Join me in my wanderings around the globe via these online ramblings in far off places....

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cairns: the Rusty’s Ritual

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Occasionally I actually make it home to Cairns. Yes, even I find it hard to believe I have a home, but for the last week or so I have been home. And if I am home over a weekend there’s always one thing I want to try and do, and that’s make it to Rusty’s Markets. So yesterday I fired up the beast and drove into town to do the Rusty’s Ritual.


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Driving to Rusty’s

Ever since 1974 ~ 75 when a local speedway racer known as “Rusty” gathered together an ad-hoc group of hippies selling their wares from tents from various locations around town and popped them into a basically empty lot between Grafton and Sheridan Street, Rusty’s Markets has thrived and become an iconic part of the history of Cairns City. Ironically the site chosen was part of Cairns’ original Chinatown and operated as market through the 1800’s. In fact during the redevelopment of the Rusty’s site a few years back over 4000 Chinese artefacts were discovered during the digging of the foundations. The Cairns and District Chinese Association has a private collection of artefacts from the site that can be viewed through private arrangements.


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Part of the private collection of Chinese artefacts from Cairns’ 1800’s Chinatown, the site now occupied by Rusty’s Markets


Rusty’s has changed a lot over the years, it used to be a one day a week taking turns with the original Kuranda Markets nearby, Rusty's was Saturday, Kuranda was Sunday. Basically there was not the population nor the market vendors to support two markets at once, so one day it was Kuranda, the next day it was Rusty’s. Nowadays Rusty’s runs over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rusty’s is officially about fresh fruit and vegetables, but it’s more than that, it’s the people, it’s the experience, it’s the ritual shared by hundreds every  Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning in Cairns.


p8280285 Rusty’s Market today


For me the peak period in Rusty’s history was the late 80’s early 90’s. In 2003 the markets were completely redeveloped and “enveloped” by the massive Gilligan’s backpackers resort who are the current owners of the markets. Prior to that they were essentially outdoor markets, and that late 80’s – early 90’s period was, at least to me, the peak time. In that period the market was filled with characters. There was still the left over from the Hippie period and a big influx of younger Ferals and Greenies. The pub on the corner, originally the Commercial Hotel built in 1926, had become Rusty’s Pub and the back opened up onto the markets with live bands playing through the afternoon. Radicals, drop outs, drunken louts mixed with business people and Mr & Mrs Earlville as they did their shopping or just hung out. The value of real estate proved to great and as mentioned above by 2003 the land was snapped up and turned into a resort, but through a huge amount of local outpourings and vocal support, Rusty’s was included in the new development and lives on today.


p8280269 Rusty’s is known for it’s range of exotic fruits and vegetables. Here Black Sapote, known as Chocolate Pudding fruit due to the soft creamy brown interior of the fruit. Unfortunately it tastes nothing like chocolate and personally I find them fairly average as far as exotic fruits go

Spending so much time in the Asia-Pacific as I do, where markets are the lifeblood of the communities that house them, Rusty’s is just an extension of that. In the early days a large percentage of fruit and vegetable vendors were European in origin, the stereotypical Greek and Italian green grocers. Today there is a much bigger Asian influence, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Filipino all bringing with them their particular mix of foods from their countries, making Rusty’s a great multicultural shopping experience.


‘round Rusty’s

I have a few regular habits when I do make it there. For decades I have been visiting the Hare Krishnas at Rusty’s and buying their vegetable samosas. I always buy half a dozen or more take them home and freeze them for quick meals when I need one. Far from the deep fried things most people associate with samosas, these seem to be baked with a great soft pastry covering and perfect curry vegetable contents.


p8280277 I’ve been buying Samosas from the Hare Krishnas for decades

p8290297They’re baked not fried!

radhakrsna-h The Hare Krishnas once had a much higher profile at Rusty’s

The Filipino “sector” is always on my list and where for breakfast I always grab some Filipino style sio pao. Steam Buns are found through out Asia and the Filipino ones are generally filled with a sweet pork mix. This visit I also grabbed a “slab” of lechon kawali. Lechon is the classic Filipino roasted suckling pig, and the “kawali” part is where the lechon ( the pork belly usually) is fried, after being roasted, to a crispy state. The other Filipino product that I must grab at the markets is a few bags of Calamansi, the Filipino national fruit. This tiny citrus fruit is absolutely delicious.

p8280287 My ritual Rusty’s breakfast; Filipino Sio Pao

p8280271Filipino corner at Rusty’s

p8290294A slab of crispy Lechon Kawali

4479_87439251117_522021117_1826572_8382250_n The Filipino national fruit, Calamansi goes best with Russian Vodka….in my humble opinion……


