Posts Tagged ‘Box Hill’

All hail, xiaolongbao!

May 11, 2013

Since we’ve moved into the city, we’ve had a bit of trouble finding ‘Box Hill’ style dumplings. By that I mean a cheap and nasty place, full of Chinese, and absolutely delicious dumplings.

The cheap and nasty refers to the decor. I learned a long time ago, that a dumpy place isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese in particular, are very practical when it comes to eating out. They do so on a regular basis and so their standard eateries don’t have to be dressed up and impressive. Western diners (aka Australian’s) tend to dine out on a less frequent basis, largely because of the cost. Our restaurants range from the very expensive and therefore quite posh, to your standard fast-food places, but rarely will you find a western restaurant that’s like the lower quality eateries that populate so much of Asia.

Because on the whole, western people aren’t familiar with nightly dining out, or eating in a cheap and nasty looking place, they tend to avoid them, in which case you’ll often find them full of Asians. The Asian’s of course are completely familiar with this concept – they’re not eating there for the environment, they’re eating there for the food – the cheap food.

In a typical cheap and nasty looking place – such as those found in Box Hill, Victoria, you’ll often find them full of Chinese. This also usually means that the food is closer to what you’ll find overseas – and for any travelers out there – us people whose eyes light up at the thought of the cheap delicious treats often found on the roadside, these places are awesome.

There is one place in Box Hill which used to be a fairly Chinese dominated haunt (though was never dumpy…well unless you go into the bathrooms…) but is now usually full of us whities. It used to go by the name of DC Dumpling, but re-invented itself as Dumpling Specialist. One of the side-effects of becoming too local Australian, is that the quality of the food goes down, often matched by the price rising. There’s a very big difference between a superb and a terrible dumpling. With a dumpling heavy menu, Dumpling Specialist still thankfully offers some of the most delicious dumplings I have had anywhere.

In particular (and the point of this post -heh) their xiaolongbao’s. I have found over the years, that some restaurants might offer the world on their menu, but they only really excel at certain items. You’re better off ordering pan fried dumplings at Ramen King and RaRamen in Box Hill as an example – their steamed variants being in cases that are too thick, and when steamed, arriving at the table watery.

Dumpling Specialist nails the steamed dumplings – and their flagship in my opinion? Xiaolongbao. I *love* xiaolongbao. They are so utterly delicious – the kind that make you a bit feral and defensive over how many are remaining in the basket  – or the kind that simply give you pause when you eat them, as their exquisite flavour explodes in your mouth.  Quite frankly, they are the bomb.

Xiaolong actually translates to ‘small steaming basket’ referring to how these dumplings are served, while bao refers to the bun in which they arrive. They’re also known as soup dumplings, not because they are served in soup, but because sealed inside the bun is a tasty broth – along with your typical hunk of meat.

It takes great patience not to immediately start eating them when they first arrive, steaming and enticing. But your best bet is to wait several minutes, as what’s contained inside those sealed bao’s can only be described as nuclear. The Chinese bite their buns on the side, then drink the broth before eating them. Personally, I still find this ends in burned lips. I tend to leave mine in the basket until they’ve cooled down a bit (usually chowing down on whatever else is on the table), then plop the entire xiaolongbao into my mouth so I can enjoy the flavour in one immense hit.

The morale of this story is simple: xiaolongbao rock, and you need them in your belly, now!

xiaolongbao @ Dumpling Specialist, Box Hill, Vic

xiaolongbao @ Dumpling Specialist, Box Hill, Vic

Gong xi fa cai! Happy Chinese new year 2013!

February 9, 2013

Gong xi fa cai to all of the Asian’s out there celebrating the new year which is tomorrow, Sunday February 10. In Melbourne, there’s various large Asian hubs, and they generally stagger their celebrations over the week before and after the main day. The city of Box Hill will be going off right about now, with its usual hub of delicious food tents, while in Melbourne CBD’s Chinatown, the main celebrations will be tomorrow.

