funny thing happened on the trip to Hong Kong to produce this issue. I have visited Hong Kong possibly more than any other city and feel that I know it well, but this trip was the first in a few years (apart from a 48-hour lightning visit last year) and I noticed a change.
On our last day in Hong Kong, with my final interview in the bag, I decided to use the few hours before our flight home to do some shopping. We were staying at the Peninsula Hotel on the Kowloon side, so to save time I opted to shop on Canton Road instead of heading over to Central. In the past few years, every major luxury brand has expanded its footprint on Canton Road and built boutiques that are the size of some Australian department stores. Why travel to the other side of the city when everything — and more — was at my doorstep?
At certain stores on Canton Road, namely Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton on this particular day, you’ll find there is a queue just to get in the door. I don’t even like to line up for a table for breakfast at my local cafe so the idea of queueing to part with a substantial sum of my hard-earned money is anathema to me.
I must have had an unusally annoyed look on my face as I was waved into the store I wanted to visit by a security guard, managing to bypass about 20 waiting people. Inside the store was busy but not exactly bursting, and after a few minutes I’d found the shoes I wanted. Then I had to battle to get the attention of a sales assistant. There were plenty of them in the store and they were easily identifiable (they wear headsets to communicate with other staff), but I was damned if I could get one to find me this particular shoe in a size 44. They would take note of my size, wander off and never return. When I relayed the story of this less than enthusiastic service to a friend who works for a luxury brand in Hong Kong, he said, “you didn’t shop on Canton Road, did you? Those stores are really just for the mainland Chinese, and they can easily spend $HK1 million ($143,000) in a single sale so those sales assistants are not interested in a pair of shoes.” But why was I allowed to jump the queue? “The queues are also only for mainlanders; even though they often spend big, they cause havoc and pull apart displays.”
That seems to sum up the relationship Hong Kongers have with their mainland Chinese cousins. They are driving the economy — about 40.8 million tourists from mainland China visited last year — but they are viewed with derision. Mainland tourists are an important source of revenue for Hong Kong, but they are also seen as straining the city’s resources and pushing up prices of everyday items such as baby formula; the locals routinely complain about what they view as the unrefined social habits of their mainland counterparts. And, more recently, there have been protests in Hong Kong after city officials said they thought the city could cope with more visitors and want as many as 100 million a year by 2030.
Change is a constant in Hong Kong and the city is always going through some form of redevelopment or another. And that’s what makes it such an incredible place to visit. Thanks to Qantas for helping us get there. We hope you enjoy the issue. David Meagher Editor Follow me at @davidfmeagher on Twitter