Bata’s Long Overdue Revamp (or An Ode To Bata)

“First to Bata, then to school.” I think most people of a certain vintage will remember this refrain from Bata’s advertisements. For many of us in Singapore, Bata has been synonymous with white canvas school shoes with green soles. In the 1970s, the Badminton Master was the must-have article of school clothing. Then it morphed into the stylish BM2000 in the late ’80s, if I remember correctly. All the cool girls in school wore a pair. There were also those wonderful bottles of white wash which Bata sold, with the sponge applicators, so we could whitewash our shoes midweek when they got too dirty, and there was no time to wash them.

Bata was the brand that literally carried me – and many others and over several generations – through my childhood. Their white canvas shoes and sneakers took me from school and playground to assorted longkangs (drains) on guppy- and spider-catching missions. But when I grew up, I ventured away from this reliable old Czech shoe brand that many people probably thought was a local, or Asian brand, to more fashionable stores. Still, Bata hung on at various malls and their flagship at the positively unglamorous Peninsula Plaza, with their reliable, inexpensive, generally conservative shoes.

Many years later when I had my child, I returned to Bata, this time, to buy my daughter’s shoes – first, her tiny sneakers for playdates and playgrounds, and later, her school shoes. “First to Bata then to school.” The refrain returned to my memory. I didn’t notice those bottles of whitewash anymore. But then again, she didn’t go longkang fishing either, so there was less midweek dirt on her shoes. It was then that I gave Bata shoes a good look again as an adult. They weren’t bad, and ventured to buy a casual pair or two.

But apart from the bright sparkly kids’ shoes, Bata was unfortunately still not exciting. But it was a dependable, essential and quiet brand that has been part of Singapore’s shopping landscape forever, like NTUC Supermarket. You needed the product, it was there, and not expensive. It ticked all the right boxes but it didn’t tickle one’s fancy.

A huge Bata store in Prague.

Then on a visit to Prague a few years ago, we saw Bata, a proud shop in the middle of town. We pointed out a familiar brand, and our tour guide went gushing about it. The Czechs viewed the brand and its founders — Tomáš Baťa, his brother Antonin and sister Anna — with much national pride. They came from a family of cobblers. The Czechs looked up to them as role models and inspirations, a historic brand which survived wars and hardships; a national success story that, to them, reverberated around the world. My tour guide’s son got to shake Mr Bata’s hand long ago and for many days, did not want to wash his hands.

That was a new, refreshing perspective to me.

So when Bata announced a brand revamp this week, with a new look, brand direction and refreshed flagship store in Vivocity, it made me sit up. Having been around for 123 years, this was long overdue for the brand. Now, its looks reflect the changes. The store, now doubled in size, is brighter, more fun, with digital screens showcasing international trends. Even the shoes look somewhat fresher, a little less stodgy and ‘sensible’ perhaps. Their marketing slogan is ‘Me & Comfortable With It’. I like that. It has a nice ring: fun, unapologetic, unpretentious and down to earth.

It may not convert devoted fashionistas, and I doubt that is their intention. But it’s refreshed looks will certainly get people revisiting this brand, and likely get fresh converts too. For a brand that’s been around 123 years, Bata’s stamina for the ‘common touch’ and its longevity is admirable.

Take a look at the shoes and the store in these pictures, and decide for yourself. Nursing a bad flu, I didn’t make it down to the opening, but I am looking forward to making my way there sometime soon. Who knows? It could be a return to an old friend and the revival of an old, soleful relationship. Let’s see…

Just had to slip this last one in. Looks like the bottles of whitewash are still there…

Possibly the Most Kid-Friendly Suites in Hong Kong

Those who have travelled with kids would know a bored and restless child is no easy challenge, whether they are four or fourteen. So we were pleasantly surprised to see the Dorsett Wanchai’s very thoughtful new themed suites which provide the perfect answer. If you’re planning a weekend in Hong Kong with the young ‘uns, this is possibly the best place to stay.

