The most striking thing, from a geographical point of view, which is to be seen along the China coast is the recurrent phenomenon which we are about to describe. The rugged coast line, the many bays, the chain of islands fringing the coast, the whole gamut of geological and geographical forms which one encounters in an intimate coastwise journey, are all very striking and grand, and yet they are static—passive, after all. Notable as they are, they are but silent witnesses of those restless and resistless forces which have brought them into being.
If you have heard of Hangzhou, it is likely for one of four reasons. The first of these is Marco Polo, who is alleged to have visited this city in Southeast China and to have written about it in his Travels. The second is West Lake, “Xihu” (西湖). The pride and joy and centerpiece of the city, it is ringed with gently landscaped parklands and leafy thoroughfares, for which reason it is during national holidays ringed thick with travelers and tourists – the May holiday of 2014 saw over 600,000 people flood into Hangzhou, and they all came for the lake. The city is also an hour away from Shanghai by express railway, and for foreign nationals it is practically impossible to live in or even visit Shanghai and not know about Hangzhou. (Even when Hangzhou was a three-hour bus or train ride from Shanghai, Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, was referred to by Shanghainese as “Shanghai’s back-garden”. Thanks to the high-speed railway, residents of these cities and their economies are mingling more than ever.) And fourth, there’s Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba.
Hangzhou was for a time the national capital, and subsequently was home to a remarkable flourishing of the arts. It is the southern terminus of the Grand Canal, and is the capital of one of the most economically vibrant and flourishing provincial economies in China. GDP per capita is roughly USD$13,000 (ranking just behind Beijing and Shanghai), and the Lancome Counter in a local upscale department store here has higher turnover than any other Lancome outlet on the planet.
These and other interesting cultural, historical, and economic facts about Hangzhou are, generally, less widely known. But that is likely to change. E-commerce is part of the reason. But the Hangzhou of Wikipedia and the local Ministry of Feelgood isn’t the Hangzhou you need to know.
The evidence that Marco Polo came to Hangzhou (much less China) is slim. This of course is not the place to discuss the matter, and it is heresy in these parts even to suggest that perhaps Hangzhou’s most famous foreigner made-up the whole story about visiting the remarkable city of “Kinsai” – blasphemy to suggest politely that Kinsai might not even refer to Hangzhou. Neither facts nor their absence has dampened the enthusiasm of the municipal government of Hangzhou for banging loudly the Marco Polo drum, and indeed the city has just appointed its first “Modern Marco Polo” goodwill ambassador (a Swiss national). Marco Polo is a good myth, and people sometimes prefer good myths to historical facts.
Another myth is that Hangzhou is an international city. It is not, though it bills itself as one, and civic spin doctors like to trace Hangzhou’s cosmopolitan roots to Marco Polo and its place in the history of global engagement along the Silk Road. That history is often tethered to the presence in Hangzhou of the many foreign firms the municipal aldermen like to cite when boasting of the city’s internationality. True enough, the shelves of shops in the arcade of Hubin Fashion Street groan under the weight of Hermes scarves and the seasonal selections of Armani, Zegna, and Cartier. Sofitel, Hyatt, and Four Seasons are here. Four-wheeled product sparkling in the windows of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Lamborghini taunt those who will never steer anything that doesn’t have handlebars. There are two GAPs, two Uniqlos, scores of Pizza Huts, and more than two dozen Starbucks. But for all the international brands and the global corporate presence, Hangzhou is still a town, and the people here live and move with town mentality. Shanghai it is not. Kinsai, it probably never was.
