Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Oxfam Shop in the unassuming Walk Arcade

The Walk Arcade is one of those many ordinary and easily forgotten arcades and lanes in Melbourne. Strategically connecting the ever-so-happening Bourke Street Mall and the quirky Little Collins Street, the Walk Arcade, with its simple and unassuming façade, lacks the essential historical significance, glamorous architectural design or any artsy aura to distinguish itself from its numerous other rivals. Yet hidden within this Plain Jane of the arcade world is the Oxfam Shop, a beautiful store with a beautiful vision to fight against poverty and injustice. 

We could of course simplify the shopping process and make it an emotionless, conscious exercise of judgment based on price, quality and workmanship of the products. Most of us will still be walking out from the store smiling from ear to ear, having thoroughly enjoyed a spectacular shopping experience at this very special store. After all, who doesn't love the fluffy feel of a daintily handcrafted, 100% alpaca wool throw specifically delivered from the exotic, mountain range of Andes in Southern Peru; Or how about an exclusively designed and hand-painted bright red, oval serving ceramic platter with delicate rooster motif produced in Colombia?   

On the other spectrum of extreme, we could look beyond the surface of each item, and explore the unique stories behind the products displayed on the shelves and found on its website, and be part of the movement to bring about a positive change and make a difference to some of those not so fortunate people in the world.

We can pick up that beautifully embossed bronze flower earrings, discover the importance of Spondylus to the Andean cultures, and learn more about how the Manos Amagas Fair Trade organization in Peru turned an offering to the goddess of earth into elegant jewelleries. We can also marvel at how an artillery shell casing can be so gracefully turned into a pair of delicately crafted doves of peace earrings, and be reminded of the dark and horrifying Pol Pot genocidal regime that massacred almost a quarter of Cambodia’s population just a few decades ago.

The Oxfam shop is the place where we can purchase authentic handcrafted copper curry bowl, with the certainty that the workers in India are receiving their due wages and be treated with respect. This is the place where best quality coffee from East Timor and highly graded chocolate from Dominican Republic can be found, all tagged with the label of fair trade. The Batsiranai Mother and Baby Doll is not just a pretty doll with fancy dress style; it is a symbol of hope to the mothers with handicapped children in Zimbabwe, and an assurance of a secure future to the vulnerable and disabled African kids. 

Shopping in Oxfam changes our role from a mere consumer to a silent activist fighting for fair wages and better future for the workers in marginalized economies. Buying a cute little greeting card for $7.95 or a miniature wooden giraffe magnet for $4.95 can never be so meaningful, knowing that part of the proceeds will eventually be used to create a better life for an individual somewhere in the corner of this world, be it a young Javanese in Indonesia striving to make ends meet, or an unemployed from the Upper Egyptian town of Mallaw.

Location (CBD Store):

Shop 45, Walk Arcade, 
Bourke Street Mall
, Melbourne, 3000


Sunday 15 May 2016

Glamorous Dame Edna and the not so glamorous Dame Edna Place

Photo by Greg Gorman, taken from here
She is the symbol of eccentricity, outspokenness and outlandishness. Her signature and unmistakable lilac wave and flamboyant cat eye glasses inspired the creation of the 2015 national costume for Miss Universe Australia. Some dubbed it the most hideous design ever, yet it won the heart of Australians and was voted as the chosen costume of the year to represent the nation.

The boisterous yet glittery suburbia housewife from Moonee Ponds started her career in the 1950s. She travelled across the globe, made a big name for herself, and successfully owned several chat and game shows in the UK in the 1980s. She appeared before the Queen of England and caused explosive laughter to the ecstatic audience at Buckingham Palace. For the younger generations, she is well remembered for her outrageous fashion style and affectionate character in the role of Claire Otoms in the popular Ally Mcbeal legal comedy drama in 2001 and 2002.

