One of the key advantages for expats living in Shenzhen is that you can hop across the border to Hong Kong for a day's trip or two. Back in 2003 when I first arrived in China, crossing the border into Hong Kong from Shenzhen (and vice-versa) was a somewhat long, and tiring journey. The only two border crossings in those days were at Lowu and the limited ferry service from Shekou port in the west of the city. For expats living in Shenzhen (and in Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, and Zhuhai), it's like a mini-holiday and a treat to get away from the hustle & bustle of daily life here.
While crossing the border can be an excruciating experience at peak times, thankfully there are two more options to cross the border that can make it a slightly less tiresome experience (Huanggang, and Nanhai are the two extra border ports). I am sure there are plenty of border crossings around the world where the cultural differences are so extreme and far-fetched, yet they are so close together geographically. The Hong Kong-Shenzhen border is no exception (as is the same with the Macau-Zhuhai border). One of the main differences is that Hong Kong still feels more international and Westernized compared to Shenzhen- though the gap between the two is closing in as mainland China's economy is booming compared to the former British colony. In Hong Kong it's still common to come across some expats (mostly British obviously) who have not gone back to the UK after the handover to the Chinese in 1997, and consider Hong Kong to be their only home.
Another striking difference that one can see if that Hong Kong feels more Chinese now (and quite rightly it should do in my opinion) than before. There are a large numbers of mainland Chinese people in Hong Kong, and this is causing a few frictions in that some Cantonese people are not accepting the fact that Hong Kong is not British anymore (it's true). I can feel a STRONG sense of xenophobia by Hong Kong natives towards their mainland countrymen and women. I have seen quite a lot of comments on various western social websites of HKG people (of all races) complaining about foreigners in general (of all races and nationalities). One particular specimen wrote: 'I miss the HK I grew up in...sigh!'.
A trans-cultural British-Born-Chinese friend of mine told me that he agrees that its time for the Chinese to rethink their plans for Hong Kong. However this is no time for nostalgia, because trends come and go here just like in every major city around the world (London is no exception, and I am seeing this xenophobic behavior in Shanghai as well against the large number of foreigners that are coming to experience the 'China Dream'). One friend went on to say that 'Hong Kong people are a rare breed in this Chinese world when Hong Kong people are being displaced themselves'. He is, of course, referring to local Hong Kong people being made a minority.
Mainlanders are sadly discriminated against in Hong Kong, just like the Filipinos, Indonesians, and the Thai people are. From my own experience I could say that the Filipinos are so used to lying all the time, and it gives them a bad impression in the eyes of others- its ridiculous. This is partly due to culture and their bad government. They are a people who have gone through some very hard times in their country's history, and they rely on other countries. However on a good note this is changing for the best. Without being stereo-typically negative, the reality is that in places such as Hong Kong (and Dubai, Singapore among others), sadly most of the Filipinos have been known to be sex workers, house maids, selling services, ripping money off tourists, and finding a western boyfriend (go to Wanchai and you'll see).
For a native Cantonese Hong Kong person to make many Filipino friends in Hong Kong is unheard of because of the terrible negative perception that they are domestic/sex workers and will be treated as such by society (read THIS for more on racism in HKG- my viewpoints).
However, from my perspective Hong Kong people somehow have to work with their Mainland cousins, and not against them to build something that works with both Hong Kong and China. But on the other hand, it's just ridiculous how the 'one-country two systems' scheme works. For example, just around thirty miles outside of central Hong Kong, and in the mainland, the relationships are fine without any problems. Hong Kong residents and Mainlanders along the border have fought in recent years over hospital beds, baby milk formula, and even the shortage of school places.
The question here is, would these tensions and problems of divide have happened if the British were not in Hong Kong? Maybe. It's difficult to say. However, in my opinion (and I am stand to correction...not an oak here!), the queen and mistress of all of these problems could lie with the legacy that the British left behind. Historically speaking, the British (as well as the French, and perhaps the Spanish too), have maintained a rule and divide mentality wherever they have colonized globally, and in Hong Kong it is no different.
However, the fact is that Hong Kong is not the same anymore. If there's any city that changed radically since 1997, then it's Hong Kong. Because of the high numbers of rich mainland Chinese people coming to live and work (and shop!), the cost of living in Hong Kong has increased too. This is having both good and bad effects for the economy. You can read about the immigration of Hong Kong people who moved to Canada and Britain after 1997 and then moved back as returnees and you'll realize why there was an influx of mainland Chinese students to exclusive private schools and universities in the UK (Dulwich College, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and Harrow for example all saw a surge of mainland Chinese students- before 1997 it was mostly Hong Kong Cantonese students). Most of those graduates are now Doctors, Engineers, Pilots, and so on, and working in the U.K. and U.S.A. for example.
A large percentage of residents were from China originally to escape for various unmentionable reasons in 50's to 70's. I've seen loads of changes after 1997, booms and bust, changes mainly because of the mainland. There is more alignment with China now and less with western countries. Yes, original residents miss the old days, but times have change and we should move with it being well informed. Hong Kong has had an identity crisis, its visible on some Hong Kong people, its like the lost generation dealing with constant turmoils. But it's perhaps not as bad as London (but, hey, that's a discussion for another article :-)).
On that note, I have an experience to share. Later on in the day, I was walking through Kowloon Park with a British-Chinese friend of mine. The park was full with tourists, as well as large numbers of locals. As we made our way, a scruffy looking beggar approached me, and then started shouting abuse loudly. The stench from the man was not pleasant, and with the heat and humidity it made it worse. I decided not to take a photo out of respect. I turned to my friend and asked him why the beggar was shouting at me. 'He (the beggar) says he hates you because you are a foreigner' explained my friend, and then he went onto say 'he probably ended up in that situation in the first place because of bad experience with gweilos (Cantonese derogatory word for 'foreigners)'. Perhaps I was unlucky to come across such a situation, or perhaps it was a message. The remarkable thing was that just moments before this beggar shouted abuse at me, we were talking about this exact issue.