The West Lake – well-managed and fringed with gardens - is Hangzhou’s pride and glory. For decades now it has been one of the top destinations in China for domestic tourists, while the number of international visitors appears to be growing steadily. Perhaps outranking in importance both Marco Polo and the beloved bushes whence come Hangzhou’s justly famous Dragon Well green tea (龙井茶), the lake is Hangzhou’s calling-card and brand-identity. One could likely demonstrate, too, that Hangzhou owes as much of its development over the past two decades to the West Lake as it does to its proximity to Shanghai and the knock-on effect of private wealth in the hands of high-rollers from Wenzhou and Ningbo. As the focus of domestic tourism, the West Lake Scenic Area brings in a ton of cash for the city, keeps city center hotels and centrally-located food and beverage venues in the black, and provides opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled employment. The shallow lake, and its deep and ancient cultural associations with leisure (both refined and spirited), have together done much to define the character of the city, and to set the pace of life here. Between Hangzhou’s growing (and occasionally in-your-face) affluence, and her (comparatively speaking) laid-back vibe, this is a city many Chinese would love to live in if they could. Seen through the lens of Chinese priorities, it is easy to understand why. Throughout the 1990s and the last decade, this verdant city - with a pulse palpably less tachycardic than Shanghai – has attracted a number of large international companies, as well as domestic talent. For five consecutive years Forbes Magazine has ranked Hangzhou among the top five cities in China for business, and for the past two years it has been ranked #3 and #2 – again, just behind Shanghai. According to the Hangzhou municipal government’s official English-language website, the World Bank (also for five consecutive years) has declared Hangzhou the best city in China for investment.
It is perhaps irrelevant to all of this, but the West Lake is not really a lake. It is a pond – a man-made pond, created out of a lagoon that formed when waters from the Qiantang River ebbed and flowed in and out of a depression --- a volcanic crater, I think I read somewhere. Management of the basin, which was long a cluster of marshes before it was a bounded body of water, goes back at least as far as the 8th century, when then-governor of Hangzhou Mi Li began to channel water out of the wetlands via aqueducts into city wells. Successive poet-governors of Hangzhou – first Bai Juyi in the mid-Tang, and then Su Dongpo in the Song – undertook comprehensive management projects which included dredging, weeding, and the building or rebuilding of causeways. By the Wuyue Period (ca.900, between Bai Juyi and Su Dongpo), regular maintenance of the pond had become an established part of public works management, subsequent to the massive weeding and dredging project ordered by Emperor Qian Liu. Flooding from the nearby Qiantang River (West Lake had now and then been referred to in antiquity as Qiantang Lake, after the emperor), and tendencies both to dry-up and clog the aqueducts with weeds meant that the health of the population and the flourishing of the city depended to a large degree on taking care of the pond. As the pond, the scores of tea houses around and the flotilla of rowdy pleasure boats upon it increasingly attracted painters, poets, and literati, West Lake and the hubbub on and near it also made a deep impression upon the thousands of pilgrims who journeyed to Hangzhou’s many temples. Culture and commerce traveled both the Grand Canal and along the regions many waterways; and whether through art and literature or through personal narrative - the merchants and the monks, the pilgrims and the bargemen, the scholars and court officials - the fame of the lake spread far and wide, and with it the fame of the city.
It was still in antiquity that the dependency of the city upon the culture of West Lake – the idea of Hangzhou as one-half of “heaven on earth” - was established. Today, as it was one thousand or more years ago, it is impossible to think of Hangzhou and not think of West Lake. But for all that, West Lake is a pond – a pond created out of a swamp. ‘Lake’ does of course have a grandeur that ‘pond’ does not -- Marco Polo would hardly have written about a pond. But whether we call it a lake or a pond, and whether Signor Polo ever stood on its banks, these former wetlands and the waterways that fed and still feed it have ultimately made Hangzhou what it is today: a nouveau-riche town that likes to think it is an international city, built around a pound which is referred to as a lake.
The Grand Canal and West Lake are both the result of huge, labor-intensive projects whereby the human will was imposed upon Nature in order to achieve ends to which Nature herself was indifferent or hostile. But there remains another body of water in Hangzhou for which engineering could never do more than provide a compromise between the forces of Nature, on the one hand, and the wishes and desiderata humankind on the other. We refer to the Qiantang tidal bore.
If Polo’s visit to China is a subject of historical debate, and if there’s little scientific agreement about how to best to distinguish between lakes and ponds, there is at the moment no question that the world’s largest tidal bore occurs in Hangzhou. Racing along at some 40 kilometers per hour, with a crest averaging around nine meters in height, the spectacular “Silver Dragon” is one of the natural wonders of the world, and taming it has forever preoccupied the peoples who have lived along the banks of the Qiantang River. The oldest known tide table in the world is said to be for this tidal bore, and there is suggestion that it was calculated (ca. 1056) and promulgated in the interests of sightseers, who have been literally swept away by the waves for as long as they has roared along the river. Perhaps seeking to maximize the tourism potential of Hangzhou’s natural assets, China’s officialdom finally relented in 2013 and - with Red Bull sponsorship - a number of pro surfers were finally allowed to hang ten in the Qiantang, a name which means “Qian’s Seawall”.
