Hip Hong Kong doesn’t exist – get used to it

18 May

XXX signI used to have an Uncle Pete. He was the chinos/tucked gingham shirt/Pringle sweater guy at family gatherings desperate to impress me and my siblings with how young, cool, and hip he was. Needless to say he fooled no-one. Sorry, Pete, chewing a stick of Juicy Fruit and name-dropping the Gallaghers whilst alluding to the fact you once “snorted a tab of E” is just not going to cut it. I was always more of a Blur man.

Now, I never had an Uncle Pete, but if I did, this article from WSJ Asia would be bringing memories of family get-togethers flooding right back. It claims to know exactly where you can go in Hong Kong to hang out with the “bohemian”, “left-of-centre”, “creative” types, or to put it another way: “Where Hong Kong’s Hipsters Hang Out”.

Every time I hear the word ‘hipster’ I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to some kind of mythical, jazz-soaked American city of the 1950s – all amphetamines, polo necks, bourbon and domestic violence. Today, it’s a word used mostly by the Rough Guide to denote a bar, club or eatery which might be deemed ‘alternative’ by its nerdy army of travel-geeks (tip: NEVER follow the Guide, or the Planet’s recommendations for after-hours entertainment, unless you’re the kind of person who seeks out an Irish bar, wherever in the fucking world you are ). In my experience, it’s also a word used by people whose idea of a fun night out is a glass of wine after dinner at “this lovely little spot we know round the corner”. If you spot it in any lifestyle magazine, review, or travel guide, be warned that it definitely WILL NOT signify anything remotely alternative, new or exciting.

Transplanting the term to 21st century Hong Kong doesn’t work for two reasons: a) It belongs in the 1950s with the jazz sax-munchers; b) there is nothing really ‘hip’ or ‘bohemian’ about this city or the people who live here – no matter how achingly hard they try.

Think about it. What is the overriding business of Hong Kong? Finance. What is the overriding impression you have of financiers? Exactly. And that is why there is no shortage of beautifully designed bars, restaurants and ‘clubs’ which charge a fortune but have no soul, because they cater to punters who are prepared to pay a fortune and also have no soul. Edgy student district? Forget it. Hong Kong students go to uni to study and then they go back home to their parents’ house to eat noodles and wank. And then study some more. Probably.

Don’t get me wrong. Sheung Wan is just round the corner from me and lovely to wander around during the day or occasionally stop for a bite or a quick drink in the evening. It’s pretty relaxed and has some decent chow houses, but is not an area I’d travel to for a hip night out. 208 and Oolah are overpriced ponce-holes and Yardbird doesn’t serve close to as good yakitori as you’d find in even the dirtiest Shinjuku hole-in-the-wall. I have yet to visit Squarestreet and Visage One but given that they’re shut more nights of the month than open, they probably don’t fit the bill for regular hipster haunts.

In the end I suppose it’s all relative. If we are forced to split this peculiar former colony up into districts, Sheung Wan is probably hipper than the rest of the island, just as Hong Kong is probably hipper than Macau or Singapore. But it can’t out cool most of the rest of SE Asia and there are hipper bars in provincial towns in Japan than there are here.

No offence to the hack who wrote this piece – it is in many ways an ideal guide for tired, middle aged bankers and Uncle Petes everywhere.  I’m not disappointed in the WSJ, it’s Hong Kong that must try harder.  And the piece does get one thing right. XXX is the only ‘underground’ club in Hong Kong. And it’s bloody great. So there.

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3 Responses to “Hip Hong Kong doesn’t exist – get used to it”

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