An American Abroad

Hong Kong: Wan Chai

As one wag put it, there are two primary modes on Lockhart Road: either you pay to get laid or you splay to get paid. The street runs like a vein full of Viagra through Wan Chai, the legendary home of Suzie Wong and her ilk.
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Suzie’s descendants circa 2013 are Filipina B-girls with big anime eyes, Asian/Spanish genes, and flexible ethics. They’re beautiful, but they don’t want their pictures taken; that would be like giving it away.
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For old times’ sake, I stop into the Wild Cat, one of the smaller ecdysiastical venues. Mama-san has worked there ten years and is expert at separating slightly buzzed and horny round-eyes from their dollars. Her girls rotate out every six months when their visas expire. They wire money home every week, fabricating tales of their profitable jobs as “receptionists” in Hong Kong. Then they return to Quezon or Cebu or Manila or Tagaytay.

A drunk blonde Brit is guided in by the street touts and almost immediately passes out on the couch by the door. This is prime real estate, since the area can be curtained off for costly lap dances and other more intimate activities. Mama-san gets the bouncer, a middle-aged accountant with thick glasses and a knuckle-duster, who gently but firmly expels the inebriate. A girl dances topless and bored on the tiny stage behind the bar. Her expression confirms that she knows she has the worst job in the place. The B-girls at least get a commission on the HK$240 thimbles of red wine they wheedle the clientele into buying for them, but the strippers get near zip.

A little later, I repair to The Old China Hand for ethanol and quiet reflection. It looks like a real bar, something familiar and comforting that I haven’t seen for ten weeks.
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But though it looks like a proper British pub, it can’t escape its environment. “You want a massage with a happy ending?” the barmaid asks me. I am amused: “Is that how this place got its name?” The barmaid looks embarrassed. She leans in close. “I’m just doing a favor for the girls outside,” she says. “You know.” Yeah, I know. A favor and 25% off the top. That’s Wan Chai.

I survey the crowd: mostly older Brits at this hour. I wind up talking to Geoffrey, who really is an old China hand, a merchant marine navigator who’s traveled all over the world and has lived in Hong Kong for the last 15 years. He’s obviously a regular here.
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He’s also a terrific raconteur, with stories of being chased by a mob through the streets of Jerusalem into the safety of the King David Hotel, of revenges visited upon nouveau riche and fatuous cruise ship passengers, and of his obsessive and psychopathic housekeeper here in Hong Kong. I left when he started nodding off.

The whole Wan Chai scene was intoxicating–and I don’t just mean the Carlsberg. The mix of old Britannia, the oldest profession, Filipina morsels and Cantonese cuisine is just right. If I’d had more time, I would have stayed. There are a million stories waiting to be written about such a place.


  1. This older gentleman looks quite contented! This post reminds me of a quote from one of my all time favourite soccer/football heroes.

    “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”
    –George Best

  2. You could remember your schedule in such a place? Must have been the influence of the bored dancers. Two weeks of dancing in a dive like that made me nauseated by dancing for 6 months.

  3. Keith Birch says:

    Geoff is still around town, but alas the Old China Hand is no more.

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