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Hong Kong Blog: Day Three

Published on: January 8th, 2014

No surprises for guessing what the major talking point has been wherever I’ve roamed today….

Waking at 4.30 as usual this morning, I gave it an hour before giving up my pitiful attempts to get back to sleep and firing up the laptop to start chipping away at the inevitable email backlog which has built up over the past few days. Opening up my inbox, the first dozen new emails all had the identical subject line – “Conways Ltd: Notice of Administration”. The facts are contained in a separate story on the website today, with the crucially amended headline “Conways Toymaster Ltd: Notice of intent to appoint a proposed administrator.” But I think we all get the general gist.

This isn’t the place to speculate on a potential outcome, nor the wider ramifications of what has happened, but suffice to say that it has sent shock waves through the British toy community out here (and no doubt everyone back at home too). Let us hope that – in the words of the official press release issued by Toymaster – “a solution to the benefit of all creditors and employees of the company” can be found. We will endeavour to keep you posted as the situation develops.

The shame was that it was all going so well up to this point. The mood out here has, on the whole, been reasonably positive, and although there is speculation that the NPD numbers will show that the UK toy market declined in 2013, this has largely been kept in perspective and I’ve detected few signs of pessimism (but plenty of realism).

Last night’s Fence Club Football match was undoubtedly the social highlight of the week. Over 200 people gathered at the impressive Happy Valley Football Stadium to watch the UK toy trade squad take on a very strong Hong Kong team. Despite the news in this morning’s South China Morning Post that six players from the Happy Valley club have recently been arrested for match-fixing, it appears that we didn’t manage to raise enough in the whip round to persuade them to throw this particular game, as we lost 5-2, despite putting up a gallant fight for most of the match. Fuse’s Pete Cartlidge scored a cracking goal which under normal circumstances would have been awarded goal of the game, but literally straight from the kick off the opposition replied by scoring one of the finest goals most of us will ever witness, their star player lobbing Mark Hyndman from well inside his own half. I fear Mark will be having nightmares about that for some time.

Most importantly, over £30,000 was raised for the Fence Club charity, which is a phenomenal sum. And, of course, the evening brought together a large section of the UK toy community out in Hong Kong. I don’t know of any other country that puts on an event on this scale when they’re abroad at a trade show, which to me speaks volumes about the spirit and camaraderie of the British toy community. Credit to Joe Kissane, David Bramford and everyone else who helped organise proceedings.

Sadly the penalty competition between England and Germany in which I had agreed to participate never took place after all. On the plus side I can at least say that my record of never losing to Germans in a penalty shoot-out remains intact, which is more than a lot of English professional footballers can say.

You can follow John on Twitter @Baulchtweet.

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Hong Kong Blog: Day Three

Published on: January 9th, 2013

I’ve reached the midway point in my trip, and today is by far the most warm and sunny it’s been since I arrived, which always helps to put a little extra spring in the step. Speaking to a variety of Brits, I’m pleased to report that the mood is generally upbeat. Inevitably, there are signs that the global economy continues to be challenging, such as the introduction of a dedicated small order quantity section at the Toys and Games Fair. And when I asked one buyer to sum up what he’d seen so far, he just said one word: “predictable.” But this hardly comes as a massive surprise; few would argue that we have the ideal global trading climate for radical departures or major risk taking.

But in fairness, I’ve actually heard very little moaning and groaning from the UK contingent, even from those people I know who have a tendency to do just that given half a chance. So whilst this year’s trip does perhaps seem a tiny bit on the low-key side (I wonder whether the fact there are fewer representatives from grocery accounts present has contributed to the subdued mood?), a positive vibe still prevails overall. Encouragingly, my press colleagues from other countries largely seem to be saying the same thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people being struck down with the lurgy though. They’re dropping like nine-pins out here. Some people have even taken the radical step of refusing to shake hands in an attempt to avoid catching whatever bug is doing the rounds so voraciously. So if you see people replacing a formal handshake with a less traditional form of greeting – I saw two people touching fists, like some sort of congratulatory sporting gesture – it’s not that they’re trying to look cool or tough. Sales of disinfectant hand gel have almost certainly gone through the roof, not to mention medicinal remedies. Thankfully I’ve managed to avoid succumbing to any form of illness so far, but I fear that even typing that phrase is somehow tempting fate….

Thanks for all your kind comments about the blog by the way. I passed Isaac Larian in the street earlier, and he professed himself a blog reader and fan. You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather. Flattered doesn’t come near to covering it.

I did make one small cultural faux pas today though; asked in a showroom if I would like a drink, I requested a water. When it arrived, it was hot. That’s one mistake I won’t repeat in a hurry.

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