Cycling in Ashfield

To whom it may concern,

As we all know, Ashfield’s main shopping strip down Liverpool Road favours the pedestrian, and parking a car is not for the faint of heart. I ride a bicycle and walk through Ashfield every day, grocery shopping and running errands.

When I ride my bike, I like to lock it up just outside the shop or business I’m patronising. It’s safest for my bike to be parked in a well-trafficked, highly visible public place. But it also needs to be somewhere it won’t impede pedestrians. It needs to be attached to a high, stable, secure structure that won’t damage it or break easily.

At the moment there is only one bike ‘loop’ in the little alcove near the Commonwealth bank atm, at the front of the Ashfield Mall. Bike loops look like this:


There is a bike ‘rack’ attached to the wall, but this rack is often full of bikes, and is – more importantly – not kind to my bike. Inserting the front wheel of a bike into the ‘slot’ is a good way to buckle your tire – the weight of your bike, knocked or pushed or falling to one side – will cause the tire (gripped by the rack) to bend. So I avoid this type of bike rack. This rack also requires either an exceptionally long bike lock, or a willingness to lock only your front tire to the rack. I like my entire bike to still be there when I return with my groceries, and my bike lock is, sadly, only of ordinary length.

We really need new bike racks in the Ashfield shopping area. The huge, barren, concrete wasteland in front of the new Council building would be an excellent place for a series of bike ‘loops’, or even – most excitingly! – some well-designed bike racks which could serve as public art as well practical tools for encouraging motorists off the road and onto their bikes. Luckily, the Powerhouse Museum has already conducted a competition for well-designed bike racks.
I am particularly fond of this one, and think it would be the perfect way to populate that space I mentioned:

(Chris Smith and Toby McInnes’ entry ‘Quale’; source)

I await your response to my suggestion with great anticipation,

Yours sincerely,
Ashfield home owner and resident,

[I’m experimenting with form and tone.]

No Meat Week2: Monday

(Jalebi, my superfavourite sweety)

Today I forgot to have breakfast. Then I had take away Indian for lunch. YUM. Ashfield is brilliant for quick lunches: 2 or 3 Nepalese joints (there’s quite a strong Nepalese community here), Chinese of course (mostly Shanghainese, and lots of dumplings and noodles), Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Malaysian and now a couple of new Japanese joints. An Oporto’s has just opened, which would worry me, if it wasn’t for the fact that two Japanese, one Nepalese and one Indian/Nepalese joints opened in the same month in the same block (for real). There’re also a few rubbishy places in the food court of the Smashmall (Ashfield Mall), but I wouldn’t eat there.

Though you can get badass bubble tea at a couple of joints, there is a distinct lack of coffee and European baked bread action in Ashfield. There is a ‘European’ bakery, run by a Lebanese/Indian couple, but the coffee is rubbish and the cakes are meh. They don’t sell bread. There are a couple of Vietnamese bakeries, but I don’t like that sweet white bread. There’s a Bread Top, but that’s very sweet and not really European style bread. There’s a Baker’s Delight in Smashmall, but it’s totally shit. There is one ‘cafe’ further down Liverpool Road, but it’s actually a Chinese cafe, and not really good for coffee. There is one cafe in the Smashmall, but it’s not good for coffee.
The newest cafe is an internet cafe, opened just next to the Station on our side of the tracks. It’s run by an Indian family, has a coffee machine, and while one side of the cake cabinet is full of ‘European’ cakes, the other half is full of amazing Indian sweets. You can score cheap pirated Hindi language films there too.

So Ashfield is not a good place for ‘European’ food. This is a big change from Brunswick. It’s also been a very good change for my belly, as I eat far fewer sweeties, as I just can’t hack the hardcore sugar in Indian and Chinese sweets. We do travel over to Haberfield for bread and cake and coffee on the weekend, but we are Smashfield people. But Ashfield is a brilliant place for cheap, interesting lunches. Just not so great if you’re looking for a sandwich. One of the things I have noticed in Ashfield, is that sitting down to a meal of shared dishes at lunch is a very common thing for this Chinese community. Everyone does it – from high school kids to mums with sprogs or oldies in a gang. It’s nice.

Tonight, at our little flat in Ashfield, we revisited last Thursday’s roasted veggies dinner. This time we did the dressing without oil, just with lemon. It was a bit sharp. We also added some fennel to the roasted veggies, but it wasn’t really a good place for fennel. I think I’d stick with what we did last time, perhaps. Dave’s poached eggs were as brilliant as last time. He has a talent. He should take it on the road.

Nepalese food in Ashfield

Tonight a second Nepalese joint in Ashfield, and it was neat.
The first one, Mandap, the larger one we went to the other night, and had sent us a take away flyer, was pretty good. But we ate the Indian stuff from the menu because the Nepalese stuff didn’t look that exciting. An excellent biryani, but the saag gosht was just okish. But it was all pretty spicey and good with the chilli, which I like.

