This correspondent was never able to remember the difference between the Sydney Fast Ferry and the Manly Fast Ferry. Which one left from Wharf 6 at Circular Quay, which one needed which card and which one served 4 Pines Beer. Readers of the Manly Daily have been bored to tears by the protracted and unnecessary saga of awarded the Fast Ferry gig to one company when two seemed to be happily co-existing for some time.
Well the confusion is over and beer drinkers have lost out. The mob that doesn’t serve 4 Pines won the contest and a bearable trip is made less bearable by a beer choice that is woeful (OK James Boag Premium will do at a pinch, but easily it could be better). As I write, Sydney is being lashed by rain that would make Noah itchy, and it was one of the few nights where there was no prospect of even a Side of the Ferry trip home on the Manly Ferry, so the Fast Ferry was the only option. It was quite an experience. Things were going fine until we hit the Heads and it really started to get a little dodgy. The ferry yawed and heaved and groaned as it struggled mightily to get traction at times. One young lady couldn’t cope and joined me outside and hung her head over the side oblivious to the drenching she copped from spray and rain. (Discretion kept from a snap and she didn’t chunder). I’m not sure but the boat tonight seemed smaller than normal. It certainly struggled.
The only advantage of catching a Fast Ferry from Wharf 6 is that you get mighty close to the bows of some pretty impressive ships. I pity these passengers whose dream trip into Sydney Harbour would have resemble being in a large shower cubicle. Ah well, you can’t have perfect weather all the time.
After a couple of bullet trains and a looong Metro ride I arrived at the second city of my Chinese weekend – Shekou, which is a district of Shenzhen. In 1978/9 Deng Xiaoping chose Shenzhen to be a Special Economic Zone. For ShenZhen it was like winning the lottery.
A nondescript fishing village of 25,000 has grown into a mind blowing array of skyscrapers, manufacturing and shopping. Most people that visit Shenzhen do so by crossing the border and travel about 500m to the Luohu Commercial City to shop for fake luxury goods. A trip to Shekou and a night out is worth the effort. You can get there by Metro or about a 120RMB cab. Shekou’s fun because it combines glorious kitsch, over the top modern buildings and a very varied bar scene. There’s everything from high end rooftop bars to the grungiest dive bars and all manner of things in between. To my great mirth and delight I discovered a microbrewery in a cruise ship that has somehow been moved onto land.
It’s a great set up with 3 styles brewed in gleaming copper kettles. They make a dark, a golden and a very serviceable wheat beer. This went down very well with one of the best bar snacks I’ve had – chilli fried baby whitebait. Kitschy – yes. Fun – absolutely. I left plenty on the table at Shekou, including not eating in Willie’s Crab Shack in a street full of seafood restaurants. The next morning I walked through the wet markets – the seafood is fresh. Might be worth another day trip from Hong Kong – this time by ferry!
A week’s work in Hong Kong means a weekend visit to China. Staying true to this blog’s origins I chose a city to start with that I could access via ferry. Zhongshan is 90 minutes from Kowloon, crossing the Pearl River Delta and heading up a river. Felt good being in an Australian made boat, but was disappointed not to be allowed outside. Even with the rain and mist it would have been fun.
Named after Sun-Yat Sen’s family name to honour his birth in the city, Zhongshan is a modern city with not much of an old section that I love walking through. There are a couple of pedestrian streets with crumbling facades, but anything old has probably been knocked down. There’s numerous. tributes to Sun-Yat Sen, including a marvellous statue that looks down one of the main treeA few laoweis come to town and a number of the big hotel chains have some huge hotels here. I stayed in tallest – the Hilton, which is relatively cheap for the opulence. For me its highlight is the 59th floor Horizon Bar. If it wasn’t for the ubiquitous mist, the views would be amazing. They still weren’t bad and a Paulaner Hefe is an alright option at 38RMB.
The citizens of Zhongshan gather around the river and there’s a dense pack of KTV venues amongst the restaurants. In amongst the neons, hotels and construction sites is one of Zhongshan’s few bars. Friends Bar and Club has been operating since 1998 and is Westerner owned. One Trip Advisor reviews mentions that one of the owners died of alcohol poisoning, which is taking an occupational hazard too far. Friends in name – not in nature. I must have flies on me this night, because after my first watery Carlsberg, no-one turned up at my elbow to push another my way. RSA? No – NFI more likely. There was a ton of staff and I just wonder if there’s been a change of hands.
