Robert Ettinger’s Notes from South East Asia

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Our Chairman and CEO, Robert Ettinger, shares his reflections from a recent trip to South East Asia and Dubai

The Ettinger family has been travelling to South East Asia to sell leather goods since 1970. And current CEO and Chairman Robert Ettinger is the third generation to regularly tour the region selling the family wares. In fact, during his tenure, he has expanded Ettinger’s reach to countries such as South Korea and China. Here are a few notes from his recent travels.

Japan

Ettinger is the best-known foreign leather brand in Japan, so it’s been a joy to travel to the country and meet our fans over the last 30 years or so.

This time, we started our trip by heading to the so-called ‘car city’ of Nagoya on the famous Bullet Train. It took just an hour and 40 minutes to cover 350 Kilometres, and I quickly discovered that looking out of the window wasn’t a pleasant experience – everything was a blur – far better to look straight ahead. But the trains were so clean and efficient and the staff so polite (they bow whenever you leave your carriage) – it was a million miles from the British rail network.

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Tokyo is a wonderful city – even the exteriors of the buildings and the girders of the road bridges have been scrubbed clean. And even though high-rise buildings dominate, it’s got a wonderful sense of character. You may be staying in a hotel on a big thoroughfare (I like the Park Hyatt), but if you walk for two minutes, you will find all these little tiny streets that look like a traditional Tokyo village, with low-rise bars and shops and people living there – it’s so atmospheric and the contrast is fascinating.

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Food-wise, in Japan it’s all about chicken yakitori for me! But you have to be a bit careful as to which part of the bird you are eating... I also love the Grill Room at the Park Hyatt (where Lost in Translation was filmed) – a safer option.

South Korea

From Japan, it was on to South Korea (this being my 10th visit there) and the country’s second city, Busan. South Korea is very mountainous and populations are huge (Busan’s is around four million), so they have to build upwards as a result, and the high-rise architecture is wonderful! The city is also coastal, there are beaches and marinas and people swimming – it’s a lovely city.

We were lucky enough to catch the annual fireworks while we were there – and what a show it was! Millions of people packed the streets to watch an hour-long display fired from three separate bridges, all co-ordinated to the same dramatic music. I really don’t think there are fireworks like these anywhere else in the world.

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One of our buyers took us for dinner at a local restaurant and the food was incredible. We had fermented cuttlefish, jellyfish, and a marinated pig's trotter. Jellyfish is interesting! I hid most of it under my salad, as it tasted like rubber, but it was an experience nonetheless.

Food adventures aside, my favourite thing about South Korea has to be the people. They are wonderful – jovial and very approachable. I very much look forward to returning.

Beijing

Beijing was interesting on this trip. It helped that the sky was blue, there was a cool breeze and pollution levels were lower than usual, but our visit to the British House, near Tiananmen Square, was the real highlight. This newly built shopping centre sells only British merchandise. On the first floor there is a (packed) Harrods tearoom. And on the ground floor is the retail store, with a lovely display of Ettinger, and all sorts of British clothing, food, decorative homewares and furniture. It was great to see.

China is moving very fast. There are a lot of nice niche multi-brand shops selling menswear. They are doing what Japan and South Korea took 20 years to do, but in three, and that’s what’s fascinating.

I stayed in the new Rosewood hotel. And it was fabulous – probably the best city hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life. The service, the rooms and the generosity of the staff were unparalleled. It’s going to be the hotel group to watch out for.

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Dubai

I’ve been to Dubai many times and it has changed hugely in the last 10 years. It’s really matured as a city – it’s even got a bit of a soul now! It’s been fascinating watching it change.

October was a fantastic time to be there, with the 34C temperatures being very manageable. I stayed at the low-rise Park Hyatt, which is on the Creek, beautifully positioned next to the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – sea on one side and verdant greens on the other, and even birds in the trees. It was bliss after weeks in high-rise hotel rooms.

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We toured the malls, soaking up the 2017 shopping scene in this important retail capital, before dining at my favourite old Lebanese restaurant, Al Nafoorah – which serves the best hummus and fattoush known to man.

What a trip! From Tokyo’s back streets and South Korean jellyfish to Beijing’s new Harrods tearoom and a spot of (surprisingly) verdant respite in Dubai, I loved it all, and am looking forward to Ettinger’s 2018 adventures.