Friday 29 April 2016

Melbourne City Square – a disappointing brainchild

A town square is an expression of civic dignity and a symbol of urban pride. It is a public space for ceremonies, a perfect venue for recreation, the city’s heart for community gatherings. Brussels has its heritage-listed Grand Place where a gigantic floral composition consisted of innumerable begonias was set up every two years in August; Spain has its Plaza Mayor in Madrid where bullfights, football games and public executions were held; Italy has its Piazza del Campo in Tuscany where a twice-per-year prestigious horse-race is run. So why shouldn’t Melbourne has its own hardscape to play host to its political rallies, symphonies and open markets?

Debates and proposals for a Melbourne civic square were raised and suggested since the 19th century. In the 1920s, the Metropolitan Planning Commission recommended a spacious public square to be created in front of the Victorian Parliament to give the city a sense of “community pride”. In the 1950s, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works urged for the construction of a civic centre, taking example from the New York city where open spaces proved to have the ancillary effect of increasing the value of its surrounding properties. 

The community's need for a city square was brought to its height in the 1960s where more reports were produced giving numerous reasons justifying the necessity of a city square.  Various suggestions were given on a suitable site: the Queen Victoria Market, Exhibition Buildings, opposite Spencer Street Station, the fashionable promenade at Collins Street between Elizabeth and Swanston Streets, the north and the east of Town Hall - all were potential candidates.

But it was the current location, the space between the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral that was awarded prime consideration. The Melbourne City Council eventually settled on this strategic location. The process of acquisition and demolition of properties (including the Queen Victoria Buildings and the City Club Hotel) began. A nationwide design competition for the public square was held, and the construction of the dreamlike project commenced.

The square was officially initiated on 28 May 1980. Despite the high expectations, the vast sum of monies invested, the enormous time and efforts expended; the final result of the square is an extreme disappointment. The new City Square falls way short of the aesthetic expectations of the public. A peculiar yellow steel sculpture was quickly removed from the square following severe criticisms from the people. Slightly a decade later, half the square was sold and developed into the Westin Hotel, substantially reducing the size of the original square to serve any of its original purposes.

Following the opening of the massive Federation Square in 2002, the City Square lost its place as the national identity and a major community playground. The square is now occupied by a few cafes and cake houses, including the famous Brunetti. Once in a while, the square is also used as a venue for certain (usually minor) performances and events, such as the free performances provided during the recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The future of the City Square is gloomy and on the brink of hopelessness. We read from news that the Melbourne Metro Rail will soon be taking over the City Square, forcing the popular Brunetti to seek an alternative location for its current trendy open-air café. So will this be the end of our long-sought civic square? We will soon know for sure.


67 Swanston St, Melbourne

(Reference: The Search for a Square by Jenny Williams)

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Izakaya Den - a secretive Japanese bar experience

An unconventional long and narrow space tucked in a dimly lit basement with hardly visible signage. Upon discovering the mysterious doorway at the ground level of Russell Street, patrons need to descend a flight of stairs and push aside an eccentric-looking black curtain to gain entry into this secretive, underground den.

You squint your eyes, trying to adapt to the sudden and unexpected darkness. You attempt to take a good look at the almost rustic interior, and its exposed ceiling and beams. But before you can fully take in the odd combination of peculiarity and chicness of your current surrounding, you would have already been led and seated on a black Japanese wooden stool, a typical piece of furniture found in many contemporary Tokyo-style taverns. A scroll of parchment-like menu is then handed to you, which might make you wonder momentarily whether you have just been given an oriental coded message from a Japanese shogun.

The menu increases the rapidity of your heart rate. Your favourite pork katsu coated in flavoursome panko breadcrumbs does not appear in the menu, neither is your beef gyudon topped with perfectly caramelized onions or your Char-Siu Ramen that usually forms part of your lunch bento set.

What meets your eyes is a list of unfamiliar items with uncommon twists, and an average high-end prices ranging from light snacks of around $10 each, and char-grilled meat dishes in fine-dining portion from $15 to $26 per plate.

Once you have done the food ordering and picked your choice of sake or umeshu, you can then set your mind at rest and enjoy the silent performance of the open-kitchen chefs showcasing their spectacular skills of chopping, grilling and plating up.

Each dish presented is a fine art combined with awesome gastronomic experience: Crisply marinated fried chicken served with lemon wedges and mayonnaise, dainty Tamagoyaki with fine layers of omelette cooked to perfection, the curious sakata-coated prawns served in Japanese citrus mayonnaise. Simple yet not ordinary, those were some fine dishes of top-notch quality.

Izakaya Den is definitely within my list of highly recommended places for alluring food in a seductive atmosphere, as long as you do not mind the slightly upper range price.

