(From Left to Right): Mr Edmond Kwok, Managing Director of BMW Concessionaries (HK) Ltd.; Mr Gert Hildebrand, General Manager, MINI Design; Mr Neil Galloway, Chief Financial Officer, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited; Sir Michael Kadoorie, Chairman, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited; Lady Betty Kadoorie; Ms Rainy Chan, General Manager, The Peninsula Hong Kong; Mr Clement Kwok, Chief Executive Officer, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited; Mr Peter Borer, Chief Operating Officer, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited (Copyright Navjot Singh 2009)
On the morning of the 11th of December 2009, the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong (Hong Kong’s most luxurious hotel), celebrated its 81st anniversary with the addition of two new MINI Cooper S Clubman vehicles. These two cars are the luxury version of the MINI Cooper, and will be used to whisk around Peninsula’s distinguished guests around Hong Kong. The two MINI Coopers will join the existing fleet of fourteen Rolls-Royce Extended Wheelbase Phantoms and one 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. One may ask why is the 81st anniversary more important than the 50th of the 100th? Bonnie Kwok, the Peninsula’s Public Relations Manager explained that the MINI cars were “presented as gifts from the BMW group on the 81st birthday because the MINIs reflect the legendary Grande Dame’s youthful spirit as she enters her ninth decade”. “I am certain that we will have more exciting happenings on our 100th birthday.” explained Ms. Kwok.
Stephanie Sim, the Peninsula’s Director of Public Relations, explained to me that the two MINI Coopers will be offered as a complimentary service to guests who stay in one of the hotel’s suites, and will be a treat for the hotel’s distinguished guests while they are in Hong Kong. The MINI's are a complimentary service for suite guests using the car exclusively for shopping and perhaps sightseeing purposes. This is on top of the fleet of 14 Rolls Royce Phantoms for airport transfer services.Ms. Sim further explained that the MINI engineers and designers worked closely with The Hon. Sir Michael Kadoorie, Chairman of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Limited (photo below), and Martin Oxley, The Peninsula’s Fleet Vehicle Manager, to develop a number of dedicated features which took into consideration the specific requirements of the hotel’s brand policy- and its guests. These include a custom-illuminated Peninsula logo on door entry sills, leather finishing matching the existing Rolls-Royce interiors and the signature Peninsula Green color that adorns every vehicle in the hotel’s transport fleet. Each car is also fitted a mini-fridge, and an iPhone. The two MINI coopers’ are registered PEN 1 and PEN 2.
The Peninsula’s two MINIs were unveiled by Sir Michael and Mr. Gert Hildebrand, General Manager MINI Design (pictured below. The two guests of honor were then joined by three representatives from The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited: Mr. Clement Kwok (Chief Executive Officer), Mr. Neil Galloway (Chief Financial Officer) and Mr Peter Borer (Chief Operating Officer), together with Ms Rainy Chan, General Manager of The Peninsula Hong Kong.
In his speech, Sir Michael announced, “In keeping with The Peninsula’s Rolls-Royce fleet, they
will quite simply add further inspiration to our unsurpassed levels of luxury and service.”
The Peninsula MINI Clubman will consist of the following features:
Two weeks ago, by chance I came across an incident in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where a Chinese man was arrested for protesting against Deng Xiao Ping, in front of the famous poster of Deng Xiao Ping in the city centre. I quickly managed to take a photo- (shown below) which clearly shows the protestor, who seemed to be around his mid-30s, being led into the Police car. The policeman sitting in the front seat is reading the poster which has just been confiscated from the protestor. The Chinese man defiantly stood in front of the Deng Xiao Ping portrait and shouted loud slogans against Deng, and his reasons of why Deng was a bad man. After repeated calls by the Police for the protestor to stop and give up, he was finally arrested after an hour’s standoff and taken to the Shenzhen Detention centre in the Meilin district of the city. Another Policeman, who initially took the call from a member of the public, told me that he will get anything between 2 and 4 years- and most likely with no need for any trial, because the Police already have all the evidence and there is no need for defense.
