Life and Style wRap: Blue diamond, dumpster home, Chinese rockers

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Here are some life and style stories you might have missed this week

MANILA, Philippines – Here are some interesting Life and Style stories you might have missed this week (August 18-24).

Rare blue diamond to be auctioned in Hong Kong

SOMETHING BLUE. A rare gem will be available for auction in Hong Kong soon

A rare round blue diamond will go under the hammer in Hong Kong in October, with auctioneers hoping the sale will fetch a record-breaking $19 million despite fears over the slowing Chinese economy.

Auction house Sotheby’s expects the 7.59-carat fancy vivid blue diamond, which is about the size of a shirt button, to set a new record for price-per-carat.

Quek Chin Yeow, Sotheby Asia’s deputy chairman, said Hong Kong was the natural venue to sell the gem, known as “The Premier Blue,” with collectors expected to fly in from all over the world.

“While there is a slowdown (in the Chinese economy), the number of top-level collectors is still there,” he told AFP.

“We have been selling very well in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong has become a center for jewellery auctions, thanks to growing wealth in China and other parts of the region, as well as the region’s increasing taste for art.

But there are fears for the future of the Chinese economy, the world’s second largest, where growth fell to 7.8% in 2012 — its slowest pace in 13 years.

Blue diamonds seldom hit the market and have been coveted by royals and celebrities for centuries, while a round cut is rarely used in colored stones because of the high wastage.

The most famous example of a blue diamond is the “Hope Diamond,” which was bought by King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century.

The term “fancy” is used to describe a diamond of intense color, while a gem’s saturation grading ranges from light to vivid for colored diamonds.

The Premier Blue will go up for auction on October 7. Quek said the owner wanted to remain anonymous.

In April, a rare 5.3-carat fancy deep-blue diamond was sold for £6.2 million ($9.5 million) at a London auction, then setting a record for price-per-carat at $1.8 million.

Ghosts of German history haunt fabled Berlin dance hall

COME BACK. After two world wars, this party place is ready to celebrate its centenary. Photo from the Claerchens Ballhaus website.

It has survived two world wars, communist spies and a Quentin Tarantino movie production and at the ripe age of 100, Berlin’s most legendary dance hall is also among its most unlikely success stories.

As Claerchens Ballhaus (Claerchen’s Ballroom) prepares to fete its centenary next month, the fabled venue still sees hordes of party-goers young and old queue up in front of its crumbling facade.

White-haired ladies in tiaras and dancing shoes wait to gain entry with hipsters in skinny jeans in a courtyard under a canopy of mature trees, strings of lights and a giant mirrored disco ball.

“Under the kaisers, the chancellors and the chiefs of the (communist) state council, in times of upheaval and social experiments, divided and united again — everybody on one and the same dance floor of history — every political system left its traces,” Marion Kiesow writes in her new book timed for the anniversary, “Berlin Dances at Claerchen’s Ballroom.”

Kiesow argues that in a city that has seen a century of turmoil and reinvention, Claerchen’s is a remarkable constant.

Combing through the building from the basement to the attic, she uncovered decades of relics including love letters, sepia photos and even ripped military maps left behind by Nazi officers during World War II to help her tell Claerchen’s unique story.

In the heyday of German ballrooms around the turn of the last century, Berlin alone had about 900 venues like Claerchen’s, fixtures of every neighborhood.

Many were destroyed during World War II air raids and those remaining fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s as revellers flocked to discos and later the techno clubs that cropped up in the city’s abandoned industrial spaces.

Only 3 of the imperial-era ballrooms in the city center remai,n and Claerchen’s is seen as the most authentic, with nightly dancing.  

US artist turns dumpster into a home 

Photo from

There’s nothing trashy about Gregory Kloehn’s Brooklyn pied-a-terre: a live-in dumpster that sleeps two with ease, hosts impromptu barbecue parties and sports its own sundeck.

It’s the California artist’s tin-can contribution to the tiny-house movement that’s prompting many Americans to ask if bigger really is better when it comes to having a roof over your head.

“On the street, when it’s all closed up, if you don’t know about it, you think it’s a garbage can,” said Kloehn, 42, as he invited AFP to step inside for a house tour.

