Being a United States company is usually seen as a positive factor in business, but one high-profile firm this week discovered the pitfalls of operating under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. Sotheby's - that once-British but now US-owned prestige auctioneer - had planned to sell cigars of all descriptions in a 'fine wine and cigar' sale held in Hong Kong on Monday. The catalogue for the auction was full of glossy pictures of expensive smokes. But on the big day, Sotheby's officials announced that several Cuban cigar lots had to be withdrawn from the sale at the last minute. Apparently, it was all down to US government permits. Sotheby's Hong Kong public relations manager Onie Chu told us that if the firm wants to sell anything from Cuba, it has to apply to the US Treasury for a permit. Among other provisions, the Helms-Burton law penalises companies that deal in Cuban goods without permission. The firm made its application for the appropriate permit - but this proved to be quite a long process. 'Even when we printed the catalogue, we were still applying,' she sighed. As you might have guessed, Sotheby's was ultimately denied permission, ostensibly due to a lack of precedents on this issue. Ms Chu tells us stogy hungry clients were downcast at missing the chance to let their money go up in smoke on some choice Havanas. There's no word on what they chose to light up on to ease their disappointment. With the opening of the new airport little more than two months away, Airport Authority officials are getting slightly edgy about how prepared airlines and operators are for the move. In an interview, the authority's corporate development boss, Clinton Leeks commented that some operators certainly seemed to be more advanced in their preparations than others. He suggested that a few had some work to do to be ready for the opening. The picture was more encouraging among restaurants and shops. 'Some are going up early and nearly ready to open their doors,' he said. No prizes for guessing one operator which was amongst the top of the class when it came to being ready. It was, what else, but the home of the ubiquitous 'golden arches', McDonald's. Mr Leeks said the fast-food giant might even be ready to sell Big Macs at some upcoming open days prior to the airport's opening. Cathay Pacific Airways' top spin doctor, Kwan Chuk-fai, departed the world of Boeings and Airbuses in favour of more down-to-earth pursuits yesterday. Mr Kwan was taking a particularly long break after completing his duties with Cathay: a break of about 12 hours, to be precise. He was scheduled to start work with his new employer, New World First Bus, as corporate communications boss, not in two weeks, not on Monday, but this morning. New World First Bus is the company named to take over the China Motor Bus franchise later this year. He had a word with a Post colleague during his last-day schedule - and by the sound of things, his start at the new job can't come soon enough. 'I have buses in my blood, I love the industry,' he gushed. You see, Mr Kwan is no stranger to ground transport. He was for some time a senior media representative of China Motor Bus before his big move to Cathay. And all the high-technology planes in the world couldn't stop him dreaming of the faithful double-decker: 'I have unfulfilled ambitions in the bus industry,' he said. Mr Kwan's last day with Cathay was very much in the business-as-usual category, with the standard array of media inquiries. However, one request he made was out of character. He did not wish to be quoted by name as Cathay's spokesman in today's papers, he said. And why? Simple: because by the time they came out, he would be working for another employer. We were intrigued to note a Xinhua news agency story that crossed our desk this week on the subject of eels, of all things. The headline set the scene: 'Eel industry losing glamour in China'. Now, 'glamour' is not a word that has ever readily sprung to Lai See's mind when thinking of eels. But Xinhua persisted with this theme in the story's body. 'The eel growing-and-processing trade has passed its glamorous age and is facing a possible drastic decline in South China's Pearl River delta, a major eel production base,' it said. Well, if you say so guys: but let's hope a new 'glamorous age' - right up there with those of Hollywood - graces the Chinese eel industry before too long.