Hong Kong After Dark
 
NIGHTLIFE IN HONG KONG

Many thought that when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China on July 1, 1997, all nightlife --- in its various forms --- would disappear. Not so. It is better than ever.

It is true Hong Kong has undergone some momentous changes, and continues to evolve. But one thing remains constant: it's still very much a man's town. The things men savor are here in abundance: good food, good drink, good companionship, and sex.

Let's start with sex. The game goes on here just as it does everywhere in the world, but there are local rules (the same as anywhere) so if you're new to Hong Kong, it's important to be knowledgeable. Some things that are accepted in the West are viewed differently here.

This being the Mysterious Orient, things are not always what they seem. It pays to bear in mind that in spite of its outward veneer of a modern Western city complete with skyscrapers rocking skyward, Hong Kong, just a scratch below the surface, is an Asian city, specifically a Chinese city -- culturally that is since it is now a Chinese city politically. This situation did not happen with the departure of the British --- it has always been so.

At first impression, Chinese girls can seem very aloof and cold, unapproachable.

Although the Chinese are by no means oblivious to sex (they may even have invented it --- the Chinese have a name for simply everything), public displays of sexuality are considered low class.

While the Chinese very likely do the same things in private that the Europeans and Americans do, the public face must always be one of virtue and decorum. In other words, here, if you've got it, you don't flaunt it. Sex, that is.

Casual sex and premarital sex are much less prevalent in Chinese society than in Western societies, but they exist nonetheless --- obviously. Much like the West, "respectable" Chinese girls don't go for "one-night stands", particularly with Westerners. Anyway, as a visitor, the chances of meeting "nice" Chinese girl and taking her out on a date are very slim. They lead sheltered lives.

So if it is action you're looking for, that leaves the "other" kind of girl, the professionals. (Some men think they're more fun anyway). Where do you find them?

Traditionally, the Wanchai District (Suzie Wong territory) on Hong Kong Island was where sailors and horny businessmen head when they have just one thing on their minds.

During the heady days of the Vietnam War and the GIs' famous R&R junkets, Hong Kong's girlie nightlife spread across the harbour to Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, the area along Nathan Road close to the Star Ferry. (Most of the R&R hotels were there so the extension was only natural.) Incidentally, Hong Kong is still a popular R&R centre for warships of many nations on patrol in the area.

In Wanchai, along the famed Lockhart Road and its side streets were dozens and dozens of girlie bars, hostess clubs and pubs, cheek-by-jowl, ranging from evil-smelling dives where anything goes (and where one ventures at one's own risk) to respectable establishments with live music and uptown prices. That's changed somewhat these days --- Wanchai has become respectable with an excellent selection of ethnic restaurants and up-market pubs. The number of earthy girlie bars and discos has decreased since Suzie Wong's heyday, making meeting your very own "Suzie" much less likely.

The Lan Kwai Fong area in Hong Kong's Central District is probably the best known entertainment area in the city, but it is certainly not like Wanchai or Tsimshatsui of old. The hundred or so bars and restaurants crowded into two streets are distinctly up- market. Consequently, trying to meet someone becomes that much more difficult and expensive.

Wanchai and Tsimshatsui aren't the only two areas with girlie bars and hostess clubs of course, but the others cater almost exclusively to Chinese, and a Westerner might not be made to feel welcome.

The older, traditional clubs that look like Hollywood movie sets --- vast, plush, opulent, and very, very expensive --- still exist and are mainly patronized by well-off Chinese and Japanese businessmen

These days, many are called karaoke clubs. They're easy to tell with their doormen in fancy uniforms, hostesses in evening gowns, greeters in tuxedos, big orchestras, exotic, lavish decor, expensive sound systems --- the works. In these establishments, the girls who command the highest fees are Westerners!

Now, suppose - just suppose - you wanted to meet a girl while you're in Hong Kong, Where should you try your luck?

Well, unless you are prepared for a blank check-type evening, you can't just wander into a bar or karaoke club and walk out with the piece de resistance. First you must play The Game. It is called "You Buy Me Drink". Drinks for yourself, of course, are extra.

Then there's drinks for "my cousin" the bartender. You can't refuse because the idea is to demonstrate that you're a macho man of generous nature, not a "Cheap Charlie" (the famous phrase used by legions of Saigon bargirls when GIs refused to buy them the proverbial Saigon Tea).

This can turn into a costly test of resources and stamina when all you want to do is take the girl out of the bar and have some fun in more intimate setting. All they want you to do is stay and spend money.

There is another factor at work here, however: no girl, especially no Chinese, girl, wants to be made to feel that she is a piece of merchandise to be sold off the shelf to any john who walks in the door. So, although your money is happily accepted, the rounds of drinks sort of serve as a period when you and the girl can size each other up.

But some words of caution: While ordinary drinks in girlie bars normally aren't expensive, the "hostess drinks" are. And funny things happen with bar bills in some of these clubs.

Customers sometimes get charged for drinks they never ordered (or even saw). "Special" charges appear. Totals sometimes are higher than they should be. ("Ah! Very sorry, sir, my mistake!")

Beware of running tabs, particularly those to be settled at the end with a credit card. Always ask the price of drinks, as uncouth as that may seem, and pay as you go.

Some of the worst bars and clubs are under the control of triad gangs, and occasionally there are horror stories of innocents who drop in for a casual drink and are confronted with outrageous bill (tens of thousands of dollars!) and it is pay up of else!

But while most bars are honest, they're not charitable institutions, and everything has a price. Therefore, invariably there is a "buy-out" fee for taking any girl out of a bar or club. This is negotiated with the bar mama-san and it is simply a ticket to leave, with no promise of anything else. This can easily cost more than several thousand dollars.

Now, although virtually all of the bargirls are professionals, you shouldn't assume that because you paid a fee for the lady to leave the bar that she will go along with all you plans. Maybe things will go as your hope, but there's no money-back guarantee.

Many stories have been told of men who have gone home to lonely beds after thinking they were on to a sure thing. In reality they just didn't know the score.

Hostess and/or karaoke clubs are usually more subdued than the girlie bars, more "high class," more expensive - and less predictable. Many of the hostesses are simply hostesses; they will sit and chat (for which you pay, by the quarter-hour), have a drink, and then, at closing time, when your hopes are up, they may go back home to Mom and Dad. It's a chancy game.