Tag Archives: China

Future Alternatives: What’s Next For Chinese Cars?

With the Beijing Auto Show ongoing this week, some of the important questions being talked about involve solving some huge problems attached to the idea of transport – such as the issue of pollution, or how to fix China’s road congestion. Electric cars and driverless cars may be the next big thing in the Chinese automobile scene but quite a lot of work is needed to get these measures off on the right track.

Electric Measures

Everyone has a general picture of Chinese smog and air pollution as a big problem but fixing it has always been quite rough. China’s government, though, is turning to electric cars as the key to solving the health crisis. Only one percent of the cars owned by the huge populace are actually electric cars, but that accounts for much. The country already took the number one spot for electric models last year with some 247,000 “zero emission” cars sold — quadruple the number in 2014 — according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. To incentivize drivers, the government is giving up to 55,000 yuan subsidies ($8,500) for each car, and electric cars are even exempt from traffic restrictions in China’s congested major cities.

Yet, while electric cars are more popular worldwide, particularly high-end brands like Tesla, the hefty price tags and restricted driving range means it’s still a niche market. Their evolution has been mainly state-subsidised, as in Norway, which has the world’s highest penetration at 17 percent of new sales in 2015. Still, the sizable market in China tantalizes many manufacturers.

Jean-Francois Belorgey, an expert with consultancy EY, predicted that by 2020, up to 750,000 electric cars will be sold in China every year. “China is perhaps the one place in the world where the automobile industry can achieve the economy of scale needed to bring down costs,” he said. In the meantime, the government is aiming for the loftier goal of at least five million rechargeable cars on the roads by 2020.

Both domestic manufacturers and foreign manufacturers are already planning their models and releases. One of these, on the domestic front, is market leader BYD, which also makes the Denza brand in a joint venture with Daimler. France’s Renault plans to release its Fluence ZE in China in 2017, and PSA group will be showing a unique C-Elysee electric sedan at the Beijing show that is due next year. Chinese companies have also provided funding for Western firms’ development projects, including Britain’s Aston Martin and the US’s Faraday Future, which sees itself as a possible competitor to Tesla.

Still, this isn’t the end of the problem. Ben Scott, an expert of electric cars with IHS, noted that it was merely “moving the CO2 from the exhaust pipe to a power plant somewhere” and, although it addresses the issue of “the concentration of particles”, it helps way less for the greenhouse effect. As long as power is still generated in carbon-intensive ways, the problem will still stick.

Drive Less

While many people would argue that the joy of the car comes from the control of the ride, the larger and more pragmatic Chinese populace are less particular about that. According to a survey by Roland Berger consultants in 2015, which found 96 percent of Chinese would consider an autonomous vehicle for almost all everyday driving, compared with 58 percent of Americans and Germans. We’ve heard, seen and perhaps experienced the horror stories of the accidents, often captured on Youtube and propagated on social media, and that probably accounts for the appeal – better safety through autonomous technology.

Still, the road has many flaws, especially because of large questions looming about the technology itself. “If you have someone jumping out in front of an autonomous car, does the car have to choose between killing that person, or swerving and crashing and killing the passenger?” asked Robin Zhu, senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. Quite a paradox worthy of Isaac Asimov himself, if you ask me. Yet, Chinese businesses are ready to jump into the fray, taking the same path as companies like Google, BMW, Volvo, and Toyota.

Last week, ahead of the Beijing Auto Show opening on Monday, two self-driving Changan cars made a mountainous 2,000 kilometre (1,200 mile) journey from Chongqing in the southwest to the capital in the country’s first long-distance autonomous vehicle test. Another Chinese Internet giant, LeECO, is also venturing into autonomous technologies, unveiling Wednesday in Beijing an electric car that can park itself and be summoned to its owner’s location via smartphone. And late last year Baidu tested China’s first locally designed driverless vehicle, a modified BMW, with a 30 kilometre ride through the streets of Beijing.

The ready market is also bringing in interested parties from the outside, with top companies aiming to refine their driverless technologies. Swedish manufacturer Volvo, owned by China’s Geely since 2010, this month announced plans to test drive up to 100 of its vehicles on Chinese roads this year. Changan, a partner of Ford, is set to roll out commercial autonomous vehicles for motorways from 2018, while mass production of driverless city cars is projected to begin in 2025. The ultimate prize, notes the analysts, will be when mass transport firms such as taxi-hailing giant Uber, or its Chinese rival Didi, can deploy huge fleets of robot taxis.

On the logistical side of things, analysts are less optimistic. Production costs were still too high to make a robot taxi fleet viable, BCG’s Mosquet said. “There are still many questions to be resolved” before fully autonomous vehicles can be put into public use, said Jeremy Carlson, a senior analyst for HIS, pointing to an inadequate infrastructure and “chaotic traffic situations” on roads shared with cyclists and pedestrians.

In the push towards the future, though, it may be hard to stop moving. The only way to face the various hard-hitting issues within the country is an open mind, and a will for innovation.

Beijing Auto Show Blows Hot and Cold

The global car industry is going through a roller coaster ride right now, with sales peaking in many markets yet many of the biggest players find themselves embroiled in scandals. As the Beijing Auto Show opens April 24, the industry faces both more sobering news and exuberant breakthroughs. According to consulting firm McKinsey, auto sales growth is projected to grow in China by just five percent annually over the next five years. China is the world’s number one auto market so if things pan out as McKinsey say they will, there will be much pain to go around.

The bright spot though is hinted at in the image we used above. That is the new concept car from LeSee, the automotive division of Chinese tech firm LeEco, and it is packed with impressive high tech offerings, including a one-piece glass roof, from windscreen to rear window. The BBC says it makes a Tesla Model S look “downright ordinary.” Before we go back to the doom and gloom, the other bit of interesting news here is that LeEco is the major investor backing Faraday Future, the US-based start-up we reported on here.

“After years of double-digit growth, China’s auto market is slowing down. A cooling economy is one of the primary factors in the deceleration of what remains the world’s largest market for automobiles,” McKinsey said.

Domestic and international carmakers face increasingly cutthroat competition for consumers whose preferences have become “more practical”, it said.

The anti-corruption campaign under President Xi Jinping has reduced the appeal of luxury cars, it added, and “significant numbers” of consumers believe they can meet their transport needs by leasing, co-owning, or renting vehicles.

“There’s no sign of momentum,” said Michael Dunne, CEO and strategist at Dunne Automotive in Hong Kong. Competition is growing and “the China profit machine is slowing”, he said.

Competition for market share has become more intense as Chinese carmakers have improved their offerings, particularly in the surging SUV segment, where sales leaped by over 50 percent in the first quarter of 2016 as consumers opted for bigger cars on the country’s hair-raising roads.

Namrita Chow, principal China analyst at IHS automotive, said that international manufacturers can no longer “overlook the Chinese brands, saying, oh they don’t have what it takes to be a competitor. Those days are gone.”

Indeed, LeEco is a prime example of what Chinese firms are bringing to the table, or promising to at any rate. LeEco and Aston Martin announced a partnership February that will allow the British automaker to build its own fully electric ride, likely based on the Rapide saloon.