Better luck was to be had at the Zhongshan branch of the Guangdong province’s empire of Hooley’s Irish Pubs. There’s three all up. This is a big joint with plenty of TVs with a bloke who actually can find stuff on the hundreds of channels. Next thing I know, I’m watching West Coast v Carlton. The only other time I’ve seen Brewer & Union beer was in Guangzhou at The Brew. Well, they’ve saturated the Guangdong Western bar market as far as I can see with 4 taps on the go and even a tasting paddle. Hooley’s also does a genuine happy hour where it is two for one. That made the 55RMB pint price very tolerable. The menu follows the western bar in China cookie cutter approach (burgers, pizza, pasta, steak). I had two types of wings and one type (Korean) had serious heat.
So that’s Zhongshan ticked off.
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Whilst there’s never a bad time to be on the Back of the Ferry, twilight during Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time is my favourite. This years AEDST season has been a ripper, with the ever increasing numbers of massive cruisers coming through the Heads, making journeys home even more enjoyable. Even Mr Liquor at Circular Quay has picked up his act with the introduction of the odd unique in 2015. His latest unique is typical Euro malt bomb from Italy. Birra Italia 1906, was first made in 1906 (funny that) in Milan. The brand declined after an earthquake caused the wells that fed the original brewery to relocate. A new owner and new brewery – Birra Castello S.p.A – emerged at the start of the century and this looks to be their flagship export.
This year there’s been some new visitors to Sydney Harbour, with the Queen Victoria gracing us with her presence. The Harbour almost seemed crowded when the Queen Victoria and the Queen Mary joined forces for the day. A great sight is seeing any of the new behemoths sail out at sunset lit up like a city skyscraper on its side. The last couple of daylight savings evenings have seen the Manly Ferry chase one down the Harbour. On the night of the Birra Italia, we were able to pass the Radiance of the Seas during a particularly colourful sunset with orange and purple hues filling the air. Just beautiful.
In 1979, Life on Earth by David Attenborough was published. Like many others, I love it, but probably not for an expected reason. I was fascinated by two paragraphs of beautifully dry and exact prose that describes the world’s laziest creature. The facts alone amuse, but it is only at the end that one imagines Attenborough finally cracking it for a grin. I reproduce those paragraphs here.
There are two main kinds of sloth, the two-toed and the three-toed. Of these, the three-toed is considerably the more slothful. It hangs upside down from a branch suspended by hook-like claws at the ends of its long bony arms. It feeds on only one kind of leaf, Cecropia, which happily for the sloth grows in quantity and is easily found. No predators attack the sloth – few indeed can even reach it – and nothing competes with it for the Cecropia. Lulled by this security, it has sunk into an existence that is only just short of complete torpor. It spends eighteen out of twenty-four hours soundly asleep. It pays such little attention to its personal hygiene that green algae grow on its coarse hair and communities of a parasitic moth live at the depths of its coat producing caterpillars which graze on its mouldy hair. Its muscles are such that it is quite incapable of moving at a speed of over one kilometre an hour even over the shortest distances and the swiftest movement it can make is a sweep of its hooked arm. It is virtually dumb and its hearing is so poor that you can let off a gun within inches of it and its only response will be to turn slowly and blink. Even its sense of smell, though it is better than ours, is very much less acute than that of most mammals. And it sleeps and feeds entirely alone.
But it has to have some kind of social life. With such blurred and blunted senses, how does on sloth find another in order to breed. There is one clue. The sloth’s digestion works just about as slowly as the rest of its bodily processes and it only defacates and urinates once a week. But most surprisingly, to do so it descends to the ground and it habitiually uses the same place. This is the one moment in its life when it is exposed to real danger. A jaguar could easily catch it here. There must be some important reason for it to take such apparently unnecessary risks. Its dung and urine has extremely pungent smells, and the senf of smell is the only one of the sloth’s faculties that is not seriously blurred. So a sloth midden is the one place in the forest that another sloth could easily find – and the one place, too, where it stands a chance of meeting another sloth, say once a week or so. Maybe a sloth’s midden is also its trysting palce, and there is certainly no other easy way of compiling one, except on the ground. We cannot, however, be sure, for no student of animal behaviour has yet been brave enough to contemplate the days and nights of stupefying inactivity that would have to be endured by anyone who wants to find out more about the sloth’s private life.