Some people don't see it as a political thing, they believe that people are just doing what you'd expect of them. It's true that Hong Kong might occupy some abandoned premises near the border - and that there is no shortage of teachers, just schools (in regards to the school placement friction).
The Hong Kong education dept is not very responsive to news and awaits some senior chap proposing action which seldom happens unless someone at the very top of government pushes them. They tend to see themselves as administrators not originators of policy.
It might be a hangover from colonial times. Administrative officers used to get almost carte blanche in their initiatives and devised all sorts of new programmes, some good some bad but all well intentioned. That does not happen anymore.
In the meantime, I have to say that it's always a nice feeling to come back to Shenzhen after a long day of burning your plates of meat (i.e. feet) on the steep and tiny roads of Hong Kong. There is no better way to cool down your heels than having a chilled bottle of the locally brewed 'Kingway Beer' at the Horizon Club Lounge at The Shangri-La, Shenzhen- then bask in the sights of the city which is spearheading China’s incredible growth.
Odd looking Bananas? Well, actually these are the Chinese variety from Guangxi and Guangdong province. China is the world's 3rd largest producer of Bananas (after India and Uganda), with 10.7 million tons of the fruit produced in the mainland every year. The vast majority of them are not exported, but assist providing an abundance of Carbohydrates (it's also a provider of high levels of Vitamin B6, Magnesium, and Potassium). With each banana weighing on average around 126 grams, and with the average person consuming around 5 pounds of food a day (unless you are a Sumo Wrestler), therefore if my maths is correct, then China produces enough bananas a year to feed 76,318,738,095 people! (considering each ton is around 907185 grams). This country sure isn't short of food :-)
Panamie is a hidden gem in Shenzhen's Nanshan district, close to Gui Mao Lu Kuo (opposite Shenzhen University). Having lived in China for many years, from my own experience I can tell you that the quality of the bread and cakes found at the majority of cake shops here is not the same as you would expect in the West. The lack of high quality baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate), and yeast makes the cakes taste soggy, feel spongy and too soft, and not rich enough in fiber. You can feel that the texture is not good enough for the Western tongue- it's almost as if the bread melts as you eat it instead of being able to enjoy every bite slowly.
For good quality cakes and pastries one may have to go to a 5-star hotel or your nearest Starbucks (even there the quality of the food differs to that what you may get in, say, Hong Kong). In my experience, the cakes made by Panamie are some of the best, simply because of the high quality of imported ingredients that the owner uses. The bakery is a popular beehive for the local expat community, including many who work as Pilots and Engineers for Shenzhen Airlines, and China Southern Airlines.
Every evening, all over mainland China, it is common to come across a group of people (usually from the same neighborhood, and usually middle aged housewives), dancing in rhythm to various kinds of music in parks (or in any open air space, as shown by the photo above). This is, in part to keep themselves fit, but also as a kind of social networking to while away their evenings. Don't be so shocked if you come across a group of couples dancing in a park to tunes such as 'Breathless by the Corrs', or something similar (Celine Dion, Dido, Kenny G, Justin Bieber, and the Spice Girls are all very popular in mainland China!). In contrast, the majority of Chinese senior citizens practice T'ai Chi every morning and evening.
You can bet your bottom dollar that there are plenty of Chinese housewives who are up for giving Justin Bieber a run for his money.
In China, when a guest comes to someones home/office etc., the host offers fresh water (usually boiled/warm). It's an honorable thing to do to make them feel welcome on YOUR grounds. Since it is so important in this culture, every house has a water tank which can be refilled. I was quite surprised to see this water refill machine in a small deprived shanty town on the outskirts of Shenzhen- not a place you'd expect something like this to be placed in. It's not expensive though. For 1 RMB (about US 20 Cents) you can fill one tank (about 2 gallons).
Have you just arrived in Shenzhen? If you are looking for a great location that is in Mainland China, however one that is just 30 minutes by the Hong Kong MTR to central Hong Kong then you can’t get any better than the modern Shangri-La, Shenzhen located right at the border crossing. With scrumptious food (both Western and local), a fully-equipped health club, an outdoor swimming pool, and a fully equipped modern gym that includes a Jacuzzi, sauna, and steam rooms, the Shangri-La Shenzhen offers the best personalised service for even the most demanding of customers.
Each of the hotel’s 522 elegant guestrooms and suites come well equipped with all the creature comforts, and essentials of life. These include, but not limited to, complimentary broadband internet access, IDD telephone and voice mail, 24-hour in room dining for the jet lagged of us, and complimentary luxury bathroom toiletries by L'Occitane. Each room proudly presents a copy of ’Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton, the book which inspired the Shangri-La legend and the book that gave way to the hotel’s existence.
Having been a resident of Shenzhen for many years, for me it has been a sheer pleasure to witness the rapid growth of this city. The Shangri-La hotel in Shenzhen was one of the first Western 5-star hotels established in the city in 1992, and it’s prime location next to the border crossing and the main train station suited many business and pleasure travellers who were coming over from Hong Kong to continue their journey inwards towards other parts of Guangdong Province.
Splendid views of Hong Kong’s Northern Territories, as well as the skyline of Shenzhen’s Luohu district, the most happening place in the city, can be seen from the Horizon Club Lounge (exclusively for Horizon Club members), or from the 360 degree bar, restaurant, and lounge located at the 32nd floor.
Back in the 1990s- before China’s rapid economic boom began - The Shangri-La Shenzhen had its head and shoulders held high in the city and it was renowned as the place for luxury and gatherings for A-Listers. However, as time has gone by, the hospitality industry in Shenzhen has become highly competitive with numerous internationally 5-star hotels springing up in the Futian and Luohu districts. One thing is for sure, that The Shangri-La Shenzhen will always be the hotel that everyone remembers as being one of the first and finest luxury accommodations in Shenzhen. The hotel continues to dominate the skyline around the border crossing, and is still a focal point for many to meet at.
