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By Jack Cameron

The HZ girl with the eagle tattoo who kicked a hornet’s nest, and then lit it on fire.

The amount of digital ink that was spilled during Jack Ma’s US roadshow was staggering, and while the Amazon-sized torrent has slowed-down to a Qiantang trickle, there’s nary a week that passes without another commentary about, analysis of, or paean to Hangzhou’s e-commerce savant. Here on the mainland, both mainstream media and Wechatter have given reportage a distinctly nationalistic flavor. Little to be wondered at: for many Chinese observers, Wall Street’s $25 billion dollar bet on Ma is seen a kind of validation of China, its peoples, and their potency.

This story, however, is not about Jack Ma.

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Phoebe Wu wakes to sounds emitted from her Sony handset, a smartphone she chose not because she is a fan of Sony but because she wanted to differentiate herself from friends, colleagues, and everyone else who was sucked into the iPhone cult, which she rejects on principle. The copyrighted tune that shakes her from her dreams was downloaded free from Baidu, a Chinese search-engine which doesn’t worry too much about things like copyright, or delivering good search results. After she jostles her handset into the equivalent of snooze mode a few times, she’ll begin her morning from under her covers, first by checking her handset to see what’s happened in the world of WeChat while she slumbered, and then by checking the weather. After a long shower, Phoebe sits on her bed and puts on her makeup while watching a popular Hong Kong series on her Lenovo tablet, which she props-up beneath her small vanity mirror. Her cellphone remains on her lap, or not far from it, and while applying her foundation, drawing her “inner-V”, and fluffing-up her already preternaturally long eyelashes, she pauses now and then to check her news feeds, or respond to a text. She no longer listens to music while commuting to her office, but while on the bus she will read posts on Weibo, and check-in on a few blogs. This bouncing from WeChat to news feeds to Weibo will continue throughout the day, all day, on all but the very busiest of workdays, and her bus ride home will resemble her journey to work. Most evenings, whether she’s analyzing spreadsheets from work or watching movies she downloaded for free from another copyright-indifferent domestic website, her handset remains close at hand, and stays close at hand until she powers-down for the evening. Her high-end Sony smartphone is never shut-off, but stays dangerously warm beneath her pillow, charging, and waiting to announce the arrival of a new day.

It is no exaggeration to say that the waking hours of Phoebe’s life are mediated almost entirely by her handset. To watch her zip from app to app is to watch something almost superhuman, but it’s a talent she shares with many Chinese her age. She responds to a blog post on Weibo, and then posts on her own WeChat page a link to the post; she then fields an enquiry from a headhunter who found her CV on a white-collar job search site, one which allows her to manage her jobseeker profile from her smartphone. She looks for new shoes on glamoursales.com, and then buys a case of toilet tissue for the house on Yihaodian -- and then double-checks her bank account to make sure she has enough money for the goods she’s just ordered. Her handset helps her execute tasks directly and indirectly related to her job, and to look for a better one, and to get done efficiently all the things that need doing. One of the things that needs to be done throughout the course of her day is deal with boredom. Another is deal with the fatigue that results from the in-your-face hurly-burly of life in a city of six-plus million people, most of whom seem to have their eyes glued to the screens of their handsets.

*   *   *

Phoebe hasn’t traveled much, and has never been outside of China; but she is very well informed about national events and breaking international news stories, even though (as with most Chinese) her news-feeds are all from domestic outlets, and more often than not are from the Weibo blogs of Chinese observers and analysts who are outside of the state media cartel. But Phoebe isn’t just trying to stay informed; she’s trying to stay intact. She tunes-in in order to tune-out. Her handset, and all of its apps, and all of the sites to which she has access, are, taken as a single functionality, an extension of her personal identity’s immune system. Some of what she uses her handset for is, of course, efficient means-end adequation. But she’s not really reaching-out, seeking connectivity – and she’s certainly not seeking either information or interconnectivity for their own sake. Phoebe is actually using the fact of the manifest hyperconnectivity around her – the existence of the cyberworld that envelops her and which she cannot avoid - to define and maintain her position in the physical world. It orients her. Her handset and its apps help her ignore things like the noise and sounds and smells of the overcrowded bus that brings her to and from her office, just as the news issued like gossip by thousands of independent microbloggers helps her deal with the marketing issued like news by thousands of state-sanctioned brand-managers. Her handset is her GPS; but it isn’t a global positioning system. It’s a geren (个人, “personal”) positioning system.

