Great Wine of China: Chinese producers are winning over the world with their vibrant pours

China has produced wine from grapes for centuries, and in recent years the vast country has become one of the world’s largest consumers of wine. The fruits of each winemaking region have their own distinct characteristics, and many local wineries have developed strong ties with overseas viticulturalists.

Master of Wine Fongyee Walker, co-founder of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting and a specialist wine educator, can attest to the fact that many regions in China are crafting great wine.

Walker singles out three notable regions producing wines of character: Shandong for their gentle quality shaped by a maritime climate; Shangri- La in northwest Yunnan for the magnificent scenery and the freshness and vibrancy of its wines; and Xinjiang because of the vivacity of the culture “and the wonderful food that goes so well with the rich wines from that desert sun”.

Elegant Shandong

Winemaking in Shandong centres around Yantai on the northwest coast of the peninsula. “Shandong produces lovely wine,” says Walker. “The granite soils and the sea breezes coming off the bay allow so much of its coastal region to produce elegant wines.”

As a white-wine lover – “though not necessarily typical wines” – she is particularly fond of the gentle Chardonnays emanating from there, while the elegant Cabernet Francs with hints of leafiness also appeal. She notes: “It’s all about elegance, a refreshingness brought by that maritime acidity.”

Yunnan fruit

The mountain vineyards in Shangri-La reach as high as 3,000 metres, creating huge diurnal variation and giving the wines vibrant acidity and a pureness to their fruit. “That diurnal swing, those cold nights with very sunny days high up in the mountains, bring refreshing but ripe flavours,” she says.

Shangri-La reds excite the palate: “They produce really gorgeous Cabernets with a depth of fruit and a really refreshing mouthfeel,” she notes, adding: “Their Pinot Noir is a potential great star.” And speaking of her favourite whites: “Their Chardonnays are different from the Shandong style, and they offer a vibrancy of pure orchard fruit.”

Xinjiang riches

As for Xinjiang, Walker believes the desert landscape and crystal-clear sunshine have a profound effect on the quality of the wine produced, noting there is a warmth and beautiful roundness and richness in the wines there. “It’s hot, but this means that the red wines are full of fruit, and they have this wonderful, healthy fruitiness to them with beautiful tannins,” she says.

When China-based Walker travels to Xinjiang, she looks forward to pouring these rich reds, particularly the Syrah-Merlot blend. “It is so full of fruit and wonderful with the roast lamb of the area.” She is also partial to an Italian Riesling-style wine infused with green tea, which she describes as “a unique and favourite wine of mine. It has an aroma of jasmine flowers exploding.”

Perfect pairing

When planning a visit to Ningxia in north-central China, another key wine-growing area, she thinks of their beautiful Marselan grapes and how well these wines go with roasted Tan Yang lamb. The local Tan species of lamb is, she opines, “one of the most delicious lambs of the world. What a perfect match!”

Grape achievements

Walker was on the distinguished panel of judges including three Masters of Wine and three Master Sommeliers at the inaugural Wynn Signature Chinese Wine Awards held in Macau last month. Significantly, the event gives valuable feedback to those who don’t win trophies. “It provides a roadmap for producers all across China with different styles of wine – how to go forward, how to improve and bring their wine to new levels of quality,” she says.

Venetian Finds: With water everywhere and palaces galore, Venice captivates the imagination like no other city

The only city in the world constructed purely on waterways, Venice has a beguiling beauty. It has over the years provided an endless canvass for writers, painters and philosophers and the backdrop for haunting films. Packed with palazzi and other must-see cultural attractions, this most remarkable of Italian destinations oozes charm, with the lapping canal water leaving an indelible mark on bewitched visitors.

Perched upon more than 120 islands within a sheltered lagoon, the maritime melting pot was the centre of a formidable Venetian trading monopoly in the Middle Ages and Renaissance era; legendary 13th-century merchant-explorer Marco Polo called it home. Inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1987, the city has seen its population dwindle by more than half since the end of the Second World War to less than 50,000 today. Talk of its demise is nothing new, and Unesco has twice considered declaring this wonder of the world endangered as it combats a multitude of existential threats, from tourist overcrowding to subsidence.

Grand tour

The six districts of Venice lie either side of the majestic watercourse known as the Grand Canal, the main artery of the city. There are an estimated 3,000 alleys to explore and 400 bridges to cross. Ponte de Chiodo is the one remaining bridge with no parapet (side wall or rail).

A voyage down the Grand Canal – Canalazzo to the locals – reveals more than 200 ornate palaces and grand houses lining the banks. The vaporetto (water bus) starts at Piazzale Roma and snakes through the city on waters full of colourful flotillas of gondolas, ferries, taxi launches, high- speed police boats and barges stacked high with fresh produce. Ferry line No. 1 takes in all stops and offers the best views. If possible, grab outside seats at the front or rear of the boat for the full journey to San Marco, Venice’s foremost district, then return in order to drink in the full scenic glory of the palazzi from the opposite direction. A night- time boat trip is perhaps even more magical.

Building bridges

The ride passes under some splendid bridges. Dating from 1588, the Ponte di Rialto is perhaps the most famous – an iconic eight-metre-high structure with a span of 28 metres positioned at the narrowest point of the Grand Canal. The bridge is the central focus of the city’s commercial hub, the Rialto. Here the wet market, full of luscious fruit, vegetables and fish, is a treat for the senses and has enlivened the quayside since medieval times.

