Chinatown & Chinese Gardens: Week 91

Polaroid of Emperor's Garden Cakes & Bakery, Sydney

From our house it was only a half hour walk till Chinatown. The two-block route on Dixon Street was stuffed with restaurants, bakeries, and pearl tea cafes. Our first stop was in front of the Emperor’s Garden Cakes & Bakery, where we waited in line for a walnut-sized pastry called an Emperor’s Puff. When we finally got up to the window, Barret pulled .60¢ out of his pocket and handed it over.  A batch of the naughty-sounding pastries dropped out of the machine with a clack and the woman behind the window gave us two.

From there we went a few shops down to the Yin Li Sichuan Restaurant. It had paper screens covering the walls and the kind of heavy engraved tables that were popular in the 80s. We ordered dim sum dumplings and a steamed rice cake with beef, which were both way more delicious than the vegetable stirfry. Barret and I both agreed that most of the Chinese stirfrys we’ve had are very unexciting; the official verdict is still out till we get to China though.

Polaroid of Kimber Lane alley art, Sydney

We also discovered that the alley behind our restaurant had been renovated with an art installation by Australian Jason Wing. As an artist with Chinese and Aboriginal heritage, Wing wanted to “create an experience like walking in between two worlds or travelling between heaven and earth.” It definitely felt otherworldly with stylized plumes of blue smoke drawn over red brick walls and sliver and blue spirit figures floating above the alley. Of course I had put black and white film into my Polaroid.

Polaroid of Chinese Garden, Sydney

After lunch we walked past the north gate of Chinatown towards the Chinese Garden of friendship. The gardens were built to celebrate Australia’s 1988 bicentenary and are a result of the relationship between Sydney and its sister city Guangzhou. Although the high-rise Sydney landmarks were visual distractions, the local Australian White Ibis birds seemed right at home. Their snowy feathers had the same wispy appearance as the weeping willow branches they rested on.

From what I’ve noticed, Sydneysiders hate these birds as much as Americans hate pigeons. My New Zealand coworker even went so far as to say the kiwi bird is incontestably superior and cuter. “They are cuter,” I agreed, “but you got to give the ibis credit for adapting to a city environment. From what I hear the kiwi is getting gobbled up by small mammals…”

My coworkers might think I’m crazy, but I still like the ibis. It looks exotic and reminds me that I am in a foreign country every time I see it. And you know what? From the pavilion where Barret and I were drinking a pot of jasmine tea, the ibis birds looked damn good nestled on the Phoenix Rock in the middle of the Lake of Brightness. You go bird!

How to get to the Chinese Garden of Friendship: Southern end of Darling Harbour, Sydney

How to get to Chinatown: Dixon Street, between Hay Street and Goulburn Street 

About the Kimber Lane street art

Incheon Chinatown: Week 23

Past the entrance gate, cheap souvenir stands blot the uphill walk. Offering genuine “Made in China” artifacts, Incheon is the closest one can get to China without embarking upon the international ferries across the harbor.

Where the two main thoroughfares bisect, there is an abundance of restaurants. Each window is shellacked into opacity with posters; a myriad of reality TV celebrities lurk between Chinese food dishes and menus. Inside an audience-approved business, Barret tried jjajangmyeon, a wheat noodle dish smothered in a black bean sauce. This Chinese-Korean fusion dish originates from Incheon and has grown in such popularity that is has its’ own recognized date. Every April 14th on Black Day, singles consume jjajangmyeon to celebrate/mourn their unattached status.

While not necessarily authentic (the San Francisco Chinatown feels grittier and more realistic despite being significantly further away), the strings of red paper lanterns and painted dragons peering out of alleyways offer different scenery from the rest of the peninsula. The informational guide posts and tastefully decorated garbage canisters make Incheon a sanitized and palatable version of China, but one well worth the visit.

How to get there: Seoul Metro Line 1, Incheon Station

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