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[BOOKS] Erwan Rambourg’s ‘Bling Dynasty’

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In 2011, Erwan Rambourg was a six-year veteran of the luxury industry as an analyst for HSBC, based in Paris, a city that many high-end brands call home.

“The balance is story-telling. Luxury consumers are like kids. Brands are a dream, an aspiration.”

That year, he moved to Hong. While the brands were European, the consumption was shifting eastward toward China. “The reason I moved to bling-dynastyHong Kong was to try to understand better the trend and how the Chinese were consuming,” he said.

[Check out Erwan Rambourg's book "The Bling Dynasty" at Amazon.com]

After three years of observation, the 41-year-old Mr. Rambourg, who continues to cover the sector for HSBC, has put together his insights into the industry in a new book, Bling Dynasty: Why the Reign of the Chinese Luxury Shoppers Has Only Begun.

“If you get the impression that you’re the only one, that you’re unique and being the only one told the story, you’ll pay up. If you feel like everyone else, you won’t.”

He recently spoke with China Real Time about how China’s luxury consumption is different, why the corruption crackdown is a good thing and how Chinese and American consumers are becoming more alike.

“You have to develop the illusion or reality of scarcity.”

Edited excerpts:

Take us back to when you first arrived in Asia. What was the luxury landscape like?

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The luxury sector 20 years ago was driven by European consumers. Ten years ago, it was driven Japanese consumers, with the hope that Chinese consumers would eventually take over. Today, the Chinese are the key driver. In 2015, Chinese consumers will become 35% of luxury consumes.

The development of the Chinese luxury market is often compared to that of Japan. But you see vast differences.

They’re considered similar by investors but the differences lie in culture and how the markets are built. First, gender: The Japanese market was centered on the office lady. These are secretary-types who were living with parents, allocating most of their income to their next handbag.

The Chinese market was built by men. The core consumer was male, businessman, a lot of corporate gifting, instead of self-purchasing.

Today, the core consumer in Japan is female and aging. The core consumer in China is diverse. You still have the businessmen, but you have the emergence of young, female shoppers and a whole diversity of consumer profiles you don’t see in Japan.

Currently in Japan, there’s a move away from luxury and brands. They’re looking for more holistic experiences: Instead of a handbag, they’re going to a spa. Read the rest of this entry »

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Democracy in China: ‘The struggle for Hong Kong,’ or ‘The Great Leap Sideways’

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The territory’s citizens must not give up demanding full democracy—for their sake and for China’s

Chinese officials have called it a “leap forward” for democracy in Hong Kong. Yet their announcement on August 31st of plans to allow, for the first time, every Hong Kong citizen to vote for the territory’s leader has met only anger and indifference. Joy was conspicuously Xi-tall-Jinping-HTabsent. This is not because Hong Kong’s citizens care little for the right to vote, but because China has made it abundantly clear that the next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive, due in 2017, will be rigged. The only candidates allowed to stand will be those approved by the Communist Party in Beijing, half a continent away.

“Xi Jinping, the party chief and president, had the opportunity to use Hong Kong as a test-bed for political change in China. Had he taken this opportunity, he might have gone down in history as a true reformer. Instead, he has squandered it.”

At its worst, this risks provoking a disaster which even China cannot want. Democrats are planning protests. It is unclear how many people will join in, but the fear is that the territory’s long history of peaceful campaigning for political reform will give way to skirmishes with police, mass arrests and possibly even intervention by the People’s Liberation Army. That would disrupt one of Asia’s wealthiest and most orderly economies, and set China against the West. But even if, as is likely, such a calamity is avoided, this leap sideways is a huge missed opportunity not just for Hong Kong but also for the mainland. A chance to experiment with the sort of local democracy that might have benefited all of China has been missed. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong’s Occupy Central Plans Civil Disobedience Protest in October

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HONG KONG—The Hong Kong protest movement Occupy Central plans to launch a civil-disobedience campaign in early October to protest Beijing’s decision to effectively control who can run for the city’s top post, said a person close to the group.

“Many people, including professors who were previously against Occupy Central, are now in support of the movement, whether through direct participation or donations.”

– Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of Occupy Central

The group last week had indicated a loss of momentum following the announcement of the Chinese decision on Aug. 31.

The person close to Occupy Central said holding the protest a full month after Beijing’s decision was aimed at giving supporters ample time to “decide for themselves” whether to join the cause in a “coolheaded” fashion. The person said detailed protest plans were still being made.

The person denied that the timing was chosen to coincide with the weeklong holiday around China’s National Day on Oct. 1. That is traditionally one of the biggest shopping weeks of the year in Hong Kong, when a lot of mainlanders visit the city. Read the rest of this entry »


When Social Media Goes Sideways: Man Who Put Dog in Washing Machine Flees Hong Kong

Facebook post of the dog in the washer. Photo: SCMP

Facebook post of the dog in the washer. Photo: SCMP

“In his post, Lo comments in Chinese: ‘A super quick way to wash a dog: soak, clean, and dry. All done. Clean and quick!'”

For South China Morning Post, Hazel Parry reports: A man being investigated over a Facebook post featuring photographs of a dog churning in a washing machine claims to have fled to the mainland. The man, who goes by the name of Jacky Lo, posted a status update yesterday in which he bragged that he was on his way out of Hong Kong as pressure mounted for him to be punished.

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Struggling: The trapped dog attempts to keep his head out of the water. Photo: SCMP

“In response to a comment underneath asking if the dog was dead, Lo answers: ‘Yes! Do you want to see it!'”

The post included a link to the online petition urging the police to bring him to justice, with Lo commenting: “Wanted?? This afternoon I’m going back to China. See ya later.”

“His latest remarks have brought more criticism online, with people calling him a ‘weak bully’, ‘shameless’, ‘sick’ and a ‘monster’.”

The pictures, which show a small white dog submerged in water and being spun around helplessly in the washing machine, have sparked outrage, with about 14,000 people signing the petition.

In his post, Lo comments in Chinese: “A super quick way to wash a dog: soak, clean, and dry. All done. Clean and quick!”

He then add a smiley icon and the words “feeling content” in English.

Hong Kong police said they were investigating the case as one of suspected animal cruelty. Read the rest of this entry »


FONG FLASHBACK: ‘Prettier, Tastier Jell-O': Fragrant, Foral Osmanthus Jelly

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fong-flashBACKOne of the many things I love about being in HK is the discovery of novel flavors. Like osmanthus! Its fragrant, sweet-smelling flowers (native to east Asia) are often dried and gently folded into florally nuanced desserts like osmanthus jelly, which also often contains wolfberries (goji berries – so it must be healthy!) and usually serves as a finishing touch after a belly-swelling dim sum session. Think of it as a refined, prettier, tastier Jell-O…(read more)

THE FONG REPORT

pundit from another planet

Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Democracy Movement Losing Mojo

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A police officer looks out over a highway in Hong Kong’s Central district on Sept. 1. Hong Kong activist group Occupy Central says some of its support is weakening.  Bloomberg News

HONG KONG—Chester Yung and Isabella Steger report: A co-founder of the activist group at the center of threats to paralyze Hong Kong’s business district with anti-Beijing protests adopted a somber tone on Tuesday, saying its goal of securing a representative voting system in the city was “close to failure.”

“Our goal to achieve genuine universal suffrage in 2017 and a reform of the system is close to failure.”

– Chan Kin-man, one of Occupy Central’s co-founders

Chan Kin-man said some of its support is waning after Beijing’s decision on Sunday that effectively allows China to determine who can govern Hong Kong. The group had led a pro-democracy charge demanding popular input on candidates in Hong Kong’s next elections.

“Many people in Hong Kong are being pragmatic…We need to sustain our civil society.”

“Our goal to achieve genuine universal suffrage in 2017 and a reform of the system is close to failure,” said Mr. Chan. He said he only expects a few thousand people, below the number originally expected, to join planned sit-in protests.

Read the rest of this entry »


Journalists Ordered to Learn ‘Marxist News Values’, Uphold Principles of Communist Party

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Journalists, Teachers and Students Told to Back Party obamao-vert

No, no, it’s not about the Obama administration, or White House reporters and network news divisions, though it’s understandable to think so.