This is the city in which Ma Yun (Jack Ma) was born and raised, and in which he founded and based both Alibaba and spin-off product Taobao. Taobao is an e-commerce platform which – without exaggeration – has changed the way Chinese shop, use their computers and handsets, provender their domestic larders, eat, contemplate their own consumer behaviors, and even understand the world beyond China’s borders. Jack Ma’s story has been told many times, and it is not our purpose to rehearse a narrative lately told so well by Porter Erisman, for a long time the most senior foreign executive at Alibaba and Jack Ma’s principal Western aide de camp. But virtually everyone Marco Gervasi interviewed in the course of his research is doing what she or he is doing – directly or indirectly - because of or in response to Alibaba or an Alibaba product. That means (among other things) that for Chinese e-commerce entrepreneurs, Hangzhou is not just Shanghai’s back-door garden, or a charming southern city with a pretty pond and a genteel history steeped in green tea and poetry. For Chinese, it is a place where dreams are made, and where dreams actually come true. Whatever the nousphere or Weltanschauung of Hangzhou in Jack Ma’s youth, Hangzhou had the right ingredients for the creation of e-commerce. An apt metaphor, perhaps, since the kind of Traditional Chinese Medicine preferred in these local latitudes is decoction – the mingling and brewing of herbs from the TCM pharmacopeia.
For three consecutive years at least Hangzhou was ranked the Happiest City in China. Not incidentally, this period is the same timeframe during which a number of Alibaba employees became millionaires overnight (after Alibaba’s IPO) and Taobao reached its first acme. Contemporary poets and literati do not, so far as we know, compose odes to Alibaba, or paint watercolors of their offices. But Hangzhou’s most famous ‘Ma’ is Ma Yun, and not Ma’ke Boluo.
And rightly so. We’ve no evidence that any specific aspect of the rich cultural milieu of Hangzhou – the aesthetic and literary implications of West Lake, the Grand Canal, and the Qiantang tidal bore – had any specific influence upon Jack Ma, and we are reluctant to overplay metaphors or force symbolisms. But if the Grand Canal did make possible the movement from north or south and vice versa of peoples, goods, and ideas – all transportation technology is a form of communication technology – the Taobao platform moved an idea of what business is from Hangzhou to the edges of Southeast Asia. Its wave is still in motion, and it roars like the Silver Dragon. Hangzhou’s young e-commerce entrepreneurs, riding the Silver Dragon to fields of gold, remain restless; and the forces Taobao set in motion, in this city and beyond, are resistless.
The world has other manmade lakes, canals, and seawalls, but the early corvee labor of Hangzhou created West Lake and its two causeways, dug the southern channels of the Grand Canal, and built and rebuilt breakwaters to hem-in the Silver Dragon with their own tools and principles of engineering. The muscle that did all this was powered by local produce, prepared and seasoned to local tastes. The public works to which Hangzhou owes all of its lore and most of its life owe nothing to the ways, means, and methods of Western peoples. Their aqueducts were not based on those of Rome. Their art is not part of the legacy of Greece. Their temples were not inspired by the holy places of Jerusalem or Byzantium. The ingredients of Hangzhou’s greatness, and the distinctive features of its intellectual and artistic heritage, came from the early peoples of China, and have been refreshed over the centuries by Chinese energy and inspiration. The indigenous peoples of Shanghai – linguistically they are the cousins of Hangzhounese – took a full frontal blow from Western modernity in the beginning of the last century, and since then have been absorbing and rejecting foreign elements like no other city in China. Shanghainese born after 1980 can contemplate their city and its distinctive culture in terms of the ongoing dialogue between the Chinese culture of Shanghai and the cultures of those metics who have made Shanghai a beguiling bouillabaisse of styles and mores. But Hangzhou was made mainly by the Hangzhounese, and by those Chinese brought into the orbit of Hangzhou by its small but dense center. And what’s more, despite the Cadillacs on the roads, the Bottega Veneta handbags on the passenger seats, and the iPhones in the handbags, the Hangzhounese have actually done a good job pushing back any deeper Western influence. The intentional rejection Western culture – or: the unintentional blunting of any Occidental impact that goes beyond luxury products, or doesn’t have a price tag – is easy to overlook when one is eating McMuffins and counting H&M outlets.
