Another year goes by, and another year comes by- it seems that times flies so quick when life is on an exciting path! I fondly remember that this time last year, I was in Panyu (Near Guangzhou, China), and now I am in Suzhou (China). On mainland China, Western New Year is not taken as seriously as it is in other countries around the world. Being an expat in China does bring its challenges, though I try to cheer myself up by the fact that while the rest of world is celebrating and practising crowd control during this festive season, I am happy being in a quiet place with a small drink or two in the company of fellow expats. I have very fond memories of 2011, a lot has happened this year...let’s see what 2012 brings, and how my life will shape up in this exciting year!
The Chinese celebrate their own special Chinese New Year or CNY (based on the zodiac lunar calendar) sometime in the late January and early February. Though there are 3 official days of holiday, however most people take at least 2 weeks off work to go back to their hometowns. For most people this is the only window opportunity of the whole year to take a long break with their family. The whole country comes to a complete standstill, with trains, and planes all jam-packed with people going back to their hometowns. In 2012, CNY is 'The year of the Dragon', and falls on January 23rd.
For the time being, I would like to wish everyone a peaceful, prosperous, and joyful 2012, whereever you are in the world!!!!
If the award-winning Sheraton Shenzhen Futian portrays a sense of excellence in architecture, then you not be too far off the mark here. With 354 well-appointed guest rooms and suites, the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian stands proud and tall in the middle of Shenzhen’s Central Business District (CBD). The hotel forms one quarter of the distinctive black building with white stripes running down vertically. It’s rather designed to look like a large waterfall (or a fountain) in a Chinese painting, and its enormous size actually consists of 4 various buildings inside it, one of which is the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian. In fact, the moment you enter the hotel, you may be greeted by a Filipino band (as is the norm in hotels in China), playing some well-known tunes from around the world.
The good thing about the hotel is that it’s directly accessible to Shenzhen’s Metro system, which connects to the Hong Kong border and Shenzhen’s major shopping, sightseeing, and business districts. Perfect for business or pleasure, especially for all those tradesmen visiting Shenzhen everyday, its Just 45 minutes from Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (though give or take 1 hour for the famous Shenzhen traffic!).
All guest rooms are furnished with signature Sheraton sweet sleeper™ beds, and high-speed internet access. The Sheraton Club at the 24th floor offers the discriminating traveller unparalleled services and facilities including complimentary usage of the internet, and various refreshments and cocktails throughout the day. Those staying at the Club Level floor can enjoy eating breakfast in quite surroundings with a beautiful view across to the CBD area of Shenzhen. In addition to this there are a further ten floors available exclusively for Starwood Preferred Guest members.
In true Sheraton style, the creature comforts such as an iron, ironing table, plenty of drinking water, a safe big enough to house a laptop, and cable international television are all available in all the guestrooms. The guestrooms themselves are decorated in shades of a typical Sheraton room such as brownish and burgundy. The sweet smell of old oak flourishes amongst the furniture too.
With a diverse range of stylish restaurants and trendy bars and lounges, you’ll find just the place to gather with friends or family to enjoy a great meal. It all seems a bit too grandular, but then again we are in China where even the smallest of hotels seems to live to the expectations of your well traveller businessperson. They do, on the whole, serve up Italian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Western specialities with equal flair. If you prefer buffet meals, then head to the Exchange on the ground floor where all kinds of edible fare are on offer to the stylish dinar.
You may want to revitalize yourself at the state-of-the-art fitness centre that features an optimally equipped gymnasium, Jacuzzis, sauna and steam rooms, and swimming pool, as well as a variety of personal fitness programs. These fitness facilities are not actually branded under the Sheraton hotel name; however, they may be used by the hotel guests on a complimentary basis.
One of the reasons why the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian has won numerous awards, including the ‘Best Business hotel in China in 2009, and 2010’ by the Business Traveller magazine, is because of its spacious 3,500 square meters of function MICE area. Then there is the attentive and personalized service that will turn an ordinary event into an extraordinary and memorable occasion. The MICE facilities at the hotel are really something to gape your eyes upon. For example, the great China ballroom is one of the largest pillarless Grand Ballrooms in Shenzhen, and because of facilities like this that’s why the hotel is highly popular with the MICE audience. The success was proven when the hotel won ‘The best meetings & conventions hotel in Shenzhen in 2010’ as awarded by TTG China Travel Award.
