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Broken Crane Could Fall Any Minute Now From A Midtown Skyscraper

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Hurricane Sandy toppled a crane at the top of the One57 building at in Midtown Manhattan.

It looks like the crane is about to fall to the street as of 2:30 p.m., reports @NYScanner. The crane is dangling from more than 1,000 feet up and NYPD is responding to the scene, according to Eye Witness News. Workers are struggling to dismantle the crane because of the winds.  

"At approximately 2:35pm today, the One57 tower crane boom became damaged by the high winds of hurricane Sandy. The hurricane storm winds have pushed the crane boom over the cab section of the high rise crane at One 57th Street," Mary Costello, senior vice president of Lend Lease, said in a statement.

"The crane was last inspected on Friday, October 26 by the Operating Engineer from Postroad Ironworks following a checklist provided by the Engineer of Record. We are working with structural engineers and the DOB on evaluating any additional measures that can be taken to secure the boom and crane structure.  Current weather and wind conditions remain very severe.”

Construction workers on the scene have told Business Insider's Julia La Roche the crane will most likely fall to the streets.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Extell Company, which owns the building, is fully cooperating with the city. 

No injuries have been reported and the streets have been cleared as a precaution, the AP is reporting. 

Three buildings including the Meridian Hotel are being completely evacuated, according to NBC New York. A "collapse zone has been established. 

Debris, glass, and bricks were flying down on to 56th Street, according to The New York Times.

live video of the scene is unfolding here. From the top of Bloomberg's headquarters there's another live view of the action. Meanwhile downtown, there are reports of scaffolding coming apart and crashing down on to Broadway.

One57 will be Manhattan's tallest residential building when completed. 

Currently, no one lives in the building, though it's more than 50 percent sold. A full-floor unit inside the building starts at $53 million. The penthouse sold for $90 million

one57

Here's a picture via Melania Trump:

one57 crane

 Here's a better look at the broken crane via Anna Holmes

one57 crane

Here's a picture via Jonathan Wald:

one57

crane

crane

Business Insider reporter Julia La Roche contributed to this report.

Now Take A Look Inside This New Luxury Building >

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A Bentley Underwater!

You Can Rent An Entire Luxury Hotel In St Mortiz Over The Holidays

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DNU

Want space and privacy this Christmas? You can now rent out an entire luxury hotel in St Mortiz throughout the festive season.

Large families willing to spend lavishly in order to escape domestic duty this Christmas could well find themselves lured to St Moritz in the Swiss Alps. This year, the five-star, 60-suite boutique Carlton Hotel, St. Mortiz is advertising the property to groups who may be seeking to rent it out in its entirety.

Built in 1913, the hotel was refurbished in 2007 and is celebrating the arrival of its centenary by unveiling its new penthouse suite - the largest in St. Moritz - this winter. Although luxury properties are occasionally rented out on an exclusive basis by wealthy travellers from Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere, it's less usual for properties to publicly advertise their amenability to these arrangements.

Anyone looking to hire the hotel will have access to its range of facilities, including the aforementioned 60 suites, two restaurants, two bars, a sun terrace and 1,200sq metre spa. Breakfast and access to a kids' club are also included, and the hotel owners are throwing in free Wi-Fi access.

St Moritz itself has long been renowned as a ski and sports resort and in winter the array of eccentric activities it offers includes greyhound racing, polo, 'ice golf' and cricket. The offer to rent the entire hotel is available throughout the winter season (from December 14, 2012 to April 1, 2013) and costs from CHF80,000 ($84,575) per night.

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The Perks Of Being One Of The World's Most Elite Frequent Flyers

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Elliott Kroll

New York attorney Elliott Kroll earned a million miles and he never even gamed the system.

The business traveler has never done a "mile run," nor has he signed up for a rewards credit card that would earn him more points.

"Really, I'm just careful to maximize my miles and not lose opportunities to gain more," he told Business Insider.

"I've always tried to be sensitive and check airline codes so I fly the most direct route. But I think you have to balance earning airline miles with becoming obsessed to the point where it gets in the way of your lifestyle." 

The only reason Kroll became a million miler in the first place was because of his on-the-go schedule. An insurance attorney based in New York for the past 35 years, Kroll frequently flies to Europe and occasionally Asia and the Middle East. But it was only five years ago when he decided to put all those international miles he'd clocked in to good use. 

"I took a look at my American Airlines statement and said, 'Wow,' I'm not that far away from being a million miler," he recalled. "So where it made sense I would take American and not any others. Relatively quickly the miles added up." 

Though joining the club wasn't "his highest priority," Kroll still sought "reasonable fares with good routings and times," and tried to "max out whatever miles he could" at participating car rental services and hotels. Expedia and Hotels.com were useful for "getting an idea of the market," he said. 

By 2008, all the hard work paid off and Kroll received a package announcing the news. Inside was a pin and a badge that granted him access to the world of elite status: a special hotline for reservations, 20 upgrades for domestic flights and unlimited free baggage check-ons. For someone who takes "20 trips in an average year," the latter saves Kroll $500 since check-on costs $25 per bag. 

"The best part is I never have to worry about maintaining the status," he said, "and when I have to change flights, I have the advantage of the airline being more helpful and having that special phone line I can call."

And that's not all. He also receives better fares and hardly ever waits in line. 

"It makes a big difference with the ease of check-in, not paying the baggage fees and having priority boarding," said Kroll. "It takes the hassle out of flying." 

Still, even the elite flier admits the industry has gone down in some ways. 

"[Before deregulation in 1978], it used to be a lot more luxurious, there were fewer seats, so there was plenty of legroom," he recalled. "Before you didn't pay to be a frequent flier, you were invited. And the service was wonderful. On PanAm, they used to carve roast beef on the plane." 

Today, Kroll swears by his million miler status—he's slated to join Delta next, but refused to say how many more miles he has left to go—and signing up for the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program, which expedites security and other check-in procedures by putting fliers on a special list.

"Before the hurricane, I got through security lines in a heartbeat," he said. "You don't waste time waiting in stupid lines, it makes an enormous difference." 

Now check out how a personal finance editor books a cheap trip to Ireland >

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What It's Like To Have A Tree Come Crashing Into Your House

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Around 2:30 p.m. yesterday, winds from Hurricane sandy blew a tree onto my grandfather's home in Edison, N.J.

Here's how Robert Stewart described the crash:

"I was sitting in my living room, and I heard a noise. I didn't know what it was, and all of a sudden I saw a tree come by. It was scary. You just heard a loud crunch, and you knew something bad happened. There are two holes. One in the roof, and one in the bedroom. Luckily, it [the tree] was just in the one corner of the bedroom."

Check it out:

edison

Later that evening, another tree came crashing down in his backyard:

hurricane sandy tree edison

Now see pictures of hurricane damage from Jamaica to Canada >  

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Travel Tips From An Elite Frequent Flier

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Elliott Kroll

New York attorney Elliott Kroll knows his way around an airport. 

The elite status flyer reached million mile status on American Airlines in 2008, and he's only a few years away from achieving the same feat on Delta.

"Being a million miler has made me a better traveler because I'm familiar with the airlines and the airports," he told Business Insider.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he avoided the madness of La Guardia airport by taking flights from Los Angeles to Indiana to Boston, and then driving all the way to New York. What else would you expect from someone who's spent the past 35 years of his life flying from JFK to Europe to Asia to the Middle East?

Kroll has some pretty strong opinions on how consumers bungle their travels, so we asked him to share his tips on how they can improve and get to gold status faster. Read on: 

Pick an airline you like and stick with it. It pays to be loyal, which Kroll learned early on as an American Airlines flyer in the early aughts. Once he realized how many miles he'd racked up in 2005, he made it a point to book AA flights whenever he could, unless it was out of the way. By 2008, he was a million miler. And even when other airlines merged, he still managed to keep his miles because he was loyal (see: TWA to American, Western to Delta and Northwest to Delta.) 

Check the airline codes. Nonstop and direct flights mean two different things in the airline world, so make sure you know which is which. A nonstop flight will take you from Point A to Point B, while direct flights go from Point A to Point B to Point C. The latter type of flight grants more miles than the former, so check with the airline or use ITA Matrix to make sure your code is the right one. 

Don't overlook opportunities. Rentals and hotels are two easy ways to rack up frequent flier club miles, says Kroll, so take the time to check if either one is participating in your frequent flier program. Expedia and Hotels.com are two places to look. "If you travel a lot, just pay attention to it," Kroll says. 

