Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

Exterior view of the of the snow covered Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere in Davos, Switzerland, onJan. 15, 2019. (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)
Updated 26 January 2019

Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

  • It was time to head to another event in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing
  • Despite what happened, I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere

Here is the nightmare scenario: You are 5,000 feet up a snowy Alpine mountain in sub-zero conditions. Your only contact with the outside world is via a variable mobile signal, and the precious life support system that you carry on your back.

Your World Economic Forum backpack contains everything a journalist needs to survive in these savage conditions — laptop, notebook, hotel key, charging leads and other essential connectables. Its reassuring weight on your shoulder has sustained you for several life-threatening days.

Suddenly, it is gone. Panic. Terror. Intimations of imminent mortality.

This was the situation I found myself in the other night at the Standard Aberdeen cafe next door to the Belvedere hotel in the beating heart of Davos. You cannot miss the Staberdeen, as it’s known, because it has a Scottish Highland piper playing at top decibels outside. 

It had been a very convivial hour or so in the cafe, where Aberdeen founder Martin Gilbert puts on one of the best bashes of the whole WEF extravaganza. His generosity is limitless, his guest list formidable.

I was standing at the bar in search of refreshment when I looked around at the two gentlemen engaged in conspiratorial conversation next to me, and recognized Liam Fox, the British minister for International trade, and David Davis, former minister for Brexit.

There are no prizes for guessing their subject of conversation. As a result of my eavesdropping, however, I can confirm that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, will definitely not be coming to Davos, contrary to rumors that she might put in an unscheduled appearance.

There were many old friends from my days on Fleet Street, including William Lewis, who was a humble hack when I knew him back then but who has risen to illustrious heights and is now CEO of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Will jokily reminded me of my old nickname on the Street of Shame, but which I don’t have space to explain here.

All that was fun, but it was time to head to another event — the CNBC/Financial Times “nightcap” — in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing. It was not in the place that I had left it on arriving at the cafe.

The very considerate Staberdeen people mounted an exhaustive hunt of the premises. A black backpack with “WEF” printed on it is not uncommon in Davos, and many lookalikes were found. But there was no trace of mine. Obviously somebody had taken it in error and would return it when they realized their mistake.

There was nothing for it but to quench my panic in the Staberdeen. For a pleasant interlude, I forgot my predicament, while lamenting I would not be able to mix with the glamorous people from CNBC.

I had a very interesting chat with Mike Corbat, CEO of the big American banking group Citigroup, who had a rather more benign take on the state of the global economy than most people at Davos — though he was concerned at the news from Venezuela.

Some American oil execs at the do were also worried about the news from Caracas, but offered the view that the US energy giant ExxonMobil stood ready to support the Venezuelan people by getting their oil industry back up and running quickly, if they got the call.

Two hours passed, and still no news of my life support. There was nothing for it but to head back to my Klosters hotel (arranged very kindly courtesy of an Uber on Staberdeen’s account), to wake Walter, the proprietor of the Cresta Hotel, and seek entry to my room.

Maybe it was the Staberdeen hospitality, maybe the unexpected freedom from work responsibilities conferred by the missing laptop, but I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere. High-altitude life could resume.


• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

Property investors turn to SE Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

Updated 18 min 10 sec ago

Property investors turn to SE Asia amid Hong Kong unrest

  • The summer of rage in Hong Kong has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing

KUALA LUMPUR: From luxury Singapore apartments to Malaysian seafront condos, Hong Kong investors are shifting cash into Southeast Asian property, demoralized by increasingly violent protests as well as the China-US trade war.

Millions have taken to the streets during four months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern Chinese city, hammering tourism while also forcing businesses to lay off staff — and the property sector is feeling the pain.

Property stocks in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets have plummeted since June, with developers being forced to offer discounts on new projects and cutting office rents.

Hong Kong businessman Peter Ng bought a condominium on the Malaysian island of Penang — which has a substantial ethnic Chinese population and is popular among Hong Kongers — after the protests erupted.

“The instability was a catalyst for me,” the 48-year-old stock market and property investor told AFP, adding he was worried about long-term damage to the Hong Kong economy if the unrest persists. “Investors will always look at things like that, political stability.”

And Derek Lee, a Hong Kong businessman who owns a Penang apartment, said he knew others in the semi-autonomous city who were considering investing in Southeast Asian property because of the unrest.

“People are thinking about how to quicken their ideas, how to make a more stable life,” the 55-year-old told AFP.

Adding to the allure of Malaysia is its relative affordability and prices much lower than Hong Kong.

The Malaysia site of Southeast Asian real estate platform Property Guru has seen a 35 percent increase in visits from Hong Kong, according to its CEO Hari Krishnan. 

While Hong Kong’s protests are primarily pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, the summer of rage has been fueled by years of simmering anger toward Beijing and the local government over falling living standards and the high costs of living.

Hong Kong’s property market is one of least affordable in the world with sky-high prices fueled, in part, by wealthy mainlanders snapping up investments in a city which has failed for years to build enough flats to meet demand.

But now mainland Chinese, who traditionally viewed property in Hong Kong as a safe investment, are opting for rival financial hub Singapore as a result of the protests and the US-China trade war, according to observers.

There has been a jump this year in sales of luxury apartments in the city-state — which like Hong Kong is known for pricey property — driven partially by mainland Chinese buyers, according to the consultancy OrangeTee & Tie.

“The protests in Hong Kong have made some of the (mainland Chinese) based there ... (more concerned) about investing in Hong Kong real estate, so they carry that investment to Singapore,” said Alan Cheong, executive director of the research and consultancy team at Savills.

As well as hitting China’s economy, trade tensions may have discouraged some Chinese from investing in the West and pushed them toward Singapore, with its mostly ethnic Chinese population.

“I think they don’t want to go to the West,” said Cheong.

Singapore is “the closest country culturally to China other than Hong Kong, and I think they feel more comfortable with that.”

There are further signs the stable, tightly ruled city is benefiting from the Hong Kong turmoil — Goldman Sachs last week estimated as much as $4 billion flowed out of Hong Kong to Singapore this summer.

And analysts warned there was little hope of Hong Kong’s property market recovering soon.