Like a lucky Dream
Jochen Kern

China / Shenzen 1992


Shenzhen is an unusual city, with no culture or heritage but one with enormous buildings booming everywhere in preparation for Hong Kong’s hand-over to China in 1997. One of the larger projects was the Shenzhen Shangri-La hotel, recently taken over by my boss, R.K. The hotel is generally a large tower with a turning top just opposite the border.

Chef Hermann & Wait Staff

Traveling to Shenzhen was convenient and non-bureaucratic, unlike Beijing in the former year, luckily they made it a special puffer zone. One needs to take the train from Hong Kong and a half hour later will pass the border to China. A mere three minutes later, you may sit in the exclusive lobby bar of the Shangri-La Hotel and enjoy your favorite vodka tonic or whatever you like. The three minutes from the border to the hotel (crossing the railway) was teemed with beggars and prostitutes approaching anybody for their wealth... especially westerners.

Just two weeks before the soft launching of the hotel, when I arrived, oddly enough the Chef was fied, the Financial Controller was fired, the General Manager was under streesed and reemployment of staff were seen everywhere, from all parts of the world. Everything was in full gear for the big day.

Various kitchen problems were evident. The menu was printed but somehow the training and production aspect over the past years were not to our boss’ satisfaction. So, within the course of two weeks, I changed and raised the cooking standards and presentation which included recipes and photos, new buffet set-up, new receiving procedure - no more throwing of food unto the kitchen floors, stop at the receiving area and amake proper reports. The painter also drew a large yellow line on the floor with Chinese characters on them, claiming that trespassers will e shot! Done... so easy, a new kitchen organization chart, clearing tons of rotten vegetables from the fridges, vegetables that were purchased weeks in advance and so on. Luckily William Tan, the executive chef from Rasa Sentosa Singapore was also there to help in the Asian food section.

Chef William at my left & at right asst. F&B Willi and a Front Office Girl

At night, after 16 hours of work, we still went out to have some drinks at the Shenzhen Central Hotel, a five star establishment with around 100 prostitutes at the bar on the second level. all these girls with cigarette in the mouth circled the round bar counter and asked questions like "fire please - you like to f... me" (the only words they needed in English for that job). This reminds me of farmers working in Beijing’s unmotivated society. It’s just a job. If you don’t pay... it’s aright because we get food anyway, through the socialistic system.

Sometimes, we were at herman loo’s massage parlor. Not for sex, but for a massage. We changed into loose short pants, locked all our belongings and walked into the parlor. The girls will massage you in an open ballroom setting separated by clear antique continental-looking room dividers, similar to an environment with glass windows everywhere. So, no sexual contact is possible. However, if you get erected, the girls would scream and everyone would turn when the girl says something like "Wow so big!" Such is the nature of excitement... where normally no erected "quailo" could be seen.

When we drove back, we had a weird feeling of being in jail, but at least was better in comparison to the taxi driver with a wire mash surrounding him, a necessary to protect himself from the much reported robberies published in the newspapers.

The launching of Shangri-La Shenzhen was a success. Just knowing that I was invited to Hong Kong as a cook was very pleasing to me. Thank you.

All in all, Shenzhen was a great experience with Caesar, the sous chef, Herman Zhao from Beijing (none from my days in China) and Herman Aha, the German in charge of finance (from the head office). The launching was actually rather easy because we knew that it was very important and that its success meant new business opportunities in the People’s Republic.

John, the Resident Manager of the hotel, was very much involved with the local politics, society and diplomatic connection which evidently made him a vital figure during the launching of the hotel.


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