Writing memoirs is a strange process.
I have written 60-plus stories, but two things happened to curtail my writing.
First, I have almost run out of stories to tell. (After all, I can’t, in all conscience, make things up.)
Second, COVID 19 came along with all its restrictions which, I now realize two years later, put me in a writing and general funk.
Until I was stuck at home, I never appreciated just how much business travel had become such a large part of my life.
No shows, no dealer visits, no kibitzing with reviewers has made my business life much less interesting. Don’t get me wrong, business has been great due to the “COVID Bump.” My biggest problems these days seem to be caused by restricted supply from my manufacturers and, as we all know, price gouging by the shipping companies, causing massive price increases.
What follows are some random memories of travel to Hong Kong.
I would fly to China about twice a year. Door to door from Long Island to Hong Kong took 24 hours, which caused severe jet lag. This rendered me useless for about five days. So instead of working right away, I would use this time to explore Hong Kong.
I am not religious but I am curious about synagogues in faraway places. Part of this comes from the fact that after the Holocaust in Europe, few synagogues remained intact. The only town that has really preserved them is Prague, deliberately not destroyed so Hitler could have a monument to the annihilation of the Jews.
In Mid-Levels in Hong Kong is the Ohel Leah Synagogue. Built around 120 years ago by the Sassoon family, it was completely restored in 1986. Its beautiful colonial Sephardic architecture is reason enough to visit.
It is the richest Jewish community in the world because it sold its air rights to some massive building that towers over it. The entry is actually guarded by Gurkhas from Nepal.
My hotel was across Victoria Bay in Kowloon, so I took the Star Ferry, the best and most entertaining way to get to Hong Kong Island. The hike from Central District was less so, as the aptly named Mid-Levels are halfway up a steep climb to Victoria Peak, which at 1,800 feet is the highest point on the island.
A sweaty trek through narrow walkways and outdoor escalators eventually landed me on Robinson Road and after a short walk I arrived at the synagogue.
I went there on Sabbath not to pray but see and be seen. The service was Modern Orthodox which is similar to the service I knew as a child, with women upstairs and men below closer to the Ark, which contains the Torah scrolls.
Around time I visited the synagogue, there were some 2,500 Jews living in Hong Kong.
A few were locals but most everyone else was an ex-pat. After the service, lunch was served to the entire assembly and I talked with many of them. People I met were friendly and curious. One person I met told me that he was the only person in Hong Kong who had the authority to approve title transfers, so every real estate transaction in the territory went through his office. This afforded him membership in the Aberdeen Marina Club, the most high-toned and exclusive private club on the island.
“Psst, psst.” I heard a whisper in my left ear.
“Do you want watches, jewelry or designer bags?”
I turned round. In front of me stood a short, scruffy-looking man with tousled hair and brown eyes.
“I have everything you want,” he continued.
When I originally visited Hong Kong in the eighties, the streets were full of such men offering you everything from watches to women, but there was a crackdown sometime in the nineties and most of these “vendors” disappeared.
Before I left home on this particular trip, a friend of mine asked If I could get him a counterfeit watch. I told him it was unlikely as I wouldn’t know where to find one, but he gave me the details anyway.
I looked at the man and said, “Can you get me an IWC Pilot’s watch?”
“Let me call someone,” he said, and pulled out his phone.
A few minutes later he said, “meet me at Mody Road and Minden Row in half an hour.”
I often stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui, the lower part of Kowloon opposite Hong Kong Island, so I knew where to meet him.
At the appointed time, he ushered me into a dark hallway and unwrapped this handsome watch. I photographed it and texted it to my friend back home in Great Neck.
He immediately texted back his approval for the watch and the price ($140), and the deal was done. (The real one sells for about $5,000.)
“You want to buy some shirts?” said my new friend. “I know this really good tailor who will make them to measure in one day.”
“Sure,” I said and off we went down Mody Road.
I bought three really beautiful, bespoke linen shirts. I think they cost me around $35 each. I still wear them today.
One evening in Hong Kong I visited an Irish pub with a good Chinese friend, David Cheung. I like Irish pubs in Hong Kong as there are often expats hanging around who are happy to chat to a stranger.
Delaney’s on Peking Road has great Irish pub food. Fish and chips, mushy peas, Yorkshire pudding, bangers and mash, and the obligatory Sunday roasts. Eating there is a welcome respite from the Chinese food, which I love, but after a couple of weeks of eating local cuisine, my body craves Western food.
I ordered fish and chips, and David, the Yorkshire pudding. The Guinness is particularly good there and smoothly washes down the starch.
That night, seated in the table next to us were two of the most unappealing women I have ever seen. Not only were they hard to look at, they were drunk and noisy. So noisy that I had trouble talking to David. At one point I went to the bathroom and while I was urinating, one of the women came in, hiked up her dress, took out her junk and peed in the stall next to mine.
Hong Kong has changed dramatically in the last few years. The crackdown on dissent has been fierce. All the liberal newspapers have been closed or quashed. Candidates for office must be pre-approved by Beijing. Cameras are everywhere and everyone has a facial profile, allowing the government to track anyone, anywhere, at any time. (An acquaintance of mine has stopped visiting his favorite “massage parlor” for fear that if he was ever arrested, his interrogators would tell his wife where he had been.)
Most ex-pats are pretty much ignored by the authorities; nevertheless, many have fled. Singapore, which has an equivalent feel to Hong Kong, is a popular destination.
A Swiss friend of mine who still lives there recently went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant in Central. His girlfriend looked around the restaurant and noticed that he was the only non-Chinese person there. A few months previous, it was packed with foreigners, he told me.
I recently (finally) traveled to Munich, to the resurrected HIGH END show. While there, I bumped into a business acquaintance of mine. Edward was born in Hong Kong and has a business similar to my own.
I asked him about the situation there.
“Hong Kong is great,” he said.
“I have no problems with the mainland authorities; nothing has changed for me.” He continued, “We are Chinese, so joining with the Mainland makes sense.”
How’s your Mandarin? I asked this Cantonese speaker.
“Getting better every day,” was his reply.
Header image: Hong Kong as seen from Victoria Peak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Benh LIEU SONG.