The inspiring mother of four achieved her status of “Superstar”, to “Megastar” and finally “Gigastar” in the span of decades. She was the face of Australian postage stamp in 2006, and was invited as a special performing guest at the Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games the same year in Melbourne, where she brought wild exhilaration to the audience with her cheeky song lyrics “And if you’ve been to Melbourne, You can give Sydney a miss.” She was the voice covering the BBC-1 broadcast of “William and Kate: the Royal Wedding” in year 2011, and her shocking satirical comments on Spanish language caused an outrage in the Hispanic community in 2003. 

Dame Edna Everage was created in the 1950s by Melbourne-born Barry Humphries. Barry is her alter ego, her astute yet aloof entrepreneur and manager, possesses a completely different set of personalities from the loud and sometimes tasteless Dame Edna. Dame Edna pokes fun at political leaders without mincing words, ridicules the cult of celebrity and mocks class snobbery. She is both guffaw inducing and the cause of stormy controversies. Barry Humphries, on the other hand, is composed and shrewd. Sometimes, it is easy to forget they are one and the same.

When the bronze statue of the giant-sized Dame Edna placed in Docklands Melbourne in year 2009 was removed recently to give way to a new apartment block, Barry Humphries applauded the act. He was reported as commenting, “I have just heard that the hideous statue of Edna, which was erected some years ago in Docklands and was placed in an area where nobody goes, has been removed,” “It is the one act by Melbourne developers which I applaud.”

Apart from a not very flattering sculpture, the city of Melbourne also renamed a disgraceful dead-end lane on the south of Little Collins Street after the glamorous Dame Edna in year 2007. A great location, without dispute, strategically situated between the Elizabeth and Swanston Streets and opposite the famous Royal Arcade; but why is the lane so rundown and depressing is something beyond me. Dirty and dodgy-looking graffiti scrawled uglily on one side of the wall, and the other was occupied by neglected and boring rough stone surface.

Dame Edna did not attend the renaming ceremony in 2007, but was represented by ten of her lookalikes with “wisteria hue” wigs. I could have imagined Dame Edna sarcastic remarks should she witness the state of the lane named after her glamorous self. Where are the trendy and exciting street arts such as those colonizing the other celebrity-graced ACDC Lane? Where are the chic bars and dashing comedy clubs hidden in many secretive alleyways in the city of Melbourne? Where are the sparkles, the vivacities and the flashiness well linked to the showy Dame Edna? Apart from that few pathetic, hardly visible tiny stars adorning the floor, where is the shadow and reflection of the glorious Dame Edna? 

Come on Melbourne, surely we can do better than that?

Friday 13 May 2016

The GPO Melbourne and its dramatic tale of transformation

Melbourne’s GPO is like an English gentleman with a confused, or rather, sophisticated characteristic. Its Big Ben’s equivalent clock tower dominates the intersection of two major streets in town: the shoppers’ paradise Bourke Street and the superb retailers’ hub Elizabeth Street. Proud yet unobtrusive, the giant clock is a faithful keeper of time to the hectic office workers flocking over from all directions, and a beautiful reminder of the city’s colonial history to the casual visitors. To the town planners, this antique timepiece is more than just an exquisite decoration or a convenient time-teller; its location is an important point of reference to ascertain road distances of a particular place from the centre of Melbourne.

At first glance, the façade of the building presents a uniform 19th century Renaissance Revival style, a hybrid of Italian and French architectural form found far too commonly in many old buildings scattered around the city of Melbourne. Yet a closer scrutiny of this grandeur, heritage-listed heirloom would unveil its complicated personalities beyond the surface.

Each of the level incorporates unique and diverse styles of column. The masculine Doric columns with their characteristic simple circular capitals stand at the base of the building, like a row of stoic guards steadfastly protecting the sanctity of this iconic masterpiece of Melbourne. The feminine Ionic columns stand elegantly at the second level. Their spiral and scroll-like volutes beam seductively at the city, like a group of ladies ready to perform a graceful curtsey. The third level, on the other hand, is lined with a row of slender Corinthian columns with intricately carved capitals. Each level is distinctive in its own special way, yet harmoniously blended into a single classical piece of architectural structure.

