By Hans Ebert

Even those who could, have been talking about leaving Hong Kong for greener pastures decades before The Great Leveller hit the world in the year 2020. Most are still here.

This talk about leaving was during the lead up to the Handover in 1997. Those who could and had escape clauses were making plans.

These plans were being made when what once was a barren rock was rolling in the deep of the Roaring Eighties and those Naughty Nineties saw the emergence of the Wolf of Wall Street days at upmarket escort clubs like Club BBoss, New Tonnochy and China City. Elsewhere, there was the far more conservative version of Studio 54 in JJ’s at the Grand Hyatt.

These were also the days when there was the Golden Mile down Nathan Road. There were some, if not the best hotels, restaurants and shopping in the world. It was when Hong Kong was a magnet for everyone with a story to spin and an idea that needed a fairy godmother or angel investors to turn these ideas into reality.

Despite making mewing sounds, as mentioned, very few left Hong Kong. Those who did were the ones who couldn’t make the grade and were nudged out. The rest? Where was there for them to go? Back home to wherever home was? And what was waiting there for them? It was either that or scaling back and moving downtown to the Philippines, Bangkok or Phuket. Or Lamma Island.

Hong Kong is Hong Kong. It has its unique heartbeat. It often has its ongoing theatre of the absurd. It might not be the city it once was, but which city today is?

Once the most cosmopolitan gumbo jumbo city in the world that attracted kings and queens and Hollywood royalty, the flame might no longer be burning bright, but, no matter what some think, it’s no candle in the wind.

Here’s a city that’s been bashed, battered and bruised with Rage Overkill protests. But there was no exit plan in place whereas the naive, aided and abetted by outside forces, only succeeded in “hurting the one you love”-their home.

Then, the coronavirus came knocking and tried to huff and puff and blow down the door and swallow the key. We’re still here- no longer the same, and changed forever, but we’re still here despite Covid Fatigue.

Without getting into the history of Hong Kong under British rule when governors might have governed, but it were the taipans, whose ancestors had initiated the Opium Wars and grew rich off it, who owned the city.

Author James Clavell wrote extensively about those days where many in Hong Kong without passports out of this city inhaled, exhaled slowly and played the role of well-trained running dogs.

It was survival and how it was- being subservient to the foreign masters who cracked the whip, enjoyed everything in those expatriate packages and eventually sold Hong Kong down the Yangtze river and left in 1997 with their bounty including Governor Chris Patten’s favourite Chinese custard tarts.

Bruce Lee understood perfectly what had gone on and what was going on. He had tired of playing Kato to the American Green Hornet. When he managed to strike out on his own, it’s there to see in his films- the tough little Chinese guy who took on all comers- all of them foreigners- and won against all odds.

These days, the most overused word is “resilient”. Bruce Lee was always resilient until they made certain that the little dragon wasn’t allowed to breathe fire anymore.

Today’s Hong Kong are the leftovers from British rule mixed with a couple of decades of arrogance and thinking that nothing would change. Thinking that the longest cocktail party would last forever and there would always be a buffet of luxurious life choices. Nothing, however, stays forever.

To say that Hong Kong is being managed with dim sum ineptitude would be an understatement.

No one’s minding the store, and it’s now really up to the Hong Kong Belongers who care enough to believe that there must be some way outta here like the joker said to the thief, to think things through and figure out where the city’s future lies.

It’s one-time calling card of being the Gateway To China is looking rickety. There’s a need to prop up this image. And here, the one truly Made In Hong Kong product around is the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the world class horse racing it owns.

This is no longer the pukka Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club where Membership had its privileges. Membership still does and money still buys prestige, but there are many other things about this racing club that is more than a racing club- something I have been describing it is for almost a decade.

The history of horse racing in Hong Kong is not unlike the history of Hong Kong. In fact, they’re very much intertwined.

When known as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club and the city was under British rule, it wasn’t surprising that there was a great divide between the Haves and the Have Nots. It was an invisible one.

It was also a time when Hong Kong was trying to find its feet. So was horse racing. This allowed in some good and others being broken down jockeys and trainers, mainly from Australia.

They made hay while the sun shone until new leadership took over and the jig was up. The also-rans and most of those from serial Dodgy City were driven out and the image of Hong Kong racing was reinvented.

It’s often been a long and strange journey to get to where Hong Kong is recognised as the best racing jurisdiction in the world with the largest betting turnover and the most international group of world class riders.

There’s also the billion dollar baby that’s the Conghua training complex and located in Mainland China. That’s a success story in itself which needs to be more widely known and will write its own future.

Away from the racing, there’s the HKJC’s Charities Trust and everything it has done and continues to do for the community. And in these days of the “new abnormal”, with the needs of the community having completely changed, there’s the need to understand and be on top of this.

The Club also continues to show the type of leadership not seen nearly enough these days- anywhere in the world.

Does the Hong Kong Jockey Club play to its strengths? Does it effectively market itself in all its many roles to those outside of the racing bubble? If it isn’t, it certainly should. The HKJC is not just the only game in town, it’s a six star product.

Being a six star product that’s Made In Hong Kong, there’s much that the Hong Kong Jockey Club has already done for this city. There’s also much new work to be done to not only help the community, but also inspire the thinking to write the next chapter in the life and times of Hong Kong.

For the Hong Kong Jockey Club, there’s the always intriguing back story that all this came from a racing club that’s grown to be much more than a racing club through leadership with a vision.

It’s more than just another horse racing story- a story not really communicated often enough and presented in a way that can be the best advertisement for the present and future of Hong Kong.

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