, APRIL 16, 2007 (STAR)Hong Kong: Life after 1997 RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - HongKong, known as China’s original "Golden Egg," promotes itself as the "City of Life" because of its magical, boundless energy that inspires one to achieve. Since childhood, my family and I have been visiting the former Crown Colony, spending countless New Year’s eves watching the yuletide neon displays across the panoramic harbor with the city’s skyscrapers as mirrored backdrops.

Hong Kong became our second home because it was the favorite destination of our late parents, Ting and Mila Dayrit. In fact, this is where they had their honeymoon and this was where we lived as permanent residents in 1984 at 55 Garden Road. My youngest sister Yvonne and I almost studied at the International School in Tai Tam (south side of Hong Kong Island) but we begged Dad to allow us to finish in Manila.

I remember my dad saying that Hong Kong is the New York of Asia because the city was dynamic and ultra-progressive. When my folks needed to recharge from living in Manila, we would hie off to Hong Kong where they drew new ideas and inspiration. Since their deaths (20 days apart from each other) in June and July 1997, we have fondly called ourselves "The Royal Orphans." Proudly, we siblings have continued this tradition and many others in loving memory of Mom and Dad.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, has been described as the "Imperial Orphan" of China since its return to the motherland just a decade ago. The ceremony at which Britain gave the betrothed away to the People’s Republic of China after 150 years of colonial rule drew the world’s attention in 1997. Despite the turnover, Dad assured us, "Hong Kong will continue to soar and move forward relentlessly."

All that we thought would be impossible to build came into existence — the MTR connecting to China and HK Disneyland, the fabulous new airport in Lantau with its bullet-like train, one new development after another like City Plaza in Taikooshing, Lee Gardens and Times Square both in Causeway Bay and the IFC Mall and Complex and more extraordinary restaurants at Victoria Peak.

It seemed surreal as I, together with my good friend Anyati Orcullo, took a stroll down memory lane to visit the places we had fondly frequented with my folks. It was amazing to discover that these magical places had retained their old world charm but were now spruced up with modern luxuries as well.

A perpendicular tram ride to the mountain’s summit is a quintessential experience. Mom always said The Peak has always been a symbol of social standing — wealthy British merchants used the funicular railway, built in1888, as a modern form of conveyance to their elite residences. Today, besides shopping at the seven-story Peak Tower, one can also walk around The Peak, wander through forests of bamboo and fern, stunted Chinese pipes, hibiscus and vines of wonderfully writhing beauty. Blue magpies, sparrow hawks and kites fly majestically through the clear skies.

We headed for Café Deco, a super chic place frequented by the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Sylvester Stallone, Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan and more celebrities. We learned about the history of the place from the reception manager Laida Oareza, a charming Filipina working for the company for 13 years.

Café Deco’s rare collections of artifacts and memorabilia from Europe and America evoke the spirit of a long-gone era. Art Deco pieces inspired by the ’20s and ’30s have been restored and put to use in the day-to-day running of the restaurant, creating a setting that is unique and fascinating, elegant and yet informal.

Executive chef Martin Kniss, who has fueled Café Deco’s success for more than 10 years, prepared a sumptuous menu of baked Portobello mushroom with herb butter, Mexican tortilla soup, fresh oysters Rockefeller, lobster thermidor and certified US Angus beef. Open kitchens are at the heart of its one-of-a-kind culinary concept. Chefs working at the tandoori and pizza ovens, the rotisserie, a 1920s Parisian oyster bar and a new sushi and seafood counter provide meals with culinary flair, offering visual previews from the restaurant’s extensive menu that features cuisines from China, Thailand, India, Italy and Mexico. They have a spectacular wine list and tempting selection of deserts that complement the menu.

All these years, I have stayed in so many different hotels but my most vivid memories with Mom and Dad are of the Peninsula in TsimShatsui, Kowloon and the Conrad Hotel on Hong Kong Island.

My grandmother Abuelita Caridad Paterno Dayrit often enthused that The Peninsula is the epitome of classic tradition as it is the finest hotel east of Suez. As we strolled into the opulent lobby to have high tea, our dearest family friend, Therese Necio-Ortega, manager of communications and promotions, welcomed us to the legendary Peninsula that radiates old world charm and sheer luxury. The amazing fleet of Rolls-Royce cars never ceased to mesmerize Dad, who would often tell Mom the vintage car had been built for her.

At the heart of The Peninsula Spa lies a city retreat, a sanctuary for the senses called ESPA. This harmonious combination of The Peninsula’s legendary service and the world’s leading spa consultancy offer luxurious treatments for both body, mind and soul. I stepped into the lifestyle shower wherein you can choose between a floral fresh or forest fragrance jet spray as you experience the ultimate in royal pampering. Try the Peninsula Haven, which combines ESPA oils and herbal blends with sophisticated volcanic hot stone and cool jade gemstone massage and wrap techniques. The design of its thermal suites includes domed hamman-style crystal steam rooms, snail-shaped aromatherapy "experience showers" and harbor view saunas. Delightful also are the overhead rain showers in the Private Spa For One and Private Spa For Two, which are actually large-scale panels made by Dornbracht. Also, a series of louvers allows guests in the treatment rooms and saunas to enjoy sweeping harbor views through floor-to-ceiling windows, while benefiting from the privacy they provide. The Peninsula has been here for 79 years of glorious tradition and the addition of this magnificent spa truly complements the grandeur and luxury that The Pen epitomizes.

Director of Communications Sian Griffiths shared with us over freshly baked scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam and Earl Grey tea that the Peninsula is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel and one of the oldest in Asia, having opened on Dec. 11, 1928. In 1953, during the filming of Soldier of Fortune, movie star Clark Gable taught Pen barman Johnny Chung how to mix a Screwdriver. Johnny is still at the hotel today and still mixing Screwdrivers. The hotel currently has 14 Rolls-Royce Silver Spurs and one vintage 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom, setting several records for the largest single order of cars ever placed with Rolls-Royce. The Pen even has its own helicopter for airport transfers, plus "flight-seeing" tours and a "Fly & Dine program" from the hotel’s rooftop helipad.

It was interesting to learn that in 1972, the Kowloon Canton Railway, which had played a pivotal role in determining The Peninsula location, nearly instigated its closure. Sir Horace Kadoorie, chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Limited, outlined a radical change in the company’s corporate vision in its 1972 annual report and planned to construct a new 500-room property with which the name "Peninsula" was synonymous. Public reaction was swift and predictably horrified. The uproar over the lobby renovation was a tempest in a teapot by comparison. Hong Kong people balked at the thought of losing "their" Peninsula for it was more than a landmark; it had become part of collective consciousness. In 1974, Sir Horace announced details of the "new" Peninsula located 200 yards away, a 17-story edifice that would retain its opulent lobby, regain its past beauty and heritage. Such rich history and insights made us appreciate much more the splendor of The Pen.

I will always love Hong Kong. I know it like the back of my hand. The city is absorbing, almost addicting. No matter how many times I frequent this haven, there will always be new reasons to keep coming back. Indeed, there is truth to the adage that "the end of your exploring is to arrive at where we started and see the place for the first time."

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For more information about Cafe Deco (www.cafedeco.com) and The Peninsula Hong Kong, call the Global Customer Service Centre at (852) 2926-2888, e-mail to reservation@peninsula.com or visit its website at wwww.peninsula.com.

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E-mail the author at miladay.star@gmail.com.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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