Know when to check carry-ons. If you've got work to do, are flying Business or First class and carrying less than 3 oz. of liquid, don't check your bag, says Kroll. The same goes for people flying in or out of smaller airports, which tend to have fewer issues (and theft) than larger ones like JFK. If you're flying in coach class, consider checking your bag since the overhead bins tend to be smaller. 

Give yourself time. "Security is more aggressive than it was in the past and the check-in procedures aren't easy," said Kroll. "You really need to get there way in advance so you're not rushing to the gate and your seat." 

Now check out 23 secrets to booking cheap airfare >

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'In Britain, You're Still Walking. In China, We're Running'

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wuhanIn the first of a three-part series, Mick Brown travels to the Chinese city of Wuhan to see whether its emerging great wealth has also brought great happiness.

Night had fallen in Wuhan, and Mrs Wang suggested that we should go for a drive. I had spent the afternoon with Mrs Wang, a woman in her mid-50s who works in local government as an administrator, in the apartment where she lives with her husband, a professor of civil engineering. Mr Wang was away on business, but Mrs Wang’s neighbours Mr and Mrs Li had dropped in for a chat, sitting in the living-room around the large coffee-table – an impressive marble-and-glass construction that doubled as an aquarium – sharing tea served in paper cups, and plates of diced melon. We had adjourned for an early supper at a neighbourhood restaurant, a bustling establishment filled with families and groups of friends, steaming plates of food revolving on each table. Now Mrs Wang had offered to give me a guided tour of the city.

Situated at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers in central China, and the capital of Hubei province, Wuhan, with a population of about 11 million, is a centre for the steel industry and a university town. There are 35 institutes for higher education, and the city boasts the highest enrolment of students of any city in China. Wuhan is what the Chinese call a ‘second-tier’ city. It is the first-tier cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen – that have been the engine of China’s phenomenal economic growth. But it is on cities such as Wuhan that the Chinese government is now concentrating its development plan, to create a rapidly expanding urban middle class that will boost domestic consumption in the face of a diminishing global market for its goods.

I had been exploring Wuhan’s choked, chaotic streets under an oppressive yellow sky for two days – a concatenation of traffic jams, new building developments and the sheer press of teeming humanity that can occasion feelings of claustrophobia and confusion. Mrs Wang had lived in Wuhan all her life, ‘but it’s all changing so fast’, she said, as we sped along a highway past yet another development of high-rise apartments, her voice striking the note of bewilderment at the pace of change that I would hear wherever I went in China. ‘I go to a neighbourhood and it’s completely different from the last time I visited. Even I get lost now.’ The road plunged into an underpass. ‘This only opened last week,’ she said, with a laugh. We passed a monolithic building behind a high fence – ‘Public Security headquarters’ – and sped on to an elevated highway, carrying us downtown, past the new shopping plaza on Han Street with its faux Tower Bridge entryway and a long shimmering bank of neon signs, prominent among them an enormous and strangely comforting display for Marks & Spencer.

We came at last to a huge plaza on the banks of the Yangtze, the old colonial quarter, where a milling crowd was enjoying the warm evening: couples with their statutory single child; groups of young girls giggling together; young boys eyeing them longingly. On the far shore stood a row of spanking-new skyscrapers, etched in red-and-blue neon. Pleasureboats lit up like Christmas plied along the river. We took a ride on a buggy along the esplanade flanking the river, joining the evening promenade. Here, 30 or 40 women were being led in a choreographed dance to the strains of a wistful melody; another group practised callisthenics on exercise machines; further on, a 12-piece orchestra accompanied a woman singing opera to a crowd of appreciative passers-by. Paper lanterns carrying burning lights floated in the sky. It was like passing through a dream.

Mindful of the fact that the Chinese super-economy is showing dangerous signs of stalling – mindful too of the myriad public grievances about the environment, food safety, inflation, the punishing costs of housing, health care and education – the Chinese government has recently been making attempts to address not only the country’s GDP, but the far more nebulous question of gross domestic happiness. In his New-Year address to the nation in 2011 Premier Wen Jiabao declared that the performance of officials would henceforth be evaluated not by how many high-rise buildings and projects they have been involved in, but ‘by whether the public are happy or not, dissatisfied or not’.

This call to greater happiness, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, declared, was to be a key theme of China’s next five-year development plan, prompting municipal governments into fierce competition to be ‘China’s happiest city’. In August this year the state television station published the results of a survey conferring that accolade on Lhasa, where four years ago there was a popular uprising by Tibetans against the Chinese government. Wuhan was ranked a lowly 26th. But on this warm evening – for the moment, at least – everyone looked as happy as they could be. And no one looked happier than Mrs Wang.

If one had to find a single person among China’s 1.4 billion population who exemplified the dramatic economic transformation the country has undergone in the 33 years since Deng Xiaoping initiated his ‘open door policy’, opening the Chinese economy to international trade and investment, it would be hard to find a better candidate than Mrs Wang. ‘How has my life changed?’ She pondered the question. ‘You couldn’t describe it. In my parents’ time people were very poor; they had lots of children and they couldn’t feed them very well. Especially in the 1960s, there was famine. I remember – people were eating the bark of trees.’ She shrugged. ‘Life was very difficult then. Now people know how to enjoy life. We can go out to restaurants to eat. I can enjoy some luxury goods – a nice dress or a new bag. Our salaries are higher and we can buy what we want.’ She gestured around her neat apartment: the marble floors, the crimson velvet sofas, the Sony home cinema projector, the 56in Samsung plasma television, draped, like some totemic object, in a velvet cloth. ‘3D,’ Mrs Wang said.

I don’t have 3D, I said. She gave me a pitying look.

'Middle class’ is not a term that is officially recognised in what is still, notionally, a socialist country. The preferred term is xiaokang – a Confucian term, loosely translated as ‘basically well-off’. A xiaokang society was one of the objectives of China’s economic development spelt out by Deng Xiaoping in 1979. Estimates of the numbers that constitute this class of the comfortably off – or just how comfortably off they actually are – vary wildly.

According to government statistics in 2010, a typical family of three in China earns about 56,000 yuan (£5,600) a year (a tenfold increase since 1980). But incomes vary enormously from region to region. A study published by the Social Science Academic Press and Beijing University of Technology states that the income of the average middle-class family in the city is about 120,000 yuan (£12,000) annually.

In his book As China Goes, So Goes the World: How Chinese Consumers Are Changing Everything, the Oxford academic Karl Gerth estimates that as many as 430 million Chinese could be classified as ‘the core consumer class’, that is, a household owning at least six electronic products such as a tele-vision, a washing-machine, a telephone, a mobile phone, a stereo, a DVD player, air-conditioners or a microwave. More than 150 million Chinese, Gerth says, can afford to own luxury goods and brand-name watches. Some estimates predict that by 2030 the middle class in China will number 1.4 billion consumers, compared with 365 million in the US. It is on this rising class, in cities such as Wuhan, that the future of China rests.

Mrs Wang’s four-room apartment is on the fourth floor of a 10-storey block in the East Gate area of the city, a part of Wuhan that until 10 years ago was farmland. Her particular development is gated, with strolling security guards, nicely tended communal gardens and a pavilion where people sat listening to piped music. A third of the residents, she told me, worked for the university or the government. So, middle-class then? Mrs Wang thought about this. ‘Middle to upper,’ she said.

The Wangs had bought their property eight years ago at the beginning of China’s property boom, for 2,500 yuan (£250) per square metre – the way property is priced in China. It was now worth about 9,000 yuan (£900) per square metre. A good investment, Mrs Wang agreed. An expensive apartment in Wuhan would be about 13,000 yuan (£1,300) per square metre. By middle-class standards, Mrs Wang said, she was fortunate.

The opening up of China to the market economy had swept away the safety net that communism provided, where housing, education and health care were all free. Now swathes of China’s new middle class were mortgaged to the hilt – fangnu, or ‘house-slaves’, they are called – and while the nine years of compulsory education are free, to send a child to university costs at least 40,000 yuan (£4,000) a year.

But the Wangs’ mortgage was paid; their 28-year-old daughter married and living in Finland. Mrs Wang and her husband spent a third of their income on ‘daily life’; a third was saved ‘for old age and emergencies’; and the remaining third was spent on travel. ‘We love travelling,’ Mrs Wang said.

