Lai See

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 May, 2010, 12:00am

Mainland businesses cash in on the all-important 'gao kao'

Luck is everything in Chinese culture, which reveres the mysterious or superstitious aspects of life. There is nothing wrong with praying for good luck. People do it all the time, praying for luck to boost business, magnify gambling wins and even improve academic achievements.

On the mainland, the national college entrance examination, known as gao kao, which takes place in less than two weeks, is a nationwide obsession as the test determines the fate of some 10 million students every year.

Parents will pull out all the stops to optimise their children's scores and do anything to improve their luck and chances. Some feed their children with so-called brain foods that supposedly increase concentration and boost memory. But many of these dietary habits are based more on superstition than nutrition.

Numerous businesses have sprung up to advise parents on how to help their children prepare for the big day. There are tutorial centres that offer tips on study habits to attract students.

Now, even the Confucius Temple and Imperial College Museum in Beijing have jumped on the gao kao bandwagon. They are offering test takers prayer books and stationery products that have been specially 'blessed' by the temple to augment luck.

As the nation's most famous teacher and philosopher, Confucius is the most admired icon of students, but now he seems to have become the hottest stationery brand on the mainland.

At the temple's souvenir shop, a special test-taker gift set that includes a blessed 'champion pen' together with a variety of stationery accessories will set you back 80 yuan (HK$91.35).

On Taobao, the mainland's biggest online consumer platform, there are more than 500 'blessed' stationery items that supposedly have the power to bring scholastic luck to students taking the exam.

One of the 'must have' items is the 'champion pen' at about 6 yuan. One shop says it has sold 180 of them in a month.

If you think it all sounds excessive, how about this one? Some parents even arrange to have their children study in a hospital so that they can be hooked up to an oxygen tank in the hope that it will improve their concentration.

There is definitely money to be made out of gao kao fever. Lai See is open to all business suggestions and breathtaking ideas.

An England fan by mistake

Many readers seemed to like the World Cup e-coupon idea featured in yesterday's Lai See.

Anyone who signs up via SMS to join their favourite team's supporters club will get a free pint of Carlsberg at participating pubs.

To take part, you just need to text 'wcup' together with the name of your preferred team to 6907 4321.

You will then receive an e-voucher with a bar code through SMS.

One reader suggested that the promotion should include texting the supporter's favourite brand of beer, while another said the organisers should let people pick more than one team.

Incidentally, a confused Dutch fan complained that he got signed up for England's supporters club when he actually texted 'Holland'. And when he tried to correct the mistake by signing up for the second time and texting 'The Netherlands' instead, he got rejected.

'This makes me wonder if the organisers are trying to put every supporter behind England, maybe because they are diehard England fans,' Ho Wai-chi said.

'Now I have to put up with being a reluctant England fan for a month. Never mind, I can drown my sorrows in my free pint.'

Profligate phone users

Hong Kong has one of the highest penetration rates of mobile phones in the world. There are almost 12 million mobile handsets in service for a population of seven million, which represents a penetration rate of nearly 170 per cent.

Now a new study has confirmed that Hong Kong is going smartphone crazy. A TNS Global Telecoms Insights survey, which interviewed 24,000 consumers in 35 markets, indicates that almost half of local mobile-phone users own a smartphone, more than double the average global rate of 23 per cent.

We also hear that nearly 40 per cent of mobile users hope to replace their handsets in the coming months (up from 28 per cent last year), because of delayed purchase decisions during the economic downturn last year.

However, this does seem quite a worrying trend.

An even shorter life cycle of mobile phones - from 34 months last year to 31 months this year - means an increasing problem with mobile-phone graveyards and the environmental issues surrounding them.