Nice, but not going for a song

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am

We've all sung it and most of us have wondered at some stage where on earth you might find 10 lords a-leaping, or eight maids a-milking, and what you would actually do with them in the unlikely event that you ever got them as a Christmas gift.

To get into the festive spirit, Your Money set out to buy all the gifts from the song The Twelve Days of Christmas and find out the true cost of Christmas in Hong Kong. They didn't come cheap and there were some surprises - the swans turned out to be more expensive than the five gold rings despite gold's 28 per cent surge in value in the past 12 months.

Hong Kong's anti-bird flu measures threatened to put a spanner in the works making it impossible to find the poultry and the wildfowl on the list and leaving no option but to search alternatives. The final price tag for all 79 items is a whopping HK$371,080. Here's how we arrived at that amount.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Finding a pear tree is harder than finding a chimney for Santa Claus to slip down. It is close to impossible, says Simon Lee Yuk-kai of KK Horticulture in Sai Kung. 'It's the climate here,' he said. 'Even apple trees from northern China don't survive. How about a lemon tree at HK$1,000 or a chiku? They have a sweet fruit and are very easy to grow. Or a passion fruit tree?'

The 'passion' was tempting at a reasonable HK$350 but in the end we plumped for the chiku at HK$480. The chiku is an evergreen plant that produces dark-skinned, oval fruits.

The partridge caused more of a problem because of restrictions on importing live birds, poultry and wildfowl, says exotic bird breeder Tsang Wai-kung. He suggested a parrot, one of the most popular birds bought as gifts, because of their colours and their ability to interact with humans. How much that parrot cost depends on the breed, where the bird is imported from or whether it is bred in Hong Kong.

'I would go for the Scarlet Macaw. It is a spectacular red, yellow and blue bird that is intelligent and a good talker.' However, it cannot be imported and so has to be locally bred, which puts the price at up to HK$80,000 per bird.

Our gift: A Parrot in a Chiku Tree

Cost: HK$80,480

Two Turtle Doves

With no chance of buying one turtle dove, let alone two, bird-breeder Tsang suggested a pair of love birds - small parrots that can be tamed to be affectionate and sociable, making them an ideal gift for someone in living in a smaller space.

'If you want them for decoration, then you can pick them up easily on 'Bird Street' for as little as HK$100 each,' said Tsang. 'However, if you are looking for a pet, then you should go for hand-reared love birds, which are easy to handle. A pair will cost around HK$500.'

Our gift: Two Love Birds

Cost: HK$500

Three French Hens

Anti-bird flu measures have made the French hen yet another impossible gift. An option that wouldn't land the buyer into trouble would be chicken for the table. A chilled bird weighing in at around 1 kg will cost just HK$30. A more exciting option would be a ready-to-eat roast at HK$90 from Oliver's.

Our gift: Three Roast Chickens

Cost: HK$270

Four Colly/Calling Birds

Calling or colly? It all depends on where you learnt your song. The widely accepted theory is that 'colly' is the word used in the original version but this transformed into 'calling' as the song crossed the Atlantic to America.

Colly is an old English word meaning black, so the four birds given on the fourth day would have been black birds. In America, 'calling' is taken to mean songbird.

Tsang recommends an imported magpie - a black songbird - as the ideal understudy in our Hong Kong version of The Twelve Days of Christmas at around HK$400 per bird.

Our gift: Four Colly/Calling Birds

Cost: HK$1,600

Five Gold Rings

With the price of gold soaring, it was reasonable to assume the fifth day would prove the most pricey. But not so. On the day we went shopping, jewellers Chow Sang Sang and Chow Tai Fook were selling gold a HK$380.72 per gram (HK$14,250 per tael). A simple 24-carat gold ring weighing 8grams cost HK$3,046.

In the list, this is probably the best investment - although it would have been more so had you had the insight to buy last Christmas. But CLSA resources analyst Richard Leung sees those gold rings becoming more valuable, predicting a 15 per cent rise in prices through the end of first quarter of next year.

