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Belt-tightening in Hong Kong

A strange side-benefit of the Asia crisis: Hong Kong becomes less brash, and the service improves. "I've always preferred living in Hong Kong during a recession," says John Manser, the great taipan of Robert Fleming, from the comfort of his London office.

How true, how very true, I reflect later as I tip a pathetically grateful taxi driver. With unemployment hovering above 5% - and rising - the people of Hong Kong seem to be recovering their manners. Salespeople even look up from their newspapers and serve you with an attempted smile. The worst-bred taxi drivers in the world are beginning to say words like "hello" and "sir". Yesterday one tried conversation: "Wanchai very empty. Economy stinky. No-one drink any more."

Bankers of course are the exception. Drinking is on the up and they're just as arrogant and rude as ever, even after they've been "let go".

A new bar called Red Rock is jam-packed with as many bankers in work as not. The Mandarin's Chinnery bar is capitalizing on the gloom of ex-brokers, ex-corporate financiers, and ex-traders by selling five single-malt whiskies packaged on a teakwood board base for HK$220. Mario at the Mandarin tells me demand is brisk.

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