This is about China and Hong Kong.

For China Digital Times posts this:

As part of the Xi administration’s ongoing restriction of press freedom in mainland China and Hong Kong, the All China Journalists’ Association has ordered journalists to learn “Marxist news values” and uphold the principles of the ruling Communist Party. Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee reports:

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The guidelines by the All China Journalists’ Association, published by state news agency Xinhua, are aimed at both traditional and online media and are another sign of Xi’s politically conservative agenda.Marx-TV

The association said journalists “must learn to master Marxist news values”.

“Let us hold high the banner of socialist core values,” the report said, using the party’s term for orthodox beliefs.

[...] Early this year, Chinese journalists also had to pass a new ideology exam to keep their press cards. They were required to do a minimum 18 hours of training on topics including Marxist news values and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. [Source]

The appointment of Lin Zhibo, an editor at the People’s Daily, as dean of Lanzhou University’s journalism school reflects the increasingly active role that the Party is playing in the training of journalists. Damon Yi and Amy Qin at The New York Times report:

Mr. Lin’s appointment has thrown the spotlight on recent efforts by local offices of the Communist Party Propaganda Department to use personnel appointments as a way to forge partnerships with journalism schools and to assert greater ideological control over the training of future opinion shapers.

[...] An earlier iteration of the Propaganda Department and journalism school joint model, or buxiao gongjian in Chinese, is the “Fudan Model,” which dates back to 2001 when Fudan University in Shanghai restructured its journalism school in close cooperation with the local propaganda authorities. Read the rest of this entry »


Pro-Democracy Update: Back to the Drawing Board for Hong Kong Election Reform?

Pro-democracy lawmakers display placards against Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, during a briefing session in Hong Kong Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.  Associated Press

Pro-democracy lawmakers display placards against Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, during a briefing session in Hong Kong, Sept. 1, 2014. Associated Press

WSJ’s Jeffrey Ng reports:  Beijing’s plans to allow Hong Kong people to elect their next leader—albeit only from among prescreened candidates and effectively denying an open vote—will need approval of two-thirds of the city’s 70-member strong legislature.

What happens if the reform package gets voted down?

By constituting a bloc of more than a third, the city’s 27 pro-democratic legislators hold the veto on any such plans. On Monday, these legislators voiced their disapproval by interrupting a speech by a senior Chinese official, chanting slogans while holding up banners condemning China’s decision as “shameful,” before storming out of a briefing session on political reform. Read the rest of this entry »


Global Panic of August 2014’s Hong Kong Pepper Spray Extravaganza

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Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung is dragged away by security guards as he protests against Li Fei, deputy general secretary of the National People’s Congress standing committee. Reuters

“The police started using pepper spray on us without any warning. We are here to protest in a peaceful manner.”

– Kit, a social worker and activist

HONG KONG—Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong Monday said police used pepper spray against demonstrators outside a news conference given by a top Chinese official on Beijing‘s decision on how the city should elect its leader.

“Since the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country are at stake, there is a need to proceed in a prudent and steady manner.”

– From Beijing’s ruling Sunday

Li Fei, deputy secretary-general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, gave a briefing at the AsiaWorld-Expo, near Hong Kong’s airport, to explain the decision to chaotic scenes of protests both inside and outside the venue.

Outside, a 21-year-old social worker identifying himself only as Kit said he and four others in his group of activist were pepper-sprayed by police. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong’s Hopes Crushed

Protesters wave their mobile phones during a rally, after China's legislature has ruled out open nominations in elections for Hong Kong's leader, on Aug. 31. Associated Press

Protesters wave their mobile phones during a rally, after China’s legislature has ruled out open nominations in elections for Hong Kong’s leader, on Aug. 31.    –  Associated Press

From this weekend’s WSJ opinion pages:

The people of Hong Kong can plead or protest for democracy all they want, but they can only hold a sham election for Chief Executive in 2017. That was the ruling of 20140831 HK 05China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress on Sunday.

