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.