If nothing else, this illustrates that fears of a slowdown are offset to some extent by opportunities created by the rapidly changing industry, analysts said.

GM China president Matt Tsien said earlier this year that the global giant “expects the automotive industry to change more over the next five to 10 years than in the past 50 years”.

General Motors’ president Dan Ammann pointed to “the inevitable march toward autonomous vehicles” as an opportunity, saying: “We think self-driving cars have the ability to significantly make roads safer”.

More than half of over 3,500 consumers surveyed by McKinsey wanted to upgrade their cars and report co-author Paul Gao told AFP: “The growth is still solid. Five percent out of a big base still makes China a very attractive market.”


This story was written in-house, based on an AFP report and various news reports, including the BBC report cited. The image featured is from the AFP.

Italian Wines on the Rise

As he swirls a glass of yellowy green wine made from the trendy pecorino grape, Fabio Centini purrs with enthusiasm.

“I hadn’t even heard of this grape 15 years ago,” the Italian-born chef-restaurateur from Calgary, Canada tells AFP between slurps at a tasting of top pecorinos from the Offida area of the Marche region.

“But it is exactly what my customers want. People are looking for new varietals, new experiences.”

Centini is one of 55,000 industry professionals from 141 countries gathered in Verona this week for VinItaly, a giant showcase for the best the country has to offer the world’s wine lovers.

The 50th edition is the biggest yet and crammed aisles speak volumes about the buoyant state of a sector that employs 1.25 million people and produces more wine than any other country.

Led by a boom in sales of prosecco, which has surpassed champagne to become the world’s favorite bubbly, exports of all forms of Italian wine hit a record 5.4 billion euros ($6.2 billion) last year, up more than five percent on 2014.

The trend looks like continuing. A Mediobanca survey found 92 percent of producers anticipating higher sales in 2016, underpinned by investment which grew 18 percent overall last year and by 37 percent in the surging sparkling sector.

Strength in Diversity

It is all a far cry from the days when Italian wine was synonymous internationally with straw-wrapped bottles of chianti of variable quality and sometimes questionable provenance.

“They have taken out a bit of the monkey business,” says Centini, a VinItaly regular since 1990. “There was a time when you didn’t always know what was in the bottle.”

Although recent growth has been led by sparkling wine and strong sales of easy-drinking pinot grigio and other competitively priced varietals, there has also been an awakening of interest in Italy’s indigenous red grapes.

These include aglianico, negroamaro, nero d’avola and primitivo (which shares its DNA with zinfandel) from the south and Sicily, and montepulciano from the central region of Abruzzo, where producers have been quietly picking up international awards in recent years.

The sheer variety can be baffling for consumers and a shortage of strong producer brands is seen as a weakness on global markets.

But Italian wine expert Andrea Grignaffini says diversity is becoming a strength.

“Often the same grape gets made in a different style in different parts of the country, even in the same zone. It is complicated even for us Italians to understand.

“But that’s Italy. And the industry is moving so fast now, fashions change. When the moment of one wine passes, it is good to have others to take their place.”

Change is also afoot at the top end of Italian wines with producers in Tuscany and Piedmont battling to catch up with the Asia-driven gains of France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy.

International critics have recognised a major leap forward in terms of the quality and consistency of the best brunellos, chianti classicos, barolos and barbarescos since the 1980s.

“Better than France”

But Stephanie Cuadra, of leading Tuscan estate Querciabella, said Italy’s fine wine champions also had to be able to transmit “a sense of origin, a sense of place,” in the way that Burgundy, where tiny parcels of land are classified on the basis of minute variations of soil and micro-climates, has done very successfully.

“In terms of fine wine, we are an obvious alternative to France and as palates mature in emerging markets they become more curious, it is a natural evolution,” Cuadra said.

Moves towards officially recognising sub-zones in Italy’s leading wine areas have got bogged down by local battles over re-classifying areas in a way that will inevitably produce winners and losers.

While insisting that Italy’s wines are better than their French rivals, even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi acknowledges that the French have done a better job of selling their wines on global markets.

French wine retails at prices that are 120 percent higher on average than Italy’s output and total Gallic export earnings are some 60 percent higher.

“In the last 20 years, Italy has let too many opportunities slip by in this sector,” Renzi said during a visit to VinItaly on Monday.

The flipside is that there is still plenty of room for growth, particularly in Asia, which accounted for only 3.4 percent of Italian exports last year. Italian producers are noticeably underperforming in China, which increased imports by 60 percent overall in 2015 but by only 15 percent from Italy.

That was one reason why Renzi’s guest at VinItaly was Jack Ma. The Alibaba boss told his audience that the Internet could provide a digital bridge linking Italy’s 300,000 producers with what is potentially the biggest wine market in the world.

“China will be home to half a billion upper-to-middle-class consumers in the next 10 years,” Ma said. “You must reach out to them where they are.”

Download the Epicurio app on iTunes or Google Play now, to learn more about wines and purchase your very own bottle, today.

Energies Unleashed: Singapore Art Exhibition

Opera Gallery Singapore, is proud to present ‘ENERGIES UNLEASHED – Katrin Fridriks & Liu Jiu Tong’ from now to 1 May 2016. Through their works, this exhibition explores the pictorial vocabularies of energy and movement in various stages of metamorphosis. Applied through visual manifestations of suspended movement – both physical and metaphysical – Katrin Fridriks and Liu Jiu Tong seek stillness within incessant changeability.

Katrin Fridriks (b. 1974) is an abstract painter from Iceland, currently living and working in Paris and Luxembourg. Addressing the political atmosphere of her remote home country and the controversy of scientific innovation, her explosive works are striking in their dynamics of color and movement. Maintaining a liquid-like viscosity on the canvas, Fridriks’ paintings are surreal and incessant, resulting in striking and energetic works that entrance the viewers down to the finest details. Using vivid and explosive strokes to create her works, Fridriks’ works of abstract expressionism are as emotional as they are intelligent.Energies-Unleashed-Art-Republik-Katrin-Fridriks

By concentrating the ‘explosions’ in the centre of her paintings, Fridriks confers a sense of mastery to them which cannot be attained in all-overs, where the paint covers all parts of a canvas in a similar pattern. Here all the energy is concentrated in an epicentre, a centre of gravity. Many of Fridriks’ works indeed look like they had a source of energy at their heart rather than having a form being imposed on them from the outside. The feeling that her paintings emerge from the centre contributes to the feeling of self-containment they evoke.

Liu Jiu Tong (b. 1977) was born in Suide, a province in the highlands of northwest of China. He graduated from the Art Institute of Xi’an and was influenced by the ancient and majestic styles of ChangAn art. He went on to work in Beijing before moving to Shanghai, where the multicultural spirit of the city was an important influence to his style. The international cultural changes he witnessed enabled his art language to evolve, and his works are integrated with both Western technique and Eastern artistic concepts. As he was also heavily influenced by the Shanghainese way of life, his artworks are presented with the tensions and lively rhythms of life.