Though it no longer holds the title of the highest hotel in the world, the Park Hyatt Shanghai is still in a class of its own, and a still somewhat of an attraction in the city. If there is any consolation for those guests that stay in one of the 174 guestrooms and suites anywhere from the 79th to the 93rd floor, then they may consider themselves lucky as there is no need for them to go up to the viewing gallery on the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC). Opened in September 2008, the views from any of the guestrooms, and the restaurants are equally magical. It really is a gem of engineering excellence that has been created by humankind, and when one takes the high-speed elevator to the lobby at the 87th floor. That’s where the well informed concierge and reception staff will greet you with a smile and make you feel welcome somewhere special. Here they don’t just speak English and Mandarin Chinese (or Shanghaihua), but also a variety of other international languages (like Japanese, Italian, French...just ask if you are not sure if they speak your language!).
Because of its height, and the limited amount of space, the hotel is quite compact in its structure compared to most other hotels in the area. Frequent travellers may eat their heart out because no space is left for faults- not a whisker of dust in sight! First impressions that come to mind are neat, remarkably quiet, elegant, futuristic, and clean. Had, say, Sir Isaac Newton, stayed at the Park Hyatt Shanghai, he would have whiled away his whole stay wondering how such wonderful gems of architecture could be created by the upmost of humans to defy gravity. Even as a qualified Engineer, I also wondered at the fascination of the remarkable detail to attention paid to all things related to the hotel at such a height soaring above the city of Shanghai. Those who have a fear of heights don’t need to stare downwards as there are plenty of things in the hotel that can keep you busy throughout your stay.
In terms of the facilities offered at the hotel you might as well stare with your jaws dropped lower than the height of the building itself. That’s when you can mention luxuries such as electronic curtains with separate curtains with full shades, coffee machine by Nespresso, complimentary internet/wifi, toiletries by Aromatherapy Associates (Balance), complimentary calls locally in Shanghai, room safe big enough to keep a laptop, electronic toilet with heated seat (nice!), and cable TV.
Now, I suppose that the most wonderful refreshing experience one can have is to jog whenever they want to, and that’s exactly why the 24-hour gym should be put to good use especially if you want to keep trim and fit. I mean hey, come on, who could not resist working out at 3 in the morning when you are crazily jet-lagged?! Oh and then there is the compact yet sophisticated spa also on the same floor at the 85th floor.
The beauty of the guestrooms is that they have everything electronically controlled with the click of a master. The there are the essential creature comforts such as the lavish bathrooms featuring a flat screen television embedded into the vanity mirror, double sinks, an Oriental bathing area, an oversized rain shower, a deep-soaking bath, heated floors and a separate powder room. Not impressed yet? Then why not try to dip yourself into the swimming pool and whirlpool that provide breathtaking views of Shanghai on the 85th floor (part of the ‘Water’s Edge Spa’). Despite the height, there is also the peace and tranquillity in all parts of the hotel- it’s so easy to forget that you are effectively floating in the sky.
One key department where the Park Hyatt Shanghai does not fail in is the number of restaurants it offers. When you take into account that the Park Hyatt Shanghai has seven separate bars, dining rooms and restaurants spread out across from the 87th floor to the 93rd floor, then you realise that the hotel management do take their food very seriously over here. There is something for everyone, including Japanese, Western, Chinese (goes without saying), European, and even an all day dining venue at the 87th floor. The 92nd floor contains the gem of a perfect night-life, including a Western bar with live music, whisky cellar and whisky private rooms; and a Chinese bar.
Above all else, the Shanghai Park Hyatt is not all about heights, but more about privacy, luxury, a peace of mind, and a serious heaven for the senses. It’s effectively essential for the essentials. Whether you are on holiday, or on business, or you just want to while away the evening in the company of good friends and family then Park Hyatt Shanghai is the place to be at.
These are the photos taken last night of the total lunar eclipse that was visible on a clear night over the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth so that the Earth blocks the Sun's rays from striking the Moon. This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. Since yesterday (2011-12-10) we had a full moon, so this enabled the eclipse to occur. The lunar eclipse provided the Moon with a beautiful orange colour. It was my first time I had been able to see a lunar eclipse in LIVE motion, and I felt lucky as the sky was totally clear of any clouds (though this provided freezing weather conditions with a chilly wind- which made it all the more challenging to take a photo at 11pm from the top of my 29th floor building in TianYu (Suzhou SIP)). Even with a tripod it was a challenge to keep the camera still with the wind blowing, but I am happy with the results. The next lunar eclipse will take place on April 15th 2014- and I have no idea where i'll be at that time- but I hope I get another chance to see the beauty of it like I did last night. Gotta love that orange colour!
