Ninth Commandment to hit Hong Kong

Stores and street-market stalls in Hong Kong sell fruit and vegetables in non-transparent bags. A clear label on the outside tells you how many pieces of produce are in the bag and what the total price is – for example, six oranges for HK$20. However, there is a catch: retailers lie about the number of pieces in the bag. When the purchaser gets home and gets his oranges out, he invariably finds that there are five, maybe even four, rather than six. It has got to the stage where people think they are getting a really good deal if a bag of 10 oranges, potatoes, or tomatoes contains eight rather than seven.

Anywhere else in the world, retailers would be fined or even jailed for doing this – assuming irate consumers hadn’t already strung them up. These goods are, after all, essential to life, not silly luxuries. But in Hong Kong, it is perfectly legal. And the suppliers collude with one another to ensure no alternative providers can get into the market.

Now, however, in a radical move that food vendors bitterly oppose as a gross infringement of their freedom of speech, the government is passing a law requiring the labels on the bags to show the true number of items. (So accustomed are some Hong Kong shoppers to being cheated that some even half-agreed when the vendors claimed the new law would create intolerable confusion.)

The law is about to take effect, but there are still a few days to go, so the shop owners and market-stall holders are making the most of it. Some are dangling bags of 10 (really seven) apples for HK$20 in front of customers and promising a free pear with every sale; others are offering 20 (really 15) carrots for HK$30, but with a brand new, shiny dollar coin as a free complementary gift at no extra charge while stocks last!!! A few really desperate ones are actually cutting the price, so buyers get a bag of 100 (really 68) grapes at a price equivalent to 90 of the things.

Common sense tells us that the new law will not change anything in reality. Consumers will go on paying HK$2.80 per banana – only the label will state openly there are just five bananas, not eight, in the HK$14 bag. But the vendors’ desperation to sell their existing inventory under the old right-to-rip-off-buyers system suggests otherwise: that their cheating was real and effective, and having to tell the truth will damage their pricing power.

The above is all true, except that we are – of course – talking about real-estate developers, not fruit and vegetable sellers (who are great). Even the bit about freedom of speech (see Section 3 – Disclosure of information on gross floor area (“GFA”), Infringement of freedom of expression)… 

For added disbelief at the nerve of these scumbags, feel free to read their ‘Dear friends’ message to the Hong Kong public.

And on a not-totally unrelated note, Kind-Hearted Employer of the Week Award goes to the dock contractors for Hongkong International Terminals who are willing to be flexible about how long staff have to work per day


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10 Responses to Ninth Commandment to hit Hong Kong

  1. Property Developer says:

    A useful analogy, but not watertight. It’s actually quite hard to measure the size of the shoeboxes most people choose to live in, whereas discrete numbers of fruit can be counted. Also, you’re a bit generous with your proportions: many urban-area flats are at present advertised at 30-35% over their true size. (We’re more honest in the villages.)

    I’m sure “saleable floor area” itself contains a number of loopholes, many of dubious legal validity, but who’s checking?: bay windows, cubpoards, external walls, mezzanines, shelves doubling as maids’ quarters, aircon platforms, flowerbeds, electric awnings a la CY, garage doors, “canopies” and the whole temporary/permanent, upwards/downwards/sideways expansion caboodle?

  2. Joe Blow says:

    Oh, the empathy I feel for the Hong Kong property speculators (ie. all property owners in town) being ripped off by the Hong Kong property developers.

  3. Don’t be too severe on employers. Most – yes most – people in Hong Kong wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t work most of the day. The concept of meaningful leisure, self-realisation is almost completely absent from their psyche. They think it barmy.

    I often used to ask my “university” “students” what their hobbies were. 50% included “sleeping” and many mentioned “shopping”. And that from the educational elite.

    You have to feel sorry for such benighted folk. No wonder they grow up to be real estate agents. Is it changing? Here and there.

  4. Stephen says:

    I remember some of my earlier dealings with ‘over hair gelled’ (or was it Brylcream) Estate Agents back in colonial times advising me said flat I was viewing was X square feet and the efficiency was Y to which I replied bollox as my eyes in my head told a wholly different story (never mind a tape measure).

    Even today I’m met with an incredulous sigh when I tell agents I will not consider looking at any property less than 25 years old, the development must not have a marble lobby or club house and a want to useable space of not less than 900 sq.ft (family man), regardless of what lies are on the developers sales brochure. Am I unusual? Well I must be as Developers have consistently not built what I want or these days can afford and if I was to make a reasonable guess what most of the HK public want.

    So is this the start of a fall out between the holy trinity of Government, Developers and Banks ? Unlikely.

  5. Worm Flu Patient Zero says:

    I have visted so many flats that I can visualise a 900 sq ft (gross) apartment. However, I can’t work out how many rooms there are using the net square footage. Then again, my grandfather had the same trouble with decimal currency

  6. Big Al says:

    The obvious next move by REDA is to provide all buyers (aka suckers) with actual suckers to attach to their feet. Extra ones for fat people. This will enable owners to walk on the walls and possibly the ceiling of their unit, in addition to the floor. As such, REDA can redefine the “floor area” as all horizontal and vertical surfaces.

    Thus the flat with 900sqft of actual floorspace (without suckers) could actually have more than 3,000sqft of floorspace (with suckers), depending on the number of rooms and the ceiling height. Hey presto, we have reduced the cost per saleable square foot by three-quarters and homes are now affordable by everyone! And just imagine the size of sub-divided apartments!

    I’m sure within hours of this happening, Ikea will have a range of self-adhesive furniture to enable chic yet inexpensive horizontal and upside-down living. What could possibly go wrong, except at mealtimes or when using the bathoom? I think I’ll leave it there …

  7. Property Developer says:

    Big Al, To put it in concrete terms (pun intended), if the slope of the floor (or the “garden” — sorry, RTP’s habits are contagious) were to be 45 degrees, the efficiency ratio would be 141%. Leaks (not the sort you refer to) would also be easier to manage.

  8. reductio says:

    Bit disappointed in the REDA website-couldn’t they have got a bigger photo of Keith Kerr?

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    As I browsed down today’s BL I found myself somewhat puzzled, because I took the fruit and veg story seriously . But could not ever recall ever having been so ripped off by vendors (unless – I so thought – it was a question of “what is the size of a standard carrot : maybe 10 carrots means 10 standard carrots, but if one carrot was extra big, the bag only contained 9 carrots. But then again carrots are sold by weight, not by number, same as potatoes and most other fruit and veg)

    By the time I was halfway down the column and into my 2nd copy, I mused to myself that this was the way property developers behave , never guessing that the fruit and veg story was in fact a parody of the PD’s.

    Good story Hemmers !

    BTW : Mr Keith Kerr, new head of REDA and author of the “Dear Friends” letter has a tough job. He has to fill the big shoes of SIR Stanley Ho who held the position for 25 years .

    Impeccable reputation for honesty and fair dealings/ abhors triads / etc . etc etc

    Oh sorry … I was back thinking again about the fruit and veg vendors

  10. I am not sure why “Joe Blow” thinks all HK property owners are speculators. I own one property in the SAR which I have lived in for 10 years and intend to carry on living in for the next 10. It is many years since the only time I ever bought a property here as an investment, and I lost money on that (bad timing). Is there something wrong with me?

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