Update from passport-carrying Hemlock

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.

Click to hear ‘There’s a Ghost in My House’ by R Dean Taylor!

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16 Responses to Update from passport-carrying Hemlock

  1. Xiao Yao says:

    Actually these days in DB I hear at least as many conversations in non-Anglo European languages as in English.

  2. Old Timer says:

    Clean, spacious, friendly. I moved to DB after 22 years in the real Hong Kong, and have never regretted it. Stay away from the Plaza and it’s a nice place to live.

  3. Revolution says:

    I recently had cause to go there for the first time in 7 years, and my impression was that there’s a hell of a lot more amenities than there used to be, although the place still reminds me of some lower middle class suburb in the UK erected in the late 1970’s (with my own building on the island looking like poorly built council flats, of course).

    The main motivation amongst people I know for moving there is that it’s a lot cheaper to rent than in, say, mid levels, particularly if you have kids and need more than one bedroom.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    Yeah, you wouldn’t want to live in the real Hong Kong, would you ?

  5. Walter De Havilland says:

    I visited recently and the Plaza was like Hull town centre on a Saturday night. Not pleasant.

  6. stephen says:

    Have they erected a statue of Sir David Aching-Bones in the plaza yet?

  7. Maugrim says:

    I never understood why people would move to a vibrant, exciting Chinese city like Hong Kong, only to escape what makes it interesting. DB is something like the stepford wives meets Coventry, except in Coventry I don’t think the highlight of any working week is to buy beer from an off license and drink it using a rubbish bin as a table. Give me downtown HK any time.

  8. Allen Pinsent says:

    I think Discovery Bay is a lovely place to live. It is one of the few places in Hong Kong where people can own dogs, walk on an unspoilt beach and breathe fresh air. The only downside are the exorbitant transportation costs to and from DB, due to monopolisation by HKR.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    Allen, if that is what you aspire to in life (the suburban ideal, made famous by syrupy, fake sitcoms), then why did you move to Hong Kong ?

  10. Maugrim says:

    Allen, I’m not sure how the air is different from other parts of HK unless Cathay pilots bring some in duty free 🙂

  11. Edward Fox says:

    I have found Discovery Bay to be a suburb of Hong Kong which has a few over priced restaurants with limited choice and low quality to boot, shoddy construction of apartments, a hassle to actually get anywhere else and the rents are not much lower than many parts of HK Island and Kowloon. In fact, factor in transport costs along with time taken to actually get anywhere and we’re talking a pricier place to live!

  12. Huffer says:

    DB is one of the places that is difficult to understand until you live there for a while. Stay away from the Plaza & its fine, a perfect retreat from busy Hong Kong.

    For those lamenting that it isn’t the real Hong Kong, I would question what is the real Hong Kong these days. Central is busy but is fast becoming characterless with lots of Intl brand retail outlets & LKF is a shadow of its former self.

    Living in DB but being able to dip in & out of Central, TST is a good balance.

  13. Jon Dica says:

    I always wonder where these people defending the “real Hong Kong” actually live, work and relax. How many of you whingers on Kowloon-side? Anywhere in NT?

    Completely agree with Huffer above on at least one point – how are Central or Wan Chai or most MTR and big-brand-run areas on HK Island more storybook “real” HK?

    And I’m not defending DB either, as it’s very suburban and certainly not for everyone, but it’s also silly to point fingers – should one’s opinion be proclaimed invalid because they moved to Hong Kong x number of years ago? Is that sentiment somehow more valid if you’re born here? Ridiculous.

  14. Reductio says:

    Agreed Jon. I live in Kam Tin in the NT. Over a wet market in fact, which is about as gritty and authentic a HK experience you can get. However, for some, “gritty and authentic” = “stinky and loud”. Everyone has different tastes; DB is not for me, but suits other people to a T.

  15. Tezza says:

    I moved to db from abroad 2 yrs ago. Why do people assume that everyone comes here to live in “real HK” or to be surrounded by “local friends”. I came here for work not to live in a place where people spit on the floor, lack spacial awareness, and have no concept of queuing.

    Before I moved to db I visited a few areas and spoke to many people. I found that those who live in db really enjoyed it and those that had either visited once or, in some cases had never been, strongly disliked the place. Perhaps I’m imagining it but it seems to me that those not living in db are jealous of what it has to offer?

    Perhaps one day I’ll hire a suit and hang out in soho…

  16. White, Anglo Saxon says:

    TOO funny. But spot on and DB’ers love it. Anglospheric with English Language spoken by all. We live here for convenience and a quality lifestyle.

    Discovery Bay -is clean, friendly and safe. No side walk spitting activities going on here.

    Come and visit some time… but behave!

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