I have been pondering about Chinatowns around the world such as Chinatown Melbourne while creating the Chinatown London Experience. This work on Chinatown Melbourne is my attempt to understand Chinatown in a global context. It starts with fun facts and history about Melbourne before looking at the Chinese community and Chinatown in it.
One can’t tell the story of Chinatown Melbourne without introducing its context – Melbourne. Melbourne’s size is impressive considering the city is only about 200 years old. Arriving into the city center in October 2018, I am facing a mini urban juggle with modern buildings juxtaposing with Victoria era architectures. By 2018, Melbourne’s population has hit 5 million. It is expected that the number will grow into 8 million by 2050.
I travelled here by the end of September which is still winter going to spring. Locals advised me to bring clothes for sun, for rain and for wind in this season, as it is possible to have ‘four seasons in one day’. The first week I am here, the day usually started cold with drizzles. During noontime, the sky cleared up and sunshine rested on my shoulder. But that is not to say, it would not be chilly again in the afternoon. I am very glad I packed everything during this trip.
- To get a general feeling of the city I booked the ‘I am free’ walking tour in Melbourne. The three-hour walking tour has two parts. In the first ‘history’ part, the guide took us to see beautiful buildings, houses, and squares that defined the city’s past. For the second part, we walked into quirky alleys and markets with cafes and restaurants recommended by our guide. It is a great way to know about the city for first-time visitors. I definitely recommend it.
- City: One of the early founders of Melbourne was named ‘Batman’. Therefore, Melbourne was almost named as Batmania. Today still there are ‘Batman’ street, ‘Batman’ park. This makes Melbourne almost a Gotham city in reality.
- Street: Melbourne CBD area is a concentrated grid area learning slightly towards the west. The streets were unexceptionally related to the early European settlers. For example, Bourke Street, the biggest street was named after Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales. Free Wifi is available within the CBD area.
- It’s FREE to take trams within the CBD. (circled in red below). Outside of this CBD circle, one needs to get a top-up transportation card called Myki which is available in 7 Eleven shops or licensed stores.
- Precincts: Obviously the City of Melbourne makes efforts to recognize its multicultural roots and they are called Precincts. From Chinatown Melbourne to Italian Corner to Greek Precinct, one can find different cultures mostly demonstrated by food.
- Markets and Arcades: The shopping arcades/markets in Melbourne are full of people and full of personalities. Going through arcades and small lanes, one discovers the best coffee, the best Italian restaurant, the best breakfast spot, all in style.
Chinese Community in Melbourne
One in four people in Australia is born out of the country. That shows how this country is shaped by immigrants. The Immigration Museum in Melbourne’s city center does an excellent job in creating a narrative of Australia’s history from immigrants’ perspectives.
The current Chinese population is about 8.5% of Melbourne’s 5 million people. I was told that they are concentrated either in Chinatown (CBD district) or new Chinese suburbs such as Box Hill. Among these communities, there are ‘old money’ and ‘new money’.
‘Old money’ refers back to the 1850’s when the earliest wave of Chinese immigrants came to Victoria, Australia for its ‘goldrush’. They traveled a long way before getting into the mining site, bringing cultures and traditions which became part of the Australian life. The evidence is found from the dancing dragon display in the Chinese Museum in Chinatown, Melbourne to the Dim Sims sold in restaurants and convenience stores.
In today’s Melbourne, Chinese people come to either study or to invest, attracted by its stable and English-speaking environment.
[Fun Facts] There are a few fun facts that set Chinatown Melbourne apart from Chinatown London. I joined Emilia’s Airbnb Experience – Everything Chinatown: Food & Culture, which is an absolute delight. With her guide and help, I was able to know Melbourne’s Chinatown at a completely different level.
- Chinese Museum: There is a dedicated Chinese museum in Melbourne’s Chinatown to celebrate the heritage and culture of Australia Chinese.
- Plenty of cheap restaurants: I stayed in a hotel next to Chinatown Melbourne so I ended up going there for lunch every day. It is in Melbourne’ Chinatown that I had the best roasted-duck noodle and it costs me AU$8.8 (that is £4.87 = US$6.3). The duck meat was so tender that I didn’t even need to bite to swallow. I had this wonderful and fast meal in Hawker Chan, the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant inside Melbourne’s Chinatown. It is clean, efficient and cheap. Chinese food lover in Melbourne, I envy you!
- The visual Chinatown: street art is a part of the Melbourne city charm and Chinatown has picked up the artistic trend as well.
- There are some really interesting architectures in Melbourne’s Chinatown including the Shanghai Village with Greek-style columns. When was this building built and how? Who commissioned it and who designed it? Emilia will tell you all about it on top of many other unique things to discover.