I have never at first hand seen or heard about a local Chinese man protesting like this. Chinese people rarely openly protest against their government leaders (dead or alive). It is indeed rare, and so this has led me to believe that either this man is 1. In serious determination to make his strong viewpoint against Deng Xiao Ping; OR, 2. (I hate to say this), but he could have some mental illness. I am speculating this second point because of his refusal to stop protesting and the "childish" way in which he was stubborn to continue protesting. If one saw his behavior, it would actually have been comparable to a young sulking child. Something did not seem right. Also, I am wondering why is he protesting now (in 2009 I mean), and why not in the early 1980s when the great Deng Xiao Ping declared Shenzhen a great city for free trade zone.
I never got to know the man's name. In actual fact that same morning, before I came across this incident, I happened to witness 3 other arrests- all of which were acts of thefts/pick-pocketing by petty criminals on the K204 bus during the morning rush hour. I got onto the rather empty K204 in Nanshan (Shekou Walmart), but around 10 stops down the route, the bus will fully packed with passengers having to push each other to "squeeze" into the bus (it is normal in big cities to witness this). Everything seemed normal, and then suddenly all I heard was two plain clothed young men shouting and holding down the culprit, handcuffed him and led him off the bus at the next stop. To my surprise all the other passengers seemed to be calm, and not in any panic. Taking into account that only a few weeks ago I had lost my Digital Camera in Kunming (at the CITM in November), I was not taking any risks at all. It prompted me to keep a close watch on my pockets and Camera. It all sounds some movie, but in reality these thieves do work in teams of 2 or 3. This is so that when the bus stops, they all run in different directions, hence neatly avoiding being caught easily.
To see one arrest on a fully packed bus is shocking enough, but to see 3 on the same bus route is something new. I never came across this before, even in my previous 5 years I have lived in China. On the whole China is a much safer country to live in than the UK (this is true and from my own personal experience). Its just that because of the New Year holiday so some people from the rural areas come to big cities and will take anything they lay eyes on (it happens everywhere around the world- read my November blog article about London!).
In a city that prides itself on its fine breakfast cuisine it is difficult to pinpoint a particular restaurant which serves the best breakfast., I can, however, personally recommend the Au Baroudeur located opposite the Gare De Nord.
If you have arrived early in the morning, nothing beats eating a freshly baked croissant accompanied by a café au lait. The restaurant's ambiance and interior design is heavily influenced by fine French architecture blended neatly with the Sahara Desert, which is well complemented by African artifacts - there's even an Indiana Jones Hat on the wall!
It's hard to believe that the luxury Chocolatier, Debauve & Gallis on 30 rue des Saints-Peres, used to be a 19th century pharmacy that sold chocolate for medical purposes. Now it sells the sweet stuff for a more romantic reason!
Those who want to recharge themselves after a day of walking around the quiet side-roads of Paris, head for the culturally inclined Les Deux Magotson 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Près. Scrumptious desserts and freshly made coffee are some of the tantalizing foods on offer.
One does not need to venture far to see the attractive sight of baguettes, cheese and wine. Even if these were the only things served in Paris then you would still be able to count Parisian meals among some of the best you have ever had! Parisians take their food seriously, even at breakfast foodie treats are on offer at every cafe, such as croissants, baguette with cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice and espressos that pack a punch. Therefore, it is no surprise that the French are best known for their scrumptious cuisine, even more so than for their taste in fashion.
Ask those who fly with Air France their reason for choosing the national flag carrier and they will invariably answer because of the French cuisine. That said, though many Parisian restaurants serve authentic French cuisine, equally delicious international dishes may also be found across the capital but where else are you going to find frog's legs cooked so perfectly?
