Snoopy consigns Bic Mac to the bin

RUBBISH BINS in and around McDonald's restaurants in Hong Kong are overflowing with uneaten "Big Value Meals". But this is not an angry Chinese comment on the best American cuisine. It is a result of a mania sweeping the former colony that shows that there is at least one activity dearer to the hearts of its people than the pursuit of money - the pursuit of Snoopy.

As part of its strategy for boosting business during the recession the McDonald's fast food chain has been offering the Snoopy toys for a knockdown price of HK$6 (45p) to buyers of its "Big Value Meals".

Each day a new Snoopy model is on offer. On Thursday, for example, there was a "China Snoopy" to commemorate China's National Day. Next Tuesday there will be a "Hong Kong Snoopy" to mark the start of the Mid-Autumn festival, which used to be characterised by the distribution of mooncakes, but now seems destined to be awash with Big Macs.

The craze shows no sign of abating. In its wake it has provoked violence, arrests, vast queues and heartbreak, as well as unprecedented heaps of wasted food.

At one outlet a customer was detained after punching a McDonald's branch manager who was trying to resolve a queue-jumping dispute. A photographer trying to record Snoopy frenzy was attacked by customers. Police have mobilised to guard Hong Kong's many McDonald's outlets.

Meanwhile, parents have been reporting problems dealing with distraught children who have queued at the outlets only to find that Snoopy stocks have run out.

A letter writer to the South China Morning Post yesterday recalled how "against my advice, my son went to a McDonald's outlet after school and called me in despair when he learned the toys were sold out".

But the true Hong Kong entrepreneurial spirit has not been swamped entirely. Hardened Snoopy dealers have joined the queues and emerged with Snoopys, which they are offering at something like 10 times the official price.

Despite the turmoil in financial markets, there seems to be no shortage of buyers.