All the new Chinese middle class do. According to figures recently released by China’s Ministry of Public Security, despite the recent slowdown in the Chinese economy (GDP has almost halved from a peak of 14.8 per cent in 2007), 38.6 million mainland Chinese travelled abroad in the first half of 2012, a rise of nearly 20 per cent over the same period last year and almost double the number in 2007. It is estimated that by 2015 more than 100 million Chinese will be travelling abroad. The most popular destinations for Chinese tourists are Macau and Hong Kong. Thailand and Bali are particularly popular for beach holidays. The favourite European destination is France, which last year saw about 900,000 Chinese visitors. Britain entertained about 147,000, a rise of some 35 per cent from 2010. That figure is expected to rise to 300,000 by 2020.

Before visiting China, I had joined a group from Shanghai on a 10-day tour of the UK that included Cambridge, York, Edinburgh, Northern Ireland and London. There were 20 people, most of them professionals who had paid about £1,500 each, staying at four-star hotels. Lunch, usually in Chinese restaurants – the Chinese don’t much like English food – was included. At 9am on the morning after their arrival – dressed in neat leisurewear, draped with cameras and clutching smartphones – they were proceeding at a brisk canter through the streets of Cambridge. Time was tight. ‘When Chinese people play DVDs, we are always pressing the forward button,’ the young guide, Wu, said. At the gate to Gonville and Caius College the group swarmed past the closed to visitors sign and into the quad, camera shutters snapping as the porter emerged from his office, shooing them back into the street like a flock of unruly geese.

Two women paused to photograph an elderly man outside a Save the Children shop. Local colour. ‘Keep up!’ Wu shouted. ‘Our viewpoint is not here!’ Our viewpoint was the pavement outside King’s College. There was a collective intake of breath, a fusillade of camera shutters, and we moved on. We had done Cambridge in under two hours.

On the coach to York I fell into conversation with Mr Chen, an engineer, travelling with his wife. It was his first trip to Britain, he said, and he had been studying British history and culture in preparation. He particularly admired the British education system, the NHS and the British system of parliamentary democracy, he said. ‘I think for many people in China what interests them about Britain is the shopping. But not for me.’

Mr Chen liked John Denver and the Carpenters, ‘and one song, from a film, Waterloo something – do you know it?’ He hummed a few bars. ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ I found the film later on the internet, a love story, Waterloo Bridge, made in 1940 and starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. ‘This is a very lovely film,’ said Mr Chen wistfully. We were approaching York – or ‘downtown York city’, as Mr Chen put it, and he pointed out of the window, admiring ‘the houses of ordinary people’ – an Edwardian terrace, flowers blooming in the gardens. ‘They’re so beautiful!’ he said.

We parked and walked through the narrow streets to the Minster. ‘You have two hours' free time now,’ said the guide. I took a photograph on Mr Chen’s camera of him and his wife against the towering spire of the Minster, and then he took a photograph of me. The rest of our party had scattered.

Where have they gone? I asked Wu.

He laughed. ‘Shopping!’

Liberated from the constraints of a society where you could buy nothing, the Chinese have embraced consumerism with something of the manic fervour of children given free rein in a chocolate factory. The Chinese spend, on average, almost 10 hours a week shopping, and two in five describe it as their favourite leisure activity. Americans spend slightly less than four hours, Britons 1.2. Consumer spending is forecast to account for 43 per cent of China’s GDP growth by 2020, up from about a third currently, according to the management consultancy McKinsey & Co. That is in line with the nation’s current five-year plan, which aims to help the country become less dependent on exports and investment-led growth.

The Chinese have also developed a taste for luxury. According to McKinsey, China is on target to overtake Japan as the world’s largest market for luxury goods, with sales projected to rise 18 per cent annually to reach $27 billion by 2015. That is a fifth of the worldwide total, up from $10 billion in 2009.

Among the legion of retail analysts and marketeers that has grown up in recent years studying the Chinese market, certain fundamental truths have emerged. To the Chinese, goods are displays of status, a way of reinforcing one’s social position or furthering one’s professional prospects. There is no point in paying a lot of money for a brand if no one knows what you own. Chinese women returning from a European shopping trip keep their receipts, not in case of a refund, but to show to their friends.

In China the family is considered paramount, followed by society and then the individual. And despite the new-found appetite for luxury, self-restraint and modesty are held in high regard; individualism is regarded with suspicion; as the saying has it, ‘the bird that stands out gets shot’. A sober Prada dress is more likely to sell than a garish Versace shirt. Because they tend not to entertain at home, the Chinese will spend a lot on a handbag but not on an expensive German washing-machine, which will not be seen by their friends. Like shoppers everywhere, they love a bargain. China’s punitive tax on imported foreign luxury goods means that a Burberry wallet or Louis Vuitton bag is 30-40 per cent cheaper on Bond Street than it would be in Beijing or Shanghai.

Britain has been a major beneficiary of the Chinese taste for shopping. According to the retail tourism company Global Blue, Chinese shoppers are the second-largest market for tax-free spending (after visitors from the Middle East), accounting for 22 per cent of the tax-free spend in Britain. The average Chinese shopper spends £642 per transaction, favouring handbags, watches and jewellery. British retailers complain that this market would be substantially bigger if visa regulations were relaxed to make it easier for Chinese tourists to enter the country. Britain is not party to the Schengen Agreement, whereby only one visa is required for a foreign tourist to travel to any or all of the 26 European Schengen countries. Chinese visitors must apply for a separate visa for the UK – a process that is both time-consuming and expensive (it costs £47 for a Schengen visa, a UK visa costs £78).

As Westminster is to abbeys and Windsor is to castles, so, for the Chinese tourist, the discount shopping village in Bicester, Oxfordshire, is to retail. ‘Just wait till we get to Bicester,’ Wu, my tour party guide exclaimed. ‘They’ll go crazy.’ Bicester Village, which opened in 1995, is a phenomenon. It is one of the nine ‘Chic Outlet’ stores around Europe owned by the European company Value Retail, which describes the outlets less as shopping villages, more as ‘international tourist’ destinations. Quick to realise the potential of the Chinese market, Value Retail first started promoting Bicester to Chinese tour operators in 2004, when the Chinese government first indicated that it would be relaxing travel restrictions for tourists, and designating Britain an ‘approved destination’. The first group of 80 Chinese tourists arrived in Britain in July 2005, to be greeted by the Duke of York at a formal reception at the Tower of London.

Bicester is now visited by more than 100,000 Chinese visitors a year – two out of three of all Chinese visitors to Britain – and is a mandatory stop on most tour party itineraries. When in 2010 David Cameron asked the Chinese ambassador how Britain could attract more Chinese visitors he reportedly replied, ‘Build more Bicester Villages.’

Value Retail declines to specify figures for the average spend of its Chinese customers. ‘But it tends to be high,’ Scott Malkin, the company’s founder and CEO, told me. The Chinese have a strong tradition of gift-giving, or ‘buying multiple purchases ceremonially’, as Malkin put it – one for yourself, one for a member of the family, friend or business contact; another, perhaps, to sell back home. ‘The Chinese customer,’ he went on, is ‘maturing incredibly fast’ in terms of sophistication, recognising the subtle distinctions between brands and the definition of value and quality. ‘In the history of modern consumer behaviour, there’s never been anything like it. In three years they’re covering ground that it took 15 years for Russian customers to cover.’ Value Retail is now investing $75 million in building a ‘Chinese Bicester’ – Suzhou Village, near Shanghai.

Bicester runs a daily ‘shopping express’ bus from London hotels. On the day I took it, the passenger breakdown was roughly 60 per cent Chinese, 38 per cent visitors from the Middle East, one per cent Japanese, and one per cent British – me. Strolling around the clapboard, faux-colonial stores in the village, it was immediately apparent that the Chinese approach shopping with a rigorous perfectionism; their eyes sweeping shrewdly over the racks and shelves, shopping lists and calculators in hand. They favour Gucci, Prada and Burberry, harbour a particular affection for Clarks shoes, but appear to show scant interest in Victoria’s Secret. (Sexy underwear, according to one Western retail analyst, is not high on the wishlist of most Chinese: ‘When you’ve got 124 men for every 100 women, a man is thankful just to see a woman’s underwear; he won’t be worrying about what it looks like.’) Sitting on a bench outside Burberry I fell into conversation with Mr Zhong, a salesman of medical equipment from Shanghai. He was visiting Britain for the first time, with his daughter, a student who next year would be going to a college in America to study music. Could he have imagined 20 years ago that this would be his life? ‘Impossible!’ Mr Zhong said with a laugh. A tall, striking girl in jeans and Ugg boots emerged from the shop, and Mr Zhong rose from the seat, reaching for his wallet with a sigh.

