Today was a really funny day.
I'm in Hong Kong and have a bit of time to walk around before my first
meeting here, so I go out and about, up and down the Nathan Road, which
is one of the main streets of Kowloon near my hotel.
As I'm walking I see this massive queue outside the branch of the Bank of China.
Oh no, methinks. Not another Northern Rock? Surely IndyMac Bank syndrome hasn't struck China has it?
Being a good British citizen, I do the only thing that a Brit would do and join the queue.
Why not? There must be something important happening.
Unfortunately, I ask everyone around me if they can tell me what is
going on, and all I get back is Cantonese, which I don't speak. Mind
you, I am in Canton Chinese Hong Kong, so it's my own fault that I
can't speak the language.
So I queue.
It's a hot and humid day, but I don't mind. Nothing better to do and I am British. I like queuing.
After about 20 minutes, I get to the corner and there are some chaps in suits from the Bank of China.
I ask what is going on.
And they say, "you want money?"
"Sure", I reply. "Don't we all?" After all, this is a run on the
bank isn't it? I leave the last line out as I don't want to get
"You have passport?" they say.
"Sure", I respond. "After all, I am a tourist." And a seriously nerdy banking geek who wants to see why you're going bankrupt.
"Then you have card", they say and smile at me, grinning and cheerful.
They seem awfully happy for a bank run, I think, and wonder if they
want me to give them my credit card. Instead, they give me a card that
has a bank branch number on it, plus my passport number and a time.
So I come back at the allotted time and go to the branch and now there's no queue.
This is really weird I'm thinking. Maybe they've run out of money.
I give them my passport and card, and the teller says, "you want one note or two?" in perfect English.
"Jeez", I say, "you have to ration the bank notes now. This must be bad."
"What you say?" She replies, and gives me this look like I'm the weirdo.
"Well, I saw you have a bank run today with everyone taking out their money. It must be hard times here." I say.
"You nuts!" she laughs. "Today is special day. Look, we launch new
bank note just for Olympic Games." And she hands me this specially
framed bank note.
"You want one or two?"
Wow, that's a relief. The subprime crisis and bank collapses haven't
hit Hong Kong and China. It's totally different. It's a celebration.
I read the leaflet that goes with the note, and it says that it's
the first time a bank note collection has been created just for the
And all of these Hong Kong folks have been queuing for hours, some
for days, to get hold of these limited edition notes. These things are
special. They are so special that only 50 branches of the Bank of
China, Hong Kong – they have a lot more – are distributing these
specially issued bank notes.
That is why everyone is queuing: to get a commemorative Bank of
China Olympic Banknote. You even have tourists from all over China who
have come here to get one.
So I buy two HK$20 (US$2.50) notes to celebrate with the proud
Chinese nation for the Olympic special year. The two HK$20 notes cost
me HK$276 (US$32).
Hold on. That's a HK$236 (US$27) profit for the Bank of China, or HK$118 (US$13:50) per note.
So I ask how many notes they've issued.
Wow, the Chinese are so clever.
That's a HK$327.4 million (US$40 million) profit for the Bank of China in one day*.
So much more refreshing than a bank run.
p.s. if you want the true story of what is going on in Hong Kong, click here.
* all profits are for charitable causes