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  • Dec 24, 2014
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Wealth Blog
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 7:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 10:17am

Hong Kong through a Monocle

The FT’s Weekend columnist Tyler Brule held another of his street parties recently, outside his Wan Chai Monocle shop. It rained, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits and none of the weighty banana yellow tomes he was launching got wet. Never backwards in coming forwards when it comes to extolling the virtues of stylish living, his book is entitled The Monocle Guide to Better Living. Nothing ambiguous there: either you swallow the Bible according to Brule, or you don’t. And an awful lot of people do: the fan base for his cafes, retail shops selling classy accessories and chunky lifestyle magazine Monocle stretches from San Francisco to Seoul and Tokyo. A self-confessed Japanophile, Japan looms large in the book, but then so does Hong Kong.

Why did he feel the need to burst into print? His publisher thought there was a “book in the brand”, so he thought why not. He refused to pose for a photo because the weather was “so disgusting.” But top marks for not minding that I brought along my dog Kipper. In fact there’s a special section in the book dedicated to stylish pooches.

You get the impression Brule’s commercial success has taken him by surprise – he says his funky retail business now delivers one fifth of his total revenue. His new canary-coloured cloth-bound book is inviting and readable, and though I totally subscribe to his mantra that digital media is not the total solution and that there’s plenty of life left in print, there’s only one snag – it weighs a ton. You can’t have a relaxing read because your arms ache after five minutes.

Raising our game

The Greatest Living Canadian describes his guide as a chronicle of the “people, places and products that aim high and deliver value, challenge convention and force us all to up our game.” No round up on the best cities in the world for doing business would be complete without a spot on Hong Kong. Building on its established reputation with a developing creative scene, there’s a place here in Hong Kong for everyone, from renowned multi-nationals to fresh-faced entrepreneurs,” we read.

Why Hong Kong works

Our city works because entrepreneurial spirits run high and there are enough people with spare cash to make sure that good ideas can find investors, we learn. It’s odd reading about the city where you live, seen through the eyes of someone who clearly doesn’t. It is a regional hub, there are 13 daily flights to Tokyo, 32 to Shanghai and 22 to Singapore, it goes on. If the writer lived here, he would know few people want to go to Singapore once a year, let along 22 times a day. Organisations such as the World Bank often give the city top scores for ease of doing business on a global scale, it continues. I’m not sure of the last time anyone paid any attention to the pontifications of the world Bank, either. 

Hong Kong the business centre

For many Hong Kong is the business centre, because on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much else going on, we learn. That’s a back-handed compliment. Basically, Hong Kong today is one of the most international cities in the world, whether you focus on the origins of the people who occupy the huge buildings, or the demographics of those who staff them.  In short, we’re a mixed bunch.

With the worlds eyes set firmly on China, everyone - from architects to retailers – is opting to set up shop in Hong Kong, rather than Beijing or Shanghai, the writer believes. Hong Kong has a track record of making it easy to start and run businesses, no matter how you dissect the metrics: low taxation, limited procedures and speedy contractors. He makes it sound like commercial nirvana. No mention of pollution, outrageous school fees or over-crowding.

The city’s creative scene is only just truly awakening, he adds, and subsequently a whole new type of expat is being attracted to the city, people who are keen to invest in Hong Kong’s future and are not just passing through. It makes for an open and collaborative playing filed. When compared to the “forever competitive, threatened and paranoid scene in London and New York.” Easy tiger. He’s obviously never approached a Hong Kong bank for a small business loan. But we’re on a roll. In Hong Kong, he says, It’s easy to meet the right people to make it all happen, whatever you want to do.

The writer’s only concern seems to be the cost of square footage here. But the smartest of Hong Kong’s all powerful property developers are giving some small businesses a break in order to cultivate a bit of cultural cache around newbuilds, he says. Really?  News to me.

In short, whether your ambitions are local, regional or global, Hong Kong ticks the boxes, as a top city to start your business or open your outpost, he concludes. Of course Hong Kong is a marvellous place, that’s why we choose to live here. But it would be nice if an independently published book like this could sound less like an InvestHK press release and instead tell it a bit more like it is. Stylishly, of course.



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This article is now closed to comments

Hmmm. Anna's repeated asides against Singapore can only mean one thing - insecurity by Singapore's rise at the expense of Hong Kong. Here are some facts for you to chew on Anna, so that you wake up from your delusion. Strip away the 30odd million visitors to Hong Kong from across the border, international visitors actually prefer to visit Singapore to Hong Kong!!!!
I hope you can sleep well, ****
What is described in this article explains exactly why I do not like Monocle. It's a feel-good magazine with articles that skim the surface and pictures of almost only pretty things and people. I know a lot of people enjoy the publication, but I come away from reading it feeling not at all enriched.
“Of course Hong Kong is a marvellous place,
that’s why we choose to live here
Easy tiger”
Indeed so unbelievably easy that there’re always Thomases
who, like Douglas Hurd, have to trouble themselves and others
with illusions about “smiles on the face of the tiger”
Tyler Brule appears to be a younger version of Thomas 'a-taxi-driver-in-Cairo-told-me-the-world-is-flat' Friedman with Armani glasses. Only Mr Brule is of an even worse type: the sort that thinks that their 0.1-percenter lifestyle, in which the only constant is a frequent visitation of non-places like First Class airline lounges, is somehow representative or even informative about what is going on in the world. And as if such self-delusion is not bad enough yet, he then adds insult to injury by finding the need to broadcast this skewed world view in a messianist fashion.

It is clear that he has barely any clue about Hong Kong outside of the Mid-Levels/CBD/Wanchai bubble, where perhaps some of his shallow observations do hit home. Ms Healy Fenton is absolutely right to point out the insanity of trying to pretend that the number of international flights to X, Y and Z says much about anything at all.

Then again, no self-respecting person with a brain would use Monocle for anything else than to crush mosquitoes and small rodents to death. It is a status-symbol turned magazine for the semi-literate, filled little more than inflight-magazine content, only dressed up with fancier adjectives, odd angle photos, and supposedly avant-garde typeset. Its only justifiable claim-to-fame is to demonstrate that 'the medium IS the message' can be applied to print media as well.
JC: If you love Singapore so much, go back to there. P.iss off.
Oh yes, I forgot Anna. Just to let you know, just last weekend, the Lion City was swarming with folks from your beloved hometown for the F1. Skyscanner showed that Hong Kong residents were the number one folks searching for flights to and hotels in the city-state.
News to you I guess as much as it was news to me. I really hope you had a great time clipping your nails at home in front of the telly and news updates from TVB :)
Anna anna, why don't you do one very simple thing, ****. Try visiting the Chep Lak Kok counter on any clear day, and check whether the 22 flights are full or empty. If journalism is about mindless bitching, you're the one maid.


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