An NGO with an outdated name, if not mission, seeks publicity for an embarrassing-sounding but no doubt well-intentioned forthcoming event. Taking its cue from desperate for-profit companies, witless political parties and lame vested-interest lobbies, it organizes a survey designed to yield eye-catching results and therefore big headlines in the press. The subject is people’s sexual behavior, and the group quite possibly overdoes it: wait a day to check Google News to see the Southeast Asian, US and UK media pick up this ‘Big Lychee wackiness’ story.
The Family Planning Association press release behind this avalanche of prurient smut begins by announcing this year’s Sex Cultural [they possibly mean ‘Culture’] Festival, which will be held in the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre. Impure thoughts of what a kinky sort of place that must be for such an event are quickly dashed by a quick cold-shower blast: it’s in un-sensual, almost anti-erotic, Shek Kip Mei.
Then it gets down to the survey results. Basically, 98% of Hong Kong people have sex in alleyways and on roofs and beaches. It claims that some do it in public swimming pools, but this is so stomach-churning I refuse to believe it (come back kids who pee-pee in the shallow end, all is forgiven).
And it refers mysteriously to ‘the bush’. This could mean beneath or behind the many finely maintained shrubs in parks and sitting-out areas, many of which – now I think about it – are almost suspiciously well-suited for the purpose in terms of shape, size and accessibility. Or it could mean the great rolling outdoors up in the New Territories, of the sort that catches fire in Australia and houses the nomads of the Kalahari. Or it could be a subliminal effect of the world’s most horrifying razor commercial.
The Hong Kong press handle this with varying degrees of tastefulness. Sing Pao devotes its whole front page to a lurid treatment of the shock findings, complete with a couple doing some sort of warm-up on an unappetizing stretch of shoreline. The Standard puts it lower down but with a bigger, not to say tacky, headline. The South China Morning Post, eschewing sensationalism as we would expect of Asia’s journal of record, stuffs it away in the City section, where it gets just a fraction of the space allocated to the riveting story on Hong Kong University’s fascinating retirement policy.
As if the swimming pool thing weren’t nauseating enough, we are invited to believe that Lan Kwai Fong is the most romantic spot in town. It’s full of cockroaches and rats, strewn with garbage and sometimes piles of vomit, heavy with traffic emissions, and it (reportedly) attracts the low-bred and loud. Compared with a roof or alleyway – a nice change.
There is a serious point to all this, and that is a lack of space. This story is a spiced-up version of last Tuesday’s about proposals for maternity leave and cash bonuses for parents who breed. That, in turn, is a story about demographics and Asian and other social trends we can only guess at, but which probably include things like the work-life balance, especially for women, and the curious and growing sense of society as a zero-sum Darwinian jungle in which fewer kids mean better chances, and no kids represent escape. And, as the property-obsessed Standard’s piece reminds us, it includes the costs of housing (40% of the paper’s story is actually about real-estate prices – more if you include details of rates for short-stay hotels).
There was a time when a middle class family could buy an 800-square-foot apartment for five years’ salary; that’s now gone to maybe 500 square foot for 10 years’ salary. It has been an elaborate social experiment. What happens when we take more and more of people’s wealth away from them, and give them less and less space to live in? The results are in. They bonk on roofs.