Story on Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a city that dreams big – and constantly challenges the visitor with its larger-than-life inventions and stories. Helena Ma, founder and owner of International Consulting Firm IDEA Group takes on The Big Orange. 

The Iconic Sights of Los Angeles

Despite the sprawl, people tend not to realise the architectural endeavours in this city of dreams. For architecture lovers, these are what you should check out:

1. The Walt Disney Concert Hall

• Built by Frank Gehry
• Large sail-like metallic façade belies cosy interiors are featuring warm floral colours and wooden paneling
• Home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic – which started 100 years ago – out of sheer frustration with a more established and traditional orchestra.

2. The Broad

• Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro
• Founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad.
• Looks like an unconventional museum with giant tables and Insta-worthy exhibits
• As HQ of the lending library of The Broad Art’s Foundation, it has made 8,500 loans to over 500 museums and galleries around the world since it opened in 2015
• Admission is free but book your tickets in advance!

3. Hollywood Walk of Fame

• About 10 minutes away on foot from The Groundlings is the Hollywood Walk of Fame
• Stretches for 2.1 km along Hollywood Boulevard, with over 2,600 stars
• There are two Harrison Fords and two Michael Jacksons – in different eras and different categories
• Stars can take up to five years to plan for the unveiling of their star
• The iconic Barbra Streisand is the only star who did not appear for the installation of her own star

Did you know?

Anyone can nominate a star for this famed sidewalk! The star just needs to agree to your nomination and there must be a sponsor who will pay US$40,000 for the creation, installation and upkeep of the star.

Reel Life vs Real Life

Two buildings in Downtown LA you absolutely must see were both featured in the seminal The Blade Runner, a classic noir which examined the meaning of being human in a dystopian Los Angeles set in 2019.

1. Union Square Station

What’s Reel:

• Dark and sombre police station in Blade Runner

What’s Real:

• Bustling building built in a beautiful combination of the architectural styles of Art Deco, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne
• At the waiting room, there are art deco chandeliers and inlaid marble flooring
• Natural light pours in abundantly through its 40-metre tall windows

2. Bradbury Building


What’s Reel:

• Rutger Hauer, played a dyring robot who turned out to be “more human than human” in The Blade Runner
• Hauer himself wrote the immortal line: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.”

What’s Real:

• It’s 126 years old, the oldest commercial building in downtown LA
• It’s just five stories tall
• Beautiful ornate ironwork, marble staircases and skylit atria give it an air of romance and mystery

Where to Dine in Los Angeles

1. JOSS Cuisine

Where: 9919 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, USA

A well-known restaurant with an understated Shanghai décor with celebrity customers

• Led by Chef Golo Kwokson Yu, who believes in returning to Chinese culinary roots
• Uses no MSG and replaces lard with low-fat vegetable oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil instead
• Dishes to savour: chicken and fig soup elixir, fish in ginger broth, a very low-fat Peking duck to ice-cream made with acai grains sourced from France.

2. Tao Asian Bistro

Where: 6421 Selma Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028, USA

• Good for showy night on the town
• Dramatic décor with a majestic blue Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, standing over a pool
• Tao has the vibe of a club – with a great energetic atmosphere, and the food is a feast inspired by Japanese, Thai and Chinese cooking methods
• Dishes to savour: Thai BBQ chicken with green curry, miso cod fish and lots more- and the lychee martini (Source:

3. Manuela

Where: 907 E 3rd St Los Angeles, CA 90013

• Offers great local Californian fare ingredients sourced from farms in Southern California
• There diners waiting for a table can just walk off the street into an herb garden and chill out while waiting for their order
• Dishes to savour: Get the “redneck” platter, which includes biscuits and tangy pimento cheese and feathery country ham and deviled eggs. The stone crab claw is also scrumptious. (SOURCE:

Landing in LA

Sprawling and shimmering, a carpet stretches out invitingly as my plane gets ready to touch down at LAX at 9.40pm local time. As I descend, the brightly-lit boulevards of Los Angeles rise out of the dark like an oasis, beckoning brightly like the tinsel on Christmas trees.