San Giacomo di Rialto, the oldest church in Venice, is located nearby. To cross the Grand Canal here board a traghetto, a large gondola in which passengers traditionally remain standing. No visit to Venice would be complete, of course, without floating along some part of the canal network in a black-painted, flat-bottomed, banana-shaped boat guided by an expert gondolier – musical serenade optional.

Another notable bridge on the Grand Canal is the Ponte dell’ Accademia. This wooden structure erected temporarily in 1932 has become a much- loved permanent fixture and affords superb views of waterborne life.

Masters of art

Riva del Vin, one of the few banks of the canal with pavement access, hosts a clutch of open- air restaurants and hotels. The colossal Baroque palace of Ca’ Pesaro houses the city’s modern art collection and is beautifully floodlit at night. Works by 19th- and 20th-century masters such as Gustav Klimt and Marc Chagall and a strong Italian assemblage are highlights.

Also located on the Grand Canal is Italy’s leading museum for 20th-century European and American art, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The American mining heiress, who began amassing magnificent paintings while living in Paris in the 1920s, relocated to the 18th-century Venetian palace after the war.

Around the square

Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) is adorned with monuments that bear testimony to Venice’s rich history. Here you will find the great Basilica di San Marco cathedral church, considered the perfect architectural fusion of East and West. Booking a guided visit beforehand is recommended to avoid the queues. The building has been replaced twice, with much of today’s church hailing from 1071, and it became the city’s cathedral in 1807.

Striking exterior details include the original mosaic over the leftmost door – depicting the transfer of St Mark’s body from Alexandria to Venice – and Romanesque carvings above the central door. The interior is embellished with resplendent historical works of art. The Basilica Museum houses the famed quarter of gilt-bronze horses looted from Constantinople by Venetian forces during the Crusades.

Adjoining the basilica is the Doge’s Palace, a superb combination of Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Construction began in 1340 and it served as the powerhouse of the city’s rulers until 1797, when Napoleon’s occupation of Italy ended the Republic of Venice. The building became a museum in 1923 and contains terrific works from Venetian painters such as Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini.

Blessed with many architectural styles, Campo Santa Margherita (St Margaret’s Square) is another lovely square. Its cafes provide charming rest stops to sit and soak up the bustling life of thriving market stalls.

Food with a view

Turning to dining delights, Venetian restaurants range in style from cool 18th-century refinement to rustic gentility. Venice embraces a wide range of foreign communities and this influence has given rise to Italy’s most eclectic and subtle cooking, according to many culinary experts. The elegant terrace of Grand Canal Restaurant at Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal in San Marco offers picture-postcard views over the lagoon. Venetian, Italian and international dishes are served including fish soup, vegetable risotto and scampi.

Next door is the legendary watering hole of Ernest Hemingway and many other writers, painters, artists and aristocrats. The success of Harry’s Bar has been attributed to personalised service and lack of imposition. The Bellini aperitivo is said to be invented here and the food is good, too, with an emphasis on classic Italian dishes.

Originally a 1720s coffee house, Antico Martini is another Venetian institution. Located in San Fantin Square beside La Fenice Opera House, it is a lovely place to sit and watch the sun go down. The warm historical ambience, excellent Italian menu and wonderful background music draw in the crowds.

Festia pizzazz

Venice is host to a multitude of fantastic festivals. The most famous, the Carnival, is a spectacular parade of masked, caped and gowned revellers staged during the 10 days prior to Lent. In 2024, the city’s internationally acclaimed film festival will take place from 28 August to 7 September, while music lovers can enjoy evening concerts at various venues – in palaces, churches and the open-air – throughout the year. The word regatta originated in Venice, and an amazing historical water pageant precedes a competitive race around the lagoon on 1 September.

American Dream: Exposed concrete and reclaimed wood bring a rustic modern warmth to a cool Californian home

San Francisco is known for its eclectic mix of residential architecture, from Victorian-era homes to modern high- rises. Among the city’s diverse array of living spaces, one home stands out, in terms of both distance and mood. Situated away from the urban noise, overlooking redwood trees with peaks beyond, its design pays homage to the beauty of the surrounding landscape while embracing a laid-back, cosy atmosphere.

Dubbed ‘Golden Villa’ by its interior designer, Yana Prydalna, the house perfectly encapsulates her signature rustic style. The colour palette is an artistic conception of autumn’s golden breath. Ukrainian-born, Sacramento-based Prydalna is inspired by nature and the depth and texture of natural materials, devising concepts that encompass wabi-sabi, modernism and minimalism.

Full of exposed concrete walls, wooden beams, and an abundance of natural light beaming through large windows, Golden Villa is actually a converted warehouse. The young couple who own it moved here to escape fast- paced city life, desiring a home that felt warm and inviting while reflecting their love for the great outdoors.

A large, airy living area greets visitors entering the home and serves as its focal point. A large white modular sofa reclines around a reclaimed wood coffee table, forming a comfy space that can be arranged in different sitting configurations depending on the occasion. At its centre, the irregular, round- edged low table is a talking point – it has a raw texture and is propped up by spheres.