To understand Chinese e-commerce, and to appreciate Marco Gervasi’s thesis about East-Commerce, this is where one needs to begin. Not necessarily with Hangzhou, but with the following insight: The percolation into the Hangzhou (or Chinese) aquifer of Western branded merchandise - Western stuff – has little to do with the Westernization of a people, community, or culture. In the early days of Alibaba, Jack Ma remarked (and on more than one occasion) that foreign employees were for the time being a means to an end only, and that one day Alibaba would be managed and staffed wholly by Chinese. Ebay and Paypal might have inspired Taobao and Alipay, but they are Chinese creations. And while the waters of the Hangzhou Bay drink from the same oceans that lap the shores of all continents and all littoral nations, by the time that water found its way inland – mingling with the Qiantang, and filling the lagoon that would one day become West Lake – it was the water of Hangzhou, of the people of Hangzhou. What the Chinese are doing with their Internet – and note: not the Internet, but their Internet – is changing the rules of retailing, branding, and marketing in China, and in Asia.
Marco Gervasi’s book, East-Commerce, will be published in September 2014.
Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…
After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”
What was the most difficult part of your course?
The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.
In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.
After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.
During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.
We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?
The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.
You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?
I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.
You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?
In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.
I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.
What plans do you have for the future?
I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!
Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.
I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.
In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.
Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.
Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.
Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.
By the time I visited in 2008, much of the historic area had fallen into disrepair. Then came the Unesco World Heritage designation breathingrenewed life to Georgetown and historic buildings were restored and converted into cafes and boutique hotels. Previously, Georgetown mainly offered budget guesthouses and one very top end hotel. Now, there’s a growing range of boutique heritage hotels for visitors to choose from.
Campbell House was one of the first boutique hotels to open in Georgetown, and work on converting the building into a hotel began even before the Unesco World Heritage listing was announced. The owners, wife and husband team Nardya Wray and Robert Dreon, both saw the potential in Georgetown and had faith in its future. Nardya has a personal history with Penang, having been born in Malaysia before moving to UK andthen often returning to Penang to visit family.
Robert and Nardya bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, both coming from successful careers in London’s luxury hospitality industry.The couple embarked on restoring the hundred-year-old corner shophouse, completely gutting the building down to the original beams and structure.Working tirelessly over three years, they lovingly restored the building and filled their dream hotel with antique furniture sourced from around the region.
Campbell House offers eleven suites, each with an individual character representing a different element of colonial Malaysia, such as the Colonial Room with a four poster bed or the Sari Room graced with a headboard made from sari silk.
The rooms are luxuriously appointed and feature modern fixtures and technologies like flat screen TV’s, Nespresso machines, chilly central air-con, rain head showersand newplumbing. You may be staying in a heritage hotel with antique furniture, but you will not lackfor any modern comforts.
Campbell House is located on Campbell Street, right in the heart of Georgetown and makes a great base for exploring the city. The next street over is LebuhChulia, one of the main roads of Georgetown, where you’ll find many bars and street food.
Leaving behind the chaotic colourfulstreetlife and stepping into the peaceful tranquility of Campbell House, the first thing you will notice is the lovely lemongrass scent. Then the friendly receptionist will get you checked-in and pull out a map to show you where to find the best food and attractions.
Respecting the original architecture, there are no elevators in this three story house, but the hotel staff will use a clever pulley system to get your luggage to the top floor. Smoking is not permitted indoors, but you can do so on the rooftop terrace.
As is the tradition in Malaysian houses, guests have to leave their shoes in the public area before proceeding upstairs to the rooms. This ensures that the living areas are immaculately clean and you get the warm feeling that you are an honoured guest in a private house. Each guest receives personalized attention and you can even make special requests for breakfast to suit your dietary needs. The library invites guests to lounge and chat with each other and we had many lively conversations with our fellow travelers there.
Rooms are cleaned twice a day, and atnight they will leave iced tea and some sweet treats in the fridge. The soft and fluffy king-sized feather-topped bed is so comfortable, there seems to be a magic spell around it because as soon as you lay down you almost immediately fall asleep.
