On my many visits to China, I always make a point of going through or leaving from Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a western sea of tranquility amongst the tumult of China. It is also a place where English is ubiquitously spoken.
I have a friend who used to be the manager of the Aberdeen Marina Club in Hong Kong Island. The Aberdeen Marina Club, the foremost private club in Hong Kong, caters to the very rich and very famous. Membership is by recommendation only and if you are accepted, you have to pay almost half a million US dollars to join, not to mention a smaller fortune each year to remain active. The club houses seven restaurants, a marina for your yacht, a swimming pool, an ice skating rink, two floors of kid’s zones, and a bowling alley, among other amenities.
My friend had an apartment on top of the club with a guest room across the roof, and I was able to stay there a few times while visiting Hong Kong (I was one of the few people to gain temporary membership). Meals were fun and copious, and sometimes I managed to converse with some of the members, though mostly they kept to themselves. The food was excellent with a vast array of seafood, meats, cheeses, and so on. My friend told me that every bit of food, including the flour for the fresh breads, was imported from Australia, the US, the UK, or Thailand. He said his members wouldn’t eat any locally produced food.
On one of my visits, my friend suggested we go somewhere else for lunch. We took a taxi toward Repulse Bay and from there boarded a shuttle boat to Middle Island, home to one of the facilities of the Royal Kong Yacht Club–another exclusive Hong Kong club open to members only. My friend had reciprocal rights with other clubs so we entered, sat down in their spectacular bar overlooking the water, and ordered a bottle of Bordeaux. We drank the bottle, plus two more glasses, while watching ex-pat Englishmen in their sailing whites getting drunk and noisy. We took the shuttle back to the main road and flagged the first cab, which took us to the Hong Kong Cricket Club. Every so often you go to a place and have a mind freeze. The cricket club was so English. The women’s ugly clothes, the men’s pasty faces, and their cricket whites made me think I was back in England among people who disapproved of me. The playing field was so flat and green that had it not been for the hills behind it I could have sworn we were in Britain. We ordered another bottle of Bordeaux and settled in to watch the most boring of games, Cricket. Before returning home, I hazily remember thinking how amazingly well fish and chips went with Bordeaux.
An Irish bar.
The Scottish accent was unmistakable and so I had to go over and introduce myself. He was a man in his fifties who worked for Mattel in China. Travelling abroad can be very lonely so I use any excuse I can to meet people and entertain myself. He was more than happy to meet a fellow Scotsman, although there are many ex-pat Scots in Hong Kong and neighboring southern China. He had lived in China for many years working at various companies before becoming head of quality control at Mattel. In our conversation, he explained that the only way to really control quality in China was to have your own factories with western engineers monitoring and testing all raw materials coming in to the facility. This information was somewhat upsetting, as I was trying to figure out ways to certify that my products did not contain harmful components and had to rely on outside companies to test my goods. He was a most impressive man and I admired his drive and commitment to his job. A few years later, around Christmas 2007, Mattel had to recall about a million toys because they contained lead paint. I have often wondered what went wrong.
In an Irish bar in Hong Kong, I met an Australian who had just attended his grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary in Melbourne. He told me the story of the toast his grandfather made.
“50 years ago today, I met my wife for the first time. In those days we were forbidden to see each other until the ceremony. When she took off the veil, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. We got married and I was so happy.
“Some years passed and we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Again, I looked at her and she was even more beautiful and my heart was full of love.
“At our 20th anniversary, I again saw her with our children standing nearby and she hadn’t changed a bit. She was radiant as ever.
“When we celebrated our 30th anniversary with our kids and grandchildren, she now had some grey hairs but that lovely smile still melted my heart.
“Our 40th anniversary was wonderful. The kids, grandkids, and even some great-grandchildren were there. I gazed at her and even though she had aged, she was no less beautiful and I was content.
“And here we are at our 50th anniversary–”