As crisis deepens, one man's pain is another man's pleasure: HONG KONG DIARY

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The Independent Online
When describing the practice of revelling in the misfortunes of others, English speakers have to rely on a German word - schadenfreude. The Chinese have no such problem. Here in Hong Kong we've been hearing a lot of people saying "hang djoy lok wor," literally meaning "happy about other people's disasters".

There is a great deal to be happy about these days in financially-challenged Hong Kong. Admittedly we have caught no more than the tail end of the financial crisis sweeping across Asia but it has been sufficiently potent to give us something to chuckle about.

All the people you love to hate are facing problems. I list them in no particular order but they include Hong Kong's voracious landlords, stockbrokers and other money pushers, estate agents, banks, the managers of posh hotels and the purveyors of designer clothing.

Just months ago this unsavoury assortment of the rich and mean were going about their business without a care in the world. Now things are very different.

Property prices are diving through the floor, which prompted a friend of mine to ask for a rent reduction last October. The crisis was just taking hold then and his landlord replied that as he was the first to ask for a reduction, he would never be given one. The block of flats where this occurred is now half empty.

Out of sheer malice I have spent small amounts of time peering into the windows of totally deserted estate agents. I like to see the previously surly persons employed in these premises leap out of their seats and dash outside to see if they can help me.

Malice also takes me to make enquiries about room rates at Hong Kong's notoriously overpriced hotels where the word "discount" was about as rare as a modest stockbroker. Ask for a discount these days and you will hear nothing resembling the `D' word but are almost certain to be regaled with talk of packages. It amounts to the same thing but doesn't sound half as crude.

As for stockbrokers, and so-called analysts, who could be spied spending the equivalent of some smaller nation's gross domestic product on an evening's entertainment, they are now more subdued, some are even out of work.

Only a hypocrite would pretend that it gives them no pleasure to observe these sorry souls clutching a half drunk bottle of some tepid Mexican beer for an entire evening.

Before reluctantly departing from the baiting of financial analysts I am keeping a careful count of the number of such people who are claiming to have been the "only one" to have predicted the current financial crisis. The tally of such "exclusives" is now in double figures. Rigorously excluded from this total is one of Hong Kong's most flamboyant fund managers, known as Dr Doom. His real name is Marc Faber and he has been predicting the collapse of Asian markets through two major booms when anyone following his advice would have forgone making a small fortune.

Hong Kong is a hot contender for the title of having the world's worst climate. Most of the year it is extremely humid, and, more recently, heavily polluted. The worst of the humidity starts round about now. Unless precautions are taken clothes left in cupboards take on a lurid green appearance as they become covered in mould. However, determined to look on the brighter side, I can report that this is all good news for us cigar smokers. Only a fool would need to invest in a humidor in these circumstances.

The Hong Kong government and its more extreme supporters who are currently stuffing themselves with Peking duck while attending the monotonous sessions of the rubber-stamp National People's Congress in Peking, hate nothing more than the enormously popular radio talk-in shows, which score top ratings here. The trouble with these shows is that Mr and Mrs Joe Public demonstrate a less than reverential attitude towards Peking. Last week I was chatting with Albert Cheng, the king of the talk shows, who revealed the secret of his survival. According to the scrupulously immodest Mr Cheng, Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive, needs him around so that when he is criticised for his autocratic ways he can smile and present his democratic credentials by saying "how can you say there's no freedom in Hong Kong with Albert Cheng around".