Despite his young age, Liu’s artworks have been exhibited in many prestigious international shows such as: the International Contemporary Art Exhibition of Paris and the ninth Contemporary Art Exhibition in Milano. In particular his painting ‘Distant Traveler’ was nominated for the seventh International Price Arte Laguna. A great number of his works have been published in the Sotheby and Christie’s catalogues.Energies-Unleashed-Art-Republik-Liu-Jiu-Tong

For ‘ENERGIES UNLEASHED – Katrin Fridriks & Liu Jiu Tong’, the works of Fridriks feature infinitely expanding color splashes across finely crafted surfaces. Including subtle influences of Japanese calligraphy and almost imperceptible line details, Fridriks’ artworks depict the natural interconnectivity of different elements that can or cannot be directed and controlled.

Interplaying the abstract and the figurative, Liu’s unrestrained landscapes are inspired by renowned Chinese poets of the Warring States and Tang Dynasty. Eluding to form, Liu expresses a lyricism swathed in tenacious layers of paint, vigorously applied and condensed onto canvas like a fleeting moment trapped between open fingers.

Through the spectacular works of these two artists, they reflect on the beauty of movement captured in the present moment.

*For more information, please visit www.operagallery.com

Volvo Ocean Race Sails for Hong Kong in 2018

The next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, will see the sailing event visit Hong Kong. Over the course of nine months and 40,000 nautical miles (74,080 km) the fleet of sailing yachts will stop off at more than 11 host ports.

“For 43 years the Volvo Ocean Race has visited the majority of the world’s most prestigious and iconic ports, with one obvious exception and that port has possibly the most wondrous waterfront in all the world,” Jon Bramley, the event’s director of news said at a press conference in the city.

Come February 2018, the participants will be visiting the site of the former Kai-Tak airport that is now an ocean cruise terminal, during the 13th edition of the race for up to two weeks. Other cities hosting the race that starts in 2017, include Alicante, Spain; Newport, Rhode Island; Auckland, New Zealand; Capetown, South Africa and well as Lisbon, Cardiff and Gothenburg before finally ending in the Hague, Netherlands.

The route has yet to be confirmed by organizers where competitors will spend weeks at sea between ports piloting their identical 65ft monohulls through treacherous waters. The seven teams made up of members from 19 nationalities including China, Ireland, Argentina and Antigua participated in that edition of the race will survive on a diet of freeze-dried food and a maximum of four hours of sleep a day.

US Cruise Liner Sets Sail for China

China’s population of 1.3 billion seems to hold great promise for the US-based cruise liner Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCL), who announced Tuesday they were to venture into China next year with a ship tailor-made for the market there. The Norwegian Joy plans to go into service in March 2017, where it will be based at Shanghai and Tianjin ports, and provide services geared towards Chinese tastes like food options, casinos, mahjong rooms, as well as duty free shopping. The 20-deck liner will have a capacity of 3,900 passengers and joins 12 other liners that have homeports in China, nine of them foreign-owned

The country’s burgeoning middle class spells a large potential for rising demand, noted Steve Odell, NCL senior vice president and managing director for the Asia Pacific. Data from the Cruise Lines International Association reported that China accounted for about 50 percent of the cruise trips within Asia that same year. Cruise operators are eager to grab a slice of the Chinese market, which could grow to nearly $10 billion in cruise package sales by 2018 from around $6.8 billion in 2013.

Odell has plans running already, with an office open in Singapore for the Southeast Asian market. “If you think of things on the macro scale, there’s a lot of confidence that (ships) going to China (are) going to get filled up. What will happen probably is that there’ll be a lot more pressure on price than before, but that is normal supply and demand economics,” he said. Further data showed that about 2.2 million, or 10 percent, of the 23 million passengers who made cruise trips worldwide in 2014 came from Asia, with this figure only set to rise.

Odell notes that they’re “still in the… infancy of developing a cruise market in China”. Hopefully, this development will lead in to further and more interesting developments for the Asian industry.

Bang & Olufsen: New Major Shareholder from China

Chinese billionaire Qi Jianhong, is now the biggest shareholder in Danish company Bang & Olufsen. His stock in the brand that produces luxury stereo systems and TVs is now held through two companies that he owns. Sparkle Roll Group Ltd. BVI and Sparkle Roll Holdings Ltd.BVI now own a total stake of 18.7% in the company.

Negotiations of the purchase by China’s 422nd richest man who has a net worth of 8 billion Yuan, came after a drawn out sales process by other shareholders. With bleak results that resulted in no strategic buyers and one suitor — who eventually bought the stakes, the successful sale was unconfirmed up until Wednesday. His purchase of 5.67 million shares at a price that is 14% higher than the closing price, now allows management to shift its focus on turning the fate of the company around and in turn increasing sales.

While revenue at the upmarket consumer electronics firm is far from shabby, the company reported a net loss for December to February. The net loss is attributed to the high-cost of the electronics where a television can set you back nearly $8,000 at a time when prices of flat screen sets continue to take a dive. The healthy sales is thought to be due to the strong performance of B&O PLAY — a line of standalone, portable products targeting a generation that listens to music on smartphones instead of home hi-fi systems.

This article was written in-house based on an article in Bloomberg Technology.

Huawei Reaches to Leica for Flagship Phone

The Chinese company Huawei has announced a partnership with the respected camera company Leica for its next flagship phone in a bid to better its premium smartphone selection. At a time when Chinese firms are struggling against market dominators such as Apple and Samsung, this partnership is a milestone for Huawei.

“We are going to launch our P9 flagship phone very soon and this is a product that we worked with Leica to produce,” Huawei deputy chairman Guo Ping said at a press conference held at their Shenzhen headquarters. This was also parallel to an announcement that there was a jump in profits from their consumer division. Since its founding in 1987, Huawei has become one of the world’s top manufacturers of network equipment, operating in 170 countries and expanding rapidly into consumer electronics such as smartphones.


But the company remains mired in controversy with certain governments. US officials view Huawei as a security threat due to links to the Chinese government, while Australia barred them from bidding to build its national network due to warnings from security agencies. With this partnership, they hope to gain the prominence required to help win broader global consumer appeal.

The reveal of the Huawei P9 will take place on April 6 2016, where all the secrets the phone has to offer will finally be on full display.

China Beauty Standards Under Spotlight

In a world where some people fork out thousands for double eyelid surgery and other such “improvements”, model Ju Xiaowen, with her distinct face and single eyelids, seems to be anti-thetical to all that. The Xi’an model was chosen as the new face for L’Oreal Paris in February, indicating a clear divide between what Asians themselves think is beautiful, and what Westerners look for in Asian Beauty. On the other hand, on the runways of China Fashion Week, which concluded on Thursday last week, many models seem to fit into what is known as the ‘Chinese Traditional Aesthetic’ – “big eyes, double eyelids, and a pale & serene beauty.”

The above conception of the Chinese Traditional Aesthetic was “diagnosed” by Roye Zhang, chief agent for China Bentley Culture & Media. The company has been operating since 2003, exactly when China’s fashion industry was still in its infancy. “There are big differences between eastern and western aesthetics – a face we find beautiful in China won’t necessarily work abroad, and vice versa,” he said.