IN China expats pay a premium for their drug. Anchor Butter bar for RMB24.80 (Approx. USD4), Skippy Peanut Butter jar for RMB31.50 (Approx. USD5.2), and a chilled bottle of freshly imported Birra Moretti for RMB35 (Approx. USD5.7)...the list goes on. Things that we take for granted back in the U.K. and in the West become a once-in-a-while to have luxury in China. Other items include, but not limited to, Nutella, which costs around USD 13 a jar (220g size), and frozen seafood (Salmon fillets were sold for USD 37 at Anon (formerly known as Jusco)).
As far as energy drinks go, this one must be up there in the all-time 'interesting' brands category. Pocari Sweat is a Japanese energy drink that has taken a stake in the Chinese energy drinks market. If you are hiking in hot and humid weather, then this drink may end up becoming your addictive thirst quenching friend. The cloudy colored drink has a mild taste that blends in both the sugar and salt- and effectively it's meant to replace all the sweat that you have lost (and hence is designed to apparently taste like sweat too!!). It's yours for only RMB 4 a bottle on the street (RMB 20 at the airport!).
I love all kinds of edible food from all around the world - except when it comes to anything that smells or looks bad. This includes food such as Durian (the ONLY food banned on planes), and Stinky Tofu (known in China as Chòu Dòufu- a form of fermented bean curd that has a strong odor). The latter is a special case. It's smell is so distinctively bad that you can smell it from quite a distance.
Stinky Tofu is a street food. It is deep fried fresh at hawkers' stalls and at dai pai dongs and sold by the bag. In China there are different ways to cook Stinky Tofu, however is traditionally eaten with hoisin sauce.
Remarkably I have lived in China for all these years without even trying the stuff (even as a travel writer I am not that adventurous when it comes to exotic food).
In an effort to curb the high levels of pollution caused by the increasing number of vehicles on Chinese roads, one city in China has started experimenting with an eco-friendly taxi that runs on electricity.
Since the beginning of this year, Shenzhen has begun integrating electric vehicles into its public transport with the recent commercial introduction of local auto-maker BYD’s vehicles appearing on the city streets. Named the E6, the vehicle offers enough space for five passengers and has a range of some 160 kilometers. It's quiet, and relatively cheaper to operate (saves around RMB 3 of fuel surcharge). Painted in distinctive blue and white waves running across the vehicle, these taxis cost more or less the same as a conventional fuel run taxi. It also proudly says 'Zero Emission' on the back- not sure if that is to make other drivers become envious. However, they are more friendlier to the environment and may just be the answer that countries like China need to curb the rising number of vehicles on their congested roads. The west could also benefit from such schemes. As I always say- the crumbling Western economies need to learn from the East.
Visionary and ambitious plans by the local government are in place to to convert all of Shenzhen’s public vehicular transport to electric – including buses and all taxis – over the next five years.
Known as ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ to the west, in fact it’s real name in Chinese is Duānwǔ Jié. The fifth day of the fifth lunar month is a national public holiday in Greater China, and this year it fell on the 12th of June (Wednesday). I was fortunate enough to experience the event in Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Legend has it that the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BCE) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty.
Qu was a descendant of the Chu royal house who held a high status government position. However, when the king decided to collaborate with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was accused of treason for opposing the coalition. Because of this he was subjected to go into. During his time in exile, Qu wrote poetry, most of which derived from his dreams and aspirations in life, and his enigmatic vision for how he perceived the future of the land to be like. Twenty-eight years after his exile started, Qin captured Ying, the capital city of Chu. Out of sheer misery, and anger, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Till this day, that day is noted as the Dragon Boat Festival.
The story goes on to say that the local people dropped sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river to feed the fish. The rice was wrapped so that fish would not eat Qu Yuan's body and would instead eat the rice. This is said to be the origin of Zongzi- the name given to the triangle shaped sticky rice wrapping. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing. Every year on this day, crowds gather to take part in Dragon Boat races, and eat the Zongzi. On the official Dragon Boat Festival day itself, many restaurants around the country offer the Zongzi as a starter before the main meal.
If you are looking for some of the best Japanese food in Shenzhen, then head down to Nanshan where there is a tiny lane that contains some of the finest Japanese food and service around town.
Neatly hidden behind the Holiday Inn Donghua in Nanshan (on Nan Hai Da Dao, and opposite Shenzhen Book City, and close to Shenzhen Coastal City- 南山区 海岸城), this quiet lane provides a few restaurants where you can experience authentic Japanese cuisine at its best (complete with strong sake!).
Before I left for China, two of my close friends, both of whom have very young babies, asked me to bring baby milk powder from the UK because they did not want to take a risk by giving their babies milk powder that has been manufactured in mainland China (even if the manufacturer is a multinational company). Hence I automatically became an honorary 'Baby Milk Tourist' where a 1/3 of my luggage consisted of baby milk powder!!.
In fact the term 'Baby Milk Tourism' is used for Middle Class Chinese parents who are willing to spend money to travel overseas to buy baby milk powder, or import baby milk from overseas. This is in spite of Western supermarkets on the mainland trying their best to build trust by putting up notices to reassure consumers that their milk powder is safe and of a high quality. You only realize how big a news this is once you are in the mainland, and it's very common to see many mainland Chinese people crossing the Hong Kong or Macau borders with tins of baby milk powder in large numbers.
Mistrust of baby milk powder is high in China after the death of several babies due to tainted milk powder being sold. Demand for foreign formula has remained high since six infant deaths, and an estimated 290,000 children fell ill in 2008 from tainted local Chinese products. Reports are rife of Chinese baby milk tourists emptying supermarket shelves in Western countries to meet a perceived shortfall of safe formula in China. In the UK most supermarkets put up a ration of maximum 2 cans of baby milk powder being sold*.
It's got to a stage where people have realized the long term profitable business potential of importing baby milk powder into China. For example, I was shown one Chinese website that promises to deliver baby milk powder cans to Chinese consumers for a price of around RMB 500 (approx. 82 USD) per can which includes all postage and insurance. To put things in prospective, normally a can of baby powder milk (as shown in photos below) costs around RMB 90 (approx. 15 USD) in most European countries, so you can see that this has become a business opportunity for many.