Tonight we went to Cafe Kathmandu, and I liked it. It’s in what was a fairly ordinary, if not downright dodgy ‘Italian’ cafe, and it has kept all the furniture, fittings and servery stuff. It’s a small place, only about eight tables inside, and two larger tables outside. As we arrived a couple of young blokes were carrying a carton of beer to the tables. Those tables are always full of a) Indian blokes, b) Chinese blokes or c) Nepalese blokes, all in their 20s, smoking and eating plate after plate of momo.

This is what the menus look like:
‘ordinary’ cafe food – big breakfasts, sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc – during the day
Nepalese food. For lunch and for dinner.
Nepalese menus are kind of cool because they’re usually a combination of Chinese dishes – noodles (chow mein especially), stir fries – and Indian dishes, as well as more specifically Nepalese food. Which makes sense, geographically and culturally.
I really like Nepalese vegetable dishes, so I hunt them down.

We shared a tali and a plate of chicken momo because we were a bit full. The tali was delicious – a cold veggie curry, a little pile of wilted spinach (perfectly cooked), a blackbean dahl and a bit of goat curry, all in little pots next to a nice pile of perfect rice (white, absorption-cooked medium grain). The momo were largeish, very fresh and super tasty – chicken with coriander and shallots and things. Dave had a mango lassi that tasted pre-mixed and was a bit sweet for me. But I don’t like lassi, usually.

In retrospect, I wish we’d had the Khaja set, as it had a heap of delicious looking potato dishes and things.

The owner was a casual and friendly middle aged woman who, while she had to delay in serving us called out ‘just be a minute!’ and kept us informed of her progress. She was helped by a younger bloke was who was equally friendly.

While we were there (about an hour, tops) they shipped plate after plate of momo out to the young blokes outside, and three other tables worth of diners trooped in and out for quick, casual meals. Including one middle aged Singaporean woman and her Anglo-Australian husband. She was my favourite, obviously having her first Nepalese meal and determined to taste everything and engage the owner in conversation about the food, asking lots of questions and inquiring about the different speciality Nepalese dishes.

This is what I liked about it:

  • Cheap;
  • Freshly cooked;
  • Simple;
  • Delicious;
  • The veggie dishes (my favourite part) were fresh and nice;
  • The people working there were friendly and nice.
  • The original cafe features were still in use, and it was a practical combination of ‘cafe’ and Nepalese food.

    I also like the Malaysian joint in Ashfield for some of these things. That place has been set up in a classic ‘fish and chip’ joint near the station. They’ve even left all the signage and menus in place. Except now there’re ‘Malaysian food’ and ‘Australian food’ menus chalked in. There are tables (just a few) set up, with the usual pots of copsticks, sauces and so on on the tables. The chef chats with the punters and you’re very welcome to join in.

    I like these places, I like the way they move into smaller venues which embodied the anglo/euro history and diet of Ashfield and adapt them to suit the new dietry and cultural needs of the community. Small sites, working on a very tight budget with small staff, specialising in a particular cuisine for the local ex-pat communities, but in the sort of welcoming multicultural way that really illustrates Ashfield today. This is one of the things I like most about Ashfield.

Ashfield f&v

The fruit and vegetable shop that I like is way dodgy. But it is also way cheap. I’m fairly sure they just haul all the produce out of the fridges in the morning, wack it out on display, then fill it during the day. Ashfield swarms in, takes everything, fails to line up properly at the cash registers, gets told off (or looks away smugly from a correct position in the line) and pays less than $20 for pretty much all the F&V they can carry. At the end of the day, anything left gets put in a plastic bag and then put out the next day for a ridiculously low price.

Other F&V shops probably keep all their stuff in the fridges for as long as possible, so they could be one hundred years old, but still look ok. The Ashfield F&V shop I like sells stuff that doesn’t always look great, but is always cheap. I’m also pretty sure they wouldn’t waste money refrigerating anything.

If you don’t get in there before lunch time, you won’t get any leafy Asian greens. They are snapped up quickly. They are always fresh and ridiculously cheap.

I think about the supermarket F&V when I’m in the shop I like, and how the supermarkets charge heaps more, sell stuff that looks ok, but is actually shithouse and lasts about 2 hours before devolving into sludge. I also think about the supermarket shoppers who don’t like the crowds in the other Ashfield F&V shops.

The Ashfield F&V shop I like is very crowded, but it is wheelchair and pram accessible (I know because there are a few regular wheelies who shop there when I do, and there’s always someone ramming a pram into the shop). The staff don’t smile, but they are actually really nice and very helpful. But don’t try to form a second line at the cash register. One line only!

There’s a lot of whole milk for sale there, and it took me a long time realise why people bought massive two and four litre jugs of it. For paneer.