Our gift: Five Gold Rings

Cost: HK$15,230

Six Geese a-Laying

Geese being poultry fall under the same restrictions as the partridge and the hens. Even wild geese rarely come to Hong Kong and if they do, it is just to stop off at the Mai Po Nature Reserve. The only way of laying your hands on a goose would be to buy it plucked and frozen and ready for the table. Oliver's Delicatessen has a Christmas batch at HK$210 a kg, which works out at HK$840 for a 4kg bird.

A goose from Bresse in France - considered the poultry capital of the world - will cost considerably more at HK$45 per 100 grams at Great Foodhall. That works out at HK$1,800 for a sizeable 4kg bird.

Our gift: Six Geese a-Frozen

Cost: HK$7,200

Seven Swans a-Swimming

No surprise that there are no white swans on sale in Hong Kong. However, there are black swans in private gardens in the New Territories which have been bred here in the past, says Tsang. Again, these don't come cheap and a home-bred black swan would set you back HK$10,000.

Our gift: Seven Black Swans a-Swimming

Cost: HK$70,000

Eight Maids a-Milking

It's debatable whether Hong Kong labour laws will allow maids to go a-milking and whether it would classify as a 'household' chore. If your household includes cows then presumably that's fine. Alternatively, you could just ask your eight maids to pop down to the supermarket for some cartons of milk.

Presumably a session of milking would only take a couple of hours so a part-time maid rather than a live-in domestic helper would suffice. Agencies charge up to HK$350 per maid for a four-hour session, but those contacted by Your Money said their tasks were limited to cleaning and did not include milking cows or even shopping for milk. So eight maids a-cleaning it is.

Our gift: Eight Maids-a-Cleaning

Cost: HK$2,800

Nine Ladies Dancing

According to Ravi Kanasamoorthe of the talent agency, you can expect to pay around HK$3,500 per dancer for a troupe of Broadway-style female dancers. If you want something a little more exotic for your true love, something with feathers to make up for the lack of poultry and some sparkle to match the gold, the price tag is higher.

'A Brazilian dance group will cost HK$4,500 per dancer. This is because their costumes are more elaborate and come from Brazil,' he said. 'For that you could expect about 5 minutes of dancing and then a session of posing for pictures.'

Our gift: Nine Brazilians Dancing

Cost: HK$40,500

Ten Lords a-Leaping

Leaping lords are few and far between but there are alternatives, says Kanasamoorthe. How about a lion dance troupe at around HK$8,000? If you want some death-defying leaps, you would need to look further afield to the mainland, which has some of the best acrobats in the field.

'But then it gets really expensive,' he said. 'You have to foot the transport and all the accommodation costs, plus the manager's fee. That all adds up to around HK$10,000 per acrobat.'

Our gift: Ten Acrobats a-Leaping

Cost: HK$100,000

Eleven Pipers Piping

There's no better pipe than a bagpipe and surprisingly Hong Kong has a growing number of pipe bands who will add some Scottish magic to your 11th day. Hiring a sole piper on New Years' Eve or Burns Night will cost in the region of HK$1,500, but at other times of the year it's between HK$500 and HK$1,500.

Ron Abbott, chairman of the Hong Kong Piping Society, says there are about 15 pipe bands here and the instrument is growing in popularity. 'We are getting lots of requests for pipers at Hogmanay, not just in Hong Kong but in Macau and even in Manila where we're doing a job for the Hong Kong Tourism Board.'

Gift: Eleven Pipers Piping

Cost: HK$16,500

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Assembling 12 drummers would take some time and planning, says Kanasamoorthe. A dozen Filipino session drummers would cost around HK$1,500 per person, but most foreign musicians are contracted to a particular bar or hotel and getting them to play together without a rehearsal for a one-off would be a challenge, he says.

A local Chinese drumming troupe would be the better option for this last gift on the list, with each charging around HK$3,000. They are expensive because of the storage and transportation cost of the huge thunder drums, Kanasamoorthe says.

Our gift: Twelve Drummers Drumming

Cost: HK$36,000