* Source: BBC News
Frequent heavy rain and thunderstorms are common at this time of the year in China's Guangdong Province, with an average annual rainfall of around 41mm according to the preliminary statistics. The weather is such that in the late spring and summer months, the weather changes rapidly throughout the day. So for example, at one point during the day you may experience very hot, sunny, and humid conditions, while in the next minute suddenly you may get heavy downpours with thunderstorms (which itself can be a welcome change from the hot and humid conditions). And unlike in some other parts of the world, such as in the United Kingdom for example where public transport and life comes to a halt at the drop of a snow flake, life in China goes on as normal. The west needs to learn from the east!
The dramatic change of the weather at such quick pace is one of the reasons why Guangdong Province is uniquely known as the province of umbrellas. The impact of the umbrella is so powerful here (and especially in the provincial capital city Guangzhou) that companies use umbrellas as a way of brand advertising because they know that everyone carries them around all the time, whether it is during rain or sunshine. Indeed, it can be a very powerful PR tool to use.
Our flight into Hong Kong was delayed by an hour at least due to heavy thunderstorms, hail, and rainfall in the area around Hong Kong, and Southern China’s Guangdong Region. I took the above photo as we were making our decent into Hong Kong, somewhere between Dongguan and Zhongshan. Indeed, south China is experiencing a monsoon season at this time of the year and areas like this contain unstable air that any towering cumulus cloud can trigger and quickly become Cumulonimbus very quickly. Aircraft (especially commercial aircraft) avoid such clouds by at least 23 nautical miles (about 37 kms) on the upwind side. A typical Cumulonimbus takes less than 20 minutes to build. The most dangerous part of this is that at that particular time it does NOT show on the weather radar. It then becomes active for around 20 minutes (in which 95% of their lighting is internal (invisible in DAYLIGHT), flashing every 90 seconds or so- that can be LETHAL). They dissipate for 20 more minutes, becoming high-level cirrus clouds and low-level stratocumulus before eventually dying away.
It was because of this kind of activity that we had to stack in a hold at 7,000 feet around some 50km outside of the Hong Kong and Macau airspace for around 45 minutes before being given the all clear to land at Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok Airport’s runway.
Unfortunately, on June the 1st 2009 an Air France Airbus A330 (flight AF447) flying from Brazil to Paris CDG entered two large Cumulonimbus clouds - one just over 40,000 feet high and then another that was much larger, topping an astronomical 53,000 feet high. The aircraft’s autopilot disengaged, pitot-tube stopped working, and the aircraft went into a deadly stall plummeting into the deep ocean within a few minutes. ALL 228 passengers and crew lost their lives. The key thing to bear in mind is that EVERY Cumulonimbus cloud expends as much energy as 3-10 nuclear explosions in its 20-minute active phase. Therefore, the next time a plane is delayed – don’t panic because it’s probably for a very good reason, and it may just be that your life is saved by the guys in the front office.
There are seven daily non-stop flights to Hong Kong from London (with Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific). The London to Hong Kong route (and vice-versa) is a highly lucrative one because it connects these two world financial centres, and the demand is high with all flights almost always fully booked. With each airline carrier in direct competition, it is no wonder that the products are all very tempting to try. For this flight, I decided to check out the relatively brand new First Class cabin of British Airways. There are fourteen private suites located in the nose cone of the Boeing 747-400 aircraft, each with a 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) bed, a 15-inch (38 cm) wide entertainment screen, and in-seat power.
British Airways operate the Boeing 747-400 aircraft on this route, and in November 2013 the airline will start using the brand new Airbus A380-800 for the Hong Kong route. While these photos just offer a glimpse of the new First Class cabin, please take a look at my flight experience from SEAT 1A on British Airways Boeing 747-400 here.
On the final Sunday of May, blessed with clear blue skies, and sunshine (finally!), I caught this China Southern Airlines Airbus A330 on finals to Heathrow Airport in the afternoon. Flying three times a week non-stop from Guangzhou Baiyun Airport to London Heathrow, this route not only provides another option for those wishing to go to Melbourne (via Guangzhou), but also connects with business people who carry out trade with the numerous factories in the Pearl River Delta (Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, and Guangzhou), as well the large number of Cantonese expats living in the UK who can directly go home instead of flying to Hong Kong first.
I carried out a flight review for this route last year. Check it here.
On the 22nd of January 2013, the Commonwealth Journalists Association hosted a seminar held at Senate House, University of London on the issue of ‘China 2013 – what next?’
The Seminar, which was held in partnership with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, was both topical and enormously engaging, and well received by the hundreds of specially invited guests in the audience.
Humphrey Hawksley, the well known BBC foreign correspondent, author, and commentator on world affairs, chaired the seminar. On the discussion panel were Jonathan Fenby (respected writer and China expert), Carrie Gracie (BBC China correspondent), Rana Mitter (Professor of History and Politics of Modern China, Oxford University), Stephen Chan (Professor of International Relations, SOAS, University of London), and George Magnus (Senior Economic Adviser, and author of ‘Uprising: Will Emerging Markets Shape or Shake the World’s Economy?’)
Deriving from their years of China experience, the five China experts shared their rich viewpoints on where China is going to be in 2013. Some of the key highlights of the evening included as follows:
Senior Economic Advisor at UBS Investment Bank and highly sought after global economist, George Magnus outlined the dual challenges of China’s demographic and economic hurdles ahead. He specifically pointed out that, on the demographic side, China’s ageing population, these included a weaker savings base and older working population and, on the economic side, newer developments had to be found as the country has saturated the gains made from economic development areas of the past in areas such as construction and industry. He said that the Chinese economy is particularly important now as it has reached the end of extrapolation.
He said China faces issues of discontinuity, making it hard to predict its growth into the future in a linear fashion. The GDP rate, which hovered around 10% through the 2000s was now dropping to about 5%. His main point was that China has worked hard in the first 30 years of reforms to match up with, and exceed, the economy of most countries, and now the challenge was on how to continue that growth while maintaining impeccable house-keeping issues within the country. Mr. Magnus pointed out that a new model needed to be invented in China to keep the country’s growth on track, maintain workable and sustainable relations with neighbours and maintaining internal stability.
