24 years since Tiananmen Square

June 3rd, 2013 1 comment

While we who are outside the Great Firewall are more or less free to say whatever the hell we want about, well, whatever the hell we want, others are not so lucky. That’s why I especially admire the courage of those who commemorate the 4th of June from within China. They are often playful, slightly irreverent, and sometimes not in the best of tastes, but these little gestures of subversion are reminders that the flame still burns. Dawn will come.

Lest we forget.

P.S. Despite pessimistic voices in some papers that this year’s vigil might be cancelled because of weather, the once again attracted thousands of people.

Categories: Random facts, Random thoughts Tags:

Tiananmen Square, 23 years on

June 4th, 2012 No comments
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Food Review: La Tour d’Argent

April 30th, 2012 No comments
Our table overlooking the Seine

Our table overlooking the Seine

Name: La Tour d’Argent
Address: 15 Quai Tournelle, 75005 Paris, France
Website: http://www.becasse.com.au/
Phone: +33 1 43 54 23 31
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: French
Opening hours:  closed Sunday and Monday, and August

The fame of La Tour d’Argent is at once its greatest asset and greatest burden. Reviews and reports on this restaurant by the Seine are laden with superlatives – the restaurant is “legendary”, they say; quite possibly “the most famous in the world”; its wine cellars are “magnificent”, its wine list “biblical” (this one is literally true – but we’ll come to that). It is surrounded by mystique, at least partly consciously cultivated by the late owner, Claude Terrail – it will be 430 years old next year; it was a favourite of Henry IV of France; its guest register lists emperors of Russia and Japan, kings and presidents; Marcel Proust wrote about it; Salvador Dali liked the duck; Pixar’s Ratatouille drew on it for inspiration.

Christmas tree in the ground floor foyer

G and I stepped into this mass of history for a Christmas day dinner (Christmas 2010) and found the restaurant still five star despite its age. We were welcomed into the ground floor reception area with a cup of warm consommé, which we savoured while admiring the centuries of culinary history represented in the displays there. When our table was ready, we were taken to the top floor dining room. We were given a window table with magnificent views over the Seine and out to the Notre Dame. We were especially impressed by the way the staff went out of their way to make everyone feel at home. When we moved to taste each other’s dishes our waiter was quick to switch our plates for us with a happy reassurance. The champagne and wine were, as befitting La Tour’s reputation, excellent, and the legendary pressed duck also lived up to its reputation. The very knowledgeable sommelier (and the bible-sized wine list) were impressive. We loved the little surprises like the amuse-bouche, the cake and little chocolate desserts – not your usual petit-fours! We got a discrete and helpful card at the end of the meal reminding us that the waiters can arrange taxis leaving the restaurant, and loved the caramels “for the road”. All in all, the beautiful food, wine and views made especially memorable by the service. Definitely an experience to share with your special someone!


We recommend:

– the Champagne Authentique

Pike dumplings «André Terrail»

– Duckling “Tour d’Argent”, souffleed potatoes – the famous “blood duck”


Blood duck course 2: duck breast with souffled potatoes

Food: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Ambience: 10/10

Value for money: 7/10

Overall: 9/10

Categories: Reviews, Travels Tags:

Mallesons: forward comrades, to better lawyering with Communist characteristics!

March 8th, 2012 4 comments

Are you a proud member of King & Wood Mallesons[n2] looking to better integrate yourself into the firm’s new combined culture? Do you want to work on the highest profile M&A deals while maintaining your faith in Communism? Then look no further. The King & Wood Communist Party Sub Branch[n1] is your ticket to uplifting training sessions on Communist ideology, stimulating discussion of the Working Report of the Communist Party National Conference, and pilgrimage tours to the birthplaces of the Communist Revolution.

Here is some information I translated from the profile for the King & Wood Communist Party Sub-Branch on a Chinese government website (original link at the end):

“The King & Wood Communist Party Branch was established on 2 April 1997. Currently membership of the Party Branch numbers 169, the Branch secretary and Branch committee are composed of senior lawyers and excellent Communist Party members.

“Since establishment, the King & Wood Communist Party Branch has strictly followed the overall requirement of “One Centre, Five Developments and Three Guarantees”, combined with the special characteristics of grassroots Party development in the legal profession, have steadfastly placed the ideological development of the Party at the forefront, have organised Party members to carefully study the “Report of the 17th Party Congress”, have undertaken education on the vanguard qualities of Communist Party members, and have perfected Party branch organisational development. In September 2007 Branch committee members were sent to the [Communist Party guerrilla base] Jinggang Mountain to attend the Party Cadre School, to participate in the “Core Cadre Study Session On the Spirit of the 17th Party Congress”. In October, they have participated in the training class for branch secretaries organised by the Personnel Department, which has strengthened all Party Member’s upholding of Communist ideals, and solidified the faith in Communism of the King & Wood Party Branch members.”

The rest of the article emphasises how King & Wood’s Communist lawyers participated in their highest profile deals.