Breakfastis served in their Italian restaurant from 8am-12pm, so guests can leisurely sleep in or go out for an early morning walk before temperatures get too hot and still have ample time to return and enjoy breakfast.The breakfast spread includes a basket of freshly baked bread, a selection of housemade jams like coconut, orange marmalade and pineapple, a large platter of fresh fruit and a choice of entrée such as Eggs Benedict or Welsh Rarebit.
Their Italian Restaurant, Il Bacaro, draws on Robert’s Italian roots and offers an alternative to local cuisine. As much as I love curries and fried noodles, sometimes you just crave a fine Italian meal. It’s become a trendy dining destination for travelers and locals alike.
Georgetown is a city you can come back to again and again and never grow tired of.The Unesco World Heritage designation came just in time to save many heritage buildings from demolition. Though developmentis bringing about changes, its soul and authenticity still remains, just a scratch beneath the surface. The introduction of a heritage hotel like Campbell House means you can now visit Georgetown and stay in style and comfort.
Campbell House is a World Luxury Hotel Award winner and is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for B&Bs in Georgetown. Rooms range from 600-800RMB per night.Air Asia flies from Hangzhou to Penang, transferring in Kuala Lumpur.
The Hyatt Regency welcomes Raul Avendano, a 31-year-old chef from Chile, to “spice up” their restaurant and buffet. This South American hottie creates a flavor so refreshing it will whip your taste buds into shape and wake you up from a world of slumber. This talented chef started his career in the hotel business studying administration, but after one year he decided it wasn’t for him. He changed majors to be in the kitchen and everything fell into place.
“When I put on my uniform and take my knife, I feel different. I get this intense feeling, just taking the raw ingredients and transforming them to something incredible.”
Raul has been cooking in top hotels all over the world. After four years traveling in Mexico, he moved on to Macau to open a new branch of the Banyan Tree. He was also the chef in the pre-openings of Dubai’s exclusive beachfront bar and restaurant Zero Gravity and the Grand Hyatt Casino Hotel in the Bahamas.
His Mexican Flautas are a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Latin cuisine. Succulent chicken breast cooked in a tomato base and wrapped in a crispy flour tortilla, topped with sour cream and fresh salad. Next, we tried the Pork Loin Roulade with onions, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts and apple sauce, pan seared and finished to perfection in the oven. This was served with roasted potatoes and a chorizo-like sausage. If that wasn’t tantalizing enough, the final surprise was the Green Lamb Chops marinated with lemon and served on a bed of creamy quinoa risotto that really got our tongues tingling! We managed to have a chat and find out ‘more’ about the man himself for all you readers of MORE Hangzhou.
So Raul, you have quite the resume! Can you tell us which of your experiences have been the most rewarding so far?
A great place for me to work was Dubai. It was challenging at first because of the religion and restrictions. In Chile, we like to cook with red wine and experiment with new ingredients and spices, but there I could not use alcohol or pork. But, the supply of fresh meats, vegetables and spices was endless and we had good contacts with the suppliers. In the end, I really honed in on other techniques and flavors. It was a memorable time.
We all know how difficult it is to get certain ingredients here. Why did you choose China?
The fascination came from when I was a kid, you know. Growing up, I loved the Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, and I was amazed by the different culture and, of course, the food! Then I worked Macau and I learnt so much! I thought “I’m here! I’ve done it.” China is a place that people from the west think they know until they arrive here and it all opens up. It’s a whole new world. After I left Macau and went back to South America, I thought… “Something is missing in this kitchen… the woks!” Working on a line with these tools and producing a different taste was incredible, and I am happy to be back working with a talented group of individuals.
What’s the greatest difficulty you have here?
It has to be the language. I’m learning slowly but it will take time. I always say “I have no problems, just challenges,” and because I have no problems, I have more time to find solutions. I love working in this team. To these chefs, it isn’t just a job, it’s their passion and that’s what make this food very special.
Where did your motivation come from? Did your mum cook at home?
Oh no, my love for cooking comes from my Dad’s side of the family. My aunt and my Grandmother, they have good taste. My teachers too, they really inspired me to do more. I hope the people in Hangzhou can be open to try new flavours and enjoy eating my food as much as I enjoy creating it.
