(Photograph Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
Not long after I arrived in Hong Kong, a lavish, shiny brochure came through the door for an incredible-looking new development, "Bel-Air on the Peak". In the pictures, graceful landscaped gardens wound down to a pier where a white boat awaited. Chandeliers glistered and Old Masters glimmered from the walls of high ceilinged French-style apartments. A woman in a couture gown darted barefoot along soft grass; beyond lay a building resembling the Palace of Versailles.
Closer scrutiny revealed the following: the building was not "on the Peak" (the most expensive place in Hong Kong and a prestigious address); it was in a new development, built on reclaimed land and therefore much closer to sea level, called Cyberport which had been handed by the government to the wealthy princeling son of one of Asia's richest men without going to competitive tender. There was no access to the waterfront, and there would therefore be no elegant boats waiting to whisk the residents to the Riviera. There were tiny gardens with no grass. The pictures were of a French palace - in France.
It turns out that this entirely fraudulent depiction, which would not be permitted in other jurisdictions, is quite commonplace in Hong Kong. The adverts often follow the same pattern: featuring beautiful couples (often of Western appearance), the women in extravagant dresses, the man in a suit, comporting themselves smugly/elegantly before a generously laid table with champagne glasses in hand, an incredible view out of their window. Blue skies, expansive space, greenery everywhere.
I was reminded of this trickery this morning on glimpsing another risible, aspirational ad: a man playing chess with a genius child in front of their floor-to-ceiling picture window with, again, clear skies and twinkling lights just like diamonds. Compare and contrast this with what is really outside every window in Hong Kong: in the last couple of days, pollution levels well over even the piss-poor, forgiving Hong Kong scale. Tonight's paddle was cancelled due to pollution - a first. But I suppose Hong Kongers will continue to convince themselves, as they drive to work in their Mercedes, encouraged by deceitful advertising and the government blaming sandstorms in Beijing, that they aren't part of the problem.