Chinese Roller Coaster and Holiday Bits

Headline from a Hong Kong newspaper last week

While many eyes have been on the shenanigans in Greece over the last couple of weeks, over in China, all hell was breaking loose on the stock market, resulting in the Chinese government taking some severe (and rather unorthodox/questionable) action to prevent an almighty crash, one that could have mirrored the 1929 Wall Street Crash in terms of financial devastation. 
Fifty per cent of stocks were suspended from trading (over 1400 companies), while company bosses and major investors were banned from selling up for the next six months.

The share rout wiped nearly a third off the value of the market since mid June, but had been preceded by a year-long rally generating dizzying gains.

As the newspaper headline in the above picture states, on 8th July 2015, HK$1.4 trillion was wiped from the Shanghai Composite Index.

That’s equivalent to over £116,000,000,000.00.  In one day…yikes!

No wonder people were panicking!  With the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index also plummeting at the same time, I witnessed first hand family and friends wondering if they too should bail or hold, as they saw their portfolios fall off the edge of a cliff. Seems like many people buy shares on margin (borrow to invest), including one woman who (according to the newspaper) had re-mortgaged her apartment three times and was now desperate to sell her property as she had lost nearly all of her money in the stock market crash….

The market has since recovered slightly and I’ve learned that one of my sisters was brave enough to buy when everyone was selling and she has made a tidy sum with the subsequent upturn, enough to pay for her next couple of holidays overseas! She was obviously following Warren Buffet’s wise words of “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful“, although she may have had some prompting from her husband who’s an ex-trader!

Anyway, Ermine talks about it in more detail here and mentions how the ups and downs of the Chinese stock market could affect people who are invested in Emerging Markets, where there could be some exposure to China.

I don’t believe people outside of China can invest directly on the Shanghai Composite Index, but who would be brave enough?

A bit about my Holiday

I had a great couple of weeks in Hong Kong, spending quality time with my family and catching up with friends. The weather was very hot and humid, a welcome change from good ole British weather, although I gather there was a bit of a heatwave while I was away. Managed to squeeze in a couple of boat (junk) trips, a day out on the beach, two cinema trips, a free-style drawing event and lots of meals out – it was fab.

My family are all ok,  despite the cost of living being extremely high over there and continuing to rise. All working members of the family have very high disposable incomes so they’re actually all doing more than ok. 
In fact, with what was happening with the Chinese/Hong Kong stock markets, two of my sisters decided that they were better off with their spare money in property, so just like that, after a quick bit of researching (Zoopla and Google Maps), they put deposits down on properties in the UK. Nice to have cash spare and sitting in the bank like that, haha! They live very different lives from me!

The local English language newspaper (South China Morning Post) was full of adverts for Zone 1 London properties for sale – these apparently get snapped up rather quickly as they are often cheaper than prime properties in Hong Kong, so make great investments (although my sisters didn’t go for properties in London this time, they’ve opted for Manchester).

Holiday Spending

I didn’t spend too much on this trip and purchased only a pair of sandals and trainers, some small items for the kitchen, as well as a couple of gifts for colleagues. I got some cast-off clothes from my sisters (it’s great us all being around the same size!) and my soon-to-be-early-retired aunt gave me some surplus gym/casual wear.  Who needs to shop!?

I did spot one item while in a supermarket at such a ridiculous price that I just had to share here:

This is a gift box of Japanese grapes, sold in a high end supermarket (probably HK’s equivalent of Waitrose). 

Yes, the price is HK$758 – that’s £63 for a punnet of grapes, about £3 per grape!  Apparently the grapes were “rare, organic and specially harvested” – blah blah waffle!  There was only one punnet left on the shelf, so I’m guessing they’re quite popular despite the ridiculous price…oh how the daft rich people live, lol!

Anyway, just a couple of snaps below from my trip, plus a kind of ‘where’s Wally?’ kind of photo at the bottom (snapped by the professional photographer at the free-style drawing event I mentioned earlier) – yes, I am in the crowd, mingling and trying to blend in with all the young folk, haha! 

Those who have met me previously may spot me quite easily though!

UK FI/PF Bloggers Gathering

On Saturday, 21st March 2015, I attended my first UK Gathering, which was organised by Huw of FFB40. I say my ‘first’ because I know it won’t be my last!

The day nearly started off disastrously for me as I found out almost belatedly that there was a station at Birmingham other than International and New Street – I’d never heard of Moor Street – and that that was where I had to catch my connecting train to Stratford Upon Avon! Cue lots of running but I made it just as the train was pulling into the platform!
Meeting Strangers
It was a bright but rather chilly day in Stratford Upon Avon when I arrived and from the little I saw of it, it’s a beautiful town.
As is always the case (well, my case!) when meeting people you don’t know, it can be a little bit awkward but I found myself immediately at ease, everyone was really friendly. I did think it was funny that only 3 of us were bloggers (myself, Huw and M from There’s Value) – aside from spouses, the others didn’t appear to have their own blogs but were regular readers and part of the PF/FI community. Our gathering numbered 11 (12 if you include M’s little one in the pushchair!). The “most impressive journey award” went to Richard and Alison who drove all the way down from North Yorkshire!
What did I get out of the Gathering?
It was great to finally put faces to names and to meet new people. I found it liberating to be able to talk about money, ask financial questions (without people pulling a face!) and discuss investments with like-minded people. How great was it to talk about retiring early without someone mentioning a big lotto win! I picked up on stuff which I will do further research on and also was able to get some feedback on an idea (which may or may not include monkeys…) that I’ve had that’s been bubbling for a while but which I’m not quite ready to kick off just yet!
I really enjoyed hearing first hand what people did or were doing towards achieving FI, people from different backgrounds, different careers and jobs, some with young families, some with only a few years left before they think they can stop working, some on the verge of changing careers. Found it all really fascinating and interesting.

