Archive for August, 2008

Sydney’s gateways

August 20th, 2008 3 comments

Zhengyangmen, the front gate of old BeijingGateways are important to a city. They are more than inlets and outlets. They frame the city. A well-designed and well-positioned gateway creates that uplifting buzz of excitement for those entering, and a pang of beautiful melancholy for those leaving. Take the Zhengyangmen (the southern, front gate) in Beijing, for example. In the olden days, the towering gatehouse would have risen far above the single-storey dwellings of the outer city. The gateway frames the first glimpse of the city. Just as importantly, the bulk of the gate blocks the travelor’s view, enticing him with that tantalising glimpse, and the snatches of sound that filter through the gate – here, the busy market places and restaurants of the Qianmen district, and beyond, the solemn magnificence of the Imperial City. Director Ang Lee used this relationship to great effect in the shots introducing Beijing in Crouching Tiger

The sound tube - the "gateway" structure is visible in the distanceFew cities today have the benefit of these magnificent relics of the pre-gunpowder era. Those which do not, must create them. The Arc de Triomphe anchors the western end of the Axe Historique, and is a gateway to the historic centre of the city as much as it is a singular monument. Melbourne, as one might expect, uses big slabs of red and yellow…. things. (See some beautiful photos here.)

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Categories: Random facts, The Sydney Grind Tags:

Museum books

August 19th, 2008 No comments

A favourite book genre of mine is museum books. When I say “museum books”, I mean those publications which sit curiously between a catalogue and a scholarly publication. These are not meant to be academic treatises. Instead, they showcase the highlights of the museum or gallery’s collection. At the same time, they are more than a mere catalogue. The works are presented in their chronoloigcal and stylistic contexts. For a well-resourced museum or gallery, this means an entry-level introduction to the body of artworks and artefacts represented by the collection, which is accessible but at the same time, of sufficient depth to be interesting for the keen amateur.
This loose categorisation covers a whole range of publications. On the one hand, there are brief highlight catalogues with small blurbs introducing the period or style – in the nature of a (rather heavy) souvenir brochure. On the other, there are comprehensive introductions to an entire movement, illustrated with the museum’s own collection.

One of my favourites from the latter category is The Asian Collection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I happened upon this book while roaming the stacks one day at Fisher Library (as one does). Published on the occassion of the opening of the new Asian galleries at the AGNSW, the book traces the development of several strands of Asian art, with comprehensive illustrations from the Gallery’s extensive collection. One part I found most fascinating was the coverage of Chinese and East Asian porcelain – from which I understood exactly what “celadon” is – what it corresponds to in Chinese, and how it fits in with the styles that came before and after it. The illustrations are superb, of course, but the writing was a delight as well. Authoritatively authored and edited, it was also great prose, with great clarity and narrative quality. Read more…

Food review: Star City garden buffet

August 10th, 2008 1 comment

Name: Garden Buffet
Address: Level 1 – Star City, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW 2009 – map
Website: Garden Buffet Restaurant  
Type: Buffet
Cuisine: European/Asian/international
Opening hours: 11:30-4:30, 5-9:30, 7 days

Star City, Sydney

Enoch the Gambler (not his real name) recommended this restaurant hidden in the den of iniquity that is Star City Casino in Sydney. The buffet was surprisingly good. A good range of food, all of a fairly high quality. There are Asian stir fries and Indian curries, pasta, fish and chips, roast meats, a couple of casserole dishes. The seafood selection consisted of fresh prawns and sauteed mussels in shell. I always say that the roast beef is the best indicator of an all-you-can-eat buffet’s quality – and the beef here was great. Generally, despite my reluctance to set foot in a casino, I would go again.

(In Melbourne, I passed up the Crown casino buffet for the Hilton buffet – both were the same price ($65) and had the same top range food, but I thought the 5 star hotel would be better than the casino. The Hilton was not so impressive. Having been to the Star City buffet, I’m now quite keen to check out the Crown buffet the next time I’m in The Other City.)


