The delicate, crisp crunch of Ferragamo black patent-leather low heels on frosty pavement heralds the break of day in an otherwise silent Central. In a swirl of cold breath, cashmere and fur, beguiling Administrative Officer Winky Ip opens the door of Yuet Yuen Congee and Noodle Palace and steps into the warmth. Teeth chattering and torso shivering from the bitter cold outside, she sits opposite me at the almost stain-free Formica-topped table near the window. She is too frozen to talk and stares at the little television on the wall. Property tycoon Thomas Kwok of Sun Hung Kai is being interviewed.
To our amazement he is telling people not to buy apartments at the Wings, the developer’s latest exciting mega-luxury, opulent, exclusive, tasteful living residential project. “We’ve been asking around 8,000 bucks per square foot on average for these places,” he says, “and incredibly some people are dumb enough to pay it. But in all conscience I have to say that there is a huge difference between the price of something and its real value.”
Kwok mutters something about being a Christian. “Obviously,” he goes on, “we round up the size of the apartments by including space in the stairwells and clubhouse. But more to the point is the ridiculous overall price tags. This Wings project, for example, is in Tseung Kwan O, for heaven’s sake! It’s a dump. Seriously, its actual value, if you strip out market distortions, can’t be any more than a couple of thousand dollars per square foot, maximum. I tell the good, hard-working people of Hong Kong, don’t waste your money – live somewhere older.”
As I order extra hot congee to thaw out my bureaucrat companion, a chef from Cecconi’s Italian restaurant in Soho comes on the screen and starts warning people to avoid his eatery. “It’s nothing special,” he laments in an earthy Australian accent, “just the usual overpriced crap you get in that neighbourhood. The rents are so high we have to cut corners on ingredients and portion sizes, and of course the tables are tiny and jammed up against each other, so it’s hardly comfortable. The so-called service and tacky décor are supposed to detract from that, and amazingly we do get customers – but you have to wonder what their problem is. Bottom line is it’s lousy value for money. Mate, you’d be way better off having noodles in the daipaidong a few streets down the hill.”
The interviewer turns to the show’s third guest, rock singer Elvis Costello, who starts insisting that the price of a new boxed set of his works “appears to be either a misprint or a satire.”
As we cradle our glasses of tea to warm our hands, I ask Winky if there is any chance of the Hong Kong government joining in this wave of brutal honesty suddenly breaking out everywhere. It turns out that there is.
“Donald is desperate to leave a grand legacy,” she tells me. “In terms of policy, that is, to augment his achievements on the hardware side, like the Huge Bright Shiny Government HQ at Tamar, the world’s largest bridge with three immigration checkpoints all in the same country, and the tunnel to Shenzhen to house a high-speed rail link to the place near Guangzhou we can never remember the name of.”
Before I can guess what it will be, she blurts it out. “Dogs!”
“You mean they’re going to let us eat them again?” I ask.
“No – we’re going to ban them. As pets. We’re admitting it: they’re disgusting.”
Under the new legislation, she explains, possession of a dog will be an offence punishable by 10 years in prison, a fine of HK$500,000 or both. As a concession, to enable the community to reach a consensus and move forward, there will be a special canine reserve in the New Territories where people who crave the sight of dog excrement and the sound of incessant barking will be able to visit and watch the creatures pant with their tongues hanging out and sniff each other’s bottoms.
“We’re rolling out the new policy in Tuen Mun,” she says, pulling out a photograph of a poo-free park. “The Department of Putting Signs Everywhere has produced these rather fetching items.” She pauses while I absorb the colourful barriers. “Note the impact of having lots and lots of them,” she points out.
Where have I seen this design before? A black symbol on a white disc set against a red oblong background.
“It starts tonight. The first ones will be rounded up, loaded onto special freight carriages on the MTR and…” she stares at me intently. “…taken away.”