“The threat to Hong Kong’s capitalism comes not from democracy, but from the cronyism and erosion of the rule of law that are infiltrating from the mainland.”

Moderates on both sides of the political spectrum in Hong Kong had urged compromise. They proposed nomination procedures that would satisfy Beijing’s concerns while still allowing the free election that China promised in 1997 when it made the city a self-governing special administrative region for 50 years.

“The tragedy for both Hong Kong and China is that the conflict is unnecessary.”

Beijing not only rejected these ideas, it seems they were never seriously considered. The Communist Party insists on absolute veto power over the choice of candidates. The result will be more frustration in Hong Kong.

“The city is manifestly ready for democracy, which would give Beijing fewer headaches rather than more.”

Since the handover from British rule, the city has suffered under mediocre leaders weakened by their lack of a popular mandate. This has angered parts of the population, particularly the young, and some are promising acts of civil disobedience. Read the rest of this entry »


[PHOTO] Fong Flashback: Extra-Golden, Puckered, Crunchy-Topped Paradise

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…Another iconic HK treat is the slyly named ‘pineapple bun’, containing no pineapple (false advertising alert!) but reflecting just the pineapple-like appearance of that extra-golden, puckered, crunchy top that never fails to crumble into a delightful mess. In case you seek a cholesterol boost (beyond the lard that is part of the crunchy top – good luck wiping that from your memory!), most cha chaan tengs serving these local treats can’t leave well enough alone – but instead insert a slab (not a sliver) of butter to melt inside…(read more)


A Sea of Phones Illuminating Tamar Park, Connecting the Executive and Legislative Hearts of Hong Kong


[PHOTOS] EXCLUSIVE: Images From the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Rally

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The Chinese central government today announced regulations that would gut Hong Kong’s evolution to real democratic election of the city’s chief executive.  In essence, Beijing imposed rules that would ensure that only it’s hand-picked candidates would be allowed to run for the city’s top government post. I attended the beginning of the rally in the park in front of the city’s main government offices today.  Here are some pictures:

[Also check out the live stream chronicling the protests. Follow the twitter feed for Hong Kong's main pro-democracy activist group here.]

[Flashpoint Hong Kong: China rules out democracy for the former British territory - Noah Rothman, Hot Air]

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(My apologies for the poor photography — my Hong Kong cell phone has a decidedly inferior camera, and the rally really only got under way after dark.)

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Police presence was heavy in the city during the day, with large foot patrols moving around.  Interestingly, although Hong Kong’s police usually carry revolvers (.380s – I asked), most cops I saw today had empty holsters on their belts. Read the rest of this entry »


Beijing: China Legislature Rules No Open Nominations for Hong Kong Leader

Civil Human Rights Front Gather For July 1st Marches

Occupy Central has threatened to shut down the city’s financial district with a massive sit-in if Beijing doesn’t allow completely open elections for chief executive

Jimmy Lai, Chairman and Founder of Next Media (Reuters)

BEIJING (AP) — China’s legislature on Sunday ruled against allowing open nominations in elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, a decision that promises to ignite political tensions in the Asian financial hub.

Left: Jimmy Lai, Chairman and Founder of Next Media (Reuters)

The legislature’s powerful Standing Committee ruled that all candidates for chief executive must receive more than half

of votes from a special nominating body before going before voters. Hong Kong democracy activists have held massive protests demanding that Chinese leaders let the city’s voters choose their chief executive from an open list of candidates.

Activists have also decried the nominating committee held up by Beijing as beholden to Chinese leaders and were mobilizing to stage massive protests against the decision.

“Since the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country are at stake, there is a need to proceed in a prudent and steady manner,” the Standing Committee said in their decision. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Showdown: China Warns Against ‘Foreign Meddling’

Hong Kong Democracy Showdown

Protesters are taken away by police officers after hundreds of protesters staged a peaceful sit-ins overnight on a street in the financial district in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s simmering summer of discontent gets even hotter on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 when Beijing is expected to recommend restricting the first direct elections for the Chinese-controlled financial hub’s leader, stepping up chances of a showdown with democracy groups. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

BEIJING (AP) — China warned against foreign meddling in Hong Kong’s politics Saturday ahead of an expected announcement to recommend highly contentious restrictions on the first direct elections for the leader of the Chinese-controlled financial hub.hk-protest

An article in the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily said that some in the former British colony were colluding with outside forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s governance.