Carrie Gracie spoke about the role of Media in China and what 2013 looked like from the point of view of journalists. She said the communist party views media as an extremely potent tool and considers party strengthening to be the media’s role. Describing the transition period in China from the old administration to the new as tense and ‘febrile’ she emphasized the need to appreciate what direction the people were trying to push the country in. Ms. Gracie specifically highlighted the immense growth of China’s Twitter –Weibo – and other social media platforms had also empowered others outside the media, including businessmen, and how that is having an influence on the changes that are happening within the country’s social, cultural, and economic side.
Ms. Gracie also pointed out how she has noticed changes that are happening in the rural areas of the country. A clear example of this has been illustrated by her annual visits to a village almost every year and meeting a local family, and seeing how that family and the people of that village have adapted to the changes around them in the decades that have gone past.
Interesting contributions came from the highly respected British-Indian academic Rana Mitter, who spoke about China and her neighbors. Professor Mitter, who is the most senior British professor of Indian origin to have a strong expertise on China, was quick to spell out any indifference between China and her neighbors and stated that China was a very long way from the situation 70 years ago when East Asia erupted.
In regards to India, Professor Mitter said it was not important to see who would win the race between the two countries for growth and power, but that China was way ahead of India as was reflected in GDP numbers, (China’s USD 8400 per capita to India’s USD 3500).
When I asked him a question about what his thoughts were on the India-China economic race, Professor Mitter pointed out that during his recent visit to New Delhi he personally observed and experienced many differences between the two nations. He felt there was no particular race between India and China in any capacity (infrastructure being one of them was behind in India compared to China).
Professor Stephen Chan, who has decades of experience on the African continent, and has seen tremendous change on the continent especially in the past decade. If there is one particular experienced British man who knows the African continent through the Chinese eyes, then it has to be Professor Chan. He noted that with all due respect that the Chinese have been trading with Africa since times in memorial, and likewise Africans have been trading with China for centuries.
A clear example was provided of the Chinese city of Guangzhou, which is the main trading hub for China-Africa (Guangzhou has the largest African population in China), and also African countries such as Angola, Algeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya that have large number of Chinese people. Though he wasn’t so sure as to why there are not many Chinese people in Mali.
Professor Chan also pointed out that “The Chinese don’t know what they’re doing in Africa,” he told the discussion outlining the lack of solid reporting to Beijing from Africa. He added that Africa also had problems negotiating with the Chinese. Professor Chan spoke on China’s strategy and experience in Africa.
As part of the closing remarks to summarise the discussion, one of the key points were made by Jonathan Fenby, who is one of the most respected and experienced experts on China, when he pointed out that China is a ‘normal country that is behaving normally economically’ in respects to the world’s presence. Mr. Fenby said that China is not going to ‘overtake the world’s economy, and nor is China going to be an influence on the global culture'. It’s a country that is behaving normally and on the right track of growth where it should be. Mr. Fenby also pointed out that one of the reasons why we are seeing such a rapid growth is because of the country’s practical and population size, which is an advantage for it to make full use of its resources.
Following the discussion, there were a series of contributions from the floor including questions and comments from Chinese journalists based in the UK, Chinese students and Chinese Diaspora, and other experts and specialists who follow China’s developments (or those involved with China). It was fascinating and a privilege to listen to the insights provided by these top five China experts and I am sure it would be equally interesting to see where the world, and indeed China, will take us, going into the next decade.
International markets are developing rapidly and changing substantially. Newly emerging markets continue to grow, despite the pressures on the global economy. Markets such as China, India, Russia, South Africa and South America are set to continue double-digit growth, and are looking to up-skill, including through formal global exchange programmes, as they seek to increase productivity and quality.
A full transcript of the talk can be read at http: //www.cja-uk.org/2013/02/2317/
I arrived back from London on the 30th, and then after a few days I am off again...this time to Istanbul for a press trip. I will be going to London after that. It will be my first Christmas and New Year in London with my parents (all my previous Christmas and New Year festivities have been spent in China since 2008). As much as I would love to spend this festive season in London with my parents, I do miss Panyu already because it was my 2nd home for such a long time. So many fond memories.
I will upload photos of Istanbul, and the flight experiences when I have time. In the meantime, the above photo is my last photo I have taken of China. It may not be that beautiful to look at (it's only runway 02R at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport), BUT, it does remind me of the last time I'll be on Chinese soil for some time. It's always a sad feeling for me when I leave China, even if it is for a short time.
So it's goodbye to Guangzhou until 2013 at least!
To celebrate the switching of the Christmas lights, the Grand Hyatt in Guangzhou hosted around 200 especially invited VIPs and media to an action packed evening at the weekend. With plenty of delicious food and drinks going around, the General Manager, Mr. David Chen, officially switched on the Christmas tree lights at 7pm. There were plenty of tempting prizes in the raffle draw too, with the winner of the prize scooping a cheque of RMB 40,000 (almost £4,000!). Sadly, it wasn’t me (I have never won anything in life…except good education!)
It was the perfect way to end the day. Flying straight from London to Guangzhou (via Hong Kong) presents a different perspective of life. After which I did a few minor but important chores, before attending this event in the evening. So in all I had not slept for almost 25 hours (I always find that it’s not easy to sleep on a daytime flight, and once I landed in Hong Kong it was daytime again!).
Christmas in China is never the same as back in Western countries. Back in 2003 I recall seeing a lavishly decorated Hilton Hotel in Shenzhen- albeit in comical fashion. The money king represented Santa Claus, and the Dragon represented Rudolf the red nosed reindeer, and to add to the comical touch, the whole hotel was decorated in blue and white (instead of red and white). Things have changed for the better since then, and while China has become more Westernized it still doe snot really not feel like Christmas here.
