inside thoughts on China and beyond

Hong Kong -Whatever You Want (HK.2)

Hong KongTsim Sha Tsui is home to an amazing large collection of exclusive brand shops and endless shopping malls. While delivery trucks, tour buses, Masserratties and Bugattis congest the long streets and narrow allays, mainland Chinese visitors crowd the sidewalks and shuffle through the malls. All along the famous Canton Road, entrepreneurial Indians scout for tourists and every 10 steps one would come up to me with a you’ve-always-been-my-most-precious-friend-client-and-it’s-so-nice-to-see-you-back-again-and-do-I-have-just-the-right-suit-for-you talk. They will try to tailor your suit; line your trousers, renew your cuffs, repair your collar and sometimes even sell you your Rolex watch back. Friendly though they are, they prey like vultures. One by one, they pick out Caucasian tourists and as such, for all my faults, I am quite outstanding.

“Whatever you want sir.”

Excuse me?”

“Whatever you want, my friend, I can provide it for you.”

Why did my thought suddenly bring me back to long ago, when I was browsing a dusty market in Luxor? Then I remembered; it was his last sentence: whatever you want, my friend, I can provide it for you. That was long ago. Egypt. How amazing the workings of the brain! (I should remember to tell my wife when I see her; she often doubts whether my brain is still working at all.) Somewhere along the murky Nile, surrounded by ancient buildings and a little removed from the smoking men in light colored robes and the chattering women hidden behind their burkas bickering over the price of about everything, one man approached me with that very same sentence. I wasn’t sure what he meant, until he drew out from one of his long sleeves a picture of a girl that could easily have been his daughter.

“Clean,” he said. “First time. Very cheap.”

For a moment I was abashed. Was this Muslim here offering his -well, this girl to me? Smiling eagerly with his hollow dark rimmed eyes, reading my every emotion. He wasn’t alone and his robed friends -or shall I say colleagues?- circled around on the look out for trouble. Hong KongSure, I may have been a young man looking for fun and adventure back then, with all the looks of one, but this wasn’t what I was aiming for -and he must have read it. In one smooth well-practiced movement, the photo disappeared into the same sleeve it had just come from and, still smiling, he pulled out another one. I wondered what else he had in -and on- his sleeve but wasn’t at all that eager to find out. How could I safely walk away from this without upsetting him and his pals? The second picture was shown with even more caution then the first. This time, it was a boy.

“What?” I gasped unintentionally, loud enough to have what seemed the whole market looking up in our direction. His smile had disappeared, along with the picture. He looked around.

“My son. Just for you.” He tried once more and touched my arm. Now I was looking around. I wasn’t at ease from the start, but by now I felt cold sweat pouring out from my armpits. Not too far from us, a little to the left, I saw 2 well-rounded, red-burned tourists only covered in obvious Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps waddling past some souvenir stalls.

“No.” I shook my head, kept my smile tirelessly and pointed towards the Hawaiian shirts, who clearly appeared more prosperous and promising as clients: “try them.” Then I turned more to the right and recognized a non-existing friend in the distant crowd, waved my hand and called out “Hey John, over here!” (this too had quit some heads looking up, luckily) and started to make my way over. Upon seeing the Hawaiians, I no longer existing for the picture man and his smile return as he zeroed in on his new friends.

So I turned to the Indian tailor, pointed at the many mainland Chinese and suggested to focus on them. After all, they are here to spend. They bring the big bugs. But he shook his head.

“No,” he said, looking sad and while his head wobbled loosely above his torso. “They will never buy from us”.

What a pity. “How so?”

“They only want real brand stuff in nice showing bags: Armani, Gucci,…”

“Okay! I get it. I’ve seen the queues. But why me?”

 “Well,” he said as he gave me a quick check from top to toe. “How shall I say, sir; it seems to me that your present handsome appearance could be improved a bit with some sharp tailoring.” Giving me one more glance, he added, “Quit a bit, I should say.”

One response

  1. HK is simply one of the greatest cities in the world… So much to explore, to see, a microcosm of the world.

    May 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm