Friday, 19 August 2011

Not the World of Suzie Wong

Wan Chai is Hong Kong's black hole. I don't mean in the Calcutta sense, a Kafka-esque penal colony where broken people do their penance, or some latter day remix of the Kowloon Walled City. I'm not talking about a tired nod to Conrad and his 'earth's dark places' or the Blade Runner cliches beloved of hacks who have run out of credit at the metaphor bank. I mean a real black hole.

Wan Chai has a specific mass heavier than the other locales that flank the flagrant harbour; it exerts its own gravitational pull. Your night might begin in some swanky Lan Kwai Fong bar, sipping caviar mohitos drizzled over ice chipped by Eskimos from the Arctic's oldest glacier. You might hob-nob with the snobs in a tony eatery, fawned upon by peons in Prada as you pick at some fussy fusion concoction. You might even drop by this week's must-visit club to bust an elegant, Moet-fuelled move. But sooner or later, most probably later, you are going to end up in Wan Chai, swirled around its fringes, sucked into its downward spiral and then engulfed by its gaping maw.

It's inevitable. Inexorable. Ineluctable, even. Basically, it's physics. Just as fraying galaxies at the edge of the universe cannot resist the crushing pull of the absence of matter, so the average Hong Kong party animal, absent of sense, is drawn to the dense centre of Lockhart Road. Once you have been subsumed by this dark mass, different laws apply. A cruel and selfish calculus dictates the behavior of those who go looking for love, or just a cleansing ale, in all the wrong places; the trawling and brawling, the chat-ups and put-downs, come-ons and comedowns. For you are now where the wicked things are, a netherworld where big-livered shellbacks and other rough beasts slouch towards bedlam as temptation importunes at every turn. 

These mean streets are not the civilized boulevards of Central, the bohemian byways of Soho, the upwardly mobile Mid-levels or some quaint cobbled petticoat lanes. This is the Wanch, and its concrete canyons and greasy alleys are awash with gang-bangers and glad-handers and game-riggers and dope peddlers, brokers, bankers and other wankers, drunken sailors, dai pai dongs and all night discos, wizened Vietnam War whores, chattering packs of maids on the make, triple-trio triads and bus uncles who hawk smack in the shadows of basketball courts. Wan Chai at night is where China jumps from dusk till dawn, enough to drive the average Joe bananas. Listen carefully and you can hear the whispered myths of late lamented emporia of bad behavior: Neptunes and the Big Apple, Strawberries and La Bamba, the Bridge and the Beer Castle, and of course the Hong Kong Press Club. Each with its secret history, all part of a litany of lost nights and long gone brain cells. 
If you've lived here, you know the drill. There you are once more, inexplicably it seems, in some subterranean den of insanity, sneaking furtive glances at your watch and counting off the diminishing hours still available for sleep as you get another round in. You wince as your credit card takes another body blow. You cruise. You wander. You pose. You want to stop the madness and get off. But you don't. You order another beer, or a shot of tequila, or both. You slope off to the Worst Toilet in Hong Kong, paddling through puddles of piss to clog your sinuses with another rail of crap coke. You look at your watch again. How could it be 5am already? 

But you see, time behaves strangely the closer you get to a black hole. It compresses, distorts, folds in upon itself. You might as well be wearing one of those melted Dali timepieces. You pat your pocket to see if you've remembered your sunglasses. You know it's almost light outside, and you also know your shades are like a superhero's cloak of invisibility, shielding you from the withering stares and disgusted snickers of the early birds. You are in the wormhole. A smoke machine hisses and through harsh neon and fits of strobe, you discern sinister leering faces of people who are not your friends. There is no quantum of solace. Nothing much happens as you approach the event horizon. You are way beyond vanishing point. You are in Wan Chai, fucked up and alone. Again. The baseline thump echoes your agony. Wanton piranhas swim the fringes of desultory dance floors. Perhaps Kafka is apt, after all. You're certainly trapped. Punishment is in the post. Techno prisoners. 


  1. A black hole? That explains so much about Wan Chai that has had me confused for years. Genius.

  2. Thanks guys. Of course Neptunes must have its very own piece ...stay tuned

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