Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tax Man
In addition to my Hong Kong income tax, I've had another, albeit much smaller yet incredibly stressful and puzzling government debt hanging over my head recently.

It's called the "stamp tax" -- which as an American is something I normally associate with one of the reasons we rebelled and threw off the weighty yoke of British colonialism. Hong Kongers, except for the elderly men and women who riot yearly when the free rice lines get clogged, have never rebelled with any serious force that I know of and thus the stamp tax lives on.

I know nothing about it except that it costs me money and the little female Goebbels who runs our human resources department kept sending me dictatorial, vaguely threatening and always snippy e-mails "reminding" me to pay it.

She also sent me a link to the Hong Kong Stamp Tax Revenue website where I found screenfuls of incomprehensible bureaucratic Chinglish and quickly clicked off in favor of "Hot Asian Babes Who Can't Get Enough of Old Overweight White Heart Attack Victims Who Smoke, Drink Too Much, Hate Their Jobs and Are Heavily in Debt.Com"

I never asked Ms Goebbels-Ng to explain it herself because asking anyone in HR to explain anything is like asking an epileptic mollusk to explain how gravity works. Instead, I turned to a New Zealander who'd lived here longer than me to explain this stamp tax thing.

"Stamp tax?" he mused. "Oh. That's simple. That's where you take three or four hours out of an otherwise good day to walk 3 meters across that bloody crowded fuck-all walkway bridge in Wanchai to the Revenue Department for the privilege of handing over a thousand dollars or so to some twat of a paper pushing bureaucrat behind a counter so they can put a stamp on your lease while you sit on a plastic chair for an hour or more imagining how much beer, food and good times that money would've bought otherwise."

You know what? He was right. Except I found that there was an element of mercy. Turns out my perception of my deadline (Friday, Sept 15 as dictated by Mistress Goebbels-Ng) was at odds with the official Stamp Tax deadline, which I'd missed by one day. One frigging day. The "twat of a paper pushing bureaucrat" who turned out to be a mild, polite Chinese guy named "Saul" told me that as I'd missed deadline, I now owed a penality fee that doubled my original bill.

"A what? Double? No! Cut me a break!" I pleaded. "It's only one day. I was in the hospital with a heart attack. Human resources lied to me. And basically I'm stupid foreigner who doesn't understand this whole stamp tax thing or what it's for!"

He told me I could write a letter to his superior pleading my case and handed me a blank sheet of paper. "Where do I send it?" I asked.

"I will give it my supervisor after you write it. A decision will be made."

I sat down in a plastic chair and began groveling with my pen. "Dear Honorable Sir or Madame...So very, very sorry...heart attack...ignorant...begging for your benevolent mercy and very sorry...heart attack....stupid white guy....didn't know better...will never do it again..."

Feeling like I'd kowtowed to some faceless Chinese emperor with a petition pleading for heaven's mercy, I handed the letter back to Saul who motioned me closer to his Plexiglass cage.

"I will give it to my superior. In my experience you will receive a $500 deduction from the penalty."

Saul was right. I returned to his booth to thank him.

"You're the nicest tax guy I've ever met," I said. "I wish the tax people in the US were like you. It is much harder there."

"Oh?" he said. "Your stamp tax is more expensive in the United States?"

"No, in the US we rebelled to get rid of the stamp..." I trailed off. He was looking at me blankly. "Never mind. Thanks again."
I am glad to see you have cheered up a bit. I would hate to see you jump into Victoria Harbour, whose toxic waters might mutate you into a South China Morning Post business writer.
The next thing you know, you would be driving a BMW and eating with questionable barristers on the top floor of the Foreign Correspondents Club. This might seem good for you, but distrsssing to your devoted readers!
Aw, thanks. But a few of my best friends here are either questionable barristers (okay, only one of those) or now toiling in the tar pits of the SCMP biz section.
Glad (really glad) to be able to read another post from you. Your humor and perspective on life in HK and SZ make your blog a joy to read and I check here at least once (usually twice) a day to see if you've updated.

I didn't comment on your last post because I felt that I had nothing useful to add but I want you to know that I sympathize with you on the impending salary tax doomsday.

It's less of an issue for me than you because I contract remotely with non-HK companies and my earnings are below the cutoff point for Uhhhmerican-living-outside-of-Uhhhmerica US taxes to apply, but my wife and, by extension, me and our two cats are going to get absolutely *clobbered* by her salary tax bill.

We may end up taking the option that Hongkie Town mentioned ourselves.
Heeeesssss Back!

And in good form I see. Glad you are doing better my old friend.

Hey, I'd pay HK taxes any day. Think 60 percent of whatever you make goes to feed the monster in the Big Apple
Hmmm... that Kiwi you speak of sounds like a teacher who worked with me last year. Probably not the same one though.
I'm just glad I don't know what taxes I pay in SZ. I think they just take the stupid waiguoren tax directly out of my paycheck. Although I'm not looking forward to US taxes... stupid freelance pay. I'll probably owe half of my peanuts I earned from writing.
Everyday crit,
Yeah, a different Kiwi. This one works at The Standard. A kindred soul, though, obviously.
If you stay outta the US for a full year and make under, what?, something like 70K, I think, you owe nada to Uncle Sam.
The only catch is that you have to file a return.
And who reports their freelance pay unless the employer reports it, too? It's like waitstaff and tips. Under report if you have to.
I was daydreaming the other day about zeppelin travel since I am so sick of air travel.

But as far as taxes are concerned, the US excludes, I think, the first 85,000 of earned income.

Yes, the mystifying stamp duty. Lets get together, dress as indians and throw some tea in Hong Kong harbor [asssited with copiuos amounts of beer]. That will show them.
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