2013 Porsche Panamera Test Drive

2013 Porsche Panamera

Highs: Beautiful styling, space-ship type engine whirr.

Lows: Horrible blind-spots. Clunky engine shut-down and start-up.

The first look at my ride for the week.
The first look at my ride for the week.

Someone recently commented that my blog was nothing but positive, over-the-top mush pieces about 5-star hotels, or high-end sports cars. I can’t tell if that comment was a better indicator that I’m a non-critical softy, or that some people are just cunts. It did make me think though, that maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Or maybe I’m not writing hard enough. Critiquing without sounding like a total asshole is a fine art. I’ve always been one to support rather than one to tear down, but even with the seemingly perfect, there are imperfections. Sometimes it is the imperfections that bring out the beauty.

Serendipity, true to its form ensured that my next item to review after this introspection was the single nicest piece of machinery I’ve ever driven in my life; the Porsche Panamera. A 2013, black on black with 22” rims – it had to be that my first prospect would make me rise to the challenge of finding “fault” with something.

This was my first Porsche, so I cannot compare my ride to any of their convertibles or coupes. But I have driven the majority of luxury sedans on the market. Benz S’s and E’s, BMW 5 series, the Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G’s and M’s, Cadillac CTS and ATS, and so on. So Porsche fan-boys may rip this review apart (if any of them ever see it J). But I’m not aiming for them, I’m aiming for the average car lover, or a buyer looking to move up a class.

Drivability:

The Panamera is infinitely drivable. It is fun enough, that you could drive it for eternity. Entry and exit height is easy great (though I’m 5’8”), the driver seat is perfectly shaped, and very adjustable. The driver can interact with the 7-speed gearbox through paddle-press tabs on the steering wheel, AND a Manual +/- mode on the gearshift. The Steering wheel shifters are push-tabs placed right where your thumbs would go if your hands are at 10 & 2, and move like a middle piece of a Jenga block, forward and back. To shift up, you press your thumbs (or thumb) in, and to downshift, you use your index fingers to push in moving the tabs towards your face. Points for style. More points for just being cool. The tip-tronic shifter knob is nothing new, but the gearshift has a little tab on the top like the one you’d flip back on a jet fighter to go weapons free – I never figured out what it was for, but it was awesome to play with. I fantasized a couple times about using it to blow cars off the road in front of me.

The push tabs on the steering wheel for Up/Down shifts
The push tabs on the steering wheel for Up/Down shifts

Manual modes are fun, but 7 gears mean that the rev’s climb quickly, and shifting happens often. But I found it more fun to put the Panamera into Auto-Sport mode and just let the car do the work. For me, if it’s not a real manual gearbox, I never get the same enjoyment from an Auto-Manual. Like watching a new David Blaine special, some part of me knows he’s fucking with me and I just can’t shake the feeling I’m being tricked.

The Auto-Manual shifter
The Auto-Manual shifter

Here’s my beef; and I’ll admit, it’s a lame one. Like many cars now, the engine shuts down at extended stops and moments when it’s not needed. But when it starts up again, half the time it felt very clunky and abrupt. A few times it started up at lights, and clunked and shook the whole car. Since I’m not use to it, my first reaction was “Oh shit, something’s wrong”. There’s nothing wrong, but I imagine it would take some time to get used to. I think as drivers we’re all programmed to attune to that constant whirring of the engine while driving, and when a hiccup, or lurch interrupts that whirring, our gut reaction is always “Damn, this is not good”. Same thing when you engine shuts off and you’re not used to it. At parking lots, or take-out windows when it shuts off and there are people lined up behind me, I get a second of flop-sweat that my car is dead, and I’m now going to have to now push it around a corner somewhere. But then it kicks-in and everything is fine. I get that it saves gas, and probably saves wear-and-tear, but I don’t know how long it would take for me to get used to it, and I’d prefer if until then I didn’t mini-shit my pants every time I stopped to grab a parking lot ticket. Can’t say it’s a huge gripe, but I’ll safely categorize it as a minor inconvenience.

Style: Typical of Porsche, inside and out, the Panamera is pretty. Sleek front lines and hood lines. Lengthy but doesn’t look like a station wagon, and who can forget an ass like that. Belongs in a Hammer video. That sexy, rounded ass does create the mother of all blind spots. With the rear windows tapering to a rounded edge, you couldn’t see a dump truck that was riding your right or left rear corner.

The rear lines of the Panamera
The rear lines of the Panama

The interior controls are laid out so that most things are pushbutton. And there are a shit-load of them. But somehow, it doesn’t seem cluttered. Buttons run from your elbow by the door, up along the door, across the steering wheel, down the front-console, and along your right arm to your elbow in the center-console. But not cluttered. A beautiful analog clock sits in the center of the dash above the console, nearer to the windshield. When you’re sitting in the car before you’ve turned it on, the hands on the clock bounce around like it was a turbo-timer. Don’t ask me why.

Clockwise from top: Driver side; control panel on roof; center console; passenger side door.
Clockwise from top: Driver side; control panel on roof; center console; passenger side door.

