When I was a child I watched a show called Modern Marvels on the Science channel. My favorite episode was on the Hong Kong airport, a masterpiece of reclaimed land costing billions of dollars and built in an impressive amount of time. After 15 minutes on the airport express train to my hostel, I suddenly remembered my favorite childhood episode. I realized I was at that airport, a place I thought I never would be, about to experience it in a way I never imagined.
My purpose in HK was two fold. Renew my visa so I could return back to Beijing and visit a fraternity brother I had only met via email. I met Gregory outside the metro station at a 7-11, the most lucrative of unofficial bars across the city. The sky was baby blue with a few white tufts of cotton-ball like clouds and the air tasted faintly of salt. I grew up on the California coast a 3 minute walk from the beach. A few months in landlocked Beijing had made me forget how pleasing the ocean air and cool salty breezes are.
We walked to Chung King Mansion, an old tycoon’s massive home that had been devolved into a maze of Indian food stands, cheap electronic shops, and the cheapest hostels in Hong Kong. We pushed our way through slick dressed, greased-back hair Indian men coolly whispering, “Want a good time my friend? What you want? Weed, hash, LSD” to arrive at the entrance. Once there, a short and stocky Hindi man approached us promising a cheap room and delicious Indian food. We followed him into an elevator made for 4 people, but packed in 8 up to floor 13 where I got a room built for Stuart Little, complete with a toilet in the shower. After some chicken tikka masala and four Cobra beers we were off to Gregory’s bar, en route to meet his friend.
Gregory had been in China for four years and was opening his fourth bar in Hong Kong, a place called Mr. Craft, specializing in locally made beer. A rare find in China. The place used to be a small, yet cozy, sushi bar with wooden walls. The walls now had blue LED encrusted beer taps sprouted about. After a short tour we hitched a cab into the suburbs to meet Gregory’s native Hong Kong friend, Mark.
Mark, a kind and playful guy with an Australian accent, had made a small fortune as the package designer for Victoria Secret. After years of designing he was looking for new ventures. After a swim in his pool we got to talking about the business he and Gregory were working on.
It was a car service for international businessmen coming into one of the three major cities in China (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing), that offered not only airport to hotel transportation but a service called TravelGenie, which gave customers a VPN-international SIM card phone that could speed dial their 24/7 service team. This team could help answer any question a foreign businessperson could possibly would want to know as well as dispatch a translator or driver to their location. Over dinner and a few beers we brainstormed business ideas.
Fast forward a few hours and we are hoping into another cab bound for a local bar. After a few minutes we ran into Mark’s neighbor, a pig farmer with a small beer-belly, who excitedly invited us to join him to a Thai bar. I didn’t know what this meant or that it was illegal at the time, but I was soon to find out.
We flagged down yet another cab and drove quite a while until we were in the middle of a dimly lit, quiet industrial park. No one was on the streets and I didn’t see where a bar would fit in between the truck depots and mounds of old tires. We pulled up to a alleyway got out and walked down. We made our way though a metal roll up door where a sleepy guard was watching tv paid no attention to us passing through. We. walked across a large garage to an elevator and went up a few floors where we were deposited in a sterile looking causeway. We walked down past a few doors and stopped opposite a international glove exporter shop.
The Pig Farmer knocked on a metal door. The door creaked open and a wave of dance music and clanking beer glasses filled the once quiet hallway. We were quickly ushered in to a table where a pair of scantily clad Thai girls poured us beers. We played a few drinking games, got drunk, had a grand time, and then took the metro home.
That was my first day in Hong Kong.