by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
From 1994 to 1932 in only three minutes
There are people who are going to hate me for this, and I'm one of them.
___It was a Friday night, I was standing in a small triangle of space formed by my back and my forearms, one hand holding a mug of beer, hemmed in by other triangles with other people in them, in interlocking patterns which filled the room.
___All those taking part talked very loudly to those they faced, or rather they shouted, the sheer windpower helping to prop people up, stopping anyone falling over and setting off a calamitous domino effect, if you can imagine three-cornered dominoes. Meanwhile loudspeakers pulsed out heavy blamming noises intended to encourage.
___I'd met some friends for a drink, and this was it -- Friday night in a Lan Kwai Fong bar.
___But what was really happening, though no one else realised it, was that we were all, everyone in the place, victims of a cruel and senseless game. The walls and ceiling were made of bulletproof one-way glass -- we couldn't see out, but they could see in.
___They were directly above us, two of them, seated at alien high-tech control consoles, manipulating arrays of subtle cues and prompts in the room below, such as the exact time it took to fill a pint mug at the bar, the stun power of the loudspeakers, the precise density of all the little triangles between the bar, the toilets and the exit, keeping the pattern shifting, this way and then that.
___On the other side of the walls, monstrous creatures in unearthly garb watched the crowds through the one-way glass, muttering and grunting incomprehensibly as they wagered longevity chips on the outcome. This was their idea of a Friday night out on the galaxy.
___They were playing Go. With us. With me. And I was surrounded -- I was dead. I looked at my friends -- we were all dead, and I was the only one who knew it.
___My other problem was that I'd just remembered I hadn't had any dinner.
___Being dead, I started to leave -- I knew they wouldn't stop me.
___But first I had to jettison my mug, only possible if it was empty. I'd already emptied it quite a few times but it didn't seem to work. This time I managed it, and an eddy in the crowd parted several backs and some shoulders long enough for me to thrust the mug between them and prop it on a shelf.
___Without the mug, the triangle became a more flexible kind of jelly-bean-shaped affair which you could roll between the gaps in people's triangular interfaces as they shifted their backs while gesticulating at each other. Using this technique, you could sort of swim upright like a seahorse across the room, towards the door.
___Suddenly I was outside, where the gravity seemed much heavier than usual. It led me unerringly downhill, to Queen's Road Central, the momentum carrying me over the horizontal bit to Pedder Street, and down again to Pedder Building. I struggled up the front steps of Pedder Building and took a waiting lift to the first floor, where the gravity got much lighter, though maybe it was only the altitude.
___Anyway, the door of the China Tee Club was open and they were serving dinner, as they'd promised they would be, instead of only lunch and then tea and snacks until evening like before.
___The staff seemed very pleased to see me, but I didn't take it personally, they'd have been pleased to see almost anybody -- I was the only one there, apart from them.
___I considered their point of view, and then mine, and chose mine. They'd have loved to see it all a-bustle, they even said so, but as Aesops at least implied, even if he didn't mean to, Happy is the dog in the manger.
___So, easily scaling the two steps up from the bar, I sat down at the best table, the one in the corner by the window. By day it looks out over the street to Central Building and the Landmark, the very middle of town. Now the windows were shuttered, as they would be in any decent country club once the sun has set, muffling the terrifying sounds of the jungle at night and the native drums throbbing in the distance.
___The ornate old ceiling fans turned slowly above me. I looked across shaded lamps and candle-lit tables spilling overlapping patches of light across wedgewood walls and dark natural wood, blue wrought iron balustrades, Victorian golfing posters, heavy old Burmese teak cabinets.
___What passes for my psyche uncurled itself from the foetal position it had been locked into in the bar only three minutes earlier. Sole command of an authentic, 1932-vintage Somerset Maugham whimsy perched in the middle of mid-90s Hong Kong Central was just what I needed right then.
___It's the best secret in town (until you read this), and it wasn't just a fluke -- I checked the following Friday night and only three tables were taken.
___Only While Offer Lasts -- nice dinner, gracious atmosphere, attentive staff, very spacious surroundings -- dine in peace and splendour, then step across the magic line back to 1994, where clubland boils over virtually next door.
___I ordered a rack of lamb, which was good, with a nice array of vegetables, crisp and fresh, not cooked to death. There's a good garoupa with avocado slices and parmesan sauce, duck, various steaks done at your table and presented with a flourish. Starters, finishers, wines are fine, there's a choice for veggies.
___But why Tee Club and not Tea Club -- what's with the golf? It's not only the posters -- the book of rules says the club is there "to promote the game of golf and other sports and athletic pastimes among members".
___It dawns on you -- the place is a 19th hole. But where are the other 18? Pedder Street is not a place where you're likely to stumble upon a hitherto unnoticed golf course. In fact the other 18 holes are across the border in China. One does a round at Chung Shan and pops into the club in Central afterwards for tea. Fortunately it's not compulsory -- if you don't know a putter from a caddy, you can settle for the tea.
___And why the colonial Burmese theme in the lunch and tea menus (but not dinner), and in some of the decor?
___There's a Burmese chef at lunchtime, and the family has some interest in Burma.
___Owner Henry Fok's family.
___It's a club, you see -- you have to be a member, and they're not allowed to advertise. Hence the spacious surroundings at dinner.
___But (here's the trick) you don't have to be a member to "try" the lunch and the dinner once each. One group of people, I've no idea who they might have been, found they could get away with it for quite a long time by taking turns inviting each other there. Then the management got strict, so we, uh, they gave in and joined. It costs $500 a year, not bad for such a convenient and downright pleasant meeting place as Pedder Building 1932, as it says on the club matchboxes.
___A member can book a table, which isn't exactly essential for dinner but it definitely helps at lunchtime, when it's crowded -- or full rather, it's never crowded. There are Chinese, Japanese, all kinds of Westerners, maybe even the odd Burmese golfer.
___I finished my dinner, sipped coffee, paid up and left, the staff bidding me regretful farewells.
___I walked down the stairs, and the gravity failed to lurch into bottom gear as I reached the ground.
___Heartened, I drifted effortlessly up the hill to rejoin my friends in the bar, where the continuing galactic Go game had thinned out the clientele a bit -- instead of a little triangle you could have a square, even a pentagon, and there was no need to bellow, a simple roar would do. This was the life.
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