Comfort: Of course it’s going to be comfortable. It’s Porsche’s venture into the 4-seater sedan market. With their reputation as a quality carmaker on the line, you could have bet that they would stick that landing. Beautifully smooth leather, brushed nickel accents. I had a 6’8 guy, and a friend who had hip-replacement surgery last fall in the back and they both commented on being very comfy. They loved the bucket-style seats. The 6’8er needed more room, but where does he not?

Electronics: The key is an electronic key –and-lock style port. Placed on the left side of the steering wheel. Which would have been fine, if I had not just broken my left thumb 3 weeks before. I’m sure it’s much less annoying for most of us, and even ideal for the 10% of us who are lefties ;)

The control center is everything it should be. Visually clean, easy to learn and interact with, AND you can use it while driving. **Beware,  vacuous rant of 1st world problems coming up** I’m so sick of Lexus and Mercedes dictating that I can’t look down for a split second and spin a control nob to zoom on a map without spinning out of control, or that I can’t press to confirm a route guidance and not tear through a stop sign and T-bone someone. If you can change songs, lower a window, or mess with the AC and not die, a competent adult can plot a route, or connect his phone to Bluetooth just as easily. Give me back my liberty you cheats! And just for safety’s sake, improve the early warning and braking so that if I DO get carried away with the wee-dads, I don’t plow headlong into that bus of Kindergarteners that I’m tail-gaiting.

Media center and console control.
Media center and console control.

The driver controls on the steering wheel allow you to do everything that is pretty much standard on these luxury sedans. Make a call, change the song, check the oil and tire pressure, see heads-up directions, or set new favorite XM radio stations. Nothing new, but certainly nothing missing.

Overall: So I had this beautiful ride for almost a week. Back and forth to work, around a few spots in LA, once or twice on the freeway. But it was clear that I while it had been mine, I really hadn’t experienced it in its full glory. So I decided to take it for a spin, a real spin. Not knowing where I would go. Santa Monica at night seemed a clear choice, and from there the path to the empty PCH on a Tuesday night was irresistible. The best part of my trip happened by accident. I turned down a road instead of doing a U-turn on the PCH, and looked for a place to turn around. But with narrow shoulders and someone right behind me, I just kept driving up. When I hit the MAP button on the NAVI system, it popped up that I was on a windy mountain road called Los Flores. Unknowingly, I had steered myself towards the most fun I would have with this, and probably any car I’ve had in recent years. Twisting corners, tight S-turns, the tight grip of the tires on the road as it climbed around the bends and up the narrow road. It was perfect, and I’m lucky I didn’t come across one other car on the way up, because I was hogging the road, and taking up my share of the middle. Hitting Topanga Canyon on my way back down I could open the throttle a little a get a new thrill. This is what this car was built to do. Intensify. Exhilarate. Inspire. Made to put your hands on and have an experience. Put flesh to wood, and skin to leather, and end off feeling better than when you started.

Driving through the mountains surrounding LA
Driving through the mountains surrounding LA

Daylight is good to the Panamera

Day 2 in Macau

Day 2 – Macau, China

Waking up after a fairly late night, and an extremley long day. A plane ride, a drive through Guangzhou, a ferry from mainland to Macau, and capped off with a Billionaire’s idea of a 1st Birthday party. Turns out that after we crashed out, some of the party go-ers hit the casino and one uber unfortunate chap lost 30 million RMB (…yes), on a run of bad luck. Here is my view looking down from the hotel room :-o

Looking down at the pool from the 26th
Looking down at the pool from the 26th

The beginning of the day (3:00PM already) we decide to spend exploring. Looking around town at the different casino’s and whatever else Macau has to offer. The lasting mental images I have are 1) of the Grand Lisboa Casino.

The Grand Lisboa
The Grand Lisboa

A grotesque and monstrous overblown Y-shape of a building, that is somehow beautiful in its grotesqueness, and 2), the mixture of Portuguese and Chinese on every sign. Macau was a Portuguese colony for 400 years, and was returned to China around the same time as Hong Kong became repatriated. It is supposdely promised another 50 years of autonomy in the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration. Portuguese is still an official language, and most the locals speak one or more forms of Chinese, and Portuguese as well. I couldn’t tell of any other Portuguese influences, but I can’t say in the moment I really looked for them.

Casino’s are strange places. This was my first exposure to them, and I can’t say I adjusted. No mirrors, no clocks – mostly so that you don’t notice the passage of time, and you also can’t see how much you look like shit after a 30 hour binge, only stopping for whiskey and cigarettes occasionally. Stranger than that is the casinos seem to flaunt how much money they are making off you right in your face. They are impeccably designed, beautifully furnished, staffed by employees in immaculate outfits and every visible room or hallway is adorned with gold, and velvet, and rich mahogany, marble fountains and fabulous tapestries. I understand that people want to be in luxurious surroundings, and like looking at all these things, but it just came off reeking of desperation to me. It seemed to me like a rich guy, flossing his Bentley, showing a girl photos of  celebrities he’s met,  talking about how he loves volunterring and thinking of others. Until he gets to fuck you, and then you find out he spends his time watching jersey shore in his underwear, while inhaling cans of spray-cheese. What’s even weirder in these casinos is that once you get past the entry, and the hallways of velvet walls, the gaming rooms are often simple and bare. Rows of slot-machines, or a room of 20 poker tables with no fancy shit anywhere. Like now that you’re in the inner sanctum, they’ve given up the show and their just happy to pull you up a fold out lawn chair and a solo cup with a free whiskey sour.

