful sense of community of inner-Sydney Enmore invades Tara, an 1886 two-storey property that languished as a boarding house before the Rapleys saved it. The hospitality begins with complimentary airport pick-up and plenty of tips on where to dine among the 400 nearby cafes and restaurants. Each of the art-filled rooms is different; the larger two at the front have sitting rooms, while another has a four-poster bed and another a marble bathroom. Soiree concerts with local musicians are held every three months.

Rooms from $175 a night. See taraguesthouse上海夜生活m.au.



This luxurious bed and breakfast in tree-lined Challis Avenue is a Sydney gem. A cosy haven metres from cafes and bars, its library-drawing room is warmed by an open fire and the sunlight-filled conservatory is the perfect breakfast spot. No two of the 12 rooms are the same, from the dormer rooms in the attic to the family suite with private courtyard and the lavish Cloud Suite with gilt mirrors, stained-glass windows and jacuzzi for two. Built in 1892 and tastefully restored, the B&B is undeniably elegant, but its homely atmosphere and personalised service are what keeps guests coming back.

Rooms from $235 a night, with minimum two-night stays during for weekends. See simpsonshotel上海夜生活m.



Musicians, painters, writers, philosophers and mere mortals mingle over a nightcap in the sitting room and linger over casual breakfast. Owner and artist Maggie Fooke has created something of a European salon in her 19th-century mansion. It has a touch of the makeshift and a good dash of the country cottage – and it all works perfectly in fashionable Fitzroy. The upstairs “green room” is the pick, furnished with antiques and with a private bathroom. There are seven rooms and six bathrooms. Silk robes are provided for guests who walk a few metres to the shared bathrooms. The courtyard-garden is ideal for reading the papers over a morning coffee. Rates from $135 (shared bathroom) and $195 (private bathroom). See brooklynartshotel上海夜生活m.au.



This 1920s-style mansion in a quiet suburban street offers all the comforts of home. Owner Stan Turton has hospitality running through his veins, picking up guests from the airport (at a charge) and providing free city transport travel passes. Chandeliers, stained-glass windows and a grand piano give the lounge and dining areas a touch of history, while each of the four rooms has its unique style: the Heritage room has a calico-swathed four-poster bed and the Scroll room has an open fire and plump sofas. All rooms share bathrooms, which have claw-foot baths. Glendalough is five kilometres north of the city.

Rooms from $95 a night. See glendalough上海夜生活.au.



Waking up next to a big red fire engine is a little disconcerting, especially for fans of The Hangover movie trilogy. The vehicle, however, is not stolen but a fixture at the quirky-as-it-comes, fantastic Fire Engine Suite. One of three apartments in the 19th-century bluestone former fire station, the suite is dominated by the 1942 fire engine, complete with ladder, cartoonish headlights and a shiny horn. A metre away is a red fire pole, and fireman’s memorabilia – for the kids, of course – fill the rooms. There’s a queen bed and a sofa bed for the little ones. Breakfast is do-it-yourself from an abundance of locally grown and baked provisions.

Rates from $199 a night. See adelaideheritage上海夜生活m.



Hikers ready to explore Cataract Gorge fuel up on host Steve’s extraordinary breakfast fare. The table groans with home-made mueslis, organic jams and even his own honey, while the rice pudding and pikelets like mum used to make are irresistible. It’s billed as a continental breakfast but it’s more than even the heartiest eater could manage. Steve exceeds half of the bed-and-breakfast equation and serves it in a charming dining room overlooking a garden. The Victorian-era house and rooms are gracious rather than grand, although all have kitchenettes; they ooze charm, just like Launceston. On a hill with views over the Tamar, the lodge is an easy walk to town.

Rooms from $130 a night. See windmillhilllodge上海夜生活m.au.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 21/12/2018

Flight test: China Eastern

Shanghai night field

Melbourne to Shanghai.




Eastern Miles or Qantas Frequent Flyer. (This flight was booked with Qantas but is codeshared and operated by China Eastern.)


Economy 61L, a window seat in the exit row with more legroom than a standard seat and a bulkhead in front so no one can lean back into you. No extra charge; I simply ask for it at check-in. (The exit rows can’t be pre-booked but are given on a first-come basis at the counter to suitable-looking people.)


10 hours, 20 minutes. (Flight times are civilised, we depart at 11am and arrive about 7.30pm local time).


32-33 inches (81-83 centimetres) pitch, 18 inches (45 centimetres) width. It’s a 2-4-2 layout for 204 economy class seats.


20 kilograms check-in, seven kilograms carry-on.


The seats seem harder than usual. A blanket and pillow are provided. The plane is hot but there is no overhead personal air adjustment. Insufficient water is served.