From: http://chylawyer.bjchy.gov.cn/sub/viewDetail.jsp?newsid=70082&subjectid=3574 (in Chinese). I have copied the full text below incase the website changes.

n1: Update:  According to this more recent article by current King & Wood Mallesons global chairman Junfeng Wang (also in Chinese, also copied below in full), the party branch is now a Main Branch, with 16 Sub Branches, 7 Party Committees, and more than 400 party members. Among other recent achievements, the Communist party branch magazine “Fly, fly the Red Flag” is now the “spiritual home that guides” King & Wood Mallesons employees. The “Firm-Party Joint Committee” has been formed to ensure that the Communist Party organisation participates in all key decisions of the firm, and to clarify that all major decisions must first be subjected to the comments and suggestions of the Communist Party organisation. The article further mentions that the firm has adopted a policy to recommend Communist Party members in priority to act on major deals of national importance. If anything, this is an even more disturbing article.

n2: For readers less in tune with events in the Australian legal market, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, one of Australia’s largest law firms (if not the largest), has merged with Chinese law firm King & Wood, to create the new “King & Wood Mallesons”. There is no, nor has there ever been any, “Mr King” or “Mr Wood” – they were simply easy to pronounce English names picked by the Chinese firm when it formed in the 80s. I’m sure Mr Malleson would have been very proud to know that he now ranks third after two fictitious names.

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University of Sydney Hong Kong Law Fair 2012

March 8th, 2012 No comments

The Hong Kong Law Fair at the University of Sydney is on again for 2012! A must-see event for any law student aspiring to an international career: http://www.usydclss.com/cms/2012/03/hong-kong-law-fair-2012/, and here’s the Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/380794518605870/


Update: added link to event page on CLSS website

Itinerary: Nanjing in two days

October 23rd, 2011 No comments
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

This is the first in hopefully a number of posts where I put up travel itineraries which have worked well for me. See notes below on my choice of sights and alternatives.

Where: Nanjing is a historic city located in eastern China, about 300km from Shanghai as the crow flies, or roughly 1.5 hours by bullet train. Today, Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province, but for centuries it was the capital of various regimes throughout Chinese history, and the capital of a unified China in the 14th century and again in the early 20th century. Its long history has given it many poetic names, but its modern name means, simply, “the southern capital”, mirroring the name of Beijing, “the northern capital”. Culturally and linguistically, Nanjing is a thorough mixture of northern and southern China, reflecting successive influxes of northern rulers and its location in the heartland of Wu culture. Visitors to Nanjing are usually attracted by its great monuments, including the tomb of Sun  Yat-sen, the “father of modern China”, but it is also famous for its food, boulevardes, lakes and mountains, and the legends that still echo from laneways to ruined palaces.

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Tiananmen Square – 22 years on

June 4th, 2011 No comments

Le Carré d’Encre – a little shrine to the art of writing

January 14th, 2011 No comments

My souvenir from Paris

It was a grey morning with a light sprinkle of rain in Paris. G and I had been wandering the laneways near the Madeleine and the Palais Garnier looking for coffee, when we chanced upon a little store. We were intrigued by the window displays, an eclectic mixture of writing instruments, stamps and cards, all stylishly designed. We went in. It being fairly early in the morning and close to Christmas, we seemed to be the only visitors, although there were quite a few staff tending various departments. The store was modern and minimalist in decor, and was organised into several somewhat disparate departments. There was a philatelic department, equipped with mounted magnifying glasses for examining stamps; an area for designing (and printing) your own envelope and parcel wrappers; as well as a large range of pens, cards, writing paper, and equipment and material for creating your own stationery.

I especially liked the philatelic counter – where I bought my favourite piece of Paris souvenir. Le Carré d’Encre literally means “Ink Square”. The store brought to mind what a post office shop could be like if it was given a complete redesign by someone with both a sense of style and a love of writing, in all its forms. In fact, that seems to be how the store came to be – it is a project of Phil@Poste, the stamps and stamp-collecting section of the French postal authority, La Poste. They  took all the fun bits of a post shop (stamps, stationery, cards, even creative envelopes and parcel wrapping) and gave it the glamour treatment – but left out all the boring bits like the queues, teller-style counters, and computer-printed text labels.

Even surrounded by all the grand magasins of Avenue Haussman, this shop definitely stood out as my favourite.

Who: Le Carré d’Encre
Where: 13bis, rue de Mathurins, 75009 Paris (nearest Metro: Havre-Caumartin)
What: Stylishly designed stationery and stamp store
Website: http://www.lecarredencre.fr

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The British TV licence – possibly the dumbest thing on earth

November 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Don’t get me wrong, I love the charming conservatism of the British nation. I like how milk is sold in 1.136L cartons because you can decimalise the pint but you can’t kill it. I like quaint holdovers like the House of Lords and the Royal Family. I love the way central London is peppered with garden squares instead of Westfields. I enjoy traditional pomp like the Lord Mayor’s Show or Trooping the Colours. It makes me smile when I hear peculiar pronunciations unpolluted by American verbal hegemony, like “Pantene” pronounced as “Pan-ten”, “Dae-woo” pronounced as “Day-oo”, or “vit-amins” instead of “vite-amins”.

The TV licence system, however, is retarded. It is not unique to Britain – some other European countries have also retained it. The British, however, have managed to run the system in such a way as to make it, frankly, ridiculous.

