I met an old friend yesterday. She told me her small (five-employee) business had received a big boost from the Umbrella/Occupy ‘revolution’ late last year. Her company offers high-end tailor-made guided tours of the authentic back-street Hong Kong visitors normally wouldn’t see (like our well-guarded local congee place shown above). The overseas media coverage of the city’s creative, peaceful and idealistic young people demanding a voice had impressed her target market of well-off Western travel/food/culture freaks, and created a surge in demand. So there you have it: Occupy enhanced Hong Kong’s image and increased invisible exports.
We discussed all the problems facing the Big Lychee – things like housing prices, air pollution, stupid government and creeping Mainlandization. But she added that she was cautiously optimistic despite it all. No single specific reason, just a realistic acceptance that other places are worse, and a gut feeling that this city and its people will, as in the past, find a way.
She mentioned one other thing before we parted: she had cancelled her subscription to the South China Morning Post on-line ages ago, and couldn’t remember the last time she had picked up a print copy. Could this, by any chance, account for her outlandish thinking?
The SCMP has an editorial today informing readers that it is half-way through a 10-part series called ‘Moving Forward’. It’s just as well they mention it, because – well, how else would we have noticed? Essentially (based on my fairly time-efficient perusal of the special feature), they are interviewing a succession of people on how, following the devastation left by the Occupy/Umbrella protests, Hong Kong can be competitive. The individuals are all (so far) male, Chinese, middle-aged professional types we have never heard of. On the bright side, in a world of wall-to-wall Emily Lau and Allen Zeman, this is sort of refreshing. However, they all seem to hold curiously similar opinions on the pro-democracy protests, namely that they were a Bad Thing, and that we should have debate, consensus, harmony, talk, understanding and all that sort of wonderful stuff that makes everything happy and perfect.
Today’s interviewee is a guy who says the key to boosting Hong Kong’s competitiveness would be ‘cross-disciplinary productivity, which will create new things that are impactful’. (Those of you who said ‘lower rents’ go to the bottom of the class.)
Perhaps the SCMP are asking the wrong question. Hong Kong has too many people, too much traffic and even more money than it knows what to do with. This suggests that, if anything, the city is too competitive at too many things, and it should learn to prioritize. Attempts to improve competitiveness, from CyberPort to Disney to the Zhuhai Bridge to Science Park, all waste massive amounts of space. And then we say we don’t have enough land. As Occupy/Umbrella showed, by getting rid of pointless stuff we don’t need (traffic on streets, shoppers), we can have things that make life better (public space, clean air). I will explain this in more detail when the SCMP interview me for the final episode of ‘Moving Forward’.
The SCMP is no stranger to wasting space. Most days, the Business section has a Chart of the Day. It is based on a method of enquiry called technical analysis, which is to economics what voodoo and astrology are to physics. To the extent it isn’t stating the obvious (markets overshoot and correct) it’s a form of mystical divination, using candlesticks, Fibonacci retracements and the haiku-like ‘Ichimoku cloud’ instead of rune stones and lizard entrails. They could put an ad for ugly pink watches there and make some money…