A weight off your shoulders

SCMP, Friday, May 26, 2006
By Zara Horner

BY ALL ACCOUNTS Hong Kong is one of the most stressful cities in the world – but there are plenty of ways to chill out.

Just getting out and having fun in the sun is one of the simplest and easiest, according to psychiatrist David Lau. “When we’re having fun, we automatically leave stress behind,” Lau says. He also advises reviewing situations that cause stress and how you behave during them. Think about how others react to your behaviour. List things that would make life easier and less stressful. “Writing things down can sort things out in your head,” Lau says. “Sometimes it’s also important to get help, so find someone you trust to talk to.”

The human body is designed to cope with short bursts of danger, illness or emergencies, but Lau says that when the body releases adrenaline and cortisol (normal stress-reaction chemicals) “we’re less able to cope with the long-lasting pressures that build up in modern life”.

There are myriad ways to de-stress in Hong Kong – and they won’t necessarily break the bank.

Knead the pain away

“Feeling stressed is one of the main reasons clients come for a massage,” says therapist Colleen Van Ronk. “The pain shows up mainly in the neck and shoulders where small nodules of bunched up muscle and waste products accumulate. Massage will help soften this tension and have a positive overall effect on the client’s mental and emotional well-being, too.”

She recommends aromatherapy massages for stress relief. “Essential oils such as citrus essences, rosemary, sandalwood, peppermint, lavender, geranium and ylang ylang all have powerful healing effects.” A friend’s recommendation is a good way to find a masseuse, Van Ronk says. She charges $300 for an hour.

Pin-pointing stress

Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of healing known, says Quality Chinese Medical Centre director Sally Tse – and it’s virtually pain free. “The sterile needles are as fine as a hair, so they don’t hurt on insertion. There could be a momentary sharpness or dull ache, that’s all.” Does being a pin cushion reduce stress? “Absolutely. Chinese medicine approaches the human condition as a whole – body, mind and spirit. There’s a vital force called chi that dictates the working of every organ and system. Chi must flow freely in the correct strength and quality for the body to function properly. When stressed, the flow of this vital energy is impaired.” When needles are inserted on acupuncture points, energy is said to be drawn to deficient organs, excesses dispersed, blockages removed and balance restored. “In Chinese medicine, stress – and its symptoms of nervousness, sleeplessness and irritability, among others – is caused by deficient liver and kidney function,” Tse says. “After a pulse and tongue examination, needles would be inserted into the meridian points associated with these organs so the symptoms of stress can be relieved.” Tse charges $3,300 for 10 sessions.

We are what we eat

“Food definitely affects our moods,” says dietician Gabrielle Tuscher. “For most people, missed meals or long periods of time without food leads to irritability, lethargy and lack of concentration.” Food can be used to relieve symptoms of stress, Tuscher says. “Drink lots of water. Avoid or limit caffeine, which is just a quick-fix energy-sapper, and alcohol, which is a depressant. Don’t go more than four hours without eating, and choose five small balanced meals a day. Sugary, high-fat and greasy foods may be tempting, especially when we’re not feeling our best, but they’re a temporary fix, after which the guilt kicks in – not to mention the hip padding.” Graham Stuart-Bradshaw from the Integrated Medicine Institute says that taking supplements such as a vitamin B complex or magnesium can help. Herbal remedies include valerium, Siberian and American ginseng, and rhodiola. “But, a nice cup of chamomile tea before a good night’s sleep is probably one of the best and easiest ways to alleviate signs of stress,” Stuart-Bradshaw says.

Don’t let stress get up your nose

About 50 million smell receptors sending signals through our nervous system to the brain can’t be overlooked, says aromatherapist Tina Kalmar. “These messages provoke memories, emotions and even physical sensations. It makes sense to counter the polluted, smelly air we’re forced to breathe outside with nicer, healing aromas indoors.” Burning oils and candles throughout the home is the easiest way, says Kalmar. “During the day, go for stimulating smells such as lime, grapefruit and mandarin to provide mental clarity and energise. A few drops of eucalyptus oil on a tissue to sniff through the day is also good. In the evening, try more relaxing scents such as neroli, lavender and sandalwood.” Place a candle or burner in each room of the home and let the stress waft away.

