I’ve been shamed into blogging again by the lovely Kristen, who, despite cleverly giving birth to a wee chap a week ago, still finds the time to document the whole experience, upload photos and respond to congratulations.
There’s no way I can describe quite how strange a world trade fair is, but I’m going to give it a shot. Hong Kong feels as though it happened about 10 years ago, but a few observations stick in my mind:
After two days of walking at least 10k a day through seven massive floors of jewellery exhibits, I was ready to go home. The ‘low end’ traders (Malaysian cubic zirconias, Burmese bead dealers, Indian heat-treated gems) were chucked in the carpark, then the Chinese costume jewellers, the German antique traders on the next floor, watch and clock makers, marcasite traders, then loose pearls and diamonds around the middle, then up in the lofty heights were the designer jewellers with stones as big as a quail’s eggs where jazz played all day and sandwiches and glasses of wine appeared in my hand as if by magic.
One of the Mean Girls flicked my magazine and said “it’s rather thin isn’t it?” Someone else chimed in with “I didn’t know there was much of a jewellery industry in Australia.” Some journos wouldn’t even speak to me, god knows why.
Over breakfast one morning, I met this immensely cultured, fabulous and intimidating fellow – let’s call him ‘Thierry’. He was the Marty Scorsese of the trade fair. He could talk about any topic under the sun, and everyone wanted to shake his hand and act like they knew him.
I of course had loaded up my plate with hash browns, scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles, chocolate sauce, maple syrup, poached eggs, tomatoes, spuds and was secretly planning a second dash to the buffet. Everyone else had museli, fruit, tea etc and Thierry had a single black coffee.
As I sat down at brekky I shook the hand of the chap opposite, accidentally collecting the orchid on the table and scattering drops of water everywhere. Everyone laughed gaily. Then Thierry commented upon my (costume) brooch, and where did I get it. “I got it off eBay the other day!” I exclaimed. I went on at length to describe all the great bargains I had found therein, to the general snickers of the table. I brightly asked Thierry who he worked for. More snickering. He told me he had just sold his magazine, and had I heard of it.
Then one French chap asked me if I was going to Thierry’s ‘conference’. This threw me a bit – I am not entirely human before 8am. Was it the seminar? Or was there another thing I’d not heard about? Thierry stared me down: “You will not be ‘zere? I will come to your room, yes? Per’aps I geeve you a private session!” Arrrgggh. By this stage I went bright red and just stared down at my greasy plate. The whole table roared with laughter.
At his seminar I discovered that he was at the very top of his profession. No wonder everyone drooled like Pavlov’s dog at the mention of his name. He had worked with De Beers for over 20 years, owned several magazines, and recently written a book, where he managed to get not only Chanel and Dior to cooperate with each other, but most of the major fashion houses of the world. To have a photo taken for the book, someone stashed a $2 million diamond necklace under their top on the flight to Paris, rather than declare it at customs. Gosh I am embarrassing. After that, every time I bumped into him I would cringe.
I believe he had had seven wives. He sat in on a press conference by just plonking himself down a coffee – everyone else was festooned with notepads, dictaphones, cameras and all sorts of paraphernalia. He then opened the conference with the (female) head of exhibitions by stating “where shall I sit….your lap? Non? Per’aps you sit on mine, yes?” Everyone chortled because he was, after all, ‘Thierry’.
Moving right along. The whole thing was a crazy mix of seminars, press conferences and bogus ‘events’, where the aforementioned anorexics would parade out proudly in their ill-fitting satin gowns and plastic banners while the security guards would drop their post (guarding squillions of dollars worth of gemstones) to take pictures with their camera phones.
Every time I saw the Indian fortune teller and his pal (at least another three times), they would point at me and yell “LUCKY LUCKY LUCKY!!” until I had to ignore them in the end.
I attended the press conference for the Thai delegation. Sitting down, I was pelted with business cards and glasses of water, and was soon joined by the Asian journalists and their translators. We were begged to attend the Thai cocktail function. At some unseen signal, we were surrounded by about 20 photographers and cameramen, all eagerly snapping away with long shots and close-ups as though I had something meaningful to say. The (very chatty) conference went for half an hour, and nothing was actually said.
I interviewed an Israeli pearl dealer in the back section of his top floor stand. He had surrounded himself with quiet Chinese assistants who performed every function short of scratching his nose and blowing on his coffee. I mean, he would snap his fingers and a pen would appear in his hand. Then as someone came in, he would shout, “get their number! Get his business card!”
As I started asking questions, he was approached by a scruffy-looking Tahitian pearl trader with a velvet-lined tray full of stones. “Stop the tape recorder!” he snapped. Then the Tahitian chap produced a golf ball-sized pearl, and they started to haggle. Many contemptuous comments flew back and forth, and the pearl was rubbed, polished and at one stage, sniffed. “No. OK. You’ll never get anything more than two grand for it.” The Tahitian begged to differ. “OK. Turn on the recorder.” I continued my line of questioning, while a Thai bloke walked in and started to handle a gigantic diamond and pearl necklace. “Stop the tape recorder! Who is that guy?” he asked his assistants. “Get his card! What do you do?”
Then a massive argument ensued over the top of my head, while the Tahitian rummaged hastily in his bag for more pearls. The Thai guy started to haggle on the necklace, all the while pretending to be offended that he was accused of ripping of a design. He felt that anything on the outside of the shop was fair game. “Yes, but you are in my shop!” the Israeli dealer cried, waving his arms high. The necklace was worth US$200,000, and the Thai man was only offering US$85,000. “Come back when you are ready to talk serious prices!” shouted the Israeli, scaring him off. “I know that man, I have seen him before. He looks at the back of my designs, he looks at the front and makes them back home for cheap! Turn on the tape recorder.” Turning back to the Tahitian he barked – “no.”
This was quite a big problem at the fair – you could even make a complaint if you felt someone had ripped off your original design. I met a mad Korean woman, who shrieked when I told her I’d seen something similar to hers in the design exhibit. She seized my arm sharply and started wailing, while her husband looked on, shaking with laughter. I got a long and detailed description of how she was ‘inspired by the natural wonder and immense magnificence of the feminine beauty of nature’, and the exact consistency of the blood, sweat and tears she poured when making each piece.
Meanwhile in the Dragon Lounge, amongst all the wheeling and dealing, all the crustiest old lines were hauled out, dusted off and resurrected for the benefit of the Ladies. Everywhere I turned, old men were feigning delight, kissing hands and charming the knickers off anybody who’d stand still for long enough. One really old geezer near me seized this blonde lady and exclaimed “Ah, now I know why everyone wants to move to New Zealand!!” I suppose that’s business.
In between all of this craziness, Alix and I managed to consume a bottle of wine – each – every night, as she is apparently on air-kissing terms with every bar owner in Hong Kong. We ate chili dumplings in peanut sauce, duck, eel, yum cha, mangosteens from the market, mapo tofu, that textured protein that looks like a chux but is actually nice, in fact all varieties of tofu EXCEPT THE STINKY TOFU I WAS THERE TO SAMPLE!! That was declared ‘disgusting’, and ‘like drains’. As if all those years of eating Durian has not prepared me for it!! Hmf.
The pictures are of some porcelain statues I found in a tourist market. One is of, I swear, a ballet dancer oppressing a peasant while doing an arabesque. I was informed briskly that it was just a Red Guard soldier on a regular mission of oppression, dang it. Other pics of a chocolate and espresso martini, taken in ‘Feather Boa’, one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. It was like an 18th century French salon. Sigh. And the martini had about 10 Malteesers in it.
Now I’m back in ‘normality’ in a new office, and will blogge tomorrow with photos.