Monday, May 15, 2006
You know you have been an expat in Hong Kong for too long when ;
• The smog clears and you look out your mid levels window and you see a place across the harbour, which your maid calls Kowloon
• Your children are speaking English with a Filipino accent
• You have to burn your photo albums when your Chinese ex-girlfriend is appointed as your CEO
• Your Chinese mistress dumps you for a CCP princeling, because his Ferrari is classier than your Beamer
• You stumble into a supermarket and find that some people still cook their own food
• You visit your mum at her place in Sydney at Christmas and you have an agoraphobic hissy fit when confronted by a tree
• You expect to have your underwear ironed
• You go to an Alumni dinner and learn that in Australia, people catch the bus to work
• You think that Lee Kuan Yew's ideas about democracy are really quite sensible
• You hear the term "creative industries" and think it applies to Banking and the Law
Further suggestions would be appreciated.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Hong Kong used to be a place where you would go to shop. My Dad got a very fine Japanese Transistor radio from here back in the sixties when cruise ships disgorged thousands of heat affected westerners looking for a bargain.
A host of seedy little shops flourished, stacked with the latest cameras, radios,electric shavers and later CD players, pagers and mobile phones. There were no fixed prices. Perspiring Australians could haggle, confidently believing that almost any agreed price was a good one because they didn't have to pay Australian sales tax. The salesmen, who earned less in a week than a decent meal cost in a tourist hotel, were always keen to come to a deal.
This was what Business schools call a "win-win" situation. Certain Australian tourists felt good because they thought they had saved money by browbeating an Oriental. The local salesmen felt good because they knew that these ugly foreign devils were usually willing to pay more than the fixed price in the department store around the corner. Everybody went home happy.
These days, many of the tourists come from mainland China, particularly during "Golden Week" which in Hong Kong, is curiously celebrated on May Day, as well as the National holiday in October. According to the People's Daily, "The mainland's tourism golden week has become a prime consuming week in Hong Kong, and purchasing in the so called "shopping paradise" has already become a major destination for many Chinese
mainland tourists, as visiting scenic spots has become their spare time programs."
But what would hard working mainland factory workers buy during their visit? A little less than usual it seems. According to the South China Morning Post, Golden Week went a little leaden this year with business dropping by twenty percent, as a result of high hotel prices and unscrupulous business rip offs turning mainland tourists away.
Maybe they should have shopped at Hong Kong's huge air chilled malls where you can buy anything from to HK$3,000 flourescent sneakers to shaggy Shetland Island sweaters. Such items would be unique on the assembly line!
Shoppers can meanwhile look up to gigantic wallposters of pouting, naked, sixteen year old super models, clutching Italian, crocodile skin hand bags. I could never understand why a teenager should want such an expensive accessory but then it dawned on me that just everyone needs something chic to hold one's credit cards,
particularly if one is going commando in extremis in the Orient.
Joyce Boutiques are regarded as Hong Kong's fashion leaders. The Joyce chain was founded by Joyce (get the connection) Ma with a little help from low profile, retail and property tycoon, Walter (get the connection) Ma King-wah. Adrienne (get the connection) Ma, managing director of Joyce Boutique Holdings, told China Daily that fashion was becoming much more accessible in Hong Kong. Ma Junior described the new Hong Kong consumer as "still very brand
conscious, likely to be wearing US$500 Hermes jeans and carrying a bag that could be an unusual piece rather than just big brand". This may be so but Joyce fashions seem to be designed for other than the common herd. The Joyce store in Central recently featured a window display with stick thin mannikins clinging to an upturned grand piano, suspended from the ceiling by wires.
Meanwhile, Joyce, the matriarch, never lost her common touch. She spoke movingly of her relationship with a 93 year old woman "who spends her days kneeling by the ferry pier on Lamma Island, asking disembarking boat passengers for their recyclable Coke
and beer cans". "I see her every time I travel to eat at the big restaurants on Lamma", Joyce told Timemagazine. "When we see each other, we shriek like a couple of long-lost sisters, and give each other big hugs. She calls me hergod-daughter and often takes me to her home nearby."
Maybe Joyce should have lent her a handbag and taken her to lunch some time. She could have kept the empty cans.
Monday, May 01, 2006
May Day has always been a great day for contradictions.
Consider the case of the Capitalist loving Communist unions who are not nearly as popular as they were in the heroic days of the Cultural Revolution when they could fill Hong Kong streets with chanting Red Guards. Many of those revolutionaries have since moved into Italian suits, flashing Swiss watches as they speculate on the stock market. Only the diehards march on May Day in Hong Kong these days. As disciplined Communists, they support the Chinese Communist party's local front group, Democratic Alliance for the Development and Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB). DAB loyally supports the Beijing appointed Hong Kong leadership; a group of senior civil servants and billionaires who believe that workers wages and conditions should be suppressed for the good of their family companies and, of course, the economy. This leaves the local communist activists in a rather tricky position when it comes to attracting oppressed members of the working class.
In fact the biggest group of May Day marchers was not local Chinese people at all, but immigrant workers...maids. In skintight jeans, platform shoes and even the odd burqa, they sashayed along Hong Kong Streets in contingents from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, singing along with all girl band imported for the occasion. The maids want their salaries back to what they were before the now up turned economic down turn. This would give them HK$3,860 (A$655) a month; a gigantic figure which would, if granted, clearly bring ruin and discord to dinner parties right across the Pearl of the Orient.
Also marching today were disaffected employees of Hong Kong's Disneyland who want more money to wear Western designed duck and rat suits in the steamy Hong Kong summer. For the last few months, they have been threatening to strike at Disneyland, which has imported a team of high powered American spin masters to stem negative publicity, which might result from seeing a placard waving Mickey clubbed down by security guards. Disneyland is still recovering from ugly scenes at Chinese New Year, when mainland Chinese tourists tried to storm the gates of the magical kingdom. Unscrupulous travel agents had oversold Disneyland tickets and the former children of Chairman Mao wanted their money's worth.
Meanwhile, Disneyland is being blamed for a down turn in tourist numbers at Hong Kong's other premium attraction, the
giant Buddha on Lantau Island. Standing 34 meters high, the seated Buddha took ten years to complete at the Precious Lotus Monastery at Ngong Ping. According to the tourist information, " The eyes, lips, incline of the head and even the right hand raised to deliver a blessing to all, combine to lend great depth of character and dignity to this extraordinary statue, whose very glance brings calm and introspection to those who look into those seemingly all-seeing eyes." Big Buddha's been a big earner for local monks, who have been discommoded by defections to Disneyland. It seems the Abbot hopes to restore tranquility by tearing down part of the historic Tai Hung temple and constructing a sort of Buddhist theme park.
Maybe the monks should have been marching too!