Something that has become a recent Rusty’s ritual for many has been the introduction of an ad-hoc coffee shop mid markets. “Billy’s Coffee” is always packed, with chairs squeezed in the narrow spaces between other stalls, there’s always a line up and now you even see people wearing “Billy’s Coffee” t-shirts around town.


p8280276 Billy’s Coffee is a recent Rusty’s ritual addition for many locals 


There’s a big Pacific Islander presence as well and Rusty’s would be the number one place in Australia for the trade Betel Nut. A mild stimulant, the nut of the Areca catechu palm is chewed throughout the Asia Pacific, no where in the world seems to be hooked on Betel Nut as much as the Papua New Guineans are and there’s always a decent crowd from our nearby neighbour making their purchases, not getting far before the succumb to the urge and start chewing the nut. The nut is chewed with the long green inflorescence of the Betel Pepper plant to add flavour and usually powdered calcium hydroxide “lime” to increase the stimulant effect of the active ingredients in the nut.


p8280280 Pre packaged bags of Betel Nut and Betel Pepper inflorescences

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Papua New Guineans selling Betel Nuts, Betel Peppers and woven “Bilum” bags



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 A botanical plate description of the Areca Catechu palm, bearer of Betel Nuts!



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 Samoans, here selling Taro, make up part of the large Pacific Islander presence


I also have to visit the Thai corner for my favourite Thai Pickled Pork, strips of pork, pickled with hot Thai chillies. There’s usually some great desserts to be found here as well. This time I got a tub of sago and taro in creamed coconut. Just like being in Thailand!


Untitled-TrueColor-01 And in the Thai corner it’s pickled pork and coconut sago dessert……..


There’s even  a small Japanese section which this time around was selling burdock, daikon radish, Japanese cucumbers and the locally renowned Yamagishi Happy Eggs. Regularly reviewed as some of the best eggs in the world, the chickens are treated like kings and the eggs are the just rewards of such treatment. The Yamagishi movement is a network of egalitarian intentional communities which originated in Japan. People in these communities live without money and with minimal personal possessions, but their needs are provided for by the community.


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There was an interesting busker outside Rusty’s, a man from the Torres Strait, playing traditional Torres Strait music on a ukelele with a traditional rattle on his foot for his version of a one man band.

 Torres Strait Tunes

So for me, if I am in Cairns, I need my feel of Asian wet markets in Cairns, my mix of cultures, smells and flavours, that is  the Rusty’s Ritual

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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Japan: the Last Samurai of Aomori

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The first thing I noticed as we pulled up outside a suburban Japanese home in Aomori, was what seemed like extreme security measures for an ordinary Japanese home. Serious all-weather day/night cameras in tamper proof housings covered all angles of the perimeter of the place. An extremely high and very solid looking wall encircled the property. The entry gate was a cross between an ancient Japanese castle gate and a maximum security door from Boggo Road Jail. A video intercom system, in an equally tamper proof housing as the cameras, was mounted beside the gate. Whatever this place was, nobody was going to get in here without a lot of effort. But why? Why would this seemingly ordinary house in a non descript suburb of a non descript city have more security than a Hells Angels Club House?

Aomori City sits at the top of the main Japanese Island of Honshu, and is the capital city of the prefecture with the same name. With a population of just over 300,000 people it’s a comfortable size as far as Japanese cities go. My gracious hosts from the Aomori Port Internationalisation Conference were out to show me the essence of Aomori. We weren’t looking for mainstream “tourist” displays, we wanted the real deal, we were in search of the soul of Aomori.

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Aomori, Northern Honshu

That’s not to say Aomori doesn’t have mainstream attractions that are good attractions. The region is famous for Nebuta, a festival where giant floats of a warrior figure made of Japanese paper stretched over a wooden frame and illuminated from within are carried in a parade accompanied by taiko drums and flutes. Nebuta’s warrior figure has become the defacto symbol of Aomori.

wdsc_0018 a Nebuta float made of Japanese paper

wdsc_0019Our old friend Anpanman makes an appearance in Aomori, Nebuta style 

Aomori has a giant Buddha at the Seiryu temple. Of course Aomori’s Buddha is claimed to be bigger than any of the other giant Buddha's in Japan at just over 21 metres, and I believe there are a few! The  Seiryu temple also housed a special kannon, the Bokeyoke Kannon for the elderly to pray to ward off the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's. The temple had a stunning selection of colourful Hydrangeas in full flower when I was there.

