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The Way We Were (And The Way It Was)

“I wasn’t allowed to go over to Hong Kong side at night”. It was an innocent enough line on Facebook from Joanne, my rather offbeat friend in a straight way from our years at Secondary school KGV, pictured below smiling in her scene-stealing role in the cult classic filmed in Hong Kong called “Five Golden Dragons”.

Joanne’s line did, however, stop me in my tracks and make me think just how strange this might sound to many in Hong Kong today.

Then again, Hong Kong is a pretty strange place these days...

Back then, however, before there was a Cross Harbour Tunnel and with Hong Kong nightlife still to find its feet, Kowloon was where, especially the younger set, met and got happy. Yes, I was young once.

Returning to Hong Kong side late at night, and after the Star Ferry had stopped running, meant taking a water taxi, more popularly known as a walla walla, a pretty wonky trip early in the morning across the harbour, and usually with other inebriated people.

Taking a walla walla was always an adventure, which, sometimes, worked in our favour. This was when it became a good excuse to call and tell our parents that we were “stuck on Kowloon side” with no walla wallas available when actually running loose with the wild bunch- usually female Go-Go dancers. Yeehah!

As for these meeting places on Kowloon, they were at the popular and inexpensive afternoon tea dances held at one of the hotels or nightclubs like the Golden Phoenix.

These Saturday afternoon tribal gatherings offered fledgling local pop bands an audience and a place to play. And yes, there were nightclubs that opened in the afternoon for these tea dances.

It was also where, if lucky, one met, slow danced with some the prettiest girls in town and exchanged home phone numbers.

It was all very innocent teen dream stuff.

There was the Scene discotheque for especially Friday nights in the basement of the Peninsula hotel, where one could feel grown up for a while. But when living with one’s parents and given weekly pocket money of around HK$30, living la vida loca was rather restricted.

Given the opportunity, some of us would be invited by a generous older friend to Bayside, the nightclub in Tsim Sha Tsui that featured ‘live’ music from a resident Filipino band and appealed to a more mature crowd.

The most popular group to play there were the cosmopolitan Fabulous Echoes from Hong Kong, below, though most memorable for me was seeing D’Hijacks, “The Filipino Beatles”.

For my best friend Steve and myself, we preferred to check out and hang with those Hong Kong Chinese local bands performing nightly at places like the Firecracker Bar at the Hyatt Regency on Lock Road.

This was where I first saw Sam Hui, not with the Lotus with whom he was to become one of Hong Kong’s first pop idols, but with a band called Bar Six which included singer Tony Orchez, someone who became a popular deejay on Commercial Radio.

Tony would perform ballads in his Johnny Mathis influenced voice whereas Sam, below, also the bass guitarist, would take on the Top 40 hits at the time.

Sam was to eventually go on and be a television and movie star and the pioneer of what I dubbed Canto Pop when being a correspondent for the American music trade publication Billboard.

At a club opposite from the Hyatt was a group called the Four Steps and where a still unknown and flamboyant Roman Tam with his amazing almost operatic voice was waiting to be discovered.

Roman Tam was Freddie Mercury before Freddie Mercury. Despite everything being in the closet, he was outré and didn’t care what anyone thought about it. There was also of course that amazing voice.

There were a few all-girl groups playing professionally to whom we were attracted, and a different type of female- more experienced, and usually showgirls from Australia and Canada who knew things that we never did. We were, of course, willing students.

Across the road was the always interesting jungle ghetto called Chungking Mansions to discover and get lost in the global gumbo of Indian restaurants, backpackers and where everything, including love, was for sale.

Hong Kong side had Wanchai, which, in those days meant the area where sailors on shore leave would frequent and known for the bars, the dives, the happy endings and a stop at Pinky’s Tattoo Parlour.

My elder cousins would talk about nightclubs like the Blue Heaven and the Metropole, but these were before my time.

For myself, it was The Den at the Hong Kong Hilton where my friend Steve eventually started playing in his teens with Noel Quinlan’s excellent band of professional musicians featuring brilliant singer Peter Nelson, below.

There was also the Mocambo nightclub where the Downbeats- The Rolling Stones of the Philippines- and the Quests from Singapore had stints.

Hong Kong was changing, we were growing up fast, and with all these changes, there was a need to think about actually finding jobs which could lead to careers.

There were some detours and side trips along the way like following Alice down the rabbit hole, but one grew out of going back for more.

I found the Wrangler Jeans girl, we fell in love and decided to make it a forever thing...This led to a life that one can look back on with no regrets and a love that will last forever.

By now, everything was happening on Hong Kong side and Kowloon became something totally different to what it was...

Everything in Hong Kong had changed and so had we without even knowing it.

That simple life with no mobile phones, no social media and knowing one had fallen in love by just holding hands suddenly disappeared.

We had grown up, but had we grown down?

Has everything become too complicated?

Have we lost honesty?

Have we lost the ability to trust? Maybe even to love.

I don’t know.

Do you, Mister Jones?

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