When Hong Kong’s summer monsoon reaches its peak, current affairs wilt in the heat and humidity and the local media have nothing to report but such trivia as the missing pedigree poodle, the record-breaking Hello Kitty doll collection, and the passage through town of yet another Belgian cycling around the world. Now, it is February; a high pressure front brings freezing air streaming down from some Mongolian/Siberian-type hellhole, and the Big Lychee’s movers and shakers are too cold to do their usual thing. It is a mini-silly season, and in desperation, the newspapers need to present non-events as front-page blockbusters.
The Standard leads with an exciting exclusive scoop in which a billion-dollar dream turns to sawdust. I was walking along the street this morning, and I saw what looked like a box full of extremely rare and precious diamonds; but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a load of broken glass. Well – it didn’t happen to me, but change minor details and that’s the story. It was a fisherman, and he thought he had found a big chunk of ultra-valuable ‘super-rare agarwood’, but actually it was boring old camphor. Next time, maybe.
The Standard’s stable-mate, Sing Tao, leads with developer Sung Hung Kai slashing prices at its Riva residential project in glamorous Yuen Long. These two papers slant their reporting to suit the property tycoons, so they try to help SHKP boss Victor Lui puts a brave face on it. He insists current prices should not be directly compared with units released last year ‘as developers always price units similar to the market level’ (which is of course why we do directly compare them, determining in this case that they’re as much as 40% lower). He goes on to say that prices may be hiked due to better demand (and if you can’t manage that after such a hefty discount, you’ve got problems).
Meanwhile, the used-home market in the area is drying up, as owners continue to demand prices at or higher than those of the brand-new units (each of which will of course become ‘used’ upon sale – at some stage, denial will presumably turn into a stampede for the exits). Aficionados of tacky real-estate marketing will enjoy the classy visuals-and-music combination at the Riva’s website.
All right-minded people’s hearts skip a beat when they first see the Standard headline about an entry tax being ‘mooted’ to reduce the number of tourists flooding Hong Kong. ‘Mooted’ surely means by officials, or by some realistic and relatively enlightened corporate interests, or at least by a think-tank. Wackos don’t ‘moot’ things, do they? But sadly, with the real news-makers shivering in silence, the eccentrics and losers have been allowed onto the stage.
People Power’s suggested charge on visitors to keep the riffraff away is actually quite mild-mannered, as if they want an image-boost following their infantile-radical-tantrum attack on moderate pro-democrats last week. The mouth-frothing comes from the industry insiders, desperate to pack yet more shoppers into the Big Lychee’s overcrowded streets and neighbourhoods, perhaps getting nervous at public discontent at the way Mainland tourism makes them huge profits at everyone else’s expense.
The funny part is that a departure tax was ‘mooted’ quite seriously 10 year ago by then-Financial Secretary Antony Leung. With the budget due in a couple of weeks, and current Financial Secretary John Tsang constantly bleating about the need for a broader fiscal base, pro-dems could ask a pointed question: why are some officials so desperate to impose a sales tax on Hongkongers, yet so adamant that we mustn’t require the hordes of visitors to contribute anything?
From a land far away, some real news. In a city and at a time of officials who run in fear of accountability and whine pitifully about consensus rather than stand up and fight for principles, how inspiring it is to see our gallant friends the Danes reject the mewling of anthropomorphic child-adults over the death and disposal of Gerald the Inbred Giraffe.
In the Big Lychee, the authorities bow and scrape to deranged dog-lovers who insist on neutering and releasing stray canines, so the mutts can live productive lives as valued and respected members of the community, defecating and barking in an environment of sustainability, social inclusion and self-esteem. In Denmark, we see true leadership: mockery about the ‘Disneyfication of zoos’, swift and rightly sneering rejection of a ‘romantic image of animals as citizens’, and some gloriously healthy sarcasm about lions eating Brussel sprouts. A breath of fresh air, give or take a whiff of giraffe…