Day spa bliss

If you can’t get out of Hong Kong for a weekend to lie under a palm tree, at least give yourself an hour or two off. “Our top-selling treatments and products are for de-stressing,” says Peninsula Spa director Ina Soong. “More and more of our customers are looking for ways to alleviate stress and for that reason most spas now provide a comprehensive range of treatments. Our Peninsula Spa Ceremonies focuses on de-stressing and calming with acupressure facials, herbal body masks, hot stone massage, essential oils and herbal concentrates. Any time is a good time for a spa, but to truly relax and unwind it’s best to schedule an appointment when you have nothing to do straight afterwards to prolong the benefits.” A Skin Rescue and Skin Brightener Facial costs $2,000, and a Detox and Renew Full Day costs $3,980.

Work it out

“Getting active for just 15 minutes a day is all it takes to feel better because of the release of endorphins,” says fitness instructor Claire Sargeant. “There are all sorts of physical benefits which most people are aware of, such as a healthy heart and respiratory system, increased strength and revved up metabolism. Exercise also has psychological benefits, because self-awareness and self-confidence are boosted. Being active, especially doing something you enjoy, is the best stress-buster. Trying something new is a great antidote to the blues. Choose from dancing, rock climbing, horse riding, learning to ride a mono-cycle or rollerblading. People tend to fall into exercise categories. ‘Not sure I want to, but I should’ people should join a class, buddy up or get a personal trainer. ‘OK, I might’ people should write out a list of pros and cons of what they might like doing and how. ‘Yep, let’s do it’ people should set a goal, and make a plan.”

Omm that stress away

The mind absorbs whatever it’s exposed to, so we should take care what television shows we watch, magazines and books we read and even songs we listen to, says yoga master Sachinandan Das. “Meditation is the process of being in the innermost self where the spiritual realm can escape from the cycle of worldly desire, action and impression,” he says. “Anyone can do it as there are numerous forms of meditation to suit all kinds of personalities.” When people indulge in “materially complex lifestyles”, they get trapped in mental frustration, negative emotions and stress, Das says. Finding ways to relax deeply can help overcome these potentially destructive patterns. “Meditation techniques combat a stressful life. It’s all about focusing attention inwards [Dharana], while letting all thoughts gently come and go through the mind without getting tangled in them [Dhyana].”

Bend it like Madonna

Yoga is a great way to tune the body and align the breath, automatically reducing stress, says Pure Yoga’s Patrick Creelman. “Yoga cleanses, strengthens and har- monises the whole system – body and mind,” he says. “The incredibly powerful yogic physical practices begin very simply with a natural progression to the highly technical and it’s really all about what the individual chooses to give. The philosophy of yoga is rooted in the belief that all things are connected, by attuning physical movements and breathing patterns we achieve complete harmony.”

Here are two postures that Creelman recommends as simple stress-busters:

Downward dog: Lie belly down, put your hands under your shoulders, tuck your toes under your feet and push your arms straight, lifting your hips and moving your thighs back to straighten your legs, so the body forms an inverted “V”, with your head between your arms.

Viparita karani: Lie with your buttocks against a wall, and legs straight up the wall. Head, shoulders, back and arms rest on the floor. Relax and breathe normally.

Whatever floats your boat
“The simple act of smiling can make us feel a whole lot better,” says Lau. So why not try an unusual way of having fun? The nine-metre Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) operated by Ian Corby’s Seafari may be just the ticket. “Similar to the vessels used by the Hong Kong Marine Police as well as high-speed rescue services, the RIB reaches speeds of 50 knots in full twisting, turning, banking jet propulsion,” says Corby. “Getting up close and personal with Hong Kong’s container ship visitors … brings a smile to the faces of even the most stressed passengers,” says Corby. So, make like Tom Cruise and book a stress-busting mission with friends and family. It costs $250 per person for half an hour.

