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December 24, 2010

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GM cyclist discovers beauties of tea villages

EACH time he enjoys flower tea in China, the chrysanthemum and other fragrances remind Rudolf van Dijk of his childhood and the greenhouses of his father, who worked in the flower business in the Netherlands.

"My father hoped I'd join his flower business, but I just couldn't see getting up every day to harvest blossoms for auction," he tells Shanghai Daily.

Instead of dealing with flowers, van Dijk got into the business of dealing with people, from managing his own restaurant in the Netherlands to becoming general manager of the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake.

"My parents still question why I got involved in hospitality," he says cheerfully.

Exuding an amiable and welcoming spirit, van Dijk certainly enjoys his work of dealing with all kinds of people, while paying considerable attention to their privacy.

He is careful not to reveal names or details. That included his guest a few years back at another hotel, legendary cyclist and cancer survivor, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times.

As an amateur cyclist, van Dijk is a big fan of the cyclist and was delighted to finally meet the champion. But he said virtually nothing about their exchange; today he simply says that he was a guest.

He has worked in hospitality all over the world, from the Caribbean island of Barbados to the world financial center of New York City.

"I truly enjoy working in all kinds of places in the world, but I have a strong preference for Asia, because Asians are eager to learn and to make a difference, and these qualities are very important for having things done well," he says.

He has been working in Asia since 2003, when he acted as hotel manager at Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai. After more than two years, van Dijk went on to Thailand, Japan and Singapore, and finally returned to China last summer to join Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake.

The hotel, which opened in October, has the ambience of an intimate lakeside compound that has weathered the centuries near the spot that inspired poets and painters.

Everything is carefully selected and designed and meticulously arranged - trees, rocks, pools, streams, bridges and waterfall - as in a traditional Chinese garden with its pavilions and other buildings. It seems like a lakeside village.

"It's a complicated process," says van Dijk, explaining the intriguing experience of supervising and coordinating the construction.

"It is a matter of balancing all incoming opinions from different sides, being super-patient, listening to everyone carefully and fighting for a balance spot between the international luxurious brand and the local ambience and taste," he says.

The aim is for 80-85 percent of guests to be Chinese.

Meanwhile, he has also enjoyed the twisting roads and hidden tea villages while cycling all over Hangzhou, "a beautiful destination to start with."

The amateur cyclist often takes his bike to work and enjoys the small hilly roads around the hotel. His favorite spot is near Nine Creeks where he "suddenly" came upon a tea village after taking some meandering roads.

"The roads are so tiny that you can't go in with a car, and it is perfect for cycling all up to the highest part of the hills, and then looking down to the beautiful lake and tea farms below," he says.

"The homemade food and Dragon Well tea from those small eateries are also impressive. It makes me realize how wonderful Hangzhou is and how many hidden beauties of the city are waiting to be discovered."

August 2009 to now: General manager, Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake

July 2007 to August 2009: Hotel manager, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore

February 2007 to July 2007: Acting general manager, Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi

October 2005 to February 2007: Hotel manager, Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok

January 2003 to October 2005: Hotel manager, Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai

October 1998 to January 2003: Director of Food and Beverage, Four Seasons Hotel New York

Coming from a background of food and beverage, I find our Jin Sha restaurant very charming in utilizing the very best ingredients, most sourced locally in the West Lake area. And GM's favorite dish is the braised homemade bean curd with enoki mushrooms in golden broth.

The spa, designed much like an underground palace, offers an ambience of spiritual serenity through the large and intimate treatment rooms. All treatments, custom-designed exclusively for the hotel, are inspired by traditional Chinese and Asian therapies. For example, the signature treatment is based on a famous book of illustrations - "The Emperor's Seasonal Pursuit of Pleasures in the Course of the Seasons," by court painter Chen Mei, commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in 1738 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Locally sourced Dragon Well tea leaves are also used in many treatments, along with imported luxurious high-quality skin care products.

It is one of the very few hotels that offer a fixed place for children of its guests, free of charge, which also reflects the idea of offering everything you need in one place at the hotel.

The center is divided into two rooms, one filled with fun toys for kids and the other with computer games for teenagers. If the parents decide to have some time for themselves, they can safely leave the children at the center, and they will be looked after by hotel staff.


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