Going Going Gone, Sold to Mrs. Ip Tang Hon Ying wife of Dr. Ip Kam Wah
My father once told me the story as to how his parents came to acquire a 4 acre property situated on a beautiful point that jutted out into the South China Sea. Aside from a pure expanse of water on three sides, the only other object located directly in the line of sight was the then sparsely inhabited island of Lantau. If this were a picture, it was perfect in its composition in the classical Chinese tradition of having the dual elements of mountain and water. The island had few notable features, one could only discern the looming silhouette of the island against the backdrop of the blue skies. The most notable element was the smooth green finish of lush native grasses that grew all over the largest island in the territorial waters of Hong Kong.
In addition to being on a point, the property was elevated and sat on a cliff’s edge, which provided a constant unobstructed view of the naturally woven tapestry of mountain and water before it. Down below, was a small beach that essentially became a private adjunct to the villa above.
When my grandmother saw this site, she fell in love with it and was very determined to acquire it at the government land auction. The challenge came in that this location in Castle Peak at the 18.5 mile mark was very sought after by many of the prominent families in Hong Kong. Dotted all along old Castle Peak Road nearer to the city were already other villas and summer homes and most of the owners knew each other. Although homes were located starting at the 11 mile mark right outside the then small town of Tsuen Wan, there were less than 20 homes built at this point in time. Because of that, each home was not referred to by its street address, but rather by the mileage markers that were located on the side of the windy road every 1/2 of a mile. Mr. and Mrs. so and so has a home at 14 mile, and some other uncle would have one at 15 1/2 mile. These engraved granite markers on the side of the road showed the distance from the center of the city on Kowloon side.
The site that so captured the heart and soul of my grand mother and her succeeding generations was located at the 18 1/2 marker. The very wealthy and influential family, the Kadorees already had a beautiful home site located adjacent to this property. This powerful Jewish family originally from Russia made a great fortune through many years of trading and commerce in China. Their property was around the bend at the 18 3/4 mile marker and while it too was beautiful, it was located at sea level and did not provide the privacy or the magnificent vista’s available on this other tract.
It is very hard for me to fathom how deeply my grandmother liked the site. In the 24 years that I knew her before she passed on, she was always very frugal with my grandfathers money. But on this one occasion, she threw caution into the wind and went full bore to acquire this property. But how does one guarantee success at a public auction whereby all bidders could outbid you simply by the raising of ones hand and thereby the stakes. And surely there were many other qualified bidders that were sure to be present at this auction.
There was a reason why this was an auction. All the land in the Colony since the Treaty days belonged to the Government of Hong Kong until it was sold to private individuals or corporations. These were not fire sales but rather a very closely monitored way of restricting the supply of land thereby keeping prices at a premium. Such a system through the years has lead Hong Kong to have the highest sustained property values in the entire world. It was in this setting that Grandmother had to contend with. Realizing the odds and the challenges that were about to confront her at the upcomming auction, grandmother set in motion an unconventional plan that was to lead her to victory.
First of all, she had her friends and her lawyer feret out the names of all the people that might be interested in the same property. After gauging the level of their interest and who the competitors were, she disseminated information to all those parties through her solicitor that she had set her mind on buying this piece, and that all other suitors better have an alternate site in mind, because only she was going to own it. Furthermore to insure that people knew that she meant it, she started to tell people that there were no reason for them to even bid, because she was certainly going to out bid them for it, and besides, why enrich the government by mutually raising the stakes. She wanted all other parties concerned to know that they had no chance.
After this ground work was laid, she approached the day of the auction with a sense of confidence that people could confirm just by her gait and posture. When the auctioneer started the bid on the property, before he could finish stating the minimum price per sq.ft. that the bid had to be, my grandmother raised her hand and her opening offer was 4 times the floor price. The rest of the potential bidders all knew by reputation how tightly she usually held on to her purse strings. She wanted all the others in the room to think that this woman might have lost her marbles temporarily and that there was no point trying to compete with her. With no other bid forth coming, she got what she wanted.
And four generations of aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and siblings, children and grandchildren, friends and relatives, guests and visitors who have taken the 18 1/2 mile ride to visit or stay over have had their souls blessed and spirits lifted, all from her one moment of tenacity.