Have a Great New Year!

May I wish all readers a good, safe and smooth Year 2009 ahead!

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Healthy Food: Soyjoy Food Bar

Soyjoy Food barNote: I was recently invited to a Blogger’s Event. What’s a blogger’s event? It’s an event where companies or PR agencies invite popular bloggers to a social evening where in between food, drinks and small chat, information about their endorsed products are subtly introduced and discussed. Hopefully, the blogger will write favourably of their product and via the internet, word spread, and the endorsed products get the necessary publicity. In short, another form of subtle advertisement.

With the above disclaimer in place, let me share a bit of the Soyjoy Food bar. I’m sure many of us are familiar with food bars which we sometimes eat as a food or nutrition replacement in place of regular food. So, what’s so different about Soyjoy Food Bar?

  1. Soyjoy is mostly made of soy beans and fruits
  2. It is a low GI (glycemic index) food supplement
  3. Low GI food suppresses hunger pangs
  4. Low GI food provide the essential food nutrients

To be honest, I’ve never been a health food bar enthusiast because I normally find it bland and you can remain hungry even after consuming one or two bars.

However, after trying out Soyjoy, I can vouch that it doesn’t taste too bad especially if you complete the bar with fresh fruits or perhaps a tasty drink. In my opinion, Soyjoy taste very much like a fruit-cake that is slightly burnt. I believe it cost between US$1-1.50 per bar in the supermarkets.

Hence, it comes in great as a meal replacement, as a snack between a gym or spa session, as a weight-loss supplement or as a snack for those TV moments when the fingers itch for a potatoe chip! In this long festive season between Christmas and New Year, it also serve as a healthy snack in between those festive food binges and parties you must be going to…

There are 4 fruit flavours you can try. I personally like the raisin and almond bar. If you have ever wanted a tasty but healthy food bar, do try out the Soyjoy fruit bar.

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Season’s Greetings 2008

XmasIt has been a traumatic 2008 for everyone especially towards the last part of the year.

We had the Sichuan earthquake, Burma cyclone, the melamine poisoning in China, ferry disaster in Philippines; not the mention the economic tsunami that is going round the world right now.

If you still have a roof over your head, an intact job, loved ones at home, then it’s time to count your blessing and think of all the people who have lost lives, money or their loved ones.

Keep your chin up despite the economic gloom; money is not everything. Join in the festive cheers, chip in your bit in donating to the poor and homeless and do spread good spirit all round.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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Review: VenetianMacao Casino Hotel, Macau

Most people would expect a overwhelming good review of a 6-star resort hotel. Well, this will be one of the worst review I would have given any hotel, 6-star or otherwise!

Venetian Hotel, MacauVenetian Macao hotel is a hot 6-star shopping mall cum casino and hotel launched in Macau(or Macao) about a year ago in August 28, 2007. The Venetian Macao include 3,000 luxury suites in a 32-story tower – recreating the beauty of baroque Venice complete with canals, gondolas, singing gondoliers and other legendary Venetian icons.

(As I understand it, the resort belongs to the Sands Group. There is already a Sands Hotel/Casino in Macau and these sister hotels run a regular shuttle service between the two).

The Venetian Macao is modeled after it’s namesake resort in Las Vegas, USA and retain a similar grandeur and opulence that it’s flagship resort in Las Vegas is supposed to have.

I recently checked into the Venetian in Macau after spending a busy working week in Hong Kong. I was expecting a weekend of fun, relaxation and discovery but ended the weekend swearing that I’ll never want to set foot into this hotel again. Let me give you a blow-by-blow account of what had me so cranking mad with this hotel.

Macau can be reached from Hong Kong via fast-ferries that ply between the two countries every half-hourly. It takes only 40 minutes to reach Macau from Hong Kong. Once you land in Macau, that’s where the nightmare starts!

The VenetianMacao Casino Resort is on a nearby island of Taipa which is about 15 minutes away from the Macau ferry terminal via a car or coach. There is a coach pick-up point at the Macau ferry for visitors to the Venetian Macao – but this pick-up coach is a general one where anyone who wants to go to Venetian Macao can simply hop on for free.

So, here you are, having paid almost US$400 for a room, now need to join a snaking queue for 15-20 minutes together with hundreds of day-trippers, casual visitors, beady gamblers, curious shoppers or bored locals who are mostly not paying guests of the hotel.

After scrambling up the coach, and a 15 minutes coach ride, you are again disgorged with hundreds of visitors, into the small hotel lobby which is milling with hundreds of curious, puzzled, dis-interested people. You then need to find your own way to the check-in counter only to find that there are hundreds of hotel guests like yourself ahead.Among the mess, noise and general bedlam, a hotel staff comes along, and offer to bring you and other checking-in guests to another check-in lobby to expedite the check-in process.