Paris, the capital city of France is, quite simply, the city to go for romance. The city of lights projects a strong ambiance of romance, and this romantic feeling is evident in all parts of Parisian life, ranging from the endless chains of cafes dotted around the metropolis, authentic French cuisine, local poetic parks and gardens, the French language (and its romantic accent), and, of course, magnificent Parisian architecture. I had flown in from Hong Kong to Paris on Air France, and had a deliberate 16 hour stopover in the capital city. After landing at around 4.30am at Paris CDG, I decided to head over to enjoy the city for the whole day before heading onward towards London in the evening. Oh and of course, being completely jet-lagged with my body operating on China time helped to stay fresh and awake.
Unlike other busier metropolises, such as London or New York, life is laid-back in this city of over 8 million people. As one takes a metro journey from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the city centre, one cannot resist appreciating the sight of a typical native French gentleman wearing a French beret and playing a harmonium; or a young couple kissing passionately on the metro against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower - yes, this is Paris, the city of romance!
Paris - for fashion and food!
Lined with internationally branded chic boutique shops selling designer wear and chocolates, the elegant boulevards of Saint-Germain-des-Près, on the left bank, are a must for any tourist, irrespective if you are on a romantic trip or a business trip. For times immemorial the area has been a favourite hotspot of gifted writers and thinkers, such as Jean-Paul Sarte, Ernest Hemingway and Albert Camus, who spent endless days whiling away their time writing, drinking fine coffee and people-watching. Nowadays, Saint-Germain-des-Près is an area renowned for shopping - luxury shopping! Paris's equivalent of London's Mayfair or Primrose Hill, Saint-Germain-des-Près has built a strong reputation for being the most sought after expensive area, and a favourite with French and International A-listers for some ridiculously hot shopping.
Interspersed along the boulevard are home-design showrooms, boutiques', cafés, local bakeries, and Parisian chocolatiers. The exceedingly comfortable thought about being in Paris is that, after a long day walking and sight-seeing, one can always take a brief respite along one of the many cafes or eateries on any street in the city.
Take a stroll!
An evening stroll along the banks of the Seine, or around the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries is, of course, not only free but also healthy, and très romantique! Even if you are on your own on business trip take a walk with your camera along one of the many streets of the Marais neighborhood, during the day or evening; it can provide some stunning insight into the local Parisian culture, beauty and history. For the romantic at heart another place to explore can be the artistic area around the Montmartre.
Visit the Eiffel Tower
This spectacular symbol of France was first constructed for the Paris Expo in 1889, and since then has become an ideal place to go. During the daytime it is beautiful but is even more so in the evening. Why not try a delicious meal at either of the tower's two restaurants and enjoy the beautiful view at the same time! Altitude 95 is on the 1st floor, +33(0)1 45 55 20 04; and the Le Jules Vernes Restaurant is on the 2nd floor, +33 (0)1 45 55 61 44. It is highly recommended to reserve at least a few days in advance as it's something of an accomplishment to get a table here.
Can't miss the Champs- Élysées!
The glamorous Champs-Elysées is the place where you'll find most of the city's dining, shopping, museums, beautiful gardens and maybe even some Hollywood celebs, known to frequent the avenue! The Arc de Triomphe, overlooking the unmistakable Champs-Élysées, was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 as a tribute to the country's military victories. It houses some of the world's most treasured sculptures of the Napoleonic battles, a terrace, and a hall. A visit to the top is worthwhile on any day of the week to get panoramic views across Paris- you'll be exposed to a sea of splendid stone architecture.
Architecture of Arc De Triomphe, and Champs Elysees
Notre Dame de Paris
Eiffel Tower and River Seine
Located only 5 minutes from the Champs de Mars metro station in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the RIBE is an exceedingly popular eatery with tourists, business persons as well as love-birds.
The RIBE is a bustling restaurant with an extensive menu, which includes an equally broad drinks list. Try the "Assortiment des Fromages avec le Salade" (Assortment of Cheeses with salad), as an ideal French starter, followed by "Saumon Poché Au Beurre Blanc" (Poached Salmon with Butter Sauce).
