Hello Hong Kong!

With all the negative sentiment emanating from the global financial tsunami and affecting people in almost every corner of the world, Hong Kong seems surprisingly calm and unperturbed despite the recent roller-coaster ride of the stock markets and the Lehman mini-bond saga, at least on the surface.

My first proper meal after landing in Hong Kong was a dim-sum lunch at a Causeway Bay restaurant and I am pleased to say that the food quality was at par with last year, although I couldn’t help noticing that the price had gone up a little and the restaurant was not filled like last year (on a Sunday). Also, the waiters and waitresses looked a little glum and smiles were conspicuously absent. Pretty much the same scene came up at another lunch taken in a half-full pasta restaurant at Times Square.

A stroll round Sogo department store proved to be an eye-popping experience. One would have imagined that in the present economic downturn, shopping traffic would have been lighter, if not outright scant. Wrong! Not only was the store totally packed, but shoppers were actually snapping up items like there was no tomorrow. It’s true that a lot of merchandise was on sale, but that people seemed so eager to fork out their hard-earned cash (if on credit) on things like clothing, accessories and cosmetics in the current supposedly tough times is simply beyond comprehension, although many of these famished buyers seemed to be either youngsters or mainlanders, whose spending binge seemed incurable. If I were a banker, I would really be worried about a credit card debt crisis looming. It’s not news that the U.S. is bracing itself for the next debacle to happen with defaulting credit card debt, which is one contributing reason for the Citigroup’s downfall.

Another similarly out-of-the-blue spectacle presented itself when I took a tour of the new commercial and residential hub at the Kowloon Station of the MTR airport express line. I was at the same time awed by the post-modern and slick interior décor of the sprawling shopping mall called “Elements” and disgusted by the imposing tall wall of somber concrete and glass columns, which are supposed to be luxury apartment and office towers, sprouting all round the arena-like open plaza called Civic Square. The intimidating towers looked like a million pairs of eyes of blood-thirsty spectators gazing with malicious intent into the ring where an imagined gladiators’ combat was taking place. Just strolling round the plaza was enough to give one the creeps, let alone sitting in one of those piazza restaurants.

Inside the mall, shopping traffic was light, which made the huge mall look almost deserted. However, I was pretty impressed by the asymmetrical and uneven layout (and thus not monotonous) of the five different zones, with the design and color of each bearing likeness to one of the five elements in Chinese geomancy (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). It reminded me of The Venetian in Macau.

According to Wikipedia, 58 of the 123 shops in the mall are of the fashion category, most of which are top-of-the-line designer brands. If the relatively light traffic (on a Saturday) is any tell-tale sign, it may be a reflection of the financial tsunami hurting the pockets of the upper middle class. But design-wise, this mall can rightfully claim to be the best yet in Hong Kong. On the other hand though, its inauguration may have been ironically at the most inopportune of times.