Thursday, 5 July 2012

Chinese proverb - "Wealth does not pass three generations"

The McBaby, ma mere and I spent a lovely afternoon at the Picasso exhibition in Shatin, viewing the key masterpieces such as Portrait of a man and the Barefoot Girl. The little man has shown a keen interest in art and usually spends longer taking in a painting than I do!

In addition to appraising Picasso's work, he still found time to do a bit more flirting with a group of women. This time the average age of this group was 90 so a very touching experience watching these amazing elderly ladies taking the time to play with the little man in return for his coos and smiles.

We had a quick Japanese meal before heading home on the bus. Hong Kong's subway, known as the MTR, is the best I've ever experienced. While we were here, people were protesting about a price hike, but even taking into account the cost of living and the price rise, I feel that the subway is exceptional value for money. It's clean, efficient and quiet, and makes London's Underground look tired, dangerous and shabby. Having said that, we decided to take the bus home so that we could have a good look out of the window at Hong Kong which literally changes day-to-day. It was while we were looking out of the window that my mum made an astonishing throwaway comment.

Hong Kong is well known for being progressive, almost to the point of sacrilege. You rarely see old buildings, and heritage is forsaken for everything new. Just look at the harbour which used to be the most beautiful in the world. Land reclamation has meant that it's narrowed considerably and it's now choppy and ugly. So from the bus, I pointed out an old building which looked incongruous in Hong Kong's modern setting.

"Ah yes," said ma mere. "That was built by my great grandfather who was quite big in the construction industry. I think it's one of the last remaining buildings that he built that hasn't been torn down to be replaced by a block of flats.".

I did know that my great, great grandfather was extremely wealthy. In a true rags-to-riches story, when his father died, he was forced to find work in order to feed himself and his mother. As a small-built 10-year-old, he'd tout for work with a bucket, offering to clean the funnels of visiting ships as he was just about the right size to climb inside. Work increased to the point where, aged 16, he was the head of a multi-million dollar operation and majorly wealthy. Before you think that our family retains any of this impressive wealth, I'll explain what happened next. In the time it took me to type that sentence, one relative snaffled the money that was meant to be split equally and decided to invest it in Brazil. Not in Rio or Sao Paolo, but a worthless piece of rainforest that no-one can find!

"No, not him!" said my mum. "I'm talking about my OTHER great grandfather." Apparently, and unbelievably, her other great grandfather also made a fortune from nothing. He started a construction firm just as Hong Kong became a massive trading port. He even owned a substantial proportion of Hong Kong's famous waterside properties. Similarly when he died, the money was not split equally, but ended up in the hands of one relative who blew the lot one night in what must have been the world's most interesting card game.

As the Chinese say, and as we say: "From clogs to clogs in three generations".

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