I will head into town and hopefully get my twisty Korean potato snacks on. Each year there’s also a large hawkers market set up out front of the Crown Casino, which I am sure will also be full of delicious meals.

Back on the Chinese mainland, some two million people will be on the move with the new year. Regardless of how much money a person has, it’s expected that they make the trip back to see their family. In many cases – particularly those of the migrant workers, it’s the only time in the year that they see their loved ones. Could you imagine only seeing your wife just once in an entire year? Your mum? Your children?

In years past, the train stations have been the main hub of these horrific travel periods, but increasingly, as a rising middle class appears, airports will become increasingly chaotic. The growing accessibility to air travel should alleviate some of the burden on the rail system – but by only a small amount. Each year, tickets are difficult to get, moreso considering that in China, you cant buy them in advance. You have to purchase tickets a mere five days out from the time of traveling – something that really goes against the western notion of planning in advance.

But still, at least there’s not the massive snowstorms of recent years – which would have been hellish to say the least.

Happy Chinese new year! I hope 2013 is a prosperous one, and NOT full of snakes 🙂

Farewell, Box Hill

November 2, 2012

I write this post feeling a little sad for tomorrow we are moving away from Box Hill and into the city. On the bright side, I have always wanted to live in the city – like, right in the CBD, though on the downside, I really like living in Box Hill. I’m a sentimental kind of guy, and while I do like change (hell – moving to China was testament to that), I also do get all funny when moving on from somewhere I have enjoyed living.

Box Hill is a great little suburb. We moved here just after we returned from China back in early 2009. We picked this suburb because it was like China – and it is. Not only could we find many of the local dishes that we discovered in China, but it also had a similar vibe and energy that we had come to enjoy. It also had a decidedly lack of the typical aussie bogan surburbanites, other than the occasional band of druggies between the centres.

We capped off our final night as Box Hill residents eating at one of our old favourites. When we first moved here it was known as DC Dumpling. The people here were always super friendly, super welcoming, and most importantly, the food was delicious. They have always provided one of the most delicious hand-made spring onion pancakes we have ever come across, and their xiao long bao’s are exactly what xiao long bao’s should be – delicate and delicious. A xiao long bao just isn’t the same when it’s in a thick casing. At some point along the way, DC Dumpling renamed itself to Dumpling Specialist – and it was quite possibly the best move they ever made from a business point of view as it suddenly became the ‘white people’s’ dumpling location of choice. We used to dine there among the Chinese – and when it changed its identity, it lost a lot of that charm. It became just any other Australian restaurant. It also was recently renovated with a fresh paint job (which you can still smell incidentally), a brand new chairs and tables. Again – with all the paintings made by kids gone, replaced by a big generic painting of flowers – it’s just not the same. (ps. also try the cucumber salad – cucumber + garlic + soy = happiness)

Ra Ramen was the same – once a quaint little super busy eatery with dumplings to die for – then expanded into the shop next door and went downhill. Ahhh.

Anyhow – I will miss Box Hill. I will miss the way it changes from day to day, with new restaurants, and weird little shops popping up and disappearing equally as fast. I’ll miss wandering into town and enjoying one of the amazing Vietnamese rolls from Baker’s Hill cafe upstairs in the new Centro, then washing it down with a coffee. I’ll miss the predominantly Chinese atmosphere and everything that goes along with it. I’ll miss it when white folk turn up my nose and look slightly surprised when I say I live in Box Hill and love it – because of course, with that many dirty Asian’s living there, it must be terrible!

 

Next stop – Melbourne. Zai jian, beloved Bok!

 

Praising the moon in 2012

September 25, 2012

As I walked into town on the weekend to grab some lunch, the growing number of balloon wielding families moving in the same direction had me thinking that there was some kind of festival in town. Sure enough, the middle of Box Hill was choc-a-block with people, with the usual tent city setup. One of the things that I really like about Box Hill is that in the middle part, there’s always something going on on weekends.

