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Who else is leaving the building in Hong Kong with Elvis?



As if Hong Kong isn’t confused, bewitched, bothered and bewildered enough with a befuddled government taking a scattergun approach to ways in which the city can once again be seen as the important and international city that it was- and getting lost at every turn in the process- even the once powerful Hong Kong Jockey Club, supposedly the home of the city’s favourite pastime, is looking like a bloated house of old Yahtzee cards.



Gone forever is the image the Club had when Hong Kong was a British colony- exclusive, aspirational and where membership certainly had its privileges and a shortcut and proud badge of pompous honour to being amongst the hoi poloi.

 


The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club was something that was beyond reproach. It was where taipans made deals with other taipans, and which was everything that was written by author James Clavell in books like “Taipan” and “Noble House”.


These were stories about a Hong Kong that was rich, thriving, corrupt, albeit in a fabulously superficial manner, and where the locals aspired to be like their white colonial chieftains.



These days, that Hong Kong often reminds me of one of the brilliant Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons featuring Bwana Jim meeting headhunters in the Amazon.



This pukka city was the Hong Kong I grew up in when my parents were forced to leave Ceylon with nothing to their name, and with their only form of refuge being this mysterious little city.

 


This was a city of contrasts with its sampans, rickshaws, trams, alleyways, amahs, hillside shacks, the shameful Walled City, below, with its drug addicts trying to recover from having been fed opium and heroin.



There was also the notorious red light district known as Wanchai with its tattoo parlours, American sailors on shore leave looking and finding love for sale amongst the bars with fairly attractive Chinese ladies wearing cheongsams that showed off more than a little thigh.



This was the underbelly of Hong Kong and where my father’s incredibly kind elder sister, who was living here after marrying a Portuguese gentleman, helped to give my family shelter from the storm on the 27th floor of a high rise in the pauper’s side of town.


It might have been flawed and not the city that has been romanticised in films and television series, but Hong Kong was never boring.


It certainly forced me to grow up fast and see through the obvious, cut through the crap, and be able to read the yum cha leaves.


The great divide between those who lived up on the Peak, or on the rich South side of the island didn’t matter to a kid who looked at being in Hong Kong as one big adventure and not unlike the character played by Christian Bale in “The Empire Of The Sun”. 



There was something new to discover every day, and if one applied themselves to something- often without even knowing it- there was never knowing how quickly one could rise in Hong Kong society.


The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club stood for what one could become in the city- wealthy and powerful and part of a Hollywood east type of organisation with its horse racing business associated with high society and the various business opportunities to mix and match things and become someone of superficial importance.



Most just wanted to be rich and wealthy and “marry well” and “marry into money” and live happily or unhappily ever after.


It was a game played well and still being played.


Having watched all this unfolding over the many decades living in Hong Kong, I am seeing today what happens when arrogance, ignorance and morals are allowed to bear forbidden fruit and this fruit is allowed to decay.


Despite typhoons, the riots of 1969, water rationing, hillside fires, that sombre handover of British sovereignty back to mainland China in 1997, Hong Kong continued to thrive. 



Sam Hui had created something I dubbed Canto Pop, Bruce Lee broke down doors with fists of fury and created a new genre in films whereas the nightlife was buzzing and attracting the big players like bees to Eastern European honey.

 

The fish were jumping and there was plenty of everything to go around.


It was almost too good to be true. And it probably was.


It’s been said often enough: Hong Kong was Disneyland for adults and everyone who could afford to wanted to play.



Hong Kong also started to become mismanaged and most noticeable being the government initiative to attract tourists back to Hong Kong after the SARS crisis known as HarbourFest.



The pop music driven HarbourFest with the Rolling Stones, Santana, Prince etc was a mistake of epic proportions.



It wasn’t about helping Hong Kong, but an opportunity for fat cats to build on greed and makeshift red canvas companies and certain dubious big business types who were very important members of HKJC.


The great divide between the very rich and the very poor that was deepening at that time has never ever been fixed. 


During 2018-19 when Hong Kong was being body slammed by those insisting on fighting a fight they could never win, and one had to choose between being blue or yellow, the bogeyman from Wuhan made his presence felt.


The world was masking up, horse racing was being put into a bubble, and it wasn’t business as usual for Hong Kong.


Everyone was running scared- and running to be vaccinated.


We saw friends taking sides, longtime friendships and marriages and families were coming apart at the seams and we also saw very poor leadership with self serving agendas.



The inexperienced desperate housewife Chief Executive of Hong Kong created a bungle in the jungle and also exposed the shortcomings of a city that suddenly looked hapless and as if it had been built by Double Happiness matchsticks.


Mindsets changed forever as did priorities, and Hong Kong was not ready for any of this.


It had been the pampered child of the motherland for too long.


The very rich retreated into their glass menageries leaving everyone else in Hong Kong to fend for themselves.


But how were they going to do this, Hop Sing?


This is where we in Hong Kong find ourselves today- lost, confused, disappointed at those paid to lead, seeing false wellness prophets suddenly appear with a new app to sell, and a new breed of flim flam people with zero substance trying to reinvent themselves and be who they can never be because of a lack of smarties.


There’s a quiet desperation hanging over Hong Kong, and the good times are going to skip a beat for a few generations before things might find an even footing.


It’s something that Hong Kong needs to face without filters and more vacuous 3-5 year plans initiated by many who probably won’t be around to see any of this become reality.


Hong Kong was once a barren rock and people made it work for them.


They did this by being very good entrepreneurs giving Hong Kong what it didn’t have instead of bringing everything to a full stop and feeding the city with the same old congee when it was and still is desperately needing something new and exciting and inspiring.


Hong Kong was and is still needing Hope.


Instead, of this Hope,  there are cosmetic changes, and opportunists.


In the gambling driven horse racing world, there’s a Welcome mat laid out for the chosen few to ride in from overseas, plunder for more loot and ride out with millions in their new Hong Kong bank accounts for a few hours work.


But how and who’s approving this modus operandi of dangling a juicy carrot promising quick riches while the grassroots community struggles to make ends meet?



Today, I see a city that’s lost its soul, and which is far more important than losing its way.


The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club is now the Hong Kong Jockey Club, but what is this Members Only club really about?


Does it have a raison d’etre and contingency plan for improving the life of the community in a way that’s understood in a down economy?


Could the future of Hong Kong horse racing learn something from what happened to the pastime in Singapore?


Could it somehow reinvent itself and become more likeable and a more integral part of the community?


Times change…


I see nervous people, scared people and I also see those who took so much from Hong Kong without giving anything back now making hasty exit plans by bringing in the reserves as part of “succession plans”.



Someone is very probably going to inherit the mess that’s been created, and here’s wishing good luck to the person finally being given the keys to the pIckup truck.


As for those making exit plans, they’re trying darn hard to save their legacies, but those were lost around 2017.


What’s been known and talked about behind closed doors for decades is now an open secret.


It’s time for Elvis and his elves to leave the building along with Willy Wonka and his Oompah Loompahs.




Please close the door on your way out.




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