Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another week in Hong Kong

Back from my 7th (I think) trip to Hong Kong. This one was relatively uneventful. Here's a photo I took of ChungKing Mansions, which I am still slightly obsessed with and scared of.

I don't know about you, but I think that the word "Mansions" got mistranslated along the way. A more accurate description might be "ChungKing Warren-like LSD hallucinations".

Hong Kong centre has had a slight make-over in the two years since I was last there. Some of the tattier-looking buildings have been painted, various road-works schemes finally finished (some have been there for so many years that I'd concluded they were permanent), and in place of the building site opposite my hotel (an unglamorous Holiday Inn which resembles something governmental out of the novel 1984), there's now a swanky shopping mall, full of advertising billboards displaying gorgeous westerners. I love being a giagantic Gweilo - a Chinese word meaning "ghost man" which is used, rather derogatorily to refer to white people. Beautiful gweilos are everywhere in Hong Kong. If they're not staring down at you from the adverts, they're walking the streets. Kowloon (the mainland part) tends to have tourists - respectable upper-middle class families who wouldn't be seen dead in tacky resorts, and are instead on some sort of Eat, Pray, Love mission.

You can always tell the new ones because they stop and reply to the ubiquitous men selling "copy watch" and "fake rolex". I am always tempted to say "Honey, there ain't nothing fake about me!" but it really is best just to carry on your conversation rather than acknowledging them in any way. I made that mistake on my first visit, and somehow a polite "no" ended up with being given a tour of someone's shop.

While Kowloon is a bit scruffy in places, Hong Kong island, which houses the alien-looking, hostile skyscrapers, is a much swankier affair. Late one night, suffering from jetlag, we ended up aimlessly wandering around the Soho district round Hollywood Street, and found a weird conglomeration of high-end bars, catering to dead-eyed banker Gweilos wearing expensive suits. I'd never seen anything like it before. They looked like they'd fallen off the advertising hoardings and onto the street. Like every aspect of people who work in the banking sector, these people had turned having a relaxing drink into an aggressive competition, and there was a scary tension in their shrieking laughter and loud proclamations as they seemed to fight to win the title of "Banker Wearing the Most Expensive Watch Having the Most Fun." There were also some ladies who were not wearing many clothes (it was quite a warm night), and the smell of cannabis wafted out onto the street. Rather than the hokey nonsense of Eat, Pray, Love, these people were Grab, Screw, Sniff.

Of course, being a product of a council estate, and working now in the Liberal Arts, my first instinct was unmitigated fury and disgust, as I realised that some of these people just earned my entire year's salary that very afternoon. They were laughing it up like the global recession never happened. I'm sure that some of them are nice when you get to know them, but they throw the "undeserving welfare cheats" of Britain into sharp perspective. Try as I could, I couldn't get their laughter out of my head for the rest of the evening.

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