Posted by: Sam Olsen | September 15, 2011

Wacky Racing

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. The move has finally caught up with Lawrence and for the first time in his life he is being a very bad sleeper – up three or even four times a night, meaning we are all knackered. Add to this continuous Chinese testing and a busy work schedule for Mrs O and a few things have slipped. But hopefully we are getting back on track…

…Which leads us nicely to today’s blog. Last night we took advantage of having a permanent babysitter by going to the first night of the horse racing calendar. Happy Valley racecourse is right in the heart of Hong Kong Island, surrounded by skyscrapers of all sizes. Until the British arrived in Hong Kong the area was swamp land; but not for long. And what is the most important thing that a new colony needs – particularly one under constant threat of attack, miles from home, and with only a few Brits to take advantage? Yes, a racecourse, which they constructed only 3 years after taking charge. Glad to see they had their priorities right (and I mean that – no sarcasm from this avid horse watcher). After all, if you’re in a tricky place then a successful flutter on the gee-gees is a good way to pass the time. And if you run out of food – in a siege for example – then there’s an alternative source of protein.

We arrived and headed straight to the beer garden. As it cost only $10 to enter, or less than £1, it seemed rude not to spend a little. But if there’s one thing that the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which run the place, do well is to take money of people. They employ 16,000 people across the SAR but contribute an astonishing 9.7% of all Government tax revenue. And despite all this largesse to the State, the HKJC still has more money than it knows what to do with. Hence all over the Island and beyond you see institutions built with the help of a Jockey Club grant, like the “HKJC Veterinary Centre” or “HKJC Student accommodation”. No “HKJC Abattoir” but who knows what’s in the pipeline.

The races. Hardly popular at all

The money does not come from the expats drinking though; it comes from the tens of thousands of Chinese gambling their lives away each race night. (There are posters everyone imploring people not to gamble to excess, but they seem as effective as a sign ordering Frenchmen not to eat garlic or hit on their friends’ wives.) The stands are full of average local workers sitting there, generally po-faced, with betting slips clutched and form guides fluttering. They make only a low murmur, until that is the horses are reaching the climax of the race. The roar then is not like in the UK – alcohol induced shouts of excitement – but short, frantic yells that sound almost as if their housing budget for the next 4 years is disappearing with each disturbed clod. Which it probably is for some people.

The TV bloke I am working with was actually playing in a band at the race, the central feature of the beer garden. Naturally, only really the expats were watching him and his band, but they put on a very good show. The average age of the musicians was probably about 45, and as one person we were with noted, this is typical of Hong Kong “which is a pretty Peter Pan kind of place: you don’t have to grow up if you don’t want to”. A very good observation of the place, as thousands of expats spent a Wednesday evening drinking like a Saturday at Aintree. Very good fun indeed.

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