To keep reminding myself of why I love Hong Kong, I have compiled a personal list of things that I love about Hong Kong. I initially arrived in China, in 2003, because I grew up watching pictures and movies about Kai Tak Airport, and because of my love for aviation I wanted to go and see the site of that old airport. Hong Kong is a lovely stopover city, and one of the best places to travel.
So here are my top ten things I love about this beautiful city (in no particular order):
1. A hike to the top of Lion Rock Hill
Hong Kong is a city that is all about absorbing the beautiful views. Climbing to 495 meters above sea level rewards you with breathtaking views across to the harbour and the centre of Hong Kong. The views are best at sunset when the sun shimmers across the harbour with the little fishing boats seen dotting in the horizon. I love this place because I sit on the rocks all day if I want to and write stories, poems, or just mesmerize at the breath-taking views across to the horizon.
2. A drink at the Ozone Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Nothing beats the feeling of whiling away your evening at the highest watering hole in the world, and admiring the view of the whole of Hong Kong below you. Pilots in yesteryear would have enjoyed the same view when they came into land at the former Kai Tak Airport, and today you can enjoy it too. A must try is the signature cocktail called Aria 118 (orange vodka, sake, coconut rum, passion fruit, and lychee). Best to arrive early in the evening or after dinner as the place can understandably get busy. I love this place because I enjoy a lovely drink, such as the Aria 118, and feel as if I am sitting in the clouds.
3. Eating fresh seafood at Mui Wo on Lantau Island
Around a 40-minute ferry ride from Central, Mui Wo is situated in tranquil surroundings and presents some of the finest fresh seafood around. Take a nice bottle of wine or Champagne, and indulge yourself with a fanfare of fresh lobster, prawns, and other seafood. Best to go when the sun sets, and even better if you can stay overnight (the Mui Wo Sunshine Hotel is close by). I love this place because I can indulge in FRESH seafood, and just listen to the waves swashing back and forth against the shores of Mui Wo in the magic of the evening. Equally well the priceless red sunsets are worth mesmerizing at.
4. Taking the Star Ferry
It only costs around HKD 2, but it provides some of the priceless views in the world. Hong Kong harbour's skyline is such that only Manhattan in New York can probably beat it to its beauty. The 8 minute ride from Kowloon to Central is equally worth riding no matter it's day or night, and whatever the weather may be. Much better than the over crowded MTR metro! I love taking the Star Ferry because it reminds me of what Hong Kong is all about- sight-seeing, fun, elegance, views, and people watching. You can do all of that while you on the Star Ferry.
5. Going to the Peak (by the bus or the Peak Tram)
From the peak you can get spectacular panoramic views across to the whole of the city (OK, The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong also provides equally spectacular views but from a different angle). Allow at least around 3 to 4 hours from your schedule to fully experience and enjoy the sights of the Peak (includes the time to get to the top). The Peak Tram was first introduced in 1888. It was built for the daily commuters rather than a tourist attraction though nowadays majority of the passengers are tourists. The ride is quite steep and it climbs up to 396 meters above sea level. You can either the Peak Tram to the Peak (Bus 15C runs from the Central Ferry piers to the Peak Tram terminus), or you can bus number 15 from Pier 5 to the peak, or a taxi (expensive!). If you take the number 15 bus from Pier 5 in Central then you'll be treated to some lovely views across from the hills (that's where all the A-list celebs reside). I love the Peak, because it reminds me of the sheer wealth that Hong Kong has.
6. Afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel
Back in the days the Canton to Kowloon railway used to stop right outside the Peninsula Hotel, and that used to the star attraction of the city. Nowadays while the KCR train stops a bit further away (at Mong Kok!), the Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tusi is nevertheless still a huge attraction for the city. It's one of the key colonial legacies that the city is proud of. If you can, then it is advisable that you book for the Afternoon Tea experience well in advance, as there can be long queues. You can find more at the review I did a few years ago: Peninsula Hong Kong. l love the Peninsula Hong Kong because it showcases the British history that Hong Kong has connected with it. It also is one of the best places to have a lovely cup of tea and some delicious cakes.
7. Going to the beach on Lamma Island
The 3rd largest island in Hong Kong, Lamma Island is not too far away from the Central pier (it takes less than an hour by ferry). It is recommended that a full day, or at least half a day is spent to enjoy the sights and smells of this island. There are some nice clean sandy beaches on the island, and plenty of fresh food (both Western and local Cantonese). If you want to stay for the night, then it’s very easy to find a small hut by the beach to rent (cheap as chips). I love Lamma Island because you can get good, healthy food, have a good swim, and even go sailing if you want on a small boat- and it does not cost much. It’s a perfect place for a short day’s trip.
8. Yung Kee Restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong
Located within the narrow lanes of the over-crowded Lan Kwai Fong (expat area that is dotted with many watering holes and small food joints), Yung Kee Restaurant is a popular haunt for me. I have attended a lot of school reunion dinners there, and the Beijing Duck is always a delight to tuck into. Price per head can be on the heavy side, but you get what you pay for. The quality of the food will blow your mind away.
9. The MEGABOX
The MEGABOX is a 6-storey shopping & entertainment complex located in Kowloon overlooking the old Kai Tak Airport’s runway. You can go ice-skating, go to watch a movie or even experience a real simulator and try to land a plane at the old Kai Tak Airport. It’s perfect for couples, children and families. My favourite part of the MEGABOX is the food & beverage area. I love the Studio City Bar & Café which presents some of the finest steak in this part of Hong Kong, and a lovely pint of German or Australian beer to go with it! I love it because the MEGABOX is away from all the touristy areas, and because it is located just next door to the old airport, so there is bit of nostalgic feel to the place.
10. The food and drinks in the Seven 11
Hey, come on, I know it's only a 7/11 store BUT I must say that the variety of colorful drinks at the 7/11 and the K Shops cannot be found in the mainland or in the U.K.- and that's why I love it. There are at least 3 or 4 types of Lucozade, and those mouth-watering iced-tea drinks are just awesome and perfect for cooling down your heels in the hot and humid summers.
