The haunts of Chairman Mao

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters.

When you have either heard or known about a murder or suicide in a hotel at which you are going to stay, are you bothered about making sure that you are not staying in that particular room?

I would hate to be in the shadow of death in a hotel room in the dark. I once took great pains to find the place where Chairman Mao stayed whenever he visited Hangzhou, the least ugly city in China, and discovered it to be a regal suite at the West Lake Hotel that perches beautifully on the east bank of the famous lake. That night, I slept in the same bed as the Chairman, looking out of the window that was fairly well lit by a full moon, pretending that I was experiencing some great moment in history – until I saw an alarming female figure, straight out of Wilkie Collins, by the window looking into the room, ostensibly standing on water. She looked like Kathy Bates in Misery. I had never been so scared in my life. And if that was creepy, I would hate to be in the room where death had actually occurred. Whenever I read such things, I always make a note of the hotel in my notebook, and would avoid staying there. Or if I have to, I would always insist on reception positively identifying the room so that, as all the young people seem to say nowadays, “I would so avoid it.”

Is it a bit old-fashioned now to use net curtains? But how do you stop people looking in?

There is something about net curtains that is quintessentially suburban. Whenever I see them, I always expect some nosey parker to be peeping through surreptitiously from behind, looking out. So generally, I am much more concerned with the people inside looking out – rather than those from the outside looking in. This is particularly important in Singapore where, apparently, there is a law forbidding one to change in a light room without curtains, lest it encourages voyeurism. At my homes, I have usually settled for venetian blinds, which are extremely practical as slats could be turned slightly up or down, making it possible for us to see out from the inside, but not nearly as well as from the outside looking in. From a decoration point of view, it is always much better to have some form of separation between the house inside and the view outside. It is a classical howler, committed by so many modern designers, especially for hotels with vistas, to install a virgin picture window in front of a marvellous view. This is because only with a separation would one actually appreciate that one was inside – and, paradoxically, have the view enhanced by being interrupted by some kind of lattice. Hence the French window, a wonderful invention that provides precisely the lattice of separation that, against our instinct, enhances rather than impedes the view.

A friend getting married soon is planning on having a cellist perform during her wedding ceremony. What are some classical pieces you would recommend for this occasion?

Doesn’t the cello, especially at its best, always sound rather melancholic? Therefore, on a merry occasion like a wedding, it should be avoided, especially as a solo instrument. So much music for the cello is written with agony and pathos – just think of the opening bars of Elgar’s concerto, sweepingly and gloriously lachrymose, and definitely no laughs. But if you insist on a cello, then the Haydn concerto is quite jolly, especially when played super-prestissimo. On wedding music in general, I have always found it extraordinary that the “Wedding March” from Wagner’s Lohengrin is so over-used – for in the opera, both the bride and groom separated and perished. Very bad feng shui indeed. The kind of music I would use for a proper wedding is either the prelude to the Meistersinger or, if you want to be a religious thoroughbred, the last chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There is no tune or sound more magnificent than this.

Advice please on what colour shirt to wear in a hot climate (or a tight corner). I love blue shirts, but they do tend to show perspiration.

From a scientific point of view, white for a hot climate because it reflects heat. Any darker shade will absorb heat. Ergo, common sense dictates the lightest colour that also camouflages sweat. Certainly, no patterned shirts, particularly floral ones à la Hawaiian short-sleeves. They are unacceptable at all times except for Jack Lord when he was alive.

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