I had initially planned to head into one of the centres and grab one of the amazing Vietnamese bbq pork rolls that I am addicted to, but I couldn’t pass up checking out the various food tents. While they’re often a bit of a rip-off in the price department, the food is often good. After knocking back an absolutely delicious chicken, cucumber and satay roll, followed up by a South Korean potato swirl thing and a can of coke – I was a happy man.

I have mentioned many times on this site that one of the things I like most about Chinese culture, is that there are so many stories and tales associated with practically every part of it. From the obvious things such as mooncake, lantern and dragonboat festivals, to even individual dishes having some pretty amazing stories attached to them.

Recently, and co-incidentally, I was reading a few old stories, and one of them happened to be about the mooncake festival itself. I have re-written it below as it was a bit…confusing…but one thing I have noticed with many Chinese stories is they don’t overly make a lot of sense. I mean, even in a fantastical way, there’s always some snake in the river with magic, or some poor monk whose suddenly become magical by eating blessed rice or what not. Sure, even most English myths and fairy tales have elements of this – and perhaps it’s just lost in translation, but I find many Chinese tales difficult to comprehend in their simplicity. That being said, they also have a terrific otherworldly quality to them. Many invoke fond memories of Monkey.

And without further ado – the possible story behind mooncakes. I say possible as the source isn’t what I’d exactly call textbook:

Many years ago, ten suns suddenly appeared in the sky. They scorched the earth and made the sea evaporate and the farmers could no longer survive. The disaster shocked the hero Houyi the Archer into action. He climbed Mount Kunlun and shot down nine of the suns (leaving what I assume to be our sun left). Houyi was praised as a hero for his actions and gained the respect of the common folk. Many patriots came to him wanting to learn archery, including the tricky Feng Meng (there’s always one tricky guy…eh).

Sometime later, Houyi fell in love with the beautiful and kind-hearted Chang’e. They loved each other immensely and often went hunting together.

One day as Houyi was returning to Mount Kunlun to visit a friend, he passed by the palace of the Queen Mother of the West. The Queen gave him a pill and told him that it could make him immortal. Houyi – being the honourable chap that he is, didn’t want to be immortal by himself (without Chang’e of course) so ask his wife to keep the pill for him.

Naturally somehow Feng Meng learned of this and wanted the pill for himself. He broke into their house, threatening Chang’e in the process. Knowing she was in danger, Chang’e gulped the pill and floated away into the sky.

Chang’e was afraid that her husband would not be able to find her, (and now was supposedly in space), so floated towards the nearest landing point, which happened to be the moon. Chang’e was now also immortal – hence the getting away with living in space thing. When Houyi returned home, he couldn’t find his love and was heart-broken. He looked to the sky, crying loudly and calling his wifes name. To his surprise, he noticed that the moon was lighter than before, and he could see the exact figure of Chang’e swaying within the moon.

Now every year during the lunar Min-Autumn festival when the moon is at its brightest, generations of Chinese eat moonquake’s in memory of Chang’e, and pray to her for good luck and safety.

Happy mooncake festival y’all!

Sweet, sweet satay…

South Korean potato swirl..things

Gong xi fa cai!

January 24, 2012
Happy Chinese New Year to all you Chinese out there…and to those like myself who always wish they could be just a little more culturally attached to it, as opposed to just simply interested. It’s a re-occurring theme for me, these different Chinese festivals and always feeling somewhat culturally envious about the tradition and thought behind everything celebrated. It is so much more than a bunch of people getting tanked then watching fireworks.

I was in Box Hill on Saturday afternoon, helping out my work who had a tent in the middle of all the goings on. It was quiet, with not many Chinese approaching the mostly whitey staff – and i got the feeling that when you’re definitively in the minority, the mostly Chinese crowd  just plain and simple cant be bothered speaking English. I was there for two hours and it passed by quickly, though it was disgustingly hot and humid, leaving me dripping with sweat.

In between speaking to several people, I simply stood there as an observer, people watching. That in itself was fun. You had everything from the Chinese families with their super cute face painted children, to the old pasty white men with their super young Chinese wives ($$..ick).

