Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A tale of two city-states

Last week, I walked past a branch of DBS, Singapore's biggest bank, and was shocked to see a noisy protest taking place.

Ten pension-age men and women had erected a series of banners outside the main entrance and one banged a gong, while the others chanted slogans in Chinese.

What's going on here, I wondered. Even one-man protests are illegal in Singapore unless they are held at the heavily-monitored and controlled Speakers' Corner.

Then I remembered that I was in Hong Kong, land of the relatively free (depending on who you ask). The DBS protestors were demonstrating against the alleged mis-sale of mini-bonds, debt-linked financial products that were sold by banks such as DBS as safe, long-term investments but which were rendered worthless by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

I saw a number of similar protests outside other banks in Hong Kong. But, as far as I am aware, Hong Kong has not yet been brought to its knees by these bands of silver-haired gong-bangers and megaphone wielders, despite the grave threat to public security and societal harmony that they apparently pose.

Funny that.

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