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Archive for April, 2010

Hong Kong Law Careers Guide

April 14th, 2010 No comments

The Chinese Law Students Society at the University of Sydney, in conjunction with UNSW Law Society and the ACYA have published the 2010 Hong Kong Law Careers Guide. Must read for aspiring lawyers who want to work in the region and not just in Australia. I especially recommend the candid accounts of work hours at different levels and handy (human) hints about life as a Hong Kong lawyer — stuff you won’t get from firm brochures.

Hong Kong Law Fair @ Sydney

April 7th, 2010 1 comment

Hong Kong Law Fair
The Hong Kong Law Fair is returning to the University of Sydney this year, attended by international law firms and Hong Kong universities. A must-see event for anyone interested in working in law in the Asia Pacific region.

For more information, see here and register online now.

Tommy’s travel tip #15: Rome (Part 2)

April 2nd, 2010 No comments

Colosseum from Roman Forum
Travel tip #15: To avoid tourist trap restaurants, make sure you are at least two blocks from any tourist attraction.

The next day – our last day in Rome and my last day on the continent – we woke to the newspaper headline: “Shootout at Chinese-Italian Trattoria: dispute over inferior wine and salty spaghetti.” Not wishing to repeat our mistakes, this time we decided to go far, far away from any tourist destinations. After a day of literally running from sight to sight, we ended up at the base of the Spanish Steps (Zegna was on 50% off). We searched in vain for a restaurant with any semblance of normal pricing, and concluded that our rule needed to be modified to “to avoid expensive restaurants, make sure you’re at least 25 blocks from the nearest Zegna store.”

Stained glass window

That was when we spotted the entrance to the Spagna metro station. “By my projections, if we go into the metro station and come out the other side, we should be at the other end of the Spanish steps – i.e. at the top of the hill and far enough away from Zegna and Armani,” I said. We were both too tired at that point to think of an alternative plan, so in we went to the station. At the end of the concourse was a set of escalators. Score! I thought. We rode the escalator up, but instead of an exit at the top of the hill as I expected, we saw another set of escalators. Well, the hill must be taller than we thought. We took that. At the end, another set of escalators. And another. And another. And another. Five sets of escalators, twenty minutes, and a bizarre tunnel full of miniature shop windows later, we finally made our exit, and found ourselves on the Champs Elysee.

Along the long, long corridor

No kidding – the plane trees, the road side seating, the Third Empire buildings – all the restaurant names were in French. We had the strange feeling of having crossed half the continent in 20 minutes. We found a street sign eventually – this was the Via Veneto – indeed the “Champs Elysee of Rome”. The escalators had taken us halfway across Rome, yet we were even deeper into luxury territory.

Mushroom risotto, one of my

Tired, hungry, cursing the lack of consideration of the builders of Spagna station to link one luxury shopping district with another, we admitted defeat and trudged back towards our hotel near the station. Gioanna, the local dragon head who doubled as the kindly proprietress of our hotel, had been right – eat right here around the station. Any problem, she said, call Gioanna and I sort them out.

Palatine Hill of Rome

Well, that’s it folks. Tomorrow I fly home via London. Despite all the fun, I’m kind of looking forward to my own bed.

Until next time from home,
Tommy

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Tommy’s travel tip #15: Rome (Part 1)

April 2nd, 2010 3 comments

St Peter's, Vatican City
Travel tip #15: To avoid tourist trap restaurants, make sure you are at least two blocks from any tourist attraction.

When we formulated that rule, we didn’t take Rome into consideration. Rome, the eternal city, is littered with the debris of 2,500 years. You can hardly walk down a street in Rome without bumping into a classical ruin here or a medieval palace there. Finding a non-tourist-trap (or, on the west bank of the Tiber, “pilgrim”-trap) restaurant is hard enough. Finding one that’s two blocks from a tourist attraction proved to be a major endeavour requiring careful triangulation on our maps.
We did manage it, though, the first night we were there. Two blocks from Piazza Navona (location of the Fountain of Four Rivers), we spotted a little alleyway, which could only be reached from our side of the main road through a pedestrian tunnel which was, in fact, a bookshop (“Underground bookshop! Admission Free!” said the sign at the door in English). It claimed to be a trattoria, a traditional Italian eatery, and the prices displayed at the door was very reasonable. The fare seemed Italian – we were glad – with no sign of a fillet mignon or a wienschnitzel in sight.

Inside St Peter's

We pushed open the lace-curtained door, and were warmly greeted by a Chinese lady and (I presume) her Chinese daughter, in English. We seemed to be the only customers in the shop. I asked for a menu, exchanged a look with Brian. I said, loudly, “hmm, this doesn’t seem to have that dish I wanted…”, then in a whisper, “okay, go or stay?” “Your call. I don’t give a fuck. They look Italian enough,” said Brian. We decided that we’ll brave the Asianness. Afterall, didn’t Enoch’s Chinese friend back in Sydney run an Italian restaurant that appeared to serve Italian food?

Staircase inside the Vatican museum

We sat down, and the girl – she couldn’t have been older than 13 – took our orders. “A bottle of your finest vino bianco, kind signorina,” I said, or words to that effect. I ordered a mixed seafood for my entree and a spaghetti with vingoli (“What’s vingoli?” “I think it’s a kind of shellfish.” “Cool.” “Or maybe it’s squirrel. Not sure.”), and Brian had tripe and another pasta.
We weren’t ready for the ambush at all. I’d been in Italy for a week, and was pretty confident I’d come to grips with the place. Then wham – it hit us like a frying pan in the face. Yes, that’s right. The wine was not that great – a tad astringent. “This wine – it’s probably worse than about 20% of Australian white wines!” I cried in horror. “It’s pretty shit,” Brian agreed, “But you can’t complain. I said it was your call!”

