Week 44 - Fine Art Asia

A seven hour time difference and an eleven hour flight can mess with your head. I am in Hong Kong and the boxy red taxi is speeding me to the Grand Hyatt Hotel. I'm in a state of confusion about what time it is and how hungry I am. My colleague, Nicola, is cool, calm and collected but I feel deeply baffled. I have been here before, a couple of years ago, but it is still as alien as anything. The voices have a lyrical cadence and the bright lights and tall buildings inspire a complex chain of reference. What I see is a hybrid of New York and Naples in Italy with a bit of the film Bladerunner thrown into the mix. I am overexcited and wiped out in equal measure.

We are on our way to the Fine Art Asia fair, which is on the fifth floor of the Hong Kong Convention centre. Two floors down the massive and numerous escalators, Sotheby's is in full swing preparing for their fandango of jewels, pictures, wines, ceramics, furniture and highlights from around the world. The convention centre is enormous and full of a myriad of events. Many events only last a day and we see tsunamis of people washing in and out. One day there is a deluge of small girls in ballet costumes, the next we see red shirted canon camera fans clogging each and every hall way, literally thousands of them. Cameras hanging off them like strange skin ailments and their logo emblazoned t-shirts worn like Boy Scouts.

The fair build is painless, amazingly the tapestry of periods and media fall together in good order. We breathe a sigh of relief as our catalogues arrive, and though I get hot and bothered, it all gets done. Nicola and I retire to the hotel. It is rather weird, I find that I am in a sort of art-dealing holiday resort. The Convention centre is connected without having to go outside of the Grand Hyatt or the Renaissance Hotel. At the 11th floor you can pass between the two hotels by a pool and a skyline view of the Kowloon. I can swish seamlessly from dealers, to Sotheby's staff, to clients and then back to bed and do the same in reverse. We sit in the lounge and drink a glass of Ruinart champagne. It is like being back at Masterpiece London. The only difference being that we are on the other side of the fence. Here we are the exhibitors, plying our wares and aspiring to make sales or meet clients for the future.

On the opening day we are introduced to Chantal, our translator. She is our sharpest interface with China, or rather Hong Kong. She can speak almost perfect English, Mandarin and Cantonese. She is modern and worldly-wise but in equal measure quiet, polite and deferential in a way I have never encountered in Europe. Life is tough in Hong Kong. Jobs are hard to come by and the cost of living is astronomical. She is an art student, as is her sister. Amazingly, she and her boyfriend dream of moving to Edinburgh to work and embrace nature. She is an ardent vegetarian and is appalled by the local passion for all meat and especially pork. She wants daily walks into the Scottish country side- that is her fantasy future. Her sister paints wonderfully subversive traditional Chinese scroll landscape paintings. For example she features a Hermes shop that looks like a temple, to satirise the corruption of Chinese culture. Chantal makes porcelain shoes that sit together as a parallel for the nuclear family.

Chatting on the stand to Chantal about her huge Samsung telephone, I demonstrate how flimsy and small my iphone is. As I turn it over in my hand I, somehow manage to flick it onto the floor. It lands theatrically a few feet away and the face is shattered. I internally weep at my foolishness, especially considering what my phone has been through over the last few months. The face is totally crazed and I realise that I will have to get busy to fix it. The next morning I head off on the metro, which is bright, airy clean and super efficient to the IFC shopping mall where a huge Apple store resides. I enter and a keen young sales assistant bowls up and with a broad smile and a charming tone informs me that there is absolutely no hope of getting any help or support from them. So, what do I do? I decided to head off to the market area around Wan Chai. A amazing district where live green crabs wrapped and bound in bamboo shoots sit cheek by jowl with knock off designer fashion, jade carvings and cut price cigarettes. I wander for an hour hoping to spot an eager trader sitting surrounded by a mound of telephone parts keen to restore my phone. But unfortunately nothing. Then I had an inspiration. I switched on web browser on my crazed face phone and searched for "iphone repairs" a moment later through the cracked ice, I espied 'Mac win' in Kowloon. My saviour, swiftly called, was elegantly named Mr Love. Hailing from India he had not learnt Chinese but was earning a good living fixing the cracked screens of the local ex pats. Miracle of Miracles, I had found love in Hong Kong! Two hours later on the 11th floor flat of the Imperial building in Canton St opposite the leviathan of trading Harbour City, I was lectured about the parlous state of my phone. He was so shocked/delighted by my Danube-doused phone that he took pictures of the rusty insides and changed my battery (apparently the battery was on the brink of exploding, an exaggeration that I enjoyed, but so pleased was he to see such a wretched battery that he was going to post it on an iphone repairs forum). I left to return to the fair with a phone boasting a clean interior, a new screen and a new battery. If it could, my phone would have looked smug.

Because of the time difference my contact with London and the Battersea fair was necessarily intermittent. But the team had done well, selling a few pieces and connecting with the friendly, dog-tastic crowd in a highly effective way. Mrs Sungoose and Francesca have pulled it off. It was both relieving and distressing to appreciate how superfluous I was.

The fair is coming to an end. The last day is Monday, and we have run out of catalogues, with a day to go. Over two thousand have been given out and our small but elegant confection of masterpieces have been photographed, examined, discussed and generally lionised. It is beyond doubt that the local crowd were fascinated and eager to learn. Chantal stands with a stack in her hands and each visitor has a copy presented to them. She looks sad when they turn down the free offer. I ask her if she is okay, she boldly answers that "it is their loss!" she can cope with the rejection. So she says, but her face tells a different story, each denial is a whiplash.

I have just had dinner with the Dutch Chinese art dealers the Vandervens, at the Four Seasons hotel. They are a husband and wife team, second generation in the business and full of energy and passion for the business. The fancy three Michelin star Chinese restaurant Lung Keen Heen cossets and coaxes dish after dish into you. Deep fried black dumplings, lobster in egg white soup, chopped beef in lettuce wraps, and ending the meal a stack of interestingly textured, delicately flavoured jellies and sweetmeats, accompanied by a wine aromatically flavoured with Osmanthus and goji berries, with a soft pink colour. A true taste novelty. There is a wedding reception taking place in the hotel and the corridors hum with happy noises and glamorous locals in silks and black tie. The view out across the bay glitters against the black sky. The whole city delights, and it is hard to focus on the company or the food. The senses are all assailed and delighted.