Go Away With … Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
August 4, 2015

Author Kevin Kwan has traveled the world, but he says that London reminds him of home. “I live in Manhattan and this summer marks my 20th year as a New Yorker,” says Kwan. “But London has a strong kinship to New York. They are both cosmopolitan cities overflowing with history and culture and yet completely focused on modern life. The tea and scones are much better in London, though.” His latest book is the novel, “China Rich Girlfriend” (Doubleday, $26.95). To read more about Kwan, check out his website or follow him on Twitter.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. The first trip I can recall was to a beautiful beach in Desaru, Malaysia. I think my love for tropical beaches began right there. I remember these beach vendors who would sell freshly roasted fish wrapped in banana leaves and seeing an incredible rainbow in the sky that day as I made sandcastles on the powdery white sand.

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?

A. It’s great to do research and plan ahead, but never be afraid to throw out that plan and just go with the flow. I think the best thing about traveling is the unexpected. I once visited the Spanish seaside town of Cadaques during a holiday weekend with friends and found ourselves unable to find a single hotel that had any vacancies. We ended up driving down some dark, remote dirt road and sleeping in the car. When we woke up the next morning, we found ourselves in the middle of a nature preserve overlooking the ocean and watching the most magnificent sunrise. It turned out to be one of the most fun and memorable experiences ever.

Q. Have you ever traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. I’ve done this quite a bit in my books. Most recently, I went to Paris and purposely didn’t visit a single museum or major tourist attraction. Instead, I just spent all my time wandering through neighborhoods that I’d never been to before, sitting in cafes and poking around out-of-the-way shops. This inspired me to write a whole new chapter in “China Rich Girlfriend,” where my characters go on a decadent, whirlwind shopping trip in the City of Lights.

Q. If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?

A. Every Christmas, my family would meet up for a holiday in a different city. One year, we chose Budapest. The city had just gone through a snowstorm, so the whole place looked like a winter wonderland when we arrived. There was something about that holiday that was totally enchanted — our hotel, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, turned out to be a beautifully restored Art Nouveau treasure that was so sumptuous we didn’t want to leave our rooms, but when we did step out. Everything was amazing — the restaurants, the sights and, last but not least, the wonderful desserts and hot chocolate at the legendary Gerbeaud Cafe.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. I’d really love to visit the countries around the Arabian Peninsula — places like Saudi Arabia, Oman and Abu Dhabi.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. I’m a pretty low-maintenance traveler, but the three things I can’t leave home without are my Bose noise-canceling headphones, my Pro-Activ skin cleanser and a pair of wingtip shoes I bought in Australia 15 years ago that are apparently indestructible and seem to work for every occasion. They’ve been everywhere from afternoon tea at Claridge’s in London to climbing up mountains in Arizona.

Q. What would be your dream/fantasy trip?

A. I’ve long fantasized about taking a few months off and traveling along the Silk Route by motorbike, going from western China through the countries of Central Asia to the Caucasus. I think it would be absolutely incredible to visit the fabled cities of Kashgar, Bukhara and Samarkand and walk the same roads that Marco Polo did.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?

A. I can’t believe I’m actually admitting to this, but I like going to McDonald’s whenever I’m overseas. It’s the only time I ever eat at one. The Filet-O-Fish sandwich somehow always tastes better in Europe and they still make the apple pie the way I like it with the original crispy crust.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?

A. Spring break in Cancun during my senior year of high school. It was the best of times and the worst of times. That’s all I’ll say!

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. The island of Capri, off the Amalfi coast of Italy. No other place I know has such a mixture of sheer beauty, style and history. The Emperor Tiberius loved it so much he moved the capital of Roman empire to the island in 26 A.D. There are so many unforgettable things you can do on this tiny island: exploring the many archaeological treasures, swimming in the stunning Blue Grotto, hiking along dramatic trails, or wandering through a gorgeous town filled with the world’s most exquisite shops, restaurants and people.

Q. To someone who was going to the Amalfi Coast for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?

A. Take a boat ride around the island first, and then head up to Capri Town and have a drink at one of the cafes on the piazza. Visit the ruins of Villa Jovis, where Emperor Tiberius ruled from, and then take the bus to Anacapri. Speeding along cliffside roads full of hairpin curves, it’s the scariest and most breathtakingly scenic bus ride you’ll ever take. In Anacapri, visit Villa San Michele, which in addition to an amazing collection of antiquities also boasts the most spectacular gardens.  I’d also recommend an afternoon of sunbathing, swimming, and lunching at Da Luigi, a beach club that’s situated underneath these incredible rock formations called the Faraglioni Rocks. To me, it’s the most beautiful spot on the planet.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. I rarely go on weekend getaways—I feel like I need at least four or five days to make any trip worthwhile.  I actually love spending the weekends in New York, especially in the summer when everyone else flees come Friday afternoon.  My neighborhood becomes quieter, and the whole city takes on this relaxed vibe.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A.  New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney and Naples.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?

A.  Oh lord, where to begin?  Cuisine Cuisine in Hong Kong, Tea & Sympathy in New York, The Enterprise in London, Bill’s in Sydney, Shang Palace in Singapore, Monsieur Bleu in Paris, Le Grotelle in Capri, Goode & Company Barbecue in Houston, Gjelina in Los Angeles, SipSip on Harbour Island, Bahamas, Rock Lobster in Toronto, Elizabeth Street Café in Austin, Din Tai Fung in Shanghai, Yacout in Marrakech, should I go on?

Q. What are your favorite hotels?

A. I much prefer small boutique hotels and family-run inns to larger establishments.  A few of my favorites include Ksar Char Bagh in Marrakech, The Rock House on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, and The Gore in London.

© 2015 JAE-HA KIM


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