Today’s South China Morning Post offers a true medley of extemporanea. The front page is dominated by one of those laboriously patriotic headlines they have to do every couple of weeks: China is valiantly deploying 10 satellites to trace the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. It is a throwaway piece from Xinhua, and part of Beijing’s careful management of the MH370 story to contrast the Chinese government’s caring and proactive stance with Malaysia’s (supposed) bumbling ineptitude, and to downplay the fact that the search area on the edge of China’s claimed territorial waters is crawling with US, Singaporean, Australian and everyone else’s ships and planes.
The paper also does its bit for the motherland by interviewing (or at least quoting) one of the Mainland’s many, many experts as saying that Hong Kong’s voting system could be changed in the future if the pro-democrats accept the rigged method on offer for 2017. Another day, another round in this highly asymmetric game of chicken, but also a telling little sign that Beijing officials are not entirely at ease. Not that it will impress the pro-dems, who are presumably working on the assumption that the Chinese government will want to install a new system once and quash any and all expectations of further reform. What’s interesting here, however, is the logic. We are constantly told that the Basic Law and related rulings are strict and unyielding and give us no choice, but Expert Jiang is saying that the nation’s future leaderships may be “more open-minded and enlightened” and allow further change. So it’s not the law, but rule of man after all.
Turning over the pages, we see that textile manufacturers are moving operations from the Mainland to Myanmar. Burmese workers’ wages, it seems, are just 20% of those in China. Burma’s infrastructure is probably not even a fifth as good as Guangdong’s, but the newly democratic country has won big tariff breaks in Western markets, which probably tilts the balance in its favour. The main risk is that people down there will get all fat and lazy like Mainlanders and start whining about 66-hour work weeks, which drove clothes-seller Burberry in search of new suppliers a few years back.
My father had a Burberry raincoat. It was a dull, dark-green thing with – he pointed out – a superb lining and excellent stitching and amazing qualities in terms of warmth and resistance to wind and rain. But it looked like garbage. It was well-worn, partly because it had been acquired from the rugged, out-doorsy writer John Fowles (unpretentious sub-culture). But that was the garment’s function: to take a battering for years from nasty weather. Fashion or style didn’t come into it.
The back page of the SCMP carries a full-page ad for Burberry ‘Prorsum’, which is Latin for ‘edgy and really with-it, all you swinging hep-cats’. The geniuses of marketing have determined that this will make you want to go out and buy this label’s products, or seethe with envy at those fortunate enough to do so…
After recoiling in horror, we calm ourselves with the thought that this is just a photo – these people are not here, right now, in real life. At first glance, the young man has a rather exaggerated ‘expelled from boarding school for drugs, now rent boy’ look, but on closer inspection we are clearly looking at a psychotic with (as we shall shortly confirm) severe emotional impairment. Probably ‘more of a danger to himself than to others’, as the remorseful government psychiatrists who release such people later put it.
Crazed expression aside, he has two especially repulsive features. First is the ring in the nose, which is fetching in a girl from Tibet’s Limbu tribe, but dismaying among Western women thinking they’re being original, and tragic on a white (or most any) male. The self-mutilation thing continues when our eye drifts down to the wretch’s hand. There is no such things as a ‘pleasant tattoo’ (have you ever heard the phrase?) at the best of times. This is a poorly rendered skull, and on – of all places – a finger. It doesn’t get much more obnoxious.
Three repulsive features… The lady friend is puzzlingly lifeless and plastic-looking. And then it dawns on us that it is a manikin, probably stolen from a Burberry store (which reminds me – have they given a Gold Bauhina Star to the guy who purloined the absurd HK$0.9 million crocodile skin jacket yet?)
As a thousand eager consumers rush to Canton Road in the hope of looking like that, another edition of the SCMP ends with a shudder.