24 March 2010

Gweilometer: Island Line 4-5 and beyond

Wan Chai: This is one of those places that my gweilometer is more honest about than I am. The mix of pubs and dirty strip clubs make parts of Wan Chai feel like the bad part of an American city. But the pubs are too nice, and grime doesn't lead to violent crime, so it's not like home after all. The pubs are gweilo-friendly, a little too gweilo friendly. Same goes for the Chinese Restaurants. My gweilometer is set to prefer a slightly higher level of cultural authenticity: something in-between sweet and sour pork and thousand year old egg. Wan Chai certainly has plenty to offer both ends of that spectrum, but just not quite enough in my authenticity-band. Wan Chai and Sheung Wan are more in-between Central and, say, Mong Kok on this spectrum, but Wan Chai feels like it's trying too hard in it's gweilo-friendliness, with scores of Irish pubs and a Chinese restaurant called The American. We North American gweilo like our gweilo-friendliness to feel a little more natural than this. Average gweilometer reading: 84.435.

Causweay Bay: This was the first place I landed in HK. My company apparently thought this would be the perfect place to put a fresh off the airplane American gweilo. Note to Chinese people: when arranging accommodations for your gweilo friends and colleagues, do not put them in Causeway Bay unless you're sure that they're super materialistic. They're likely to be completely overwhelmed by the confusing street layout, congestion, pollution, and hyper-consumerism, and they probably won't understand the status-message you're sending by choosing some of the most expensive real estate in HK for their hotel. You have to really love shopping to love Causeway Bay, and I hate shopping. I notice some French people using their European gweilometers are getting higher readings than I am. It seems that their gweilometers are calibrated to give high readings in places where fashion is a priority. It's places like Causeway Bay that allow significant proportions of the populations of Paris and Milan to be employed in the fashion industry, tricking Chinese people into buying clothes they don't need is big business, almost as big as tricking them into smoking cigarettes and eating fast food. My gweilometer is overheating; it wasn't built to handle this kind of thing, and it's nearly impossible to find a bar to cool it down. This is why I can never stay in Causeway Bay for more than a few hours...so let's get back on the MTR. Average gweilometer reading: 54.312

Beyond Causeway Bay: The gweilo-map doesn't have many entries East of Causeway Bay. I understand that some gweilo live in North Point, or Quarry Bay, but I think their motivation to live there comes from the fact that those places are affordable, and have an MTR station. Using some of the special features on my North American gweilometer, I'm able to detect a burrito stand of some kind in Fortress Hill, but nothing else of note. Maybe I need a more sensitive gweilometer; they do get better with age.


  1. "scores of Irish pubs"? Well, er, Delaney's. I'm really struggling to think of any others, let alone "scores". Care to enlighten us? I'm always looking for some good craic.

    And there are no "strip clubs" in Wanchai - no girls strip naked behind those curtains. They are brothels, from which you pay to take the (unfortunate, mainly trafficked) women out for the night.

  2. Well... It is not exactly a secret that lot of expats stick to the same few areas. Is that really worth a series of articles?

  3. just wonder if "strip clubs" are confined to women stripping naked? What about pole dancing in thongs? I think the latter qualifies as strip club entertainment.

    once i was trying to help an American who got all cranky in CWB because it was so crowded that he thought Hongkongers don't queue for food or anything. Now I kinda understand why he was confused. In fact I don't like hanging out in CWB too.

    for me, the most authentic place on Hong Kong Island is the Western District, not yet spoiled by redevelopment and shopping malls. Authentic local food at bargain prices. But then it's not that gweilo-friendly. Maybe that's why it's cheaper to live there compared to Sheung Wan and the Mid-Levels.

    Looking forward to gweilometer readings in Kln and the NT!

  4. OK, lots of people are upset over semantics. We Americans sometimes use hyperbole. You shouldn't take us literally at all times. Perhaps this is a cultural misunderstanding. I'm not even sure what the word "scores" denotes, in technical numeric terms, but it seems to me that there are a lot of Irish style pubs in Wan Chai, perhaps, UK-style would have been more appropriate, but I just didn't think it had the same ring to it. My word choice was more about ascetics than semantics; Americans are like that, look at our elected officials.

    As for the "strip clubs," what I'm trying to do is share my impressions of HK as a newcomer. I didn't actually go inside, so again, I apologize if I mischaracterized the deeds that go on inside those places. What they look like are American strip clubs in a bad part of town. It turns out that they're actually brothels in a good part of town. That's interesting to me.

    I'm surprised that the comments center more about my semantics in the Wan Chai part than my criticisms of HK materialism in the Causeway Bay part.

    I've taken my gweilometer to the Kowloon side, and even to parts of the NT...but those places are so much thicker, more complicated. Chinese culture ain't exactly easy to penetrate. That's a good thing, but it's hard on the old gweilometer.

  5. Ascetics? I'm looking forward to finding these Taoist-themed pubs!

    Great blog by the way.


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