_ Take just one quick glimpse at the beautiful building made up of period colonial architecture, and for a moment or two, it may look like as if you are in New York, but in fact this Waldorf Astoria is situated on the nostalgic Bund in Shanghai, China. It was, of course, in New York where in 1893 the Waldorf became the first hotel to offer room service, and was home to Cole Porter for 30 years, and Frank Sinatra for one, (Porter’s Steinway is behind a gold rope in the foyer at the New York Waldorf Astoria). The revamped 1911 Shanghai Club building, complete with the longest bar in Asia (at 34 meters), became part of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund in the autumn of 2010, and is a fantastic place to have lunch, high tea, or just a drink. The overall style of the bar is made up of a timber panelling with light stone tops and rice, dark masculine furniture.
The beauty of the 257-room Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund is that even though it’s located on the strikingly busy city boulevard that runs alongside the famous Huangpu River, the hotel itself is an oasis of calm, luxury, and great warmth that one may enjoy when they are in a city with a population of 19.2 million inhabitants.
Easily accessible by various methods of Shanghai’s efficient public transport (buses, metro, and the ever great Shanghai taxi), the hotel is neatly linked to the futuristic Pudong area by the Yan’an Road tunnel as well. I have always maintained that Shanghai is not really a touristy city, but rather the financial hub of China. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the majority of the hotel guests are businesspersons. If you are landing at one of the two international airports in Shanghai (Hongqiao or Pudong) then the maximum it will take you (pending Shanghai’s notoriously hectic traffic!) is around an hour from Pudong, and around 45 minutes from Hongqiao. Though, just so that you don’t get confused, some Shanghai taxi drivers may end up taking you to the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria Club rather than the foyer of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund because it’s easier for them to find the entrance on the Bund! Rest assured that if this happens, it is even better because the concierge will whisk you through the Waldorf Astoria Club, and that’s when you can experience the rich ambiance of this wonderful property.
Unlike the other hotels in the area where they only have one building for the hotel premises, this property comprises of two connecting buildings - the Waldorf Astoria Club, and the main hotel building. The Waldorf Astoria Club is the heritage building located on No. 2 on the Bund which previously housed the well-known Gentlemen’s Club in the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai. In those colonial days, the admission policy was such that you had to be white, British and male to become a member of this exclusive club. This was indeed the place where various Captains of industries in China made all the major political and financial decisions. The Waldorf Astoria Club houses 20 luxuriously appointed suites- most of which are taken by major A-listers from China and abroad. Don’t be surprised if you bump into the whole crew of a major upcoming Hollywood movie! The place is in serious demand with major luxury brands and the who’s who of China that most of the time the reservations department is inundated with requests to book the M.I.C.E. facilities and the 20 suites because it’s the place to be at if you are a A-lister. All the 20 suites come along with a 24-hour residential Butler service.
The main hotel building, known as the Waldorf Astoria Tower, is connected to the Waldorf Astoria Club by a large oval shaped courtyard on the ground floor, which encloses a 168-seat Grand Brassiere where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are presented in nostalgic European style. The Waldorf Astoria Tower houses 237 guestrooms and suites, including the splendid 210sqm Noble Suite (Chinese), and a 260sqm Presidential Suite. All the rooms in the Waldorf Astoria Tower are equipped with the latest technology, including electric curtains, automatic electric toilet (the lid open’s as you enter the toilet!), and complimentary wireless internet. Local calls are complimentary from the rooms. Then there are the creature comforts such as padded slippers, luxury bathrobes, 400-thread cotton bed sheets and quilts, and toiletries by either Salvatore Ferragamo Tuscan Soul (normal guestrooms), or Hermes (all the suites in the Club Suites as well as the Suites in the Waldorf Astoria Tower). It really is your very own imperial palace.