I headed back to catch the bus. Driving back into London, the driver pointed out sites of particular interest. Westfield shopping centre, Harrods, Selfridges. ‘Just in case you’ve any money left…’

On my third day in Wuhan I finally saw a bird. A sparrow. I was walking in a park beside one of the city’s lakes – a quiet respite from the urban tumult. Wooden boats bobbed on the water. There was a small amusement park with children’s rides shrouded in tarpaulins. On the far side of the lake yet another new skyline of tower blocks, draped in scaffolding and sales signs, was taking shape. (Who was buying all these apartments? It was a constant mystery.) Strolling along, I came upon a group of girls seated on a wall. They were university students, applying for part-time jobs as attendants at the amusement park – pay: 100 yuan (£10) per day. (‘Terrible!’ my interpreter said.) They looked unlike any students you would find in Britain; chic in their miniskirts and heels, primping their hair and peering into their compacts. I asked what Western brands they liked. I meant clothes, but the question was lost in translation. A girl riffled through her handbag. ‘L’Oréal, Maybelline… When we’re working, we’ll move on to higher brands.’

Non-existent 40 years ago, the beauty industry is now the fifth-largest sector of the Chinese economy. Cosmetic and beauty sales rose from $24 million in 1982 to more than $168 billion in 2009. China now trails only the US and Brazil in the world table of cosmetic surgery. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 1.3 million operations were performed by licensed Chinese clinics in 2010, with many more carried out illegally.

I had not expected to find an establishment such as the Zhong Han Whole Body Beauty Clinic in Wuhan – I would have been astonished to find it anywhere – but there it was, an enormous street-level premises, marble steps leading up to sliding glass doors, an imposing foyer decked with posters, and a reception desk where three girls in red uniforms stood waiting to greet you. No discreet brass plaque and understated entrance here: this was the business of beauty in your face. The director, Mr Luo, a heavy-set, smiling man in his 40s, dressed in a sports shirt and jeans, led me to a conference room.

An assistant brought hot water in paper cups stamped with the company motto, charming face. charming life. Another assistant came in to take photographs. The clinic’s CEO, Mr Liu, appeared. A distinguished surgeon in the state sector, Mr Liu founded the clinic in 2005, the first such private clinic, he said, to open in Hubei province. It now employed 14 doctors, performing an average of 20 surgical procedures a day, and a further 10-15 laser, Botox and collagen procedures. The clientele was divided, he went on, into fashionable professional women, and university students looking to gain some advantage in the competitive market for jobs and boyfriends. ‘Social competition is fierce nowadays,’ Mr Liu said. ‘First impressions are very important. Many Chinese are superstitious; they believe to change their looks is to change their luck.’

The most popular procedures were ‘double-fold eyelid’ surgery, narrowing the nose and pointing the chin. ‘Like Fan Bingbing [the popular Chinese actress],’ Mr Luo said. ‘The trend is the pointier the better. We call it “nail chin”. In ancient times people preferred a face like an egg, now they prefer a pointed face – and the skinnier the better.’ The market, he said, was already huge, but its potential was infinite. There are 350 million women between the ages of 16 and 50 in China. The girls they needed to reach, he said, were the ‘average to pretty’ girls who don’t, at present, have the motivation to come to a clinic such as his. ‘We need to educate them by making commercials more persuasive, convince them that it’s a real social benefit, and improve our techniques to make the scarring totally invisible. If people can see that it improves their status it will give them more confidence in the procedures.’ There was something almost Darwinian about his pragmatism. Life is a competition. To get on, it helps to change your appearance, by whatever means necessary. No one here was going to argue that beauty comes from within. ‘Everybody wants to look better,’ Mr Liu said, with a smile. ‘To me, it’s a sign of progress that people can do that through plastic surgery.’

The desired standard of beauty was not, as one might imagine, Western, Mr Luo said, but South Korean – a result of the popularity of South Korean soap operas, films and pop music (‘K-Pop’ as it is known). ‘A lot of South Korean actresses and pop stars have had plastic surgery, so that’s a good selling point for us.’ Did Mr Luo have any ‘before and after’ photographs that would help me better understand the procedures? He could do better than that. He gave instructions to the assistant, who left the room, reappearing a few minutes later with a very attractive girl dressed in a white coat.

This was Peng Shu, a junior doctor at the clinic, and the proud recipient of a double-fold eyelid job. ‘Most of the doctors here have had one or two procedures done themselves,’ Mr Luo said. He traced a finger over Shu’s eye lids. ‘So, before, there was fat here, and now you can see the double lid.’ Shu blinked demurely. It was a nice job.

‘I’m fully satisfied,’ she said.

Shu is 28, from Hunan, the daughter of a concrete worker and a teacher. She had studied medicine at university in Wuhan, and always dreamt, she said, of working in plastic surgery. ‘I like to be beautiful myself, and to bring more beauty to people is a public service.’ A lot of people had misunderstandings about plastic surgery, she said. They think that if they have surgery they will look like a film star. Beautiful people will look more beautiful, but ordinary people will only be improved a little bit. We’re always very careful to tell them that. Sometimes people walk in and we’ll tell them, "You’re already beautiful; we can’t do any more for you." They’ll say, “You just don’t have the technique, I’m going to Korea!” Then they’ll be back here again, still not satisfied. For some people it’s like a disease.’

And does plastic surgery really help in getting a job? ‘It gives you an advantage,’ she said.

And a boyfriend?

‘Definitely. There is a lot of pressure. Before I was married I felt that pressure too, but now it has eased.’ Her husband is also a doctor. Her salary is 36,000 yuan (£3,600) a year. ‘I’d describe myself as middle-class,’ she said. Forty per cent of their income goes on living expenses; the remainder she saved for travel, a child to come, their parents, ‘the future’. She isn’t interested in luxury goods, she said. ‘A lot of clients come here, students from rich families, and their handbags are worth more than 20,000 yuan.’ A note of disdain crept into her voice. ‘I don’t understand their parents doing that.’

Until a few years ago, the trappings of Western-style luxury were visible only in Shanghai and Beijing, but now every growing Chinese city has its luxury malls, with its branches of Cartier, Gucci and Louis Vuitton that make the stores of London and Paris look almost diminutive by comparison. For the luxury brands, these stores serve as much as showrooms and marble-floored advertisements – a form of high-end consumer education for the aspiring middle class – as genuine, profitable retail outlets. Ground rents are cheap, and the stores serve as status symbols for the city.

They are mostly patronised by the local officials, developers and bankers who between them concocted the deal to build the mall in the first place. One Western retail analyst described the clientele to me as ‘the three Cs: the criminal, the corrupt and the concubine’. Wuhan has its own Louis Vuitton and Cartier stores, its own Aston Martin and Ferrari showrooms. But for most of the city’s population such things remain in the realm of dreams. It is the rise of mid-market Western brands such as Zara and H&M in second-tier cities that is the surest sign of the growing middle class.

Han Street is a new shopping plaza that seems to have been taken out of its box only yesterday, a seemingly endless thoroughfare of faux-colonial and glass-box buildings, its shops a lexicon of the global Esperanto of high-street fashion: Gap, Uniqlo, Zara, as well as M&S – along with brands unknown in Britain: PRich and Teenie Weenie, owned by the South Korean conglomerate E-Land. The street was thronged with window-shoppers, mostly young – the ubiquitous girls in short skirts, couples walking hand-in-hand. A girl walked past with a Prada bag over her shoulder. ‘Fake,’ my interpreter said.

M&S got off to a faltering start in China in 2008, dispensing with its regional managing director three months after launching its first store on Shanghai’s main shopping street, Nanjing Road, following complaints about the availability and range of products. But since then the company has gone from strength to strength, opening a further six stores in Shanghai, and branches in Changzhou and Ningbo, two other second-tier cities. It is Shanghai, Stephen Rayfield, who took over as the managing director of M&S China a year ago, told me, that remains the focus of the company’s ‘core strategy’. The Wuhan store was the result of an invitation from the developers of Han Street. ‘We’re very pleased to be here, but at this stage what we’re aiming to do is get a strong representation in Shanghai and learn more about what happens when you saturate a big city.’