In the exit row, personal TV screens pop out of the armrest. In the other rows, they are in the seatback. There are on-demand movies, TV shows, games and music but the quality and quantity don’t come close to Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand or any other airline I have flown with recently. Skyfall is the big drawcard in the “latest movies” section, but it was released in Australia more than six months earlier. The best entertainment is watching the high number of passengers who fail to follow basic instructions: going to the toilet during takeoff, walking around when we are told to buckle up during turbulence …


It’s friendly, but the crew has limited English and I have no Mandarin, so idle chatter is out of the question.


Two meals are served with plastic cutlery. No.1 is beef with noodles and No.2 is pork curry with rice. Tiny prawns in a salad with the first meal are alarmingly pink and artificial looking. There are no snacks between meals. Alcohol is limited. Wine and beer are available with the first meal. When I ask for a second drink, a tiny portion is served reluctantly, but after that I’m told the alcohol has run out. I notice some passengers break out their own Baileys Irish Cream.


China Eastern is flying high in the fashion stakes, recently unveiling new blue uniforms with red accessories by Christian Lacroix.


If possible, go on a flight actually operated by Qantas. (Sydney-Shanghai flights are still operated by Qantas but Melbourne-Shanghai by China Eastern). My experience with codeshare buddy China Eastern is nowhere close to Qantas standard. But if you have to go with China Eastern, at least you get Qantas frequent-flyer points.


Qantas increased its codeshare arrangements with China Eastern on May 1 so Qantas passengers now have 17 direct Qantas or China Eastern services between Australia and mainland China each week.

Tested by Robert Upe who flew courtesy of the International Luxury Travel Market.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 21/12/2018

Luxe Nomad: a classic case

We can all be happy that luggage these days is lightweight and rollable but to my mind most modern cases have one great flaw.
Shanghai night field

You can’t put stickers on them.

In the old days, before affordable air travel, people travelled with trunks, onto which porters would affix identifying stickers. The trunks were made of solid wood and canvas and the stickers would stay firmly attached, so much so that, over the course of a lifetime, as other stickers were slapped on, the trunk or case became a sort of diary of the voyages a person had taken.

In our disposable society, it’s unimaginable that a person would keep the same case over decades of travel. But that’s what people did. Flying now is like taking a bus, but when it took weeks to sail from London to Melbourne or 20 days to fly from Sydney to Paris, the journey was worth commemorating. And if you did it multiple times, the stickers on your suitcase were multiple badges of honour.

I love antique steamer trunks and for years I’ve collected them to store clothing, but never fancied the reaction I would get if I turned up to the airport with one. I’ve never seen a passenger try to check in a trunk for a flight or a cruise, and I haven’t led a sheltered life.

One of my trunks has seen better days but the stickers on it have clung tenaciously despite the bashing it has received over the years. The stickers tell me the owner once sailed from Southampton Pier and stayed at the Hotel Lotti in Paris.

What does my new nylon Samsonite tell anyone? Nothing. It may have only travelled to Hobart for all anyone might guess, and yet already it has seen four continents. It would be a very colourful and tarty suitcase by now if it had collected sticky labels – it has already been unpacked in Paris’s Le Meurice, Scotland’s Gleneagles and Marrakech’s Taj Palace. But, so far, it has gathered only an oil stain and a few grubby fingerprints.

I returned a few weeks ago from a journey on the wonderful Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It’s as romantic as you can imagine – beautiful old carriages exactingly restored, porters in snappy blue-and-gold uniforms bringing you afternoon tea in your cabin, and elegant four-course dinners in formal dining cars where Josephine Baker and Graham Greene once sat.

The experience demanded the glamour of a trunk, but the practicalities of flying from Sydney through Dubai to Venice meant the lightweight suitcase had to do. As we passengers boarded from the platform, our luggage was a mundane sea of nylon and polycarbonate. The porters, in their bright blue and gold-braided uniforms, deserved better.

Now here’s the thing: in lieu of stickers, our luggage was labelled with fetching paper VSOE tags, beautiful mementos of the trip. Mine stayed attached until it met its first airport baggage handler. Now I have only the remnant of an elastic string to remind me of that wonderful journey.

We record our travels so well these days via Instagram and Facebook and videos we post on YouTube that perhaps we don’t need our suitcases to speak for us. But I can’t help feeling something is lost.

Certainly, I’m not the only one in a nostalgic mood. Where once I might have nabbed a handsome 1920s steamer trunk for $100, these days even an old cardboard suitcase from the 1960s might cost you double that. Anything made by Vuitton, Moynat or Goyard is likely to sell for considerably more.

Interior designers are among those snapping them up. It’s fashionable to decorate homes and hotel lobbies (such as Sydney’s new QT) with vintage luggage. The more a suitcase or trunk looks like it has travelled – multiple stickers, worn straps, beaten-up buckles – the more evocative it is. Maybe some hipster cafe in Brunswick in 2040 will decorate ironically with stacks of torn and stained lightweight rolling suitcases, and maybe they will seem nostalgic, but not one will speak to where we have been.