Break habits

The Alexander Technique (AT) is a therapy that focuses on how we move and hold our bodies. Patterns of misuse are redirected so that physical and mental tension can be eliminated.

“The AT is a way of using your awareness of muscle tension to optimise the way you move and function,” says practitioner Peter Schneider. “If negative movement habits and patterns are changed, or fine-tuned, general aches and pains can be a thing of the past. It’s possible to learn how to change and improve reactions so a calmer approach results and, therefore, less stress.”

An AT session costs $800 an hour, but you probably need only two sessions to benefit because the skill is taught quickly.

Ya Seh Meh

By Rose Tse and Angela Collingwood
([email protected])

Southern China is in a sub-tropical zone whose high temperatures and humidity cause bacterial and fungal growth. According to traditional Chinese medicine, hot and wet weather makes it easy for exogenous heat and dampness evils to attack the body. They consume chi (vital energy), impair body fluids and cause a series of health problems.

Those suffering from damp-heat evils can experience fever, irritability, thirst, heaviness of the limbs, chest tightness, nausea and diarrhoea. When these evils attack different parts of the body, they cause specific syndromes.

Herbal beverages are seen as an ideal way to prevent heat and dampness conditions as they clear the heat and dampness, replenish chi and supply fluids.

They’re referred to as cooling teas, have a bitter flavour and are dark brown.

In ancient times, these drinks were effective and affordable remedies for people to treat and prevent disease. They were also combined with local ingredients and brewed to individual tastes.

Initially, people would buy the herbal ingredients and prepare the remedies at home, until herbal shops began to provide ready-made forms for convenience. In Hong Kong, these herbal beverages are often sold by the bowl at herbal tea shop counters.

There are no standard prescriptions, and many herbal shops keep their recipes secret. Ingredients in the teas may alter depending on the time of year.

Today, these traditional teas are still popular folk remedies. They’re not only able to protect against climatic influences, but also can relieve aliments caused by the stressful urban lifestyle.

Some common teas found in Hong Kong include:

Five Flowers, which is said to clear heat and expel dampness and is anti-inflammatory, helping to alleviate symptoms such as fatigue, sore throat, indigestion, poor appetite, insomnia and urinary problems.

Canton love-pes vine, which is said to relieve fatigue, irritability, chest fullness and indigestion. It is also consumed to prevent hepatitis and urinary stones.

Chrysanthemum is suitable for those people who always feel thirsty and have a bitter taste in the mouth, or those with blurred vision, sore throat, hoarseness, dark yellow urine or a headache due to wind evils attacking the head region.

Sugar cane and lalang grass rhizoma, which is said to help replenish body fluids and clear dryness and heat symptoms such as thirst, mouth sores, a dry throat, bad breath, crusty lips and nasal bleeding.

Flu tea is a very bitter tea recommended when you have the early symptoms of cold or influenza such as fatigue, a sense of general weakness and a slightly runny nose.

Twenty-four flavours is also a bitter tea used to treat excessive fire in the body and is helpful to many other ailments too. It’s said to help alleviate sore throat, fever, the common cold and flu, and skin problems.

The drinks provided by herbal shops may target more specific conditions, as each shop has its own unique formulation.

Before taking any medicine, consult your TCM or medical practitioner.

Pride of the US fleet sails in for some fun


Crew members aboard the USS Ronald Reagan set their sights on Hong Kong yesterday as the US Navy’s newest Nimitz-class aircraft carrier made its maiden stopover.

The 334-metre warship, commissioned in July 2003, has more than 60 aircraft and a raft of design changes, including a bulbous bow, digital communications and a redesigned “island” – the command centre for flight-deck operations.

Displacing 98,500 tonnes and with 1.82 hectares of flight deck, the ship’s four 30-tonne bronze propellers can drive the vessel at more than 30 knots, powered by two nuclear reactors that can run for more than 20 years between pit stops.