If you’ve got little tots, book the Ocean Park Family Suite. While it might be a bit too ‘twee’ for the grown-ups, consider this: you can sip wine for some peaceful down time while your little tot is immersed in this soft-toy-rich, marine-themed environment, and will be well distracted by the endless delights at hand.

It’s an official collaboration with Ocean Park. Once you have booked the suite, you can buy admission tickets to the Park from the hotel concierge at a special price of HK$900 for two adults and one child, which also comes with free shuttle to the park on weekends. The suite measures a generous 48 sqm, and comes with pantry, sofa bed in the living room, dining area and bedroom with king sized bed. Lots of room to swing a cat.

In the evening, you can call Front Desk to deliver to your room a “specially-designed mobile storybook library” filled with storybooks catering to children of different ages, perfect for bedtime stories before your precious heads off to slumberland.

If you’ve got a teenager in tow, then the Dorsett Wanchai’s Sony 4k 3D Experience Suite is the thing to go for. Says the hotel’s official information: “With Sony’s latest gadgets such as Playstation, blue-ray home theatre system, and LED TV, tech-lovers will be able to surround themselves by the newest electronics and indulge themselves in a SONY paradise.” Nuff said.

Marking the launch of the suites, Dorsett Wanchai is offering a 50% discount on all suite bookings falling between May and September 2017, made through the official hotel website http://www.wanchai.dorsetthotels.com

The hotel is located between Wanchai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, close to loads of shops and food. It’s an 8-minute walk to MTR station, Times Square, but there’s also complimentary shuttle bus service to 16 destinations via five routes. And all rooms are also equipped with the all-important high speed wifi.

Visiting The Three Gorges Dam

If you have a thing for world’s first and engineering marvels then this is one trip that you would want to make this Summer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.

Architectural Model – Photo taken at the Three Gorges Dam Museum showing the 5 ship locks bringing a boat downstream into the main river

The Three Gorges Dam or the Sanxia Da Ba (三峡大坝) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam created to both produce electricity and increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity as well as reduce downstream floods. A project that started construction in 1994, it was fully functioning from 2012 complete with five ship locks and fully completed with a ship lift in December 2015. See TEN interesting facts that you may want to note about the Dam project here before you book those tickets.

As for us, we were curious to see what a project that saw China relocating 1.24 million people in 2008 to achieve, costing them US$27.6 billion or RMB180 billion to construct-looked like in reality.

Getting there was easier than expected, there is a 3 hour train ride option from Shenzhen but we decided to fly domestic. So we took the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen via Lo Wu. From there, boarded a 2 hour flight from Shenzhen’s Airport into Yichang.

A map of the tribal villages living along the Dam – at least 360 million people live here in the stretch from Yichang to Chongqing

Seeing the entire Dam and the expanse of land that is home to almost 360 million people is no mean feat and the most common way to fully appreciate it is to take a 4 to 6 day cruise and there are many cruise companies that arrange tours with English-speaking agents and guides.

With limited off days from school and work, we opted for the shortest way to see the Dam – via a Day Tour and got it arranged via the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Yichang (where we were staying). They recommended an English speaking tour guide, Christine who turned out to be a real gem. With a good command of English, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about her job, she arranged a 2 day itinerary which included a day out on a tour boat down the Yangtze river and a second day out to see explore the Ba tribal village, one of the many small ancient villages that snake around the Yangtze.

Day 1

Saw us getting on to a tour boat that would take us on a leisurely cruise down part of the Yangtze to cross the ship lock of the Gezhouba Dam, go inside the Dam area, view the museum, have lunch, and then take a bus back to Yichang.

The Boat Tour – TIP: For better all around views – pay the extra 40RMB per person and sit on the top deck which is shaded with a canopy
Scenic views along the way

Entering a SHIP LOCK – think of it as an elevator of sorts but this SHIP LOCK allows the vessel to sail in and brings you 22 metres down stream in 20 mins (about the rate of 1 metre per minute). The ship is literally “locked” into the contained area that you see ahead to prevent the water from rushing in and then carried down stream.

