Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tour 1: Hong Kong

Contemporaneous notes, made between 25 January and 30 January 2006:

Bringing home the bacon

This really is an entrepot nation. And one, confusingly, seemingly aimed at Danes. At least according to charming young undergraduate Peter, who is next door to me on the flight over. There is to be found within HK, he says, a Danish restaurant, a Danish bar and a Danish church – where Carlsberg is given away with the sermon. (The brewers also sponsor a fairly high-ranking football tournament here at this time of year.)

How ambition now works

The future is being made by people like Peter, who has decided to do his undergraduate degree at the University of Hong Kong so that, in his words, “You can be close to the people who are close to the opportunities.”

The realisation that this what ambitious youngsters are now doing (Harvard? So western passé, darling) strikes like a thunderbolt.

Cultural absorption

Whisper it quietly but the Fall are now, if not a pillar of the cultural establishment, have been absorbed into its mainstream. Fall Heads Roll is one of the ‘Rock’ albums available (channel 11) on BA long-haul flights to HK. Aircraft cabin pressure-ah!

Distant touch

In response to a text: “Hong Kong is all neon and bustle and shopping and harbours.”


Today, we walked the entire length of Nathan Street – and, as it turned out, the entire length of Kowloon. The Flower Street market was dense with aromas: fresh cut, citruses, people. At New Year, houses are cleaned and then flowers are brought in as decoration. As we jostled our way down the street, people were holding their bunches up in front of their faces or above their heads, protection from the ongoing drizzle, or prizes to protected from the melee.

Cultural transmission

I didn’t expect to come halfway around the world to fall in love again with bands that I grew up with. Friday, in Lane Crawford (HK equivalent to Harrods, or so I’ve been told) the latest in the Fabric mix series… by Global Communication. Both Mark and Tom. The first time they must have done that in, what, 12 years? It is deep, blissful, funky. And then later, in HK Records, a best of Swervedriver. Driving music in a place where driving is not to be advised. Surreally inappropriate, and wonderfully highway 66.

Some obvious observations on surroundings (or a brief gobbet on architecture for Alice)

This is a city carved – perilously at times – into the sheer face of some inhospitable rock. You get reminded of this when you see the lower edges of the innumerable small spaces of relaxation that dot the city.

The covered walkways that people use to get around are disorientating. As soon as you leave the ground, your moorings slip also, and it becomes harder to navigate. The walkways take you into the lobbies of office blocks, and this appears to strike no one as odd. And yet despite these being public places, arriving in an atrium in this way feels transgressive of someone else’s space.


On the beach at Deep Water Bay (one of the unwritten HK secrets is that it has fine, small beaches, which are not even off the beaten track – you can get to one from the Central district in 15 minutes), while reading In Praise of Slow. A perfect combination of reading material and location.

Firecrackers and bubbles

On the way to Lamma Island, it was noticeable that the smog made the light below it, over the South China Sea, harder, clearer and crisper. A junk, bobbing frantically in our wake, was almost blinding in its midday luminescence.

Later, after we’d walked up and around and across the island, past a beach and garden where you could choose your herb and have it brewed into a cup of tea right there and then, we crossed another beach and climbed up onto a promontory. Lunar New Year fire-things had started in earnest, with kids letting off all manner of caps and firecrackers and bangers. The more sedate ones were blowing and chasing bubbles by the door of the temple.


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