Monday, October 29, 2007

Lan Kwai Fong, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...

I feel bad for people who hang out with me very often. I have a tendency to develop certain stories and phrases, and to put them into heavy rotation for stretches of time, delivering them to different individuals and groups in almost identical phrasing. One such oft-deployed phrase-of-the-moment is, "I'll know I've truly reached maturity with living in Hong Kong when somebody says, 'Hey, Ken, we're going to Lan Kwai Fong, wanna come?' and I finally say no."

As I've said so many times, in this space and in real life, I hate Lan Kwai Fong (and unfortunately, LKF and a few clubs that are nearby represent the vast majority of Hong Kong nightlife). But this weekend, as I was explaining this to a friend of a friend while walking through LKF, I was finally asked why. For the most part, I've sidestepped this question by assuming it just isn't my style. But that's not really an answer, and especially after going to Shanghai and loving the nightlife there (more on that in the future...hopefully...), I have actually stopped to think about this a bit.

Part of the problem is that everything is so damnably generic. There are cool places, but they are all cool in exactly the same way. Clubs don't have unique themes or personalities or even fun gimmicks. Every club appears to be modeled after every other club. There are some cool spaces, yes, but they are all "miscellaneous club cool." In addition to feeling immensely stifling and removing the feeling of actual choice in my social dealings, the incredible interchangeability of every social hotspot makes every one of them seem less cool. The places in Hong Kong I've tagged as my favorites are the ones that are most unlike everywhere else. At the same time, it means there's no way to change the kind of person you're interacting with when you're out: there are tourists, and there are long-term ex-pats (mostly North American or British, often of Asian descent, and typically working as bankers, lawyers, and consultants) making the private club rounds. Those are your two options. Go out enough and all the faces start looking familiar.

Second, all of the little things work against Lan Kwai Fong. Inordinately high prices? Check. Alcohol costs more than in Los Angeles and is as egregiously expensive as New York. Massive crowds? Double check. When a city of millions is forced to look for all of its nightlife in one place, crowd density is sure to rise. And wall-to-wall assholes? Super ultra mega check. When Brian came through on his worldwide megatour, we went to a particularly indistinct spot on the main drag called Insomnia. With a vaguely amusing cover band playing in the back room, we walked right by the bar without ordering a drink. Shortly after Brian and I did a funny and, yes, vaguely homoerotic little dance together, we attracted the attention of a decidedly large and surly bouncer, who hovered above us menacingly and threatened to physically remove us if we didn't order drinks right then and there. At the same time, another friend we were with - who had ordered a beer, finished it, and was carrying the empty bottle in his hand - was accused by a waitress of picking up an empty bottle from a table and ordered to buy more or get out. Needless to say, we decided to just bail out rather than give them a penny, and Insomnia has been 100% blackballed from my social calendar. I can't help but think that, if I stayed in Hong Kong long enough, every bar and club in LKF would eventually join it on the blacklist.

Finally, and most egregiously, people who go out in Hong Kong seem to be doing it for all the wrong reasons. To me, going out is always and only in service of one thing: having fun. In Hong Kong, going out often seems to be about everything but having fun. Being seen. Getting in. Hell, just going out. Here, going out isn't a means to an end, it is the end itself. "Look at me. I am here." The quality of a club's DJ, drinks, or space is totally uncorrelated its with popularity. Places are good because they are popular, they are not popular because they are good. I can't understand least to me, there's no inherent good to a nightlife scene, and the fact of being out does not, by itself, generate joy. Places should be good. This same asinine phenomenon exists in Los Angeles and New York, yes, but those cities also have parallel social scenes that are independent of that madness. And I realize that my concerns aren't shared by everyone, but this goes the longest way toward explaining why I'm so very blasé about the Hong Kong scene.

So there you go. I have no idea why I felt the need to justify my opinion, but I have, and I fully accept that all this applies only to me. I don't judge people who like the scene here...I just wish I stopped following them everywhere.

As a side note, though, allow me to sigh audibly - sigh - at the fact that I instinctively organized my "arguments" into 1-2-3 outline form. Sometimes I hate being a lawyer.

1 comment:

Kenny said...

I don't know how I stumbled on this site, but you just hit the nail on the head.
I'm the sort of reverse expat (Born in HK but currently exiled in the UK), but I too find the whole LKF thing incomprehensible. I remember standing outside some club called 'Volar' - which makes no sense, since I understand it only as a descriptive term used in anatomy - queuing outside, being abused by bouncers and thinking 'Why am I doing this?'
The whole 'be seen' thing is completely true - I really do struggle when I go back to find 'interesting' things to do. But then again, I have my family and friends there.
I do love HK though, it is still, for me the only place that I feel at home: All the rudeness, pollution etc. It all feels so familiar, probably why I love NY so much.
Totally agree with the wasted potential as well - for a city that has visions of greatness, it is sadly lacking in too many departments. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that HK has always been, and will be, a money-centric city. Like NY, immigrants (mainly from China) descended with visions of a better life, but the immigrants have been so uni-dimensional in their aim for financial security that all other aspects of 'life' have been neglected. Add to this the history of a subservient post-colonial mentality and there you have it. Part of the vacuous nature that you allude to reflects the social engineering that the British were past masters of.

I could go on, but it's getting a bit long.

Fascinated to learn about your experiences of HK.

-Homesick neurosurgeon in UK