The festival always cracks me up – the tents on display are just not ‘festival’ – it’s more like a local trade show. Maybe you need to be Asian to appreciate it, but you have tents promoting everything from the post office, to pillows, to bank accounts. Of course there’s always the eye-test tests, and dvd stands and nowadays a plethora of Angry Bird plushie stands.

The definite highlight for me is the food, the lamb skewers in particular. And this year – even they were disappointing! I bought four (for a whopping ten bucks) and both were brimming with fat and only barely cooked – it’s as if they’re cranking out as many as humanly possible to make as much money as humanly possible. Of course as we got close in the queue, a Chinese guy pushed in front of me to order some for himself showing that yes, they’re not only rude bastards on the Mainland!

We didn’t really spend too much time walking around, it just wasn’t worth it. The festival attracts upwards of 80,000 people every year, and the narrow walkways through the tents are absolutely packed with people. Worse is the food street where you have even more people; all with eyes on the food stands and not where they’re walking! I tried a korean potato twist which was delicious – though a bit of a rip-off at five bucks, then a strawberry skewer covered in toffee…another five bucks..then a mango and coconut sago drink which was again, five bucks. So with a full belly and empty pockets, we headed home to wash our faces, as nothing quite makes you feel as disgusting as bloody humidity!

May your 2012 be prosperous!

Yeah baby!

And the highlight of the day....these awesome Chinese lion hand puppets!

It’s that Chinese New Year time of the year again

January 11, 2012

So it’s that time of the year again; when Box Hill sparkles with the glittering gold of polished plastic bullions, majestic sailing ships and…pineapples. Joining these items are several large coloured fake jade trout and piles upon piles of gift boxes containing chocolate wafers and cookies. This of course must mean that it’s almost Chinese New Year again.

I’d love to buy some of these items as a gaudy joke for several friends, but they’re expensive as hell! Gift boxes of cookies can go up to the $50-$80.00 marks, whilst god only knows how much the ships and fish sell for. When it comes to giving face gaining presents during the most important part of the Chinese year, the Chinese are not afraid to splash out.

I always like these festivals. My company will  have a tent at this year’s Box Hill festival, promoting our adult learning centre.  I’ve volunteered to be in the tent for an hour or two which should be a hoot, as some eighty thousand Chinese descend upon the town. We forgot about it last year, only hearing about it the weekend after, but this year it’s being held on the 21st of January and I expect to be well fed on cumin and chilli covered lamb skewers!

We went in 2010 and it was not bad. Despite the delicious array of stalls selling meat skewers and toffee covered fruit sticks, there was also an eclectic mix of vendors selling anything from pillows to bank accounts or promoting christianity. Around this, rival DVD stands attempted to blast each other away with thumping speakers cranked just beyond the distortion level – a level which most Chinese are seemingly immune to, as it’s something we on the Chinese almost daily.

There’s always a certain energy, colour and vibrancy to Chinese festivals, with the new year being the highlight of the year. If anything, it’s a chance to wander around and observe the Chinese doing what they do best..being Chinese, whilst stuffing my face with happiness.

So you were thinking about teaching overseas…

December 7, 2011

If you have ever considered teaching overseas, there’s one piece of advice I would give to you, and as clichéd as it sounds, don’t just think about it, DO it! I cannot emphasize enough how rewarding this experience can be for you – as it was for me. It may feel like an unachievable mountain of a task at first, but the reality is, it really isn’t. With a little commitment and a desire to try something new, you’re on your way to what can be a life changing experience.

You don’t need to be fully qualified to teach overseas, at least, not in China. As long as you are fluent in English and can speak clearly, you’re employable. To the Chinese, the quality of teacher actually plays second fiddle to their appearance. It can bring prestige (face) to a school to play host to foreign teachers, so if you look non-Asian (or more accurately, non-Chinese), you’ve got a big advantage before you even begin. While the above sounds racist; and on some levels it probably is, it’s also the reality.  We are talking about China, and in China, you will learn to expect the unexpected.