Walking into the Wuhan store it was immediately apparent that something was different. This was less the comfortable, middle-of-the-road department store familiar from the British high street, and more a fashion store, with its rails of predominantly young designs and rock music percolating through the public address system. Rock music in M&S! The average Chinese customer, Rayfield said, is 10 years younger than the average British one – ‘They’re definitely looking for fashion’ – and it is the ‘sub-brands’ such as Autograph and Indigo that sell best. ‘We’re still learning what the customer wants. It’s an evolution. As we get to know our customer better and we learn more about what they’re buying, how they’re buying, we’ll keep evolving. Customers here know we’re an international brand. That carries real weight.’

Grocery shopping has been one of the big engines of domestic retail sales growth in China. In 1990 there was one supermarket in the country; there are now 24,000, more than 800 of them foreign-owned. M&S China is not, Rayfield said, in the business

of supermarket staples, as it is in Britain: ‘We’re doing top-ups and treats.’ The food department in Wuhan was small: gourmet canned soup, marmalade, honey, crisps, biscuits – and racks of wines. ‘The Chinese customer is really developing a taste for red wine. They like Bordeaux wines and they’re becoming familiar with some of the names. They’ve heard of some grape types as well. It’s a real sign of how this society is changing.

‘Chocolate digestive biscuits are very popular, too,’ he added. ‘Shortbread is really popular, chocolate chip cookies...’

Anything else?

‘Percy Pig,’ Rayfield said. ‘They love Percy Pig.’

'Percy Pig?’ Mrs Wang poured another cup of tea, and fixed me with a quizzical look. She had never of it, never heard of M&S, and had yet to visit Han Street – but she promised she would take a look. She wasn’t keen on Western food, she confessed, but she liked Western fashions. ‘I don’t buy by the brand name, but if I like the design of something I’ll buy it.’

‘Our generation doesn’t know about these things,’ said her neighbour Mrs Li, a serene woman in her 50s, a primary schoolteacher, whose workaday dress suggested a distinct lack of interest in keeping up with the latest trends. ‘You’ll have to ask my daughter if you want to know about all that,’ she said. ‘One of my friends got a Louis Vuitton bag from her relation, but she didn’t know it was a real one. She thought it was just a 20-yuan bag from the market. She took it to the food market, everywhere. Her

relation said, “Are you crazy? This is Louis Vuitton!” And she said, “What’s Louis Vuitton?” She didn’t realise! She heard the price of the bag and she was astonished.’ Mrs Li laughed. So which would you rather have, I asked, a Louis Vuitton bag or a 20-yuan one from the market? ‘Chanel!’ Mrs Li said, and everyone laughed.

‘For a lot of people,’ Mrs Wang said, ‘buying a certain bag is a matter of status. It’s peer group competition, a way of keeping up with your friends.’ And was that a recipe for happiness, I asked. ‘Not for me,’ Mrs Wang said. ‘I’ve lived through the period where you have the desire but there is nowhere to buy things. I welcome more money, but happiness embraces wider aspects – the relationship between people, family and work. Keeping up brings stress, but at the same time that stress will drive your ambition; you’ll have more motivation to work hard and make more money to satisfy your desires.’

Mrs Li sipped her tea thoughtfully. When she was younger, she said, her dream was to save enough money to go to Beijing – just to see it. But the children she teaches don’t think like this. ‘And also they don’t have the same idea of what constitutes a hero. When I was younger we had good role models. For example, in the factory if there was a good worker people would look up to him and learn from that example. Now they’re more concerned with what kind of shoes other people are wearing and what to consume. Their role models are rich kids.’ Mr Li nodded his head in agreement. Young people today!

Mrs Wang had pulled the cover off the television, preparing to give me a demonstration. It’s funny, I said – rather tactlessly perhaps – 40 years ago every home in Britain had a colour television set, a car, a refrigerator, a hi-fi. Now, in the past 10 years, almost every home in China has gained these things. And in 3D too!

Mr Li nodded. ‘In Britain, you’re still walking. In China, we’re running.’

Mrs Wang was pointing the remote control at the screen, engaged in a fruitless search for the right channel. ‘It’s hopeless,’ she said with a sigh. She threw the remote to one side. She’d have to wait for Mr Wang to come home.

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With These Tips, You'll Like Milan More Than Rome, Florence Or Venice

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milanMilan's cultural charms may not be immediate, but once discovered they're greater than those found in Rome, Florence or Venice. Giovanna Bertazzoni shares her insider guide to the city's hidden attractions.

Milan is a city of secrets and surprises. Every time I go back for business or to see my friends and family, I am taken aback by its elegance, beauty and style. Milan is the city in Italy I feel closest to, because of its openness, its cosmopolitan outlook and its intense energy.

Milan requires more effort and dedication than other Italian cities but, once discovered, the rewards are much greater than those offered on ‘easier’ trails through Rome, Florence or Venice. Milan is an intelligent, challenging and supremely elegant Italian city; a foreigner can learn more about the best of Italy here than anywhere else in the country.


Inside Villa Necchi Campiglio. Image: Giorgio Majno

A place that epitomizes my passion for Milan and its sophisticated glamour is Villa Necchi Campiglio, a tour de force of 1930s design and architecture. The villa is situated at the very heart of the historical centre, surrounded by a wonderful secluded garden with centenary trees. In recent years the family donated it to the FAI (Fondo Ambientale Italiano), the equivalent of the National Trust. This gift was the catalyst for another very significant donation to the house, from the late Claudia Gianferrari, one of the grandes dames of the Milanese art market. She bequeathed her exquisite collection of paintings and sculpture, gathered by her father throughout his important career as an art dealer. One of the best ensembles of the Italian Novecento, with seminal and moving pictures by Sironi and Carrà, and rare sculpture by Arturo Martini, it can now be discovered in the most precious and purely designed contemporary setting. The FAI’s restoration of the house has also coincided with the opening of a wonderful small café in the garden, made famous by the dramatic final scene of the recent film Io Sono l’Amore (I Am Love), which was all set in the villa and its garden. During mild weather breakfast, a light lunch or an afternoon tea in this café are an absolute treat.

Another private house, which has been converted into a museum and has the atmosphere of a 19th-century treasure trove, is the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, the equivalent of the Parisian Jacquemart-André or Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Bostonian mansion. A selection of the most astonishing masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are housed here; the collection’s Portrait of a Lady, by Piero del Pollaiolo may be the most exquisite profile in the history of Western art. The Poldi Pezzoli is housed in a secluded courtyard, opening up onto Corso Manzoni, just a few metres from the Teatro della Scala. Strolling from Corso Montenapoleone towards Piazza della Scala on Corso Manzoni, among the most elegant shopping streets in Milan, is still one of the most pleasurable moments I can have in Milan. I make time for it on even the busiest trip. I have recently been asked to join the Board of Trustees of this unique museum. I’m grateful for the honour not only because it allows me to give back to my city, but also because it truly is one of my favourite spots.

From the Poldi Pezzoli, one of the best walks is through Brera, the neighbourhood of antiquarians and art galleries, to Corso Garibaldi, where the anonymous latteria (milk shop) still sells the best cappuccino in town, and Mr. Spelta still makes his elegant handmade shoes for young Milanese fashionistas. At the end of Corso Garibaldi one can find another hard-worn gem: what looks from the outside like a flower shop is actually a sublime little coffee shop, perfect for drinks or dinner. It is called Fioraio Bianchi, and it serves one of the best carpaccios I’ve had in a long time.


One of Milan's most beautiful courtyards is secreted within the Università Statale. Image: Alamy

Milan is also a city of secret gardens and courtyards. One of the most splendid moments in the city’s history was the Quattrocento, when two of the most beautiful cloisters were built: the most monumental one now houses the Università Statale. One can simply walk in and promenade alongside these superb terracotta courtyards, mixing with the students, and taking in the latest fashion and design trends. For a more melancholic experience, I recommend the cloisters of the Stelline, also open to the public and close to the noble church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, famous for Leonardo’s Ultima Cena.

Milan is all this and it is also a city of long nights which start with never-ending aperitivi outside stylish bars. There is nothing more Milanese than the aperitivo, the pre-dinner drink or cocktail that starts around 7.30pm and can end anywhere between 10pm or 4am. One of the undisputed kingdoms of aperitivo is the bohemian neighbourhood of the Navigli. This is the name the Milanese give to the canals once connecting Milan to Genoa, and now existing only between Milan and Pavia. The southern part of the city is built around two of the surviving canals. It is the Milanese equivalent of the bars around the Canal Saint Martin in Paris. All the best cafes, restaurants, pizzerias, jazz bars are aligned on the canals’ borders.