CLOSE sesame! We are inside and the doors lock shut once the vessel is in. Water tight – our 20 minute journey via the ship lock brings us another 22m further downstream the Dam

You can’t fly over the Dam because of security issues and you need special military permission to do that – so a bird’s eye view of how the Dam operates and comes together is pretty much out of the question. Thus, a visit to the Dam museum to look at the model of it and how it all works and comes together is mandatory.

Day 2

We headed by bus to the catch another boat that would bring us to see the Ba Village, a  tribe of people who have lived in the region for centuries and in a village built by the banks of the Yangtze River. After which we would catch a bus to eat at the famous cliff side Weng Restaurant, one of the only 8 cliff restaurants in the world.

The boat moors at the Ba Village dock. We have travelled up stream to  visit the BA tribe to see how they live, explore local customs and experience the geography in the area.
The BA Tribe – a breathtaking ancient Kingdom built alongside the banks of the Yangtze
A river runs through the village ending in a stream and a waterfall at the heart of the village
The Coffin Caves were where the Ba Tribe buried their dead – Do you see two coffins in this shot?
Inside the village

Leaving the serenity of the Yangtze behind, we hopped on a tour bus back into Yichang city but not before stopping for dinner at the world-famous hanging Fang Weng Restaurant.

This restaurant is built into the side of a cliff – one of only 8 cliff restaurants in the world
The inside is a cavern that has been converted into a spacious dining room

The most famous dish there is a fish dish in milky soup where the fish has a distinct gelatinous texture. Look out for our detailed review later.

Total cost for the 2 day itinerary – 500 RMB per person (inclusive the boat and bus transport and minus a tip for the guide, the meals, an Uber or what China calls a “didi” back to the hotel). Definitely a great way to spend a long weekend.

(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)

Spa That In-City Getaway

Somehow when I think ‘Spa’ – my mind wanders to Thailand and Bali. The concept of relaxation does somewhat equal resort getaway but what if being in the city is the only option … for now.

Just last night, I popped into the opening of the new Chuan Body + Soul, an in-city Spa on the 15th floor of the chi chi Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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Blame the twinkly fairy lights, the skinny cocktails (nothing over 250 calories) that I was plied with or maybe one of those uber healthy Acai berry bowls or the on-trend novelty multivitamin jellies that I was served, but my evening there, did somehow leave me lightheaded and open to the possibilities of a stealing a sneaky getaway right here, yes, during office hours under the bosses nose, right at the convenience of my Kowloon doorstep.

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Opening its doors to membership for the first time, Chuan Body + Soul (previously just for Hotel guests) is offering a Health Club membership (with access to the pool and fitness facilities) at HK$1,800 per person, per month with a HK$250 per month fee for a locker.

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The newly renovated premises offer stylish treatment rooms for massages and various treatments using private label essential oils saunas and showers, a rooftop swimming pool and a split-level fitness on demand health club.

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IMG_8678What I actually thought was particularly ‘buzzy’ and exciting was their new retail element – the sale and launch of Deborah Mitchell’s, Heaven product line and her award-winning bee venom therapies. An award winning aesthetician, she created and patented the Bee Venom product line ABEETOXIN®, used as the natural alternative to Botox by harvesting bee venom. Her Bee Sting Facial Therapy (HK$1,380 for 1 hr 15 mins) is said to give that instant natural face lift without the injections.

Another notable – Chuan also launches her Bee Peel Facial (HK$780 for 30 mins), the first of its kind to launch in Asia, designed with organic coconut, apple, raw sugar cane and 18% glycolic peel to deliver Medi-spa results by minimising visible fine lines, scars, pigmentation, sallow skin, blemishes and enlarged pores. A definite must-try if you are into what I term a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mantra.

