Would You Prefer a Private Island, or a Private Jet?
I’ve been a loyal reader of the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Hong Kong’s leading English language daily, for nearly 40 years. Like almost anything we interact with on a daily basis for that long, especially a media product, my experience as a long-term reader sometimes has elements of a love-hate relationship.
Consuming a media product nearly every day for so many years somehow gives the consumer (in this case, me) a sense of quasi-ownership, of the product, its contents, its design, etc., or at least the parts of it which they are especially fond of and thus follow most closely: favorite columnists, sections, features, cartoons, or whatever.
The SCMP recently brought in a world-renowned design guru for a complete redesign. Hats off to them for taking the initiative to invest in an improved, fresh look. Especially nowadays, print media are justifiably focused on reinvention of everything from their design to their business models. This is smart, and necessary to keep up with the competitive explosion of information bombarding consumers from all angles.
Maybe it’s an age thing (ie reserved for Golden Rabbits and above), but while I applaud the need for occasional redesign, there’s also the cranky voice inside me which says things like:
• Where in the hell have they moved old ‘whatsit’ to?
• The new TV program guide is unreadable.
• What’s this new column?
• Those colors look like a dog’s breakfast.
• Who signed off on this dopey article?
• That headline is so big it just punched me in the nose.
Which means that, as a consumer, dramatic redesign of a familiar product gets my clear attention, plus a certain degree of appreciation for the effort, accompanied by a release of somewhat cynical push-back and questioning of the rationale for some of the changes. All of which is a healthy dynamic, I think. The push-back usually only lasts a few days and then we tend to forget about it, or go elsewhere. Anyway, I’m still reading the paper.
Which brings me to a recent lead article in the SCMP Business Post, the SCMP’s business section. On this particular day, the lead story on the front page carried this sub-headline:
“Mainlanders are going big in their hunt for more luxury as private islands around the world emerge as sound opportunities to put down their money.”
The thrust of this article is that China’s super-rich are now joining the ranks of Bill Gates and Richard Branson in buying private get-away islands around the world. I’m sure it’s true, but I’m not convinced it’s quite that big a story or a very widespread phenomenon.
By coincidence, the top story on the back page of the same day’s Business Post is headlined “Welcome to the Private Jet Set” — all about how “private planes are becoming the next ‘must have’ for mainland moguls.” Compared with the private islands story, there’s clear evidence that the private jet ownership trend is real and growing, for individuals as well as companies.
One salient difference between the two articles is that the “private islands” piece was essentially based on inputs from one Hong Kong-based property agency specializing in selling high-priced islands to mainland Chinese investors, whereas the “private jets” piece sourced data from a variety of aviation industry sources, offering the probability of a more balanced, more objective perspective.
When I read the islands article it suddenly occurred to me that while I am not an expert on many things, I am relatively expert on island living, since I have been living on an island for as long as I have been reading the South China Morning Post.
For the past 25 years or so, I’ve lived on Hong Kong Island. For ten years before that, I lived on another island within Hong Kong, which at the time had no paved roads, automobiles or trucks.
(I prefer not to reveal the name of the island here in case some wealthy mainland tycoon swoops down and buys it tomorrow.)
The impression I got from reading the “islands” article is that wealthier mainland Chinese are engaged in a huge feeding frenzy of buying up islands around the globe, ranging in price from a tiny, undeveloped postage stamp of a place (about US$5 million), to those much fancier, sexier locations with luxury homes, boat docks, palm trees, helicopter landing pads, etc. selling for tens of millions of US dollars or much more.
I have my doubts about the real extent of this frenzy of global Chinese island buying.
For one thing, most private islands do not offer good Chinese food unless you bring and prepare your own, which in the case of Chinese food, is much more complex than preparing wieners, chicken wings and burgers for BBQ.
For another, if you have the kind of moolah required to buy an upscale private island, personal and family security is likely to be a big concern. Unless you want to build a small fortress, private islands are risky spots. Kidnapping is a big threat in the minds of super wealthy tycoons.
And another: one reason why Chinese women generally have such lovely skin even into middle age is that they take very good care of it, through diet and lifestyle. choices as well as mostly staying out of the sun. Islands and their beaches are generally more “in the sun” than “in the shade” places to hang out. In other words, wrinkle city.
Apart from these factors there are the snakes (I once had a cobra in my kitchen — honest), the rats, bats, scorpions, mosquitoes, sand flies, seasickness, typhoons, hurricanes, flooding, inaccessibility to urgent medical care, and total lack of shopping malls with luxury brand retailers.
I’ll hold my breath with regard to the forecast of a big surge in numbers of wealthy mainland Chinese buying up private islands around the world.
Private jets is another story.
It also goes to show that lots of people, journalists included, are very susceptible to believing almost anything about what wealthy mainland Chinese are rushing to buy these days.