“Not only are they undermining Hong Kong’s stability and development, but they’re also attempting to turn Hong Kong into a bridgehead for subverting and infiltrating the Chinese mainland,” said the article.

[Also see - Hong Kong Tensions Rise as Beijing Critic's Home Raided - WSJ]

“This can absolutely not be permitted,” it said, citing an unidentified official in the Foreign Ministry‘s department for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan affairs. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA Photograph of Distant Planet? Lab Photo of Microorganism? Or Chinese Dessert?

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See more here…

[THE FONG REPORT: pundit from another planet]


‘Insufficiency of Mutual Trust': Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters to Get Pro Bono Aid

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Protesters stage a sit in on a street in Hong Kong’s financial district on July 2. Reuters

About 30 Hong Kong Lawyers Plan to Offer Free Legal Aid in Case of Arrests

Background: In June, hundreds of Hong Kong lawyers joined a march after China’s cabinet, the State Council, issued a white paper declaring that “loving the country” was a basic political requirement for all Hong Kong administrators, including judges and judicial personnel.

CHESTER YUNG, ISABELLA STEGER and EDWARD NGAI reporting: HONG KONG—Dozens of Hong Kong lawyers are lining up to offer pro bono assistance to pro-democracy protesters, in a move that highlights the legal community’s growing concern over potential infringement on the city’s judicial independence by Beijing.

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A large pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong in July. Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

“Hong Kong is part of a sovereign country.…There is a constitutional obligation for all institutions in Hong Kong…to safeguard national security.”

–  Wang Zhenmin, dean of the Tsinghua University School of Law in Beijing

Also see:

Activist group Occupy Central has threatened protests to paralyze Hong Kong’s main business district if Beijing, in a decision expected to be announced on Sunday, moves to effectively bar any pro-democracy candidates from running for chief executive, the city’s top post, in 2017 elections.

Mr. Wang Zhenmin blamed the uproar over the white paper on “insufficiency of mutual trust” between Hong Kong and China.

A group made up of about 30 mostly local lawyers is prepared to offer free legal assistance to Occupy Central demonstrators in case they are arrested, said Alvin Yeung, organizer of the lawyers’ group. “We want to make sure the protesters’ civil rights are protected,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »


THE FONG REPORT: Calling All Dessert Fanatics – Dig Into Hong Kong’s Sweet Spot!!

Does this sound familiar? You’re wrapping up a great meal at some fantastic restaurant – stuffed, maybe even overstuffed. Feeling the food coma creep in, you sense your brain struggling to maintain consciousness as your body desperately attempts digestion. Seeing you slump slightly in your chair, the waiter walks by with the dessert menu but passes you by, assuming you’re down for the count. IMG_4807

“Take the Hong Kong egg tart, for example…Best when freshly baked and still  a tad warm, these little tarts are like a sweet hug for your stomach.”

Mere moments before he’s out of reach, you eagerly snatch the menu from his confused fingers. There’s ALWAYS room (and energy) for dessert! As my friends (and dentist) can attest, my sweet tooth is relentless.

“Maybe it’s bold for me to say, but I do believe they can melt even the staunchest Asian dessert cynic.”

You know how cows have 4-chamber stomachs? I must have bovine tendencies, since no matter how full I may be, I appear to magically grow a separate stomach chamber just in time for dessert! Are you with me?

Much to my surprise, Hong Kong is brimming with bakeries, pâtisseries, cafés, and cha chaan tengs (Chinese tea restaurants). Sometimes, these are more local shops, serving local desserts. Despite the somewhat negative stereotype that clouds western perceptions about Asian desserts, some of the local sweets here really do hold their own. And there is a fun element of novelty, at least to Chinese-dessert-virgins (you get what I mean).