Overseas shows sought men with “single eyelids and small eyes, who are thinner and not so tall”, and women who “look like Mulan from the Disney cartoon — she’s not exactly pretty, but she’s memorable at just a glance”. In an interview with Vogue, Ju Xiaowen herself noted the beauty schism by stating that “In China, we still like big eyes and a high nose—that’s the classic beauty in China, although I think that’s going to change”. She revealed that she herself took measures that other women took when she was still living there, such as curling their eyelashes and putting double-stick tape on their eyelids.

The gulf in perception is to the point that Zhang’s agency has to bring in foreign CEOs and bookers to look through their pre-vetted Chinese talent. “The vast majority of our models are more suitable for the Chinese market – there’s only a very few of them who will be able to go abroad,” he said.

One such model who seems to fit the criteria for being both locally and internationally suitable is the 21-year old Xu Naiyu. She’s been a frequent walker for the runways during the Fashion Week, showing off everything from a simple green top to a pieced-together dress accessorised with protective goggles and a yellow-streaked wig. Xu wanted to be a model from a young age, and is currently in her second year at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology studying modelling and design. She booked her first professional gig only in 2014 but has since walked shows both in China and abroad at the star-studded Milan and New York Fashion Weeks.

“If you want to get to the next level, you still have to go abroad to fashion capitals like Milan or Paris, because this profession is one that came into China from the outside world,” Xu said. Indeed, the Chinese version is a pale shadow of the overseas Fashion Weeks. There are no major foreign brands, and only simple sets with just two locations. The fashion industry of the world’s second-largest economy is full of brands unknown elsewhere, and few designers are integrated with the international fashion buyer system.

“In this industry, luck is so important,” Xu said in between events at the Beijing Hotel, a longstanding establishment near Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital. She also noted that the industry was “torturous” at times, lamenting that “I’m not that kind of single-eyelid girl who’s instantly recognizable”.

This may serve as a sharp and ironic jolt for those coveting some form of idealized Asian beauty. Before you put your own eyelids under the knife, you may want to take some time to ponder whether other people might see it differently.

Chinese Prefer Paris for Luxury Shopping

According to a recently released report, Paris will supplant Hong Kong as the destination of choice for Chinese consumers snapping up luxury goods.

Prepared by the Boston Consulting Group, the report states that more Chinese tourists are expected to take advantage of the weak euro this year and book a trip to Paris in search of monogrammed bags and red-heeled shoes.

For the report, 1,000 Chinese affluent consumers were asked to name the city where they expected to make a luxury purchase in the next 12 months.

Paris ranked first, followed by Hong Kong and Tokyo. This is unsurprising of course considering the Chinese customer revealed this pattern in 2015 but the story will get to that later on.

While proximity has traditionally made Hong Kong the first choice, this year consumers are expected to make the trek to the French capital, which is upheld as a dream shopping destination for the affluent Chinese. Great news then for swanky Paris hotels!

Nearly one in four Chinese respondents said they buy luxury goods abroad because they can find better selections.

One in three respondents said they believe it’s important to buy goods in the country where they’re made. The same ratio of respondents said the shopping experience abroad is superior to the experience at home.

The latest forecast hinges on expenditure stats from 2015: Last year, of the 100 billion euros spent on luxury goods, only 23 billion was spent domestically in boutiques in China.

Chinese consumers poured the most money at luxury boutiques in Europe (€35 billion) followed by the US (€14 billion).

According to the report, consumer spending among the Chinese rose from €70 billion in 2012 to €100 billion in 2015.

Analysts also offer insight into the demographic profile of consumers over the next four years: 81 percent will come from the upper middle-class and upper classes, while 65 percent of consumers will be Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1990).

Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of where wealthy Chinese consumers bought their luxury goods in 2015:

Europe: €35 billion

US: €14 billion

Hong Kong: €13 billion

Russia and the Middle East: €13 billion

Macau: €2 billion

Insight: Resilience of Bangkok Property

Despite being hit by political turmoil, the robustness and resilience of the Thai market proved to be stable throughout the various turbulences. According to Suphin Mechuchep, managing director at JLL, part of the strength in the Bangkok market comes from a good balance between demand and supply in the market, as well as the political stabilisation in the second half of 2014.

Moreover, there are other factors that will add to the optimism of the market. For starters, Thailand’s reform roadmap—amidst the stability so far—will enjoy more clarity in policy and direction, and all of this will bolster investors’ and businesses’ bullishness and overall consumer confidence. Moreover, the military government had gone ahead with various major capital spending initiatives, seeking to stimulate the economy through major infrastructure investments, all of which are expected to lift the country’s macro-economy soon, which will in turn help to grow the capital’s various property sectors.

The main property players remain well-funded and have the means to acquire income-yielding assets, or to grow their land banks. In fact, some of these developers have launched their own real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are in turn partly funded by a vibrant stock market in the country. All these ensure a sustained institutional demand for property further upstream, which keeps the market growing at a healthy pace. Beyond local factors, global trends including a low interest rate and low oil prices translating into residential markets having improved household balance sheets (as energy costs now take up less income) are expected to bring about a boost in the local property market.

The trends seen in the market corroborate these observations. According to data from Colliers, over 11,000 condominium units were launched in the city in the second quarter this year, about 9.5 percent more than in the first. Over 75 percent of these new launches were in the area connecting Bangkok along new subway lines. Moreover, significant numbers of luxury condominium units were bought up by investors despite selling prices being high and a competitive leasing market (with investment yields only hovering at about 3.5 percent, based on JLL estimates). Most of such investors have bought for capital appreciation, as opposed to seeking rental income, since prime condominiums in central Bangkok see an average of 20 percent price rises between when they were offered for sale off-plan, and when construction is over.

Some fret about the weakness seen in local demand. According to the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the confidence of new home buyers (also known as the New Residence Buyer’s Confidence Index) fell from January to June 2015 to 63.9, the lowest in the past year. The weakness is said to be due to various factors, including a dim outlook that Thais in general have taken about their own economy. However, that gap is increasingly filled by foreign buyers, as many major Thai developers have gone overseas to market their projects, particularly in China, Hong Kong and Singapore. This has led to a rise in the average take-up of condominium units, especially for units in the price range of $260 to $520 psf, which registered a rate of 90 percent. Those in the higher range of $651 psf also did well, at 80 percent. What is clear therefore, is that the demographics and dynamics of the Bangkok market is changing, and that could be just where the next big opportunity is.

Story Credits

Text by Willy Teo

This story first appeared in PALACE.

Asia’s Top Bar is in Singapore…

There is a new bar capital of Asia and it is Singapore, according to a new ranking of Asia’s top watering holes. The city-state has four entries in the top 10 – the most of any country – and the top spot of course, for 28 Hongkong Street.

In the inaugural edition of Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards– a spinoff of the World’s 50 Best Bars– a panel of 154 judges including “high-level” bartenders, bar consultants, brand ambassadors, journalists and global bar hoppers weighed in to pronounce the best drinking hotspots across Asia.

Taking the top spot is a Singapore bar famous for its discretion. Since opening in 2011, 28 Hongkong Street has built up hype by playing itself down in the manner of a secret, clandestine speakeasy.

