Dubbed the consumers paradise and the New York of Asia, Hong Kong has changed much since the handover of power to China by the British. While the glitter persists along with essential hedonistic items, subtle changes are happening.
If you ever go to Hong Kong, take the subway and never the taxi, because they are darn expensive, was the first line that this writer got before going to Hong Kong recently. Some provided early warnings about the food saying that one has to be careful because most items contain pork. But then, there were others who became dreamy eyed and drawing a mental picture about Hong Kong’s glittering skyline simply said: it’s New York of the East. All the things that I heard were of course true to a certain extent.
The city is expensive! But apart from a few capitals in Asia, most major cities are and if hordes of people can walk into five star hotels in Dhaka and drink beer paying Tk600 for each can then there is no reason why the same can’t be done in another city. At least for paying the money one gets a huge variety. In Dhaka it’s either Heineken or Heineken. Sometimes there is a local brand available but haven’t heard too many people recommending it with high points as yet. Anyway, never thought that the first day in this former British protectorate would start with a protest! Lines of people were on the roads, marching and sloganeering and the police were everywhere – with an expression of grim solemnity. Surprisingly, there weren’t enough camera-men and so I approached a man in uniform. ‘A photo?’ No, he nodded both ways and we got the message. But life was going on as usual. Protest march did not mean confrontation with the law, scuffles and vandalism. Life was following its own path. The massage parlours were open, their large illuminating signs dishing out a variety of services: Swedish, oil, Thai, Thai with extra comfort. Hmmmm! The last one caught my eye. Extra comfort sounds very appealing. But, let’s walk into that territory later. Never dreamed that the best tea outside Dhaka would be in Hong Kong! The tea was strong with thickened milk and per glass was HK$ 12. That’s around Tk125. No, I did not take out the calculator! You see, when you are abroad, it’s silly to start calculating every item in Taka terms. Unless of course you are related to Ebenezer Scrooge or have an uncontrollable desire to ruin your holiday. By the way, I was not on holiday, but since it was Sunday and my training began the next day, thought it would be wise to make the best use of the free time. People here love shopping and using their massive mobile phones. Can you believe it, didn’t see a single person using small phones. Read: inexpensive phones are not in vogue! But the shops sold all variety and walking into one a shock greeted me. No one knew Bangladesh! Where is it? One shop attendant asked looking a bit puzzled and my colleague told him that it was not too far away, just a three hours flight and a country which had been there for more than forty years. The shop attendant remained impassive. He definitely did not need geography lessons! He needed to sell the phone and told us that it will work anywhere in Asia. Yes, we took it but a nagging feeling of disturbance never left me. Come on, we play in the cricket World Cup and have beaten all the top nations. Honestly, no one was bothered about men losing their sleep over a bat and a ball. This is not cricket country. Now that is surprising because Hong Kong has such a diverse imperial background and it would have been proper if cricket had been known widely. Guess fifteen years after the handover of the place to China, a lot of psychological and perceptive transformations have taken place. A quick question: do you like sausages? Come on, double entendres aside, I mean the food! People in Hong Kong are crazy about them. And they looked really succulent and delicious. Unable to resist, I walked towards a roadside kiosk and asked, ‘chicken?’ and the ladies burst out laughing. Was that a gastronomic sacrilege? Did chicken mean something else in Mandarin? No they did not answer but kept on laughing and we walked on. No sausages for us! How about a beer then? Asked my colleague and we entered a pub. Outside in the general stores a bottle of San Miguel costs HK$8 and in a bar in Wan Chai, where ladies also dance in front of you wearing skimpy clothes, the price rockets to $57. Come on, if you want some pretty ladies swaying in front of you, the price has to go up. There is also wine and spirits and, well, didn’t see any opium smoke! Someone put the song ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ and the lights dimmed. Not exactly surreal but one cannot complain. Some young girls were applying make-up and giggling pointing to this writer’s bald head. Perhaps in that dim light I looked macabre. A character out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller! To go to another topic, The South China Morning Post is an excellent newspaper and one wondered how, with such a newspaper in circulation, the standard of English was so poor. In Hong Kong everyone speak English, someone told me before leaving Bangladesh but sorry to say, it’s not that great. A Swiss lady who worked at a famous Hong Kong hotel told me that after the handover of authority by the British in 1997, the standard has fallen sharply. Anyway, coming back to the bar, a woman in her mid thirties came over, winked at me, pointed to the girls and asked, ‘you want?’ Nah, tell me, would it be wise to mix business and pleasure? Can’t forget the training tomorrow. We stepped out and headed for another bar called Shangri La. There was a heavy curtain on the door. No, you can’t take a peek. Ok, let’s go in then…
to be continued
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