The double-height living space is a wonderful blend of light colour and warm wood. The strong industrial vibe of the concrete walls is softened by the beams high overhead that instils charm and character. It is these triangulated timber trusses, in particular, which transform the whole space.

Everything about the décor here is impressively distinctive yet very simple. Huge pots placed on a ledge just below the rafters serve as unconventional artworks. Down low, another ledge holds ceramic objects of various sizes and is raised from the floor by an artistic arrangement of logs.

Straight, clean lines are softened by bohemian touches of wicker and jute in a wonderful combination of cool and warm materials. Pretty plates and woven table mats are displayed on the walls. Polished concrete, decorative plaster, natural textiles, wood and wicker harmonise with the earthy tones of the outside environment, creating an ambience that is both natural and contemporary.

An open-concept kitchen and dining area is located just off the living room, making it easy for the couple to entertain guests while preparing meals. The kitchen features custom- made shelves crafted from reclaimed wood, a farmhouse sink and a butcher-block island that also serves as a dining table with circular wooden- topped bar stools on one side. Huge wicker pendant lights add to the warm, natural vibe. A wide window along the back wall affords views of the forest.

Moving onto the bedroom, the designer wanted to create a serene, relaxing space that would help the owners unwind after a long day at work. Built- in wooden closets with ribbed-glass doors flank a desk, where a computer brings the modern world into a rural setting.

The bedroom walls are painted in an earth tone, picking out one of the colours of the throw pillows on the bed. Adorned with a plush duvet, the bed rests on a large, round jute rug. This rustic charm spreads to an oversized wicker lamp hanging down at one side of the bed and an artisanal blanket laid across a wicker chair. A sleek wooden ceiling fan and angle floor lamp have a more modern feel. This is a bright room during the day – a wall of windows doubles as a door out to the stone patio, where a pool allows for a dip amid a classic American pioneer scene of woodland and mountains.

The couple’s bathroom is the most unique space in the home, with concrete slabs serving as minimalist fixtures. Reflecting the view from the window opposite, two door-sized, wooden- framed mirrors behind a twin vanity give the illusion of opening the room to the outside world. In the absence of bathroom cabinets, a long wooden shelf gives a place for toiletries. The bathtub is hewn from concrete and pampas grass placed in one corner brings feathery greenery inside.

Golden Villa is not just carefully styled and curated as an isolated living space; it is the epitome of aesthetics resonating with the nature around it. The juxtaposition of natural and manmade materials, of wood and concrete, of warm and cool, creates a delightful blend of vernacular and modern design that transcends time.

Photos: Yana Prydalna

Yoo’s Cues: Teo Yoo shot to fame with his nuanced performance in Past Lives, but the extrovert within him awaits

In the realm of entertainment, success stories are often shaped by talent, perseverance and a touch of fate. Teo Yoo’s rise has captivated audiences worldwide, a Korean actor raised in Germany who defied the odds to break into the international film industry. From humble beginnings to global sensation, his journey is an inspiring tale of passion, determination and unwavering belief in one’s dreams.

Yoo’s touching performance as a man doubting his destiny in the critically acclaimed film, Past Lives, cast him into an unexpected spotlight. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January last year, won Best Feature at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and was a Best Picture nominee at this year’s Oscars.

“It’s still a bit surreal as Love to Hate You was my first leading role in a Korean TV show and Past Lives was the first time I was the lead of an American feature film,” says the 42-year-old actor of 2023. “Being able to showcase the diversity of my work to the public has been exciting.”

Teo’s breakthrough came with a role that would define his career and eventually solidify his place among the finest actors of this generation. First casted in an independent film, his portrayal of a complex character captivated audiences and critics alike. The film’s success propelled Teo into the international spotlight, earning him accolades and paving the way for a myriad of opportunities.

Chosen path

This year, he promises audiences will see a different side of him. “I don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface of my potential. It is always hard to answer this question [of what challenge is coming next] because as an actor, we are not choosing what we want to do. We are getting chosen. So it is hard to tell what comes next. But I can tell you that I want to show a more colourful and extroverted variety of my character in the future.”

Born Kim Chi-hun in Cologne, Germany, in 1981, to South Korean immigrants, Teo Yoo was supposed to train as a physical therapist, but pursuing acting studies at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London changed his mind.

His career began in the mid-2000s with a few small roles in Korean films. Having relocated to Seoul, he clocked up appearances in a couple of international productions – Seoul Searching (2015) and the Russian rock movie Leto (2018), both of which took him to the Cannes Film Festival.

Breaking free

As the son of a coal miner who moved to Germany as part of a labour scheme, Yoo doesn’t waste time dwelling on regret and has never been afraid to take chances. “Personally, I believe that an individual can adapt anywhere and still find a reason and a purpose to feel that they belong in said circumstance,” he says. “I also believe that it even heightens a sense of belonging due to the purposeful nature of becoming invested in the new environment.”

Heart felt

Past Lives, Yoo’s most significant career highlight to date, is an endless love story, even if it lacks the genre’s typical elements. Written and directed by Celine Song, it follows two childhood friends as they grow older, become adults and go in separate directions. It crosses boundaries, time, relationship, and even lifetimes, and arouses emotions so deeply that yearning looks are the greatest way for the two protagonists, Hae Sun (Yoo) and Nora (Russian Doll and The Morning Show star Greta Lee), to express themselves rather than words.

