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The Dead Chips Will Keep Rolling, Like The Sands From An Hourglass

For those of your with your head in the ground, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, or more generically referred to here as former monopolist SJM and proprietor of Macau's grittiest grind joints, is in the middle of family spat to determine the fate of the company once tycoon and patriarch Stanley Ho Hung-sun kicks it. From afar it might sound exciting and even ground breaking. A family soap opera and feud that could make fodder for a Asian make over of the US TV show Dallas or Falcon Crest. What is going to happen to all of daddy's millions? Read through the business pages on the issue, and you could feel the intrigue. Who DID shoot JR anyway?

Yet, the scene elicits a big yawn from this Macau watcher. Why? The drama is the same, only the music differs. These types of family soaps are the rule in Asia, and more importantly for those who care, not really a damn thing changes in the end.

One can just look across the bay at the soap opera one called Hutchison. This one includes aging tycoon Li Ka-Shing and how he balances his fortune between his sons Victor and Richard Li. The younger, Richard, eventually leaving in a huff, founded PCCW and bought Hong Kong's telephone service. Yet, the deals keep rolling in for both.

For a more salacious soap across the bay you can tune into Little Sweetie, a story about geriatric pig-tailed matriarch Nina "Little Sweetie" Wang. This includes controversial repeated kidnappings of her husband Teddy Wang, which rocketed her to the head of Teddy's ChinaChem. Teddy later disappeared and was assumed dead. Following, there was fight over ChinaChem with a battle of wills. What should control between formal Chinese and hand-scrawled English? Nina lost initially, and was charged with forgery for the scrawled English, but later she won in court. If that was not enough, upon Nina's death a few years ago at age 69, her then 47 year-old lover/fortune-teller/spiritual-guide produced an equally dubious will and claimed ChinaChem. The paramour lost.

Now there are the really funny parts. Not a word about the above paragraph is made up, down the pig-tails (she was famous for them). Some think Teddy is still alive and faked his death! The more relevant funny part, ChinaChem keeps rolling along as if all that never happened.

Think it's isolated? You should have seen the fight for the parts of the Hyundai Group in Korea. Change the dial and see Cheabol! Chung Ju-yong died in 2001, and there was a free-for-all for the parts. When the dust settled, eldest son Chung Mong-koo owned the largest part, now renamed Hyundai Motor. Of course the larger story, you would never notice from afar... just like in Hong Kong, Hyundai keeps rolling along as if it all never happened. A similar fight and result happened a few years ago with the Doosan Group. Drunkards was a pale knock-off (named after a PR battle in Korea over which executive drank more of their product every day, thus showing the one who drank more every night was the better exec. Again not making that up.)

For a more complicated story filled with political intrigue, there is Beer, the story of a German product made originally in a Spanish Colony by Filipinos working for Chinese immigrants. This is the story of the San Miguel Group, a name so synonymous with the product in Philippines the only competitor literally has to refer to itself as Beer to be distinctive (actually Beer na Beer, "beer of beers" I think in Tagalog). This tale starts with the distantly related Soriano's and Zobel's. Then the countries dictator mandates a new owner, Cojuangco. All three fight for control, yet ultimate control may rest in a business kingpin named Sy. Yet with all the drama over the years, San Miguel remains one of the largest brewers and food companies in country (they also get a big thumbs up for naming their professional basketball team "the Beermen"!)

So excuse me, if I pass on the soap opera of the Casino Ho's. This area has seen it all before, and in much more dramatic fashion.

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