The scene is one of the ferry piers in Central. It is somehow noticeably less shabby than the rest of these mostly indistinguishable facilities. The plastic seats seem a bit classier, the floor a little less dusty. A shiny Perspex case on the wall is stuffed with glossy brochures and leaflets from the real estate agents, pet groomers, tutors, masseurs and other entrepreneurs doing business at the other end of the route, including one ‘Adequate Health Care’. It is clear that you are about to enter a land of dog-owning, tanning enthusiasts who spend a lot on their nails and kids. A noticeboard contains announcements in English only. The most prominent warns evil, undisciplined school children with too little homework to do to behave themselves on the boat.
Yes, it’s time for the annual state visit to Discovery Bay. Disco Bay SAR (Special Anglospheric Region) is a constitutional curiosity of Hong Kong: a semi-independent, feudal principality barely the size of Liechtenstein. The enclave’s official language is English, and it – and it alone – is spoken by 92.4% of the population. A further 6% speak Filipino as their native tongue. Cantonese speakers are advised to bring an interpreter.
The place is ruled by an evil despot who keeps his ruthlessly exploited subjects calm from day to day by granting them the right to indulge in some of Hong Kong’s most anarchic and reckless taboos, like alfresco dining and letting thousands of toddlers zip around on scooters among foul-smelling trees. As with all such medieval arrangements, the serfs receive protection in return for their lifelong fealty and production of large numbers of babies. Of course, no-one ever actually says out loud that they live here to avoid the Chinese, but you don’t hear them complaining about the relative absence of Hong Kong’s 95% ethnic group. The proof may be in the little colony’s own minority Han population: they did not come to DB because they desperately wanted to be surrounded by gwailos.
The resulting local lifestyle is thus slightly Sinicized Anglo-Saxon as opposed to the somewhat Westernized Chinese culture found in the rest of Hong Kong. The Asian population have been absorbed into the white majority’s practices, such as standing en masse in shorts and sandals outside bars staring dumbly at rugby games on big TV screens; the whites speculate in the HK$2 million golf carts (the only permitted personal mechanized transport) and stir-fry their Marmite.
In fact, this is my first annual state visit to Disco Bay for a good 10 – probably more like 15 – years, when I was on a secret assignment to investigate the first reports to reach Hong Kong of rampant wife-swapping in its distant secessionist Lantau territory (in which the practice proved impossible to stamp out and is now indeed a near-compulsory part of everyday life). The settlement has grown since then. In another decade or so it will have merged with that other happy, smiling, quasi-Singaporean Potemkin village, Disneyland, and fulfill its destiny as the ultimate, bubble-wrapped, sanitized, reality-free zone with only three haunted residences.