But the best of all, and the most rewarding way to end one’s vagaries of Milan is the Trattoria Al Pont de Ferr, possibly the only Michelin-starred 'trattoria' in the world, and one of the best-kept secrets of a city that, for all its cosmopolitan allure, displays its greatest charms only to the cognoscenti.

Christie's international head of Impressionist and Modern Art, Italian-born Giovanna Bertazzoni travels the world from her London base to work with the auction house's clients and to appraise the works of private collectors and major cultural institutions.


Portrait of a Lady by Piero del Pollaiuolo, on show at Museo Poldi Pezzoli. Image: David Keith Jones/Alamy

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I Could Get Used To Living In A Cave In Turkey

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cappadocia

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- I could get used to life as a cavewoman.

Banish from your mind images of slimy walls and bat- infested gloom. The boutique hotels of Cappadocia in central Turkey are for the discerning would-be troglodyte. My cave at Alkabris hotel in the village of Ortahisar had heating, a chic bathroom, careful lighting and tasteful decor including mosaics crafted by our artist hostess.

Cappadocia is a moonscape of wacky rock formations created by eroded volcanic tuff, interspersed with bucolic valleys cradling vineyards and orchards. Rock-hewn fortresses tower over quaint cave villages. Below the surface are ancient underground cities and sculpted cave chapels adorned with Byzantine frescoes, some of which are 1,500 years old.

The bizarrely shaped monoliths, obelisks, columns and needles studding the landscape are known as “fairy chimneys.” They are best viewed from above by hot-air balloon, or explored from the valleys below on foot or horseback.

We were picked up at 5:25 a.m. for our balloon ride. Bleary eyed and coffee-deprived, we sat in the dark outside a cafe in Goreme, the main tourism center of Cappadocia, waiting for the pilots to decide whether the weather was good enough to fly.

The pungent aromas from dozens of pots of instant noodles being devoured by the 100 or so Asian tourists waiting with us was overpowering at that time of day. My traveling companion, a vertigo sufferer, was nervous, and passed the wait by making friends with a white street dog that was missing one eye.

“How many people are they going to put in each balloon?” she asked, wide-eyed, looking at the crowded tables of the cafe.

 

Bijou Basket

 

There were eight of us in our bijou balloon basket. Most others carried 20. The nerves and wait were forgotten as soon as we left the ground, floating over surreal rock characters (is that group of cubist figures a huddle of gossipy old ladies?) We watched as dozens of balloons behind us puffed up with air and lifted off gracefully.

The cloudy weather added to the ethereality of it all. At times we were low enough to scrape the tops of the trees; at times so high, the balloons below us shrank to freckles on the face of the earth. It was an exhilarating trip. Something about the way our youthful pilot Cem punched air into his balloon to a catchy rhythm suggested that he reckons he has the best job in the world.

Many visitors to Cappadocia stay just three days and sightsee on organized tours. There is really no excuse for that. Everything is easily accessible independently and three days is not nearly long enough.

 

Priests, Hermits

 

We hired a car to explore the Ihlara valley, where priests and hermits dwelt at the dawn of Christianity, as long ago as the fourth century.

Twelve churches are entombed in the canyon’s caves -- including one in a rock sculpted like a Walt Disney fairy-tale castle, though entirely natural. At Belisirma, we ate a fish lunch on a floating wooden platform on the river.

Many of the chapel paintings are in a terrible state of repair, damaged by centuries of vandalism and neglect. Some are covered with the soot of cave fires; many biblical figures have their faces scratched out; others are damaged with graffiti.

It was good to see that the beautiful, 1,000-year-old indigo frescoes at Tokali Church, one of the most important in the Goreme Open Air Museum, are being restored by an Italian- Turkish team.

The Red Valley, close to Ortahisar, yielded the most civilized hiking I have ever experienced, along a path that meanders through airy cave tunnels and orchards. The route is punctuated by little open-air cafes every kilometer or so.

 

Byzantine Frescoes

 

At one, the owner gave us the key to explore his secret Byzantine chapel with spectacular orange frescoes. At the next, we bought walnuts and dried apricots from a gray-bearded old man. Further along, we sank onto cozy cushions for a rest with a young modern-day hermit who insisted on giving us free tea because we were staying in his village.

What draws me to Turkey time and again (this was, I calculated, at least my sixth trip) is not just the cultural heritage of centuries, the climate or the fabulous cuisine. It’s the warmth and hospitality of the people; the ease with which a smile and hello can slip into a chat over tea in a glass.

The smallest interaction is richly rewarded. I helped a young peasant woman by passing her bags of heavy shopping as she got off the dolmus minibus from Urgup market. Her face erupted into wreaths of smiles and thanks, and I was sure a tea invitation was on the tip of her tongue as the door slid shut.

 

Boutique Hotels

 

Cappadocia feels like a region on the move. The roads are newly surfaced, the vibe is positive and the amount of building work going on is astonishing. Boutique hotels are springing up by the dozen, it seems.

Still, it would be hard to find one better than Alkabris, with just five snug cave bedrooms. Our hosts Sait and Kamer Kazuk baked fresh bread and cakes for breakfast, served homemade jams and borek (flaky Turkish pastries) and organized everything from car hire to balloon rides for us.

They also cooked in the evenings for an extra charge of 25 euros ($32) per person if we requested it -- a treat well worth staying in for.

I could definitely get used to life as a cavewoman.

 

(Catherine Hickley is a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)

 

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Warwick Thompson on U.K. stage, Rich Jaroslovsky on tech, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Ryan Sutton on New York dining.

 

--Editors: Mark Beech, Richard Vines.

 

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley at chickley@bloomberg.net.

 

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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Furby, Cabbage Patch Kids, And Twister Are Suddenly Back In Style

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furby

Parents up and down the country will be rushing to get their hands on web-shooting Spiderman figurines, a Nerf gun that can hit victims up to 75ft away, and ghoulish dolls such as Frankie Stein and Draculaura, if predictions for the most sought after toys this Christmas are to be believed.

The "baker's dozen" of 13 dream toys chosen by the Toy Retailers Association (TRA) also include new spins on old classics such as a Lego version of the Mines of Moria sequence from the Lord of the Rings films and an electronic dance version of Hasbro's popular family game Twister.

Other names parents may remember from their own childhoods include Furby and Cabbage Patch Kids.

The 13 were whittled down from a longlist of 79 toys by the trade body for toy retailers. Gary Grant, chairman of the selection panel, said: "There are some toys that hold an enduring place in the hearts of children for generations, and this year we've seen the toy industry come up trumps by reinvigorating these classic favourites for 2012.

"We also continue to see technology being woven into toys to add extra dimensions to the play experience – whether this is the use of apps, interactivity, touch screens or integrated multi-functions such as e-readers and cameras."

The UK toy market is the biggest in Europe, worth £2.9bn in 2011 with Christmas responsible for £1bn or 34% of annual sales. The TRA said 110m toys were sold for Christmas 2011 at an average spend of £9.21 each.

The cheapest toys on the main list are the Monster High range of Ghoul Rule dolls, retailing at £22.99 each (£18.39 on Amazon), while the most expensive is the LeapPad 2 tablet computer, which has a RRP of £89.99 (currently £69.99 at Amazon).

But there is arguably nothing on this year's list to rival the yuck factor of one of last year's crop – the Doggie Doo, a plastic dog that poos out plasticine.

The top 13 in full

Cabbage Patch Kids, JAKKS Pacific, RRP £29.99

Furby, Hasbro, RRP £59.99

InnoTab 2, VTech, RRP £84.99

Jake and the Neverland Pirates – Pirate Ship Bucky, Mattel, RRP £49.99

LeapPad 2, Leapfrog Toys, RRP £89.99

Lego Friends: Olivia's House, Lego, RRP £69.99

Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Mines of Moria, Lego, £68.99

Mike the Knight's Deluxe Glendragon Playset, Character Options, £29.99

Monster High Ghouls Rule Dolls, Mattel, RRP £22.99

My Moshi Home, Vivid Imaginations, RRP £39.99

Nerf N-Strike Elite Hail-Fire, Hasbro, RRP £44.99

Twister Dance, Hasbro, RRP £26.99

Web Shooting Spider-Man, Hasbro, RRP £34.99

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

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The Hometown Of IKEA Is A Strange Place

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Älmhult

As Ikea celebrates its 25th anniversary in Britain, we go on a pilgrimage to its strange HQ in a small Swedish town.

