The distant city teems
Cool night breeze ruffles the sea
Lights on the harbour
Ah, back in Hong Kong - for the first time in 16 years.
I had one of the most exquisite evenings of my life here, back in the early '90s, sitting on the terrace of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, watching night fall, looking out across the bay at the lights of Kowloon - and enjoying the company of an utterly enchanting woman... who, unfortunately, was married.
We shared a taxi afterwards, and she invited me back to her place, "for a coffee" - oh, the cliché! I declined. It seemed her marriage was quite a loose arrangement, the husband working in Japan and rarely seeing her. But I have a rather stern ethical hang-up about adultery. Or I had back then. I have been tormented by curiosity and regret about this incident ever since (and I don't normally do regret). She was one of the handful of great infatuations of my life.
What was a low-life like me doing entertaining a glamorous merchant banker in the swank environs of the Yacht Club, you might well ask. Well, as it happens, I was (am?) a member. Well, a sort of affiliate member. My best friend's girlfriend at the time was the membership secretary of a rather exclusive yacht club in England, and - as a going-away present when I set out on my round-the-world backpacking year - she did an elementary bit of computer hacking to insinuate me on to their membership roll, so that I could enjoy visiting guest member rights at a string of affiliated clubs worldwide.
Though I was grateful for the goodwill demonstrated in this gift, I felt a bit guilty about its mild criminality. And I didn't think that I was ever likely to take advantage of it. But I did find it very useful in Hong Kong....
The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, with its prime harbourfront location, is one of the most desirable yet frustratingly unattainable venues on the island. It is strictly 'members only', and not many people can get to be members. Members can take in guests, but only members can pay for anything. And even members can't pay in cash (or by cheque or card); you have to use your member's tab for everything, and settle up at the end of each month by credit card.
I was staying with an old university friend who was working for a merchant bank, and I discovered that he and his friends and colleagues were all mad keen to have a chance to get inside the Yacht Club for once. Since he was putting me up for free and treating me rather generously throughout the two weeks I was there, a night out at the Yacht Club seemed to be an ideal way to thank him for his hospitality. Oddly enough, despite its high-tone vibe, it was one of the cheapest places to drink on the island (something I was much relieved to discover!).
Of course, as soon as I'd done it once, I was hooked on the experience, and went back two or three more times - most notably for this marvellous 'date' with one of my friend's colleagues who I'd found myself falling into a dangerously flirtatious friendship with.
The guilty knowledge that I was an imposter there never quite left me, even though I was becoming something of a 'regular'; but the only moment of real alarm I experienced was on my preliminary visit, when I dropped in during the daytime to make sure that I would be able to set up a visiting guest member account with them. "Where are you moored?" they asked me. Oops - busted! My panic was fleeting. I calmly explained that I was on a business trip, and had flown in this time. Everything was fine. Until my heart got broken. I suppose that's karma, of a sort.