Spam and tycoons: equally invincible

Yesterday, rising food prices were giving the poor ‘generalized anxiety disorder’, for which a psychiatrist prescribed ‘having fun while shopping for bargains’. Today, the Consumer Council’s Michael Hui pleads with retailers “to scale their prices down and live with the Hong Kong people in times of difficulty, sharing the benefits of cost reductions with the public at large.”

And indeed his prayers are answered, with a Park N Shop spokesman assuring us that the Li Ka-shing-owned company determines ‘special discounts on various items to ease the pressure on consumers’. And they all lived happily ever after.

A closer look at the Consumer Council’s press release shows that, thanks to the generosity of Asia’s richest tycoon, the price of alcoholic drinks has dropped 5% in the last year. Who needs diapers or Wyeth Promil Gold Number 2 baby formula when you can get – as I did not long ago – large-size cans of Yanjing (China’s fair-ish ‘official state beer’) at two for HK$11.80? Cheaper than Watson’s water.

One item leaps out from the Consumer Council’s shopping basket: Spam. Seventy years ago, this plasticky pink substance helped defeat Fascism by providing allied soldiers and civilians with cheap and transportable protein. Apparently, around 1946 or so, half-starved refugees arriving in Hong Kong noticed colonial administrators eating cans of Hormel’s ‘SPiced hAM’ product and concluded that it must be oh-so high-class. Next thing, it turns up in Cha Chaan Teng instant noodles for breakfast and reaches the same status in Cantonese cuisine as abalone stuffed with frog ovaries. Anyway, it’s up 12.7%.

An op-ed piece in today’s South China Morning Post examines the Hong Kong dock workers’ strike. While accepting that their working conditions sound nasty, the writer says the dockers are not that badly paid – being in the top 30% of the city’s earners. Rather than being oppressed proletariat, they are closer to middle-class, heavily exposed to unaffordable housing and rising grocery bills. Meanwhile, a commentator at Lingnan University points the finger at Li Ka-shing-owned port operator HIL for its supposedly ruthless approach to outsourcing the supply of container-handling labour.

This all suggests that the strike’s organizers and supporters could have fine-tuned their story more effectively by zeroing in on Li Ka-shing personally at the outset. Not only are the dock workers crushed by the cartels in terms of unaffordable housing and ever-spiraling Spam costs, but they are on the receiving end of the port operator’s determination to squeeze every last penny out the business regardless of the interests of employees. In other words, they represent all of us victims of voracious family-owned monopolies, only more so. As it is, despite some defiance, the strike has an air of fizzling-out about it. Whatever happens, whoever you are, you are still going to be working for KS Li.

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6 Responses to Spam and tycoons: equally invincible

  1. “There is absolutely no foundation to rumours that we sit down with the opposition every week at a secret location and fix prices; that we fill the shelves with expensive boutique brands instead of reasonably priced generics commonly available on the world market; that we progressively transform ordinary outlets into overpriced delicatessens or that we take inflation plus 100% as a normal tariff increase on all merchandise.

    “I am 35, Irish, female, living on benefits and have a wooden leg.”

  2. Sojourner says:

    Spam! ummmmmmm … A mouth-watering treat that can only be followed by a tastefully arranged pyramid of Ferrer Rocher chocolates.

    What could be a yummier apotheosis of the luxury-end of western culinary experiences?

  3. Stephen says:

    There is a certain natural ‘justice’ about the vilification of all things Li Ka Shing in recent times – how it took us so long remains one of those HK absurdities – He’s only Superman now in Tobacco Charles rags, Forbes Magazine and in the minds of our, woefully out of touch, Administrators.

    Whilst I know ‘Occupy Central’ is about a truer form of democracy (good luck with that) shouldn’t we add Government / Tycoon collusion to the movement ? Mr. Li Ka Shing would make a good effigy for us all to rally round. Rather him than Xi Jinping, as the black hair dye brigade might not like that that !

  4. Joe Blow says:

    The Li Ka-shing phenomenon is entirely a HSBC-creation. If you don’t like the guy and what he stands for, then sell your HSBC shares so that you can sleep with a clear conscience.

  5. Lestat says:

    Alan Wong who wrote the SCMP op-ed piece asked whose fault it is that makes HK’s middle class angry. Every HKer’s immediate response would be KS Li, Link and blood-sucking jerks like them. Then some of them would think of the collusion. Very few of them would question the land policy. Almost no one would criticize (if they’ve realized) their own psychological reliance on high housing prices that would lead to ‘generalized anxiety disorder’ if the prices fall.

    Alan must have known that. He gave us the problems but left the causes. It’ll be too much to ask the dockers to expound on all this when the ‘true universal suffrage’-minded pan-dems never gave any thought of it.

    We need a strong man.

  6. Real G&T Drinker says:

    I think it’s very unfair that some people accuse LKS of being a scrooge ( or even worse a “devil”)

    I think he’s very generous indeed !

    For as long as I can remember, 4- packs of Schweppes tonic water have been offered at a super discount price of $18.90 vs their official price of $29.90 at P&S

    I assume this is to compete with Wellcome who have the same list price and super discount offer ( so thanks to Wellcome LKS generously offers the same super discount)


    ( Shit my wooden leg is itching again)

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