Money is no object for China’s well-heeled set, but what pleases the eye or palate is, of course, a matter of taste.
For some tycoons, it’s hanging a Monet on the wall of their living room, while another would book 140 hotels in Paris in one go.
Still, for one boss of a state-owned enterprise, nothing delights more than a dinner at Tsui Wah Restaurant.
In the wake of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s intensified anti-corruption drive, we gathered China Telecom chairman Wang Xiaochu went on a gustatory binge during a recent visit to Hong Kong.
Wang, who has been running the nearly HK$80 billion telecom empire for over 10 years now, is said to have indulged his craving for Hong Kong-style crispy buns served with sweet condensed milk at Tsui Wah and wonton noodles at Chee Kei.
He was reported to have immensely enjoyed the food trips.
(Editor’s note: EJ Insight journalists have their meals at Tsui Wah in Ngau Tau Kok almost every day as our office is located just from across the street, but many of us would beg to disagree with the chairman’s assessment of the food in that joint.)
Like many chiefs of state-owned enterprises listed in Hong Kong, Wang regularly flies to the territory for the results announcements and shareholders’ meetings.
Now Wang has set a good example of how mainland officials should comport themselves when traveling overseas.
Indeed, gone are the days when former China Resources Group chairman Song Lin, now a jailbird for alleged corruption, was reported to have spent millions of yuan on one dinner at a private room of the red chip’s corporate headquarters.
Thanks to President Xi’s relentless campaign against graft and lavish lifestyles, mainland corporate honchos are staying away from luxurious gifts and extravagant meals, while some even feel guilty staying at a five-star hotel.
China Telecom posted a 17.68 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) profit last year. But for all his effort and leadership, Wang only took home 912,000 yuan, down 41 percent from his income in the previous year.
While top executives of Chinese state-owned enterprises are laying low, their counterparts in private business are busy flaunting their wealth.
Earlier this month, China’s richest tycoon Wang Jianlin paid US$20.4 million (HK$ 159.1 million) for a Monet.
Through his private Dalian Wanda Group, which bought the world’s largest cinema chain AMC Entertainment three years ago, Wang acquired the French master’s Bassin aux nympheas, les rosiers at Sotheby’s New York.
The work depicts an arched bridge overlooking a water lily pond in Giverny, France, where Monet stayed in 1913.
Not to be outdone, Chinese movie mogul Wang Zhongjun bought Picasso’s Femme au Chignon Dans un Fauteuil, or Woman with a Hairbun on a Sofa, for US$29.9 million at the same auction.
But somehow the twin exploits in New York were overshadowed by the buzz created by a fellow tycoon, Tiens Group president Li Jinyuan, who took 6,400 of his employees for a four-day, all-expenses-paid vacation in France.
To make it to the Guinness World Records, the company booked 140 hotels in Paris and more than 4,700 rooms in Cannes and Monaco for the staff to form the largest-ever human chain which, when viewed from the sky, read, “Tiens’ Dream is Nice in the Cote d’Azur.”
The whole affair was to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary.
The company also hired 146 buses to transport the employees, arranged for a private viewing by his employees of the entire Louvre museum, and the staff later watched a performance of the Moulin Rouge cabaret show – all for an estimated cost of 13 million euros (US$14.5 million, HK$113.8 million).
Oh well, China’s tycoons are getting more creative as they seek the fastest ways to burn their billions.
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