Called the Big Orange – as opposed to The Big Apple for NYC – for its warm and sunny weather, LA promises fun, and a buzzy excitement. As I ride into Downtown LA in my rented Mercedes Benz GL450, I watch the freeways glide by with glee. Any hint of lethargy from my 16-hour flight evaporated.  LA pulses with a palpable sense of possibilities. LA feels infinite, a place where there is always some new cuisine to try, some new art museum to explore, a new place to visit and new ideas to chase.

The Deal with LA

The area known as Los Angeles to us now were farmlands that were flourishing even in the 1850s. Between the 1880s to the early 1900s, a series of developments starting with the gold rush, the rise of railroad, the advent of orange farming, the discovery of oil, the film business and the testing of aviation technology by the leading lights in World War I turned Los Angeles into a land of opportunity for millions, a urban sprawl of today – a city fueled by dreams and built by dreamers.

A dreamy symbol of that insouciant drive for creativity is none other than the glossy turquoise blue building we can see easily from Interstate 101. The Eastern Columbia Building is the grande dame of Art Deco Streamline Moderne. It used to be a store that became a pricey private apartment block where actor Johnny Depp lived. Realtors note that the historical Broadway precinct is a prime example or rising real estate these few years. Brands like Apple and are setting up Mykita flagship stores in the area, revitalising the creative and historical district.

The Jeff Koon balloon dog at the Broad Museum.

Los Angeles is home to 4 million people. The ethnic mix is diverse, with almost 48 percent Latinos, 41 percent white, and African Americans and Asian are 10 percent respectively. Some 6 in 10 are born in the United States, while the rest are born elsewhere.

A trip to Los Angeles is to witness some of the world’s most iconic sights, left behind by some of the most prolific industrialists of the last century.

I love architecture and the J Paul Getty Museum offers not just beautiful architecture but one of the finest private collection of art in the world. There are two locations for this museum – The Getty Center is on a hill in Brentwood while the Getty Villa is in the Pacific Palisades and overlooks the Pacific. The Getty Center focuses on art from the middle ages to the present, while the Getty Villa cover art from ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria. Both locations boast an extensive art collection and 2 million people visited both in 2016 alone. Tours can be as short as 15 minutes, so it is worth a visit even if you are in town for a short time.

Another architectural gem on my list is the Griffith Observatory. Designed by John C. Austin and Frederick M. Ashley for a very interesting magnate that started it, the observatory is one of most recognisable and popular buildings in California. Since it was opened its doors in 1935, 8 million people have looked through the observatory’s Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope. It arose from funds bequeathed in 1919 by Griffith J Griffith, a colourful industrialist and philanthropist who had the audacious view that the world can change when more people look a telescope. The stellar legacy of this Welsh émigré made good was famously tarnished by his shooting of his wife in a moment of paranoia, causing her to lose an eye and become disfigured. Although he served almost two years of jail time and worked on prison reform when he was released, some believed that authorities were not keen on his bequest probably because they did not want the observatory to become a monument to a disgraced man.

As someone who loves measuring a city by foot, I had to take a walk along Melrose Avenue for a dose of entertainment, culture and shopping. Stretching from Sunset Boulevard on the west to Silver Lake in the east, this is the place to be for at least a day. As I walk from west to east, the glossy designer boutiques give way to more creative and funky cafes, bars and stores. Some gems to look out for are Golden Apple Comics where you can buy rare back copies of Marvel and DC Comics. Another unmissable is the Paramount After Dar tour which gets you around its 63-acre backlot, which is a great warm-up to Pour Vous, a very good cocktail lounge with creative cocktails and classy burlesque dancers. As a fan of American stand-up comedy and the iconic Saturday Night Live, I was thrilled to see The Groundlings Theater and School, a non-profit improvisation and sketch theatre which has yielded stars like Will Ferrell, Mikey Day and Lisa Kudrow – among many other huge names.

For a sunset to remember, I head towards Santa Monica Beach. Despite the crowds, the water and the sand at this beach are clean. You can swim, run, bike, skate or just chill. There are lifeguards as well and lots of restrooms. The old-school theme park at Santa Monica Pier, with a ferris wheel, is a great place for street photography. Walking to Venice Beach takes about an hour, and next to the beach are restaurants and eateries.