The story’s origins lie in the Korean idea of inyeon, which holds that two individuals are meant to cross paths because of their ties from past lifetimes. Even though the couple’s relationship is intense and powerful, first-time director Song manages to make it seem real and relatable. And Yoo and Lee persuade us that it’s true.

“The cultural belief system of inyeon helped to construct the emotional elements of the character in this particular movie,” he says, adding: “I don’t really reminisce too much about my life. But sometimes I do like to think about it as a form of an imaginative exercise, as the construct of ‘what if’ is such a Western idea. In contrast, the core concept of inyeon allows me to just be.”

A happy ending?

Warning: A bit of a spoiler. Past Lives is a romance, even if the majority of the people who have watched it don’t feel that way by the end. However, without giving too much away, Yoo insists: “Looking at it from my character’s perspective, it’s not an ending. It’s just maybe a beginning. So it’s definitely a romance.”

His Oscars 2024 red carpet moment was a touching one tinged with sadness. Yoo wore a turtle pin, and when asked by the press he revealed the layers of meaning behind his accessory choice – it symbolised his late tortoise, Momo.

“Okay, so my pet tortoise passed away last year and I had him for 10 years. I’m gonna grieve for a while,” he announced, while smiling but close to tearing up. Yoo’s vulnerability, in real life or reel life, is what makes him very likeable.

Yoo says he was “in tears for about three days” after his pet’s death. “I was so dramatic. You know, it’s like that moment you have with your pet where you’re like, ‘Oh my god. Life is over.’ And then you remove yourself at the same time as an actor and you look at the situation and you think, ‘Oh my god, this is so dramatic and comical.’”

Driven by talent, dedication and relentless pursuit of artistic excellence, Yoo has proven that with hard work and determination dreams can indeed become reality. His success story continues to unfold, leaving audiences eagerly anticipating his next endeavour and celebrating the indomitable spirit of a true artist.

What’s on? Things to do this April in Hong Kong

Enjoy a fantastic range of events to have fun and soak up some culture, from the Hong Kong Sevens to the film festival, masterpieces on display and so much more.

Illuminate! Run Beyond

Following the successful hosting of this immersive installation in global cities such as Washington DC, Toronto, London and Amsterdam, Italian artist Angelo Bonello brings his much-acclaimed light show to the majestic backdrop of Victoria Harbour. Visitors to his shows often tell of a surreal experience in which visions of silhouetted figures appear to leap almost magically from the installation creating a dreamlike, mystical ambience. Expect to be enchanted as Illuminate! Run Beyond heralds the launch of the Wan Chai Harbourfront Event Space. Bonello’s Art Light display will then continue until 28 April.

When: Until 4 April

Where: Wan Chai Harbourfront Event Space

How much: Free

For more information: wches.com.hk

Songkran

Running in conjunction with celebrations to mark the Thai New Year, the Songkran Festival is a riotous, fun- filled occasion in which a good time is always had by all. Certain streets of Hong Kong become a veritable battlefield as participants endeavour to soak each other with water and thereby cleanse their spirits of all misfortune amassed over the previous year. The festival also marks a way for Thais in the city to promote community integration. Events at Songkran HK 2024 include dance performances, a market, food stalls and the Nang Songkran Parade.

When: 4-8 April

Where: D2 Place and Cheung Yee Street

How much: Free

For more information: songkran.hk

Hong Kong Sevens

This fantastic festival of fun and sporting excellence makes its swansong at Hong Kong Stadium before moving to Kai Tak Sports Park in 2025. For three decades, the iconic venue has provided magical moments and thrilling rugby for fans who flock to Hong Kong for the party atmosphere. A streamlined competition sees 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams competing for the coveted trophy, while China, Japan and Hong Kong (men) and China, Thailand and Hong Kong (women) battle in the Melrose Claymores competition.

When: 5-7 April

Where: Hong Kong Stadium

How much: Three-day pass HK$1,950

For more information: hksevens.com

Zlatomir Fung

A precociously gifted musical talent, at age 24 cellist Zlatomir Fung has performed with some of the world’s leading orchestras and is a hot property in the classical music industry. In 2019, he was the youngest-ever cello gold-medal winner at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. The US-raised Chinese-Bulgarian prodigy makes his Hong Kong debut, ably accompanied by local star Rachel Cheung on piano.

When: 17 April

Where: City Hall Concert Hall

How much: From HK$180

For more information: cityhall.gov.hk

Beyond the Singularity

The final exhibition of the Arts Development Council’s TECH 2.0 series, which has shone an interactive light on the connection between arts, technology and the community, focuses on the topic du jour – artificial intelligence. It asks participants to venture into the world of AI and explore the deeper meaning of its revolutionary impact on technology and the creative arts in general. This is the first major exhibition in Hong Kong where artists have used AI tools to create new works.

When: Until 7 April

Where: Showcase, Wong Chuk Hang

How much: Free

For more information: arts-tech.hk

Westk Funfest

Let your imagination run wild at this family-oriented arts extravaganza that allows visitors to explore and participate in a multitude of interactive experiences indoors and out. Try Ephemeral, the immersive public art installation created by award-winning Sydney-based design studio Atelier Sisu, which lands in Hong Kong for the first time and includes a ‘Colossal’ new element. Alternatively, 10-Minute Dance Parties is an unforgettable celebration of dance.

