It was only a matter of time. It’s right outside my window after all. When I am awake I can hear the bass-rich “thump, thump, thump” as if some distant tribal drumbeat is beckoning me.
It was only a matter of time before the flashing lights and loud music drew me from the comfortable constraints and safety of my apartment.
In just about every social interaction I’ve had up until now I am usually asked, “So have you gone out yet?” as if hitting the nightlife is some right-of-passage. As I soon found out, it is.
People work hard here. The standard 9-to-5 is a bit of an urban legend for most businessmen and women. A government report last year put the average hours worked per week at 49, placing it 5th out of 72 countries with the longest working hours per year. With all the hustling and bustling comes some pretty hard partying. The past two weeks for me have been spent working pretty hard to establish myself as a great asset to this new organization so I put in some decent hours and figured now was as good a time as any to take a deep breath, lace up my Chuck Taylors and tackle the giant beast that is the Hong Kong nightlife.
Saturday, September 26th, 7:00pm
I arrive promptly to our gym’s year anniversary party. It is an amazing little rooftop terrace that is beautiful in its simplicity. No frills or fluff. Just a BBQ grill, some patio furniture and good people.
It got off to a slow start, as the culture here seems to lean on “fashionably late” and it really didn’t get crowded until about 8:30. The food was amazing and diverse. Cupcakes, hamburgers, a spicy sardine sandwich (amazing!), salami, chips and dip, brownies and plenty of libations that acted as a lubricant in the cogs of social interaction.
It was the perfect opportunity for me to converse and get to know a lot of the members of the gym outside of the sometimes hurried class setting. I am eager to learn more about each and every person. The transient style of living here seems to bring quite a comprehensive and multifaceted group of people with varying lifestyles and backgrounds.
We continued drinking and socializing for the better part of 3 hours and I was growing more and more curious as to what was happening on the streets 6 floors below us, far removed from the rooftop.
At 11:00 we finally started to set the wheels in motion. I left the rooftop with a wine bottle in hand, swilling greedily like a drunken sailor. Certainly not my proudest moment and makes the top 10 list as far as white trash things I’ve done, but it’s Vegas rules here so I figured one time won’t hurt. It was a delicious red wine from the Rioja region in Spain, if that helps class it up at all.
Our first stop on the tour of turpitude was a little bar in an alley, blanketed in darkness. I think it was a mexican place, but I can’t be 100% sure as everything happened so fast. I know that my drink had a jalapeno slice in it. It was delicious. All 4 of them were. After socializing and waiting for some of the others to come out, we moved out into the heart of LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) to a place called “Stormies”, famous for their syringe shots. Trust me, there is nothing medicinal about these shots unless you consider a prescription of vodka jello medicine. After ingesting 3 of these, we spilled out into the churning current and flow of people, typical for a Saturday night.
This is where the night takes an ugly turn. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.)
I was getting a little bit tired and wanted to wrap my night up, but never one to do something half-assed, I rallied. I gracefully exited the group that I was with and took a taxi to Wan Chai.
In the daytime, this busy commercial area offers lots to do and see in the way of parks, office towers, restaurants and an international conference and exhibition center. That’s not the part I was curious about. I have seen buildings, been to parks and eaten at plenty of restaurants. You see, when the sun disappears, so do the morals. When darkness envelops the streets, the lewdness creeps out of the shadows. The vices come in many forms.
Prostitution is loosely regulated here and on a 3 block stretch of Lockhart road in Wan Chai the streets are lined with nightclubs, outside of each sits an older women who aggressively grabs any young gentleman who helplessly pass within her reach, eager to pull them behind the big velvet curtain that hides the not-so-touristy, seedy inner workings of the Hong Kong sex trade. This is the stuff you won’t see in guidebooks. Most of the girls on the streets are Filipinas but there is quite a melting pot with a bevy of nations being represented. It’s a laundry list that reads like a gathering at the Olympic Games. Vietnamese, Laotians, Mongolians, Mainland Chinese, Columbians, Latvians, Estonians and Venezuelans are all represented. Want a massage at 3:30 in the morning? It’s open 24 hours a day for anyone who wants to “take the long way home” after a hard day in the office.
I walked up and down these streets, never venturing off the main road, only catching glimpses of young ex pats wandering into clubs and disappearing into the depths, a short asian woman escorting a tall jock to an ATM so he can continue his night out and older caucasian gentlemen seemingly just lonely enjoying the companionship of these “girlfriends for hire”. It’s very depressing and exhausting. I had a couple of run ins worth mentioning. A woman saw me walking alone and signaled for me to wait, when she got close she asked in a think accent, “What are you looking for? Cocaine? Sex?”
“Nothing” was the reply. But this reinforced the sentiment I had heard a few times before about living in Hong Kong. If you want it, you can find it here.
Further up the street, I crossed paths with a self-confessed ladyboy who offered his services for $1000 Hong Kong dollars (about $130 USD). After I politely turned him down he said it was my loss, as he would only be in town for the weekend. What a shame.
Sitting in a cab now on my way back to my room, I watch the street lights buzz by, Wan Chai moving away behind me. My taxi driver turns and maneuvers effortlessly on the empty streets. I set out in hopes to discover the different dimensions of the nightlife here in Hong Kong and I wasn’t disappointed. From the wholesome rooftop terrace party with friends and coworkers to wandering the streets of impurity alone, I saw a lot. I don’t regret a single minute of that 10 hour excursion.
Sunday September 27th, 2:00pm
This day is a wash, I slept well into the afternoon, but the day wasn’t a total loss. In the US, I would cure my hangovers with a good old-fashioned hamburger and there are some rituals that don’t recognize international borders.