For those with a taste for classy food, there are ample options available. Pelham’s (New York style cuisine accompanied with a selection of over 500 wine bottles), the 96-seat Wei Jing Ge (Chinese), Salon de Ville (Afternoon tea speciality), and the awesome Grand Brassiere. The whole dining ambiance of the Grand Brassiere provides a strong sense of retreat in urban Shanghai. The beautifully articulated oval shape of the connecting building blends in nicely with the aroma of luxury that this hotel projects from every corner possible. Both hot and cold dishes are served for all the three main meals of the day. Plus there are some ample surprises such as the chef’s in house creations- try pistachio chocolate for example! For those dining at the elegant 50-seat Pelham’s restaurant, make sure you take some time to admire the ‘American’ penny ceiling at the semi-private dining room because its meant to be excellent Feng Shui to dine while sitting underneath a ceiling full of real coins (the 1 Jiao coins are stuck to the ceiling!).
The general perception should be that you enjoy the hustle and bustle of Shanghai during the day, and then dine and sleep in style in perfect harmony with peace and tranquillity at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. Perhaps you would also like to go for a swim at the beautiful swimming pool at level 3 just to cool down those heels from a hard days walking around China’s fast paced financial hub. Just come and have try it for yourself. For sure you won’t be disappointed. And who knows, if you really enjoy it then you also end up staying here as long as messers Sinatra and Porter did in New York.
_ Anchored away neatly on the 5th floor of the Waldorf Astoria Club in Shanghai, China is the splendid Wei Jing Ge restaurant. Effectively a contemporary Chinese eatery, the Wei Jing Ge features an assortment of keen authentic Chinese dishes that will simply blow your mind away. The one key thing I really liked about Wei Jing Ge is the ambiance, and the feeling of being secluded in an richly historical building situated right in the heart of Shanghai’s most nostalgic location. When you are dining at Wei Jing Ge, the only thing that will remind you that you are in modern China is the view of the futuristic Pearl Tower and its surrounding building in Pudong visible from one of the ‘Tiger Windows’. The windows are called ‘Tiger Windows’ because in the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai people used to jump onto the window like a tiger would! The entrance is flanked by impressive delicate ancient maiden chinaware, looking around the main room, the restaurant is indulged in silk-draped contemporary elegance decorated with spiritual lotus and traditional Shanghainese style ornaments.
Wei Jing Ge does not fail to let you down when it comes providing splendid authentic Chinese cuisine. Shanghainese, Cantonese, Sichuanese and other typical Chinese dishes are all offered. The Chef-de Cuisine, Sam Yuen, brings along over 25 years of solid culinary experience into the kitchens floor. His culinary wizardry will not only leave the guests with a ‘Wow!’ factor but will exemplify to the dinar what a true Chinese meal should be like.
With so many dining options available in Shanghai these days there are definitely a few things that differentiate Wei Jing Ge from other restaurants such as its period Shanghai 1930s style interior design that complements the rich heritage of the Waldorf Astoria Club to create a luxurious dining environment, and the extensive wine cellar that boasts over 500 bottles of handpicked wines by the resident sommelier. In addition to the main dining area that can hold 96 seats, there are also six private dining rooms each with around 10 seats. The central corridor features contemporary back lit walls that showcase Chinese ‘treasures’ and interesting finds.
Dining at the Wei Jing Ge is as close as you can get to experience what it may have been like to dine at the Waldorf Astoria Club back in the hey days of the Shanghai of the 1920s. The restaurant may not have been open in those days but the feeling created in the current restaurant is meant to resemble the glamour of the colonial period of Shanghai.
My dining experience included a feast of the finest hairy crab in Shanghai. Hairy crab is available but once a year, and autumn is the season famous for the hairy crab, especially when it harvested from nearby lush lakes around Shanghai. The feast is presented in front of your eyes, with a male crab and a female crab coming in as a package. It’s an experience of a kind to have a real crab in real style at the Wei Jing Ge. The hairy crab goes perfect with a small glass of fine Shao Xing rice wine.
The perfect finale to a meal at Wei Jing Ge has to be the Walnut soup. Rather strange as it may sound, but its actually very delicious and healthy. Soft and chewy pieces of crushed walnut are resting at the bottom of the bowl, while the thick, creamy, and richly flavour soup is ready to swim down your throat. Just make sure you don’t get too tempted as it can be a but hot at first. But with each spoonful, the taste becomes more and more irresistible. Almost too good to believe. Then again, you cannot expect anything less from a top quality eatery such as the Wei Jing Ge. It may just leave you gobsmacked. ;-)
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