Rear Admiral Michael Miller, commander of the fleet that includes the aircraft carrier, said the city would give his crew some much-needed entertainment.

“We have brought about 6,000 sailors into your city and they are ready to spend,” he said. “For many of them it will be their first experience of Hong Kong. This is one of our favourite berths and we are all very excited to be here.”

Admiral Miller said that as well as filling the bars in Wan Chai, many sailors were keen to get involved with the local community.

“Some of us will also be participating in community relations projects, which involve anything from painting an orphanage to interacting with patients in hospitals,” he said. “It is a global community and we want to help where we can.”

Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dominique Lasco painted a picture of life on board. “It gets very routine,” she said. “You are working 12 hours on, 12 hours off, usually seven to seven, and then you grab a bite to eat and go to bed. There are no bars or leisure facilities. In fact, there’s no alcohol. That sucks.”

The sailor, who enlisted 2 1/2<121> years ago to help pay her tuition fees, said she was glad to be in the most balanced crew in the navy, but said life on board could still be tough for women.

“There are about 500 to 600 women on this cruise [about 12 per cent], the most for any ship in the US Navy. But it can be hard.”

One of the highlights for her has been the travel. Since the carrier was deployed in January it has roamed more than 24,000km along the east and west coasts of Latin America, through the Straits of Magellan and across the Pacific to berth at Malaysia and Singapore.

“Singapore was very disappointing,” she said. “It was boring.”

Less polluted air could save HK $4b a year

HONG KONG – BETTER air quality in Hong Kong could save as many as 1,600 lives and HK$21 billion (S$4.3 billion) a year, according to a new study.

In addition, 64,000 hospital ‘bed days’ and 6.8 million family doctor visits could be saved, said the report released yesterday.

Air pollution in Hong Kong has deteriorated markedly in the past decade; some say it is starting to affect the city’s economic lustre by making it harder to attract overseas talent to work here.

The report said Hong Kong had poor visibility 45 per cent of the time and was worse than Los Angeles, London, New York and Paris in terms of ‘respirable particulate air pollution’ levels.

‘If it was an infectious disease, there would be a crisis,’ Mr Anthony Hedley from the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health told a news conference.

‘This is a medical emergency.’

Besides his department, the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Institute for the Environment at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Civic Exchange think-tank took part in the study.

The researchers estimated that HK$1.5 billion could be saved per year in tangible health care costs, HK$500 million in productivity lost due to pollution-related illness and HK$19 billion in intangible costs, including the value of lost lives and willingness to pay to avoid illness. — REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Banyan Tree


“When my wife Claire and I backpacked in Asia or Europe during our younger, budget-conscious days, it was the romance and intimacy we remembered and associated with our accommodations, no matter how humble. Surely, other people would also cherish such memories, even if they had more money? That was my starting hypothesis. So, with intuition and a hankering to recapture the magic of romantic and intimate holidays in a culturally evocative and exotic setting, Banyan Tree was born.

The name Banyan Tree comes from the fishing village on Lamma Island in Hong Kong where Claire and I lived for three idyllic years before I joined the family business. Yung Shue Wan, or Banyan Tree Bay, despite its modest, rustic village setting, symbolized for us a sanctuary of romance and intimacy. Yung Shue Wan is hardly luxurious, but it proved that when two people have a wonderful experience, the place they had it in acquires a magical quality. Our hotels aspire to be the Yung Shue Wans, or sanctuaries, for our guests whatever their age or origins.

As a development economist-cum-journalist backpacking in the region, I was distressed by irresponsible tourism—destruction of the physical environment; exploitation and degradation of the cultural environment. My subsequent experience in rehabilitating the 600 acres of land that Laguna Phuket stands on today, from an abandoned tin mine into an award-winning environmental showcase offering five resorts, showed me what responsible tourism could do. These experiences—one negative, one positive—taught me that as tourism practitioners we have the immense responsibility and yet also the power to do something positive about our physical and human environment.