When: Until 7 April

Where: West Kowloon Cultural District venues

How much: Free or various prices

For more information: westkowloon.hk

Hong Kong International Film Festival

Now in its 48th edition, the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) has garnered an outstanding reputation for the breadth and quality of the movies it screens. A major cultural event in its own right, it has become the template for other Asian film festivals keen to replicate this success to their film- loving public. This year the Hong Kong programme spotlights the works of directors Fruit Chan, Martin McDonagh and Hamaguchi Ryusuke.

When: Until 8 April

Where: Various venues

How much: From HK$55

For more information: hkiff.org.hk

Masterpieces from the National

Take advantage while you can of this fantastic museum collaboration in which amazing works of art usually residing in London’s National Gallery have been loaned out to the Hong Kong Palace Museum. This is the first time paintings from the National Gallery have been made accessible for the public to view in Hong Kong. In total, 52 masterpieces by some of the art-world greats can be contemplated.

When: Until 11 April

Where: Hong Kong Palace Museum

How much: HK$150

For more information: hkpm.org.hk

Madame Song

Immerse yourself in the magnificent world of Song Huai-Kuei by spending some time at this major exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Chinese cultural pioneer. The multitalented Madame Song touched and shaped Chinese art, film, music and fashion, and her influence spanned decades, from the 1950s to the early 2000s when China itself changed dramatically. The curators have gathered more than 320 objects for visitors to admire.

When: Until 14 April

Where: West Gallery, M+ Museum

How much: HK$140

For more information: mplus.org.hk

Arrival Notice: In a tactical change, Hong Kong is rolling out new local attractions. Will more tourists roll up?

Hong Kong’s ability to attract tourists and stage major events featuring international stars has dominated the headlines over recent months. Just when visitor numbers began to rebound following the devastating Covid years, the Lionel Messi saga put Hong Kong in an unwelcome global spotlight and undoubtedly left many unanswered questions. Negativity about visitors reducing their spending while on our shores has also threatened to derail efforts to lure more.

It wasn’t always difficult, of course. Hong Kong has been a beacon for tourists through the ages. The stunning harbour set against the backdrop of a forest of skyscrapers and majestic hills has long captivated the imagination, and there are positive signs pointing to a return to the days of abundant incomers.

Cruise high

In an indication of rising arrival rates, cruise ship visits are now buoyant. Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) shares that from November 2023 to April 2024, the number of international ship calls exceeded pre-pandemic levels. No doubt many of those luxury-cruise travellers would have been mesmerised by the engrossing view of the fragrant harbour as their ship slowly moored at Ocean Terminal or the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

Tourism is big business. Government economists have calculated that each batch of 1.5 million tourists contributes HK$3 billion to Hong Kong’s gross domestic product.

In the recent Budget, HK$1.09 billion was allocated to help boost tourism, which will enable the HKTB to increase efforts in four strategic directions: developing diversified tourism experiences; staging and supporting large-scale international events; developing diverse visitor source markets and stepping up promotions; and enhancing service quality and providing continuous support for the travel trade. A new dedicated team at the HKTB, the Mega Event Development and Advancement division, has been tasked with helping global event organisers navigate their way into the city more easily.

Shift in emphasis

HKTB spokesperson opines that Hong Kong’s tourism offerings do not necessarily need to be improved, but there should be a shift to cater to changing consumer preferences.

Government estimates suggest tourism numbers in Hong Kong will recover to 50 million visitors this year – a figure encouragingly revised from an earlier HKTB forecast of about 46 million. While this is up from 2023, it still represents a significant shortfall from pre-pandemic levels; about 65 million tourists flocked to Hong Kong in 2018, with nearly four in five arriving from mainland China.

Today’s tourists from the north, though, do not seem to splurge on luxury items as before. “Changes in consumer behaviour and travel demands have undergone a paradigm shift from consumption to higher demand of immersive and in-depth experiences,” says a HKTB spokesperson. “[So] our tourism offerings are also gradually shifting the focus from tactical offers such as discount and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences to arts and culture, wellness and green tourism, together with digital experiences and quality, customisable services.

Reconnecting tourists

HKTB research suggests recent HKTB campaigns like ‘Hello Hong Kong’ and ‘Hong Kong Night Treats’ have been hugely successful in re-engaging with world travellers. The goal for the upcoming year is to convert tourists interested in visiting Hong Kong into actual arrivals, and secondly, to get them spending in town.

Just the first step in the diversified tourism experience will be a revamped version of the nightly light-and-sound show ‘A Symphony of Lights’. Monthly pyrotechnic and drone shows, another of HKTB’s new initiatives, have been in the firing line though, as an environmentally aware segment of public opinion suggests these should be switched to drone-only.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan has indicated the pyrotechnic shows would encompass different monthly themes in line with mega events. He also suggested publicity measures to promote Hong Kong would include producing reality TV shows and rewarding outstanding frontline staff in the hospitality sector.

Local flavour

The HKTB recently leveraged its year-round promotional platform, ‘Arts in Hong Kong’, to showcase international art and cultural events, including Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Central and ComplexCon Hong Kong, in a bid to create a wider buzz. Through its research after the pandemic, the tourism body has gleaned that visitors are particularly drawn by local culture. A cha chaan teng-style cafe, for example, was set up at Art Basel to add local flavour and enrich visitor experiences.

