Sourcing Silver in Hong Kong with Brad Pitt: Part 3

But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Keep in mind, the bullet-train’s windows only give a few snap-shots of Hong Kong. The history or the city goes deeper. (Duh!)

Don’t forget, I’m on a buying (a.k.a. sourcing) trip for my New York-based silver jewelry company. (That’s right, I’m a Noo Yawka). I’ve asked the company’s Product Development Officer, Susan, to join me. She declined — some lame excuse about being eight and a half months pregnant. She suggested I ask her second in command, Ricardo Mummitti. I asked. He accepted.

Ricardo a young 32 year-old, single guy, looks a little like Brad Pitt but with an Ed Norton brain, (remember Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners? If you don’t, your Dad will.) There’s another problem with Ed; he’s a New Yorker too, having never been outside the Bronx or Manhattan. When it comes to sourcing, he’s a ‘rookie’ – with a reputation of asking irritating questions.

Back to Hong Kong. Without going into too much detail, Hong Kong was, until recently, a British possession. So, English is the ‘second’ language, after Chinese Cantonese. Mandarin is the other Chinese language, but only spoken on mainland China.

Nevertheless, the city has a wonderful mix of Chinese and British culture. Many British investment banks, and their English executives, keep the ‘old-school’ British traditions alive – lunch clubs, three-piece suits, lawn tennis and all that.

All told, Hong Kong is clean, orderly and modern.

But, the Chinese culture still has the upper hand. The appearance of the streets is clearly Chinese, (see the picture on the right). As a matter of fact, tea, the Chinese version of American soft-drinks, is sold in tea parlors on almost every corner. They remind me of New York’s pizza shops.

There are even some subtle signs of American culture. McDonald’s – believe it or not — has a large restaurant near the Star Ferry Pier, a landmark in Kowloon.

All told, Hong Kong is clean, orderly and modern.

 On the train, we were sitting next to jewelers from Mumbai, Istanbul and Vietnam, all headed to the fair.  

No matter how hard he tried, Ricardo’s head was spinning; his eyes couldn’t keep up with the sights — the train was moving too fast. After a while, he lost interest or he got a headache – or both. He started with the questions.

“What’s on the other side of the harbor?” He asked.

I answered as simply as possible. Hong Kong is really divided into three parts: Hong Kong Island, (called Hong Kong), Kowloon and New Territories. People mainly live in Kowloon, along with some stores, small factories and hotels. My favorite institution, The Hong Kong Museum, is in Kowloon too.

New Territories is full of tall apartment buildings to accommodate the flood of people arriving from mainland China.

Hong Kong is an Asian center for banks, brokerage houses, foreign embassies and such. Government offices and the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centreare there too. There’s a lot to do and see in Hong Kong Island but, I told Ricardo, explore the sights on your own time.

Ricardo chimed in. “I’d like to email my babe”, (New York translation: girlfriend). “ What hotel we staying at?”

Although there are hundreds of marvelous hotels in the city, I told him I had made reservations at the world-famous Peninsula Hotel. The place is very expensive, but arguably the best hotel service in the world. Among other things, each floor has a butler so chances are your bags will be unpacked before you reach your room.

“If the hotel is so expensive why not go somewhere cheaper?” he asked

Well, during WWII, Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese. My uncle was a Dutch soldier, captured and interred, (and died), in The Peninsula — then a Japanese POW prison.

Staying there makes me – err, emotional. Maybe the room I’m staying in will be the cell he died in.

“Okay Ricardo”, I said in my deep executive voice, “No more questions. Let’s start thinking about the fair and what you’ll be doing there. Let’s make the company some money.”

“Now starts the business of sourcing globally,” I told him. “You might even learn something.”

To be continued…

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