Above all else, I also love the people of this beautiful city. For the majority of the time I have been to Hong Kong has been from Guangzhou, however when I do fly from the U.K. I tend to take Cathay Pacific Airways, the proud carrier of the city. Cathay Pacific Airways is one of the six world's airlines that have been classed as a five star airline by the official SKYTRAX world airline rankings.
Here is an article on www.fly.com about Hong Kong that I wrote.
Being back in the cosy warmer surroundings of Guangdong Province presents a sense of relief. Though the weather is cooler, it is no way as punishing and cold as Beijing or Shanghai at this time of the year. After arriving in Guangzhou from Beijing, I headed straight to Shenzhen for a small project. I could have flown straight to Shenzhen, but I flew on the China Southern Airlines Airbus A380 to do a project for them so I had to fly to Guangzhou first (Shenzhen is around one hours train ride from Guangzhou).
The city of Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, and is a fine example of how rapidly the Chinese economy has grown over the past 30 odd years (and even more so since 2004). Newcomers to the city will probably think that they are still in Hong Kong, considering all the high rise glass and luxurious hotels that have spurted out of the ground.
Ever since the early 1980s when the late Deng Xiao Ping established Shenzhen as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the city has continuously attracted a vast amount of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)- far more than any other city in this country. Before the 1980s, Shenzhen was a hamlet filled with hundreds upon hundreds of rice farms, and fish farms. Those fish and rice farms have been replaced by the Shennan East Expressway which is choked with Ferraris' and Maseratis'. Then there are the grand hotel such as The Ritz-Carlton, The Grand Hyatt, and recently the St Regis Shenzhen (the tallest hotel in Shenzhen), and so on so forth etc.
The only evidence of any kind of rice and fish farms are those that are situated across the border in Hong Kong's Northern Territories. At least that part of this area still looks no different to what Shenzhen looked like before the 1980s, and its a stark reminder of how times have changed here. The sons and daughters of those farmers become overnight millionaires (some even billionaires , and are now enjoying the benefit of shopping at the likes of the Coastal City Mall, or in Shekou. They have lavish properties in places such as the Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), or near Shenzhen Bay. I used to live in Lian Tang in Luohu District in 2004-2005, and today I can hardly recognise the place. Just like the rest of the largest cities of China, the place has become westernised.
The city houses the headquarters of China's many electronic and telecoms companies such as ZTE, Huawei, Haier, Konka, Mizuda, Mindray, and many others. Many of these companies are hiring foreign executives, some of whom worked on the board of many fortune 500 corporations. Shenzhen Airlines, the locally based airline, is in the process of recruiting foreign pilots too. Back in the hectic Huaqiangbei and Dongmen areas (two major shopping streets in Shenzhen), it is common to come across foreign business persons trying to make deals on bulk orders on Chinese made products (mostly electronic parts), that they can take back to their home countries and sell at a higher price. Many of these entrepreneurs come from the African Continent, Middle East, and South America. There are pockets of South-East Asians too.
The thing that continues to amaze me is that Shenzhen is so close to Hong Kong, and yet the differences are so varied. I am sure there are people on each side of the border who don't have any experience of what is life on the other side (that's probably the sad part of the Shenzhen story). While people on the fish and rice farms on the Hong Kong side must be wondering what on earth has happened to the fish farms on the Chinese side, and all they could see is building upon building growing out of the ground every other day. Indeed, the skyline of Shenzhen is changing at a dizzying pace, and probably will continue to do so for many years to come.
There is no hiding in the fact that I love planes. I think it is obvious when you look at my website. Therefore, when I arrived in Beijing, someone in the Chinese government I know strongly advised me to go to visit the China Aviation Museum to get up close and personal with some military aircraft! I could not resist to go and see for myself the splendour of this place.
The China Aviation Museum was established in 1986. It is located in Xiaotangshang Town, changing district. Covering an area of 720,000 square meters. It opened to the public in 1989, and expanded in 2009. There is a collection of more than 300 aircraft, ground-to-air-missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, radars, with over 15,000 other artefacts. It is the only one of its kind in China where you can go close to aircraft. There is also the old plane of Mao Zedong. I must say that when I got there it was a very exciting feeling for me because of my love affair with aviation. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. If you love planes, as I do, then you would just adore this museum. It’s awesome. There is nothing like this in the rest of the country- not even close enough (perhaps even the rest of Asia!).
I mean, for example, I could not believe my eyes that I was so close to a Russian built IL-62! I last flew on this plane back in 1989 on Aeroflot Russian Airlines (I would love to see how they’ve changed now in all these years), and in those days I still recall the loud engines, the steep climb and the unique smell of the kerosene oozing from the aircraft even when sitting inside it! In 1989 it was impossible to get right underneath the aircraft because of security reasons in Russia etc., but here I was in Beijing in 2012 standing right under the wings and fuselage of this Russian beauty (thanks to the China Aviation Museum). It was also fun to see that people were having a picnic sitting underneath the belly of an IL-62. Now, which museum or airport will allow you to do that? None.
They also house Chairman Mao’s official diplomatic plane, the Russian built IL-18 aircraft. It’s complete with Mao’s in-flight bed and the galley. Then there is the lavish display of Chinese F-6 fighters, which were used in many wars, including the 1962 India-China war over their borders (which China won). With such great aviation military ability, countries like India seem dwarfed compared to the mighty power of China. The media hype is always to create mass hysteria.
The museum houses planes from all around the world including Pakistan, the USA (actually these are captured DC-3s, C-47s, and even an Apache Helicopter), Britain, and Zimbabwe.
How do I get there?
You can either take a taxi from downtown Beijing, which will take around an hour, and would cost about RMB 200 to go and come back (or more depending on how long the driver will stay there). Alternatively you can take the metro to
How much does it cost?
You can walk into the museum for free. However some of the major attractions inside have an admission charge. These include Chairman Mao’s IL-18 (RMB 10), F-6 aircraft attraction (RMB 10), and the aviation hanger (RMB 20). There is also a small military simulator that people can try to fly in, which may cost around RMB 30 for a 5-minute experience.