Tucked away in a downtown thoroughfare, the bar is non-descript with nothing but the street number to identify itself: There is no awning, no flashing lights, or swanky, velvet-roped entrance.

But once inside the beige doors, the bar’s swish clientele sip on cocktails like the Modest Mule, made with lemongrass-laced vodka, ginger beer, lime and rosemary, and the colorfully named Whore’s Bath, made with manuka honey vodka, umeshu (liqueur made with Japanese apricots) poire liqueur, lemon and Hawaiian lava salt pickled ginger.

“28 Hongkong Street is an emblem of the region,” editors write. “A benchmark of quality across drinks and hospitality.”

Overall, Singapore and Hong Kong tied with nine spots each on the list, followed by Tokyo, which scored eight spots.

But with four of the top 10 spots, including the No. 1 ranking, Singapore is the big winner this year.

The results also surprised editors, who predicted Shanghai to finish fourth after Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo with the number of bars represented.

Instead, Bangkok nabbed the spot with six addresses including Vesper, the city’s top-ranked bar in 17th place.

“Bangkok’s people have a serious case of cocktail fever and, with the number of international ‘tenders setting up in the city and locals opening up their own places, it is only going in one direction from here.”

Here are the top 10 bars in Asia, according to Asia’s 50 Best Bars:

  • 28 Hongkong Street, Singapore
  • Speak Low, Shanghai
  • High Five, Tokyo
  • Lobster Bar & Grill, Hong Kong
  • Manhattan, Singapore
  • Quinary, Hong Kong
  • Operation Dagger, Singapore
  • Jigger & Pony, Singapore
  • Union Trading Company, Shanghai
  • 10. Omakase + Appreciate, Kuala Lumpur

Slump in Chinese Art Sales Reported

A report end March revealed that the Chinese art market was in a slump, with auction sales of living artists’ works falling by 45%. Even so, China surpassed the US as home to the largest population of billionaires in the world last year, which indicates an increase in the pool of super-wealthy art collectors. The reasons for the reported slump may slowing growth (the world’s second-largest economy slowed to its weakest in a quarter of a century last year at 6.9 percent) and the widely reported corruption crackdown by President Xi Jinping.

“A heady mix of the continued anti-corruption campaign, which has put a stop to gifting art to government officers, and a slowdown in the economy have combined to see both sales and the number of top works at auction pretty much halve,” said Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf.

The Hurun Report collates the auction results for the 100 most lucrative artists and slowdown in sales was first captured here. For this report, the sales for the 100 artists totaled $56.5 billion, with only three female artists on the list. The most valuable artist was ink painter Cui Ruzhuo, known for his large scale traditional landscapes. Cui’s works fetched $120.4 million, far ahead of second-placed oil painter Zeng Fanzhi, who saw his sales value crash by 62 percent. There were no figures on whether the average price of individual works had decreased. An odd entry included Jack Ma, CEO of Internet giant Alibaba, who was included solely for a collaborative painting he did with Zeng Fanzhi that sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for $5.3 million.

Some artists seem to be unfazed though, preferring to stick to the merits of their own work over material gain. Huang Jiannan ranked seventh on Hurun’s list and saw the auction value of his works drop by 45 percent last year, but he shrugged off the loss. “These statistics measure the flow of my works in the market – it has nothing to do with me. I don’t get the money from these sales directly,” he told AFP.

Critics such as Xie Chunyan believe that focusing on auction values is a poor judge of Chinese artists’ worth, noting that “Just because this little British guy Hoogewerf says he wants to find a common standard to measure things 1, 2, 3 doesn’t mean that this is the best method”.

Though many believe China’s art market has been overheated in recent years, Cui seemed positive and had a message of proactivity to other artists. “Our current downturn and backwardness shouldn’t discourage us; we artists should unite together and for the sake of our art market and our nation walk out towards the world, hand in hand, striving ardently together,” he said. All this seems to indicate one thing, no matter what happens to the market, and no matter whether for sales, aesthetics, or national sentiment, artists will still make art.

French Wines Find Favor in China Again

For a wine-grower, precision and luck are elements of the utmost importance to ensure that the best harvest is reaped for a full-bodied and hearty glass of wine. Right now, French wines face the twin perils and opportunities of climate change and China, both of which offer strong challenges. Bordeaux was one such region flanked on both sides by various new developments, both good and bad, from both science and the marketplace.

China Profits

After reaping a meagre harvest in 2013, Bordeaux wines faced depressed sales in 2013 and 2014 to China because of a frugality drive that made officials wary of opening high-end bottles of wine.

But Saint-Emilion wine merchant Philippe Casteja said last month that the Chinese market was stabilizing. Exports were up 3.0 percent to 1.83 billion euros ($2.05 billion), according to the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB). After two years of dropping, sales jumped 37%.

Overall turnover was 3.8 billion euros last year, up 1.0% over 2014 with 640 million bottles sold.

“The Chinese speak of a ‘new normal’ – and now instead of proposing exceptional wines we are targeting a consumer market.” Casteja noted, speaking of the Bordeaux region in general.

Climate Pressures

Yet, with the release of a new and somewhat alarming study by Nature Climate Change, Bordeaux’s current short-term sales may be the least of their worries.

Grapes are extremely temperature sensitive fruits. Exceptional vintages are generally produced when an early harvest develops from a rise in heat due to things like hot summers or a late-season drought. “For much of France, local climates have been relatively stable for hundreds or thousands of years,” said Elizabeth Wolkovich, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of the study. Looking back through records dating all the way to 1600, it was found that harvest dates have moved up by two full weeks since 1980 compared with the average for the preceding 400 years.

Droughts helped heighten temperatures just enough to bring in the harvest a few weeks early, said lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York City and lead author of the study. These were uncommon circumstances in the past. “Now, it’s become so warm thanks to climate change, grape growers don’t need drought to get these very warm temperatures,” Cook added.

In the short term, the resulting growth in temperature has caused some beneficial effects through certain stand-out years. For Bordeaux, 1990, 2005 and 2010 have all been described as once-a-century vintages, while in Burgundy 2005 and 2009 are said to hold exceptional promise.

Yet, in the long term, the result may be unsustainable. In 2003, the same year where a deadly heat wave hit Europe leading to thousands of deaths, grapes were picked a full month ahead of their time but did not produce particularly exceptional wines. “If we keep warming, the globe will reach a tipping point,” said Wolkovich, pointing to what happened in 2003.

“That may be a good indicator of where we are headed,” she added. “If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can’t maintain that forever.”

The result could be an identity crisis for French wines. While other wine producing regions like California and Australia can head for a new ‘terroir’ better suited to these grapes, France has an elaborate structure of rules and special areas dictating which grape varieties are to be grown in what proportion. French wines such as Champagne, Sauternes, Margaux or Saint-Emilion are grown only in such authorised areas. For many wine-makers, changing these rules is tantamount to changing the core aspects of the wine. Among the grapes that may no longer be well-adapted in the future includes signature grape varietals — Pinot Noir in Burgundy, and Merlot in Bordeaux.

The ability to adapt to such revelations gained from information sources, whether about the market or the climate, will be the key decider in which wine producers can ride the market with the best possible produce and the best possible profits.