Angel on the Bridge of Angels

Everything went downhill from there. My cold seafood mix looked like it came straight from the fish shop counter. And the spaghetti with vingoli – well, it was stir fried pippies with a noodle base. “Does this look a bit Chinese to you?” I asked Brian. He looked down and looked up. “No.” “No? Look at this! It’s got bloody shallots! It’s stir fried pippies with –” “No,” he interrupted me, “because I can see into the kitchen from where I’m sitting.” “So?” I asked. “So I can see the chef. And he’s Indian.” My response was probably best summed up as -_-“.

At this point, though, we were disturbed in our enjoyment of our fine, traditional Italian meals. A distinctly Italian couple walked in – a man and a woman, both wearing a lot of black leather. They spoke rather sternly to the Chinese lady, who was soon joined by the proprietor – who we could now see was, in fact, Italian. The young girl – their daughter, I presume, started talking at length to the new arrivals. The conversation became rather intense.

Staircase inside the Vatican museum

“Mafia,” whispered Brian. I nodded. They certainly looked the part. Emboldened by my experience of watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire in Italian the previous night, I proceeded to translate their conversation…
“Fat Tony saysa to tell you he been hearing you been serving bad wine.”
“No! Curses to the lying son of a boar who spreads such lies.”
“Are you calling Fat Tony a liar?”
“No! I… ”
“I been also hearing where you been serving seafood salad straight from the fish shop.”
“Well, you know how it is, Indian chefs, seafood salad is not their traditional fare…”
“And worst of all, your protection money is late by three days…”
“Our business has been bad! We have no customers except these two stingy Asian boys who aren’t even going to tip! You know what they’re like!”

Mosaic inside St Peter's

The intense discussion seeemed to reach an impasse, when the woman in black strode into the kitchen – probably to quiz the Indian chef on his Italianness – while the man in black sat down at the cash register, and started to count money —
We took one look at that, and decided to make a dash for it, leaving our money on the table. The owner barely noticed us – he was staring at the mafioso thumbing through his cash register.

Until the next day,

Tommy

Tommy’s travel tip #14: Florence

April 2nd, 2010 No comments

Before the cathedral
Travel tip #14: Don’t go to Pitti Palace

Florence. The capital of Tuscany. The home of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and the Medicis; the city of the Renaissance, of art, architecture, and finance. And it did not take long to see that the money-grabbing tradition of the medieval Medici Bank lives on in the city.

Italy in low season is great value. In Venice, we paid €25 each and stayed in a palazzo, 3 minutes from San Marco Square, breakfast included. Most major attractions, such as churches, are free, and €15 can get you a decent sit-down meal.

Ceiling of the Baptistery

The rules are different in Florence. The San Lorenzo Church, across the street from the Medici palace, fronted by a statue of Cosimo de Medici, attached to the Medici chapel, charges 10 euros for admission. But to get around the no-charging-for-church-entry policy, they cleverly disguise the fee as entry to the “museum”, except you can’t get into the church without going into the “museum”. And the “museum” turns out to be the church’s crypt, with the key attraction being the tomb of – there’s that name again – Cosimo de Medici.

Belt stand near the Medici chapel

Then we made the mistake of heading to Pitti Palace. Built by the Pitti, another prominent family of Florence, it was acquired by the Medicis after they financially ruined the Pitti, and was the seat of the Medici dynasty for most of their reign over Florence. The palace was connected to the Town Hall, on the other side of the river, by the Vecchio Bridge. At the time, the bridge was monopolised by butcher shops. Not wishing to smell fresh slaughter on their daily saunter to and from the office, the Medicis ordered the butchers out, and replaced them with goldsmiths – which occupy the length of the bridge to this day.

Entry to the Pitti Palace costed €12. This seemed a tad excessive, given that the Galleria dell’Academia, home of the David, was only €6.50. We went in anyway, seeing as how this was the home of the Medicis. As it turned out, €12 gets you, well, not very much at all. A few mouldy rooms, a lot of second-rate paintings. All the pick of the Medici collection had been donated to the city centuries before, and are now displayed in the Uffizi (“Offices”) Gallery across the river. And no photography was allowed. Plus, the €12 covers only half the palace. The other half was another €8. AND the garden was another €6. My conclusion: don’t go there.

Dome of the cathedral

Writing this far, I’ve realised that the Medicis are really ahead of the curve on this one. Lorenzo de Medici must have modelled all this out way back when and decided – damn economic cycles, fleecing tourists is a much more reliable income stream than, say, selling hybrid securities. Hence why the Medici bank folded back in the 19th century and turned to ripping off tourists. Prescience!

* * *

Inside the town hall

We did however make two positive finds in Florence which gave us at least a psychological victory over the Medicis. The town hall, called Palazzo Vecchio, housed a number of museums, again with exorbitant entry fees. Normally, visitors climb a set of entry stairs to the top floor, and starting from the top floor, make their way down another set of exit stairs to each of the lower floors. Having been stung once, we clibmed up the exit stairs (unguarded) to the top floor. (“I don’t have a reputation to maintain in this country.”) The guy at the landing gave us a suspicious look, so we retreated back to the next floor down, and this time, we looked naturally like we’d just come from the top floor. By sacrificing the top floor, we toured the rest of the museum for free. That’s one for tourists, zero for the Medicis.

The other great find in Florence was a specialist pasta restaurant that served a pasta degustation for about €10. Every dish was awesome, as was the wine and the main that followed (not included in the €10). I had a steak in a mirtillo (cranberry) sauce. Awesome.

Until next time,

Tommy