If you would like to join the taste fiesta, then head down to the Hyatt Regency hotel for their Latin Festival which lasts until April 10th. The buffet, which includes the dishes we tried, will run you 348RMB from Sunday to Thursday and from Friday to Saturday 368RMB (both prices have a 15% service charge).
Raul is in the process of creating a whole new a la carte menu that will be available after the festival with other dishes of Latin taste to tease you too! For more information on this, go ahead and contact the hotel or pop by for a sneaky peak at Raul himself hard at work in Café at the Hyatt. Buen Provecho!
To be honest, this is not exactly how I saw my Saturday morning going. After a good deal of persuasion, I had given in and decided to come to CrossFit Qiantang to see what all the fuss was about. Standing in a room full of about twenty-five athletic-looking sorts limbering up, little did I know that I was about to experience what would be one of the more intense twenty minutes worth of exercise I had done in my life.
In the car on the way to the gym, after having signed up for the class, we found out what the WOD (workout of the day) was. That day it would begin with 150 Burpees, a movement which involves going from standing to lying, to standing and a jump to finish. Then, 100 Wall Balls, requiring you to throw a medicine ball to above a line high on the wall. These two exercises were to be completed as a team, shared and in rotation. The final part, 5x200 meters, would be an individual effort.
After stretching and warming up, we were put into teams of three, our team name placed on the board, thereby riling up the competitive spirit in each and every athlete present. As the countdown began from ten, the crowd erupted, and as the music got louder, the tempo in the room sky-rocketed and the anticipation became unbearable.
Then, the room exploded as the battle for supremacy began, each team pitted off against each other in an effort to achieve the best time. During the next twenty minutes, I found strength in me that I didn’t know existed as my team and trainers (and even the opposition!?) spurred me on to reach the finish line in as fast a time as possible.
So this was my experience of CrossFit, a way of working out that has taken countless countries by storm and is now rapidly spreading through the mainland of China. For a better explanation of what CrossFit actually is, I spoke with the founder of CrossFit Qiantang, The General. Summing up my experience perfectly he told me, “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. CrossFit is fun, but at the same time it can be brutal because it pushes you to your limits. The purpose of CrossFit is to train at your threshold area, which means you need to push your margin out.”
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit has three core fundamentals: constant variation, functional movement and high intensity. The first, constant variation, aims to improve your overall fitness, offering new and completely different workouts each time, using muscles you never knew you had, in contrast to a more focused improvement that some sports or traditional gym training offer: “We want every single one of our athletes to have a great general, broad fitness, which means they are prepared for the unknown,” said The General. In addition, you only find out the WOD after having booked the class, so if it’s something you don’t like, there’s no backing out: “You have no idea what you are going to be doing that day, just like real life. Life is unpredictable... CrossFit is the same thing.”
Functional movement involves using non-artificial movement – many gym machines promote a movement that is not entirely natural, whereas functional movements are more daily-life based and can therefore be used more in everyday situations.
High intensity is fairly self-explanatory, the benefit being you can put in less time but get more benefit. Rather than spending countless hours on a treadmill, CrossFit can condense this into around fifteen or twenty minutes of actual workout time (not including warming up or down), and yet offers results to match and even surpass longer, less intense workouts.
Why do CrossFit?
Aside from obvious health benefits, the most valuable thing CrossFit can offer is community. Looking lost on my first time in the gym, I was warmly received by trainers and members alike, as they approached me to introduce themselves and confess their great love for CF. Jenny had been CF-ing for around six months and was quick to praise the social aspect CF offers. She’d been working out in traditional gyms for years, rarely meeting anyone new: “I would be next to a guy on a treadmill every week for five or six years and have no idea about his name or who he was. Coming to CrossFit, there is a real feeling of community; everyone is very friendly and a strong bond is formed.”
This bond can only serve to improve your workout input as when you are making that final push, those around you shouting your name are sources of admiration and inspiration, team members who want nothing more than to see you do that extra rep, sprint that last 100 meters. They expect nothing less than 100%, and that is exactly what you should give them.
Furthermore, CrossFit supports and encourages its members to leave their comfort zone behind and do things they never thought they were capable of. The General explained, “The vast majority of people in this world only want to do the things they can do well… we like to give you something that you’re not good at… just use four or five hours a week to do this and your life will change completely.” So rather than doing something which comes easily to you, something you’re used to and can handle with relative ease, why not improve yourself by doing something you’re terrible at. Makes sense, right?
