© YM Yik/epa/Corbis
He loved Hong Kong. He objectified it out of all proportion.
Uh, no. Make that, He subjectified it out of all
To him, no matter which of the two seasons it was, this
was still a town that existed in the lurid store-front windows of fashion
multinationals and pulsated to the tune of the unsullied capitalist hymn, the
Chinese national anthem, played daily at the start of the evening news.
Uh ... no. Let me start this over.
He was too romantic about
Hong Kong, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle and bustle
of the Central crowds and traffic, how you couldn’t walk on a pavement at
lunchtime without ramming into the back of a fellow office worker forced by
humanity’s numbers to stop suddenly at one of those newsstands that illegally
took over more than half the available walking space, and at the same time inhale a whole lungful
of cigarette smoke from a suit, labourer or shopgirl (their IQs were all the
same) carelessly exhaled without a thought for the masses marching behind.
To him, Hong Kong meant beautiful women and
street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles.
Ah, corny. Too corny for a man of my taste. Let me try to make it more profound.
He adored Hong Kong.
To him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary
culture – such as it was in Hello Kitty’s adopted homeland. The same lack of
integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way and hire home-help from
the Philippines at the minimum wage was rapidly turning the town of his dreams
No, it’s gonna be too preachy. I mean, face it, we
wanna sell some magazines here.
He adored Hong Kong, although to him it was a metaphor for
the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society
desensitised by stinky tofu, a thumping colonial hangover, Canto-pop,
collectible McDonald’s figurines ...
Too angry. I don’t wanna be angry.
He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his
steel-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.
I love this.
Hong Kong was his town and it always would be. Hell, it
was even Asia’s World City, if you read the right billboards, although it
couldn’t quite sport the “continental cultural nexus” hat with much panache; it
tended to slip over one eye while the other stayed beadily on the cash.
But if culture was the curse of the thinking class who
cared if the museums were largely second-rate and there was rarely an original
theatre run in town? So what if there wasn’t much thought going into it?
Editorial inspiration could still be found in improbable places.
His morning, late morning, afternoon and early evening
coffee fix lay a dozen doors down the street from company headquarters along
one of those golden pavements of high-rent real estate. Actually the pavement
was made of lumpy, cracked concrete and had seen too many shrieking deaths of
snapped stiletto heels: tai-tais down from out of the clouds around The Peak
always put their Manolos in mortal danger on the days that they had to stagger
a few yards from their chauffeur-staffed Lexuses to their anointed commercial
But he loved that stretch of the Promised Land – even
the part where a parked cement mixer compelled the lunch crowd to walk on the
noxious roadway, because in Hong Kong there was always room to wedge in another
Not that grubby, cacophonous construction work ever
menaced profits. Those galleries were high on their boundless supply of fat
pink porcelain babies born to must-have mainland Chinese artists, and those
canvases of the paint-by-iMac-numbers school that look so good in utility
He venerated Hong Kong – he even gave thanks for the
coffee from the coffee shop, one of those with the green and white logo. Okay,
so it tasted the same as coffee everywhere else, but didn’t that make his city
even more cosmopolitan? It could have been New York! Paris! Sydney!
The coffee shop was a neat place – it provided a kind
of public service, a de facto office for the free-Wi-Fi-between-jobs
networkers on their laptops, and a gloomy corner or two for the lugubrious
local Sikhs who looked like unemployed maharajahs.
Nobody would speak to anybody else in the coffee shop;
the free newspapers would be unthumbed and could have been reporting that
Bangkok was burning, but nobody would have been reading anything except the
He idolised Hong Kong. Hong Kong! Who had time for reading?