Gladly, off you and some other guests go, despite no offer of help with your luggage, only to find that the next check-in counter is not some 10 meters away but some 200 meters away! Imagine the misery of checking into a 6-star hotel to find that you have to lug your luggage and bags, up a escalator, across a busy shopping mall, through a smoky and crowded casino hall, before reaching the other check-in counter.

The misery does not end here because after checking in, you now need to repeat the same process of lugging your luggage, wade through the casino crowd, before arriving at the right lift lobby. The hotel is so massive that it has 3,000 suites, 2 check-in counters and 4 hotel lift lobbies. Go to the wrong lift lobby and you repeat your misery all over again.

The hotel suite may be big and gorgeous but you have totally lost the mood to appreciate anything by then.

Only hardcore gamblers or shoppers would appreciate anything about Venetian Macao after that tedious checking in process because only the casino and shopping mall are conveniently located. The rest of the hotel facilities remain a treasure hunt. Try going to the swimming pool, gym, spa or indoor golf putting range and you risk going through a confusing labyrinth of corridors, lifts and lobbies again.

Don’t expect quality family or retreat time here either. The swimming pools are not heated despite the cold of a late November. There is only a small gym with only a few gym equipments. The Spa is small and has no other facilities (i.e. jacuzzi, steam room & sauna) and everything in the spa menu cost double the price of typical hotel prices.

The shops in the ultra-large shopping mall are of the ultra-upmarket brands that it seems so pathetic because most of these luxury shops remain empty despite large throngs of people along the mall’s corridors.

There is a good variety of cafes and restaurants within the shopping mall but they tend to be expensive. The foodcourt also sell a great variety of food but it tends to be crowded all day. Although it is technically a food court, be warned that prices are not cheap either.

The other saving grace for the resort is the indoor gondola ride that stretches to a large part of the mall. The boatmen seems to be genuine Venetians who were not shy of showing off their singing prowess and hence, a large part of the mall resonate with their powerful voice. (I’ve seen a similar gondola ride in a large shopping mall in Doha, Qatar but the boatmen were mostly quiet).

Will I come back again? No. Will I recommend anyone to this hotel? Only if you are a hardcore gambler or shopper – otherwise, no. You have been warned…

Location of VenetianMacao Casino Hotel
Estrada da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, s/n,
Taipa, Macao SAR, P.R. China
Size: 32stories with 3000 over rooms
Facilities: Shopping Mall, Casino, Restaurants, Swimming Pools, Childcare Centre, Golf Putting Green, Spa, Gym, Performance Theatre, Gondola Rides

Friendliness: Polite staff. Some staff have English problems.
Pricing: Starts from US$400 per suite

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Can the spa and wellness industry survive in economically bad times?

There is nothing but waves and waves of economic bad news worldwide nowadays. Open the newspapers and you read nothing except well-established companies collapsing, mortgage sub-primes, government bail-outs, onset of recession, credit crunches, job retrenchments,etc

I’m sure you see it around you in daily life too. Friends and relatives worried about jobs, bonus or increment cut-backs in your company, companies closing down, government officials talking about economic crises all the time.

Will the spa and wellness industry be affected by the bad economy as well? Should we cut back on our personal spending on massage, spas, manicure and other treatments?

Well, in the last 10 years, we’ve seen the spa, wellness and alternative health industry move from strength to strength, not only in Asia but around the world. What was previously often seen as an old aunt’s trade, a side trade for beauty salons or some quark doctor treatment has not only become big business, but has become accepted into mainstream lifestyle and business as well.

The spa, wellness and alternative health industry(swah industry) has become big business indeed. Every other week, one hear of a new spanking new centre coming up in a new hotel, shopping mall or even hospital. Even when walking down the street, it is not unusual to find a new shop in your neighbourhood mall or town centre. This is especially true in Asia and a growing phenomenon in many parts of the world as well.

I think this industry is moving so fast is because people now accept it as a mainstream practice and no longer as an alternative practice. In today’s hectic world, people seems to want to return to nature all the more; hence the desire for natural and holistic treatment for illnesses and discomfort. Part of holistic treatment calls for massage and spa treatment and more so because more and more people suffer from mental and physical stress in today’s busy world.

It will be a difficult tug of war. Sure, spa and massage treatments are comfort treatments and will surely be the first to be sacrificed for in times of economic crises. However, many city people have come to see it as essential for today’s modern harsh living and while some may give it up, more will continue to see it as a need in daily modern life.

I believe in this current economic climate, there’ll be some immediate effect and some cash-strapped establishments may have to close. From here, I’ll sure there will be much re-consolidation and alignment of the alternative health and wellness industry, of which I believe it’ll re-emerge as better organised and aligned to serve it’s customers better.