I like shopping there, even though there’s nothing organic, and nothing particularly wonderful about the produce. But it’s no worse than stuff in all the other shops in Ashfield (Ashfield has four F&V shops, three supermarkets selling F&V and at least four mixed grocers selling Asian veggies). It’s cheap. And I don’t get attitude when I put my basket full of unbagged veggies onto the counter then pull my backpack open for the cashier to dump stuff straight in. They don’t give a shit.
But the supermarkets get really really shitty with me for not using their cashier counters exactly as designed. I don’t have perfectly sized calico or green bags purchased from their shop. I’m not buying the line that mass produced shitty bags are environmentally better. I am convinced that they’re a pain in the arse for cyclists with a good, solid backpack. They get shitty with me when I ask them to do the heavy things first, rather than in order of coldness. This stuff isn’t going to sit in the back of my 4WD for hours; it’s going straight home with me, right now, and will be in the fridge in 20 minutes time. They get really shitty with me when I hand them my credit card and let them do the button pushing while I pack my backpack properly. And the fact that I stand at the right hand side of the counter for the entire transaction, rather than moving through the little corridor, right to left, following the proper order, drives them CRAZY. The customers behind me go nuts because they can’t move forward in the queue.

The thing is, my approach to paying for groceries is quick, organised and efficient. I don’t take longer than anyone else. I’m certainly quicker and more efficient than most people. It’s just that I’m not following the rules. That drives people nuts.

But in the F&V shop I like, people expect chaos and rule breaking, so they don’t mind my taking a novel approach. I’m not pushing in, and I’m not breaking the line up rule (here! one line only!). I’m quick and efficient. The service in this shop is lightning fast, and standing in the line is always interesting. People tend not to get as shitty there as they do in the supermarket, even when they’re the same person. I know I don’t.

it’s raining here, a bit

It’s raining a lot in Brisbane, and I’ve finally managed to ascertain the whereabouts of the various family members who’ve been Left Behind while the rest of us fled south. I am now also sure my Brisvegan friends are safe and well. No one is injured or missing, and we southerners are very relieved. Meanwhile, I’ve had a flurry of emails from people I first met in Brisbane, and who are spread out all over the country and world. I think the shocking stories from Queensland have reminded us of each other.

When that man on the 7:30 Report, that Stalwart Australian Man began to weep a little bit as he told us about not being able to stop to help people who were floating away on the roof of their cars or in boats, crying out for help, I wept a little bit as well.

I liked it that he let us see that all that talk about Stalwart Australian Men being stony faced and impervious to emotions was rubbish.

But then I saw a story about fires in … Western Australia? South Australia? where another Australian Man was telling us about how his home and everything he owned had been burnt by fires started by an arsonist, and how he just didn’t know what to do. He was weeping too, but he was wearing dark glasses, so it was hidden. I think that was even more touching.

It has been a hard week for Australians all over the place. But I keep thinking about those folk who live in truly remote communities, where there’re no buildings to be washed away, and no sewers to flood sewage into people’s backyards. I feel sorry for those people, because when the army arrived there, they had their money controlled by the government and nobody let them tell the story about calling out to neighbours to see if they were alright, and we didn’t see the footage of the stranger helping that family rescue their belongings.

I’m trying not to think those sorts of thoughts, but it’s making me angrier and angrier to hear stories about ‘strong’, ‘good’ communities that ‘help each other’ when there’s just as surely child abuse and drugs and violence and so on in those communities as well. But we don’t hear those stories, because these people are all white.

I am trying not to think like that. It’s not helpful.

I like the look of Anna Bligh. She’s turning out to be a fairly awesome leader, politician and all-round rock star. Be patient with each other. That’s what she said. And Kirsty’s right, it is a good thought.

In other news, I spend a lot of time in Ashfield these days. Sometimes I go to Burwood. Sometimes to the city, or perhaps to another neighbouring suburb. But mostly I stay here. I haven’t got a job (yet) (yet?) and I haven’t many prospects. But I don’t much mind. I am feeling healthy and well and have getting a lot of exercise. These are all good things.

Be patient with each other. This is what I think when someone who’s not from Ashfield goes shopping in the veggie shop. Be patient. Don’t take up so much space. Don’t try to make eye contact quite so desperately/aggressively. Take time to make a joke. Help someone reach something. Ashfield isn’t for everyone. The streets are fairly dirty, and the underpass, the one under the train tracks, where the children painted all the pictures and there are photos from the olden days, that underpass floods badly when it rains, and very quickly. And then as it dries out it smells badly.

Be patient with each other. This is a nice thought. I like it as an instruction for timing. For dancing. In swing, you get back there behind the beat. Wait. Don’t rush. Be patient. And let that man finish his solo.

Here, I’m wondering why there just aren’t any women in these bands. It’s like Australian jazz is just one big Bechdel fail. There’s an occasional one singing. Or someone hidden in the brass section. But, mostly, it’s just men.

It’s raining here a bit. Off and on, a clear day here and there, to help us dry things out. But it’s still raining in Brisbane. And there’s more flooding to come. Do be careful, friends.


Today a middle aged bloke walked past me in Ashfield and said “I’m the only Aussie here!” very loudly.
I thought ‘well, no – we’re all Australian. You’re one of the few skips here today, that’s all.’