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Members get the use of the gym, access to Personal trainer and can join the range of classes such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation and Singing Bowl Sound Therapy or simply use the pool to swim or jacuzzi-away after a hard day at work.  Members’ Friends and Family  enjoy a HK$200 per person Monday to Friday rate / HK$300 per person Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays.  Not a bad deal if you want a fun girls’ day out!

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And if you are afraid that you will undo all the good from your soak, work out and massage then meals at the Spa offer a nutritious menu with healthy Sandwiches and Wraps alongside dishes like Açai bowls, homemade cereal bars, artificial-free fruit popsicles and energy boosting smoothies packed with antioxidants for long-lasting fuel.

If its a getaway to mark a special occasion, book a retreat – their Chuan Retreat Package at HK $5,000 offers a night’s stay in a One Bedroom Suite, a Signature Balancing or Chuan Harmony body massage for Two and access to The Langham Club lounge. Reservations at +852 2378 9988

Membership details see HERE or call: call +852 2378 9988

A Happy Ever After in San Junipero

If you could choose your own version of an afterlife, what would that be?

Of all the fascinating episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix, the one that left the deepest impression on me was Season 3, Episode 4’s San Junipero, a fictional place that is completely computer-created – an afterlife that elderly people can upload their consciousness to for five hours a week while they’re still alive, and permanently after death.

The story centres around two people who fall unexpectedly in love; one who has a second chance to re-live her eternity to the fullest in a fictional recreation of the 80s, given the fact that this was the era in real-life, where she actually became a paraplegic at the age of 20 and lived the rest of her life in an unresponsive state; and another, whose husband in real-life did not believe in the concept of an afterlife hence did not buy into the after-life programme, leaving her alone in this man-made landscape and wondering if her promise to him should still hold true.

Whilst the story marvels at modern technology, ethics and uncomfortably questions your core belief base of whether an after-life exists, the idea is still, intriguing.

If you had a chance to be uploaded to a utopian landscape and to an era of your choosing, a time and place where you were your happiest self, where you thought time could stay still forever, what would that be, and who would you hope to find within it?

Blue Sails In The Sunset – On Board The NEW Aqua Luna II

The Chinese junk with the large red sails that you often see plying the waters of the Victoria harbour is a sight to behold and one that almost every tourist visiting Hong Kong, is familiar with.

Last night, along with a handful of privileged media, we boarded its new sibling – the Mighty Ming Dragon christened the Aqua Luna II, as it unfurled its blue and white dragon (a motif often seen on Chinese Ming dynasty porcelain) that now trademarks its sails. In Chinese culture the dragon is a legendary creature; a symbol of power and good luck for all it touches, favoured by Chinese royalty.

Plied with champagne and dim sum canapés from the Aqua Group’s newly opened Dim Sum Library, we boarded this beautiful vessel that is slightly larger than it’s predecessor (measuring 29 metres in length and able to hold up to 80 guests on its two decks) and took off with it on it’s maiden voyage at sunset, as it gleamed and glided across the Hong Kong evening skyline.

This truly enchanting and unforgettable experience is probably one of the most precious memories that I will always cherish, especially when it comes time to say farewell to Hong Kong’s charms and its fragrant harbour.

Behind the construction of this second vessel, which took two whole years to complete, is Sifu (master craftsman) Au, who is now 86 years old. Sifu is said to have built more wooden boats than any other person in Hong Kong.

The boat was built using traditional techniques and made exclusively from wood, using bamboo for waterproofing with no nails used at all in the structure.

For those unaware of the history, the Aqua Luna and Aqua Luna II (in Chinese) are named after Hong Kong pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who sailed Hong Kong waters over 100 years ago. It is rumoured that he used the caves of Cheung Chau to store his pirate treasure. The Aqua Luna I is Cheung Po Tsai and Aqua Luna II is Dai Cheung Po (big brother of Cheung Po) – reflecting its greater size.