“They don’t know I’m in here sleeping… Even with the barbecue going outside, chicken wings grilling, people just walk by. They don’t see it as a home.”

Kloehn had already turned 20-foot shipping containers into housing units when he thought up the idea of doing likewise with the steel garbage receptacle known to Britons as a skip.

“What I did is that I bought a brand new dumpster and just started going to town,” he said.

“I was going to make it a little rougher at first, but then I started and I thought, ‘Let’s put in some granite counter tops. Let’s put in some hardwood floors. Let’s really make it luxurious and liveable — really take everything a regular home has and throw it into this small a space.”

You enter Kloehn’s dark-green crash pad — his home back in Oakland is rather more conventional — through a Dutch door with an affixed minibar that is well-stocked with whiskey and vodka.

To the right is the galley-style kitchen with smooth granite countertop, sink, single-burner gas stove, concealed icebox and a hood fashioned out of an old wok.

Running around the edge is a cushioned sofa, upholstered in black vinyl, with backs and seats that lift off to reveal storage space and a marine toilet connectable to a city sewage system.

There’s definitely no room to swing a cat, but twist a crank and up goes the ceiling to reveal a pair of eyebrow windows to provide natural light and some welcome headroom.

Welded onto the exterior is a shower and the gas barbecue. Electricity comes from whatever socket happens to be nearby — what Kloehn calls “living off somebody else’s grid.”

A descendant of Civil War president Abraham Lincoln who, according to legend, grew up in a log cabin, Kloehn paid about US$1,000 for the dumpster, known in the trash business as a six-yard humpback.

He spent another couple of thousand on fittings and insulation — about as much as one month’s rent for a cramped Manhattan studio.

“It’s actually kind of neat, considering what he built it out of,” said Ryan Mitchell, who blogs about tiny-house design and construction.

In a nation where the average home is 2,600 square feet (241 square meters), tiny houses — typically 186 square feet, but going up to 400 square feet — are fetching more attention, not least from aging baby boomers looking to downsize in their retirement years.

“There are more builders. There are more people seeking to live in tiny houses,” Mitchell told AFP by telephone from North Carolina, where he is completing his own diminutive dwelling.

There would be even more tiny homes, he said, if if local zoning regulations and housing codes were not so restrictive.

In a back alley in Washington, a four-unit tiny-house community has taken root at Boneyard Studios, showcasing the possibilities of small-is-beautiful housing in the heart of the nation’s capital.

“It’s not for everyone by any means,” said Jay Austin, whose 140-square-foot home at Boneyard Studios, the Matchbox, is totally off-grid, self-sustaining and carbon-neutral.

In New York, the city’s museum is showing off a 325-square-foot micro-apartment boasting all the features of a unit twice its size — and it’s invited a lucky few to try it out for size by spending the night in it.

“I actually could see myself living here,” museum intern Taylor Jones told the New York Times after a sleepover this week, although she worried how cluttered such a compact space could become.

Not content with making a dumpster just for himself, Kloehn has used found materials — a fridge door here, some castaway lumber there, topped with a fiberglass hood from a pickup truck — to create a “debris home” on wheels for the homeless.

He’s also tinkered with barbecue and salad bars on bicycle frames, documenting them on his blog.

In Bosnia, adrenaline junkies take the plunge

TAKE THE PLUNGE. Cliff diving, though considered dangerous, attracts a lot of thrill-seekers

“Even the tiniest mistake can be fatal,” warns Said Karalic, a veteran of a daring cliff diving competition that draws the Balkans’ most intrepid divers to this Bosnian swimming hole every August.

The site is a steep grey cliff that stands over the river Neretva right in front of the public beach in Konjic, a small town 60 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of capital Sarajevo.

The river runs shallow here except for one “hole” — a pool only two meters (6 feet) in diameter and two meters deep surrounded by jagged rocks, a potential death trap under the striking green water.

It is known as the “Kazan” or “pot,” where young Konjic men have proved their courage for decades.

Word spread, however, and in the last 16 years it has become an annual “must” for the best divers in the Balkans.

Konjic’s 18-meter cliff is far from the tallest in high diving, a discipline only admitted into official competition for the first time this July at the World Aquatic Championships in Barcelona.

