Escape to Melbourne and a changing city

When I was growing up in my late teens, occasionally, somebody would suggest that it would be good to do something other than going to the pub. We could all see the sense in this but couldn’t imagine what else to do. We could go bowling and all we needed was a volunteer to drive so the rest of us could have a beer whilst there. Or we could go to the cinema, which would end up being sandwiched between trips to the pub sits next door to it. We could drive through to St. Andrews and go to the beach, and sitting watching the sunset with a few beers is a pretty pleasant thing to do. More often than not, we would end up going to the pub.

When I lived in Cambodia, the youth culture was very different to Scotland, as was the whole country of course. Shopping centres, late night eating and snacking, coffee shops, and computer games were popular among young people. However, it was karaoke that was king.

Whilst karaoke is growing in popularity in Melbourne, and not just amongst the Asian population, it is another Asian invention that is taking Melbourne by storm – escape rooms. Groups of friends enter a locked room  and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape from that room before the times runs out. The games are themed with a narrative explaining the situation that you and your friends find yourself in, which add to the atmosphere and sense of occasion. For instance, you could be trapped in a mine and have to solve puzzles to get your way out.

I first heard about this shortly after moving to Melbourne. The creators of the first game in Melbourne are a couple of psychologists who set a game up in the shed of  one of their Mum’s garden. Since that first one, increasing popularity has been matched with increasing professionalism and design.

The first one we did was in an Alice in Wonderland themed room and after the blindfolds came off, we looked around and wondered what it was that we had to do to escape. The quest is not just to solve a puzzle given to you, but to work out what the puzzle is in the first place. Bit by bit, through reading bits of paper, books, messages and things in the room, you gradually work out what you have to do.


Kellar’s Magic Emporium of Escape Rooms Melbourne with a genius little twist at the end, which thankfully we worked out so that I could escape to write this blog.

We failed the first one despite finding the right book and accompanying code required to interpret the book so that we could find the 4 digit number to unlock the door. Unfortunately, we didn’t work out in time that the series of numbers 148/65/32/79 meant that we were to take the first letter from each of those page numbers that would spell a word such as “nine”. Doing this four times would have given us the final 4 digit code.

Escape rooms began in Japan and quickly spread to Singapore., and now across the world. There are a couple of escape rooms in the Central Business District (city centre) of Melbourne and when I’ve been there, it’s been interesting that the majority of guests are Asian or of Asian descent. Melbourne’s city centre is home to a vibrant Chinatown which brings colour and bustle to what can be a quiet place at night and it’s interesting to see how different parts of Melbourne attract different groups of people.


Melbourne’s Chinatown

At the St. Kilda festival recently, a friend noticed the complete lack of Asian faces amongst the tens of thousands of revellers. If I was out in Prahan or Fitzroy, which is close to the city centre, I would struggle to see many Asian looking people. If I go to an Australian Football League game, or a soccer game or the tennis, it’s mainly white Australians in attendance. But if I was out in the shopping malls of the city centre or Chinatown late at night, I would be joined by many groups Asian people.

A while ago, a friend told me about a huge increase in sales at a shop during a late night special sale. The shop is popular amongst Asians and Australians of Asian descent and we talked about how popular late night shopping was amongst Asians, who may prefer to shop and go for dinner or snacks rather than going to the pub. And it seems that young Australians as a whole are drinking less than they used to.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found through surveys (always a little bit unreliable) that drinking in Australia has been declining, including amongs amongst young people. A survey of secondary school students aged 16-17  found that only one-third had drank in the last week, down from nearly half in 2002. This trend was backed up by another survey looking at 18-24 year olds that also found a drop in risky drinking amongst in recent years.

Having only been here for just over 2 years, I don’t really know what the city centre was like 10 years ago although Melburnians have told me that it’s changed quite a lot. It will be interesting to see how the city centre responds to an increasing population of Asian-Australians, and Asian students in particular, and changing habits of young people. Providing entertainment and leisure opportunities for people who may want to do something other than go to the pub could be a puzzle worth solving for us all.



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