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a photo shoot of the new five-seater MG 6, which was briefly being showcased at the Grand View Mall in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou earlier this month. The MG 6 fastback was first shown at the Guangzhou Auto Show in mid-November 2009. Based around the architecture of the Roewe 550 sedan, which in turn is based on a similar status on the late 1990s’ Rover 75, the production version of the MG 6 is powered by the same 1·8-litre engine, and the range-topper is a turbocharged model. The fastback neatly ties in to the British image which was firmly established for the brand by NAC, MG’s original Chinese purchaser, and SAIC, which took over NAC. Within the first day of being showcased, MG confirmed around 200 potential buyers (would you believe it, those 200 buyers are just regular shoppers who happened to walk by and thought "Hmm...I would not mind taking a MG home today!"). China is set to have the largest number of cars on its roads than any other country. According to Xinhua News Agency, more than 13.5 Million cars were sold in China in 2009, compared to just under 10.4m in the US. As an example, in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, there are on average around 80,000 new cars every month- although the big growth is actually in the smaller cities due to the tax breaks on smaller and cheaper cars. You'd be amazed what you can get in China!
The model is Miss. Jiang Li. With Miss Li’s, and MG's permission, I have the pleasure of sharing some photos with you. Enjoy!
IF God (if he/she exists!) didn't want us to smile, than humans would have been born with black teeth!!
I have managed to live in south-east London for the majority of my life without any problems. I have only once experienced the drama of being “partially” mugged when I was 16. It has stuck with me ever since, and I still recall the event as if it happened yesterday- a rather lanky ragamuffin (the types you see in inner city London these days), approached me outside the gates of Dulwich College, aggressively grabbed my shirt from the neck and asked if I had any money on me, and upon telling him “No, I’ll tell the police about this”, he pushed me to the ground with some force and simply left!; I am sure I must have been an easy target, especially while wearing the trademark stripy school blazer and straw hat!.
Apart from this incident, I don’t recall being in any sort of trouble/danger whatsoever. However, I have heard quite a number of negative remarks about East London, and how rough the area is. I got a first hand taste of this “rough” side to the East End earlier this year when I rented a room just close to London City Airport and Custom House. I was not made aware that the area in which I rented my accommodation was the rough side and just across the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) on the other side was the posh side.
The rental price looked attractive and the area on the whole seemed “OK”- it wasn’t your average “Ramsey Street” style neighborhood, but, hey, I just needed a small bedroom to lay my head on after a long day at work. There was some broken furniture lying on the street right in front of my new home, and a couple of youngsters (“Hoodies” may be better description!) lurking in the background, but nothing out of the ordinary for this kind of area. “How long has this rubbish been here?, “When will it get cleaned?” I asked the landlord, who assured me that it will be cleaned quickly (it was still there when I left the place a few weeks later). I happily signed the contract for 6 months, and upon getting my keys, I went over to my VW Passat to get some belongings- came briefly into the flat to drop some bags.
It must have been less than 5 minutes before I returned to see my car’s front right hand side window completely smashed. “Nooo…this cannot be happening, has this really happened to me?” I asked myself in sheer panic. Sudden confusion and shock hit me. Initially I looked around to see if there could be sign of anyone that may have seen or heard anything- but no, not even a whisker in sight. It was just like the ghost town I had arrived in 5 minutes ago- I feared that even those who may have seen something perhaps were too afraid to come forward. Anger also hung around my heart- I wasn’t sure what to think because just a few minutes ago my landlord reassured me that this is a perfectly safe area and he has never had any problems; and here I was looking at my car completely smashed in within 5 minutes of me moving into this place! Taking deep breaths, whilst I tried to calm myself down from the abrupt adrenaline rush, I took a quick walk around the car to see if there was anymore damage caused.
Thankfully there was no further damage to the car, except that the culprit/s’ had skillfully taken my TomTom Navigation system. I frantically dialed 999 on my phone, hoping for the Police to turn up within minutes. “Police here, how may I help you?” spoke a lady with a calm voice. “My car’s front right hand window has been smashed and my GPS has been stolen, can you get someone here ASAP please?”, at this moment, words projecting “SOS!” seemed to have rolled out of my mouth without much attention being paid to anything else. I had to know that I was being looked after and that I was safe. However after the police verified all the details, they gave me an unexpected response: “Mr. Singh, it seems this is not an emergency, but we can advise you to take your car to the nearest repair garage”.