The other thing that I got out of this gathering was a bottle of home brew! As agreed, I swapped a bottle of my home brew bitter (still a bit shaken up from my running earlier!) for one of M’s bottles of perry, which I look forward to trying. 

I also gave a bottle to Huw as thanks for organising the gathering and even got a special label for the bottle to celebrate the occasion:

I left the gathering full of motivation, encouraged that the path that I’m taking is the right one for me.

My one complaint of the day?
The day went by far too quickly and I was unable to get the chance to talk to everyone properly. Partly my fault I guess, as I’m a bit rubbish at mingling. As I was sitting on the cold platform waiting for my train home, I was quite envious of those who were staying the night as they would be able to continue their conversations and discussions.

Next Gathering
The general consensus was that the gathering was a real success so it was only natural that there was talk of the next one. York has been suggested (evidently keeping along the theme of places of culture as a meeting place!), sometime in the summer – I’m sure there will be more info as dates/locations are looked at.
It will be great to see everyone again but also hopefully, there will be some new faces too.

Anyway, I’m so glad I made the effort to attend the meeting – thanks very much for organising it, Huw!

I’ve got a Date!

No, not that kind of date (sorry to disappoint some of you!).

Saturday 21st March 2015

On this day, I shall be travelling down to Stratford-upon-Avon to meet up with some fellow FI/PF bloggers!

Huw of Financially Free By 40 has organised a second UK Gathering!

Stratford-Upon-Avon: Shakespeare’s home town!

I’ve been fascinated with the big gatherings that Mr Money Mustache arranges over in the US and whilst ours won’t be anywhere near that sort of scale, it’s a start and I believe Huw is hoping to make it a regular sort of event, at least an annual one, I guess.
Location
The location was chosen as it was deemed to be fairly central for both people travelling down from the North and those travelling up from the South. Also, it’s place of history and culture – a place I’ve  never visited before so hey, I can be a bit of a tourist!  
I haven’t decided yet whether I will drive or take a leisurely train down – I’ll decide closer to the date and also when the exact place of meeting has been confirmed, although I’m sure it’ll be some pub!

Not the First Time

This won’t be the first time I’ll be meeting up with complete strangers after chatting to them on the internet. 
No, I’m not talking about online dating (sorry to disappoint some of you!).
Once upon a time, having internet connection at home was NOT the norm. I was one of those not-so-normal people. My ex was in IT, so both of us had laptops/PCs and embraced the internet at a time when most people didn’t own their own computers at home and only used the internet at work – this was around 1993-94.
I’ve always been into my fantasy/sci-fi stuff, including games (yes, I was/am a geek!) so the only people I communicated with online were fellow gamers – none of my ‘real friends’ or even family were online in those days!
However, I used to go to ‘gaming meets’ as it just seemed better to meet people in real life. The Press likes to paint the picture of online gamers as awkward introverts who can’t communicate in real life and who have no social lives. I’m sure some of them are like that but actually, I’ve found them to be a very sociable bunch, myself included!
I’ve also met up with people I’ve chatted to online on football forums to…attend football matches!

Join Us!

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to meeting like-minded people, people at different stages of the FI journeys, hearing about real life experiences, talking about my own experiences with people who are ‘on the same page as me’ and ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ so it’s a ‘win-win situation’ for all – how many clichés can I fit in here, haha?!

Gosh, I hope I’m not going to be nervous and start saying stuff like that for real when I meet everyone!

It’ll be good to discuss ideas, learn different stuff and make new connections and friends – all things that will affect my life for real, not my life in a game!  Plus, a bit of networking won’t go amiss!

Names

I guess that some people will just call me ‘Weenie’ instead of my real name – kind of expected I guess when people meet me (!) and I don’t really mind as it’s a nickname I’ve had since I was 18 and one that some of my uni friends still refer to me by! Although if there’s quite a few of us attending, perhaps we could have name badges!
Also, I’d best not forget to bring along a bottle of one of my home brew beers  – me and M from There’s Value have agreed to do a swap as she does home brewing too!

Anyway,  I have a feeling this is going to be a blast – exciting times! 🙂

Festive in the Far East

I had a fabulous time catching up with the family in Hong Kong. It was only the second time I had spent Christmas over there and it was great.

Shopping centres were relatively quiet

What did we eat on Christmas Day?

I don’t know about anyone else but we had turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts etc, washed down with lots of mulled wine! There were 16 of us altogether, 4 generations (oldest 89, youngest 5) so it was the usual noisy fun!

Aside from spending time with the family, I didn’t do much – went to the cinema (watched ‘Big Hero 6‘ with my sisters’ kids and also watched ‘The Hobbit‘), went out for drinks a couple of times and ate out a lot (Vietnamese, Chinese AND Japanese!).

Two very differing views from my sisters’ apartment windows!

One thing that I did notice was that there wasn’t the usual ‘frenzy’ in the shops that we see on Boxing Day – there were no sales (aside from the usual ones) and shopping centres were not any busier than usual.

I managed to resist shopping pretty much all together – my spending was mostly on eating out and travelling.  The only thing I bought were some souvenirs for colleagues – they wanted ‘Fortune Cats‘ (or ‘Maneki Neko’ to give them their original Japanese name).  They’re supposed to be good luck talismans so I’ve kept one for myself – kinda cute and hopefully will help bring me good fortune for 2015!

It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to the family.  My sisters are always asking why I don’t move over there but while I love visiting the country, I wouldn’t like to live and work there, despite the humongous wages and the 15% income tax! In a similar way, I wouldn’t like to live and work in London, but I like visiting the place – that’s just me.

Still, it won’t be too long before I see them again, most likely in the summer.