Designed by A. E. Johnson (also the same architect responsible for the Supreme Court of Victoria), the Melbourne’s GPO started of as a post office and a mail sorting space in around 1864. In 1992, the Australia Post made a rather sensational announcement of its plans to end the building as its major postal hall. The public was intrigued and curiosity aroused inevitably. Many might have thought such an old-style Victorian-era building would have aptly served as an art gallery or an antiquated museum, but the GPO building surprised us all. Like a dignified, silver-whiskered grandfather dissatisfied with his vintage links, the building was dramatically refurbished and transformed into a contemporary fashion hub, now occupied by the Swedish retail giant H&M as its pioneer flagship store in Australia.

The GPO today is more than just a retail centre selling low-priced designer clothes and accessories; its iconic steps at the entrance is the gathering point where Melbournians could inhale the sunny breeze, have a sip of a barista-made coffee, and enjoy an afternoon of public live performances from talented buskers. It is the heart of street culture, coffee art, international fashion and dining experience. It is, indeed, the heart of Melbourne.


2/ 350 Bourke Street, Melbourne (corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets)

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Breizoz French Creperie and its perfect lacy-thin crepes

Perhaps it is the unmistakable romantic impression that we so naturally associate with all things French, or perhaps it is the unassuming façade and ordinary wooden interior that always fill us with a kind of inexplicable serenity, or maybe it is just that eager anticipation to experience once again that contented sensation of tasting a delicately made French crepe.

Regardless of the true reason, we have repeatedly “fell prey” to this beautiful French café located quietly at Brunswick Street, albeit voluntarily and always with joyous hearts. Easily accessible by tram and within walkable distance from the East of CBD, a visit to the Breizoz French Creperie has become an unbreakable ritual, especially during those late evenings when we are flooded with sudden craving for real fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth French crepes.

The classic Beurre Sucre (butter and sugar) crepe topped with a scoop of its signature praeline ice cream is my all time favourite. The buttery surface of golden brown with lacy-thin embroidery at the edges, its smoothness and tenderness, the perfect balance of subtle sweetness and nutty fragrance; each spoonful was pure delight to the taste buds.  Or what about a savoury galette infused with buckwheat flour, served with Ratatouille and its vegetarian goodness, or an option of simple ham and cheese partially hidden under the folded crepe?

Breizoz is a rare little gem in town where French crepes are made to ultimate perfection. Seamless techniques are essential to produce such delicately circular pancake that pleases the eyes and is enjoyable to the taste. It is a science demanding strict and refined control of flavour, temperature and timing; an art that challenges the skill of crafting consistently thin and tantalizing crepes.

An overly heated pan will give you a lumpy crepe with ugly tears and uneven face. Done too quickly and the crepe will lose its attractiveness without the crucial golden-brown dimples; yet an overly cooked batter will produce a dry and depressing pancake, missing the vital moisture. A batter spread too thinly will give you a tasteless crepe lacking any real substance; too thick and the dish loses its aesthetic value and the characteristic of a perfect French crepe. Breizoz, has done it flawlessly.

The price of the crepes is of an average to upscale level. A savoury galette with goat cheese and onion costs $11, and an orange and lemon sweet crepe costs $9, with $4 per scoop of homemade ice cream as topping. Considering that galettes and crepes were traditionally staple food well loved by peasants in Brittany made from the simplest of ingredients, the bills did make us frown a little. Yet, like an unspeakable spell, we know we will be back for more; in fact, very soon, when the next impulse strikes.


2/ 49 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065


Tram 86 and 11

Opening Hours:

Sunday to Thursday: 10 am – 10 pm
Friday to Saturday:   10 am – 11 pm