This report was compiled by in-house writers, in combination with a wire report and image from the AFP. Find out if any of these winning wines are on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now.


Interview: Alessandro Michele for Gucci

As with everything else, and very much so in fashion, timing is everything. In this seasonal trade, the relevance of any collection undoubtedly moves with the times. By the words of English author, critic, curator, and fashion historian James Laver, “When a trend is in fashion, it is ‘smart.’ A year before this, it is ‘daring.’ And 20 years later, it becomes ‘ridiculous.’” Fashion clichés aside, in this rapidly changing business, what’s in may be out faster than you think.

Timeliness is demanding and that’s all part of the business. Most of us don’t get the opportunity to witness this creative process, but we can appreciate the intricate affair of combining foresight and craft to produce collections. Before any designer showcases his or her collection for the world to see, he or she has the daunting task of forecasting what’s in for that season before he or she starts to design the pieces.

It’s this notion of timeliness that Gucci’s No Longer/Not Yet exhibition explores. Curated by its creative director, Alessandro Michele, and Love magazine’s editor-in-chief, Katie Grand, the exhibition invited seven artists (Cao Fei, Li Shurui, Jenny Holzer, Rachel Feinstein, Glen Luchford, Nigel Shafran, and Unskilled Worker) from all over the world to offer their takes on what is contemporary through their creative works including paintings, photographs, sculptures showcased in separate rooms at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai. The exhibition also includes a piece by Michele titled The Boy In Red.

Since Michele took control of the house, he was inspired by the attitudes of youth and the contemporary images presented by great fashion photographers. According to the designer, “it is a state of temporal flux, where relics of the past merge with signs of the future, and where there is freedom to construct new meanings at this intersection of divergent paths.” It is with this appreciation that Michele’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection encapsulates traces of pre-existing worlds and glimmers of worlds in the making.

According to Michele, his work has been largely influenced by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s take on the subject. “Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands… They are never at home in the present moment.” With the prevailing theme of exploring the notion of contemporary as well as Agamben’s writing as a starting point, the seven artists got to work.Gucci-Tian_Full-View_Courtesy-of-HE-Yuchao

How did the two of you put this exhibition together?

Alessandro Michele: It began with a brave idea – we did not have a lot of time to tell the story. I wanted to show my personal approach to what time and contemporary meant. It is not a very precise idea, but I shared it with some people, and we began with this idea. When you have to work on a show, it is such hard work. It is about long hours, people waiting, and focusing on all the minute details. You see a beautiful picture that people love – and this is an accumulation of effort. I understand people just want to see the posh side of fashion, but it is something that comes with a lot of work. When I started working at Gucci, I tried to destroy everything and create something new. We changed the space completely, and the way we worked transformed with the space, along with our working attitudes. I tried to push another design language as well. It was a bit of a crazy place to be at the time, but if you want to create something new in the fashion or art world, you have to go a bit mad first. That’s when you can start your own little revolution.

Katie Grand: And this is something extremely different to what Gucci was before, where it was greatly focused on luxury and travel.

AM: I wanted to liberate Gucci from the cage that is fashion. I was very inspired by the attitudes of youth and the contemporary images presented by great fashion photographers. This was the beginning where I felt like I needed to clean up Gucci. But I am not a minimalist designer, I am more maximalist. I need more and more. It is a way to communicate, I feel. I like this invention of a super sleek language.

What does the title of the show, No Longer/Not Yet, mean?

AM: It is about the now. It is a beautiful sentence that says, “I need to talk about the present, the contemporary.” My point of view on this is very personal. If you want to talk about what is contemporary, you can’t use something succinct and present, you also have to look to the past, which I do with my designs. It is a way to see where we are now. It is a philosophy that I follow, even though it’s difficult to explain.

Katie, what is your take?

KG: When people talk about modernity so much in fashion, it becomes a word that has been used too often.

AM: People in the fashion industry are very sensitive to the future, but I am not too much. My work is much more of a process. I really love talking about what is contemporary; in the way everyone can use a minimalistic expression to explain what contemporary means to them. The future is not something I am interested in very much, because I see value in using what is in the present to build the future instead. You can dream about the future, but the most inspiring thing about the present is truly the now.Nigel_Courtesy-of-XIE-Yingjie

There is a piece by you, Alessandro. What is it about?

AM: I decided to talk about the idea of beauty, and decided to construct a space with a cube to translate the illusion of beauty. Placing it inside a mirrored box and coupling it with a reproduction of an old Tudor painting in my home. I wanted to let the past talk to the present. I tried to put some meaning to allow differing points of time to communicate – beauty becomes an open space and it becomes an idea that the beauty you value is the one that you don’t wholly understand.

Your works amplify the effect of gender-blurring. So is this a reflection of how you think we dress ourselves?

KG: I think it is interesting as when I first walked into the Gucci store, and it was the first time Alessandro’s collection was in the store. And for someone like me who knows the brand inside out, I was confused as to whether what I was seeing was for men or women. And he answered, it is whatever you want it to be. It’s an elegant way to merge differing aesthetics that we adopt into our daily lives.

AM: It is a way to live. I try to push the question of gender, and I think it was very clear in my show. My personal idea of beauty is reflected in this statement. Even when I shop in my own time, I find myself being drawn to beautiful pieces from women’s collections. It is to say that you can liberate yourself, and be free without prescribing to gender norms. If you’re free, everything is fun.

Story Credits

Text by Lance Lim

This story was first published in Men’s Folio.

China-Only Volkswagen Phideon Debuts in Geneva

The result of a joint venture between Volkswagen’s German and China design teams, the Volkswagen Phideon is the new flagship model of the company that will be going for sale at the end of 2016. Unfortunately, despite being shown at the Geneva Motor Show, it will only be available in China. Don’t fret, though since the Phideon provides an inkling of what might be behind VW’s next global flagship model, the second-generation Phaeton…when it launches before the end of the decade.

For the exterior, the car’s front grille aims to be a new design used to distinguish all future flagship VW sedans. Whereas in the interior, with the car being over five meters long, has plenty of room for back-seat passengers. The dashboard and interior architecture is sporty and elegant, including electrically adjustable seats, integrated seat ventilation and heating as well as a massage function. A wrap around ambient light strips that can switch between three colors creates a permeating and cool atmosphere.

But this one is all about the tech. It happens to be the first VW to use a night-vision camera and to get HUD (projecting information onto the windscreen) as standard. Probably out of consideration for humongously crowded megacities like Shanghai, the Phideon allows the driver to have a 360-degree view of his or her surroundings for maneuvering. All this is on top of active driver safety systems including lane departure warning. Infotainment features that support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

As for the rest, Volkswagen hasn’t provided any figures but the car on display in Geneva, the range-topping 3.0TSI, boasts a 300PS turbo-charged V6 engine and permanent all-wheel drive. Milder, two-wheel drive gas-powered models plus a plug-hybrid version are also planned. It also uses the same air-suspension set up found in Bentleys.