Living and working in another country will allow you to explore a culture in a way that is impossible as a holidaying tourist. A country like China will be in many ways, incredibly different to what you are used to back home. Yes you could go work in bars in England, living in a first-world country, speaking English with little to no difficulty, or you could really turn your life upside down in a good way, and live in a place that is absolutely different from your own. The sheer randomness of day to day life, from not knowing what’s around the next corner, to deciphering unknown food packets in a supermarket; it all has addictive qualities!

I was unhappy in my job of six years, and craving change. I didn’t simply want to change jobs, I needed more than that; I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I needed to not only to get out of my comfort zone and be challenged, but a sizable bump to get me out of that rut I had somehow fallen into. My would-be wife was in precisely the same predicament, working in a job she hated; unchallenged and unmotivated. The decision to mix it all up, to go and teach English in China was actually made in the pool of humid Port Douglas, North Queensland. As we floated around in absolute bliss, the suggestion came out of the blue; a suggestion that excited us. We made a commitment that day, and the amazing part for us, was that we actually followed through. We remained focused on the goal, setting mini-milestones, and one year later, we moved to China.

Several years later, I still look back on my time in China as one of the best experiences of my life. Without doubt, it opened my eyes to a different culture, and unknowingly at the time, formed an invisible bond between myself and China. Both of us feel this way, and since returning, our interest in China has been a constant theme in our relationship. This theme has been so dominant that it led us to move to the town of Box Hill; whose population is predominantly Chinese. We have enjoyed being surrounded by what is now a familiar culture, seeking out many of the food discoveries we made while in China.

The other positive to come from our time-out, was definitive career change. Both Courtney and I are now in roles which are not only completely different from what we did before, but much closer to where we want to be. The entire experience was about change, and to that end, we achieved our goal.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to write a whole series of posts regarding teaching in China; from finding a job and day to day living, to what’s just required to get over there.  It is a question I am asked on a semi-regular basis, and it is a topic I always feel passionate about. Ultimately, if by reading these posts I motivate just one person to take the plunge, then that’s good enough for me. And while a return trip is not on my immediate agenda, I absolutely cannot wait to go back.

Move!

December 3, 2011

If there’s one thing the Chinese absolutely excel at, it’s dawdling – or more accurately, the art of walking slowly. I cannot count the number of times I have been frustratingly stuck behind a Chinese family as they spread into a horizontal line before me, stopping me from getting around them. It cracks me up every time this happens to my wife as she gets so ragey. It happens mostly in shopping centres and narrow sidewalks, usually with a mother, father and child. Together, they drift aimlessly along before you, spreading into an impassable line then drifting to the sides as they go, taking interest in everything from shopfronts to rubbish bins. It is infuriating!!

So I couldn’t help but laugh when I came across this video, demonstrating a Japanese solution to dealing with slow walkers. I am seriously considering taping my own version of this in Box Hill – which has to be capital of this particular activity.

Studying Chinese destroys my head!

July 28, 2011

It’s been a reoccurring theme here that I have been lax with my language study. Almost every element of studying Mandarin makes me tired – even just thinking about it. I came close to re-enrolling in a Chinese class a month or two ago, but was at that point still on crutches, enjoying a broken foot.

So now I am still limping around, my foot slowly rehabilitating, I feel beyond tired in a new role at work. It’s funny how the train of excuses never stops. Oh I can’t afford it this month, oh I have too much on my plate at work, oh the temperature did not exceed 10 degrees this morning, blah blah blah!

I love language. It is a dream of mine to become not just conversational in another language, but close to fluent. I would like nothing more than to be able to travel to another country and converse with the locals in their own language – or hell, in my case, I could do that in my own town, considering Box Hill has so many Chinese living in it, its practically a Chinese province itself.

Why does language study have to be so difficult! Why can’t I just go to bed and wake up with a massive understanding? Because that is what we call fantasy, but I wish I wish I wish!

