Once upon a time, Hong Kong was first and foremost a very busy rough and tumble port city. In other words, a place with plenty of rambunctious and randy military and sailor folks looking to have a good time while on proverbial shore leave or R&R.
Not surprisingly, the city's notorious bar entertainment districts, led by the Lockhart Road vicinity of Wanchai, but also establishments in Kowloon (the "Dark Side" as it was known), were ready and eager to oblige them. It was that way from the very beginning, starting in 1842 when the nascent colony opened its doors for business as an entrepot (free port) aimed at the China trade. In the early days, the red light districts were situated in early Wanchai but mainly in the Western District of Hong Kong Island where the migrant Chinese population was concentrated.
Into the the 20th century, Hong Kong's military "water trade" peaked during the Vietnam war years, when scores of American naval vessels frequently dropped anchor opposite Wanchai. Local touts would situate themselves at locations frequented by military tourists, such as Fenwick Pier in Wanchai, flinging colorful bar cards at wide eyed and bushy tailed American males fresh off the boat hoping to find Richard Mason's World of Suzy Wong in all it's brilliant technicolor glory.
Today, there remain a handful of neon lit Go Go Bars in Wanchai, that appear to be engaged primarily in some sort of "money laundering operations" as my Mom used to say about chronically idle car washes in Queens NYC. There are also many other clean fun bar establishments such as Carnegie's Pub, and yes there are others where freelance working girls are tolerated and their clientele are typically loaded Wall Street and City of London types, a far cry from the merchant traders of yore!
Around 2011, I came across a fellow on Flickr (his handle is: m20wc21) who collects fascinating American military ephemera (primarily photographs and slides) from the Asian Pacific military theater circa 1940s, 50s and 60s at garage sales and on ebay. I noticed he had a trove of Hong Kong bar cards, so I asked him if he would scan them in high resolution so I could put together a nostalgic poster graphic for those who recall the golden years of Suzy Wong's Wanchai. With his permission, that is precisely what I did.
This image is a collage incorporating many of the bar cards, Hong Kong's famously adopted Big Yellow Duck (notice the eye reflection?) and a photograph I once took of the neon soaked Pussy Cat Club on Lockhart Road (now operating under a different name).
So why am I posting this image today? Well this morning I noticed a story in the SCMP concerning a certain drunken middle aged "expat male" (in other words a gweilo/white ghost) who stole a red taxi from a driver who didn't know where the bar district in Wanchai is located. This evening, I see the article has been heavily edited.
It used to be all one had to do was say Wanchai and every red cabby in Hong Kong including those from Kowloon, just like the bicycle rickshaw men in Macau and the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, knew exactly where to go!
My how times have changed! No wonder the expat bankers are keen for Uber to be legitimized in Hong Kong. And by the way, as those who join me on night tours well know, Hong Kong's indigenous red light district is actually located parallel to Nathan Road in West Kowloon! And no, it is not primarily aimed at expat bankers. And finally, how do they know this guy is an expat as opposed to a Hollywood honcho on holiday?
To learn more about the story of Hong Kong as a rough and tumble port city, complete with bandits, pirates, triads, opium dens, flower boats and floating brothels, join me for a Premium Private Walking Tour on the Streets of Hong Kong!
And don't forget to ask me about Kowloon Walled City, the infamous Street of Happiness in Old Macau (Rua de Felicidades) and the frontier bar scene in the first Star Wars movie.
To view more of my images of Hong Kong and Macau, please visit my Flickr Stream or visit me on Instagram: @williambanzai7.
Hope to see you soon on the Streets of Hong Kong!
End of Dispatch