In the drawer of my hotel room in Älmhult, there is a copy of the Gideon New Testament and the 2013 Ikea catalogue. That is because I am staying in the Ikea Hotel, in a small town in Småland, southern Sweden – “the beating heart” of the world’s largest furniture company. The twin publications are the first sign that this is no ordinary town, but the centre of a cult: Northern Europe’s very own Pyongyang, where the Allen key has replaced the nuclear bomb, and Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s founder, is the locals’ Kim Il-Sung.

Just 8,000 people live in Älmhult and half of them are Ikea “co-workers”, as its employees like to be known. As well as the first ever Ikea store, there is also the Ikea test lab; Europe’s largest studio – where all of the catalogues are photographed; an Ikea bank; Ikea of Sweden, a separate unit that designs all of the bunk beds, picture frames and bookcases that have made the company such a money-making machine; and Ikea Aktivitetshuset, where co-workers can come to unwind at an Ikea spa or at the Ikea bar. There is also an Ikea Museum and an Ikea Corporate Cultural Centre.

And this – a place co-workers around the world come on a pilgrimage to be inspired – is where the full oddity of the Ikea sect hits you. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is piped out of the speakers and pictures of Kamprad float on the walls, each with one of his little slogans: “Humbleness and willpower”, “Striving to meet reality”, “Constant desire for renewal”. There is a 4ft-high pyramid that emits strange sounds and is meant to sum up the Ikea belief in “togetherness” – if you rub all the sides simultaneously, it makes harmonious music. If you prod it a lacklustre way, the pyramid groans in pain.

I’ve come, groans and all, to Älmhult to discover more about Ikea, which this month is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its arrival in Britain. A quarter of a century from the first outlet on a retail park in Warrington, just off the M6, it has arguably changed the inside of British homes more than Thatcher’s Right to Buy or the arrival of the plasma screen television.

Anders Danielsson was one of the Ikea executives who opened the Warrington store and remembers how Britain fell for Scandinavian designs: “We were on a wave and we were on a mission together with the consumer. They had already decided to change to modernity. We facilitated it – that change from Old England to Cool Britannia.” Some stores even had riots when they opened, so great was the demand for its products.

“Chuck out the chintz” was one of Ikea’s early slogans. It summed up the company’s philosophy: young couples, living together and going to university in far greater numbers than the generation before, no longer needed to rely on handed-down heavy, dark furniture or second-hand crockery. They could pretend they lived in a European loft conversion even if they lived in a bedsit in Ashton-under-Lyne. Many of its best- selling products are what the company call “breathtaking items” – so cheap you can’t afford not to buy them: airtight jars for 75p, a pair of curtains for £5, a bedroom mirror for £1.50.

Eleanor John, head of collections at London’s Geffrye Museum, which chronicles the changing interiors of Britain, says: “Sir Terence Conran’s Habitat paved the way, but Ikea penetrated into people’s homes far deeper and in a far more commercial way. It made contemporary design affordable for everyone.”

And Älmhult, in the 1940s, is where this movement started. A cold corner of Småland, where the wind whips through the birch trees and the skies are low, it is the birthplace of Kamprad. Like all good cult leaders, his childhood is mythologised. Juni Wannberg, a beaming acolyte who runs the Ikea Museum, tells me that Kamprad started selling matches for a profit at the age of five. “At the age of five?” I query. “Oh, yes, he was always looking to make a profit,” she says. He then progressed to selling razor blades, fountain pens and cigarette lighters and, eventually, furniture. His teenage membership of the New Swedish Movement during the war, which supported Nazi Germany, fails to merit a mention in the museum. Kamprad later said it was the “greatest mistake of my life”.

His genius was to back two developments. One was the car – he realised that the rise of Volvo and Saab would mean families could drive to large out-of-town shops, rather than the high street. The other was the flatpack.

Sunday afternoons battling with Allen keys have punctuated my fatherhood years: cots, shelves and storage units have all been built with equal amounts of swearing and blisters. But self-assembly for the people of Småland is a virtuous rite of passage. As Wannberg says, the agricultural labourers of Småland were used to hard work and “eager to help out”.

Flatpacks remain at the heart of Ikea. The company reckons up to 70 per cent of the cost of anything it makes is transport, and trucking air inside the lorry is a criminal waste. This is why so many of its non-flatpack items, such as chairs, glasses and flowerpots, are stackable.

In his manifesto entitled The Testament of a Furniture Dealer, Kamprad says cost-consciousness has to stretch to “penny-pinching”. Now aged 86 and worth an estimated £2 billion, he travels economy, drives a 20-year-old Volvo and bases one of Ikea’s controlling firms in Luxembourg to save on taxes – another cost to be cut.

Cost determines design, too. Henrik Preutz, one of the company’s 10 in-house designers, says: “It’s the first thing we are given – the price.” He will be told that a set of six plastic children’s plates, say, has to cost 90p. “The price determines everything, because at that price I know no hands can touch it. The production, the packing – it just has to pop out.”

Preutz is a fresh-faced 36-year old who still gets a giddy thrill from seeing his designs in people’s homes. They stretch from a basic 50p curtain rod bracket to the Arvika £450 swivel armchair. He may be an unknown compared with Conran or Philippe Starck, but his products are likely to be in millions more homes. I have one of his £3 Stabil splash covers for a frying pan.

Like nearly everyone I meet in Älmhult, Preutz beams when I ask whether he likes the town. “I love it!” He laughs when I say he sounds as if he’s been brainwashed. But this odd little place, with its Willys supermarket, birch forest and collection of Ikea companies, has produced a business of enormous scale. In the last eight weeks alone, it has sold 503,441 Billy bookcases, and last year it distributed 212 million catalogues, double the number of bibles sold or given out in an individual year. An astonishing 2.5 billion little wooden dowels, used to hold furniture together, left Ikea stores in 2011 and made it into people’s homes around the world.

To many of us, Ikea is a source of cheap side tables, strangely named lamps, Swedish meatballs and marital rows. To the residents of Älmhult it is more than this – it is the centre of a global movement “to create a better everyday life for the many people”. As cults go, it’s fairly benign.

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This UK Cruise Is The Ultimate Vacation For Golf Nuts

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For serious golfers who wants to play some of the world's best courses but have limited vacation time, there's no better way to travel than a golf cruise.

And Kalos Golf, a golf cruise operator that has been organizing trips for nearly two decades, has an upcoming trip that Golf Vacation Insider editor Craig Better calls "the ultimate golf cruise." We have to agree.

The eight-day trip through Ireland and Scotland lets travelers play six of the world's top 100 courses, as well as the still-unranked (but supposedly stellar) Trump International Golf Links. Normally, a trip to that many courses could take months to arrange and weeks to complete.

We reached out to Kalos Golf to find out some details about the trip.

"Playing that many rounds in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland would just not be possible in this amount of time over land," Casey Oliver, Kalos' VP of marketing, told us in an email.

Other benefits of visiting the courses by sea? Travelers only have to unpack once, don't need to carry their clubs, and have pre-arranged tee times, he said.

The itinerary includes rounds at:

  • Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland (#5)

  • Royal Portrush, Antrim, Northern Ireland (#14)

  • Royal Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland (#16)

  • Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland (#21)

  • Portmarnock, Fingal, Ireland (#46)

  • Castle Stuart, Highland, Scotland (#56)

  • Trump Scotland, Aberdeen, Scotland (not yet ranked)

There's also an option extension with additional rounds at the Old Course and the New Course at St. Andrews (#4), and Turnberry (#18), all in Scotland.

For non-golfers, there are sightseeing tours at every port of call.

The cruise will set sail on Kalos' Sea Cloud II, a 90-passenger ship with elegant cabins, a fitness center, and fine dining room. It departs from Dublin July 13 and starts at $9,695 for golfers and $6,695 for non-golfers. 

For players who are looking for a non-traditional golf vacation experience, Kalos also arranges on the Danube and Adriatic Sea.

Kalos shared some photos from past trips to the British Isles with us:

The Sea Cloud II

kalos golf

The Course at Carnoustie

castle stuart

The Course at Portmarnock

portmarnock

St. Andrews

st. andrews golf course

SEE ALSO: The 10 Most Exotic Golf Courses In The World

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Cutthroat New Yorkers Went Apartment Hunting During The Hurricane

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Despite Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on New York City, New Yorkers and want to New Yorkers are apartment hunting, sources told The Real Deal. 

