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Hong Kong racing and the importance of having Face



“He’s no longer thinking about winning the race/He’s wondering if he’s going to lose ‘face’”.


I had these lines playing in my head after having dinner with a friend who, like the very few in my smaller and smaller circle of life, has done the maths, studied the odds of immortality, understands the importance paid by some to being a hoarder of money, and is simplifying his life and streamlining his business portfolio.


His investments in the horse racing game are not working for him as those equine investments of his are not winning.


When adding up all the various costs involved- upkeep, training fees, vet bills, bets etc etc- and the extremely slim chances of owning a Group 1 winning galloper like another Golden Sixty, he saw no return on his investment.


Something like “more prize money” is not exclusive to any one person nor a certainty, at least not to my friend.


To him, it’s a bit like going fishing, but the fish aren’t biting.



Anyone who knows something about Hong Kong- and Hong Kong horse racing- knows the importance of “face” and which is very different to feng shui.


Lose “face” and it affects business, self esteem and even sees one’s personal life being detonated.


Unlike going to see a feng shui master and moving furniture around or being told to shave one’s head bald to help good luck to grow back, there’s no one to help regain “face”, except for self made success.



All this talk of “face” made me think of this little story...


During those days when a group of us would make our annual pilgrimage to Shatin racecourse and what was then that caravan of fun known as the Hong Kong International Races, joining us would be a jolly Chinese gentleman, who would sit at our table, enjoy lunch with us, guzzle down the wine, never ever had a bet and tell us who his owner friends were and which horses they had running on that day.


Though none of this interested us, for our friend, if any of those owners he had mentioned had their horses win that day, he would scream out “I WON!” and somersault straight into the elevator and, somehow, ended up in the winning photographs.


It was a bit like John Belushi seeing the light.



This was his raison d’etre for being at the races- to photobomb and be part of those winning moments.


This is what bought him “face”.



Some years later, when talking about those days, we realised that none of us even knew him.


We never even knew this guy’s name.


As many should know by now, Hong Kong was and is a transient place with short memories. It’s where you’re only as good as your last home run and important are things like someone else picking up the tab.


Melbourne can also be kinda like that, especially when amongst those in racing and them knowing you’re from Hong Kong.


For some Hong Kong people, there’s also “face” involved in paying for meals.



This preoccupation in Hong Kong with being seen as successful is something that can positively affect one’s standing in the city whether the owner of a club, a restaurateur, professional socialite, hairdresser, corporate lounge lizard, or horse owner.


If a horse owner, those winning photos proudly displayed in many homes and offices and even on bathroom walls are often far more important than any prize money.


It buys “face”.



Except for those years when Hong Kong was a masked city, winning photos with shiny happy people giving the thumbs up sign are something like the holy grail of networking- a status symbol that could help unlock the door to new business opportunities along with bringing one closer to those with portfolios that don’t stop and start with horse racing.


Sure, it’s more than a bit of a shallow shell game of chance that’s been parlayed and played for decades where the end objective is to be perceived as a player in Hong Kong’s wannabe hoi polloi life.


Back in the day, having this “face” was, of course, easier, because there wasn’t that artificial beast of the fame game known as social media and its various and many offspring.



Those were the days when one could disappear, regroup and, hopefully, return looking like a winner or even a Michelin chef as opposed to a limp and flaccid wiener.


In these confusing post pandemic times when many are gingerly taking baby steps to figure out what’s next, having “face” is not exactly a shoe-in and free pass to different types of riches.


Those I knew before the lockdown years might be back with plans and ideas and really really really needing to be seen as Key Opinion Leaders, but there’s the nagging feeling that despite all the selfies, and talk of investments, not everything is quite right in their worlds.



Maybe things never were right?


The street smarts no longer seem to be there.


Maybe they never were here? Or there.


The silver bullet and magic elixir for success might be somehow offering those who are still in racing, but thinking of bailing out of the game is that intangible something known as “face”.


There’s something quite serious about the above along with a certain amount of flippant pissoir when one thinks just how much life’s priorities have changed and businesses have stalled.


We’ve also seemed to have crossed the line where the real and online worlds have merged and with not many seeing how dumbed down things have become.


Is it any wonder that so many in today’s world are often living in an insta and hash-tagged place called...Facebook?



Maybe Facebook really should have been created in Hong Kong and for Hong Kong?


Maybe it was.


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