We hear of two new scams doing the rounds on the taxi grapevine. Both usually involve picking up a foreigner from the airport.
In one of the scams the driver feigns engine trouble and pulls over on to the hard shoulder, explaining that he needs to check out the car. So he has a look under the bonnet and moves round to the boot. He scans the passenger's luggage and anything valuable and accessible, like a laptop computer, and hides it in the boot. Then he tells the passenger that the mechanical problems are serious and he can't continue the journey. But he phones a friend who appears in another taxi. There's a quick transfer of luggage and off the passenger goes, unwittingly without his computer. Then the other taxi driver roars off and sells whatever he has looted.
The second scam is again one that usually occurs with non-Hong Kong residents.
Readers will be aware of the two sets of numbers on the meter, with one showing the fare and the other, in smaller numbers, the extras for carrying luggage and going through tunnels. Some drivers obscure the second number for the "extras" with black tape, and then unobtrusively punch in a few hundred dollars of extras, which is added to the fare at the end of the journey. This is best done in the dark.
You have been warned, so tell your friends coming to Hong Kong about these tricks.
Valentine's Day fireworks
The proximity of the Lunar New Year holiday and Valentine's Day is resulting is some mixed messages from hotel groups seeking to capitalise on both events.
The Harbour Grand Hong Kong urges us on its Facebook site to "kick of the season of love from today", a message presumably for the Valentine's Day crowd. Then it urges us to "enjoy the sparkling fireworks at the waterfront while savouring enticing delicacies in this festive season", a New Year message. Then we are told "special fireworks menus are ready at Le 188° Restaurant & Lounge & Kwan Cheuk Heen for you and your beloved one to savour", a sort of loved-ones-fireworks-New Year melange. We'll be keeping our Valentine's Day fireworks strictly private.
Strictly bridal interest
There seems to have been a whiff of unpleasantness in the air when fashion designer Vera Wang opened her flagship mainland store in Shanghai last week. It emerged when it became apparent that those wanting to try on the store's bridal dresses would be charged "a non-refundable deposit" of 3,000 yuan (HK$3,700). This led to cries of discrimination from netizens who pointed out that no such deposit was required at Wang's other stores in different countries.
Not so, responded Wang's public relations people. The deposit wasn't discrimination, it was just a way to provide a better environment for customers - ensuring only serious shoppers - and to protect the designer's copyright, according to Shanghai Daily. Those who fork out the deposit will get 90 minutes to try on the dresses, which is supposed to be time enough to try on at least eight or nine gowns.
The two-storey shop has about 80 dresses on display at prices ranging from 30,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan. So it's not for the faint-hearted.
A pack a day in bad air
Green groups on the mainland have really got the bit between their teeth over the smog issue. A survey carried out by the Yuanda Group and published in Xinmin Weekly claimed that on high smog days, the poor air quality was comparable to smoking 25 high-tar cigarettes in Guangzhou a day, 21 cigarettes in Beijing, and nine cigarettes in Shanghai and Nanjing, the Asahi Shimbun reports. "If the air quality index in the form of 2.5 concentration hits 300, it would amount to smoking 20 cigarettes a day," a Tsinghua University professor told the newspaper. The index was higher than 300 in Beijing on 15 days in January.
Asia-Pacific ETFs up
While trading in exchange-traded funds fell by about 30 per cent worldwide last year to US$7.3 trillion, it rose 1.8 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the World Federation of Exchanges. South Korea was particularly strong, rising 10.8 per cent, Financial News reports. ETF turnover in the Asia-Pacific was US$341.1 billion. NYSE Euronext, Nasdaq OMX, the LSE Group, Deutsche Boerse and the Korea Exchange had the largest ETF turnover, but all except Korea fell.