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Monday, 1 March 2010

Message from Beijing

I have just had an interesting chat with someone I know who has just moved from Taipei to Beijing. He is English but has, after a ten year stint in Taiwan, learnt Mandarin Chinese. His overall impression of Beijing is that there isn't much for the wealthy Chinese to spend their money on.

In America the rich, and certainly the super rich, can buy a ranch in Wyoming, or a Condo in Florida; maybe a town house in New York, or San Fran. They can dabble in art, wine, private equity and of course, stocks and shares.

By contrast, the rich Chinese have limited options. The property market is tight and by common consent is a bubble and  most of the cities have little to commend them.  There are few opportunities for private equity. They can certainly buy local art, which is becoming popular in the West and the Chinese are developing a taste for expensive wines. They have a penchant for mixing their vintage cabinet sauvignon with coco cola. I'm sure the French growers don't mind, as long as they are paid.

The point is, from a western perspective Asia and other emerging markets look like the place to be. However, if you are rich and live there then the West, and in particular, America is still the place with the most opportunity.

Besides, the brutal truth is that much of Asia is pretty un pleasant. Hong Kong is a beautiful and vibrant city but there isn't much of interest culture wise. Like most of Asia, Hong Kong finance types with little interest in creating a rich culture. Seoul is awful and the locals can be difficult. However, you at least see some interesting experimentation in clothes and films, such as Old Boy, demonstrate a streak of brilliance you don't find elsewhere in Asia, with the exception of Japan.

Taipei is a bomb site - there has been very little investment over the years, though you can find great Sushi. Singapore is clean and works but it has as much get up and go as a supermarket check out. You would be hard pressed to find a more spookily soulless place on earth. The high point - fish head curry on Race Track road. There is an underlying atmosphere of hysteria in Singapore that is really quite unsettling.

Off to Singapore to night so best not say anymore. In Hong Kong over the week end.