*   *   *

At the beginning of this century, when the Chinese Internet was still a wobbly-legged hatchling, Phoebe was one of the top bloggers on Hangzhou’s number-one BBS-site, 19lou.cn (“the nineteenth floor”). None at the time used the phrase Key Opinion Leader or the even more ridiculous term “thought-leader” to describe her, but while still in her late teens Phoebe was one of the most followed bloggers in Hangzhou. She writes the way Hemmingway would have written had he been reincarnated as a stunning Chinese girl from a broken home who matured in lock-step with China’s cyberage. She is more skeptical and independent-minded than many of her peers. An astute and insightful observer, her prose then as now is lean muscle-mass. (Imagine a swimsuit model with the brain of a Navy SEAL, the gentle subtlety of a chainsaw, and all of the sweetness of an anchovy. That’s her.) In 2006, a local fashion brand chose her as the “representative girl born in the 1980s.” The most widely-read local newspaper ran the story and printed a series of photos of her looking hip in brand apparel, but the inside joke which only she and a few intimates knew is that she has abominable fashion sense and is anything but a typical Hangzhou girl --- just in case there is such a thing.

For example, despite dropping the 19lou blog and dialing-down her online presence, Phoebe remains an enthusiastic commentator and critic, aiming her Lapua .336 intellect at the T-box of online nonsense and offline stupidity. In the early Spring of 2014, she blew the whistle on a local Jim Jones character, a charismatic snake oil salesman whose ministry and products were likely involved in a number of deaths. Phoebe maintained her anonymity throughout all the interviews, including her big one with CCTV, when the scam she brought to light got national attention and tons of airtime on state-run media channels. It was a dangerous errand she’d undertaken (like eschewing iCulture, she did in on principle), and the small number of threats she received confirmed that not only had she kicked a hornet’s nest, she’d lit it on fire to boot. Being anonymous, of course, no one new that the one person courageous enough to try and bring down a multi-million-dollar enterprise was the same woman who, a decade earlier, became slightly famous in Hangzhou by blogging about skincare, cosmetics, and women’s health issues, and for sometimes going around town without a bra, her chestnut-colored waist-length hair shimmering in the sunshine and bouncing as she walked.

*   *   *

In 2004, her posts – on 19lou.cn, and latterly on her microblog (Sina Weibo) – lead thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of girls to the vlogs of Xteener and Michelle Phan, Asian-American makeup gurus who taught young women about skincare and effective makeup application. Both Xteener and Michelle Phan (“Rice Bunny”) are based in the US, and in the early days their vlogs were simple, sincere, low-budget, and pleasantly amateurish. The fact that both girls were Asian Americans was one of the reasons they were so popular on the mainland: Chinese viewers found in their faces, eyes, and skin tones both practical relevance and some greater significance. Another reason for their popularity: a direct result of the one-child policy is that girls born in the 1980s are unlikely to have older sisters, someone to coach them on things like makeup and fashion; and with foreign folkways and international trends trickling into the First and Second-Tier cities, the kind of counsel that young girls in 21st century China wanted and thought they needed wasn’t likely to come from mothers or aunts, women who were nearly vestiges of a forgotten era, or at least an era most people preferred to forget. Like Phoebe, many girls watched these and similar vlogs to brush-up on their English, too. The vocabulary of Xteener’s and Michelle Phan’s monologues is neither deep nor extensive, but it’s great for learners: highly colloquial, the monologues are nicely contextualized by a domain narrow enough to support interferences about the intentions and meaning of the speakers. There was a bittersweet side to this, too, as mainland girls suddenly found themselves with a window to a world very different from their own -- a window thrust open by girls who looked like them, but who were living lives most mainland girls could only dream of.

The mainly young female viewers understood the accoutrement, the gestures, and the procedures better than the hosts’ English, and the broader cultural mis en scene of the vlogs invited more questions than there were sources for answers. But there was always one element of these shows which translated very, very well: the products.

Many of the brands Xteener and Michelle Phan used were either not available in the local shops in China, or were available only at the brand counters of high-end department stores of First-Tier cities. Some of the brands they used were positively pedestrian in the US – inexpensive and easy to score from a chain drugstore or supermarket. But in China, even non-luxury brands like Revlon, Maybeline, and Cover Girl were still fairly pricey. A teen from a well-heeled family in the US might turn her nose up at anything she could buy off the shelves of CVS; but most Chinese girls weren’t culturally or financially ready for MAC foundation, Bobbi Brown eye shadow, and Tom Ford lipstick, and few had heard of these brands anyway. In China, low-end American supermarket makeup was still highly-desirable.