LA is a non-stop feast for the senses. This is perhaps why best-selling writer Michael Connelly once called LA a “transient place”. “People drawn by the dream, people running from the nightmare. Twelve million people and all of them ready to make a break for it if necessary,” he said. “Figuratively, literally, metaphorically — any way you want to look at it — everybody in L.A. keeps a bag packed. Just in case.”

A pilgrimage of world class business leader conference

Nonetheless, all who come to LA never fail to put their best feet forward. Indeed, my bags are packed for the four-day Global Conference at the Milken Institute at the Beverly Hilton at Beverly Hills.  I am here for my annual pilgrimage to the Institute, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to advancing data-driven collaborative solutions to help decision-makers tackle the pressing issues of our time.

Founder and Chairman of Milken Institute Michael Milken sharing the panel on the topic of fulfilling the American Dream and enabling a purposeful life with Ray Dalio, founder and co-Chairman of Bridgewater Associate LP.

The summit runs from 28 April to 1 May, and features over 4,500 delegates from 65 countries and regions, with 137 public forums and 87 private forums. The prestigious summit is the perfect chance to meet some of the finest minds in business and political leadership. There were 10 forums on China’s investment prospects, underlining the importance of China, along with how to channel the huge wealth accumulated by China’s 200-million-strong middle class to invest in the rapid economic development of China.

It is heartening to hear how CEOs and community leaders of iconic companies are now engaging in issues that affect us as a community; and hear their thoughts on issues such as anxieties arising from automation. I also learnt much from personal interactions with some attendees.

On 1 May, I was privileged to have a chat with US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao after her speech during the panel on Women in Government: Creating More Pathways to Leadership. She is the first Asian woman in the Cabinet of a US President. She started working as a banker before she joined the White House Office of Policy Development, before becoming the U. S. Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009 – a great achievement for some who was born in Taipei. She came to the US at the age of eight and not knowing a word of English.

It was through sheer hard work at school and her various government appointments that she has built a voice for the Chinese minority. Later when we meet while queuing for lunch, we spoke about my own travels and journey as an entrepreneur; and she encourages me to be always be open, accessible in my service mindset for those who need my help, and stay committed to my own dream.

The next day, I run into Sharon Stone the actress in the corridor during lunch, after Ivanka Trump’s panel on Driving Shared Prosperity, to discuss initiatives in workforce development. Dressed in crisp white t-shirt with LOVE embroidered on her white blazer, she was a picture of poise and composure, with an irresistible aura about her. Stone is known for transcending her own crises and for her charity work in developing countries and her remarks over the major earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 which left 87,000 people dead or missing, and 4.8 million homeless, she speaks with a frankness and candour that just draws you in. We talk about my upbringing in China, overseas working experience and my travels to over 55 countries, and she encourages m to keep on exploring with an open mind and inclusiveness.

Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet, Ivanka Trump and Mark Weinberger, Chairman of Ernst Young sharing their vision on boosting employment rate and labour policy of the US.

I also had a chat with Eddie Trump, who co-founder The Trump Group with his brother Jules. Both had migrated from South Africa and bought a drugstore chain in New York City. They are no relation of the US President and are more low-key about their luxury real-estate portfolio and charity work. I am struck at how, in Los Angeles, how big one can dream, how much one can do, if one is committed to one’s dream with the right work ethic and principles.

Rest and Relax

At the end of the conference, I drive 7 hours up along the 101 road to the Monterey Bay myself for a memorable golf session at The Links at Spanish Bay.

The word “link” is derived from “hlinc”, an old English word for coastal sand dunes with grass and a relentless wind. The Links at Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Tom Watson, and Sandy Tatum to look and feel like the original golf courses in Scotland, when the game was invented 500 years ago.

The upscale golf course is located on the 17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula, with stunning views of the Pacific. It is a well-landscaped golf course right next to the Pacific, with white sand bunkers that strategically make the play challenging.

For me, The Links at Spanish Bay has always been on my bucket list. It is a challenging course which meanders between sand dunes along 17-Mile Drive. Because of the relentless ocean wind – every hole is about strategy, strategy and strategy. The 17th-green can be the toughest under some wind conditions. But it’s also the most scenic for Watson, its co-designer, who always looks forward to playing it.

I found Hole 5, 7, 14 memorable and challenges for the variety of influential factors such as hazards, bunkers, wind, landscape and layout of the course involved.

