Fascinating but ominous news abounds.
First, the Chinese government is planning to cut tariffs on luxury imports. This, as the Standard rushes to warn us, could annihilate the Big Lychee’s oh-so precious shopping paradise: millions of Mainland consumers with their obsessive-compulsive ‘brands’ disorder could find tacky overpriced pseudo-European tat more affordable in their home towns, thus sparing them the inconvenience of traipsing all the way down here to get it.
As all right-thinking people are aware, what’s bad news for the landlords is excellent for the other 99.99% of us. Our Swire Pacific dividends may take a bit of a hit, but that’s a small price to pay if the crowds of crew-cut man-bag carriers and their perm-haired wives and podgy-faced kids clogging up Central and Causeway Bay every day thin out by a few hundred thousand. It would be just as much a relief to the tourists, too.
It sounds like a real win-win. But that raises a profound question. On the one hand, you have the interests of a potential 1.3 billion Mainland nouveau-riche Louis Vuitton fans, plus their 7 million hard-pressed hosts in the Big Lychee, desperate respectively for lower prices and more space; on the other hand, you have the interests of Sun Hung Kai/Henderson/MTR, frantically expanding retail square footage by colonizing more and more of the passageway areas in their lurid high-end malls. How likely is it that God is suddenly going to call twilight upon the property developers?
Another doom-laden story comes in the form of the Standard’s contribution du jour to the growing field of shoe-shining-by-journalism as entertainment. It is all about Wing Lung Bank, one of the few nasty little family-run lenders in Hong Kong to have been taken over by a big (Mainland) institution. After years of offering such classy products as taxicab leasing, Capital Investment Entrance Scheme (HKID for sale) services and Lehman minibonds, the bank has found new usurious depths to plumb. Behold: red wine financing, allowing customers to buy booze on margin. You can’t drink it, because it’s collateral. This is (supposedly) AAA+ investment-grade Bordeaux.
The Sing Tao/Standard, interviewing Dynamic Executive with Square Gold Watch, Cuff Links and Collar Pin, describes this as an example of post-takeover Wing Lung’s visionary aptitude for innovation. Others may consider it about as depressing a story as they are likely to read all week, reflecting as it does such familiar human frailties as the tawdry impulse to make a quick buck through speculation and the herd-like worship of inane status-symbols. Wine collecting has joined golf club membership and the rearing of piano-playing five-year-old daughters as one of those sad marks of the frustrated Hong Kong petit-bourgeois, or, increasingly, his Mainland counterpart.
Wing Lung’s new product (prime rate minus 1%, minimum loan HK$500,000) has a sort of end-of-an-era feel to it, befitting an age in which L’Occitane, Prada and Coach can join Rusal on the stock market and someone pays HK$8,000 a square foot for a second-hand public-housing rabbit hutch in a location (Kornhill) barely tolerated by shanty-town dwellers a generation ago.
I am not alone in feeling that we are approaching the point at which this city collapses under the weight of our depravity and decadence. But whereas I sit back and do nothing, the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department is taking action: it has hired a gay conversion therapist who, if I read between the lines correctly, will deliver this Sodom-Gomorrah from divine vengeance by curing homosexuals of their sick perversions through electric shocks to the scrotum*. Skeptics can read the New Creation Association’s real-life testimonials – “I stole my sister’s dress and lipstick and played with them…” – which will probably cure you of anything.
* Possibly not – they don’t say.