Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 11. 1969.
From Steve Whitehouse in Hong Kong — Your Friendly Neighbourhood Portable Plastic Blue Movie Vendor
From Steve Whitehouse in Hong Kong
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Portable Plastic Blue Movie Vendor
Hong Kong remains one of the few places left in the world where you are offered women, blue movies, pornographic slides and obscene literature— and all you asked for was a Coca Cola.
The crowded Crown Colony has been catering to the seamy side of its visitors for many years and the various institutions do seem to have a certain arcane charm for visitors from more puritanical climes.
University students will, I know, be only interested in the subject from the standpoint of pursuit of knowledge. Male students that is—for the bluer side of the East is almost exclusively for men. Women are therefore strictly forbidden from reading further.
The most renowned institution of all are the girlie bars. The scene here was immortalised by Suzy Wong but in fact girlie bars can be found throughout the non-communist East. In fact a New Zealander, who should know, tells me that for the gourmet the finest bar of this kind in the Orient is the "While Rose" in Vientiane. Here for a fee of one U.S. dollar a bar girl will whip off her gears and dance naked on your table. Ponderous and inartistic it may be—but naked she is.
You might slip that into a New Zealand Breweries suggestion box.
Anyway, Hongkong has some 200 girlie bars—fairly evenly distributed between Wanchai on Hongkong Island, stamping ground of the legendary Miss Wong, and Kowloon, across the ferry on the mainland.
Names like the "Hawaiian Playboy Bar", "The Arizona", and "The Liberty Bar" may give you a hint as to the nature of most of the customers.
Visitors should assume two ground rules.
The first is that not all the girls are prostitutes. You enter a bar, which may vary in quality from extremely seedy, to elaborate and plush, and sit down. A Mamasan hustles up to you and asks if you would like to talk to a nice girl. If you say "no" and just want a quiet beer (at NZ 30 to 50 cents) they don't bug you too much. If however you are seeking company, a bar girl is produced to sit with you.
Basically all you are expected to do is chat away and buy the girls drinks—lemonade generally (dubbed Saigon Tea) —at NZ70c to $1.50 a tiny glass.
At its worst conversation goes something like this:
Girl: Where you from? My name Maysee.
You: New Zealand.
Girl: Noo Zeelum? You American?
You: Good God no!
Girl: You buy me drink?
You buy Maysee drink . . .
. . . etc. etc. etc.
Their excessive interest in drinking lemonade is explained by the fact that they get a rake-off from every glass sold.
So it can be very boring unless you are boozed—which you generally are.
Mind you, some of the girls are very attractive and intelligent although most of them bear a strong resemblance to sows. In fact it has been known for Europeans to establish a lasting friendship with a bar girl and perhaps marry them.
Of course the second ground rule is that you can be pretty sure that many of the girls Are prostitutes. In these cases the quailing of the lemonade is merely a bargaining period. In the sleazier joints it is just a question of setting a price and then whipping round to her place for a cup of coffee.
Prices can vary from a low of NZ$2 to astronomical figures. But the average is about $4 to $7.
Classier places have a different system.
In the first place you "buy" the girl from the bar. That could cost from $10 to $20 to start with. And then you dine wine and chat her up. But no guarantees although a price can usually be reached.
I have heard of an American who devoted NZ$300 to the task over a week.
That is the bar girl scene. Most of the customers are U.S. servicemen on R. and R. On the average they spend $400 US in a week here and locals have been known to mumble about demand push inflation. Although most of the bar girls have a check-up every week and a card to prove it VD is fairly common including an American import called "Saigon Rose" which thrives on penicillin.
Why do the girls work in the bars?
Simply because even a respectable bar girl can earn two to three times the salary of a local secretary or factory worker.
Variations on the bar girl theme include different types of massage parlours and old Yukon hands tell me that many are elaborately decorated and evoke a powerful nostalgia for Klondike saloons.
There are also dance halls but these are almost exclusively for the local Chinese. But no doubt the set-up is in some cases simitar to the bars.
Old China hands here speak of exhibitions and apparently male prostitution is not unknown. The rickshaw boys always know where the action is happening.
Just in case you're tantalised by the title—it's true. In Temple Street, the intriguing open market there is a stall, where by the light of a keresene lamp you can gawk at chocolate box sized 4 mm projectors for NZ5c. Plots mainly consist of girls getting up in the morning or going to bed at night, and similar themes. Nothing particularly startling.
Genuine blue movies are also to be found. You can see four for NZ$2. Extremely bad and of the 3mm variety. A lot are imported from Europe and others wouldn't be approved by the Rspca. A local expert— he is a magistrate who has seen hundreds of blue movies in the course of prosecutions told me that the same stars feature time and time again.
Porny slides and some very dubious books are obtainable— but be careful not to get the slides mixed up with the scenic shots for the folks back home. Magazines—mostly American —have titles like "Stud", and "Stallion" and one feature mentioned on a cover was "How to spot the nymphomaniacs in your office."
Paradoxically, normal feature movies are very rigidly censored here.
That then is the news on Hongkong's seamier activities.
Of course there are a myriad of quite innoffensive discotheques, bars and movie houses. Even if you're not interested in all the sleazy activities it is a must to visit.
But how does all this happen in British Hongkong?
Most of the activities are thoroughly illegal but corruption, known locally as "squeeze money" is not unknown despite the vigorous denials of the Government.
Also the Government has a very laisse faire approach to both economic policy and social problems here. Although a great deal has been done in housing one million refugees there are still gross extremes of wealth and poverty.
The system also reflects to a certain extent the traditional Chinese altitude to women. Concubinage is still legal here for instance, although the law may be changed in the near future. There are quite a few mixed marriages, but educated high-caste Chinese girls are often kept well away from the Europeans and with the hundreds of thousands of tourists and servicemen coming here every year the bars naturally evolve.
These are some of the reasons why Hongkong's shady side exists and although it sounds exciting on paper— many people find it tawdry and extremely bad news.
Of course this aspect of the colony only touches a tiny proportion of the 30,000 Europeans and four million Chinese. But while most of the population go about the task of building up the Colony's economy—it's growing nearly as fast as Japan — the night life remains worthy of note.