Pity the poor Chinese white-collar worker – according to a number of polls he is in poor shape. The Oriental Morning Post found that 76% of white-collar workers are in poor health and are biologically 10 years older than their actual age! The paper blamed rising property prices, difficulties finding a suitable spouse and missing home after moving to the big city. All problems, admittedly, but no mention of the impact of high smoking rates, rising alcohol consumption and growing obesity levels. A lot of companies should be concerned. How many brands depend on the good health of the white collars to hit their sales targets? Can’t sell them much if they’re stuck at home in bed feeling unwell!
So Avatar has broken all previous box office records in China just like the last Transformers movie and the apocalyptic flick 2012 did before it. Not that surprising in a country where sci-fi is widely read and half the population seems to be involved in some sort of internet role-play game. More interesting to me is the buzz around the new Sherlock Holmes film. Back in the 1980s and 1990s China went through a prolonged obsession with Holmes, Watson and 221b Baker Street. Holmes’s scientific methods of investigation fascinated people. Around 1997 I once addressed a packed meeting of Chinese "Sherlockians" in a Beijing suburb on life in Victorian London. According to British Council surveys, older Chinese still associate London with fog and gentlemen detectives. Then everyone got obsessed with technology and a younger generation found new heroes.
A bank analyst’s note on China from someone in a plush office in London or New York passed across my desk recently. It argued that China’s high-end retailers could expect a tough 2010. The evidence? Sales of gold and jewelry were down. Sitting in the West, and with only an occasional whirlwind tour of China, may lead to this conclusion. But wander round the streets of Shanghai and you’ll notice a change in trends. Last year the number of new shops selling jade and stone jewelry rocketed. More and more girls are eschewing gold and silver baubles for stones. They’re chatting about stones on the internet and patronizing smaller specialist shops rather than the big jewelry chains. You won’t see that trend from a distance, even from the top floor of Canary Wharf.
Clever guy that I am, I’ve been looking closely at concentrated solar power (CSP)-biomass hybridization lately. Bit of a mouthful, but interesting. Sand willow was originally planted out in Shanxi province to prevent desertification, but it’s also a useful source of biomass (heat generated by CSP is used to burn up the sand willow). At the moment it’s quite an expensive and land intensive technology, but a number of Chinese firms are starting to manufacture the required equipment, which is likely to bring component prices down, making CSP-biomass hybrid power plants more commercially viable. This is what happened when China started making wind turbines and photovoltaic cells; now CSP tech looks like it’s following the same trajectory.
A ray of sunlight on a cold day – the tax bureau has reduced my monthly tax rate! I’m not sure why and I’m not asking in case they change their mind but it is intriguing. I was always taught that the only things certain in life were death and taxes, and that tax never goes down; only up. If this is in some small way my contribution to the stimulus program and injecting more money into consumption then I stand willing and ready to do more!