Thursday, May 15, 2008

Three Stans - Hong Kong Musings

May 15, 2008

The terrible earthquake in Szechuan province could be a billion miles away; It takes more than that from the good burghers of Hong Kong to stop their frenzied dance with materialism.

Yesterday I took a lazy harbor cruise to see the 100s of big projects which didn 't exist the last time I was here more than 10 years ago. I have always loved the Peninsula Hotel but have only tolerated Hong Kong: with the exception of its rapturously beautiful setting and some A+ architecture, the city offers less for the mind than, say, a city such as Indianapolis which is less than a tenth as big.

What HK has is shopping and the glitz of the world. GRAF (or is it Graff?) here in the Peninsula which is now the world's premiere diamond merchant has a 14 carat solitaire ring and a necklace (I had the courage to price it) for is USD $11.7 million in its windows

HK shows some better taste than Dubai (perhaps it is a bit more Palm Beach than Dallas) but SOOOO much good taste begins to cloy and then to irritate! Most locals live in egg carton apartments reaching often 40 stories in 20 identical building units (Orwell is reaffirmed) and they are definitely not in the local society magazines. Still, I get the feeling that most would like to be. That most moms would like for their sons to be tycoons driving a Ferrari rather than philosophers planting gardens. Maybe HK is the world.

The manager of the Peninsula is a Viennese guy called Svoboda (probably from the Favoritenstrasse district where most residents trace back to Bohemia) and he has a fabulously light hand. The bar has Josef Hoffman-knock off bar chairs. The new tower actually blends well and one can have breakfast at the pool on the 8th floor with an unobstructed view of the harbor...or take a helicopter from the 30th over to Macao for the tables. Still the soul of this hotel is the original 7 floors. My Porcelain Pagoda Suite is where the governor general of the Crown Colony surrendered to the Japanese generals in 1941. The hotel continued to operate through the war with Swiss management. The Swiss continued managing the hotel until very recent times which must account for the CHESA Restaurant, a Zurich-cuisine place all done up with cuckoo clocks on the 1st floor. Fondue in HK's humidity is about as appropriate as an Eskimo pie in Iqualuit. A few other lighter touches now under the Viennese management: a Demel's like pastry each evening by the bed instead of some rock hard Lindt chocolate as an example. Last night was a little Dobos Torte.

It is rather easy to be beguiled by Hong Kong when you're in the mood to be stroked. It is perhaps far easier though to be repelled. There is an earthquake with perhaps 20,000 dead not THAT far away (less than a Little Rock-Denver distance) but nothing could stop Chanel's sponsored CAMELIA (or was it MAGNOLIA?) Ball last night for the
Prada clad ladies whose grandmothers had bound feet. When is enough enough? My wallet thins.


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