I was really quite hardcore into learning Chinese characters at one point. I was borderline addicted to a website called Skritter – which is simply amazing for practicing Chinese or Japanese characters. At one point I had around 100 under my belt and was progressing well. At that same time I also felt ridiculously tired…mentally tired. I actually felt like my brain was exhausted from working it too hard – a type of tiredness I can honestly say I haven’t encountered very often.

I think that learning Pinyin is the best way to enter into the Chinese world, and then supplement it with Character study. A lot of people say that learning Characters is an important way to understand the language as a whole and funnily enough they are right. I often found little comprehensions appearing all over the place as I studied the characters – particularly when you found the smaller parts of characters (called radicals) appearing in other characters. It slowly, logically brought things together – yet at the same time, I could never imagine myself ever actually looking at a wall of Chinese text – such as in a newspaper – and comprehending it. I could only imagine myself baby-reading it, one character at a time – where a month later, I would have finished the first page.

The other element to character study is that like the spoken language, the grammar is all over the place. The Chinese words do not follow the same structure as English – so much so that in order to understand even part of what is being said, you really need some colloquial knowledge.

I was listening in to a guy beside me on the train, yakking on in Mandarin on his mobile phone. Don’t you love people who sit amongst strangers on trains, happily crapping on about anything and everything? At least if you’re speaking another language, most people present will not have any idea of what you’re saying.  Well I guess I was culturally eavesdropping this guy and found it quite satisfying picking up different words.

I was understanding random things such as the word for Saturday, him answering in the affirmative, and a bunch of other tiny things that made no sense individually, but were satisfying to recognize nonetheless.

The point of this post is there is no point. Like my language study, it is a ramble. Hopefully next time I check in I can report on some advancement. I will say at least, that I am impressed with the amount of words I do actually know and remember. While I can barely string them together, and are not remotely conversational, some way, some how, I have retained practically every part of the language I have studied. My wife Courtney is similar – while she doesn’t think she knows it as well as I do, I am almost certain she has retained it all too. I only wonder if by pushing on and retaining, if that is the key to one day achieving fluency. It’s likely not the size of one’s memory, but one’s ability to commit to what has been a very tiresome path.

Gong xi fa cai!

February 19, 2011

Gong xi fa cai! Yes I know, it’s well over-due, though I have been ridiculously busy and as a result tired as hell. I hope your year so far has been full of rabbity goodness, or if you happen to be from Vietnam…full of kitties. Yes I for one did not know Vietnam did not follow along with the same animalistic calendar as its Asian brethren, but there you go.

If you recall last year, I attended the Chinese New Year celebrations in Box Hill but this year – completely missed them. I did not realise they were even on until the weekend after. While the celebrations themselves were not actually all that good – unless you like perusing stalls selling anything from pillows to bank services, I did want to go up there for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s about the only time of year you can get the amazing chilli lamb meat skewers which we miss so badly from China. Chinese street food was simply amazing…amazing. I miss it almost daily. It was delicious and ridiculously cheap. While the meat skewers were the absolute bomb, I think it’s the sweet or salty flat-breads that were cooked on the inside of a 44 gallon drum which I miss the most. I must get around to contacting one of my former students and having them hunt down the recipe for these amazing little delights.

And secondly, I wanted to buy a new tacky Chinese New Year calendar to hang in the toilet. Yes because nothing quite amuses whilst doing your business than perusing the Chinese zodiac drawn by what must have been a five year old. Our previous one came to us from some friends travelling overseas, and was in fact from a local Chinese store in Manchester UK of all places. Don’t ever say my agendas are not interesting!

I always feel culturally jealous of the Chinese at times such as Chinese New Year. Whilst of course we have things like Christmas, Easter and our own New Years to celebrate, they are never so interesting, or rich with tradition as those of the Asian countries. I look at things such as Lantern festival and it reminds me how our mere hundreds of years of Australian culture completely pales in comparison to the five thousand years China has under its belt.

It’s probably silly, and I am not remotely religious, but I wish we too had our own cultural identity which extended beyond being known for our great beaches, and our love of watching sport whilst bent over a barbeque.


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