Michael Chadwick, an agent at Bond New York said several people have contacted him about seeing apartments during the past two days.

He told The Real Deal:

“People think it’s so competitive that they [should] take advantage of the hurricane, and see apartments while no one else is seeing them, despite the fact that we are in a state of emergency."

DON'T MISS: Some Real Estate Agents Will Go To Crazy Extremes To Sell A House

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Hippos Take Desperate Measures To Get Through Dry Season

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It's the end of the dry season in the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania, one of the largest conservation areas in the world, and rain is expected any day.

The 21,100-square-mile park is dusty and yellow, and most of the rivers that run through it have become sand beds.

The park's resident game, which includes buffalo, elephants, baboons, impalas, and warthogs, deal with the lack of water in different ways. For the Selous' hippos, that means wallowing in what little water they can find.

While staying at Beho Beho, a lodge in a remote region of the park, a guide took my tour group to see the hippos at their pool in the Msine River, which still contains a little water. 

What I saw next was incredible.

Disclosure: Our trip to Tanzania, including travel and lodging expenses, was sponsored by the Tanzania Tourist Board, The Africa Adventure Company, Singita Grumeti Group, Coastal Aviation, Qatar Airways, Tanzania National Parks, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.

The Msine River is one of several that runs through the massive Selous Reserve. It was mostly dry when I visited in late October, except for a small bend that's fed by a spring.



Our guide led us about 100 feet from our safari vehicle to a spot above the river bank. I could hardly believe my eyes -- there were more than 100 hippos wallowing below.



Hippos spend their days keeping cool in the water or mud since they have sensitive skin and lack sweat glands.



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Service Alert: BI Emails Are Spotty

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Some of your favorite Business Insider newsletters may not be working this week (including Charts of the Day and 10 Things), and others, including "Select" emails, may be late. We apologize for the inconvenience. We hope to resume normal service in the next day or two, and appreciate your patience in the meanwhile. 

In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook below, or subscribe to our RSS Feed for continuing coverage. 

If you are not a Business Insider newsletter subscriber and would like to join when we're back online, you can do so here.

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Chelsea Galleries Lost 'Untold' Amounts Of Art In Hurricane Sandy

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Hurricane Sandy has done severe damage to New York's art center in Chelsea. 

Prolific studios such as Eyebeam and Zach Feuer sustained serious flood damage, according to Art Info. During the worst point of the flood, waters inside Feuer, on W. 22nd Street, reached five feet high. Most of the work in the current exhibition, “Kate Levant: Closure of Jaw,” has been destroyed by the waters. 

Feuer told Art Info:

"The show just opened and I’d be very surprised if any of that work is restorable. They are works on paper and they got wet, beat up, and the tables they were stored in banged into walls." 

The art world is surveying the situation and scrambling to move art work to dry places, while using buckets to empty water out of showrooms and storage spaces, according to Business Week.

Rachel Churner of Churner and Churner gallery on Tenth Avenue told Business Week"

“I’ve probably lost $100,000 worth of art. Our basement is wet all the way to the ceiling." 

James Molesworth, a senior editor at Wine Spectator, tweeted: 

art world tweet

DON'T MISS: Incredible Pictures Of Storm Damage In New York City

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Here's Where New York's 1 Percent Sought Refuge After Hurricane Sandy

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Donald Trump has taken a rare step down from his political soap box to do some good for Hurricane Sandy survivors.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump opened the atrium of his luxury Trump Hotel & Tower to hundreds of refugees, serving up free coffee and food throughout the day.

He Tweeted out the news around 1 p.m., and spread the word during an interview on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

"I have a staff that's terrific and I have a building that was in great shape and has all sorts of equipment where it can keep going," he told Fallon. "We invited the public in and we took care of the people and I'm very happy about that."

Like each state blasted by Sandy, there are plenty of free shelters available for evacuees. But it's nice to know there's somewhere to go for people looking for something more plush than a seat at an elementary school lunch table.

See Also: 21 ways rich people think differently >

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The 20 Best Cities In America For Trick-Or-Treating This Year

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Halloween is here, and kids around the U.S. are eager to fill their buckets and bags with enough candy to last them— well, until the end of the week, we hope. 

But before they can hit the streets, parents will probably want to know where their kids are planning their trick-or-treat routes.

Zillow recently named its 2012 list of the 20 Best Cities To Trick-or-Treat, and we've got them here, along with some of the best candy in each city. 

Zillow took into account average home value, population density, Walk Score (how walk-friendly a city is) and local crime data. With this information in mind, Zillow determined the cities that will provide "the most candy, with the least walking and safety risks."

Let the looting begin.

#20 Baltimore, Maryland

Best Baltimore Neighborhoods: Homeland, Roland Park, Cedarcroft, Hampden, Lake Walker

Walk Score: 64

Population Density: 16,069

Average Home Value: $219,800

Sweet City: Despite the funny name, Wockenfuss Candies are a Baltimore and Maryland state staple. Sink your teeth into their "harvest mix" candy, gummy pumpkins, caramel apple candy corn, or actual candy apples (including one covered in crushed Oreos).



#19 Virginia Beach, Virginia

Best Virgina Beach Neighborhoods: Great Neck, Thalia, Kempsville, Kings Grant, Cape Story by the Sea

Walk Score: 41

Population Density: 1,976

Average Home Value: $194,200

Sweet City: Popcorn balls used to grace many of the candy stashes of trick-or-treaters gone past. Jody's Gourmet Popcorn still brings the spirit of Halloween with its popcorn. They stock sweet popcorn like cinnamon toast and chocolate toffee drizzle, and carry Halloween funfetti-colored popcorn in October.



#18 Cincinnati, Ohio

Best Cincinnati Neighborhoods: Mount Lookout, Hyde Park, Oakley, Clifton, Mount Adams

Walk Score: 59

Population Density: 3,628

Average Home Value: $123,100

Sweet City: The BonBonerie will spook you with their Halloween-themed Bump In The Night cake, petite chocolate "boo" cupcake, and bloody finger cookies. They also make very intricate catered desserts.



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This Solar-Powered Home Literally Changes Shape To Follow The Sun

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This "Transformation House" concept by Michael Jantzen literally changes its shape as the sun passes through the sky.

The design has five center sections that can be rotated 360 degrees either manually or automatically around the living space to catch the sun's rays to warm the house, wind to cool the house, rain to supply it with water, or to simply alter the shape of the home.

The Transformation House is just a design concept, but if were to be built it would be constructed from light-weight steel, and would be partially encased in photovoltaic cells to generate electricity from the sun. The central floor would be built of glass and a steel support frame with furniture stored in semi-circular cabinets designed to twist out of the floor whenever needed.

Transformation House 

Transformation House

See Also: 10 Beautiful Eco-Friendly Mansions That Are Currently On The Market

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America's Richest Families Are Scaling Back On Charitable Giving

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The wealthiest American households have certainly scaled back on charitable giving in the past few years, but they're anything but a bunch of tight wads.

Of households that earned more than $200,000 in 2011, 95 percent donated to at least one charity, according to the 2012 Bank of America Study of HIgh Net Worth Philanthropy. Charitable giving made up about 9 percent of their total wealth in all.

That's a 3 percent drop from a peak of 98 percent in 2009, but still 30 percent more than the 65 percent or so less well-heeled Americans who contribute.

In dollars and cents, America's richest families donated $52,770 on average, down about 9 percent from 2009's high of $56,621.

But rather than just mailing checks, it turns out wealthier Americans have been putting more stock in active volunteering. Nearly 90 percent of high earning households volunteered in 2011, a healthy 10 percent surge over 2009. More than one-third contributed 200 hours or more. 

Most households contribute to several causes, but the vast majority favor education and basic needs, which receive funds from about 80 percent of high income families. More than two-thirds take an interest in arts and culture as well.

However, religion is still king when it comes to attracting high worth donors. More than 35 percent of wealthy households gave the biggest chunk of change to religious organizations, with education drawing funds from 10 percent fewer donors.

Oddly enough, more wealthy donors are seeking outside guidance on where to channel their cash than ever. Forty percent admitted they asked at least one advisor (usually an accountant) for advice on charitable giving. Much of that might have to do with where their cash is going. Of those who donated to donor-advised funds, foundations and charitable trusts, about one-third went to a bank or trust company for advice first.

See Also: 21 ways rich people think differently >

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