First, a brief explanation of the TV licence itself for those of us unfamiliar with such a backward system. Every year, each household which uses a television to receive TV broadcasts (whether directly or recorded) is required to pay a licence fee, currently £145.50 per year for a colour TV. The fee makes up the majority of the BBC’s funding, with the rest coming from commercial arrangements and topped up by government.

The licence fee system is fundamentally unfair. It falls disproportionately on the young, because it is imposed by household, meaning that a single person household is taxed (it is legally a tax) at the same amount as a large family. It falls disproportionately on working people, because it is a set fee, not “pay per view”. This means that a household is required to pay the same fee if they watch even 5 minutes of television when they get home from work, as someone who has the television available to them at all times. It falls disproportionately on the poor, because it discounts the number of television sets in a household. Someone with just one TV between a family of six pays the same licence fee as a household with a TV in every room. Finally, of course, the tax is a set amount, not means tested and not income-progressive, and so it falls disproportionately on those with a lower income. £145.50 is not a small sum – it’s about $250-300 (depending on exchange rates), quite a bit to save up in austerity Britain.

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Food review: Bécasse

August 15th, 2010 No comments

Bécasse LogoName: Bécasse
Address: 204 Clarence Street, Sydney 2000, Australia
Website: http://www.becasse.com.au/
Phone: +61 2 9283 3440
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: French/modern European
Opening hours: 12:00pm-2:30pm (Mon-Fri), 6:00pm-10:30pm (Mon-Sat)

Bécasse is well known in Sydney for its unique combination of culinary innovation with traditional tastes. After several tries and eventually booking a month in advance, G and I visited it for the first time – and it did not disappoint. The restaurant is located at the Druitt Street end of Clarence Street, a quiet location that is mere minutes from the hustle and bustle of Town Hall. At dinner time, the muted external decor makes the restaurant almost hard to spot amongst the half-lit low-rise office buildings and shuttered cafes – especially when one’s eye is drawn to the spectacular white stair case of the award-winning Alliance Française building across the street.

The understated ambience is continued in-doors – while the gentle light of the street lamp filters through the Romanesque arch windows, frosted glass makes it clear that the interior is a world away from the common street outside. Behind a heavy glass door and dark drapery, the restaurant is divided into three areas: a sunken area close to the kitchen, from which diners can watch dishes being plated at a counter; the entry-level area with a series of relatively small tables, generously spaced from each other; and an upstairs area for larger groups. The colour scheme tends towards the warmer end, with dark drapery accentuated here and there with mirrors and simple abstract art. The candle at the table (not, Cafe Sydney should note, a flickering light bulb) sits in a glass bowl of water and sprig of flower. G and I were seated in the entry-level section.

The menu is pricey, and I got the impression that most diners were there for an occasion of some kind. The menu offers the options of a la carte or degustation. The two of us chose the (carnivorous) degustation (as opposed to the vegetarian option) at $130 per person. Optional matching wines with every course is an additional $60 per person.

After some canapes and amuse bouche, here were the dishes we sampled:

Salad of marinated heirloom vegetables with sugar snap mousseline, black olive and lemon balm: beautifully arranged plate of simple vegetables, with subtle sauces that well-complement the natural flavours
Confit miso blue-eye and smoked scallop with sauteed cuttlefish, cauliflower and buckwheat: lightly sauteed seafood, almost sashimi-like; best part is the sauce. Toasted buckwheat adds a nice surprise
Forgotten vegetables slow cooked in smoking cedar with aged pork jowl, scratchings and jus gras: like a rustic pork dish, but with the pork reduced to a hint and the vegetables enlarged to become the main part. Presented with a slice of lit cedar wood.
Roast Palmers Island mulloway with king prawns, soubise puree and smoked crustacea emulsion: familiar taste of fish and prawn given new meaning by the sauce
Caramelised suckling pig and braised pork tail with roast parsnip and compressed apple: a deconstructed variation on a roast pork dish, with a bite of roast pork and a bite of braised pork
Daube of Blackmore’s full-blood wagyu shin with potato baked in ash, Jerusalem artichoke and jus Bordelaise: the ash-wrapped potato was an interesting taste; the fattiness of the wagyu was well-used
Orange and cardamon pannacotta with blood orange, beetroot and vanilla: a thin panna cotta covered with the intersecting textures and flavours of the toppings. Beautifully presented and a refreshing transition into the dessert courses
Banana creme brulee with salted peanut brittle and milk coffee sorbet: a deconstructivist interpretation of the creme brulee. Banana in creme brulee is a little rich and quite sweet, but combines well with the fairly salty peanut brittle
Zokoko 70% Bolivia chocolate and caramel ‘cadeau’ with organic vanilla and milk sorbet: the cadeau is a perfectly formed dome. The sorbet is surprisingly nice – and tastes very different to vanilla ice cream

We finished with tea and petit fours (included in the meal).

Conclusion: Quality food, at once adventurous yet familiar, perfectly managed production

Food: 9/10
Service: 9/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value for money: 7/10
Overall: 9/10

Categories: Events, Reviews, The Sydney Grind Tags: