Traders live up to their capitalist credentials

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The Independent Online
Sam Coates Hong Kong

For many of those working in Hong Kong, the handover period is yet another excuse to do what they like best - making money. Entrepreneurs have been planning for months on the best way to capitalise on the massive invasion of people to this shoppers' paradise, and have turned the change of sovereignty into as much a commercial event as a political one.

No opportunity has been passed up as being too tacky - the people of Hong Kong are determined to squeeze the last dollar out of its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Every shop and market stall in the heart of tourist Hong Kong is selling commemorative T-shirts, stamped with either a white Chinese dolphin - the symbol for the handover ceremonies - or the bauhina flower, the emblem of the new Special Administrative Region (SAR). They are undisputably popular, with the more common sizes already sold out in some shops, and scrums of tourists forming around remaining stock.

Every other conceivable items have handover or SAR logos emblazoned on them: there are mugs, ashtrays, reading lights, handkerchiefs, badges, key rings, glass monuments and writing pads, all vying for the attention of the shoppers.

Many traders are using the handover as an excuse for a sale, which will no doubt move seemlessly into a more general "summer Sale", to bring in the punters after handover tie-ins are no longer in vogue.

The main advantage of printing a handover logo on a shirt is that it enables the shop to hike up the price. In one case, a "Special Commemorative Handover" shirt with the bauhina printed on the front cost $HK120, (pounds 10) whereas the identical version elsewhere in the shop without the 2in logo was almost half the price - at $65.

A number of stalls have concentrated on cashing-in on the last vestiges of the British colonial empire, with policemen's helmets, flags and London calendars all for sale.

Some places are even selling money, with $5bn commemorative bank notes a snip at just $68. Philatelists are in their element, with several places selling last day under British rule stamps, with large hordings promising first day under the Chinese rule replacements from tomorrow.

For those hoping to thin out over-fat wallets, a 4in high solid gold statue of a Chinese dolphin will set you back a mere HK$16,088 (pounds 1,313). If that is not enough, you could buy a brooch in the shape of the SAR flower - made out of white gold and jade for HK$32,000 (pounds 2,612).

Imaginative entrepreneurs have even found a way of cashing in on the 2 million-strong mobile phone market by producing commemorative pre-pay phone cards decorated with a picture of the harbour-front.

Users of the MTR (Underground) system were offered a commemorative ticket - but they didn't print enough and ran out more than a week before the handover. There is, however, the odd gap in the market, with for example card manufactures surprisingly ignoring the event, so those hoping to send "Happy Handover" cards are out of luck.

The dog-eat-dog capitalist ways of Hong Kong have meant that some shops have deemed the selling of handover merchandise not lucrative enough - and have rejected it in favour of even more potentially rewarding items.

The Lost World tie-ins come a close second to the end of British Colonial rule as a ruse to attract the punters, with dinosaur books, pencils, boots T-shirts and models all trying to distract the shopper's eye away from handover versions of the same. There were even those who have said that this evening's ceremonies pale in comparison to the main event in Hong Kong this month - the opening of the film itself last week.