From Tung Chung Fort Sitting-Out Area to Windsurfing Memorial Garden; from Yung Shue Wan Basketball Court to Chung Yat Street Soccer Pitch; from Lutheran Village Children’s Playground to Cheung Po Chai Cave Picnic Area, smoking is prohibited. Even in barbecue areas, where the air is thick with the fumes of incinerated chicken wings, it is forbidden to light up. The list of Leisure and Cultural Services Department facilities on Hong Kong’s outlying islands where the tobacco vice is allowed is small; for some reason, it includes all places designated as ‘Rainshelter’ – perhaps on the assumption that the downpour will have soaked cigarettes into an unusable pulp anyway. Hence the sign in Tai O Road Playground that ‘smoking is not prohibited in this venue’. Perhaps for the sake of the kiddies they should add that it’s not compulsory either.
On a stroll through Wanchai yesterday, somewhere around Jaffe Road, I dropped into Marks and Spencer. Unlike the main branches of the venerable British chain, which specialize in dowdy, large-size ladies’ wear mysteriously popular with mainland tourists, this little outlet sells nothing but M&S food, including meals to go for office workers. And what do I see but another example of intriguing signage. ‘Due to the snow storm in the UK’, it announces, ‘some of our chilled range are [sic] temporarily out of stock’.
Which got me thinking. If the UK suffers a heatwave at some time, does Wanchai M&S run out of hot lunches? If the British suffer torrential rain, is the store suddenly depleted of bottled water? Would dry sherry be available if Britain experiences a drought?
I’m not sure if I would have bought something, but the decision was made for me by the presence of Vast Gwailo in Rugby Shirt and his co-conspirators Giggling Young Couple. Between them, these three managed to block me off from every narrow aisle in the place the second I stepped near it and for a few moments had me trapped between the slab-like chocolate bars and the jars of ready-to-use pasta and curry sauces.
I managed to escape round the corner to Lockhart Road, where I spied the latest hostelry to join the strip of seedy bars: the Queen Victoria. Apparently, the owners wrestled extensively over the name and even managed to think up worse ones. (As if Hong Kong doesn’t already have enough features styled in honour of the iconic 19th Century monarch.)
We all know that from time to time a star trader will leave one investment bank for another and take his team with him. What I didn’t realize is that it happens to pubs too. The manager of this new drinking place absconded, along with waitresses and alleged chef, from the Old China Hand, just two doors along. This mass defection has, according to various bleary and slurred accounts, resulted in a marked decline in the quality of what we might call the ‘client experience’ in their venerable former workplace. (Put it this way: how else could you Google the phrase ‘the planet’s mangiest Western men and the most wretchedly untoothsome Southeast Asian females’ at random and get a result?)
I am told it officially opens at 5.00 this afternoon. They were setting out the shiny new spittoons and chairs – specially reinforced to accommodate Vast Gwailo in Rugby Shirt chewing his M&S own-brand Toblerone – as I passed, and putting up an elegant notice declaring: ‘For the discerning drinker who demands something that little bit classier than the OCH’.