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Mice Net : August 2008
asia update Next morning over breakfast, I wonder why the South China Morning Post wasn’t hanging from my doorknob. “Try the valet box,” says one of the PCOs revealing the secret hideaway near the door of every room into which items are delivered – from newspapers to cleaned shoes, no disturbance. Worked brilliantly for an overnight shoeshine. The Mandarin Oriental’s hosted breakfast reveals one of the hotel’s legends – pastries. Obviously carbohydrate loading for the Tai Chi class to follow, someone suggests, so we have another. After a HKTB briefing – the city boosted its hotel rooms by seven per cent over 2007 and now boasts 140 hotels with 51,582 rooms and expects to increase its business tourism share so is extending the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre by more than one third to 90,000 square metres of rentable space by 2009 – we set off for the long march in the designated “comfortable shoes”. A short walk later, in the belly of this bustling skyscraper city of seven million, we enter an oasis of calm; a treat where tai chi master, William Ng explains that centuries-old graceful movements balance yin (negative) and yang (positive), exercising mind and soul as much as body. He quietly conducts group classes for up to 30 shadowed by towering glass and metal: Continuing the aesthetic, a short walk through the gardens reveals one of the island’s oldest colonial buildings, Flagstaff House, former British garrison and now tea appreciation centre under the expert palate of Ip Wing-chi. That’s not a dollhouse tea set he’s using. We soon discover white, green, oolong and genuine black tea – our black tea he calls red tea, referring to its liquid colour and Mr Ip gestures to cabinets filled with pancakes of post-fermented black tea, sporting $10,000 plus price tags. Serious business, tea sipping. Not surprisingly his small teapot made of rare clay must be properly warmed by pouring 95-100 degree C water inside, outside and over the lid and cups. It delivers a fine thimbleful of the ancient beverage. We’re even taught how to hold the tiny cup to avoid embarrassment – three fingers with the index finger to cover the mouth as you sip. From the sublime to the ridiculous: we note the old method of ascending Victoria Peak involved two wiry lackeys and a resplendent rotund English gentlemen perched in a sedan chair, then, we remark with some irony, our modern ascension requires we hold on furiously to remain vertical as ever-steeper inclines inch our Peak Tram up to picture postcard heaven 552m above Victoria Harbour. The view: Kowloon looms in the distance, but the foreground is intersected by an 88-storey exclamation mark – the 420 metre IFC Two skyscraper appears to match the Peak for height. Below our observation deck is one of many local shopping malls and mega restaurants including Café Deco, where we and almost 1190 others can feast Italian-style. We would later discover non-Chinese cuisine abounds in Hong Kong where you could live for 20 years and still not have tried all of the 8000 eateries. Atop a harbourside 1920's art deco skyscraper sits China Club, evacuated by the Bank of China in 1991 in favour of IM Pei’s iconic steel and glass tower. Then flamboyant local businessman David Tang (of Shanghai Tang) established an exclusive old Shanghai-style private club and filled it with his modern art collection. Here the movers and shakers dine on dark wood with bright silk cushions or adjourn for cigars to a library filled only with books about China and a tatty old leather couch that was once Winston Churchill’s (pictured top). Through a low, narrow 15th floor doorway is an outdoor terrace that once had Hong Kong’s best penthouse view, but now makes an excellent pre-function space before retiring to Mao’s Long March Bar or any of the seven private dining rooms for up to 120. With a few hours free, the PCOs opt for a therapy session…retail therapy that is, across the harbour at the Ladies’ Market, Kowloon, before an exquisite dinner in a private room at Mandarin Oriental Grill. Phew, and that was day one in Hong Kong! But for three more days the PCOs laboured on: the wet market; Chinese cooking corporate team-building (fun); Aqua Luna junk on Victoria Harbour for the Symphony of Lights (impressive); dinner at the eclectic Water Margin Restaurant (excellent); the Journey of Enlightenment to Ngong Ping village and monastery (giant Buddha inspiring); Disneyland for Yum Cha (voted best) and The Lion King (must see); lunch and races from a private box at HKJC’s Sha-Tin racecourse, (site of the 2008 Olympic Equestrian events). Graeme Kemlo travelled to Hong Kong courtesy of Virgin Atlantic and the Hong Kong Tourism Board. 112 mice.net