The people of Hong Kong wake to the news that HSBC’s CEO Michael Geoghegan is to be paid an extra GBP300,000 – HK$3.5 million – a year as a cost-of-living adjustment following his move here from London.
The Big Lychee is not necessarily pricier than the UK capital. For example, the lowest fare on the London Underground is HK$46 (cash) or HK$21 (stored value card), while the Hong Kong MTR charges HK$4 and HK$3.6 respectively. The longest journey you can do on the MTR, the 80 minutes from Chai Wan to Lo Wu, still costs only HK$44. The UK minimum hourly wage for someone aged over 21 is GBP5.80, or HK$68, around three times what our local employers’ groups are proposing for our own version.
Hong Kong rents are at least as extreme as London’s, but Mr Geohgegan’s housing is provided for separately; let us assume that health coverage is, too. So we are naturally curious: what will he spend the money on?
We are told that family comes into the equation, the implication being that Mr Goehgegan’s wife and two sons have balked at the prospect of congee for breakfast every day and stayed put in Britain. This means heartbreak, homesickness and travel costs. Let’s say each family member makes six return trips a year in first class at HK$50,000. That’s knocked HK$1.2 million off that HK$3.5 million allowance.
(That exceptionally pitiful variant of real estate agent known as headhunters would hold their hands up here and yell “stop!” Travel should be part of the basic package, they would insist, along with housing, car, driver, air-conditioning bills and quarantine costs for Toby the schnauzer. To which we can only say, “We’ve got over three million to get through; go away.”)
So we have HK$2.3 million left. One very efficient way for a senior new arrival in town to burn a bit of money is Contemporary Chinese Art. Indeed, the sum of GBP300,000 was also the estimated price for Yue Minjun’s idiotic cartoon of grinning men and birds when it was auctioned last year, and it fetched over GBP450,000. So let’s assume Mr Goehgagan takes a stroll along Hollywood Road and snaps up a few of the cynical derivative daubs by lesser-known mainland brush-wielders on the make. Let’s say, owing perhaps to colour-blindness, a couple of these really ugly hair-salon things by one Jiang Congyi and some of the weighty metal figurines expat bankers seem to like – or anything, really. Bye-bye, another million.
Now we’re down to just HK$1.3 million, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. And against the beckoning glow, what do we see but the silhouette of Allan Zeman, landlord of Lan Kwai Fong and purveyor of food and beverage to legions of well-paid, wife-less Western men unable to rustle up much more than Heinz baked beans on toast. Eager to know more about the cultural background of emerging-markets Asia, Mr Goehaggan will start to explore the many varied Oriental cuisines on offer in user-friendly D’Aguilar Street.
From the fake-bamboo Thai place in California Tower, to the fake-bamboo Korean place in The Plaza LKF, to the fake-bamboo Japanese place in the Ho Lee Building, to the fake-bamboo Vietnamese place back in California Tower, he will dine in style, tipping the Filipino waitresses well and wondering why all these different countries’ foods essentially taste so similar. Dragging a few buddies along for company and quaffing a generous amount of high-quality bottled water and fine imported wines and beers, that irritating HK$0.3 million will be gone within 12 months.
Just HK$1 million to go. And go it does. A few trips to Dymocks for books; to Olivers/Great/City Super for Marmite, HP sauce, toad in the hole and other gastronomic essentials for Brits; regular replenishments of underwear at the Marks and Spencer just along Queens Road; some badly needed weekends away at Aman resorts in Phuket, Bali and Bhutan; an inadvisable trip to Macau, maybe; a donation, in response to begging letters from expat housewives, to HK Newt and Pangolin Rescue; a few silk numbers from the famous IFC Mall scarf shop to send home in a fit of guilt after a slightly raunchy night with a few of the fellows down in Wanchai.
And boom – that’s it. Forget the Porsche. It’s late August, and the poor guy’s already down to his last 200 grand.
Update: the family, apparently, will be with him, and – as our friendly and wise local headhunters predicted – all travel and education costs are already built into the basic package. So what will he spend it all on? The answer: public relations advice on how not to infuriate shareholders.