Our chums north of the border are renowned for their ability to copy everything from boots to bras. But now it would seem that Hong Kong's gurus of style are challenging their status as copycat kings. Cutting-edge fashion outlets Esprit and Giordano have started a spat that could end up eclipsing the industry's coming season of catwalk shows from London, Paris and New York. Round one started last Friday at 4 pm, an auspicious date and time in the Chinese calendar, when the protagonists both decided to open new stores. Giordano executive director Terry Ng Sze-yuen gracefully put the timing down to 'a coincidence' but Esprit executives were howling for blood. Chairman Michael Ying Lee-yuen, lost his cool when a reporter told him she had just attended the opening of his competitor's store and promptly criticised everything Giordano, from its products to shopping bags. 'They copy us,' ranted Mr Ying, before he asked journalists the details of Giordano's expansion plan, such as how many stores the chain said it would open. At this point, Mr Ying spotted a Giordano press pack draped over the arm of one unsuspecting reporter. 'Look, even their plastic bags look like ours,' he cried. Lai See is appalled by the accusations and propose both retailers settle this dispute like gentlemen. We suggest fake designer hand-bags at dawn. Strong-arm tactics are in use this year by a Whampoa Gardens gym called The Spotlight Recreation Club in collecting a 'discretionary' Chinese New Year gratuity for staff. Lai See sobbed into his Harrods Christmas hamper, as general manager Kenny Chan informed members that this year had been a very tough year for Hong Kongers. 'Your contribution to this incentive will be a good reward to our staff who worked whole-heartedly to serve you well during the year,' said Mr Chan in a letter. The 'entirely discretionary' choices on the return slip to tick include: a one-month subscription (costing $500-$750 depending on the package), $500, or other Hong Kong dollar amount. Members concerned that their Christmas holiday, change of address, total apathy, or tight-fistedness might prevent those worthy souls from receiving their gratuity need not fret. Mr Chan allows members to 'understand that if I do not return the reply slip by January 1 . . . the club will assume contribution of one month total subscription to be debited from my account'. We applaud Mr Chan's efforts to repay his staff's hard work over the year. However, Lai See understands that if we do not get a reply by January 1, we will assume Mr Chan will deposit $50,000 into our bank account or we'll blow the whistle on his extortion racket. Entirely at Mr Chan's discretion of course. The Christmas holidays are approaching fast and with the roll-over into a new millennium, many are heading off to exotic climes on equally exotic airlines. Lai See thought this was a great opportunity to provide a customer service to readers and consulted the Fatal Events and Fatal Event Rates by Airlines Since 1970 Web site at airsafe.com. As tickets on the top airlines were being sold at a premium and going faster than plastic-beagles, Lai See was sure that normally sane individuals bought tickets on Rubber-band Powered Airlines in their desperate bid to escape the SAR this crimbo. Just so we are all sure, fatal events are 'those events during where at least one passenger was killed . . . or was injured during the flight and subsequently died'. Crashing in last in Lai See's top five dodgy airlines, from a global list of thirty, is Philippine Airlines (PAL). PAL has a very respectable 4.68 fatal accidents per million flights, with the last one in 1994. At number four is Air India registering 6.82 deaths per million flights with the last one way back in 1985. Ranking third is Air Zimbabwe with a commendable clog-popping 12.5, with the last fatality in 1979. Second is AiroPeru on a staggering 16.7, with the last rites being uttered most recently in 1996. And in the number one spot, posting a whopping 18.2 deaths per million flights, is Cubana Airlines, with the last fatality just last year. Hope that has been of some help. Happy holidays.