By Hans Ebert

THE DARK SIDE OF HONG KONG NIGHT LIFE 1

Hello darkness, my old friend, we have entered the dark side of the moon, but there’s a light at the end of this tunnel- a hard to find whiskey bar at 32 Wyndham Street and where one has to go through a narrow doorway and what can only be described as very subdued lighting before walking up some flights of stairs- very slowly- before, finding Stockton’s.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 1

I was early for my friends to make their appearance at 6pm, but this bar that’s impeccably designed to give one the feeling of being in an exclusive gentleman’s club in London, plays by the rules and reluctantly allowed me in ten minutes before the venue officially opened for business.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 2

Having ordered a Shiraz, I grooved to as much grooviness was possible to some wakka wakka guitars playing old school funk that seemed a tad outta sync at around 6pm. But having been to Stockton’s before, I knew that though everything seems random, and a bit off kilter, the pieces start to fit after the midnight hour. But this was now 6.04pm, and I was hardly going to get up and do The Land Of A 1000 Dances by myself. Certainly not with my pretty much straight-laced friends about to walk in.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 3

An R&B classic by Irma Thomas was playing when my friends trooped in one by one- a Scot, an Australian and an Australian, each a longtime Hong Kong Belonger- and Stockton’s filled up with the very international after-office crowd for Happy Hour. The mood here and that in other parts of the city made me think about just how divided Hong Kong has become.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 4

Suddenly, sitting at Stockton’s gave me the same eerie feeling I felt sipping piña coladas at the Shangrila in Beijing just before the tanks rolled into Tianamen, and thinking at the time, And this, too, shall pass. Of course, it didn’t, and even singer-songwriter Cui Jian, whose song became the anthem for that movement, had to repent for years before being finally unshackled, and allowed to perform again.

Right now, there are 2-3 very different Hong Kongs with very different priorities and mind sets. People like myself and my friends will always have options as to whether to stay, or pack it in, and say Sayonara. It will be a tough decision to make, but, these days, Hong Kong is all about making tough calls, and is not what it once was.

Others are not so fortunate- especially the younger generation trying to make sense of everything they have inherited, but who, everyday, find another problem with their inheritance.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 5

Many of the regulars at Stockton’s returned to Hong Kong a couple of years ago after their education overseas to either kickstart their careers here, or take over the family business. And though they will always have the financial means to change horses in mid-stream, millions of others- the Have Nots- don’t. And it’s the Have Nots that are the future of this once fascinating city- but with the fascination for it eroding fast, and replaced by anger, frustration and an extremely dark sadness. Hello, darkness, indeed.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 6b

So while the four of us exchanged our own Hong Kong stories, the very well-known and knowledgeable political writer and analyst with us, held court about many things we had never read about- the last British governor Chris Patton, the story behind the mysterious story of the missing booksellers, the not-so-secret American intelligence presence in Hong Kong, the new generation of student leaders demanding total independence, xenophobia, his thoughts about the reasons for Alibaba purchasing the English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post, who’s zooming who and how far up the food chain this scamming goes, and who, if any, are the good guys wearing the white hats. There was much much more. None of it good news.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 7

It all made for enlightening conversation, but it also begged the question as to why- why, so suddenly, and starting with Occupy Central, which turned into the Umbrella Movement- have we arrived at this low point? Or has this low point been hanging over us for much longer than we have ever taken the time to think about? In today’s social media-driven world, the truth is out there along with the rest. It’s all very murky.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 8

Gone are the days of tea dances at the Golden Phoenix and where a then-unknown Bruce Lee was Hong Kong’s cha cha champion.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 9

Gone are the days of the $1.80 box lunches, the opening of the Hong Kong Hilton, and then the Hyatt Regency, the first two international hotels in this city.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 10

Gone is that Can Do spirit that made entrepreneurs like Li ka-shing, Run Run Shaw, Raymond Chow and Alan Zeman millionaires and billionaires. Can Do has become No Can Do with “Superman” Li, having moved his business interests to the Cayman Islands, and virtually, the Invisible Man in Hong Kong.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 11

Despite all the new bars and restaurants and clubs opening up- like Stockton’s- many are also closing down even faster. Spiralling rents have forced them out of business- and now, those who thought they would be longtime businesses, are being forced to leave Hong Kong. The city has become unaffordable as somewhere to live.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 12

While talking about what was then and what is now, we were joined by another Hong Kong Belonger. After fifteen years, he had to recently close his flagship restaurant. The building that housed it for so long had been sold and his rent had been put up by a staggering 800 percent. There was nothing he could do about it. It came down to supply and demand, and a company from Mainland China was willing to pay the new asking price. Now, the landlord of his other restaurant was increasing the rent by 100 percent.

With a young family to look after plus paying $30,000 for a 400 square foot apartment, he’s down to digging into his savings. His options? Join a restaurant or hotel in Macau or Dubai. Being an Indian, the job opportunities in Hong Kong are limited. Again, it’s about the Haves and the Have Nots. There are the Old Money Indian families, and then there are those like our friend- a small time businessman knowing only one type of business: How to run a restaurant.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 13

Bob Dylan’s line about “all those pretty people drinking and thinking they’ve got it made”, played through my head as I walked out of our private room and tried to find a waitress. Stockton’s was packed and with everyone there seemingly without a care in the world as they enjoyed their version of Hong Kong. The background music was still playing, but it was drowned out by the small talk and laughter. Here was a very different world- and another face of today’s Hong Kong. Again, as Dylan sang, venues like Stockton’s offer shelter from the storm.

As we left and walked through the clubs and bars pumping out music, we passed by the now-usual suspects of Gambians in Hong Kong as refugees and openly indulging in peddling drugs- ice, cocaine, weed- whatever- down Wyndham Street.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 15

Walking into the once-trendy Lan Kwai Fong area, we were greeted with the usual queue of taxis with a cloth over their meters and available for whoever paid the most money. A $20 trip today costs at least $100. On a rainy day, expect to pay $300.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 16

The police see what’s going on and walk away. They don’t care. When some in Hong Kong turn against them as they recently did in Mongkok, why bother trying to right any wrongs? Just let things be.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 17

Just letting things be while trying to bring about change is futile and is what’s dividing this city. The students- that younger generation- are trying to make up for lost time. They trust no one and are demanding immediate change in a political system that is disrupting daily life. The older generation- and the older politicians appear to be clutching at straws. They have no answers and they have lost all relevance.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 18

How this will all play out – and where- cannot be fobbed off as being “interesting”. This is Hong Kong struggling for survival- for a future that’s hard to see right now.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 18b

It’s a future that’s impossible to see while sitting at a bar like Stockton’s. But, as said earlier, venues like this offer some shelter from the storm.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MANY FACES OF HONG KONG 19

The point is, for how long, and what happens when the real world outside catches up with all of us?

Today I read that Hong Kong ranked just above destitute Somalia in the United Nations happiness index. Of course, these indexes are like popularity polls. They are subjective and inaccurate. Still, whether right or wrong, this is not the publicity Hong Kong needs right now. The question is who’s going to put Humpty Dumpty together again? And if this actually happens, will the new Hong Kong Humpty Dumpty resemble the Elephant Man?