China’s fourth richest man is returning to his roots to help rebuild its economy – through his flagship project, Baoneng Times Bay.
Shantou is a city full of surprises. At first glance, it appears like a city with nothing much to see or do compared to its more famous neighbours like Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the province of Guangdong. But peel away the façade, and you would find a number of surprising discoveries.
It is the original birthplace of Gongfu tea, also known delightfully as “kung fu tea”. It is named as such due to the immense skill needed to brew the tea from beginning to end. It involves elevating every stage of tea preparation to its highest form, from warming the pot to pouring it out. Watching the demonstration has a meditative effect and when you are finally served the tea, you behold it with deep appreciation and deliberately drink it slowly to take in the full flavour of the kung fu skills.
As with many Chinese port cities, Shantou brims with history due to its proximity to the sea. The 19th century was its heyday when it was a thriving cosmopolitan port city with a large foreign community. That legacy can still be seen today in its bustling Old Town where many of its grandest buildings fusing both European and Chinese architectural styles are located.
Among them are Shantou History Museum, a stately colonial building that features photographs and cultural artefacts of the city particularly from the 19th century. The other is the Shantou Museum of Overseas Remittance which displays the history of millions of Southern Chinese who emigrated overseas especially during the turbulent late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Farming was also hard due to the lack of arable land. Much like today’s Chinese immigrants to western countries, the early emigrants regularly remit money back to their hometown.
Shantou has a very healthy appreciation for all its sons and daughters who have had to leave its soil to seek a better life overseas. The museum presents a fascinating insight into the lives of these people while they were in foreign lands. Of note are their letters that have been preserved for us to understand the conditions during those times.
As a descendant of one of these Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asia, I naturally appreciated the history of this slice of time which is not much publicised. It is a fitting tribute to the countless number of Chinese who had emigrated to Southeast Asia, many of whom later became successful in their host countries.
RISING TO THE OCCASION
It is this Chinese diaspora that Baoneng Times Bay, a mixed development covering over one million square meters in reclaimed land, is targeting, among others. Situated in Chaoshan, one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones, it is home to China’s sole overseas Chinese Experimental Area set up in 2014.
The Chaoshan region consists of the cities of Shantou, Chaozho and Jieyang which due to its growth is developing into a single metropolis. As if paving the way for its imminent rise in prominence in the world stage, the region has in March won the bid to host the 2021 Asian Youth Games. The main venue of the Games has been finalised recently – the East Coast Park. This is the same area that Baoneng Times Bay is being built.
As a flagship development by the Baoneng Group, Baoneng Times Bay is a mixed development integrating high-end residence, a cultural centre, five-star hotel, top-notch businesses, 5A office buildings, and creative offices and mansions; in short a world class landmark for Shantou. It is also home to schools, hospitals and parks which create a vibrant community.
The Bay Cultural Centre is particularly notable for its emphasis on promoting the unique culture of Chaoshan. Designed by worldrenowned designer Chen Henghuan, the centre aims to create a platform for cultural communication, future urban display, modern art curation, and children’s educational experience. It is the new catalyst to bring in more tourists to Shantou.
This effort is the brainchild of Baoneng’s billionaire founder, Yao Zhenhua, China’s fourth-richest man as of January 2017. Originally from Chaoshan, Yao is now based in Shenzhen.
Having succeeded in his many projects throughout China for the past 27 years, Yao finally returned to his roots with grand plans – to open up opportunities for the city and stimulate economic growth. Baoneng Times Bay will be the vehicle to realise his dream and it is his hope to populate the development with many overseas-born Chinese in order to create a cosmopolitan vibe.
Notes Wu Weixiong, General Manager of Baoneng Group Shantou Division, the project so far has achieved very respectable sales to overseas Chinese. In recent months, Baoneng has staged roadshows in both Singapore and Malaysia.
However, locals still form the bulk of the purchasers, followed by overseas Chinese working in Macao, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The remaining buyers are foreigners from other countries.
Founder Yao has high hopes for Shantou as he sees a similarity with Shenzhen, noting that due to Shenzhen’s status as a special economic zone, its real estate has flourished. “He hopes that Shantou’s real estate can even do better,” Wu relates the founder’s vision. The local government of Shantou harbours a similar hope, that Times Bay can be an iconic project that makes a mark in the world.
Although the growth of Shantou’s special economic zone has been rather slow in recent years, there are expectations that growth will accelerate after Beijing gave greater support to Shantou following a strategic policy adjustment on the southern metropolises of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macao.
The completion of the iconic Hong Kong– Zhuhai–Macao Bridge, a 55-km bridge–tunnel system which boasts of being both the longest sea crossing and the longest open-sea fixed link on earth, is also contributing to the optimistic outlook.
As a result, Wu foresees greater opportunities in this region for the next 10 years. There are even plans to build another two more bridges linking strategic cities in the region. “I believe now is a great time to invest in Chaoshan due to the increasing number of business opportunities expected in the next three years.”
Baoneng Times Bay boasts cutting-edge architecture, glass walls, gorgeous sea views, a park designed by an international landscape design company and 16kms of East Coast Promenade. There are also 6,800 high tech parking spaces to ensure enough car parks for both residents and visitors. The sky view swimming pool is located on the roof top of the building overlooking the beautiful bay area.
One of the most distinguishing features of the development are walkways that connect all the buildings thus allowing a walk through in any weather condition. Furthermore, the glass used in the buildings are very high quality and are made in-house by one of the group’s subsidiaries.
Although Baoneng is regarded as one of China’s top 100 property developers, the conglomerate has extended its operations to high-end manufacturing, modern logistics, lifestyle and retail, financial services, aviation and cultural tourism.
For me, the best thing about the place is its relative lack of crowds unlike China’s other major coastal cities like Shanghai and Beijing. It also has easy access to beautiful island beaches, hiking trails, mountains, great weather and of course, the unique Chaoshan food. And if you happen to be an overseas Chinese, the welcome is nothing less than a warm homecoming.