Some go to church, others go to CrossFit
For most, CF is more than just a workout. It’s way of life, a way of thinking that seems to make people want more from themselves. For one member, Adriana, CF was the missing piece of the puzzle, and after discovering it, her life came together, leading her to quit her job and become a shareholder in the company. Like many of the members here, you too may find yourself starting a new chapter of your life. Discover a new you, meet new friends. There’s really no excuse, so go on down and meet the CrossFit Qiantang family.
Give it a shot
For those of you thinking of joining, the first step is to sign up for one of their trial classes, either on Saturdays at 10am or Wednesdays at 8pm. The Saturday morning class will include members, so you’ll have a chance to meet the whole gang, something I strongly recommend, whereas the Wednesday evening class will include prospective members only. Also, many different membership schemes are available depending on your availability, ranging from a one-off drop in fee to a five-times-weekly membership.
Etienne Jeanne, guitarist with gypsy jazz band Three of a Kind, has been living in China for almost ten years. His Russian bandmates are based in Paris which means he mostly gets to play with them when he returns to France in the summer. This year however they are recording a new project in April and are hoping to embark on a world tour next year. I asked Etienne some questions about the band and the musical genre of gypsy jazz.
How did you meet your bandmates?
The three of us met in Paris in 2002. I had just moved to Paris when I was 18 in order to start my career as a professional musician, and met Aliocha and Vladi separately while doing gigs in Paris. It was the beginning of the "gypsy jazz revival" at the time. They were performing in an old Russian cabaret every week. I went to jam with them and found we had a strong connection right away so we decided to form a band. We've remained friends ever since.
How do you define gypsy jazz?
Gypsy jazz is a musical genre developed by the late great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the late 30's, on the initiative of Hugues Panassié and Charles Delauney who wanted to build and promote a unique type of European jazz. That is why the Hot Club de France were the first "strings only" jazz quintet ever, innovating jazz music with a totally new sound never recorded before.
Is gypsy jazz the hardest genre to play on guitar?
It definitely requires strong guitar skills to play gypsy jazz, but not only that. A certain knowledge about jazz and gypsy culture in general, and an acuity for improvisation are also important.
Do you think there is a large audience for this type of music?
There is undoubtedly a large audience for gypsy jazz as this type of music is getting more and more popular. When I started to play this music, it was kind of a geek thing known principally in France and a few countries around (England, Germany, Holland, Italy), and now there is a Hot Club in every major city in the world, such as San Francisco, and even in Beijing! This style of music is pleasing to the ear, non-aggressive, and visually strong as you can see guitar players and violin players going crazy on their instruments! Plus it involves the guitar, which is the most popular instrument in the world, so people tend to identify themselves with it even more, especially metal guitar players.
What's the best thing about playing to a live audience?
Two things; the reward of an intense practice at home for years when people are clapping their hands, and the freedom to re-arrange our tunes, improvise, and make people surprised with a brand new show each time. To record is to leave a trace in time, to play live is to feel carefree again.
Where's your favourite place to play in Hangzhou?
I personally like to play in JZ Club because the venue is well adapted for live performances. There are many other places in Hangzhou offering the possibility to watch live bands, but not enough in my opinion. That is why I still need to work in Shanghai regularly since there are more opportunities. Fingers crossed about more musicians coming to Hangzhou in the next few years.
Has Chinese music had any influence on the music that you play?
Chinese music had an influence on the way I write originals indeed, we also cover a few songs from the early 30's Shanghai jazz repertoire.
Which bands are you following at the moment?
In the field of gypsy jazz, there are a lot of good musicians upcoming from all around the world although I think this type of music is precisely the legacy of Django Reinhardt, and hasn't really improved yet. People tend to copy the "authentic gypsy style" too much instead of working on their own interior music, which I think wouldn't have been the wish of the creators of this revolutionary musical genre.
If you would like to see Three of a Kind playing live, you can check them out at the venues below.
April 2nd @ ABC Café (Starts at 7:30pm)
1/F, Changjian Mansion, 415 Huanxing Rd, Binjiang, 滨江环兴路415号长建大厦1楼
April 8th @ Amigo (Starts at 9pm)
8 Yugu Rd, 玉古路8号
April 17th @ JZ Hangzhou (Starts at 9