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Asia CommentTaipan

Never too old for the club life

Hong Kong - Victoria harbour at sunset

Hong Kong has always been known for its exclusive members' clubs, but the competition to get in has never been fiercer

I am of the old school banking crowd — which basically means I had guaranteed paid club memberships upon arrival in Hong Kong.

Most of the banks in the city have kept memberships to places like the Yacht Club or Football Club handy for bankers and their families to enjoy on the weekends or to use to wine and dine clients during the week.

But in these days of social budget cuts, only a few such bank memberships still exist, and most are reserved for the upper echelon of bankers. (Not that they couldn't afford a membership on their own.)

With so many people stuck in Hong Kong due to the onerous quarantine rules, the battle for club memberships is heating up.

Not a conversation with a friend goes by without someone mentioning a new trial run they are doing at a club or someone else begging for an introduction to another. I've signed a number of letters of support for new friends recently. But it amazes me how far some are willing to go to get a spot in the premier clubs.

First, there's the financial commitment. The Ladies' Recreation Club, which supposedly has a 10 year waitlist for lifetime membership, will set you back HK$1m ($128,468) for a corporate membership. The Hong Kong Country Club offers individual memberships for HK$460,000. A corporate membership is HK$5m.

If you can swallow that cost in exchange for access to pools, subsidised food and beverages and facilities worthy of the royal family, you will next face a test of commitment to the club itself. Some clubs record how often you visit and spend money during trial memberships, while those associated with a sport require participation.

A friend of mine who tried out the Football Club found herself thrown onto a rugby team, and publicly shamed in group texts for not attending practice enough.

Another chap I know, a senior partner at one of the big four, has taken up rowing at the Yacht Club. On occasion, he has been forced to turn up for a 6am row, and return in the evening for another lengthy rowing session.

The competition for club memberships doesn't seem to be ending any time soon, so I expect this will only get worse. The silver lining? Expect to see Hong Kong's bankers and lawyers looking more muscular, fit and suntanned by the time this pandemic is over.

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