You know it’s unseasonable weather for a sleigh ride together

So I’ve been in Melbourne for the last week and a half, enjoying the weather growing warmer as Christmas approaches, and adjusting to a new time zone. I’ve gone from being up for only three hours in the morning before my chiefly French clients end their business day, to being awake for about six hours in the evening coinciding with the earlier part of their opening hours (or “trading hours” in Australian, and yes, I’ve been cataloging the English phrases found here that are unfamiliar to my American- and British-trained senses).

Queen Victoria Women's Centre, exemplary of Australian Edwardian architecture.

Besides being happy, warm, vibrant, and rife with gentle drunken antics on weekend night, all the things you want when you’re adjusting to a new city, Melbourne’s Central Business District has a feature distinctly missed in New York: pedestrian alleys. My writer friend Rachel Haimowitz once pointed out to me that despite what novelists who’ve never lived there seem to think, there are almost no narrow gaps between buildings in Manhattan where a mugger or kidnapper could pull an unsuspecting protagonist, at least not without wire fences. Melbourne has them, and they do lend some mystery to a city that’s otherwise a bit too predictably cheerful. There are alleys here that unexpectedly lead to German beer gardens. Alleys that lead to art galleries. Alleys that have been converted into skinny shop-and-café arcades. Alleys where gangs of forty-something white middle-class people jump out to scare you and laugh themselves silly. (Antics, like I said).

Large wooden wombats like these are worshiped as idols by Australia's "bohemian pagans", known locally as "bogans".

Longtime residents tell me that it’s only been in the past few decades that Melbourne has been transformed from a mere state capital to a true global city. Perhaps most impressive (and certainly impossible before Australia’s non-European immigration laws were loosened in the early ’70s) is the dizzying diversity of Asian restaurants in the area where I’m staying. The reductive semi-official name “Chinatown” does not suit this neighborhood. A single square mile offers nearly every cuisine hailing from east of the Hindu Kush and south of Siberia. There are sushi bars, Korean barbecue joints, all variants of Chinese cooking, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, and even attempts to recreate Malaysian and Taiwanese street food. I don’t think there’s a single neighborhood of New York where this wide a variety of Asian restaurants exists. I’m not sure there’s a small patch of any city in the entire world that this can be said of.

Yummy pork bao bun from Taiwan Café.

About Andrew Levine

Andrew Levine is an ATA-certified freelance French-English translator from Brooklyn, New York.
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2 Responses to You know it’s unseasonable weather for a sleigh ride together

  1. A Brady says:

    Enjoyable read this morning. It will be good to see you in a couple weeks DownUnder!

    Enjoy.

  2. Pearl says:

    Jackson Heights has a pretty good spread of Asian restaurants side-by-side, but I can’t wait to sample what Melbourne has to offer!

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