Justly famous (and incredibly delicious) HK egg tarts from Tai Cheong Bakery - absolutely craveable!

Justifiably famous, mouthwatering Hong Kong egg tarts from Tai Cheong Bakery in Wan Chai

Take the Hong Kong egg tart, for example – all creamy, custardy, buttery/flaky crust goodness. Best when freshly baked and still  a tad warm, these little tarts are like a sweet hug for your stomach. Maybe it’s bold for me to say, but I do believe they can melt even the staunchest Asian dessert cynic.

Hong Kong residents are hard-core egg lovers – as proven by yet another famous egg-y sweet, the egg waffle. Humble in appearance, when prepared properly, they are slightly crispy on the outside, tender and airy on the inside – sort of the ‘bubble wrap’ of desserts, with the flavor of vanilla cake. The fun, bulbous shapes make tearing off a golden sphere (or 5, or 10) almost impossible to resist!

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Preparing to chow down on an egg waffle – puffy, crispy, tender sweetness!

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The perennially-busy Lee Keung Kee stall outside the Wan Chai MTR station, serving up some of Hong Kong’s finest egg waffles

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Another iconic HK treat is the slyly named ‘pineapple bun’, containing no pineapple (false advertising alert!) but reflecting just the pineapple-like appearance of that extra-golden, puckered, crunchy top that never fails to crumble into a delightful mess. In case you seek a cholesterol boost (beyond the lard that is part of the crunchy top – good luck wiping that from your memory!), most cha chaan tengs serving these local treats can’t leave well enough alone – but instead insert a slab (not a sliver) of butter to melt inside. Try this WAY before your next visit to the cardiologist! Read the rest of this entry »


Who Needs Wall Street? Gambling Companies Bet on Hong Kong Stock Market

 Casino companies are betting on Hong Kong's equity markets to raise funds for expansion. Photo: Grand Emperor Hotel Macau

Casino companies are betting on Hong Kong’s equity markets to raise funds for expansion. Photo: Grand Emperor Hotel Macau

Gambling Firms Aim to Raise Funds for Macau, Overseas Casino Operations

HONG KONG— For WSJKate O’Keeffe & Yvonne Lee report: China’s international financial hub, located a quick ferry ride from the world’s casino capital, has seen a throng of gambling companies rush to its equity markets over the past year.macau-chip-vintage

“The Asia gaming industry should be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the next decade.”

– CLSA analyst Aaron Fischer

Since July 2013, at least six casino and VIP gambling companies have unveiled plans to list in Hong Kong, often through so-called backdoor listings. These companies are either hoping to raise funds to expand abroad or to bolster business at home in Macau at a time when the enclave’s $45 billion gambling market is suffering its first revenue declines in five years.

wsj-custom-casinos-asia

Most recently, Nasdaq-listed Iao Kun Group Holdings Co. last month filed a formal listing application to go public “by introduction,” where no new funds are raised, hiring Rothschild (Hong Kong) Ltd. as its sponsor. The company is part of Macau’s junket industry, which brings high-spending gamblers from mainland China to Macau, issues them credit and collects players’ debts in exchange for commissions from casinos. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Hong Kong: Photographer Daniel Lau’s Cuckoo Bananas Skyscraper Selfie

It starts as a video of smiling friends eating bananas but within seconds it becomes a contender for the world’s scariest selfie.

Photographer Daniel Lau pulled out his “selfie stick” to take dizzying footage of a rooftopping adventure 346m (1135 feet) above the streets of Hong Kong.

Lau, fellow photographer Andrew Tso and A.S. are seen in the video snacking while perched dangerously on the spire of The Centre skyscraper, Hong Kong’s fifth-tallest skyscraper.

The video is made all the more sickening thanks to a wide-angle lens mounted on a stick, with each pan of the camera sure to turn the stomach of those scared of heights.

攝影師 Daniel Lau 在中環中心避雷針頂端,與朋友 Andrew Tso 和 A.S. 「吃香蕉自拍」360度天台危攝片段,維港景色一覽無遺,中環「密密麻麻」的高樓大廈­也頓變渺小,成為拍攝者的背景。

 


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