Untitled-TrueColor-04 Aomori’s Giant Buddha, just over 21m high

zzdsc_0951Beautiful Hydrangeas in the temples garden 

zzdsc_0957 the Bokeyoke Kannon to help prevent dementia

Another popular land mark in Aomori prefecture is the artistic rice fields of  Hirosaki. Here locals design artistic works which are then laid out by farmers planting different coloured rice. A large viewing platform, 8 stories high has been constructed next to the rice fields so viewers can take in the whole scene from a high enough vantage point to appreciate the artistic rice plantings. Every year a new design is planted out in the fields. Hirosaki Castle stands nearby the rice fields. Completed originally in 1611 and subsequently burnt to the ground, the current castle tower was completed 200 years later in 1811.

wdsc_0100 Viewed from several stories above the ground, one of the artistic rice fields

wdsc_0099 another part of the amazing rice art

dsc_0180Hirosaki Castle

dsc_0170 More conventional view of the castle

dsc_0160 the castle’s moat

dsc_0151 one of the hundreds of crows inhabiting the castle grounds

But back to the search for the soul of Aomori that had led me to be standing outside this mini-fortress in the suburbs. As with a lot of my time in Japan I didn’t really know what was going on in any great detail. I knew the basics of why I had been brought there, and that was something to do with a man and some swords. It had been described to me that I was to see some traditional “sword play”, but that's about all I had been able to comprehend. We announced our arrival via the sophisticated security intercom on the gate.

Not speaking Japanese, I still didn’t have much clue what was going on, but the response from the security intercom seemed not what my Japanese accomplices were expecting. Confused looks spread amongst them and they began looking around, It seemed we were in the wrong place. About 50m along the security wall another door opened and two serious looking figures in traditional dress appeared beckoning us to come towards them. The man standing forward of his compatriot was wearing black traditional clothing. His age was hard to determine. He was obviously fit, his beard showing some signs of grey. He had an intense stare in his eyes, not directed at anything, but a power that existed and seemed to launch from his eyes. Behind him an apparently older man, in simpler brown clothing, had a much more humbler almost subservient appearance. We were ushered inside, formally welcomed and introduced.

“Welcome to my dojo”, the man with the intense eyes said in unique tone. This imposing man, this serious figure that almost commanded respect without me knowing a scrap about him, demanding respect just by his presence. But the whole picture was offset by this tiny little yap-yap type dog he was holding in one hand that looked more like it belonged in Paris Hilton’s handbag! The man was Hayakawa Naohiko, as I was about to find out, the Last Samurai of Aomori, Master 8th Dan of Sekiguchi Martial Arts and 17th generation instructor and practitioner of a particularly unique form of Iai – the drawing of ones sword. In the dojo, Hayakawa-san explained briefly he was the last samurai in a long line of samurais. He lives strictly by the Bushido code, the code of honour that true samurais live by. He explained that samurais you may see at castles dressed for the tourists, samurais in movies, basically any other samurai you may come across in the 21st century would almost inevitably be fakes. Actors or role players, wearing plastic armour and wielding swords made for the occasion. But here he was, the real deal, with a soul of a true samurai, skills and knowledge handed down through the ages along his blood line. His dojo was filled with artefacts and memorabilia. Taiko drums, swords and various training tools  The Sekiguchi martial arts has various elements contained within, grappling unarmed, sword fighting, and Hayakawa-san was no doubt expert in all, but his specialty was the drawing (and subsequent use of course) of his sword. We were now invited to enter his home, a matter of metres across a small lawn from his large dojo.
 dsc_0051 Hayakawa-san blows his horn in the dojo

Having taken my shoes off to enter the dojo, it was now time to put my shoes back on to cross the lawn. Looking for some support while struggling to replace my shoes I decided to support myself on a small pedestal that now held the previously mentioned yap-yap dog. I had just noticed this midget dog had almost the same intense stare in it’s eyes as the bushido master when Hayakawa-san said “Don’t touch the dog” in his haunting tone. No worries there Mr Samurai, I ain’t touchin’ your dog!

dsc_0048  Ever wondered what a samurai dog looks like?

We passed through the kitchen led by the Samurai, who was always followed one step behind by his assistant in brown robes. All of a sudden through a sliding panel wall we were in what you could call a treasure room. And all of a sudden the extreme security of the building made sense. The room was full of Japanese classic artefacts. Swords and other weapons, armour and helmets, artworks and folding screens, vases and lacquer ware, the room was full of priceless antiquities. We sat at a traditional table and consumed our green tea as one does in Japan whilst Hayakawa-san explained his blood line, producing ancient rice paper scrolls that had family trees and bloodlines explained, even giving me a photocopy should I dare to not believe his ancestral lineage so I could look it up later. I had numerous gifts showered upon me, art works, lacquer ware, calligraphy pencils decorated with gold leaf, and a DVD movie of the samurai in action.

