Maybe we thought that The World’s Longest Cocktail Party and Chinese banquet would last forever. Maybe we were careless and pretentious and shallow and couldn’t, or refused to see what was real and what was fake? Whatever it was or might have been, at least for me, the Hong Kong I once knew is no more.
Being angry isn’t going to bring it back. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from what has happened to a once vibrant city that had it all-and more- including a heartbeat and a soul. Looking back, something I am loathed to do as the past belongs in the past, there’s the feeling that we took so much for granted- the lifestyle, seeing nothing wrong in flaunting being nouveau riche and legends in our own lunchtime.
Many of us watched the rich get richer and the poor, well, see the poor stay where they were and did nothing. My, how the rich in Hong Kong behaved- and still behave. Maybe this is why they’re referred to as “filthy rich”?
What was both interesting and rather nauseating was how many wanted to be just like them- the filthy rich. Many still do. Just scroll through Facebook and see the fawning process and the posturing that goes on. Greed is an addiction and Hong Kong grew so fat and rich that it fed this greed with a mighty big shovel. We were Gordon Gekko before the character was even created.
We were too busy having our long lunches and long drinks and getting lost at that long buffet table serving everything and everyone that it didn’t matter. Entertainment expenses covered this excess plus the costs of all those who came along for the free ride. We were happy to get lost in all that nothingness that we thought was something like finding the Yellow Brick Road.
That supposed Yellow Brick Road usually led to the gilded cage in Tsimshatsui and the very expensive Club BBoss or somewhere else equally ostentatious and superficial with your own mamasan.
There was nothing wrong with this. It was Hong Kong, baby, and Shirley Bassey was singing “Hey, Big Spender”.
We were Beautiful People making the scene. Hedonism was making our heads spin though it was all just a silly phase we were going through. We just didn’t know it. In-between blowing air kisses across the dance floor, we also made mediocrity something special. We lowered ethics and standards and created and bought into that shallow dream. Remember all those who bought into the beautiful life of FashionTV? And... Thankfully, many of us were fortunate enough to have enjoyed some wonderfully kinda innocent secondary school years in Hong Kong.
We did through the friends we made, took a few walks on the wild side, and also because our parents picked up the tab. Did we ever think that their lives might not have been exactly rosy? Mine, sure as hell were not though my father found a way to always be impeccably dressed. Mum suffered in silence and I often wonder these days when exactly did horrible Alzheimer’s enter her being.
Politics in Ceylon forced them to arrive in Hong Kong penniless. They did their best with the scraps thrown their way. Through some miracle, they gave me everything they could until it was time for me and my pet kitten to become some Asian Dick Whittington in search of the next phase of my life.
Through trial and error, I succeeded in what was then a British colony where many knew their place and married “their own”. Not knowing what my “own” was, and being some strange child of the universe, I somehow met the pretty white American girl and daughter of a Lutheran minister and his lovely wife who swept me off my feet. We became one until becoming three.
None of this didn’t come without warnings and career obstacles. She lost the small job she had being the pretty handbag for a gay Filipino film reviewer in Hong Kong still in the closet and who needed “cover” for his socialising. He didn’t approve of us being together. He thought it was beneath her to be with an “Indian”. We were warned that our daughter would be classified as a “half breed”.
She turned out okay, my wife and I had our good times and we have Hong Kong to thank for all that and the life it gave us. She and I are self-made people and what we have intact is our integrity. Integrity is priceless and is that intangible commodity that’s often forgotten. She and I might not be together anymore, but this city shaped us and our time together. We owe Hong Kong so much.
Each of us who grew up here should think how we are going to repay it. Right now, Hong Kong is looking frail, vulnerable and even discardable. It’s not deserving of this. I made a promise to myself recently that I am not going to play the Blame Game. That gets us nowhere. Many of us have seen the best, and have enjoyed the best of times, thanks to being in Hong Kong.
Where else could a kid from Ceylon, who didn’t know how to use cutlery nor had never been in an elevator go from working as a cub reporter for the Hong Kong Standard to being an Executive for two major International music companies, help launch McDonald’s in Hong Kong, and create the Happy Wednesday brand for the Hong Kong Jockey Club?
In-between, there was time to enjoy tea at the Peninsula, practically live at the Grand Hyatt, enjoy a five star lifestyle and get to meet everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese and Quincy Jones to the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, George Harrison, Billy Joel, Peter Sellars, Keanu Reeves and so many more.
There have been the musical opportunities to bring Bollywood to David Bowie, Robbie Williams, Norah Jones, John and Yoko and Nelly Futardo, write original music for Jacky Cheung, Faye Wong, Sam Hui, the Wynners and A&R a massive hit for Danish band Michael Learns To Rock.
This all happened because of being in Hong Kong. This is home and not some temporary shelter from the storm. When trying to understand myself better and get my priorities straight by taking an extended break recently from Hong Kong, what became more and more clear is that in those other ports of calls, I was a stranger in a strange land.
Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t feel I belonged in any of those places. It wasn’t just missing the dim sum. It was missing the then some and more. It was missing the place where all my memories live. There was the realisation that it’s these memories that show the way forward even when what lies ahead might be fuzzy. There’s usually a clearing somewhere that gives you a glimpse into answers. But you must get out there and find it for yourself.
It’s not something that’s just going to appear out of nowhere and take you on the next part of your journey. It takes work to get there- wherever “there” is. Once there, everything becomes more clear. It’s not unlike listening to the music that Hong Kong band Andy is Typing... is creating and knowing how this might help this city hear something that is new, has baby legs and can travel...and make a difference.