For overseas Chinese students, however, things were a bit different. Whether from Boots in the UK, or Walgreens in the US, all this stuff was very accessible. By now, Weibo microblogs and QQ facilitated conversations and communiques with friends and former classmates back in the motherland, and a standard topic of the dispatches from abroad was the ubiquity of cool and (relatively) inexpensive stuff piled-high and sold cheap at places like Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree; and it wasn’t long before small shipments of (among other things) foreign makeup and skincare products began making their way into China from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.  These were gifts for friends, and for friends of friends, but the volume of branded merchandise trickling into China grew apace with the number of Chinese students studying abroad – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The basic phenomenon itself was nothing new, of course; but what was new was the number of Chinese students overseas, and the ability for them to connect via the Internet and social media in real-time with friends back home.

And there was another thing. In the early years of the 21st century, an ever larger proportion of overseas students had parents with the financial wherewithal to send them to any one of the dozens of expensive new programs in the US and elsewhere which had been created specifically to attract overseas students -- programs which cared less about the student’s skill-level and preparedness than about the parents’ ability to pay. These were the children of Chinese who had done rather well in the first decade after reform and opening up, and many were going abroad with an enviable allowance to spend. And a word further about overseas Chinese students at the turn of the millennium.

Meanwhile, the growing diffusion of Internet access in China’s First- and Second-Tier cities, and the massive popularity of Chinese social media platforms and apps, conspired to allow this cohort of overseas students to stay in regular contact with their less fortunate peers back in China. It didn’t require a great amount of sagacity to see that – sooner or later – the demand for things like affordable quality makeup and skincare products would eventually create the means of supply.

Enter Taobao.

*

Ten years on, and Garnier and Revlon have pulled-up stakes and left China. China’s e-commerce platforms and the grey-market vendors who sell on them were in no small part responsible for the demise in China of these global brands. Hangzhou blogging-sensation Phoebe Wu, whose uberpopular e-dispatches about Xteener and Michelle Phan had introduced thousands of girls to a whole new world of makeup and applicators, was, without her knowing it, one small part of the reason an industry leader like Revlon couldn’t make it in China. Innocently, Phoebe Wu was key reagent in the chemical reaction that would explode in the form of a C2C e-commerce platform and online remittance system that would revolutionize China’s retail industry.

Phoebe is currently working for a cosmetics company, not an international one, but an enormous one. She’s actively looking for another job, and hopes to find a position with an established multinational, with colleagues whose scope of interest is broader than children, real estate price, and who don’t insist on packing fangbianmian in their suitcases when they travel outwith the Motherland. But the odds are stacked against her. She’s never been abroad, never been issued a passport. Her English-language skills are remarkable, but she lacks both the right kinds of sheepskin and the right kind of pedigree. To the HR lackeys fielding CVs, she’s a dead end, a non-starter. Just around the time Alipay solved the “trust issue” that had been limiting the development of e-commerce in China, the numbers of Chinese students returning from overseas surged from a growing-trickle to a tidal bore. Phoebe (unmarried) is approaching 30, and while there are many opportunities in China’s Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities for women with Phoebe’s skills, experience, wit, and comprehensive stage-presence, the very best positions are doled-out to the PYTs from rich families, freshly back from the States and Antipodes with diplomas that are supposed to be evidence both of their English-language skills and their familiarity with Western culture (read: blunted Chineseness). Phoebe cannot even get her foot in the door, not even with her knock-off Christian Louboutin shoes.

Phoebe might have nudged forward a little bit the grey-market industry of the daigou (and hence: C2C e-commerce in China); but she’s unlikely to be hired by any of the major cosmetic brands that she helped introduce to young Chinese women, at a time when for former were unknown to the latter.

Like Jack Ma and Alibaba, Phoebe was born and raised in Tier -2 Hangzhou.  But that’s probably just a coincidence. It might not be a coincidence that the Lancome counter with the highest sales volume on the planet is also in Hangzhou, the Lancome counter in the very shopping center where Phoebe was photographed in 2006 wearing the apparel of the brand which named her “representative girl born in the 1980s.” She doesn’t think much of the brand, but wouldn’t mind working for Lancome, though she can’t really afford Lancome, or much of anything sold on the first floor of that department store.

At the moment, she is as fond of her native Hangzhou as she is of its many iPhoneys.

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Latest 5 Stories

My journey from West to East

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.

Campbell House

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.

Bon Provecho!:

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!

CrossFit:

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.

To play live is to feel carefree

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 9:30pm)
6 Liuying Rd (Nanshan Rd) , 柳营路6号(靠南山路) 

April 22nd @ Reggae bar (Starts at 10:30pm)
131 Xueyuan Rd, 学院路131号 

April 23rd @ Schänke (Starts at 9:30pm)
Room -3 and 2-2, Building 32, Qingchunfang, Qingchun Rd, 庆春路青春坊32幢1-3室和2-2室

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