NOW AND ZEN AT ASTORIA PLAZA

MANILA, January 6, 2004 (STAR) By Igan D’bayan - You have heard this before: The city is one big pre-Apocalypse party. It is chaotic. It is cacophonous. It is a little anarchic. (If you don’t believe me, try hanging out at LRT stations anywhere during rush hour, or malls on freaking Sundays.) The metropolis is the hub of heavy traffic, pollution, corruption, depression, poverty, heat, humidity, stress, strain and various etceteras – things that make you go "Aaargh!" It would be nice to get away from the maddening crowd for a while and go to a place conducive for a little rest and recreation (two things slowly becoming extinct in what the ironic Madam Imelda Marcos dubbed as "the City of Man"). Even for a weekend. Man, even for a couple of hours.

One of the last places I would associate with meditation or respite from the corporate rat marathon, from the flea circus that is city-life, would be a homogenous hotel. After all, who would enjoy staying in hotels when some of these establishments have jarring colors, kitschy decors, tacky interiors and other assaults to the senses? (I tell you, mediocre landscape paintings are as irritating as trash strewn on the city streets.) That was what I believed until I stumbled upon Astoria Plaza along J. Escriva Drive near the Ortigas Business District.

(Astoria Plaza is a 35-story service residential suite with hotel rooms as well as rooms for lease or sale – all in all, there are approximately 300 rooms. The Astoria also houses a travel agency, a spa, a gym, a pool, a delicatessen and a business center.)

Astoria’s rooms are different. The walls and ceilings are painted in subdued hues like blacks, whites and mild grays – very light on the eyes, very minimalist, very tasteful, very disarming, not screaming for attention from the occupants.

"It’s not the room dictating the personality of the person," says Vivian Ann Siy Ng, Astoria Plaza VP for operations. "When you go to an ordinary hotel room it looks like your grandmother’s room (laughs). You feel so alienated from the place."

(And she’s right. I once stayed in a hotel room with a velvet dog rug, orange walls, and alabaster figurines, with the whole room smelling of moldy curtains and mothballs. I felt as if I were in the set of a Quentin Tarantino mafia movie.)

Ng adds, "Here at Astoria Plaza, it’s like a blank palette, you come in and bring your own personality and energy and you express it. So people feel at home. You connect right away."

The suites boast minimalist, neo-modern interiors, which is ideal for packing a couple of books (by Allan Watts, Allen Ginsberg or the Dalai Lama), just chilling out and forgetting about the mad methodical world for a moment.

According to Ng, the look and concept of Astoria Plaza is from the owner herself who is into the arts. She was able to flesh out her vision with the help of architectural firm Almario & Associates.

The facilities are well maintained, and the staff, accommodating. There is also the matter of space. The rooms in the service residential suites are spacious, to say the least. Not like those space-saving ones in other hotels punctuated with dozens of mirrors to create the illusion that the rooms are big (but you end up bumping into yourself from time to time on your trip to the john like a drunken Mr. Bean). Not in Astoria Plaza, where the rooms are really spacy.

"We call it ‘Zenspace’," Ng enthuses, "because you have freedom of space. Others have cramped rooms. Ours are not only complete with modern amenities, they are spacious as well. People might say that we’re too far from the center of Ortigas, but this is a plus for us because some of our guests prefer to be a tad away from the business hub. And at the same time, we’re accessible."

Manuel Ruiz, marketing communications manager/PR director, says, "We also have a multi-level parking area. And we always value the safety and security of our guests. We use an audio-video phone. That makes us the ideal place to live in and check in."

But sad to say, we don’t live in a vacuum. Everything shitty is happening in the country – in terms of politics and the economy. How does the hotel cope despite these obstacles?

"Actually, we were a bit scared when the SARS thing came out, same with 9/11," Ruiz says. "But the management carefully studied our options and identified our market. And we were able to capture the domestic tourist market – live-in conferences, seminars, etc. Despite the stumbling blocks in the hotel and hospitality industry, we have flourished."

Ng feels there is room for growth. "Our future goal is to establish a stronger market presence. Before, we’re not as well known as the hotels around us. Now, I think we’re able to communicate our presence much stronger. We also want to up the ante in terms of service. I think that an organization in the hospitality service has to aim for the best service," she says.

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Astoria Plaza is located at 15 J. Escriva Drive, Ortigas Business Center District, Pasig City. For inquiries, call 687-1111, fax 910-0370 or e-mail astoria@netasia.net.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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