“That’s why we will continue to promote the local neighbourhoods to offer authentic experiences and launch a second phase of the Temple Street promotion,” says a HKTB spokesperson. “Our East-meets-West festival calendar is also unique in Asia, and we will devote tangible resources to amplify the ambience of these festivities through events, promotions and city-wide décors to appeal to visitors.

Events capital

Much debate of late has centred on Hong Kong’s capability to promote and stage world- class events and bring big stars to the city. That Singapore held an exclusive deal to hold the Taylor Swift concert with plenty of carrot involved in the form of government monetary assistance caused some consternation here. Whether taxpayer’s money would be best served by such inducements is the source of heated argument in Hong Kong. There has been much talk of the ‘Swiftonomics’ effect of her performances in Singapore.

The government did inject HK$16 million into last month’s LIV Golf tournament, which duly attracted global attention and some of the best golfing professionals. The fact that this widely- praised event proved such a success has gone some way to alleviating disappointment over the Messi no-show.

In terms of courting international mega acts, the 50,000-capacity stadium at Kai Tak Sports Park is expected to open next year. Hoteliers hope this facility will help entice stars to perform in the city and fans to stay overnight, especially if multi-night performances can be scheduled. The authorities also intend to release details of mega events in a timelier manner so commercial entities can best capitalise on business opportunities.

Quality count

What the city can be proud of is the breadth and quality of the events it holds. Underscoring Hong Kong’s intention to remain Asia’s event capital, the HKTB spokesperson reeled off a number of major events organised or partnered by the HKTB that will “contribute to soliciting high-yield and high-value visitors”. These include the Hong Kong Sevens, Hong Kong Tennis Open, Art Basel, Clockenflap, Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, Hong Kong Cyclothon and Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival.

The five Art March installations running until 2 June are expected to attract more than two million visitors. Despite an estimated combined staging cost of about HK$50 million, they are free to the public, and the government has stressed the idea is to bring fun and happiness to the city.

One particularly innovative offering, teamlab: Continuous, features more than 200 luminous eggs sitting in Tamar Park and dotting Victoria Harbour. The hues and acoustic outputs of this mesmerising display of ovoids will transform upon interaction with visitors.

Art March spanned a diverse range of activities from exhibitions of art and culture to television and film festivals. These were part of 80 events scheduled for the first half of 2024, as Hong Kong slowly but surely woos back the gone but not forgotten tourists.

Ace of Space: Led by owner Rasheed Shroff, social consciousness and sustainability flourish at Banyan Workspace

Rasheed Shroff’s co-working space is located in a three-decade-old industrial building in Quarry Bay. But inside, it’s a blueprint of what a modern office should look like, with a feel of zen and a killer harbour view. As we ring the bell, Shroff joyfully hops into the office’s cavernous foyer. There’s something undeniably adolescent about his demeanour – like that of a teenager left alone in a grown-up’s house. Throwing open the door, he says hello, and leads us past a marble reception counter and a hard-to-miss framed letter B – the company logo, Banyan Workspace.

“I guess this is what a positive working environment does? Less stress means looking young?” he laughs. “At the peak of the pandemic years, there was a time when I was the only person in this space. That was hard and mentally exhausting. Thank god that’s over!”

As a visionary entrepreneur with a deep understanding of the evolving landscape of work and business, Shroff recognises the limitations of traditional office spaces. Thus, he set out to create a new paradigm that fosters collaboration, creativity and productivity. With a clear vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, he and his wife, Amy, founded Banyan Workspace in 2019 to offer a fresh, socially conscious perspective on shared workspaces.

Knit V-neck gilet in two-toned dove grey geometric jacquard by Emporio Armani, Melange wool blazer and wool pants by SANDRO and watch by Zodiac Watches

Amy Shroff stays close during our photoshoot in the space’s sumptuous library and lounge – ideal for companies to hire for their own sessions – and ably fulfils her role as Head of Creative by suggesting how her husband should pose and smile. “The whole idea of Banyan Workspace is to come to work with a smile,” he says with gusto. “It’s always a first-name basis here with an enthusiastic good morning and/or hello. We strive to provide a comfortable working environment that feels like it’s a home.”

Apple and the tree

Rasheed Shroff’s family has long been recognised in the city. His grandfather fled from Shanghai with his family during the Second World War, beginning a profound bond with Hong Kong spanning four generations. His path of success left an indelible mark on the commercial landscape and ultimately shaped the destiny of the family. For Rasheed personally, this meant a law degree at the University of Sussex in the UK, two decades in the brand and marketing corporate world, then co-founding his own brand- distribution company, Dragonfly Asia-Pacific, the year before Banyan Workspace was born.

Knitwear top by ZEGNA and Alpha wool-twill suit jacket and trousers by SANDRO

“We call it Banyan Workspace for a couple of reasons,” he says. “Banyan trees were historical places where merchants traded goods while traversing the old Silk Road. Both my grandfather and father ran a trading company which started with sourcing silks in China and shipping them to India, so we thought that was very analogous to us.”

Sustainable force

As a true-blooded Hong Konger with deep roots in and love of his birthplace, Shroff not only showcases the city’s spirit through the design of the co-working space but also embraces a noble cause – giving back to the community. They have officially partnered with five local non-profit organisations to date.