Last year, during a stay at the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, I received an envelope of nostalgic luggage stickers from classic hotels such as the Grand Hotel Nongkojajar in Java and the Strand Hotel in Rangoon. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to stay put on any of my bags. But they did stick to my laptop, so I suppose that’s a modern consolation.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 21/12/2018

One day, three ways: Geneva

Shanghai night field

One of the world’s priciest cities doesn’t have to be expensive. Get yourself a couple of croissants ($4) and a day bus ticket (tpg.ch; $9) and check out the Reformation Monument, 140-metre Jet d’Eau fountain and beautiful lake-shore parks. In the old town, learn about Genevese history at Maison Tavel (ville-ge.ch; free), parts of which date from 1303. Then duck into the Museum of Art and History

(ville-ge.ch; free) before enjoying cathedral tower views (saintpierre-geneve.ch; $4). Get the dish of the day at lakeshore Buvette des Bains (buvettedesbains.ch; $13). See the Museum of the Red Cross (redcrossmuseum.ch; $15) and have an early dinner at Manora cafeteria (manor.ch; $20). Sleep at the highly regarded youth hostel (yh-geneva.ch; $35).

TOTAL: $100


After a breakfast of muesli and baguette at Le Pain Quotidien (lepainquotidien.ch; $25), wander along lakeshore promenades with views to the French Alps, and on through Parc Mon Repos before joining a tour of the Palais des Nations (unog.ch; $13), the United Nations’ European headquarters. Nearby Musee Ariana (ville-ge.ch/ariana; free) houses one of Europe’s best glass and porcelain collections in a 19th-century villa. Have salad, steak and endless fries at Cafe de Paris (cafe-de-paris.ch; $45). In the afternoon, take to a lake steamer for a cruise to the French mediaeval town of Yvoire (cgn.ch; $60). For dinner, the 1764 Brasserie de l’Hotel de Ville is so old-fashioned it’s hip (hdvglozu.ch; $57). Sleep at stylish boutique Hotel Tiffany (hotel-tiffany.ch; $204).

TOTAL: $404


Have a fine breakfast at cosy Cafe Metropole (cafemetropole.ch; $30) before admiring the splendid Brunswick Memorial and Geneva’s old town, where you can enjoy a lake perch at Les Armures (hotel-les-armures.ch; $39). After your morning walk, get around by taxi (taxi-phone.ch; $46). In the afternoon, the Baur Collections (fondation-baur.ch; $11) showcase superb oriental art. Then take in the Patek Philippe Museum’s (patekmuseum上海夜生活m; $10) antique timepieces. At dinnertime, the regional French food at Le Chat-Botte (beau-rivage.ch; $140) is exquisite. For opera and ballet, head to the Grand Theatre (geneveopera.ch; $155 mid-range seats). Stay in style at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues (fourseasons上海夜生活m/geneva; $744).

TOTAL: $1175

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州桑拿 21/12/2018

Larkham keen to fine-tune new moves

ACT Brumbies backs coach Stephen Larkham insists the team has shelved talks of chasing a four-try bonus point against the Western Force and he urged the players to focus on fine-tuning combinations.
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The lure of a bonus-point win in Perth on Saturday night is impossible to ignore as the Brumbies eye off a finish in the top two on the ladder.

If results go their way, the Brumbies could finish first or second and be within one game of a grand final appearance.

But Larkham said the Brumbies had not been seduced by the prospect of rising up the ladder and would resist the temptation to stray from their plan.

”It’s pointless focusing on a bonus point when the priority is to get things working for the finals. We have to find our combinations,” Larkham said.

”We need to win this game to play well in the finals. No one is looking at the ladder, we’ve been really focused this week.”

The Brumbies have tinkered with their playbook in the four-week bye to add new moves to their game in a bid to boost their chances of play-off success.

Larkham admitted the new moves might not click immediately with the Brumbies injecting nine players at training this week after they returned from Wallabies duties.

But instead of a post-British and Irish Lions tour letdown, Larkham said the Wallabies loss had ”strengthened the team attitude”.

The Brumbies won their last three games before the extended Super Rugby break and secured a historic win against the Lions last month when they became the first Australian provincial team in 42 years to beat the tourists.

Captain Ben Mowen is back with the Brumbies after making his Test debut for the Wallabies and playing a starring role in the series loss to the Lions.

Mowen admitted losing to the Lions was ”emotionally flattening”, but said the Brumbies’ Wallabies contingent was desperate for Super Rugby success.

”It’s been exciting to be back … the Brumbies game has gone way beyond where it was when we left for Wallabies camp,” Mowen said.

”The group is highly energised … they’re driving standards that in the past were driven by senior players. They’ve created all the momentum and now we’re adding our enthusiasm to the group.

”Losing the Test series the way we did was draining. But you just want that bad memory out of your head. We stewed on our missed chance with the Brumbies last year, but now we can get stuck in.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.