Hole 5 Sandy is a classic Par 4 with eight bunkers protecting the short route to an elevated tiered green. A tee shot away from the bunkers of the 200-plus yards will leave a short to mid-iron to the green. From the fairway aim at the left center of the green. Hole 7 Marsh corner is per its name – the green is tucked up in a marsh groove, sands and long grass.

Precision is the name of the game as selection of the club will decide success in finding this gull winged narrow green near the windy seashore. Hole 14 Missing Link is a challenging long Par 5. The island landing area demands the tee shot to be placed just left of the bunkers, leaving a short to mid-iron over the gorse and dune to a severely undulating green with marsh and reeds to the right. You need to make sure to not to overswing.

I got spontaneously paired up with a flight of hedge fund and asset management professionals from Texas, who were there to celebrate the 50th birthday of a guy in the group. We had a fabulous game and cracking laughs. But I couldn’t join the party as I needed to drive back the same day to Los Angeles for a client meeting.

As I head back to Beverly Hills, I head for a restaurant full of the authenticity and creativity that amazes the most fastidious. This is Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a Michelin three-star chef who hails from The Big Apple. The warm and inviting restaurant is a great place for an informal lunch. The caviar paired with sea urchin is a great starter, with steak au poivre as a main, before a sweet ending with the butterscotch soufflé.

It’s A Wrap!

I head back to my room at the Hotel Bel-Air, an entrancingly elegant sanctuary in the Dorchester collection of hotels. It’s just north of the 22-mile long Sunset Boulevard – an exhilarating drive with sharp curves – and a fitting end for a busy trip to prep for my next flight. A rather secluded spot, it was where Marilyn Monroe stayed for 10 years and the place where she sat for a series of photo shoots for Vogue before her untimely death six weeks later.

Originally designed in 1920 as a sales office for an exclusive enclave, Hotel Bel-Air has been a haven for Hollywood royalty. After an ambitious renovation in 2011, the hotel reopened to great fanfare with its tasteful furnishings that reminds one of the glamour of Hollywood between the 1930s and 1950s.

It has 103 guestrooms and suites – including the Presidential Suite 6,700 square feet with its own grand piano, dining space for 10 guests, private pool and garden. Many reviewers have raved about the beautiful rain showers in the bathroom. Or relax in the deck chairs and enjoy the free slushies provided by the attentive staff! The hotel is perpetually in-demand for its well-appointed ballrooms such as the famous Gardens Ballroom, Palm Room, Front Lawn, Swan Lake as well as its spa by La Prairie. There are 12 acres of a finely tended garden to wander in; and every table at its exquisite restaurant has a view of the garden.

The food at the most famous signature restaurant is probably the most expensive. But considering its pedigree, I would recommend arriving earlier for dinner, have a martini and some caviar. And have good company – because it is a moment to savour.

What’s on the menu at Wolfgang Puck

Address: 701 Stone Canyon Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90077, USA

• Caviar: Royal White Sturgeon or Royal Osetra Caviar
• On the grill: Columbia River King Salmon, 28 Day Aged Prime, N.Y. Steak
• Armagnac-Peppercorn Sauce but reviews are superlative for the menu
• Tip: Look out for Chef Wolfgang preparing your dinner himself, as he lives near Bel-Air.

If you want to bring your dog along for a stay, or an inkling to create your very own cocktail, the Bel-Air staff will be happy to help too.

It is a more of a sanctuary of bliss compared with its sister property, The Beverly Hills Hotel, a century-old icon of Californian style and old Hollywood glamour I stayed in when I touched down.

Riding up Rodeo Drive to the familiar red carpet under the striped pink ceiling is to experience the ritzy moments taken by the likes of Faye Dunaway, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh in decades past. The attentive service is on point yet unobtrusive. Beverly Hills Hotel is the perfect springboard to dive into the city of dreams. As Schwarzenegger would say, I’ll be back.

Helena Ma brings with her a wealth of experience and a truly cosmopolitan perspective, having lived and worked in Shanghai, China; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London, UK. Her stints in Europe and China has armed Helena with a potent blend of ancient Chinese wisdom and contemporary Western knowledge which she incorporates into business management and client project