Companies have been drawn to the allure of the space for their offsite meetings and events, captivated by a sustainable luxury office that seems to defy convention. This served as the catalyst for the Green Office Project in 2022, a Banyan Workspace undertaking that encourages companies to embrace sustainability.

“Its purpose evolved beyond a mere educational initiative,” he explains. “This project is for companies to understand the consequences of the decisions they make every day, and to show decision-makers that viewing each decision through a sustainability lens is good for their company, their customers, their business and our planet. We would love to take our impact beyond the four walls of our workspace and inspire and support the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Words to work by

Shroff also possesses a rare sense of discipline and drive for perfection, qualities that were born perhaps of his awareness that he has a name to live up to. In the corner of the office pantry, three placards hang on a rattan board: ‘Inspire Impact, Engage Minds, Transform Action.’

He adds: “It’s absolutely critical to be in an environment that you are comfortable in and that is conducive to being as productive as you can be. This is not about the set-up, though obviously it’s important that the technology works, whether that be the wifi, the printer or the lights.”

50 and beyond

He is entering his sixth decade and a new phase of life, but behind a youthful visage that only shows wear when a smile draws minuscule wrinkles around his brow, his humility and his honesty are what shine the most.

“Almost every interaction is an opportunity to learn and develop. The key is staying humble, being open to learning, growing, developing and being self-aware,” he says. “Setting up two distinct businesses across three countries is probably my most significant achievement career-wise. But honestly, I don’t feel we have accomplished what we set out to do yet. I am cautiously optimistic about what 2024 will bring.”

Settled into an equilibrium, Shroff appears to have a genuine enjoyment of his place in the ecosystem. His most overwhelming and rewarding job seems to be as a family man – a husband and a father of two. “Parenthood is a gift, but it is also something that nothing can prepare you for,” he shares. “It makes you want to be better and show your kids the very best that you can be, while striving to give them every opportunity to become the best version of themselves.”

Valuable support

He adds with a knowing wink: “But the young need to make their own mistakes and learn from them – finding that balance is not always very easy. My parents always encouraged us to work hard and play hard. I worked hard yes, but I played harder! “My family as well as my team are an incredible support system and they allow me to do everything that I love to do. Nothing that I do today would be possible without them,” he confesses.

It was the desire to give every child the support system they deserve that saw Shroff accept an invitation to sit on the global board of OneSky, an NGO providing early childhood care and safety environments for vulnerable children.

Space, the future frontier

There is an earnest, sometimes quivering sense of excitement in his voice when he discusses what lies ahead. His mindset retains an ethos that anything is possible. Sustainability has been a core value of the co-working movement since its inception, and while this commitment is not always easy, it is a crucial step towards creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

“I firmly believe that resiliency is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs to have,” he stresses. “The last few years have certainly taught me that being resilient, staying in the game and putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to progress.”

Ultimately, the right blend of autonomy, resources and community lies at the heart of an empowered and happy team — one that wants to come to work, wherever that happens to be.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Banyan Workspace Brands: Emporio Armani, ZEGNA and SANDRO Cover: Chore jacket by ZEGNA, Neil cotton-twill suit pants by IRO and shoes by ZEGNA

Glamour Quotient: Daywear practicality meets couture glamour in Elie Saab’s Pre-Fall 2024

The collection exhibits a well-considered balance that is reminiscent of Elie Saab’s own American style, deftly navigating between high fashion and fundamentals. Envisioning the essence of the 1970s, the assortment offers an abundance of choices for casual attire, showcasing asymmetrical shirts, fitted jumpsuits, peplum jackets, midi dresses, and a noteworthy item called the “Elie Saab pajama” — a set of pleated shirt and pants. Saab’s commitment to catering to the varied demands of its affluent customer base is seen in its focus on maintaining basic yet attractive forms.

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Awe Opera: Buccellati Opera – Icona Collections

The Buccellati Opera Icona Collections encompass a wide range of jewellery pieces including rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and brooches. These designs are inspired by various elements found in nature, such as flowers, leaves and animals, which are intricately translated into exquisite jewellery forms.

While we adore the four-point Opera Tulle motif, The Buccellati Opera collection is always incorporating fresh and fascinating twists – crafted in 18K gold and adorned with luminous diamond details to create breathtaking masterpieces that are admired around the world.

A testament to the brand’s commitment to timeless beauty, exceptional craftsmanship and artistic expression, each piece is a wearable work of art, meticulously created to be cherished for generations.

Festive Crackers: Festival fervour lights up streets and hearts each month somewhere in the world

Following last month’s joyous celebration of Chinese New Year, we pay homage to the start of a new cycle. There’s an abundance of festivals held around the world throughout the year that have deep cultural significance and bring people and communities closer. Here is a guide to the best and the brightest for globetrotters seeking to soak up local colour.

Colour of Water

March sees the Holi festival in India, a beloved tradition in the country’s north, where Hindus celebrate the arrival of Spring according to the lunar calendar by joyously throwing coloured water and powder dyes on anyone within range. No one or orifice is safe from the technicolour assault, which takes place on 25 March this year. Mathura, one of India’s holiest cities, attracts floods of pilgrims during this festival. Bonfires are held the night before to celebrate the demise of the demoness Holika.