Take this example. A row of Rolls-Royce’s that were outside the MGM Casino. A line of perfect, dark burgundy, 2012 Rolls-Royce Phantoms, parked facing out at 60 degree angle to the curb. Obviously, these are for VIP pick-ups, and for guests that want to rent them out. But here’s the oddity from my thinking. Any VIP who is at the hotel, will just call and ask “Do you have a luxury car and driver that I can have for the afternoon”, the fact that they walk by them on the way into the casino probably drums up no business. So to me, it is the casino saying “Look how much money we’ve taken off all the guests before you, we can afford to have these awesome cars, and just leave them here in case they are needed sometime! Come in, and help us buy another 6!” That being said, they looked impressive, and we couldn’t resist getting pictures right in front of them, even though it made a security guard to come over and shoo us away.

Grindin on the Rolls
Grindin on the Rolls

 

That was the second warning we got for security in about 5 minutes. Just before a guard had come over to ask to look at my phone when I snapped these photos inside the casino. A big No-No. Luckily I had two camera apps on my phone, and so when he asked to see it, I just opened the gallery from the app that I hadn’t used, and there were no casino pictures to be found. Below are the pictures that I came away with from that little white lie.

A rare shot from inside the Wynn Casino
A rare shot from inside the Wynn Casino

I’m not really a gambler. I lost about $2,500 during university when I briefly became addicted to online poker, but since then I’ve never had the desire to play other than some friendly home games. I was more interested in seeing the insides of the casinos, the people, the architecture and design, and taking it all in. The one bit of betting I was in for I was talked into by my buddy. Our idea was to take the $400 of chips that came with the room and let it ride on BlackJack. We’d try our luck right before going out for the night to eat and drink. If we won, it would make the night that much more exciting, and well-funded, and if we lost, it was no real sweat. A pretty enticing offer when put as All-Win, No-Lose.

On our way out of StarWorld that night we stopped on the third floor. We spent a few minutes looking over the tables, scoping out the “best” one. We picked a table at the far end, with 2 empty seats of 6. Tony sat down, and watched the first hand. On the first hand where the dealer could put him in, he put all $400 on his spot. He stayed with 16, and the dealer bust. Two other people who stayed in won as well. This time, almost $600 on the table, he hit a two card 21 and the dealer killed almost everyone else. The Chinese woman next to him, said that not only he was good luck, but he was in a lucky seat. The 3rd round, she put $200 on HIS cards, and he put his $1100 back in. This time, he got two face cards, split them, and got 18 and 19 respectively, the dealer busting on the 4th card. This time everyone at the table got good, and everyone was showering him with love and claims of his luck! The woman next to him again said that it definitely had to be his seat that was lucky. Not willing to take such a blatant shot to his ego, Tony told her that if it was the seat he’d be happy to switch with her, which they did. This was it. With about $1700 now (we had set a $2500 limit that if we hit, we’d just get out and celebrate) and one more hand to get there. It was do-or-die. Hot-streak, new seats, and everyone at the table throwing money onto our cards now. The first card to come was a 6, the first hit a 10. Knowing the dealer would be aggressive because they had just busted on the 4th card last hand, Tony decided he had to hit. A 4! Magnificent, and we stick on 20. The visual and physical release from both of us was a huge sigh and a rush of air outwards, after a moment of flop sweat. Both of us gitty and wide-eyed from the high of winning each time so far with ease. The dealer starts to take cards. Ace, shit. 3, shit. 8, OK a bit better, she now has 12 and has to hit. A 5, which is amazing, because she has no choice to hit, but anything 4 and under and we’re sunk. All this luck crashing to a stop and our high instantly plugged like being stoned and seeing a cop drive through Dairy Queen right behind you. The flip of the card and the turnover in her hand feel like it takes a minute alone. The flick of the card as it scrapes against the top of the pile sounds like a 2-by-4 snapping, and the thud of the card hitting the velvet is like the thump from a fat computer programmer’s feet hitting the ground in his mothers basement. Rolling out of bed, their feet hitting the puce-yellow carpet over thin running boards with the weight of 8 lifetimes of Cheetos and the disappointment of 1000 prom nights spent alone. A Jack – which means 10! She’s gone over, and on the 5th card! :-0 We’re in shock for a second. Relief and shock. Joy and a release of endorphins like ecstasy covered chocolate! When all is cashed out, we’ve made well over $2500 and to say the least the night is well funded. We think about our hot streak for a second, and whether we should turn to the poker tables near-by, but one look and the first thing we spot is highly televised, and reasonably famous poker star Tom Duan sitting at a table. We’re both know we’re not that lucky, and we walk over to the cashier.