I read those paragraphs in 1982, and they stayed with me to the extent that I eventually formed a sports club named “The Sloths”, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year (though, like its namesake, the Sloths are presently dormant).
Why this burst of nostalgia? Well, a week ago I was visiting one of Back of the Ferry’s all time favourite Sydney CBD bars, the SG, and there was a beer named “Three Toe”. I blinked a couple of times in surprise, got close and friendly with the tap head, and sure enough – here’s a pale ale named after the Three-Toed sloth (which remember “is considerably the more slothful”. Merchant Brewing Co have made a ripping American Pale Ale. It’s a great combination of malty goodness with a serious dose of hops. Merchant Brewing Co looks like a brewery to keep an eye on – and I hope the Three Toe Pale becomes a staple in their line-up as opposed to a seasonal.
*Life on Earth – A Natural History by David Attenborough. Published 1979.
…you know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the one who drinks up next to you! Cos I will drink 500 beers, and I will drink 500 more! 2015 is a big year for me beer-wise… I’ve taken on the challenge of drinking 500 different beers, whilst at the same time as staying healthy – not an impossibility when you consider it’s full of good ingredients! I’m already 150 beers in and it’s not yet Easter. The challenge is not so much drinking 500 beers, but more that I have to travel far and wide to find 500 different beers – there just aren’t that many on offer in Norfolk (UK).
This week, I find myself in B.C. (British Columbia) in Pat’s Pub, 403 East Hastings St, Vancouver http://www.patspub.ca/brew/… I found it when I googled ‘craft beers Vancouver’. BC this evening could equally mean “before comedy” as I’ve stumbled across the weekly stand-ups (on stage, not the usual wise cracks at the bar). The bar tender is extremely friendly (& trendy), & she takes the trouble to actually write down the names of the beers on my paddle – the manager is mega enthusiastic, who informs me there’s some 94 local brewers, immediately telling me that he’s going to give me some free samples, including an Irish number that people have swapped from Guinness for (that’s no accolade, but I’ll give it a try).
The first beer (from right to left) is their special – once it’s gone, it’s gone – Snowblind Belgian IPA.. an amber-looking, mild grapefruit starter, that is made with good ol’ Aussie and New Zealand hops (as so much of the world’s beer now is, by the way). I imagine this one will be gone very soon. Its neighbour is Fat Tug IPA – being the West Coast, you have to expect an abundance of IPAs – more grapefruit, but perhaps too strong at 7% to take as an aperitif. New Zealand features in the next sample too – Motueka, a town on the South Island that grows hops ideal for pilsners… Four Winds Pilsner raises the bar for the rest that follow here: it’s fabulous (& I’m not a pilsner fan, per se), bitter, hoppy, and complimentary to the other citrus starters with a tangerine freshness. No. 4 is Sasquatch Stout – sasquatch = ‘bigfoot’ from this region, so I better be careful on my way home, given it’s 5%… it’s actually a nice coffee mild, which goes well with the excellent local delicacy beer sandwich that you dip into a gravy soup (very messy, finger-licking good)! What’s interesting about Pat’s Pub is that they have their own brewery, yet a distinct lack of their own beer is noticeable – it’s a good educational facility though, and judging from the sasquatch’n down-&-out gauntlet I had to run through to get here, I’m sure they get in the local schools for beer tasting sessions to start them early. If they don’t, they should.
Pubs definitely need to provide entertainment. Comedy tonight. Last night it was beermat frisbee golf… from your position at the bar, you try to lob a beermat into a jug some 10-15 feet away, 30-odd times, against an opponent or 3, and the loser buys the winner, er, a beer. Tremendous excitement, but costly for the uninitiated like myself. Next time you’re in Seattle, tell Anthony I sent you – he’s the landlord at the Pioneer Square Saloon on Yesler Street, a local pub in another down-&-out area… boy, do I choose them!
Finally, I regret that I have not had time to post on BOTF for a few months, and there’s been so much to say. For those of you who’ve missed me, go drown your sorrows on a couple of strong IPAs… you might like to try some of the ones above. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep you posted (so to speak) more regularly with B.C. (beer comedy).