What better way to ease oneself gently into a relaxing weekend than to peruse the wit and profundity that is the South China Morning Post’s letters page? Cynics may mock, but the five humble columns of print often contain more common sense, sanity and even wisdom than a pile of Legislative and Executive Councils high enough to reach the moon.
The paper gives pride of place to a modest suggestion that resolves the Great Impossible Nomination Committee Gordian Knot Conundrum, and does so elegantly. While Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen gets kicked about for taking the name of the Heritage Foundation in vain – it seems the think-tank is in favour of full, not quasi-, democracy – an ordinary member of the public puts pen to paper for five minutes and does his job for him, envisioning a system where candidates can be…
The formula allows for an open nomination of Chief Executive candidates upon approval by 100,000 electors or a well-represented political party. And it allows the Communist one-party state to screen out undesirables through admirably objective and reasonably workable loyalty tests.
So that’s that sorted out.
Other letter-writers correct Commerce Secretary Greg So’s deranged estimation of Hong Kong’s ability to accommodate more shopper-tourists, tell Financial Secretary John Tsang all he needs to know to fix our narrow tax base, and warn our leaders to beware the Heung Yee Kuk’s attempts to entrench absurd and unsustainable entitlements via the small-house policy. A few more pages of this, and our entire policymaking and legislative functions can shut down and go home, job done.
One letter takes issue with a small and slightly bemusing recent item in the SCMP’s Lai See column, apparently criticizing convenience store chain 7-Eleven for unfairly competing with Lan Kwai Fong bar owners. The 7-Eleven sells a can of beer for (say) HK$15, while the adjoining establishments charge (I’m guessing) five times that for the identical quantity of liquid, albeit served at a table in a fancy glass and in badly-lit, noisy, fake-‘exclusive’ surroundings.
It’s a mark of how other-worldly the Big Lychee has become that the opening of an outlet giving consumers a lower-priced alternative is viewed as a bad thing – unfair to the precious and noble incumbents who signed an extortionate lease with a landlord in the certain belief that no competition could possibly undercut them. It reminds me of the time a few years ago when the open-air Indian and Malaysian restaurants of ‘Rat Alley’ just off classy, stylish Lan Kwai Fong were busted by the food and hygiene gestapo. Local super-landlord Allen Zeman sniffed that ‘they don’t pay any rent’ for the sidewalk space they occupy. Which of course is why the food is better value for money than in the plastic, inauthentic dining places in Zeman’s adjoining high-rises.
One of the great mysteries of Hong Kong is how so many 7-Eleven stores can operate 24-hours a day just yards apart selling exactly the same 20 brands of chewing gum, 10 flavours of snack, 20 varieties of condom, and little else. Obviously, the idea is to package certainty with the convenience: you know exactly what they don’t sell, as well as what they do, and they save on costs by limiting their inventory to the highest-turnover, dollars-per-shelf-inch items. (I remember a time when my local 7-Eleven sold eggs, singly – showing my age.) The point is that the convenience stores are hardly paragons of consumer choice.
But that doesn’t compare to that even greater mystery: how we got brainwashed into thinking the interests of rent-seeking cartels are supreme and the role of the consumer is to serve suppliers of goods and services. It is the most pernicious form of trickle-down. Taking their cue from the property tycoons, whole swathes of economic players have come to see competition as not merely harmful to their interests, but as unfair. Political leaders handed power on a plate presumably don’t see the irony.
I declare the weekend open with a helpful shoppers’ tip: the 7-Elevens more than two minutes’ walk from Lan Kwai Fong (think Escalator-Land) sell a can of beer for a good 30-40% less even than their counterparts ravaging the pretentious overpriced wine-bars in D’Aguilar Street.