 

 

Macau, China – Day 1

(this entry is a flash back to a journal entry written just after my trip to Macau)

Macau, China March 23rd

I’ve been in China for 29 days now and that means it’s Visa renewal time. I had thought this meant going to visit Korea or Japan, but I’ll more than settle for a gambling Mecca that takes in more annual revenue that Vegas! The ferry from Shekou station in Shenzhen directly to Macau is incredibly turbulent due to high winds. It’s near sun-down. Swells make the boat rise and fall, consistently sending violent spray into both sides of the upper deck we’re on and covering the full length picture windows that separate us from the salty sea. My friend is on the verge of sea-sickness the whole time. The trip feels like it might be a bit of a test. A trial to go through to earn the weekend of sin that lies ahead. I can’t decide if this is just day-dreaming or if I really perceive the ferry crossing as an omen. It’s probably just bullshit tangent that taken way too far down the rabbit-hole.  Another huge wave sends spray up well over the top of the boat and white spray covers the windows. My buddy asks if I think he should go into the bathroom in case he vomits. With the way the boat is moving, violent and unpredictable, I tell him I think the last place he wants to be is a bathroom, and that he should try and hold out. There are sea-sickness bags for a reason.

 

The cab ride over to StarWorld Casino
The cab ride over to StarWorld Casino

 

Looking up at the bright lights
Looking up at the bright lights

 

The trip to the StarWorld hotel is a blur of wild Casino’s shaped likevolcano’s, pyramids, kitchy Buddhist temples and the even the famous Beijing Olympics arena, “The WaterCube.I’m so rapt that I don’t notice we’ve been driving on the other side of the road until we arrive at the hotel!I pick my chin up off the ground on the walk into the hotel, but it doesn’t stay there long. In the middle of the lobby there is a set of 3 dancers cranking out baddance choreography and horrible lip-synching. They are all absurdly hot. Easily over 6 feet tall…without the 6 inch heels that they have on. Tall and fit, barely keeping on tiny bikinis, and covered in gold dust – I could listen to shitty Britney Spears tunes all night like this.

The word comes down that the party we’re looking for in on the 8th floor. It’s the 1st Birthday of a Chinese Billionaire’s son, and he has literally spared no expense. Paying for his guests travel and accomodations, renting out a casino. he en gave each room $400 in chips when you check in! A quick change in the bathroom and a minute to check our bags, since we don’t have a room yet, and then we are party bound.

Mrs. Li and her husband Mr. Tian greet us at the reception. The hall is the entire floor of the Star World Casino. A massive room with 20 foot ceilings, all open in the center, with giant red curtains hanging on the walls. There’s lights, and confetti, and welcome gifts! There’s singers on stage, and waiters every 20 feet handing out champagne and white wine! There must be forty or more tables, each with seats for 12 just in the main room and in front of a huge stage. It’s a shame I only have pictures of the stage, because the room is amazing. This guy has probably spent more for his son’s 1st birthday than every birthday, for everyone in my family combined.

Cutting the birthday cake for the Billion dollar baby's 1st birthday!
Cutting the birthday cake for the Billion dollar baby’s 1st birthday!

One of the Kings of Hong Kong, wailing away.
One of the Kings of Hong Kong, wailing away.

We’re seated between Chen, an ex-football star and Hue a Hong Kong hedge fund manager. The host is a news anchor from Hong Kong and he is on stage now keeping everyone lively.  Everybody from Hong Kong has great English, amazing actually. Since this was one of my first trips to China I probably would have felt right at home there. The evening is end to end spectacular. They have huge celebrities singing and well-wishing on stage, a magic show and some of the best food I’ve had in my life! Suckling pig, scallops, shark fin soup and a fish on every table that cost $2000 by itself. Near the end of dinner, my heart sunk, and my mouth dried up instantly when I got singled out by the magician on stage as the loan white guy in the room. A perfect target to pull on stage and make a spectacle of in front of 1000 Cantonese and Mainlanders. Most of his tricks were pretty standard, but his final was to take my card, throw it into a bag of lemons, shake it up, and then slice one of the lemons open, revealing my card. Pretty mind-blowing, except that fact that I was too nervous to enjoy it and sweating through my shirt and sport-coat like a whore in confession.

Tomorrow – Day 2 of being in Macau. Out and about in the daytime!

 

Is the recent 5.1 Earthquake in LA precursor of a much larger one?

Earthquake Poll Article

Hoax USGS Article
Hoax USGS Article

Everyone’s talking about it. Mostly people are going on hearsay and maybe a news blurb here or there. But what are experts saying? And do you believe that their predictions are founded in good science. There was a hoax letter that someone sent out meant to look like an official statement form the USGS warning of the possibility of a coming large quake. This went viral and sparked much of the conversation about whether LA was due for an earthquake of up to 7.3 magnitude. I heard about it from someone who posted that hoax letter on a Chinese social media site! After a few hours of research, I’m a heavy favor for one of the sides of this argument, but I won’t tell you which so as not to influence your choice in the poll at the end of this article. What I can say is that the piece on http://www.slate.com was fantastically written, and I learned a couple brand new things about earthquakes and their surrounding phenomena that I was previously oblivious too. A highly recommended read. Below are some links to just some of the articles I went through to help you make up your mind if you’re in the ‘undecided’ pool.

News about the hoax letter.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/letter-warning-impending-earthquake-southern-california-ruled-hoax-article-1.1741786

Here’s a good article de-bunking the idea that the 5.1 was a ‘foreshock’.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/04/01/earthquakes_foreshocks_aftershocks_and_predicting_the_big_one.html

This article uses excerpts from the USGS report to lean you towards the idea that a bigger quake IS coming. 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2592158/Customers-flee-Disneyland-5-3-earthquake-shakes-downtown-Los-Angeles-followed-TWENTY-aftershocks.html

Please answer my poll and tell me what you think in the comment section. As a very new LA resident I’m fascinated to see the difference with in-state and out-of-state perceptions of the earthquake activity in this area, and how people here cope with it.