As for myself, there’s no way I can give up on foot refloxology. It has become part of my life. I will continue to visit TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for certain illnesses and will continue to seek TCM treatments including accupuncture, gua-sha or ba-guan.

As for pedicure or manicure, I’ll continue to seek for better bargains and cut down the number of sessions. The biggest cut-back will definitely come from scrubs and spa treatments which is always the biggest dollar-eater and I’ll continue to seek out credit-card promotions and definitely reduce the numbers of visits.

I may want to reduce drastically and cut off scrubs and spa sessions eventually – that is, if I can survive the old turkey treatment :-)

Tell me, how will you cope?

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TaiPan Reflexology and Foot Spa, Kowloon, Hong Kong

I have visited numerous spa and massage facilities around Asia for many years. Surprises I had a few. Disappointments; many. Shock; one or two. Star quality; almost nil…until this surprising discovery in Hong Kong.

One of my key passion in wellness therapies is foot spa or reflexology. I must have visited tens of foot reflexology shops around Asia. I have seen grand and opulent foot spa establishments with hundreds of private rooms in China. At the same time, I have my regular foot in a small little foot massage shop in Singapore. Nothing surprises me where foot reflexology shops are concerned… well, until this one in Hong Kong.

TaiPan Reflexology and Foot Spa looks like any foot massage chain in Asia. Lots of colourful shop signage, long treatment price list, beckoning receptionist at the doorway, antique type of furniture, stone path feature and even a fish-tank as a covered walkway. Up till now, a very colourful massage shop, but still, nothing surprising as yet.

The main reception at the 2nd floor also look typical. Lots of wood furniture, a few imitation antique pieces, low lighting and soft spa music. I took off my shoes and selected a 120 minutes foot, head and shoulder massage. This is where it begins to differ…

I was lead to a chair. Not any kind of chair but one of those cosy, leather, sophisticated type of massage chair complete with massaging headrest, arm and thigh brackets. At the bottom was a hot water-tub complete with hydro-jets for me to sink my feet into.

As I lay back onto the vibrating luxurious leather chair, the attendant added mineral crystal to the foot bath, and I had a relaxing 15 minutes of a full body massage while having my feet pounded by soothing water jets. It was good. All too soon it ended and I was lead to a section which was for foot massage.

Instead of typical half-down chairs, their massage chairs went all the way down. In other words, the chairs were like beds. I laid on one chair and was covered with a warm blanket. A warm body pack was then wrapped around my waist and my eyes. The foot massage began even as I laid down. I was in pure bliss!

It was not difficult to understand why I hear snores all around me. The warm blanket, the hot waist and eye wrap, the soft music, the massaging of the feet was such that if it doesn’t induce you into sleep, nothing else will.

When the foot massage finished, the masseur simply moved from the foot to the head part of the chair, to begin my head and shoulder massage. I did not have to move or shift my position on the chair at all. Talk about well designed work-space!

All too soon, the massage ended. I was served hot tea and was allowed to remain curled up and resting on my chair. There were no time limit and I could rest and relax as much as I want. All very well thought out as I do not even need to move to another rest area or rush off because there is a time limit.

I have been to some expensive spas but they always come with a time/space limit. So and so timing for this activity. So and so timing for the next treatment. Move to this room. Go to that space. Time to change up, pay up and see you soon! Don’t forget to make the next appointment so that we can gobble more of your money!!

It is indeed a rare place such as The Taipan that has designed everything to evolve around pampering and relaxing the customer. The mood, the friendliness, the massage ergonomics and flow logic, the thoughtful touches such as the hot body pack, the no-time limit and rest-as-much-as-you-want-on-one-cozy-chair, all sums up the care and thoughtfulness that must have gone behind the owner and or spa designer planning.

If there are Michelin star equivalent for spa and massage establishments as there are for gourmet restaurants, the moderately priced The Taipan will surely get a 3-star award from me!

Unfortunately, due to privacy reasons, I was not allowed to take a video or photo of The TaiPan interior. If you are ever in Hong Kong, do not hesitate to visit The Taipan. Although I visited the one near Temple Street, I believe they have branches all over Hong Kong including Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui, Nanking Street and Jordon Road.

Location of TaiPan Reflexology and Foot Spa
Various places in Hong Kong
Size: 3 storey narrow shop building. Walk up a narrow flight of steps.
Facilities: Foot baths and foot massage chairs

Friendliness: Polite staff and good massage therapists.
Pricing: Starts from US$20 for a basic foot massage. I paid US$40 for a 115 minutes foot, head and shoulder massage package. Other packages also available.

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