p7270032 Inside the “treasure room”

p7270036 Part of the priceless collection

p7270033Ancient samurai armour 



And then it was time for the swords. The assistant seemed to produce this sword from nowhere. An amazing piece of work, the sword was said to be nearly 700 years old. The particular speciality of sword drawing that the samurai and this master used allowed the sword to be drawn and re-sheathed whilst seated. The advantage to this is obvious if you are on horseback. This sword was a Tachi, a predecessor to the more well known Katana sword. The Tachi is longer than the Katana and is carried in a different position and is favoured for horse back fighting. The Tachi being quite long is quite difficult to draw and re-sheath particularly one handed while seated.

wdsc_0052 the ancient warrior sword



But the best was still to come, it was time for the actual demonstration. We returned to the garden and the explanations continued. The demonstration would take place against bundles of straw and rolled up tatami mats. The master explained due the bushido code and the nature of the sword drawing art the adversaries, even though not real people, must be treated with respect and honour. The master ran through various techniques including single handed attacks. Each “attack” followed a ritual form, with the master drawing the sword, completing the attack, wiping the “blood” from the sword and re-sheathing. The swords used in the demonstrations were around 300 years old each and I shown battle-scars on the sword blades from times when the swords were used in real battles. The master also explained how much care must be taken to maintain the swords to keep them corrosion free hundreds of years after they were first crafted.

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As we left the house after an amazing introduction to the sacred sword drawing and fighting art forms of the samurai we noticed a late model top end Mercedes in the driveway with personalised plates “1”. I made the comment “that's what a samurai drives” to which one of the locals replied, that’s more like the head of the Yakuza’s ride…….

The following is a short movie made in 2009 with a Sword Drawing Ceremony at Daizenji Temple in Shinshiro to commemorate the fallen in the Battle of Nagashino (1575), featuring the Iai by Hayakawa-san. The sword and armour are the originals mentioned above. The sword (tachi) is more than 700 years old. Filmed and edited by Roger Walch/rowemusefilms .







Sunday, 8 August 2010

Kolourful Korea

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Korea has never featured predominately on my personal radar, and the recent three days I spent in Busan hardly qualifies me now as a Korean expert. When I would think of Korea the things that would come to mind; minefields, Hyundai cars, M*A*S*H, the crazy dictator next door, and Kimchi, Kimchi and more Kimchi. With respect, not a lot has changed, except now I would add COLOUR and Hibiscus to the list! I lived in complete ignorance for 40 years that Korea is home to an incredible diverse and colourful collection of Hibiscus. The flower that I would immediately associate with Hawaii, Jamaica, the South Pacific, Polynesia or similar is apparently the national flower of Korea! Who would have known! The Korean Hibiscus, Hibiscus syriacus, is indeed a beautiful Hibiscus specimen.

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The colour of the Buddhist temples of the Busan area certainly are a distinguishing feature amongst other Buddhist temples in the Asian region. Certainly Hindu temples in various global locations are garishly, yet at the same time, stunningly colourful, and the Buddhist temples in Korea seemed to have inherited the same colourful traits as their Hindu predecessors.



xxdsc_0916 Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Busan

kkdsc_0767 Beomeosa Temple, Busan

Despite the colour, the tension of living within seconds of nuclear destruction with your nearest neighbour to the North is inescapable in everyday life. Whilst I was in Korea, land mines from the north had apparently “accidentally” washed down into South Korea from the north killing two innocent farmers. The residual tension from the recent sinking of a South Korean warship with considerable loss of life hung heavily in the air. A visit to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea was a sober reminder that the Korean War has never really ended and remains in a state of limbo.

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kkdsc_0994 Soldiers of the Korean 53rd Division guard the cemetery with daily morning and evening ceremonial flag raising/lowering ceremonies. Every second Saturday the ceremony includes the flags of all nations that contributed to the UN force during the Korean War and is accompanied by a volley of rifle shots

kkdsc_0998the Australian memorial

kkdsc_0006 the Canadian Memorial

kkdsc_0007British section of the cemetery

Certainly fitting into the “colourful” category is Haeundae Beach outside of Busan. In summer Koreans flock to this beach in the thousands. The beach is jam packed with neat rows of colourful umbrellas that one must rent, leaving absolutely no “free” space on the beach at all. Giant piles of bright coloured inflatable beach “toys” are everywhere ready for the crowds to hire. The water off the coast is quite dirty and the beach itself nothing special yet they continue to flock here in their droves.

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Crowded Haeundae Beach, Busan

Certainly for many of us the thought of spending time in such a crowded, “regimented” beach is an abomination but it really has to be seen to be believed!

Korea, or at least my limited exposure in Busan, has a colourful street food scene, something I love. And where ever there is food in Korea there is Kimchi!

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In many ways bright red Kimchi is a perfect example of Kolourful Korea!


View Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea in a larger map
Google Map View of Haeundae Beach



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