Basement, 114 Russell Street

Opening Hours:

Monday to Friday Lunch: 12 pm- 2.30 pm
Monday to Saturday evening: 5.30 pm till late



Tuesday 26 April 2016

Dick Smith & its closing down sale

Patrons browsed through containers of severely marked down outdated PS3 video games indifferently, like some seasoned market-goers eyeing some leftover lettuce while suspiciously gauging the vendor’s offer. The store, from its façade to the interior, was decorated with discounted signs of varied shapes and ostentatious price tags. Yellow and black barricade tapes randomly cordoned off numerous corners and empty shelves, obstructing the moveable areas of shoppers who were busy making conscious judgment on those discarded items sitting pathetically on the bargain racks.

Even the displayed tables were up for grab, if you could figure out a right spot at home for such massive goods. Conspicuous bright red banners screamed the obvious “Closing Down”, as if the fact is not apparent enough from the humiliating condition of the stores.   

It definitely felt unreal stepping into the soon-demised Dick Smith stores. Where were those coolest gadgets, latest sports devices and passionate staffs that were once the inseparable characteristics of this technology dreamland?

Dick Smith the man is not very pleased to have his name being associated forever with a failed business, but has decided there is pretty nothing much for him to do having been out of the electronic fraternity for far too long. Angry questions were raised as to the misrepresented public listed value of $500 million by the last owner Anchorage Capital, which the founder has attributed as a major factor for causing the downfall of the electronic empire.

Each of the remaining Dick Smith stores in Australia and New Zealand will cease trading by this week. The remnants of inventory amidst the chaotic scene might make you cringed and sighed. Most of the best items with fantastic bargain prices that would have made your eyes glimmered had been grabbed away and disappeared from shelves.

On my recent visit to the two stores in the Melbourne CBD, there were still plenty of button cell batteries, Bush retro portable turntables, phone and tablet’s cases thrown out with significant price slashes. Apple watch was on sale with a 25% marked down, and Ipad was sitting beside a devastated “20% off original price” sign.

This is definitely your last chance to test your luck in hunting for some rare finds before the stores officially close their doors by end of the week. You might expect some mild jostling amongst the last minute opportunists, but high chance is, most of them would not stay long.

Location in Melbourne CBD:

Shop 20, Midtown Plaza, 246 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Emporium, Shop 3-003, 269-321 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Website and store locater here:

Monday 25 April 2016

The Shrine of Remembrance & Anzac day

There was a battle, around 14,000 kilometers away from Australia, exactly 101 years ago, where more than 8,000 Australians died and around 18,000 wounded. It was a tremendous military disaster and a shattering moment for Australia. The landing at Gallipoli peninsula (now Gelibolu in modern Turkey) on 25 April 1915 was a miserable failure; it did not make any significant change to the path of history in World War 1, apart from causing major casualties on both sides.

Yet the Australians embrace the memories of the defeat. The legendary 25 April was named as Anzac Day and became a national public holiday. Anzac stands for the Australian New Zealand Army Corps, the name given to the combined troop of the two nations formed during the Great War.

What happened in Gallipoli was a heroic tale to be sung, a symbol of Australian’s bravery, and a splendid display of triumphant endurance in the face of the strong and determined opposing troop. Books were written to tell the story on how the Battle of Gallipoli has shaped the sense of nationhood of the two newborn young countries at that time. Movies were made depicting the mateship and loyalty of the young Australian soldiers.

A Dawn Service is held each year on 25 April in remembrance of those who had sacrificed and suffered. In the state of Victoria, the solemn ceremony is held at the Shrine of Remembrance, an impressive Greek-style mausoleum inspired by the Tomb of Mausolus built in the Southern Greece around 300 BC. The entrance was aesthetically modified from the architectural style of the Parthenon in Athens, where eight imposing Doric columns with circular capitals can be clearly seen from afar. At each of the east and west walls of the building, there is a buttress sculpture of a courageous female figure standing proudly on a chariot drawn by a pair of lions, with a small child standing in between.

The plan of constructing the majestic structure in commemoration of the 19,000 deaths in World War 1 was no lack of criticisms at the time when it was first commissioned. Some questioned the necessity of the significant expense to be spent on the shrine, contending that the funds could be better used in other charitable projects. Some attacked the absence of beauty of the design, and some pointed out the seemingly paganism link of the structure.

Yet despite the Great Depression and the conflicting noise, millions of ordinary families contributed funds to kick-start the construction. Sidney Myer personally donated $5,000 to the work. The building of the shrine was completed in 1934.