 

Guangzhou CBD / Four Seasons Hotel

The 4 Seasons Hotel in GZ
The 4 Seasons Hotel in GZ

Walking through the new CBD of Guangzhou at night was one of the single most visually stunning and memorable experiences I’ve ever had in China.  We exited the cab right under the 103 story tower that has the Four Seasons Hotel in the top 33 floors. I had stayed there a bit back, but because I arrived and left at night in a private car, I didn’t even realize when I first saw this building from the outside that it was the same one I had been in less than a month! I never stood under it to look up and marvel at how imposing a building it is. A triangle shape with curved edges, giving the building the illusion that it is an oval from any perspective you look at it. Diamond pattern LED lights wrap the entire building from bottom to top that shift color continually, and give it the feel of a massive vertical landing strip. Part of what makes this building so cool is that at 103 floors, and shaped the way it is, when you look up at it seems to disappear into infinity. It was foggy this night, with a slight drizzle of rain in the air, and looking up at the barely visible top floor lit by green and yellow flood lights was not only dizzying, but gave me vertigo as well, which I didn’t think was possible while standing on solid ground. An actual pit in my stomach from just imagining what it would be like to look down from up there. As I let my mind run away with fantasy I stood there imagining a scene from an action movie where the tower began to collapse and topple over. One of those scenes where people stand gawking at the spectacle just long enough that their mad dash for safety comes up short. I was sure that if something like that happened now it would be utterly impossible it would be to escape from this monolithic tower.

That's it on the right there.
That’s it on the right there.

On the inside, the Four Seasons in Guangzhou is a probably the absolute nicest hotel I’ve stepped foot in so far in my life.  It starts on the 70th floor of the tower, and climbs to floor 103 where the luxury suite rooms are located. Just look below at the photos from the lobby and hallways. It gives you an idea the design and attention to detail that 4 Seasons is renowned for.

Lobby centerpiece in the 4 Seasons
Lobby centerpiece in the 4 Seasons
Random artwork on the 101st floor
Random artwork on the 101st floor
Looking up from the lobby of the 4 Seasons
Looking up from the lobby of the 4 Seasons

The single king room on the 93rd floor that I stayed in was so spacious, luxurious and generally impressive that I couldn’t believe it was the right room. I called my buddy who almost always upgrades his room to a suite thinking that they had given me his room! The first thing you notice is the view. It pulls you in right away and for me I couldn’t look at anything else the first hour. The floor to ceiling windows that run the entire length of the bedroom and bathroom areas look out on the river and CBD in Guangzhou. That area is probably one of the most lit-up and lively downtown districts you’ll see in any city on the planet right now. Huge new public buildings like the library and theater. A stadium that was used for some national games, and rarely anymore. A winding river walkway lit up for kilometers on either side, and almost no stores or business anywhere around turning this area into a giant public park.

Beautiful lit up river district.
Beautiful lit up river district.
The stadium
The stadium
Museum...or Borg Ship possibly.
Museum…or Borg Ship possibly.
A shot of the CBD
A shot of the CBD
Best. Library. Ever.
Best. Library. Ever.

 

The room is exactly my style. Contemporary from tip to tails. White bed, white resign work desk, white his-and-hers sinks/toilets, and on and on. I could describe it, but I’d barely do it a half-justice.

King Size room - Bedroom
King Size room – Bedroom
King Size Room - Bedroom
King Size Room – Bedroom

One of the nicest features was how well the temperature zones in the different rooms worked. I like to sleep in a room with a bit of a chill on, but no one likes to walk across chilly bathroom tile. The panels on the walls in each room let me keep the bathroom at 25 and my room at 18 the whole time and walking from one to another you could feel an immediate, sudden change in temperature. Such a small detail, but it made a remarkable difference.

Being in the south Guangzhou has the good fortune of having better air quality for now than the rest of China. This makes all the difference when strolling down the scenic riverside in the evening, or peering out a 100th floor window down on the city-scape. You can actually see far into the distance more often than not and take in what tiny piece in the overall urban development you’re currently standing in.

No question, 5 Stars, 10/10 experience. If you have the time, and the means, there is no other place to stay in the heart of Guangzhou! If you’re not convinced yet, the pictures below should help tip the scales.

The surrounding downtown
The surrounding downtown
Looking down to the lobby from floor 93
Looking down to the lobby from floor 93
messy, but fly.
messy, but fly.
His & her's everythang
His & her’s everythang
View in the daytime
View in the daytime
4 Seasons heated pool
4 Seasons heated pool

The Sheraton – Ningbo, PRC

The people of Ningbo describe their city as a “new” tourist town. Everybody I met kept saying that it was “just recently opened to the world”, a statement that I found after the 4th or 5th time to mean that the local government has spent millions of dollars, and set local development and zoning policy so that it would become a destination for foreign tourism, and increase the amount of trade at the cities local port. Historically, this city has always been a huge trade-port, and the international profile of the city has grown along with the demand for restaurants, bars and stores that cater to the foreign guests. One thing is clear – there is a lot of money here.

