Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guilty of Wan Chai, 2009

I went to see Nick, an old chum for a drink last night. We met up at the Bridge, which is one of the less squalid bars in Wan Chai. This isn't saying much, when you've got Amazonia ("it's full of drug dealers, old men and prostitutes!"), Dusk Til Dawn (the same, but replace drug dealers with stag-partying rugby players), Mes Amis (slightly less prostitutes than Dusk Til Dawn, more drunks) and all the places offering entertainment for the commercially minded gentleman in the area, but I guess it could be worse. At least there was nobody there apart from Nick and one of his friends, about to go to the airport.

As it's close to Christmas, and because we're all Brits, we had nothing better to talk about than to debate whether (in the week that the Auschwitz sign was stolen and then recovered) the Soviets or the Nazis were worse. I'm reading No Simple Victory by Norman Davies at the moment, which makes the fair point that this sort of argument is not one that you win. Like war, you'll survive it, but you won't ever end up saying "Gosh, those Russians were a rum lot. I wish I'd had the Nazis bomb me instead" or vice versa.

Although a pint of Stella is only 38 dollars in the Bridge, it's really not the nicest of environments; it's a darkened room facing straight onto Lockhart Road, immediately opposite four or five clubs with a mama-san stationed outside, and, since it's Christmas, a collection of sex-workers in Santa outfits at the entrance to each bar. A lovely place, to be sure, and most convenient if you've got certain transactions in mind. After Nick's friend had left, we decamped to the Trafalgar, a few minutes down the road, but on the first floor of the building, and overlooking an anonymously ugly hotel, rather than the specifically ugly trade going on on Lockhart Road.

On the way in, a member of staff, clad in Santa hat as well as the waitress uniform of long apron and unmemorable other clothing, greeted us and then pursued us into the lift, as though we'd be incapable of operating elevator machineary independently. This rather annoyed Nick, and he sloped off to the toilet, telling me to get a pint of Spitfire.

As I entered Trafalgar, a second waitress took over, ushering me to a seat on the balcony. She asked me what I wanted: I ordered a Spitfire for Nick and began to pore over the menu. Then Nick arrived, along with the first waitress and some more drink menus. I felt a Christmas Ale would be festive, and hearing this Nick ordered one too. Somehow I assumed that the two waitresses would confer, but I think the competitive spirit is stronger than that. No sooner had waitress number one left, then number two returned with a pint of Spitfire.

"What's that?" Nick asked.
"The pint of Spitfire you ordered" she said.
"But I'm having a Christmas Ale" said Nick. He looked at me. "That's typical, isn't it?" He was fairly livid that a waitress had overheard him telling me what he wanted to drink, and brought it out without being asked.
"But the mister ordered a Spitfire."
"Which mister?"
She looked at me. The Christmas Ales were approaching, and I didn't have the stomach for three pints this evening. Was I in the right, given that somebody was mistaking an title for a person?
"No," I said, as authoritatively as I could manage. "I said I thought I might have a Spitfire. I didn't order this. I only said I thought I might."
She looked at me for mercy, but she could see that given the choice between paying for what I'd ordered, and not backing down in front of Nick, there was only one choice. Away went the pint.

As soon as this was done, I felt rather bad. From friends working in bars in Oxford almost fifteen years ago, I understood that if the punter made a fuss and didn't pay, the loss was eaten from the server's wages. Just because the two of us were fickle and changed our minds didn't mean that she should be $58 dollars out of pocket. But I didn't offer to correct the mistake or compensate her for this. We just drank our Christmas Ale and grew increasingly vituperative about the teenagers drinking at the table next to us. We were getting old, and I was becoming mean and surly in my dotage. It was not a wonderful feeling to have. Perhaps I should emulate Benjamin Franklin and try to focus on being moral in the future. Or at least concentrate on one moral quality every week. Rather than expose myself to situations where I'll feel guilty for making erroneous orders in bars.

However, it wasn't quite enough guilt to make me settle up. We paid for the Christmas Ales and then I went home. There was $22 dollars of change that never came back to us, even after you account for service, and one would hope that server number two got that to make up the difference, but who knows?

Oh, and the Christmas Ale was fairly disgusting. Perhaps this is why people drink lager instead, without any seasonal connotations.


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