Nouveau Riche in the Gweilo-no-go Zone

E-mail Print PDF
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

I used to regularly take my family to the Shangri-La Hotel in Kowloon for the buffet. There was always a fantastic mix of Asian and Western food. It was a good place, somewhere special to treat the family from time to time.

I had not been to the Kowloon Shangri-La since my two girls went off to study in Beijing. I knew something had changed as soon as I arrived. It was like arriving in the middle of World War Z. It seemed to be overbooked. People stood next to those seated, all of them with big plates of food and there was a cacophony of noise.

After a few minutes, I could decipher the louder Cantonese tones attempting to drown out the pretty large volume of Mandarin. Then, whilst surveying the devastation of the seating area, the few white-faced guests stood out.

Anyway, hunger overcame me and I went to attack the buffet. As I got nearer, I could see things had changed there also. It was difficult enough to see the food containers with so many people attempting to grab the same food at the same time. Gone were all the different colors and shapes of the international buffet. Now, it was just round stainless steel dishes full of Chinese-style food, soggy vegetables, meat with too much sauce and, of course, the extended noodle bar with the piles of uncooked fish, meat, and vegetables waiting to be immersed in boiling water.

At HK$600 per head it was, quite frankly, atrocious and definitely a gweilo-no-go zone in Hong Kong. [Gweilo is Cantonese slang for foreigner, often used to refer to a Caucasian foreign national—Ed.]

They have smartly dressed security personnel at the lobby of the Shangri- La. They are quite old men. I suppose the hotel is not expecting too much trouble. The lobby lounge of Shang is big, spacious, and luxurious. It is a famous meeting place.

When I arrived at the hotel, I heard surprisingly loud shouting and screaming and saw many children running around the lobby like it was a playground. The poor old security guard was chasing them, attempting to tell them to shut up. But he could never seem to reach them.

Their parents were in the luxury seating area generating their own noise pollution. All over the expensive mahogany tables were cartons of discarded fast-food cartons amongst the old coffee jars full of green tea leaves. The nouveau riche in a gweilo-no-go zone.

When I got in the elevator, there was a well dressed Chinese couple. The man was holding a McDonald’s bag and the lady was holding pot noodles. I suppose they were going to their US$500 per night room to eat dinner.

It reminded me of the time I approached the Shanghai airport in Pudong and saw all the very expensive cars parked in the lay-by on the highway. My driver told me that the people did not want to pay the higher parking fee at the airport car park, so the travelers took their expensive Louis Vuitton handbags from the trunk of the car and clambered down the grass bank to the airport entrance. The nouveau riche.

The day before, I received a text message from CSL, the telephone operator in Hong Kong. It said, “The football service will be discontinued after August 30.” This concerned me greatly since, during the football season, I always use the CSL latest score service.

I was passing a CSL shop in Wellington Street and decided to go inside to inquire. I came upon lots of young men in cheap gray suits and, for some reason, wearing black ties. Maybe it was because of the demise of the football service.

I talked to three people who simply did not understand me. Finally, I found an English speaker. I was lucky one person spoke English. I supposed 200 years of English rule should have had some influence. Obviously, I was wrong.

In wonderful Chinglish, it was explained to me that their server had too many services and some needed to be cut. The “football service” was cut because “not much demand from the local market.”

So now CSL has also become a gweilo-no-go zone. Since my football team always loses anyway, I will be in a better mood until I wake up the next day and find out the result on the Internet.

The Mandarin voices now compete everywhere with the local Cantonese across Hong Kong. People crouching down for a rest outside Prince’s Building, overcrowded MTR trains, independent restaurants being converted into handbag shops, independent shops being converted into expensive brand shops, queues of people outside the branded shops (some with their coffee jars of green tea). Many watch shops, many jewelry shops, but no Hong Kong mementos and no Hello Kitty.

My home has become a gweilo- no-go zone. No bulldozers to clear everything to make way for a new project, just the nouveau riche trampling and changing Hong Kong forever.

Print ed: 09/13


On Newsstands Now

The Asian Consumer Goldmine