Tons of families sending students abroad to study in foreign countries, and tons of money put into hotels, restaurants and entertainment to attract locals and westerners alike. Pizza Hut’s and Starbucks all over the place, Bentley dealerships and strings of luxury clothing stores like Gucci and Mui Mui; run-of-the-mill wealthy Chinese city. A fleet of Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini Aventador parked outside our hotel didn’t exactly draw a picture of a city of working-class, factory folk.

The Sheraton's Rolls Royce
The Sheraton’s Rolls Royce
Some rich dude's Lambo
Some rich dude’s Lambo

The Sheraton hotel we stayed in had one of the most massive, and impressive lobbies I’ve ever been in. The ceiling in the 4 or 5,000 sq ft lobby easily towered to 7 stories in the center. A massive light piece of twisted glass hung in the middle as a chandelier and centerpiece, complimented by two upside down cones of spiraling metal and lights. All three objects at least 25 feet from top to bottom themselves.

This sick glass chandelier which is the focal piece in the Sheraton lobby.
This sick glass chandelier which is the focal piece in the Sheraton lobby.
Wide view of the Sheraton Lobby
Wide view of the Sheraton Lobby

The lobby felt very open due to the 4 giant marble pillars spread at a great distance providing most of the roof support. The lobby floor runs right into the breakfast restaurant area which itself had a waterfall wall that must have been 45 feet tall and 80 feet wide. Tiny pipes randomized on a 6 inch spread made it so the water cascaded down in wave patterns as it rushed towards the pool at the bottom.

Oh so purty waterfall in the dining area of the Sheraton lobby.
Oh so purty waterfall in the dining area of the Sheraton lobby.

Hard to tell exactly how old the building was. Some things like the calcified sections of the waterfall, and the faded carpet made me think at least 10 + years, but the artwork and lack of marks or nicks on woodwork and furniture seemed like it must be no more than 5. Hard to put a finger on it, but I suppose if I wasn’t so lazy I could look it up. I was told at the desk that the hotel was only 378 rooms, but due to the 3 massive towers, I call bullshit on that. Unless the other towers are apartments or some other functionality. This place looked massive, and 378 rooms is a medium size hotel.

Another great ceiling piece.
Another great ceiling piece.
Scale model. I think it was a model of what it will look like in the future and not now.
Scale model. I think it was a model of what it will look like in the future and not now.
Sheraton lobby area
Sheraton lobby area

 

If the point of this blog was to give you a full detailed account of the service, accommodation, cost analysis and other details I feel bad about cutting of the blog right now. But it’s not. All I want to do is give you an idea of feel of the places I’ve been, and relate the things that stuck with me. I may never overtake TripAdvisor as the industry standard for hotel reviews, but I won’t  ask you to read a blog about the Hilton Express in Boise, Idaho either. My advice is simple. If you get a chance to pass through Ningbo, stay here.

A Lazy Friday Photoblog

Sunset over Cali 2011
Sunset over Cali 2011

 

My buddy way up in the mountains on a hike
My buddy way up in the mountains on a hike
Busker with a Mexican Wrestling Mask and a ShakeWeight...what more to say?
Busker with a Mexican Wrestling Mask and a ShakeWeight…what more to say?
Santa Monica Mountains in Cali
Santa Monica Mountains in Cali
Sunset in Cali
Sunset in Cali
Given' me shit in Toronto
Given’ me shit in Toronto
The perfect Irish Car Bomb ;)
The perfect Irish Car Bomb ;)
Oh just a 1st Birthday party for a Billionaire's son!
Oh just a 1st Birthday party for a Billionaire’s son!
YeeFuckinHawww
YeeFuckinHawww
Tarpin Spring on Islamorada.
Tarpin Spring on Islamorada.
...
Take it back Jonny Quest!!
Take it back Jonny Quest!!
Fishin' with the crew in 2012
Fishin’ with the crew in 2012
Watching UFC at Orlando's fanciest restaurant.
Watching UFC at Orlando’s fanciest restaurant.
Kyle layin' the pipe!
Kyle layin’ the pipe!
The Circus comes to Orlando!
The Circus comes to Orlando!
This guy and the ShakeWeight guy are seriously battling for my favorite homeless people ever!
This guy and the ShakeWeight guy are seriously battling for my favorite homeless people ever!
A beautiful Tesla
A beautiful Tesla

The “Air” in Beijing

Beijing on a +500 pm2.5 Day
Beijing on a +500 pm2.5 Day

 

**None of these photos were edited or changed in any way.**

 

Being in Beijing for the first week was about as depressing as it could be. Not only battling fatigue and jet-lag, travel weariness, work frustration, and a longing to just relax in my new apartment in LA; but every single day the air quality and pollution were out of control. It got progressively worse each day, going from around 200 on the pm2.5 to over 500 on the worst day! For people who haven’t heard of the pm2.5 scale, it is a measurement of dangerous particles in the air that are small enough to be inhaled and cause serious damage after exposure. Either prolonged exposure at low doses, or high doses in a short time can be cause for concern. There is also the pm10 scale which refers to slightly larger particles, but still dangerous to inhale. For a reference, Jacksonville, FL today was an 18 on the pm2.5; Omaha was a 70. (http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.pollutant_summary&pollutant=pm25)

On top of the danger to your health, the grey and uninspiring images every time you look outside are enough to slowly grind down even the most positive person. On the worst day, Feb 25 – you could not see buildings that were 100 feet away or less. The smog was so bad that looking out my office window on the 20th floor, it looked like our building was isolated and alone in a city of fog.

