Icons of Our Time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 May, 1997, 12:00am

Name: The Expat Sale.

Age: It's been happening for years.

Rationale: You have spent a couple of years in Hongkers but it's time to go. So, just as you would at home, you decide you might as well make some cash on the rattan balcony furniture, the IKEA wall-unit and the roller-blades you aren't going to take with you.

Modus operandi: Advertise as cheaply as possible: on the back of the Sunday paper, in the budget rags, and - most effectively - on British Forces Broadcasting Service. Then, curse spectacularly as a southern Asian voice comes blaring through your phone at 6.45am on Sunday inquiring about the toaster advertised in the paper.

Best bargains: Particularly on the radio, you can find people selling old Toyotas and Fords for the sort of money that Hong Kong people regularly drop on a dinner and karaoke session. Then there are the cut-price computers and other electrical goods. if you're dealing with someone who has been sent here by a large corporation, your luck's in; these people are prepared to offload fridges, cookers and washing machines for unbelievably good prices (any money they make is profit, because the company paid for them in the first place).

Saddest efforts: Disappointing but true, there are some desperate people out there who advertise things like 'used futon, $200', or 'set of beer coolers, $80.' You'll also find all manner of health fad gadgets (dear old Interwood) that were used once then consigned to the balcony.

Best customer (1): Geezers who live on outlying islands and fit-out houses or even do a sideline business in shifting second-hand goods.

(2): The south Asian businessmen with an eye for the real opening. They will buy absolutely anything if they think they can sell it for scrap.

Worst customers: Hong Kong Chinese people, because you won't get a sniff from them. There is absolutely no concept of second-hand in Hong Kong; even if you are prepared to give away a sofa or cupboard to a neighbour or the old fellow downstairs, you will get a polite - slightly embarrassed - 'no, thankyou'.

If ever the old East-West dichotomy was neatly encapsulated, it is when the well-paid expat prefers to drive about the territory in a 10-year-old $25,000 Japanese hatchback, while a $20,000-a-month salesman favours the latest $400,000 luxury saloon.

While Mr and Mrs Expat are shifting coffee makers and rattan rocking chairs in their apartment, across the landing their Hong Kong Chinese counterparts are signing away $11 million to buy the 1,000-square-foot flat itself.

Sell-by date: June 30, 1997.