How do you create an authentic culture hub?

Many cities try to build an area with a network of streets that offers cultural products that gives a higher appreciation of cultural life.  In China, the city government try to do this by building a whole new area with new shops and invite outsiders and foreigners with good taste to set up, hoping this new immigrant ladies and gentlemen will transform the style of the street of the region. Some amount of foreign element will add variety and interest, learning from  many examples around the world; it is important to bear in mind the following:

1, The primary market for this cultural street/streets are locals. Tourists are only attracted to these areas because it is already frequented by locals, and tourists like to see through the offerings of merchandize and activities; the kind of life and lifestyle the locals practised.

2. The offerings must be popular with a majority of young people, hence the operators must also be young people, showing off their skills and wares in a variety of interesting ways.

3. Food and Beverage, bars and cafes, at reasonable prices are key to success. There must also be some really authentic restaurants selling local ware or some really popular foreign offerings already popular with the locals, offering “comfort food” to make up the critical mass of business.

I have said that THERE IS NO NEED TO BUILD ARTIFICIAL THEME PARKS, just allow the cities to develop in its organic way; allow people to show off their ideas of a good life; that way it becomes an authentic organic theme park. In Theme Parks, activities and events need to be organized, but in real cities and towns, there is no need to organize these artificial events as the people live their lives, the many personal, family, community events and festivals made up the activities.

( In Culture Is Good Business, I predicted that the Disneyland in Hongkong will not do well as Hongkong already has a character of itself and does not need an infusion of foreign culture to help put it on the map; Hongkong is already on the map. The “artificial” culture brought by Disney is hard to sustain its spark and interests with local visitors ( and Hongkong only has a population of 7million).  Disneyland Hongkong did not take off as wished by the Hongkong government, attendance figures falling short of initial targets and th park’s performance has been sluggish.)Examples of culture hubs:

1. Korea: Insadong

2. Shanghai: Tianzifang. ( Tianzifang has a middle class and young people flavour versus nearby Xintindi’s luxurious upmarket feel. As both are new additions to Shanghai’s leisure landscape, it is interesting to watch they develop and how welll they do commercially. )

3. Istanbul: Grand Bazaar, a review on youtube

4. China:  Yangshou West Street, Kwangxi Province

5. China: Lijiang Old town Square Street, Yunnan Province,

6. Barcelona:  Montcada street area with the Picaso Museum in the center and the La Rambla.

Malaysia: The Quitessential Malaysian Nasi Lemak

When your area or town offers a certain authentic and special cuisine, should effort be made to build a business model with central kitchen so one may have a chain of these food stores all over the world. I don’t however share this view.

Building a food chain no doubt will bring in a large revenue and creates a good business. But if a certain authentic cuisine is typical to a place, the value is not in just in the sale of the cuisine, but in its magic power to bring visitors and therefore multiple revenue streams to that place.

Village Park Restaurant is one typical restaurant that fall into this category. The Chinese Muslim couple working with some 20 staffs; mainly Malays sells the best Nasi Lemak, Malaysian coconut flavoured rice with sambal ( spiced gravy) and fried chicken. This restaurant ( actually only two shoplots but took out spaces on the corridor and the road in front); opens from 7am to 10pm, always doing roaring business. There is only one such restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, and all visitors who want to try this cuisine will have to make it to its location in Damansara.

Many of us know that food from a owner-run restaurant has a special appeal, it is personal; one can feel the care of the owner attending to various matters around the restaurant and making sure the helpers see to customers’ needs. For example, while we sit there, the owner couple were sitting in the next table working on the vouchers, and the lady boss saw a fly in the display case, she went over to make sure the fly was chased out at the first instance. This is the kind of care you won’t see in a commercial run restaurant chain.

Presenting Pewter as an artistic experience


I dropped in the Visitors’ Center of  Royal Selangor Pewter in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur last Sunday (October 21 2012). I have heard about the make-over of the operation and how the new generation of managers are transforming the brand into a Lifestyle product, taking it from a purely souvenir and decorative item to a lifestyle or even fashionable good. I was impressed and delighted at the experience I had.

The new face of the brand is now represented by a stylish elegant welcome reception; leading up to a gallery that tells the story Pewter and how its various artistic pieces are made. Then the visitor is led through various stations showing how this handicraft is painstaking created by able craftsman. Besides the factory floor, there is the “Institute of Hard Knocks” where enthusiasts can pay a small fee in return for a lesson to try to make a small pewter piece. Then the visitor is led into the spacious well layout exhibition gallery; this gallery displays all the products,it is also a large sales area where visitors can pick up pieces they fancied. Besides the exhibition gallery is an elegant cafe that looks out to the garden.

View Gallery of photos of the Visitors Center additional photos from my ipad.

This is a good example of how a craft/manufactured product has increased its “cultural” and design component in its overall presenatation.  Many crafts and artistic heritage such as Chinese silk, embroidery, ceramics and porcelain, bronzeware etc, those rich collection of wonderful crafts from China and other East Asian countries can rethink their presentation and business model. 

Wuxi’s Buddhist Theme Park – Lingshan Buddha Statue

In a day visit to Wuxi in early Sept 2012, Local leaders told me that the Lingshan Buddha Theme Park is among the two most important events that took place in China in 1997, the other event being the return of Hongkong to the motherland. Spread over 600 over acres, with a 88 meter Buddha Statue on the top of the hill, weighing 700 tons, there Brahma Palace recreated the opulent palace the Prince Sakyamuni lived before he reached enlightenment.

When walking through the park, one must remember that this is meant to be a Tourist theme park on Buddhism, not a Buddhist temple park where the focus is on the religion. The Multi media show tells the story of  the Prince confronting the many issues of life; death, suffering and how he achieved enlightenment.

My photo collection taken at the site The official website

Hello world, Welcome to Culture Is Good Business

This blog will continue to update and examine the trends on how culture and design adds values to business and communities. A sequel to the book Culture Is Good Business is being planned.

I have been travelling and working on various projects connected to this theme, it is about time to organize these materials in a new integrated way; first in this blog and then   in a new book Culture Is Good Business II.