A bad day...maybe 300
A bad day…maybe 300

The evening of the 25th an unexpected rain hit and took everything in the air with it, presumably to the ground, but at least it cleared up the view. I had completely forgot how beautiful Beijing can be, with it’s sprawling financial district, and never-ending urban sprawl. Lights way farther than you can hope to see from our 51st floor apartment in CBD.

 

The rain not only lifted the smog, but it was obvious that it lifted the spirits of everyone in the city. Content to celebrate a friends good fortune of the day, our group sat with a whiskey in hand, together looking out the window at the rain cleansed city. Thinking and chatting in both English and Chinese. Talking about life, girls, and wondering if the two of them will ever fit together. 20140227_081734

The CBD of Beijing on a clear night
The CBD of Beijing on a clear night

The Rhombus Hotel Fantasia, Chengdu, PRC

1
Rhombus Hotel

The Rhombus Hotel: Fantasia in Chengdu is a remarkably beautiful, newly erected 5 star hotel which must have opened this year, because not only is every room stunning, and in perfect condition, but the whole hotel looks like it has never been stayed in at all! The Dining room and breakfast buffet have spotless marble tables, and dark wooden chairs, with red leather accents that don’t have a mark on them. The bookshelves and artwork around have zero dust, and look like they were just bought yesterday. The buttons on the elevator are perfect and not worn at all, and all the card reader slots have not been nicked and scratched from excessive use.

20140306_091509
Rhombus Hotel

There is a theme of artistic pieces scattered throughout all designed around chairs. Yes, chairs. But once you stop trying to find meaning in it, and just enjoy it for what it is; metal chairs on spindles, or a bunch of tipped over chairs melted together…it’s really quite beautiful.  I don’t think there is any meaning to the chair-theme, perhaps just an OCD artist that got requisitioned to do the hotel and is going through his “seat” period. It’s all really quite nicely done though. The solid white, lopsided table piece with 4 different legs in the dining room was the coups-de-grace for me.

Melted Stack of Chairs
Melted Stack of Chairs

 

I had a chance to see a king room, which was laid out completely linear along a | shape. The entry with a bar, sitting area, TV and work space, divided by a wooden screen, was next to the king-size bed, just before the bathroom area with a double-sink, tub, and separate shower all encased in glass. The bathroom contained a button control screen that would open up fully to let you look out the window to the city beyond. After twitching to a two twin bed room to make a couple I was travelling with more comfortable, I found I liked that layout even better. The same entry-way and living room, but the two twin beds were next to that, and the closet and bathroom lay in front of the sleeping area. Still two sinks, and same bathroom layout, but this meant that there was a retractable screen both in the bathroom and in the bedroom, rolling back to look out at Chengdu from the 12th floor. Most of my view was buildings under construction, but the sitting cove underneath the bedroom floor-to-cieleing window was great to lay in and watch the sparks leap from welders working midnight shifts in the buldings 30 floors above me.

Normal Twin Room
Normal Twin Room

The gym looked like I was the first person to step foot in it. All the machines were polished and perfect. The mats and exercise balls had no cracks or lines from use. I was probably the first person to pick up the dumbells. The staff even offered to open it up for me at 5:30 AM when I called and asked when it opened.

The only thing that went wrong was that I ordered a bottle of French Bordeaux and was delivered a bottle of South African Shiraz. A discovery I made a day after finishing the entire bottle. Not too bad for a 5-star hotel, in a second tier city in a country where English is the second language! Free shoe polish service, amazing, comfy and plush robes, and possibly the best hotel slippers I’ve seen after 3 years in China! Ridiculously fluffy and soft. I stole two pairs! Everything was color coordinated for couples. Grey and White in everything in the room. Robes, towels, slippers, soft and firm pillows. They really thought of everything, re-thought it, and then made sure it was color coordinated. Amazing attendtion to detail, that is at a level where it is overlooked by few. Every single person in our group commented on one or another of the design aspects of the hotel. The art, the lobby, the elevators, the couches, the interior design layout of the rooms.

The menu felt like it was not quite a finished product. Rice dishes, and soup dishes were a little bland, maybe even just lacking salt. The Seared Tuna with Terriyaki Mayo and Cumin dusting I had had WAY too much cumin on it, and was missing any real flavor. The molten lava cake was dry and had nothing exciting about it, not even really hot when served to me. It felt like it was a copy menu, or perhaps designed by a great chef, who had then left sous-chefs in charge of making everything. It felt like they hadn’t quite figured out the finishing touches to great dishes that really set them apart from typical fare. The buffet selection was great, but standard for a Chinese 5-star hotel, with a mix of western and eastern dishes, lots of selection, but nothing that left an impression. I saw mainly two cooks in the morning, and if it was mainly them, pretty dam impressive that they could put on such a spread.