Klaus Bischoff, Head of Design Volkswagen Brand took note that the car was “designed in Europe for our style-conscious Chinese customers.” We should be seeing some of its European flair in those Asian streets soon enough.

Interview: Paolo Vitelli for Azimut Benetti

Paolo Vitelli, direct and powerful, a native of Turin, has a passion common to many true Piedmont natives: the mountains. A passion so strong it propelled him to revive old mountain chalets, creating the Champoluc luxury resort Hotellerie de Mascognaz, at the foot of Italy’s Monte Rosa. But this is not Vitelli’s only great interest or what has made his name synonymous with luxury and finesse. It is simply his love of boats that has transformed him into one of the world’s most dynamic and famous Italian shipping entrepreneurs. In 1969, at 22 years of age, Vitelli founded the Azimut sas. firm as a charter company hiring out sailing boats.

The following year, Azimut began to import and sell boats on the market before the production venture began from artisan-built boats to industrial production; from one single boat to a series of boats. After 10 years of steady growth Vitelli bought the Benetti firm, one of the most famous mega yacht builders in the world, solidifying his status in the industry as a visionary. Today the Azimut Benetti Group is the most important European motor yacht builder and the leading mega yacht builder in the world. YachtStyle met the CEO at the Azimut Benetti Yachting Gala staged in Portofino in June 2015.

What have been Azimut Benetti group’s latest developments?

We have launched several new models, all with a very high level of finish and quality. We sold 12 of our new 34 Atlantis; our new Azimut 54 also is having brisk sales. Another new model is the beautiful Azimut 84. We sold six or seven of our new 43 Magellano. We also have had three new orders for our flagship Magellano 76 that was presented as a world premiere at the Portofino Yachting Gala. Not new, but a consistent seller is the Azimut 116—we sold two of them recently, it is a very popular boat. As for Benetti, we are booked for the next three years and we have new orders pending.

What is Azimut’s share of the world market?

We estimate our Group has a 12 percent share of the world’s yacht market. We certainly have been doing better than our competitors, many of whom are suffering and disappearing. We are doing better primarily because we are a company very strong financially, capable of going long without being hit. Many companies owned by financial institutions or borrowing too much money have been heavily hit. So we are taking the opportunity of the tide to gain market share and become stronger.P.Vitelli-article2

You survived the economic crisis rather well. What are the key elements of this success?

We have always had the trust from our customers. They know we are solid and operating with a long-term vision. No doubt it is critical to keep up with new models and quality. Also, perhaps because of the crisis, we have chosen better dealers and because of the crisis, we have a more integrated team that is more efficient; we trimmed the fat. We are proud to be a family company and there has always been a lot of continuity. Azimut Benetti is not for sale and we are not dependent on the banking world.

You love to talk about the “Italian touch”, tell us more?

Italian design is all about enduring style, all around the world. People want Italian design, Italian quality, Italian craftsmanship, Italian fabrics, Italian brands, Italian food. So…we have the opportunity to export our interpretation of luxury into the world without compromising our principles. I feel that everybody respects Italian luxury… and Italian style and design are a symbol of luxury all around the world. This is especially true in the fashion and yachting world.

Biggest challenge ahead?

The biggest challenge as well as necessity ahead is innovation! The necessity to become more productive and more cost-efficient now is pushing companies like ours to reinvest in the process of production. We are increasing the number of boat models, and therefore jobs, and are reinvesting money to improve the process, both in terms of efficiency and gaining a higher level of quality in the yachts. As an example, 10 years ago, a boat was laminated by hand using glass and resin. Today we use infusion, which means no one is touching the resin and no one is breathing in the resin, so it’s better for the environment and for the people. Because we now cut the glass using machinery—putting the glass on the mold and injecting the resin—the process is 10 times more engineered and sophisticated than it was 10 years ago.P.Vitelli-article

The innovations you feel proud of?

I will cite a few. Azimut Benetti was the first to put big windows in the hull, to put the garage in the back and to make a living area in the front of the yacht; and we were the first to use a really large flybridge. And today we’re seeing that people like to get closer to the water in every respect—just look at how many yachts now have balconies opening from the side, bridges in the back and easy access to the water. People want to be more sporty, they want to swim and they want to dine under the stars. In terms of technology, I would say comfort has been the prime requirement in the last 10 years. If you consider the noise level on a yacht 10 years ago, today that noise is a fraction of what it was. We’re also working on the stability of the yacht in bad weather and sea conditions if you’re sailing or at anchor. People like innovation, but they don’t want to abandon comfort.

What is your growth strategy? More acquisitions ahead?

It is not said that we have to grow, it is not said that we have to acquire companies in order to grow. At the moment we have the opportunity to grow because the market is good. When we see the market is stable, we might concentrate our efforts into industrial organisation, so acquisitions are not a necessity for growth. We take opportunities to enter new segments of the market primarily to give stability to our group. Take for instance the acquisition of Fraser Yachts. This acquisition has enabled our group to provide Azimut Bennetti owners Fraser Yachts’ services; management and servicing of yachts, chartering of their yachts when not used.

What is your view on the Chinese luxury yacht market?

I would say “work in progress”. While there is a lot of interest from the Chinese in our yachts, our sales have gone down a bit there. We have even designed models with karaoke rooms and such to attract their attention, but in my opinion, the Chinese yachting mentality is simply not developed enough. Education about the benefits of yachting is key in the years to come. Benefits of taking your family and friends for a happy day cruise. Benefits of taking business partners on board. We trust that the Chinese market can burgeon at any time and we are fully prepared for such with a strong team and a well-organised dealership network across this huge country.

Paolo and Givanna Vitelli

Paolo and Givanna Vitelli

What is your sentiment on the Indian boating scene?

The Indian boating scene is behind every market at the moment but it has a huge opportunity to catch up. It is behind China because China was quicker in building infrastructure. It is behind Brazil because they too have been building infrastructure and they love the sea. It is also behind Thailand, where we have a lot of marinas and tourists on the water. So India has to catch up not just in infrastructure but fill in the psychological gap and nurture a love for their water, which I see happening slowly but surely.

What about the rest of Asia? Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia?

Hong Kong has a healthy yachting mentality, no taxes on yachts, yet there is a problem there with lack of berthing. We tried to work with the authorities there on a marina, but the bureaucracy is very conservative. They need a few years to even study a plan, let alone make a decision. Singapore with four marinas has been an interesting and growing market over the past years for Azimut. Malaysia has some buyers for big units. Thailand is becoming a charter destination and has an active boating scene. Indonesia has incredibly beautiful waters and potential, yet taxes are very high as in China and there are not enough marinas in operation. Infrastructure is key to healthy market development. So overall, despite some serious infrastructure issues, we maintain a strong focus on South East Asia.

With your daughter in the company and having an operational role, any plans to prepare a well-deserved retirement?

No I am not slowing down, I like working and I am passionate about my company. Naturally I enjoy boating, I had my own Azimut 103 for several years. However, this summer I cruised aboard a brand new 93ft Delfino. We had 10 people on board and I am happy to say there was not a single defect even though we were the first to use the boat. We had an idyllic cruise all up and down the Italian coast, Sicily and the Amalfi Coast without one problem. Now, that made me proud to be owner of the company.

