For a change (it won’t last): a note of tentative optimism

Most Hilariously Sour and Gratuitously Nasty Headline of the Week Award may well go to the Standard for today’s ‘Anti-Locusts Get Their Wish’. The story attributes a (statistically unimpressive) drop in visitor numbers in Hong Kong during the May 1 ‘Golden Week’ period to the recent resurgence of anti-Mainland-pee-pee sentiment.

It quotes an organizer of protests against the flood of shoppers as – bizarrely – denying any link. The paper could be misquoting him in order to lend credence to the pro-establishment/landlord stress on mass-tourism as beneficial, but it is at least as likely that years of rote-learning leave even militant activists defensive and nervous about questioning propaganda. Someone from the HK Retail Management Association warns of the great damage being done to our precious reputation by ‘irrational action’, as complaining about kids doing poo-poo in the streets is now known. The tourism sector’s Legislative Council member proves to be a rare voice of sanity, pointing out that high hotel costs could also be a factor in deterring visitors. The report concludes with a generous (not to say contradictory) dose of shoe-shining in the form of a detailed description of how Sun Hung Kai’s malls – owned by the tycoon Kwok brothers – have nonetheless enjoyed booming sales. Owing to the Kwoks’ vision and effort, naturally.

The drop in visitor numbers is minor but, coming after years of non-stop growth, could it just, fingers-crossed, be a sign that the Mainland shopper influx is peaking? Anti-pee-pee protests and high hotel costs must have at least some impact. The recent weakening of the Yuan and Beijing’s efforts to clamp down on official excess and abuse of public funds could also be factors. Attempts to curb cross-border ‘trading’ might also be having an effect (smugglers are using 10-year-olds as mules). It’s also theoretically possible that Mainland authorities are discreetly slowing down the processing of travel paperwork; certainly we know that Beijing officials here have acknowledged that the inflow is a problem.

On top of that, the novelty value of Hong Kong could be waning. Mainlanders can’t be enjoying the overcrowding in the city any more than the rest of us, and even they must eventually start to tire of the monotony and sterility of all these designer-label malls. Jewellery chains are feeling the pinch and talking about consolidating branches to reduce rental burdens. Around my own neighbourhood, glitzy streets full of dimwitted outlets selling perfumed candles and quasi-European lingerie are hosting a growing number of shuttered retail premises plastered with desperate quantities of ‘For Rent’ signs. How many of these stupid handbags and shoes do you need? There must come a time when even a hundred million fresh-off-the-farm, newly rich status-symbol victims have bought all the US$150 T-shirts they can show off to the folks back home and need something more to fulfill themselves. If only a US$10,000 trip to the bland nothingness of the Maldives. Or somewhere else far far away from the Big Lychee. Please.


The extremes brands will go to… Long considered ‘the reason the French drink wine’ by right-thinking people, Kronenberg 1664 (launched in 1950s, owned by Carlsberg) is turning logic on its head and claiming that if you (you big cosmopolitan sophisticate, you) think the country’s grape juice is wonderful, you should try the beer. (Being utterly objective, I would say it’s not the vilest lager going, but that’s it.) To bolster their case, the marketing people show us obviously glamorous (teeny bit swarthy, but no more) models straight out of Central Casting’s oh-so Gallic-looking talent. The crowds in Central MTR station tragically fail even to notice.

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