Poor little rich city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 1995, 12:00am

I DON'T know, maybe I'm nuts but I've got the sinking feeling that if something doesn't give soon, this town may just break in two. I'm tellin' ya, in another couple of years we'll have two shopping options - Watson's or Tiffany's.

Have you noticed the number of empty shops in Central? I don't mean stores bereft of shoppers, we won't ever have a shortage of consumers. I'm talking about the brand spanking new, fully-decorated store-fronts that are locked up tight because the retailers can't afford to keep their doors open.

Those of us who pay our own rent have been moaning about the astronomical cost of residential property for years. We watch our flats double in rent while the plaster and piping crumble around us. 'Yeah, bummer,' smirk the merchant bankers, F.O.B. from N.Y.C. 'I really don't known much about it. My company's put us up at Parkview.' Those of us who've invested some serious time in Hong Kong curse them. We resent their nouveau riche spouses, whining about the high cost of Oreo cookies between tennis lessons at the American Club.

'How can their companies justify the expense of having them here on these terms?' my girlfriend cried. 'He can't possibly be making his firm enough money to justify all the perks! The head office is being ripped off!' 'Screw his firm! If they are stu-pid enough to pay US$25,000 (HK$190,000) a month for a four-bedroom apartment, they deserve to crash and burn. We're the ones who are getting ripped off. Every time the stock market takes a dip, I squeal with glee, 'Yankee banker go home!'' Well, we all know that the escalating cost of living in Hong Kong is not the fault of Bob Smith and his lovely wife Trish. In an effort to quell fears about our future after Tiananmen, the government allowed property speculation to go out of control. Never mind that Joe Ho can't afford to buy a home. Forget the fact that Abigail Jones has had to relocate to Jakarta because her rent has doubled. Now things are getting serious. It's time to pay the piper.

The man in the street is suddenly becoming the man on the street. 'Employees Laid off At Dye Factory', 'Unemployment Figures Double From '94'. Unemployment?!? Here?!? Exorbitant property prices make this town seem kinda glamorous. Wowee, if ya'll can fork out US$10,000 a month, ya'll must be doin' all right! Empty store-fronts, rising unemployment and plummeting profit margins paint a different sort of picture.

I've just returned from the Philippines where I visited a friend who recently moved there from here. The buzz is good. The economy is on the upswing. New businesses are opening and as the picture gets gloomier here, the Philippines is becoming for many, the option of choice. Good schools, swimming pools and beautiful homes . . . big beautiful homes.

'Holy smokes! How many bedrooms have you got in this place?' I gasped, as I wandered aimlessly around the grounds. 'Twelve.' 'Sorry? Ha, ha. I thought you said 12 . . bedrooms' when I suddenly thought of my handbag theory. Regardless of what size handbag you give a woman, she will fill it . . . to the brim. Of course she'll be able to find things to put in her dozen bedrooms.

'We've got space and sunshine and smiles,' she sighed, 'Not to mention Dunkin' Doughnuts.' This was all sounding pretty good to me. And then came the bad news - you can rent your beautiful home in this beautiful country for significantly less than you'd pay in Hong Kong but you need to put up a security deposit of 14 months rent in advance. Oh yeah, and they don't sell tampons there.

I don't know which bit of information came as more of a shock. I suppose if you're working for a merchant bank they'll foot the advance rent and ship in the tampons.

So heigh ho! We'll just sit tight in Hong Kong and say what we've all been saying for the past decade. 'It can't possibly get any worse.' 'It's false economy.' And 'I should've bought that flat on Stubbs Road when I had the chance.' We may be reduced to actually having to buy our breakfast at Tiffany's but at least they carry Tampax at Watson's.