Saint Patrick’s Day falls annually on 17 March – a day in honour of the foremost patron saint of Ireland. The best place to celebrate the biggest day in the country’s cultural calendar is in the capital, Dublin, which becomes awash with the colour green. It’s a festival of fun – the famous Irish craic – and copious quantities of Guinness.

The Songkran Water Festival in Thailand has gained a reputation as the largest water fight in the world. It is part of the wider Songkran celebration of the Thai New Year (13-15 April), which is rich in symbolism for the Buddhist and Hindu calendars.

Music & Movie Mania

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, held this year from 25 April to 5 May, brings 10 days of marvellous music from a multitude of genres – jazz, funk, gospel, blues, folk, bluegrass and others. The celebration marks the city’s roots as the birthplace of jazz. The latest celluloid splendours are aired every May at Festival de Cannes, known internationally as the Cannes Film Festival. Dating from the 1940s, the famous red- carpet event sees the best actors and filmmakers from around the world congregate on the French Riviera in an orgy of cinematic heaven. This year’s dates, 14-25 May, are a must for anyone fascinated by the global influence of movies.

June heralds two famous music festivals, Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Glastonbury in the UK. The former is marketed as the largest music festival in the US and is noted for its diverse range of musical styles; this year (weekends from 20 June to 6 July) features more than 1,000 performances by 800-plus acts spanning some of the industry’s hottest stars. The UK event (26-30 June) has moved to the mainstream and attracts mega stars as well as mega crowds to the muddy Somerset fields. Across the English Channel – or le Manche depending on your perspective – the huge biennial Paris Air Show takes place this month, too, with the next take-off on 16-22 June 2025.

Races in the Sun

The Basque Country goes bull crazy at the height of summer. In Pamplona, Spain, the world-famous Running of the Bulls (Festival de San Fermin) sees six bulls and steers released every morning from 7-14 July onto narrow, winding cobble-stoned streets thronged with brave (or mad) festival- goers – many donned in a traditional white shirt and red neckerchief – who attempt to dodge the stampede or run the entire five-minute course alongside them. The whole town is in a party mood for the week in honour of Saint Fermin, the co- patron saint of Navarre.

Over in Italy, the magnificent Palio di Siena horse race is staged twice in the summer, on 2 July and again on 16 August. The event has medieval origins and is preceded by a majestic pageant that attracts visitors from across the world.

Back in Spain, the world’s biggest tomato fight takes place in the Valencian town of Buñol, La Tomatina on the last Wednesday of August (28th this year). First held in 1945, following a quarrel that broke out near a handy market stall, it has grown into an annual entertainment. The medieval city centre fills with bands and parades, and participants are doused in water before the fun begins.

Autumn High Lights

The famous Oktoberfest is held in Munich every autumn. This more than 200-year-old tradition began as a celebration of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Therese of Saxe- Hildburghausen in 1810. With people dressed in traditional lederhosen and drindl swaying to the music of the oompa bands, the city becomes one huge party with many raucous beer tents as well as a huge fair. This year’s epic beer-swilling lasts from 21 September to 6 October.

Diwali, or the ‘Festival of Lights’, falls on the first day of November in 2024, with festivities held on two days each side of the main holiday. Though celebrated by Hindus and other Indian religions across Asia, India knows how to put on a festival and the subcontinent is a good place to be during this nod to the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Stay on for the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, a must-see cultural event held in Rajasthan, which begins this year on 9 November.

Dancing the Year Away

In Konya, Turkey, the Mevlana Festival occurs in mid-December, with the famed Sufi whirling dervishes spinning their way to a closer connection with Allah. With roots from the 13th century, this quite dizzying performance dance is accompanied by drums, flutes and camera shutters.

New Year celebrations at the end of December and early January herald rejoicing the world over, none more so than Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland. The festival lasts about four days spanning New Year’s Eve and the beautiful Georgian city becomes a massive outdoor street party with concerts and fireworks.

Heading as far north as you can get in the UK, Shetland is home to Up Helly Aa, a series of fire
festivals that bid adieu to Yuletide; the largest, in the capital of Lerwick, blazes on the last Tuesday of January. Each festival ends with the burning of an imitation Viking galley that has been dragged through torch-lit streets in a magical ceremonial procession, followed by a night of partying.

Letting Rip Before Lent

The end of February sees the huge Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (28 February – 5 March), a signal for non-stop revelry with parties happening in every corner of town. Streets heave with partygoers dancing to the samba beat and drums pounding amid an array of amazing costumes of feathers, sequins and glitter and towering parade floats. Held every year before Lent, parties go on through the night in this celebration that has its roots in Catholicism and also salutes Brazilian culture. Samba schools train for many months in preparation for the four-day parade which winds its way through to the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí arena.

Mardi Gras is another famous Christian tradition, again celebrated before the Lenten sacrifices. The words mean ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French – a day of feasting before the fasting begins. Many countries celebrate Mardi Gras, rejoicing in a proliferation of exuberant costumes to celebrate the beauty of life. The Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa has gained a reputation for holding raunchy parties that mix Latin style and Brazilian sex appeal. The traditions behind the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras party, particularly known for its elaborate costumes, date back to the time of the French colonialists.

The Carnival of Venice with its distinctive masks was reinstated in 1979 after centuries of being banned. Celebrating the history and culture of Venice, it takes place over 10 days, ending on Shrove Tuesday (4 March in 2025).