The JW Marriott Hotel Beijing is located right next to it’s more fashionable brother, The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing. Both properties are part of the same family of hotels and of the same owner; however, there are considerable open differences between the two. Located in the capital’s fashionable up-market Chaoyang District, the JW Marriott Hotel Beijing is part of the China Central Place, a impressive complex consisting of over 230,000 square meters of office and retail space. Getting to the international airport is not a problem either as it’s only a 40 minute taxi ride (pending Beijing’s notoriously horrible traffic jams) , or you may want to take the metro from Dawanglu station, which is just a stone throws away from the hotel’s lobby.
It’s maybe not as flamboyant and luxurious as it’s neighbour, though the JW Marriott does excel in a class of it’s own. Take the lavishly decorated lobby for example which complete with a tea tasting section where guests can experience some true Chinese customs while they are waiting to check-in, or even if they are just whiling away the time. One of the key physical aspects that connect the two properties together are their MICE facilities (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions) with over 1,240 square meters of Grand Ballroom space which can be connected to halls of The Ritz-Carlton Beijing next door.
The 588 well-appointed guestrooms and suites form part of a refined oasis that offers adequate customer service in a family-friendly atmosphere. The JW Marriott Hotel Beijing tends to cater more for families rather than captains of industry, so therefore, I believe, this is one of the reasons why it is not so expensive. Guests at the JW Mariott Beijing who stay any one of the seven executive floors can enjoy the various facilities of the Club Lounge, which is open until midnight everyday – provided you manage to get a seat as it can get busier than the hotel’s restaurants sometimes.
While the views from across the windows of these cosy rooms may not be as beautiful as you would assume- do you really want to stare that at that factory chimney? – it’s the décor inside that makes you feel welcomed. The rooms are themselves are something to marvel at. Just some of the highlights include but not limited to: exquisite marble bathrooms with separate tub and rain shower, 42-inch flat screen televisions, bedside BOSE stereo system, designer bathroom amenities by Aromatherapy Associates, designer mouthwash by ‘Whisper’, iPod connectors, flat screen television in bathroom, twice-daily maid service, and Nespresso coffee machine. The best part of the rooms are the beds. Thick, ergonomic mattresses neatly cast to your body, lined with a plush 7cm, natural dove feather mattress topper with pillows that you can comfortably hide yourself at night like a baby inside a womb.
A few jewels to marvel at lurk around too. Occupying over 250 square meters, the spectacular health club, 24-hour gym, spa with 9 treatment rooms, and the breathtaking heated swimming pool provide a sense of tranquillity even on the nosiest of nights in the city. During our stay, there was a lavish (and understandably loud) wedding party outside the lobby area, while inside the spa and swimming pool people were treating themselves to treatments as if they are on a paradise beach. The contrasts were enough to prove how well the management organised and had everything laid out nicely.
The hotel’s three restaurants, Asia Bistro, Nobu Japanese restaurant, and CRU Steakhouse provide many opportunities to explore the various gastronomic pleasures on offer. The former offers a festival of open kitchens offering a variety of dishes from around the world including Indian, Japanese, Malaysian and local Chinese dishes. While the CRU offers one of the best oysters and steaks in town. The hotel’s restaurants are designed in such a way that once you complete your meal, the path leads directly to either the ultra chic Loong Bar, or you can sit and do people watching at the equally smart Lobby Lounge and count the number of Louis Vuitton bags you see going past.
CRU Steakhouse - a review
While some of Beijing’s steakhouses might put on airs and graces, CRU at the JW Marriott Beijing has that scruffy, laid-back charm that it wouldn't be in a 5-star hotel had the food not been as good as I had experienced.
Tentative and polite staff are always at hand to make sure that the few customers that are present at the otherwise quiet restaurant are provided the best possible service that they can.
The main events to savour at this 144-seat restaurant are beef, which hails from either Australia or Qingdao, and oysters, which hail from the fresh waters of France. The whole fusion of this Euro-American crackles on the elaborately large charcoal grill. Its best to go easy on the starters; a handful of freshly imported ‘gillardeau French no 2 oysters (marennes oleron)’ and the ‘CRU crab cake (blue swimmer crab with caper berries & remoulade sauce), was a mere distraction from the steak which was to follow suit. The oysters at the CRU steakhouse were really fresh, almost as if the chef had just brought them from the beach. The taste, smell, and the texture of the oyster meat was the key to success here. Slightly salty in taste but that’s a very good thing because it means it is rich in omega-3, EPA, and DHA- the natural ingredients inside the fish oil. If you eat food like this everyday, not only you’ll be healthier, but there would be no need to purchase fish oil supplements and what have you in the market these days.
The high-end service was brilliant, meanwhile, most notably from the restaurant manager, Murphy Cui, who himself is also a sommelier managed the rare double of being infectiously passionate (small wonder: the wine list is superb) without being snobbish or interfering. For the oysters, Mr. Cui recommended the finest ‘Matua Valley, Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011’, and for the steak the experienced sommelier recommended a fine glass of ‘beringer Califoirnia’. The fruity luscious taste of the white wine goes well with the fresh oysters. It’s a very healthy approach to life as they say in the French coast and in the Mediterranean.
The steak ribeye was soft and juicy on the inside and slightly charged on the outside, and truly rich in flavour. The side parts that accompanied it were shallots, cherry tomatoes, butter bean and a side order of rocket salad. Steak fans may not be too pleased with the lack of presentation paid to the plate when the steak was presented – compared to some of the best steak I have had, the side dishes are equally important as the steak itself. Having 2 or 3 shallots and a few butter beans is not suffice for someone who wants pure quality, as well as quantity.
The dessert dish in the end was a winner. A garnish of three desserts- tiramisu, walnut & vanilla ice-cream, and a mango & strawberry sorbet to die for. If you love a good steak, and oysters – like I do- then go and try a nice meal at the CRU Steakhouse. It’s probably one of Beijing’s finest.
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