The last two days saw extremely long queues outside fifty Bank of China branches across Hong Kong as people scrambled to buy a special issue of bank notes celebrating the founding of the Bank of China in 1912. People were queueing for several hours and in many cases were disappointed. Police were highly visible and in places set up barriers to control the crowds. When I went to the local BOC branch for some unrelated business yesterday, the entrance I usually use was barricaded shut and I had to navigate my way past the throng before getting inside.
The size of the crowds exceeded those seen during the McSnoopy craze or the release of the iPad or iPhone 4s. It was also interesting to observe the mix of people lining up to get their hands on the notes - all age groups were well represented, there were far more men than women and almost not foreigners. The Hong Kong Standard mentioned that some of the buyers were representing syndicates from the mainland.
The $100 legal tender notes were being sold for $150 each with a limit of two per person. In the secondary market they were (reportedly) selling for upwards of $2000, although most reported sales were for lesser sums. Assuming the typical buyer resold for HK$1200 profit, that is not a bad return for the effort and capital involved. For many in Hong Kong, it is not far away from one week's wages making the act if participating in the process a very rational one.
The fact that the queues remianed orderly, in spite of some people being disappointed, relecting on the extensive experience Hong Kongers have in standing in queues.