• Thu
  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 10:08am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 5:14am

Singapore Airlines and the strawberry ice cream

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

We've been sent an intriguing account of an exchange that occurred on a recent Singapore Airlines flight. Our informant was travelling economy class together with his wife on a packed flight to Singapore. After serving the main meal, a steward came around with a tray piled high with Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Our reader's wife was offered strawberry, which she doesn't particularly like, and asked the steward if he had either chocolate or vanilla. This elicited a response that the airline's cabin services division might like to reflect on. "Sorry, madam," the steward said before continuing in all seriousness. "But no chocolate or vanilla, as everyone always asks for it as they don't like strawberry, so now we only offer strawberry." It seems hard to believe but we're assured this is what he said. Strange logic but it kept the couple amused for the rest of the trip.

 

Paris Oriental

The bosses at Mandarin Oriental are patting themselves on the back after completing a deal that gives them ownership of a tasty piece of real estate in an expensive part of Paris. The hotel group has bought the freehold of the building, which houses the Mandarin Oriental Paris, along with two prime street-front retail units from Societe Fonciere Lyonnaise for €290 million (HK$3.03 billion). The deal was partly funded by new five-year, €150 million debt facilities, with the balance from the group's cash reserves, the company said. "This transaction has provided our group with a rare opportunity to own a prime piece of real estate in a key gateway city, which is an important destination for our luxury brand," group chief executive Edouard Ettedgui said. The hotel is located on the prestigious Rue St Honore, within walking distance of the city's famous cultural attractions and world-class retail areas.

 

Bicycle logic

A reader has sent us a photograph of a sign that reads: "Illegally parked bicycles will be confiscated." This is no doubt to avoid the situation where bicycles are chained to the railing for weeks and sometimes months on end. Nevertheless, it seems rather fierce treatment for such an environmentally friendly mode of transport. And our reader raises the point that if such treatment can be handed out to cyclists, then surely the same logic should be applied to illegally parked vehicles. There are plenty of parking spaces for cars but few, if any, specifically for bicycles. So we look forward to the confiscation or towing away of vehicles.

 

FT celebrates its 125th

Should you stagger out of lunch one day and find the air filled with pink tablet-like objects - fear not. It does not necessarily mean you are in the middle of a stroke. It could simply mean the pink 'un, aka the Financial Times, is celebrating its 125th anniversary in your area. According to Marketing Magazine, the newspaper will be "organising a range of initiatives globally", including flying FT 125 and FT tablet app-shaped hot-air balloons over global financial hubs. Meanwhile, the FT's headquarters in London will be lit pink to commemorate the milestone. Another nice touch of the campaign features an image of a rolled-up FT newspaper with the tagline "Still guiding the way for global business". Though it could equally be "For Sale".

 

The CDO and Citi

More of the flotsam from the financial crisis is finding its way into the courts. While a good number of the banks have been sandbagged for their largely unsavoury part in the proceedings, it's now the turn of the ratings agencies. The US Justice Department recently initiated a lawsuit against Standard & Poor's and its parent, McGraw-Hill. Bloomberg reports that in just six months, S&P's AAA rating for a piece of a US$1.5 billion collateralised debt obligation (CDO) cost Citigroup its US$15 million investment. This was supposed to be the safest part of the CDO, according to S&P's assessment. Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes, "internal UBS e-mails referred to CDOs as 'crap' at the same time that the bank was selling them", according to Senator Carl Levin in a subcommittee hearing in April 2010 on the causes and consequences of the financial crisis. Much of this is history but the details give a riveting insight into the rampant cowboy capitalism that prevailed then. It's hard to believe that the mindset that operated then has magically switched from black to white.

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