Friday, November 17, 2006

Mind the gap

There are a hell of a lot of very wealthy people in Hong Kong. Conspicuous wealth is everywhere, from the record sum a billionaire was willing to pay for a truffle (US$160,406), to the tycoon who has just paid US$17.4m for Andy Warhol’s pop-art portrait of Mao, to the proliferation of the world’s largest signature designer shops (Gucci, Armani, Lanvin), with unwearable clothes and baroque jewellery glittering inaccessibly behind heavy windows, to the fact that Hong Kong has the highest per capita ownership of Mercedes and the most dollar millionaires per square metre.

But there’s a lot of poverty and hardship here too: huge families packed in to 700 sq ft apartments; people sweltering in filthy rooms; children who can’t afford books; taxi drivers who throw themselves from the top of buildings because they’re so heavily in debt.

It does bother me that this dichotomy exists, and that I’m part of the problem, with my shallow desires for shoes and rings : from precipitous glass edifices posing as office buildings to rotting shacks – it’s a city of contrasts all right. The only thing we all have in common is that we’re currently all breathing the same filthy polluted air.

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