Hong Kong Dispatch: Clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong


The social scene in Hong Kong is a strange animal. The epicenter of it, for better or worse, is an area known as Lan Kwai Fong, a restaurant and bar district filled with tourists and expatriates (and the prostitutes who love them).

This area is perfectly captured by a banner that stands in front of a pharmacy in the middle of the action, which boasts (comical grammatical and punctuation quirks reproduced faithfully): “We have…… (1) beer for you to drink; (2) cigar for you to enjoy; (3) perfume for your girl friends; (4) Viagra for banana become “cucumber”; (5) don’t forget condom for your safe sex; (6) otherwise…… drugs to heal you; (7) if she insist “no”…… melatonin for you go to sleep. Enjoy your night……”

Most young natives of Hong Kong steer clear of Lan Kwai Fong, and the bar and club scene generally. The University of Hong Kong is one of the top schools in the region, and many students here are a level of studious that makes even the most unrepentant Langdell troll seem socially well-adjusted.

When I first arrived, the University of Hong Kong arranged for a local student to greet me at the airport and show me around. When I asked her what the locals did for fun, and whether she ever went to any bars or clubs, she started blushing profusely.

“I don’t really go to those places,” she told me through her giggles. “I think it’s mostly the naughty kids who go to those places.”

Doing my best to shrug off the fact that somebody actually used the word “naughty” in a casual and non-sexual context, I docked this critical piece of information to memory.

The thing that I’ve realized about Lan Kwai Fong is that, no matter how much I hate it (and I do), I inevitably end up going back there over and over again. I have various theories about why this is…that I have some deep-seeded masochistic instinct, that Lan Kwai Fong exerts a strange gravitational pull, that maybe it’s not actually so bad. But the answer that I’ve settled on is, I am an idiot. I am an idiot and I need to constantly remind myself how much I hate that scene.

So last weekend, having again forgotten what I like and where I belong, I blithely set off into LKF. The neighborhood can be immensely frustrating when you don’t have access to any of the shi-shi clubs in the area, but I’ve been “lucky” enough to surround myself with a few people who make access easy. As far as I can tell, the main principle upon which the “in crowd” bases their social lives is, “I must go to as many clubs per night as possible, just to prove I can get in.”

We bounced from club to indistinguishable club, trading high-rise skyline views for shark tanks for windowless dungeons as the night dragged on (odd that we were moving ever-downward). Along the way, a classmate introduced my friends and me to Matt, a high-rolling Canadian investment banker, and Darren, a human barnacle affixed to Matt’s glorious hull.

To say these guys were tools would be an understatement. They were beyond tools. They were tools of Carson Daly-like proportions. Hanging out with them was like traveling with a Home Depot. As we piled 5 people into a cab to move from one club to the next, Darren extolled the virtues of his companion.

“If you want to have fun, the guy you need is sitting right in this cab, and he isn’t me,” Darren slurred to the one girl in the car.

“It’s Matt,” he clarified, just in case she wasn’t sure.

The girl nodded politely. I give her credit for that.

“I can’t even have fun in Hong Kong anymore without this guy,” Darren continued, undeterred by the lady’s silence. “You’re either rolling with him or you’re ending up at the Peak Café in Soho with a bunch of losers and tourists. Screw that!”I happen to like the Peak Café.

I was seated next to the driver, so when we arrived at our destination – a one-minute cab drive away – I began pulling out my wallet to pay the cabbie.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Matt interrupted. “I got this one.”

“This one,” of course, referred to the HKD 15 cab fare, the equivalent of U.S. $2 and the minimum cab fare for Hong Kong taxis. In light of the gravity with which Matt announced his magnanimous gesture, I was only too happy to defer.When we entered the next club, we found that a table, a bottle of vodka, and a carafe of Red Bull were already waiting for us. I was contemplating a world in which Red Bull is served in carafes when the friend who introduced me to Matt pulled me aside.

“You should probably offer to buy Matt a drink. He’s kind of a big deal,” my friend suggested, with not nearly enough irony in his voice. I figured Matt would be fine and carried on with my night, which mostly involved washing cigarette smoke out of my eyes in the bathroom and playing the game where I try to figure out which of the (scarce) local girls are whores in the I-have-sex-for-money sense, versus which ones are just whores in the I-have-sex-for-free-drinks-purchased-for-me-by-sugar-daddy-foreigners sense.

My only regret about leaving when I did is that I apparently missed out on an honest-to-god dance-off. A dance-off! When am I going to get to see one of those again?I’d like to say I won’t be back. I want to believe I won’t be seduced by a promise of a spot on a guest list, or a special guest DJ or celebrity guest. But again, I’m an idiot. See you next time, Lan Kwai Fong.

Ken Basin is a 3L who is currently studying abroad at the University of Hong Kong, and is being every bit as diligent in Hong Kong as he would be in Cambridge. His complete adventures are chronicled at kbasin.blogspot.com.

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