With this second vessel, the Aqua Luna fleet offers the same 45 minute evening harbour cruises – where guests can relax on lounge beds, sipping cocktails, day cruises, with a hop-on/hop-off Harbour Discovery Tour and from 1st May, longer daytime cruises to Stanley and now, Cheung Chau island to see the famed caves where Cheung Po Tsai is said to have buried his treasure and also Lamma Island for its beautiful nature trail. There will also be a series of Dim Sum Cruises for guests to enjoy signature dishes, prepared by Dim Sum Library.

To celebrate the launch of Aqua Luna II, complimentary rides will be offered to all Hong Kong ID Card holders on May 13th and 14th (from 12 noon – 5.30pm). In addition, from now until May 31st, all the restaurants in Aqua Restaurant Group will be randomly serving dishes and cocktails in Ming Dynasty plates and cups. Anyone lucky enough to be served the Ming Dynasty ceramic will get complimentary tickets for the new Aqua Luna II.

For Aqua Luna reservations call +852 2116 8821 – for price lists and sailing options see: www.aqualuna.com.hk

3 Stunning Hidden-Gems in Southeast Asia You Must Go To For The Weekend

Every so often, I write about places to go and beautiful hotels to chill in. Some of these I wish I could go but for want of time (the daughter’s doing her IB this year, so it’s full out work till November!). So I only get to live vicariously through gorgeous images of gorgeous hotels and resorts. Here are a couple of absolutely stunning hidden gems to spend a weekend in.

As for me, for now, I can only write and sigh wistfully…. Here goes.

Round up the family and check into Villa Belong Dua in the Bali countryside. This rustic, tropical retreat done in traditional Balinese style is family friendly, with a 20m pool in a lush, mature garden, two bedrooms and airy pavilions set around a compound. Take a swim, doze off in the bale, sip cocktails with a good book, and tuck into great homemade meals by the resident chef. With the villa set in the village of Seseh, you can take leisurely strolls to the beach, visit the Tanah Lot temple at sunrise, cycle through padi fields (the villa has bikes), and Seminyak is less than 30 mins’ drive away. A full staff including three butlers, manager, security guards at night, are on hand to see to everything you need. Prices are decent: from US$290 to US$475 per night for the entire villa. Wifi and all the techno mod-cons are in place.
More details at http://www.villabelongdua.com

 

Villa Samadhi, just newly opened in Singapore‘s lush, historical Labrador Park is a stunning colonial military garrison now turned into a beautiful 20-room boutique hotel. Long ago, high level British military personnel lived here. Now, it’s a place to unwind, and explore the surrounding nature reserve park with the kids with its hidden tunnels built over a century ago, and machine gun posts – relics from the colonial era — or walk the beach and look (don’t touch!) at the coral. Have afternoon tea or evening cocktails in the Library, then head to Tamarind Hill, the hotel’s Thai restaurant for more libations and great food. For locals, this makes a great staycation, and for out-of-towners, this is a unique destination hotel that gives you a different sense of Singapore, with the MRT just a five-minute walk away. Bookings for stays until 30 April get 20% off best available rates, daily brekkie and evening cocktails, plus cognac, Asian snacks and chocolate at turndown. Nice.
http://www.villasamadhi.com.sg

 

There’s more historical luxury and nostalgia to soak up at The Majestic Hotel in UNESCO heritage town Malacca with its rich Portuguese, Dutch, Peranakan, Kristang culture. The hotel itself, once dilapidated, has been gloriously refurbished by eponymous YTL Group. (The house itself was once the mansion of a rich merchant, who died just two years after he moved in.) The original Victorian tiles and teakwood finishings have been retained and the rest of the hotel stunningly restored, soaked in nostalgic luxury. Think elegant silks, clawfoot baths and four poster beds. It’s main restaurant is Melba at the Mansion, helmed by chef Melba Nunis who serves up rare heritage Kristang cuisine; there’s also The Bar at the Mansion with whiskies and cocktails served in a colonial plantation setting. This is the place to relax, slow down and soak in the heritage. We like.
http://www.majesticmalacca.com