  • All-you-can drink soft drinks on tap, including an Orangina-Fanta hybrid product called “Refresh”, which I don’t remember seeing before.
  • Skilfully prepared and well stocked dessert bar – a must for any good buffet.
  • Sauteed beef shank with onion and red wine sauce
  • Soup (with bread) was surprisingly nice
  • Chocolate AND vanilla ice cream

Low lights

  • It’s inside a casino
  • Not only that, but you have to join the casino membership scheme to get a (big) discount, which means 1) stepping into the gaming floor and 2) spending 15 minutes registering. Though you do get a free $10 to squander on slots.
  • Super busy, with a long line to just pay and sit down. Man at the door looked harassed and was impatient in directing us to queue up or stand aside
  • The chocoalte ice cream looked disturbingly fecal in its shape

Conclusion: Nice food, good environment – once you get registered and manage to get inside

Food: 6/10
Service: 5/10
Ambience: 6/10
Value for money: 7/10
Overall: 6/10

Epilogue: a week later, I went back and spent my $10 free credit on the pokies. After being shown how to operate the complex piece of gaming technology by an old Chinese lady, I won $10 out of the $10 free credit. Free money!

Categories: Events, Reviews, The Sydney Grind Tags:

Food review: Din Tai Fung

August 9th, 2008 No comments

Name: Din Tai Fung, Sydney
Address: Level 1, World Square, George Street Cnr of Liverpool St, Sydney 2000 – map
Phone: (02) 9264 6010
Type: Noodle/dim sim house
Cuisine: Taiwanese, Shanghainese, other Chinese
Opening hours: 11-2:30, 5-10; one hour earlier on weekends

Xiao Long Bao as it should be (not from Din Tai Fung)

The xiao long bao is a Shanghainese cultural icon. Invented in the town of Nanxiang, it looks like a miniature steamed pork bun, but has the delicate texture of the best steamed dumplings, and a filling made of – traditionally – pork and gelatin that melts into delicious broth when steamed. A slightly fancier version uses Shanghai crab roe mixed with the pork filling, creating an exquisite blend of flavours. In Shanghai, xiao long bao can be found in many restaurants, but probably the most famous location is the Nanxiang Mantou (a kind of steamed bun) Shop located in the old city, which is so popular with locals and visitors that it has a perennial queue outside – and to get a seat, you have to stand behind the last batch of diners while they eat.

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Best laid plans

August 4th, 2008 2 comments

“Lawyers are a product of inefficiency”, says Tommy. “The only reason we need lawyers is because the judges are human. If we had robotic judges, we could also have robotic lawyers, eliminating high legal fees and inefficient dispute resolution.”

“But robots can’t make moral judgments,” says M. “And respond to all the nuances of human interaction”, adds G.

“Ah, but I’m ahead of you on this one,” Tommy says. “Eliminate human litigants – replace all people with robots… then, err… ”

It’s easy to think that we can plan our lives and have every step operate in interlocking exactitude – like clockwork, with a house and 2.3 kids popping out of the little panel right on cue. It’s easy to forget that lives are built on people, and humans are not gears in a cuckoo clock. People have whims; people change – and change the world around them.

I’ve had a nagging feeling all year that my world is not right. Perhaps it’s because of the dizzying drop back to reality after a year of getting pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted last year. I realise now, though, that life is not rational. People are not rational. I’m not rational. Trying to plan my life as if it was a logical proof was bound to be futile. However elegant a plan is – however rationally one tries to build it – ultimately it is built on a foundation of assumptions about people. When people change – and the world changes with them – it’s futile to lament this or that step in the plan.

The saddest part is when the worlds of two people diverge. For however long, you share a world. But out of the blue, your worlds split and hurtle down different paths – like the trouser legs of time. Suddenly, something you’ve shared – that you thought would always be there – is there no longer.

You have to laugh, because otherwise you’ll cry.

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