Today, the Shrine of Remembrance remains one of the most dramatic structures along St Kilda Road. It stands aloof at the elevated status, visible from all directions, like an obstinate fighter demands to be remembered and refuses to allow the faded history to be forgotten.


Birdwood Avenue, Melbourne, VIC 3001 (along St Kilda Road, around 1.3 km from Flinders Street Railway Station)



Saturday 23 April 2016

The first ever Spanish Language Fiesta in Melbourne- a review

The native Spanish speakers are passionate musicians, outgoing socialites, and amusing party-lovers. They are mysterious, spontaneous, loud and everything in between. The language is aesthetically beautiful, like a rapid and fluid melody without a reason to pause.

The Spanish plays the grooviest music, performs the most exotic Flamenco dance, and makes the most unbelievably delicious Chorizo. The Colombians and Venezuelans serve the best Arepas, a type of flat and round grilled patty made of maize dough covered with cheese and a baffling array of ingredients. The Valencians are the creator of the world-famous Paella, a kind of fragrant, yellowish saffron rice cooked in a variety of styles and tastes with olive oil. The Cubans take pride in their Bocadito snack, and always strike up the best conga drum rendition.

For the very first time in history, the charming red-bricked George Johnson Lane in North Melbourne gathered up all the coolest things in Spain and Latin America, and presented Melbournians with a day of joyous cultural celebration. The pleasing aroma of Spanish cuisines permeated the narrow laneway while the attendees relished their sips of classic Sangrias. Children enjoyed handcrafting their personalized rumba shakers, while the adults had fun books swapping with other like-minded Spanish readers. The little trendy laneway tucked behind the Town Hall building was bursting with lively music, and surrounded by colourful traditional costumes and decorations. 

It was an amazing free event well organized by the not-for-profit organization The Centre and its volunteers. As promised, it was a vibrant and fun-filled day for both the Spanish and non-Spanish speakers. If I may give my two cents of thought, the Spanish Language Fiesta ought to be made an annual festival, perhaps with larger number of participating stalls and wider array of great foods. After all, who doesn’t love the vivacious Spanish culture and its incredible traditional gourmets?

(Note: The first Spanish Language Fiesta was held on Saturday, 23 April 2016 from 10am to 6pm at North Melbourne)

Friday 22 April 2016

Spencer Outlet Centre- for those who love a bargain

Gone were the days when cost-conscious consumers would have to make their purchase in unglamorous, out-of-town warehouses, hunting for rejected and defective merchandize for the sole aim of saving a few coins. The outlet malls today strive to provide both seasoned and occasional shoppers an experience different from that given by their yesteryear’s counterpart.

The location of outlet malls has moved from cheaply occupied lands to strategically situated retail malls accessible by the complex network of city public transportations. New merchandise is offered alongside with the off-season, leftover or slightly imperfect inventory. Prices are marked down insanely; huge, enticing and sensational discounted signs colonize the entire malls ostentatiously.

Shopping at Spencer Outlet Centre invokes plenty of nostalgic moments to me. This was the place where we purchased our essential household items when we first arrived at Melbourne. The alluring low prices lulled us away from the upscale department stores at Bourke Street. We ended up purchasing all our bedroom-related products from the very affordable Pure Zone. It was the place where we happily picked up our very sturdy, non-stick 12-cup muffin pan at $9.99, and thereby commenced our unending baking adventure of muffins, buns and scones.

We found our favourite Aladdin’s genie glass teapot, and bought my stretched canvases with wooden edges at the Kaisercraft store. Both were lovely deals. The mall reminds me of those amazing moments when we grabbed our marvelous bargains from Cotton On Mega, Kathmandu, the Shoe Warehouse, Chemist Warehouse, and those numerous other fabulous discounted stores under the same roof.

Spencer Outlet Centre might not be the your favourite swanky shopping mall in town. You will never find your Aesop products with its aesthetic packaging here. Your luxurious Chanel store with its elegantly designed dresses will never make its footprint here.

The mall is designed specifically for the resurging price-conscious buyers who love a good bargain without compromising on the quality. The mall is for those who get excited looking at discounted price tags, those luggage-towing shoppers hunting for their last minute bargains before boarding the Skybus to airport, and those city workers who enjoy a quick purchase during their lunch break. The mall is for those mathematically shrewd consumers who wouldn’t mind carrying a half-price designer handbag, wearing a casual tee of $10, and have no qualms wearing a pair of out-of-fashion shoes. And these, briefly, sum up who I am.


201 Spencer Street, Docklands VIC 3008
(Next to Southern Cross Station, easily accessible by tram 86, 96, 109 and 12)

Opening hours:

Saturday to Thursday:         10am – 6pm
Friday:                               10am – 8pm