Your last words for today?

The market for pleasure boating is continuing to expand, but not as in the past. Growth will still take place thanks to development in emerging countries, but in the West a phase of stabilisation is anticipated, with a very low development rate. Competition in such a market becomes always more selective, and customers become more and more wary and hard to please. There is no room for making any mistakes: you always have to be the best. The only change with respect to the past will be the fact that we will need to concentrate all our energy on the quality of the product and services that we offer to our customers, always introducing more value to what we do.

This interview first appeared in Issue 32 of Yacht Style.

The Titanic: A New Beginning

All Aboard the Titanic II! No, you are not in 1912 and no we have not let the Monday blues get to us. We are in fact talking about the Titanic replica that Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is creating.

Back in 2012, Palmer had announced his plans to recreate the Belfast liner that sank on its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean, and set sail this year. However, the plans have now been pushed back to 2018. A little over a century after the Titanic began its journey the replica will mirror the ship —with a few modifications. To meet modern maritime safety regulations, the vessel will measure 4 m wider and the hull will be welded, not riveted, reported The Belfast Telegraph.

When complete, the Titanic II will measure 270 m long, 53 m high, and weigh 56,000 tons. Like its predecessor, the Titanic II will have three cabin classes. The ship will span nine floors and be able to carry 2,400 passengers. Other features will include Turkish baths, a swimming pool and gymnasium. As far as we know, Kate and Leo are not scheduled to be on it.

As an aside, it is important to note that as far as cruise liners go, this one is far from the largest, with gross tonnage these days clocking in at above 100,000. The largest such ship in the world, Allure of the Seas, has 2,700 staterooms, for example, and weighs in at an incredible 225,282 tonnes. For the truly curious out there who may wonder if this is a coal-powered ship, given that the original boiler uptakes will be recreated, in fact it is diesel-powered. Four diesel engines power three azimuth thrusters and two bow thrusters.

Instead of Southampton to New York, however, the ship’s maiden voyage will be between Jiangsu, China, where it’s being built, to Dubai. This story remains a work in progress as rumors continue to swirl around Palmer and the health of his businesses but we are tracking it closely. The key question remains, if the project is actually completed, would you book passage?

Profile: Artist Zhuang Hong Yi

Chinese contemporary artist Zhuang Hong Yi has been based in the Netherlands for more than two decades but was originally born in 1962 in Sichuan, China. Living and working in two different environments, it is no surprise that his works take influence from both Chinese and European techniques. As an artist who embraces both the past and the present, his contemporary creations demonstrate the clear presence of his Chinese roots in the use of colors, themes, shapes and materials (specifically rice paper).

After graduating from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, he and his wife Lu Luo, also an artist, moved to Groningen in The Netherlands where they studied at the Minerva Academy. His shift from a country with well-established artistic traditions to a more liberal one saw him incorporating more daring colors and Western styles like impressionism into his practice. Even so, Zhuang still utilized the traditional Chinese material of rice paper. This gives his works a strong traditional Chinese aesthetic, becoming meditations on color, nature and form while emphasizing the uniformity and focus in handing material (all of which he acquired from his experience in China). Overall, his ‘messy’ and ‘chaotic’ mix of impasto strokes of bright acrylic and oil paints on top of rice paper characterises most of Zhuang’s work.

The flower motif dominates Zhuang’s work and he usually works patiently and religiously year after year on the subject alone. This is because the flower motif symbolizes many different meanings and emotions in both the Chinese and European culture that Zhuang seeks to explore through his art. Different flowers have various spiritual and social representations in Chinese culture. Flowers also hold strong significance in Western literature and customs. Furthermore, flowerbeds are exceptionally iconic features of The Netherlands.

Zhuang Hong Yi with his creations

Zhuang Hong Yi with his creations

Inspired by the flowerbed, Zhuang bends and folded hundreds of tiny buds from painted rice paper to form his flowerbed sculptures (pictured top). The three-dimensionality of the paper flowers invites the audience to appreciate the tactile nature of his vibrant tapestry of colors and form.

Transitioning from the uniformity and technique of his past training in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he focused on traditional skills such as printing techniques like wood carvings, to the new found freedom of expression he achieved in Europe presented a challenge for the artist. Zhuang enacts this personal struggle visually, vacillating between phases of controlled planning and emotional gesture.

Zhuang’s more popular works include his ‘Head’ series of portraits that feature an abstracted shape of a head on a large canvas. He only began exploring the rice paper flower motif towards the end of the 90s, and became more recognized in the international art market for his ‘Flowerfield’ sculptures (below) from 2005.

Zhuang Hong Yi Flower Field 2015

Flower Field. Acrylic and rice paper. 2015

“Zhuang is a renowned artist with a well-established collector following in the world’s major art markets of New York, Miami, London and Paris,” says Chris Churcher, MD & Founder of REDSEA Gallery. To date, Zhuang has exhibited his works in renowned exhibitions throughout Europe such as the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam in 1999, and a solo show in 2001 at the world famous Groninger Museum in The Netherlands. In 2007, the Groninger Museum honored him and his wife with a large duo exhibition called ‘Atelier Beijing’. His work is held in numerous renowned public and private collections worldwide.

*For more information, please visit www.redseagallery.com. If you are in Hong Kong in March, REDSEA Gallery has organized a showing of Zhuang Hong Yi’s work at Art Central Hong Kong. From March 23-26, visit the Central Harbourfront Event Space at 9 Lung Wo Road, Central, Hong Kong, for a direct experience.

Story credits

By Tyen Fong

Going Home Alone: Chinese Passenger Flies Solo

Is it still cattle class if you are the only passenger? While news reports continue to filter in about 100,000 people stranded at Guangzhou train stations this week, trying to head home for the Chinese New Year holidays, one woman had a random experience with true luxury: a commercial flight to Guangzhou all to herself. The short version of this tale is that the woman, whom the AFP names as Zhang, simply outlasted all the other passengers on her China Southern flight, which was delayed for 10 hours.

Zhang made a star of herself on social media, posting photos showing row after row of empty seats on the China Southern plane as it flew from Wuhan. Apparently, the other passengers could not handle the wait-time and did the sensible thing by finding other flights; Zhang toughed it out and had the Boeing 737-700 plane all to herself in the end.

On her social media feed, made public now by multiple news reports, says the experience was tuhao, using a slang term for the nouveau riche.

The AFP reports that China Southern schedules show the flight is normally operated using a Boeing 737-700 aircraft, which generally seats 137 passengers. This got us curious about how much this flight would have actually cost, with just one passenger. Apparently, the one-and-a-half-hour flight would have cost more than $10,000 (stats sourced from here) and that is just based on the cost of keeping the plane in the air for that amount of time. For some context, that amount will fly you long-haul on first, with a return ticket included.

Nevertheless, a social media troll pointed out a little niggle: despite all that extra room on the China Southern flight, Zhang was not upgraded from cattle class. To be fair, we have no idea if the flight was one of those all-economy propositions and really, to have an experience like this one is something money can’t normally buy. We think it might just be priceless.

This story was written in-house, based on news reports, with an image supplied by the AFP