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Getting to the bottom of one of Hong Kong’s seedier enduring mysteries

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaChanging times on Lockhart Road, Hong Kong’s sin strip, as Covid and vigorous germophobes take their toll on sixty-somethings in this once freewheeling city.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Lokhart Road Bar, Hong Kong

Wanchai's neon ablaze in the Nineties with Suzies galore offering come-hither looks and shady shifty gents lurching embarrassed in the shadows/ photo: Vijay Verghese

WHEN I first arrived in Hong Kong in November 1984, having survived the adrenalin rush of that laundry-grazing touchdown at Kai Tak Airport, I was told my publishing office was situated in a prime location. I was pleased. I later learned that in newsman’s English this translates as, close to bars, beer, and bosomy wenches.

It should have come as no surprise. I had just left Bangkok after a showdown with a shady employer who sent the police to my home – complete with wailing sirens – to encourage me to consider the merits of leaving the country. There too, a post-work unwind for slick executives as well as out-at-elbow journalists, involved scantily clad pole dancers and agile felines (judging by the language employed) that apparently did remarkable things with ping-pong balls.

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After that induction, Lockhart Road’s mysterious red-curtained neon was a doddle as I sidestepped many a Suzie’s come hither exhortation, “I buy you drink” – as bald-faced a lie as the ‘stolen election’ and with equally dire consequences.

My editor was a large and exuberant Canadian who preferred his meat grilled or spiced up with curry or Szechuan pepper and I was delighted to join him on some epic expeditions as we steadily sampled every joint along the road all the way to Causeway Bay and back. The dark, dank and delightful SMI (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) on Hennessy Road, with its lurid Penthouse posters to entice drunk US marines, was a low-cost regular and survives till today – reborn as the International Curry House on a Wanchai side street.

{Last month I found myself doing a Lockhart Road trawl again with a keen eye for the usual seductive curves. Covid or no Covid, they were everywhere...

Last month I found myself doing a Lockhart Road trawl again with a keen eye for the usual seductive curves. Covid or no Covid, they were everywhere. Brazenly parked in doorways, enticing strangers from within, and some surrounded by alluring background décor.

“You come in… look,” a grizzled granny demanded and, ever the obedient foreigner, I timorously stepped in. There they were, pretty maids all in a row, lined up against the wall, all shimmer and sheen and with that lustrous porcelain skin so popular in Asia. “What you like?” the lady barked, urging me to run my hands along some curves. I obliged, eyes downcast, while the object of my sudden affection remained coolly aloof. The manager sized me up through half-shut eyes. I was clearly not a player.

I pointed out one enticing silhouette. “From Thailand,” the granny muttered, appreciatively as it dawned on her this was no one-night stand – certainly not at noon on a sunny autumn day. “We also have China, Japan,” she cooed. I thought back to how my heart raced that first November striding through the valley of sin, its silk cheongsams, and long legs mingling oddly with the aroma of boiled meat, as I made my way to the MTR underground.

I was in love. She was from China but her name was Kohler. She didn’t speak at all. The manager assured me there was no scam afoot. I took the plunge. “I’ll take out two,” I said. And it was time for my wallet.

The best things in life are worth waiting for: like potties destined to pleasure your derriere. Some like them tame and simple – as I do – but others clearly have far more imaginative taste. There were long ones, narrow one, broad ones, high ones, low ones parading p-traps or s-traps, some that sang, others that heated your bottom or sprang upright, disconcertingly, to salute your arrival like some ever ready toilet attendant in search of a large tip. 

Terrorised by filthy loos at school in India and generally everywhere in Asia, especially in China in the early days, I became something of a toilet boffin over the years, marking the best ones on a city map as soon as I arrived in each new location. Universal lifesavers are sleek five-star hotel toilets where perfumed aromas waft. These are often in the best locations. Not bar districts, but close to transport, markets, views and city centres.

Japan has toilet competitions – something Singapore likes to emulate – India has had high profile toilet construction drives, but Hong Kong had something only Brunei could covet, a gold toilet. Constructed by a jeweller – a lifelong toilet enthusiast and motivated by, of people, the austere Lenin – his gold toilet is a glittering study in inspired tastelessness. This notwithstanding, the 24 carat eyesore became a huge tourist draw at one time with buses pulling up regularly. The owner was quoted as saying he would melt it all down as soon as gold touched $1,000 an ounce so perhaps its time has come and gone.

Royal Brunei fancied gold faucets (not potties) at one point until passengers started chipping away at a new kind of frequent flyer reward. The Peninsula Hong Kong serves up remarkable panoramas from its penthouse toilets (if you visit Felix on the 28th floor, all dressed up of course).

Hong Kong also had the Modern Toilet Restaurant where steaming nosh arrived heaped in ceramic toilet bowls. It was a close encounter of the turd kind, not unlike faddish prison themed or school dinner restaurants where spankings and gruel are dished out by sassy uniformed ladies, to eager codgers reliving their boarding school fantasies and paying handsomely for it.

Tokyo has its remarkable retreats for worshipful silence interrupted only by Godzilla roars when someone tugs at the toilet roll to muffle awkward sounds during the conclusion of a business session.

The beautiful Kohler sisters arrived at my home, a typhoon of mistranslation, puzzled plumbers, scurrying security guards, creaking trolleys and plaster, all leaving a trail of devastation. Such is torrid romance. Friends intervened to shore up my meagre Cantonese that just consists of turn, left, turn right, stop, I want more rice (not quite the vocabulary of snappy home decoration). I think I shall wrap up my new ceramic treasures in silk and ribbons like a Christo display and charge vaccinated tourists an entrance fee to venerate these gurgling delights. I could strike gold.

Happy Christmas and a pampered-bottom New Year to all.

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