But here, there is no room for error as the high diver aims for the small “hole” in otherwise knee-deep waters.

“The flight takes one to two seconds. A man is not a bird, and if we make a mistake we have no time to correct it,” says Karalic.

The greying 55-year-old with short-cropped hair knows better than most. A tattoo on his chest of a man plunging head-first in a “swallow” or “swan” dive commemorates his first successful “leap of death” in 2001, a distinction few can claim.

While Konjic’s classic high dive is made from 18 meters, those attempting the “leap of death” must climb 25 meters up the cliff before plunging into the “hole.” And there are not too many divers who dare.

The Konjic competition has no international standing and the jumpers’ only reward is a medal for bravery.

And despite the danger, no one has ever died. Locals remember only one accident years ago and even that was not serious, they say, because “only the best divers” come to Konjic.

At this year’s event, Karalic, nowadays a referee, took his place alongside 6 other judges on a beach platform facing the cliff.

Sixteen divers from Bosnia, neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, competed in two series of jumps, including 25-year-old local diver Danko Dangbic, the Konjic champion for the last 3 years.

Hundreds of spectators applauded and shouted but when Dangbic reached the diving point, all went silent.

He raised his left hand to signal he was ready, focused on the “pot” below, spread his arms then dived. Seconds later, his head bobbed out of the cold water looking straight at the judges. Yes, his dive was perfect.

“It’s more the mind then the muscles,” he says. “It’s the dive that requires concentration and perfect fitness, one cannot afford any mistakes.”

His advice to future divers: “Determination and courage are crucial.”

“Even the best possible physical fitness cannot help the jump if you are not brave,” he says.

Dino Bajric, 24, this year’s second-place winner sports a shiny silver medal around his neck and readily admits that it is the adrenaline rush that draws him to high diving.

“It is the challenge, the height, the freedom we feel in the air. These few seconds are indescribable.”

“I feel as free as a bird. The space belongs to you during the flight, even if this feeling lasts only briefly, until you hit the water,” he says.

“Then it really hurts.”

Clash of the mini-titans at China school of rock

YOUNG AND ROCKING IT. These kids will can give famous rock acts out there a run for their money. Image by AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO

With neat ponytails and immaculate grades, the four 8-year-olds who bounded on stage would make any Chinese parent proud — but wielding electric guitars, these schoolgirls were ready to add another brick in the wall of rock history.

Dressed in blue-sequinned jackets, their band Cool blasted out a song by British pop-rockers McFly in a heavy style echoing 1970s megastars Led Zeppelin, complete with rock star jumps and fist pumps.

“I like to play loud music which annoys old people,” said lead singer Zhou Zi, whose favorite toy is a big white teddy bear. “We like rock songs because they’re crazy.”

Cool’s members lead parallel lives as students at a chain of music schools hoping to create a new generation of Chinese rock stars, and the band where one of more than two dozen child outfits are battling for honors at a competition in the northern port city of Tianjin earlier this month.

The event — where bands offered a mix of foreign covers and original tunes — is a symbol of rock music’s move into the mainstream of China’s entertainment industry since it met opposition from authorities when it arrived in the country in the 1980s.

A band named Rock Fairytale — the eventual winners — played the Guns N’ Roses classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine” before the 10-year-old leader of another group, dressed in a spangly black shirt and leather boots, gave an impressive rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Boom, from China’s poor Henan province, covered the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”

Asked what he knew about the British foursome, the band’s 8-year-old lead singer Jia Tianyi responded: “They’re probably from the US.”

In defiance of rock cliche, irresponsible backstage behavior at the competition was limited to impromptu games of hide and seek between band members, while Cool’s post-performance routine included eating peaches bought along by the bass player’s father.

As well as attending normal classes, the band members also go to the Nine Beats music school in Tianjin, whose founder, Li Hongyu says, has more than 150 branches across China, and thousands of students in total.

“In the past, if parents wanted to children to study music, they would think of classical musical instruments… but few kids studying classical music are happy,” Li said.

“I believe that China’s future rock stars can be found at our school,” he added. “We are changing the direction of Chinese contemporary music.”


Compiled from various AFP stories

Blue diamond image and cliff diving photo from Shutterstock

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