To recap, Filipinos love sing-song names, and actor and film star Dingdong Dantes has a name that certainly resonates better than his birth name, José Sixto Raphael González Dantes III.
He is just one of the stars, of entertainment and the sports world, who work out regularly in the two-floor gym at Edsa Shangri-La, Manila. The gym has over 200 outside members and they, like the gal, go in at lower level and get an immediate introductory work-out by climbing 26 spiral stairs to the upper level, where all the LifeFitness equipment is.
Yes, there are two Shangri-Las in town, complementary rather than overlapping. The Edsa one, in Mandaluyong City, is a community hotel – it is a mere two minutes’ indoor walk to the Shangri-La Mall, and only half a block to the massive SM Mall (it is sibling to SM Mall of Asia, near Manila Bay, the seventh largest in the world).
At weekends locals move into Edsa Shangri-La to shop, and spa, and swim. I looked down at the lovely curvilinear pool from room 1238, and wished there were time to use it, but breakfast awaited. HEAT restaurant serves up to 750 for breakfast (the hotel has 632 rooms but regulars come in from outside).
I heard that every Tuesday the Managing Editor of the Philippine Star hosts breakfast here for a select group of politicians and top media. I also heard that posh, top class, well-connected Filipinos are heading to the USA, say Culinary Institute of America, to learn how to cook and then back home, as a hobby, they ‘cater’ for their friends.
Back in the Makati area, I had a hard-hat tour of the conjoined Fairmont and Raffles hotels, that open in the same 30-floor Arquitectonica-designed block, some time before the end of the year. The white hard-hat is named twice, for me and the hotels.
I admired the coolie hat of a doorman, dressed for the first time in his stunning uniform, by Rajo Laurel (the coolie hat goes with a grey suit with embroidered lapels).
I checked out the length of the corridors – 100 metres straight, one end of the building to the other. The Long Bar, which will be 14 metres one end to the other, was not in place yet. Somewhat recalling Raffles Singapore, it will have two-blade black ceiling fans and wavy punka fans.
This pair of hotels is majority-owned by the local giant, Ayala Land, which is obviously determined to make a splash. As a matter of fact, there will be two outdoor swimming pools, a small one on the ninth floor terrace for Raffles hotel guests, and those who live or stay in the integral residences, and a larger one that anyone can use, on the fourth floor terrace just outside the Willow Stream spa.
The two hotels share a gym – and a GM, Tom Meyer, who arrived shortly after this hard-hat tour (but he knows Manila well as he loved his earlier time at the InterContinental Manila, when he remembers Imelda Marcos singing karaoke).
It was not hard-hat at the New World Makati City, directly across from the Fairmont-Raffles pair, but it was certainly spruce-up time. The hotel (owned by the same family behind the Hyatt) has a clever way of explaining what is going on, which seems much appreciated.
This is a fun and casual hotel, with oodles of Greenbelt shopping in the malls immediately behind – the Fairmont-Raffles are in the other direction.
Talking of shopping, I heard about an enterprising couple. He, French, living here, started buying up watches left at Macau pawn shops by unfortunate gamblers. He did’em up, sold’em on. She, Filipina, started buying up designer handbags that the owners wanted to sell-on.
She bought’em, got local craftsmen to put them back into pristine condition, and she sells’em on, online via Bagaholic. This would only work in a country with skilled craftsmen, as here.
People in the Philippines are resourceful and creative, to say the least. But at the same time they love tradition. Take one suckling pig, put it on the lunch buffet at New World’s M2M Café and not only does it look good, but bits of it obviously taste good too.
What with a Lebanese chef (the GM here is Lebanese-Swiss, Farid Schoucair) and Chinese and Indian and Japanese corners, this was a buffet to set even the most determined shopper up in fine fettle.
The basic main course dish is probably the adobo, from the French word adouber, to dress a knight in armour. Here you take meat lumps and dress it in pickle, so to speak. Adobo featured on the menu in the Pacific Club atop the 21-floor Pan Pacific Manila – we are now back in the Manila Bay area of Metro Manila.
The Spaniards, who used to pickle their meat in wine, introduced adobo, and here they tend to marinate in island vinegar which not only flavours but tenderizes. There are lots of recipes for adobo in Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine, edited by Michaela Fenix, Anvil Publishing for Asia Society Philippine Foundation, 2008.
And then we went on to another national special – mango pie. Pan Pacific actually has 30 different restaurants in the four lowest floors but they are all outsourced. At the moment the hotel runs an a la carte section up in its top floor Club, which interestingly also has a snooker table.
The entire 236-room hotel has butlers, trained by a Londoner. I heard about credit cards challenges here in town. Whereas two weeks ago in Italy hoteliers were bemoaning the fact that credit cards must be used, with no cash over a thousand euro permitted, here in the Philippines credit card companies take the full amount of one’s credit when you check in to a hotel, only returning it two weeks after you leave, which leads to a lot of unfortunate temporary hardship.
Time to think of other places around the world. Just as yesterday I thought of Manila envelopes when swimming up and down, today the butterfly mind thinks of Four Seasons Langkawi, which has thought so well of kids. They had spa villas, bedrooms with plunge pools and a separate spa room.
Now they have turned those spa rooms into second bedrooms for kids, who enjoy the plunge pools just as much as their parents, and bicycles and the beach just outside, and the LCD screen television with a PS3 game console inside. The resort has a great eco-nature programme too.
For an adult nature-cation in Europe, by the way, I cannot wait to return to Schlosshotel Hugenpoet, near Essen. The main house of this Leading delight goes back to 1647, and it is lovingly looked after by Michael Luebbert and his wife Petra (his uncle Kurt Neumann leased it from the von Furstenberg family, way back in 1955).
You have the history of the house, with three original sandstone working fireplaces and giant mantels, and a total of three hectares of garden, with tennis, and pools.
Last time, I stayed in the Tower Suite, up from the main lobby (all 25 rooms are unique) and I especially loved hiking and running in hilly woods around. Stress free, gal. Perfect for a quick break, from wherever.