“What?!” I asked in shock, “I’ve had my car smashed into and burgled and you are saying this is not an urgent situation??!”, “What do you want me to do in the meantime? Hope for someone to come and attack me?”; Perhaps this was not a sensible response or maybe too panic ridden – but it goes without saying that, yes, I was in a highly distressed situation. I tried to calm myself down by telling myself not to take this personally, it can happen to anyone and anywhere in the world- and at that moment, I just wished I had taken the GPS out of the car. The Police did not arrive and said they cannot come because they have other “serious emergencies” to deal with. I would say that a fair statement, I mean it wasn’t that my life was at risk or anything (so far!); therefore I had the long wait for the AA Car services got there. Those few minutes of panic felt the loneliest in a long time…random thoughts kept jumping in my head, “Someone must have seen something?” I thought. It was a complete mystery to me that despite this crime happening in a built up area, surrounded by terraced homes, that no as to be seen in the area.
Then, as I made my way back to the flat to see if I could get some advice from my neighbors, a couple of teenagers’ in hoods went towards my car to take a curious look. Immediately I turned around back and hurried towards them. “Hey, wait, did you guys see anything?” I asked them. “Yo rudeboy* is this car yours?” asked the tallest of the two. “Yes, did you guys see anything?”, I asked them again, hoping they would be able to tell me the identity of the culprit. “No, but if you left something in your car, people would smash it anyways”, he carried on: “Geezer*, in this area even if someone sees a 50 pence coin, even that is enough for them to smash your window”. I didn’t know what to think. I could only sigh.
This experience was enough to persuade my inner-self to pack up and leave as soon as I could. Much to the Landlords disappointed, I departed with the next 7 seven days. There you go, now just because I had one bad experience of East London, does not mean the whole of the area is ridden with burglars’, but it has somewhat confirmed to me, at least, the stereotypical statements I had been told all these years! On the other hand, a friend reassured me that I shouldn’t be surprised- after all, pickpockets, thieves and likewise were invented in London (well before the Dickenson era!)!
* “Rudeboy” and “Geezer” are slangs used by some foul-mouthed individuals in parts of London (some may say it sounds cool, but in a civilized/professional environment it would be deemed quite the opposite).
Apart from the normal travel checklist which everyone has to tick prior to their journey, (Vaccinations, Visas, Currency exchange and Hotel booking etc.), you’d be surprised to know the large number of people who, while maintaining that they are indeed clean and correct, tend to easily forget or just don’t bother to take certain essential products on long haul trips (irrespective if its for business or pleasure). Now while the following may all seem like common sense (and it is), people do sometimes brush these aside believing “they will never require them”, so, here are a few personal recommendations from my own experience – I, for one, have got into a routine habit of taking them wherever I go in the world, and it doesn’t weight more than half a kilogram! (Please note this is just my personal two cents of advice, whether you take it is up to you, of course!):
The following is essential for travelling in places like China, India and other countries where the definition of a toilet is a “Hole in the ground”:
Imagine you have been sight seeing on a ridiculously hot, humid and sticky day, and when nature calls you come across a “toilet” which is essentially no more than just a hole in the ground with no tissue paper, no water to clean the unmentionable parts and no soap; or even worse if there is no toilet for miles- then you will know what I mean! On the whole I try to avoid using public toilets at all costs (anywhere in the world), however when nature calls, options can be limited as mentioned above! While travelling anywhere in the world, no matter where I go, I always take a bottle of water, plenty of tissue paper, liquid soap and hygiene wipes. Amusing as it may sound while reading this, you can only thank yourself for being so well prepared! Basically, the reasons for all these preparations are simple: you want to arrive back home in the same clean and healthy way in which you left prior to your trip- and thankfully (touch wood), I have never been sick abroad, ever. All the mentioned products don’t cost much, and they don’t weight much either.