 

My conclusion is that the chefs will grow, and in time their food will improve to match the quality of the hotel they work in. But what is important is that Rhombus has built a fantastic hotel that will keep guests coming back for decades. I would not hesitate for a breath to recommend this hotel to anyone who travels to Chengdu in the future. They’ve started on a winning recipe with The Fantasia, let’s just hope they can keep it there. Rhombus Hotel

Rhombus Hotel
yah yah, it’s messy.

2012 Infiniti QX56

Infiniti QX56

Highs: Leather everything, interior beauty

Lows: Behemoth size, exterior ugliness

2011-Infiniti-QX56

So this rental actually came with a purpose. I was to be shuttling around 5 Chinese delegates for the better part of a week through Central Florida, both business and casual occasions. I needed something that I could still rent with a standard license but would be roomy enough to keep them comfortable during the trips, and hopefully be able to carry around some of their baggage as well.

Driving Experience – 3/5

My very first moments driving this car were uncomfortable to say the least. Not related at all to the leather seats or interior comfort of the car. But I was now backing up in the biggest vehicle I’d ever driven, with a group of 3 girls I’d known for a total of less than ten minutes. I wasn’t exactly stranded on my own though, I had back-up from a back-up cam, and another top-down 360 view cam. The QX56 felt heavy, but smooth – most likely due to the 400 ponies that run this beast cleanly through 5,800 rpm. The steering was tight enough that even though the vehicle is enormous it was far from ungainly, and I felt confident behind the wheel very quickly. Granted, I’ve got used to adjusting to a new car every week for the last 2 years, so not everyone may find this transition as easy. The driver position is extremely comfortable. With great view down the front and sides, and an awesome road position because of the height off the ground, For such a big beast, it’s got lots of pep. Not the nimblest thing on 4-wheels, but it doesn’t have any problem getting it’s big ass in gear if and when you’re looking for it.

Comfort: 4/5

Amazing, world-class, couldn’t as for much more in this department. Driver and passenger front seats are classy, supportive, loaded with options and beautifully designed. The middle row is 2 almost identical captains chairs, the only difference being the smaller headrests. The back row is a little squishy, but can fit 3 medium to small passengers still very comfortably. With my 5 Chinese girls, it was always 2 in the very back row and they looked extremely well fit.

Image

As I found out as soon as I saw them with their luggage’s from China, even this 7-seater with ample trunk room has met it’s match when it comes up against 5 Chinese tweens ready to shop!

Style – 3/5

Not Infiniti’s best work. But a serious upgrade with some small changes from earlier years. It does stick with the brands theme of “visual aero-dynamics”, and has some cool exterior lines along the top and bottom of the vehicle that reduce it’s boxy, hulk-like body. Interior styling is a triumph. Great use of aesthetically tuned electronics, interface surfaces, leather, stitching, all brought together with a smart layout. You may observe below.

Image

Electronics 3.5/5

As always, this is one of the departments where Infiniti packs a punch. The options are fantastic. The controls are laid out beautifully on the front console, and the most important ones are repeated on the steering wheel. An analog time clock adorns the middle of the front console is  classy and gives a nice visual focal point. The NAV/Entertainment/Control system is controlled with a rotating wheel that can be clicked in 5 directions as well (up, down, left, right, and inwards) located on the center console. Similar to the high-end Benz’s, Bhemer’s and Audi’s this is probably the simplest and most convenient way to manipulate an on-board system once you have grown accustomed to it. Infiniti’s NAV is great in my opinion. Bright, easily read, easy to input data and great turn-by-turn. The Bose Premium sound system kicks bass busier than a 1-legged Trap DJ. While the Tri-Zone entertainment system ensures that you won’t have to speak to another family member while your in the car again. It’s got a distance proximity warning system for cars in-front and around you, and an Infiniti Connection feature which will notify synced smart-phones that doors have been locked, or even maybe that a collision is about to occur??? Infiniti Connection

Accessories 3.5/5

Sure, rental cars don’t often come fully-loaded. It seems however, that even the base model of the Infiniti QX56 comes with a ton of gadgets and neat accessories to keep your fingers busy, and make you feel like you got bang for your buck. The heated and cooling seats are a perfect example – probably the single nicest add-on you can have while driving in a state where the average temp is 73 degrees, and the average humidity is on par with the feel of Chris Bosh’s game towel in the 4th quarter. At this point, naming all the standard features like sunroof, rear privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers seems a bit silly, because frankly for this amount of money everyone now expects these things and more. The 8,500 pound towing capacity is worth mentioning, and hefty for something other than a pick-up.

Overall 3.5/5

Technically, if I’m averaging these scores, the overall should be 3.25/5. However, this is my blog, and it was my driving experience, so fuck it. Just because a car this big was executed with enough precision to haul bodies, hug the road, and look decent while doing all of it – to me it warrants a little bump. I recommend driving one, which is as easy as walking into an Infiniti dealer. They are tripping over themselves to give you a test-drive and a quote. Just know that if you’re pursuing this test-drive in Orlando they won’t let you take it out after 2PM – due to the high percentage of severely brain-damaged tourist drivers. So have a couple of G & T’s at 11 AM and wander into a dealer (just kidding, this blog does not endorse alcohol consumption before or during test-drives), just make sure you’ve given them time to wear off before you sign a financing deal. Stay safe Kiddies!

(pictures courtesy of Infinitiusa.com)

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