Inflation hits everybody - dead or alive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2010, 12:00am

Inflation is here: it's a fact in Hong Kong and could be eating its way into the underworld.

Those alive can never be sure about how things are six feet under, but many appear to think that their ancestors need more cash this year.

The face values of paper notes for the dead - which can be sent to the other world by burning them - surged 10 times during the Ching Ming festival this year, with the highest valued note reaching $100 billion in underworld values. And they're selling well.

The new notes have been introduced since the Hong Kong government announced an underlying inflation rate of almost 2 per cent in February. Consumer prices had jumped 2.8 per cent year on year.

Chun Sing Hong, a paper-offering shop in Sai Ying Pun, introduced the 30cm $100 billion note this year. Last year, the most expensive note on the market was $10 billion. 'Prices surge and everything is costly,' owner Amy To said. Meanwhile, 'Hell Bank Corporation' is no longer monopolising the underworld currency market: 'Heaven Bank' now issues euro paper notes.

To diversify the risk of holding a single currency, Singaporean and US dollar notes are also available.

Cash, however, is not the best weapon to fight inflation. That could explain the popularity of gold bars. Among 30 products introduced this year, the best selling one is 999+ pure gold bars, according to the owner.

Other paper offerings are not short on detail. A hot-pot set includes a pot, a stove, vegetables, meat and seafood. A make-up package comprises a lipstick, face creams and a 24-colour eye-shadow palette.

In another shop in Peel Street, Central, HK$28 is enough to pay for a long list of electrical appliances: a hi-fi, a fridge, a television, a laptop, a washing machine, a microwave, an air-conditioner, a dishwasher and an electric stove. A sushi set is more costly: nine pieces of sushi, two crabs and wasabi paste cost HK$25. Full-size lookalike Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags can also be found in the shop.

Rise of the yuan has raised the cost of paper offerings. Subsequently, the shop had raised the price of a paper-offering pack by about HK$2, staff member May Ng said.

Meanwhile, Hongkongers had a hard time climbing up hills to pay tribute to their ancestors yesterday.

The relative humidity was about 96 per cent, and Fan Ling's Wo Hop Shek Cemetery was bathed in fog. People walked slowly and visibility was down to 200 metres.

'It's wet and foggy. The walk is hard especially for the elderly,' said a 53-year-old man who went up the hill with 14 relatives.

There were fewer people yesterday than in previous years, 50-something Chan Yu-huen said. Some may have paid their respects on other days during the five-day holiday break.

'In the past, it was like a movie had just ended and people were rushing out of a cinema,' was how Chan's mother-in-law described the busiest grave-sweeping festivals.

The drought in the mainland has also pushed the cost of flowers up 10 to 20 per cent this year, according to seller Law Hing-man. A bouquet costs HK$20 to HK$25.

A roast suckling pig costs about HK$500 this year, up from HK$480 in 2008, according to grave sweepers. But, most devoted descendants are unwilling to spend less for the annual festival. 'I don't remember how much it was a year ago. But a roast pig is a must anyway,' one said.