The last time I was in Beijing was about 8 months prior to the Olympic Games, in late 2007, and because of work commitments, I could not make it to the city (or the Games themselves) during all this time. That all changed on the 21st of November 2009, as fate allowed me to come back to this great city- but only for one night on a stopover. I had to make the most of my 21 hours to the journey down memory lane. My flight from Kunming arrived just before 3pm at Beijing airport’s impressive Terminal 3. My next flight was at 12.30pm the following day. I was excited, and very much looking forward to reliving the experience. Rather strange as it may seem but I had carefully planned out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go in the short time that I had. I suppose the key advantage I had was that I knew where everything was - and hoping that it didn’t change from 2007! Much to my surprise, the heavy smog still lurked around the city- and the traffic is without a doubt worse than in 2007 (In actual fact I should say there are more Cars on Beijing's roads' than in 2007).
After checking in at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, I quickly made my way to the Xidan shopping area. This enormous shopping centre is one of the two main areas for hardcore shoppers (the other being Wangfujing- and I did not have time to go there this time). It looked the same as in 2007...except a few new shops had opened here and there. After about an hour there, I made my way to the Hilong Electric City (海龙电子城), a seven storey building specializing in electronics products. I wanted to see if I could get a reasonably priced Camera as a replacement for the one I had lost in Kunming the day before. Just as I had started to be mobbed by a group of eager sellers, an elderly Chinese gentleman offered to translate for me. He actually happened to be a professor emeritus in Automation at Tsinghua University (the Oxbridge of China). With his assistance I managed to purchase a bargain and a spanking new Camera (under from my insurance!)- I am highly grateful to this great man for the assistance he provided. It also worked out to be a great networking opportunity and we have kept in touch since then.
With ample time remaining, I made my way to the Quan Ju De Restaurant on 32 Qianmen Street for a delicious meal of fresh roast Beijing duck. The restaurant, the largest Roast Duck restaurant in Beijing and rumored to serve at least 8000 meals a week, is popular with Government Officials, VIPs, VVIPs and Celebs. I would highly recommend sitting on the 2nd floor as it’s a bit quieter, and provides a view of the open kitchen at work. The duck was accompanied with some fine Chinese red wine (“Great Wall Wine”). This was followed by about an hour’s stroll around the ever impressive Tiananmen Square- the scene of the recent 60th Anniversary Parade on the 1st of October. The square is busy with tourists and locals excitingly taking photos against the backdrop of the Great Hall or Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum; and even the occasional march by young Army cadets can be observed.
The following morning, I got up quite early and spent the remaining 4 hours taking photos around the Shangdi, Xizhimen and Wudaokou areas, before returning to the hotel. Breakfast consisted of a scrumptious Lai Huang Bao (White bun with sweet Egg yolk), fresh Soya milk and a delicious crispy pancake- all worth only 7RMB (Approx US $0.90).
Instead of going straight to the airport, I asked the taxi driver to take me around the 5th Ring Road to the north of the city, so I could get a glimpse of the Olympic Stadium- I had come all this way and thought why not spend the extra fare just to catch a quick photo opportunity! As the taxi approached the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube (which by the way are remarkable pieces of architecture- it’s almost like entering a different world), the only thought that came to my mind was “Wow, this is where it all happened!”. I am not a specialist on architecture, but you don’t need to be an expert to see the obvious large scale projects that are filling Beijing’s skyline- it’s like entering a large playground full of so many weird and wonderfully shaped buildings which cannot be found anywhere else in the world! 21 hours (Minus the 6 hours I slept for!) were not enough to digest the full flavor of the city, nevertheless, I am thankful to fate for allowing me to at least refresh my memory- and hopefully I will come back soon. Oh, by the way, for those of you who don't know, there is a song called "One night in Beijing" by Xin Yue Tuan (and no, the title of my blog article is not inspired from the song!).
Where I stayed:
Grand Hyatt Beijing*****
1 East Chang An Avenue
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