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Sentimental Value for Money

By Chip Tsao | Jul 29, 2010

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  • Sentimental Value for Money

2010 is said to be the year of the buying dragon. Affluent Chinese consumers have become the number one foreign buyers on London’s high streets. China overtook the US in 2009 to become the second biggest market for the luxury sector. And it’s not just the figures, but the buying behavior that is changing. Mainland Chinese have been well known for their innovative method of wine drinking by watering down a glass of Beaujolais with half a two-liter bottle of 7-up to make it taste more acceptably Chinese. But now they are learning the meaning of the word authenticity.

It was reported that a Chinese mainland buyer was trying to purchase a charming mews house in Knightsbridge, London where an old English lady had been living for more than 30 years. Through an interpreter, he offered the lady and the estate agent an amount considerably above the asking price, on the condition that the owner leave all her trinkets, pictures, rugs, furniture, plus her doll and teaspoon collection, when she moved out. It seems the over-the-odds price was to secure “authentic quintessential Englishness.”

He promised no messing about with the structure of the house, no black wok to be hung on the window and no golden four-faced Buddha statue displayed at the entrance as would be advised by a blind feng shui master a few thousand miles away in Beijing. Despite all this, the Chinese man was disappointed when he was told the original contents would not be included in the sale as they were the owner’s personal treasures and had great sentimental value. After struggling with his interpreter, and with the extra help of a copy of the Oxford English-Chinese dictionary, the buyer managed to understand the word “treasure” without much difficulty, but couldn’t figure out what the word “sentimental” meant.

I wish the Hong Kong SAR government and its Beijing masters had the same wisdom as that old English lady. Hong Kong would be worth more money if all her “authentic quintessential Englishness” remained unchanged after the 1997 handover, including the red color of the post office and the mailboxes, the olive of the police summer uniform, and the standard of the English language. The coastline of Victoria Harbor should have been left the same as it was when Chris Patten boarded the royal yacht together with the royal entourage at midnight on June 30, 1997, and Hong Kong’s countryside, once loved by former governors like Cecil Clementi and David Wilson, should be free from the itching, hairy claws of greedy Chinese developers. Maybe now is the time for the post-80s generation to learn the value of sentimentalism and to fight for Hong Kong’s treasures just like that little old lady.

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