Today’s South China Morning Post, in Central at least, comes with an inserted glossy booklet apparently advertising an up-market Mediterranean resort. It weighs more than the rest of the newspaper together and hits the bottom of the streetside waste bin with a satisfying thud. However, there is no escape: a double-page spread in the main section is devoted to the same product, namely Larvotto.
It is, of course, a tacky real estate development, somewhere down near the tatty suburb of Aberdeen. The Chinese name translates simply as South Bay.
It is still being built, but we can be fairly sure that when it is finished the place will look nothing like what the print ad disclaimer calls “the artist’s imaginative impression”. What are the chances that, instead of/as well as green mountain views, there will be dense thickets of drab concrete residential towers, or maybe even some old multi-storey factory blocks? The sea will probably have more than a few plastic bags floating around in it. Maybe there will be a sewage treatment plant or a columbarium out the back.
Although the property developers apparently try to differentiate their over-priced wares, the marketing concept and execution always look and feel the same. It comes across as shoddy rather than classy, tawdry rather than glitzy, and above all unconvincing. Even nouveau riche mainlanders must feel insulted by the rushed insincerity of it all. It’s a template: a name (typically French or Italian); a logo; a theme (oceanic, rustic, baroque, yuppie); the fanciful illustration (with the same slightly surreal colours and perspective); photos to make sure you get the point (Monte Carlo, meadows, a chateau, a cool dude in a Porsche); a model, possibly Western, enjoying a life of luxury.
The reason is simply that the developers are a cartel. They are not in competition with one another. The properties, within their respective price ranges, are all much of a space-starved, profit-extracting muchness. The friendly government keeps the supply of housing artificially low, and the consumers have little choice. Yoho, Larvotto, Shining Heights, The Sparkle, Celestial Heights, Le Prime, Le Prestige – which sounds least embarrassing when you say you live there?
And how much will an apartment at Larvotto (named for a district of Monaco) cost? How much living space do the developers promise, and how tiny will the apartment really be after you subtract the square feet that are in fact out in the hallway, the stairwell, the club house and the glamorous foyer with waah-so-high-class! marble and chandeliers?
A glance at the nasty website gives us the usual stuff…
…plus a menu offering, among other things, ‘transparence’. Click on it and you get ‘Floor plans and property information … coming soon’. So the blueprints are in the mail.
If it’s where I think it is, at the Ap Lei Chau Praya Road construction site shown in Google Maps (halfway down the east coast), Larvotto does overlook the Marina Club in the distance, but is adjacent to a grotty-looking strip of shipyards. Luxuriate in the exclusive, glamorous, elegant, prestigious, lavish waterfront surroundings and have barnacles scraped off your bottom.