Hong Kong, the Hub
Since the very beginning of the year, as the pandemic finally reaches a benign new chapter and threatens no longer the right of mobility, the waterfront of Hong Kong and the riverside of Bangkok have lured me back for business and amical sojourns. The whispers at my usual trotter tete-a-tete often breathe names of the grandiose and the grande-dames whenever I return from my dash.
Hong Kong always inspires the opinionated zeal: staying in Central or TST has always been THE most important question. The fashionable set prefers the Rosewood Hong Kong or the Upper House for a glance of glam and skips the Central issue. The discerning hotel junkies rave about the stunning harbour view of the Four Seasons Hong Kong or simply stay in the Murray building. Back to the question, I have chosen to reside close to the stature square since 2010s, my address can only be the peerless Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, the exceptional grande-dame on the island.
The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, or simply the Mandarin to locals, has been the synonym to the state of the art hospitality and the preferred backdrop for local socialites and global celebrities, precisely depicted in the 2015 best-seller satire fiction China Rich Girlfriend by Kwan, since its opening in the autumn of 1963. The legends behind the Oriental Bangkok merger in seventies never fail to fascinate, and the famed fan logo was coined in eighties together with these two grande-dames completely rebranded in 1985, exactly my natal year.
It was love at first sight when I first viewed the intricate, fine Daoguang reign glided panels that was sourced by Don Ashton and cladded in the lobby. The sinology theatricality continued as I walked past the iconic antique Canton fan and ascended the opulent black marble staircase to the mezzanine floor for the Cafe Causette. The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong resorts to the contemporary Chinoiserie style, and delivers the true Taipan aesthetic of the Far East and exudes the rich culture of Hong Kong; it simply eclipses the imperialist grandeur of the Peninsula hotel, and it marks the naissance of the proper island society.
Hush up a senseless con-call with some pompous corporate representatives, I realise I am whisked off to the Charter road entrance by the hotel chauffeur as the limousine drives past by the Connaught road facade. The Mercedes pools by soon after a left turn, and there I am welcomed again by the hotel manager Michael Groll who leads the entire concierge awaiting right at the gate. Ushered by the Mandarin family into the lobby, the FANtastic theme Diamond Jubilee celebration decoration is almost completed.
In the centre of the lobby, a gigantic robotic arm powered by AI is in action on a 5-meter tall canvas, portraying the recognisable hotel facade designed by the late architect John Howarth. An audacious installation mediating the vision of Sir Peter Blake shall impress all the invited guests tonight, and their faces will be photographed and painted on the canvas to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the beloved Mandarin hotel.
Since I have received the invitation from the dedicated team for the jubilee soiree, a full array of services were offered to ensure a perfect celebration experience: chaperoned airport arrival at 2pm, assuredly; hair salon grooming appointment at 4pm, certainly; swift garment pressing at 5pm, absolutely. At 6pm, the senior staff member of the Mandarin lounge pours me the cocktail suit matching evening drink – Coke Zero, and then shows me the cover page of the Southern China Morning Post with pride.
I start to recall how my fandom begins. It is a serendipitous whim to not succumb to breakfast making before sending off my late first partner to the SCMP editorial office. Instead, we dine at the Cafe Causette for breakfast in a Capote style. Ever since, the Mandarin becomes the shining beacon for a young man and lights up his lifelong passion to revere the excellence of hospitality.
The celebration begins punctual before 7pm. Dressy guests arriving on the red carpet are welcomed by the general manager, Greg Liddell, at the main entrance, and then ushered to the stunning AI empowered installation with champagne offered. As guests journey inward, at the end of the staircase to the Clipper lounge, the stellar chef, Richard Ekkebus, is there to greet and ensure a palatable evening. Sumptuous caviar fountain, fresh oysters, free-flow Krug brut NV, and crispy suckling pig are the Mandarin’s treat tonight. The Cafe Causette is transformed into a disco for delish Peking duck, late night laksa and posh mahjong game.
It is about fans. The soiree warms up en vogue as starlet fans pose for photographers, and I overheard gossips of fellow guests about the celebrity fans arriving soon. The celebrity fan guest list has been the best kept secret, and for a while it seems that Maggie Cheung and Stanley Tucci could likely be the stellar fans to grace the festive occasion.
At 8pm, the crowded cocktail reception boils up in a swoon when Michelle Yeoh, Vivienne Tam and Karen Mok land on the red carpet all at once. It is almost like a reverie, glamorous and gorgeous, to see the Oscar awarded diva waving to all the guest next to Greg Liddell with the touching address, “Tonight is a celebration for Hong Kong, and we are here to pay tribute to our original flagship, our wonderful colleagues and to you, our loyal guests – here’s to another sixty!”
The epic celebrity fan supernova continues to beacon even if Michelle, Vivienne, and Karen leave graciously early in the applause of the crowd. The evening is still young and tender, but I am inclined to retire back in my suite, the heavenly retreat, after a long day of boulot and hype. I also long for a solid meal, in-room dining here never fails me, and the 60th anniversary exclusive choice on the menu is simply tempting. Who can resist a perfect Scotch egg?
A real surprise awaits when I enter my bedchamber to unwind, a pair of the diamond jubilee cuff links and a wondrous Canton fan replica are placed on the evening tray, an accolade for a fan. On the console table, I notice a folded SCMP front page, a future heirloom to mark my youth and commemorate my special bond with the hotel. Then I gulp the sparkling water on the nightstand, it is my preferred evening amenity always prepared accordingly from the Oriental to the Mandarin.
At any Mandarin Oriental hotel, every single fan is cherished in a genuine and detailed manner. A true luxurious experience does not always involve certain ostentatious but frivolous treatments, such as embroidery of initials on a pillowcase or exotic amenities with rocket high carbon emission, it is a joyous homecoming, about being comprehended and treated with respect and care.
The gorgeous sunlight falls on the massive canvas on which the faces of 300 guest fans chosen and collaged by Sir Peter Blake gleam in the lobby. Sixty fantastic years achieve a true legend and a beloved institution. To the question how this crown jewel of the Island society shall dazzle the future generations and be the centre of social fabric, the general manager Greg Liddell and the hotel manager Michael Groll shares their view.
“The rare heritage and legacies of the Mandarin and the Oriental instill the pride in our colleagues and transcend through the group. We endeavor to preserve the traditions and continue to innovate at the same time for our clientele, it is about balancing the rich culture and the trend in a respectful way,” says Greg Liddell.
“Central Hong Kong is where the past and present, the tradition and innovation coexist, such as the Chinnery and our new offering, the Mandarin Lounge. The demand for experiential luxury goes beyond the standard ideas of luxury, and discerning travelers are seeking for authenticity, exclusivity, and personalized treatment,” Michael Groll adds on.