Through activities like the Green Imperative Fund and a group-wide committee to coordinate corporate social responsibility initiatives, we have been able to uphold that commitment. Larger-scale projects, such as marine conservation initiatives in the Maldives and the little things (refillable containers for non-toxic, biodegradable toiletries) ensure the continued preservation of our ecological environment.
Continue reading Banyan Tree

Bus Uncle

The film starts out when the protagonist, a middle-aged man, reacts strongly when a young man sitting behind him taps his shoulder to ask him to keep his voice down while talking on the phone.

“I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Why do you do this?” the infuriated bus rider says, punctuating the sentence by jabbing his right hand downward in the air.

When the young man, who rarely talks back during the argument, expresses an unwillingness to continue the conversation, the middle-aged man explodes, “This is not resolved! This is not resolved! This is not resolved!” – now a new catch phrase in Hong Kong.

He goes on to say, “I face pressure. You face pressure. Why did you provoke me?”

In another twist, just when the dispute seems to have ended after the young man apologises and the two shake hands, the young man takes issue with profanity used by the middle-aged man, who then launches into another round of profanities.

The video has inspired numerous spoofs, including a karaoke version and a rap song using the middle-aged man’s refrain, “I face pressure. You face pressure.” Internet users have also added Chinese and English subtitles.

It still isn’t clear who shot the film and it isn’t certain if the film was staged or not. The middle-aged man has not been identified but a man claiming to be the victim of the verbal abuse has been interviewed on Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio.

“Why did I just sit there? I paid to be on the bus. You don’t think I would get off the bus and waste my money, do you?” said the man, identified only as Alvin.

A very liquid investment

Finance Asia
Timothy Cuffe, 13 April 2006

Fancy owning your own bar?

My father was never one to dispense advice lightly, but on the odd occasion that he allowed himself the extravagance he would put forward a gem. Aside from his sage counsel on marriage, his other chestnut was: “Son, if you are ever going to invest your money in anything, make damn sure that it is something you know a lot about.” So here I am writing about investing in bars, a subject that I think I know an awful lot about. In fact, I would imagine my dad would be rather proud of all the comprehensive research I have done on the subject. With the high density of expat professionals in Asia, owning a bar sounds like the ideal investment for many potential entrepreneurs and bonus-laden investment bankers. Unfortunately owning a bar is not always about rooms filled with friendly conversation, pulling a few pints and people enjoying themselves. There is definitely more to the enterprise once you step behind the counter. “Owning your own food and beverage outlet can be hugely rewarding in many ways, but be aware that owning your own bar is a little like a relationship,” says Mark Leahy, a partner in the Singapore-based McCraic Holdings, owners of BQ, Molly Malone’s, Father Flanagan’s and Dharma Kebabs. “A successful business needs constant love, attention and care. It’s a long term commitment and if you neglect it, it can quickly lose its charm.” It is important to be realistic about the amount of work involved in running your own business, especially a bar, pub or restaurant. People think owning a bar is all about sipping cocktails, enjoying the craic with friends, but they often overlook the amount of hours that are involved in creating the idea for the bar, setting it up, stocking it and organizing and managing staff. “Running a bar isn’t easy – there are a lot of potential pitfalls to owning one,” says Lawrence Morgan, owner of Jem in Hong Kong’s illustrious Lan Kwai Fong district. One of the primary stumbling blocks in owning a bar is lax cost control, and that all begins with the property’s lease agreement. In Hong Kong, leases on commercial property are classically six-year agreements with a three-year rent review. Unfortunately, with soaring property values, bar proprietors who negotiated favourable leases three years ago are now seeing their landlords ask for another 40% or more when their review comes up. “Given the steep rise in property values and subsequent rental increases, a lot of bar owners are beginning to look at the numbers and realize that it just won’t work anymore,” says Morgan. Continue reading A very liquid investment