Hong Kong is a hundred years of vertical concrete architecture with smoggy tropical armpits. Every building is completely full of people.
The trams are two storeys tall, skinny with wheels very close together; they look as if the only thing stopping them from toppling on the corners is the electric wire at the top. I take a ride from one end of the island to the other.
I see an old woman wearing a T-shirt with the word “anguish” in an arty cursive, and a young woman with “SAVE ROCK QUEEN” on hers.
Unbelievably, I bump into an old friend, Steven E., a painter, who is here for one of his own exhibitions. That’s what he does now, travels around exhibiting. Last I saw him he had a six-month artist-in-residency on an Antarctic base, painting ice and snow. I guess he took a lot of white.
Our local artist-manager, E., is wearing a white surgical mask; she is the most enthusiastic person I have ever met – she waves her arms and shouts warnings about where to go shopping from behind her mask.
It took two insane 14-hour days getting the show up. Now it’s the morning after opening night and my headache is just beginning to succumb to a couple of Panadeines.
We got away with the show, but it’s had extensive surgery recently and will look better once the stitches come out. Unpredictable cultural differences meant that some bits that weren’t intended to be entertaining got uproarious responses, while for other failsafes, even the anal humour, the audience resembled an oil painting.
The after-party was a pretty revolting British colonial schmoozathon with a lot of highly decorated horsey ladies, and gentlemen in linen suits telling war stories with an elbow on the mantelpiece and a foot up on the grate; there was actually no fireplace, they were just holding their arm and leg up like that to look important.
I’m being harsh, of course, some of them were sweethearts, it’s just that there seems to be a certain milieu, attached to cultural events everywhere, for whom life is all about knowing the manager.
And odd that after a show to an Chinese audience in a Chinese city, the only Chinese at the party were holding trays of canapés.
Today I see two Communist Party officials in grey Mao suits strolling the street rather smugly, leaving a wake of cautious loathing: Hong Kong is busily enjoying itself between its rock and its hard place.
One week of shows down, and my neck’s out from headbanging – sad. Last night, I went out with Steven E. and his bride, an Argentinian firecracker named C.. We had a big night, ending up in red-light Wan Chai being repulsed/fascinated by the frenzy of mutual preying-upon that is the sex trade.
But today the whole mob gets on a junk and sails to Lamma Island to eat sea snails and cuttlefish (those mothers look mean, legless octopus/deaths-head) and other delicious monsters of the deep. There’s some kind of autumn-harvest-mooncake-lantern festival on too, so rituals abound.
C., the leading lady, had a grandfather who was a journalist here during some heady days or other; his bust is in the vestibule of the dead posh Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where she took me for dinner and jazz on Friday night. She was going there to meet friends: these turned out to be friends of her father’s or of his mistresses or somesuch, and were cougars.
In case you don’t watch television, a cougar in this context is an American expression for a very well groomed, sexually assertive older woman. In Hong Kong this has a British colonial slant: less leopardskin, but a lot of Yardley and 70’s perma-fros, and preposterous accents which I have never heard outside a Bond film – think Joan Collins, Joanna Lumley etc.. After it was quickly established that C. and I were not an item, I became the…wildebeest or whatever. I was lucky to get out of there with my shirt.
Next door, The Fringe Club features a very trebly punkish band, I think from mainland China, like early Silverchair with the bass turned all the way down. The punters are done up like Lee Lin Chin.
I spend the last day nursing an inadvertent hangover, the result of being trounced in a complex local dice game and drinking with the proverbial “some guys” in a dodgy bar badly disguised as a Vietnamese restaurant.
I catch up with Steven E. and C. one more time; they accidentally show me two extreme views of Hong Kong: first a top-floor bar at the Excelsior, which we get kicked out of because it’s booked for viewing fireworks; then, on the street, there is another huge festival going on (the mid-to-late-Autumn Festival?), and the only place to have a drink is from the 7-Eleven under a fly-over with the thousands of foreign workers who picnic all over any such public land whenever they get a night off.
The fireworks start over the harbour during the drive to the airport; it makes me a little teary, that and all the booze and goodbyes.
The Virgin Lounge at Heathrow, where I’m waiting for a connection to JFK, is like George Jetson’s house, all split-level 50’s/70’s-Futurama, with lots of angled glass, experimental furniture including those hemispherical hanging chairs (I’m in one now, luckily wearing a yellow tailored shirt with enormous lapels), and of course acid-jazz flute in the background.
Here, everyday objects have either an “e-” or an “i-” prepended to their names.
Being here is the result of one of the Hong Kong schmooze-offs I bagged earlier, making me mildly hypocritical for enjoying the free whiskey, spa, steamrooms, pool tables etc..
I’m struck by what a funny name Bernadette is: why not Craigette, or Brendanine, or Brucina?